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Travel to Sri Lanka, the teardrop of India

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
A concentrated slice of old- and new-age marvels, Sri Lanka packs untouched beaches, calming temples, sprawling tea plantations, colonial vestiges, world-class diving and insane surf into a little more than 25,000 square miles. Just, wow.

Travel guide

Size means nothing

Never did a nation pack so much into so little space. It is the constant refrain of all who have spent any length of time on this island, gently buffeted on all sides by the waves of the Indian Ocean. Here you can wander amicably through wide tea plantations, explore bursting jungles and discover a temple-governed world of spirituality before collapsing onto a pristine white beach with not so much as a seagull for company.

A unique setting

It may be known as the teardrop of India, but don't come to Sri Lanka expecting India in miniature. Sure the two countries have their similarities but you'll find a whole lot more than copy-cat Indian culture on this island. Try out taste bud-blowing spices; browse markets filled with precious stones and colourful souvenirs or cool off with elephants in the island's orphanages and national parks, all accompanied by some of the most hospitable people in the world.

Emerging from a turbulent past

Sri Lanka has been rocked by years of gruelling civil war, huge human displacement and a tsunami which devastated communities. But far from giving up, its population has rebuilt, restructured and come back to life like never before. Sure of a great welcome, travellers are flocking to discover its fascinating history and to relax in its numerous luxury hotels.

Go exploring

Rainforests, deep seas, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries; Sri Lanka offers so many possibilities for exploration. Wander with majestic Asian elephants or look closer to find leopards, wild buffaloes, countless species of bird and even the rare Slender Loris. Or if you're more of a water baby, Sri Lanka's shores host enormous blue whales, sperm whales and fun-loving dolphins, to name the biggest.

History at your fingertips

With a whopping 3,000 years of documented history, it's no surprise the tiny island holds eight UNESCO World Heritage sites. Take to the jungle to discover the lost cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Digamadulla - palaces, theatres, temples and hospitals long reclaimed by nature - or dive into Sigiriya, a fifth-century fortress with incredible murals and gardens.

Thrill-seeker's paradise

Fans of constant action will not be disappointed with Sri Lanka's offerings. From scuba diving to beautiful corals and ancient shipwrecks, populated by exotic fish and giant mammals, to surfing on the pristine beaches of the south and east coasts, the island is at its forte in the water. Move inland and hiking enthusiasts will find plenty to keep them entertained. Trek though rolling paddy fields, lush forests and rocky slopes on your own two feet, or even on the back of an elephant.

Our Editorial team's advice

The island is composed of many terrains at different levels, making the dry season - from December to March - the best time to visit the west and south coasts, as well as the central mountains. If you decide to pay a visit to the east coast however, May to September offers the best chance of good weather.

You should also be prepared for big differences in temperature between the coastal towns and resorts and those found further inland. In the mountains, especially if you decide to climb Adam's Peak, you'll need to bring a substantial jumper when darkness falls at the summit. The same applies for evenings spent in the large tea plantations, where temperatures drop rapidly after the sun has set.

One of Sri Lanka's great advantages is its size. Varied and easy to travel, the island offers several public transport options which, though often slow, provide a great way to get to know the landscapes in all their wondrous diversity. In just a few hours, you can go from arid savannahs to luscious rainforests, from peaceful beach to vibrant cityscape.

The majority of large hotels are to be found on the west coast between Colombo and Galle, but the country as a whole is warming up more and more to tourism and you can find some beautiful guesthouses on the south and south-east coasts. A firm favourite is Arugam Bay, with its great surf, beachside eateries and charming local population. You'll also find it a great base for exploring the verdant countryside further inland.

pros

  • +The wealth of cultural and religious heritage.
  • +The constantly varying landscapes.
  • +A rich tradition of handicrafts and precious stones.

cons

  • -Some resorts have spoilt the island's natural beauty.
  • -Occasional sex tourism can be witnessed.
  • -Public transport can be slow and driving complicated.

Traditions

The island's traditions are all centred on its two main religions, Buddhism and Hinduism. Both advocate tolerance and an extremely calm nature. You should dress conservatively outside of the beach resorts and avoid becoming impatient with your hosts, it won't help!

Remember to take off your shoes and hat before entering a temple, and cover knees and shoulders to show respect for the local population and their religion. Locals will often buy flowers at the entrance to a temple to make offerings to the Gods inside - it's not obligatory but it will show a willingness to embrace the customs of others.

It's also good to bear in mind that taking photos in front of a statue or a representation of Buddha is extremely offensive.

Food

The most popular Sri Lankan dish is rice and (very spicy) curry. Meals are usually composed of many small dishes, which are delicious and often served with sambol (grated coconut and pimento), chutneys (spiced fruit jams) and papadams (plain flat cakes).

Curry dishes are often served with good fish and seafood but other varieties include biriyani, rice mixed with lamb or chicken. The island also abounds with an endless list of delicious tropical fruits, such as pineapple, banana, coconut, papaya, guava, rambutan and passion fruit...

Tea is of course the most common drink. It is very strong and sweet, and without milk. The local beer, in large bottles, is excellent and above all refreshing in the heat of the day.

Ideal Weather Search

Find weekly weather forecasts for Sri Lanka . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Sri Lanka . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Sri Lanka .

Reviewed hotels

Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin

Our journalists' reviews for you 36 hotels Sri Lanka . Take a look at our hotels, their facilities or their value-for-money score according to your departure dates so that we can find the best offer to suit you Sri Lanka . Book a hotel Sri Lanka it's never been so simple !

Souvenirs

The quality of Ceylonese handicraft is excellent: wooden sculptures, multicoloured masks, pottery, baskets, traditonally-made batiks, embroidered tablecloths from Galle. Avoid buying tortoiseshell articles and ivory objects as it is forbidden to export them.

If you want to buy precious stones, avoid touts; never buy in the streets - and only from certified shops. Generally, it is better to be accompanied by a stone specialist to avoid being duped and keep the bill for export and British customs. Also note that Sri Lanka 'officially' exports false precious stones. Rubies can be confused with garnets, whilst cheap topaz can be quartz and aquamarine can easily be mistaken for an emerald.

Lastly, do not forget to buy tea and spices. They are cheap and of very good quality.

What to see

Adam's Peak , Sri Lanka
Adam's Peak
Sigiriya Rock , Sigiriya , Sri Lanka
Sigiriya Rock
Tea plantations , The Sri Lankan tea plantations , Sri Lanka
Tea plantations
The West Coast , The western coast of Sri Lanka , Sri Lanka
The west coast
The east coast , The eastern coast of Sri Lanka , Sri Lanka
The east coast
Die Südküste , Sri Lanka
The south coast
Elephants and reserves , Sri Lankan elephant , Sri Lanka
Elephants and reserves
The botanical and spice gardens , Botanical and spice gardens , Sri Lanka
The botanical and spice gardens
Fauna , Sri Lankan fauna , Sri Lanka
Fauna
Turtles , The Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, Sri Lanka , Sri Lanka
Turtles
Whales and dolphins , Whales & dolphins off the coast of Sri Lanka , Sri Lanka
Whales and dolphins
Handicraft , Sri Lankan celebration , Sri Lanka
Handicraft
Dancing , Textile industry, Sri Lanka , Sri Lanka
Dancing
Sculpture , Polonnaruwa , Sri Lanka
Sculpture
Anuradhapura , The ancient ruins of Anuradhapura , Sri Lanka
Anuradhapura