Sri Lanka painting holidays

“Sri Lanka was somewhere I’d always wanted to visit but life got in the way. When I finally did get there I just fell in love instantly. Now it’s like a second home for me.” Mary King, founder of our Sri Lanka painting holiday specialists Vistas Sketching Holidays, is clear on why she loves bringing groups here so much. “In the rural areas everyone is so warm and friendly and welcoming, the landscapes are gorgeous and the atmosphere is so relaxed. Sri Lanka is really resilient but they’ve had such a streak of bad luck. It’s just beginning to recover here and they really need small-scale tourism that puts money directly into local communities – that’s exactly what my painting trips aim to do.”
Painting holidays in Sri Lanka focus on the west coast of the teardrop-shaped island, delving into rural areas inland, and more well-known destinations such as Lipton's Seat; and the historic Dutch colonial city of Galle, all of them providing boundless inspiration. Each day brings a new opportunity for inspiration: long strips of white sand; dazzling waterfalls; tea plantations with pickers working their way along the rows; temples and cave shrines wrapped in tangled foliage; vibrant rainforest, and coastal scenes of fishing harbours, boats hitched up onto riverbanks, stilt fishermen waiting patiently for a catch. I sometimes set little sketching challenges too, says Mary, a good one last time was a textural study where we were using elements of the landscapes themselves in our artworks.

On arrival you'll be supplied with a sustainably produced sketchbook of Khadi paper, 100% cotton rag from t-shirt cuttings, just one small example of how easy it is to travel Sri Lanka responsibly. Another is the ease of supporting local communities, as Mary explains: "I use exclusively small, locally owned hotels and restaurants. No western dishes, expect a delicious buffet of curries and rice every day – I always zoom in on the dhal myself. It’s a mostly Buddhist culture so eating vegetarian and vegan is a breeze.” Food is spicy, and you can also expect plenty of fried fish, jack fruit and healthy fresh coconut milk. Local drivers are employed to escort you to different locations each day, often to parts that few other tourists reach. Though in truth, you rarely need to travel far, given the scenic beauty on your doorstep in this part of Sri Lanka.


You’ll spend almost the entirety of the trip in rural surrounds, and if you’re there for just a week or so will largely stay in the vicinity of your hotel near Bentota – the quiet lanes and vibrant vegetation, not to mention the beaches, are ideal for those with a passion for landscapes.

Longer trips however can take you much further afield, in to the highlands and tea country, staying in different places. These might include catching sunrise at ‘Lipton’s Seat’, one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic and impressive viewpoints offering magnificent panoramas over rich-green fields of tea. Another day might find you touring Udawalawe National Park on a jeep safari with the possibility of sketching wild elephants.

There is the famous waterfall Bopath Ella, where the bathing is irresistible; stilt fishermen watching the water in the Welligama Bay; boat rides out to lighthouses or long rivers to sketch attractive mangrove swamp. You could be walking through the Sinharaja rainforest reserve, guided by an expert naturalist, to capture a riot of tropical vegetation.
You could be looking out from under palm fronds to near-deserted beaches where the waves of surf roll steadily in, across temple lakes filled with waterlillies, sweeping mountain vistas or gardens teeming with vividly colourful flowers and chattering birdlife. Sri Lanka is a heavenly place to be for anyone with the artistic temperament.

One obvious highlight is bound to be the old Dutch fort town of Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 16th-century fort is just one potential inspiration, joined by a carefully restored lighthouse, and many attractive old buildings.

And as you drive around you may also stop into local craft cooperatives or shops that your guide is familiar with. “There are plenty of opportunities to support local artists here,” says Mary, “whether it’s bargaining for colourful sarongs from women on the beach to wood-carvings and gemstone jewellery and tea of course. There are lots of shops around and I always encourage my travellers to stick to the smaller, locally owned ones. We don’t go near any big air-conditioned malls.”

Our top trip

Painting holiday in Sri Lanka

Painting holiday in Sri Lanka

'Sketchbook Journey' through varied landscapes of Sri Lanka

From £1950 13 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2024: 15 Nov
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Painting or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.


Sri Lanka painting holidays usually operate in November or February, avoiding the worst of the monsoon seasons and promising sunny weather with low humidity, though the climate tends to be hot and sticky all year-round. In the Highlands it will be cooler however especially in the evenings so you’ll want a few sweaters as well as light clothing for the daytimes. In the unlikely event of catching a downpour, indoor workshops can be quickly arranged, but showers are usually short.

These are small group trips, with numbers capped at eight to ensure the tutor, an accomplished landscape artist, has plenty of time to offer everyone as much guidance as they need. And, importantly, they are suitable for all levels, so if you’re a newcomer to painting or sketching you will be very welcome.

One- and two-week trips are available, during which you’ll be based in a small hotel in the countryside around the beach resort Bentota. Itineraries, and the little challenges your tutor will set, are designed to help you develop your abilities in a supportive and sociable atmosphere. All materials are provided though feel free to bring your own.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Eddy Klaus] [Painted Palms: Vista Sketching] [Subjects 1: Vista Sketching] [Subjects 2: Vista Sketching] [Practicalities: Vista Sketching]