Sri Lanka travel guide

Tourism has officially hit the fast track in Sri Lanka. Gone are the days of tagging the country on to a trip to India. Temples and ancient kingdoms are appearing on magazine front covers. The rainforests and national parks have jumped to the top of every conservationist’s Christmas list. Palm beaches are alive with surfers, while families and honeymooners alike are off exploring by train. Travel responsibly, with care for the island’s history of colonial occupation and the 26-year war that ended in 2009, and you can help steer tourism in the right direction.
The Bo leaves on the Sri Lankan flag represent kindness, friendliness, happiness and equanimity.
The best Sri Lanka holidays are a balancing act. Tour the Buddhist gems on the Cultural Triangle, but don’t overlook the Hindu temples around Jaffna, Colombo’s mosques and Galle’s churches. Hike Hill Country while learning about the realities of tea production in the plantations. (Clue: you won’t find it in the popular “tea picking experiences”.) Search out wild elephant families in national parks like Yala and Minneriya in the company of local guides who know their junglefowl from their coucals, safe in the knowledge that your tourist money is benefiting local people.
And, of course, read our Sri Lanka travel guide to find out more.
Sri Lanka is/isn't

Sri Lanka is...

where life is so much more than a beach

Sri Lanka isn't...

just for ageing archaeologists

What we rate & what we don't


The north east

Now accessible after the end of the war in 2009, …

Kalpitiya peninsula

On the northwest coast, this is far from the all-inclusive …

The Knuckles Ranges

Much less known than the Nuwara Eliya tea plantation regions, …

Young travellers

Sri Lanka was traditionally a 60 + holiday, ‘doing’ archaeological …

The Cultural Triangle

The ancient artery of Sinhalese civilisation, where tourists will debate …

Train travel

The first train line was introduced by British colonists to …


A great way to get around Sri Lanka with a …

Geoffrey Bawa

A prolific Sri Lankan architect who died in 2003, his …


More of a circus than what it is sold as …

Tea picking “experiences”

Going on a tea plantation tour? Skip the tea picking …

Nuwara Eliya

The highest town at 1,900m, and so a good outlook …

Parts of the coast

There are many lovely beaches but on the southwest coast …

Food, shopping & people

Eating & drinking in Sri Lanka
Hoppers (appa) – a bit like a pancake, egg hoppers for breakfast come with a fried egg in the middle. String hoppers (idiappa) are more like a patty made of noodles.
Fish markets abound along the coast and small guesthouses with be happy to cook it for you.
Rice and curry is everywhere. Expect delicious sambals to accompany them too, a bit like chutney.
'Short eats’ refer to sweet and savoury pastries, or snacks made from pastry or flatbread.
People & language
Thank you = Bohoma sthuthi
Sri Lankan people value life. The majority of people are faithful Buddhists, living the principles of Kindness, Friendliness, Happiness and Equanimity in life. It is also a poor country, and so haggling is a norm that may not equate with Buddhist virtues for westerners. Head into the hills and less touristy areas, and the openness of heart is unquestionably genuine. The Hindu population of the north lived through extreme conflict but are now celebrating peace. Also, ten per cent of the population is Muslim, and after years of war and strife, Sri Lanka is becoming a beacon of integration and cooperation again.
There are two main languages: Sinhala and Tamil. The main Sinhala greeting is Ayubowan (may you have long life)
In Tamil, the main greeting is "Vanakkam" Thank you = "Nandri"
Previously known as Ceylon, the island was renamed Sri Lanka, meaning "resplendent island" in Sanskrit, in 1972

Our top Sri Lanka Holiday

Sri Lanka holidays, tailor made

Sri Lanka holidays, tailor made

Independent tailor made holidays to Sri Lanka

From £1995 14 days ex flights
Tailor made:
Our tailor made Sri Lanka holidays can be arranged at any time to suit you, and adapted to your requirements as necessary although we do not offer trips for under 10 days.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Sri Lanka or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Gifts & shopping
Spice is nice, of course, but stay clear of the overpriced spice gardens. Shop as locals do, at the markets.
Dikwella is famous for Beeralu bobbin lace making. Badly hit by the tsunami, the village is now reviving this tradition.
Ayurvedic medicine is available in pharmacies everywhere. Get a consultation for your ailments or bring some herbal happiness in a bottle back for a friend.
To guarantee ethically and locally sourced goods, check out the state owned boutique, Laksala
In an archaeologically sensitive country, do not risk buying antiques or anything over 50 years old. It’s illegal to export them.
Stay clear of public transport during the Buddhist full moon holidays, or poya. Because they are also full to the brim holidays.
How much does it cost?
Bottle Lion Beer £1.10-£1.50
Bike rental from small hotel -
£1.50 - £2.25 per day
Curry and rice from road stall - £1 -1.50
One way train ticket Colombo to Kandy -
King Coconut from road stall
£0.05 - £0.10

A brief history of Sri Lanka

Like so many islands, Sri Lanka has had its fair share of uninvited visitors over the centuries. The richness of its natural resources, particularly spices, must have brought dollar signs to the eyes of the Portuguese who landed here in 1505 even though it was an accidental discovery, their boat having been windswept into Galle harbour en route to the Maldives Islands. By the time the Dutch took over in 1658, the Portuguese had left a firm imprint, and you can still hear the influence in the language, names, art, music, dance and architecture here. In 1796, the British moved in, bringing in Tamil labourers from India to work on tea, coffee and coconut plantations. The British also anglicised the Portuguese name for the island, Ceilão Português, to Ceylon. Read more
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: chuvipro] [Sri Lanka is/isn't: Marvin Meyer] [The north east: christophe_cerisier] [Kalpitiya peninsula: Sompop S] [The Knuckles Ranges: Malinda Rathnayake] [Young travellers: ShashiBellamkonda] [The Cultural Triangle - Polonnaruwa: Patty Ho] [Ella - Ravana Falls: yeowatzup] [Cycling: Amila Tennakoon] [Geoffrey Bawa - Geoffrey's house: the very honest man] [Pinnawala: shankar s.] [Kandy - Drumming performance: Patty Ho] [Nuwara Eliya: 4Neus] [Parts of the coast: Andrew Fysh] [Eating & drinking - string hoppers with curry: istolethetv] [People & language: Gane] [Quote 1 (Polonnaruwa): Hafiz Issadeen] [Gifts & shopping - spices: Amila Tennakoon] [How much - King Coconut: shankar s.]