A paradise island where tea plantations thrive, beaches are characterised by elegant palms that tumble to the water’s edge, and cities are steeped in colonial history, Sri Lanka offers a myriad of landscapes but remains relatively untapped. With a resilient attitude, the country picked itself up after years of civil strife and opened its doors to all from luxury-minded holidaymakers to off the beaten track backpackers. Here are our top five travel tips that will have you as enamoured with this enigmatic island as we are.
Travel by train
It’s tempting to opt for an inexpensive taxi to navigate your way around, but Sri Lanka is also conveniently connected by rail. Trains serve as the vital arteries to this heart-shaped drop in the Indian Ocean and have done for generations, with train travel harking back to a time when tea was shipped to Blighty to fill a thirsty nation’s teacups. Bag yourself a doorway seat for the ultimate view and enjoy mesmerising scenery as you fly through the countryside with your legs swinging from the carriage. Trains also pass through rustic villages where beaming children wave you on your way.
Sri Lanka is best explored by going local, and with city streets brimming with street food, and even the tuk tuks selling freshly made rotis, the options for eating local in Sri Lanka are endless. Piquant flavours are integral to Sri Lankan cooking and bolster the country’s reputation as a gastronomical great. Authentic curry dishes are found in unassuming roadside restaurants and friendly cooks are more than happy for you to watch them rustle up a traditional feast. Be sure to try the seafood, with fish caught by skilled fishermen who catch their haul perched on wooden stilts in shallow water.
Try the tea
You’ll never look at the humble tea leaf in the same way after exploring Sri Lanka’s tea plantations. In the heart of the island, the altitude soars to around 2,000 metres above sea level. Here the air becomes misty, temperatures drop, and thick jungle is replaced by tall forests. It’s in these conditions the tea leaf plantations bloom, with charming hill towns like Nuwara Eliya a tourist hotspot for those who are keen to learn more about their favourite tipple. A trip to a plantation provides a narration of the country’s imperial history, and will undoubtedly involve a scenic cuppa or two.
Discover the wildlife
Teaming with wildlife, Sri Lanka is a viable option for nature enthusiasts keen to spot their favourite animal in the wild. Venture to Udawalawe National Park and witness parades of elephants, water buffalo and lurking crocodiles lingering by watering holes. Head east from Udawalawe for the chance to spot leopards in Yala National Park, or west where you can stay in an eco lodge in depths of the Sinharaja rainforest. Off Sri Lanka’s southern shores, pods of majestic blue whales dive off a 2,000 metre deep trench and tour operators offer whale spotting tours and diving trips.
With its mountainous terrain, Sri Lanka poses plenty of opportunities for outdoor activity. Eager hikers are beckoned to the peaceful hill town of Ella where leisurely walks along train tracks lead to waterfall vistas, temples, and the iconic Nine Arch Bridge – a classical piece of British architecture juxtaposed against verdant jungle. Ella’s more intrepid visitors will make their way up Little Adam’s Peak – a hike that finishes with a rewarding sunrise vista if started in the early hours. Along the south coast, rolling waves attract surfers of all abilities, with Weligama an ideal spot for beginners.