Travel in Sri Lanka – All You Need to Know

This article explains must-know things about Travel in Sri Lanka. It includes areas of Sri Lankan culture, wildlife, beaches, and many more areas.

Table of Contents

Introduction About Sri Lanka

This tiny country located in the deep south of Asia, just at the tip of India has a lot for the travellers around the World. This article is about all you want to know to travel in Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lanka is a small tropical island located closer to the equator which guarantees bright sunshine throughout the year. Among hundreds of reasons to visit Sri Lanka, the following are few that will convince you why you should include Sri Lanka in your bucket list.

KEY TO SRI LANKA
Official Name
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Old Names
Ceylon, Taprobane,
Government Type
Democratically Elected President, Parliament
Size of The Country
5,610 sq km
Population
21.4 million
History of Imperialism
Portugese, Dutch, English
Capital of the Country
Colombo
Administrative Divisions
Provinces

Why You Should Visit Sri Lanka

Culture & Heritage of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka inherits a rich cultural & historical heritage. The written history of the country goes back to more than 2500 years and there is evidence that this country was inhabited by humans even 5000 years ago. Sri Lankan ancient powerful kingdoms which had healthy diplomatic relationships with contemporary global powers such as Rome, Persia and India. But things changed when the country was colonised by three European empires ; Portugese, Dutch & British starting from 1505 to 1948. British were the only nation who controlled the entire country while the other two colonial nations controlled only the coastal stretch of the island. 

Human settlements in the central hills of the country were started during the British colonial period mainly due to plantation industry and also the preferable English weather in Sri Lanka with mild heat.

The most popular area for the Culture & Heritage of the country is the Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka. This is the area most of the ancient kingdoms were located prior to the western colonisation. If you are in love in history and heritage, you should not missed this part when you travel in Sri Lanka. 

Ancient Kingdom - North Central Dryzone

There are a number of historical ruins and monuments that can be witnessed in places such as Anuradhapura, the first kingdom of the country, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kurunegala & Kandy. Based on your choice, these well-known areas for Culture and Heritage and also some hidden less popularistic historical sites are located around the north central dry zone of Sri Lanka for you to visit.

Colonial Heritage

Since colonial administrations were placed towards the coastline of Sri Lanka, the colonial cultural monuments also located around the western coastal belt. Colombo city was named as the capital of Sri Lanka during the colonial period and therefore it has a large number of colonial heritage sites to visit. Forts built by Dutches are located all around the country while Galle Fort, Jaffna Fort, Matara Fort, Colombo Fort are much popular among the travellers. Hill country capital – Nuwaraeliya used to be the administrative centre during the British colonial period, as it is the centre of the Tea Plantation of Sri Lanka. A Number of Colonial bungalows were converted as Luxury Boutique hotels as of today due to the beauty of those bungalows and their location.

Ancient Heritage - East & South East of Sri Lanka.​

South Eastern cultural and historical places are something which has not been exposed to the travellers in Sri Lanka.

According to the history, while the main kingdom had been controlling the country from the North Central area, whenever an invasion occured from an Indian kingdom, the kingdom had temporarily moved to the Southern Dry Zone areas. There are some ruins can be still seen around Yala and Monaragala areas. Most of those sites are not crowded with foriegn tourists and can visit the locations without any charges. 

Buddhist Temples & Culture & Heritage of Sri Lanka​

If you have a conversation on the history, culture or heritage of Sri Lanka with a typical Sri Lankan, they normally tell you about the temples in Sri Lanka. This is due to two main reasons. One is Sri Lankan ancient kingdoms are very much attached to Buddhism and most of the historically preserved sites have some kind of religious background. Ex – Anuradhapura, the first kingdom of the country is the most sacred place among Sri Lankan Buddhists due to the Bo Tree of “Sri Maha Bodhiya” and other large stupa (Pagodas). If you are keen on visiting unpopular historical attractions in Sri Lanka, one of the best ways is to visit an ancient temple located anywhere in Sri Lanka and those temples are the route of an interesting ancient story of the area and place.

Nature & Wildlife of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is gifted with a unique nature & wildlife. Even though Sri Lanka is a small tropical island, compared to other countries, the rich biodiversity is unbeatable by any other country in the world. Diverse natural beauty has spread across the island and wildlife is mainly living in the dryzone of the country. 

If you are a fan of wildlife & nature, I would like you to divide the Sri Lankan Nature & Wildlife into a few areas. 

Sri Lankan Elephants

One of the best God-gifted is the large population of Elephants in Sri Lanka. Elephants one of the most common reason of many people to travel in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has the third largest Elephant population in Asia after India & Myanmar. 

According to the World Wild life organisation, Sri Lankan elephants are the biggest among the Asian elephants. According to an archaeological research, there is a long history to the relationship with the elephants and humans in Sri Lanka which goes beyond the prehistoric period. 

If you are keen on seeing one of the big fives, Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the World. There are number of ways you can see the elephants.

Visiting a National Park.

(Areas of national parks are separately mentioned below)

You have the best possibility of seeing the elephants in most of the National parks in Sri Lanka. Infact, there are few national parks where you can see elephants; the only big animal. 

Minneriya & Kawdulla national parks which are famous for “The Gathering” have mainly Elephants and also Wasgamuwa National Park, Udawalawe National Park are also famous for wild elephants.

Elephant Orphanages or Elephant Transit Home

There are two places run by the Sri Lankan government to rehabilitate disabled or abandoned wild elephants. 

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is operated by Sri Lanka Tourism Ministry which has around 80 elephants. These elephants are not tamed but there is a debate about the way these elephants are being treated. 

Elephant transit home in Udawalawe is a widely acclaimed place as an elephant rehabilitation project. The place is managed by the Wildlife Department of Sri Lanka with the guidance of qualified veterinary surgeons. The elephants will be provided medical care and basic needs for the elephants who are in need. However, the scientific methods are being used not to build the bond between humans and Elephant carves. As a result, the rehabilitated elephants are moved the secured national parks around the country. They will be tracked for a period after they are freed to check whether they are positively adopting to new homes. 

Tamed Elephants

As mentioned above, there is a historical relationship with elephants and humans in Sri Lanka. Unlike old days, it is not common to see that the elephants are being used for heavy work. Using the elephants for rides and cultural festivals are still common in Sri Lanka while animal rights activists are protesting against that. 

Arguably the biggest cultural festival in Sri Lanka “Kandy Perahara” is one of the major events showcasing elephants parades for cultural festivals in the country. 

Meanwhile, owning a tamed elephant is believed as a social prestige among Sri Lankan traditional elite, however, there are less occations one may own a tamed elephant since it is an expensive ordeal.

National parks in Sri Lanka

There are 22 declared national parks in Sri Lanka as seen in the picture below.

Map of National parks in Sri Lanka

Based on previous experiences, accessibility and other infrastructure, there are selected national parks which can be suggested to visit in Sri Lanka.

Yala is the most famous national park in Sri Lanka. It attracts a large number of tourists local and foriegn. 

Common Animals

Elephants, Deers, Crocodiles, Wild Buffalo, A variety of birds

Possible Other animals

Leopards, Bears, Jackols

Season

As mentioned in the “Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka” blog post, Yala has a schedule closure from September to end of October. Apart from that, the park is open for the visitors.

Wilpattuwa was used to be an exposed for the public due the civil war around the area untill it was ended in 2009. Thereafter the park open for the tourists but still it attract only limited tourists compared to Yala National Park. 

Common Animals

Elephants, Crocodiles, Wild Buffalo, 

Possible Other animals

Leopards, Bears, Jackols

Season

Unexposed national park located towards the east of Sri Lanka. Famous for swimming elephants. 

Common Animals

Elephants, Crocodiles, Wild Buffalo, 

Possible Other animals

Leopards, Bears, Jackols

Season

One of the best national parks to see elephants at any time if you visit the park. If you are a fan of elephants, this is the best alternative for Yala.

Common Animals

Elephants, Crocodiles, Wild Buffalo, 

Season

Hortain Plains is a hill country national park. You wont be able to go for safaris but trekking around a limited area. The park is famous for Sambar Deers and large variety of birds.

The best place to watch a large number of elephant herds in Sri Lanka. Depending on the time you visit the elephants herds move from Minneriya or Kaudulla national parks.

Common Animals

Elephants, Crocodiles, Wild Buffalo, 

Season
Sri Lanka Tailormade Holiday

Sri Lanka Tailormade Holiday

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How to fit in National Parks in Sri Lanka into your travel itinerary.​

You could see on the map above that most of the national parks are located in the dry zone either in the Northern or the Southern part of Sri Lanka. If you are planning to visit these in Sri Lanka there are few things you need to consider before choosing which national park to visit. 

  1. Time of the year you visit
  2. What type of animals you would like to see
  3. What type of safari you would like
  4. Facility level you would expect
  5. How many days you would prefer to stay

We would highly recommend to get the assistance of Sri Lankan travel expert to assist you plan to travel in Sri Lanka by sharing detailed requirement similar to our Tailor Made Holiday in Sri Lanka form. 

Rainforests of Sri Lanka​

Sri Lanka inherits a tropical green layer around the dry zone. While the threat of deforestation is a major issue, there are few highly restricted forests located around the country. These reserves have strict procedures and some of them are not open for visitors. 

Below mentioned nature reserves are open for the public, but you will have to make a  trekking to visit them.

    1. Sinharaja Rainforest
    2. Kaneliya Rainforest
    3. Yagirala Rainforest
    4. Anavilundawa sanctury
    5. Ritigala sanctuary
    6. Adam’s Peak Sanctuary

Birds Watching

Sri Lanka is a hotspot among bird lovers around the World. As a tropical island, there are a large number of endemic and migrant birds that can be witnessed in many places around Sri Lanka. (Source)

If you would like to add Birds Watching to plan of the travel in Sri Lanka, some of the places are mentioned below. 

  1. Anavilundawa sanctuary
  2. Muthurajawela wetland
  3. Beddagana wetland
  4. Aththidiya wetland
  5. Talangama wetland
  6. Sinharaja rainforest
  7. Kanneliya rainforest
  8. Yagirala rainforest
  9. Bundala sanctuary
  10. Horton Plains national park
  11. Ritigala sanctuary
  12. Kalametiya sanctuary
  13. Palapatuna (Yala national park)

Underwater Life & Activities

Sri Lanka is surrounded by the beautiful Indian Ocean with a vast marine life. There are a number of recreational activities available to see when you travel in Sri Lanka. 

  1. Whales & Dolphin watching
  2. Pigeon Island
  3. Snorkeling 
  4. Scuba Diving
  5. Banana boat rides and other fun activities

Hill Country Highlands of Sri Lankaa

Historically, the highlands areas of Sri Lanka were not populated. It was believed that the central highlands were the main source to provide water to the rest of the country by the ancient kings of Sri Lanka and therefore many human settlements were not seen. One of the other reasons might be the lower temperature in highlands and it was more difficult to live in those areas with basic facilities than living in dry zones of the country. 

The very first to develop the central highlands was British colonial rulers in order to expand its plantation industry mainly for Tea. Ceylon Tea was branded as the most premium tea of the world and the Sri Lankan Tea industry was continuously developed during the colonial time. As a result of expanding the Tea industry in Sri Lanka, the transportation infrastructure was developed to facilitate it and as a result the Railway network was developed during the colonial ruling time in Sri Lanka. 

Beaches in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is historically famous for its fabulous beaches which attracts thousands of European visitors during the winter period in Europe. Once the country’s tourism industry started to flourish after the war, there were new beach locations that were identified too such as, 

  1. Southern Beach
  2. South West Beach
  3. North Western Beach
  4. Eastern Beach
  5. North Eastern Beach

What is The Best Period to Travel in Sri Lanka

We have written an article on Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka if you are interested to read a  detailed article. 

Important highlights of the article are given below. 

Weather in Sri Lanka

There are two major rainy seasons in Sri Lanka which can affect your travel plans.

South West Monsoon - From month of May to September

This rainy season affects the travelling in western, south western & southern coastal areas and also the south and south western slope of the central highlands during this period. During the months of July & August, there is not much raining but the sea is rough. 

Affected Areas

Colombo, Kalutara, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Weligama, Mirissa, Tangalle, Yala, Kandy, Nuwaraeliya, Kitulgala, Ella.

North East Monsoon - From December to February

This rainy season affects the travelling in South East, Eastern, North Eastern and Northern provinces and its beaches incluidn the south east and eastern slop of the central highlands.. 

Affected Areas

Trincomalee, Passikuda, Arugambay, Jaffna, Galoya. 

Intermonsoon Rain - Month of April & October to December

Intermonsoon season can affect the entire country. Normally during the morning and early afternoon it is bright and sunny. During the late afternoon it starts to heavily rain and thunder storming.

Cost of Travel Based on the Period

Since Sri Lankan tourism has a seasonality effect, there are few months that the hotel prices and expensive and the country is crowded.

The busiest and the most expensive period is the end of December to mid January including the Christmas evening and the new year. The other period is the month of February due to the new year season of the Chinese nationals. 

1 = Lowest Price

10 = Highest Price

Closures to be Noted

Yearly planned closure of Yala National Park1st of September to 31st of October

Best Events You Should not Missed

Kandy Perahera

One of the best traditional excursions in Sri Lanka. There are 14 possessions for 14 nights. The event attracts a large number of local and foriegn spectators.

 

  • PlaceKandy
  • Dates / period14 days normally during the month of August

The Elephants Gathering

This event is known as the biggest elephant gathering in Asia. 

  • PlaceMinneriya and Kawdulla National Parks
  • Dates / periodMonth of July to November every year.

Whales Watching

Sri Lanka is one of the best places to witness the biggest animal on earth.

  • PlaceMirissa, Trincomalee
  • Dates / periodMirissa – From November to April, Trincomalee – June to September

Adam’s Peak Hike

Adam’s peak is the most famous hike in Sri Lanka which is a historical pilgrimage.

  • PlaceAdam’s Peak
  • Dates / periodMonth of December to Month of May

Arugam Bay Surfing

Arugam Bay is one of most famous surfing spots among the surfing lovers all around the World

  • PlaceArugam Bay, East Coast
  • Dates / periodMonth of April to October

What You Should Know Using Currencies in Sri Lankaa

Detailed article on Currency in Sri Lanka is available if you would like to educate yourself descriptively. 

Please find below some important points which might help you while travelling in Sri Lanka. 

  1. Sri Lankan Rupee is the official currency in Sri Lanka
  2. Sri Lankan Currency is a hard currency which is not available to buy outside of Sri Lanka
  3. You can buy Sri Lankan Rupee at the Airport of Sri Lanka or some outlets available in cities.
  4. ATM machines are widely available in Sri Lanka in main cities where you could withdraw money in LKR.
  5. Most of the star class hotels and high-end restaurants and supermarkets accept foriegn Debit / Credit cards. 
  6. It is recommended to keep at least small amounts of LKR hard cash as Debit / Credit cards are not accepted in other cases.  

How to Plan Your Holiday in Sri Lanka

Take the assistance of a Travel Agent / Tour Operator

The article written on How to Find the Best Local Tour Operators to Plan Your Sri Lanka is the ultimate guide if you would like to explore the subject in depth. However, few key points related to Sri Lankan Tour Operators are listed below. 

  1. There are pros and cons choosing a local tour operator based in Sri Lanka to plan your holiday skipping the tour operators based outside Sri Lanka. However, there is more possibility to get a competitive price and personalised service. 
  2. Make sure you find the best tour operator who has a good record online and of course promptly communicate with you. 
  3. Local travel experts are the people who know about the country, therefore do not hesitate to provide them more and more information about your choices about the travel plan in Sri Lanka. Please ask them to give some options if you cannot make a decision
  4. There is a recommended list of Sri Lankan Tour Operators, you could find at the bottom of the descriptive article. 

If You are a Business visitor to Sri Lanka

  1. There are plenty of transport options from the Airport to the city of Colombo. The easiest way is to hire an Airport taxi which is a little more expensive than the other options. You could transfer via A/C buses travelled via highway, which is more cost effective.
  2. There are enough places you could visit around Colombo city based on the time you get. You may have a day, half a day or even a few hours and there are plenty of activities or places to visit. 

Major Institutions of Travel Industry in Sri Lanka

Since Tourism Industry is one of the key industries in Sri Lanka, the government and the industry itself are very concerned about protecting every tourist who visits the country.

Ministry of Tourism

Ministry of Tourism & Aviation is the key government institution with the government minister. 

Website – http://www.tourismmin.gov.lk/web/index.php/en/

Sri Lanka Tourism

Sri Lankan Tourism is the apex body of the Tourism Industry in Sri Lanka. It consists of 3 sub institutions.

  1. SLTDA – Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority – Web site –https://www.sltda.gov.lk/
  2. SLTPB – Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau – Web site –https://www.srilanka.travel/
  3. SLITHM – Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management – Web site –https://slithm.edu.lk/ 

SLAITO - Sri Lanka Inbound Tour Operators Association

SLAITO is the strongest collective of inbound tour operators in Sri Lanka. Almost all the key tour operators are part of this association. SLAITO mainly represents its members requirements and collectively lobbying the government on behalf of the travel industry in Sri Lanka.

THASL - The Hotel Association of Sri Lanka

THASL represents the Hotels for more than 70% of room inventory in Sri Lanka. As a trade association THASL represent its members requirement in front of the government of Sri Lanka.