[All content and prices updated December 2012]

Why you should add Sri Lanka to your Indie/RTW trip

  • The allure of being among the first people in 30 years to explore the isolated beaches, dense jungle, and war-torn history of the previously off-limits Northern half of the country is simply too exciting for any indie traveler to resist. Sri Lanka offers the chance to get well and truly off-the-beaten track.
  • Sri Lanka has its own impressive “Big Five” worthy of rivaling African safari destinations. Sloth bears, elephants, and leopards prowl through the dense jungles of the island’s many national parks, and sperm whales and blue whales are regularly spotted just off the coast. There are few other countries in the world where you can see the biggest mammals of both land and sea within hours of each other.
  • Well-preserved ancient cities and renovated colonial buildings paint an impressive picture of Sri Lanka’s colorful past, giving visitors a chance to explore Sri Lankan history. 2000 year-old temples, caves, and palaces stand as testament to the golden age of the beginning of the Sri Lankan civilization, and a scattering of grandiose hotels, forts, churches, and famous landmarks tell the story of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British rule.
  • Sri Lanka’s cuisine is a truly underrated gastronomic feast. Fresh, diverse, and robust in flavor, the island offers a smorgasbord of dishes influenced by both its Indian roots and its colonial past. It’s worth visiting for the food alone.
  • You’re never far from the ocean in Sri Lanka, and it is a top destination for scuba diving and surfing. There are waves suitable for both beginner and advanced surfers, and a great surfing infrastructure to accompany this. The coral reefs, tropical fish, and numerous ship wrecks are perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling.
  • Sri Lankans are friendly, inquisitive, and keen to guide visitors through their country and culture. Homestays are commonplace, and locals are known for inviting tourists to come and dine with their family. It is easy to become a part of the community in Sri Lanka, offering a much more local experience than you find in most surrounding countries.

Indie Travel Tips

  • Sri Lanka may be small, but it has enough attractions to keep you traveling for years. Don’t underestimate it based on size – save enough time to visit and savor each unique part of the country.
    • The hill country, in particular, may appear to be very close to everything else on the map, but those winding mountainous passes take longer on a bus than you would think!
  • Take the path less trodden and visit the North and upper East coast where Hindu temples, Palmyra trees, and bombed-blasted buildings characterize Sri Lanka’s “other half.” Coupled with friendly locals - unerringly optimism in light of the recent past - and some of Sri Lanka’s most potent curries, this is indie travel at its best.
  • Spend a few days in Colombo, where the locals are fluent and articulate in English, the tree-studded streets are lined with shopping malls and five star hotels, and the restaurants serve up brunches and buffets to die for. Colombo has come a long way since the war, and the city is being developed and cleaned up at a pace too fast for the rest of the country to adapt to. It’s a strange split between the opulent capital and the rest of the island, but it gives you some idea of where Sri Lanka is heading. Many travelers skip Colombo, but this really is a shame.
  • Travel by train for a system that is cheap, runs on schedule, and is unlikely to break down.
    • The buses get crowded, are mostly small and uncomfortable, and you will get charged for two seats if you travel with a large backpack.
    • The train ride from Kandy through to Ella and beyond is particularly lovely.
    • Built by the British, the train tracks teeters on the top of breathtakingly beautiful mountains, providing heavenly scenery. There is an observation carriage on some trains that offers panoramic views and comfy seats – it is worth splashing out the extra cash for this.
  • Be a responsible tourist. Always use reputable tour operators when tracking wildlife, do not drop litter, try not to damage coral when swimming, frequent smaller shops and independent establishments instead of large chains, and be respectful of local customs, cultures, and heritage. Cultural faux pas to avoid include: wearing shoes inside homes and temples, and sunbathing topless on the beaches.


Overview

Sri Lanka is a tiny island that has a massive impact on many of the people who travel here. Life here dances to its own rhythm. It’s the powerful and intoxicating crash of the Indian ocean against the sandy shores, the beat of a traditional Kandyan drum, the sonorous calls to prayer from the temples, the hiss of the salty breeze rustling the palm trees, the resonance of raindrops reverberating through the rainforest, and the sigh of satisfaction after a soul-nourishing rice and curry.

It’s a way of life that both soothes and revives those who seek its charm. The war ended officially in 2009, and now tourists are flooding in to see what all the fuss is about. This may signal an end for the simple untouched beauty of Sri Lanka, but for the meantime, there are still plenty of off-the-beaten track places to explore and myriad opportunities to experience traditional Lankan culture.

What to see

Sri Lanka is located off the south east coast of India, at a Latitude where the sun shines almost year round and the climate remains toasty and warm. As a result, the most popular activity in Sri Lanka for tourists is lounging around. Beaches are a big draw and no matter how you feel about spending your vacation immobile on the sand, you should see them so you understand what all the fuss is about.

After a day in the ocean, you'll be primed for a day exploring ancient ruins, tea plantations and seeing other beautiful scenery inland on the rest of the island.

Transportation

Flights to Sri Lanka arrive from all over the world and direct flights are available from almost anywhere closer than North America. There are no ferries from Sri Lanka to India, although both governments announce plans to develop one every few years.

Once you're on the island, tuk-tuks (also referred to as three-wheelers) are great to get around in cities.  To get around from city to city, trains and buses are your best, and cheapest bet.

Accommodations

Sri Lanka's tourism industry is quite well established. Resorts and hotels surpass international travel standards and depending on what you want to pay, you can find a room to fit your budget or to fit your wildest dreams. You can find hostels in every major city and fit in as part of the hospitality industry that pumps tourist dollars into the Sri Lankan economy.

You can never know too much about your trip, so if you're looking for more information, check out the message boards and some of the travel articles that have been written about Sri Lanka.



Originally from the UK, Natalie is a writer and freelance journalist who has lived and worked in Asia for the past two years. She waxes lyrical over Sri Lanka, where she spent more than a year exploring, learning the language, and savoring the amazing food. Although Sri Lanka is no longer her current base, she visits regularly and writes about her experiences in her blog Girl and the world - a solo female travel blog.