Having recently returned from a wonderful trip to Sri Lanka, I wanted to share with you my top five of things to do when visiting this country. There is a huge variety of experiences available to travellers here, but before diving into all the good stuff, I wanted to offer some quick Sri Lanka travel advice…
Visas for travel to Sri Lanka
Travelers need to have a valid visa to enter Sri Lanka. The good thing is nowadays you do not need to visit the embassy to get the visa sticker for your passport, you can simply obtain it online, as Sri Lankan Immigration introduced the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) several years ago.
As long as you have a credit card and access to the Internet you can make an application. The most important thing is you need to fill in the application form exactly according to your passport, otherwise the ETA becomes invalid. The ETA is issued with six months validity and you are allowed to stay in Sri Lanka for 30 days from the date of entry. If you wish to stay longer, you have to prolong it from the Immigration office in Colombo. For more information on this, visit srilankavisa.org.
So travel tips complete, here’s my take on some of the experiences you just shouldn’t miss during your stay in Sri Lanka!
Go on safari
As a huge lover of wildlife, one of the things I was most excited about seeing in Sri Lanka was the animals. If you move away from the coastal resorts or the capital you’ll be sure to see some wonderful creatures out and about during your travels (my highlights included giant squirrels, fruit bats, iguanas and water monitors) and of course Sri Lanka is renowned for its amazingly varied bird life.
However, for many, Sri Lanka is best known for its elephants. It has several elephant orphanages, and I had done some research into these before travelling. After hearing a few worrying stories and a lot of talk about their focus being more on tourism and money than on welfare of the creatures, I decided I’d prefer to see elephants in their natural habitat and looked into a day safari.
Sri Lanka has several national parks where you can hire a driver and a guide and it’s well worth doing. We headed out around 3pm and as dusk arrived we got to see herds of elephants coming out of the jungle, having a quick snack and then meeting at the lake for a dip. I saw a baby suckling, a rather large male strutting his stuff, all in about over 40 of the beasts, all free and unchained. It was a truly breathtaking experience. A moment that will stay with me forever was having to do an emergency stop as we made our way out of the park because a group of elephants has decided to cross the road right in front of us – now that doesn’t happen every day!
Visit an ancient city
Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle shouldn’t be missed. These amazing ancient sites are made up of fallen ancient cities and temples and are just so beautiful to explore.
There’s Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and the rock fortress of Sigiriya to choose from, each with their own amazing stories to tell. Make sure you get a map and/or a guide to make the most of the experience, as this can help you bring the ruins in front of you to life – from ancient royal swimming pools and meetings halls through to ancient places of worship and even monks’ examination rooms!
Each city needs a full day to explore in full, and although not cheap to gain full entry to, they’re one of Sri Lanka’s cultural highlights.
Check out a tea plantation
For a British tea lover like myself, it was really fun to experience a tea plantation and watch the process from tea picking through to drinking!
Visiting a plantation on the outskirts of Kandy, I got a crash course in tea making and learnt a lot about the different kinds of teas and how they’re made. We were given a tour of the tea factory as well having a chance to walk around the plantation and watch people at work. Then after we were invited to try some freshly brewed tea, which really was delicious!
Have an authentic curry
A lot of the food we came across in Sri Lanka was tourist fare, thrown together and not that appealing. However if you’re willing to track down a local restaurant or befriend some locals then I definitely recommend eating an authentic Sri Lankan curry as they’re delicious!
I had a local lady cook me a curry during my stay and it was so much better than anything else I ate!
But don’t expect what us westerners consider a curry – a Sri Lankan curry consists of many dishes, often called sambols, that are put together on a plate and consumed with your hands. Just some of the dishes I was given in my meal included a jackfruit curry, coconut sambol, deep fried chicken, coconut rice, salad and papadom pieces. So very worth trying!
Visit a temple
Several different faiths are practiced in Sri Lanka and during your time you will come across Hindus, Buddhists and Catholics amongst others. I believe it’s well worth visiting a temple during your time in the country as its great to understand more about the people and their beliefs.
During my time in Negombo my driver took me to see a Buddhist temple, which happened to be his local place of worship. It was really special to have him show me around his own temple and tell me more about its history and the place was truly beautiful. There was art over all the walls depicting tales of Bhudda and there were even statues coming out of the walls, all delicately created by hand. I’ve always been in awe of the detail that goes into the work in these temples and for that reason alone I really recommend stopping into one if you get a chance.
As I visited on Sunday I also got the joy of experiencing a glimpse into Buddhists version of ‘Sunday School’ and got to say hi to the children while they ran around the grounds during break time. It was lovely to see into their lives in this way!