I visited Sri Lanka in 2011 after friends recommended visiting the country now that the civil war was over; it was one of the best decisions. Sri Lanka is a relatively small island, but it certainly packs a punch in terms of things to see! When I visited Sri Lanka unfortunately the North and North Eastern regions were off-limits to foreigners due to the remnants of the civil war, however these have now opened up and are easily accessible.
One reason I love visiting Asia is how relaxed you can feel around Buddhists, it sounds silly but they really make me feel at peace with the world. I’m not religious in any way, but I definitely believe that by accepting everyone it makes a more heavenly place to live.
My trip was a full-on two-week holiday, my guide below details the amazing places I visited during my visit and the exciting things I got up to.
Just a short drive north of the capital Colombo is the fishing port of Negombo. There isn’t a huge amount to do or see here, but it’s a good option if you’re flying in to the airport and need somewhere to crash overnight. I stayed in a hotel right on the beach, although it wasn’t the lap of luxury, like with most of Sri Lanka you’ll find it’s incredibly cheap and affordable!
If you get the chance definitely visit the local fish market, it is a rather grim sight and due to the heat it is a bit smelly but absolutely fascinating. The catch here is made in traditional style large outrigger canoes, known locally as ‘oruvas’, which the locals are more than happy to show you.
One of the most important sites to see in Anuradhapura is the Sacred Bo-Tree, it is more than 2,200 years old! A rather odd place is the Brazen Palace which was once a nine-storey residence for monks, however even this is over-towered by the impressive Ruvanvalisaya Dagoba. This dome-shaped shrine is 90m high and can be seen for miles around. One thing about Sri Lanka is that you’ll see Buddha statues everywhere, they all look amazing and none more than the Smadhi Buddha which originates from the 4th century AD!
According to sources, this is the veritable cradle of Buddhism. This place has some of the most amazing views overlooking the region, including back towards Anuradhapura.
A word of advice about this place, the view to the summit of the Missaka Mountain involves climbing many steps and locals are more than happy to help you up…for a price! One of my fellow travellers was tricked into thinking he was just “helping” her, but there’s no such thing. When he demanded money and she refused, the local got really angry, so it’s best to think about this before it happens.
Dating from the 1st Century BC, Dambulla features some incredible caves which have been turned into temples. This place is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is regularly visited by crowds of worshippers; many of the caves have a large number of Hindu God sculptures which are still in excellent condition.
Like in many parts of Sri Lanka, be aware of monkeys!! They will try to steal anything.
Polonnaruwa is the ancient capital city of Sri Lanka, although sadly most of the Royal Palace is now in ruins it is still magnificent to see. It’s best to visit early morning, as the sun gets incredibly hot here and there is very little shade. The best thing about doing this is there won’t be anyone else here, tourist-free heaven!
If you get the opportunity whilst in Sri Lanka, visit a local family, like a homestay who’ll cook you a truly amazing Sri Lankan curry! Highly recommended.
Minneriya National Park
If there’s one thing I always try to do on any of my trips it’s visit a national park or wildlife centre, you can learn a lot about a country from seeing how they treat the local animals. Thankfully in Sri Lanka they are incredibly lucky and have Asian elephants roaming around, although there are many more amazing creatures that can be spotted just from doing a jeep safari.
Thankfully I was given the opportunity to do this in Minneriya National Park, this is where I fell in love with the cutest baby elephant!!
One of the funniest things that happened whilst visiting was watching tourists get stuck in the mud, it took several attempts to get them out of there but was rather amusing.
I hate early mornings, but if it’s worth getting up for then I’m happy to do it. Sigiriya is one of those mornings that blew me away; I was not expecting to see what I did.
Firstly there was an incredible sunrise; Sri Lanka is blessed with amazing natural beauty. As one of Sri Lanka’s major tourist attractions this place gets very busy, beware though if you don’t like heights you will not like the steps and stairways that lead up/down to the top of the fortress.
Making your way to the top of Sigiriya is worth every footstep, the view is incredible. How people achieved what they did here without machinery and modern equipment is an amazing achievement. Sigiriya is also known as Lion Rock, make sure you check out the paws…
Compared to Colombo, Kandy is a breath of fresh air, literally! It’s situated 500m above sea level and is surrounded by beautiful lush forests. It’s a hugely popular stop on the tourist trail due to it being more culturally and spiritually important.
Many come here to visit the Temple of the Tooth, it’s a jeweled shrine said to feature Buddha’s left canine. Whether this is true, we’ll never know. However you’ll know you’re in the right place as there’s always a massive queue, one amusing feature of this place is the “shoe rack for foreigners”!
Nurwara Eliya is basically in the heart of tea country, as one of the highest places in Sri Lanka this is the perfect tea plantation environment. Many colonial buildings still survive here too, thankfully I got the opportunity to stay in one of them, so if you can, hunt one down to stay in for a night.
On my trip here we stayed the night in a traditional Sri Lankan cottage, literally in the middle of nowhere. This would normally not be a problem, but not when you are trying to sleep and you hear something walking around in the roof of the cottage I was staying. I was so scared I had to leave and return to the main house that was further along the road, in the pitch black.
I can only assume it was some kind of animal, but it reiterates the fact I don’t like the dark.
One of the most stunning places I visited on this trip was to the Cinnamon Islands, aptly named given that Sri Lanka produces a large quantity of the world’s cinnamon.
To me, like most Westerners, cinnamon comes ground in a bottle bought from a supermarket. Thankfully here on Cinnamon Island they produce the product in the traditional way, it was incredible to see and really educational. I’m very jealous they get to live in such a wonderful place of natural beauty.
One of the most famous pictures of Sri Lanka is the local fishermen on stilts, I’d like to put the record straight and say they do not do this anymore, unless there’s a tourist there with a stack of cash!! It’s a sad reality of what tourism can do, however due to more modern ways of being able to fish this is no longer viable or necessary, however it does look good in a photo.
Galle was hit pretty hard by the tsunami in 2004, however it has now fully recovered and is a thriving place. It has been fought over many times, but the Portuguese created a fortress in the 16th century, creating a viable trading centre for spices and many other items.
The fortress is well preserved and maintained, thankfully it’s also now an UNESCO World Heritage site as the fort ramparts protect many of the old original houses and many other colonial remnants in this small part of the town.
During my time visiting Galle I was casually walking along the fortress wall with a few other tourists, we thought it was just slightly windy, it turns out we were in the middle of a cyclone! We took shelter in the Rampart Hotel, where the roof felt like it was going to take off but thankfully being a colonial building it can withstand anything.
Quite a few of the surrounding buildings were damaged, the hotel that I was staying at had minor damage but it wasn’t finished to begin with so it probably even improved it slightly.
…the least said the better!
I highly recommend anyone to visit Sri Lanka; it’s an incredible country with friendly locals, wonderful food and has a great mix of rural tea plantations and paradise beaches.
Although it was made in 2011 I still think this is one of the best tourism videos I’ve seen.
If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.