Four years ago, I was invited to attend TBC Asia, a bloggers conference, award ceremony and press trip in Sri Lanka, organised by the PTBA (Professional Travel Bloggers Association) and the Cinnamon Hotel Group. While I would have LOVED to go, back then I just moved to London and just didn’t have the finances to justify spending a couple hundred pounds on taxes to fly myself half-way across the planet. I was gutted, but I knew there would come a time that I would make it up and visit Sri Lanka after all!
Fast Forward: These days, I’m doing much better at being a self-employed, running a blog full-time and so I applied and got accepted to be part of the Sri Lanka Class of 2018! All I had to pay for was a visa, as these days, all flights and taxes are included for hosted bloggers. Here’s a great website to apply for Sri Lanka visa.
I got to travel the South Coast of this incredible country and was give the chance to experience the hospitality, taste the local food, get up close to Sri Lankan culture and history and go on a couple of awesome adventures.
I’ve gathered 10 of the best things to do in Sri Lanka that I believe contribute to self-development and will make you grow as a person and I hope you get the chance to experience them one day:
What we'll cover in this article
- 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN SRI LANKA
- 1. Enjoy the Benefits of Ayurveda in Sri Lanka
- 2. Go Blue Whale Watching Sri Lanka
- 3. Visit Fort Galle Sri Lanka
- 4. Discover How Cinnamon Spice is Made
- 5. Spot Wildlife at Yala National Park Sri Lanka
- 6. Visit a Local Market
- 7. Eat All the Sri Lankan Food
- 8. Relax on the Best Beaches in Sri Lanka
- 9. See Local Handicrafts Being Made
- 10. Pay Respect to the Tsunami Victims
- Products from Amazon.com
10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN SRI LANKA
1. Enjoy the Benefits of Ayurveda in Sri Lanka
Siddhalepa Ayurveda Sri Lanka Health Resort
One of the first stops we made departing capital city Colombo on our way to the South Coast of the country was the Siddhalepa Ayurveda Resort. Here, they focus on the production process that combines the traditions and knowledge of Sri Lankan Ayurvedic medicine with scientific technology.
If you’re not familiar with Ayurveda yet, I’ve written a whole post about it after my experience in Goa, India. In short, this holistic discipline originates over 5000 years ago in India, and it focuses on the prevention as well as the curing of any form of ailment or disease through the unique synergy of mind and body and with the use of different techniques and therapies that utilise natural balms and oils. If you want to know more about Ayurveda, Check on Amazon.
The Siddhalepa Ayurveda Health Resort and Spa offers a wide range of packages for most illnesses or health conditions. Under the care of resident physicians, visiting consultants and hospital trained therapists, you can get tailor-made treatments based on 100% natural products. They even have their own Ayurvedic hospital!
Other experiences include tasting a variety of 15 elixirs and Ayurvedic teas, attending a cooking demonstration, getting a tour of the herbal garden, yoga & meditation classes, doing cultural excursions and Ayurveda factory visits. All while staying in a secluded hideaway amidst waving palm trees and tropical greenery, right on the beach. There is a restaurant serving Ayurvedic meals and a gorgeous swimming pool for you to enjoy. Even the accommodation that you stay at is incredible and made from locally sourced materials.
If you don’t come back relaxed after a stay here, I don’t know what else will!
Want to stay at this resort? You can see the best deals on booking.com
Spa Ceylon Shop
Ayurvedic products can be found in shops everywhere around Sri Lanka, but if I can make a recommendation, I would suggest to visit Spa Ceylon in Colombo (both in the city as on the airport!).
In this shop, that reminded me a bit of ‘The Body Shop’ here in Europe, you can find plenty of colourful-packaged care products, ranging from hand creams and lip balms to body wash, soaps and even essential oils. All with Ayurvedic recipes and aiming to help you relax, sleep, focus, and much more!
The owner of the shop was kind enough to provide us with a goodie bag full of luxury products, and I’m just loving everything that I’m using so far!
You can find their shop online at: store.spaceylon.com
Other Ayurvedic Experiences
For some more ideas on tours you can book that include Ayurvedic massages, check Get Your Guide:
- One Day Ayurvedic Treatment Tour
- Colombo Walking Tour with Ayurveda 1-Hour Body Massage
- Colombo Tuk-Tuk City Tour with 1-Hour Ayurvedic Body Massage
- Colombo Walking Tour With Ayurvedic Head Massage
2. Go Blue Whale Watching Sri Lanka
One of the top activities in the country has to be whale and dolphin watching Sri Lanka! Blue whales are the biggest animals that live on our planet and together with the biggest animal on land, the elephant, you can find them in Sri Lanka. One of the best places to see whales in Sri Lanka is off the coast of Mirissa, which is where we went.
Because the waters around Mirissa Sri Lanka are rich in plankton, scientists say that there is probably a resident population of whales always present in the area. As whales are mammals and have lungs, they need to come up for air at least every 30 minutes. When they surface, they spout the air with lots of water out of their blow-hole, which is great to see! We were lucky enough to see a whale surface a few times and even give us a tail up in the air! It’s terribly hard to take photos of the moment, as the boat rocks away, but below you can see a still that I grabs from my (very wobbly) video.
Besides the blue whale, Sri Lanka is also the home of humpback, fin, Bryde’s, minke and sperm whales, as well as lots of dolphins. The Whale watching Sri Lanka season runs from late November to mid April and if you’re combining this with a visit to Yala National Park, then I’ve been told February and March are the best months.
To make sure you’re on a responsible whale watching tour, make sure to check if the company you’re going with is accredited by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). Also ask them if they have a responsible tourism policy, as there is almost no government policy on this.
We went with: Cinnamon Nature Trails [cinnamonnaturetrails.com] and our boat wasn’t crowded and we never got too close to the whales. On the other boats around us (only about 3 others), we saw definitely more overcrowding! Remember that sightings are not guaranteed on any trip. We were on the water for over 5 hours and had just two sighting of just a couple of seconds before we had to return. Make sure to bring SUNSCREEN and don’t be dumb like I did and sit in the sun on the white deck, burning the entire top layer of skin on your face off. Ouch.
For an overview of whale watching tours in Sri Lanka, make sure to check out: srilanka.travel/whale-watching and look for whale watching Mirissa or whale watching Galle options.
Want to book a Whale Watching Tour right away? Then check these options on Get Your Guide:
- Whale Watching Day-Trip to Mirissa From Colombo
- Bentota: Wild Wonders and Dutch Fort of Galle
- 2-Day Whale Watching & Southern Sri Lanka Tour
3. Visit Fort Galle Sri Lanka
Galle Fort was first built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and further fortified by the Dutch in the years after. The fort prevented attacks from colonial competitors both from the sea as the land. These days, Galle is a popular tourist destination and you can spend the day walking around the fort or exploring the nearby beach.
Galle was definitely my favourite place to visit along the South Coast, and I really wish I had more time here! The old town reminded me a little bit of Hoi An in Vietnam, as the streets are filled with lovely little cafes, boutique (ice-cream!) shops and locally run hotels. The vibe was the same as I remembered it from Vietnam.
If you want to read more about things to see and do in Galle if you only have one day, then check out my blog.
Book your trip to Galle today via Get Your Guide:
- Full-Day Sightseeing Tour of Galle, Sri Lanka
- Galle: Saffari Excursion to Madu River
- Bentota: Wild Wonders and Dutch Fort of Galle
- Galle & Bentota: 1-Day Boat Safari Day Tour From Colombo
- Galle Day Tour From Marawila
- Colombo: Galle Fort Day Tour
Check out a cool video made in Galle by my travel-buddy Janet:
Her accompanying blog post on Galle is also one of the best out there: journalistontherun.com
4. Discover How Cinnamon Spice is Made
I always love to find out how common products that we use in our daily lives are made and after my visit to a spice plantation in Goa, India, I’ve become especially interested in finding out where all the spices in my kitchen come from! Well, Sri Lankan cinnamon is really quite well-known, so my tip would be to visit the actual “Cinnamon Island” and learn more about it. We took a fun boat ride over the river Madu (Madu Ganga) and across the Madu Ganga Lake to reach the island.
Cinnamon comes from the inner layer of bark that you can find on dozens of varieties of evergreen trees belonging to the “Cinnamomum” kind. During our visit to the Cinnamon Island Sri Lanka, we saw a lady shave off the outer bark of a cinnamon plant, followed by shaving the inner bark and drying them, which creates these cinnamon bark’curls’ that you will recognize in cinnamon sticks.
Now apparently, most of the world’s Ceylon cinnamon brands come from Sri Lanka! Another popular cinnamon type is “Cassia cinnamon”, which mainly comes from Indonesia. The rest comes from China, Vietnam and Burma.
Besides using cinnamon in a variety of dishes, it can also be used as a face mask, to give you a fresh breath and scrub for dry skin, but it also works as ant and moth repellent, just in case you were wondering.
Wondering where to buy Ceylon cinnamon powder and sticks? Check out Amazon.com, there are plenty of stores selling the real deal!
5. Spot Wildlife at Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Of all the beautiful places in Sri Lanka, a visit isn’t quite complete without stepping foot into one of the national parks! I got the chance to go on a Safari in Yala National Park and it was a great experience!
Yala is one of the oldest and most well-known national parks in the country and it’s the prime spot for spotting leopards. The park plays an important role in the conservation of a large number of flora and fauna in Sri Lanka and you can also find a couple of historical, religious and archaeologically important places in the area.
Make sure to read our full review of the Jeep Safari in Yala National Park here, because we discuss some important things that you should know before you book your trip to Yala, to make sure you get the most out of your experience!
Check the best tours to Yala on Get Your Guide:
- Yala National Park All-Inclusive 2-Day Safari
- From Ella: Full-Day Yala National Park Safari Tour
- 2-Day Yala National Park Safari Tour
- Sri Lanka Yala Wild Life Safari – Seerendipity tours
6. Visit a Local Market
One of my absolute favourite memories from my trip to Sri Lanka is visiting a local market with our guide and the head chef from one of the restaurants at the Cinnamon Bey Beruwala hotel. They took us to a nearby market where we could not only see the incredible diversity in seafood, but also spotted the fishermen hauling in the fish and speak to the sellers on the market.
What surprised me was how friendly the locals were, as they didn’t seem to mind us taking photos at all! In fact, it seemed that they loved it and after a little while, one seller after another came to show their biggest and best catch of the day with our group, which you can see on the photos below.
I really think that this experience showed us how the locals work and live and made me appreciate the meal we had later that night even more. If you’re interested to see what that meal looked like, head over to this post, so you can see it (it’s really quite incredible!)
7. Eat All the Sri Lankan Food
Sri Lankan food mostly consists of rice with an assortment of flavorful curries made with eggplant, potato, green banana, chicken or fish. The curries go from smooth to mega-spicy (they love their spice here in Sri Lanka, so watch out!)
One dish that you definitely have to try out is the ‘hopper’. These are crispy thin pancake-like snacks made from steamed rice noodles and ‘pittu’, which is a mixture of flour and coconut. Then you can fill the hopper with an assortment of condiments, or things like egg. They eat it for breakfast and dinner!
Sri Lankan snacks are: malu pang (fish bun), kimbula bunis (crocodile-shaped bun), patties and cutlets.
8. Relax on the Best Beaches in Sri Lanka
If you’re a beach-lover, then Sri Lanka is the place for you! There is around 1340 kilometers of coastline and much of it is made up of sandy beaches. You can simply sunbath, or go snorkeling, scuba diving and/or surfing. Especially the East-coast is perfect for water activities.
Here are some of the best Sri Lanka Beaches:
- Arugam Bay Beach – Chilled-out long, sandy beach with perfect surf and legendary parties. Surrounded by cafés, yoga studios and hammocks.
- Bentota Beach (Ventura) – Long sandy beach on peninsula at the mouth of the Bentota River, 2-hour drive south from Colombo. Try water sports or a river safari to spot crocodiles.
- Dalawella Beach – Famous for its palm tree beach swing, that you can find at Dream Cabanas hotel. Free for guests, about 500 rupees (USD$3) for a couple of swings.
- Hikkaduwa Beach – This popular palm-fringed beach is know for its strong surf, soft sand and welcoming vibe at the bars and restaurants nearby. Good place for snorkelling & parties.
- Kalpitiya Beach – Beach perfect for wildlife lovers. Go dolphin & whale spotting here!
- Matara Beach – Quiet Beach on the Southern coast of Sri Lanka, close to many yoga resorts.
- Mirissa Beach – This sleepy beach town is popular for whale watching and its curving coast with calm beach full of mussels and stones.
- Negombo Beach (Browns) – This beach is located just 10 km from Colombo Airport and because of the location, it can be quite crowded.
- Nilaveli Beach – Quiet, long stretch of family-friendly beach near Trincomalee. No bars or restaurants nearby. Book an excursion to Pigeon Island or go snorkeling!
- Tangalle Beach – Soft, white sand beach fringed by palm trees. Not suitable for swimming due to strong current. There is a sheltered cove nearby to swim. Great Seafood!
- Unawatuna Beach – Golden sand beach in sheltered bay near Galle. Sunbeds for rent, restaurants nearby. Perfect for families and watersport-lovers!
- Uppuveli Beach– Wide beaches and many hotels and resorts. Book an excursion to Pigeon Island or go snorkeling!
- Weligama Beach – Quiet and serene beach favorite by beginner surfers. Home to ri Lanka’s famous stick fishermen.
- Yala Beach – Due to dangerous currents, you cannot swim at Yala beach, but it’s a good spot for a nice walk and watch the waves crash. Also right next to Yala National Park.
9. See Local Handicrafts Being Made
Ariyapala Mask Museum
I always love to see the local handicrafts that are made in destinations I visit around the world and in Sri Lanka, I had the chance to visit a little Mask Museum in the town of Ambalangoda, a shop that has been running for 5 generations now.
The museum tells you all about the history of Sri Lankan masks, the meanings behind them and how they were used in traditional performances and plays (“Kolam Dance“), such as the Sanni Yakuma, or the “Devils Dance”. They also have a library and many of the tools needed for making the masks on display. The tradition of mask carving has unfortunately almost disappeared in Sri Lanka, so it’s great to see a place where they still treasure their cultural heritage.
The carving of the masks is done in the workshop, which you can also visit. It’s so inspiring to see how they are made with such detail, so afterwards when you visit the shop it’s hard to resist bringing one of them home! Did you know that there are 120 different designs in total?
10. Pay Respect to the Tsunami Victims
In 2004, Sri Lanka got hit by a tsunami that came from the Indian Ocean. Over 30,000 people died and more than 500,000 people lost their homes along the Southern and Eastern shorelines of the country.
Along the coast, there are several Tsunami memorials that you can visit. On the main road from Galle to Colombo you can find a large one, as this is the place where over 1000 people died in one spot as the second tidal wave hit a train full of people.
When you’re stopping at the memorials, make sure to leave a donation, as most houses and fishing vessels were destroyed and the locals really can use your help! When I made my donation next to the Japanese monument you can see below, I even got a receipt, so it’s tax-deductable (just so you know). A little warning, this place also showed pictures of the disaster, which features some very graphic scenes of people, so be aware of that.
Time Zone in Sri Lanka? UTC + 5.30
Currency in Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka Rupee (LKR). Check the latest exchange rate here.
Electrical Plugs in Sri Lanka? 230V, Type D, M & G. We recommend getting a universal travel adapter to never worry about having the right plug on your travels!
Languages Spoken in Sri Lanka? Sinhala, Tamil and English
Best time to visit Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka has warm temperatures throughout the year, but the dry season is from April to October (mild temperatures and little rain). The Monsoon season is from November to March (high temperatures and humidity).
Visa Requirements Sri Lanka? If you’re from the USA, UK, Netherlands or Australia, you are required to apply for an electronic visa (ETA) prior to arrival. This visa allows you to enter and stay in the country for 30 days.
Insurance for Sri Lanka? Make sure to get travel insurance! We recommend checking out worldnomads.com
Vaccinations for Sri Lanka? You should always check your doctor’s recommendations on vaccinations before you travel, but you should definitely have the basic immunizations such as Tetanus and Diphtheria up to date.
How to get to Sri Lanka? You can only fly into Sri Lanka. There are no ferries between India or other nearby countries. I flew from London with Sri Lankan Airlines, as there are daily direct flights from Heathrow to Colombo. This took about 10 hours.
While flying economy is always a bit uncomfortable long-haul, I did like the food and entertainment options on my flight and the staff was super friendly. The flight from London was packed, so 100% make sure to book your seats in advance to prevent yourself ending up in middle seats. You can even bid for business class seats, a friend of mine got hers for as low as 100 pounds!
For the best deals on flights to Sri Lanka, check skyscanner.com.
How to get around Sri Lanka? Most of the sights in Sri Lanka can be reached overland, for example by bus (budget, pay fare to assistant driver), trains (scenic routes: Colombo <> Kandy, Kandy <> Ella and Ella <> Nuwara Eliya) or private driver (comfort, around $200-350 USD for a week (about $15-20 per day) + additional tip of about $50).
You can also opt for domestic flights, Cinnamon Air Sri Lanka has small 8-seater planes to give you some scenic flight fun! And don’t forget to use the tuktuk in the cities (negotiate your price before you get in!)
Which organised tours to do in Sri Lanka? We highly recommend organised tours with either Intrepid or Gadventures. These are the tours they offer:
- Sri Lanka Explorer
- Circle Sri Lanka
- Cycle Sri Lanka
- Simply Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka: Hike, Bike & Kayak
- Sri Lanka Real Food Adventure
- Sri Lanka Family Holiday
- Sri Lanka Land & Sea
- Sri Lanka Encompassed
- Sri Lanka & Maldives Adventure
- Sri Lanka Express
- Discover Sri Lanka
- Discover India and Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka on a Shoestring
- Discover Kerala and Sri Lanka
Tourism Website Sri Lanka:
- Have a look over at srilanka.travel
Accommodation in Sri Lanka:
- Cinnamon Grand Colombo [see the best deals on booking.com]
- Cinnamon Bey Beruwala [see the best deals on booking.com]
- Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon [see the best deals on booking.com]
- Cinnamon Wild Yala [see the best deals on booking.com]
- Siddhalepa Ayurveda Health Resort [see the best deals on booking.com]
- Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort [see the best deals on booking.com]
Where is Sri Lanka? Let me show you on the map:
Make sure to check out our other articles on Sri Lanka:
One Day in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka? Complete Guide To A Perfect City Break!
What You Need to Know About The Yala National Park Safari
Cinnamon Sri Lanka Hotel Review: Is This the Best Accommodation on the South Coast of the Country?
Here are some great Sri Lanka articles by our friends & fellow travel bloggers:
- Srilankan Airlines London to Colombo A330-300 Economy Review [traveldave.co.uk]
- 10 Most Instagrammable Spots in Sri Lanka [polkadotpassport.com]
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – An Instagram Guide [flunkingmonkey.com]
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – What to See in Two Weeks [thecrowdedplanet.com]
- 2 Week Sri Lanka Itinerary – Destinations, Transport, Where To Stay [journalistontherun.com]
- The 7 most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka [back-packer.org]
- Sigiriya Rock to The Lion Fortress in Sri Lanka [wonderfulwanderings.com + globalhelpswap.com]
- Visiting the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka [wonderfulwanderings.com]
- Exploring The Best of Sri Lanka’s East Coast [globalhelpswap.com]
- Visiting a tea plantation in Sri Lanka [globalhelpswap.com]
- 12 Awesome Things to do in Sri Lanka [theplanetd.com]
12 Life (and Business) Lessons Climbing the Lion Rock in Sri Lanka Taught Me [skimbacolifestyle.com]
Here are some good Sri Lanka travel guides to have:
Disclaimer: I was kindly invited by Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, The Professional Travel Bloggers Association, SriLankan airlines and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau to be part of this trip to the South Coast of Sri Lanka (part of TBC Asia 2018). All photos and opinions are, as always, 100% my own!