Sri Lanka has been heavy on our radar ever since our team first visited the country back in 2016. Now it seems the rest of the world is swiftly catching up – Lonely Planet has just declared Sri Lanka the top destination to visit in 2019. So what’s all the fuss about? You’re about to find out.
As an island nation, Sri Lanka’s flora and fauna have remained largely unaffected by outside influences, making the country’s natural scenery unique and well worth the overseas trip. As an added incentive, the national parks in Sri Lanka remain far less crowded compared to the big five bucket list safaris attracting huge crowds to Africa.
Spanning over 900,000km2, Yala National Park is the most visited park in the country. This is the best place to visit for a chance of spotting leopards (pun intended) along with elephants, buffalos and countless species of birds. Udawalawe National Park, on the other hand, is the place to go for spectacular elephant sightings – the park has the highest concentration of these gentle giants in the country.
Sri Lankan food could be described as India lite: the local food is flavourful but not as intensely spicy as you’ll find on the mainland. In other words, Sri Lankan food offers the perfect introduction to South Asian cuisine. Local staples include endless rice, hearty curries and addictive roti (flatbread). Anthony Bourdain’s visit to a late night kottu roti stand in Colombo offers a spicy introduction to the local cuisine:
Of course, the Sri Lankan culinary scene extends far beyond those late night street food cravings. A case in point: Botanik Rooftop Bistro & Bar in Colombo. Sitting pretty on the top floor of the Fairway Hotel, this chic bistro attracts the young and beautiful to sip custom cocktails and munch on modern bistro style cuisine while gazing over Colombo’s ever changing sky line. Besides its in-vogue clientele, Botanik has earned some serious bragging rights thanks to a close encounter with the coveted Michelin guide: Botanik is headed by Chef Rishi Naleendra, the first Sri Lankan to be rewarded a Michelin star for his raved about Cheek by Jowl restaurant in Singapore.
The Fort Printers offers another refined take on Sri Lankan dining. Dating back to the 1700s, this colonial mansion has been restored into a boutique hotel and one of the finest restaurants in the UNESCO-protected Galle Fort. Offering oodles of old world charm, the fine dining restaurant focuses on fresh seafood and organic produce. The curated menu here is short but oh-so-sweet and the lobster curry is an absolute must.
Culture & History
Besides its nuanced natural beauty, Sri Lanka offers rich history and a unique tableau of cultures. Around 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist coexisting alongside sizable Hindu and Muslim minorities. The country has been under Portuguese, Dutch and British rule and you can see notable traces of these colonial influences in architecture throughout the country, most notably in the UNESCO-protected Galle Fort which dates back to 1588.
Galle Fort is by no means Sri Lanka’s only rub with UNESCO. The Ancient City of Sigiriya is another world heritage site. Commonly known as Lion rock, the fortress of Sigiriya is an imposing rock formation dating back over 2000 years. For an encounter with Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heritage (and yet another UNESCO landmark) Dambulla Cave Temple is the largest cave temple in the country, housing 153 statues of the Buddha.
Besides the tea fields and elephants herds, Sri Lanka’s natural landscape is characterised by glorious golden sand beaches. The most popular beaches, including Unawatuna and Mirissa, are strung along the southern coastline and are within an easy car ride from Galle Fort. Nestled between Unwatuna and Mirissa, Dalawella Beach has shot to Instagram fame thanks to a simple rope swing hung from a coconut tree.
This is just one example of how Instagram is helping attract millennial travellers to the country. Social media is also helping bring new locations onto travellers’ radars, Blue Beach Island being one of the most stunning examples. Sri Lanka is also attracting more and more surfers with the once secluded Arugam Bay enjoying a real renaissance as a laidback surfer’s hub.
So there’s a lot to attract travelers to Sri Lanka – but until recently, getting there involved a whole lot of head scratching. In late 2017, Sri Lankan Airlines began offering direct flights between Melbourne and Colombo. Direct flights to Sri Lanka are also offered from Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and seasonally, as far as Amsterdam. For more information about flights to and from Sri Lanka, check out our guide.
The electronic travel authorization system has made obtaining a visa to Sri Lanka a breeze. Travellers heading to Sri Lanka can apply for the ETA online at eta.gov.lk to obtain a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival.
As the global travelers descends on the nation, Sri Lanka is offering more and more accommodation options ranging from laid back homestays to jaw-dropping luxury properties. As a sign of the country’s upward swing, major hotel chains, including Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt are set to open new properties in the country. Besides these multinational heavy hitters, we are loving all the great new villas popping up on our radar.