What Do Travelers Love the Most about Sri Lanka?
“What is your favorite thing about Sri Lanka, Nathan?”
“Probably Koththu Roti.” Nathan has a habit of loving a country based on its cuisine.
Being born in the central highlands, growing up here, walking to school in my pure-white uniform, I never thought of what I love the most about my own country. Years later, now when I explore its tiny corners with my partner, I often think what I love the most about this island is, its people. I’m not trying to romanticize the island. I’ve had four to five dozens of bad experiences with my fellow Sri Lankans but, I love it when Ibrahim came five kilometers to find our bus just so he could return my floppy hat and our lens cap. I love it when a thambili aunty in Tangalle giggles about how Nathan looks like a South Indian actor. I love it when a small family in Nanu Oya welcome us and feed us string-hoppers, and lentils curry even when our stomachs are full. I think it’s often the people we meet that shape our experiences. It’s often the strangers in far corners of this tiny island that make our journey a little extra special.
What do others love the most about Sri Lanka? I needed to know. Is it food? Is it people? Gorgeous mountains? Sandy beaches? Maybe everything. So I asked a few fellow travelers what they love the most about Sri Lanka. And here’s what they told me:
Bundala National Park
My favorite day in Sri Lanka was the afternoon spent in Bundala National Park. Much overshadowed by other popular national parks in the south such as Udawalawe and Yala, Bundala is an undiscovered gem. A visitor must take a high clearance 4×4 to visit the park as there are some roads covered in water. In the afternoon we visited, there were only two other jeeps with 4 other people.
What makes Bundala so special is its varied terrain in such a compact park and its wildlife. The park contains many waterholes and beautiful coastline. The park is most famous for its birds – we spotted over 20 varieties – including peacocks, storks, hawk-eagles, and bee eaters. But there are reptiles and mammals too – Elephants, crocodiles, deer, monkeys, wild pigs, water buffalo, monitor lizards, and sea turtles. If you are really lucky you might even spot the elusive leopard. Every time we turned a corner in the jeep we spotted another bird or animal.
Our trip to the park started at Lagoon Inn. Located on the main highway of the south, this family-owned inn has views over the wetlands and an opportunity to see the peacocks roosting at sunset. The lady of the house cooked us two of the best meals too – yummy noodles for lunch and rice and curry for dinner.
By Lisa from TheHotFlashPacker
Food culture in Colombo
If you think of pretty much any country in the world, visiting its capital would be the first thing on the itinerary, wouldn’t it? How to skip Moscow on your trip to Russia? Or London if you are visiting England? Yet, when people come to Sri Lanka, Colombo is often left out. And I can understand why. It’s noisy, polluted, and there are not too many things to do. But there’s one thing Colombo does better than any other city in Sri Lanka. Food! And also shopping. But food is more important.
From hole-in-the-wall type of cafes to the restaurants inside five-star hotels, Colombo offers a multitude of options. You can walk down Galle Face Green with a view of the ocean and grab a shrimp wade (deep-fried lentil patty with shrimps) at a little street shop, then cross Galle road and find yourself in the elegant lounge of Shangri-La or Hilton Colombo enjoying afternoon tea in style. Besides, unlike in the rest of the country, you can find cuisines from all around the world in Colombo. Chinese, Thai, and Indian restaurants have long become staples in the capital. But even if you are craving German sausages, French crepes, or Russian borsch, you’ll find it here.
Last, but not least, shopping is amazing if you know the right places. You can find locally produced organic foods, hand-loomed fabrics, and fine china. If you are traveling to Sri Lanka and food is one of your priorities, give Colombo a chance and plan to spend one or two days in the capital!
Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle is the cherry on the cake of a trip to Sri Lanka. The Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a maze of narrow alleys, with beautiful gardens from where plants and flowers pour into the street. Galle Fort boasts a Clock Tower and a beautiful lighthouse, which have become the most iconic sights in the city.
The views of the sea from the fort are stunning: this is a good place to walk along to spot locals, who often go there for a romantic walk, especially at sunset. It’s the typical location for wedding photo shoots. Looking closely, it is possible to see turtles swimming among the rocks below too.
What differentiates Galle from the rest of Sri Lanka is the fact that, being more geared to Western tourism, there’s a very good offer of pubs and bars, coffee shops and good restaurants. There are many beautiful boutiques as well as art galleries.
In terms of accommodation, Galle has anything for any budget. There are a few backpacker hostels and many boutique hotels, some of them located in heritage sites. Outside the city there are many villas which are rented to tourists. They are beautifully decorated in colonial style; they all have a garden and a pool, and can accommodate small to large groups making it a real steal when traveling with friends.
By Claudia from My Adventure Across The World
Yala National Park
Located on the South East coast of Sri Lanka, this Natural Reserve could seem a bit out of the way, when it is just a few hours away one of the most popular destinations in the country, Galle. Yala is an all year round destination, and wildlife safaris run every day. Many tourists, when visiting the island, make a quick one or two nights stop at Yala National Park when actually three or four nights are needed at least if you want to absorb what the place has to offer.
Be aware that if you stay in one of the resorts there, it is not rare to be woken up at sunrise by the monkeys playing nearby your room, finding deer that come to the poolside for water during the daytime or how witnessing how elephants have dinner meters away from your cabin at dusk.
I would highly recommend contacting the guys at Nature Trails for both wildlife safaris and other experiences in Yala. A renowned team of naturalists and conservationists that have studied, researched, designed, developed and curated every activity minding the environment and local communities of the area, they do know what they are doing. And that will make your experience in Yala National Park an unforgettable one. On top of that, you will be helping the researchers to go on! Isn’t it awesome to know you are contributing to preserving Yala leopards?
By Inma from A World to Travel
Warm, welcoming people, and Sri Lankan food
We spent a month in Sri Lanka and it rained for 20 of those 30 days, yet I love the country and can’t wait to return. We even managed to hike some great trails on the dry days! What made it special was a combination of the people and the food. Bringing those two together was the time we spent in a homestay high above the tea country town of Ella.Ashoka, our host met us at the train station in Ella and our stay with her at the Rock Face for four nights epitomizes to me what is great about Sri Lanka.
Firstly it was the genuine welcome to her home from Ashoka and her family gave us. Here you’ll find no jaded tourism industry and I never once felt that my travel dollars were being scammed from me at all in Sri Lanka (although I have to admit feeling that the entrance to sites like Sigiriya was incredibly expensive!)Ashoka combined the genuine friendliness of Sri Lanka with the incredible food on offer by showing us how to cook traditional Sri Lankan food. From the sieving of the rice to get rid of any small stones to a range of dishes, we cooked the lot. Most traditional Sri Lanka meals will include a wide variety of mainly vegetarian dishes – from cucumber salad to pumpkin curry, dhal, to banana leaf and brinjal (eggplant) curry. Sri Lankan food is not generally spicy – if you want spice to add your own spice to it – and it’s generally served at room temperature.
Breakfast too, in Sri Lanka, is a star when it comes to food. Combining the traditional hoppers or string hoppers with coconut sambal and dhal will set you up for the day (as Ashoka did for us each day).We sincerely loved the food of Sri Lanka – exploring the varieties of curry that we ate at lunch and dinner. We enjoyed immensely the interactions with people throughout the country, from Jaffna in the north to Mirissa in the south.
Horton Plains National Park
A Horton Plains trek is highly recommended for the travelers who enjoy a nature hike that isn’t too difficult. Horton Plains is a national park named in honor of the then Governor of Ceylon (1831-1837), Sir Robert Wilmot Horton. Even though you’d need to start really early around 4.30am, the nature in the area surrounding is just second to none. It’s a long trek, but with gentle terrain, with only 4km to walk and a really clear trail. You don’t need a tour guide to do this trail, so it’s highly unnecessary to pay for one. Because we started early, we were able to take some amazing shots on our trek and experience nature without people surrounding us.
Even though you might not see many animals, you can’t help but appreciate how the sun hits the grass and the gorgeous lighting. If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a sambhar deer, a leopard, or even some macaques! I definitely think it’s paradise for bird watchers. Trek past the ‘World’s End‘ and you’ll be astounded at the beauty that surrounds you. This would be an excellent picture perfect moment, so carry your camera and Instagram away! During the trek, you will also come across beautiful waterfalls. You should consider carrying some snacks and enjoying a post sunrise breakfast. It’s really something. The best way to get to this place is to rent a car or hire a driver to get there, but I know of people who’ve taken tuk tuks. I do highly recommend that you do the trek as early as possible because it could get quite hot around 9am. Horton Plains is best accessible from Nuwara Eliya.
Cocounts. More coconuts. And Sri Lankan food
I have an addiction. An addiction I blame solely on Sri Lanka.
COCONUT, ginger, chilli, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, curry leaves, cumin seeds, tamarind, mustard seeds and lime. I simply cannot get enough of the flavours of this spicy island. Nothing beats tucking into a local meal after a busy day exploring the island. So to help you get started on your Sri Lankan food odyssey, here are my top five dishes;
- Kadala – Found on the roadside and served in a cone of the newspaper is this delicious snack of chick peas, chili, onion, fresh coconut and of course an array of spices. Grab a packet or 2 of hot Kadala and munch away happily.
- Dhal curry/parippu – A creamy, coconutty dhal that is heaven with rice, roti and of course a couple of chutneys on the side. My favourites are Pol Sambol (coconut, chilli and onion) and seeni sambol (sweet onion).
- Hopper/Appas – To me hoppers are Sri Lanka. Although there are a few different types, I am cheating and putting them together. Plain hoppers, egg hoppers, string hoppers – make sure you try them all with a delicious chicken or aubergine curry and a spicy sambol.
- Short eats – Stop at any eatery at the side of the road and try a variety of snacks known as short eats. My favourites are fish rolls and egg rotis, but I suggest you just take one of each and share them. Wash it down with an Elephant House ginger beer and hit the road again.
- Cashew nut/kaju curry – This tempered, creamy curry with coconut milk is so good we had it at our wedding. Just trust me and try it!
So if you’re lucky enough to be heading to this beautiful, tiny island in the Indian Ocean make sure you go hungry and ready to eat!
Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Mirissa is located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. It has a great laid back beach vibe and atmosphere, that immediately makes you feel welcome as soon as you arrive! The beach here is simply stunning, and you can simply laze on a sun lounger all day and sip from a coconut, or have a go at bodyboarding if you so wish and feel more adventurous. If you time it right, you can often catch an amazing sunset, which makes for a fantastic photo opportunity.
There are also plenty of bars and restaurants that serve many cocktails and great food dishes. The seafood plates here especially need to be tried! There are numerous activities to do in Mirissa, but one of the big draws is whale watching. Here you can see many types of whales and dolphins, but if you come in the right season, you can even see the world’s largest animal, the blue whale! There are numerous daily tours (depending on the weather) to see these wonderful creatures. When we went the sea was very rough, so ensure you take some travel sickness medication if you require it.
Once you’ve finished seeing whales and dolphins, you can also see plenty of other marine life by scuba diving off the coast of Mirissa. You can then wake up the next day and try a spot of yoga, on top of a hill over looking this great beach town if you still have any energy left!So as you can see, Mirissa really does offer a bit of everything for everyone! If you’re heading to Sri Lanka, make sure you check it out!
Ceylon Tea Trails
Sri Lanka is a country of great contrasts and diversity. I often describe it as Bali meets India with the culture and food of its big sister neighbour but the setting of its further cousin on a rugged tropical island. It’s hard not to fall under its spell as there really is something for everyone.We had a fabulous 16 days in Sri Lanka recently and covered everything from the temples and parks of the Cultural Triangle through to the Golden beaches of the south. It’s hard to pick a stand out moment but our stay at the incredible Ceylon Tea Trails estate is probably it. One of the most luxurious ( and expensive) places to stay in the country it is an indulgent but unforgettable experience that was worth the investment.
Not only were we pampered in luxurious former plantation managers bungalows, indulged with incredible food and wine, stunned by amazing views and scenery and spoilt with exemplary service, but we also received an education about Tea and the incredible impact it has had on Sri Lanka. The Bungalows are owned and operated by the inspirational Dilmah family and included in the tariff is a tour of the local working tea factory. As you enjoy a cocktail by the infinity pool at Dunkeld Bungalow at sunset it is common to see the tea pluckers coming in for the day with their bags full of world quality tea leaves.
A truly extraordinary experience!
By Sandy from Tray Tables away
Watalappan – A classic Sri Lankan dessert
Sri Lanka is phantasmagorically lovely. Home to amazing sandy beaches, charming hill country, stunning scenery, sweetest people, and rich cultural diversity; Sri Lanka is a must-visit destination for any travel enthusiast. I loved many aspects of this tiny island but what I loved the most is the local Sri Lankan dessert called Watalappam (watalappan in Sinhala.) Hey! I’m not a foodie but this one is a culinary delight. Believe me; the dessert is as luscious as its name. Watalappan is a blend of the Tamil words Vattil (cup) and Appam (cake) – Vatillappam (cupcake.)
Watalappan is basically a crème caramel with a tropical twist. It’s a pudding made with kithul jaggery, eggs, coconut milk, nutmeg and cardamoms and tastes heavenly. Kithul nectar is extracted from the flowers growing on the coconut trees and then air-dried to form a crystalline brown sugar. The taste of this exotic sweet dish depends mainly on kithul jaggery. Kithul (hakuru in Sinhala) is a natural sweetener used in most of the Sri Lankan desserts.
This creamy and velvety brown desert melts effortlessly in the mouth and the taste lingers and the aftertaste of the dish is something that you go back home with. The perfect watalappam has palm sugar (kithul) syrup dribbling from it and is garnished with caramelized sugar on the top. Watalappan is also served with banana slices. It’s a staple sweet dish at Sri Lankan celebrations and weddings.
Veganuary being the latest trend, how can I forget to mention that they have turned this classic and tasty dessert into a vegan ice-cream. Vegan in you would love the Vegan cardamom spiced coconut ice cream, mark my words. Watalappan pudding or watalappan ice cream; you ought to taste this scrumptious dessert to get the taste of real Sri Lanka.
By Anjali from Travel Melodies
Train journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella
The train journey from NUWARA ELIYA to ELLA, spanning only a distance of 60 Km but progressing through the mountain ranges, letting you glimpse through the breath-taking valleys of tea plantation. Sri Lanka has had a long history of colonial period by the British and the Dutch. The rail system amid the tea gardens were a necessity back in those days to keep the business going. However, the latest push for railway development by the government in order to boost the tourism is notable.
The trains are spacious, often air-conditioned, reasonably priced. They progress through the clouds. Many black tunnels will come along the way. From the top, you will get to see the tiny village and daily local livelihood. It was a charming experience indeed. In Nuwara Eliya, you should stay for a night or two. Book an accommodation in one of the British buildings. Or better still, secure the night in a homestay. Visit a tea plantation in the morning. The early mornings in the mountains are amazing.
The train ride is often compared with the best of the world, the likes of trans-Siberian railway. Make you watch out for the approaching smoke of cloud from the reverse as the train climbs upward. The wild blue flowers of the mountain are rare finds. So is the aroma of the Eucalyptus trees. During the rainy season, the journey becomes an epic once in a lifetime experience.
There’s nothing not to love.
I visited about 10 countries in 2017 but whenever anyone asks me which was my favorite I answer without hesitation that it was Sri Lanka. Perhaps it was the welcoming ambiance after spending a challenging but beautiful six months in India, or the unseasonably perfect weather I had during my month-long trip. It’s hard for me to pinpoint an exact thing that I loved the most about Sri Lanka. It was my first trip where I was working full-time as a travel blogger and writer. I was collecting stories to share on Miss Filatelista and other publications. Everyone I met was fascinating, kind, and eager to share their culture with me.
I had been apprehensive that it would be hard to be a non-meat eater but instead found endless delicious vegetarian meals. I’d do anything for a hearty homemade serving of Sri Lankan rice and curry, especially for jackfruit curry and coconut sambal. Perhaps it was the idyllic beaches that were particularly empty in the shoulder season where I swam with wild sea turtles for the first time. Or maybe it was embracing ancient Ayurvedic lifestyle principals? I also loved discovering the historic Buddhist monuments, rolling hills in tea country.
But my favorite experience in Sri Lanka, and the globe, was encountering magnificent wild Asian elephants in Udawalawe National Park. One way or another, Sri Lanka stole my heart and has been calling me back ever since I left.
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