Heaven is a Jewel shaped Island.
Sri Lanka is often compared to a gemstone due to its shape. Once you go there it won’t take you long to understand why Sri Lanka is not just shaped like a jewel but it really is a precious treasure on Earth. There are countless reasons why you should visit this paradise. Are you into white sand paradise beaches? Are you more of a hiker and adventurer? Are you into Spirituality, and want to discover Buddhism? Are you into wildlife? Are you a Foodie?
If you answered YES even to one of these questions then Sri Lanka should be your next destination. It has everything: Lush green landscapes, mountains, hikes with stunning views, paradise beaches, lovely locals, amazing food. It ticks all the boxes of what most people would consider heaven on Earth.
I landed in Colombo early in the morning and booked a night there. And here’s my first advice (That matches the ones of several other travellers I spoke to). Spend maximum 1 day in Colombo or skip it altogether. The city is chaotic it doesn’t have much to offer other than some nice hotels and food spots. If you decide to spend one day there I would advise to book a room around Mt Lavinia beach or Dehiwala so you’ll be far away from the chaos and you can spend your jetlag sunbathing and chilling.
Another suggestion I have is obviously start from the inland before you head down to the south: I say that for 2 main reasons:
1. It makes more sense in terms of transportation
2. The moment you’ll hit the coast you won’t want to move anymore. Life is just too good down there!
This is how I spent my 5 weeks there:
Kandy (2 days) – Nuwara Eliya / Ella (3 days) – Tangalle (5 days) – The coast between Matara and Galle (Rest of my stay).
With hindisght and experience I would suggest a slightly better itinerary. I would add a couple of days in Dambulla after or before Kandy to get to see the Sigiriya Rock and the Dambulla Cave temple, as well as an extra day in Ella or Hatton to hike Adam’s Peak.
Enough with the intros, here are the main reasons why I believe you should go and a few photos of this great journey.
Reason Number 1: The People
People in Sri Lanka are just lovely. They are incredibly helpful. In the smallest towns inland, where they are not used to tourist they’ll treat you like a VIP and continuously ask to get a selfie with you or pictures of you. They will always go the extra mile to help you, whether is to find a taxi, accommodation, suggestions on things to do etc. A guy I chatted with for a few minutes noticed I was going to a shop to buy water, stopped me, ran to his bus and gave me 2 bottles for free. Many people were happy to share some food or drinks with me and always ask if there was anything I needed help with and giving me countless tips and suggestions to make the most of the time in Lanka. Locals know how to party and have a great time too and will happily give you advice on the night life, places to go to hang out or party.
A couple of extra tips for how to deal with locals:
If you are a girl travelling solo: Sri Lanka is very safe. However some female travellers I met told me they felt a bit uncomfortable in some parts of the inland and even in the touristy south. I spent some time on a beach at night in Weligama with another backpacker, who had spent several months there and she said it’s not uncommon for locals to get closer when they see couples on the beach at night for a bit of voyeurism or waiting for them to go for a night swim and steal their stuff. Actually when I turned around I realised there were quite a few locals staring at us. Yet again, I met tons of solo female travellers and they never experienced a problem or felt unsafe. So green light on that! Just obviously use common sense as you would anywhere else.
Tuktuks in the south coast will not have a meter and overcharge you all the time. The reason is that the most common TukTuk booking App (PickMe: I highly suggest you to download it to order TukTuks and get fair prices) doesn’t work there, so they can come up with prices 3/4 times the normal fare. If you are visiting the south, I would advise renting a motorbike as it will work out cheaper than a TukTuk. If you are going to move along the coast for parties, obviously don’t drink and drive. Duh!!
Buses are a great way to get around too. Sri Lankan Buses are incredibly colorful, pump music and feel like a roller coaster. Definitely something to experience even if just once.
Another advice: Locals know very well that tourists have money to spend and in some of the most touristy spot will try to get some off you all the time (I found this to happen mostly in Ella and in the South). These stilt fishermen are not actually fishing. They sit next to the spot and wait for tourists who want to take pictures of them to charge them:
Reason Number 2: The Food
Sri Lankan Food is just AMAZING. You won’t believe how tasty it is, some of the things you should definitely try are: Kottu, Rice and Curry, Roti and Hoppers. If you look for a local experience go eat in hotels. That’s how little local food places are called in Sri Lanka and they are incredibly cheap as well. You can leave a hotel spending less than 2 Euros, with a full belly and satisfied.
If you get tired of Curries and Kottu. In the most touristy places you’ll find some amazing international food, especially in the south. Mexican, Pizza, French, Brunch, Burgers, you name it, Sri Lanka has it.
The Gully Kitchen, Cantina Lanka, Hana’s Pizza, The Kip are some of the best food spots in Ahangama. Make sure you also check out the Vegan Nicecream from Cruising Smoothy in Weligama.
A tip if you decide to eat in a local Hotel: If you get a Kottu or Fried Rice and so on don’t get more food as the portions are HUUUGE. Exactly what you need after a day spent hiking or surfing though.
Reason Number 3: Culture and Spirituality
Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country. Around 70% of its inhabitants are Buddhists, this means you get the chance to experience this beautiful life philosophy in several ways. You can sign up for Vipassana silent retreats, you can go to meditate in temples, talk to monks and understand more about the Dharma and the way. It’s also not far from India and is really easy to find yoga retreats and courses anywhere, especially on the coast. Another great advantage of the great spiritual tradition of the country is the number of beautiful temples you’ll find.
I’m glad Kandy was my first stop after Colombo as it’s considered the Spiritual Capital of Sri Lanka. Kandy is renowned for the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. In this temple a relic of Buddha’s tooth is kept and every day at 6 PM the monks hold a ceremony. Devotees come from all places to look at the relic and leave an offer (often a lotus flower) with traditional drummers playing on the background.
Insider tip: Another gorgeous place to go around Kandy that is not very well known to tourists is the Nelligala Buddhist Centre. This beautiful temple was built on top of a mountain and I highly suggest visiting early in the morning or close to sunrise as it offers some stunning views on the beautiful, green surrounding landscape.
For Yoga, if you happen to stop by in Tangalle, you should definitely visit the classes held by Yoga Tangalle at Coppenrath Hostel. The Yoga Shala is right on top of the building facing the beach, which means you get to do yoga while watching the sun rising over the ocean.
Reason Number 4: Landscapes and Hikes.
I had the luck to see the sun rising while flying a hot air balloon in Kapadokya and that’s hard one to beat… So if I say in Sri Lanka I have seen some of the most beautiful sunrises of my life, take my word and go check them out.
Sri Lanka as a very varied landscape. The beautiful hills, valleys and tea plantations you can find around Kandy, Ella and Nuwara Eliya develop into mountains that offer breathtaking views and have been adorned with temples, stupas and colorful houses, that enhance their natural beauty.
Starting from Kandy I would highly suggest to take a train ride to Ella. The train goes through beautiful tea plantations and is one of the most famous train rides in the world as it passes over the Nine Arches Bridges
A MUST DO HIKE near Ella is surely Little Adam’s Peak. You might have to leave your place to start the hike at around 4/5 AM to make it to the top by sunrise but it’s totally worth it. Don’t just take my word for it. Have a look:
A little tip if you are planning to hike it (and you should!) make sure you get there a bit early to explore the area around. The main viewpoint offers a great scenery, but if you walk down the hill and climb up the second peak you get rewarded with an even better view:
Not far from Ella and Nuwara Eliya you’ll find its big brother: Adam’s Peak. This mountain is considered one of the most important places in Lanka for its spiritual value. At the top of the peak there’s a huge footprint that Buddhists believe was left by Buddha himself. The peak is sacred in all religions as Hindus believe the footprint belongs to Shiva and Christians/Muslim think it’s the sign of Adam’s first step after descending on Earth from heaven. (Hence the name)
To make it to the top by sunrise you would have to start the hike at 2.30 AM. It’s a long one. It’s Roughly 9 km one way, 1 km elevation gain and you’ll need to climb 6.000 steep steps to get there. Make sure you don’t go on a weekend or near the full moon. Adam’s peak is a pilgrimage site and buddhists from everywhere go climb it. If you go when it’s too busy you might find yourself queueing for hours to reach the top, as at every day at sunrise during pilgrimage season (January to May) a ceremony is held at the top of the temple.
If you have a bit of spare time in Ella, you can grab a mopad and explore the area around it. You’ll find waterfalls, caves and other beautiful hikes.
Reason Number 5: The Perfect Beach Life to Chill, Surf and Party.
As I said in the intro, once you hit the coast the likelihood to get (happily) stuck there is pretty high. Most of the travellers I met at parties (there are a lot of lit parties down on the coast) had more or less the same story: “I was planning to stay here a week or two, it’s been months now). Which is also what I did, I ditched my initial plans to spend just one month in Sri Lanka and extended my visa to spend more time on the coast.
The beach life between Matara and Galle is just fantastic. The white sand beaches are wonderful. There’s plenty of coconut trees, forests and lagoons a few km away from the sea. The sunsets and sunrises are breathtaking. I remember when I first told my host in Tangalle I was planning to stay just 5 days his reply was: “Oooh wait to see the sunrise tomorrow.” Same happened with another traveller I met in Weligama. When I asked her how did she ended up staying 2 months longer than planned her reply was: “I just can’t get enough of these sunsets.”
But if you think it’s all about views, sunrises and sipping fresh coconut water while sunbathing you’re wrong. There’s so much more to do in the south. Weligama, Midigama, Ahangama have some amazing breaks for surfing. Surfers of any skill level can go and either learn or improve their wave riding skills. Most hostels, cafes and restaurants are very hip and offer organic delicious food, yoga classes and activities. There’s a party happening somewhere every single day and you can go and see turtles, whale watching or on day trips to National parks and elephant sanctuaries. What else could you possibly want?
Oh Lanka, I’ll be Back.
These 5 reasons to visit are also great reasons to go back. Sri Lanka has the most diverse landscapes, the best people, food and vibes, is very affordable and when you’re there you feel blessed every day as your day to day life is pretty much a dream. I believe that as the voice will spread Sri Lanka will become the new Bali. For now is equally beautiful but not yet spoilt. So hurry up and plan your next trip there.