Sri LankaTravel Guide

Sri Lanka, a tropical island destination in South Asia, is famed for pristine beaches, lush jungles and ancient ruins. Located below the tip of India and called the ‘Teardrop of India’ because of its shape, it also boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, and wildlife you won’t find anywhere else. Ever heard of a sloth bear?  
 
The magic of Sri Lanka means you can view elephants on a safari, then relax on the soft sands under the palm trees of the nearest beach, about an hour or two away (if you’re in the Yala National Park, for example). In the interior, fascinating ruins, temples and caves are waiting to be discovered, and tea plantation tours reveal why the country’s famous for Ceylon tea. Best of all, Sri Lanka’s affordable, putting a tropical island holiday within the reach of many travellers.

Sri Lanka quick facts

Language

National language

Sinhala

Beverages

Bottle of Coke/Pepsi (330ml)

NZD $0.88

Local time

Thursday

6:43am

Currency

Sri Lankan rupee

NZD $1.00 = LKR ₨192.48

Eating out

Restaurant meal (casual dining)

NZD $3.11

Electricity

Plug type: D

3 pins • 230V

Explore Sri Lanka

Where to stay in Sri Lanka?

The island offers a good selection of accommodation to suit every budget, from glitzy resorts and upscale hotels to guest houses and affordable stays. Here are our top picks:

Named among one of the top 25 resorts in Asia in 2021, Wild Coast Tented Lodge in Yala offers the best of the jungle and the beach with a large dose of luxury. Just picture it: luxury tented suites, sparkling plunge pools and four-poster beds. As an all-inclusive option, there’s no need to lift a finger during your stay, with sightseeing made easy at the Yala National Park, only four kilometres away.  


Sigiriya King’s Resort has a prime location on the shores of Lake Halmilla in Sigiriya and is set in a nature reserve. Each luxurious unit is elevated on stilts, giving it that whimsical treehouse vibe. Being higher up not only brings you closer to nature and the stars, but also offers views of Sigiriya Rock (read about this fortress further on). 


Enjoy the beach on your doorstep at Kumu Beach in Balapitiya. This modern hotel offers 10 secluded suites and personalised service without breaking the bank. There’s also a fabulous on-site spa, restaurant and infinity swimming pool. Sea views come standard! 


If you’re on a budget and looking to explore Sri Lanka’s West Coast, stay at This Is It Guest House and Restaurant in the beach town of Negombo. Offering comfy rooms and friendly service, it also has a convenient location — everything’s within walking distance, including the Indian Ocean. 


Believe us when we say, this is just the start. Book your accommodation today!

  • Group of elephants drinking water from a water hole
    • Row of statue Buddhist sat on a bridge overlooking a lake and temple
    • Aerial view of waves crashing onto a beach in Sri Lanka
  • Group of elephants drinking water from a water hole
    Group of elephants drinking water from a water hole
    Group of elephants drinking water from a water hole
  • Row of statue Buddhist sat on a bridge overlooking a lake and temple
    Row of statue Buddhist sat on a bridge overlooking a lake and temple
    Row of statue Buddhist sat on a bridge overlooking a lake and temple
  • Aerial view of waves crashing onto a beach in Sri Lanka
    Aerial view of waves crashing onto a beach in Sri Lanka
    Aerial view of waves crashing onto a beach in Sri Lanka

Things to do in Sri Lanka

Between balmy beaches, outdoor adventures and colourful cultural heartlands, you’ll discover many things to do in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Ceylon tea is legendary, and the island enjoys educating visitors about the way of its brew. The most popular tea plantations are in Kandy, Ella, Haputale and Nuwara Eliya, where you can join various guided tours of plantations and factories to better understand the tea leaf picking and manufacturing process of this precious Sri Lankan commodity.  


The heart of Sri Lanka and the birth of Buddhism lie in the Cultural Triangle, an area connecting three ancient cities: Anuradhapura to its north, Polonnaruwa to the east and Kandy to the southwest. While it’s possible to cover the main attractions in as little as three days, we suggest taking a tour with an experienced guide to fully explore the many ruins and temples, the ancient monastery of Rathna Prasada, the Dambulla cave paintings, national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all of which are packed into this area.

A must-visit in the Triangle is Sigiriya Rock. This gigantic fortress perched on a rocky hill surrounded by jungle includes the ruins of an ancient palace. You’ll need to walk up more than 1,000 steep stairs to get there, so be prepared to work up a sweat. But it’s so worth it! Don’t forget to wear your walking shoes and bring something to cover your shoulders when you go through the Buddhist temple.


If you love hiking, pack your boots and include a day trek up Adam’s Peak in southwestern Sri Lanka on your itinerary. As most travel guides will tell you, it’s best to start early to make the summit at sunrise and take in the incredible views. With stair access, all fitness levels should manage, if somewhat out of breath! Curious about its name and significance? According to certain religions, this is where Adam took his first step on Earth. 


Looking for an immersive experience? Then a tour is the way to go.

Flights to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka food and drink

While Sri Lankan cuisine is similar to that served in India, there’s a stronger emphasis on seafood. Yes, curries feature on the menu, but they tend to be more heavily spiced and not as thick. Crab curry is a specialty. The unique spices and ingredients found on the island give local dishes a twist, even if from the outside they look the same. In a nutshell, Sri Lankan cuisine is all about intense flavours — there’s nothing wishy-washy to taste here! 

Ministry of Crab in Colombo has won multiple awards and is one of the best restaurants in the country. A superb dining experience combines with a welcoming ambience and authentic hospitality, serving up an assortment of — you guessed it — crab dishes! If you don’t mind a bit of heat, the chilli crab is delicious!

If you’re in the city of Kandy, we recommend the restaurant at Kandy House. Set in a colonial manor house built in 1804, it’s not only a romantic setting in which to wine and dine but it also features a curry menu and a selection of local fare to help get you acquainted with the culinary delights of the island. Oh, and the cocktails are amazing too!


Street food is easy to find in Sri Lanka with vendors across the island. But if you want to taste a variety of dishes, head to the food stalls at the Pettah Floating Market in Colombo. Must-tries include fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry), samosas (filled with peas, potatoes and hot spices like chilli), hoppers (a crisp pancake that can be savoury or sweet) and sweet, crispy, chewy manioc (cassava) chips. The best kottu roti can be found at the Galle Face Green night market. 


For an immersive dining experience, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo has outdone itself! It has recreated an entire Sri Lankan village in the middle of the city, complete with a village-style restaurant. Nuga Gama serves traditional fare cooked by local ammes (village cooks), while you dine open-air under an ancient banyan tree. The menu features just about everything a Sri Lankan food lover or curious foodie could want, from kottu roti (a Sri Lankan staple of chopped roti) to Jaffna crab curry. We also love that most ingredients are grown on-site in the garden! 


Get a real taste for the local cuisine by booking a tour.

Sri Lanka through your eyes

Where to shop in Sri Lanka?

Good news! You’ll find a wide selection of shops in Sri Lanka, especially in Colombo — a city that’s every shopaholic’s dream come true. From modern shopping malls to traditional markets, there’s a retail hotspot for you!

The Galle Face Green night market in Colombo is one of the most popular spots to grab a bite to eat after the sun dips below the horizon. Set in the Galle Face Green urban park that runs along the ocean, the night market is well known for its food stalls. When you’re ready to walk off that roti, there are many other stalls selling souvenirs, local handicrafts, traditional batik cloth, spices and teas. The best part? It’s less touristy than Colombo’s Pettah Floating Market. But if you’ve heard all about it and you enjoy the buzz of rubbing shoulders with fellow travellers, it’s a real experience. While technically not afloat, the walkways alongside Beira Lake support more than 90 stalls under red-roofed pagodas. Here, you can snap up electronics, jewellery, toys and more.


Does your visit to Sri Lanka include retail therapy? Most malls are clustered in Colombo, so that’s the best place to start. The upmarket Marino Mall features a wide selection of stores showcasing both local and international clothing brands, home décor and electronics, as well as shops not usually found in a mall set-up that sell crafts and souvenirs.  

Over in Kandy, the go-to shopping complex is Kandy City Centre. Ultra-modern, it’s a shopper’s delight with top brands under one roof such as Levi’s and the Body Shop, plus luxury watches, jewellery and a virtual reality gaming zone to mention a few highlights. 


How about taking home some Sri Lankan teas? Then make sure to visit to the Mlesna Tea Centre, located on Galle Road, Colombo. Their tea catalogue offers an impressive range of top-quality blends, including jasmine, rose, mint and traditional Ceylon.  


Open from 10am to 7pm daily, Paradise Road is a unique retail, art, design and hospitality hub. Although the prices lean towards the higher end of the spectrum, everything is superior quality from one-of-a-kind furniture to décor.  


Looking for a safe and simple way to bring your money when you travel? Our Travel Money Card has you covered!

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka_Destination

Expert tip

Try all the different lentil curries, they're so amazing. Sri Lankan restaurants can be hard to come by in some cities so make the most of all of them - you can even try a cooking class or two! We made an entire curry out of garlic it was insane. Honestly, just eat eat eat.

Megan

Travel Expert

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When is the best time to travel to Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is among the hottest countries in the world! Temperatures don’t fluctuate much year-round, averaging around 27°C/28°C (80.6°F/82.4°F). Situated on the west coast, Colombo’s temperatures are also steady all year with a daily maximum averaging round 31°C (87.8°F).

With a tropical monsoon climate, the two main seasons in Sri Lanka of wet and dry are dictated by — you guessed it — the monsoon winds.

The Maha season, from September to March, is when the northeast region experiences its wet season, and the Yala season is when the Yala monsoon brings rain to the southwest, where the wet season is from May to August.

The best time to visit is between December and mid-April, which is also peak season. Travelling to Sri Lanka in the shoulder season, from September to November, promises good weather, fewer crowds and better prices.  

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How to get around Sri Lanka

You can get around the island in several ways — by car, train, bus, tuk-tuk and domestic flight. But there’s only one scheduled airline service in Sri Lanka: the delightfully named Cinnamon Air!

Tuk-tuks — also called bajajs — are a fun, budget-friendly way to get around and ideal for short distances. You’ll see them everywhere, but negotiate your fare before you get in. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can hire a tuk-tuk and be the driver yourself!

Bus travel is also a cost-effective option and is the main mode of local transport. There are red (government-owned) and blue (privately-owned) buses, with the blue ones decked out in colourful paint and pumping music. They operate in the old-school way where a conductor comes around, takes your payment and prints you a ticket from a handheld device! Cash only, no cards! Keep in mind, though, that the buses can get rather crowded.

If you like the idea of slowing things down a bit, switch from road to rail. A throwback to a bygone era, there’s no better way to enjoy the Sri Lankan scenery than out your train window. Our favourite routes are from Kandy to Ella, Colombo to Galle and Colombo to Kandy (you can also do these in reverse). There are three main rail lines to choose from — find the live schedules on the Sri Lanka Railway. You can choose from different classes depending on how comfortable you want to be. Book in advance if you’re travelling during peak season or over national public holidays.  

Let us help you organise your own wheels for exploring. Hire a car today.

What are the best beaches in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka has many gorgeous beaches to offer sun-seekers and water sports enthusiasts. Whether you’re a solo traveller, one half of a couple or part of a family, there’s a stretch of beach with your name on it.

Arugam Bay, on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast near the Yala National Park, boasts a pristine beach that stretches for about 3km. Considered one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, it’s also a famous surfing hotspot. The biggest swells occur between June and August, and surfers descend from all over the world; surfing competitions are held, and it's party time! 


If you arrive in or depart Sri Lanka via Bandaranaike International Airport, chances are you’ll find yourself at Negombo Beach. Although most travel guides will tell you there are better beaches in Sri Lanka, it remains a popular stretch of sand with visitors. Bars and restaurants nearby add a buzz.


A quieter and more secluded option is Tangalla Beach, near the city of Tangalle, in the southeast corner of the country. With lagoons, mangroves and miles of white sand, this stretch of coastline never gets too busy — not even in peak season. Because of strong currents, the only place to swim is in the small bay, which is sheltered by a coral reef.


Another one of our favourite beaches in Sri Lanka is Hiriketiya. Set on the south coast, this horseshoe bay flanked by coconut palms is perfect for bathing year-round. It also features restaurants, coffee shops and affordable guest houses.


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What are the best parks in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka has 28 national parks, home to a wide variety of wildlife, including some species only found here. Generally safe to visit, a safari with an experienced guide is the best way to see the animals in their natural habitat. The island also has a great selection of leisure and amusement parks. If you enjoy game viewing and the outdoors or you're holidaying with the children, here's our pick of parks to visit:

Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most famous wildlife reserve, home to unique animals, such as sloth bears, sambar deer and Sri Lankan leopards. To get the full experience, stay here overnight or bed down at Tissamaharama, a city located at the Yala entrance. The best time to visit is from February to June during the dry season when the vegetation thins out and the animals are easier to spot.


In the Southern Province of the island, Bundala National Park is known for its huge flock of flamingos that have made this wetland their home. The park’s other residents include a wealth of water birds and endangered sea turtles.


For fun in the sun and water for the whole family, plus a whole lot more, head to the Leisure World Water Park in Hanwella. With various water slides and rides, pools (even a ladies’ pool!) and an on-site amusement park, this one-stop entertainment venue also has a 9D cinema! 


For incredible elephant sightings, we recommend two parks. The Udawalawe National Park on the border of the Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces, and the Minneriya National Park in the North Central Province, where more than 300 elephants gather at the Minneriya Lake in September and October. Imagine that! 


If you’re looking for a playpark, Kelimadala Children's Park in Colombo is popular for its fun rides and more than 20 activities for kids. It’s been designed with differently-abled kids in mind and also has a jogging/walking path. 


Getting from park to park is so much better with your own wheels. Hitch your ride now!

Sri Lanka Frequently asked questions

Sri Lanka is an incredibly diverse country, and visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to experiences in this beautiful southeast Asian country. Visit cosmopolitan Colombo, cultural Kandy, sandy Galle and Bentota or the tea fragrant flats of Nuwara Eliya. We recommend a few stops on your Sri Lankan holiday to get the most out of your trip.


Sri Lanka is a relatively safe country to travel in. If you adopt common-sense precautions to personal safety when travelling anywhere new you are unlikely to come into trouble.


The best time to visit Sri Lanka is from December to mid-April.


Hit the beaches, wander around the Galle Fort, go on safari in the Yala and the Udawalawe National Parks, and visit tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya.


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To get the most out of your Sri Lankan holiday, aim to spend at least two or three weeks in Sri Lanka.


Light, loose clothing, comfortable shoes, a rain jacket and insect repellent are essential items for travel to Sri Lanka.


Start in Colombo and then head towards the southern coastline at Galle to take in the beaches and the Yala National Park. Visit Nuwara Eliya and find yourself among the tea plantations and villages, then onward to Kandy and Dambulla for a religious experience at the famed Buddhist temples located there.


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The current requirements for travelling to Sri Lanka

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