Sri Lanka, small and mighty, is stuffed from the inside out with dense jungle to explore, paradise beaches to lie on and wildlife to spot.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when travelling in this little island nation – from ancient ruins to camping with leopards in the jungle to sipping cocktails with your feet buried in the sand, it can be difficult to choose an itinerary. Where do you even begin when there is so much to do? Here are The Enjoyable Rut’s beginner’s guide to Sri Lanka, with tips on getting the most out of your first trip to this tropical utopia dripping off the end of India.
Ride the trains
Sitting in the door of a train with your legs swinging over the hill country from Kandy to Ella has to be one of the best ways to spend a day in Sri Lanka. You’ll trundle through clouds and over Little England, past tea plantations and between glorious green mountains. There’s a reason this train journey has been dubbed one of the most beautiful in the world, so stock up on snacks, sip on chai from the chai wallah and watch those luscious green hills roll away under your feet.
Whale watch in Mirissa
Seeing Blue Whales is a dream, and it just so happens that a family of them live just a mile out to sea from Mirissa Harbour. Spend a morning on board with Raja and the Whales – read more about why they are our recommended Sri Lankan whale-watching company here – and have breakfast as you sail out into the horizon. Your guides are excellent at what they do, and really do know their stuff, as well as spending an amazing amount of time teaching people about conservation. We saw five different whales, a pair of mating turtles and a pack of Spinner Dolphins when we joined them in January this year.
Lie around on tropical beaches
Sri Lanka is a country that has it all, and it would be rude to visit this little tropical paradise without lounging on the beach under swaying palms, sipping out of a coconut. You can choose a beach that is busy or not, secluded or with a range of restaurants and bars lining the sand. The guide books will take you to Sri Lanka’s busiest spots, but don’t be afraid to explore and find a slice of paradise all for yourself.
Most visitors to Sri Lanka head to Sigirya Rock, a giant rock formation with thrusts out of the forest into the sky. We, who were travelling on a bit of budget, skipped this (and the $30 entrance fee) and headed instead to Pidirangala, just five minutes down the road. With a $5 entry fee and a hike to the top with almost no people and just monkey’s for company, we were pretty chuffed with our decision to stay clear of the path well trodden. We were lucky enough to have the summit to ourselves! Please note, the hike to the top does involve a little bit of scrambling, but can be achieved in flip flops.
Eat like a local
Food is the beating heart of Sri Lanka, and it doesn’t come better than out of the kitchen of a homestay in the middle of nowhere. Feast on squid koti roti in Mirissa, snack on sweet coconut and condensed milk nuggets, gorge on banana flower and jack fruit curry and fall in love with string hoppers and sambol. As a rule of thumb, the local places bust out the best flavours, but it’s worth noting that real Sri Lankan food is hot. Don’t be a hero.
Go to Ella
Spending time in Ella is almost a rite of passage for any traveller visiting Sri Lanka. Climb Little Adam’s Peak or Ella Rock and stroll down the train tracks for a truly unique experience of Sri Lankan Life. Cafe Chill offers the most relaxed spot in town, where you can recline in bean bags on the top floor whilst the rain, or sun, beats down on the bamboo roof. This is heaven, no?
Climb Adam’s Peak
Join the pilgrims and wander up the 5,500 steps to the summit of Adam’s Peak overnight. It’s a stunning, if knee shattering hike, and the sunrise from the top is something rather magical. If you’re not in any immediate rush, take the time to sit and listen to worshippers huddle around a candle to sing and chant as they rest. Weekdays offer a quiet hike for tourists to get to the top in quick time, weekends are a slow dawdle to the summit with the monks and a chorus of soaring voices.