Sri Lanka travel guide, including map of Sri Lanka, top Sri Lankan travel experiences, tips for travel in Sri Lanka, plus leopards, temples and tea
Hanging like a tear-drop from the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Ringed by a necklace of palm-fringed beaches, its mountainous interior rears up in a jungled hinterland roamed by elephant and leopard, rising finally to the cool highlands that grow the country's famous tea.
Amidst all this there's culture too. Overwhelmingly Buddhist, Sri Lankans practice their gentle beliefs with a lavish enthusiasm. There are thronged temples and sacred relics, religious festivals and extravagant sacrements, at their most spectacular in the holy city of Kandy, home to the Buddha's tooth.
History lives on in the steep, lushly forested hills. This is where you'll find the mighty rock-top fortress of Sigiriya and a cluster of historic towns, including Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
The colonial era brought tea-planting on a massive scale to Sri Lanka's cool highlands. You can visit the bungalows of early British settlers as they sit amongst seas of tea-plants, watch pickers at work and factories in action. Walk the streets of Nurweya Eliyah and think Ascot, with timber-framed buildings, G&Ts at members' clubs and even a horse-racing track. European cultures blend in the southern city of Galle, with Portuguese and Dutch elements in this fortified outpost overlooking the Indian Ocean.
To see leopard and elephant in the wild there are a number of spectacular National Parks, lushly overgrown in the tropical climate: Yala is perhaps the most visited. Skilled guides point out the smaller wonders: a huge variety of birdlife and brightly-coloured jungle butterflies.
Last, but not least, there are beaches galore. Pick your beach to suit the season and your taste. There are quiet beaches while others catch great surfing waves. For a beach experience true to local life head to the south, where fishermen perch on stilts dug into the sand, casting lines into the ocean for their daily meal.
The Esala Perahera festival in Kandy has a long and loud procession so be sure to get a seat. Restaurants and shops along the route sell ticketed seats: book early.
Sri Lanka has two monsoons. The south, west and the hills are driest from December to March, while the dry season in the north and east runs from April to September. It’s generally warm all year, but far cooler in the hills. The dates of the Kandy Esala Perahera festival are based on lunar cycles, but the ten-day extravaganza is always in July or August. To see the elephants at Minneriya, visit from July to September.
Bandaranaike (CMB) is 29km from the city.
Public transport in Sri Lanka is cheap but crowded. Rickshaws ply the main towns. Driving is chaotic – better hire a car and driver, at around £40 a day, instead. Trains and buses serve main destinations around the island. Cycling is a great way to explore.
Prices are seasonal in Sri Lanka so it’s always worth asking for a discount outside peak times. Dormitory-style hostels are rare in Sri Lanka. Budget travellers are more likely to find room in hotels or guesthouses. Large resort hotels cater to package tourists. Some camping is available in the national parks. In Sri Lanka’s hill country, check out the lovely tea estate bungalows.
Meals involve a mountain of rice surrounded by curries, spiced vegetables, salads and pickles. String hoppers – pancakes of noodles - are local specialities. Vegetarians will thrive. Try a thambili (king coconut) – the juice is a refreshing hangover cure if you’ve overindulged in arrack, the local coconut tipple.
Most areas of Sri Lanka are now safe for travellers but check with the Foreign Office for the latest security information before you pick a route into the north. Ask your GP or travel clinic about malaria prophylaxis and make sure you’re up to date on other vaccinations. Drink only bottled or sterilised water.
As temperatures drop and the days shorten, these tours offer the chance to throw off the woolly jumpers and enjoy an active, sunny winter adventure More
Immense in both scale and beauty, these paeans to the Buddhist faith make quite the impression, whether you’re a believer or not More
From trekking in Nepal and safaris in Africa, to experiencing Japanese culture and chasing the northern lights in Sweden, these amazing family holidays are bound to give your kids a love of travel More
Seeing a creature in its natural habitat is one of the greatest moments in travel: here's your guide to finding, tracking, and encountering the most magnificent species on Earth... More
Climb a sacred mountain. Lounge on a deserted beach. And enjoy a cuppa on a picture-perfect plantation. All this and more awaits on this most serendipitous of islands... More
As World Elephant Day approaches, we pick out 10 of the best places in the world to see the magnificent pachyderms More
If you're stuck for time – or thigh power – these iconic day hikes squeeze a week's worth of scenery into less than 24 hours... More
With the planet's most famous sights drowning in visitors, here are the incredible alternatives you may not know about – just don't tell anyone... More
From colourful reptiles to fang-baring monkeys, catch a glimpse of Sri Lanka's extensive wildlife with these intimate photos that capture them in character More
Ancient, majestic and steadfast, these famous trees have witnessed the birth of religions, sheltered famous outlaws, and stood firm in the face of human folly. Visit them while you still can. More
Leopards, elephants, whales, birdlife in abundance – Sri Lanka is a wildlife lover's paradise. Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne reveals what you'll find in each of its national parks... More
From charging elephants and hunting polar bears, to posing penguins and a kingfisher in flight. Witness the diversity of wildlife photos that have made the finals of Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year More
Compact yet diverse, Sri Lanka is one of the world’s greatest wildlife destinations. Come face-to-face with leopards, elephants and blue whales, and even do your bit to save a species More
Author CJ Bentley reveals the places that make Sri Lanka such an unmissable destination – from Yala National Park to Kothduwa, an island temple (home to giant squirrels) and a festival of light in Kaluta More
From rugged rail journeys through South Africa to forest trekking in Thailand, escape the winter blues on these far-flung adventures More
We all want authentic interactions and a local’s grasp of the cultures we encounter when travelling. Wendy Wu Tours’ new collection of trips do just that, helping you experience the real Asia… More
Forget the queues, letters of introduction and contrary embassy staff. These visas are issued quickly, with a minimum of fuss and no jumping through hoops, just the way we like it... More
With its rich history, eclectic culture and buzzy culinary scene, the hip Sri Lankan capital deserves to be more than just a side note to the rest of the country. Here's why... More
There's far more to Sri Lanka than beautiful beaches. Save turtles, learn to cook a curry and perhaps come face-to-face with a leopard in Asia’s diverse and beguiling nation More
From mangrove forests to exploding volcanoes – an expedition cruise around the Bay of Bengal yields a wealth of surprises. Phoebe Smith travels from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh, viewing towering stupas and Ganges river dolphins along the way More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
Perfect for... Couples and solo travellers who want to really relax, without compromising on style and service.
Perfect for... Adventurous families who want a wildlife-packed yet luxurious holiday.
Perfect for... Couples and families with teenagers who want to mix fantasy-island relaxation, with a cultural tonic.
Perfect for... Couples who want to experience Sri Lanka’s cultural highlights, but also want to relax and indulge rather than just dashing from site to site.
Perfect for... Sri Lanka first-timers who want to experience this beautiful country’s best bits – or people who are already in love with Sri Lanka but want to discover its gorgeous boutique properties
Perfect for... A boho-luxe honeymoon for couples who want a mixture of culture, relaxation, and wildlife.
Travellers of every age will fall in love with Sri Lanka on this customisable, 13 -day family tour. Dive into an adventure across tropical landscapes, across green paddy fields, golden mountains wi...
Ceylon, The Pearl of the India Ocean is the best destination for a romantic honeymoon journey. A program to discover the major sites of Sri Lanka, to meet its people, its culture, its customs, and ...
If you are looking for a holiday that encompasses nature and adventure, with a touch of culture , than this is the perfect tour for you. As you drive through this beautiful island you will get to...
Sign up today for free and be the first to get notified of new articles, new competitions, new events and more!