Travelers are not supposed to have favorites and if we do, someone usually tries to make you feel bad about it. The truth is, though, we do – I think it’s just human nature. Those are the places we feel at home and our heart frequently longs to go back to. Sometimes to the detriment of our ‘real’ homes. For me, those favorites create an issue because they mean that my very long to-do map never gets shorter. Permanent places on this list are occupied by New York, Cape Town, Morocco, Koh Tao, and lately Scotland. Ever since I started diving, new places under water have been added to the list, some becoming quick favorites and so many others yet to be discovered. Where to even start?
I will admit those are nice problems to have; I’m privileged to know that very well. Last year this privilege cumulated when I went to ITB for the first time to introduce my own little blog to the world and won a trip. While I was excited I saw it more as a business opportunity. It came with an invitation to a blogger conference which at this point seemed more important to me than the discovery of a new country. I thought I had no more open spots left for new favorites in any case.
I was wrong, because not only did I find a new favorite, I fell in love.
I arrived in Sri Lanka at 5 am, bleary-eyed, sweaty and as per usual nervous about how to find a taxi and how not to get ripped off. Somehow I magically found the official taxi counter, paid a set price and was fast asleep on the comfortable bench of a brand new, air-conditioned minibus within 15 minutes. Only two hours later I arrived in Galle, opened my eyes, and fell in love with yet another country.
Why was it love at first sight and why I cannot wait to go back? What should you do, eat and see when you go? Well, I’m glad you ask. Here are my 15 of my favorites you shouldn’t miss in Sri Lanka.
Ask me what I loved first about Sri Lanka and what I miss most and the answer is one and the same – hoppers! The first breakfast I ever liked in fact which may be due to the fact that you can eat it with dal or chicken curry and of course, coconut sambal.
2. Da Coconut Nut
Luckily Sri Lankans like coconut as much as I do so you will find them everywhere: to drink, in savory food, to put in your hair, and most importantly as coconut ice-cream.
3. I spy with my little eyes…
…something green. Sri Lanka can best be described as lush. Palmtree galore, endless tea plantations and tropical plants everywhere. 50 shades of green never looked prettier.
4. Tea time
Back in the day, Sri Lanka was known for its excellent coffee. But in the late 19th century most crops all over Asia were destroyed by a fungal disease and the farmers turned to tea instead. With huge success.
Sri Lanka’s tea is world renowned and for good reason. Forgot ‘watering’ down your tea with milk and lemon, Sri Lanka’s tea is best enjoyed on its own. After being scolded by a waiter when I asked for sugar in my white Ceylon tea, I take a local’s lead – if they bring sugar it’s fine to add some, otherwise, you gotta learn to embrace it on its own.
The first thing I noticed about Sri Lankans was their smile. Broad, open and incredibly welcoming. If you see that smile even at 5 am you cannot help but feel at home immediately.
I get incredibly shy when photographing people. So instead here is me smiling because of all the elephants.
6. Elephants, whales, and leopards oh my!
Sri Lanka is known for its wildlife, both on land and in the water. Head to the coast of Trincomalee for whale watching, to Minneriya National Park to see elephants roam and to Yala National Park to find some elusive leopards.
7. Monkey Business
Not quite as majestic as the ones above, but a whole lot of fun are Sri Lanka’s monkeys and langurs. The Jungle Book comes to mind when you visit places like Dambulla where the toque Macaque, the “temple monkeys” roam.
As per usual, keep a safe distance and hold on to your belongings. Monkey business is cheeky business.
8. Galle Fort
Need a soft and charming intro to Sri Lanka? Head to Galle in the south. The entire Galle Fort, the old part of the town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as charming as it gets.
Crumbling sidewalks, colonial buildings, and an ocean breeze all around – a perfectly manageable little town for Sri Lanka first-timers. Need ideas what to do and where to stay? Here you go!
Ask for my favorite mode of transport and I will have a hard time choosing between a plane and a tuk-tuk.
Tuk-tuks definitely win when it comes to cruising around Sri Lanka traffic. Whether you want to explore the narrow alleys of Galle or head to the beach, tuk-tuks are the way to go and unlike other places where they seem to be more a tourist attraction, the prices here are quite reasonable.
10. The Lion King
The Lion Rock, Sigiriya, lies in the north-central province and majestically overlooks the surrounding area. Back in the 5th century, it was chosen by King Kasyapa as his capital city. Yes, that is a right – a city on a rock.
Today you can still visit the ruins of this city in 200m height, admire the craftsmanship of the buildings, old frescoes, and a view that will make the climb worth your while.
11. Dress code
Even in modern day Sri Lanka, the sari is still very much a part of any woman’s wardrobe while men wear a sarong. If you want to go full local you should get yourself one. Rainbow colors are the new black!
Just make sure to visit a proper shop to get a lesson in sari wrapping and ask them to show you how to take it off too – on my first attempt it took me about 15 minutes to get out of it.
While tourism has overrun some of Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches there are still some gems to be found.
Head to Marissa beach for some peace and quiet or to Unawatuna beach – at the famous Wijaya Beach you can enjoy a passionfruit mojito with a side of stunning sea view.
13. Platform 9 3/4
Taking the train in Sri Lanka is a must! While not incredibly comfortable it doesn’t get any more authentic. Especially the train ride between Ella and Kandy offers some of the best views – you just gotta hang your head out of the (open) doors.
And don’t waste $10 for a first class ticket because while there is free wifi, the real fun happens in coach!
14. Sacred Bodi Tree
In Anuradhapura, you will find one of Buddhism’s holiest relics – the Sacred Bodi Tree, a sapling from India’s Bodhgaya tree. This is the tree Buddha was sitting underneath when he became enlightened.
The Bodi Tree is beloved and well protected – during the civil war it had its own guards and even today any attack on the tree is not only sacrilege but seen as a sign of terrorism against the state of Sri Lanka.
Whether religious or not, you gotta like a country that protects any tree that fiercely.
15. Sunset at Mihintale
Every country has one spot that will give you the perfect sunset view. In Sri Lanka that spot is Mihintale.
Here you can either climb up a rock to view the adjacent stupa or get up to the stupa itself to see the sun disappear on the horizon. If you get lucky you will be entertained by some local schoolkids – Mihintale is a favorite for field trips.
What are your favorite things about Sri Lanka? Need more inspiration to go? Check out these posts.