Sri Lanka is only a little island but one that will surely steal your heart. For the veggie vagabonds out there it really should be top of your bucket list and whether you’re searching for wildlife, a quiet beach getaway, a culinary tour or temple hopping and curry munching – Sri Lanka will not fail to impress. With the warmest of locals, great transport system and amazing value for money Sri Lanka ticks all the boxes and the whole country is ripe for exploring. This ultimate travel guide to Sri Lanka gives you everything you need to know to start planning your next adventure!
On the Trail
1) Skip the capital and go straight to Negombo (4.5km from the airport)
2) Catch a wave or see the turtles on the beaches of Hikkaduwa
3) Wander the Dutch fort in Galle
4) Elephant and leopard spot in the famous Yala National Park
5) Get your walking boots on in Ella
6) Temple hop and sit by the lake in Kandy
7) Catch a wave in Arugam Bay
8) Climb to the top of Sigiriya. Watch out for those hornets!
9) Discover the ancient city of Polonnaruwa
10) Visit the rock temples of Dambulla
Off the Trail
1) Watch the sunrise from Adam’s Peak during pilgrimage season
2) Join thousands of Buddhist and Hindus celebrating together at Kataragama
3) Hike tea plantations to Sir. Thomas Lipton
4) Join an evening puja in one of Jaffna’s many temples
5) Walk through the forest temple in Ritigala
6) Spot dolphins, flamingos and wild horses in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province
7) Explore the ruins of Mannar fort
8) Swim with sharks at Pigeon Island
9) Rent a motorbike and make your own safari at Ruhuna National Park
10) Canoe around the mangroves in Tangalle
The Sri Lankan people are incredibly hospitable and welcoming, the icing on an already very tasty cake. Proud of their country and curious of others, many locals will simply want to stop and chat or show you something of interest.
Split into three ethnicities; The Sinhalese (Buddhist) make up over 70% of the population and generally live in the south west and central parts of the country. Over 10% are Tamils (Hindu) who live predominantly in the north and the Moors or Muslim population make up another 10%. These 3 groups now generally live in peace (although they have a famously wobbly history) and create a culturally fascinating country. Although the economy is improving there is still a lot of poverty to be seen and in touristy areas you may come across the typical overcharging taxi or milk-powder style scam. All easily avoidable and nothing to concern you.
If there’s one part of Sri Lanka we could take around the world it would definitely be the food. Sri Lanka is for sure a veggie haven! From road side snacks to fruit filled markets and fiery curries; this small island is filled from coast to coast with exciting new foods to try.
Rice and curry is the staple, with an unbelievable variety of mouth watering vegan specialities made with all types of different vegetables (pumpkin curry is particularly popular). These curries are fresh, filling and affordable, they’re best eaten by hand will keep you coming back for more. There are plenty of bread and short eat specialities like kottu, roti and idly which are often served with different chutney and sambal. Along with a vast variety of exotic fruits and spices Sri Lanka offers the vegan traveller enough to try different foods everyday.
In Sri Lanka you really have to embrace the transport. Whilst the roads are often not more than dirt tracks the transport system is cheap, exciting and expansive. There are dirt cheap bus services blasting along up to 80% of the roads in Sri Lanka so you can always find a ride.
Originally created by the British to transport tea around the country the Sri Lankan railways offer a slower paced but unforgettable experience. Most major areas are connected by train routes and it’s definitely worth fitting at least one journey as they are an unmissable part of any trip to the island. Forget about 1st class, get a 2nd or 3rd class ticket and meet some unforgettable characters!
You’ll see Tuk Tuks all over the country, used by locals and travellers alike. These are exciting experiences but make sure you agree a price beforehand. Whilst hitchhiking is possible it is not well recognised and with such a good local transport it’s often more practical just to jump on a bus.
Accommodation in Sri Lanka comes in all shapes, qualities and sizes. All over the country you’ll find family-run guesthouses which are great budget options and an amazing insight into local life. You can spend time with the family, learn to cook with them and let them show you around.
On the backpacker trail hostels are common with no frills options all the way to flash packer paradise. Hotels are found along the coastline, whilst not an accurate representation of the country, they are available for those who want to splash their cash.
‘Eco-accommodation‘ has become very popular. Be careful when picking, some truly are doing what they say on the label whilst other have adopted the label purely for £££.
With conditions varying from blistering heat to torrential rainfall, camping is not common but is possible. There are a few campsites dotted along the country, particularly around National Parks. Some beach-side hostels also have tents to hire. Because of the friendliness of locals, wild camping is an option but choose your spots well and watch out for elephants and snakes!
With over 6,000 hosts, Couchsurfing can be found fairly easily with many well referenced hosts.
A little money can go a long way in Sri Lanka and average travel costs are very low. Over the course of 3 months we averaged much less than £20 a day for two people and we lived VERY well. The beauty of the country is you don’t need to spend money to have an amazing trip. With more temples, curry houses and culture than you’ll know what to do with it’s really enjoyable to just wander around for free. Entry to some of the temples like the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, national parks and the bigger historical sites can be surprisingly expensive, however there are many cheaper alternatives for the budget traveller. As with most countries there are expensive options for food, drink, accommodation, transport etc. but in most cases your experiences will be more rewarding and memorable living on the cheaper side of life.
(Note. All prices are an average for budget travel throughout the country. Generally touristy areas will be more expensive whilst rural or more northern areas will be cheaper. At the time of writing £1 = 202lkr)
Rice and curry for one – £1-2.50
Kotthu/hopper/breads meal for one – £1-2
Bottle of local beer – £1-2
Basic/mid/high price accommodation – £7/20/40+
Regular bus travel (per hour) – 50p
Regular train travel (per hour) – 50p
Small/medium/large entrance fee – £free/7/15
World famous national parks and a variety of different ecosystems around the country make Sri Lanka a beautiful choice for the outdoors. For wildlife, elephants and leopards normally steal the spotlight but there’s far more to be seen; Sloth bears, whales, monkeys, turtles and an abundance of snakes are just a few of the other animals which can be spotted. Sri Lanka’s wildlife is very seasonal, so if you know what you’re looking for make sure your in the right place at the right time of the year!
Whilst marked hiking trails are not spread throughout the country the areas around Ella and Haputale have a number of good day hikes. The Knuckles Range and Horton Planes give a much bigger area to explore and Adam’s Peak has many routes to discover.
In the water surfing is very popular and there are very consistent winds for kitesurfing in the North. There are also many options for scuba diving and snorkelling which are great value.
Weather & When to go
It’s always sunny somewhere on the island (and raining somewhere else). There are two monsoon seasons; The South-West monsoon from May-July and the North-East monsoon from October to January which both have extremely high levels of rainfall. Whilst travelling during the monsoons is possible rainfall is incredibly high and seas stormy. Outside of the monsoons weather can be blisteringly hot particularly in the north.
Because of the many cultures on the island there’s an unbelievable amount of national holidays and celebrations, the biggest being the Vesak Poya (Buddha’s birthday) in May and Sinhalese New Year, April 13th & 14th.
Other considerations are the wildlife or hikes you are planning on seeing/doing. Many animals will migrate across country depending on the seasons and many hiking areas will not be available during monsoons.
Getting There & Visas
Bandaranaike International Airport (Sri Lanka’s main international airport) is 35 km from the capital Colombo. Buses and taxis are available, the bus being slower but cheaper. Taxis will take around 1 hour whilst buses can take up to 1.5 hours. Alternatively the beach town Negombo is only 4.5 km from the airport and can be easily be reached by bus, taxi or tuk tuk (at 4.5 km why not walk?).
The Sri Lankan visa system is relatively straight forward. Most nationalities can apply online for a 30 day ETA tourist visa (official government website here) before arriving. Visas can be extended for up to 6 months.
Health and Vaccinations
Most travellers are advised to have a tetanus and typhoid vaccination along with a yellow fever certificate (although we were never asked for ours). You’re safe from malaria and there is a really low chance of rabies so it’s not worth worrying about but we won’t be held liable if you get bitten by an angry monkey!
Sri Lanka has become a hotbed for eco-tourism because of it’s natural wonders and it lives up to it’s reputation. There are many successful conservation projects protecting the environment and wildlife with plenty of volunteer opportunities available.
Elephants are a big tourist draw and a number of sanctuaries have sprung up over the country, but approach with caution. Remember that these are wild animals, so if you see them chained up then question who is really befitting from it. Like with all animals, elephants are best seen in the wild and in Sri Lanka you’re surrounded my national parks.
On the whole the environment is treated with respect and Sri Lankans understand the importance of conservation. Tourism has not had such a huge impact as other parts of South East Asia so whilst some coastal areas and landmark sites may be loosing their charm, it’s still easy to get away from it all and see the real Sri Lanka.
For vegan or vegetarian travellers you really will be in your element. There is bountiful amounts of food on every corner of the island and it’s bloody delicious. As English is widely spoken it’s very easy to explain your dietary needs and find out what’s on offer!
Have you been to Sri Lanka? Do you have any travel tips or incredible experiences? Tell us in the comments box 🙂