Sri Lanka is a destination that pleases culture fans, outdoor enthusiasts and beach lovers all at once. Enjoy legendary temples, new surf scenes and tea tastings in the rolling hills, before visiting national parks filled with elephants, leopards, birds and primates. Add to this, fantastic culinary delights and welcoming locals, and it’s clear Sri Lanka is a must-see destination for 2019.
With a tropical climate made up of lush rainforest, cooling hills and white sand fringes, it’s a great place to visit no matter the season or the type of holiday you’re after. Its small size means you can explore top-to-bottom with short journey times.
Having spent 26 years in conflict, the country is rebuilding itself and has once again opened its doors to tourists with an abundance of new hotels and activities. Previously off-limits areas of the north are now accessible and it’s clearly a welcome invitation, with visitor numbers reaching an all time high of 2.1 million in 2018, according to the Guardian.
So, it’s perhaps little surprise that Lonely Planet voted Sri Lanka their number one destination for travel in 2019. We agree that it’s a country well-worth considering for your next holiday.
What makes Sri Lanka so worth visiting in 2019?
1) Newly accessible Jaffna
Years of war particularly affected the very north of the country, but rebuilding is well-underway in the historic colonial gem of Jaffna. Wandering through shady, palm-covered streets, you’ll spot war-savaged yet still impossibly magnificent structures around every corner. From churches and temples to elegant homes, Jaffna is an opportunity to explore the old north and Tamil culture – understanding what life was like pre-civil war.
Outside of the city, there’s easy access to the remote Jaffna peninsula and a string of islands, some of which can only be accessed by local ferry – adding to the sense of discovering something new and untouched.
2) Sri Lankan culture and history
Sri Lanka blends Indian culture with ongoing exposure to European influence, providing a glimpse into a mixed cultural past. A fascinating example of ancient Sri Lanka is the city of Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing preserved ruins of the city’s temples over 16 square miles. The Sri Maha Bodhi tree is spiritually significant, brought from India along with the introduction of Buddhist teachings.
More Buddhist history is depicted in the Dambulla Buddha caves, which are home to statues and paintings dating back hundreds of years, and amazingly well preserved. The site connects five caves complete with Buddhist, Hindu and Sri Lankan deities as well as painted details of the life of Buddha. You’ll notice other Buddhist works across the country, such as the 12-metre high statue at Aukana.
Outside of Buddhism, Sri Lanka has a rich Hindu and Tamil heritage, especially accessible in the cultural centre of Kandy. Meanwhile, Galle is a perfectly preserved window in the country’s more recent past, with a combination of Portuguese, Dutch and British architecture reminding visitors of its European history. Get a great view by walking along the city walls, and learn more about the city’s past in the Marine Archeological Museum.
3) Tea plantations
As home of Ceylon tea, Sri Lanka is well-known for its plantations – a legacy of British colonialism. The rolling hills are dotted with lush green plantations offering tours that allow you to learn more about how the tea is grown and produced as well as the lifestyle of the workers. A tea plantation experience is made even better with an opportunity to sit back and taste the teas on offer while admiring views across the highlands. For a truly relaxing break, Nikki Diamond – FBI Travel Advisor and Sri Lanka expert, recommends staying at one of the beautiful colonial guesthouses available at some of the plantations. Take advantage of fresh country air, mountain views, refreshing hikes (try the four-hour hike to Ella Rock), fantastic hospitality and delicious cuisine.
4) Culinary delights
Here, it’s all about eating from banana leaves with your hands, and you’ll soon perfect the art. While the culinary offerings may resemble what we know as Indian, the flavours are far more subtle, using fewer spices with the intention of bringing out the flavour of the main ingredient rather than overpowering it. Dishes vary between meat, fish and vegetables,and the street-food is just as varied. Try the popular hoppers and kottu roti.
5) Surf scene
Parts of south Sri Lanka are truly a surfers’ paradise. Depending on the time of year you visit and your level of experience, you’ll either focus on the south-west or south-east coasts. The east coast is slightly less developed, having partially closed off during the war, and provides a good option when the west coast experiences monsoon. Arugam Bay heads up the surf offering here, with its golden beaches and easy evening entertainment. Weligama is another popular destination, with conditions suitable for even the most inexperienced beginners.
When you’re not in the water, take your pick from locally owned guest houses, luxury villas or sleeping aboard ship.
6) National Parks
Sri Lanka is home to almost 6,000 elephants and a huge leopard population. The country’s national parks offer fantastic opportunities to visit the animals in their natural habitat. Keep your eyes peeled as you journey into these nature hot spots:
- Yala National Park offers one of the densest populations of leopards in the world, alongside sloth bears and buffalo. Check out the lodge at Kumbuk River for a unique, elephant-based, experience.
- Udawalawe National Park is Nikki’s top recommendation for spotting elephants in their natural habitat and getting a little closer at the Elephant Transit Home. It’s a great activity for the whole family in a what is already a really child-friendly destination, Nikki adds.In the Central Highlands region, Horton Plains National Park offers rustic countryside, with several hikes rewarding you with impressive views, such as at World’s End. It’s home to rare flora and fauna including the slender loris and the endangered western purple-faced langur.
- For local birdlife, Bundala National Park is your go-to, with several lagoons close by attracting a wide variety.
- Sprawling Wilpattu National Park is known for its leopards and elephants. The Park manages to offer peace and tranquility not always found in the other parks.
- The lesser-known Sinharaja rainforest is the last area of primary rainforest in the country. Here you can take numerous treks and swim in the cooling waterfalls.
How to travel in Sri Lanka
Public transport options are available, and provide insight into the life of a local. However, the network is still in development, can be a little slow, and gets crowded at peak times. Luckily, it’s still possible to get around easily and see as much of the country as you’d like to with the flexibility of a private driver and hire car.
With a private driver you still get the freedom of picking your own must-see destinations, but can enjoy the scenery en-route and go direct to your preferred locations. It can work out very cost-effective, especially if you’re short on time and need to keep moving. Touring with a local also offers an opportunity to learn more about local culture and get top lunch recommendations from someone who really knows the country.
In between exploring, rest your head at any number of new hotels filled with charm and the most inspiring decor. Accommodation ranges from stunning five-star venues to eco-friendly huts and beach resorts. While tea-tasting, find yourself transported to an English country home complete with afternoon tea, or head deeper into the hills for boutique wellness resorts set on helping you recharge your batteries. Beachfront ocean villas offer sea views and fresh food, with idyllic palm-tree surrounded swimming pools and sunbeds.
If you’re ready to plan your Sri Lanka adventure, talk to our travel team today. We can organise everything you’ll need for the perfect adventure, from flights and itineraries, to hotels and transport. With years of experience behind us, FBI Travel take the stress out of planning.