Wednesday, June 17, 2015

5 Essential Tips for Your Trip to Sri Lanka

Written By: Andrea Binley
Guest Blogger

This April, I returned from three months living in Sri Lanka. I’d signed on to volunteer as part of a Graduate Mental Health program, where I would be working with patients and teaching English in a rural suburb on the outskirts of Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo. After obtaining my entrance visa, renewing vaccinations, and packing three different types of mosquito repellant, I was ready to set off on my first adventure in Asia. The next three months passed by in a blur – I lived and worked in Colombo during the week, and travelled around the country on the weekend. Despite being a small island (approximately the size of Ireland), Sri Lanka is home to an incredible diversity of things to do and see. There's something for literally everyone: gorgeous coastlines for beach bums, tropical jungles for nature lovers, and ancient ruined cities for amateur explorers. It's almost impossible to distill my favorite things about Sri Lanka into one blog post, but I've tried to highlight some essentials. 

1)   Take a tuk-tuk

Tuk-tuks are a ubiquitous sight in Sri Lanka.  They are by far the most efficient mode of transportation, as drivers are able to weave in and out of the brutal Sri Lankan traffic (which, frankly, can be terrifying at times). They also come in every shade of the rainbow, from classic red to sassy hot pink. One of my favorite pastimes was spotting the bizarre, poorly translated bumper stickers on many tuk-tuks – this one says, inscrutably, “Every Day is not Christmas”. Taking a tuk-tuk is definitely one of the best, cheapest, and most thrilling ways to see the country.

2)   Try a Sri Lankan Rice and Curry

Sri Lankans are proud of their cuisine, and for very good reason. The food is predominantly vegetarian and is based around endless combinations of rice and curry.  It's also not for the faint of heart, as curries tend to be fiery and are typically garnished with “sambol”, a savory blend of coconut and chile that enhances every dish. It took a while to get the hang of the Sri Lankan method of eating with your hands, which involves shaping the rice and curry into a ball and flicking it into your mouth.  Sri Lankans claim that this enhances the taste of the food, and after three months of foregoing forks on a nightly basis, I would have to agree.

For full immersion into the cuisine, I would highly recommend taking a Sri Lankan cooking class. I took a class in Unawatuna beach, which began with our lovely chef Karuna taking us to the Galle market to pick out our vegetables and fish, and ended with us eating our creations! 

3) Visit Anuradhapura

Although it’s tempting to spend all day, every day on one of Sri Lanka’s amazing beaches, I would highly recommend checking out the Cultural Triangle, which is home to the ancient ruined cities. Anuradhapura is the largest of these cities, dating back to nearly 2,500 years ago. It’s packed with ancient temples and holy monuments, some of which are said to contain remnants from the Buddha himself. You can easily spend a whole day biking between ancient monuments and stupas and poking around the ruins.

Me channelling Indiana Jones in front of the ancient Jetavana monastery.

4) Hang out with Elephants

Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to get some quality time with Asian elephants. You can choose to see the Ellies at a National Park, or in one of the designated sanctuaries in the Kandy region.  I went on safari at Udawalawe in the southern part of Sri Lanka, and was able to catch sight of dozens of grown and baby elephants, along with plenty of crocodiles, buffalo, and even one elusive leopard. I also made a trip to the Millenium Elephant Foundation in Kandy. Millenium is an elephant sanctuary where visitors can come to bathe, feed, and ride elephants. There's an adjoining factory where elephant dung is dried and processed into all sorts of paper gifts. Touring the factory was fascinating and I was able to pick up lots of unique souvenirs for family and friends back home -- where else can you purchase earrings made out of elephant dung? 

Elephant showers at the Millenium Elephant Foundation in Kandy.

An elephant family taking a mud bath at Udawalawe National Park
5) Take a train to Ella

The little mountain town of Ella is one of Sri Lanka’s best-kept secrets. After several weeks in hot and smoggy Colombo, it was a relief to head up to the hills and breathe some fresh air. If you make the trip via one of Sri Lanka's charming, rickety trains, I can promise you it will be one of the most scenic train rides you'll ever take. Ella is absolutely magical, tucked away in misty hillsides and surrounded by lush green tea plantations. It’s also home to two of the country’s best hikes: Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak. The panoramic view of rolling green hills from the peak of Ella Rock is totally unforgettable and makes the challenging climb completely worthwhile. I’d recommend rewarding yourself after the hike with a large Lion beer and a plate of rice and curry from the uberhip “Chill Café” on the main street. You can also treat yourself to an Aryuvedic massage at one of Ella’s spas.

Taking in the sights at the top of Ella's Peak

About Andrea:

At age one, Andrea took her first overseas flight from Sydney to Cape Town. Since then, she has been obsessed with travel, and is constantly seeking a new adventure, whether that may come in the form of an impromptu road trip up the California coast or a three month volunteer project in Sri Lanka. For the time being, she lives and works in Los Angeles.


  1. Is there any kind of shower better than an elephant shower? Haha! Looks like you had a great time :)

    Sarah |

    1. Definitely up there as one of the best!!! Thank you :)


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