Why you should visit Sri Lanka in 2018

When Italian explorer Marco Polo visited Sri Lanka in the 12th century, he described it as ‘the best island of its size in the world’. Fast-forward to 2018, and those words have never been more apt. Words by Hanna Lindon.
Train on the Nine Arch Bridge in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock
Train on the Nine Arch Bridge in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

By Hanna Lindon

The wildlife is out of this world

If you thought that safaris were exclusive to Africa, let Sri Lanka convince you otherwise. An impressive 13% of the island’s landmass has been designated as Wildlife Protected Areas, with much of that given over to national parks.

Yala National Park is the best known of the bunch, mainly because there’s a higher concentration of leopards here than anywhere else on the planet, but there are plenty of quieter places to spot Sri Lanka’s big five. Try Udawalawe for secluded and luxurious jungle camps, where you can dine under the stars as clouds of glow-worms drift overhead. Visit Yala and Udawalawe National Parks on Insight Guides' Wild and Wonderful Sri Lanka holiday or Insight Guides' Sri Lanka Wildlife Discovery trip. The lagoons and waterways of Bundala are a draw for twitchers; Minneriya’s autumn congregation of elephants is one of the wonders of Southeast Asia.

Hit the south coast to see five species of turtle laying their eggs on Rekawa Beach, and to search for the blue whales that are year-round residents of Sri Lanka’s waters.  

Leopard in the wild, Sri LankaLeopard in the wild, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

Your taste buds will thank you

Sizzling street food, creamy curries, exotic smoothies made from fruit you’ve never even heard of and one-pots bristling with flavour – welcome to gourmet heaven.

It would be unfair to describe Sri Lanka’s foodie scene as burgeoning, it’s really always been this good. However, lately there’s been an influx of new restaurants showcasing an increasingly refined take on traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. Try Curry Leaf in Colombo for the country’s best string hoppers, or Kaema Sutra for seriously flavoursome spreads. In the north, Jaffna is famous for its goat one-pots and crab curries – the aptly named Cosy Restaurant serves melt-in-the-mouth versions that won’t break the bank. You can explore Jaffna, with our unique Jaffna and Western Sri Lanka  trip.      

If you’d rather eat outdoors then Sri Lankan street food is up there with the best in the world. Eat your way around Galle Face Green in Colombo, or indulge in a rainbow array of tasty food from one of the many markets across the country.     

The beaches aren’t just for sunbathing

If you like your beaches comfortingly clichéd then Sri Lanka won’t disappoint – there are enough sugary sands, turquoise waters and waving palm trees here to satisfy the most exacting sun-seeker. The country is also one of the world’s premier surfing destinations.

The past few years have seen surf camps springing all over the coastline. Most are concentrated around Arugam Bay on the east coast, where consistent swells and sand-bottomed breaks bring superb conditions year round. The country’s southwestern tip is a mecca for surfers too: revel in the hippy vibe around Hikkaduwa, Weligama and Mirissa, where you can catch some waves in the morning and still fit in a yoga session and a spot of reflexology before sunset. You can explore some of Sri Lanka's finest beaches, with Insight Guides' Southern Sri Lanka: Mirissa, Galle and Bentota trip.    

Idyllic beach in Sri LankaIdyllic beach in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

You’ll be charmed by the train journeys

Catching the snail-paced train from Kandy to Ella is an experience that no travel fanatic should miss. Winding through misty tea plantations and waterfall-decked hills, this scenic railway line bisects the heart of Sri Lanka. Food sellers embark at every stop to peddle cinnamon-dusted mango, buttered corn and crispy poppadoms, while the colonial-era stations abound with photo opportunities.

This year also brings another epic train route to the Sri Lankan table. The newly reopened line between Colombo and Jaffna will allow visitors to travel between these two urban hubs for the first time since 1990. Jaffna is listed in our 18 places to visit in 2018 feature, which you can read here.   

It’s a cultural melting pot

For such a small island, Sri Lanka packs an almighty cultural punch. Lose yourself among the statues and paintings of the Dambulla Buddha caves, see a gilded shrine housing the Buddha’s tooth in Kandy, marvel at the colossal Abhayagiri Dagoba or find serendipity among the peaceful Mulkirigala rock temples. Then fast-forward several centuries to visit the colonial-era mansions of the tea country and watch cricket beneath the 16th-century Galle Fort, which you can visit on Insight Guides' Sri Lanka: Culture and Coast trip.

Due to its concentration of cultural highlights, Sri Lanka is often dubbed ‘Little India’ – but don’t be fooled, little country has a very distinct character.

The iconic Galle FortThe iconic Galle Fort. Photo: Shutterstock

Taking a trip to Sri Lanka: how to get started

Insight Guides can help you with the planning and booking of your trip to Sri Lanka. You can browse our existing trips to Sri Lanka here. Alternatively, simply get in touch with us, tell us your interests and budget, and our local experts will tailor a Sri Lankan itinerary to your suit your individual tastes. You can then adjust your itinerary until you are completely happy with it!

Looking for more things to do in Sri Lanka? 

When to go to Sri Lanka

11 essential Sri Lanka experiences

Top 5 beaches in Sri Lanka

7 best boutique hotels in Sri Lanka