Sri Lanka, What Took Me So Long?

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Kate and a Seller in Colombo

If you’re a very longtime reader, you might remember this very early post, which I wrote back in 2010 just before leaving on my six-month trip to Southeast Asia that unexpectedly turned into four years and counting around the world. (What a baby blogger I was back then!)

I had been dreaming of visiting Sri Lanka for years, and even though it lay outside Southeast Asia, I knew I had to try to get there.

But as time went on, Sri Lanka slipped out of my hands. I spent way too much money (especially on Thailand’s Andaman Coast) and I soon realized that my best financial move would be to just go back to Cambodia and hunker down and work for awhile. Which was absolutely the right decision at the time, but made me sad for missing Sri Lanka.

Four years later, I made up for lost time.

Galle

I attended Sri Lanka as part of TBCAsia, the world’s first-ever travel blogger conference in Asia and the first conference ever put on by the Professional Travel Bloggers Association, of which I’m a member, in association with the fantastic Cinnamon Hotels.

Now, I know you’re not here to read about a conference, so I’ll be brief — it was fantastic. The best conference I have ever been to. It was a four-day trip around Sri Lanka followed by a one-day conference with some of the most insightful, helpful and fascinating talks I’ve ever experienced. I’m overwhelmed and inspired to make a lot of creative changes in my life; most of my fellow attendees felt the same way.

Here are some of the highlights of my first visit to Sri Lanka:

Kaudalla National Park

Elephants. More elephants. Elephants everywhere.

Sri Lanka is one of few places in Asia where you can see elephants in the wild, and boy, did Kaudalla National Park deliver. Similar to Addo National Park in South Africa, this is just home to so many elephants.

Sri Lanka is actually a fantastic destination for wildlife — while I didn’t make it there, several of my friends visited Yala National Park in the southeast and saw leopards as well!

Sigiriya

Sigiriya is the most-visited attraction in the country — a giant rock in the middle of hill country. It’s home to a World Heritage-listed ancient city, and yes, you can climb to the top! The views up there are sensational.

Polonnaruwa

You know I love my World Heritage Sites — and Sri Lanka’s were really, really good. Usually you get an underwhelming one or two in each country (more like “That’s it?”), but that didn’t happen in Sri Lanka. These sites were some of the best that I’ve seen, anywhere. I visited five of the eight, including the ancient complex of Polonnaruwa.

Women at Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth was a fascinating temple complex. It’s home to a tooth of the Buddha, which is kept away from the public eye 11 months out of the year. (If you want to see the tooth itself, come in August!)

Kandy

Kandy was a place I wish I had more time to explore. I loved the architecture, the hills, and the frenetic energy of the city.

Galle

Galle was my favorite place in the country. It’s a fascinating small city with really interesting architecture and a 16th-century Galle Fort. This part of Sri Lanka was hit badly by the 2004 tsunami, but the fort protected much of the city.

Galle was also my 101st UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I couldn’t imagine a better place to celebrate that achievement!

Hikkaduwa

Beaches? Yeah, they were amazing. This one was near Hikkaduwa.

The waves on most of the beaches I visited were pretty intense. If you like swimming in big waves, it can be a lot of fun. Until you get into a fight with the sea and the sea wins and you lose both your bathing suit top and bottoms and your male friends have no idea what to do as you shriek, “HELP ME! DON’T LOOK! HELP ME! BUT DON’T LOOK!”


READ MORE: How to Protect Your Belongings on the Beach


Mirissa

What struck me again and again was how much Sri Lanka felt like Southeast Asia — maybe a less-developed Thailand or Vietnam. Mirissa, a fishing village turned chilled out beach town and whale watching mecca, had the feeling of Mui Ne or the less-busy parts of Koh Lanta.

The perfect level of development. But like the rest of Sri Lanka, I foresee a great amount of development in the future.

Jungle Beach Temple

In the old post I linked to above, I used a picture of this temple near Jungle Beach on the south coast. This photo is my own. So simple, clean and beautiful, it wasn’t as ornate as some of the other ones I visited, yet I liked it better.

Colombo at Dusk

Even Colombo was a lot of fun! Colombo doesn’t get a lot of love, even from seasoned travelers, and plenty of people will tell you to skip it. Well, I had a lot of fun there, especially hanging out on the Galle Face Green along the water, eating delicious street food, taking in the views, and dancing to the occasional musician.

Cinnamon Red Infinity Pool Colombo

And the next time I go back to Colombo, I hope to stay at Cinnamon Red — my favorite Cinnamon property and a really funky boutique hotel. Love that infinity pool!

Women in Galle

The kind, welcoming people were also a major highlight of Sri Lanka. While Sinhala and Tamil are the local languages, English is widely spoken, which made it easy to have conversations with people. And if not conversations, everyone was quick with a smile.

At one point at Polonnaruwa, a woman simply came up to me, held my face, said, “Beautiful,” and walked on!

I also left Sri Lanka with a collection of new local friends who work in the travel industry. We may or may not have had some big nights out…

Kaudalla National Park

And, of course, hanging out with blogger friends both old and new was a wonderful time — not to mention incredibly therapeutic after the rough year I’ve had. I have no words for how much I cherish my friends.

Friends in Sri Lanka

After the conference was over, I spent two weeks hanging out on the south coast with a group of my friends. This was my first vacation in 2.5 years and while I didn’t take a full digital detox, I spent it hanging out with my friends and enjoying the beaches and sights down south. Much more on our antics later.

Buddha at Polonnaruwa

The Takeaway

I loved this country so much. And even with three weeks, I know that I barely scraped the surface. There might be more Sri Lanka in my future, and I look forward to delving deeper into this magnificent country.

As with all destinations, I recommend purchasing travel insurance before visiting Sri Lanka. I never travel without it and always use World Nomads.

I visited Sri Lanka for TBCAsia, hosted by Cinnamon Hotels. Thanks also to Sri Lankan Airlines for flying me there from London, CVisit Sri Lanka for carting me around, and Mobitel for furnishing me with a SIM card. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Sri Lanka? Does this look like your kind of place?

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70 thoughts on “Sri Lanka, What Took Me So Long?”

  1. Hi Kate!

    Am on my last night in Sri Lanka as I write this, and I can’t be any more sad to leave this beautiful place!!

    I didn’t have much time to see other places out of Colombo (am here for a friend’s wedding – that’s a whole story by itself!), but managed to spend a night in Galle…. Let’s just say that this is one country I will definitely repeat!!

    Looking forward to your other Sri Lanka posts to get even more inspired to come back 😉

  2. We were in Sri Lanka in September and it fast became one of my favourite countries. I want to get back there sooner than later – I have a feeling more and more people will discover it and it will have a lot more development.

    1. Hi Emily – I’m going to Sri Lanka in September too – just wondering how you found the weather then? And did the monsoon season hinder you at all?

  3. Wow. Sri Lanka is gorgeous and will add it to my bucket list. Definitely want to check out Kandy…what a delightful name!

    1. Hi Anita, its been long time since you mentioned that you wanted to visit my home town, Kandy. I’m a bit curious to know how was it? If you made it in the mean time.

  4. Wow these photos are incredible! Sri Lanka has always intrigued me. Galle looks so beautiful. I imagine Sri Lanka will blow up with tourism soon enough. I’ve gotta add it to the list. Glad you got to take a little break and hang with your friends. You’re such a badass and, as always, an inspiration.

  5. I had originally planned on visiting Sri Lanka while on a backpacking trip but at the last minute we cancelled it in order to spend longer in India. I’m glad that we got to see more of India but sad that I never made it to Sri Lanka…maybe one day!

  6. Hahaha I can’t wait to hear more about this story of losing your swimsuit–sounds like something that would happen to me! And oh my word, that infinity pool sunset is breathtaking. Guess I’ll have to add Sri Lanka to my ever growing list of countries for my trip next year!

  7. Glad that you finally made it to Sri Lanka! It is seriously an incredible country with so much to offer. More than the heritage sites, beaches and the natural beauty, I like the fact that you enjoyed the local vibe there. I think it’s makes a huge difference to a traveler’s experience when one is able to communicate with the locals.

  8. I’m so excited to hear so many wonderful things about Sri Lanka lately! My husband and I are planning to travel there early next year and we can’t wait! Yay!

  9. Sri Lanka is beautiful indeed… At first I was a bit afraid, when traveling around it, as it did not gave me the “wow” moment, but after clearing my head, I knew why… Because in a way, the whole country is wow. I think everyone can find something for themselves there – my favourite thing were Dambulo caves though…

  10. I’ve heard really great things about Sri Lanka! So much to offer – history, beautiful beaches, wildlife and culture. Flights from the US are always outrageous and lengthy, which has made me stay away… maybe I should just take the plunge and go for it after all!

  11. Everyone keeps talking about Sri Lanka, mostly because of the conference, and it really just makes me want to hop on a plane. Is it bad that I really want to go NOW, before it gets crazy developed? The photos you took are just so stunning!

  12. I never thought much about traveling to Asia, especially since I despise ridiculously long flights, but I’ve been reading so many posts about how amazing certain places are like this one! Sounds like it was an amazing conference.

  13. I’ve been really curious about Sri Lanka. I was hoping to find a spare month in early 2015 to get to somewhere new in Asia and Sri Lanka was definitely the top of the list. I like the idea of it being like SE Asia but less developed, and would love to see it before that changes. The photos make me want to go even more now!

  14. @TravelgalNicole

    I’m off to Sri Lanka on Boxing Day! Can’t wait to explore and I’ve loved seeing all the photos. Did you go to the Maldives at all? I’m going there afterwards as I couldn’t pass up the opportunity as its a cheap flight from Colombo.

  15. Hi Kate:

    What an amazing article and such beautiful pictures.

    You have made Sri Lanka look so pretty through your photos.

    I am new to blogging and have just started a new website. Need to learn a lot.

    Great post. Great site.

    Regards.

  16. I was just planning to get in Sri Lanka for my Christmas holiday’s & came through you fantastic blog. Gathered a lot of information from your blog & will continue follow for fantastic information. It will help me a lot during my visit to Sri Lanka. God bless you & keep writing.

  17. Hi Kate! I have a good friend who is in Sri Lanka right now and could show you around some more. One can never have enough friends nor meet too many people on the road. Are you still there now?

  18. You guys look like you’re having so much fun that I just wanna be with you all. Hugs all around!

    I haven’t been to Sri Lanka yet, but I’ve heard so many marvellous things about it and it’s all just about to happen as it’s still fairly unknown and unpoilt. So yes, I’ll be going in the next few years as I’m already booked to travel around the US in 2016. Just 2017 sound good?!

  19. Return to Sri Lanka on 2nd January for the sixth time. Spending the month there.

    I love the country and the people.

  20. The scenery is just lovely! Great photos!
    Sri Lanka is one of those rarely visited places where I guess there aren’t so many crowds of tourists. It would feel more adventurous, more pure to visit…

  21. Wimal Lokuliyana

    I realy took time to read the article. It was a true explanation of a person who facinated with the beauty of my country, Sri Lanka. I met a gentlman from Holand in the train when I was going to spend three days at Horten Plains in Sri Lanka and he who was with his family told me with great pleasure that he enjoyed a lot by seeying the places of Sri Lanka. Another old couple from UK who were traveling to Kandy to see the Perahera told me that they would come back to Sri Lanka again. I am an artist who likes to draw landscapes of Sri Lanka. I can understand the taste of all who have noted under Kate’s article. NATURE is wonderful. Sri Lanka is called thePerl of the Indian Ocean and the Paradise of the world. Thankyou all! I am happy and feel a humble proud about been a Sri Lankan. I have no much experiance of visiting many countries but with three oportunities I had to visit other countries, I still could not find a place like my country. Thank you again for praising my country in this manner. Wimal Lokuliyana from Sri Lanka.

  22. Hi I am in two minds whether to travel to north Thailand or Sri Lanka this Summer – and I considered India. But all I want is warm weather and to relax, that’s all I need. A shower here and there I wouldn’t mind but I don’t think I could handle downpours..
    And I know India is soo cheap but is Sri Lanka? Could I get by on 20euro a day? I would like to explore as much of the country as possible, if I go so I’m not in a rush to leave, money permitting ..can someone advise me? Thanks so much.

    1. Sri Lanka is more expensive than India. I wouldn’t recommend living on 20 euros per day — it’s possible, but I think you’d be making a LOT of sacrifices. And many of the attractions in Sri Lanka are expensive, like the World Heritage-listed temples.

  23. Hi Kate,

    I’m a Sri Lankan and you know what galle,is my home town.Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing.next time make sure to visit nuwara eliya and some water falls…

    Regards,
    Chami

  24. Hi Kate! I’m strongly leaning towards a few weeks Sri Lanka on the way back home from Australia this September, so your account has got the butterfiles going!

    Would you say it’s an easy place to meet other travellers? I’ll be travelling alone and heard that asides from the beaches/surf spots, there aren’t a lot of hostels or much of a scene for twenty-something backpackers, since it’s geared towards an older crowd of of holiday makers. It strikes me as a relatively comfortable and safe country to travel in at least.

  25. Going to Sri Lanka in late October. Your post has me excited but nervous as you said it’s “expensive.” That and how easy is it to get around the island w/public transportation?

  26. Hi I must add that there are cheap places to stay all around SL.But if you want the 4 stars then its abit expensive, but still will be very cheap for US or Europeans.Compared to India, a 4 star hotel looks like a real 4 star hotel here in sri lanka.But in India it wouldnt be.Even 3 star hotels are very clean and beautiful with pools and all fascilities.
    Also if you are searching for good beaches, check unawatuna, pasikuda, mirissa.But overall all around SL you get the very warm wavy beaches.The water is abit cold till its about 9 am and then it gets very warm and awesome.

  27. Since Colombo is the most developed city in SL, there are mostly modern things to visit like the Dutch Hospital which was built by the dutch long time ago and now is converted to a food and shopping area.Then the Independence square, Galle face are other places.Cheap and fun shopping areas are Pettah, Nugegoda Junction which are usually crowded but fun to walk around.You can find tiny winy things like fancy jewelary cheap clothes, and everyday items.More than quality it would be a great walk through pettah and nugegoda

  28. Hi Kate,

    I have linked to your blog from our article on the Top 50 Tropical Travel Destinations Worldwide to give our readers a bit more information on each place.

    I hope you find it interesting and it inspires some more traveling!

    Merry Christmas!
    Ash – TourTheTropics.com

  29. I just read this blog, it’s very nice and lot of informatic. I believe it will be helpful for anyone who is interested about visit Sri Lanka.

    Thanks again for such a blog post,
    wazipoint.blogspot.com

  30. Hi Kate. Going to Sri Lanka in September. Went east for first time ever last month to the UAE to visit my daughter.
    Can you recommend what clothing is acceptable for a two week tour of Sri Lanka. Will be doing a lot of sight seeing.

    1. Long, loose clothing will make you look and feel great! Bathing suits are fine in touristy resort areas like Unawatuna. Be sure to cover up your legs and shoulders at temples.

  31. Hi
    I am a Sri Lankan . I really happy to see foreigners appreciate my lovely mother land . Thank you very much .
    And Kate thank you for making this blog about my country
    Welcome you all to my lovely land anytime .
    And Kate please i like to be a pen friend of you . If you love I am glad
    Once again thank you
    Regards,
    Shelani .

  32. Hi Kate,

    We were in Sri Lanka earlier this year and absolutely loved it, too. Looking over all of your pictures sure has me craving a return visit, and not just for the Galle street food!

    Thanks,
    Charlie

  33. I exscape England each winter for Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand) I never plan and I’m content to travel or remain, trusting in some greater force I don’t understand to guide me. My non-plan means I’m always at the place I’m supposed to be. I feel drawn to three months in Sia Lanka, bearing in mind I only move at snail speed do you think three months is too long?
    Lovely blog by the way. Al

  34. Hey Kate, it is an interesting post covering the most of the tourist hotspots in Sri Lanka. Yes, usually Sri Lankans are friendly and welcomes the visitors with pleasing hospitality. These days, the Northern part of the country become more popular among visitors, after the end of 30 years of civil war. Have you been to the Northern part of the country, and the Northern beaches? Cheers

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