Known for the rolling hills of its famous tea plantations, a flourishing yoga industry, colourful tuk tuks, surf-worthy beaches, scenic train routes, flavorful food, and welcoming people, Sri Lanka is every backpacker's dream destination.
Strategically located in South Asia, southeast of India and northeast of the Maldives, the tear-drop-shaped island of Sri Lanka is home to various cultures, languages, and ethnicities. The country's former name, Ceylon, is the traditional name given to their popular tea, which is mostly black in variety.
When planning for a visit, it's practical to book your tickets from December to March for the west and south coasts to avoid the rainy season, while the best weather on the east coast is from April to September. Being a spontaneous traveler, I didn't allow any storm advisory dictate my actions. Straight from a Eurasian country, I left Qatar for Sri Lanka mid-May when summer in the capital of Colombo is at its peak and tendencies of heavy rainfall are very likely. Keep in mind that Sri Lanka is a sub-tropical country, so it's rotating monsoon/rainy seasons can affect your travel plans.
Sri Lanka's tourist visa regulations are quite welcoming. Southeast Asians, Australians, Europeans, Latinos, Americans, and citizens from selected African nations are all entitled for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) which you can apply for prior to travel. (This is similar to an E-Visa.) After paying a meagre price of $30-$35 USD, you're ready to go! Flight time from Doha to Colombo is at least 5 hours -- you can watch a full-length movie and sleep for over an hour on the plane, easily!
Wait, did I mention that locals chew chilis like candy? I remember having a plateful of everything spicy (chicken curry, kottu and ambul thiyal) as my first meal in Colombo and it was so good! Plus if you dig deep into Pettah (the chaotic market right in the heart of Colombo), you'll score unimaginably low prices on street food that can't be found anywhere else in the world! Just a tip though: Be mindful of Pettah's peak timings. The crowds may tend to get uncontrollable once the clock hits the 3:00 p.m. rush hour. The street mayhem that follows can definitely turn your brimful belly upside down if you dare to take on the tide of people!
Imagine a modestly-sized country stuffed with vast tea plantations -- this is one of the most remarkable attributes of Sri Lanka, being one of the top exporters of tea in the globe. The lone plantation that we visited in the image above is the one in Ella -- and it was beyond picturesque! After driving towards ultimate greenness, we were then brought to the factory itself where we tasted 24 different kinds of tea! Most of the tour guides speak top-notch English so it's never an issue understanding their unlimited supply of weird and interesting facts about Sri Lanka's tea industry!
I must admit, I almost forgot how dream-like the train sequence to Hogwarts was in the Harry Potter films, until I hopped on the railway system departing from Ella to Kandy! This specific route is dubbed as 'the most beautiful train ride in Asia' and, from what I saw, the aforementioned name-tag is actually an understatement! I originally planned to sleep for the whole 6 hours onboard since we had a long and tiring day exploring Ella. But how can you succumb to drowsiness when an absolute paradise is unveiling itself on the other side of the window-pane? So, being the moment-seizer that I am, I took my GoPro and, despite warnings from personnel to avoid hanging off the train doors, I still did -- because it's not every day that I'm against a backdrop of such exquisitely marvelous beauty.
Just like Filipinos, Sri Lankans are all smiles regardless of what time of day it is! It doesn't matter if it's pouring down monsoon rains, or they're drenched in sweat after a long day in the sun -- when you approach them, you'll be rewarded with a warm and comforting smile. When it comes to haggling for souvenir prices at the markets for example, I suggest toning down a strong approach to bartering, as most of their products are purely hand-made. Some of these vendors rely on selling keepsakes for their livelihood, so it's best to keep that angle in mind and forgo frugality sometimes. Besides, this is the least we can do to reciprocate their kindness and hospitality.
According to the Sri Lankan Tourism Authority, the country receives an average of 2 million tourists annually, and it's not hard to see why as 2,116,407 visitors were tallied for 2017 -- a sharp rise from 2016's 2,050,832.
I braved Sri Lanka as a solo backpacker and, while I was well aware that I'd be alone most of the time, I didn't expect to gain some really good friends. After a re-energizing stop in Colombo, I met two brothers from New Zealand who, just like me, didn't have a definite itinerary to follow. When we decided to set off together, that's when we realized that we'd in fact be spending the next week in each other's company as we had the same return flight schedules! Having them with me didn't only save us time, our budgets also benefited as we divided all our bills by three!
So, if you prefer travelling alone, my suggestion is to stay in hostels, rather than fancy hotels, as you're more likely to encounter different kinds of people and backpackers from all over the world!
Another five reasons to visit this jewel of an island would've been ideal, as there's so much more to love about this underrated tourist hotspot. But, we're leaving the rest up to you to explore!
Are you eyeing a future visit to Sri Lanka? If so, what are you most looking forward to? Drop us a line in the comments below and let us know if this round-up was helpful for you! Also, don’t forget to like and share this article!
(Photography by Marson Kiel Lumanglas)
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