Even though Sri Lanka is a small island, it is packed with opportunities to have extraordinary travel experiences, whether you are fond of sampling delicious food, a culture vulture or looking for some pampering on a luxury holiday. The list below is an 11 Sri Lanka experiences that cannot be left out of any Sri Lanka holiday.
11 essential Sri Lanka experiences
Sri Lanka popular holiday destination in South Asia attracts a large number of holidaymakers every year. Sri Lanka is a holiday destination to experience one of the unique cultures in the world, which dates back to more than 2 millennia. The traditional culture is one of the very interesting aspects of Sri Lankan lives. People of Sri Lanka always respect their culture and try to retain the uniqueness of their culture despite the foreign influence.
Sri Lanka was under foreign administrations such as Portuguese, Dutch, and English and for a short period of time under French. But, none of the foreign administrations was able to make a considerable impact on the native Sinhalese culture and tradition. Sri Lanka is a fast-developing nation in the region and fast approaching the modern lifestyle. Sri Lanka can be described as a country, which is least corrupted by globalization.
The best way to experience this cultural holiday destination is by diving into Sinhalese culture by yourself. Sri Lankans are very warm and friendly people and they are ready to help the tourists to get to know their culture, tradition and lifestyle. Here are a few things that may help you to experience the typical Sri Lankan life.
1. Sip a glass of arrack
Arrack is the drink of the working people of Sri Lanka. This alcoholic drink is virtually available at every corner of the island. It also can be described as the favourite alcoholic drink on the island. Some men gather into the local arrack bars and sip a glass of arrack after the hard work of the day. It gives them some physical strength.
The local bars are the best location to mingle with working men of Sri Lanka. This alcoholic beverage is made of distilled coconut syrup and can be consumed as a mixture of fruit juice, water, soft drinks and all other beverages. If you like to know more about the popular drinks of Sri Lanka, Kindly read my article on “Must drink beverages in Sri Lanka“.
2. Wear a Sarong
Sri Lankans are very enthusiastic about fashion but still very conservative. All the new fashions appear in Italy available in Sri Lankan shopping complexes within a short period of time. But, Native people are extremely cautious about selecting suitable dresses for them.
Sri Lankans are very conservative when it comes to dressing code and they are reluctant to show up their body to outsiders. They usually choose cotton dresses, which are suitable for the warm and humidity of the environment. Even though they love to dress up in modern dresses, Sri Lankans give the priority to traditional dresses such as Sari and Sarong on all important occasions and festivals. Sarong is the traditional dress of men while sari is the traditional dress of women.
3. Visit a temple on a full moon day
Sri Lanka Lankan life cannot be completed without the touch of Buddhism and Buddhism is an integral part of Sri Lankan culture. Be it a 1 day Sri Lanka tour, 2 day Sri Lanka trip or a 2 weeks Sri Lanka trip, visiting Buddhist temples are unavoidable. If you are a tourist, visiting the temple is a very valuable opportunity to learn the Sri Lankan life.
Usually, Sri Lankan visits the Buddhist temple on full moon days. The full moon day of every month is dedicated to observing Buddhist religious activities. Therefore full moon day is declared a public holiday in Sri Lanka.
The people are encouraged to observe the five precepts of the day and alcohol and meat products are not available to buy in groceries and public bars. People gather at the temples early in the morning and engage in religious activities from dawn to dusk. The rich volunteers of every village supply food and drinks for people, who love to participate in religious activities.
4. Eat rice and curry
The traditional Sri Lankan meal is consisting of many ingredients. It is usually described as rice and curry. Rice is the staple food of Sri Lankans and curry is the best-suited accompaniment for rice. You may think that Sri Lankan traditional meal is similar to Indian and Tai cuisines. But, Sri Lanka dishes are a lot spicier and contain low fat against the meals prepared in Thailand and India. The spicy curries are very hot and tasty but rice is neutralizing the burn effect of the curries.
The mixture of betel is believed to have a potent effect with a mixture of certain elements of medicinal plants such as marijuana. The mixture had been widely used in Southern India and they were specially produced for maharajas in India.
The dark green leaf, which one sees often on the side of the Sri Lanka roads and markets, is known as betel leaves (Piper betel). You may also have seen it and might be wondering what it was. The leaf is one of the main ingredients of the betel mixture that is comprised of areca nut (Areca catechu), lime and several other spices with tobacco. Small pieces of areca nut and paste of lime with tobacco are rolled into betel leave then put into the mouth. The chemicals of betel, areca nut and other ingredients are released during the chewing and react with the saliva.
The chemical reaction between the betel leaf, areca nut, lime and saliva makes a substance that keeps the chewers addicted to the mixture. The mixture is well known as Bulath in the Sinhalese language and Bida in Tamil. The valuable leaf is known as Vettel in Tamil and was renamed betel by the Portuguese colonial rulers. Since then it is known as betel in all leading languages. In the early stages of betel chewing, it had been a social ritual and took place in every important event such as weddings, funerals, parties and other social gatherings.
Spotting wild elephants is one of the unforgettable Sri Lanka experiences for any foreign traveller. There are dozens of places to spot wild elephants, but I would like to choose Udawalawe national park-west and south coast, Minneriya national park-central province, and GalOya national park-east coast. All 3 national parks are equally good for this thrilling Sri Lankan experience.
All 3 national parks allow you to spot a large number of wild elephants within a short period of time. Choose the best national park based on, where you are travelling to. And morning is the best time to start an elephant safari when animals are gathering around waterholes and walk all around the park searching for food.
7. Sample hoppers -one of the best Sri Lanka experiences for foodies
Hoppers is a staple food of Sri Lankan breakfast, hopers are widely available on the island from street food outlet to high-end luxury hotels. Hoppers are bow-shaped delicate pancakes made of rice flour, coconut milk and a few other condiments. Hoppers are coming in 3 flavours plain hoppers; honey-flavoured hoppers and egg hoppers, egg hoppers are served with an egg in the centre of the hopper.
Even though there is not sufficient evidence to prove that is a local food item, hoppers are not available in most other countries, so don’t miss the opportunity, indulge whenever you can here. Honey flavoured hoppers are favourite among the kids, which is sweet in taste and dark brown in colour. The best accompaniments for hoppers are fish curry (fish cooked in coconut milk), meat curry (meat cooked in coconut milk), symbol (mix of chilli paste and grated coconut), or Luniumiris (chilli powder mix with a pinch of salt).
8. Climbing Sigiriya Rock you should be fit enough to enjoy this Sri Lankan experience
Sigiriya Rock, Dambulla cave, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Kandy are the most important cities of the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura is the most historical city with its roots going back t3rd century before christy. Polonnaruwa is the 2nd most ancient city and it hides many dozens of important places.
Sigiriya is the most visited iconic tourist attraction in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, and in the bucket list of every traveller. Sigiriya rock fortress is so popular, that it includes almost every Sri Lanka multi-day tour package. Trekking in Sigiriya is an unforgettable experience for any travellers, as it enables the visitors to have a breathtaking view over the surrounding jungle of Sigiriya from the rock fortress.
The granite thorn that is hewn onto the natural rock, is still visible and it was used by the king Kashapaya in the 5th century AD; the view from the thorn commands a spellbinding view over the Sigiriya wildlife reserve, presumably, the King must have enjoyed the same beautiful scenery that we admire today.
Down the rock fortress is one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world dating back to the 5th century AD, showcases knowledge of advanced trigonometry, and the firm grasp of hydraulic principles by the ancient engineers. The natural fountains are still working, when the nearby lake is full. Gigantic Swimming pools, granite caves, ancient paintings, ponds and many other ancient constructions are strewn in the garden.
9. Ayurveda Herbal massage is one of the most popular Sri Lanka experiences for travellers
Ayurveda is the most ancient healing method of Sri Lanka, believed to be introduced to the island in the 6th century BC by a group of Indian immigrants. Since then it has developed into a fully-fledged healing system that is capable of curing a wide range of diseases. Ayurveda is equally good for treating diseases and maintaining health and fitness.
Ayurveda wellness retreats are scattered all around the island, but most of them are established along the west and south coast beaches, thereby the visitors can enjoy the bliss of Ayurveda while relaxing on the pristine beaches.
Ayurveda is one of the best ways of rejuvenating the body and mind with natural elements such as leaves, flowers and fruits, that’s the whole concept behind Ayurveda. Ayurveda treatments suppose to reestablish the tri Doshas and maintain the correct balance of them focusing on detoxification, mental hygiene, spiritual healing and rejuvenation. Oil Massages, herbal bathing, herbal remedies, and dietary practices prescribed by the doctors are the most common therapies in use.
10. Spotting leopards
Leopard is the biggest carnivore on the island and it is the King of the Sri Lankan jungles. This majestic creature is an ultimate showpiece for every traveller that makes a safari tour in Sri Lanka. Unlike leopards that you encounter in other parts of the world, the Sri Lankan leopard is bigger than most of them, because the Sri Lankan leopard is a subspecies of the leopard family and called “panthera pardus kotiya”.
The Sri Lankan leopard is endemic to Sri Lanka. The number of leopards in the jungle was reducing rapidly in the past due to the hunting under the British administration (1796-1948), and the leopard was included in the red list of IUCN. However, thanks to the conservation effort the number of cats is on the rise during the last several decades and the future of the cat seems to be good.
If you wish to see a leopard you better head on to Yala national in Southern Sri Lanka because Yala is the best national park in the world to spot leopards. Plot number 1 of Yala national park has the highest concentration of leopards compared to any other national park of its size.
I have done Yala safari many times and I had seen leopards many times. The regular safari at Yala lasts around 3-4 hours, during which you may spot a leopard. However, it is highly recommended to make a full day Yala Safari, it considerably increases the chances of spotting leopards.
11. Riding on an elephant through the woods
Elephant ride Sri Lanka
Elephant rides Sri Lanka, is it really worth having an elephant ride? It is a question with much controversy because there is a mix of opinions in the travel world about activities that involve animals, especially the activities such as elephant rides. Elephant ride, camel ride, horse ride, bullock cart ride, donkey ride … the list goes on which are heavily contributed by animals.
Many organizations around the world, that are involved in animal welfare activities are criticizing this type of activity and claim it is animal cruelty to employ animals in this type of activity. However, the activities such as elephant rides take place in many countries around the world such as Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and a large number of travellers are very curious about the elephant ride and ask for an elephant ride during their trip.
Elephant ride Sri Lanka is a popular activity among the visitors to Sri Lanka and the elephant ride can be done in several places around the island, including Pinnawala and Habarana. Pinnawala and Habarana are the most popular places on the island for Elephant rides due to the reasons such as extensive green cover, abandoned and picturesque countryside, and availability of tourist hot spots.
Riding on elephants is one of the most popular activities among visitors in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is popular for elephants and elephant ride is one popular activity, perhaps it is the most popular activity that elephants take part in today. It is one of the most exciting activities, especially for foreigners. Elephant ride Sri Lanka is a very popular activity in Sri Lanka family holiday packages because kids love it.
Sri Lanka is a tropical country and has the highest number of wild elephants in Asia. It is revealed that there are more than 5800 wild elephants in the recently concluded elephant census in Sri Lankan jungles. The elephant had been a very useful animal for the country in the past. Elephants were used to perform heavy tasks such as carrying logs in the jungle and at construction sites.
Today elephants are not being used to doing such heavy work because with machines it has turned to be easier and cheaper. But, still, elephants are being used in traditional ceremonies such as procession, and recreation activities (playing golf and elephant rides). Elephant races are also organized in some areas in Sri Lanka, especially during the New Year festival.
Elephant ride Sri Lanka with tamed elephants
At the moment there are around 150 tamed elephants in Sri Lanka. Few of these tamed elephants are being used to perform elephant rides, while others are been used in activities such as processions, elephant races, and golfing with the elephant.
The elephant ride is not only adding an unusual experience for travellers but also allows the visitors to explore the natural wealth of the island while taking them around the beautiful countryside. Usually, these rides take only one hour and take place in the nearby village, patches of forest farmlands and rice paddies. Specially trained animals are been used for the riding and a mahout (the caretaker of the elephant), always at present during the ride.
Explore the countryside with elephants
The elephant rides are not only beneficial to the travellers, because it helps them to see the beautiful greenery countryside of the island but also it is a form of income for the people in these remote areas, especially for the caretaker of the animal. Usually, the elephant ride can be combined with elephant washing, in which the guests are allowed to go to the water with the elephant and help the elephant with its refreshing bath by pouring water onto the body or brushing the hairy skin of the animal with a coconut husk.
“Elephants need to walk a long distance every day, it helps them to digest a large amount of food they eat every day,” said Janaka, who organizes elephant rides in Habarana. Janaka runs a business and organizes safari jeep rides for travellers in the nearby Minneriya national park and same time organizes elephant rides.
“We have few elephants here; they have tamed elephants and cannot be released to the jungle again. Maintaining an elephant is a very expensive affair because we need to supply a large amount of food (leaves), and water and have to pay the elephant caretaker,” said Janaka. “Elephant ride is the only source of income that we can do with elephants and it helps us to earn the money required to maintain these animals,” said Janaka.
Usually, several people can ride on an elephant at a time usually an elephant make only a few rides a day. In the morning, before it gets warm or evening when the sun goes down, is the best time to do elephant rides, all creatures show us during this time of the day. And this is the best time for outdoor activities such as elephant rides, safari, boating etc otherwise it is very warm, and sweaty, especially in the areas such as Habarana, which is coming under a dry zone.
An elephant ride is the best way to explore the beautiful countryside of Sri Lanka, Even though it is possible to explore the beautiful countryside on foot, there can be many animals, snakes, insects and many other creatures in the jungle areas making it hazardous sometimes.
There is a platform made of iron bars fixed onto the elephants and riders need to sit sideways. You need to climb several steps to get onto a raised platform, which is about 2 meters above the ground, before placing yourself on the elephant. Usually, these elephant rides take place in the countryside and elephants majestically march through the patches of jungle, waterholes and villages. Then the riders have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful countryside of the island. One can have the opportunity to see many animals and birds during the ride. The climax of the elephant ride is the point, where the elephant goes through the water.
Bird spotting on an elephant ride in Sri Lanka
Elephant ride Sri Lanka is essentially involved with bird watching and elephant ride Sri Lanka is one of the best ways to penetrate the jungle areas and witness the rare type of birds living in the forested areas. Among 125 residents’ birds, a large number of avian fauna species can be spotted only in the forested areas and it is essential to go to the jungle to see them. Animals infested jungle can be dangerous for a walk and most jungle areas cannot be penetrated with vehicles, therefore many people are using elephants to go to the forest as they do bird watching.
These elephant rides are offered in many Asian countries such as India, Thailand and Sri Lanka and it has become a popular activity among the millions of tourists in the region.
Elephant ride Sri Lanka price
The price of the elephant ride varied depending on the duration of the ride and the place. Usually, the tourist takes one hour ride through the countryside, which cost around USD 25 P.P. However, much shorter elephant rides are also available such as 15 minutes ride, which cist around USD 8 P.P. If you combine the elephant ride with an elephant bath the ticket price increased by around 50%.
Elephant rides in pinnawala Sri Lanka
The elephant rides are offered in several palaces in Pinnawala near the elephant orphanage, however, there is no possibility of doping elephant rides at Pinnawala elephant orphanage. The elephant ride operators in pinnawala can be found on the stretch between pinnawala elephant orphanage and Kandy-Colombo main road.
Is it Ok to bathe with Elephants?
Yes, it is ok to bathe with elephants, when they are tamed and when the mahout is nearby.
Where can go to touch an elephant in Sri Lanka?
There are few places on the island, where you can touch elephants, do elephant rides and bathe with elephants. Those places are mainly found in tourist resort areas such as Kandy.
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