| Victoria Zurakowski
The Ultimate Luxury Sri Lanka Travel Guide
With no covid quarantine restrictions upon arrival, it’s no wonder Sri Lanka is becoming 2021's de rigueur vacay destination
Sri Lanka reopened its borders 21 January 2021 and The Sri Lankan Ministry of Tourism has issued several safety protocols in light of Covid-19. At present, Sri Lanka doesn’t require tourists to stay for a minimum number of days. Also, tourists will be able to enjoy a “quarantine-free” experience, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy all the facilities in some of the best Sri Lanka resorts, as long as the hotel or resort is a “Safe and Secure” certified Level 1 hotel. The government requires you to stay at this initial hotel for 14 days before moving to another luxury hotel in Sri Lanka or beach resort. Be sure to stay up-to-date on any travel restrictions by visiting the official Sri Lanka Tourism website.
Online Sri Lanka travel guides will be quick to inform you that the country is commonly referred to as the “pearl of the Indian Ocean”, mainly due to its favourable location and shape, but this doesn’t quite prepare you for those boundless white sandy beaches and pumping surf or the verdant tropical jungles and enchanting misty mountain villages.
And while those well-read Sri Lankan travel blogs may touch upon the enigmatic ancient history, they don’t quite fully cover the plentiful Ancient World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka or its vast open safari plains where the imperilled Asian elephants and leopards roam freely in abundance.
From a rich and vibrant cultural heritage to beguiling train journeys through the undulating tea plantations to some of the friendliest locals you’ll ever come across while travelling, Sri Lanka has something amazing to offer around every corner you turn. And let’s not forget the mouth-watering traditional South Asian dishes and sumptuous fruits, which are plentiful and delicious.
What’s more, navigating your way around Sri Lanka is easy when compared to some of her neighbouring countries. And if this is not enough, foreign currencies go far, meaning you’ll be able to travel to Sri Lanka in luxury without having to worry about your Visa bill at the end of the trip.
At Sand Dollar Dubai, we’re huge fans of Sri Lanka, which is why we’ve decided to curate our very own Sri Lanka travel guide. But this isn’t your bog-standard travel guide to Sri Lanka; no, it’s the ultimate Sri Lanka luxury travel guide that covers all you need to know about visiting the country.
Our exclusive Sri Lanka travel guide takes you on an awe-inspiring journey that proves why the country has boomed in the travel industry in the last few years. And as a bonus, we’ve put together some of our favourite Sri Lanka travel looks to ensure you continue to look fabulous as always when you visit.
The Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
Punctuated by two independent monsoon seasons that affect different areas of the country during different times of the year, you’ll need to do some prior research to understand the best time to visit Sri Lanka and know what’s “in season”.
The main monsoon period, which is referred to by locals as “Yala”, takes place from April through to September on the western and southwestern coasts of Sri Lanka, so you’ll need to be careful as this includes some of the main tourist hotspots like Unawatuna and Galle. April to June is considered to be the wettest months.
The lesser monsoon period, which is less severe, is known as “Maha”. This impacts Sri Lanka’s east coast, including the tourist areas of Trincomalee and Arugam Bay, from November to March.
The best time to visit Sri Lanka’s incredible southern and central areas is from December to March. But if you’re after a beach and surf holiday in Trincomalee and Arugam Bay, the best time to visit Sri Lanka is from April to September.
Luxury Hotels in Sri Lanka and Beach Resorts
Luxury hotels in Sri Lanka and beach resorts are plentiful and very affordable. If luxury travel is usually unreachable for you, make your stay that little bit more special in one of the many luxury hotels in Sri Lanka.
Tri Lanka, which is one of the most famous places to stay in Sri Lanka, is a 5-star sustainable, luxury retreat. Snuggled and tucked away in the jungle close to Koggala Lake, this luxury stay in Sri Lanka offers a memorable experience.
This stunning luxury hotel in Sri Lanka has been designed to blend into its environment. Built from locally sourced sustainable materials and practices, there’s something special about this place. The restaurant alone, which serves up gourmet organic food, is worth visiting. We love how the Tri Lanka Hotel has married two contrasting concepts together that work – blissful luxury with conscious travel.
This ultimate luxury eco-hotel in Sri Lanka also focuses on nurturing the soul, body and mind, which means there’s an abundance of holistic, relaxing, and wellness activities, including village cycling tours, boat trips to Cinnamon Island, Quantum yoga classes, an organic spa, an infinity pool, and a reading room.
For a blissful luxury stay in Sri Lanka, this would be one of our number one picks.
Heritance Kandalama is one of Sri Lanka’s luxury resorts worth checking out.
Located amongst verdant greenery and dense forest in the heart of the Cultural Triangle, Heritance Kandalama is one of Sri Lanka’s luxury resorts that attract visitors seeking tranquillity.
Designed and constructed to blend in with its natural environs, this eco-friendly 5-star resort in Sri Lanka is a place where you can get away from it all and indulge. Some of the VIP features and treatment you’ll encounter include rain showers, Jacuzzis, and round-the-clock butler service. This luxury resort located in Sri Lanka’s lush forests boasts five award-winning bars and restaurants to choose from, where you’ll be able to wine and dine in style.
Ranked one of the best luxury beach hotels in Sri Lanka, KK Beach is located on the curvaceous coastline of Habaraduwa. Surrounded by luxury villas and exotic flora and fauna, this scenic resort is fresh and modern. With its simplistic, impeccable interior and its indigo-ocean and garden views, you’ll be treated to a 5-star stay with exceptional customer service and attention to detail, which includes seasonal artwork exhibitions by local artists.
Another one of the best luxury beach hotels in Sri Lanka, The Sandhya is located in the charming location of Kabalana Beach. This unspoilt piece of paradise is a surfer’s dream.
Modern and minimalist, the beach resort’s pared-back interiors are tastefully decorated and many Sri Lanka Instagram photoshoots take place on the sweeping staircase. Considered to be a luxury boutique hotel in Sri Lanka with just five rooms, you’ll be able to maintain your privacy and enjoy the resort’s facilities, which includes an award-winning Asian-international fusion farm to table restaurant.
Karpaha Sands tented resort located on Kalkudah Beach is often mentioned in Sri Lanka luxury travel guides for a good reason. This is the perfect spot when you’re in search of peace. Located in an almost-deserted beach dotted with palms, this is one luxury beach resort in Sri Lanka that offers you exclusivity and privacy.
With Balinese and Thai vibes, there’s an obvious artsy theme, adding to the uniqueness of the resort. The hotel’s facilities include a saltwater pool, an Ayurvedic spa, and lush tropical gardens with minimalist terraces where you can spend the day relaxing on daybeds. Famed for its intimate oasis spa, allow yourself to be pampered and indulged in style.
The Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka
Vibrant and bustling, one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka would have to be its ocean commercial capital, Colombo. Even if you want to get off the tourist trail as many Sri Lanka travel guides suggest, the capital is still a popular stop. Here you’ll find a compelling mix of new and old with a mix of contemporary and colonial architecture.
When visiting Sri Lanka’s eventful capital, you’ll get a chance to take in numerous attractions and sample some of the famed cuisines, such as kukul mas curry (Sri Lankan chicken curry), fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry), parippu (dahl curry), hoppers, wambatu moju (eggplant pickle), polos (green jackfruit curry) and much more.
Most Sri Lanka travel guides suggest spending 2-3 days in the capital to ensure you get to visit Colombo’s must-see sights, such as the Gangaramaya Temple, the National Museum, and the city’s majestic fort - but be sure to check if these locations are included in your covid “bio bubble” before booking your tickets.
What to wear: Sri Lanka isn’t a particularly conservative country and anything goes, but respectful attire is requested at temples, so we recommend wearing an airy long-sleeved dress that’s cool and respectful. There’s no doubt there will be a lot of walking and whizzing tuk-tuks involved, so comfortable footwear is a must. Your favourite comfy trainers will add a modern twist to your boho dress or if you really must wear sandals, make sure they’re enclosed and made of real leather to avoid sweating and blisters. Being a busy capital city and a tourist destination, pickpockets are rife and skilled. Always take extra precaution and carry a shoulder strap bag that closes properly and that can be easily held in front of you. Colombo’s sun can be particularly unforgiving, so sunglasses and a hat are recommended. And if you don’t want to lose your favourite glasses, attach them to a chain to avoid losing them as your tuk-tuk speeds through the congested streets.
Hands down one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka is the peak of Sri Pada, commonly known as Adam’s peak. While the ascent to the peak requires a whopping 5,500 stairs to the zenith, there’s nothing quite like this travel defining moment of watching the idyllic sunrise while listening to the hum of pilgrims chanting and bells tolling.
Emerging from Sri Lanka’s rolling hills, Adam’s Peak is probably one of the country’s most epochal natural landmarks. According to local Sri Lanka tour guides and Buddhist, Hindi, Islamic, and Christian faiths, this prominent feature is also home to a footprint, reportedly that of either Buddha or Adam, which is said to be where Adam first set foot after he was cast out of Eden.
Regardless of your beliefs, Adam’s Peak is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
What to wear: Comfort is key, especially after hiking so far. Channel your inner-spiritual goddess with these aptly named Spiritual Realm wide-legged pants and matching tieback top from Feather & Find. A bag to carry essentials is a must. This pretty yet sturdy colourful woven bag from Ibiza Sunset is sizable enough to carry water, snacks, phone, camera, and even a small towel or blanket to sit on. Team it with a pair of comfy skater shoes or trainers to dress down these chic co-ords.
Nine Arch Bridge
You might think it’s funny, a bridge appearing in a Sri Lanka luxury travel guide, but this insta-famous bridge will earn you a few more followers.
We’ve chosen to feature Nine Arches Bridge, which is just outside of Ella, in our Sri Lanka travel guide not for the structure itself, but for its verdant surroundings and tea plantations that flank it, which makes it one of the most popular Instagram photoshoot locations in Sri Lanka.
If we were to call it merely “picturesque” in our Sri Lanka travel guide, it would be a huge understatement, especially on the days that clouds hang low and create a misty and moody scene within the valley.
Several points offer epic views of the Nine Arches Bridge with the most popular one being the bridge itself while another is from below where the tea plantations lie. We also love the view of the bridge shrouded in the forest from one of the café platforms, which will allow you to kill two birds with one stone as you’ll also get a chance to sip on what makes the region famous – tea.
And while the Sri Lankan trains often run on their own timetables and can be somewhat irregular, catching them make their way across the bridge is a mesmerizing sight.
What to wear: For an unforgettable Sri Lanka Instagram picture, we recommend going for neutral earthy tones like chocolate, as these colours will complement the lush foliage behind and highlight your natural beauty. We love this tiered flounce mini skirt and matching crop top from Seven Wonders. Simple and comfy sandals are recommended – this is a time where you should most definitely let your environment do the talking. When travelling in Sri Lanka, a day bag is indispensable, and we love how this multipurpose SD Basics woven shopper pairs with several outfits.
Another famous Sri Lanka Instagram picture spot that we think is worth mentioning in our bespoke Sri Lanka travel guide is Diyaluma Falls.
This impressive waterfall is the country’s second tallest and is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Gushing down from high above, Diyaluma Falls, while being off the beaten track, offer grand panoramic views and the natural infinity pools make the journey worth it.
We recommend going rustic and travelling authentically in a tuk-tuk. The two-hour trek from Ella to Poonagala will take you through stunning scenery, including quintessential tea plantations. The best time to visit this Sri Lankan natural wonder is just before the sun goes down, as the sunset over the valley from just above the falls is epic and not to be missed.
What to wear: Sri Lanka’s natural things to see and do lends itself to easy outfits. If you’re going to brave the 2-hour Sri Lankan tuk-tuk adventure, we recommend covering your legs for comfort and protection. These crochet pants in black from Sunseeker are cool enough to make a statement yet practical enough in their colour to allow you to jump on the back of a dusty tuk-tuk. We recommend also wearing a black bikini top and matching briefs underneath just in case you get the urge to take a dip in the fresh cascading waters of Diyaluma Falls. Wear a quick-dry light-knitted vest or tee over the top like this honeycomb knit top from Ruth Erotokritou to protect you from the elements. Simple footwear is advised so you can easily slip your feet in and out of your shoes, so in this case, you can never go wrong with a pair of trusty Havaianas.
Yala National Park
In our opinion, you should add Yala National Park to your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka. Straddling the Southeastern coast, this is a must for your Sri Lanka bucket list.
Spanning an impressive 1268 sq km, this wide-ranging park boasts open plains, dunes, forests, and stunning lagoons. This means that the wildlife is just as diverse, which includes 44 mammal species and well over 215 different birds.
As far as Sri Lanka travel guides go, we recommend Yala National Park – for two reasons. Firstly, you’ll get the unique chance to spot elephants and leopards in the wild, and secondly, Yala National Park has one of the largest densities in the world when it comes to leopards in their natural habitat.
To many going on a safari is a dream, and a safari in Sri Lanka is definitely worth it if you want to spot some glorious wild creatures in their natural habitat.
Because many Sri Lanka travel guides suggest Yala National Park as a must-see, it can get really busy, so we recommend joining a safari tour group and visiting first thing in the morning.
What to wear: We recommend following the 3-C rule – cool, comfortable, and casual. We love this long-sleeved, loose-fitting Aztec print tunic dress from Ibiza Sunset. If you’re anything like us, you might be a little sick of not wearing accessories with your outfits in Sri Lanka, so now’s the time to add a bit of sparkle with this cute layered heart charm necklace from Ibu Jewels. To complete your safari fashion look, a brimmed hat of some sort is a must, and we love how a simple Panama-style hat complements the rest of the outfit. Flat shoes are essential, so a pair of trainers or slipper-style loafers would work best.
Mirissa – Coconut Tree Hill
For more Sri Lanka Instagram-famous photo ops, head to Mirissa, home to one of the country’s most picturesque beaches and Coconut Tree Hill. As well as being picturesque and full of photo opportunities, it’s easy to pass your days here swimming, eating and surfing.
All Sri Lanka travel guides agree on one thing – there’s plenty to see and do in Mirissa, which includes Coconut Tree Hill. A quick Internet search, and you’ll soon realise that one of the best places to see in Sri Lanka is Coconut Tree Hill. Forget its social media over-exposure, there’s something pretty amazing about hundreds of palm trees randomly protruding out of a small burnt orange mount.
You’ll find Coconut Tree Hill to the east of Mirissa beach and it’s worth the small hike as it offers spectacular views across the town, making it the ideal place to go sit, chill out, and watch the world go by. Avoid the crowds and head there early morning or when dusk falls and be treated to some epic sunrises and sunsets. Be sure to pop into the small ramshackle of a bar close by for a sundowner.
What to wear: Sri Lanka’s beaches range from super casual to the opposite end of the spectrum, which is why we think it’s safe to wear something in between – something comfortable enough to walk in but something a little dressy at the same time for those impromptu sundowners along the way. Most beach dresses from Miss June fit the description, but we especially love Legend Green. Don’t forget to pack your bikini top and bottoms for a swim, surf or both. Make a statement with this trending woven visor and don’t forget your Havaianas that you can easily slip in and out of. A large tote bag is necessary to carry your bits and pieces, and we love the pop of colour that this oversized tote from Moroccan Star adds to your overall look.
Royal Botanic Gardens
One of the most popular places mentioned in most Sri Lanka travel guides is the Royal Botanic Gardens, and with good reason. Located in Peradeniya, Kandy, this sprawling city park will leave you in awe.
A Sri Lanka travel guide wouldn’t be any good without giving some of the background histories. These gardens, once just reserved for only the Kandyan Royals, date back to 1371. Some 400+ years later in 1821, they were transformed into public botanical gardens at the request of the British.
Plant and tree enthusiasts will fall in love with these expansive gardens that span over 60-odd hectares and are home to well over 10,000 species of trees. Here you’ll find every native species imaginable and several other introduced additions from further afield. The renowned orchid collection is not to be missed. Make sure you keep an eye open for the unique Cannonball tree, which was planted in 1901 by King George and Queen Mary on one of their international tours.
And for that Sri Lanka Instagram photo, head to the avenue of royal palms, where well-manicured exotic trees line a tended pathway in the centre of the gardens.
Kandy’s streets are known to be teeming with people and are a constant hive of activity, so if you wish to escape the fierce heat and the mad hustle and bustle, the botanical gardens are one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
What to wear: With its royal associations and rich history, it’s only fitting you dress for the occasion and we think that this tiered maxi dress in aqua from Miss June is perfect! Add more glamour and protect yourself at the same time with an oversized Capri hat from Lorna Murray. Avoid sweaty feet and blisters with a pair of comfy breathable leather slip-on sandals and don’t forget to accessorise, but go with the “less is more” mantra to avoid a busy look. We love simple vintage-inspired rings and earrings.
We can’t get enough of this extraordinary island country – there’s so much to see and do in Sri Lanka. Idyllic beaches that are refreshingly undeveloped and a variety of compelling landscapes make this stunning country worth visiting at least once in your lifetime.
Most Sri Lanka travel guides state that this is a hot spot for zealous travellers, but tourism remains relatively low key compared to other countries, meaning you’ll still be able to enjoy the island’s unique individuality, making it perfect for a covid vacation.