Sri Lanka is a tropical island in the Indian Ocean, about 20 miles (30km) southeast of the Indian subcontinent. Despite its fairly small size, Sri Lanka is home to incredible diversity in landscape, climate, and attractions, packing quite a variety into a small space. As the country has warmed up to international travelers, the options for guided tours in a variety of activities has blossomed.
From sun-kissed beaches to cool mountains, steamy jungles to arid plains, colonial-era fortifications to Buddhist pilgrimage spots, saying Sri Lanka has a lot to offer is an understatement. Here are some ideas for getting the most out of a tour to the tear-drop shaped island in the heart of the Indian Ocean.
Due to Sri Lanka's circuitous coastline, hills, and rivers, adventure sport opportunities here include various types of water sports such as white-water rafting, kayaking, and sea fishing, in addition to dry land activities like trekking, hiking, caving and cycling. Wildlife spotting is also a popular activity, as the country is full of jungles and mountains. Best of all, because Sri Lanka is such a small country, it's even possible to do it all of this in one trip!
Trekking & Hiking Tours
The possibilities for trekking and hiking in Sri Lanka are spectacular. The hiking sector is not extensively developed, but there is a great deal of potential, and adventurous travelers won't be disappointed. Trails are rugged and relatively lacking tourists. Much of the interior hill terrain is perfect for hiking and trekking, with great scenery and views, and with a cooler climate than in the lowlands of the country.
Difficulty levels range from easy to challenging. Going with a guide and tour company is recommended because of the undeveloped nature of trekking and trails in Sri Lanka. Tour operators will tailor the difficulty of the walk to participants' needs.
Trekking and hiking in Sri Lanka can last as little as one day, or as long as several days. On multi-day trips, such as those in the Knuckles Range, you will likely camp in the mountains.
As Sri Lanka is a small island with a variety of terrain, it is an exhilarating and fun place to cycle. While it's possible to hire a bike in towns and cities to get around locally, longer-distance cycling trips are also popular. Cycling trips can be anything from half a day to a couple of weeks. When cycling through Sri Lanka you will ride past tea plantations, jungles, national parks and beaches. Look for cycling tours with support vehicles, which will allow you to take a rest and not cycle certain sections if you don't want to.
Sri Lanka's surfing scene is still nascent, but Arugam Bay is known world-wide among surfers. Some waves come all the way from Antarctica, as there is no other land standing in the way. The whole of the south coast of the country is good for surfing, as are Hikkaduwa and Madiha. The most consistent surfing conditions can be found in the south of Sri Lanka between April and September.
By joining an organized surfing tour, you'll get the chance to try several of the best spots in the country, as well as enjoy other cultural activities along the way, such as temple visits, cooking classes, and yoga.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
Although just a small island, Sri Lanka has three distinct micro-climates, meaning that it's best to go to different parts of the country at different times of the year.
Most of the country -- the north, much of the west coast, the east coast and most of the interior -- has a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons, and is best visited between April and September. The southeast, where the capital Colombo and popular tourist town Galle are, is also tropical but is wet year-round, so it is best visited between November and May. The highlands in the south have warm summers and mild winters, and are best visited between December and May.
What to Look For In a Tour to Sri Lanka
If you don't know which adventure activities to prioritize on your trip to Sri Lanka, look for tour companies that combine activities over several days. Several companies offer combined cycling, white-water rafting, and hiking trips, with vehicular safaris and transfers, as well as optional boat trips or surfing added in, too. Numerous cultural activities are also offered on such tours, combining the best of both worlds. That way, you can sample a bit of all of Sri Lanka's highlights.
Typical Tour Cost
Sri Lanka is generally inexpensive, like most of South Asia. Tours are good value, and you may be able to afford a higher quality service than you could in Western countries. Tours in Sri Lanka generally cost $200-$250 per day and are typically all-inclusive of meals, accommodation, and transfers.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Sri Lanka is generally a hot, steamy country, pack light, breathable clothing that helps keep your skin cool. If you're heading to the highlands and hills, take some warmer items of clothing too. Particularly when you're taking a tour that includes higher elevations (such as the Horton Plains and World's End), be prepared for chilly temperatures and frost at night. If trekking, pack hiking boots.
Other gear necessary for activities will be provided by tour companies, or will be available to rent. Surfing gear, for example, can be rented at popular surf towns.
Health & Safety
Plan to update basic immunizations before you go, such as Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. The risk of contracting malaria in Sri Lanka is low, and anti-malarial medication is not usually advised. Make sure to speak with your healthcare provider before your trip to confirm which vaccinations or treatments may be required based on the destinations you plan to visit.
Sri Lanka experienced a civil war between 1983 and 2009, and during this period tourism was mostly isolated to the beaches and the south of the country, which saw fewer troubles. Now, the north is opening up too, and there's no reason not to explore this part of the country. People here may be less used to seeing tourists.
If cycling, stay off the busier roads, and be aware that larger vehicles will have little patience with cyclists, sometimes forcing you off the road. Organized tours will take you on the safest, most scenic routes, and also have other insider knowledge regarding safety and traffic conditions.