Sri Lanka Dreaming: Road Trips, Food Trails & Top Stays on the Emerald Isle

Our favourite stories of the island nation. | By NGT Staff  
Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Hike through Yala National Park while road-tripping through Sri Lanka. Photo: Guenther Bayerl/Corbis

For a small country, Sri Lanka packs in a wealth of experiences. Beach lovers can dig their toes into the golden sands of Bentota, Trincomalee, and Kosgoda; wildlife enthusiasts might spot leopards on the open grasslands of the Yala National Park or catch the elephant migration through the scrublands and forests of the Minneriya National Park. The food is outstanding too: Tangy fish curries, smooth, thread-like string hoppers, and hearty rice packets that draw upon Sinhala, Tamil, and European influences. Here are some of our favourite stories from the tropical island.

Coast with the Most

Crabs Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan crab enjoys a reputation among crustacean connoisseurs around the world—a great place to try it is Colombo’s Ministry of Crab restaurant. Photo: Luca Tettoni/Corbis

Given its proximity to India, three days to a week is ideal for a tropical getaway on the Emerald Isle. Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, is a great place to get acquainted with the island way of life. Take long walks on the sea-hugging promenades, visit Buddhist temples, and shop for little yaka or devil masks that are believed to ward off evil. When you’ve had a fair share of urban culture, make a beeline for the beaches (Galle should definitely be on your list). Snorkel in coral-rich waters, spend the day reading at a beach shack, even go whale-watching! Our budget guide to Colombo, Galle and beyond will help you make the most of the island without burning a hole in your pocket.

Stay in Galle

Amangalla Sri Lanka Dutch Governor

The Amangalla is the former residence of the Dutch Governor. Photo courtesy Amangalla

Galle’s colonial architecture and staggering ocean views have drawn travellers for years. Get the best of both worlds at the Amangalla hotel: the 200-year-old former residence of a Dutch governor. Located in the historic and remarkably preserved Galle Fort, the hotel has sumptuous high teas, beautifully manicured gardens for an evening stroll, even a resident lady ghost who allegedly takes a shine to good-looking young men. Villa Templeberg on the other hand, is surrounded by coconut plantations, and has a garden that’s perfect for a long read. Click here for our pick of places to stay in Galle.

Road Trip Ideas

Seeing a whale in the wild is among the most humbling experiences a human being can have, which explains why so many travellers returning from the town of Mirissa can’t stop talking about their whale-watching trip. The waters off Sri Lanka’s southern coast are home to orcas, sperm whales, and blue whales. Watching these gentle ocean giants is an unforgettable experience, but instead of heading straight there, we recommend renting a car and taking the scenic route. Sri Lanka’s top-notch roads, breathtaking landscapes, and relatively small size make it an ideal road-trip destination. Start at Colombo, then visit seaside Galle, take a whale-watching trip in Mirissa (the best season is from Nov-April and June-Sept), and hike through Yala National Park’s thick jungles to spot the leopard. Round off your trip with a visit to the Sea Turtle Conservation Project at Kosgoda Beach. Here’s an itinerary that will help you plan your trip.

Colombo Food Guide

Buth Sri Lanka Colombo

Buth, or rice, packets are the go-to lunch choice for many office-goers in the capital city. Photo: Arvind Grover/Flickr/Creative Commons (

Colombo’s food alone is worthy of a trip to Sri Lanka. Better still, there’s plenty to choose from for vegetarians too. Pepper crab, green jackfruit curry, string hoppers, meat curries, greasy vadais studded with prawns—from pocket-friendly roadside stalls and shacks, to elegant restaurants, Colombo has it all. This insider’s guide will tell you where to score the best fish curry, kothu rotti, and other stars of Sri Lankan cuisine in Colombo that will hold you in good stead. You’re welcome.

Jaffna Dreams

Point Pedro Sri Lanka Colombo

Point Pedro, in Jaffna, is the northernmost point of Sri Lanka. From here, the Indian coast is closer than Colombo. Photo: Kevin Clogstoun/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

The Tamil-dominated Jaffna Peninsula, located in the north of the country, was isolated for decades during the brutal civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Tamil Tigers. It has recently been opened to travellers. Writer Vidya Balachander explores the region on a road trip with her family, and returns feeling connected, but also a little torn. “Standing by the side of the now largely empty road,” she says, “it was hard to believe that one of the most brutal clashes in modern history was waged here. It brought me face to face with the fact that travel isn’t always a means to escape from the tedium of our everyday routine. Sometimes, it forces us to examine our lives and perhaps be grateful for the value of the normal and predictable. A large signboard in Tamil, Sinhalese, and English, erected by the government outside the crumbling skeleton of what must have once been an imposing building complex, says, “Say no to destruction! Never again!” It is a complicated and sobering reality and it leaves me feeling deeply conflicted. But, at least in opening my eyes to it, I feel less like an impassive bystander.” Read her entire story here.

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