For decades the beauty of Sri Lanka was clouded by civil war. The bloody conflict, which ended in 2009, kept the country and its pristine beaches, spectacular temples and ruins out of reach for most travelers. These days, though, Sri Lanka’s stock is on the rise. In fact, Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka as its top country to visit in 2013, saying its becoming one of the world’s “best-value destinations.” With these three simple tips, you can easily maximize your travel budget in Sri Lanka.
To say tea is a big deal in Sri Lanka would be an understatement. The country is the world’s fourth largest producer of the crop, and it is full of lush terraced plantations. Many of the hill district plantations offer free tours, giving visitors a comprehensive look at tea production as well as the chance to sample a cup or two. For a dazzling view of the hill country, visit Lipton’s Seat near Haputale. This free landmark on the Dambatenne Tea Plantation is located on one of Sri Lanka’s highest lookout points. It’s the spot from which tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his land.
Food is cheap in Sri Lanka if you know where to look. Dingy restaurants filled with locals crowding tables are usually a good sign that you can get a tasty meal on the cheap. The portion sizes at the local spots are pretty plentiful and curry meals usually come with free rice refills. Traditionally, vegetarian plates are the cheapest. It is not uncommon to get a big helping of rice and a mix of curries for less than $1.50 per meal.
Sri Lanka is a beach lover’s paradise. Located in the blue waters of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, Sri Lanka is a playground for sun worshipers, surfers, swimmers and divers. White sand beaches and coconut palms ring the island. And unlike some of Sri Lanka’s other spectacular sights— Sigiriya, Yala National Park and Kandy Botanical Gardens—the beaches are free. Snorkelers and divers will want to check out Pigeon Island off Nilaveli Beach, which offers shallow reefs in crystal-clear waters with an abundance of colorful fish. Families, on the other hand, will want to head to the calm waters of Unawatuna and Uppuveli.
From a traveler’s standpoint, Sri Lanka often gets overshadowed by the Maldives and India. But for those willing to take a detour off the worn travel circuit, the country will reward them with heaps of natural beauty, great people and delicious cuisine.