With winter fast approaching and days turning colder, you may already be pondering where you should be headed for your year-end holidays.
If an overcrowded Punta Cana, an increasingly expensive Cancun, and an only slightly warm Mediterranean do not sound appealing enough, perhaps it’s time to venture off-path and explore this lesser-known tropical country that is yet to be ruined by mass tourism.
No, it’s not a Caribbean island, nor an unheard-of island in the Mediterranean where consumer prices are high irrespective of season, though an island it is:
Sri Lanka Is One Of The Trendiest Tropical Destinations This Year
If you’ve never heard of Sri Lanka, it is an island country in South Asia located just off the Indian mainland, where 22 million inhabitants of several different ethnicities, customs, and who even speak distinct dialects and regional languages live.
Though it is not as popular a destination as the much-larger India, Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s most culturally wealthy nations, with a History spanning at least 3,000 years and formerly an important trading port of the ancient Silk Road.
The most interesting fact about Sri Lanka, however, is that it is becoming one of the world’s trendiest vacation spots, having been listed as the 19th best country to travel to by Condé Nast Traveler, outpacing aforementioned India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other Asian competitors.
But why is this mysterious island suddenly so popular, and what has it got to offer?
Sri Lankan Nature Is A Force To Be Reckoned With
Though it has many qualities, Sri Lanka’s greatest asset is certainly its wild, unspoiled nature.
It is deemed a sanctuary for biodiversity, with one-third of the total land area being forested. It comprises rolling green hills, deep gorges, dense jungles, high plateaus, and a coastline that extends for 830 miles, much of it falling under the protected reserve category.
Sri Lanka is the homeland of numerous exotic animals who roam its landscapes freely, from elephants to leopards and any large beast in between, and sightings are not uncommon, particularly around smaller settlements far from the 21st-century development boom.
Some of the most iconic natural sites in Sri Lanka include Sigiriya, a mist-enveloped rock rising out of verdant surrounds, the Southern Coast beaches, particularly Mirissa, famous for its sandbanks and crystal-clear waters, and the vast savanna of Uda Walawe.
The latter is the best spot for spotting elephants – not just a handful, but hundreds of them – as well as wild deer, crocodiles, and other elusive animals.
There are plenty of savanna tours to pick from, and while some obvious characters of the ‘big five’ are missing, as this is clearly not Africa, Sri Lanka’s vast grasslands are just as impressive as Kenya’s or Tanzania’s – and they can be a lot cheaper to visit.
Beautiful Tropical Beaches
All around the Sri Lankan coast, you will also find an up-and-coming resort scene, with popular brands like Anantara and Shangri-La calling the island home.
A five-star listing in paradisaical Tangalle, a coastal town bounded by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, Anantara’s Peace Haven has overnight rates starting at just US$213 this winter, offering guests access to a private stretch and luxurious amenities.
Other popular resort zones include Hiriketiya, in Sri Lanka’s South Coast, the Bentota Lagoon, where the landmark Centara Ceysands Resort & Spa is located, and Arugam Bay, a favorite among surfers and watersport enthusiasts due to its epic waves.
Now that travelers are actively seeking to be in natural environments and prioritizing slow travel over action-packed itineraries amid the world’s wider reopening for tourism, it’s hardly a surprise Sri Lanka is hitting a new popularity peak, especially among backpackers.
Americans – and most foreigners – can stay in Sri Lanka for up to 30 days as tourists by applying for an Electronic Travel Authorization ahead of departure, which costs only US$50. Those opting to request an entry permit upon arrival have to pay an additional US$10.
A Vibrant Capital City
Most foreigners landing in Sri Lanka will be touching down first in Colombo, the island’s cosmopolitan capital and its largest city, with a population of just under 800,000.
Colombo is the cultural and financial center and a testament to Sri Lankan diversity, as nearly every major ethnic group native to the island can be found within its boundaries, such as the Sinhalese, Burgher, the Sri Lankan Moors, Malays, Tamil, and others.
Best known for its fascinating mix of agitated city life and traditional colonial buildings, dating back to the Portuguese (16th-century), Dutch (17th-century), and British (19th-century onwards) periods, it is the best place to base yourself as you travel the country.
Domestic flight options within Sri Lanka are limited, which means you will have to rely on public transportation such as intercity buses and trains to travel around the island.
As it is the capital, Colombo boasts the best connectivity with other provinces.
Currently, no airline offers nonstop flights from the United States to Sri Lanka, which means you will have one or more stops in an intermediate country before reaching your destination, usually in India, Singapore, or other major transit hubs in Asia.
Is Sri Lanka Affordable?
Sri Lanka may be trickier to get to, and it is certainly not as popular as other Asian destinations, but it can be remarkably cheap to visit, with tourists having previously reported weekly expenses of between US$225 and US$450 per person, depending on travel style and accommodation preferences.
As we have highlighted before, an overnight at the Anantara in Tangalle will already set you back by over two hundred bucks a night, but you must bear in mind the median price of hotels across Sri Lanka is far lower – to be more precise, a mere US$27.
If you’re visiting Sri Lanka on a stricter budget, you can expect to get by, perhaps not comfortably, at expenses of only US$9.60 per day. This means staying in hostels, eating cheap in restaurants locals normally frequent, and taking public transportation.
If you’re on the luxury spectrum, however, and you’re checking into a luxurious beachfront property on the South Coast and living your best life, you should budget around US$86 on daily expenses per day – still hugely affordable by Western standards.
Sri Lanka Is Safe For Tourists
Finally, Sri Lanka is a relatively safe destination to visit.
While petty crime and scamming can be a problem in Colombo and other major conurbations, the country as a whole is quite rural and bucolic, and you will find Sri Lankans are some of the most friendly, hospitable people in Asia.
According to the U.S. Travel Advisory, the country is at Level 2, meaning Americans must simply exercise greater caution when visiting due to the reasons above. With that being said, they are not discouraged from visiting.
In the winter months, the average temperature across Sri Lanka is a balmy 82 °F, so you better pack light and be generous in applying your sunblock.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com