5. Focus on food
Sri Lankan food is delicious, so make the most of it while you’re there. However, knowing where and when to find the good stuff may prove a harder task than you anticipated. Bowl-shaped hoppers (savoury rice flour crêpes) are a highlight, though they are typically only served first thing in the morning or in late afternoon. Rice and curry is a lunchtime affair, while kottu rotty (chopped flatbread stir-fried with eggs and vegetables) is only available in the evening.
Those familiar with Asia will be surprised at the lack of street food stalls; instead, some of the best food can be found in the kitchens of small guesthouses.
6. Consider Colombo
With jazz clubs, rooftop bars, boutique stores and internationally acclaimed restaurants, Colombo can no longer be considered a mere gateway city. And though there are a number of sights to see, the capital is also a great place to simply settle in and get a sense of what local life is like.
Watch families fly kites on Galle Face Green at sunset; cheer for the national cricket team at the R Premadasa Stadium, or observe grandmothers swathed in vivid saris bargain with stallholders at Pettah Market.
7. Plan around the seasons
While the monsoon rains might not dampen your enthusiasm for exploring bear in mind that experiences can vary wildly depending on the season. If you’re desperate to climb Adam’s Peak, for example, then visit during pilgrimage season (December–May).
Outside of these months it’s still possible to hike to the summit, but the myriad tea shops that line the path will be closed. You’ll also tackle the peak with a handful of tourists instead of hundreds of local devotees, meaning much of the atmosphere and camaraderie among climbers is lost.
8. Get active
Sri Lanka might be known for its stupas, beaches and tea plantations, but it’s also crammed with adrenaline-packed activities. Why not try surfing in Arugam Bay, hiking the Knuckles Mountain Range or white-water rafting in Kelaniya Ganga, Kitulgala. Cycling holidays are also becoming increasingly popular with a number of international tour operators offering specialist tours.
9. Make the most of your money
By western standards Sri Lanka is still a cheap destination, but prices are rising quickly: the cost of a cultural show in Kandy has doubled in the last year alone.
For everyday items such as tea and toothpaste, head to the supermarkets in big cities where you can rest assured that you’re not paying over the odds. In the corner shops of smaller cities simply check the packaging, which has the price printed next to the letters “Rs.” (meaning rupees).
10. Understand the culture
At its closest point, only 18 miles of aquamarine waters separate Sri Lanka and India – but there’s a world of difference between the two. The pace of life in Sri Lanka feels much less frantic than that of its neighbour, which makes it ideal for those intrigued, yet intimidated, by India.
Few locals bat an eyelid at western visitors and while covering up is always appreciated (and necessary at places of worship), wearing shorts and vests is unlikely to attract much attention.
Explore Sri Lanka with The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.