First Impressions of Sri Lanka

“Good morning Madam.” “Good day.” “Madam, how are you?”

As I walked through the village to a shaded garden I knew served sweet chai, everyone from the baker to the tuk tuk driver wished me well along the way. It was a bit like the opening scenes of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast but with less French accents and not so many baguettes.

For my first few days in Sri Lanka I was taken aback by this friendliness. I returned hellos with looks that said, ‘What do you want?’ I replied ‘no thanks’ and waved dismissively to well-wishers who I had mistaken for hawkers. Living in London, previous experience of pushy vendors, and my misperception of the Sri Lankan welcome had made me rude.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Sri Lanka is unspoilt. Tourism, on a large scale, is a relatively new development and one that is still burgeoning. The circular route we took around the south of the country (from Colombo to Kandy, the Hill Country, Yala National Park and southern beaches) saw us pass only a handful of tourists at a time. Commercialisation has not yet tainted the country; tourists are not a burden to the locals. I hope this does not change.

Thoughts on my first visit to Sri Lanka

For the island’s beauty really is staggering. On a 6-hour train journey from Kandy, through the luminous green Hill Country to the elevated town of Ella I stared out the window for the entire journey. Books, magazines and blog posts waiting to be written could not distract me from the scene rolling past the window. In the non-air conditioned third class carriages you can throw open the windows and I hung my head out like on a dog on its first car journey. The young boy and his grandmother seated opposite us insisted on sharing their food. When we arrived at our destination they waved us off like old friends.

Thoughts on my first visit to Sri Lanka

I’ve visited a decent number of beautiful beaches on my travels and it takes something special to impress me. In Sri Lanka I was expecting brown-gold sand and wandering cows like I had seen in Goa, but what we found in Tangalle was miles and miles of sinkingly soft white sand, and not a single person on it.

Parts of the south coast are so surprisingly underdeveloped that at first we wondered what to do with ourselves. But after several days of sunshine, sensational sunsets and drinking fresh coconuts I wasn’t interested in further entertainment.

Thoughts on my first visit to Sri Lanka

The food is good too. I’m not normally good at commitment, always trying new things for fear of missing out, but after my first taste of a creamy Sri Lankan prawn curry there was nothing I could do to stop myself ordering it every night.

But the true beauty of Sri Lanka is its variety; that you can drive from leopard-dotted national park to deserted sands in less than 2 hours, or take a train from sacred temples to tea plantations. And then, just when you least expect it, an elephant will halt your journey as it lazily crosses the road. I still can’t believe we saw all this scenery and wildlife in just 2 weeks.

Thoughts on my first visit to Sri Lanka

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Yet I’ll admit I found it difficult planning this trip. Information on booking trains, prices for hiring drivers and recommendations for good guesthouses are surprisingly hard to find (at least it was when I was doing my research in the UK). So it will be my pleasure to tell you over the coming weeks about one of the best train journeys in the world, how to find a good place to stay and what if felt like to spot a leopard in the wild. Sri Lanka was an absolute delight to travel and I’d love to help you discover it too.

Further reading:

What To See & Where To Stay In Sri Lanka
Hiking Ella Rock
Tips For Train Travel In Sri Lanka
Leopard Safari
How To Book A Good Guesthouse In Sri Lanka
Our 2 week itinerary for Sri Lanka


About the author

I’m Jayne, a travel blogger, content creator and mum to a 4-year-old son. I’ve been blogging since 2010, travelled to 65 countries and share travel guides and tips to help you plan stylish, stress-free trips.

22 thoughts on “First Impressions of Sri Lanka”

  1. Really looking forward to reading about how you got on in Sri Lanka – at one stage I was planning an almost identical route for January but has been postponed and hope to do it next year instead, but totally agree on the lack of good information, I found the same when I was looking into it.

    • Funny isn’t it. We found it so easy to travel around when we got there but not much advice before we arrived. I look forward to sharing my tips and hope you make it out there another time.

  2. Wow! Where do I even start?! The white beachs, yummy food and friendly locals make me crave going right now! Looking forward to seeing the next installments of your Sri Lankan adventure Jayne.

  3. Hey Jayne,

    As a country that’s a growing tourist destination blog posts like yours are well appreciated. Information on Sri Lanka is now available online and I recommend working with a Tour Operator to be on the safe side.

    There’s alot more to see in Sri Lanka so I do hope you return!

  4. Your posts on Sri Lanka come in very handy right now! I’m going there in less than 4 weeks and need as much useful info as I can get;)
    By the way, have you met a lot of solo (female) travelers along the way? Is it safe there? I always travel solo but this time, after reading some stuff online I’m feeling quite cautious and a bit uncertain about it.

    • Hi Dora, I’m so jealous for the fun you have in store. I travelled with another female friend but certainly saw solo female travellers along the way. I was so surprised at how safe and comfortable we felt travelling around. We took a lot of public transport and tuk tuks and never felt anything other than welcome by the locals. Away from the beach resorts we dressed more conservatively and this helped us blend a little better with the smartly dressed locals. In comparison to other parts of Asia I have travelled this was one of the most hassle-free, on several levels. Enjoy and let me know if I can help with anything at all J

  5. Hey Jayne,

    so glad to have discovered your blog!

    Sri Lanka indeed is a wonderful country! The amount of variety it has is mind boggling, just like you have mentioned. It goes from Beach, history, wild, festivals,mountains, to some great shopping in no time!

    The pics are fabulous btw….

    Cant wait to read the upcoming posts!

  6. I’m intrigued to find out more about Sri Lanka. I have a couple of friends that have visited. But I would like to visit the least explored of the country. If you could give me information on travel and ‘hiking/trekking’ adventures, I would really appreciate it.

  7. My first impression of Sri Lanka were quite different, but you make me want to go back. It is such a beautiful country and your photos make me ‘homesick’ even though this was my least favourite country in Asia. I think my mind will soon be changed…


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