I have to admit, I knew very little about Sri Lanka before my recent trip there.
It’s not a country that’s oft talked about, so surely I’m not the only one, right?
But I think in a way, it was good that I arrived without any expectations or preconceptions, because it meant I was totally open to anything and everything that came my way on this trip.
As a result, I learned LOTS about the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, Sri Lanka, that I’m so excited to share with you!
Here are 7 fun facts about Sri Lanka that I found particularly interesting.
READ MORE IN THIS POST: 10-Day Sri Lanka Itinerary
Table of Contents
Sri Lanka is Not Just Like India
Sri Lanka is a tear drop-shaped island just 24km off the coast of India. At a quick glance on Google Maps, you might mistake it for being an Indian island. Or you might assume that, because the two countries are so close in proximity, they must share a lot of the same culture, customs, landscapes, and overall vibe.
In reality, though, Sri Lanka is very much its own country, completely independent of India and with its own identity. In fact, I was hardly reminded of India at all while traveling around Sri Lanka; the two countries might as well be as different as Sri Lanka and any other Asian nation.
What are the differences between India and Sri Lanka, then?
- Sri Lanka is an island, India is not – obviously. But Sri Lanka’s also got more of a slow paced island vibe overall.
- Sri Lanka is more chill and less frenetic/chaotic/loud than India.
- Sri Lanka is cleaner and less polluted than India.
- Sri Lankan cuisine is different from Indian cuisine. Both are spicy and flavorful on the whole, but Indian food takes it to the extreme.
- Sri Lanka and India both love their tea; however, Sri Lanka produces ceylon tea, while India is all about (super sweet) chai.
- Sri Lanka is far less crowded than India, with a population that is 1/68 that of India’s (22M vs 1.5B).
- Dogs : Sri Lanka :: Cows : India. Or in non-math speak, dogs are as prevalent in Sri Lanka as cows are in India. Both animals own the roads in their respective countries.
- You’ll be approached by pushy people trying to sell you things in both countries, but Sri Lankans seem to respect the word “no” more than Indians do.
- Sri Lankan men did not make me feel uncomfortable at any point (though there were a few instances of staring). Indian men made me feel uncomfortable on a daily basis with their staring and unsolicited advances.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I experienced northern India as a solo backpacker and Sri Lanka on a hosted trip staying in mostly 4 and 5 star hotels, so those variables may have also contributed to the differences I experienced.
Overall, my experience in Sri Lanka was MUCH more pleasant and enjoyable than the time I spent in India, and I was thrilled to find Sri Lanka very different from India.
Sri Lanka is Bigger Than You Think
Sri Lanka may look tiny on a map (especially sitting next to India, the 7th largest country in the world!). But it’s surprisingly quite large for an island, and it takes more time than you might think to get from A to B in a lot of instances.
During our two weeks touring the country, we logged a LOT of hours driving (in fact, a few days were nearly entirely spent on the road, with nothing else planned). It didn’t look like much, mileage wise, but what you don’t realize til you’re there is that it’s often not smooth and easy driving in Sri Lanka. Particularly in the south-central region, the roads tend to be winding and bumpy, which makes for slower driving.
I recommend allowing more days than you think you’ll need when you travel to Sri Lanka, to account for the time it takes to get around the country. Don’t count on doing too many day trips from Colombo, either; the best sights are several hours away by car!
- Colombo to Pottuvil (east coast) – 6-8 hours
- Colombo to Ella – 5.5 hours
- Colombo to Kandy – 3.5 hours
- Colombo to Galle – 2 hours
- Colombo to Sigiriya – 3.5 hours
There Are SO Many Dogs in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka was full of surprises (as evidenced by this list of unexpected fun facts about Sri Lanka), but for me the best surprise was how many dogs there are in this country.
I am not exaggerating when I say that there were dogs wandering around the property of every single hotel we stayed at, and that we saw far more dogs on the side of the road than fruit/veg stands.
And by side of the road, I mean the LITERAL side of the road. Not right *next to* the road, but ON the edge of the road. It constantly amazed me how chill the dogs were, and how unfussed they seemed by oncoming traffic. Drivers seemed to have no issue driving around dogs, accepting their presence rather than honking at them to move off the road.
Overall, Sri Lankans seem to coexist nicely with all the stray dogs that seem to inhabit every kilometer of their country. Every dog we encountered seemed to be clean, fed, and well behaved, despite having no real owner.
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Beautiful Places of Sri Lanka: 40 Photos To Spark Your Wanderlust
Sri Lanka is So Diverse
One recurring thought I had while traveling the country was that Sri Lanka has a little bit of everything, but not necessarily *the best* of any one thing.
Some countries are known for one or two hugely popular sights or experiences, i.e. you check them off and swiftly move on to the next country on your bucket list.
Sri Lanka is a country where you can get a taste of a wide variety of landscapes and adventures without having to cross the border. Every day of a Sri Lanka trip delivers something different: It truly is about the journey, rather than the destination here.
- White sand beaches? Check.
- Safari? Check.
- Temples? Check (x 4645734546).
- Tea plantations? Check.
- Surfing and yoga? Check.
- Mountain hikes? Check.
Sri Lankan Hospitality is Top Notch
Sri Lankan hospitality is some of the BEST I’ve experienced worldwide.
Not once did I have to carry my own luggage, which I SO appreciated after 4.5 months of lugging it around the world myself. It always magically made it from the car to my room at every hotel we stayed at (even the 3 star accommodations) without me having to lift a finger.
But nowhere was their high level of service more evident than when we were dining. We had waiters and managers constantly checking in with us to see how we were and how we liked the food, even when it was a self-serve buffet setup. They were more than happy to accommodate any dietary restrictions (although sometimes this got lost in translation initially).
The overarching theme seemed to be that Sri Lankans want you to stuff yourself silly with food at every meal and love what you eat. We would order one simple thing for breakfast, for example, and it would always be served alongside a host of other food even though we didn’t want anything else. Then when we wouldn’t touch the other items, they would be surprised and almost concerned.
If you’re like me and eat to live, you might be a little annoyed at the high touch service provided at meals. I personally prefer to eat something simple and get on with my day, no fuss needed. But if you’re at all a foodie and live to eat, you will LOVE eating in Sri Lanka. You will never go hungry, and you’ll never be faced with bland food that’s for sure!
Now, bear in mind that my take on this may be slightly biased, since I traveled Sri Lanka with the tourism board and stayed at mostly 4 and 5 star hotels. By nature, service at a luxury hotel should be elevated; factor in us having unofficial VIP status and it’s no surprise that we were treated like royalty all throughout Sri Lanka.
But even outside the hotels, where the vendors didn’t know who we were, I found Sri Lankan people to be very kind, hospitable, and eager to serve.
READ MORE IN THIS POST: The Best 4 & 5 Star Hotels in Sri Lanka (Boutique Hotels Included!)
Sri Lanka is Very Young
Did you know that Sri Lanka only gained their independence in 1948? That’s just 75 years ago!
Prior to 1948, Sri Lanka was colonized by the British (who else?) and was actually called Ceylon. Then in 1972, it was declared a republic and changed its name to Sri Lanka.
And prior to British rule, Sri Lanka was occupied by the Portuguese and the Dutch. There’s still evidence of European colonization across the island, particularly in the architecture. Nuwara Eliya, for example, looks like it was plucked straight out of Great Britain, and Galle is a well-preserved Dutch-built city. Colombo also has a smattering of colonial buildings throughout the city.
Sri Lankans Practice a Variety of Religions
Another thing that surprised me about Sri Lankans is that they practice a variety of religions. 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, 13% Hindu, 10% Muslim, and 7% Christian (mostly Catholic).
Over the course of two weeks, we saw temples/shrines devoted to all 4 religions, all beautiful in different ways. On Day 2, I had a moment of cognitive dissonance when we drove past a Catholic display of some sort on the side of the road, with tuk tuks whizzing by and signs all around it written in Sinhalese script. What a juxtaposition!
READ MORE ABOUT SRI LANKA IN THESE POSTS:
- Beautiful Places of Sri Lanka: 40 Photos To Spark Your Wanderlust
- 10-Day Sri Lanka Itinerary
- A Sri Lankan Safari at Wilpattu National Park
- The Best 4 & 5 Star Hotels in Sri Lanka (Boutique Hotels Included!)
Thank you to Sri Lanka Tourism for hosting me for 2 weeks in Sri Lanka. Note that all opinions expressed here and elsewhere on this blog are my unbiased own, and are uninfluenced by any gifts or incentives I may receive.