Holiday heaven: Why Sri Lanka has been named Lonely Planet's top country to visit in 2019

Named Lonely Planet's top country to visit in 2019, Sri Lanka is suddenly the hottest current travel destination in the world.

There's a multitude of flight options from New Zealand - most with only one stop in Australia or elsewhere in Asia - so it's fast becoming very accessible for Kiwis.

With beaches, jungles, ancient cities and a rich history all coupled with friendly, accommodating people and some of the best food you'll eat anywhere on the planet - you should definitely be adding this beautiful country to your bucket list.

Here are some of the key things to enjoy while you're there.


One of the great things about Sri Lanka is that you can chase the summer and good weather around it.

Mid-year is best in the east, with the surf spot of Arugam Bay being a favourite. It's a long strip of golden sand lined with relaxed hotels, yoga spots and good restaurants.

Arugam Bay beach, cloudy sky, sea and golden sand in Sri Lanka
Photo credit: Getty Images

It's busy but calm, hippy but refined and a great spot to meet other travellers. A short tuk-tuk ride takes you to other quieter surf spots such as Peanut Farm and Whisky Point, and to even more tasty food spots in Pottuvil.

In the south of the country, Unawatuna and Mirissa are renowned surf spots, and the smaller beach of Talalla is touted as one of the most beautiful beaches in Asia. It would be very easy to spend weeks beach-hopping here.


This is a country that takes a long time to navigate by road, so the train network is a lifeline for many locals. It's also very handy for tourists when travelling to certain areas.

The trains are cheap and packed to the rafters - if you're after a fully authentic experience, don't miss a train ride.

Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya - October 01, 2015: People traveling by train in the mountains of Sri Lanka. Surroundings Nuwara Eliya.
Photo credit: Getty Images

The most renowned is from Ella to Nuwara Eliya, which passes through a landscape of rolling hills and tea plantations, usually paired with dark clouds threatening to thunder at any moment. It's atmospheric and absolutely stunning.

You can book in advance, but it's just as easy - and much cheaper - to buy a second-class ticket on your day of travel for the equivalent of around $3.

Taking in the sunset in the capital, Colombo, is one of the 'must-dos' when visiting Sri Lanka, however the locals actually take the train south from Fort station in the city to Mt Lavinia to enjoy it.

It's a packed ride at the end of the day, but the 20-minute trip is well worth it. If you like, you can stop in at the Mt Lavinia hotel (literally on top of the railway station) for a drink on the terrace to take in the beautiful views as the sun sets.

Sacred spaces

Sri Lanka is fascinating to explore for its variety of religions and cultures. Over two-thirds of the population is Buddhist, with a large proportion of the remainder of Hindus, plus an even split between Muslims and Christians.

Holiday heaven: Why Sri Lanka has been named Lonely Planet's top country to visit in 2019
Photo credit: Getty Images

Most towns have large Buddha statues and there are stunning temples in all the major cities, including the colourful and trinket-filled Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo.

The most famous of all the religious artefacts in Sri Lanka is one of Buddha's teeth, housed in a beautiful temple in the royal palace complex of the bustling city of Kandy. Whilst you don't actually see the tooth (it's far too sacred for that!), many religious people travel to Sri Lanka for this one experience.

Sigiriya, often called the 'eighth wonder of the world', is an ancient rock fortress situated in the centre of the country, which served as a Buddhist monastery for centuries. You can climb the rock itself, or summit the close-by Pidurangala (formerly also a Buddhist temple) for unmatched views of Sigiriya and the surrounding valleys.

I'd recommend both climbs in one day: Pidurangala for sunrise and Sigiriya for sunset.


It's not something you might have realised, but Sri Lanka is the best place in the world outside of Africa to go on a safari.

A herd of elephants from the Udawalawe national park strolling by the shore of the lake against a blue sky.
Photo credit: Getty Images

There are multiple National Parks in the country, each with its own unique grouping of animals and landscapes. You can spot elephants, monkeys, water buffalo, a huge variety of birds and even leopards, if you're lucky.

Uda Walawe in the south is better for elephant spotting, and Yala in the east is the best place to see leopards. As an extra bonus, Sri Lanka has also become known as the foremost country in the world to see the formerly elusive blue whale in its natural habitat.


Sri Lankan food is slowly becoming more of a staple in other countries, but it's nowhere near as popular as it should be for how yummy it is.

Sri Lankan Food Rice and Curry
Photo credit: Getty Images

It's most similar to that found in southern India, but each region has its own unique dishes and specialities. The north favours hotter and spicier flavours, while southern delicacies tend to be more subtle and complex.

The country is filled with delicious vegetarian dishes, tons of coconut, and some of the best seafood you can eat anywhere.

Some of my favourite dishes include hoppers, which are paper thin rice pancakes with various meat or vegetable fillings, kothu roti - a chopped flatbread mixed with eggs, meat and spices - and lampreis, which are banana-leaf wrapped mixes of rice, curry, egg and pickles.

Be sure to try them all. It's also a great idea to take a cookery class and learn how to make them for when you get back home and have those flavour cravings.

I highly recommend Sri Lanka as a holiday destination - it is one incredible country.


Jill MacNabb is a film producer and passionate traveller

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