Is Sri Lanka on your bucket list yet? Before traveling to this beautiful country in South Asia, learn about these 21 things Sri Lanka is known and famous for.
Sri Lanka is famous for its rich biodiversity, large cinnamon and tea exportation, and stunning natural wonders! It’s also known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean and has diverse cultural and religious elements across the nation.
Here are some fun facts about Sri Lanka that you should know about!
What is Sri Lanka famous for?
1. The Lion Flag
Sri Lanka is known for the lion on its flag, which is representative of its strength as a nation. Since 486 BC, when King Vijaya brought the Lion Flag to Sri Lanka, the lion symbol has played a significant role in building the country’s history.
Today, the Lion Flag is known as one of the oldest flags in the world. Aside from the lion symbol, the Sri Lankan flag also dons bo leaves, an orange stripe, and a green stripe.
Interestingly, each of these elements represents diverse religious beliefs: Buddhism (bo leaves), Hinduism (orange stripe), and Islam (green stripe). Sri Lanka is famous for having the only flag in the world that represents various religious beliefs.
2. Pearl of the Indian Ocean
Back in 1972, Sri Lanka was called Ceylon. But aside from that, Sri Lanka is also known as “the teardrop of India.” Indeed, its pear-like shape resembles a drop of tears in the Indian Ocean.
Sometimes, Sri Lanka is also called the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” This is likely because of its rich natural heritage, biodiversity, and precious gemstones.
On the topic of monikers, Sri Lanka was also called Serendip way back in time. The name was coined by Arabs and Persians, pertaining to “the dwelling place of lion’s island.”
By the 18th Century, Serendip inspired the word serendipity, which means something happening by chance that leads to happiness and benefit.
Sri Lanka is known as one of the leading producers of cinnamon. In fact, the country produces 80% to 90% of the world’s cinnamon output! Fascinatingly, the scientific name of cinnamon is Cinnamomum verum, which is derived from the word “Ceylon” — the former name of Sri Lanka.
Cinnamon has long been linked to Sri Lanka. In the 17th Century, it was one of the spices which foreign invaders fought over. Since then, Sri Lanka has become one of the major exporters of cinnamon.
Every tea lover is familiar with Ceylon tea — strong black tea typically enjoyed with milk and sugar. Many household tea brands, like Dilmah and Halpe, come from Sri Lanka! The distinct taste of Ceylon tea may be attributed to the Sri Lankan highlands where it is grown.
The first tea shrub was planted in Sri Lanka in 1824; since then, the tea production has boomed. Now, Sri Lanka is known as the leading exporter of tea. As a matter of fact, around 5% of its people work in its tea industry!
6. Sirimavo Bandaranaike
In July 1960, the world saw its first-ever female prime minister in the person of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. She was the Chairwoman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and served for three terms after winning the July 1960 election.
7. Sigiriya Fortress
Tagged as “the Eighth Wonder of the World”, Sigiriya is a magnificent rock fortress complex with substantial archaeological importance. With this, it is one of the top tourist destinations in Sri Lanka.
Nestled at the heart of the northern Matale District, the Sigiriya rock plateau towers up to 200 meters high. Surrounding it are majestic fortifications, gardens, fountains, and ponds.
The main entrance of the complex is sculpted to look like huge lion claws, which used to be part of a whole lion rock statue before the upper parts of the lion were destroyed.
8. Yala National Park
Home to over 700 animal species, Sri Lanka is famous for its rich biodiversity. Wildlife enthusiasts will definitely enjoy Yala National Park, the country’s top wildlife park.
It spans forests, grasslands, and lagoons; has the world’s highest concentrations of leopards; and, has an impressive amount of bird species that mostly flock to the paradise from November to January.
Sri Lanka is one of the top countries in the world for whale watching! In its expansive waters, several whale species — including the Blue Whale, the Sperm Whale, the Humpback Whale, and the Bryde’s Whale — find their home.
The seas that surround Sri Lanka are abundant in krill, which explains the frequent migration of these gentle giants to its coasts.
Surrounded by stunning beaches, Sri Lanka is a famous surfing destination in Asia. As it observes different seasons on each side, Sri Lanka presents several options for surfing destinations all year round.
In Southern Sri Lanka, the surf season runs from November to May. Meanwhile, April to October is the peak surf season on the east coast.
11. Dhal Curry
In general, Sri Lankans love all kinds of curry; but, what they hail as the King of curries is the dhal curry. Commonly vegan, dhal curry sports a milder flavor than most — but those who love spice can always ask for more chilies. Made mostly of lentils and tomatoes, dhal curry has a high nutritional value.
Lavished with precious stones, Sri Lanka is often called “the Island of Gems”. Some of its most popular gemstones are sapphires, cat’s eye, alexandrite, and moonstone.
Across the country, you will find numerous alluring jewelry shops; but, most notable for gems and jewels are Ratnapura, Colombo, and Galle. Here, you can either snag collector’s stones or buy wearable jewelry as souvenirs.
13. Galle Fort
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Galle Fort displays awe-inspiring colonial relics vis-à-vis tropical trees, a sprawling beach, and chic cafés.
When visiting Galle Fort, definitely don’t miss the Galle Lighthouse — the very icon of the Fort which has stood since 1848. Further, enjoy a stroll across the snazzy neighborhood: Historical sites and museums, picturesque restaurants, and charming locals await your visit!
14. Ramayan Trail
One of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, Ramayana is a highly important element of Hindu literature. In this epic, Rama’s army builds a bridge over a sea to cross to the abode of King Ravana. This route is now known as the Ramayan Trail, which sees many places in Sri Lanka.
Hindu devotees from all over the world head to Sri Lanka to walk the Ramayan Trail, which includes: Ashok Vatika, the Koneswaram Temple, the Thotupola Kanda, Chilaw, the Sanjivani Hill, Kandy, and Ramboda.
15. Adam’s Peak
Sri Lankans consider Adam’s Peak as the most sacred mountain in the country. It towers over 2,200 meters tall in central Sri Lanka. Near its summit, you will find the Sri Pada (or sacred footprint) — a rock formation which is known as the footprint of the Buddha in the Buddhist tradition, and as the mountain of Shiva’s light in Hindu tradition.
Christians and Muslims also view the mountain as sacred, as they consider the same formation as the footprint of Adam upon his banishment from the Garden of Eden.
16. Temple of the Tooth
Sri Lanka is also known for housing one of the most important Buddhist relics: a tooth of Gautama Buddha.
According to legend, the tooth was first appointed to the Abhayagiri vihāra (a major monastery site in Anuradhapura). Because of its sanctity, the tooth found several threats in foreign invaders — apparently, a Burmese king even offered £50,000 as a ransom for the relic! Today, the relic peacefully sits in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
17. The “Yes” headshake
Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world where locals shake their heads to say “yes”. This runs contradictory to what most people understand; popularly, a headshake means the exact opposite — a “no”.
If you’re traveling to Sri Lanka for the first time, you might be confused with this gesture; but don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it eventually!
18. Kandyan saree
In Sri Lanka, Sinhalese women traditionally wear vibrant Kandyan saree. This colorful attire, which is said to have been worn since 543 BC, is known to be derived from the Bengali style.
Generally, the Kandyan saree sports two pieces: a long blouse tucked at the waist (must cover the midriff), and a pleatless petticoat wrapped around the hips. Traditionally, Sri Lankan brides wear this to their weddings.
Sri Lanka is famous for its natural medicine, Ayurveda. It involves aromatherapy, herbal remedies, massages, and essential oils.
If you’re interested in getting an Ayurvedic experience, head to Santani. This Sri Lankan paradise sprawls 19 hectares of pristine jungles, with luxe spa retreats and traditional Sri Lankan pilgrim-inspired aesthetics.
20. Train rides
What better way is there to explore the vastness of Sri Lanka than hopping on a train? Ride the spectacular train ride to Nuwara Eliya to witness the scenic hill countries of this Asian gem. This train ride goes through tunnels and across mountains — definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss!
When in Sri Lanka, don’t be surprised to catch some locals playing cricket. Although Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Sports named volleyball as the national sport, the most popular sport is cricket.
In fact, Sri Lanka is one of the few countries that have won a Cricket World Cup! You can certainly watch exciting cricket matches, whether official or not, while you’re in the country.
What else is Sri Lanka famous for? Share your ideas in the comment box below.
Last but not least, discover fun facts about other countries in our Explore the World series!