What is Sri Lanka Famous for? (You’d Be Surprised!)

What is Sri Lanka Famous for, you ask?

The answer may surprise you.

Sri Lanka is tiny. But it’s jam-packed with valuable (and tasty) commodities. It overflows with beautiful scenery. And it has a rich culture with a fascinating history.

In this guide, we’ll cover the top things Sri Lanka is known for, plus some curious Sri Lanka facts.

Let’s dive in.

What is Sri Lanka famous for in the world?

From gorgeous scenery and delicious dishes to their unique way of communicating through head shakes, Sri Lanka is famous for many peculiar things. 

This small, often overlooked country actually is a huge worldwide supplier of several different commodities, in a low-key kind of way.

Let’s take a closer look at what Sri Lanka is known for — both the good and the bad.

What is Sri Lanka known for producing?

Tea

Sri Lanka tea plantation
A tea plantation in Sri Lanka

Tea is one of the greatest commodities to come from Sri Lanka. It’s the country’s biggest agricultural export and one of the main things this beautiful country is known for. 

Tea plantations make up 4% of the country, and Sri Lanka produces 340 million kilograms of tea per year.

Sri Lankan tea is called Ceylon Tea, and though Ceylon Black Tea is their most popular, they also produce Ceylon Green Tea and Ceylon White Tea.

Not only is their tea the highest quality and cleanest on the market, it’s also one of the priciest. 

Tourists can visit tea plantations in places like Kandy, Ruhuna, and Uva (among others) to experience the cultivation process firsthand.

Cinnamon

cinnamon sticks

Cinnamon is a huge pride and joy of Sri Lanka. For centuries, Sri Lankan cinnamon has held the highest reputation in the world. Eighty to ninety percent of the world’s production of cinnamon comes strictly from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan cinnamon — also called Ceylon cinnamon — is known as the purest cinnamon in the world. It has a unique aroma, special health benefits, and low coumarin value.

Over the years, cinnamon has been used as a spice, in medicinal products, perfumes, and even soft drinks. These days, cinnamon is mostly used in the pharmaceutical, baking, and cosmetic industries. 

Gemstones

purple gemstone

Sri Lanka is also known for its beautiful gemstones.

More than 80% of Sri Lanka’s entire landmass is considered “potential gem bearing.”

Sri Lanka has the highest density of gemstone deposits in the world. 

Out of 200 known gemstone varieties, Sri Lanka produces over 75, including:

💎 Sapphire
💎 Ruby
💎 Cat’s Eye
💎 Alexandrite
💎 Chrysoberyl
💎 Spinel
💎 Topaz
💎 Zircons
💎 Tourmaline
💎 Garnet

And many others.

Most of the gem production occurs in the Ratnapura district of the Sabaragamuwa province, as well as in Avissawella, Nivithigala, Eheliyagoda, Permadulia, and Balangoda. 

As a tourist, you can even take “gem tours” where you experience how gemstones are produced. In Ratnapura, you can check out the Gemological museum or visit a gem factory. And over in Okkampitiya, Buttala, you can even visit a gemstone mine. 

What food is Sri Lanka famous for?

Coconut… anything.

coconut products

Despite Sri Lanka’s tiny size, it’s the fourth-largest coconut provider in the world.

And they use it to make all kinds of interesting products. 

Coconut flakes, coconut shavings, and coconut milk are popular ingredients in many traditional Sri Lanken dishes.

They also produce:

✔️ Coconut oil
✔️ Coconut chips
✔️ Virgin coconut oil
✔️ Coconut milk
✔️ Coconut cream
✔️ Coconut butter
✔️ Coconut flour

In other words, it’s a coconut-lovers paradise.

Famous Sri Lanken street food

sri lankan street food

Sri Lanka is known for many signature street foods. 

Being so close to the ocean, many of these are seafood dishes, like: 

☑️ Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry). A popular dish made with tuna fish, curry leaf, cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, pandan leaves, various spices and dried goraka.
☑️ Kool seafood. A traditional Sri Lankan food made of a mixed seafood broth with crab, prawn, fish, cuttlefish, tamarind and spinach. 

Some other popular Sri Lankan street dishes are:

☑️ Kottu. A grilled mix of vegetables, eggs, shredded meat, and roti.
☑️ Pittu. A cylindrical-shaped side of rice that is topped with grated coconut.
☑️ Roti. A flat bread made from wheat flour. The dish is super customizable. You can add pretty much whatever you want to it, such as Thenngappu, which is made with — you guess it — coconut flakes.

Dhal Curry

dhal curry

Dhal curry is one of the most popular Sri Lankan foods, made with masoor dhal (red lentils) and cooked in a blend of various spices. 

Add a few spoonfuls of coconut milk to thicken it up, and you’ve got yourself a delicious Sri Lankan dish. 

It’s typically enjoyed with different kinds of rice and breads.

For a closer look at all the scrumptious (and curious) foods you can find in Sri Lanka, check out this video (and prepare to get hungry!):

Famous Landmarks in Sri Lanka

Nine Arch Bridge

train passing nine arch bridge in sri lanka

The Nine Arch Bridge is one of the most breathtaking train tours in the world. 

Running through the highlands of Sri Lanka, a train ride over this century-old bridge is certain to give you absolutely stunning views.

This landmark has just celebrated its 100th birthday, as it was first commissioned in 1921 under the British government. 

Interestingly, the Nine Arch Bridge is constructed of only stone and cement, rather than iron or steel. This is because when World War I broke out, all metals were reserved for war-related industries. 

Sri Lankans decided to continue building the bridge regardless, and we’re glad they did.

Adam’s Peak

adam's peak, sri lanka

Another landmark that Sri Lanka is famous for is Adam’s Peak.

Adam’s Peak is a mountain in southwest Sri Lanka that stands at 7,360 feet, offering jaw-dropping scenery. 

It is also highly regarded in many religions. There is a hollow at the summit resembling a human footprint, and depending on the religion, it is thought to be the footprint of a saint or sacred person. 

For Hindus, it’s the footprint of Shiva. 

For Muslims, it’s the footprint of Adam.

For Buddhists, it’s the footprint of Buddha.

And for the Portuguese, it’s the footprint of St. Thomas the Apostle. 

Many followers of these religions visit the peak every year to pay homage to their respective sacred individuals.

But even if you’re not religious, it’s a wonderful hike.

World’s End

world's end, sri lanka

World’s End is one of the most famous landmarks in all of Sri Lanka. 

It’s located in Horton Plains National Park, where the plateau comes to an abrupt cliff, plunging a wild 880 meters down. 

There is a strict path for hikers and tourists to follow that takes three hours round trip.

Once you reach World’s End, you’ll have incredible scenic views. On clear days, you can see all the way towards the coast. And in the valley below, you can spot small towns and tea-plantation villages.

Just be careful. Sri Lanka is not known for its safety standards, and there are no safety rails. If you take reckless selfies at the edge, it could be your World that Ends.

What are Sri Lankan people famous for?

The Sri Lankan head shake

Sri Lankans have practically invented their own body language. Or perhaps it’s better described as a “head language.”

The Sri Lankan “head shake” is also referred to as a “waggle” or “head-bob.” The movement is what the rest of the world would do to say, “No”, except when you’re shaking your head, you do so in an almost figure-8 motion. 

It can be both small and vague or it can be exaggerated. It can be short and quick, or done many times to get a point across.

Sri Lankans use this unique body language to communicate many things — acknowledging someone’s presence, saying “hello” (similarly to how the rest of the world would nod at a friend to greet them wordlessly), to express understanding, or to say, “Yes”.

The confusing part is it also can be used to say “No.”

Pay attention to eyebrows and facial expressions, and you may just have a chance at understanding.

Ayurveda

ayurveda massage

Ayurveda is considered by many to be the world’s oldest healthcare system — around 5,000 years old.

Sri Lankans are experts in it.

So much so that people come from all around the world to experience Sri Lankan “Ayurveda retreats”. 

In Ayurveda, it is believed that if the body and mind are out of balance, it leaves the body susceptible to disease and other health problems. 

Aside from natural medicine, this practice also includes activities such as yoga, meditation, and “self-care”.

In such a fast-moving world, this is definitely something we can learn from Sri Lankans.

Literacy

Something else Sri Lankans are known for is literacy.

Literacy is, unfortunately, less common in many parts of South Asia compared to more developed countries.

But Sri Lanka is the outlier. According to UNESCO, the adults in Sri Lanka have a 91.9% literacy rate, and the youth stand strong at 98.86%.

Fun facts about Sri Lanka

Hydropower is huge

sri lanka waterfall

Sri Lanka is a hydropower powerhouse. 

Hydropower is power generated by falling water. And thanks to the many waterfalls in Sri Lanka, hydropower supplies nearly 40% of the country’s electricity needs. 

First female prime minister

Sri Lanka made history when they appointed the first female prime minister in the world. Good for them!

In the election of 1960, Siramavo Bandaranaike was elected the first female prime minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka. She served three terms. 

The “Buddha tooth” temple

the buddha tooth temple, sri lanka

You read that right—one of Sri Lanka’s temples protects an actual, sacred Buddha tooth.

The official name of the temple is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, located in Kandy. 

It is one of the most sacred sites in all of Sri Lanka, and pilgrims visit to pay their respects daily. The tooth itself is not visible, however, as it’s protected inside a gold casket.

Every year during the Esala Perahera procession, the Relic casket is carried on the back of an elephant and paraded through the streets.

Bad things Sri Lanka is known for

Transportation

tuk tuk in sri lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, with plenty of amazing sights to see.

The problem, however, is getting to them.

Transport has been an ongoing (and worsening) issue in Sri Lanka. The bus schedules are practically non-existent, traffic can take hours for a simple trip, and before you know it, your entire day was spent in a vehicle on your way to your day’s events. 

We can only hope that Sri Lanka can solve their transportation problem in the near future. But in the meantime, if you are planning on visiting Sri Lanka, do plenty of research to avoid making any unnecessary trips.

A history of conflict

Another thing Sri Lanka is known for is its long history of conflict and war.

The country fought a 30-year civil war, from 1983 to 2009. The war arose from an ethical conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil citizens.

Since 2009, Sri Lanka has been in a period of peace, and tourists have once again been able to see the beauty of the country.

That said, it’s not a place you want to visit without a trusted travel insurance policy.

Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).

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