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Your Guide to Yoga Retreats in Sri Lanka

by Alberto G. Güitrón

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What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Sri Lanka? Hold that thought, because once you finish reading this post, you’ll realize how much you didn’t know about this marvelous country.

OK, if you thought of Sri Lanka as a land of diverse culture, beautiful beaches, rich wildlife, ancient ruins, friendly people and delicious tea, then, congratulations! You guessed it right. However, there’s so much more you can still learn about this precious jewel in the Indian Ocean.

Here, you’ll find out why this country has become one of the most popular destinations for yogis in recent years and which are the best places for a yoga retreat in Sri Lanka.

Why is Sri Lanka special for yoga?

Yoga Sri Lanka

Image credit: Rukgala

With about 70% of the country's population following the Theravada Buddhism teachings, you can easily find quietude and calmness in Sri Lanka. So, it’s not difficult to imagine why it’s home to some of the best yoga retreats worldwide. That said, you should also know some specific highlights that are closely related to yoga.

For example, Sri Pada – meaning the sacred foot – is a hallowed mountain well-known for its footstep-shaped mark at the summit. Christians and Muslims believe it is Adam’s footprint from when he first stepped on Earth after being kicked out of paradise. Buddhists think that the footprint belongs to Buddha, while Hindus consider it to be Lord Shiva's footstep.

Whichever your faith is, there’s no doubt this is a special place to be. Just think about how amazing it is to be on a mountain that’s so sacred for all the main religions in the world. Moreover, assuming that the footprint is actually Buddha’s or Lord Shiva’s, it makes it even better for yogis.

Another unique place to visit during your trip to Sri Lanka is Anuradhapura, where you can find the oldest tree planted by humans – Sri Maha Bodhiya. Not only is it a 2,300-years old Bodhi tree, but it’s also said to be the child of the Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment. Who knows? Maybe Sri Maha Bodhiya has the same magic as her mama tree to help you find inner peace.

Lastly, a peculiar relic, the tooth of Lord Buddha, can be found in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. But before you get too excited to see this precious piece, know that you don’t actually get to see it. Nonetheless, you can take part in the Esala Perahera (Festival of the Tooth) which takes place during the summer

It’s a massive celebration consisting of a colossal procession with over 5,000 dancers, drummers and fire jugglers all wearing elaborated traditional costumes, and up to 100 embellished elephants. It’s such an important event, that people from all across Sri Lanka head to Kandy just to witness it.

Want a picture of how it is? If you ever watched the Aladdin movie, just think of the moment when he’s entering Agrabah pretending to be Prince Ali and you’ll get an idea of what to expect.

A little bit of history and other things to do in Sri Lanka

Yoga Sri Lanka

Image credit: Saraii Village 

Legend says it all started in the 5th century BC when an Indian Prince named Vijaya, accompanied by 700 followers, discovered the island today known as Sri Lanka. Since then, astonishing cities, palaces, temples, monuments and gardens have been built.

The country is a natural paradise. Though it’s just slightly larger than the US state of West Virginia, it hosts 504 species of birds and 125 mammal species including big animals such as elephants, leopards and whales. So, if you’re a safari enthusiast, make sure to visit the Yala National Park in Hambantota or head to Mirissa for whale and dolphin watching.

Other activities you can do to complement your yoga holiday are trekking, surfing hiking, rock climbing, deep-sea fishing, diving and hot air ballooning. Or, why not indulge yourself with the vivid flavors of Sri Lanka’s cuisine? You can try one of the most popular dishes – Fish Ambul Thiyal – a sour fish curry, which is very spicy, yet very delicious!

Best places for a yoga retreat in Sri Lanka

Yoga Sri Lanka

Image credit: Sundaram Yoga Sri Lanka 

Once you set foot in Sri Lanka, you’ll realize that there’s a sense of serenity all across the island. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a village, a big city or on a beach; you’re bound to feel it! If you choose the coastline for your retreat, you’ll bump into scenic views, gorgeous sandy shores and pristine waters. Some of the most popular beaches you’ll want to visit are:

  • Matara, known for having many gorgeous ancient forts and a wide variety of yoga retreats.
  • Unawatuna, a place of golden sand and calm blue waters, famous for turtle nesting and Ayurveda retreats.
  • Weligama, a lively fishing town that’s also home to several beach resorts. Famous for its boutique hotels with a big number of wellness centers offering from traditional Ayurvedic treatments to luxurious holidays.
  • Arugam Bay, one of the best surfing spots across the world. Here you can greatly improve your yoga skills by joining a yoga and surf retreat.

If you’re interested in combining surf and yoga, here are 3 things you need to know before your first surf and yoga retreat.

Yoga Sri Lanka

Image credit: The Kandy Samadhi Center

However, if you prefer to stay in a city, head to Kalutara, a perfect location for a yoga vacation where you can enjoy a laid-back atmosphere while performing your favorite asanas. It also has one of the most famous sacred and devotional Buddhist sites in the country, Kalutara Bodhiya.

Another option would be Kandy in central Sri Lanka, surrounded by tea plantations and home to the Kandy Lake, which is a perfect place to meditate while strolling around. This city is also famous for having sacred Buddhist sites such as the above-mentioned Temple of the Tooth.

A popular thing to do when visiting Kandy is taking a train trip to Ella; it’s considered one of the most beautiful rides in the world thanks to the lush tea plantations and impressive landscapes that surround the railroad.

Quick facts and tips for your holiday in Sri Lanka

Yoga Sri Lanka

Image credit: God Vibes Villas

Sri Lanka isn’t as cheap as you would expect compared to other countries in South Asia. If you’re looking for an affordable trip, consider traveling during the monsoon seasons between May and September in the southern and western regions, and between October and January in the northern and eastern areas. However, if you don’t mind hitting the peak season, you can plan your trip between December and March and you’ll probably have more retreats available.

Keep in mind that unless you’re from the Maldives, Seychelles or Singapore, you need to get a visa to enter. But don’t let this discourage you, it’s easy to obtain it through an online application process that you can find directly on Sri Lanka’s website.

Know that Sri Lankans are among the friendliest people on the planet and could be quite humorous. For example, they like to put a “hotel” sign outside restaurants, cafes and bars (which can very much confuse tourists) just because they think it’s funny.

Likewise, they’re sort of upside-down when it comes to saying yes or no with their head. To show consent, they shake their head from side to side and when they nod it means no. Make sure you don’t mix up body language! But if it turns out too difficult to keep up with their gestures, don’t worry, many people speak and understand basic English.

Finally, here you have a few easy words in Sinhala you can learn to make your trip more enjoyable:

  • For “hello”, you’ll say Ayubowan, which means “may you live for long”.
  • For asking “how are you?”, Kohomadha.
  • To thank someone, Istuti.
  • And for saying “okay”, you’ll say Hari Hari.

All in all, Sri Lanka is a delightful destination to visit, with great cultural heritage, tranquil blue waters, incredibly diverse wildlife, great cuisine and lots of adventure sports to try. It’s so vast and beautiful that you’ll never want to leave!

Are you a first-timer? There are several yoga retreats in Sri Lanka for beginners!

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