Sri Lanka Belongs On Every Photographer’s Bucket List

The Island Marco Polo believed to be the “Most Beautiful Island in the World” is a true Tropical Paradise.

At the tender age of 24, Marco Polo was dispatched by Kublai Khan, Emporer of China, to the island now known as Sri Lanka, to receive the tooth of the Buddha, one of the holiest relics in Buddhism. That quest was ultimately unsuccessful but he did leave with a newfound respect and admiration for the tropical island. Marco, no slouch in the travel department, declared Sri Lanka as “Undoubtedly, the finest island of its size in all the world.”

Sri Lanka offers some of the best historic and cultural photography (the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Kandy, and Polonnaruwa boast of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites), wildlife safaris that rival many itineraries in eastern Africa, and some of the most stunning tropical beaches in the world for the landscape shooters. There are tea plantations in the misty mountain highlands (a train ride through the tea country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience), colorful fishing villages and open markets, and much more. Many of these vastly different photography opportunities can be experienced within the same day. After a closer look, it’s easy to see why Sri Lanka should rank high on any travel photographer’s bucket list.

Wildlife and Nature

The wildlife of Sri Lanka is as varied as the general photographic opportunities. 12 percent of the country’s land is protected as wildlife and conservation sanctuaries so that many generations to come can enjoy encounters with nature and wildlife on the island. More than 400 species of birds live here as well as leopards, elephants, deer, monkeys, and prolific marine life such as whales and sea turtles, Yala and Minneriya National Parks are two highlights for wildlife and nature photographers.

Sri Lanka is also home to inland mountains with dozens of photogenic waterfalls and some of the most picture-perfect tropical beaches in the world. The seaside village of Tangalle in the southern part of the island is one of my favorite places for sunrises over the Indian Ocean and photographing sea turtles.

Sri Lanka and the Cultural Triangle

In 1972, the people discarded the country’s old name of Ceylon and officially introduced the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the world. In Sinhala, the language spoken by the majority of the people, Sri means “blessed” while Lanka is the name of the island. In Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle located in the country’s mid-section, there sits a host of ancient monuments, Buddhist temples, and historical royal cities that once served as the center of early Sinhalese people and civilization. The points of this geographic triangle are comprised of the hill capital of Kandy, Anuradhapura – a rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders, and Polonnaruwa. This rich cultural area also contains the spectacular rock fortress of Sigiriya and the cave monastery of Dambulla (my favorite cultural location for photography).



A trip to Sri Lanka focuses not only on the cultural, historical, and the natural attributes of this stunning country, but also the beautiful people who live and work here. In all my travels, I have rarely met as many open, friendly, and cooperative photography subjects (on two feet anyway). On a train ride through the high-country tea plantations I met and photographed dozens of outgoing, friendly people in small villages, working the tea fields in the mist shrouded mountains.

Gray langur monkeys (Semnopithecus entellus) in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. In addition to the prolific monkeys, Polonnaruwa is home to ruins of a ancient city and was claimed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Sunrise over the Indian Ocean, in Tangalle, southern Sri Lanka. Tangalle is just one of the many world-class tropical beaches in Sri Lanka  that affords some amazing sunrises and sunsets.

Hunnasgiriya waterfall (Hunnas Falls) in Sri Lanka’s lush and beautiful mountain highlands.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.