We don’t normally spend much time (or money) shopping during our travels. We prefer to spend as much time (and money) as possible on unique experiences we will cherish for life instead. Actually, we don’t particularly like shopping because it’s usually difficult to find something to buy that’s tasteful, authentic and affordable at the same time. And this frustrates us. However, shopping in Sri Lanka is one bright exception to this rule. With a wide array of smart and reasonably priced gift ideas, deciding what to buy in Sri Lanka was equally difficult but for a different reason. We had a hard time figuring out how much of this stuff we could actually fit inside our suitcases.
What to buy in Sri Lanka
Although we are not avid shoppers, we always bring a little something back home with us. We also make sure to bring our loved ones souvenirs as well as send them postcards from almost everywhere we go. That’s our way of showing our friends and family that we think of them no matter how far or how often we travel. Sri Lanka is the perfect destination to shop quality, usually handmade, gifts for all tastes. Needless to say that the commonest things to buy in Sri Lanka are all things elephants. Elephant fridge magnets, wooden elephants, elephants on T-shirts, tote bags and mugs. Elephants are everywhere and we did buy way too many of them in various forms. However, here’s our list of all the other things to buy in Sri Lanka, excluding elephants.
Top 11 things to buy in Sri Lanka (besides elephant themed items)
Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was once called, is one of the world’s major tea producing countries. The climate in the country’s central highlights, where all of Sri Lanka’s tea estates are situated, is ideal for the production of high-quality tea. You can buy Ceylon Tea pretty much everywhere in the country such as supermarkets and small stores. However, don’t miss the chance to visit one of the tea estates situated in central Sri Lanka in towns like Nuwara Eliya or Kandy. There you can find unique tea varieties which, although more expensive, are only available on-site. No matter where you choose to buy your tea from, make sure that the package bears the lion Ceylon Tea logo. This is the easiest way to verify that the tea you’re buying was indeed produced in Sri Lanka and meets all the standards in order to be classified as high-quality tea.
2. Traditional masks
Sri Lanka has a long tradition in the craft of mask making. The coastal town of Ambalangoda in the country’s South is famous for its wooden mask industry. That said, you can find handmade masks literally everywhere else in the country as well. These hand-carved and hand-painted colourful masks are related to Sri Lankan ancient rituals and devil dances. There are different types of masks, each one serving a different purpose. The best way to learn a couple of things about their history and what each of them symbolises is by visiting an actual mask workshop. That’s what we did anyway. We paid a short visit to Rajanima Craft in Kandy and brought back home a blue peacock mask which will, reportedly, bring us peace and prosperity.
3. Coconut shell kitchen utensils
Probably the most impressive yet cheap things to buy in Sri Lanka are kitchen utensils made of coconut shells. These are handmade and eco-friendly. You can choose among spoons, cups, bowls and, perhaps the most popular of all, ladles.
Sri Lanka has been famous for its high-quality spices throughout its entire history. In fact, it’s the spices that made Sri Lanka an essential stop on every trade route of the past. The list of spices you can buy in Sri Lanka is endless so, if you have time, you could visit one of many Spice Gardens throughout the country so as to see the actual plants and learn more about herbs and spices as well as their health benefits.
Undoubtedly, the king of Sri Lankan spices is cinnamon. Locals go so far as to say that only Ceylon Cinnamon is real cinnamon. Furthermore, if you love Sri Lankan food and want to recreate its distinct taste and flavour then you should buy some curry leaves. The latter are omnipresent in Sri Lankan cuisine and they can help fight against diabetes. Last but not least, dried goraka fruit is an essential ingredient of seafood dishes. It is also an excellent natural preservative.
5. Batik items
Originating in Indonesia, the art of batik was introduced to Sri Lanka towards the end of the 19th century. Batik is a method of dying fabrics using wax and ink. This technique is applicable on pieces of clothing as well as wall hangings. It’s interesting to watch a short demonstration of how batik is made before buying. Therefore, try to include a batik workshop like Henry Batiks in Dambulla to your itinerary.
6. Gems and jewellery
Throughout its history, Sri Lanka has been known as The Gem Island. The country is indeed famous all over the world for the variety and high quality of gemstones it produces. Jewellery made of native gemstones comes at very reasonable prices in Sri Lanka. If you’re wondering where to buy gems in Sri Lanka, make sure you choose a reliable retailer. This way you can be certain that what you’re buying is indeed of the highest quality. During our trip to Sri Lanka, we visited the Isini Gems & Jewellers showroom in Kandy. We were spoilt for choice with so many precious shiny things on display. There was also a small museum on the premises explaining the history of Sri Lanka’s gem industry as well as some actual jewellery workshops.
7. Ayurvedic products
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic system of medicine. It promotes a lifestyle which is in total harmony with nature and its laws. Instead of focusing on symptoms, Ayurveda seeks to cure the individual as a whole and to restore any conflicts between body and mind. Ayurvedic treatments are herb-based while a healthy and balanced diet is crucial to a person’s well-being according to Ayurvedic principles.
Sri Lanka has its own Ayurvedic system which has been around for more than 3000 years. Nowadays, Ayurveda in Sri Lanka isn’t only part of beauty and relaxation treatments, but still seeks to cure medical conditions as well. Founded in Sri Lanka in 1934, Siddhalepa is a company with a mission to bring people closer to this traditional medicine system. The brand offers a wide range of natural products. Moreover, it runs resorts, spas and, what we found extremely interesting, a proper Ayurveda Hospital. Ayurvedic products are not expensive and there is great variety to choose from. From beauty and personal hygiene products to natural remedies and oils.
8. Sarees and sarongs
Sri Lankan women wear the traditional saree in many occasions. For instance, we stumbled upon many ladies looking radiant in their colourful silk sarees during evening events at luxury hotels. But there were also women in Sri Lanka who wore their sarees to go shopping for groceries or pray at the temple and we liked that a lot. You can easily find a saree to buy for less than 10$/€ at every town in Sri Lanka. However, if you want to try one on before buying, head to a fancy showroom. Sarees may be more expensive there but they are made of top quality silk. We spent a super fun morning trying on sarees at Lanka Silks in Sigiriya and we ended up buying a couple of them for some precious young ladies back home. The traditional piece of clothing for men is the sarong instead.
9. Hand-woven coconut leaf and cane items
No matter which part of Sri Lanka you’re spending time at, you will see that hand-woven items made of cane or coconut leaves are sold literally everywhere. You can choose among hats, bags, baskets, mats, trays or even plates to name but a few.
10. Wooden furniture
If you feel like splurging on a unique handmade piece of furniture for your home, head to one of many wood workshops and place your order. The superb art of carving on wood and the variety of styles and colours will amaze you. We really did fall in love with a couple of masterpieces at Rajanima Craft. The latter ship wooden furniture to locations worldwide.
11. Local snacks
OK, chocolate bars, biscuits, crisps and cakes are not unique to Sri Lanka, however, they are indeed wonderful gift ideas. Wherever we travel, we always bring local snacks back home so as to enjoy them with friends and family while reminiscing and narrating our adventures. That’s the plan, anyway. In reality, things go a tiny bit different. Usually, we end up devouring everything on our own during those first post-travel-bad-mood evenings at home missing our latest destination at every bite.
Do you have any other suggestions on what to buy in Sri Lanka or any Sri Lanka shopping tips? Let us know in the comments!
Disclosure: We travelled to Sri Lanka on a press trip organised by Sri Lanka Tourism. That said, we always share our very own and personal opinions about places we visit and services we try. Under no circumstances would we ever recommend something we didn’t actually enjoy ourselves.