Sri Lanka’s local and traditional clothing is made up of saris for women and sarongs for men. Some women will wear sarongs as well but as a set with a matching blouse. There are plenty of places to find sarongs in Colombo and in the rest of Sri Lanka, but the best sarongs are from Barefoot. There are also saris at Barefoot and Selyn Fair Trade and you can find beautiful silk or batik saris in high fashion sari shops and via Fashion Market, an online fashion store.
Sri Lanka is famous for its sapphires and moonstones. The mines in Ratnapura have a constant supply of precious gems and the gemologists on the island know where to import the best gems from as well. In the little town of the Galle Fort, gem stores sell gems on their own and in the form of jewellery as well. If you’re buying gems and jewellery, it’s best to use your bartering skills! There are also plenty of contemporary jewellery makers like Two Dots Jewellery, which you can find at Barefoot or via their online store.
Handloom is a traditional artisanal tool that has been used by women since ancient times in Sri Lanka. The usual looms used are natural cotton and silk fibres. Saris and sarongs are usually made on the handloom and are quite beautiful when the threads are of good quality. Barefoot and Selyn sell handwoven home items like tablecloths and napkins made by women cooperatives around the island. They live off their production and when you buy from them, they make a better living.
All Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka are graced by a half moon stepping stone at the entrance. These carved stones are called moonstones and have been used as religious imagery for centuries. These ancient carvings are now used in parks and modern temples due to their figurative and historic quality. Small moonstone carvings are made as souvenirs for tourists and small home shrines. They can be found carved in limestone or wood, in small to larger sizes. They make great conversation starters due to their history.
All around Sri Lanka are classic souvenir shops called Laksala, where visitors can get lots of beautiful figurines of Buddhas, elephants, peacocks and leopards. Laksala is the best shop for traditional handicrafts. There are a couple of branches in Colombo as well as in other major cities on the island. Paradise Road also has some handmade figurines and statues of better quality and price, along with some other gorgeous handmade goods. Most souvenir shops sell wooden Buddha figurines and painted elephants made from all sorts of materials.
Ceylon tea is the original tea of Sri Lanka and no one will let you forget it! The amount of tea plantations in the hill country is admirable and the shops where you can buy all sorts of teas are each better than the next. Favourites include Dilmah, Mackwoods and Teaeli. The traditional tea of Sri Lanka is black tea, which comes in all sorts, depending on the altitude it is grown in. Apart from black tea, the other classics are also available like English Breakfast, Earl Grey and some specialized teas like chocolate mint or peach and mint.
Spices, a daily staple, can be found in all the food in Sri Lanka. Even tea and sweets are spiced. A good Sri Lankan rice and curry will have more than five or eight spices in all. The best place to buy spices is at the local markets, like Pettah or Kandy. If you’re in Galle Fort, then a visit to Aflal’s Spice Shop is a must. Don’t forget to grab some Ceylon cinnamon – it’s the best in the world.
Sri Lankan literature might not be well-known but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a great collection of writers to take you on imaginary adventures. Many travellers believe that reading novels and books about the place they are visiting gives them an extra special insight into the place. They are not wrong. Books to look out for include Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje, Serendipity by Ashok Ferrey and Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera.
The natural medicine of Ayurveda is alive and well in Sri Lanka. Apart from being able to get exceptional Ayurvedic treatments on the island, visitors can also shop for Ayurvedic beauty products like massage oils, body washes, shampoos and hair scalp treatments. Local favourites include Spa Ceylon for a modern feel and Siddhalepa for its classic style. Kemara also offers natural Ayurvedic products for sensitive skin. Another favourite is the Turmeric and Fuller’s Earth face mask by Iris Garden.
Every souvenir shop a visitor enters will have Raksha masks on display. From tiny magnets and keychains to huge wall hanging, there is a Raksha mask for everyone. Raksha masks are part of traditional Sri Lankan dances but not all are used on a regular basis. They are mostly used as decorative pieces and depict the ancient Raksha people. They were the court of King Ravana from the Ramayana legend. There are several types of Rakshas, mainly nagas and garudas. Raksha masks are available everywhere.