From train rides to elephant safaris, the emerald isle offers some rather charming experiences
The best way to see Sri Lanka is through its rail network, which wraps itself around the Emerald Isle like a ball of twine. Misty tea-‐plantations and spice fields roll by as you chug through wild country towards the sparkling coast, with an occasional gorgeous waterfall to enhance the view. Routes with the best photo-‐ops are from Colombo to Galle, Colombo to Kandy and from Kandy to the lofty tea estates of Eliya. No other experience can rival this one, to see the country from the inside out.
To get a flavour of Colombo’s ancient trading past, spend a day walking around the Pettah Market for an overload of colours and aromas, combined with a lesson in history and architecture. Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim merchants clamour for your attention on the Main Street as they peddle spices, dried fish, textiles and fresh fruit. For gems and stones, head out to Sea Street. Check out the Wolfendaal Church, built in 1749.
When in Kandy, head out to the Dambulla Cave Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to 1st century BC. This massive complex towers 160m over the courtyard and houses five main shrines devoted to impressive statues of Buddha and ancient Hindu gods. The second cave, also known as the Temple of the Great Kings, is the biggest and the most awe-‐inspiring. Throw in a visit to the nearby ancient city of Sigiriya, to complete this tour of history. Know the pricing range of Dambulla Hotels before booking your stay. Better research prevents you from getting cheated.
This erstwhile 16th-‐century Portuguese enclave deserves a day or three, to roam, cycle through and explore its nooks and crannies. One of the oldest lighthouses in Sri Lanka is at Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sits on 130 acres of sheer quaintness, embodied in old warehouses, churches, boutiques and gorgeous, restored historical hotels. The stunning medieval Portuguese architecture can be seen in the beautiful homes that still stand today. Book into Galle Hotels for at least a couple of days. Spend one day relaxing before heading to the popular tourist attractions here.
For a break from the touristy Caribbean and ludicrously-‐priced Riviera, check out Sri Lanka’s 1,300km coastline, a turquoise ring of pristine beaches and swaying palms that circles the island and provides something for everyone. For the tourist vibe, head to the golden sands of Unawatuna and Bentota. The surfers love the waves off Ahangama. For peace and tranquillity, there is no better beach than Tangalle, on the southern tip. For whale-‐watching, Mirissa Beach is the place to go.
Just like a wine-‐tour, but without the hangover, not to mention the added rejuvenating effects of freshly plucked tea in crisp, mountain air that just keeps you going. Check out Sri Lanka’s Little England or Nuwara Eliya, a rolling vista of end-‐to-‐end tea plantations that you can bicycle through and learn all about the importance that tea has played in Sri Lanka’s cultural and commercial history. If you’re more a coffee drinker, try the tea-‐and-‐herb infused full-‐body massage instead. Experience a fine stay at any of the Nuwara Eliya Hotels. It is sure going to be a unique experience.
Adrenaline junkies have been coming to Sri Lanka for years, enjoying its variety of activities, without the crush of tourists. Check out the white-‐water runs on the Kelani River or dig in your fingers for some intense rock-‐climbing at the Knuckles Mountain Range. Glide and crash through Sri Lanka’s interior on a 50-‐km, three day-‐four night stretch of the Mahaweli River in a kayak. For top-‐notch surfing, head to Mirissa, or learn kite-‐surfing at the windy Negombo Beach. Stay in one of the Negombo Hotels to avoid wasting time travelling.
For that touchy-‐feely experience of Planet Earth’s most wonderful and majestic land mammals, head out to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, in the Sabaragamuwa Province. A nursery and captive breeding programme all in one, this is where you get to bottle-‐feed a baby or splash around at bath time with these intelligent and gentle giants. More than 80 elephants of all ages and sizes await you to play with them. So why wait anymore? Book into Pinnawala Hotels and have a joyful time with nature and loved ones.
When you’re done frolicking with massive land-‐mammals, it’s time to get up close and personal with the giants of the sea. The waters around Dondra Point are an important feeding and breeding ground for majestic Blue and Sperm Whales. Dondra Point is close to Galle, Hikkaduwa and Mirissa Beach, and it involves a two-‐hour boat ride out into the deep, but to watch these elegant giants glide past your boat is well worth the time and effort. There are countless options in Mirissa Hotels so book into one and enjoy your stay.
This is a Sri Lanka must-‐see, if only for its reputation of having the largest concentration of leopards in the wild, anywhere in the world. But whether or not you sight these shy and elusive animals, the menu of other wildlife available to spot is ample. Herds of wild elephants traipse these grasslands along with wild boars and sloth bears, in great abundance. It is not for nothing that the Yala National Park is regarded as one of the best game parks outside Africa. Book into one of the Yala Hotels to get a glimpse of the wild Africa from your very room. Don’t forget to carry your camera along.
Anticipate long travel-‐times between cities and tourist-‐spots, owing to poor highways (with the exception of two expressways). Take malaria‐precaution; the hot and sticky weather (even in winter) is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. ATM’s are only found in big cities, so plan for that at Colombo Airport, before heading out into the interior.