You might well ask. Sri Lanka seems to be front loading every glossy magazine and every travel agents window, so I have to admit I had to see what what all the fuss is about and I can officially report – it’s all true…the pictures don’t lie.
Nothing beats it – quite simply I’m in love with this stunning jewel in the Indian Ocean – from the beautiful beaches (amazing surf and amazingly white) to rolling hills, tea plantations and epic train journeys – put it on your bucket list. Now.
So – spilling the beans on all its glory.
Every single person I met in Sri Lanka was kind, welcoming, friendly and did everything they could to help.
Sri Lanka suffered through a 26-year civil war between the government and the Tamal Tigers which only ended in May 2009. This recent, violent history means that Sri Lanka is relatively new to the traveller scene but, popularity is booming. Tourism is bringing huge economy to the country meaning people are incredibly welcoming to travellers and will do everything they can to make sure you see the best of their country and leave wanting to return. Sri Lankans are proud of what they have – as they should be.
The early stages of tourism in Sri Lanka means that, whilst there are plenty of places to stay and things to do, streets aren’t crowded with foreigners meaning you still get the authentic, Sri Lankan experience, especially if you get yourself well off the beaten track – which is really special
Getting off the Beaten Track
In order to see the real Sri Lanka, to really understand the community, culture and people you need to volunteer…. I know, you probably think this is me doing a cheap sell but I mean it…the Sri Lankans love our volunteers and differences you will bring about to such a grateful nation will be eye watering stuff.
You can either provide support in a kindergarten or community centres for kids who are like sponges, soaking up all the love and affection you can shower on them or opt to teach English in a school on the beach or in a temple. Another approach is to help in hospitals and clinics where doctors are eager to share their knowledge of western and eastern practices.
Having spent last year in Madagascar I could only rejoice in the fact that travelling about was easy, be it by bus, train or tuk tuk. Everything felt close and in my whistle-stop tour these are my best recommendations:
South West Coast
From Galle Fort to Mirissa and the towns in-between. You’ll find breathtakingly beautiful beaches and laid-back, friendly people. These waters are known for surfing so if you are interested but have never tried, this is the place to learn. You can then get around the east coast to Aragum Bay and larger waves to hone your talents.
The warm waters of the South coast of Sri Lanka are one of the best places in the world to see nature’s giant – the blue whale. There are loads of companies that will take you in search of these beauties so do your research and make sure you find an ethical company, they may be at the higher end of the price market but they won’t get too close to, or chase the whales.
Udawalawe National Park
This is the best place in Sri Lanka to see elephants in the wild, with near to 300 resident in the park. I was lucky enough to see a few week-olds baby… very special. The Park is absolutely beautiful, teeming with birds and other mammals and wildlife. You really get to see what Sri Lanka is famous for when driving around Udawalawe.
Trains, mountains and tea. Ella is in the heart of Ski Lanka and is absolutely beautiful. It is home to the famous 9-arch bridge and the train line from Ella to Kandy is one of the most beautiful things you will experience in Sri Lanka. Whilst you’re there make sure to get up little Adam’s peak for sunrise, explore Diyaluma waterfalls, hike Ella rock and drink plenty of tea.
Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress right in the jungle filled heart of Sri Lanka. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a legendary historical and religious past. I won’t ruin the story for you now but it’s well worth a weekend trip. You can also hike up Pigurangala rock for sunrise where you will get stunning views of Sigiriya itself.
Way up in the north of Sri Lanka. Now I didn’t actually get all the way up here but it comes highly recommend by almost everyone I met. Steeped in English, Dutch and Sri Lankan history and with abundant beautiful islands it’s completely worth a weekend retreat. The food up there is also more similar to India, delicious and with a little extra spice.
When it comes to getting around, the trains and buses are all you need. Both are incredibly cheap and surprisingly reliable and efficient.
Trains don’t go everywhere but if you are going to Galle, Kandy or Ella then get the train. I highly recommend second class, if you’re lucky you can get a seat if not get a spot by the door so you have the views. Tickets cost between 100 and 200 rupees which is less than £1! There are also usually vendors selling delicious food on the trains.
Buses will get you anywhere at any time. They don’t run by a timetable, just leave when they are full but they are very frequent. The most I ever paid for a bus was 150 rupees and that was for a journey that was over 4 hours. If you get lucky you can also find some buses with AC.
If you are going to use tuk tuks, which are very useful in towns just be aware you aren’t getting ripped off. The standard is 60 rupees as a base price and then 50/60 rupees for every kilometre you are going.
If none of the above has persuaded you that Sri Lanka is a must visit then the food will. Think India’s less spicy cousin. From curry to roti and kottu roti, the food cooked at the local street stalls is absolutely delicious. They also have more sweet snacks than you can shake a stick at, from coconut delights to sugar cane. Not to mention the tea…. its tea heaven. Oh and the Arrack, be careful of Arrack!
Add It To Your List
Sri Lanka is a country that is quite new to travellers and therefore, in comparison to some of its South East Asia neighbours, is relatively un-explored. There is so much to see, the people are welcoming and kind, the food is delicious and the views and train rides are to die for.
Sri Lanka needs to be on your travel list, so what are you waiting for?
on 27 / 04 / 2018