First time in …Sri Lanka
This was my first time visiting Sri Lanka, and as the aeroplane descended I was eager to catch a glimpse of the tropical jewel-shaped island in the Indian Ocean. Out of the window, an assortment of green hues ringed by and golden sand came into view.
Yala national park
Although Sri Lanka is naturally a verdant and fertile country, I was travelling in July and the colours had been boosted by the tail-end of the monsoon season that the west side of the country experiences from April through to September.
Sri Lanka is a year-round destination because monsoon season alternates between the west and the east coasts: when the west coast is being hit with stormy seas and frequent rains, the east coast is a tropical paradise and vice versa.
Palm trees on the beach at Ani Villas, Dickwella
Sri Lanka is a relatively small country so, compared to many other Asian countries I’ve visited, it was quick and easy to get between places, rarely more than a couple of hours. When the drive was slightly longer, it was exciting to watch the landscape and scenery transform before my eyes. Many of the roads passed through small villages – an excellent opportunity to catch snapshots of daily life.
Train rides in the hill country, where most of the tea plantations are located, are considered some of the most beautiful in the world. I took the train from Kandy to Hatton and it was spectacular – certainly beat my daily commute into work! These trains are used both by locals and tourists alike and it was interesting to chat about our home culture with Sri Lankans. The journey was also an excellent opportunity to sit back, relax and just watch the country go by.
There are many national parks in Sri Lanka and Yala is one of the most popular. I was lucky enough to spot a leopard and several sloth bears. However, if you are short of time then you don’t need to visit one of the larger parks that usually require at least one night’s accommodation to do it justice. When visiting the Cultural Triangle there are several choices for wildlife viewing that can be taken as small detours. I visited Minneriya National Park and saw wild elephants just metres away from me with no one other than my guide in sight. Elephants are so common in Sri Lanka that you will often pass them on the road: one naughty elephant even blocked our vehicle until we bribed him with a banana!
Elephants in Yala national park
One of the special experiences of my trip was a visit to the Primate Centre within the ancient temple complex of Polonnaruwa. I learnt about the species of monkey native to Sri Lanka and the conservation efforts to protect them. I found it fascinating to learn about the clear social standings between the primates: from grooming each other to who eats first at meal times, there was a clear hierarchy between the monkeys. It was also funny and baffling to see how well behaved these monkeys were in comparison to the monkeys I grew up seeing in India.
Ancient temple complex of Polonnaruwa
Sri Lankan food
The food in Sri Lanka deserves a special mention. You don’t have to search hard to find delicious food with fresh natural ingredients. Everywhere the menus contained dishes with seafood pulled fresh from the ocean. Vegetarians are spoilt for choice with the delicious curries, appams (rice and coconut pancakes) and roti (flat bread). Locals know that their cuisine is admired and all over the country you can attend cookery classes. I would recommend taking a class to learn how to make these dishes once you have returned home.
Fresh ingredients at the start of a cooking class in Ella
Sri Lanka has a rich culture, which can be seen in the many Buddhist statues and distinct temples with their spectacular architecture. After only a few days, you become entirely acclimatised to seeing so much beauty and you have to remind yourself that what you are seeing is extraordinary. Sigiriya rock fortress certainly fits into the ‘extraordinary’ category: I’m still trying to figure out how such a beautiful fort complex was built on top of a 200-metre-high rock plateau more than 1,500 years ago. I stayed at the Water Garden Sigiriya, designed by renowned architect Channa Daswatte. Just six kilometres from the fortress, the rock formed an impressive and dramatic backdrop.
Entrance to Sigiriya Lion rock fortress
People of Sri Lanka
The people in Sri Lanka were some of the warmest I have encountered on my travels. Everyone is interested in you and wants to chat and hear what you think of their country. One of the most interesting people I met in Sri Lanka was a man called Loki who guided me through the botanical gardens in Kandy. I’ll admit that I don’t particularly have an interest in botany, but Loki’s charm, wit and incredible knowledge made this a surprising highlight of my trip. I learnt a huge amount from him, not just about plants but about life in Kandy and the core values and virtues of Sri Lankans.
Traditional fishermen on stilts
Sri Lanka is a wonderful country and no matter what you are interested in seeing, you will not be disappointed. For beach lovers there are beautiful golden sand beaches, wildlife lovers will enjoy the many national parks and those interested in culture and history will find an array of thought-provoking ancient sites across the island. There are so many different accommodation options available. I stayed in beautiful private villas on the beach, characterful boutique hotels, a wonderful wellness centre in a remote area of central Sri Lanka and historic buildings each with their own story to tell.
Learn more about…
Festivals …of Sri Lanka
For a relatively small island, Sri Lanka has a remarkable cultural diversity. It is said that Sri Lanka has more festivals than any other country in the world. With four main religions on the island, Sri Lanka has a legacy of colourful celebrations and religious festivals. See more >
Recommended Cox & Kings tour
Splendours of Sri Lanka
14 Days & 12 Nights from £2,695
This outstanding introductory tour to Sri Lanka combines the cultural triangle’s ancient cities with scenic hill country, man-made marvels and abundant wildlife. Explore Kandy, the last Sinhalese city to fall to the British, and search for leopards and sloth bears in Wilpattu National Park. Finish the tour with a relaxing 2-night stay on one of the island’s golden palm-fringed beaches…. See more >