This Sri Lankan greeting alone immediately makes you feel welcome. It begins on arrival and doesn’t cease until you leave.
It wasn’t always this way. The 30-year Sri Lankan Civil War was a hindrance to tourism, to say the least. Suicide bombings, assassinations, and radical warfare were reason enough to avoid Sri Lanka during that time.
Now it’s a different story. Since 2009 when the civil war ended, Sri Lanka has opened its doors and welcomed visitors with diverse sightseeing experiences.
Much of the north is still in the process of rejuvenation, but central, east, west and south have travellers losing their hearts to the beauty of this country.
Ancient temples, misty mountains, pristine beaches and fascinating wildlife create a unique Sri Lankan experience. Delicious cuisine, gracious people and a remarkable culture will have you falling in love.
If you haven’t been to Sri Lanka yet, allow me to share some of my adventures, it may be all the encouragement you need to go soon.
2. Helpful Planning
Although the island is small, the terrain is such that getting anywhere fast is difficult. There is a domestic airline offering land, lake and sea arrivals, but most budgets lean toward bus, car or train travel.
The diverse landscape has you in bustling cities, sleepy villages, mountainous regions and flat plains. There’s everything from surfing and scuba diving to wildlife safaris and whale watching. Sri Lanka seems to have something for everyone, but where do you begin?
There are many tour services offering planning, reservations, and guides, or you can opt to make arrangements yourself.
In our case, a chance introduction to Jetwing Travels made our planning a breeze.
Jetwing Travels has been in the Sri Lanka tour planning game for almost 40 years. Owned and operated by family members of Jetwing Hotels developer, Herbert Cooray, Jetwing Travels offer a complete package.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have to put in a little bit of effort in, although it’s hardly difficult.
All you need to do is provide Jetwing Travels your planned dates, interests, ideas, and anything important ie. health or mobility issues.
With that information, Jetwing Travels return with a first draft itinerary that can be amended to suit your budget and preferences, until it is the bespoke itinerary you’ve dreamed of.
Included with your itinerary is transportation with a guide/ driver, accommodation, entrance fees for attractions and any other items you’ve agreed upon.
Jetwing Travels offers a wonderful service that saved us time and potential planning mistakes.
Our guide knew shortcuts to take when approaching road construction or traffic jams; his local knowledge of roadside stalls for snacks opened a new culinary world; knowing which tourist attractions were more authentic saved our pocket and our peace of mind.
If your interest is peaked, follow this article link, Sri Lanka: Where to Begin?, where you’ll also find out about Sri Lanka’s rich history.
3. Culture in Colombo
Your first port of call will likely be Colombo, although Bandaranaike International Airport is technically closer to Negombo. Arrivals at Bandaranaike Airport and Colombo Port via cruise ships are the only international gateways to Sri Lanka.
Colombo is the perfect location to be introduced to Sri Lanka’s history, culture, economy and cuisine.
A visit to Colombo Fort, the area around the port, is a step back to colonial occupation. Portuguese, Dutch and British architecture dominate this area. Scattered between these regal structures is evidence of the multi-faceted Sri Lankan culture.
Adjacent to Buddhist temples are intricately carved Hindu temples, Mosque minarets, and Catholic Church spires.
The lively streets of Pettah Market see dock workers shopping alongside housewives and businessmen, all deftly avoiding the train of tuk-tuks beeping their way through the throng.
Colombo’s street food and world-class restaurants offer equally scrumptious dishes kick-starting your love affair with Sri Lankan cuisine.
The National Museum, nearby Independence Square, and multiple art galleries complete a well rounded cultural experience of Colombo as the country’s commercial centre and an introduction to Sri Lanka as a whole.
Kandy is essential for your Sri Lanka itinerary. Located on a plateau in the central hill country, the kingdom of Kandy held the last monarchy of Sri Lanka before British rule in 1815.
Kandy is also where you’ll find the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Inside, under lock and key, is the left canine of Buddha squirrelled away from his sandalwood cremation pyre by a devoted female disciple in 543 BC.
Kandy is a beautifully picturesque town with a mix of ancient Sri Lankan architecture and colonial additions. Central to Kandy is the manmade lake, Kiri Mahuda, or Sea of Milk.
Before reaching Kandy, visit Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. There you’ll meet Kumari, now a grandmother, she was one of the original 5 abandoned elephant babies the park has been caring for since 1975.
Be sure to explore the entire park, talk to the mahouts and learn about the contribution you can make to help in this wildlife conservation project.
You’ll fall deeply for these magnificent creatures. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Slot Susantha Spice & Herbal Garden into your Colombo to Kandy journey. This reputable Ayurveda garden, factory and retail centre has the cure for many common ailments.
A tour of the garden reveals body balancing uses for many of the kitchen garden plants you may have at home. Demonstrations and samples offer a greater understanding of this ancient healing practice.
From hill country to highlands it’s just under 100 km and a difference in elevation of about 4,500 feet (almost 1,400 metres). The road (as with the train) winds around mountains, gradually ascending to reach low-level cloud.
It’s not long before the vegetation changes and you begin to see “pluckers” in the terraced tea plantations. This is what Sri Lanka (Ceylon back in the day) is famous for, a good cuppa tea.
Sri Lanka’s tea history goes back to the early 1800s when a Scot was sent into China with the sole purpose of stealing tea plants and production secrets.
In the span of 200 years, this small island has become the fourth largest global producer of tea.
Tea houses dot the roadside, while plantations cover the mountains. The views are breathtaking.
Call into Damro Labookellie, an agrotourism centre for tea.
Join a tour of the premises, learn about the processes for the coveted fine white tea, and find out the difference between green and black teas. There’s not a lot but the one thing makes a huge difference to the flavour.
The terraced tea fields are in sight, production and processing happen on the premises, and you’re entitled to a tea tasting at the end of your tour.
Damro Labookellie’s retail outlet has a full range of their products to take home as gifts for your family and friends or to keep for yourself.
The highlands town of Nuwara Eliya will have you thinking you’re in England. Still referred to by locals as “Little England”, Nuwara Eliya was a vacation destination for the British elite.
Grand hotels and mansions display the wealth of the day and Lake George, Nuwara Eliya Race Track and Nuwara Eliya Golf Club are the venues for their favourite vacation activities.
Eight kilometres outside of Nuwara Eliya is Nanu Oya train station. Sri Lanka’s famous Blue Train commences its journey in Colombo stopping in Kandy, Nuwara Eliya (Nanu Oya), Haputale, Ella and concludes in Badulla.
Our journey was from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, and it was just under 4 hours of spectacular changing scenery. Tea country morphed into waterfalls and tropical rainforests.
Small plot farming, temples and villages offer a window into every day Sri Lankan life.
On arrival in Ella, you’re immediately met with this town’s popularity. Travelling in low season, Ella was still jam-packed with like-minded travellers.
Cliffs, waterfalls and caves surrounding Ella are perfect for the adventurous. Ella is a landscape photographer’s paradise with lush valleys and mountainous peaks.
This established tourist destination provides just about anything a traveller could need on their Sri Lanka adventure.
Are you convinced? Has Sri Lanka pulled on your heartstrings, even just a little? For us, without a doubt, Sri Lanka is a place we love….
Shona’s award winning travel blog shares tips and tricks on where to eat, drink, explore & shop in any given destination. At home ordering street food or perusing a fine dining menu, she seeks out venues with a conscience who promote local produce and sustainability. Find her in markets, museums, art galleries and on walking tours as well as wineries, breweries, distilleries and restaurants. Wherever she is, she’s always looking for something a little different to share with her readers. Follow her travels at www.paraphernalia.co or subscribe to her Shenanigans Report http://paraphernalia.co/subscribe-form/ so as not to miss a post. firstname.lastname@example.org.