Sam reports from Sri Lanka5.02.18 | Sam
Sri Lanka has always been high up on my list of destinations to see and explore. The diversity in culture, history and wildlife really appealed to me. Having previously visited Thailand and Costa Rica in the past two years, I was keen to see how the destination compared.
I flew direct with Sri Lankan Airlines which took just over 10 hours and 45 minutes. The service on-board was excellent and choice of entertainment was endless (you can also fly indirect from regional UK airports). Colombo Airport is located around 45 minutes north of the city. Rising like a phoenix, Colombo is attracting overseas investment and new developments are springing up around the city including the ‘Lotus’, which once completed will be the tallest building in Southern Asia! The city is of course home to an array of historic colonial buildings drawing on Dutch, Portuguese and British influences, not to mention a host of beautiful temples.
From Colombo, we took the 4 hour journey to Sigiriya through local villages and along the the modern network of motorways which, while in good condition can still have speed challenges when tuk tuks decide to join the rest of the traffic.
Sigiriya, is set within the ‘Cultural Triangle’ and is an ideal location to base yourself while exploring the various historic ruins of Dambulla, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. The iconic attraction in the area is the rock which dominates the landscape for miles. On and around the rock are ruins of a former capital city which dates back to the 5th century. Climbing up requires a good level of tness and a level head for heights but once you make it to the top, you have stunning views which will literally take your breath away! History tells us that King Kassapa (477-495) orchestrated the location of the rock and the remains are an interesting insight to the past. I would recommend avoiding midday at certain times of year due to heat.
The next day, we visited Polonnaruwa, home to the ‘Polonnaruwa Primate Centre’. It is home to three species of monkey native to Sri Lanka, the grey langur, the toque macaque and the purple faced langur. When you walk into the boundaries, they are literally running everywhere! You are surrounded by these beautiful animals doing what they do best, hanging out! We had the pleasure of meeting a conservationist to explain the various behaviours and the challenges that they are facing in Sri Lanka. I would highly recommend anyone who loves monkeys to visit.
I’d also recommend visiting the temple complex which sits around the conservation centre and home to 11th and 12th century ruins of the second capital city of Sri Lanka. Here you will come across sacred temples which today are still worshiped by Buddhists. Architecturally, they are stunning structures and I really enjoyed our time here.
After a busy morning, we were very hungry indeed and took lunch at a local husband and wife operated farmhouse. We were treated to a traditional Sri Lankan lunch (Dhal curry; Gotu kola, Malum, Wambatu moju, all on a giant leaf) while in the surroundings of the beautiful, peaceful countryside.
This afternoon, we went in search of wildlife in the Minneriya National Park. Located between Habarana and Polonnaruwa, the park is home to asian elephants, spotted deer, leopards, sloth bears and crocodiles. For bird lovers, Minneriya is also home to pelicans, storks and eagles to name but a few.
The next day we travelled from Sigiriya to Kandy which took 5 hours but this included a quick stop to see the Dambulla caves which are well worth the climb. Inside there are impressive Buddha carvings which are thought to date back to the rst century. When King Valagam Bahu took refuge here, having being driven out of Anuradhapura, he converted the caves into a rock temple with various improvements been made over the years by other rulers of the land. Step out of the temples and the views of the countryside are jaw-dropping!
In the afternoon, we arrived into Kandy which is the cultural center of Sri Lanka. It’s a busy city located in the hills with great views around the lake. The main attraction in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth which is home to Sri Lanka’s most sacred relic which is a tooth of the Lord Buddha. Around the grounds you will see various Buddhas which locals and people from all over Sri Lanka will come to pray. The most surprising and interesting thing I came across within the grounds was the embalmed elephant which belonged to a former king who loved him so much, he wanted him on display for his people to see. On the grounds of the temple are buildings such as the Royal Palace and the Audience Hall which are also worth a visit.
The next day, we made a 4 hour journey to Nuwara Eliya, home of the tea plantations. A visit to Sri Lanka is not complete without seeing how tea is made. From picking the leafs to processing them, you get to see that the process for just 1 cup of tea takes a lot of patience and love! I had a tour of the tea factory and even today, they use machinery from when the British ruled pre-1948! ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” was the moto used here. At the end of the tour, there was of course an opportunity to try the tea; needless to say it tasted much better than a mug of PG Tips! It was really pure and so fresh.
After staying the night in a nearby hotel, the next day we took a train from Nanu Oya to Ela. The journey took 2 hours and 15 minutes but it was a journey worth taking. It took us by tea plantations, through the clouds and around the mountains. The scenery was stunning. Our driver met us at the station with our bags (he followed us ahead) and then we made a further 2 hours’ drive to the coast to an area called Hambantota.
Hambantota is located in the south of the island and an hour’s drive of the Yala National Park, which has the highest densities of leopard, majestic elephants, sambars, sloth bears, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks and crocodiles in the word! It is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species, very impressive indeed.
The best time of year to see the wildlife in Yala is between February and July when the water levels are quite low which gives you better viewing opportunities. I stayed in the Shangri La Hambantota which due to its coastal location makes for a relaxing end to anyone’s holiday. If you didn’t want to travel back all the way to Colombo, but at this point you wanted to come home, you can fly from Hambantota back to the UK via Dubai.
I certainly wasn’t ready to come home, so we made the journey to Galle which is widely known for its fort. It was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese and later destroyed but then rebuilt by the Dutch in 1640. Today the fort is a UNESCO world heritage site. Historically, Sri Lanka was known for its positioning on the world map and it played an important role on the trade route between Arabia and China. As Galle has a natural harbour, it gave them prominence above other ports on the island.
Galle is the place where you can walk around, enjoy a meal in a restaurant and stroll along the fort by the sea. It is completely different to other places such as Colombo and Kandy, but then as you travel through Sri Lanka the landscape and general feel changes. For cricket fans, it’s also home to the Galle International Stadium which hosts various international games.
The distance from Galle to Colombo Airport is 2 hours. We stayed a little closer up the coast so we didn’t have to cover much ground the next day. This of course depends on your flight times and if you want to visit Colombo before you depart.
On our way back to the airport, we visited a beautiful small boutique hotel called the Reef Villa and Spa which is run by an Irish and English couple. The hotel is 40 minutes from the airport, located in an area called Wadduwa. This would make for the perfect end to a holiday, especially if you want privacy, home comforts and somewhere to relax before your flight home.
From the various people I have had the pleasure of meeting, Sri Lankans are calm, humble and very interesting people to meet. They have a Buddha to worship for every experience life throws at them. This is not something to laugh at, but something to embrace from people who want a peaceful and happy life.
A few things to note….
- This is a country that loves holidays and celebration. They will celebrate all religious holidays including the full moon. If this is on a Friday or over a weekend, hotels can get busy and so can temples. We will of course take this into account when we plan your perfect trip to Sri Lanka.
- The majority of the food you will eat, even in the 5-star hotels will tend to be Sri Lankan. So be prepared for lots of delicious traditional curries.
- Regardless of the itinerary we can tailor-make for you (or if you choose a group tour), you will be travelling for a couple of hours at a time, if not more. However, there are no dull journeys in Sri Lanka as the scenery is stunning!
- Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons, May – July in the south west and October to January in the north east. Generally the best time to visit overall would be January to April and Mid July to September.
Contact Sam to plan your Sri Lanka holiday on 01543 258631.Explore Sri Lanka