For many Australians, Sri Lanka is synonymous with two things – cricket and tea. However, this subcontinent nation has more to offer than those two fine elements.
From the colourful streets of Colombo to the ancient history of Sigiriya and the wildlife of Yala National Park, Sri Lanka is a nation that continues to grow and develop, yet is still influenced by the traditions and cultures of the past. Post-civil war, Sri Lanka has rebounded well and is now a very sought after destination for those wanting something a little different.
To experience the sights, sounds and flavours of Sri Lanka, you need to visit it for yourself. So, let us explore Sri Lanka with our Professional Travel Advisor Nikki Diamond who just returned from this magnificent island who details why you need this stamp in your passport.
How to get to Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is located to the southeast of India, with the capital Colombo on its western shore. For Australians, the easiest way to get to Sri Lanka is flying via Singapore from any of our major airports. From here, you’ll be able to catch a short connecting flight to Colombo to start your Sri Lankan holiday.
Where to start?
Since you’ll be landing in Colombo, it makes sense to explore this busy city first.
Colombo and Sri Lanka have a rich past, having been colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and most recently the British when the country was called Ceylon. In 1948, Ceylon gained independence from Britain and this saw widespread cultural changes that have shaped modern Sri Lanka. Of course, the most visible sign of the colonialism is in its architecture.
Nikki explained that one of the best ways to see Colombo past and present is through a walking tour. Traverse the old streets, taking in the beautiful designs amongst the busy day-to-day lives of the locals. Be sure to visit the Old Colombo Dutch Hospital, one of the oldest buildings in the city which is now a shopping and dining precinct. Many walking tours also stop by the Pettah Markets, a haven for locals and tourists alike.
“This is where all the traders sell their wares. This could be fruit, vegetables, clothing, manchester, fabrics, watches – many items are local-made,” Nikki said.
Be sure to try some of the local dishes such as fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry), Kukul mas curry (chicken curry), string hoppers and gotu kola sambol (pennywort salad).
As the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo’s range of hotels is also extensive. From small boutique hotels to luxurious apartments, you’ll be able to find accommodation that fits your budget.
Stepping into the interior
At just over 65,000 square kilometres, Sri Lanka’s island geography is perfect for exploration. After Colombo, we recommend you venture inland towards Dambulla and Sigiriya. Keep in mind that the distances between locations might be short, but traffic and lower speed limits mean you should allow plenty of time for getting around!
As one of the cultural hubs of Sri Lanka, the area is a great place to learn about the country’s religious traditions. Take Dambulla cave temple as a good example.
Nikki describes the World Heritage Site as “very interesting” and somewhere that you need to see to believe. The temple is made of five main caves which contain various statues and paintings related to Buddha. Between the labyrinth of caves, you could spot up to 153 Buddha statues!
A short distance north from the cave is the stunning ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya – another UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. Climb the 1,200 steps to the top of the Lion Rock fortress, while watching monkeys swing from the trees above and admiring the paintings that decorate the rockface. At the top, you’re treated to the ruins of an ancient palace and flowing views down to the gardens – some of the oldest in the world.
“It is quite a strenuous walk, but certainly very doable. It’s got a lot of historical significance as well as the beauty of it,” Nikki said.
“It was used as a Buddhist monastery and a royal palace. I’d say it’s the most famous site in Sri Lanka.”
If you wish to see wild elephants, then Nikki suggests you visit Minneriya National Park as this is one of the best national parks in the country. Or go explore the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
Check into one of the local hotels so you can take your time wandering through the various gardens and exploring this special region in more detail.
Kandy – sink your teeth into it
Located in the heart of Sri Lanka, Kandy is a large city famous for the Temple of the Tooth – Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic.
The Buddhist temple was finished in 1595 and is located within the royal palace complex. With its golden roof and intricate infrastructure, the temple is something to really behold. As for that tooth, you’re allowed to go inside the room that houses it, but it’s hidden within a gold casket under heavy guard.
“This is one of the main attractions in Kandy and something that you must do,” Nikki said.
After the temple, make your way to Kandy Lake – a man-made reservoir which is home to Indian cormorants, white egret cranes, pelicans and wood storks.
“You can walk around the lake, bask in the sun and enjoy the serenity in the middle of the city,” she explained.
Nikki also suggests the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya as a lovely spot to visit.
Time for a spot of tea
As mentioned above, Sri Lanka and tea are a match made in heaven. Thanks to its rich soil and temperate climate, areas such as Hatton are famous for its plantations.
Accessible by train from cities like Colombo and Kandy, Hatton is the perfect stop for the tea lover.
Deep in in the heartland of this Sri Lankan tea county is the home of Dilmah Tea. Established during the late 19th century by the British colonial masters, these tea gardens along with their beauty speak of a labour of love that has been cultivated over centuries. Dilmah has established their very own small luxury resort right in the heart of the plantation.
Comprising of five restored colonial era tea planter residences, the period furnishings, gracious butler service and gourmet cuisine they create an ambience that has made them the gold standard for luxury bungalows in Sri Lanka. While staying at the resort, you’re able to visit a working tea factory, participate in nature walks, spot the local birdlife and obviously finish with a tea tasting experience like no other.
“You get to immerse yourself in the tea plantations, watching the tea pickers and just get back to nature,” Nikki said.
Explore the jungles of Yala National Park
Away from the markets and tea plantations, Sri Lanka has a wild side – dense jungles that are teeming with animal and birdlife. One of the examples of this is Yala National Park, the oldest and second-largest natural reserve located on the country’s deep south coast. From elephants and leopards to bears and birds, remember to take plenty of photos to remember your time!
If you want to spend the night in the jungle, one great spot is the Chena Huts. Sitting on the edge of the treeline near the dunes, Chena Huts overlook the beach where sea-turtles come to lay their eggs and elephants play in the surf. Enjoy your luxurious surroundings, complete with the magnificent Basses restaurant and adjoining bar. Listen to the birds in the trees while cooling down in the swimming pool or take a short nature walk to clear your mind – pure bliss.
Finish on the beach in Galle
No trip to Sri Lanka should be complete without sunning yourself on the beaches near Galle. Located on the southern tip of the island, there’s the chance to stay at a beachside property and soak in the atmosphere.
As for the city itself, make your way to the Galle Fort, a fortified old city founded by Portuguese colonists. Built in 1588, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is now a small community with hotels, cafes and restaurants. Importantly, it still has its strong stone sea walls that give you a glimpse of why it was completed in the first place.
If the Sri Lankan cricket team is in town, make your way to the Galle International Stadium to watch all the action unfold. Cricket could easily be a religion in Sri Lanka and this stadium has a special connection to Australia.
“Shane Warne put a lot of money into the Galle International Stadium after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami destroyed the ground,” Nikki said.
“A lot of people travel to Galle just to watch the cricket.”
Sri Lanka is a country that wows around every corner. If you would like more information about the destination, get in touch with your favourite FBI Travel Advisor on 1800 359 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.