Through the Cities – Sri Lanka is a small but intriguing island country that boasts up to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites despite its land area of 65(610sqkm. The remains of these ancient and medieval civilisations stood the test of time and thrived remarkably against world-class attractions. One of which is Galle, the country’s most historically interesting town with its strong scent of spices and wonderful collection of Dutch-colonial buildings. Aside from being a city of trade, both past and present, it is also expanding its cultural arts scene with a burst of new boutique shops, cafes and hotels owned by local and foreign artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets. Colombo, Sri Lanka’s ocean city and capital, is a bustling metropolitan city with plenty of beaches that have transformed into a worthy destination in recent years.
Drive through Cinnamon Gardens, the country’s swankiest address, with elegantly tree-lined streets and posh mansions of the wealthy and powerful. It is hard to imagine the cinnamon plantations that covered it a century ago but it was named rightfully so. The centre piece of the area is a 50-acre campus, University of Colombo. MICE planners may consider The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMIC), the first purpose built convention center in the country. Shopaholics will be thrilled to enter ODEL, one of the best shopping destinations within the country for the latest trends and Barefoot, the city’s hippest hang-out with plenty of bespoke products within the shops, gallery, cafe and bars.
Heritage Hour – The massive Portuguese and Dutch Fort in Galle, however, was crowned the best-preserved sea fort in South Asia as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Feast your eyes upon a superb blend of architecture with fortifications that resemble those in the coastal areas of Portugal and find yourself captivated by the working community within this district – administrative offices, courts, export companies and lots of positive buzz of energy in the air. To the south of the island, lies Colombo fort, one that used to be surrounded by the sea and a moat on the landward side. Today, it has transformed into a curious mix of brash modern structure including the World Trade Centre, tallest building in Sri Lanka, and red-brick institutions from the colonial-era. A good landmark would be the clock tower at the junction of Chatham St and Janadhipathi Mawatha (once named Queen St), which was originally a lighthouse built in 1857.
From Colombo, drive four hours to Sigiriya, one of the most valuable historical monuments of Sri Lanka. This dramatic central plain has an iconic rocky outcrop that serves as the single most dramatic sight in Sri Lanka. The rock plateau was formed from magma of an extinct volcano, 200m higher than the surrounding jungles. Its view astonishes all visitors with the unique harmony between nature and human imagination. The fortress complex includes remnants of a ruined palace, surrounded by an extensive network of fortifications, vast gardens, ponds, canals, alleys and fountains. Pack your hiking shoes because this excursion will take you approximately three to four hours uphill and down.
Wildlife Wonderment – Start off your wildlife experience with one of the most popular attraction of all times – whale and dolphin watching tours. Mirissa is one of the best places to do this as you are guaranteed an opportunity to see the blue whales, bryde’s whales, sperm whales, fin whales and occasionally, the famous killer whales (Orcinus orca). Within the warm Indian Ocean, you will also encounter common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, risso’s dolphins and striped dolphins. Other times, bluefin tuna and flying fish may be spotted. To encourage responsible travel, marine wildlife watching comes with an international set of rules and regulations for protection so do remember to adhere to them. Although you may encounter these friendly creatures all year round, the recommended season starts in November and ends in April when the oceans are warmer and calmer.
On the dry lands, leopards runs the country and reign as Lords of the Jungle. In Sri Lanka, the leopard density is the highest in the world and these menacing predators prowl majestically within Yala National Park – the most visited and second largest national park in the country. The park consists of five blocks, of which only two are open to the public. Here, you will be able to see elephants ambling about, cunning leopards sliding like shadows through the undergrowth, spotted deer cautious scampering by their side and hear monkeys crash through the trees. Of course, the vast region of dry woodland and open patches of grasslands hold more animals than we know. There are also crocodiles, mongoose, wild boar and buffalo amongst many others. Imagine Jungle Book brought to life, this is it.