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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Sri Lanka.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is one of the best places in Asia for seeing wildlife. It is also one of the best all-round wildlife destinations in the world thanks to the mix of big game, marine life and varied landscapes. It is a country rich with endemic wildlife packed into a compact area. A very good tourism infrastructure helps too. Continue reading
The emerald isle has many places that will captivate you – and thrill your wallet. After landing in Colombo, make your way to Unawatuna – stopping at the Sea Turtle Sanctuary and Research Centre, Kosgoda.
If you’ve missed it, never mind – Unawatuna has its own bijou turtle sanctuary in Habaraduwa about 20 minutes away. Splash about off Unawatuna Beach, or go snorkelling and diving off Hikkaduwa (35km) with Poseidon Diving Station.
Galle, a short drive away, has attractions like the Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is beautifully preserved. The Dutch Reformed Church and National Maritime Museum are little oases of calm and knowledge. Mirissa, down the coast, is justly famous for Mirissa Beach, from where you can take boat rides to spy on whales and dolphins.
Remember to sign up with responsible operators who don’t flout the rules; we recommend Mirissa Water Sports.
Surf’s up at Weligama, where you can take lessons at Surf n Lanka. Take a walk on Weligama Beach, known for its sandy bay, with lovely stretches around the island of Taprobane, and get a gander at the famous stilt fishermen there.
LEAVE ON A JET PLANE: Return flights to Colombo start as low as 202USD from Chennai or Bangalore, from Mumbai and 230 USD from New Delhi.
GET AROUND: Local tuk-tuks are fast and furious (from 1.5 USD). You can also hire local bikes or a car. Local buses are cheap, but are usually full. Private bus services are better and more comfortable (prices vary). Trains are great for inter-city travel – try the first-class observation decks.
STAY: Sri Lanka has plenty of fantastic options. We love Highbury Colombo, Colombo, The Dream House, Unawatuna, The Spice House, Mirissa and The Green Rooms, Weligam.
EAT AND DRINK: Outside of Colombo, eat locality delicious and cheap! At Unawatuna, head to beach- adjacent Kingfisher Restaurant to lounge on the beach with a beer. Definitely try the Arrack Attack cocktail and the cheesecake at Wijaya Beach Restaurant nearby. In Galle, you must visit Crepeology for the yummy French staple done right.
Mirissa’s No1 Dewmini Roti Shop serves a mean kotthu rotti (roti chopped up and mixed with veggies) and also holds cooking classes. Zephyr Bar and Restaurant is well known for cocktails. In Weligama, head to Meewitha Cool Spot for lipsmacking seafood. It also has plenty of vegetarian options.
WHEN TO GO: December to March is the busiest, driest, most expensive season. Aim for the shoulder seasons -the period before and after the monsoon – to be safe.
Imagine waking up to the breathtaking sight of the Siyambalaweva water tank, with majestic mountains in the distance. Or, sipping on your morning tea nestled in 20 acres of lush greenery. Imagine being pampered at the in-house spa. Or, taking a dip in the soothing pool. All this and more awaits you at Jetwing Lake, a luxurious property by Jetwing that’s set to open its doors this month.
Located 10 minutes away from the culture-rich town of Dambulla and four hours from Colombo by road, Jetwing Lake provides you with every comfort.
Consisting of sprawling modern and contemporary rooms that open out to private balconies or terraces, this 90-room and four-suite property is uniquely designed to make the most use of the open spaces that Jetwing Hotels is known for. But what makes this place truly exceptional is that it’s just a stone’s throw away from the renowned Dambulla Viharaya Temple and other archaeological monuments. After a long day of sightseeing, unwind at the hotel’s spa that has a number of treatments designed to make you relax.
But if you still have some energy to spend, swim some laps in the pool or head to the state-of-the-art gym for a pumping workout. Designed by Vinod Jayasinghe, these amenities are sure to surpass every expectation. What’s more, it’s a foodie’s dream come true, with two restaurants that serve up the best local and international cuisines.
But if you don’t feel liking dining in your own private space, Jetwing Lake is more that happy to accommodate your choice. Enjoy a meal at the deck, by the pool or even in the comfort of your own room. However, should you require a venue to host a lavish wedding or an intimate do, the banquet facilities can accommodate up to 150 people. Guests can also spill out on to the garden for a truly memorable time under the stars.
Uncloak the secrets behind the island’s ancient temples and wilderness with Intrepid’s Circle Sri Lanka trip. Guide Asanga Rajapakse will help you explore the mysteries behind the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa ruins, as well as narrate the story of the Dambulla cave temples-once a royal hideout. Trek lush tea plantations, climb up to the rock-top fortress of Sigiriya and dine on seafood in Galle and Mirissa, rounding off your trip in cosmopolitan Colombo. Unforgettable.
When: 18 Nov, 9 & 27 Dec 2016
How long: 15 days
How much: From £1,385 (excl flights)
THE SHIFT FROM peace to war can be famously abrupt, with neighbors turning on one another with little apparent provocation. Placid communities can become bloodbaths in the blink of an eye (Kosovo, Syria). Rebuilding in the wake of a terrible war, by contrast, usually takes decades. But Sri Lanka has managed a rapid shift from some of the most horrific carnage in recent history—a civil war that raged for more than 25 years and produced 100,000 casualties—to a peace that not only unites the country’s previously divided ethnicities but inflects the experience of any visitor to the island. Gone are the roadblocks that were scattered across the landscape; gone are the once-ubiquitous photos of Sinhalese Buddhist President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who in 2009 brutally trounced the equally vicious Tamil Hindu LTTE, or Tamil Tigers, who had waged a ruthless guerrilla war aimed at building a separate Tamil state.
Gone, too, are the white vans into which Rajapaksa’s victorious government, basically a nepotistic dictatorship, allegedly whisked people who said the wrong things.
In their place is a new unity and openness evident in everything from the “1 Team, 1 Nation” cricket banners lining the roadsides in the capital city of Colombo to the dinner plates at one hotel that were ornamented with both Sinhalese and Tamil alphabets—two populations’ differences now recorded on decorative crockery rather than in violent bloodshed. This historic change resulted from the 2015 open election of the soft-spoken, liberal President Maithripala Sirisena, who enacted reforms aimed at curbing corruption and healing ethnic rifts. In just two years, he has restored democracy and confidence to his country. “This is one of the few places on earth where freedom of every kind, including freedom of speech, is on the rise,” the U.S. ambassador, Atul Keshap, told me when we met in his Colombo office.
“People were afraid in the war and afraid under the government that followed, and now, at last, they are free of fear.” Their resilience reflects the hard-won equilibrium of a country already deeply changed by conflict and loss. The Portuguese came to Ceylon, as the island was known, in 1505; they were routed by the Dutch in 1658, and by 1796 the Dutch in turn had ceded to the British, whose departure in 1948 laid the ground for an ethnic conflict that would later surge between the once-powerful Sinhalese and Tamils. Then there was the infamous 2004 tsunami, which claimed more than 30,000 lives on the island. Today, however, the coastline has been largely rebuilt, and international investment, especially from China and India, has started to create a coherent infrastructure. Because President Sirisena has tackled the nation’s most pressing internal issues—fighting racism, forging a single national identity—Sri Lanka is finally able to lookout-ward.
Even if this were not a place of immense natural and historical wonders, it would be worth going there now to see what fresh liberty feels like. Sri Lanka is something of a three-in-one destination: In 18 days, we experienced historic and cultural sites worthy of Kyoto, a Serengeti-level safari, and an Amalfi-caliber beach vacation. My husband and I took our seven-year-old son, and found that Sri Lanka is warmly disposed toward children—everyone called him “darling” or “baby,” and our driver, Madhawa, showed a sweetness with him that often made us feel like mean-spirited disciplinarians. Tourism is not yet saturated: You see relatively few Westerners, and the primary visitors to Sri Lankan sites are Sri Lankans, other South Asians, and an influx of Chinese. That said, Sri Lanka operates at its own pace: Sometimes when you are told something will take an hour, it takes 90 minutes; sometimes when you are told an hour, it takes five.
WHAT’S OLD IS NEW – As such, it took five hours to drive the 72 miles from the bustling seaside capital of Colombo to the inland Cultural Triangle, defined by the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Kandy, and Polonnaruwa. The historical monuments there—five of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites—reflect a society that was at one time among the most sophisticated in the world. The once walled city of Anuradhapura was the Sinhalese capital from around the fifth century B.C. until the tenth century A.D., its palaces and monasteries irrigated by an elaborate network of reservoirs and hydraulic engineering. The site complex features stepped pools, stone pillars, and a proliferation of stupas: great hemispheric, plastered, and sometimes gilded receptacles for holy relics.
The city’s 2,000-plus-year-old Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, or holy fig tree, reputedly grown from the very tree beneath which the Buddha attained enlightenment, is among Buddhism’s holiest sites. About 45 miles away, the fifth-century fortress of Sigiriya lies atop a 656-foot, souffle-shaped rock that’s a sort of Asian Machu Picchu. It is 1,200 steps to the top, and there were moments when I felt that climbing this crowded stone stairway to heaven in 92-degree heat seemed a misguided idea.
An out-of-time, out-of-place paradise, the soon-to-open wellness destination is an idyllic, irresistibly romantic getaway designed to stir your senses. Whether you’re honeymooners who want to indulge in much-needed luxurious pampering post wedding festivities or love birds looking for a beautiful escape and wellness boost before the big day – arrive and watch time disappear, as you fall in love all over again.
A picture of calm and serenity, be prepared to lose yourselves in its dreamy surroundings. Set within a 48-acre abandoned tea plantation near the cultural centre of Kandy, it has 16 nature-inspired rooms, two lavish suites, a restaurant headed by ex-Executive chef of the only Relais & Chateaux property in Sri Lanka, a lounge bar and amenities and ambience that will enthral you.
But the main focus here is: healthy, happy living. Couples, you can indulge in cleansing, detox foods and juice diets specially designed for weight loss and getting into perfect shape. Opt for indulgent couple’s programmes at the 6,000sqft underground spa and hydrotherapy facility led by an ex Ananda in the Himalayas Head Therapist, like water release and watsu, tea, rice and virgin coconut oil based wraps and scrubs, western and eastern massages and much more. Or take part in activities with your better half like yoga, TRX or Pilates. Take a leisurely swim in the resort’s outdoor infinity lap pool, or get in touch with the great outdoors by going mountain biking, hiking and river bathing, without leaving the luxurious comfort of the estate. The best part: the resort also features a thermal salt bath—a first of its kind in Sri Lanka. Rest assured, this is the perfect antidote to all the wedding mayhem, before and after.
With so much beauty, wellness and luxury surrounding you—it’s hard not to fall in love. And we won’t blame you if you never want to leave.
MOMENTS OF ROMANCE
The Honeymoon offer of a minimum 3-night stay for couples includes:
The Diyawanna Oya Walkway is Colombo’s newly-refurbished public space, featuring miles of paved paths
and landscaped gardens, adjacent to a tranquil lake: the Diyawanna Oya. Couples can also enjoy a romantic stroll along the idyllic Dehiwala Beach and Mount Lavinia. As a hotspot for tourism and nightlife, the latter – steeped in history – is now a neighbourhood bustling with beach activities and delectable eateries. Meanwhile, centrally-located in cool hill-country, Nuwara Eliya is a wistful location to lose yourself in love. Its aura is imbibed from a colonial past, with manicured lawns and buildings such as the Queen’s Cottage, General’s House and the Town Post Office setting a quaint visual tone.
For a real ‘us against the world’ adventure, hop aboard a train. The Ella to Kandy route clocks in at seven hours, and there is stunning scenery along the way. (Snack on in-carriage delights such as freshly-cut pineapple and mango with cinnamon, as the locomotive motion lulls you). A must-mention is Rumassala Mountain near Unawatuna: hike hand-in hand up to the Peace Pagoda for heart-racing sunset-views across the ocean.
The family-friendly one
Kids love animals, but rather than seeing them pent up in a zoo (the wildlife, not your children), view the creatures in the wild against the majestic mountain backdrop of Udawalawe National Park. Most popular here are without doubt the elephants, which fend off fellow popularity contestants like crocodiles, macaques, white-necked storks and other stunning fauna. Invoke your inner Indiana Jones with a visit to the ancient ruins and UNESCO heritage sites of the garden city Polonnaruwa. Or prefer to see the resplendent ‘fruits’ of nature? Visit the attention-arresting Gem Museum in the ‘City of Gems’ Ratnapura, with its breathtaking display of locally-mined precious stones that include sapphires, rubies, and amethysts. If you find yourself opting for a bout of neighbourhood shopping, head to Pettah. Despite being in the midst of widespread historic restoration, it pulsates with the sound and colour of its local markets. Kids will love Bombay Sweet Mahal: an open-fronted shop that offers an array of vibrant Indian treats, which tempt within colourful display cases. Be sure to try the thick, chewy nut musket.
The adventurous one
Sri Lanka is more than white-sand beaches and stunning views, and Cycle touring is a fun way of seeing the rugged nature of country. Take a tour that pedals past the scenic towns, sleepy hamlets, and tea and rubber estates of Kitulgala in the west… which was the famous location of 1957’s Bridge On The River Kwai, and is where you can raft down the white water rapids of the raging Kelani River, or abseil down a gushing waterfall.
Trade two wheels for four (by four), and thunder off-road to tackle the hair-pin bends of the Devil’s Staircase near Belihuloya, and use the vehicle to splash through streams on the exciting ‘dragon drive’ to Galoya National Park. Try an adventure of patience, taking the opportunity to spot leopards slinking around Yala National Park. And don’t forget the country’s Indian Ocean locale: on the coasts, Kalpitiya, Ampara and Trincomalee enable scuba diving among wrecks and possible dolphin pod encounters. Some adventure tours even tackle the tastebuds: so diverse is local fare (from fresh seafood to fiery curries), that a culinary excursion is an adventure in itself.
Day 1 – ColomboIt’s hot and sticky in Sri Lanka, at least in its low-lying regions, and the mugginess is enhanced when strolling beside Colombo’s traffic-clogged streets. We quickly learn the error of our ways and decide to use metered (and incredibly cheap) tuk-tuks instead of walking. While spread-out Colombo isn’t as thrilling as cities like Bangkok or Hong Kong there are pockets of intrigue in areas such as its central business district, Fort, where historic buildings from the Dutch (1656-1796) and British (1796-1948) colonial eras are being revived. After mulling over the menu at the Ministry of Crab – a stylish seafood eatery in the revamped Old Dutch Hospital – we end up sitting under whirring ceiling fans at Pagoda Tea Room, feasting on fragrant fish curry as we hum Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” (the music video for the 1983 hit was filmed in this classic downtown restaurant). While Sri Lanka is generally less hectic than neighbouring India, our post-lunch dip into the sensory-jolting Pettah district was an exception – with its sprawling markets selling everything under the sun. Our plan to watch the sunset from Galle Face Green – a family-friendly park hugging the coast of the Indian Ocean – is scuppered by a tropical downpour, so we hunker down nearby in the hotel, Taj Samudra, sipping coffee and cocktails and reading Time Out Sri Lanka for travel tips.
Day 2 – Kandy Our train to Kandy creaks out of the mildly chaotic Colombo Fort Railway Station at 7am. We elect to travel first class, which, while hardly Orient-Express standards, is comfy enough. Tea and snacks are provided, and a raft of lush vistas keeps us entertained for the two-and-a-half-hour journey. The British built this line in the 1860s and it’s a masterpiece of engineering, slicing through long tunnels and along narrow ridges with heart-fluttering drops. Perched 500 metres above sea level, Kandy – the “cultural capital” of Sri Lanka – is a touch cooler than Colombo. The banks of its manmade lake are dotted with sacred sites including the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which pilgrims believe houses Buddha’s tooth. Our most vivid memories of Kandy, beyond just sightseeing, are the organic iced coffee from National Coffee, the mountainous plate of devilled chicken (a sweet and sour affair) that we consume in a bustling side-street eatery, and cacophonous bird shrieks that pierce the night sky – like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Days 3 and 4 – Polonnaruwa The name Polonnaruwa is such a mouthful that we initially refer to it as “Polyblablabla”. But, it’s worth learning how to pronounce the name of this UNESCO World Heritage site, which is located about three hours north of Kandy by taxi. We take the rickety, cramped public bus which is only supposed to take three to four hours, but thanks to traffic we arrive in Polonnaruwa almost six hours later. While we chose the public bus, we’d opt for the taxi next time. Dubbed Sri Lanka’s “Lost City”, Polonnaruwa is the former royal capital of the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms, and somewhere to indulge your Indiana Jones or Lara Croft fantasies. Its jungle-fringed collection of ruined temples, tombs, palaces and Buddhist carvings date back almost a millennium, and there’s also an archaeological museum brimming with monuments and statues. While some tourists explore Polonnaruwa with a guide in a minivan, we prefer a leisurely pedal around its picturesque relics on bicycle. Whenever it gets too steamy, we retreat to shady trees where cheeky monkeys frolic and affable vendors machete open coconuts for us to sip from. Essentially, Sri Lanka is an early-to-rise and early-to-sleep country with minimal nightlife. This suits us just fine because 7am starts and busy days in the heat mean we’re usually blissfully asleep by 10 pm.
The cultural stronghold of Kandy in Sri Lanka’s lush hill country is well worth a visit any time of year, but visitors who arrive during Esala Perahera will experience one of Asia’s greatest spectacles.
For centuries this elaborate procession has honored the sacred tooth of Buddha, smuggled into Sri Lanka in A.D. 301, and eventually enshrined in the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth), one of Buddhism’s most revered pilgrimage sites. During the procession, the relic sits within its golden box atop an elephant, colorfully decked out from trunk to toe.
A bright white linen carpet is unfurled before him so that his feet do not touch the bare ground. He is preceded by a show-stopping parade of dozens of other elephants and a frenzied cast of thousands of Kandyan dancers and drummers. Kandy’s beloved Maligawa Tusker died in 1988 after fifty years of faithful service; his taxidermed remains are lovingly displayed in the Temple of the Tooth. A young Thai-born elephant specially trained for the role has taken his place.
It’s hard to imagine Sri Lanka without its beloved elephants, an essential part of any perahera, or procession. From Kandy it’s a fairly easy trip to the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, where some fifty-odd too-cute-to- be-true youngsters, some no more than a few weeks old, are already accustomed to being bottle-fed by visiting onlookers. Each drinks up to ten gallons of milk a day.
Connoisseurs of Raj-era hotels seek out the Galle Face, one of the few remaining colonial hotels not yet homogenized by heavy-handed renovations that leave them theme-park shadows of their former selves. Yes, the Galle Face shows its age, but also its historical character and pride as Colombo’s superior establishment during the British era.
The glitzy five-star establishments in town can’t pretend to duplicate its delightful 19th-century atmosphere, where barefoot waiters serve tea on a wide-open veranda swept by sea breezes – the prized watering hole during British rule, when Ceylon was synonymous with tea.
The vintage suites here are large enough to host a cricket match, with polished creaking teak floors, ceiling fans, and ocean views. A ubiquitous butler delivers breakfast with a smile and a certain cobwebbed quality of graciousness that the British must have been loath to leave behind.