Considering the island scarcely amounts to the size of Tasmania, Sri Lanka is a country that has been fought over more than most. And it’s no surprise – with its lush valleys rich in tea leaves; the opulence of its eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the lonely stretches of unspoilt beaches, the most friendly and welcoming people - this country truly has it all.
Sri Lanka is a society on the move. Whilst being a very popular tourist destination, it remains largely unspoiled by outside influences, which, I believe, is key to it retaining its appeal. Although we weren’t quite sure what to expect, and were limited in time, Sri Lanka certainly surpassed all our expectations.
If you’re arriving in Sri Lanka from Australia, it’s surprisingly not too long a journey. Regardless of where you’re flying from, you will almost certainly fly into Colombo, known as the commercial capital and ocean city, and will be swarmed by locals bartering their taxi services (even at 2am). We opted for an Uber instead, which set us back $18 AUD for a trip from the airport to our hotel in the centre of Colombo, the Mövenpick Hotel.
The Mövenpick provided us with a luxurious and peaceful escape, soaring 24 storeys over the madness and construction of the developing city below. Our suite was located on the 23rd floor, with breathtaking views over the Indian Ocean from every angle (even the shower). The hotel itself is in a prime location, in close proximity to shops and attractions, is home to exclusive restaurants and boasts an infinity rooftop pool and bar capturing panoramic views of the city. We indulged ourselves with the gourmet food on offer, as the hotel has an array of culinary options – the AYU Restaurant has all day dining with a vast selection of international buffets, whilst the Robata Grill and Lounge offers exquisite Japanese cuisines and sushi. To check availability at the Mövenpick, please click here for the hotel website.
We spent one full day exploring Colombo, riding tuk-tuks around the city and visited Galle Face Green, the seaside promenade and a popular spot for kite flyers, traditional food vendors and families.
GALLE & THE DEEP SOUTH
Day two of our Sri Lankan adventure consisted of an early morning Uber drive down to the serene south coast. With its idyllic beaches, preserved colonial landscapes, Buddhist shrines, stilt fisherman, and alluring luxurious beach resorts, this part of the country is an absolute paradise. We spent two nights at the Owl & the Pussycat Hotel in Talpe and two nights at the Fortress Resort & Spa in Koggala. For two hotels in such close proximity, they could not be more dissimilar.
There are a variety of beaches to discover along the Galle district coast. We enjoyed beach hoping during our stay, and visited Jungle beach, Dalawella beach (home to the insta famous palm swing), Unawatuna beach, Koggala beach, Weligama and Mirissa.
We spent an afternoon exploring the streets of Galle Fort, or the Dutch Fort as it is also known, which is one of the largest cities in the country. According to a statement by UNESCO, the site was recognised as a World Heritage Site for its unique exposition of an urban ensemble, which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries. We wandered the fort and the city and had the most delicious lunch at the Galle Fort Hotel.
Tom and I had done our research on the various National Parks to visit well before we arrived. We both wanted to experience a safari and see the native animals in their natural habitat. We’d heard mixed reviews about Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, and decided against it due to the amount of tourists that visit – not to mention the way they treat the elephants. Rather, we chose to do a sunrise safari at Udawalawe National Park, which was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir.
We arranged our tour through the Fortress Hotel and were picked up by a private car at 3am, and headed northeast towards the National Park, which lies on the boundary of Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces. Udawalawe is one of the world’s best places to see wild elephants and game spotting.
We arrived before sunset, and were transferred from our car to our private safari jeep and were driven close to the entrance of the park. All the tour guides raced to purchase tickets as quickly as possible, and then it was a race to the front entrance to catch a glimpse of the animals at sunrise. And then suddenly, the scenery changes and you feel like you’re somewhere in Africa. There were waterholes filled with water buffalos, wild cats roaming the grass, monkeys swinging from tree to tree and elephants that would quite literally stop in the middle of the road to greet you. We were incredibly fortunate to have had the experience we did – it was one of the highlights of our time in Sri Lanka.
RECOMMENDED ITINERARY – Deciding on an itinerary for this country was the most difficult part of this trip. Having explored the south coast thoroughly, for our next trip we will make sure to dedicate time to discovering the central and Eastern parts of the country. This time around, we were disadvantaged by the huge amounts of (my) luggage that had to be carried around (we were on route to relocating to London), so we were limited by not being able to travel lightly and broadly. In hindsight, after Colombo we should have headed east to the rural towns of Kandy to visit the rolling hills and tea plantations, and from there we would make the drive (or take the train) from Kandy, via Nuwara Eliya, to Ella. From Ella we would then head further east to Arugam Bay (which is apparently less crowded and much quieter) before making our way to Lake Koggala, and finally head towards Galle and the south coast.
TRANSPORT - Prior to arriving in Sri Lanka, we were warned to prepare to go slow. This could not have been more accurate. Whilst infrastructure is improving and transport options are developing, getting around this country is a little trying at times. Whether you’re travelling by bus, tuk-tuk, train or car, expect to travel at leisurely speeds. As we were short on time and carrying multiple suitcases, we opted to take cars and Ubers everywhere.
FOCUS ON FOOD – Sri Lanka is known as the Island of Rice and Curry and its traditional food is certainly not for the timid eater, with fiery curries and powerful flavours. Making use of local fruits such as coconut, pineapple and jackfruit, seafood and an arsenal of spices, Sri Lankan cuisine delivers rich and incredible tasting dishes. Although I’m not a spice or curry lover, I did try to immerse myself in the unapologetically, punch-you-in-the-face, get-the-adrenaline-pumping flavoured cuisine (with a large plate of rice on the side).
Red Swimmers - Raston Collection Swimwear // Black Swimmers - TJ Swim // Blue & White Two Set - PopCherry Fashion // White Safari Playsuit - Mura Boutique // White Two Piece Set - PopCherry Fashion.