Sri Lanka - The Tiny Pearl
Anyone visiting Sri Lanka from India, especially those who've visited Southern India will find a lot of similarity between these two countries. The place, the people and the culture seem like an extension of India. When I landed in Colombo, I was damn excited as Sri Lanka was one of my bucket-list countries.
Sri Lanka is known as a pearl in the India Ocean. Just a few nautical miles away from India, this mighty island rests with a 3000 years old history. 25-year-old Civil war in Sri Lanka had pretty much taken all the tourists away from it. But post-2009 things have begun to look up for this island nation.
My trip covered the following destinations: Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Kandy, Dambulla, Nuwara Eliya, Haputale, Udawalawe and Weligama.
Sri Lankan countryside has limited food options. It is better to go with local food when visiting the countryside as they are made of fresh vegetables and served hot. We did not face any health issues and the food was very tasty. They are cheap as well. Some of the restaurant ambience may not be inviting - but trust me, the food is very tasty.
A typical Sri Lankan lunch and dinner will comprise of rice, dal, sambol and multiple curries made of potato, spinach, cucumber and carrot salad.
Tips for Travelers
Eating local food will be lighter on your pocket
Tips are added in all the bills and there's no specific need to tip unless you feel so
If you are a vegetarian, please make sure you inform them to make sure you get what you eat on your plate
People are very friendly, in case you don't have appetite for spice, please let them know. They will make a non-spicy version if they can (especially if you are traveling with a kid)
As you reach the beaches, the food options will multiply. You'll find many restaurants on the beach serving variety of cuisines (seafood and Pizza being most popular).
One must try having dinner on the beach by the waves. There are many restaurants serving wood fired pizza and they must be tried once.
The Long Walks
No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without the treks and long country sidewalks. Sigiriya and Haputale are quaint with lovely evenings. Sigiriya Lion Rock (or the Pidurangala rock which is adjacent to it) are two must-visit places. The Sigiriya climb takes around 45 mins and one can spend 2-3hrs in the fortress which is located at the top. There is a well laid out path with steps and climb is steep in some places.
Tips for Travelers
Start early. The rock climb starts by 7 AM. Make sure you start your climb on time. The place is extremely crowded and the climb is strenuous after 8 AM.
Don't buy the ticket online. The online tickets will have to be converted to physical tickets at the counter and the line for both is the same. So you can stand in the line and get the ticket there itself
Children below 5 are free
Sneak peak of what to expect post 9 AM (on a Sunday)
Haputale is a tiny tea town close to Ella. One can take a train from Nuwara Eliya to Haputale or drive down in case trains are booked. One can see acres of tea plantations around you. These are the hilly regions of Sri Lanka and the evenings are cold which makes the place best to walk around. One of the popular trails is the hike to Lipton Seat. It offers one of the most spectacular viewpoints; a stunning and majestic panorama of the prolific green tea fields bordered by the mountains. It is a beautiful place to spend your morning.
In the 19th century, Sir Thomas Lipton (of Lipton Tea), traveled to Sri Lanka and bought up a whopping 5,500 acres of land sprawling over the Dambatenne Tea Plantation. He created and perfected an efficient process for manufacturing tea and started to produce tea by the masses, which was then shipped all over Europe and America.
Visitors can walk or drive up to Lipton’s Seat in a car up to some distance and then continuing in a Tuk-Tuk for the last few kilometers. The hike starts from the Dambatenne Tea Factory and follows the narrow, paved road and trek for approximately 7km through picturesque tea estates dotted with tea pickers. Don't forget to enjoy the tea sold by the locals en route.
Tips for Travelers
Try for accommodation in Clouds Holiday Bungalow resort. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and the caretaker is an amazing host. The property location is out of this world
Sri Lanka is synonymous with Culture. The country has so much to offer for those seeking cultural tourism experience. The northern region of Sri Lanka (till Kandy) is the cultural hub of the country. This includes Jaffna, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Kandy.
This is the second most ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka and a World Heritage Site. Sigiriya-Anuradhapura-Polonnaruwa form the cultural triangle tourist circuit and visitors cover all the 3 destinations. Due to limitation of time, we dropped Anuradhapura and proceeded to Polonnaruwa.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa remains one of the best planned archaeological relic cities in the country. It is also one of the cleanest cities of Sri Lanka. Polonorruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993 AD. The city was created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century. One can cover Polonnurawa by foot or cycle. It's a huge place so recommend hiring a cycle, if possible. Having a guide to explain the city will be beneficial.
The entrance fee to Polonnaruwa was be bought online (Link), but I recommend you buy it at the site.
Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) - Kandy
Every day pilgrims dressed in white make a visit to the temple, offering lotus blossoms and frangipani to honor the precious relic. The relic here is the Tooth of Buddha which was brought here between 301-328 AD to Anuradhapura, the original capital. In between the Tooth was moved from one place to another due to wards waging between different kings and finally the tooth now rests in Kandy inside an heavily guarded room.
Entrance fee is approx LKR 1500 per adult. Footwear has to be kept outside the sanctum.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The cave contains statues and paintings of Buddha and document stories of Gautama Buddha and his life. It has five caves under a vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip line to keep the interiors dry. These caves are natural formations and not been manually excavated.
Tickets are available at the entrance. One has to make a climb to reach the caves.
Despite being small in size, Sri Lanka packs a powerful punch when it comes to wildlife. To many, Sri Lanka is synonymous to Elephants but this wonderful country has more to offer than just Elephants - although i agree, you can spot them as you drive along on any up-country Sri Lankan road.
Sri Lankan Elephants are as safe as the travelers on the road
Minneriya and Udawalawe National Park
Minneriya National park is a welcome change for travelers who had an overdose of ruins and culture. Located in Habbarana, Minneriya National Park is well known for large herds of elephants. Minneriya and Udawalae are good alternatives to Yala which is always crowded due to its popularity.
Traveling by Jeep is a thrilling experience. The top of the jeep is open so it gives you 360* view of the area. Jeeps are private tours. Once can also opt for shared vans between many tourists. Can work out cheaper!
One can hire a driver + guide from the resort directly. The ticket to the national park can be bought directly at the entrance of each park. Each tour is 3-4hrs. There are two safaris one in the morning around 6AM and another in the afternoon between 2/3 PM. The parks close between 5/6PM hence try to be there on time.
If the culture and wildlife were not enough, Sri Lanka with its never ending coastline is an ideal place for beach hopping. I went to Weligama, a quaint beach on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Weligama is close to Mirissa. Mirissa is a tourist hot-spot for surfing and whale watching.
PS: Whale watching was a damp squib. Unless you want to waste precious 5-6hrs of your time, wouldn't recommend the same. Main reason being - too many boats anchoring at a single point for whales which results in low probability of spotting the blue whale - why will the whales come to a point which smells of gas?? Also, it is very dangerous as they don't follow any safety standards.
If you are prone to sea-sickness, consider having a tablet a hour prior to the journey.
In Weligama, one can indulge oneself in surfing which is a popular sport. One can even rent a surf board and get training in surfing. The prevailing rate for coaching was LKR 2,000 for 1 hr of coaching. Its a good experience. The Weligama beach is less crowded due to its size and clean and green. This beach is good for beginners learning to surf.