Discovering Sri Lanka

IMG_0905In my travelinspiration posts I have focused on citytrips so far. But when you travel further away, you will almost always try to see more of a country than just a single city. And in the case of Sri Lanka, it absolutely does not make sense to just go and visit Colombo, in fact you may want to skip it and decide to spend your precious time elsewhere. Hence, this is the start of a new series of chapters on expeditions: here too, I want to share some of my best experiences and recommendations and thus provide inspiration for your nex trip.

 

Relax, you are in Sri Lanka

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There are lots of things to see and do in Sri Lanka, but in the end, you may find yourself perfectly happy with spending as much time as possible on one of its beautiful beaches. Cristal-clear turquoise water, soft sand and palm-tree lined beaches with the occasional beach bar/restaurant are really all you need to feel relaxed and this may just be what you need to overcome your jetlag after a long flight from overseas. One of the most popular beaches for the younger crowd is currently Mirissa, located in the South of the Island, a three-hour drive from the Bandaranaike International Airport close to Colombo and Negombo.

Mirissa is not only famous for its beautiful beaches but it is also a top destination for whale-watching (book trip e.g. with Raja & the Whales): a boat ride away there is a great chance to see blue or sperm whales on their seasonal migration route from the Bay of Benal and the coast of Sri Lanka to the Arabian Sea (best sighting period is from December to April); if you are lucky you may also spot some dolphins. If you get seasick easily like me, you may want to stay on solid ground since the sea can get quite rought and opt for a trip to Badora Spa instead and treat yourself with a nice relaxing massage. Alternatively you may want to try an Ayurveda Treatment, for which Sri Lanka is also famous for, or even check into an Ayurveda Resort.

In addition to that, kicking your holiday off with a few days at the beach gives you a good opportunity to start your discovery of Sri Lankan cuisine. Try for example a typical Sri Lankan breakfast with hoppers and string hoppers typically served with a mild curry (check whether you may have to order a day in advance). Also consider planing a lunch-trip to Dewmini Roti Shop (note that the place tends to be crowded and thus you may need to count in some waiting time) and taste some of their homemade delicious rotis (flatbread served with sweet or sour ingredients like crêpes; you may want to try also coconut or pol roti with unique coconut and chili flavour). My favourite culinary experience though was our dinner at the Weligama fish market. We picked one of the fish laid out on a simple wooden table (us: what kind of fish is this? fisherman: we found it at the coral reef, coral fish ;-D) had it freshly prepared and served with platters of vegetables, rice and fries. Would I have ever dared to eat there myself? Certainly not. So I am grateful my friend took us there, since this was not only one of the best seasoned fish I have ever had but also a unique experience.

Last but not least, it is only an hour drive to the city of Galle. A visit to the old Dutch quarter, know as the “Fort”, with its many convivial cafés and chic shops is an absolutely must, and the picturesque seaside view from Flag Rock to the Point Utrecht Bastion makes a great photo motive.

From the top left to the bottom right:  (1) Sri Lankan  breakfast with hoppers and string hoppers  (2)  view on the Eastern side of Mirissa beach(3) Galle, view from Flag Rock (4) Fisherman holding the fish we chose for dinner. 

PS: If you want to explore other beaches, you may want to consider Weligama (particularly popular for surfer-newbies), Unawatuna or, a bit further up north on the East coast, Hikkaduwa. But this is just the West/South coast. More amazing beaches can be found in the East, for example Arugam Bay. For your best choice compare your traveling time with respective monsoon seasons of the region. 

Making new friends

Never before have I seen so many animals around in public areas as in Sri Lanka: monkeys, buffalos, turtles, elephants, various birds still appear to partake in daily life, co-existing with humans in an surprisingly unrestricted way.

Sri Lanka’s most famous mamal is of course the elephant. Elephants have been closely connected with Sri Lankan culture and history for centuries, playing significant roles in a social, religous and economic context. Over the years and with increased development, in Sri Lanka too the giant animals have been suffering from habitat loss, and these days most of them will be found in one of the various national parks, which often capture well-established migratory routes. A safari in one of the national parks or a visit of one of the many elephant reservoirs is thus a common point on a Sri Lanka traveler’s agenda. So it was on ours. In fact we got so excited about elephants, we decided to visit even two places: first the Elephant Transit Home located in Udawalawe National Park and later also the better-known Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.

 Three pictures from top left to bottom left: Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage; last picture Elephant Transit Home.

While the pictures of Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage look very enticing for a visit, they do not reveal the full picture. So although it is great to get so very close to these impressive animals, watch baby elephants being fed with superlarge milk bottles or observe them taking a bath in the nearby river, one cannot help but leave at unease with the way the animals are treated, several in chains with limited room for movement and subject to excessive use of the elephant goad, a hooked metal tool used to train an control elephants. Certainly, you should make up your mind in advance whether you are ok with visiting such a place i.e. whether or not you can accept that animal welfare standards may not be as high in a developing country as in the Western world.

A nice alternative is the Elephant Transit Home. It is much less exciting though as you will not be able to get as close or watch the elephants bathing, but there appear to be no animal rights concerns with this institution (it is supported by the Born Free Foundation and also Pro Wildlife).

PS: Another one of Sri Lanka’s majestic animals is the Sri Lankan leopard. It lives in various parts of the island but chances to spot one are considered best in Yala National Park in the South East, to which unfortunately we did not make it this time.

Enjoy stunning views and landscapes

20160105_083521After spending several days at the beach we left the easy life to explore more of Sri Lanka. Our first stop was Dondra where we climbed the 222 steps to arrive at the top of the 50m-high Dondra Lighthouse and enjoy the superb view over the area (see photo on the right).

From there we headed further up north. Our target destination was Ella, from where we would jump on the train ro ride across the Hill Country all the way to Nuwara Elyia. Since that was quite a long ride, we decided to make a stop on the way to visit Mulkirigalla Temple, North of Tangalla, the only monument in the south that is considered comparable to the great Buddhist sites of the Cultural Triangle further up North. Don’t expect to just walk into the temple – it is actually quite a hike up some seriously tall steps until you arrive at the top terrace. If you follow the rather hidden path around the dagoba, you will be suprised by an exceptional, and totally unobstructed panorama view from an open rock. Waking up the next morning in our hotel in Ella, we were rewarded with perfect weather and a magnificent view over Hill Country. It was not an enjoyable ride back down from our hotel high up in the hills (serpentines non-stop) all the way to our next destination, Kandy, but the view on the tea plantations was definitely worth it. However, driving past people who were walking by foot along the neverending serpentines, the occasional kid who wants to sell you some old flowers, living in these rainy, deserted areas you cannot even begin to imagine how hard their life must be and how blessed we are with ours.

From top left to bottom right: (1) View from Mulkirigala summit (2) Train ride from Ella to Nuwara Eliya  (3) View on tea plantations in Hill Country (4) View from Sky Green Hotel in Ella

Dive into Sri Lanka’s vast cultural heritage

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In addition to great beaches, incredible wildlife and stunning landscapes, Sri Lanka is also rich in cultural heritage. The main attractions are concentrated in the so-called “Cultural Triangle” north of Kandy, among which are the the Lion Rock or Sigiriya, a rock featuring Sri Lanka’s most remarkable royal capital and Palace, the remainders of the ancient city of Anuradhapura, or the great ruined capital of Polonnaruwa, which is considered one of hte unisputed Highlights of the whole island.

Unfortunately during our trip we did not have enough time to spare a few days to travel so far north to explore the cultural triangle so we were looking for some convenient alternatives that would suite our route. This is how we discovered the impressive Mulkirigala temple. A must on our list was the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the country’s most important Buddhist shrine, which houses the legendary Buddha’s Tooth (but don’t get your hopes up, you will not actually be able to take a look at the tooth). The story of the tooth is quite entertaining, so make sure to read about it when you get the chance.

Top pictures: walk up and one of the several lying Buddha statues of Mulkirigala temple; Pictures in the bottom: offerings and paintings in the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy.

This was a glimpse of what we managed to experience in 9 days in Sri Lanka, and of course there is much more to see and do. For me it is for sure that I will come back to tackle the Cultural Triangle, I want to hike up Adam’s Peak and enjoy the view from World’s End and the Horton Plains, and last but not least, relax again at one of Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches.

Enjoy Sri Lanka ❤ Kate

Need help planing your trip?  My friend runs a travel agency specialised in individual tours through Sri Lanka which mostly include traveling with a private driver bringing you from A to B to C. I am of course completely unbiased with recommending her travel agency, but she does really know a great deal about Sri Lanka and will be able to plan the perfect trip for you tailored to your individual wants and needs. She specialices in German-speaking customers though. Find out more on her Website: sri-tours.at .

Tip for girls: make sure you check out Spa Ceylon products (there is a small shop at the international airport). This is an amazing Sri Lankan body and personal care brand that combines Ayurveda wisdom, fine natural ingredients and contemporary design. Their vast product range includes everything from bath oils, exfoliating scrubs to moisturising balms and foot care. If not for yourself, the products make an excellent present for your loved ones at home.

 

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