Making a journey to Sri Lanka, the reverentially uncovered teardrop island is an illuminating change. By and by, this charming island is plunged all the way in coastal greenery. Wherever you go, expect to be chased by palm-fringed roads, fluttering butterflies and blue water beaches. In fact, it’s impressive that even after a decade of civil war, Sri Lanka refuses to be cowed into submission, emerging as one of the world’s best country to visit. Be it, immaculate Buddhist Stupas, tropical rainforests, rich wildlife, meandering coastlines, lavish seafood, crystal clear sea, or a hot cup of tea, Sri Lanka is bound to leave you mesmerised. In addition, get ready to be surprised by the nation’s ever-evolving infrastructure, hotels, and surf culture. While there’s a lot to do in this stunning teardrop island, including a wide variety of immutable landmarks for you to visit; here’s a list of activities, that will give you the real taste of this iconic country.
Visit the Ancient and the New Capital of Sri Lanka
Both Sri Lanka’s old and new capitals are fantastic to tour. Note that the administrative capital of Sri Lanka is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, wherein the financial capital is Colombo. Which means, if you get asked about the capital of Sri Lanka – your answer must be ‘Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte,’ not Colombo. Together, both these cities represent the country’s largest urban areas. Colombo, the garden city of the east, retains its 19th-century moniker and is a must-see stop in Sri Lanka. Primarily, because the legacies of this colonial city stretch far beyond its stunning beaches and sheltered boulevards. From prehistoric architecture to open-air markets, Colombo features a stylish blend of ancient and contemporary. Needless to say, Colombo makes a sterling start to Sri Lankan adventures. Likewise, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte portrays the best of waterfront parks, lakes, golf clubs and parliament buildings.
Kandy, on the other hand, is Sri Lanka’s ancient capital. It is a beautiful mountain city enveloped by sacred Buddhist sites, lush rainforests and tea plantations. While most countries have a single capital, Sri Lanka thrives with two. Each worth visiting!
Explore the Ancient Sacred Sites
Sri Lanka is thriving with sacred ancient plats, whether it be centuries-old Buddhist Temples, Mosques or UNESCO World Heritage sites. During my Sri Lankan adventure, I happened to stumble upon some of these magnificent landmarks including Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, Royal Citadel of Sigiriya, Jami UI Alfar Candy Striped Red Mosque, Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya, Adisham monastery of Saint Benedict, and Roman St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galle. It’s wonderful to observe that the former Kings of Sri Lanka were devoted to empowering the Island by building holistic sites and developing the wholesome culture. The precision with which these sites have been built leaves even the most modern engineers, amazed. Although, what’s incredible about these sites is that they fill you up with an unusual calm and peace.
Tour the Lush Tea Plantations
Trekking through a tea plantation in Sri Lanka puts into perspective that tea plucking is a strenuous job. Although, it’s done by both men and women, plucking tea is a skill that women have mastered through their agile fingers. In the tea country of Sri Lanka, the main plantations are located in Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, 18th-century Dimbula, Uva and the Southern Province. Perched at an elevation, each of these picturesque tea plantations is capable of producing unique flavours. While you are here, do make sure to tour one of the Tea factories where you will learn about the process, the machinery and will even get to taste a cup of fresh tea before it makes it to the bidding playground. The most historically significant tea spot in Sri Lanka is the Lipton Seat built by Sir Thomas Lipton. Well, let’s just thank the British who incorporated the tea culture in Sri Lanka. For now, these plantations dwell with world’s best Tea(s) you can get your hands on.
The Train Ride from Nanu Oya to Haputale
Yet another fascinating journey worth experiencing in Sri Lanka is the Blue or the Red Train ride from Nanu Oya to Haputale. It’s one of Asia’s best train journeys with some phenomenal views on display. Encapsulating Sri Lanka’s tea covered misty hills, this train ride will have you travel across pristine forests. Along your way, you will also meet with some of the most beautiful gushing streams and waterfalls. The best part is that they don’t close the doors of the trains. So, whether you get to grab the window seats or not, you can still immerse yourself in the vistas that will instantly elevate your senses. We travelled by the first-class coach, which is a compact compartment equipped with comfortable seats and curtained windows. During the 3-hour journey, the train took a few short halts and that is when we got a chance to try some of the amazing Sri Lankan street food sold by the local vendors. The deep-fried Prawns Vade and Roasted Salted Peanuts were my personal favourites.
Close Encounter with Elephants in Kaudulla Wildlife Park
Seeing a herd of over 100 elephants in Kaudulla Wildlife Park was quite an exhilarating experience. Although about 1000 elephant resides in this national park! Situated in an extensive plain of North Central Province, Kaudulla National Park, is a 19th-century Sri Lankan wildlife sanctuary. This historical grassland has been declared protected, in order to, safeguard the wildlife of the surrounding area. Situated midway beaches and lush hillside, Kaudulla National Park makes a great stop for a safari ride. This area, however, comprises of three different sanctuaries including, Kaudulla, Minneriya and Eco Park. Word has it that King Mahasen inaugurated this national park by building Minneriya Tank in the neighbourhood in the 3rd-century. The elephant herd usually moves from one park to another, therefore, their movement determines which national park safari, you must choose for a safari ride.
These national parks are primarily a feeding ground for the elephants, however, also inhabit endangered species such as Toque Macaque, purple-faced langur, Sri Lankan leopards, sloth bears and grey slender loris. Also, one of the best places in the country to spot painted stork, ruddy turnstone, lesser adjutant, Great white pelican and spot-billed pelican.
Take an Aromatic Walk Inside a Spice Garden
One of the distinctive experiences I indulged in, during my Sri Lanka trip was taking a walk inside the aromatic Highland Spice Garden. The person demonstrating the spices was well-knowledged and was successful in pursuing me to buy some spices from their in-house shop. Purchasing was entirely my choice, however, the presentation of the spice garden and natural products was fantastic. Living in a chemical world is not easy, but with natural products, you can certainly relieve your skin, mind and soul of toxic elements. Besides, natural products are always more effective and absorb well into the skin. Similarly, natural herbs like cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, ginger and others – when consumed from a farm add a very natural taste to the food and are far healthier than what we purchase from the market.
Visit the Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery
One of the most incredible experiences you can have in Sri Lanka is by visiting the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project. Oldest in the country, this Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Centre, focuses purely on the rescue activities. This centre in the coastal village of Kosgoda was established in 1981. Each night eggs are collected and placed in protected sand for them to hatch safely. Once the eggs hatch, the baby turtles are released into the light then further back to sea. I was amazed to see the level of passion with which the volunteers carry the work at this rescue centre. What a humbling experience! While I was here, I was even allowed to watch and hold baby turtles. At 6 PM, you can assist with releasing the 3-day-old hatchlings into the ocean for a small fee of LKR 1500. The variety of Turtles living here include Leatherbacks, Loggerheads, Green Turtles, Hawksbills and Olive Ridley Turtles.
Bentota River Boat Safari and Water Adventures
Bentota, in my opinion, is the surfing haven of Sri Lanka. Embracing the best waves of the nation, the Bentota beach stretches along a sandy strip of Paradise Island. Collateral to Bentota Lagoon, this beach boasts the country’s best coral-rich diving sites including Canoe Rock. A 2-hour Bentota boat safari will introduce you to the eye-catching sights of the ancient Galapota Temple with a large Buddha statue, old mangroves and the Lunuganga estate of Geoffrey Bawa. The Bentota Bridge is where the River Safari starts and ends. Strictly, not to be missed! (While you are here, you may also want to give Jet Ski a shot – Adrenaline guaranteed.)
Climb the Iconic Lion Rock Fortress of Sigiriya
No trip to Sri Lanka is complete until you have climbed the Lion Rock or the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Perched upon a massive flat rock, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Sri Lanka’s most remarkable attractions. This legendary Fortress was built by King Kashyapa in 477 AD and was abandoned after his death. Climbing the rock face includes ascending through a narrow staircase containing 1200 steps. Home to various gardens and remnants of monastic buildings, this site is a fantastic landmark worth exploring. However, you will discover the most fascinating feature halfway up the Lion Rock. These are Sigiriya damsels showcasing Sri Lanka’s most iconic paintings and the 16th-century white masonry parapet wall, which, has now turned orange. Climb a little farther and you will meet the enormous lion structure from where you will be able to gauge the phenomenal 360-degree views of the expanse.
Ramble Around Galle
Galle is Sri Lanka’s former harbour city, built by Portuguese and the Dutch. Ramble around the narrow alleyways and you will discover some of the most glorified colonial architecture. Some of the main attractions of this small town include Galle Fort, Groote Kerk Church, Maritime Archaeology Museum, All Saints Anglican Church, Flag Rock, Galle Dutch Hospital and the Old Gate. The onshore 18th-century lighthouse is also one of the prominent attractions.
Saunter Along the Tranquil Beaches
Located in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is an island country thriving with some of Asia’s most stunning beaches. Therefore, it’s a must to saunter along some of its secluded less rocky, golden sand beaches to soak in the old-world elegance. Sri Lankan beaches are straight out of the covers of the lustrous magazines, that evoke romance even if you are not here for your honeymoon. To feel the vibe, take a walk along the scintillating beaches of Bentota, Hiriketiya, Mirissa, Uppuveli, and Arugam Bay and you will be left awestruck by some of the bluest lagoons you’ll ever see.
Shopping in Sri Lanka
Apart from travelling to expand our horizons, some of us also travel to indulge in retail therapy. It’s a delight to shop in Sri Lanka. If you have been to this island, you will surely agree. From traditional souvenirs to handcrafted batiks to ornate jewellery, to high-end products, Sri Lanka sells anything and everything that will assuredly leave you spoilt for choice. Local artisans are famous to make stone paintings, dazzling gems, vibrant saris with modern-style variations. Sri Lanka is a shopper’s paradise where every place highlights its own culture. Thriving with exquisite creations, Sri Lanka offers a variety of distinctive souvenirs. Try their stones, delicious jams, sarees, tea, antiques, sarongs, spices, therapeutic items, and masks if you’d like to take home a slice of their holiday.
P.S. I visited as a guest of Sri Lanka Tourism Board, however, the views are my own.