Sri Lanka has been on my bucket list for years, but for some reason it always had been pushed to the wayside. And now, after having spent just two weeks there, I’m telling you, you need to visit Sri Lanka.
Having been conquered by the Portuguese, Dutch and English the architecture, cuisine and culture is a curiously exotic mix. As the poet Ondaatje named it; “the pendant off the ear of India”, Sri Lanka is roughly the same size as Ireland. After recently coming out of a civil war (2009) the country is full of perplexity and pleasure.
And when you consider the wildlife it’s home to; leopards, crocodiles, deer, buffalo, mongoose, monkeys galore…not to mention Sri Lanka has over 5,800 wild elephants. A third live in natural parks and the rest run wild. We can be assured that even if technology is advancing at rapid pace, that here nature takes great comfort in asserting it’s rights to terrorise humanity.
During our two weeks Moo and I aimed to use slow travel principles and I must admit, with so much to see it was near impossible. We did well to plan four days at the beginning and four at the end where we simply explored an area instead of rushing through it; simply ticking off what a town was famous for (namely thanks to Instagram) and buggering off to the next hot spot. You could quite quickly get trapped in the tourist loop of ‘done that’.
The observation that’s been nagging my mind for a number of weeks now is: If the best places are the ones without herds of tourists and we strive for photos with no one else in them but the landscape alone, then why do we all travel to the same places?
To give you an overview of how we spent the two weeks, we started our trip in Kalpitiya on the north west coast, then came through the guts into the mountains around Ella and slowly made our way down to the south coast near Weligama.
So with that in mind, read on for my top 5 things to do in Sri Lanka:
Hike Sri Pada/Adams Peak, 2,243m
Sri Pada, the holy foot. It’s believed Lord Buddha stepped into the heart of the island and made it his spiritual base. Hiking this spiritual pilgrimage was something I’d wanted to do for as long as I can remember and who doesn’t love a mountainous sunrise? It’s a tough vertical climb, in fact the word relentless is coming to mind as I think back to it. It wasn’t peak season which meant low crowds (plus) it also meant no tea/coffee/toilet facilities during the whole climb as they’d all been taken down for the season (minus). If you’re an adventure junkie, you will not be disappointed. I’ll write more on this later!
Eat like a Lankan
Not privy to much of what Sri Lankan food was all about prior to visiting (other than Hopper’s) we were beyond excited to try everything as possible. I have to say it was better than we could have hoped. Food is; fresh, hearty, spicy and flavoursome. If you’re struggling to picture it think: ‘rice and curry’, fresh crab, deviled chicken, dahl, kottu, roti, coconut treacle pancakes… I’m salivating thinking about the crab. We tried as many local specialties as possible, my favourite was quite possibly the black jelly (Kalu Dodol) made from coconut cream and cashews and cooked and cooked and cooked for hours until it turns into jelly. That or the crab!
Tour the tea plantations
We visited three tea estates with factory and plantation tours throughout Sri Lanka. What you do need to know about your daily brew (particularly Dilmah and Lipton) is this: tea leaves in Sri Lanka are picked solely by women. They work eight hours and pick 18-20kg per day. After asking why only women pick the tea, the response was ‘because they have a lighter touch’. Also, the higher the altitude, the lighter in taste the tea. I’m not so much of a tea drinker, but learning the process was actually really interesting. We visited Pedro, Halpe and Herman estates.
Enjoy the beach life
Being paradise, it’s easy to forget the world beyond. Contentment seems to seep amongst the tourists like gas.
Source: Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri lanka by John Gimlette.
We were certainly victims of this and quickly became besotted with the Sri Lankan coastal life. Fresh king coconuts, light offshore breezes, shores lapping, cinnamon lingering in the air. It was easy to get swept away in island life and we made no hurry of our time here. We read, ate gloriously well and tried to soak up as much relax time as possible. We stayed in Ahangama, which was the perfect base to then explore Weligama, Mirissa, Unawatuna and Galle by scooter (don’t tell my insurer). Swinging from a coconut tree never seemed so inviting.
Immerse yourself in Sigiriya, Lions Rock
Being Aussie, it’s hard to fathom life beyond 1770, (don’t worry I am righting this wrong by reading Dark Emu) visiting ancient sites like Sigiriya, constructed 200m above solid rock in the 5th century AD completely blows my mind. The ancient city surrounding Lions Rock contains nature driven architecture, composed of buildings, pathways, terraces, ponds, paintings and sculpture. There are more than a thousand hand written poems on the mirror wall written by visitors of Sigiriya from 7th-14th century. And if someone tells you it’s not worth the cost ($30USD) and you should just hike Pidurangala Rock (free) instead has clearly never been to Sigiriya, it’s glorious… although if you have have time, you should definitely climb that too, the views are spectacular.
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