Land of warmth and Kandy

End­less beaches, time­less ru­ins, wel­com­ing peo­ple, ele­phants, rolling surf, fun trains, fa­mous tea and flavour­ful food make Sri Lanka ir­re­sistible. Here’s a must-see-and-do top 10.

The Timaru Herald - - TRAVEL -

1. Stun­ning beaches

There are long, golden-specked ones, there are dainty ones with soft white sand, there are wind- and wave­bat­tered ones, and ones with­out a foot­step for miles. Some have a slowly, slowly vibe and some have a lively party vibe, but which­ever you choose, the beaches of Sri Lanka re­ally are ev­ery bit as gor­geous as you’ve heard. In a land where beaches are sim­ply count­less, con­sider the beaches of Tan­galla, each with its own per­son­al­ity, and each beguiling in its own way, yet all eas­ily vis­ited in a day.

2. Trav­el­ling by train

Some­times there’s no way to get a seat on the slow but oh-so-pop­u­lar train to Ella, but with a prime stand­ing-room-only spot look­ing out at a rolling car­pet of tea, who cares? Out­side, the colour­ful silk saris of Tamil tea pick­ers stand out in the sea of green; in­side, you may get a shy wel­come via a smile. At sta­tions, ven­dors hus­tle treats, in­clud­ing some amaz­ing corn and chilli frit­ters sold wrapped in some­body’s old home­work pa­per. Munch­ing one of these while the scenery creaks past? Sub­lime.

3. Uda Walawe Na­tional Park

This huge chunk of sa­vanna grass­land cen­tred on the Uda Walawe reser­voir is the clos­est Sri Lanka gets to East Africa. There are herds of buf­falo (although some of these are do­mes­ti­cated!), sam­bar deer, croc­o­diles, masses of birds, and ele­phants – and we don’t just mean a few ele­phants but hun­dreds of the big-nosed crea­tures. In fact, we’d go so far to say that for ele­phants, Uda Walawe is equal to, or even bet­ter than, many of the fa­mous East African na­tional parks.

4. An­cient Anu­rad­ha­pura

At Anu­rad­ha­pura, big bits of Sri Lanka’s cul­tural and re­li­gious her­itage sprawl across three square kilo­me­tres. In the cen­tre is one of the world’s old­est trees, the Sri Maha Bodhi (more than 2000 years old). That it has been tended un­in­ter­rupted by record­keep­ing guardians for all those cen­turies is enough to send shiv­ers down the spine.

The sur­round­ing fields of crum­bling monas­ter­ies and enor­mous dagobas (stu­pas) at­test to the city’s role as the seat of power in Sri Lanka for a thou­sand years. Bik­ing through this heady past is a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence.

5. Soar­ing Si­giriya

The rolling gar­dens at the base of Si­giriya would them­selves be a high­light. Ponds and lit­tle ar­ti­fi­cial rivulets put the wa­ter in these wa­ter gar­dens and of­fer a serene idyll amid the swel­ter­ing coun­try­side. But look up and catch your jaw as you pon­der this 370m rock that erupts out of the land­scape. Etched with art and sur­mounted by ru­ins, Si­giriya is an awe­some mys­tery, one that the won­der­ful mu­seum tries to dis­sect. The climb to the top is a weary­ing and wor­thy en­deav­our.

6. Bun­dala Na­tional Park

With all the crowds head­ing to nearby Yala Na­tional Park, its neigh­bour to the west, Bun­dala Na­tional Park, of­ten gets over­looked. But with the park’s huge sheets of shim­mer­ing wa­ters ring­ing with the sound of bird­song, skip­ping it is a big mis­take. Bun­dala has a beauty that other parks can only dream of, and is one of the finest bird­ing des­ti­na­tions in the coun­try. If herons and egrets aren’t glam enough for you, the croc­o­diles and res­i­dent ele­phant herd will put a smile on your face.

7. Adam’s Peak Pil­grims

For more than a 1000 years, pil­grims have trudged by can­dle­light up Adam’s Peak to stand in the When to go: High sea­son (De­cem­ber-March): The Hill Coun­try plus west- and south-coast beaches are busiest – and dri­est. With beds in de­mand, prices peak. The Maha mon­soon sea­son (Oc­to­ber to Jan­uary) keeps the East, North and an­cient cities wet. Shoul­der (April & Septem­ber­Novem­ber): April and Septem­ber of­fer the best odds for good weather. New Year’s cel­e­bra­tions in mid-April cause transport to fill be­yond ca­pac­ity. A good time to wan­der with­out a set sched­ule. Low sea­son (May-Au­gust): The Yala mon­soon sea­son brings rain to the south and west coasts plus the Hill Coun­try. The weather in the North and East is best. Prices na­tion­wide are low­est. Cur­rency: Sri Lankan Ru­pee (Rs). Midrange: Rs 6000-20,000. Dou­ble room in a good place: Rs 3500-9000. Meals at ho­tel/ restau­rant: Rs 1000-3000. Hire bikes, ride trains and use a car and driver some days: av­er­age per day Rs 3000. Yamu: foot­prints of the Bud­dha, breathe the air where Adam first set foot on Earth, and see the place where the but­ter­flies go to die.

Today, tourists join the throng of lo­cal pil­grims and, as you stand in the pre-dawn light atop this per­fect pin­na­cle of rock and watch the sun crawl above waves of moun­tains, the sense of magic re­mains as be­witch­ing as it must have been for Adam him­self.

8. Kandy Cul­tural Cap­i­tal

Kandy is the cul­tural cap­i­tal of the is­land and home to the Tem­ple of the Sa­cred Tooth Relic, said to con­tain a tooth of the Bud­dha him­self. For the Sin­halese, this is the holi­est spot on the is­land, but for tourists Kandy of­fers more than just re­li­gious sat­is­fac­tion: there’s a pleas­ing old quar­ter, a pretty cen­tral lake, a clutch of mu­se­ums and, in the vicin­ity, some beau­ti­ful botan­i­cal gar­dens. For more bless­ings from the gods, there’s also a series of fas­ci­nat­ing an­cient tem­ples.

9. Un­miss­able Galle Fort

Hu­man and na­ture have joined forces in Galle Fort to pro­duce an ar­chi­tec­tural work of art. The Dutch built the streets and build­ings, the Sri Lankans added the colour and style, and then na­ture got busy cov­er­ing it in a gen­tle layer of trop­i­cal veg­e­ta­tion, hu­mid­ity and salty air. The re­sult is an en­chant­ing old town that is home to dozens of art gal­leries, quirky shops, and bou­tique cafes and guest­houses, plus some splen­did ho­tels. For tourists, it’s with­out doubt the No 1 ur­ban at­trac­tion in the coun­try.

10. Surf­ing at Arugam Bay

The heart of Sri Lanka’s grow­ing surf scene, the long right break at the south­ern end of Arugam Bay is con­sid­ered Sri Lanka’s best. From April to Septem­ber, you’ll find surfers rid­ing the waves; stragglers catch the ran­dom good days as late as Novem­ber. Through­out the year you can revel in the surfer vibe: there are board-rental and ding-re­pair joints, plus plenty of cheap hang­outs of­fer­ing a bed, beer or both. If you need soli­tude, there are nearby breaks up and down the coast.

Re­pro­duced with per­mis­sion from the 14th edi­tion of Lonely Planet’s Sri Lanka guide­book, re­searched and writ­ten by Anir­ban Ma­ha­p­a­tra, Ryan Ver Berk­moes, Bradley May­hew and Iain Ste­wart, © 2018. Pub­lished this month, lone­ly­, RRP: $39.99.


Tra­di­tional fish­ing near Galle.


Moun­tain of Si­giriya in Sri Lanka.


Pil­grims climb the trail to the holy moun­tain Adams Peak.


Bud­dha in Isu­ru­mu­niya Rock Tem­ple, Anu­rad­ha­pura

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