A Sri Lanka Adventure
In late June 2018, we set off to the vibrant island of Sri Lanka, where we encountered some of the warmest people and richest culture we’d come across. Though quite varied in climate across the island, the weather there was definitely marked by the long hours of sunshine and calming sea breeze. When combined with its fresh and appetising cuisine, it definitely made for a very warm welcome! Perhaps the main takeaway from this stunning nation was its diversity; in people, in the landscape, in food and in its history.
(From misty hilltops to clear sandy beaches, Sri Lanka’s range of scenery was striking)
Arrival, Negombo & Colombo
After arriving at Bandaranayike International Airport, we made our way to the bustling capital Colombo, via Negombo. We met our lovely guide, Yata who stayed with us the whole way and never failed to impress with his knowledge of everything! When passing through Negombo, a colourful beach town, we enjoyed views of quaint Dutch colonial architecture, and a calm blue lagoon in the centre of the town.
At Colombo itself, we were greeted with lively roads and high buildings, typical of a large and busy capital. Though Sri Lanka’s recent history has been marred by the long and devastating civil war, the nation’s diverse religious groups, now largely live in harmony, especially in the south. The infrastructure in large cities also seemed to have made a strong recovery. Along the coast in central Colombo, we saw the construction of Port City, an artificial island which will feature hotels and commercial buildings when finished.
(An overview of Colombo’s coastline, with the large port city construction to the left)
That evening we were lucky enough to sample Sri Lanka’s classic dishes; flavourful jackfruit and mutton curry, egg hoppers (a savoury crepe in a bowl shape with a fried egg in the middle) and, of course, plenty of seafood. Their dishes are also well known for their spiciness and diversity – as a local told us, Sri Lankans eat everything!
Dambulla Cave Temples
Our destination today was the historic Dambulla Cave Temples. On our way there from Colombo we got our first proper glimpse of life in rural Sri Lanka; coconut trees and cinnamon plantations flanked the roads, and among them wandered a variety of wildlife. Our guide told us how much of a birdwatcher’s paradise Sri Lanka is, with 33 endemic species. The day we visited also happened to be around the time of Poson Poya, the most important full moon Buddhist festival in the Sri Lankan calendar. Because of this we encountered numerous alms givers on the roads, handing out food, drink and snacks to passersby.
The cave temples themselves were located on a hilltop with breath-taking views over the surrounding countryside. They’re a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with several chambers built under the natural cliff face. Each featured intricate roof paintings on plaster applied straight onto rock, and 153 statues of the Buddha and some Hindu deities. The most memorable was the enormous carving of the Buddha in the reclining position, hewn from the cliff face and painted in glittering gold. These temples date from the third century BC, constructed under King Valagambahu.
Polonnaruwa and Minneriya National Park
Today we set off to the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa, the crown jewel of the ancient King Parakramahabu I. Set over a large area, you can cycle or drive around the intricate medieval remains. We chose to cycle, and enjoyed a calm afternoon ride around this world heritage site. We saw towering Stupas, resting Buddha statues, elaborate irrigation canals and Hindu sculptures. In and among the sights were monkeys and lively celebrations for the Buddhist festival taking place that day. There was a strong religious mood around the gathering crowds, who enjoyed free food and drink as they celebrated.
Our second stop was Minneriya National Park, home to elephants, deer and birdlife. A must-see for wildlife enthusiasts, we enjoyed views of sweeping plains and lakes (the park is some 8,800 hectares) and animals of many shapes and sizes. Though the standout was perhaps the stunning gathering of elephant families around the water reservoir!
Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Kandy Temple
Among the most stunning sights we came across was the Sigirya Rock Fortress, a complex system of ruins and cave paintings atop a rock hill visible from all around. It is the fifth century citadel of King Kasyapa, now a World Heritage Site, and a wonder of ancient engineering. It was quite a climb up but entirely worth it for the views and sights at the top. Exquisite cave paintings and an enormous pair of stone lion paws greeted us in the complex.
After we continued to Kandy, the old capital before Colombo. There we visited Kandy Temple, perhaps the most holy religious site in Sri Lanka. It houses the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha, and we were fortunate enough to witness daily prayers taking place. The temple itself was exquisite, a combination of beautiful Sri Lankan architecture and art, plus some colonial additions.
Elephant orphanage and tea plantations
Today began with an exciting stop for animal lovers – we visited an elephant orphanage, home to abandoned young elephants found in the wild and rehabilitated at the centre. There was a morning opportunity to watch the younger babies feeding, and later you could feed the older elephants yourself with fruit. We also got to see one of their two daily baths in the adjacent river. It was quite a spectacle watching all the elephants of different sizes entering the water and taking refuge from the hot sun.
Our next stop was Nuwara Eliya, a sleepy town in the highlands specialising in tea production. Being a main industry in Sri Lanka, initially introduced by the British, tea plantations cover the land in this central area. We got to see for ourselves, how freshly picked leaves are manufactured into the various kinds of tea available worldwide, at the Glen Loch factory. Nuwara Eliya itself was several degrees cooler than the coastal regions, and surrounded by a layer of mist. Colonial bungalows, hedgerows and lush tea bushes surround the hilly town, which is best explored by wandering along the paths that crisscross the plantations.
Today we left the scenic landscape of the countryside for Yala, a region on the coast with views of the Indian Ocean. It is most famous for its enormous national park, which features the richest variety of wildlife on the island. We’ll let the photos speak for themselves – but to summarise, we encountered pythons, a black bear, wild buffalo, crocodiles and a colourful array of birdlife.
Turtle Sanctuary and Bulawara Beach
In our last few days we continued on our wildlife theme, visiting a turtle sanctuary that has worked to protect local species for some thirty years. There we saw newly hatched baby turtles, protected in their first few days of life at the sanctuary, before being released into the wild. Injured adults in temporary rehabilitation were also cared for, though handicapped and vulnerable individuals could not be released back to the wild.
If this wonderful account has inspired you to visit Sri Lanka, then why not click the link below to see what tours we can offer.
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Sri Lanka & The Maldives Tailor Made Beach
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Sri Lanka & The Maldives Tailor Made Nature
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