With several quick and direct flights from Kuwait to the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo per day, an exotic island holiday is never too far out of reach. This teardrop shaped island, often referred to as India-lite in a nod to some of its cultural influence and heritage without being as crowded as its counterpart to the north, has everything you could want in an island holiday. From great seafood to deceptively simple street food, from the bustling city of Colombo to the long stretches of open beaches South of it, there is a wide array of activities and enough cultural heritage to keep you busy for any length of stay.
When attempting to plan a trip, one must first temper their expectations in terms of travel throughout the country. When viewing it on a map it can be quite easy to over-plan due to assumptions about drive times between locals. So, while in your head you may plan a day where you zip from here to there, north to south, and back again, unfortunately, the reality will likely play out a bit differently. Most of the roads between towns are still quite small, and given the topography of both mountainous regions in the center and seaside roads that taper back and forth as they hug the coast, each trip along the road is likely to take longer than you might otherwise expect. One important exception is the number 1 highway which now runs from Colombo down to Galle, on the southern coast, thus taking an otherwise 4-5 hour trip down to 1 hour, right through the middle of tea plantations and wonderful country views. If this is any indicator on how tourism is expected to grow in the coming years, you would be wise to head there sooner than later.
Do yourself a favor and spring for a driver, as it will make your life much easier. Not only will you get the added benefit of a tour guide that knows all the ins and outs of each local area, they will also make the travel time more relaxing for you. For a considerably cheap price, you can hire a driver that will be at your call for the length of your stay, thus assuring that you see everything you like. This is an especially valuable asset if you are planning to see more than just one part of the country.
When deciding where to go, it is best to consider what type of trip you are trying to have. For a beach retreat, you would really want to go anywhere in the South (for surfers even venturing back up the south-east a bit). Most people will flock at some point to the old Dutch-influenced walled village of Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, while in the vicinity. Then, if relaxing on a beach with waiters serving you your every heart’s desire is your thing, spring on over to Unawatuna, a short ten to twenty minutes down the road. The guidebook that I read before traveling to these parts basically described the south as a migration that is happening eastward as the secret gets out on each new town. Ergo, whereas Unawatuna was the big secret and less crowded spot to Galle’s city-like feel ten years back, Mirissa beach is now the new go-to spot for those who are sick of the touristy feel that Unawatuna has become. Both are still nice mind you, but whereas vendors will pester you on the beach at Unwatuna and chairs and tables literally sprawl out onto the sand itself, Mirissa beach feels perfectly secluded by contrast. There are also three or four open-air, all-wood constructed restaurants from which you can sit seaside watching the old men fish from their stilted stick-perch in the shallow tide, with a view of the local surfers in the background. Again, it depends what type of trip you are looking to have, but just exploring the southern coast alone would be more than enough to satiate even the free-est of spirits.
If you would rather have a stay within a mountainous region and see more of the cultural heritage, then Kandy, located in the near-center of the island, may be more to your liking. Long thought of as the cultural capital to Colombo’s actual capital status, the pace is slower, the people are a tad friendlier, the city is slightly more untouched and beautiful. That you can also visit some of the famed Elephant orphanages that this country is known for along the road between Kandy and Colombo, makes this trip all the more worth it. For a truly absurd look at an expat with a crazy notion of what a bed and breakfast should be, look into Helga’s Folly, a place where many stars have stayed and which even inspired a song or two; it is a fascinating, if odd, to look at one person’s version of paradise.
Additionally notable throughout all of the mountain areas are the tea plantations that dot the landscape. Many of these working farms actually have lodging where you can stay and thus wake up not only to the freshest cup of Ceylon tea you are likely to ever have, but also look out onto the beautiful vistas as the fog rolls over the valley in the early morning hue; truly, another not to be missed moment. All in all, the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, a vast area that spans from Anuradhapura in the North, over to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in the East and including Kandy itself, includes some of the island’s—if not the world’s—best heritage sites.
With a roughly 25+ year civil war struggle in the country having only recently ended back in 2009, this is no doubt part of the reason this beautiful island has remained such a well-kept secret. However, with 5 years of peace and stability under their belt and having recently been ranked one of the premier tourist destinations in the world by several leading tourist organizations (including TUI, one of the largest world travel groups), there is little doubt that Sri Lanka is on the rise.
Visit Sri Lanka before everybody else finds out just how wonderful it is.