March 24, 2019

Sri Lanka is the top destination for 2019

World traveller John Savage visited the island to make sure it lives up to the reputation

According to The Lonely Planet, the island once known as Ceylon is the number one destination for 2019 not only because of its many attractions but also because it caters for all comers from the money-strapped ‘backpacker’ to the really affluent.

This teardrop shaped Island could be called Tuk Tuk land as it seems most of the males of working age has an Indian made Tata Tuk Tuk. It is said if they cannot get a job they beg, borrow or steal to buy a Tuk Tuk. Passengers beware because whilst all Tuk Tuks have meters many of the drivers say ‘meter broken’. Ask the approximate cost at your hotel and negotiate this payment prior to the journey.

To capture the character of the island and its friendly people and cover all the attractions in a leisurely fashion allow about two weeks. Fly in and out of Colombo as most of the highlights are in the southern half of the island. The northern area is very different (flat, dry and hot) and does not attract many tourists. Highlights of the south include:

A stay at Colombo’s historic Galle Face Hotel, originally opened in 1864. Colombo is the largest city and the commercial capital stretching 14km along the western shore of the country. Visit the National Museum, Old Parliament, Independence Square and Buddhist and Hindu temples by day and in the evening get a guide to take you on a tour around the city through Galle Face Green and the inner roads of Slave Island.

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Make sure you try the locally brewed Arrack, a strong liquor made from the sap of the coconut flower. Also, include tea tasting as the country is the fourth biggest tea producer in the world previously called Ceylon a name synonymous with tea. Visit a couple of “dodgy bars” where the locals will chat and make you feel at home. A visit to the Old Dutch Hospital district where you will find the famous Ministry of Crab. It is expensive but an experience to savour.

Take a five-hour drive from Colombo to Sigiriya the “Cultural Triangle” and stay at the peaceful Amaara Forest Hotel. Energetic visitors can climb the 1200+ steps of the Rock Fortress or Lion Rock a UNESCO World Heritage site. This area known as Polonnaruwa lends itself to movie making including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Bridge over River Kwai, Friendly People and some Tarzan movies. Documentaries, Monkey Kingdom and Temple Groups were also filmed here.

Kandy Lake
Kandy (Roderick Eime)

Head to Kandy the Hill Capital and the last stronghold of the Sinhalese Kings. This is a bustling destination with many small shops with antiques jewellery and gemstones. A visit to the Buddhist “Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic” housing the relic of the tooth of Buddha. Kandy is another World Heritage site. Try a meal at the 150 years old and longest running bar in Kandy the Royal Bar & Hotel. Try a third class (reserved seat) train trip from Kandy to Nanu Oya an enchanting journey through the hill country with its magnificent views, tea plantations and fresh vegetables of all kind. Following the train trip drive the 45 minutes to Kandapola and stay at the fascinating Heritage Tea Factory which looks all of that on the outside but is luxuriously appointed inside. The property is on a plateau and the region lends itself to a natural food bowl with a variety of vegetables which are all auctioned through the Colombo markets.

On to Gai Oya and the least visited of Sri Lanka national parks. Nearly 26,000 hectares is home to 32 types of mammals including common langur, endemic toque macaque, leopard, sloth bear, elephant, wild boar, water buffalo and three species of deer. More than 150 of the country’s 430 species of birds can be seen in this region. It is the only place in the country where safaris are conducted by boat. The Gal Oya Lodge Manager, Brent Ryan Barber and the staff have a wonderful focus on conservation and the environment.

Take an interesting 4.5 hour drive to Tangalle on the south coast, and the luxurious Anantara Peace Haven. Beautiful beaches and surf rolling in from thousands of miles across the Indian Ocean. The 152 room resort features villas with plunge pools and the wildlife includes, monkeys, turkeys, chooks, mongoose all types of lizards and many species of birdlife. This resort is an absolute indulgence.

Following a two hour drive we enter the popular port city of Galle Fort in southern Sri Lanka. An impressive rampart surrounding a small peninsula jutting into the Indian Ocean. The Forts cobbled streets have seen 400 years of history from Arab and Chinese traders to the adventurous Portuguese and the industrious Dutch. Stay at Tara View Villas inside the famous fort. Dine at the Villa or the Fort Printers Hotel.

Our guide for this trip was incredible, his knowledge and history of the areas we visited and his pleasure in delivering information was outstanding. Chaminda Ranasinghe, call me Chummy. Available for private bookings.

Book Sri Lanka Unbound: 1300889513

Sri Lanka certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the current most popular destinations to visit.

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John Savage is a veteran journalist,
broadcaster and PR representative
with vast experience in the tourism
and hospitality industries.

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