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Beach bliss

Sri Lanka: The Pearl of The Indian Ocean

Stuart Armsby February 6, 2014

 I last travelled to Sri Lanka in 2012 for the seventh time but would choose to travel there every single year if I had enough annual leave!  

Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was known a few decades ago is an incredible country, unlike any other.
There are so many people who aren’t even aware of what this diverse country has to offer; the landscape for one. Your morning cuppa has mostly likely been picked from the plantations of Nuwara Eliya, there are game parks with an abundance of wildlife including elephants, and mile long stretches of pristine golden sandy beaches.

Although a lot of people suggest that November to March is the best time to travel, I’ve travelled in many different months and can honestly say that Sri Lanka is a great year round destination. Yes, you might get more rain in certain months but the heavy downpours are quickly followed by beautiful sunshine!
On my previous trips to this amazing country, although I haven’t yet conquered the whole Island, I managed to see a huge amount of it and truly believe that the inland areas of Sri Lanka are the “must sees” and what makes the country so special.

The perfect itinerary, which I would recommend to anybody, would be to spend a night in a Colombo hotel to relax after your long but bearable international flight and then set off the following day on a great six night adventure. If you are still feeling energetic whilst in Colombo, definitely head to some of the retail stores such as Odel, where you’ll find a lot of top designer clothing at a fraction of the price back home, (always handy for me when stocking up on Calvin Klein boxer shorts at £2 each!).
The best areas to stay in Sri Lanka for a taste of the culture and wildlife would be Sigiriya, Kandy, Pinnawela and Nuwara Eliya. I travelled on our seven night itinerary, The Classic Ceylon Tour and this daily private tour will really show you everything which Sri Lanka has to offer.

Some may think that Sigiriya is just a 200 metre high, big rock and to be honest that’s what I thought before I went. However, the feeling you get after walking up the many steps for a couple of hours is amazing. Yes, it was absolutely exhausting but once I got to the Lions Gate plateau three quarters of the way up, the incredible views were well worth the effort. Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach the top as the Army were there trying to tackle the large Hornet nests which had formed up against the side of the rock, but next time I go, I will definitely make it to the top!

We visited the elephant orphanage at Pinnewala and witnessed the excitement of about 30-40 of these beautiful and sacred animals run across the road and down the hill towards the river, where we spent an enjoyable afternoon watching them wash, play and have lots of fun in the water.
The area of Nuwara Eliya is something else. I’ve never been anywhere as beautiful as this, the scenery is breathtaking. I was surprised by the cold temperature that was like a U.K winter as you are right up in the Hill Country. There I, the classic tourist, stood up in the hills wearing nothing but shorts, flip flops and a t–shirt. Take a jumper! Seeing the tea pickers hard at work and watching the whole process of producing tea really does make you appreciate every cup that bit more. I was lucky enough to taste a fresh brew whilst at the tea factory and it tasted amazing. It is so much smoother than your usual cuppa sold at home and so good that milk and sugar would ruin it!

After the tour, I stayed at a number of beach hotels along the south west coast of Sri Lanka. Each town is totally different, and the funny thing is that everyone sells something different along the side of the road.  You can go to many other countries and see the same wooden statues, local art work or beaded necklace, however, in Sri Lanka you can go from one town selling plastic bins to the next selling wooden brooms!  On our journey from one town to the next, we’d play the guessing game for hours on end, “What’s coming up next?”. For those who just fancy a beach stay, getting to the coastal hotels is now much easier. The new highway which opened last year is brilliant and you’ll be at your beach hotel in no time, it’s made a big difference.

My favourite town to stay in is Kalutara, it has so much to offer. There are a number of excellent hotels, large markets, a mosque, a beautiful river and the main train station there means you can travel to anywhere on the Island.  One thing I love is going on a river cruise. I’ve been a couple of times and been lucky enough to see many different species of birds and even a few Monitor lizards on the river banks and in the river itself.  I was also shown by our Captain how to make a necklace using the roots and flower of a huge water lily.  It’s a really peaceful and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

Even from walking straight outside of my hotel, I was greeted by some local, cricket mad children asking me if I wanted to play cricket next to the railway line but unfortunately I was heading off to the local village so didn’t have any time. I think they would have shown me up anyway! Whilst in the town, I decided to buy some sweets to hand out to the local children and the smiles on their faces when I handed them out was priceless.

I would also recommend jumping on a Tuk Tuk. It is the cheapest way to get from A to B and a great experience.  The driving in Sri Lanka is crazy but everyone seems to read each other’s minds and by communicating through horns, it just seems to work.

There aren’t many places in the world where you can walk down a railway track, hang out the side of a train and play cricket using a palm leaf as the stumps! The Sri Lankan people are by far the most friendly people I have ever met in the world and regardless if you are staying at a three-star or five-star hotel, you are always guaranteed to get top end service with constant smiles and a warm greeting.  
I am hoping to travel to Sri Lanka again this year but my aim for this trip will be to get over to the east coast and explore what this area and its sandy white beaches have to offer.