Tanya Joslin discovers the beauty of Sri Lanka … and why it is a perfect destination for couples.
After more than a quarter century of civil war, peace has returned to ‘the island of serendipity’. And, along with this newfound peace comes tourists–lots of them–much to the delight of the Sri Lankan people who are natural-born hosts. There is so much to do and see in this tiny Indian Ocean country but beware: the driving is often painfully slow. So, unless your plan is to simply unwind on one of the island’s gorgeous beaches, the best way to experience Sri Lanka is to map out a route based around the sites you want to see. All visitors arrive just outside of Colombo so take advantage of your entry point and explore Sri Lanka’s most cosmopolitan town upon arriving.
Start your odyssey at either The Wallawa, just 20 minutes from the airport, or step back in time and discover a tale of mystique and romance at Mount Lavinia Hotel, just outside Colombo. Sir Thomas Maitland was the former Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) between 1805-1811. During this time he fell in love with a half-Sinhalese and half-Portuguese dancing girl, Lovina.
In those days a courtship such as this was out of the question so when Sir Thomas had his palace built he ordered the construction of a secret tunnel to Lovina’s house. Today the palace is one of the country’s best known hotels, Mount Lavinia Hotel.
Given that this tiny country packs a huge punch when it comes to sightseeing, one night is enough for Colombo. Culture vultures will have much to discover so be sure to research a shortlist. Take, for example Anuradhapura, the ancient capital from the 4th century BC until the beginning of the 11th century AD. Or Sigiriya (Lion’s rock), an ancient rock fortress and palace ruin and an important part of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist history. Then there is Kandy, an administrative and religious city and home to the famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic where it is said that the tooth of Buddha himself resides. Sri Lanka also enjoys an enviable reputation for animal conservation and two places where you can enjoy a truly unique experience are the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, halfway between Colombo and Kandy, and Yala National Park, Sri Lanka's premier eco tourism destination (you might even spot a leopard if you are willing to get up early!).
For many, the attraction of Sri Lanka lies in the beaches–most are pristine and blissfully beautiful, particularly in the south where you will find famous beaches such as Unawatuna, or the very laid back and quiet Marissa. Base yourselves in the World Heritage listed Galle Fort where you’ll discover the old world charm of colonial-style houses and boutique hotels with the south’s famous beaches as little as a ten-minute tuk-tuk ride away. With the war over, Sri Lanka really is the land of smiles again. Australians have easy access–Air Asia via Kuala Lumpur is one option, or Singapore Airlines via Singapore.
Why you’ll love it: While tourism is important to Sri Lanka and a big part of the country’s economy, in most places tourists do not dominate to the extent where you feel things are being ruined. It still feels very ‘authentic’. Some feel that this could change as more and more tourists flock to Sri Lanka–hotels are being upgraded and new ones developed, a new freeway will open soon which will make travelling around the island easier and quicker. Things are slowly but surely on the move. Right now, though, you can easily find a quiet beach and get in touch with the real Sri Lanka. Another thing you’ll love is the food–Sri Lankan cuisine is probably one of the most underrated in the world. The curries are amazing (some say better than Indian curries!).
Best suits the couple who: Are looking for a laid-back holiday. If you’re more of a Seminyak kind of couple and you need a huge choice of world-class restaurants, bars, nightclubs then Sri Lanka isn’t for you. Yet, who knows how tourism will change it over the coming years. When it comes to nightlife (outside of Colombo) right now what you’ll find are genteel bars with a colonial atmosphere (try Amangalla and The Galle Fort Hotel) and laid-back beach bars, although Unawatuna’s relaxed bars can become party animal magnets when visiting and local DJs play to international crowds. For a dose of sophistication when staying in Galle Fort, take a tuk-tuk through emerald-green paddy fields to working tea plantation and chic resort Kahanda Kanda. Sip cocktails on oversized day beds and enjoy a delicious lunch and swim as you take in the serene surrounds.
For more information on planning a holiday in Sri Lanka, contact Wildlife Safari.