Savvy travelers and the purveyors of luxury have been talking a lot about Sri Lanka lately. This tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean has seen an increase of between 10 and 40 thousand more tourists this year each month compared to 2014. September 2014 is recorded to have had 104,535 tourists visiting Sri Lanka, whilst September 2015 saw a whopping 143,374 visitors. So why are so many people visiting Sri Lanka? What does this island have to offer? Read on to find out.
Who Should Visit Sri Lanka?
This beautiful island is perfect for couples looking to take a romantic break. The country is a real melting pot of cultures, has over 2,000 years of history and is full of outstanding national beauty. There are nine national parks on the island, in addition to the extra long beaches along the coastline. Sri Lanka is very welcoming, and couples looking to relax and bask in their love have everything they need here. Couples can relax on beautiful coastline resorts, spending their days basking in the sun or exploring the national parks. For those couples who want to be a little more adventurous, they can partake in one of the many watersports, hike through the jungle or even take a trip in a hot air balloon.
Travelers have been drawn to Sri Lanka for many centuries. Marco Polo described the island as the finest of it’s size in the world. Traders were drawn in by the reports of precious stones, elephants and rare spices. Adventurists came to explore the habitat, hike and climb across this new island. Sri Lanka is perfect for explorers. The island has modest dimensions, so you can explore so much of it while you are there. The environment is so diverse and vibrant, with beautiful beaches, jungles and a coastline that is embraced by the Indian Ocean. Whilst in Sri Lanka you will see rare birds, elephants and leopards. In addition to the natural environment is the man-made one, the ruins of ancient cities and monuments.
Sri Lanka is even the perfect place to travel for families with children. Sri Lankans love children, so you will be greeted and treated well wherever you go, with the locals stopping to help you or play with your children. In the Western world we often see that children are seen as an annoyance, a crying baby or a child jumping around is irritating the people around them, but in Sri Lanka they are treated with love and care. Older children will definitely have a great time on the island. If they are not kept entertained by the beaches, with their beautiful sand and oceans to splash around in, then they will surely be happy to visit the Elephant Orphanage. Here, children can see elephants that are even smaller than themselves! Take the children to the national parks, and if you take them to Yala in particular then you are likely to spot flamingos, crocodiles and peacocks. This is not all- there are also activity sports, like kayaking, and there are many fun ways to go across the island, with train rides and tuktuks.
If you travel with small children, make sure that you take all the supplies you need with you. Powdered Milk can be found most places, but you will be hard pressed to find a disposable diaper. There are no decent enough pavements for pushchairs, so you are better off buying a sling and carrying your child strapped to your body.
Tea History of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is mainly known as a tea island. However, it did not become a tea island until the late 1860s- up until this point, the hills were covered in coffee plants. Disaster struck when a fungus wiped out almost every plant overnight. The planters carried on, but instead of replanting the coffee they decided it import tea bushes from China and India. Within ten years, the island formerly known as Ceylon became a world-leading exporter of Broken Orange Pekoe, English Breakfast and many other varieties.
Those who work in the tea fields today are not paid very well. The laborers earn $5 a day, and even in their rural economy with cheap food this is still much. The schools and creches are provided for by the owners of the tea plantations, but the tea laborers still need to be paid more.
The people of Sri Lanka are varied. The Sri Lankan history is celebrated in the historic scriptures and sites, and the ancient traditions are still celebrated through festivals, by the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamil people. The Tamil people are primarily Hindu, whilst the Sinhalese are predominantly Buddhists. Sri Lankan men present themselves very well. A man- no matter what his job is- always looks his best. You will often see a man with a job as lowly as a cleaner, yet he is dressed as if he is a professor.
What to Eat? There are many kinds of foods in Sri Lanka, and it really is a feast for the senses for any traveler. Here are some of the dishes that you should try to experience during a Sri Lankan visit:
This is the ultimate in Sri Lankan street food. Originally a way of using leftovers, this is now a staple stir fry. The dish consists of roti mixed with finely shredded vegetables or meat, soya sauce, ginger, garlic and spices. The dish is cooked on a flat iron skillet, and you can find it in the evenings on the street stalls.
The word ‘Lamprais’ comes from the Dutch word meaning ‘a packet of food’. This packet of food is made from boiled eggs, eggplant, frikkadels (beef balls), meats (or vegetables) and sambol. It is cooked with cloves, cinnamon, rice and cardamom before being wrapped in a banana leaf and baked in the oven on a very low temperature for many hours.
A classic “Lamprais” dish
Many of us have heard of Dhal. This is the typical Sri Lankan comfort food. The curry is made from red lentils cooked in coconut milk, before adding tomatoes, green chilies and onions, then sauteeing and mixing with spices.
Gotu Kola Mallung
Another colourful dish, this is a meal full of carbs and protein. Mallum is made of chopped greens and chillies, then seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice, ginger, shallots and fresh coconut. Gotu Kola leaves are then added and the end result is a tangy salad similar to taboulleh.
Gotu Kola Mallung
Eggplant (wambatu) Moju
This dish is high celebrated in Sri Lanka. It has many regional variations. Eggplant slices are deep fried until brown then combined with chilli powder, ground mustard seeds, salt, sugar, cloves and vinegar. This is then added to fried shallots, crushed garlic and shredded ginger. It is served with plain rice.
Where to Eat? Now that you know what to eat, where should you eat?
Ministry of a Crab is a celebration of Sri Lanka’s seafood. The menu boasts dishes such as Baked Crab and Chilli Crab, as well has having a wide variety of foods for vegetarians. Situated inside the Old Dutch Hospital, Ministry of Crab proudly lives in what is thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Colombo Fort. It was built by the Dutch in 1677, and has had various uses since- a hospital, police station, apothecary and more. After being neglected due to the civil war, finally it was rejuvenated, and now you can dine on delicious Sri Lankan crab in a beautiful and historic Sri Lankan setting.
The Gallery Café opened in 1998. The café exists in the former offices of world famous Sri Lankan architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa.
As such, this is not just a café. Rather, this is not a café at all. The Gallery Café is a restaurant and an art gallery, one that respects Bawa’s input and the history of the building. The art gallery has regularly changing exhibitions by emerging local artists, and their works are often for sale. The restaurant is open from 10am to midnight daily, and the menu sees people coming back time and time again for the cocktails, desserts and consistently good food.
Where to Stay
Ceylon Tea Trails
This gorgeous lakeside location is perfect for the ultimate cultural visit to Sri Lanka. Ceylon Tea Trails is made up of four colonial tea planters bungalows, soaked in history. There are 21 rooms here, including 13 suites, and there is an in-house Butler to look after your every need.
At each house you will find a Butler, DVDs, free wifi and a library of books. You will also find a clay tennis court, croquet lawns, guest bikes and picnic baskets to order. In each room you have robes, flip flops, bath indulgents and wood fires. Each house has it’s own outdoor pool, filled with mountain spring fed water.
Double rooms cost from $472 USD, and this also includes food. In the price you get morning tea, full cooked breakfast, lunch, high-tea, pre-dinner cocktails, canapes, four-course dinners and all beverages with the exception of spirits.
46/38 Nawam Mawatha, Colombo, 2
PIC courtesy: TeaTrails
This luxury hotel is situated along the coastline and offers stunning views of the ocean stretched out ahead. Amanwella consists of 27 suites. At this beautiful hotel you will find a spa, library, gardens, and of course- the beach. In each room there is an ipod dock, natural toiletries, a mini bar and a plunge pool. The rooms are stylish and sophisticated, with the living and bathing areas separated with floor to ceiling sliding doors, and the suite spilling out onto balconies and courtyards with incredible views.
Below the restaurant and the bar is the 47-metre long infinity pool, looking about along the bay. Underneath this you can rest on sunloungers topped with cushions. When it is time to eat, head back upstairs to the restaurant which sits eight metres above sea level. The restaurant serves up tantasling Asian and Mediterranean dishes. Finish up your evening by sauntering over to the bar and accompanying your drink with a cigar from their full cigar menu.
Rooms here cost $650 USD, breakfast is an extra $35 per person.
Bodhi Mawatha, Wella Mawatha, Godellawela, Tangalle
This retreat really takes our breath away. It began as a 25-acre agricultural project, and is now a beautifully sleek timber-and-glass den. This architectural beauty has only six rooms, four of which being suites. The hotel has 100-acres, and a swimming pool. Each rooms comes with a desk, minibar and bath products. The rooms are spread across three buildings- one in the paddocks, two over water in the wetlands.
The pool is set away from the buildings, yet it is only a short walker. It sits next to a creek, and is bordered by a canopy of palm trees on one side and a sea of rice paddies on the other. This is a natural spring that wells up from the underground.
Rooms here are from $183 USD and usually include breakfast. You can also hire bicycles, paddle boats and canoes at no extra cost.
Kalundewa Road, Dambulu Oya, Dambulla, Sri Lanka