What should we include in the perfect Sri Lanka travel package? Is the question you have, this article might be the answer for you.
From palm-fringed sandy beaches and rolling misty hills of tea to wildlife reserves teaming up with leopards and elephants, travelling in this graceful south Indian nation proved to be very easy, like gliding through backwaters of the island.
Sun, Sea and Sand: Part of any best Sri Lanka travel package
All good stories of Sri Lankan tourism industry begin with Hikkaduwa. In the early days of the tourism industry, right after the revolutionary introduction of the open economy to the island, which opened the gates of tropical paradise to the outside world, Hikkaduwa was the main spot where most tourist at anchor. The time went by; Hikkaduwa unrolled its popularity far and wide as a destination to relax, soon Hikkaduwa was a popular beach holiday destination and a part of the Sri Lanka travel package. Today Hikkaduwa is a part of most Sri Lanka travel packages, hundreds of guest-houses, small hotels, beachfront restaurants, bars, cafes are lined up on the slender beachfront strip of land, serves up the morning haul while colourful beach-umbrella wallahs provide shade and lounge chairs.
Hikkaduwa is one of the loveliest beaches of Sri Lanka and sits between Galle and Bentota; here hundreds of tourist are lying in the shades of beach umbrellas, while many others jump into the glass bottom boats to explore the fascinating coral reefs of Hikkaduwa marine sanctuary. Kids sit in their underwear while jumping up and down with every wave, and girls dressed in traditional dress holding hands in the water, giggling and shrieking as the water approach them. Few meters from the shore, a beach restaurant, which is wide open to the sea, serves fresh seafood salad and authentic rice and curry to its visitors.
Jude Almeida, one of the boat owners, who offer boat rides to the nearby Hikkaduwa coral reef, points to dozens of local beachgoers in inch-deep water nearby: “Most Sri Lankans are not studying swimming in the school, so everyone stays near the shore, “he says. The sea is very calm and the water is very clear from November to May. “We have a lot of customers during this period because the visibility is very good and it is easy to spot sea turtles, coral and other creature living in the water,” says Jude. “However, during the rest of the year, the sea is rough, the number of boat trips we make is considerably lower and on certain days we are not doing any trips.”
Hikkaduwa is a working beach and fishing town with one of the biggest fishing harbours on the island. Fishing is one of the ancient industries here. The fishing harbour, which is located few hundred meters from the beach resorts, is illuminated from hundred of boats that arrive from the horizon at dawn, while men hike up their sarong (the traditional dress) and patiently wait for the fresh catch, to start their work. Fishing is a large scale commercial industry here and fresh fish sent to all the corners of the island, many hotels and seafood beach restaurants in Hikkaduwa are heavily dependent on Hikkaduwa fishing community in order to supply fresh seafood to their customers.
Where to eat
It will not be so easy and affordable anywhere on the island like in Hikkaduwa to indulge you in seafood, in fact, for locals, it is seafood come into once mind upon hearing the word Hikkaduwa. The seafood restaurants serve exquisite fish dishes, vegetarian meals, authentic rice and curry, salads, soup and any type of international meal. Most of the restaurants overlook the beach.
Where to stay
A large number of guesthouses and several star class hotels waits with sea view rooms to accommodate beach lovers. Most hotels provide seafront rooms and you step into the beach from the room.
Madu River estuary: Best for backwaters
On clear and sunny days, hundreds of travelers passing the mangrove tunnel, which is about a 50 meters long strange formation of mangrove in shape of a tunnel that barely, can accommodate a small motorboat; in the tunnel it is dark and silent yet little bit creepy, even it is for a few minutes you can easily forget that you are surrounded by 21 million people.
A crowd of mangrove roots shoot up from the muddy ground whiles thousands of mangroves and various veins sit everywhere where there is a little room, making the tunnel. The speed of the boat turns down as it enters the tunnel and travellers start to take photos of the strange mangrove formation. After about 10 minutes we enter the mainstream again and float deep into the estuary, every now and then our boat swings for a brief period as the other boats pass by. The wind blows through the mangroves and the palms on shore; making the leaves tap each other, while the sound of pirith chanting from the temple in the nearby island spreads over the wetland.
Madu River estuary is a Ramsar wetland located just 50 km south of Colombo, which is an interconnected backwater river, lagoons and canals with several dozens of islands. Some of the islands are inhabited by the human while some others have no human presence. Islands are accessible only through the waterways while only the main island, which inhabited by around 200 families have access to the mainland through a narrow bridge.
Sri Lanka is transforming into a 21st century high-tech Asian country, and the island has come a long way on this path, but the lifestyle of many people living in these islands is still traditional, Madu river is one of the most important tools of their life, women wash laundry by the water’s edge and later hang them on the washing line to absorb the sunlight. The fishermen collect shrimps trapped in the bamboo net and some others punt small shallow boats weighed down with an anchor or cargo dive for sand. And “toddy tappers” balance themselves on the ropes that run between the coconut crowns to collect the milky sap that bleeds from the coconut pod, to make Sri Lanka’s favourite alcoholic drink: Arrack.
Somapala is a toddy tapper for last 20 years, toddy tapping is the traditional job allocated to his cast and they are still in toddy tapping for many generations. “My ancestors migrated from southern India, in early 18s, and settled here,” says Somapala. “Toddy is a healthy natural drink. I have some everyday-there is high demand for toddy sap, people like it.” Says Somapala. A machete, a clay pot, a deer bone-shaped club and plenty of skills are the main requirement to perform the job.
Somapala starts with tapping before the twilight and completes the entire circuit at around 8 AM, he collects around 25 litres of coconut sap every day and collection is transported to the nearby distillery. “This is a seasonal job because toddy tapping is not done during the rainy season,” says Somapala.
Where to eat and sleep
Madu River estuary is located near Bentota beach, which is the most popular beach for sun, sea and sand on the island, a large number beach lovers take refuge here, Bentota is merely 11 km from the Madu River estuary. Just south of estuary is Ambalangoda another clean beach yet very unpopular among the travellers. Ambalangoda is a place to find cheap accommodation due to less demand.
Galle: Best for colonial history
Galle fort was occupied by Dutch colonial rulers from 1505 to 1656 later it was in the hands of Dutch East India Company; from 1796 to 1948 it was under the British administration. The Galle Fort, the iconic tourist attraction in southern Sri Lanka served all colonial rulers, who ruled the island in the past, it means Galle fort has been the administration centre in southern Sri Lanka for many centuries. Galle fort is one of the best-preserved Dutch Forts in Asia, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The fort is tucked away from hustle and bustle of the city and sits on the beach like a giant mushroom rising from the shore.
Once home for colonial rulers of three foreign nations, the Galle fort now serves travellers coming from all around the world, and flourish as a popular holiday destination on the island. “There are only a few local families living in the fort now, only a dozen of residence, the Fort has been transformed into a multi-cultural city,” explains Mohamad, a descendent of Moorish family lives in the Fort. “Galle Fort is a tourist hub now; all building of the Fort is renovated and transformed into hotels, guest houses, cafes, galleries, pubs, restaurants, shops and recreation centres,” Says Mohamad.
However, Galle’s coast has had a strong colonial presence in the past. Moreover, the Galle natural harbour was a popular port of call among the thousands of ships plying between East and West on the silk route and Galle had been a popular trade emporium in the orient. “Galle harbour,” Explains Silva,” was in the hands of Sri Lankan kings, until the arrival of Portuguese.” The kings of Sri Lanka collected a lot of taxes from traders who engaged in business in Galle and ships had to pay taxes too. The Galle harbour had welcome traders for millennia since the origin of cities like Mesopotamia and people went crazy for spices like Cinnamon, which were exotic, aphrodisiacal for many nations around the world, rulers from Egyptian used them for mummification.
Until the Portuguese snatch the monopoly on the spice trade in Sri Lanka, the Galle harbour teemed with traders from all around the world-Romans, Chinese, Arabs, Moors and Indian, among others. The traders exchanged goods such as Spices, Gold, Silk, and porcelain. During the colonial era, a huge warehouse was built in the Fort to store the valuable spices before they are shipped to the home country, the warehouse is still in very good shape and houses maritime museum today.
Galle has lost its importance as an international trading post with the opening of Colombo harbour towards the latter part of the British Colonial period. Today traders are not concentrating in Galle to exchange goods, but the air remains thick with rich historical past and smell of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and pepper for sale in the central market of Galle. The Dutch style mansions, with large verandah, steep roof, big windows, big doors, terracotta roof tiles and cobbled streets, are still intact in the fort. As the sunsets over the horizon, tourist flock into bars, restaurants and pubs that give a 360-degree view on the ocean and millions of stars, while sipping an arrack cocktail and eating fresh seafood.
Where to eat and stay
There is plenty of accommodation facilities in the Fort and travellers can book cheap accommodation facilities from dormitories to luxury boutique hotels. One interesting fact about Galle is that Galle can accommodate any type of budget. Hundreds of restaurants, pubs and bars serve international food and drinks to travellers, who take refuge within the walls of Galle Fort.
Nuwara Eliya: Best for tea
In Nuwara Eliya, giant silver Oak trees, terrace paddy fields, hastily flowing perennial waterways give way to cascading waterfalls, mountain forests and moody weather. Well maintained tea plantations with the mountains in the backdrop create photogenic scenes for the travellers, who set foot into the region. Pendulous, white coloured Angels’ trumpets line up the streets while the crown of the African tulip trees looks like covered with a bright red blanket, and huge trees draped with vines and fog host giant, colourful squirrels. The hills and tea plantations that overlap each other spread far and wide are hidden with a light green carpet formed by well-maintained Tea bushes.
Nearly about half of Sri Lanka’s tea production is coming from Nuwara Eliya and the surrounding area, often produced black tea and it has a unique subtle flavour, pale colour and aroma. The British made Nuwara Eliya a health resort and converted the entire region a tea grown area due to the suitable conditions for tea cultivation such as elevation, terrain and weather. With the support of South Indian workers, the British broke through the thick jungle and laid a railway track connecting Colombo and Nuwara Eliya.
“We drink a lot of tea and hardly any coffee,” says Sivajilingam. “It is chilly here” His family migrated to Sri Lanka during the British Colonial era, and settled in the tea plantation, four generations later there is hardly any change in their lives, they are still in the same house and work in the same tea plantation, Sivajilingam has a single room house in a long row of apartment.
Where to eat and sleep
Hotels and guest houses are concentrated to Nuwara Eliya and the eateries too because most travellers opt to stay in Nuwara Eliya.
Wilpattu National Park: Best for wildlife
Deer makes piercing sound between a shriek and a burp when it senses a leopard, which is a warning to all the animals in the area. However, leopards have plenty of game here because leopard is the biggest and most fearful carnivore in Sri Lanka. The leopard of Sri Lanka is a sub-species (Panthera Pardus kotiya) of common leopard and which is evolved into a very large subspecies over last millennia and weighing up to 100kg.
Sri Lankan leopard is an endangered animal, the number of leopards in the jungle is reduced over the last few centuries due to the hunting and habitat loss. During the latter part of British colonial era, hunting license issued to affluent British planters was cancelled and wildlife reserves were declared in order to save the rapidly decreasing wildlife. Today wild animals are concentrated to wildlife reserves, which are under the purview of the wildlife conservation department. The number of leopards as well as other animals on the rise since the hunting ceased.
Spotting a leopard is an unforgettable experience for most foreigners who book a Sri Lanka travel package. Many travellers visit Sri Lanka’s wildlife reserves without spotting any leopards, however, Yala national park and Wilpattu national park have a large concentration of leopards and chances of spotting leopard are very high in these parks, in fact, Yala is rank as the best wildlife reserve in the world to spot Leopards due to a large number of leopards within the lot number one of the park.
In a full day, Wilpattu national park game drive travellers may not end the tour without spotting a leopard with many other animals such as elephant, crocodile, wild buffalo and bear. Wilpattu national park spills over North-Western and North-Central provinces of Sri Lanka, which is the largest national park on the island and has been relatively useful in the effort of preserving endangered creatures.
Raja, an organizer of game drive and a guide, grew up in a local community in Wilpattu national park. “We were not able to do the game drive from 1983 to 2009 due to the North-East conflict, the battle between government forces and rebels, the park was closed due to the security reasons,” he says “my friends and I used to engage in many other jobs.” “We do like this job because we can earn a good salary.” “Leopards is my favourite animal, I like their elegant walk, I have seen about 2 dozens of them,” he says. ”The number of leopards in the park is constantly increasing, but the threat is still there, hunters, we are keeping eye on the park and report to the park rangers, if there is a presence of hunters.”
Where to eat and stay
Wilpattu national park sits on the Puttalam-Anuradhapura main road and little detour from the main road is required to reach the main entrance at Hunuwilgama entrance. It might be difficult to find accommodations near the park except for small guest houses; however, Anuradhapura is only about a 1-hour drive from the park and therefore most tourists take refuge in a hotel in Anuradhapura and takes a day excursion to visit the park.