Spread your wings to Sri Lanka and find the promise of paradise

Kandy dancers

Where else on earth will you find an exotic banquet of gems, palm-fringed beaches, heritage architecture, UNESCO world heritage sites, tea plantations, staggering mountain ranges, safaris, Ayurveda, tuks-tuks and contagious smiles? Imagine all this beauty and diversity on an island about the same size as Tasmania, and you have a snapshot of Sri Lanka.

Once named Serendip, then Ceylon, and blessed with a rich culture enhanced by the multi-layered influences of its Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities, an open-top bus tour in the capital with Colombo City Tour is an immersive way to get your bearings. While navigating through Colombo’s bustling traffic, you’ll gain a glimpse into daily life. 

The old town sits in juxtaposition to a backdrop of shiny skyscrapers mixed with markets and temples, including Pettah Bazaar and the exquisite Red Mosque, distinct in its red and white candy stripe. It’s hard to miss the 350m Lotus Tower honouring the country’s resilience. A flight to the top rewards with panoramic views. 

Savour this remarkable city at sunset at the Mt Lavinia Hotel as the sun slips into the Indian Ocean over cocktails, followed by a candlelit seafood banquet on the beach with the waves reaching for your sandy toes.

As you venture inland, the landscape rises and blossoms into fertile plains of exotic fruits, rubber trees, spice gardens and rice paddies. One of the most scenic train rides in the world leaves from Colombo to Kandy, progressing onto the charming hill town Ella, where you’ll pass over the Nine Arches Bridge. Built in 1921 entirely from rock, cement and brick and spanning 91 metres, it’s a prime example of colonial railway construction. To reach the bridge or watch the train passing over this iconic attraction, many take a sweaty trek through the jungle from the road to Little Adam’s Peak, and the best vantage point is from the surrounding hills. Mercifully, tut-tuks are available for part of the steep journey, best enjoyed during the dry season at sunrise to avoid the heat and crowds. 

The temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) is a sacred place of Buddhism, where you can easily spend a couple of serene hours admiring the intricate details. Situated in the UNESCO-listed town of Kandy, about 120 kilometres northeast of Colombo, and famed for its dancers, don’t miss a cultural show at the Kandyan Cultural Centre. Gently lapping at the city’s edge, Kandy Lake is an idyllic spot for a stroll, and while you’re stretching your legs, take to the lively city streets awash with flavour and vibrancy.

Rolling highlands garlanded with verdant tea plantations, particularly in Nuwara Eliya, also known as Little Britain, were favoured by British colonials for the cooler hilltop temperatures, particularly before the introduction of air-conditioning to this balmy island. Wander around the vibrant town, sample some street food and tour a tea plantation, such as Damro Tea, where you’ll taste the difference between the tea varieties and discover what life is like living on a tea plantation.

Thuduwa Camp

As you continue east, the landscape levels into arid plains where elephants, monkeys, water buffalo, peacocks, birdlife and deer inhabit over 100 national parks and nature reserves. As one of the top biodiverse hotspots in the world, witnessing wild animals in their natural habitat is spellbinding. I highly recommend joining Niluka Safari for their ethical practices and intimate knowledge of the 30,821ha Udawalawe National Park, explored by a well-maintained open-sided jeep designed for wildlife watching. 

Minneriya National Park has one of the largest herds of elephants in world, as does Yala National Park, where you may spot elusive leopards. 

The idyllic beaches in the south will undoubtedly beckon; Weligama, Unawatuna and Mirissa never fail to fulfil tropical fantasies. While in the region, explore the UNESCO-listed Galle Fort, brimming with cafés, boutiques, gem shops, boutique hotels, Dutch architecture and a welcoming community within the fortified walls. 

As you make your way north along the west coast, treat yourself to an ocean-facing room at the Sheraton Kosgoda Turtle Beach Resort and an Ayurveda treatment before heading to the airport in Negombo for the inevitable return to reality. 

Given Sri Lanka’s rapid development, now is the perfect time to explore this enchanting destination. As you spread your wings to Sri Lanka, there’s a myth that once your feet touch the 1000km coastline, gravitational anomalies create an intense pull to the tear-drop isle. After repeated visits, I can attest to this phenomenon; almost everything about Sri Lanka instils the promise of paradise.

Carmen Jenner was a pampered guest of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotional Bureau and Sri Lankan Airlines.
For more information, go to www.srilanka.travel