Nirav Shah takes you to little-known but loads-of-fun nooks in Sri Lanka.
For a small teardrop of an island, Sri Lanka sure packs in a lot. More than 3000 years of history, over 1000 kilometres of coastline, lush rainforests that house close to 100 kinds of mammals, and over 435 kinds of birds. And it’s just a short flight from home, with a visa stamp that takes just 10 quick minutes to enter your passport.
When I flew down to Sri Lanka, I knew exactly what I wanted from my mini-break. I wanted to be surprised. Of course, I knew it wasn’t going to be hard—even a casual online exploration yields vital clues to Lanka’s many seductions. From relaxing and enjoying sunsets at the beaches, to trying snorkeling and scuba diving for the first time ever, I did it all – along the south-western coast of Srilanka.
Galle: A historical port city, Galle is an ideal base for anyone wishing to explore the southern part of Sri Lanka. Famous for its fort section which is dotted by small cafes and bazaars, a walk down this beautiful section of the town is an extremely relaxing experience. There are numerous guest houses/homestays as well, where you can find nice rooms overlooking the sea. Frequented by several western tourists, the city has developed its own unique identity and is famous for its lighthouse and seafood.
Hikkaduwa: A 30-minute drive from Galle, Hikkaduwa is famous for its beaches. One can spend a relaxed evening there, with shacks playing music and serving a variety of cuisines. Be sure to snorkel at this beach., I was amazed by the beauty of the marine life so close to the shore. I saw shoals of colorful fish swimming around my feet and if you are lucky, you might even spot a turtle or two (The rates for snorkeling are around INR 1500 per person for a 1-hour swim).
Unwatuna: This beachside town is an excellent locale for any adventure activity you might want to indulge in, or simply relax by the beach. A novice swimmer who has never dived before, I was really enthusiastic yet nervous about scuba diving. The Unawatuna Diving Center is an excellent training center with state-of-the-art equipment and trainers. Diving up to 8-10 meters was truly a marvelous experience, and opened my eyes to a whole new world. Do try it if you are up for it!! Kosgoda: On the highway between Colombo and Galle, Kosgoda is famous for its turtle hatcheries and conservation centers, akin to some in Orissa in India. The conservationists here buy turtle eggs lying unprotected on the beach from fishermen and help them hatch in a protected environment. Once the turtle babies are mature enough to survive, they are released at sunset back into the sea. Do try and be at this place around sunset to capture this marvelous experience. The types of turtle you may see here are the Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle and the Leatherback Turtle.
Whale Watching at Mirissa: This will be the highlight of the Sri Lankan trip for any wildlife enthusiast or just someone who enjoys a nice sail in the ocean. An hour’s drive from Galle, Mirissa is at the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Every morning at ~7AM, tourist boats leave this port and head into the Indian Ocean to favor their chances at spotting dolphins and the elusive blue whale. I was lucky enough to spot a pod (group) of spinner dolphins twice, and also a blue whale along with her baby. Scouring the ocean for minutes on end, until you locate a whale when its spouts water from its blowhole can definitely be a fascinating experience! (A boat ride from 7AM to noon costs ~INR 3000 if you book a seat directly at the docks; however this price might go up if you go via an agent. Make sure to carry sea sickness pills and sun tan as the boat ride can be rocky)
Here are the few places you must truly visit if you do decide to go to our southern neighbor (the Sri Lanka tourism website is informative)
1) Yala National Park: In the south-eastern section of Sri Lanka, this park is touted to have the highest density of leopard in the world. A must visit for any wildlife enthusiast
2) Sinharaja Rain Forest: A 2 hour drive from Galle, you can definitely think of spending a night at the resorts in this rain forest. Get lost in the tranquility of the place. and iIt is a bird watcher’s paradise too!
3) Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: Close to Colombo, this place is noted for having the world’s largest herd of captive elephants and acts as a rehabilitation center for these animals
4) Sacred Temple of the Tooth (Kandy): Amidst the hilly regions fully of tea plantations in Central Sri Lanka, Kandy is a venerable Buddhist pilgrimage center with a relic of the Buddha himself housed here Besides these, do check out Anuradhapura, Adam’s Peak and the Sigiriya Rock Fortress as well.
Key travel tips:
- Travel: Mihin Lanka operates cheap flights to Colombo (I got mine for ~INR 18K) and it is a 3-4 hour flight. Most of the transport in Sri Lanka is by road, and be careful to account for traffic which can be severe. You can also try the rail network for the more beautiful locales, to enjoy an nice railway journey
- Currency: The Sri Lanka rupee is approximately half the value of the Indian rupee (1 INR = 2 Sri Lankan rupees). There are abundant ATMs in the main towns, so cash will not be an issue
- Cellphone network to use: You can get a SIM card with good deals from the airport itself. I found myself a convenient deal with Dialog which had the following for the cost of 1300 LKR (~INR 650): 700 international minutes (India is INR 5 per minute), 70 free local minutes, 50 international SMS, 200 local SMS and 1GB of mobile data. Even Blackberry services could be activated.
- VISA: For Indians, getting a visa is a 10 minute affair since you have to fill an online form with your flight details and passport information. The Immigration office will send you an email which you must print and show at the Sri Lankan airport to get your visa stamped on arrival. Do carry all the required documents mentioned on the website.
Note: This article from our archives, please check for updates before you travel!