So, where should you go for the holiday calling your name?
Leaving on a jet plane has its appeal, but what about the long immigration lines, delayed flights and lost luggage? Instead of scouring ticket prices, it’s time to turn your attention to something with more local flavor.
Topping “Where To Travel Lists” for as far back as we can remember, Sri Lanka is a hot commodity. So why (oh, why!) are we so desperate to get away? This summer, stray off the beaten path and discover parts of the island you’ve previously ignored, written off, or never heard of—you’re bound to come away feeling rested, invigorated and ready to take on life once again. Shihaam Hassanali gets into travel mode.
A hectic job, demanding family and a social life that, almost always, spins out of control are a few reasons you’re probably craving a much-needed break. Let’s not forget all the beautiful Instagram travel accounts that give off serious #vacaygoals. I mean, every place looks so freakin’ appealing through a camera lens, you can’t help but let your wanderlust run free and Sri Lanka, with its renowned moniker of ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, has a host of hidden gems that are ripe for exploring.
So, shed off the Colombo hustle and put on your sun hat. Here are the greatest, chill-est places on the island (as certified by the travel pros!). It’s time for your great Lankan escape.
Grab your mates, head to Sigiriya and climb Pidurangala (not to be confused with the more mainstream Piduruthalagala) Rock—the stunning view from the top is well worth the trek.
“Despite only being a stone’s throw from Sigiriya, the tough climb up Pidurangala keeps away the crowds, and ensures it’s still relatively unknown,” explains Skandha Ponniah, Manager of Marketing & Product at The Fabulous Getaway, which has leading travel brands, Red Dot Tours and SriLankaInStyle under its portfolio.
The heaving climb ensures it’s not on the family-friendly, mainstream travel routes, which means no crying babies (no offence) or barely-moving hikers. However, Skandha cautions all climbers to be careful, as the hike is unguided and contains no safety measures. But a little recklessness puts the excitement in life, right? So, channel your inner explorer and set off on an epic adventure.
Make the trek a weekend affair, and spend the day following the climb putting your feet up at a cosy Airbnb, sipping on a glass of scotch as a remedy for your aching muscles. Now, that’s how you cap off a holiday (all puns intended)!
Most people run to the hill country whenever they want a little R&R. Although places like Nuwara Eliya are beautiful in their own right, they are on every traveller’s must-do list. Step away from the norm, and visit a different hilly area in Sri Lanka: Haputale, a town in the Uva Province, is a great destination for those looking to get away from the heat of Colombo, minus the crowds. With its cool climate, forests and tea plantations, Haputale is the place to go for a quiet retreat, recommends Alice Luker, blogger and Instagrammer, Style In Sri Lanka.
“Walking around the village, people of all generations will introduce themselves with beaming smiles. And you never know what will be around each bend, from a Hindu kovil to a colonial planter’s bungalow,” she describes.
Picture it: rolling hills and bustling towns minus the tourist congestion. Sounds like a dream come true! Plus, it’s the perfect location to pull out those sweaters you haven’t worn since your last winter vacation. The evenings get chilly, so make sure to have layers on hand to warm up. Other steamy alternatives work too.
Get away from the hustle and bustle of Colombo by taking a trip towards Ampara and visit the virtually unknown, Gal Oya National Park. Established in the ‘50s it primarily serves to protect the catchment area around the Senanayake Samudraya reservoir, but its richness of flora and fauna makes it ideal for nature enthusiasts. The small islands that are a part of this park make for a striking boat safari, too.
“Gaze out at the Senanayake Samudraya (the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka) and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of resident elephants swimming between the islands!” exclaims Skandha. If you’re looking for a place to stay, Skandha recommends checking in at Gal Oya Lodge. “It’s an oasis known for practising its own brand of high-end, environmentally responsible tourism,” he says.
Minus the traffic jams of Yala, and half the price, Gal Oya is the perfect place to reflect on the inherent hierarchy of things (Herds of elephants? Magnificent. That limited-edition Kylie Lip Kit you’ve been yearning after? Maaaybe not so important.)—not a bad thing in the present day.
Home to a well-known point break, Arugam Bay is considered the best surf spot in the country. So, if the ocean is calling your name, head to this beautiful stretch in the South East of Sri Lanka. But, Arugam Bay has so much more than its world-famous soft sand and gigantic waves.
“Arugam Bay is my home away from home,” says Shakthi Ponniah, travel blogger and Instagrammer, Islandadventurist. “I’ve been visiting since I was born, and after living there last year, I realised exactly how much more there is to Arugam Bay. In addition to the main bay, there are several other surf points and beautiful beaches along that section of the East Coast. Then there’s wildlife, temples and adventure at every turn! The food is amazing at almost every place on the strip! What’s more, the sunsets are to die for! It’s unlike any other place in the world…”
If you’re looking to surf, then avoid the Bay between the months of November and April. But, if all you’re looking for is a little unpretentious beach-side tranquillity and adventure, then visit anytime and enjoy everything the haven has to offer.
From delightful food to historic landmarks, Jaffna is an embodiment of Hindu tradition, art and culture. Intriguing and quite far off the beaten path, you’ll be thoroughly rewarded as you explore this beautiful city and its surrounding islands.
“There’s nothing I love more than a visit to Jaffna, with its explosion of kaleidoscopic colours and the ultimate Jaffna crab curry,” exclaims Alice. “There are so many fascinating sights, from Nainativu Island to the Jaffna Fort to the local fish market to the infamous Rio ice-cream. Also, try the mango there—you can thank me later!” If you’re looking for a stronger fix, Alice suggests a splash of Palmyrah arrack that will hit the spot!
“There is a wonderful energy in vibrant Jaffna,” agrees Shakthi. “Aside from the cultural aspects, like the temples and hot springs, Jaffna also hosts a number of excellent eateries, my favourite being Malayan Café.”
Eat, drink, be cultural and merry? Sounds like a serious case of “Awww yeah” to us!
Located in the Puttalam district, Kalpitiya is rich in reefs, coastal plains, mangroves and dune-y beaches. Best known for dolphin and whale watching, this north-western spot hasn’t yet received much attention as a holiday destination.
“Kalpitiya is fairly underrated in my opinion,” says Shakthi. “I’ve been visiting more frequently over the last few months and there’s definitely a catchy vibe. With simple, stunning eco-friendly places to stay, and with easy access to both the ocean and Wilpattu National Park, it has the best of both worlds!”
Work on your tan line on day one, before driving over to track leopard, and return for watersports and snorkelling. One place + many activities = one happy you!
Skandha Ponniah, Manager of Marketing & Product at The Fabulous Getaway
For a bird’s eye view of paradise, hop in Daya Aviation’s helicopter or onboard one of Cinnamon Air’s amphibious aircrafts (a thrill in itself), and watch the changing landscapes below. It’s amazing to see just how green and gorgeous Sri Lanka is during a low-altitude flight.
Alice Luker, Blogger and Instagrammer, StyleInSriLanka
One of my favourite hidden gems is the Kandy Samadhi Centre, a rustic wellness retreat 45-minutes outside of the city. It’s adorned with Sri Lankan antiques and serves wholesome authentic curries such as ambarella and kiri kos. All ingredients are grown in their on-site organic garden. And there’s a crystal-clear lake you can swim in, plus a waterfall 30 minutes into the jungle.
Shakthi Ponniah, Travel Blogger and Instagrammer, Islandadventurist
My favourite way to see Sri Lanka is from the ocean! It’s truly an incredible experience! From whale watching expeditions to visiting the islands of the north via private yacht, I can wholeheartedly say that some of the best views come from off-shore. Sail Lanka Charter operates cruises around the country and I highly recommend them!
So stop all the hustling around your flight—the next time you secure a solid break, you have a ticket to paradise right here! After all, there’s nothing that a little #islandliving can’t cure.
This article was originally published as ‘Hit The Brakes: Sri Lanka Calls’ in the July 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more life advice and tips, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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