Sri Lanka’s winning combination of timeless ruins, roaming wildlife, vibrant tea country and palm-fringed shores make it one of our favourite all-rounder destinations. Our Sri Lanka specialist Steph shares the highlights of her recent visit.
Trekking the Tea Trails
Exploring the self-guided walking trails around Ceylon Tea Trails was a fantastic way to experience the scenic, lofty heights of Sri Lanka’s tea country. From the eastern end of the Bogawantalawa Valley, the views of Castlereagh reservoir and the surrounding patchwork of green, tea-strewn slopes were positively swoonsome. As I wound my way through waist high tea bushes, I could see colourfully clad tea pluckers deftly picking leaves for Dilmah’s famous brew. The beautifully restored tea planter’s bungalows are home to a variety of walking trails, ranging from 6km to 15km. If you’ve got time you can walk from one bungalow to another, passing small villages and local temples along the way and enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea on arrival.
Cycling up an Appetite
There are few better ways to experience authentic Sri Lanka’s vibrant local village life than on two wheels. Eager for a morning pedal along quiet country lanes, I met my guide just outside of Galle for a gentle 15km ride. We cycled through lush green paddy fields and spice plantations, passing wallowing buffalo, land monitors and electric blue kingfishers along the way. My adventure ended with a well-earned lunch at Kahanda Kanda, a boutique hotel set in a tea estate overlooking Koggala Lake. The food was divine, as were the signature KK cocktails – an absolute must.
Curry & Rice
Sri Lanka’s national dish is curry and rice. Sound boring? I found it to be anything but. The curries are deeply fragrant and incredibly colourful, typically served as a platter with nutty red rice and poppadoms to scoop it all up. With cashew nut, fish, prawn, beetroot, slow cooked pork and aubergine curries often lining the table, you’re almost certain to find something you like. I particularly recommend trying the creamy coconut dal and fiery coconut sambal (relish). And for those curry lovers out there, you can literally binge on curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Crisp-edged hoppers and curry anyone?
Ancient Temples & Buddhas of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa was my favourite of the ancient sites and should be on everybody’s checklist. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sri Lanka’s kings ruled the central plains from this ancient city some 800 years ago. Considering their age, I was surprised at just how relatively intact the tombs, temples, statues and stupas were. As I explored with my guide it was easy to imagine how the city once looked in its heyday. The relatively flat terrain means you can explore the site easily by bike too. My absolute highlight was the Gal Vihara or “rock monastery”, whose rock sculpted Buddha statues are one of the most impressive examples of ancient Sinhalese carving.
Escape to Unspoilt & Rural Settings
Spend a few days immersed within the natural surroundings of rural Sri Lanka – you won’t be disappointed. One of my personal favourites is Living Heritage Koslanda, a magical hideaway enveloped in 80 acres of forest in an area known locally as God’s Country. It’s a great base for day trips, with scenically stunning Ella just a 35-minute train ride away or elephant spotting safaris at Uda Walawe National Park within a two-hour drive. I also really liked TRI, a tranquil retreat with unsurpassed views across the serene Lake Koggala. Kahanda Kanda, a romantic, couples-orientated sanctuary surrounded by lush, low lying tea fields, was similarly idyllic. Both properties are extremely peaceful without being overly remote, as you’re within 15-minutes of great beaches and only 25-minutes from historic Galle Fort (photographed).