Sri Lanka may well be my favourite country in the world.
I know, I know – every country has its merits and its own unique pull, but there’s something about the spice-and-frangipani-flower scent drifting in the air, the incredible hospitality of the people and the spellbinding sights of this beautiful little island that draw you in.
Sri Lanka condenses the infinite variety of South Asia into a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of colours, flavours, sights and sounds. From the colonial grandness of the southern port city of Galle, through the wild plains of Yala National Park, up into the mist-kissed plantations of Kandy and the Hill Country, out to the golden sands and wild surf of the west coast and up into the hustle and bustle of Colombo itself; this is a country of intoxicating contrasts.
Where to stay
For pure beachside luxury , head to The Fortress hotel at Koggala. Located just down from the famed sands on Unawatuna Beach, this sprawling colonial mansion enjoys luxurious suites with high-end fixtures and fittings. The infinity pool is stunning – and noted for the two towering palms standing to attention.
Head up into the Hill Country to climb Sigiriya, and stay at the Kandalama. This colossal, imposing structure is built into the mountainside, with granite crags jutting into the wide corridors, and jungle vines reclaiming the exterior. The re-greening allows the hotel to slink back into nature somewhat, hiding from view. The enormous jacuzzi baths offer panoramic rainforest view – just don’t mind the monkeys that climb the balconies if they come to ogle.
What to do
Sigiriya, or Lion’s Rock, is over-touristed but worth the hype – this enormous rock juts from the earth like an alien structure and offers the most fantastic views of Dambulla. On the way, ignore the hawkers selling overpriced tat, and watch out for the cheeky monkeys lining the route – they’re used to snatching food from excited tourists.
The rock temples in Dambulla are also worth a visit, for their sheer number of statues and icons.
The west coast offers golden sands and decent surfing, with the Indian Ocean waves left untouched all the way from the east coast of Africa.
There are a huge variety of tours and trips on offer, from tea tastings at colonial-era plantations to safaris in Yala and journeys into the once war-torn northern city of Jaffna. My best advice would be to explore – take a map, jot down your must-do items, and see as much as you can en-route.
Small, but perfectly formed, Sri Lanka is a wanderlusters dream.
All photographs taken by me on my last trip to Sri Lanka, in 2010.