The "Island of Gems", and indeed a true gem for tourism too. Sometimes described as India
in miniature – and without the faults. That's not quite true, of course, as Sri Lanka has its faults too, but a certain affinity with India is obvious, in culture, cuisine and colonial history.
In addition, the country was plagued by an ongoing internal conflict, the decades-long war between the northern liberation army of the Tamil Tigers and the government forces. This used to make travel to certain parts of the country too risky for tourists. But that has changed meanwhile. The government side won the decisive battles in 2008-2009 and the defeated Tamil Tigers now seem to be history – whether for good or not, remains to be seen, but the situation does appear quite stable now.
In fact, the end of the civil war and the opening up of the areas formerly closed-off to tourism, namely northern and eastern parts of the country, have also given intrepid dark tourists a fascinating new territory to explore. This is hence given its own new separate entry here:
I haven't been able to check out these sites myself yet. I will have to return to the country before long to do so (meanwhile I'm relying on reports by others and on photos I've seen). When I travelled to the country for the first time in December/January 2006/2007, the conflict was still an uneasy defining characteristic of the country, even though the southern half, where I went, was mostly quite safe. However, there were also Tamil Tiger terrorist attacks in those parts of the country. In fact at that time terrorism entered a new phase in that the strategy of targeting mainly the military and/or politicians was changed to what sadly is the prevailing tendency in terrorism worldwide these days: targeting innocent civilians. In early January 2007 two regional buses were bombed and dozens killed. It was a depressing development – and a depressing sight: on our way back to the airport in Colombo we passed the charred wreck of one of those buses. But as I said - these threats now seem to be over and even the north
has opened up for travellers and has remained peaceful since the end of the civil war.
A few years earlier, Sri Lanka was also in the headlines for a very different kind of tragedy, a natural one – indeed the worst natural disaster
in living history: the tsunami
of Christmas 2004, which hit the entire Indian Ocean region. In Sri Lanka, damage was naturally worst along the eastern and southern coast. A couple of memorial sites sprung up, but not all of these remained in place. The dramatic wreck of the "Queen of the Sea" train
near Galle has since been removed, so I've been informed, so it is now in the category of lost places
(instead a photo exhibition has apparently been set up near the site). However, another less dramatic but still sobering memorial is still in place:
These dark sites will for most tourists remain mere side trips or short stopovers, though. Most visitors are here to savour the natural, culinary and cultural delights of this marvellous country.
The colonial legacy is still particularly palpable in the highlands where tea plantations dominate the scenery. Culturally, Sri Lanka has a wealth of ancient sights to offer that is breathtaking. The "8th wonder of the world", the temple rock of Sigiriya is just the most famous highlight.
And the cuisine – well, for those who, like me, like it spicy, fresh and vegetarian
, Sri Lanka is paradise and easily trumps any other cuisine in the world (cf. food & drink
). That alone is reason to travel to this lovely country. It's also an opportunity to pick up some of the famed spices – cinnamon in particular. The Sri Lankan variety is the real thing – and far superior to that cassia crap from Indonesia
that is mostly sold as 'cinnamon' in the West and that too many people erroneously believe is what cinnamon is like …
To get to Sri Lanka as a tourist there really isn't an alternative to flying. There's only one international airport, north of Colombo, infamously known as the worst part of the entire Sri Lanka tourist experience – although it's not quite as bad as it sounds … Many flights go via the Maldives or Dubai.
Travelling as a tourist within Sri Lanka is easiest, safest and least time-consuming by car – not self-driven, as navigating would be near impossible for foreigners. But together with a driver/guide. It's not as expensive as it sounds. For me it also had the added bonus that at the various places we stayed at our driver/guide successfully convinced the cooks that my wife and I really wanted the genuine Sri Lankan cuisine at the full original spice-level ... as in Thailand
, they otherwise naturally assume that all Westerners need it watered down and bland; it takes some persuading to get them to believe otherwise …
You can of course save money by using public transport (mainly buses and tuc-tucs, also a few train lines) but that can be time-consuming and uncomfortable.
For accommodation, you can again get away cheaply in basic guest houses, but there's also a wonderful range of extremely cool places at comparatively affordable rates.
- Sri Lanka - Sigirya
- Sri Lanka 01 - Kandalama
- Sri Lanka 02 - sunset over Kandalama tank
- Sri Lanka 03 - on top of Sigirya
- Sri Lanka 04 - jungle view from top of Sigirya
- Sri Lanka 05 - monkeys at Sigirya
- Sri Lanka 06 - Plonnaruwa, Rankot Vehara
- Sri Lanka 07 - Buddhas galore at Dambulla
- Sri Lanka 08 - the road below Dambulla
- Sri Lanka 09 - Gal Viharaya seated Buddha and monkeys
- Sri Lanka 10 - closed stairway to heaven
- Sri Lanka 11 - plea
- Sri Lanka 12 - Kandy, Temple of the Tooth
- Sri Lanka 13 - the last regal elephant, now stuffed
- Sri Lanka 14 - palm trees in Kandy botanical gardens
- Sri Lanka 15 - tea plantation country near Nuwara-Eliya
- Sri Lanka 16 - Knuckles mountains
- Sri Lanka 17 - wobbly bridge
- Sri Lanka 18 - tree house and paddy fields
- Sri Lanka 19 - paddy fields from the air
- Sri Lanka 20 - seaplane
- Sri Lanka 21 - dragonfly
- Sri Lanka 22 - Yala monitor lizard
- Sri Lanka 23 - elephant
- Sri Lanka 24 - elephant rock, Yala
- Sri Lanka 25 - coastal dwelling near Galle
- Sri Lanka 26 - Indian Ocean
- Sri Lanka 27 - glorious food
- Sri Lanka 28 - lillies and bananas still life