When you see Sri Lanka on the map of the world, you see a small island in the southeast direction of India. There are many island countries bigger than Sri Lanka but this as a fact does not represent what Sri Lanka has to offer. The island has a greatly varied geographical terrain and one of the most culturally diverse societies. The history of this island traces to as back as 5000 B.C. and yet, the most enthralling fact about the Sri Lankan culture is that the little island hosts two mother-tongues: Sinhala and Tamil. I said that this is the ‘most enthralling’ fact about the Sri Lankan culture because over a sufficiently prolonged period of history, smaller cultures often get dominated by the larger one around and the most grievous outcome of such a dominance is that the language pertaining to the smaller culture gets lost, usually forever. However, Sri Lanka is different in this regard as it has not only preserved two of its languages but also still reserves its own unique socio-cultural outlook of life.
I moved to Sri Lanka with my family in 2011 and today I have an almost 5-year-old relationship with this country. During these five years I have been to a great number of different tourist destinations across the country and for the obvious reason I cannot introduce you to each and every one of them. Rather I would select my top six favorite destinations in the country and write about each of them. Over these years I have amassed a great deal of useful information regarding tourism in Sri Lanka and I would be more than happy to help you out in any way possible because this blog post, though handy, is clearly not sufficient. Just comment below and I’ll be there to discuss your tour with you!
So as said, the following are my top-rated places to see but it is very difficult for me to arrange them in a particular order. So for my convenience, I will order them according to their respective distances from Colombo (this will save me discrimination because I value them all almost equally!). So here they are:
The Mahadevi Park
The Viharamahadevi Park, formerly the Victoria Park, is located opposite to the Colombo Municipality. A large Buddha statue sits right at the entrance of the park and it is one of the biggest found in the Colombo city. Well, the best thing about the Mahadevi Park is its suitability for a morning walk; that is, its suitability as a place to start your day at! The park is a lush-green one with an exhaustive variety of trees around. It has a special track for the joggers and many places sit around and immerse oneself in the spellbinding greenery around. Apart from being an amazing place for a morning walk the Mahadevi Park also provides scenic view for photography, something I like it particularly for.
And not only morning and photography, there is obviously a lot more to the park than that. It is also an amazing place to eat around as you will find a number of food stalls here, but I would advice that the best plan for having a wonderful evening at Colombo would be to have the main course from somewhere else and then come to the park for the after-snack and the all-important evening walk. The park also has a small hill located at its side so it might also serve as a light hiking adventure but of course, if hiking is the main aim then there are a lot better places around.
Kithulkanda (The Mountain Rock)
Kithulkanda would make an amazing place for a one-day tour, where you leave Colombo in the morning and come back before or around sunset. It is only about 90 minutes drive from Colombo and gives an absolutely mesmeric vicinity to relax and spend your day at. However, you might be wondering that the same is true for many other places around Colombo so why do I rate this one out for the pool. The reason lies in the bewildering way in which the resort at the mountaintop is constructed. It is also just called the mountain rock resort. The whole building of the resort has been erected around the mountaintop rock! This means that the rock was not dynamited away when the resort was to be constructed; rather it was scratched at different places to make space for the resort. As a result, you can see the rock at many different places from inside the resort! And not only that, since the resort is at the pinnacle, the views from the top are stunning. Added to this is the natural beauty that surrounds.
There are many different things to be done at the resort itself. Firstly, you can enjoy the delicious Sri Lankan cuisine as a lunch shortly after you arrive at the resort. And after that, you can move out and take a walk around the resort to see the scenery around and hopefully, for some photography. And just now I got reminded about one thing that I should have told you about at the very start. Mind that Sri Lanka has a very rainy climate; out of the year’s 365 it has more than 200 rainy days so always, always take an umbrella with you has you move around! And now let me tell you how I remembered about it. I was visiting this resort with my friend Yasir and suddenly a heavy rain shower poured on us while we were busy exploring the resort. But thankfully we had our umbrellas with us and things did not go too bad, rather the rain made the environment even more pleasant. So an umbrella in Sri Lanka, always!
The resort also offers some nice sports facilities. I remember that after I came back from the little hike I played table tennis for sometime and then left with a group of Sri Lankan guys to play football (yeah, there was a spot of some plain area on the mountain and as it appeared, it was obviously not natural). Since the resort is located at the summit, I strongly suggest that you leave well before sunset so that you have the daylight to drive down as driving down at a hilly terrain without sufficient light is never a recommendable thing. And I do not think I had all of it, because I did not get enough time to see everything the resort has to offer so there is almost certainly a lot more than what I have elaborated here.
Kithulgala (River Rafting)
One of the most adventurous things to do in the central Sri Lankan region is the River Rafting at Kithulgala. Located at about 2.5-3 hours drive from Colombo in the east direction is the Kithulgala Rest House, which is on the shore of the Kelani Ganga River. When planning a tour you might want to drop in at the rest house for refreshment before leaving for the river rafting. Once you start driving towards the river you will find a number of spots in the way where the rafters would be waiting for customers with their boats piled on top of each other on the roadside. It would always be better to contact one of them before (through a simple Google search) but you can also get one right on the spot when you come across them.
Since it is only river rafting you do not need to go for the safety drills you have to do in case of Scuba Diving. However, they will be providing you with safety jackets to put on. A worker from the group will accompany you to the boat and operate the motor while the boat is in the river. The river itself is quite serene and a pleasure to be rafting in. Both banks are covered with the dense trees and at several occasions you would even get to see some marshes and swamplands. Still there was something that stood out of the rest in terms of its appeal to me. I saw a stone structure somewhere in the river. It was actually an eerie sight. I wondered at purpose of the room-like structure in the middle the river. Asked the boatman and he enlightened me that it is a temple used for worshipping by the religiously devout! I was amazed at the enchanting experience someone would have worshipping inside that room alone, surrounded by the entrancing calm of the rippling water.
Moving on, the boat underwent several bridges and at some point the river widened to such an extent that it looked like a lake. The water was generally calm in the wider, deeper area. However, it soon narrowed down again and this time the river-bottom was quite shallow and the course heavily intercepted by rocks. This geared up the flow of the river and now it was actually the time to hold fast to the ropes on the boat-sides. Speeding through the river has the thrill of its own as the bouncing waves splash you right away with a drenching shower.
Still that is not the most exciting part of the river rafting at Kithulgala. It was yet to come. My boat-driver asked me if I would like to have a fish-massage for an extra charge and because I was quite bewildered at listening the words ‘fish-massage’ for the first time I readily agreed. He took a turn into a narrow ‘alley’ and brought me to a place where I saw a collection of rafts on the river surface. I found out on closer look that those were actually fishponds. And not quite the usual fishponds; there were more fish in them than water! Dipping my feet in that pond was a complete out-of-the-world-feeling. The fish would bite, scratch, tickle, and itch my feet and I just couldn’t stop giggling at that moment. See for yourself…
Galle (Dutch Fort)
The Galle city is an almost 131-km drive from Colombo down south. I think that at a reasonable driving speed it would not take more than 2.5 hours to reach the destination. The main reason behind the popularity of the city is obviously not the cricket stadium over there; the city is famous because of its deep connection to the period when the Dutch controlled it. The most fascinating thing about the Galle Fort is the prominent Dutch ‘color’ in the city’s architecture. Well that is a matter of fact because many of the structures inside the fort date back to the Dutch period of the Sri Lankan history, more than four centuries ago.
The landmark of the Galle Fort is the lighthouse located on its shore. If you’ll buy a postcard from that area then most probably you will see the lighthouse appear on it, as it is the most popular tourist attraction of the region. Again the lighthouse dates back to the Dutch era and it is absolutely brilliant that it still stands!
There are actually many things to do around the Galle Fort and the city. A lot of food stalls mark the area to appease your taste buds and of course, you can always find antique shops nearby. Yet one thing I would specifically mention is the ‘snake-people’ (or I do not know what they are called) who roam around to show visitors performances of their snakes as they play the flute to summon them out of the baskets. They also allow you to touch the cobras! (But I do not know if it is actually safe). Still another amazing fact about the place is the view you get of the Galle city from an elevated position at the fort.
Of course there are many other places I could've talked about but I obviously cannot end up writing about all the amazing places I saw in the country. Please comment below about what you think about this post and if you've got any other thoughts. I'll be glad to read'em.