Sri Lanka’s pristine landscapes and ancient architectural treasures have landed this island nation on many trending destination lists. Travel consultant Pamela Lane sat down with us to share her favorite destinations, experiences and places to stay in the relatively small country known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.”
Where did you go?
Colombo, the Cultural Triangle including Dambulla, Anuradhapura and Kandy, and then Hatton, Yala National Park and Galle.
Where should our guests start for unique experiences in Sri Lanka?
Colombo, Kandy and Galle are excellent places to immerse yourself in Sri Lanka’s rich history and culture. Take a walking tour through Colombo to see its colonial architecture, bazaar and spice markets. Approximately one-fifth of Sri Lankans are Hindu, and for a chance to learn about Hinduism in the country, I’d also recommend visiting the Kovil Temple. You can witness a traditional puja ceremony, including a blessing from the priest.
If you’re starting in Kandy, make sure to visit the Temple of the Tooth, a famous Buddhist pilgrimage site. The temple is within walking distance of a historic cemetery for British soldiers, and we can arrange a fascinating evening tour of the graveyard. Or start in Galle, where you can explore its 16th-century fort. Walk around the city’s fortified walls, which provided protection for centuries of turmoil and create an impression of a city lost in time.
I’d also recommend Yala National Park on the island’s rugged eastern coast, which is home to elephants, buffalo, boar, pythons, bears, jackals and innumerable birds. You might get lucky and spot the elusive leopard, but that’s a bonus because there’s already so much to see.
Describe some can’t-miss experiences and destinations.
Definitely Dambulla. The breathtaking Dambulla Cave Temple is the largest, best-preserved cave temple complex in the country. An exquisite collection of statues, stupas, carvings and paintings tells stories of the life of the Buddha and his journey to enlightenment. If you’re not afraid of heights, climbing Sigiriya Rock is a must. The trek to the summit can take up to three hours depending on your pace and is not for the faint of heart, but seeing this ancient rock fortress makes it more than worth it.
For some stunning scenery and a chance to visit Sri Lanka’s tea country, take a train ride from Kandy to Tea Trails in Hatton. The views of the lush landscapes along the way are breathtaking, and the town of Hatton is a great place to learn about tea production. Discover how coffee crops failed here, paving the way for an entire new industry of tea making.
You stayed in some remarkable properties. What made them special?
The Galle Face Hotel Colombo occupies a spectacular seafront location and is one of the city’s iconic landmarks. It dates back to 1864 and was recently restored to its colonial glory with modern amenities.
For easy access to the Dambulla Caves and Sigiriya, I’d recommend the luxurious Ulagalla Resort, which features eco-friendly villas spread across 58 acres. Each villa offers a plunge pool and a private deck where you can enjoy fine dining. The food is prepared with organic ingredients from the property’s own gardens and paddy fields.
The Kings Pavilion in Kandy is another well-appointed property with an excellent central location. Since traffic can be overwhelming in the hill capital, this boutique hotel is a welcome oasis, offering 360-degree views and an infinity pool to relax your cares away.
Describe some of your favorite food experiences.
I loved getting to sample the local specialties. Try the “string hoppers,” a popular breakfast dish of steamed rice noodles, and don’t miss pol sambol, a Sri Lankan spice made with grated coconut, chili pepper and red onion. Colombo offers a special street food tour where you can try kottu rotti, a type of curry mixed with chopped pita bread. This everyday dish is absolutely delicious and best enjoyed on the street. And on the way to the Cultural Triangle, make sure you stop off for some sweet red bananas and king coconut water, which is made fresh on the spot by cracking the sweet king coconut.
If you’re looking for good drinks, the Royal Bar is a landmark in Kandy and walking distance from the Temple of the Tooth. You can get local-style tapas here—try the chickpeas and deviled chicken, or the classic British fish and chips. You should also taste the Ceylon Arrack, a local whiskey available throughout Sri Lanka.
What surprised you about Sri Lanka?
It really lives up to its nickname as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” From its national parks and waterfalls to its tea plantations and rugged coastline, the island is incredibly beautiful and still unspoiled. Wildlife is everywhere, and strong recycling efforts keep the cities very clean. However, you should be aware that most of the beaches are stunning to look at but treacherous for swimming.
I also found the locals to be warm and inviting. They’re addicted to curry—I watched people eat it three meals a day, every day!
These experiences can be the jumping-off point for your own unforgettable journey to Sri Lanka. Based on your interests and preferences, our expert travel consultants can design the perfect itinerary for you.