Welcome to the Turquoise Travel Diaries, a collection of interviews, stories, and excerpts from our fabulous team, as they travel around the world. Here at Turquoise we pride ourselves on unrivalled knowledge of the destinations in which we specialise, so that we can provide honest, expert advice to all our guests and fellow travellers. This week, our Indian Ocean expert Bethany has returned from her research trip to Sri Lanka. Bethany explains how the adventure, culture and wildlife of this exciting country awaits those who are looking for a holiday with a difference…
Sri Lanka has been at the top of my travel bucket list for years, and from the moment I stepped off the plane at 3am I just loved the country. It’s somewhere that is all about the experiences, meeting local people and getting to know the amazing history of the island.
The Cultural Triangle
If you want to experience the culture of the island and learn more about its history, then a stay in the Cultural Triangle is an absolute must. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Sigiriya is the most visited site, and it really is impressive! It is thought that King Kasyapa made Sigiriya his fortress in the 5th century, and you can really see why! The near vertical rock rises dramatically from the ground, with a flat summit that affords stunning views over the surrounding plains.
We began our trek at around 4pm, once most of the crowds had left, and the heat of the day had passed. On the way up, we stopped at the frescoes on the rock which depict life in 5th century Sri Lanka. Once we reached the top (dodging the monkeys!) it was almost sunset, and it was the perfect place to relax and take in the beautiful views.
Another fantastic half day trip is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. Stunning stupas and archaeological ruins are spread over almost 40km2, which makes it perfect for cycling around. We arrived early in the morning and toured the ancient city by bike, which is a great way to see the sights. We visited just after Sinhalese New Year, so thousands of local people had come to the area from all over Sri Lanka. Very surprisingly, we saw very few other tourists, making us feel that we had experienced something very special.
Outside one of the Stupas is the Sri Maha Bodhi, which is said to be the oldest surviving tree in the world. The sapling was brought to Sri Lanka over 2000 years ago and is said to have been cut from the Bodhi tree under which Buddha gained Enlightenment. The sapling is now held in place with delicate looking stilts and scaffolding, and hundreds of pilgrims had made their way to sit around the tree. The atmosphere was incredible, and it is somewhere that certainly feels very special.
We stayed at Ulagalla, which is the perfect base from which to explore the area and is absolutely beautiful. With only 20 villas, and a huge amount of land, the sense of privacy and space is incredible. There are peacocks and troops of monkeys roaming the property. Watching the baby monkeys make their way around the edge of the pool without falling in was adorable! Staying here I really felt that I was in Sri Lanka. The food is excellent, and the Sri Lankan curries were among the best on our trip. They also really support the local community and whilst we were there, we visited the local village temple and got a real sense of normal everyday life in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is also famous for its wildlife. From the cultural triangle you can visit Minneriya National Park, where during the dry season from June to September, one of the largest gathering of elephants in the world occurs. The park also has flocks of painted storks, cormorants, as well as deer and leopards!
The Hill Country
For the next part of our trip, we visited the awe-inspiring hill country, where green peaks tower above the surrounding plains, and tea plantations pattern the landscape. For the adventurous, a climb of Adam’s Peak is incredible. This is well worth doing during night hours to avoid the heat of the day, and to witness the sunrise from the top of the mountain.
Yala National Park is another top choice, and we stayed at the fantastic Chena Huts, only 15 minutes from the park entrance! Yala has the highest concentration of leopards in the world, and we entered the park at 6am, with all our fingers crossed, hoping to catch a glimpse of one. After a couple of hours, we hadn’t seen one and our guide told us that it was starting to get too hot for the leopards by now, and they would all be resting in the shade. We started to make our way back out of the park, when we spotted a leopard stood perfectly still on the side of the track. It made its way into the undergrowth, and we patiently waited for it to reappear, which it did, some 15 minutes later, walking majestically across the track in front of our jeep. What an incredible experience!!! Yala is also home to elephants, crocodiles, and the rare sloth bear, which part of our group were able to catch a glimpse of.
As well as ancient culture, incredible landscapes and wildlife, Sri Lanka has some exciting urban areas that are well worth a visit. The UNESCO world heritage listed Galle Fort is definitely worth a visit, especially at sunset when the views are beautiful and young couples stroll along the walls, looking for crevices in which to relax together under umbrella. We took our time walking the walls, enjoying the local life, chatting with people and grabbing ice creams on the way. The small areas of sand around the walls had dozens of school children playing in the water after a long week at school. Relaxing and taking everything in, this was one of my favourite evenings of the trip.