Sri Lanka is in the Indian Ocean, just Southeast off the tip of India. It's an 11-hour flight from the UK. Until 1972 the island was known as Ceylon.
The name Sri Lanka means resplendent island, and it certainly is!
The best way to see Sri Lanka is to hire a car and driver/guide. They will spend the duration of the trip with you and will make sure you see the main points of interest as I travelled in a group of 10 we had a guide, a driver and a driver's helper.
After meeting our guide and driver at Colombo Airport, our first stop on the tour was for 1 night in Negombo. Negombo is a city just North of Colombo and is generally used as a stop to recover from the flight or at the end of the tour before you fly home. Negombo has an abundance of hotels along a wide sandy beach. Swimming here at certain times of the year is not recommended due to strong currents. There are also many bars and restaurants with in the city should you prefer to experience Sri Lankan hospitality.
The next morning, we travelled away from the coast towards the interior of the Island. We were heading for the city of Kandy. On the way we paid a visit to Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya. Here you can see an amazing flower garden, magnificent palm avenues, bamboo collection and the orchid house. The gardens also house a residence of Lord Mountbatten. From here we continued to Kandy, which sits in a mountain plateau, 1600ft above sea level. The drive from Negombo will take approximately 3 hours and will take you through many busy towns and villages and lush green landscape.
Kandy is most famous for The Temple of The Tooth Relic, the temple is believed to hold a tooth of Buddha. It is one of Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist temples. The tooth is kept in a heavily guarded gold casket behind bullet proof doors. Thousands of people flock to the temple daily to pray and to present an offering of flowers to Buddha. We visited the temple at sunset which is a quieter time of day.
On day 3, we headed even further into the mountains and to an area called Nuwara Eliya. This area is famous for Sri Lanka's most well-known export "tea". The drive from Kandy took 3 hours and we were now at 6,100 ft above sea level. Here we visited the Glenloch Tea Factory where we were shown the process of how the tea is picked right through to how it is packaged for export. After the tour we had the chance to climb the plantation and experience tea picking for ourselves. This was an amazing experience to see how the humble tea bag starts its life, and to see how hard the tea pickers work. Before leaving the plantation you are invited to try a cup of tea.
The next day was the longest drive of the trip as we drove South to Udawalawe National Park, this drive can take up to 6 hours with regular breaks. On arrival into Udawalawe we were able to see the wildlife that this area is famous for. Elephants could be seen grazing off in the distance with one of them coming to the side of the road hoping to be fed! The park has 1600 elephants which have over 119,00 sq miles of park land in which to roam. After spending 1 night at the Safari Hotel, we were up early for a 6am game drive. The drive lasted 3 hours and during the drive we spotted Elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, jackal and many types of birdlife. After the game drive we were taken to the Elephant Transit Home, this was the highlight of the trip for me. The home is run by the Born Free Foundation and has 60 orphaned elephants. The elephants are kept at the home for at least 5 years and are then released in groups back into the wild. We could watch them being fed and bathed although all from a distance as they try to have as little human interaction as possible.
The next part of our tour was to take us along the South Coast. Our first stop was the area of Hambantota, here we stayed at The Shangri La Hotel. I would highly recommend this hotel for anyone who likes to play golf as it has its own 18-hole course on site. From here we continued along the coast to the city of Galle. Galle is well known for its fort which is a World Heritage Site it was founded in the 16th Century by The Portuguese. Once inside the gates of the fort you can wander through the streets and visit many places of interest including the museum, the 18th Century Dutch Church and the lighthouse. There are also many places to grab something to eat and drink. From the walls of the fort you can view the Galle International Cricket Ground, this was devastated by the tsunami on 26th December 2004 and was rebuilt, matches resumed here in December 2007. The England cricket team will be touring Sri Lanka in 2018, an ideal excuse for a holiday and some cricket.
We were now coming to the end of our tour and after spending 1 night in Galle, we followed the west coast back up towards Colombo. For our final night we stayed in the historical Mount Lavina Hotel. The hotel is 210 years old and is steeped in history. As a former house of The Governor, it houses a museum and is colonial in style. The hotel was used as a film location in 1956 for The Bridge Over the River Kwai and in 1957 it opened the first nightclub in Sri Lanka.
The next morning it was time to begin our journey home. The trip from Mount Lavinia will take you through the old and new areas of Colombo. Traffic in Colombo is an issue and it can take up to 2 hours to get to the airport. On arrival at the airport we said farewell to our guide and driver and checked in for our flight back to London.
I must be honest Sri Lanka was certainly not near the top of my list as a holiday destination before travelling there on the this fabulous educational. The culture, the wildlife, the history and the friendliness of the locals has made me realise that this is a great country to visit not just as a two-centre holiday with places like the Maldives and Mauritius but also a one stop holiday. I can now see why so many honeymooners include Sri Lanka as part of their dream holiday. I do love cruising and this will always be my main passion either selling it or going on cruises myself but Sri Lanka is somewhere I would not hesitate to return to in the future.
I really did love it!
Errors and omissions excepted.
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