Sri Lanka: An island trip from Sigiriya to Mirissa is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen.
Sri Lanka, a dream travel country
Sri Lanka has been on my dream destination list for many years. In fact, I have been around for almost 15 years, but I had decided that by 2020 I should visit some of the countries that were at the top of my list.
In Asia, Sri Lanka stood at the top along with Nepal. So the two Buddhist countries became the destination of my first trip this year.
I did not regret that decision. The green island has so much to offer that I can well understand that there are a number of Danes who keep coming back here.
A green island in the Indian Ocean
Sri Lanka is only half as big as Denmark, and therefore nicely manageable as a destination.
The island has a common past with the huge country to the north, India . Yet it has its very own character. The island is characterized by the fact that it is located in the Indian Ocean, and has a different religion as well as an ancient cultural history.
For it is as if Sri Lanka has threads to the entire Indian Ocean. Their Sinhalese language is closely related to the Maldivian just south of. But in the primarily Buddhist and religion-tolerant Sri Lanka, I saw several times young couples go hand in hand while Maldives practices sharia Islam. So there are also clearly some differences.
The green, swaying palm trees and the temperature send thoughts towards Thailand. But where they are still heavily challenged in English in Thailand, the level is really high in Sri Lanka. The giant tropical trees by the roadside filled with flowers made me think Madagascar, but where they are struggling with severe poverty and poor infrastructure there, Sri Lanka is a far richer country.
The English colonial history and beautiful cliffs have Sri Lanka in common Seychelles. But where the beautiful islands have massive import restrictions that make prices match the Danish, Sri Lanka is as cheap as Thailand and Vietnam . Sri Lanka shares its love of spices Mauritius og Zanzibar, but Sri Lanka has far more cultural highlights than the two islands.
Because it's Sri Lanka. Completely its own, and yet recognizable.
The trip to Sri Lanka started with a drive from Negombo International Airport to Dambulla in the Central Highlands. For here the ancient Sinhalese culture stands strong, and this is where the royal cities and the most important temples are located.
Before then, however, one just had to land properly, so therefore I had chosen to start at Diyabubula Barberyn Jungle & Art Hideaway. It's such a lovely place that I have written an entire article about it.
The resort is perfectly located for day trips, which is important in Sri Lanka, because trips always take longer than you think, so the distance matters.
Sigiriya: The Lion Rock
Sigiriya is one of the most visited attractions in Sri Lanka, which could also be seen in the ticket price to enter the area. As much as $ 30 in a country where everything else is pretty cheap.
Sigiriya is also known as Lions Rock, the Lion Rock. In front of the cliff are the remains of a temple city, and upstairs is a temple and a fortress on the giant cliff.
It is divinely beautiful, and there is, so to speak, only one chin at it: there are 1200 steps up, and it just goes up. Therefore, many choose to arrive early in the morning so they can climb up while it is not hot.
My schedule had been far too optimistic, so I could well see that if I also wanted to see the royal cities I had to be creative. So I walked around the cliff, and enjoyed the nature and the atmosphere.
Sigiriya is truly a unique place - there is not much else to say.
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka's first capital
Anuradhapura was Sri Lanka's first capital 2900 years ago, and here stands a whole string of Buddhist stupas and shrines.
I have come here with a guide who tells me that because it is a sacred area, the ground should only be walked on with bare feet. So on hot rocks we hike into the huge area. Directly towards the white stupa Ruwanwelisaya, which rises 55 meters into the sky.
The lotus flower is an essential part of the Buddhist rituals and it is found in all forms here. Legend has it that because the lotus flower has grown from the mud to the finest flower in the open air, it symbolizes the development one goes through when following Buddhism. From earthly mud to free spirit.
My guide shows me how to sacrifice a lotus flower to Buddha. We devoutly walk left around the stupa, admiring the elephant decorations, its white belly and the shiny tower.
Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is the oldest stupa in Sri Lanka. One clearly senses a great respect from the visitors, who in addition to a few tourists are all locals.
Buddha was born in Nepal as prince, and he found his way under a tree in northeastern India near the city of Gaya. That is why the tree is an incredibly important icon in Buddhism. Also here in Sri Lanka.
We went over to a temple whose sole purpose was to protect and display a tree that had a branch from the original Buddha tree, i.e. it is about 2500 years old. The branch was brought from India here, grafted on, and worshiped as a shrine.
To that extent, Anuradhapura is also worth a visit if one is interested in Sri Lanka's cultural history and religion.
Habanara is close to Dambulla and Sigiriya, and late in the afternoon I landed at Hotel The Other Corner. As I walked over the small suspension bridge, calm descended over my body that had been going on all day.
The hotel consists of cottages in traditional style located in a cozy garden, and to my great excitement I found out that I lived right next to the pool! So it was not many minutes before I splashed around in the water, looking at the birds and the trees. Nice.
After a really good local dinner served by some of the many friendly people found in Sri Lanka, I went to bed early with a book, and slept like a baby in my cozy hut.
In the morning, the local monkeys said goodbye to me as I crossed the suspension bridge on my way to new adventures - watch the video here
On the way around Sri Lanka
There are many ways to get around Sri Lanka. There are several train lines, there are public buses and there is a sea of tuktukes.
It is most popular to hire a driver, because it is affordable, and then you get the most out of your time. Plus you don't have to drive yourself. Because if there is one thing you should not do, it is to drive yourself.
The traffic is dense and unpredictable because pedestrians mingle with bicycles, mopeds, tuktukes, trucks, buses and animals on narrow roads without sidewalks. Even as a passenger in a car, you just have to get used to the fact that the traffic is so intense. However, I saw no accidents and there were no scratches or dents.
It also means it takes time to get around. If you count on 25-30 km / h, if you drive all the time, it is not completely skewed.
Ella, the princess of the mountains
I had been recommended to visit Ella, located in the low mountains of the southern part of the island.
Ella, along with nearby Kandy, are two very tourist-friendly cities. There are one beautiful view after another and there are plenty of places to stay and eat. In addition, it is located in tea country, where you can taste the leaves directly from the producers of the famous Ceylon tea.
The main reason I was taken to Ella was now that I would like to get out to pull a little, and it was easy in this area.
In Ella I also had a somewhat - shall we say differently - hotel experience. When you travel a lot, you gradually find out how to find the good hotels, but here I had simply not done my homework properly, and had fallen for the pictures of the view.
Living on Ella Mount Heaven was like being an involuntary participant in the reality show "Hotel Hell", where everything (except the view) was completely in the fence.
I actually do not remember ever living in a place where it was so dirty, where there were so many things in pieces, where the design was so strange, where the food was so bad, and where the owners quarreled in the middle of the restaurant. On the other hand, there was also a hell of a noise…
It was the first and only time in Sri Lanka where I really did not feel comfortable.
The classic train journey from Kandy to Ella
The city's absolute pride and tourist attraction is the train bridge, The 9 arch bridge. It was built by the British to get the tea from the mountains out to the coast. Here, the train that takes lots of tourists out on the most popular of all Sri Lanka's train journeys: the train journey from Kandy to Ella.
I had now opted out of the train journey for time reasons, but had to see the bridge, so I went for a nice walk from the town to the viewpoint by the valley before the trip continued south.
The others on the trail were a good mix of families visiting from Europe, including at least three Danish families, and local friends and girlfriends who were out for a walk in their beautiful area.
Ella is a really nice and beautiful place.
Yala National Park
There are a whole host of national parks in Sri Lanka, however Yala National Park is one of the most famous, and of course I had to visit it.
We left in a safari truck, where you get a really good view of the animals and nature from the barn.
By the lagoon, there were tons of birds of all colors, and young crocodiles ready for lunch with feathers on. On the trail we saw dragons, buffaloes, deer and hares. We even saw a 3 meter long python snake, which the guide was all the way up to run over, because it was extremely rare to see them.
A whole little Noah's ark.
The Leopard and Yala National Park
Although there are so many animals in the national park, the leopard is king. It is one of the least difficult places to see this impressive predator in the whole world. But the point is precisely that it is less difficult. Not easy.
We were driving away when we suddenly stopped, turned around, and drove carefully to a place where an animal trail crossed the gravel road. Apparently a leopard had just wandered over here a minute ago. We waited patiently with binoculars and camera ready, but the only thing we got to see was its footprint in the sand.
If you have time, it may be obvious to take both a morning and an afternoon safari in Yala National Park, in order to increase the chance of seeing the majestic animal. But there are no guarantees - it's not a zoo.
Lavendish Okrin Hotel, Kataragama
After the crazy hotel experience in Ella, I was a bit up on the licorice to find a good hotel at Yala. Fortunately, I also found it, in the form of the Lavendish Okrin Hotel in Kataragama, only 12 kilometers from the national park.
Here was bright, open and in control of things. I threw myself happily into their large evening buffet, and the next day, with equal joy, into their pool.
Like so many other places in Sri Lanka, they also lacked guests here, so the sweet waiters in the restaurant were more than happy to visit, and to have their picture taken.
In full harmony
Out in the hotel courtyard there was a strip of trees and plants with signs on.
I had, of course, seen the local written language before, but it struck me how precisely the round, harmonious signs reflect most of the Sinhalese community. Where you feel good and want to do good.
At Ayurvedic resort in Sri Lanka
The next week I spent at this Ayurvedic resort Barberyn Ayurvedic Beach Resort, which can almost be described as a spa hotel in the absolute best local style.
There are some of them in Sri Lanka and in southern India, and it can definitely be recommended if you want to come home as a healthier person. Just remember to choose one where you know they will take good care of you. To that extent, they do so at Barberyn.
The Blue Whales in Mirissa
I've seen before blue whales in Iceland, and therefore I went crazy when I discovered that it was the season to experience the world's sovereign largest animals - and even saw only a few kilometers from where I lived on the south coast.
From the port city of Mirissa you sail out on havet in the early morning hours. Here you can experience dolphins, sperm whales and, not least, blue whales! Sri Lanka is said to be the place in the world where there is the greatest chance of seeing the blue whale. Because here, a whole population of young blue whales lives precisely here, where the deep ocean currents meet land.
We sailed out on the gently rocking sea with a seasickness tablet in my stomach and I had an excellent view right up front.
It was not many minutes before we saw something large in the surface some distance ahead, and four times we saw the large tails of some young blue whales. We were not that close, but precisely because of that you could sense how big animals it really is.
Unfortunately, there were as many as 10 boats out, so it was difficult to see and follow. Although they have regulated how the boats can sail, only the slightly larger two-storey boats followed the rules, while some small boats seemed indifferent. So pay attention to who you are booking with.
We also saw quite a few dolphins enjoying themselves swimming, jumping and playing in the water right in front of us. It was quite a pleasant morning havet off Mirissa. Even if the waves made it almost impossible to photograph the animals.
Colombo International Airport Bandaranaike International Airport is located in Negombo, 30 kilometers north of Colombo. It is practically also an area where you are close to the water, and therefore there is a strip of international hotels here.
As Sri Lanka's answer to the White Sands, a long, narrow isthmus runs between Negombo's lagoon and havet. In a few minutes you can walk from one side to the other and enjoy the view and the light.
Unfortunately you can not swim on any of the sides due to rocks and other dirt, so choose a hotel with a good pool. This was my last day in Sri Lanka, so I had chosen Jetwing Lagoon, which had a pool no less than 100 meters long in the middle! There was also a large saltwater pool by the beach.
After eating simple and vegetarian for a week, it was a big upheaval to get to Jetwing Lagoon's brag of an evening buffet that was as delicious as it was great.
The last positive surprise of the day came when I saw how much this hotel actually worked with sustainability in really many different ways. They recycle bathing water for plant irrigation, avoid plastic, use solar cells, have local products and much more obvious.
Sri Lanka as a travel country
Sri Lanka has the potential to become the next major travel destination in Asia. There is no doubt about that at all.
Today there are fewer visitors to the emerald green island than there are to Denmark, but this is unlikely to continue… So if you love Southeast Asian countries like Thailand og Malaysia, and has a penchant for beautiful islands in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a perfect choice for a trip.