As the end of confinement approaches, but that the borders do not reopen, I find myself dreaming of a trip to Sri Lanka. This is where I would have gone this summer if it had not been for the Coronavirus, taking advantage of the drop in the price of the Sri Lanka visa (see below) and the drop in tourism on the island, following the attacks of June 2019. As I have done in other articles, I am writing this post as a memo, a reminder of all the things I would have liked to see and do in Sri Lanka; keep dreaming a little, while waiting to be able to marvel at the richness of this island in the shape of a tear, or a drop of water, depending on the point of view that you adopt.
Ancient Ceylon – a name that will make travel lovers of history and good tea – is a crossroads where India, the British Empire, Asia, and the history of Buddhism meet. One of the island’s jewels is a triangle: the “cultural triangle”, a real must-have on any trip to Sri Lanka, where the visitor will go from one millennium to another by taking a few steps, stupas From Anuradhapura to the ruins of Polonnaruwa, via the Pidurangala rock … Sri Lanka is also jungle and primary forests, leopards and elephants in the wild, wonderful beaches and diving spots, superb tea plantations and long walks where the mountains, the sea, and the forests are never far from each other … In short, a small universe ensuring a total change of scenery, ideal for a “small” stay of one month by example.
Travel to Sri Lanka: the 10 essentials to see and do
Should we choose the east coast or the west coast for a first trip to Sri Lanka? Personally, I definitely recommend the east coast of Sri Lanka for its more natural, wilder aspect, its wide open spaces, its mountains, and its tea plantations.
1. Visit the Nuwara Eliya tea plantations
“Nourélia” tea plantations (that’s how you pronounce it) are a British heritage. In the 19th century, during the time of the Raj, they built this hill station to escape the stifling heat of the monsoon period – so many buildings have kept this colonial architecture. While strolling, you will be able to flutter between the Hakgala Botanical Gardens of Nuwara Eliya (which are the most beautiful botanical gardens in Sri Lanka, with that of Kandy) and the various tea rooms offering you tasting sessions. You will learn to recognize the three Ceylon teas: low-grown, medium-grown or high-grown, depending on the altitude at which the tea was harvested.
For your information, know that the rarest tea from Sri Lanka is the white “Silver Tips” tea, harvested in the region of Nawalapitiya, just next to Nuwara Eliya. Like all white teas, its rarity comes from the fact that only the bud of the tea plant is harvested by hand.
The city is also the starting point for the ascent of Adam’s Peak. Finally, in the Rāmāyana, it is in Nourelia that Sîtâ would have been imprisoned by the demon Râvana.
2. Getting lost in the cultural triangle (Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, and Sigiriya in the middle)
The cultural triangle, in the center of the island, is a magical historical environment where the visitor walks on a sacred pebble or finds his nose in front of a thousand-year-old relic at each step. Fascinating.
3. Go to Yala National Park
Yala National Park (or Ruhuna National Park) is the most visited national park in Sri Lanka. If the jeeps are sometimes victims of traffic jams, the very large number of wild animals, and the ease with which it is possible to observe them, make the park a great must-see on any trip to Sri Lanka.
4. Buller in Kandy
Kandy is both a UNESCO World Heritage City, and a student city with one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world (Peradeniya). An intellectual atmosphere where cafes are linked with books; an ideal city to put down your luggage for a few days, before setting off on safari.
5. Dare to push to Jaffna
Tourists are few in Jaffna. And for good reason: the city was closed to tourists until May 2009. If you are interested in Sri Lankan culture and society, and especially Tamils, this is the place to come. You might have the chance to watch a traditional Tamil dance (Koothou), discuss the civil war with veterans, or do comparative tests of the many varieties of mango available in the markets.
6. Go on a safari in Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park is at the same time relatively uncrowded, huge, and rather well preserved despite the fact that it was a combat zone during the Civil War. The park is famous for its leopards (the Ceylon Panther, also known as the Sri Lankan Leopard) and its birds.
7. Walk along Arugam Bay
Many surfers come to Arugam ; but the kilometers of beach are also one of the most beautiful coastal walks in the country.
8. Go back in time in Galle
Gall (pronounced “Gaul” in Tamil) is a very beautiful walled city built by European settlers. The various European and South Asian architectural styles are intertwined. The old town of Galle, a World Heritage Site, is very picturesque.
9. Taming Colombo
I don’t really like big cities – and indeed Colombo is often overlooked by tourists who go on a trip to Sri Lanka. However, apart from the practicality of stopping in Colombo for a few days (obtaining the Sri Lankan driving license at theAutomobile Association of Ceylon to rent a vehicle, for example), and besides the few tourist attractions of the city, Colombo is also an opportunity to eat. Eat. And eat again. In chic restaurants, street food restaurants, canteens, nowhere else will you have such a variety of choices to discover Sri Lankan cuisine: Kottu, Apam, Idyappa, Lamprais …
10. Traveling by train in Sri Lanka
The journey from Colombo to Badulla is considered one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. Especially the section between Haputale and Ella, where the rails go deep into the jungle through hills, mountains, tea plantations with, sometimes, the ocean in the background. Magical.
Before thinking about a trip to Sri Lanka, three points raise many questions from Internet users:
– Do I need a visa for Sri Lanka?
– Where is the coronavirus in Sri Lanka? Can we consider going there after deconfinement?
– What are the risks of a trip to Sri Lanka? Is it dangerous? (answer: no, not more than elsewhere)
Do you need a visa for Sri Lanka?
The visa for Sri Lanka was paying; then free; then he became paying again. The situation changes very often and, in a somewhat exceptional way, I advise you to contact a specialized agency before leaving on a trip to Sri Lanka, in order to know the latest news regarding Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). It is possible to make the visa at Colombo airport as a last resort – and for a higher price than if you do it in advance.
On site, it is possible to extend your tourist visa beyond 30 days, by going to the immigration office or a police station, at least eight days before the visa expires.
Sri Lanka has been very little affected by Covid 19. As of April 30, 2020, there were:
• 122 hospitalizations
• 199 cases
• 7 dead
Tourists there have seen their visa extended automatically, and free of charge. The border is currently closed but, given the importance of tourism to the island, it is likely that they will reopen as soon as possible, possibly on condition that they present proof of a recent negative test for Coronavirus, as Nepal, Thailand or Burma had done it.
As of April 30, 2020, all planes and boats were prohibited from entering Sri Lankan territory.
When to go on a trip to Sri Lanka?
When to go on a trip to Sri Lanka? It depends on your priorities:
– West coast and south coast : between January and March (dry season)
– East and north coast : between April and July (dry season)
– Hikes and treks in Sri Lanka : between November and March
– Safaris : between November and March also
– Low season : travel between April and May to avoid the tourist crowds
In short, to see everything, it is better to prioritize the application for your visa for Sri Lanka between the months of January and April.