I wish you a long and happy life” is the traditional greeting of Sri Lanka’s friendly citizens. However, the country has long been a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s that beautiful tropical island that boasts a spectacular combination of white sand beaches, stunning landscapes, exotic wildlife and an unique cultural heritage. On the other hand, the country was war-torn for a quarter century and its east coast was badly devastated by the 2004 tsunami. Add a little (read: a lot) corruption on top and voila, you’ve got all the ingredients needed for a questionable international reputation.
Buckle up, here’s the news: Those times are over! The war is long over and the new government is trying hard to fight the rotten roots of corruption. Sri Lanka now finds itself in the spotlight of countless international travel guides as it emerges as one of the world’s best tourist destinations, boasting eight (!) Unesco World Heritage Sites, epic surf locations, tropical rainforests and pristine beaches. We’ll tell you this much already: all the buzz is justified.
The country’s picturesque beauty is still clouded by the remnants of war: left overs of military checkpoints, sniper hideaways and ruins of internment camps are a constant reminder of the country’s bloody recent past. However the repairs and infrastructure are coming along nicely: a 100 mile ride from the airport to the southern coast, where international buyers who have smelt the bait take up residency these days, now only takes 2 hours rather than 6.
The newly won ease of access to the island is a big plus for any tourist looking for some adventurous days with visits to Sri Lanka’s famous beaches, bamboo grooves or wild grounds where exotic animals such as elephants or leopards still reign supreme. The improved infrastructure also caused a boom in the hotel scene on the island. Upscale hotels add a touch of luxury to the exotic island and make it even more attractive for international travellers. Now, while Sri Lanka is still pleasantly uncrowded, is the best time to hop on a plane and discover the island’s mesmerising beauty by yourself!
Berlinagenten’s exclusive 14 day trip
Since we’re always aiming to supply you with the best tips and secrets wherever the wind takes us, Berlinagenten has spared no effort and compiled the perfect route for two weeks of culture, discovery and adventure. First tip: It’s not a must, but the easiest way to go will be to hire a private driver for the trip. Prices are around 100€ per day including car and fuel.
Welcome to the Kandy Krush Saga! Located in the center of Sri Lanka, Kandy was the residency of Sri Lanka’s last King until he was forced to step down in 1815. The city of 120.000 can easily be reached by train from Colombo – passing through a spectacular jungle scene it’s definitely a very pleasant way to do so.
Biggest highlight is the Sacred Buddhist Temple of the Tooth, which is considered to be one of the holiest places for buddhists from all over the world! It’s located within the walls of the royal palace, which features other vast cultural treasures such as the four hindu Devales (hindu temples) or the holy Bodhi-Tree, guarded by a chained elephant.
Since the days in the heritage city Kandy can become a little hasty, you’re well advised to have a little break every now and then to refill your spirits. Our absolute favourite spot was the British Colonial style Queen’s Hotel, the perfect spot to sip on a cocktail (or tea if you’re driving) while overlooking the splendid surroundings of the picturesque Kandy lake.
2. The Nature Route. Kandy -> Nuwara Eliya -> Ella -> Tissamaharama (Yala Nationalpark)
Sri Lanka’s real flavour lies in the journey to the heart of Sri Lanka’s famous tea-growing area, which is located almost 2000m above Kandy. Sri Lanka is world famous for their teas and the world’s 4th largest tea supplier. Cutting up through countless hairpins at a sweaty 35˚C, the view gets better and better as you get higher until you reach the top where you’re greeted by a contrastive 16˚C. While passing gaps in the woods, your heart stops for a beat to contemplate the sheer beauty of the panoramic views and you’ll often find yourself gazing in wonder for minutes and minutes. Passing idyllic waterfalls we felt like we were stuck in a scene from Jurassic Park, expecting dinosaurs to come rumbling through the forest anytime now…
Whatever you do, stopping at one of the many secluded tea factories is an absolute must-do! We recommend Mackwood’s Tea, who provide a full range of unblended black and flavoured teas with colourful tastes and delicious aromas. Drink a tea here and you’ll never look at tea the same way again!
2.1 Nuwara Eliya
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the top! Nuwara Eliya is also called the “city of light” and with and average 16˚C is one of the coolest areas in Sri Lanka, so don’t forget to bring a cozy jacket. Blessed with a much less humid climate, breath-taking valleys and plenty of greenery Nuwara Eliya ranks among the top destinations for tourists in the whole country.
The cooler climate was also a reason why many of the English colonialists were drawn to the village – they felt reminded of England. As a left over from those times there’s even a golf course and a horse race track built by wealthy British settlers… got to leave it to the English, they know how to make themselves feel at home! Swing by at the private Hill Club Sri Lanka and feel like a gentleman of the old days – overseas visitors are admitted as temporary members in this exclusive gentelmen’s club.
Have you ever put your eyes on a valley that stretches for 15km and is located a staggering 1000m below you? No? Welcome to Ella. This little town on the southeast side of the hill country offers some of the most stunning views in Sri Lanka. The world famous Ella Gap is just one of them, accompanied by the Ravana Ella Falls and the tremendous Adam’s Peak. Tip: Book a hotel with a view on the Ella Gap to wake up each morning to have your mind blown before breakfast.
There’s a charming idyllic train station in the center of Ella that infuses the place with a sympathetic charm – the tourism boom hasn’t quite reached Ella yet. The local taverns offer tasty Curry and traditional meat dishes, no fine dining here. Just authentic, real, delicious food. Our personal highlight was a visit to Asha Suwamedura – a fully equipped Ayurveda Health Resort. Let your body, mind and soul relax while receiving an amazing tingling water massage and watching the vivid nature through the windowfront. Aahh, we want to go back!
Ella also is a great starting point for you next trekking tour and should definitely be on your itinerary!
2.3 Yala Nationalpark
No Sri Lanka vacation without visiting Yala Nationalpark! Of course a Safari in Sri Lanka can’t be compared to visiting Africa, but it’s still considered to be one of the best wildlife parks in Asia with a wide range of animals such as monkeys, peacocks, sloth bears, wild hogs, bunnies, elephants, water buffalos, crocodiles and countless colorful birds. And of course there’s the undisputed king of the jungle: the mighty leopard. Leopards lead a secretive life and the gods were on our side that day: we saw two of them. Bingo! We managed to get out uneaten and well. Double Bingo! Even the leopards pay their respect to Berlinagenten, no other way to put it.
Another tourist highlight in the area is the brand new luxury hotel Jetwing Yala, who call themselves the “beacon of light in the deep South”. Well, a beacon they are, seeing that 40% of the hotel’s energy requirement is generated by a Solar PV system, making the hotel number one when it comes to sustainability. The hotels boasts a beautifully illuminated 100m pool, direct beach access complete with mini-bar, lounge area and a gang of good looking lifeguards.
3. Rekawa Beach
Welcome to paradise. Rekawa is a very secluded beach where you can hear every single wave crashing on the shore, feel the unspoilt sand beneath your toes as you take a deep breath and let your mind wander. Nothing comes close to the experience of feeling untroubled and peacefully facing the sea – be mindful not to step on any baby turtles, though. This beach is known to attract different species of turtles in nesting season and with a little luck, you can witness a baby turtle seeing the world for the first time. As not to disturb the little cuties, the Turtle Watch Rewaka is organising the Turtle Watches, so they’re not harmed in their natural habitat. Must see! You can learn more here.
Now turtles are fun and all, but what if small animals don’t really impress you that much? No problem. Mirissa is another secluded beach that isn’t really much of a backpacker’s secret anymore, and there’s one unusual activity that makes this place so special apart from its beauty: whale watching. If you’re visiting between December and April chances are pretty good you’ll be able to lay eyes on one of the rarest views in nature – blue whales, baby. The boats leave pretty early in the morning (around 6am) and if you’re lucky you’ll even meet a gang of dolphins, who are known to chance boats for the sport of it! If you can’t wait already, here’s your chance to book a tour.
We love it when different cultural influences blend together and create something unique. While most bigger cities in Sri Lanka don’t exactly look beautiful and tend to be a bit of an insult to your sense of smell, Galle boasts a charming blend of Dutch colonial architecture and south asian vitality. The city is set in a tropical Asian surrounding and still feels a little European – complete with cosy eateries, trendy shops, art galleries and a boom of boutique hotels that offer uncompromising luxury. Galle is the new destination for jetsetters and high end travellers looking for a laid back holiday with colonial flair! We recommend you to visit the Historical Mansion – a bizarre mixture of museum, junk shop, jewellery and craftwork collection found in the ship wrecks off the coast.
6. Bentota Beach
Bentota is home to an uprising hotel scene and boasts 8km of continuous beach with accomodations for every wallet size. Thanks to Sri Lanka’s laws, hotels may not be bigger than the surrounding palms, so don’t worry about concrete block-like hotels messing up the beautiful scenery! Despite the hotels, you won’t meet many people as you take a refreshing stroll along the beach – not even in peak season, which gives the beach a wonderful touch of intimacy.
Just 10km from the town you’ll also find a real gem for every Sri Lanka vacation: Bevis Bawa didn’t lead the usual Sri Lankan life – his father was extremely wealthy, his brother Geoffrey an important architect and Bevis himself a homosexual eclectic known to be a heavy drinker and to throw sex orgies in his Jungle Book like riot of a garden – the Brief Garden. The garden’s countless statues and sculptures are a real eye-catcher and have largely been built by Bevis himself – and here’s the best part: the garden can be visited. There’s a caretaker who offers guided tours for around 1000 Rupees – don’t miss out on this, but don’t touch any statues!
Our last station is Colombo – Sri Lanka’s booming Capitol. With more than 3 million residents, the urban image is characterized by an ever-going hustle and bustle and many tourists quickly pass through this diverse city on their way to more southern domains. However Colombo’s cosmopolitan site has developed into a wide array of new hotel complexes, galleries, art shops, museums and cosy eateries and is no longer just a frantic stopover for ambitious travellers! Right next to modern skyscrapers you’ll find small shops and joints or even buddhist shrines and colonial churches. The colourful blend of attractions creates the unique urban image and does take some getting used to – but once you find the city’s beauty, it’s hard to ever let go again.
The latest addition to Colombo’s luxury and fine dining scene is the sparkling Arcade Independence Square, which represents the immense efforts put into to beautification of the Sri Lankan Capitol. It’s facing the prestigious Independence Square and has all your needs covered under one roof. There’s a trendy shopping mall with exclusive boutiques and stores, but also a huge selection of upper class restaurants just waiting for your famishing tastebuds to arrive! The Arcade sets new standards for luxury in Sri Lanka and shouldn’t be missed on your to-do-list for Colombo.
Sri Lanka offers a wide range of different hotels, however the trend is leaning towards new upscale accommodations. The war created a niche for luxury in the tourism scene that is being filled now, so you’ll find anything from a simple backpacker’s lodge to newly built top notch hotels – no matter the size of your pursue, Sri Lanka is the right place for you. We compiled a list of the most noteworthy hotels on the island:
Amaya Hills (Kandy)
The Kandy House (Kandy)
Heritance Hotel (Nuwara Eliya)
Resort 98 Acres (Ella)
Jetwing Yala (our top pick!)
Jetwing Yala is in close proximity to the Yala Nationalpark and you can literally hear the sounds of wild animals in the distance as you dwell on the hotel’s grounds. It’s a little scary knowing that just a few kilometres away from you, wild leopards might be taking a midnight snack. However the hotel itself is our absolute favourite: luxurious, a huge infinity pool, direct beach access (with a bar!) and a spa that let us forget all about the leopards. Definitely one of Sri Lanka’s upcoming super stars!
Good Karma Hotel (Rekawa Beach) (our top pick!)
Get comfy in your two-store bungalow surrounded by the ocean on one side and the jungle on the other. Almost every night turtles crawl up the shore to lay their eggs in the sand of Rekawa Beach, so be prepared for a tasty turtle soupin the morning! Joking. Good Karma Hotel is your best choice when you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing holiday – deserted beaches, white sand, tropical gardens and monkeys, peacocks and lizards as your direct neighbours. The perfect getaway.
Amanwella (Tangalle) (our top pick!)
Amanwella offers 27 suites that each come with a private pool and terrace, all connected by pathways along a landscaped rise with beach and ocean view. The golden beach is located in a crescent-shaped cove fringed with palm trees, while the resort finds itself surrounded by a coconut grove. Feel jealous yet? There’s also nature walks that wind through the jungle and often end up in the close by village of Tangalle, where you’re free to stroll around and explore Sri Lanka’s village life. Do check your calender every now and then – the risk of forgetting time completely is high with this one.
Jetwing Landesi (Galle) (our top pick!)
Hotels aren’t quite your thing but you still want to spend your vacation with style? Check out the three-roomed Landesi villa near Galle, the undisputed cultural Capital of Sri Lanka’s south. Spacious and luxurious, the dutch villa actually feels like the colonial time wasn’t quite over yet – in fact, if it wasn’t for the showers, air conditioning and electricity you’d be lured into thinking you just took a trip to Sri Lanka’s colonial era. From here the adventures of the South are just a jump and a hop form your doorstep: surfing in Ahamanga, whale-watching in Mirissa or just watching the stilt fisherman – the South pleases all your desires.
Galle Fort Hotel (Galle)
Deco On 44 (Galle)
The Fort Printers (Galle)
Vivanta By Tay (Bentota) (our top pick!)
Remember all these great looking postcards you get from your colleagues while they’re on holiday? This is probably where the stayed while taking them. Vivanta By Tay offers a relaxing stay with gourmet meals, luxurious health and wellness experiences and absolutely breath taking views of the Indian ocean’s blue water. Book one of the 160 rooms and enjoy lush gardens, colonial architecture with red tiled roofs and the terraced infinity pool to cool you down after a long day in the jungle. Absolute stunner!
Restaurants, bars & cafes
Slightly Chilled (Kandy) – Perfect place to get away from Kandy’s hustle and bustle and enjoy a great view over the city.
Cafe Chill (Ella) – A colourful, cozy little café that will make you feel at home in seconds.
Amangalla (Galle) – Eat in the “The Zaal” (The Great Hall) and enjoy a wonderful colonial feel with high ceilings, overhead fans and chandeliers.
Fortaleza (Galle) – Kitchen chef Arun serves some of the finest food in Galle, using only the best seasonal fruits, vegetables and freshly caught fish.
Pedlar’s Inn (Galle) – The first coffeeshop to be established as UNESCO Heritage site.
Raux Brothers (Galle) – Flagship store for handcrafted furniture.
The Three Hotel (Galle) – where Asian design, Scandinavian thinking and western standard melt together.
The Living Room (Galle) – Great atmosphere, screaming colours, glitter, feathers and leopard prints. On of the country’s best bars!
Lucky Fort Restaurant (Galle) – Best dish: Rice with 10 different curries (feeds two). The place boasts a nice living room atmosphere and some great homecooked food, a real insider tip!