You probably must be saying "Whaaaaat?????" But think for a minute….there are some small risks….about the same as not going on vacation and driving your car in your home city! For the tens of thousands of Europeans who come to Sri Lanka annually, there is no change….here they come again. And if you can visit right now, when the drop in tourist traffic is light, there are so many travel bargains that it is really Sri Lanka on sale! Here are a few experiences you must have:
Go to the beach. Sri Lanka has so many beaches within easy reach of the capital. In fact, in Colombo, the capital, you can walk to the beach from many hotels. Galle Face Hotel is right on the ocean with sunsets that defy description. Absolutely modern, but with the feel of the British Raj. Enjoy a seaside dinner at Mt. Lavinia Hotel, a magnificent tradition with memories of the past whispering around you. Right now, prices are very affordable and the sun is reliably warm.
Visit ancient temples and forts. It’s easy to get around and the hotel will make any arrangements you want. There are great local agents, too, like Lanka Sports Reisen who can put a total tour together. On the top of your list should be Kandy and Sigiriya. Both are quite safe. Kandy is cool and a great respite from the heat on the beach. This is where a magnificent temple hosts Buddha’s tooth and it is a constant celebration of light and sound and devout pilgrims. Close to Kandy is the famous Botanical Garden where you can enjoy looking at plants you have never seen, buy sandalwood oil and see huge fruit bats.
Sigiriya, on the other hand, is not a temple but a fortified castle carved into and on a stone mountain. It shows some of the marvels of the ancient civilization that developed in the area with its intricate and still functioning water systems complete with fountains and swimming pools and beautiful wall paintings. To visit the castle at Sigiriya, you have to be there when it opens at 7 a.m. to beat the heat and manage the 1500 steps. The climb is a bit steep and in the heat is often a trial for a lot of people. If this is too much for you, visit the jungle close by and watch the elephants roam. Sigiriya Village Hotel gives a wonderful view of the "mountain" and is modern and very affordable.
Shop in Colombo. If you are a fashion nut, there are several places to check out other than the usual names. Odel is best known with good prices on name brands and great quality in their own brands. Women’s tops and children’s clothes, even winter ones, are readily available for really good prices. Remember, Sri Lanka is a garment manufacturer for world markets, so you can really get good bargains here. Gap, Victoria’s Secret, and Jones New York are some of their clients. Go to House of Fashion and beautiful quality tops can go for as low as $2. There are stylish crafts and woven cloth at Paradise Road Gallery and Barefoot. You can get wooden carvings that are beautifully done and the traditional carved wooden masks of Sri Lanka are breathtaking. But best of all is jewelry. Go for the blue sapphires. They have the best quality of these stones.
Visit a tea plantation. Drinking tea is a joy in Sri Lanka. Local tea is among the best in the world and they have blended several flavors to give you a variety of tastes. Driving towards any of the plantation will also make you realize why Sri Lanka or in the past, Ceylon, is the garden of the world. The lush vegetation in the rural areas is a joy to behold. But in the plantation itself, the colorful clothes of the women gathering the leaves in the midst of the dark green foliage of the tea is a feast to the eyes and these hillsides are simply beautiful.
Experience ayurvedic healing in the health resorts. Sri Lanka has several health resorts that are organized around ayurvedic practices. These places are not far from Colombo so a weekend stop-over can give you a peek to some of the wellness programs of these health resorts. A drive to Hikkadua just down the coast from Colombo will let you see the remnants of the great Tsunami of 2003 as well as explore several reputable ayurvedic clinics. They have resident ayurveda doctors who provide treatments. If treatment is not for you, you can strengthen the balance and harmony in your body. Or, if you have time you can enjoy a healthy holiday and learn about ayurvedic healing. By the way, the diving in Hikkadua is great and cheap…even the PADI courses! And on the drive from or to Colombo, you will see the traditional mask production and turtle sanctuaries on the beach.
Learn meditation and yoga. There are several meditation centers that offer lessons. In fact, in your hotel, it will not be unusual to find a yoga teacher.
Pamper yourself in a spa. Yes, the spas in some of the resorts are fed by spring water and the oils are mostly made in their age-old tradition. There are herbal gardens around and you can see some of the native plants from which they extract the oils.
Nature is at its best in Sri Lanka. It must be the world’s largest bird sanctuary exploding from the lush vegetation all over the country. Over and beyond this, the people are very gracious. The police and customs people smile. You feel very much welcome. No wonder the British stayed long and the famous writer, Sir Arthur Clarke, chose Sri Lanka as his home. Through its ruins and archaeology, Sri Lanka gives a living feeling of the great civilization and culture that is so much a part of the day to day life now.