Watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean, enjoy a hot Sri Lankan curry and hunt for rare leopards deep in the jungle. New Zealand travel writer Jacqui Gibson tracks down the best Sri Lanka has to offer.
1. TAKE A STROLL ON GALLE FACE GREEN
There are few things more relaxing than watching the evening sky turn pink over the ocean as you stroll a big city promenade. Colombo’s Galle Face Green is an ocean-facing urban park where you can do just that. Half a kilometre in length, the green gives you a chance to get among the locals. Watch couples canoodle, sample savoury snacks from the many vendors or photograph the sky’s vivid and ever-changing colours. Pop into nearby Galle Face Hotel for a refreshing gin and tonic to complete a perfect evening.
2. ORDER UP A SRI LANKAN CURRY
Sri Lanka offers a rich and varied cuisine with a spectacular array of flavour combinations. There are the sweet caramelised onion relishes, bitter melon, spicy scraped coconut – not to mention staples like the spicy Kottu, a stir-fry of shredded roti bread and vegetables. Just where to start? You’ll find wonderful homemade curries ready for the sampling all over the country – in fancy hotels through to small local homestays. Just be sure to place your order early. A fresh curry takes several hours to prepare.
3. UNWIND IN A HERITAGE BUNGALOW
When you’re travelling a country as rich and diverse as Sri Lanka, it can feel like you need to keep moving to not miss out. Resist the urge to go, go, go. Some of your best experiences will be found in places hidden away. Time spent at Nisala Arana in Bentota is case in point. Nisala Arana is an intimate family-run resort set in secluded tropical gardens, fashioned by the gardener of Sri Lanka’s most famous architect, Geoffrey Bawa. It’s here among the tamarind trees you can watch mongoose scurrying for cover. Stay in a beautifully restored Dutch colonial bungalow, one time home of an Ayurvedic doctor famed locally for curing snake bites. Take in the birdlife from your shaded deck. Enjoy a cool dip in Nisala Arana’s in-ground pool. If you love to get away from hotel crowds, this place is ideal.
4. GO ON A LEOPARD SAFARI
Once upon a time, Sri Lanka’s native leopard roamed the teardrop-shaped country in significant numbers. Nowadays the tawny coloured, spotted cat’s numbers are in decline – so much so the species is now classified as endangered. The good news is you can see a real-life leopard in the jungle simply by making your way to Yala National Park. Leopard density is higher there than anywhere else in the world. Kulu Safaris offer a three-day luxury safari guided by some of the country’s most experienced guides. On this fully-catered safari you can see elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals and spotted deer. Look out for peacock and crocodiles too. Best time to go is the dry season between February and July. Hot tip: take a light scarf to shield your face from the ever-present red dust kicked up by the park’s many safari jeeps.
5. VISIT A BUDDHIST TEMPLE
Sri Lanka is a mostly Buddhist country with some of the world’s most impressive religious temples. There’s Adam’s Peak in the Hill Country, an ancient pilgrim site set atop a huge pinnacle of rock. Visit the temple on the summit during pilgrimage season from December until May – and join the throng. If that doesn’t quench your thirst for temples, head to Kandy to check out the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic where the tooth of the Buddha is reputedly housed. Remember to take your shoes off before entering any temple. It’s always a great idea to impress the locals with your good manners.