Hike through Sri Lanka’s largest cloud forest
The Horton Plains National Park is a grassland and cloud forest protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, with a unique ecosystem that allows it to create its own climate. The sweeping landscape of the plains with its gnarled trees and playful fog makes for a mystical setting straight out of Narnia. The 9-mile circuit takes one through its endemic plants and woods that are home to native mammals such as the Sri Lankan sambar deer and blue magpie, and past the sheer World’s End drop and Baker Falls. Horton Plains can easily be done as a day trip from the colonial town of Nuwara Eliya, or Warwick Gardens if you wish to experience a typical, old-school tea estate bungalow life.
Spot leopards and elephants
The most visited national park in Sri Lanka, Yala is also its second largest park. The park is the habitat of a large variety of wildlife, especially Sri Lankan elephants and giant birds that flock water bodies such as pelicans, painted storks, ibis, spoonbills, peacocks, and cormorants. It also has one of the highest densities of leopards in the world. Situated in the lowest peneplain of Sri Lanka, Yala’s elevation goes down to as low as thirty metres close to the coast. One of the most unique sights it offers is leopards and elephants by the ocean, at their sea level home in Yala.
Taste authentic Lankan spread
Sri Lankan cuisine has an array of flavours and tastes, and it’s hard not to like it. While most breakfast buffets and plenty of restaurants offer the local cuisine, indulge in the most authentic fare at dedicated ‘rice and curry’ stops on the highways. The little eateries loved by locals now cater to travellers too, and serve buffet-style lunches only, with everything from fish curry, deviled sweet and sour fish curry, coconut sambol or salad, and delicious curried fruit such as mango and jackfruit served with red rice and kottu (bread). Watch for the ‘rice and curry’ signboards, but ask your driver to recommend a big and clean facility with restrooms.
Unwind in Trincomalee
About 265km from Colombo, Trincolmalee is far out on Sri Lanka’s east coast. Once caught in the throes of the country’s long civil war, it was off the tourist map for a long time but offbeat travellers are slowly sitting up to take notice of it, and for good reason. Trinco, as it is popularly known, has some of the country’s most beautiful beaches such as Nilaveli and Uppuveli. The azure waters are a beautiful contrast to its white sandy stretches, and are home to the blue whale, dolphins, and have some great diving spots such as those at the Pigeon Island marine national park.
Sample the sweetness of ‘kiri pani’
‘Thembili’, the bright yellow king coconut is omnipresent and fabulously refreshing on a hot island day, but don’t miss ‘kiri pani’, the naturally sweet yoghurt and coconut treacle delicacy locals love. Most stops don’t have sign boards, so watch for roadside shacks with earthen bowls full of with fresh yoghurt stacked in neat rows, and bottles of shiny honey next to them that will be generously poured over the yoghurt before being handed out. It’s not only sweet and refreshing, but also a filling dish.
Play with baby turtles in Bentota
Bentota is synonymous with beach holidays, but the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservancy is adding immense value to the beach town by its stellar work. A family-run initiative of the Pereras and spearheaded by Dudley Perera, the sanctuary focuses on protecting nesting sites and offers rescued eggs safety from predators. Only few hatchlings make it to adulthood, and Kosgoda provides an environment to maximise that number. The ticket fee and donations go towards the upkeep of the conservancy, where you can see a variety of baby turtles, physically impaired adult turtles that would be easy prey, and day-old hatchlings before they return home to the sea. Team your Bentota stay with a visit to Kosgoda, where you can also volunteer over a weekend, or visit on a day trip from Galle.
Walk around Colombo 7
Also known as Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7 is the capital’s historic district and also its swankiest residential and commercial area. The large cinnamon plantations that existed here in the 18th century were slowly replaced by large aristocratic homes of the nobility and then the diplomats, and also elite convents and universities. Walk around the area to see the Independence square, the national museum, the town hall and the Victoria park. You can also shop at leading malls, hip and popular Sri Lankan stops for latest trends and souvenirs.
Get yourself a hopper pan souvenir
One of the best tastes of Sri Lankan food lies in the variety of its hoppers. Breakfasts are a treat with egg hoppers, plain hoppers, and the permutations and combinations you can make with various sambol fillings from your own experiments. If you’re a gourmand, chances are you will fall in love with them and have withdrawal symptoms, so get yourself a hopper pan that you can buy at a local departmental or utility store and make those hoppers at home whenever you long for a taste of Sri Lanka.
Conde Nast Traveller