When you think of Sri Lanka you think of clear seas and golden beaches. And that’s all true, except there’s a lot more to it than that.
Nestled to the south of India, it’s a holiday destination a little more under the radar than its neighbour the Maldives. But is that fair? Our Digital Writer Anna jetted off to learn a little more, and this is what she found…
Sri Lanka, here we come! It’s 11 hours to the capital of Colombo, but don’t worry about stopovers. From 7 November, Thomson Airways are putting on weekly direct flights from Gatwick Airport.
We arrived at the 5* Vivanta by Taj, where we were greeted by traditional Sri Lankan dancers. I basically felt like Kate Middleton on a state visit. Except I was wearing my Matalan plane trousers, not a £3000 Jenny Packham dress.
Vivanta by Taj, which is offered by Thomson, is located in the coastal town of Bentota. It’s right by the sea, making for great views from your balcony.
We were pretty knackered that evening, so we stayed at the hotel for dinner. The Shack is a beach-hut inspired venue looking right out onto the ocean. If I could put a trillion heart-eye emojis here to describe the lobster we were served, I totally would.
If you love an excursion, you’ll love this. We headed out to the Galle area to meet the stilt fisherman who work there. If you’re not sure what a stilt fisherman is, this photo explains it all…
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Tourists can have a go, and guess what?! I CAUGHT A FISH. It’s safe to say excitement levels were very, very high.
We had a look around Galle Fort, which is home to plenty of shops and restaurants. For those knowledgeable about architecture, the Dutch buildings will be right up your street. And if you’re in the business for Sri Lanka’s sparkling sapphires, pop into Place Vendome.
Afterwards, we visited the nearby Hikkaduwa Beach. As it was coming into monsoon season, it was a little rainy. But I imagine it’d be beaut at other times of the year.
For a tea lover like me (and, er, basically any Brit), this was an eye-opening day. We first visited the Rayigam Estate plantation, where we sampled Sri Lanka’s famous Ceylon brew.
We then travelled to a tea factory in the town of Ingiriya. We saw where it’s grown and picked, as well as how they make it. It’s not a simple process – there are several stages and dozens of hard-working employees. So next time you’re drinking your morning cuppa, make sure you appreciate it.
Our next stop was Agro Village, a typical Sri Lankan community not far from Ingiriya. Lunch came courtesy of the locals here, who’d cooked us a delicious traditional meal.
The ground was a tad water-logged, so we’d hopped in a Jeep to get there. Y’know, casual. But ordinarily, you’d be able to enjoy a tuk-tuk ride.
The people were among the kindest we met, and most certainly some of the hardest working. Their plantations include rubber, paddy, pineapple, cinnamon… I could go on.
This was genuinely a fascinating experience, and actually quite emotional. You can tell how proud they are of their way of life, and how keen they are to show it off. I’d highly recommend adding it to your to-see list.
We fancied a low-key dinner, so we opted for the buffet at Vivanta by Taj’s Palms Restaurant. If you’re a curry lover, you’ll be pleased to know that the selection was fairly extensive. In retrospect, I should’ve tried to smuggle some back in a cool box.
Oh, this was a tough day. I decided to catch some morning rays by the pool before making my way to Vivanta by Taj’s spa for a soothing massage. Yep, so tough.
The massage itself was lovely. My therapist was welcoming and polite, and afterwards she showed me to a relaxation area and settled me with a drink and magazines.
We left the hotel for a boat cruise along the Madu Ganga River in Balapitiya, which takes you through both scenic open waters and tropical greenery. Make sure you keep your eyes out for wildlife – we spotted monkeys climbing in the trees!
However, the pièce de résistance came when we travelled to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project. The main aim of this project is to monitor endangered sea turtle activity and conserve nesting sites, as well as care for disabled turtles that wouldn’t survive in the wild.
One of its most important features is its hatchery. The staff rescue eggs to ensure they hatch safely away from predators, before the hatchlings are released into the sea. Most are released at three days old, but a few are kept back for a short period (known as ‘headstarting’) to grow stronger.
We were privileged enough to help release a group of green turtle hatchlings, which was an incredible experience. I felt a bit like a surrogate mother, and TBH, I’m still wondering how they’re getting on now.
In the evening, we dined at 5* hotel Heritance Ahungalla. It has a real colonial charm, an impressive infinity pool and again, DAT LOBSTER.
This is where we bid adieu to our Bentota base and were whisked off to Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.
First stop? Food. We had lunch at the pretty Mount Lavinia Hotel. With its picturesque rooftop terrace and beach view, I’d never have guessed I was so close to the hustle and bustle.
We were then taken on a walking tour of Colombo. Now, it’s worth thinking about your outfit before setting foot in certain parts of the city. As you’ll be walking past Hindu temples (we even had a peek inside one), you’ll be expected to cover your shoulders and knees. But don’t stress too much, I just popped on a maxi dress and brought a jacket to drape over myself.
The bazaar area is very full-on. It’s huge, everyone’s in a rush and the traffic doesn’t stop for anything. But I didn’t find it particularly threatening, and you can definitely pick up some bargain souvenirs here.
Our trip was about to come to an end, but not before we’d dined at the Gallery Café. This eatery was located on a street named Paradise Road, and I can see why. With its twinkling lights, beautiful courtyard and reflecting pool, it would be the perfect setting for a romantic dinner.
As for the menu, it was up there with the best I’d had in Sri Lanka. Chocolate fans, you’ll be seriously impressed with the desserts on offer.
It was time to fly home, so I stocked up on plenty of Ceylon tea. Obvs.
There’s still so much I’d like to explore in Sri Lanka, from whale watching to the national parks (where you’re likely to see elephants). The main thing I took away from the trip is the fact that it’d work for those who love relaxing on a beach, as well as those who are all about exploring.
Think you’ve found your next vacay? Bookings can be made online at www.thomson.co.uk/destinations/indian-ocean/sri-lanka/holidays-sri-lanka.html, www.thomson.co.uk and www.firstchoice.co.uk.