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4 easy-to-use How to Use This Book sections Look for these symbols to quickly identify listings: 1 1 Sights 4 Sleeping PLAN YOUR TRIP r Beaches 5 Eating Your planning tool kit Photos & suggestions to help 2 Activities 6 Drinking you create the perfect trip. C Courses 3 Entertainment 2 T Tours 7 Shopping ON THE ROAD z Festivals 8 I&nfTorramnsaptioornt Your complete guide Expert reviews, easy-to-use & Events maps & insider tips. All reviews are ordered in our authors’ preference, 3 starting with their most preferred option. Additionally: Sights are arranged in the geographic order that we UNDERSTAND suggest you visit them and, within this order, by author preference. Get more from your trip Eating and Sleeping reviews are ordered by price Learn about the big picture, to range (budget, midrange, top end) and, within these make sense of what you see. ranges, by author preference. 4 These symbols and abbreviations give vital information for each listing: SURVIVAL GUIDE Must-visit recommendation Your at-a-glance reference Vital practical information Sustainable or green recommendation for a smooth trip. No payment required % Telephone number f Ferry h Opening hours j Tram p Parking d Train n Nonsmoking apt apartments a Air-conditioning d double rooms i Internet access dm dorm beds W Wi-fi access q quad rooms s Swimming pool r rooms v Vegetarian selection s single rooms E English-language menu ste suites c Family-friendly tr triple rooms # Pet-friendly tw twin rooms g Bus For symbols used on maps, see the Map Legend.
©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd Sri Lanka Jaffna & the North p256 The The Ancient West Cities p84 p193 Thpe22E9ast Copl5o6mbo#_ The Hill Country p142 Thep1S0o3uth THIS EDITION WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY Ryan Ver Berkmoes, Stuart Butler, Iain Stewart
PLAN ON THE ROAD YOUR TRIP Welcome to Sri Lanka. . . . 4 COLOMBO. . . . . . . . . . 56 Dondra. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128 Sri Lanka Map. . . . . . . . . . . 6 Talalla. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128 Sri Lanka’s Top 20. . . . . . . 8 History. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Dikwella. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 Need to Know. . . . . . . . . . 18 Sights. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Goyambokka. . . . . . . . . . . . 129 First Time Sri Lanka . . . . 20 Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Tangalla What’s New. . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Tours. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70 & Around. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 If You Like.... . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Festivals & Events . . . . . . . . 70 Bundala Month by Month. . . . . . . . 26 Sleeping. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 National Park . . . . . . . . . . . 134 Itineraries . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Eating. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75 Tissamaharama. . . . . . . . . 134 Eat & Drink Like a Local. . 34 Drinking & Nightlife. . . . . . . 78 Around Beaches & Activities. . . . 39 Entertainment. . . . . . . . . . . 79 Tissamaharama. . . . . . . . . 137 National Parks & Safaris. 46 Shopping. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 Yala National Park. . . . . . . 138 Travel with Children. . . . . 51 Kataragama. . . . . . . . . . . . . 140 Regions at a Glance. . . . . 53 SARANGA DEVA DE ALWIS /GETTY IMAGES © THE WEST. . . . . . . . . . 84 THE HILL MALABAR PIED HORNBILL, COUNTRY . . . . . . . . . 142 ERIC L. WHEATER /GETTY IMAGES © YALA NATIONAL PARK P138 North of Colombo . . . . . . 86 Colombo to Negombo. . . . 86 Colombo to Kandy. . . . . . . 144 FRESCOES, Negombo. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86 Kandy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144 SIGIRIYA P200 Around Negombo. . . . . . . . . 91 Around Kandy. . . . . . . . . . . 158 Negombo to Kalpitiya. . . . . 91 East of Kandy. . . . . . . . . . . 161 Kalpitiya & Dutch Bay. . . . . 91 Adam’s Peak Wilpattu National Park . . . 93 (Sri Pada) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163 South of Colombo . . . . . . 95 Kitulgala. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165 Aluthgama, Bentota Kandy to & Induruwa. . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Nuwara Eliya. . . . . . . . . . . . 166 Hikkaduwa & Around. . . . . 98 Nuwara Eliya. . . . . . . . . . . . 166 Around Nuwara Eliya. . . . . 171 THE SOUTH. . . . . . . . 103 Horton Plains National Park & World’s End . . . . . . 173 Galle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104 Belihul Oya . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 Around Galle. . . . . . . . . . . . 115 Haputale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 Unawatuna . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 Bandarawela. . . . . . . . . . . . 178 Unawatuna to Ella . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179 Koggala . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120 Around Ella. . . . . . . . . . . . . 184 Ahangama & Badulla. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185 Midigama. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 Koslanda . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186 Weligama. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123 Wellawaya . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186 Mirissa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123 Embilipitiya. . . . . . . . . . . . . 187 Matara. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
DALLAS STRIBLEY /GETTY IMAGES © Contents UNDERSTAND Sri Lanka Today . . . . . . . 278 History. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280 Environmental Issues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 292 People of Sri Lanka. . . . 296 Sri Lankan Tea . . . . . . . . 300 PETTAH MARKETS P60, COLOMBO Uda Walawe THE EAST. . . . . . . . . . 229. SURVIVAL National Park . . . . . . . . . . . 188 GUIDE Sinharaja Forest Monaragala. . . . . . . . . . . . . 231 Reserve . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189 Around Monaragala. . . . . . 231 Directory A–Z. . . . . . . . . 304 Arugam Bay. . . . . . . . . . . . 232 Transport. . . . . . . . . . . . . 312 THE ANCIENT North of Language. . . . . . . . . . . . . 318 CITIES . . . . . . . . . . . . 193 Arugam Bay. . . . . . . . . . . . 237 Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 327 South of Map Legend. . . . . . . . . . . 335 Matale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195 Arugam Bay. . . . . . . . . . . . 239 Nalanda Gedige . . . . . . . . . 197 Ampara . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 240 SPECIAL Dambulla. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 197 Around Ampara . . . . . . . . . 241 FEATURES Sigiriya. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200 Batticaloa . . . . . . . . . . . . . 242 Habarana. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204 Around Batticaloa . . . . . . 245 Eat & Drink Polonnaruwa. . . . . . . . . . . 206 Kalkudah & Like a Local. . . . . . . . . . 34 Giritale. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212 Passekudah Beaches. . . . 245 Beaches Mandalagiri Vihara. . . . . . . 213 Trincomalee. . . . . . . . . . . . . 247 & Activities. . . . . . . . . . 39 Minneriya & Kaudulla Uppuveli & Nilaveli. . . . . . . 251 National Parks National Parks . . . . . . . . . . 213 & Safaris . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 Ritigala Ruins. . . . . . . . . . . 214 JAFFNA & People of Anuradhapura. . . . . . . . . . . 215 THE NORTH. . . . . . . . 256 Sri Lanka. . . . . . . . . . . 296 Mihintale. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223 Sri Lankan Yapahuwa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226 Vavuniya. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 258 Tea. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 300 Panduwasnuwara. . . . . . . 227 Mannar Island Ridi Vihara. . . . . . . . . . . . . 227 & Around. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 260 Kurunegala . . . . . . . . . . . . 228 Jaffna. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 262 Jaffna Peninsula. . . . . . . . . 271 Jaffna’s Islands. . . . . . . . . . 274
4 Welcome to Sri Lanka Endless beaches, timeless ruins, welcoming people, oodles of elephants, rolling surf, cheap prices, fun trains, famous tea and flavourful food describe Sri Lanka. The Undiscovered Country Rainforests & Beaches You might say Sri Lanka has been hiding in When you’re ready to escape the tropical plain sight. Countless numbers of travellers climate of the coast and lowlands, head for have passed overhead on their way to some- the hills, with their temperate, achingly place else, and years of war and challenges, green charms. Verdant tea plantations and such as tsunamis, have kept Sri Lanka off rainforested peaks beckon walkers, hikers many itineraries. and those who just want to see it during a spectacular train ride. But now Sri Lanka is finding its way onto the itineraries of ever more travel- And then there are the beaches. Daz- lers. Several years since the war ended, the zlingly white and often untrod, they ring country is moving forward quickly, even the island so that no matter where you go, as questions about the hostilities continue you’ll be near a sandy gem. Should you beat to spark debate. Lying between the more the inevitable languor, you can surf and trodden parts of India and Southeast Asia, dive world-class sites without world-class Sri Lanka’s myriad appeals are undeniably crowds. alluring. It’s So Easy So Much in So Little Distances are short: see the sacred home of Few places have as many Unesco World the world’s oldest living tree in the morning Heritage Sites – eight – packed into such a in Anuradhapura, and stand awestruck by small area. Sri Lanka’s 2000-plus years of the sight of hundreds of elephants gather- culture can be discovered at ancient sites, ing in the afternoon at Minneriya. Discover where legendary temples boast beautiful a favourite beach, meditate in a 2000-year- details. old temple, exchange smiles while stroll- ing a mellow village, marvel at birds and Across the island, that thing that goes wildflowers, try to keep count of the little bump in the night might be an elephant dishes that come with your rice and curry. heading to a favourite waterhole. Safari Stroll past colonial gems in Colombo, then tours of Sri Lanka’s pleasantly relaxed hit some epic surf. Sri Lanka is spectacular, national parks encounter leopards, water affordable and still often uncrowded. Now buffaloes, all manner of birds and a passel is the best time to discover it. of primates.
IDRIS AHMED / GETTY IMAGES © 5 Why I Love Sri Lanka By Ryan Ver Berkmoes My fascination with Sri Lanka began when I read Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar as a child. His wonderment at the island’s endless contradictions stayed with me. In 2004 I was in the west and south in the weeks after the tsunami. I was struck by the stories of the survivors and deeply moved by their efforts to rebuild. In the years since I have been endlessly amazed by the Sri Lankans’ ability to overcome disaster, war and myriad other challenges as they work tirelessly to make their country match its potential, while remaining some of the most charming people on the planet. For more about our authors, see page 336. Above: Statue of Buddha, Maligawila (p232)
Sri Lanka 0 50 km 0 30 miles 79º30'E Palk Strait 80º00'E 80º30'E 81º00'E 81º30'E 82º00'E Point Pedro Karaitivu Jaffna Jaffna Hindu temples and fruit trees (p262) 9º30'N Nainativu Jaffna Neduntivu Lagoon Pooneryn Palk Bay Kilinochchi Rameswaram Mullaittivu ELEVATION INDIA Mannar Mankulam BAY OF 2100m Talaimannar Island BENGAL 1500m 9º00'N Northern Province 900m 450m 0 Gulf of Mannar Vavuniya Nilaveli Anuradhapura Uppuveli Amazing cultural and religious Medawachchiya heritage (p215) Trincomalee 8º30'N North Central Province Mutur Anuradhapura Mihintale Kaudulla National Park Kalpitiya Polonnaruwa a Puttalam Thousand-year-old buildings and monuments (p206) 8º00'N Habarana Minneriya National Park Polonnaruwa
Sigiriya North Sigiriya Eastern Batticaloa A stunning rock Western Dambulla Province surrounded by gardens (p200) Province Padeniya Central Province Maha Oya INDIAN OCEAN Kurunegala Knuckles Range 7º30'N (1863m) Matale Kandy Polgahawela Kandy The cultural capital Ampara of the island (p144) Negombo Province of Senanayake Akkaraipattu Samudra Sabaragamuwa Horton Plains & World’s End Wild and windswept Ja-Ela Gampaha moorlands (p173) Karawanella 7º00'N Kitulgala Badulla Avissawella Nuwara Eliya COLOMBO Adam's Peak Horton Plains Ella Monaragala Pottuvil Mt Lavinia (Sri Pada) National Park Arugam Bay (2243m) Bandarawela Maligawila Arugam Bay Colombo Haputale Surfing paradise Colonial charms and Western RatnapuBrealihul Oya World's Wellawaya Panama fascinating shopping (p56) Province Pelmadulla End (p232) Province Okanda of Uva Kumana 6º30'N Sinharaja Uda Walawe National Park National Park Forest Adam's Peak Aluthgama Reserve Kataragama A beautiful and historic walk Bentota Induruwa Deniyaya Yala National Park (p163) Embilipitiya Tissamaharama Galle Fort Southern Bundala Kirinda Uda Walawe National Park Unmissably historic and Province Buffalo, crocodiles and National Park elephants (p188) beguiling (p105) Hikkaduwa Akuressa Galle 6º00'N Mirissa Unawatuna Matara Tangalla Bundala National Park See blue whales Weligama One of Sri Lanka's finest on a boat excursion (p123) birding destinations (p134) Mirissa
8 ©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd Sri Lanka’s Top 20 Stunning Beaches Travelling by Train 1 There are long, golden-specked ones, 2 Sometimes there’s no way to get a there are dainty ones with soft white seat on the slow but oh-so-popular sand, there are wind- and wave-battered train to Ella (p179), but with a prime ones, and ones without a footstep for standing-room-only spot looking out at a miles. Some have a slowly, slowly vibe and rolling carpet of tea, who cares? Outside, some have a lively party mood, but which- the colourful silk saris of Tamil tea pick- ever you choose, the beaches of Sri Lanka ers stand out in the sea of green; inside, (p39) really are every bit as gorgeous you may get a shy welcome via a smile. At as you’ve heard. And we guarantee that stations, vendors hustle treats, including after you’ve returned home, every time some amazing corn and chilli fritters sold you sit in rush-hour traffic on a wet and wrapped in somebody’s old homework cold Monday morning, an image of palm paper. Munching one of these while the trees and azure Sri Lankan waters will scenery creaks past? Sublime. float into your mind! Tangalla beach (p131)
9 KEVIN CLOGSTOUN / GETTY IMAGES © JULIET COOMBE / GETTY IMAGES ©
10 4 3 ALAN LAGADU / GETTY IMAGES © PETER BARRITT / GETTY IMAGES © PL A N YO U R TRI P S r i L a n k a’ s T o p 2 0 Uda Walawe Ancient Soaring National Park Anuradhapura Sigiriya Rock 3 This huge chunk of 4 Here bits of Sri Lanka’s 5 If it was just the rolling savannah grass- cultural and religious gardens at the base of land centred on the Uda heritage sprawl across 3 sq Sigiriya, it would still be a Walawe reservoir (p188) km. In the centre is one of highlight. Ponds and is the closest Sri Lanka the world’s oldest trees, the little man-made rivulets gets to East Africa. There more than 2000-year-old put the water in these are herds of buffalo (al- Sri Maha Bodhi. That it has water gardens and offer though some of these are been tended uninterrupted a serene idyll amid the domesticated!), sambar by guardians for all those sweltering countryside. deer, crocodiles, masses centuries is enough to send But look up and catch your of birds and elephants – shivers down the spine. jaw as you ponder this and we don’t just mean a The surrounding fields of 370m-high rock (p200) few elephants. We mean crumbling monasteries and that erupts out of the hundreds of the big-nosed enormous dagobas attest landscape. Etched with art creatures. In fact, we’d to the city’s role as the and surmounted by ruins, go so far to say that for seat of power in Sri Lanka Sigiriya is an awesome elephants, Uda Walawe (p215) for a thousand mystery, one that the won- is equal to, or even better years. Biking through this derful museum tries to dis- than, many of the famous heady past is a thrilling sect. The climb to the top is East African national experience. Isurumuniya a wearying but worthy parks. Blue-tailed bee-eater Vihara (p220) endeavour.
11 5 MARGIE POLITZER / GETTY IMAGES © PL A N YO U R TRI P S r i L a n k a’ s T o p 2 0 Surfing at 6 Arugam Bay ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE / GETTY IMAGES © 6 The heart of Sri Lanka’s growing surf scene, the long right break at the southern end of Arugam Bay (p233) is considered Sri Lanka’s best. From April to Sep- tember you’ll find surfers riding the waves; stragglers catch the random good days as late as November. Throughout the year you can revel in the surfer vibe: there are board-rental and ding-repair joints, plus plenty of laid-back cheap hangouts offering a bed on the beach. And if you need solitude, there are fine breaks at nearby Light- house Point, Whiskey Point and Okanda.
12 PL A N YO U R TRI P S r i L a n k a’ s T o p 2 0 Adam’s Peak Pilgrims Visiting a Tea Plantation 7 For more than 1000 years, pilgrims 8 It wasn’t really all that long ago that have trudged by candlelight up Adam’s Sri Lanka’s Hill Country was largely Peak (Sri Pada; p163) to stand in the a wild and ragged sweep of jungle-clad footprints of Buddha, breathe the air mountains, but then along came the Brit- where Adam first set foot on earth and ish who felt the need for a nice cup of tea. see the place where butterflies go to die. So they chopped down all the jungle and Today, tourists join the throngs of local turned the Hill Country into one giant tea pilgrims and, as you stand in the predawn estate. And you know what? The result light atop this perfect pinnacle of rock is mighty pretty! Sri Lankan tea is now and watch the sun crawl above waves of famous across the world, and visiting a tea mountains, the sense of magic remains as estate (p302) and seeing how the world’s bewitching as it must have been for Adam favourite cuppa is produced is absolutely himself. Buddhist temple at Adam’s Peak summit fascinating. Pedro Tea Estate (p167) 7 PAUL KENNEDY / GETTY IMAGES © 8 KIMBERLEY COOLE / GETTY IMAGES ©
GREG ELMS / GETTY IMAGES © IDRIS AHMED / GETTY IMAGES © 13PL A N YO U R TRI P S r i L a n k a’ s T o p 2 0 9 10 11 MARGIE POLITZER / GETTY IMAGES © Fabulous Bundala Feel the Healing: Galle Fort National Park Ayurveda 9 Man and nature have 10 With all the crowds 11 If you start to feel joined forces in Galle heading to nearby the burden of the Fort (p105) to produce Yala National Park, the centuries while in Sri an architectural work of Ramsar-recognised Lanka, you might appreci- art. The Dutch built the Bundala National Park ate an irony while you feel streets and buildings, the (p134) often gets over- the tensions melt out of Sri Lankans added the looked. But with the park’s your body in an Ayurvedic colour and style, and then huge sheets of shimmering sauna (p96): the design nature got busy covering it wetlands singing to the is more than 2500 years in a gentle layer of tropical sound of birdsong, skip- old. Ayurveda is an ancient vegetation, humidity and ping it is a big mistake. practice and its devotees salty air. The result is an Bundala has a beauty that claim enormous benefits enchanting old town that other parks can only dream from its therapies and is home to dozens of art of, and is one of the finest treatments. Herbs, spices, galleries, quirky shops, birding destinations in the oils and more are used on boutique cafes and guest- country. Oh, and in case and in the body to produce houses, plus some splen- herons and egrets aren’t balance. Some people go did hotels. For tourists it’s, glam enough for you, the on multiweek regimens without doubt, the number crocodiles and resident el- in clinics, others enjoy one urban attraction in the ephant herd will put a smile a pampering afternoon country. Clock tower and fort on your face. Monitor lizard at a luxury spa. Ayurvedic walls (p110) medicines
14 13 12 14 PLAN YOUR TRIP Sri Lanka’s Top 20 GRANT FAINT / GETTY IMAGES © ANDREW BURKE / GETTY IMAGES © RICHARD NEBESKY / GETTY IMAGES © Polonnaruwa’s Exploring Richly Spiced Stupendous Undiscovered Food Structures Beaches 14 Venture into the 12 Arrayed around 13 No longer off-limits entertaining pan- a vast grassy due to war, or in- demonium of a large Sri quadrangle like the chess accessible due to primitive Lankan market, such as pieces of giants, these roads, the truly magnificent those found in Colombo intricately carved buildings east coast beaches are and Kandy, and you’ll soon and monuments offer a ready to lure travellers see and smell the rich visitor-friendly briefing on away from their more fa- diversity of foods and fla- what was the centre of the mous counterparts in the vours that come from this kingdom some thousand west and south. Just take fertile land. An average Sri years ago (p206). Handy one look at these beauti- Lankan cook spends hours plaques are loaded with ful ribbons of sand and each day tirelessly roast- information, although you you won’t want to leave. ing and grinding spices may find the buildings too And you may well have while mincing, slicing and extraordinary to switch them to yourself. A few dicing all manner of foods your concentration to areas to consider: Nava- (p34). A seemingly signage. Catch sight of lady (p242), Kalkudah humble rice and curry can the ruins at sunrise and (p245), the islands near consist of dozens of intri- sunset, when the rosy rays Batticaloa Lighthouse cately prepared dishes, of light bathe the complex (p245) and beaches each redolent of a rich and, in a romantic glow. Reclining down the strip from Up- yes at times, fiery good- Buddha, Gal Vihara (p210) puveli and Nilaveli (p251). ness. Spices Uppuveli beach
15 Horton Plains & World’s End Kandy: Cultural Capital PLAN YOUR TRIP Sri Lanka’s Top 20 15 The wild, windswept Horton 16 Kandy (p144) is the cultural capital Plains (p173), high, high up in Sri of the island and home to the Temple Lanka’s hill country, are utterly unexpected of the Sacred Tooth Relic, said to contain in this country of tropical greens and blues, a tooth of the Buddha. For the Sinhalese, but they are far from unwelcome. You’ll this is the holiest spot on the island, but for need to wrap up warm (a morning frost isn’t tourists Kandy offers more than religious uncommon) for the dawn hike across these satisfaction: there’s a pleasing old quarter, bleak moorlands – it’s one of the most a pretty central lake, a clutch of museums enjoyable walks in the country. And then, and, in the surrounding vicinity, some beau- suddenly, out of the mist comes the end of tiful botanical gardens. In case you need the world and a view over what seems like further blessings from the gods, there’s half of Sri Lanka. Horton Plains National Park also a series of fascinating ancient temples. from World’s End Interior, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (p145) 15 KEVIN CLOGSTOUN / GETTY IMAGES © 16 RICHARD ROSS / GETTY IMAGES ©
16 Jaffna & the Colonial Legacy Rediscovered North 18 Yes, the Brits were chased out at 17 In Jaffna (p262), everything independence in 1948, but their seems different, especially the lan- legacy lives on in much more than an often guage: the rapid-fire staccato of spoken impenetrable bureaucracy addicted to Tamil is a real change from singsong Sin- forms. Colombo (p56) has wide, tree- hala. So too the cuisine: singularly spiced shaded streets where you’ll see the struc- and, in season, complemented by legend- tures of the empire at their most magnifi- ary mangoes. And perhaps even the light: it cent. The National Museum building is has a distinctive quality, reflected as deep redolent with empire. Look around a little garden greens in Jaffna’s suburbs. Revel and you’ll find the colonial legacies of the in the uniqueness of Jaffna, including the Dutch and Portuguese as well. Just head towering, ornate Hindu temples. And don’t to restored quarters of Fort and wander, miss Jaffna’s isolated islands and their pausing at the hugely popular Old Dutch end-of-the-earth appeal. Hindu temple, Jaffna Hospital. Cargills main store (p59), Colombo OLIVER STREWE / GETTY IMAGES © ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE / GETTY IMAGES © PLAN YOUR TRIP Sri Lanka’s Top 20 17 18
LIZ LEYDEN / GETTY IMAGES © 17 PLAN YOUR TRIP Sri Lanka’s Top 20 19 20 DIANA MAYFIELD / GETTY IMAGES © Whale-Watching at Mirissa Shopping in Colombo 19 People once visited the beaches of 20 Part of the magic of Colombo – southern Sri Lanka to laze under yes, you read that right – is palm trees and maybe go and peer at a going on a retail binge (p80). We don’t few little fish on a diving excursion. Then necessarily mean the kind where you buy somebody realised that the deep blue was more than will fit in a fleet of three-wheelers; home to more than just schools of worka- rather we mean bingeing on the experience day fish. It turns out that the waters off Sri itself. Even as parts of the world race to a Lanka are home to the planet’s biggest big-box future, Colombo’s markets in Pettah creature, the blue whale (not to mention heave and hurl with goods and general cha- the somewhat smaller sperm whale). Now, os. And if you’d like something a bit more every morning in season, boats leave stylish, Colombo has a growing collection of Mirissa (p124) in search of these crea- chic boutiques, stores and malls to choose tures unlike any other. from. Manning Market (p60), Colombo
1 8 ©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd Need to Know For more information, see Survival Guide (p303) Currency When to Go Tropical climate, wet/dry seasons Tropical climate, rain year-round Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs) Jaffna Warm to hot summers, mild winters GO Apr–Sep# Language TGrOinAcoprm–aSleepe Sinhala, Tamil and # English Colombo NGuOwDaerca–EMliayya Visas GO Nov–May # # Thirty-day visitor visas cost US$30, apply in GO DGeacll–eMar advance online (www. # eta.gov.lk). High Season Shoulder Low Season Money (Dec–Mar) (Apr & Sep–Nov) (May–Aug) ATMs available in cities ¨¨The Hill Country ¨¨April and ¨¨The Yala monsoon and large towns. Credit plus west- and south- September offer the season (May to cards accepted at some coast beaches are best odds for good August) brings rain midrange and all top- busiest – and driest. weather countrywide. to the south and west end hotels. ¨¨With beds in ¨¨New Year’s coasts plus the Hill demand, prices peak. celebrations in mid- Country. Mobile Phones ¨¨The Maha April cause transport ¨¨The weather in monsoon season to fill beyond the North and East Local SIM cards cheaply (October to January) capacity. is best. available for unlocked keeps the East, North ¨¨A good time to ¨¨Prices nationwide phones. and Ancient Cities wander without are at their nadir. wet. a set schedule of Time bookings. Sri Lanka Standard Time (GMT/UTC plus 5½ hours)
19 Websites Daily Costs Arriving in Sri PL A N YO U R TRI P N eed to K now Lanka Lonely Planet (www.lonely Budget: planet.com/sri-lanka) Destina- Less than Rs 5500 Bandaranaike International tion information, hotel bookings, ¨¨Simple guesthouse: Rs Airport (CMB; www.airport.lk) traveller forum and more. 1500–4000 Sri Lanka’s one main airport is Ceylon Today (www.ceylon ¨¨Local rice and curry: Rs 30km north of Colombo. today.lk) News, sports, enter- 150–400 Taxis to Colombo Prepaid tainment and a handy ticker ¨¨Bus fares: under Rs 300 about Rs 2600 depending on with exchange rates. per day destination; one hour to Fort via Gossip Lanka (www.english. expressway. gossiplankanews.com) Gossip Midrange: and entertainment news. Rs 5500–20,000 Hotel car & driver to Colombo Yamu (www.yamu.lk) Excellent ¨¨Double room in a nice place: Rs 3000 to Rs 4000. restaurant reviews, sights list- Rs 4500–12,000 Bus to Colombo Air-con bus via ings and more. ¨¨Meals at hotel/restaurant: expressway to Central Bus Sta- Rs 1500–2500 tion Rs 130, under one hour. Government Information ¨¨Hire bikes, ride trains and Centre (www.gic.gov.lk) A huge use a car and driver some days: Getting Around amount of info, from transport average per day Rs 2500 to visas to health matters and Bus Sri Lanka’s buses are the more. Top End: country’s main mode of trans- Meteo (www.meteo.gov.lk) More than Rs 20,000 port. They cover most towns, are Weather forecasts nationwide. ¨¨Top-end hotel: Rs 12,000 cheap and are often crowded. and up Only a few routes have air-con Important ¨¨Meals at top-end places: buses. Private buses can offer a Numbers from Rs 3000 bit more comfort than govern- ¨¨Daily use of car and driver: ment buses. All regions have a three-digit from Rs 5500 Car Many travellers use a hired area code followed by a six- or car with a driver for all or part of seven-digit number. Mobile Opening Hours their trip. This allows maximum numbers usually begin with 07 flexibility and is the most ef- or 08 and have up to 12 digits. Outside of tourist areas much is ficient way to get around. Many closed on Sunday. drivers are delightful characters Country code %94 Bars Usually close by midnight, and founts of local knowledge. %00 last call is often a sobering Train The improving railway International 11pm. network serves major towns and access code %118/119 Restaurants and cafes 7am to can be more comfortable than 9pm daily, later in areas popular buses (excepting third-class Emergencies with travellers. carriages). Some routes, such Shops 10am to 7pm Monday to as Haputale to Ella and Colombo Exchange Rates Friday, 10am to 3pm Saturday to Galle, are renowned for their scenery. Australia A$1 Rs 121 Shops and services catering to visitors 9am to 8pm Canada C$1 Rs 119 Europe €1 Rs 174 Japan ¥100 Rs 127 New Zealand NZ$1 Rs 110 UK UK£1 Rs 217 US US$1 Rs 130 For current exchange rates see www.xe.com. For much more on getting around, see p313.
21 ©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd 21 First Time PL A N YO U R TRI P F irst T ime S ri L a n k a Sri Lanka For more information, see Survival Guide (p303) Checklist Top Tips for Your Trip ¨¨Make sure your passport ¨¨Explore the beaches: especially in the south and east there are is valid for at least six months vast, deserted and beautiful swaths of sand. If you see a road heading past your arrival date towards the coast, take it and see what you find. ¨¨Check on the need for ¨¨Ride the trains: you’ll enjoy the scenery, have comfort greater than vaccinations buses and you will travel with a cross-section of locals. ¨¨Arrange for appropriate ¨¨Hit the markets: even if you don’t want 100 bananas, you’ll see the travel insurance (see p308) country’s bounty, meet people and get caught up in the bargaining frenzy. ¨¨Check the airline baggage ¨¨Eat with the locals: a busy cafe in a town centre or near a bus restrictions terminal will serve rice and curry that’s properly spicy, something ¨¨Inform your debit-/credit- impossible to find at any place catering to tourists. card company ¨¨Watch the calendar: poya (full moon) nights are when celebrations take place across the country. What to Pack What to Wear ¨¨A good pair of earplugs ¨¨Mosquito repellent – hard Shorts and a T-shirt will work most of the time, but bathing to find in Sri Lanka (unlike suits and bikinis are never proper off tourist beaches. Bring a mosquitoes) cover-up for shoulders and arms, and a long skirt, sarong or ¨¨Sunscreen – another light pants for visiting temples. Sandals are always fine and surprisingly hard-to-find item are good for slipping off quickly when visiting temples. Some- ¨¨Tampons – impossible to thing slightly dressy is required for the very best restaurants find outside Colombo in Colombo. For the elements, a lightweight waterproof jacket or poncho is handy in case of sudden downpours, and pack a warm layer if spending time high in the temperate mountains. Sleeping See p304 for more accommodation information. ¨¨Guesthouses Family-run guesthouses are found everywhere; they can provide good value and offer a great way to interact with locals. ¨¨Hotels Coming in all flavours, hotels range from modest to grand and from backroad to beachfront. ¨¨Resorts Offering one-stop luxury, the best resorts are found on the west and south coasts and in the national parks. ¨¨Ayurvedic spas Stay at a spa for accommodation and wellness in a single package. ¨¨Rented villas Villas offer some grand accommodation, some even with their own private beach.
22 22 Local Economics PL A N YO U R TRI P F irst T ime S ri L a n k a Although Sri Lanka’s MICK ELMORE / GETTY IMAGES © economy is quickly expand- ing, people still work very hard to get by. Earnings compared to First World nations are low. ¨¨Minimum wage on plantations: Rs 515 per day ¨¨Minimum wage for servers/ hotel staff: Rs 7500 per month ¨¨Annual salary for a manager or accountant: US$12,000 Bargaining See the box on shopping (p310) for information regarding bargaining. Tipping Food sellers, Galle Face Green (p61), Colombo Although a 10% service Etiquette charge is added to food and accommodation bills, ¨¨Remove shoes and hats at temples (but socks are OK for this usually goes straight to walking sun-scorched pavements). the owner rather than the ¨¨Cover shoulders, arms and legs at temples as directed. worker. ¨¨Never pose beside or in front of a statue of the Buddha (ie with ¨¨Restaurants & Bars Up to your back to it) as this is considered extremely disrespectful. 10% in cash to servers beyond ¨¨Displaying any kind of body art that includes an image of the the ‘service charge’ Buddha can get you arrested and deported. ¨¨Drivers 10% of total fee ¨¨Ask permission before photographing people. A few business- ¨¨Room cleaners Up to oriented folk, such as the stilt fishers at Koggala or the mahouts Rs 100 per day at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, will ask for payment. ¨¨Bag carriers/porters ¨¨Raising your voice is very rude and won’t help your dispute. Rs 50 per bag ¨¨Nude and topless sunbathing are not allowed on beaches. ¨¨Shoe minders at temples ¨¨Modesty is the rule: overt displays of affection are frowned Rs 20 upon. ¨¨Guides Varies greatly; agree ¨¨Answer the personal questions that are common – Are you to a fee in parks and religious married? Do you have children? Where are you from? – with good sites before you set out cheer and even creativity. ¨¨Don’t hand somebody something with your left hand (which is Language considered unclean), use both hands or just your right. Many Sri Lankans speak English but your efforts to speak their language are always appreciated. See p318 for some useful phrases to learn.
20 ©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd What’s New Restored Buildings, Colombo Galway’s Land National Park The lavishly restored 17th-century Old Sri Lanka’s newest national park is open- Dutch Hospital and other renovated grand ing up to nature lovers who revel in the old buildings are bringing real appeal to great bird-spotting. It’s a temperate, Colombo’s historic Fort area. (p58) tropical adventure. (p167) New Hotels & Malls, Colombo Uda Walawe National Park A number of huge hotel (p71) and mall Accommodation (p80) complexes are set to open facing Renowned for its elephant spotting, this Galle Face Green and around Slave Island national park (p188) now has many more and Union Place. sleeping options, such as the safari- experience at Athgira River Camping. Colombo–Galle Trains Newly renovated tracks have sped up Wilpattu National Park trains on this very scenic route. It’s easily Accommodation the best way to travel between these two This park received few visitors during the key points. (p115) war years but now is opening right up. New guesthouses and hotels are appearing Renovations, Galle outside the gates. (p93) New paving stones on its once-dirt streets and lavishly renovated buildings, such as The A9 road, Jaffna Peninsula the Dutch Hospital, are making Galle a Repaved and fully reopened, the A9 showplace. (p104) highway across the Tamil Eelam region and on to Jaffna allows for exploration of New Restaurants & Hotels, Galle these fascinating lands. Watch, too, for the Smart new boutique hotels such as resumption of the Colombo–Jaffna train Fortaleza (p110), and great restaurants service. (p267) including Elita (p113), are making it hard to leave the Fort walls. Beach Hotels, Arugam Bay The beautiful beaches at this surfer and Beach Hotels, Tangalla sun-seeker hangout have great new places The vast, often-unexplored beaches east to stay, including the Sandy Beach Hotel. of Tangalla are seeing many new and (p235) excellent beachfront hotels, such as Serein Beach. (p133) For more recommendations and reviews, see lonelyplanet.com/ Lakeside Walk, Tissamaharama srilanka Stroll along the new lakeside walkway at Tissa Wewa (p134), the centrepiece of town and a romantic spot for sunsets.
©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd 23 If You Like... Beaches Diving & Lanka’s remarkable natural Snorkelling beauty, rich culture and If Sri Lanka looks outlined ancient monuments. in white from space, it’s due Sri Lanka’s diving scene Colombo The main streets may to the beaches that encircle is developing along with be choked but other roads in the island. You can rarely its tourist scene. Excellent the capital are tree-lined and travel any part of the coast places for diving and snor- have a genteel charm. Stroll the for long without coming kelling can be found right buzzing neighbourhoods from upon a simply stunning around the coast but most Cinnamon Gardens to Galle Face stretch of sand. More amaz- are still seldom visited. The Green. (p56) ing is that many are almost west coast south of Colombo Polonnaruwa The ancient empty. has been the centre of div- monuments here are in a lush Thalpe With its smattering of ing but other, better areas park-like setting that rewards comfy guesthouses and quiet like the South and East are walkers ready to explore. sands, this beach is a welcome coming on strong. (p206) respite from over-subscribed Bar Reef Little-exploited and Adam’s Peak On Adam’s Peak Unawatuna. (p120) near-pristine reefs where you can walk in the footsteps of Marakolliya Beach So what if dolphins play in their hundreds. the Buddha with hundreds of the swimming isn’t always safe? (p92) pilgrims. (p163) The beach itself is simply stun- Great Basses Reefs It’s tricky to Knuckles Range Rain soaked ning. (p131) access and conditions are fickle and densely vegetated, the Rekawa Beach Long and wind- but this might be the finest dive Knuckles Range is no walk in swept, this beach attracts turtles site in Sri Lanka. (p137) the park, but it offers the most and folks who love a lonely, Pigeon Island National Park A exciting hiking in the country. dramatic landscape. (p130) shallow coral reef, with tons of (p161) Arugam Bay Classic hangout fish and sharks, that’s equally Galle After you’ve explored for surfers and anyone who likes satisfying to snorkel or dive. the endlessly walkable Fort, mellow, easy vibes. (p232) (p253) continue on around the bay to Uppuveli & Nilaveli Beautiful Batticaloa The HMS Hermes, a the tropical fantasy of Jungle beaches in a still-quiet corner WWII-era wreck, is for Tec divers, Beach. (p104) of the East; the location has but the rock dives around here kept them quiet and natural. are for everyone. (p242) Buddhist Temples (p251) Batticaloa Most of the coasts Walking More than 2000 years of around here are totally isolated; religious heritage can be for explorers, adventurers and Sure it’s a bit hot during the found in the temples, great dreamers only. (p242) day and it might rain, but and small, that dot this there are oodles of places small island. Time your where you can stretch your visit with a festival for an legs and appreciate Sri extraordinary experience.
24 PL A N YO U R TRI P I f Y ou L ike . . . ERIC ISAAC / GETTY IMAGES © Gangaramaya Temple One of several temples in the capital that have high-profile celebra- tions through the year. (p63) Mulkirigala Hiding inside a series of cleft-like caves and dangling off a rocky crag is this beautiful and little-visited temple. (p128) Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic Containing a tooth of the Buddha, this is the heart and soul of Sri Lankan Buddhism. (p145) Sri Maha Bodhi The world’s old- est documented human-planted living tree is the focus of this very sacred site in the heart of Anuradhapura. (p215) Mihintale This temple of legends has more than 1800 legendary steps to its mountaintop location. (p223) Nagadipa A simple temple on a little island in the far north where the Buddha, legend goes, once visited. (p275) Wildlife BHAGIRAJ SIVAGNANASUNDARAM / GETTY IMAGES © The island may be small Top: Making an offering to Buddha, Galle (p104) but the animals are big, Bottom: Beach, Batticaloa lighthouse (p245) especially the herds of Asian elephants that live inside and outside the national parks. Leopards and water buffaloes are just some of the other creatures. Yala National Park Drawing crowds like only a spotty big cat can, a leopard safari in Yala National Park is a Sri Lankan highlight. (p138) Uda Walawe National Park If you’ve ever wanted to see a wild elephant, you’re unlikely to find a better place to do so than at this park. (p188) Minneriya National Park Already a good place to see elephants and other animals, this park is the site of ‘the Gathering’, when more than 400 pachy-
25 derms gather in an awesome heal and rejuvenate. It’s Sigiriya The rock monastery PL A N YO U R TRI P I f Y ou L ike . . . spectacle. (p213) widely used in Sri Lanka which, yes, many people still Kumana National Park for a range of ailments and think was a fort or temple; on Leopards, elephants and birds draws many visitors each a clear day you can see forever galore at this park that’s much year; some stay in clinics from the top. (p200) less crowded than its popular and spas for weeks. Polonnaruwa A vast range neighbour, Yala. (p213) Spa Ceylon (p69) and of surviving structures of the Pottuvil Lagoon safaris can Siddhalepa Ayurveda (p70) medieval capital. (p206) bring you titillatingly close to Rejuvenate in luxury and enjoy Anuradhapura The sacred and elephants, monitor lizards and a full range of treatments in the secular come together in a crocodiles. (p237) Colombo; the capital’s market sprawling precinct that spans district of Pettah also has centuries of history. (p215) Shopping Ayurveda shops. Central Highlands The forests Sanctuary Spa A hard day and peaks of Sri Pada Peak Wil- Being a lush country, it’s swimming in the energetic surf derness (p163), Horton Plains not surprising that some of Unawatuna can be followed (p173) and Knuckles Range of Sri Lanka’s best goods by long sessions getting your (p161) house outstanding are what it grows. Tea is an inner balance restored. (p116) biodiversity. obvious purchase; all man- Ayurveda Pavilions In Ne- ner of spices another. In gombo, Pavilions offers rooms Colonial addition there are various that include spa treatments. Architecture handicrafts and a growing (p90) range of designer items. Barberyn Reef Ayurveda The Dutch, the Portuguese Colombo Of course the capital Resort A complete health resort and the British all liter- has good shopping. What’s in Beruwela, offerings include ally left their marks on Sri surprising is just how good it yoga and meditation. (p96) Lanka. Their legacies are is. Stylish designer boutiques, Heritance Ayurveda Maha today’s atmospheric sights. galleries and markets galore sell Gedara A west coast retreat Colombo The Dutch-built Old just about anything you might where the quality of the resort Dutch Hospital is just one of want, with plenty of surprises on matches the quality of the treat- many colonial beauties you can offer. (p80) ments. (p96) enjoy in the capital. The National Negombo Charming and ram- Museum is in an old British shackle Negombo has a busy Heritage Sites compound. (p56) town centre full of shopping Sri Galle Fort Take a sunset walk Lankans, and a beachfront lined Unesco has recognised along the perimeter of Galle’s with tourist souvenir shops. eight World Heritage Sites Dutch-built fort walls and you (p86) in Sri Lanka, an impressive can almost feel history seep Galle With a surfeit of classy number for a small island. out of the ground around you. little galleries, independent Galle Fort The Dutch fort forms (p105) designer boutiques and quirky Sri Lanka’s most beautiful urban Nuwara Eliya Stay in one of the bric-a-brac shops, Galle is a environment: stroll the walls at grand old hotels of Sri Lanka’s fascinating place for shoppers to sunset. (p105) favourite colonial hill station, explore. (p114) Kandy The Royal City and tem- and the days of the Raj seem Hill Country At tea planta- ples are the heart of Sri Lankan to come flickering back to life. tions and factories you can buy culture. (p144) (p166) excellent teas – many hard to Sinharaja Forest Reserve One Jaffna Nineteenth-century find elsewhere – at good prices. of the last remaining slabs of homes and Portuguese-era (p142) dense montane rainforest in Sri churches, though damaged Lanka is a birdwatcher’s dream. in the war, pepper the city’s Ayurveda (p189) suburbs. (p262) Dambulla The cave temples and Ayurveda is an ancient their extraordinary paintings are system of medicine and works of art. (p197) therapies designed to
26 ©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd Month by Month TOP EVENTS which is made with rice, Buddhists and you’ll see Duruthu Perahera, nuts and spices. them observing Maha January Sivarathri in the Ancient Maha Sivarathri, February Cities areas and portions March of the west coast where Aurudu (New Year), The tourist crowds they are in the majority. April continue with wintering Vesak Poya, May Europeans baking z Maha Sivarathri Kandy Esala themselves silly on the Perahera, August beaches. A busy month for In late February or early Sri Lankans also, with an March the Hindu festival January important national holiday. of Maha Sivarathri com- memorates the marriage At the peak of the tourist z Independence of Shiva to Parvati with season, when crowds are at all-night vigils and more. their largest, many popular Day It’s the most important day towns have special events Sri Lanka gained independ- for Shaivites, who comprise such as the fast-growing ence on 4 February 1948 the majority of Sri Lanka’s literary festival at Galle. and this day is commemo- Hindus. rated every year with fes- z Duruthu Perahera tivals, parades, fireworks, April sporting events and more Held on the poya (full- across the nation. In Co- Although Christians moon) day at the Kelaniya lombo, motorcades shuffle comprise only 6% of Raja Maha Vihara in politicians from one event Sri Lanka’s population, Colombo, and second in to the next. secularised versions of importance only to the huge Christian holidays are Kandy perahera (proces- z Navam Perahera popular. Don’t be surprised sion), this festival celebrates when you see an Easter the first of Buddha’s three First celebrated in 1979, bunny at the mall. visits to Sri Lanka. Navam Perahera is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest and z Aurudu (New z Thai Pongal most flamboyant peraheras. Held on the February poya, Year) Held in mid-January, this it starts from Gangaramaya New Year’s Eve (13 April) Hindu winter-harvest fes- Temple and travels around and New Year’s Day (14 tival honours the sun god Viharamahadevi Park and April) are nonreligious Surya. It is important to Beira Lake in Colombo. holidays. There is a period Tamils in Sri Lanka and between the old and new South India. Look for the March year called the ‘neutral special sweet dish, pongal, period’; all activities are This is an important month meant to cease, although for many of Sri Lanka’s buses and trains are jammed.
27 May busting 1843 steps to the but smaller versions are PLAN YOUR TRIP Month by Month topmost temple. held across Sri Lanka. The Yala monsoon blows in Many celebrations for five months, bringing July feature dancers and other huge rains from the Indian performers such as stilt- Ocean that drench the Hill Light-bulb vendors do walkers who practise all Country and the beach a huge business as year. towns in the southwest. Buddhists gear up for Esala Perahera, which z Kandy Esala z Vesak Poya begins at the end of the month. Light displays are Perahera This two-day holiday an integral part of the The Kandy Esala Perahera, commemorates the birth, Kandy festivities, with Sri Lanka’s most spectacu- enlightenment and death a parade of light-bulb- lar and prominent festival, of the Buddha. Amid the decorated elephants. is the climax of 10 days festivities, the high point is and nights of celebrations the lighting of paper z Vel during the month of Esala. lanterns and displays of This great procession hon- coloured lights outside This festival is held in ours the sacred tooth relic every Buddhist home, shop Colombo and Jaffna. In of Kandy and starts in late and temple. Night-time Colombo the gilded chariot July. Colombo is a riot of colours. of Murugan (Skanda), the god of war, is ceremonially z Nallur Festival June hauled from Pettah to Bambalapitiya. In Jaffna Jaffna’s Nallur Kandas- Sri Lanka’s Buddhists the Nallur Kandaswamy wamy Kovil temple is the barely have a chance to Kovil has a 25-day festival. focus of an enormous and catch their breath after spectacular Hindu festival Vesak before another z Kataragama over 25 days in July and Au- major religious event gust, which climaxes on day occurs – and they’ll want Another important Hindu 24 with parades of jugger- to catch their breath… festival is held at Kata- naut floats and gruesome ragama, where devotees put displays of self-mutilation z Poson Poya themselves through a whole by entranced devotees. gamut of ritual masochism. The Poson poya day cel- It commemorates the October ebrates the bringing of triumph of the six-faced, Buddhism to Sri Lanka 12-armed war god Skanda This is a month of by Mahinda. In Anurad- over demons here. meteorological mystery hapura there are festivities as it falls between the two in the famous temples, August great monsoon seasons. while in nearby Mihintale Rains and squalls can thousands of white-clad The Kandy Esala occur almost any place, pilgrims ascend the lung- Perahera is important any time. POYA Every poya (full-moon) day is a holiday. Poya causes buses, trains and accommoda- tion to fill up, especially if it falls on a Friday or Monday. No alcohol is supposed to be sold on poya days, and some establishments close. Some hotels and guesthouses discreetly provide thirsty guests with a cold beer ‘under the table’. Note that the official full-moon day for poya does not always coincide with the same designated full-moon day in Western calendars. Because of the religious time used to calculate the exact moment of full moon, the poya day may be a day earlier or later than that shown on regular calendars.
PLAN YOUR TRIP Month by Month28 KEVIN CLOGSTOUN / GETTY IMAGES © z Deepavali The Hindu festival of lights takes place in late October or early November. Thousands of flickering oil lamps celebrate the tri- umph of good over evil and the return of Rama after his period of exile. December CHRISTER FREDRIKSSON / GETTY IMAGES © Sri Lanka’s second annual Top: Nallur festival (p267), Jaffna monsoon season, the Bottom: Pilgrims, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (p145), Kandy Maha, brings huge rains to the northeast part of the island. z Adam’s Peak The pilgrimage season, when pilgrims of all faiths (and the odd tourist) climb Adam’s Peak near Ella, starts in December and lasts until mid-April. The trek begins shortly after midnight so that everyone can be in place for sunrise. z Unduvap Poya This full-moon day com- memorates Sangamitta, who brought a cutting from the sacred Bodhi Tree in India in 288 BC to Anu- radhapura. The resulting tree, the Sri Maha Bodhi, is considered the oldest living human-planted tree in the world. The ceremo- nies attract thousands in their finest. z Christmas Outside of Sri Lanka’s Christian communities – mostly around Colombo – this day has become a popular secularised holiday. Ersatz versions of Western Christmas traditions can be found across the nation, from bone-thin Santas in strange masks to garish artificial trees.
©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd 29 Itineraries •# Kandy É •#É Nuwara É É Eliya COLOMBO É #_ •# Ella £# É É É LACCADIVE #÷ UNadtaioWnaallaPwaerk SEA É •# Tangalla Galle •# 1WEEK Essential Sri Lanka This compact trip covers a core selection of Sri Lanka’s must-see sights. Start in Colombo, exploring the markets and visiting the city’s vibrant Buddhist temples. Then take the train south along the coast to amazing Galle, avoiding the often traffic-clogged road on the west coast and the ho-hum towns along it. From Galle, go get some beach time. The Tangalla region has a growing selection of lovely beach places on its beautiful and uncrowded ribbon of sand. Head inland and venture up to Uda Walawe National Park, where you’ll see dozens of elephants and many other animals. Take the winding road up into the heart of the Hill Country and put down roots for a few days in Ella, a cool town with a fun travellers’ vibe. Take one of the world’s most beautiful train rides to the stop for the British colonial heritage town of Nuwara Eliya, where you’ll enter a time warp. Visit tea plantations and stop in iconic Kandy for temples and gardens. From here it’s an easy jaunt back to Colombo or the airport.
30 É Kitulgala •# _# COLOMBO Hatton Ella É •#MonaragalaÉ Arugam •# •# Bay •# É É•# Dikoya Yudaganawa •# •# PLAN YOUR TRIP Itineraries •# Maskeliya •# Dalhousie Wellawaya •# É Maligawila Buduruwagala •# É #÷ Kataragama •# Kumana PNaartkional ÷# Yala National Tissamaharama •# Park É L A C CS EAAD I V E 2WEEKS Natural South It’s not a big island but Sri Lanka still manages to have some beautiful wilderness areas, especially in the tropical peaks and valleys, national parks and beach-lined southern coast. Start in Colombo. On your way east, Kitulgala is a gateway for rafting the Kelaniya Ganga, as well as for jungle hikes and birdwatching. Movie buffs might recognise scenes from Bridge on the River Kwai here. Take the short hop to misty Hatton, Dikoya and Maskeliya, three small towns in some of the most scenic parts of the Hill Country. Spend a few days tasting fragrant single-estate teas and bed down in luxurious ex- colonial tea planters’ bungalows, or cosy guesthouses in Dalhousie, the traditional starting point for the pre-dawn ascent of Adam’s Peak. Head east to Ella for more hiking, wonderful views and guesthouses renowned for having some of Sri Lanka’s tastiest home-cooked food. Continue to Monaragala, a low-key gateway to the east and the jumping-off point for one of Sri Lanka’s most atmospheric ancient Buddhist sites at Yudaganawa. Also nearby, Maligawila is home to an 11m-tall standing Buddha that’s more than a thousand years old. On the coast is the ever-more-popular Arugam Bay, with its easygoing surfers’ vibe and excellent seafood. It’s easy to spend an extra day or three here, swinging in a hammock at one of the beach guesthouses. Don’t miss a boat trip exploring the nearby Pottuvil Lagoon. Explore the seldom-visited wilds of Kumana National Park, then veer back inland via Monaragala to Wellawaya, and find time for a brief detour to Sri Lanka’s tallest standing Buddha at Buduruwagala. Soak up the beauty of the tiny lakes and listen to the birds. Descend from Wellawaya to the coastal plains of Kataragama, the terminus of the Pada Yatra, a pilgrimage that begins at the other end of the island. Nearby Tissa- maharama has a lovely lakeside setting, which is also a convenient entry point for the hugely popular safaris into Yala National Park, where you can spot elephants, leopards and most of Sri Lanka’s other iconic critters.
PLAN YOUR TRIP Itineraries31 Top: Newburgh GreenCHRISTIAN KOBER / GETTY IMAGES © Tea Factory (p180), Ella Bottom: Cave temples, Dambulla (p197) KIMBERLEY COOLE / GETTY IMAGES ©
32 Keerimalai •# •# Point Spring É Pedro É Nainativu •# É É•# Jaffna •# Elephant Pass É Neduntivu •# É Bay of Bengal PBaalyk ÉTalaimannar Ankaran •# Temple PLAN YOUR TRIP Itineraries •# Mannar •# •# É Thirukketeeswaram É Kovil É Gulf of ÷# Wilpattu Mannar NaPtaiorknal Kalpitiya •# 1WEEK Emerging North Visitors are now discovering the beauty, beaches and culture of Sri Lanka’s north, which was off-limits for many years. Roads and rails services have been greatly improved. Start at Kalpitiya, the main town on the long finger of land that juts up into the Indian Ocean. The beaches here are just OK but the kitesurfing and reef diving are spec- tacular. Hook your way around north to Wilpattu National Park. This treasure has leopards and many other large mammals. Next, explore another beautiful spit of Sri Lanka extending into the sea: Mannar is technically an island but feels like a peninsula. It has white beaches and African baobab trees. From remote Talaimannar, Adam’s Bridge, a chain of reefs and islets, almost forms a land bridge to India. Hook around again to the Jaffna peninsula. On the mainland near the coast, 13km east of Mannar Town, imposing Thirukketeeswaram Kovil is one of the pancha ishwaram, the five historical Sri Lankan Shiva temples established to protect the island from natural disaster. As you head north on the much-improved A9 highway, stop at Murukandy’s tiny Ankaran Temple. Locals believe that a prayer here will ensure a safe journey. Further on, marvel at the wetlands beauty as you cross the Elephant Pass causeway to Jaffna, where the rich Tamil culture is rebounding and temples on shady backstreets await exploration. Visit Keerimalai Spring, a sacred site with legendary bathing pools. It’s close to the Naguleswaram Shiva Kovil, which traces its past to the 6th century BC. Your next desti- nation is Point Pedro, with its long swath of lonely white sand at Munai Beach. Jaffna has nearby islands well worth exploring for their sheer minimalistic beauty, including Nainativu, a tiny speck of sand with Buddhist and Hindu temples, and Neduntivu, a windswept place beyond the end of the road where wild ponies roam.
33 Nilaveli •# •#Uppuveli •# Trincomalee LACCADIVE SEA É É É Anuradhapura •# PLAN YOUR TRIP Itineraries •# Minitale É Ritigala Ruins •# É KalkudahÉ É •# Sigiriya •# É •# Dambulla •# Polonnaruwa •# Passekudah •# Batticaloa É Kandy •# 2WEEKS The Cultured Centre This tour covers the uncrowded middle of Sri Lanka, which is at the heart of the coun- try’s rich culture. You’ll see ancient temples and towns, along with some of the natural beauty that has inspired generations. Start in Kandy, which has a lakeside setting with real natural beauty and was the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom until the early 19th century. Head north to Dambulla, with its series of cave shrines painted with vivid Buddhist murals. From here it’s a short jaunt to Sigiriya, a 200m-tall rock outcrop that was once a monastery and is truly one of the island’s most amazing sights. A short drive northwest will bring you to the Ritigala Strict Nature Preserve. Deep inside this land is one of Sri Lanka’s most mysterious sites: the Ritigala Ruins. Your inner Indiana Jones will enjoy exploring the remains of this once vast and ancient place. Further east the former royal capital of Polonnaruwa offers an inspiring collection of Buddhist sculptures and monastery ruins dating back nearly a thousand years. Con- tinue east to the coast and the beaches at Kalkudah and Passekudah. The former is a deserted and beautiful broad strip of sand. The latter is seeing much development. Follow the coast south to Batticaloa, a historic port that has provided refuge to ships for years. It has a Dutch fort, while offshore is one of Sri Lanka’s most fabled dive sites: the HMS Hermes, a British aircraft carrier sunk in WWII. Going north you’ll pass through nature preserves and deserted beaches until you reach the idyllic natural harbour of Trincomalee. It has a colourful history going back centuries. Continue on to the beach towns of tiny Uppuveli and buzzy Nilaveli. Now head due west into the heart of the country. Prepare for a steep climb up the hillside at Minitale to appreciate the Buddhist history here that dates back to the 3rd century BC. A mere 13km further west brings you to Anuradhapura, one of the top sights in all of South Asia. Wander or bike around this sprawling landscape of temples, ruins and more.
34 ©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd Plan Your Trip Eat & Drink Like a Local Combining intricate flavours, incredibly fresh produce and a culi- nary heritage that blends indigenous and extraneous influences Sri Lanka is perhaps the original Spice Island. Eating out here is a de- light, whether it’s tucking into an authentic roadside rice and curry or enjoying surf-fresh seafood from an oceanfront restaurant table. The Year in Fruit Food Experiences Sri Lanka’s diverse topography means that the Seafood Heaven variety of fruit is staggering. ¨¨Elita Restaurant (p113), Galle. For Year-Round lighthouse views and seafood to die for. ¨¨Crab (p253), Uppuveli. Beachside dining, Many fruits including bananas (more than 20 great local crab and a romantic atmosphere. varieties!), papayas and pineapples are available ¨¨Bu Ba (p78), Colombo. With candlelit year-round. tables right on Mt Lavinia beach. ¨¨Cool Spot (p101), Hikkaduwa. Family-run Apr–Jun and serves a superb seafood platter. The first mangoes appear in April in the north: the Meals of a Lifetime Karuthakolamban (or Jaffna) mango thrives in dry parts of the island and is prized for its golden flesh ¨¨Ministry of Crab (p75), Colombo. A highly and juicy texture. Rambutans (peculiar-looking atmospheric seafood institution inside the red-skinned fruits with hairy skin), meanwhile, are capital’s Old Dutch Hospital. at their best in June. They taste like lychees; you’ll ¨¨Fortaleza (p113), Galle. Delicious Western see them stacked in pyramids by the roadside. or Sri Lankan food in the historic Fort quarter of Galle. Jul–Sep ¨¨Hill Club (p172), Nuwara Eliya. A classic baronial-style dining room with British menu It’s peak season for durian, that huge spiky yellow and adjacent billiards room. love-it-or-hate-it fruit that smells so pungent that it’s banned on the Singapore metro – you won’t Colonial Class find this one on the breakfast buffet. Mango- steens, delicately flavoured purple-skinned fruit, ¨¨The Sanctuary at Tissawewa (p222), are also harvested at this time. The fruit do not Anuradhapura. Refined dining in the former travel well, so it’s best to sample these at source residence of a British governor. in the tropics.
35 ¨¨Fits Margosa (p268), Jaffna. This 19th- ¨¨Vadai Generic term for disc or doughnut- PL A N YO U R TRI P E at & D rink L ike a L ocal century manor house makes a sublime setting shaped deepfried snack, usually made from for a memorable meal. lentils. ¨¨Olde Empire Cafe (p154), Kandy. A ¨¨Coconut Rotti Sold by street vendors, locals revamped menu and renovated premises make eat this toasted minibread with a chilli salt this place a winner. topping. ¨¨Royal Dutch Cafe (p113), Galle. Sip fine ¨¨Samosa The ubiquitous snack, usually teas and coffees or enjoy a meal in this elegant stuffed with spicy cooked vegies. colonnaded structure. Cooking Classes Cafe Cool Sri Lanka does not have an abundance ¨¨Hansa Coffee (p78), Colombo. Arguably of places offering cooking classes, but as Colombo’s best coffee, sourced from a interest grows the possibilities are expand- renowned island estate. ing. ¨¨Pedlar’s Inn Cafe (p113), Galle. Order a ¨¨Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort (p96), cappuccino and enjoy the historic surrounds. south of Colombo. ¨¨Dutch Bank Cafe (p250), Trincomalee. ¨¨Mamas Galle Fort (p112), Galle. Great snacks and meals in a converted colonial ¨¨Serendipity Arts Cafe (p113), Galle. building that faces the harbour. ¨¨Sonjas Health Food Restaurant (p117), ¨¨Dambulla Heritage Resthouse Cafe Unawatuna. (p200), Dambulla. Tour the caves, then ¨¨Rice Villa (p212), Giritale. recharge with a coffee here. ¨¨Rawana Holiday Resort (p181), Ella. ¨¨Queens Art Cafe (p119), Unawatuna. An inviting shady spot for a bite and a drink, just off Sri Lankan Specialities the beach. ¨¨Barefoot Garden Cafe (p76), Colombo. Rice is the staple of Sri Lankan cuisine and Stylish courtyard cafe in the Barefoot gallery. the national dish (rice and curry), and rice flour is also a basis for some unique foods. Time for Tea Many Sri Lankans are vegetarian, so meat- free eating is easy and vegetables are plen- ¨¨High Tea at the Grand (p171), Nurwara tiful. Coconut is also added to most dishes. Eliya. For cucumber sandwiches, dainty cakes ‘Devilled dishes’ are any type of meat or and a vast selection of different teas. fish cooked in a spicy, sweet-and-sour style ¨¨Ceylon Tea Moments (p76), Colombo. sauce with onion and peppers. Upmarket tea emporium with plush furnishings and speciality teas. Rice ¨¨T-Lounge (p75), Colombo. An atmospheric setting for a cuppa in a landmark Hoppers Bowl-shaped pancakes (also called appa building. or appam) made from rice flour, coconut milk ¨¨Chaplon Tea Centre (%034 493 7293; Galle and palm toddy. If eggs are added it becomes Rd), Bentota. Take tea and biscuits on the terrace, an egg hopper. Sambol (a condiment made from then browse the high-grade leaf teas for sale. ingredients pounded with chilli) is often added for ¨¨Mlesna Tea Centre (p179), Bandarawela. flavouring. Acclaimed tea shop in the heart of tea country. Dosas (thosai) Paper-thin pancakes made from rice batter and usually served stuffed with spiced Cheap Treats vegetables. Kola kanda A nutritious porridge of rice, coconut, ¨¨Kotthu A stir-fried combo of chopped rotti green vegetables and herbs. bread, vegies and spices. Try it at the Hotel De Rice and curry The national dish is a selection of Pilawoos (p77) in Colombo. spiced dishes made from vegetables, meat or fish. ¨¨Paratha A filling flatbread that’s pan-fried on a hot plate. Those at Mangos (p269) in Jaffna are excellent.
JAMES BAIGRIE / GETTY IMAGES © 36 DAVE STAMBOULIS TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY / GETTY IMAGES © Top: Jackfruit Bottom: Masala dosa PL A N YO U R TRI P E at & D rink L ike a L ocal
37 Biryanis Fragrant basmati rice cooked with plenty Condiments PL A N YO U R TRI P E at & D rink L ike a L ocal of turmeric, garlic and cardamom, often with chunks of chicken or lamb. Pol sambol Shredded coconut, lime juice, red onions, chilli and spices. Vegetable Dishes Lunu miris Red onions, salt, chilli powder, lime juice and dried fish. Mallung Slightly like a tabbouleh, this salad combines chopped local greens (such as kale), Desserts & Sweets shredded coconut and onion. Jackfruit curry The world’s biggest fruit com- Wattalappam (vattalappam in Tamil) A coconut bines beautifully with rich curry sauces, as its milk and egg pudding with jaggery and cardamom. flesh actually has quite a meaty texture. Pittu Steamed in bamboo, these cylindrical cakes are made from flour and coconut. Breads Curd Slightly sour cream that tastes like natural yoghurt; it’s served drizzled with kitul treacle Bakeries are common throughout the made from raw palm sugar. country, but can be disappointing. Pani pol A small pancake made with a sweet top- Rotti Thick flatbreads cooked on a hot plate and ping of cinnamon and cardamom-infused jaggery. served with sweet or savoury filling. Bolo fiado A layered cake said to have been first Kotthu Chopped rotti fried with vegetables and/ introduced by the Portuguese. or egg, cheese or meat on a hot plate. Try Hotel De Pilawoos (p77) in Colombo. How to Eat Uttapam A Tamil speciality, this thick pancake is prepared with onion, chillies, peppers and Where to Eat vegetables. Compared with most Asia countries, Sri Seafood Lanka is quite unusual in that most locals prefer to eat at home. Things are differ- Jaffna crab Recipes vary but in the north tama- ent in beach resorts and the capital but in rind and coconut are key ingredients to bring out many towns there are actually very few the flavour of this unique dish. restaurants, or even street food stalls. See Ambulthiyal This fish curry is a southern special- p306 for the price ranges used throughout ity, made with goraka, a fruit which gives it a sour this guide. flavour. Accommodation You’ll usually eat breakfast in your hotel. Evening meals are often available too, RICE & CURRY The national dish, Sri Lankan rice and curry is a complex, intricately spiced array of individual vegetable (and often meat and fish) dishes, served with rice. Chutneys and sambol (a condiment made from ingredients pounded with chilli) add heat and additional flavour. Pappadoms are usually present too. Virtually all Sri Lankan curries are based on coconut milk and a blend of spices: chilli, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, rampe (pandanus leaves), curry leaves, mustard and tamarind. Dried fish is also frequently used to season dishes. As you’re travelling around the country, you’re likely to pull over at many a local restaurant for a rice and curry feed. Some of the best places are simple family- owned roadside restaurants with a selection of around five to 10 individual dishes (mainly vegetarian but there’s usually a meat or fish option too). Many restaurants only serve rice and curry at lunchtime. Guesthouses will often prepare it for dinner but you’ll need to order it early in the day and leave the cooks to work their magic.
38 PL A N YO U R TRI P E at & D rink L ike a L ocal though guesthouses will ask you to order ahead, Tea & Coffee so they can purchase ingredients. Larger hotels usually offer buffet lunches and dinners with Tea with spoonfuls of sugar and hot milk Western and local food. is the locally preferred way to drink the ‘Hotels’ When is a hotel not a hotel? When it’s in indigenous hot drink. If you don’t have a Sri Lanka. Confusingly, restaurants here are also sweet tooth, be very assertive about low- called ‘hotels’. Usually these places are in towns ering the sugar dose. and cities, pretty scruffy, and will consist of a store at the front selling snacks and drinks and tables Coffee, while not traditionally favoured, at the rear for sit-down meals. Rice and curry is is now literally a hot commodity in Co- the lunchtime staple, for dinner kotthu, rice and lombo and areas popular with tourists. noodle dishes are popular. Cafes with full-on espresso machines are Restaurants In Colombo, beach resorts and catching on, though are not widespread tourist-geared towns (such as Galle) you’ll find as yet. Out in the sticks be prepared for excellent restaurants offering everything from instant, or something fresh-ish that tastes Italian to gourmet local cuisine. like instant. Other Soft Drinks Bakeries These sell what locals call ‘short eats’, Lime juice is excellent. Have it with soda essentially an array of meat-stuffed rolls, meat- water, but ask for the salt or sugar to and-vegetable patties (called cutlets), pastries be separate. If not, you could be in for and vadai. At some places, a plate of short eats is another serious sugar hit. Indian restau- placed on your table, and you’re only charged for rants and sweet shops are a good spot for what you eat. Many bakeries (and some restau- a lassi (yoghurt drink). Ginger beer is an rants) also offer a ‘lunch packet’, which is basically old school, very British option, offering some rice and a couple of small portions of curry. refreshment with a zing – look out for the Elephant or Lion brands. Thambili When to Eat (king coconut) juice still in the husk can be found on sale at roadside stalls Sri Lankans generally eat three meals a everywhere. day. Interestingly, the type of food con- sumed at each meal is quite distinct, so Beer you usually won’t find lunch foods (like rice and curry) available at dinner time. Locally brewed Lion Lager is a crisp and Breakfast A typical local breakfast might take refreshing brew that is widely sold. Lion place around sunrise, and consist of hoppers and also sells a very good stout, with coffee some fruit. Milky tea is usually taken with break- and chocolate flavours. Three Coins and fast; in the cities some favour coffee. In hotels and Anchor are less delicious local lagers. The guesthouses popular with tourists, Western-style licensed versions of international brands breakfasts are almost always available. like Carlsberg, Heineken and Corona offer no surprises at all. Lunch Eaten between midday and 2.30pm. Other Alcoholic Drinks Rice and curry, the definitive Sri Lankan meal, is an essential experience which simply can’t Toddy is a drink made from the sap of be missed – it can be quite a banquet or simple palm trees. It has a sharp taste, a bit like pitstop depending on the place. cider. There are three types: toddy made Dinner Usually eaten between 7pm and 9pm. If from coconut palms, toddy from kitul you really don’t fancy a hot curry for dinner, you’ll palms and toddy from palmyra palms. find seafood and fish usually very lightly spiced, Toddy shacks are found throughout and fried rice is mild. the country, but are very much a male preserve. Arrack is a fermented and Drinks (somewhat) refined toddy. It can have a powerful kick and give you a belting Sri Lanka’s heat means that refreshing hangover. The best mixer for arrack is beverages are an important – and vital – the local ginger ale. part of the day’s consumption.
©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd 39 ROBERT FRANCIS / GETTY IMAGES © Fishing boats, Mirissa (p123) Plan Your Trip Beaches & Activities From remote pristine beaches to whale-watching tours and a whole host of water-based activities, the Sri Lankan coast has something to offer everyone. Lie back, hang 10 or simply breathe deeply – we have all options covered.
PLAN YOUR TRIP Beaches & Activities40 for the east coast, which sits in the rain shadow of the highlands and will be sunny and idyllic. Best for ... ¨¨Don’t take the seasons as gospel: even during the height of the southwest monsoon it can Diving & Snorkelling often be sunny in the morning on the west-coast beaches before afternoon thunderstorms roll in. Pigeon Island, off Nilaveli beach, offers crystal ¨¨The north of the island is generally much drier waters, shallow reefs, colourful fish, and div- so you could come here any time and get your ing and snorkelling that’s great for a beginner beach towel out. or the experienced. Whale-Watching Beaches Whales can be seen all along the Sri Lankan For many people the beach is Sri Lanka, coast but Mirissa is the best base for seeing and, small though the island is, it really is the blue whales that splash past Dondra no slouch in the sand and sea department. Head. ¨¨The west coast is the most developed beach area and is where the majority of the package- White-Water Rafting tour resorts can be found, but don’t let that put you off because some of the beaches here are up As the Kelaniya Ganga tumbles out of the there with the best in the country. mountains and passes through Kitulgala it ¨¨With its stunning beaches, good selection of produces the best white-water rafting in the accommodation and activities that range from country. diving to sunning to surfing, it’s no surprise that the south coast of the island is the most popular Indulgence area with beach-bound independent travellers. However, heavy development is bringing more Bentota beach has an unrivalled collection package tourists. of sublime boutique hotels, and when you’re ¨¨For years war and unrest had kept the east done with pampering, the beach itself ain’t coast beaches largely off the radar of all but the bad. most adventurous, but with peace a coastline littered with excellent beaches is now ripe for the Solitude picking for all comers. New hotels are springing up fast but the east is still much less developed We almost want to keep this one to ourselves, than the west or south. but seeing as you asked nicely… Talalla beach ¨¨Finally, there’s the far north, where a beach is utterly empty and utterly divine – for the to yourself isn’t just a possibility but more of a moment. given. However, tourist development up here remains minimal and locals aren’t used to When to Go foreign beach worshippers. Sri Lanka is pretty much a year-round Safe Swimming beach destination. When it’s raining in the East, it’s normally sunny in the West and Every year drownings occur off Sri Lanka’s vice versa. beaches. If you aren’t an experienced ¨¨The main tourist season coincides with the swimmer or surfer, it’s easy to underesti- northeast monsoon, which runs from December mate the dangers – or be totally unaware to March. At this time the beaches on the west of them. (Don’t worry, not all Sri Lanka’s and south coasts are bathed in sunshine and the beaches are surf battered: Unawatuna, tourist industry for this part of the country is in Passekudah and Uppuveli all vie with one full swing. The east coast, by contrast, is often another for title of calmest, safest swim- wet and many hotels are closed. ming beach and are perfect for less confi- ¨¨Between May and September, when the dent swimmers and children.) There are stronger southwest monsoon hits the island and the southwest coast is drenched, head straight
41 few full-time lifesaving patrols, so there’s PLAN YOUR TRIP Beaches & Activities usually no one to jump in and rescue you. A few common-sense rules should be ob- GILLIANNE TEDDER / GETTY IMAGES © served: ¨¨Don’t swim out of your depth. If you are a poor Kitesurfer swimmer, always stay in the shallows. ¨¨Never dive head-first into the water. Hazards ¨¨Don’t stay in the water when you feel tired. may be lurking under the surface or the water ¨¨Never go swimming under the influence of may not be as deep as it looks. It pays to be alcohol or drugs. cautious. ¨¨Supervise children at all times. ¨¨Watch out for rips. Water brought onto the beach by waves is sucked back to sea and this current can be strong enough to drag you out with it. Rips in rough surf can sometimes be seen as calm patches in the disturbed water. It’s best to check with someone reliable before venturing into the water. ¨¨If you do get caught in a rip, swim across the current towards the breaking waves. The currents are usually less where the waves are actually breaking and the surf will push you shoreward. Never try and swim against the current. If it’s too strong for you to swim across it, keep afloat and raise a hand so that someone on shore can see that you are in distress. A rip eventually weakens; the important thing is not to panic. ¨¨Exercise caution when there is surf. ¨¨Beware of coral; coming into contact with coral can be painful for the swimmer and fatal for the coral. Always check with someone reliable if you suspect the area you’re about to swim in may have coral. BEACH CULTURE IN THE NORTH & EAST By and large Sri Lankans are an easygoing and accepting lot, and on the south and west coasts they are also very used to foreign tourists and their skimpy beachwear. For much of the East and North, though, the situation is a little different: women in bathing suits, even modest one-piece numbers, can attract a lot of unwelcome attention. Even in the now very popular east-coast beach resorts such as Arugam Bay and the beaches north of Trincomalee the attention can be excessive (and there have been sexual assaults). On these beaches and especially in more remote loca- tions, women will not want to travel alone, and should consider wearing a T-shirt and shorts into the water. Even in the more trodden beaches in the south and west it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of Sri Lankans remain very conservative and that few local women would dare wear a bikini, so although nobody is likely to say anything to you about wearing one on a tourist beach you will risk causing offence, and possibly worse, if you leave the beach and venture off around the village or town in skimpy clothing.
42 ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE / GETTY IMAGES © PLAN YOUR TRIP Beaches & Activities Surfers, Hikkaduwa (p98) Surfing when, bizarrely, most surfers choose to visit. On the flip side, however, the swells Sri Lanka has consistent surf year-round, at this time can be less clean and come but the quality of waves is far lower than with a more easterly wind to them, which the nearby Maldives and Indonesia. You can badly affect some spots. visit Sri Lanka more for the culture, cli- mate and ease of travelling than for the Sri Lanka is a superb place to learn how chance to get barrelled. to surf or for intermediate surfers to get their first reef-break experiences. Many of On the east coast, surf’s up from April the spots are very close to shore and surf to October. On the west and south coasts, access couldn’t be easier, which also makes the best surfing is from November to April, Sri Lanka an ideal destination for a surfer with the start and end of this season more with a nonsurfing partner. Boards can be consistent than January and February hired (expect to pay Rs 300 to Rs 500 per hour) and lessons are available at most BEST SURF SPOTS Arugam Bay (p233) Sri Lanka’s best-known wave is at Arugam Bay on the east coast. Surf’s up at this long right point from April to October. Weligama (p123) On the south coast, Weligama seems custom-made for learning to surf, and a number of surf schools and camps have recently sprung up there. Hikkaduwa (p99) The reefs here on the west coast are a long-time favourite, al- though more for the ease of living than for the quality of the waves. Midigama (p121) This area is the best spot along the south coast, with a mellow left point, a nearby consistent beach break and a short and sharp right reef, which offers about the only frequently hollow wave in Sri Lanka.
43 Back on salty water you can organise boat or catamaran trips for sightseeing, birdwatching and fishing around Ne- gombo, Bentota and most east-coast beach resorts. PLAN YOUR TRIP Beaches & Activities GREG ELMS / GETTY IMAGES © Windsurfing & White-water rafting, Kelaniya Ganga (p165) Kitesurfing beach towns; courses start at around €30. Sri Lanka isn’t renowned for its windsurf- Low Pressure Stormrider Guides (www. ing or kitesurfing but that doesn’t mean lowpressure.co.uk) offers good advice on there’s no action. Negombo has a well-run surfing Sri Lanka. kitesurfing school (p87) that runs trips up and down the coast. Further north, the Kalpitiya area has gained a reputation as one of the best kitesurfing areas in South Asia and there are plenty of board hire places and experienced kitesurfing (p92) schools. On that note, the far north of Sri Lanka, around Munnar Island and the islands off Jaffna have good windsurfing potential, but they remain very much off the beaten track. Some top-end hotels and a couple of private water-sport operators around the Bentota area hire beaten-up sailboards. It’s a good place for learners and lessons are possible; windsurfing courses cost around US$130. White-Water Rafting, Whale- & Dolphin- Canoeing & Boating Watching You don’t have to be a beach babe to Sri Lanka is fast gaining a reputation for enjoy Sri Lankan water sports. High up being a world-class whale-watching loca- in the hills, rivers tumble down moun- tion. The big attraction is big indeed – blue tains to produce some memorable rafting whales, the largest of all creatures. Mirissa conditions. (p124) is the best place from which to or- ganise a whale-watching trip. On the east Currently the best-known white-water coast, Uppuveli and Nilaveli offer quieter rafting area is near Kitulgala, where a but less-reliable whale-watching and in the number of different operators can take northwest the Kalpitiya area (p92) is popu- you out on gentle river meanders (around lar, although here schools of dolphins are US$30 per person) or, for experienced raft- more common than whales. ers, exciting descents of Class 4–5 rapids. Adventure Sports Lanka (p316) is the In all these places local boat tours are biggest player in Sri Lankan rafting and available, but it pays to go with someone organises rafting expeditions to Kitulgala who really knows what they’re doing. Eco and elsewhere from its Colombo base. The Team Sri Lanka (%011-583 0833; www. Belihul Oya area of the Hill Country is srilankaecotourism.com; 20/63 Fairfield Gardens, also gaining a reputation for kayaking and Colombo) is first-rate and offers whale- other river-borne sports. watching (and dolphin-watching) tours to all of these places.
CHRISTER FREDRIKSSON / GETTY IMAGES © 44 SARANGA DEVA DE ALWIS / GETTY IMAGES © Top: Unawatuna (p115) Bottom: Dolphins PLAN YOUR TRIP Beaches & Activities
45 BEST DIVE SPOTS PLAN YOUR TRIP Beaches & Activities Great Basses Reefs (p137) Several kilometres off the southeast coast, these re- mote reefs are ranked by divers as about the best in the country. Eagle rays and white-tip sharks are the big fish to see here. And just in case you’re interested, treas- ure from sunken ships has been found here too… But take note – the reefs are for experts only. Bar Reef (p92) These offshore reefs in the northwest of the country offer pristine reef systems, masses of fish and dolphins and whales to boot, but again it’s for expe- rienced divers only. Pigeon Island (p253) Accessible for beginners but still rewarding for experts, the beautiful, colour-splashed reefs off this pinprick of an island put a smile on every- one’s face. Around 300 species of fish and other marine life have been seen in the waters around here. Also a great snorkelling spot. Unawatuna (p117) It’s all about wreck diving here – one boat was even sunk exclu- sively for the purpose of improving the diving. Several dive schools, lots of facilities and good for all levels of experience. Batticaloa (p243) Calm waters and exploring the wreck of HMS Hermes, a WWII British naval ship. Negombo (p87) Looking at the rather brown waters here you might not expect it to be a very good dive area, but that brown water hides reefs bustling with fish just offshore. The season for whales (and dolphins) off courses cost around €265 to €340 and are the south coast and Kalpitiya is from Janu- also available with the following respected ary to April, while on the east coast it runs dive schools: from May to October. ¨¨Poseidon Diving Station (p98), Hikkaduwa. Diving & Snorkelling ¨¨Unawatuna Diving Centre (p117), Unawatuna. There are plenty of opportunities to live ¨¨Sport Diving (p123), Weligama. like a fish in Sri Lanka. Dive schools can ¨¨Sri Lanka Diving Tours (p243), Batticaloa. be found all along the coast (except the far ¨¨Poseidon Diving School (p254), Nilaveli. north) and you can slap on a snorkel al- ¨¨Colombo Divers (p87), Negombo. most anywhere. Diving and snorkelling in Sri Lanka is more about the fish than the Safety Guidelines for Diving reefs, but there are a few exceptions and wreck diving is also possible. Sri Lanka Before embarking on a scuba-diving trip, has the full dose of tropical Indian Ocean carefully consider the following points to fish species including such pretty little ensure a safe and enjoyable experience: numbers as angel fish, butterfly fish, sur- ¨¨Possess a current diving certification card geon fish and scorpion fish. Higher up the from a recognised scuba-diving instructional gnashing-teeth scale come the black- and agency. white-tip sharks. ¨¨Be sure you are healthy and feel comfortable diving. Along the west coast, the best time to ¨¨Obtain reliable information about physical dive and snorkel is generally from Novem- and environmental conditions at the dive site (eg ber to April. On the east coast, the seas are from a reputable local dive operation). calmest from April to September. But at ¨¨Dive only at sites within your realm of none of these times can underwater visibil- experience; if available, engage the services ity be described as breathtaking. of a competent, professionally trained dive instructor or dive master. Diving shops can be found in the major west-coast resorts. They hire and sell gear, including snorkelling equipment. PADI
46 ©Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd Plan Your Trip National Parks & Safaris Sri Lanka is one of the finest wildlife-watching countries in South Asia. The island may be small in size, but the variety of habitats, and the wildlife found there, would do justice to a country many times its size. Even a visitor with only the most casual of interest can’t help but be overawed by the sight of great herds of elephants, enormous whales, elusive leopards, schools of dolphins, hundreds of colourful birds, and reefs teeming with rainbow-coloured fish.The Sri Lankan tourism industry hasn’t been slow to cotton on to the country’s wild- life-watching potential, and an impressive array of national parks, protected zones and safari options exist that allow anyone, from dedicated naturalists to interested lay persons, to get out there with a pair of binoculars and make the most of the Sri Lankan wilderness. Wildlife by Region Wildlife West, South & East For its size, Sri Lanka boasts an incredible diversity of animalia: 92 mammal species, The west is best for marine life, but Wilpattu 242 butterflies, 435 birds, 107 fish, 98 snakes National Park has large mammals, and birders and more. Given the fragility of the environ- will like Muthurajawela Marsh. The south coast is ment in which they live, it should come as home to whales and turtles, and Yala National Park no surprise that quite a few are vulnerable. is one of the best places in Asia to see leopards. In the east there are quiet national parks and bird Mammals species that prefer drier climates than the west and south. Sri Lanka’s mammals include some of the most easily observable of the country’s The Hill Country animal species, as well as some of the most invisible. Hard to spot are the solitary and The hills have rainforests, moorlands and savan- mostly nocturnal leopard, Sri Lanka’s top nah parks with everything from elephants to predator; the scavenging golden jackal; endemic high country birds. the shaggy sloth bear; the civet (a catlike hunter related to the weasel); the mon- The Ancient Cities goose; and the shy, armour-plated Indian pangolin, with overlapping scales made Numerous national parks are filled with big ticket from modified hair. mammals and offer great dry country birding. Even the region’s ruined cities provide ideal Very audible, but not always visible, are habitat for many creatures. troops of tree-bound cackling primates, such as common langurs, also known as Hanuman or grey langurs; endemic
47 BEST PLACES FOR ELEPHANTS PL A N YO U R TRI P N ati o nal Pa r k s & S afa r is Uda Walawe National Park (p188) With around 500 elephants present year-round, this park offers the most reliable elephant-spotting in the country. Minneriya National Park (p213) Each August hundreds of elephants home in on this park in an elephant spectacle known as ‘the Gathering’. Kaudulla National Park (p213) More than 250 elephants call this park home. Bundala National Park (p134) Consistent elephant sightings in a beautiful watery setting. Yala National Park (p138) Lots of elephants but surprisingly hard to see. purple-faced langurs; hairy bear monkeys; fogsl.net), the national affiliate of Birdlife and toque macaques, notable for their International. distinctive thatch of middle-parted hair. The slow movements of the slender loris Tips for Birdwatchers belie its ability to snatch its prey with a ¨¨Visit a variety of habitats – rainforest, urban lightning-quick lunge. parks and bodies of water in the dry zone – to see the full diversity of birdlife in Sri Lanka. More often seen, albeit at different ¨¨February to March is the best time for times of the day, are the majestic Asian birdwatching. You will miss the monsoons, and elephant; the omnivorous and tusked wild the migrant birds will still be visiting. boar of Sri Lanka; and cervine creatures ¨¨Waterbirds are active for most of the day. like the big, maned sambar and smaller ¨¨Although morning is always the best time to white-spotted Axis deer. The bushy-tailed, go birdwatching, in the evening you will see noisy five-striped palm squirrel is commonly flocks of birds preparing to roost. seen scurrying around gardens and town ¨¨Consider taking a tour with a specialist if parks. These are often also the locations you’re keen to see the endemic species and of the large trees in which Indian flying achieve a healthy birdwatching tally, particularly foxes (large fruit-eating bats) camp by the if time is short. hundreds. BEST PLACES FOR BIRDS Mammals don’t just hide out in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve (p189) forests and savannahs. The biggest of all A slab of rainforest with around 160 mammals are to be found in the waters off bird species. Sri Lanka. Blue whales and slightly smaller Knuckles Range (p161) Little- sperm whales swim along migration cor- known montane forests filled with ridors off the coast here. The area around hill-country and forest birds. Dondra Head, at the southern tip of the Bundala National Park (p134) This country, is being hyped as the best place in wetland park is the classic Sri Lankan the world to see blue whales. birdwatching destination. Yala (p138) & Kumana (p239) Birds National Parks Superb low-country birdwatching with around 150 A tropical climate, long isolation from the species present. Asian mainland and a diversity of habitats Muthurajawela Marsh (p86) have helped endow Sri Lanka with an Excellent wetland birding close to astonishing abundance of birdlife. There Colombo. are more than 400 species, 26 of which are Pottuvil Lagoon (p237) Numerous unique to Sri Lanka; others are found only waders and waterbirds in this little- in Sri Lanka and adjacent South India. Of visited east-coast wetland. the estimated 198 migrant species, most of which are in residence from August to April, the waders (sandpipers, plovers etc) are the long-distance champions, making the journey from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra. Birders may wish to contact the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (www.
SANDEEPMALL / GETTY IMAGES © 48 ADITYA SINGH / GETTY IMAGES © Top: Elephant, Yala National Park (p138) Bottom: Leopard, Wilpattu National Park, (p93) PL A N YO U R TRI P N ati o nal Pa r k s & S afa r is
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