Wild and Wonderful Sri Lanka
Wander Woman: Lauren's Journey to Cross the Globe, One Amazing Experience at a Time
by Lauren Raps (first published in the AWA May-June 2022 issue)
When this article publishes, I am hoping for Sri Lanka to be seeing better times.
As I write this, having just returned from a 12-day journey throughout the country, Sri Lanka is suffering from yet another period of unrest. Its immediate future is uncertain, their citizens are protesting, waiting on long lines for fuel, managing rolling electricity cuts and suffering from high inflation and severe shortage of food.
But one morning while I was there and setting off on a hike and donning my new pair of leech repellent socks), I got word that this issue of the AWA Magazine was about all things “wild,” and I knew – regardless of what’s going on Sri Lanka – that this beautiful and naturally diverse country had to be what I showcased.
With its wild coastlines, wild food and agricultural offerings, and wildlife – Sri Lanka is one of those destinations where you can enjoy so many different climates and settings in such a small geographic area (the country is the size of Ireland!), and have a very authentic travel experience.
The wild nature and wildlife that you find across Sri Lanka is tremendous. My first stop after landing and exploring the city of Columbo for a couple of days, was to the Central Province – what is referred to as the heart of the country’s Cultural Zone. An area rich with UNESCO World Heritage sights and temples, as well as farms and agriculture.
While traveling through this region it’s not uncommon to see a wild elephant along the road as you make your way through the national parks. This is a part of Sri Lanka that is equally as rich in cultural experiences as it is with nature and adventure. You can fill your day with hiking or exploring the water gardens of Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress that is worth all of the 1270 steps to climb to the top, or by exploring the temples and ruins of the medieval city of Polonnaruwa. Either way, be sure to make time for lunch at a local farm. Enjoy a typical farmer’s lunch made in the traditional manner with a wood fire and clay pots. Everything is that much more delicious when you see where your food was grown.
After a long active day, overnighting at the Water Garden Sigiriya was just what was needed. With beautiful casita-type accommodations nestled in the resort’s rice paddy fields – the resort offers many opportunities for guests to unwind but also to get up-close with wildlife and some of the best bird watching in Sri Lanka.
A visit to Sri Lanka cannot be done without appreciating its history in the spice trade and how prominent these spices play a role in the daily lives of the Sri Lankans. As we made our way to the old hill station of Kandy, a large city very famous for its Buddhist sights such as the Temple of the Tooth, we made time to visit with a spice farmer and learn more about how these spices incorporate their way into their daily meals and how they can be used medicinally as well. I hit the gift shop there quite hard and check back with me next month on whether the farm’s miracle cream of aloe and sandalwood truly eliminate those stretch marks and cellulite!
Then onto the tea country via a two-hour train ride on picturesque winding tracks through the rolling hills towards the home of the renowned Ceylon Tea Plantations.
The Ceylon Tea Trail Resort offers the most unique accommodations as guests stay in bungalows that were originally built for colonial tea planters and buyers. Quintessentially British, sticking to the traditions of high tea and beautiful gardens, this visit to this region of Sri Lanka brings you back in time and to a completely different microclimate and much welcomed cooler weather. It’s a region where some wild leopards roam so make sure to spend some time at the Leopard Conservation Station to hear what the local community is doing to create a peaceful coexistence with these rare and wild animals.
There can be no trip to Sri Lanka without a visit to Yala National Park, Sri Lanka’s most popular national park due to its high concentration of wildlife -- specifically leopards. Situated on a wild coastline of the Indian Ocean, the park offers the highest diversity of wildlife giving visitors the chance to spot elephants, crocodiles, deer, monkeys, buffaloes, birds, sloth bears, leopards, etc.
The safari camps located throughout the park can be as rustic and luxurious as you prefer, and most include daily a drive daily deep into the park to view the animals in their natural habitat. It personally was my first safari ever, and to see elephants roaming wild with the Indian Ocean’s waves crashing in the background is a sight I will never forget. The park rangers are extremely knowledgeable and even taking a walk along the beach learning about the animal tracks was fantastic.
After a couple of days in Yala and then a couple hours’ drive south, we arrived at the Southern Coast. Welligama, a coastal town close to Galle, is known for its surfing and its whale-watching season from December to April each year, when calm waters come in and the blue and sperm whales make their migration around the southern tip of the island.
This area around the Southern Coast introduces you to yet another climate and yet another community that make up the fabric of Sri Lanka…the fisherman. The stilt fisherman dot the coastline as do the fish markets and the colorful boats sailing out in the morning and back in the afternoon with their daily catch. It’s a completely different vibe than the rest of the country and is the perfect way to wrap up your tour of beautiful Sri Lanka before you head back up to Columbo for your flight home.
As I mentioned earlier, Sri Lanka is definitely going through some tough times right now. Did I regret being there during that time? Not at all. I felt safe, I felt the people appreciated tourists being there and they need tourism badly. Please keep an eye out for Sri Lanka and when you feel comfortable going, please do – it’s a magical island with so much to see, do and of course…eat.
Lauren Raps is AWA's Corporate Relations Manager. She moved to Singapore in January 2021 with her husband and three boys. She is the President and Founder of Travel Prospect, a full service leisure travel planning company.