“Are you American?” Our homestay host asked us this as we clumsily fumbled out of the tuk-tuk. “Yes we are,” and with that we were most honored guests to stay at Resort Beem. The host’s daughter was infatuated with American culture so she talked to us at length about everything from America’s Got Talent to the WWE. It seems that finding an American in Sri Lanka is as rare as finding a black rhino in Africa. Why isn’t this island gem on the radar of American tourists?
Sri Lanka is an island located at the south eastern tip of India, approximately the size of Ireland. The majority of the 20 million residents are peace loving Buddhists. The people we met were warm and friendly and greeted us with a big smile and wave throughout our trip. While Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka, we had no problems getting around as most everyone spoke English and signs and menus were all in English. Prices in some cases are also quoted in US dollars, and in one case we paid for our guesthouse with USD.
The tortured past of Sri Lanka has excluded it from the travel plans of most Americans. A twenty six year civil war ended in 2009 and the devastating tsunami of 2004 was front page news. Sri Lanka showed no signs of these to us and I predict this country is on the infancy of a great boom in tourism.
Sri Lanka has a lot to offer travelers of all ages and interests. For the outdoor lovers there are a multitude of waterfalls and a trek up the sacred mountain Adam’s Peak which has varied meanings across multiple religions. There is also ‘World’s End’ close to Nuwara Eliya in Hill Country where a four kilometer trail will lead to a cliff where on a clear day you can see for miles.
For the senior set there is one of the world’s most scenic train rides through the tea plantations and endless tea factory tours, each with a great bit of history to lend.
For those interested in cultural experiences, there are many temples including Temple of the Tooth in Kandy where Buddha’s tooth relic is located and paraded through the streets of town every August with much pomp and pageantry.
For families, there is an endless coastline of beaches that range from remote and untouched to tourist havens like Mirissa and Unawatuna.
For nature lovers there are jungle treks, whale watching trips and safaris through Yala National Park where one can spot elephants, leopards, buffalos and a vast array of birds.
For an island of its size this place has a lot to offer!
In the two weeks we spent in Sri Lanka we stayed in eight different towns and experienced a bit of each of the highlights which cost next to nothing to experience.
We went to see the sacred tooth relic at the nightly 6pm unveiling where devotes could pray and give offerings and see the encasement that contains the holy relic. Tourists and pilgrims were sitting barefoot and silent in the gallery as drums beat steadily leading up to the big unveiling. When the doors opened, everyone got up and squeezed tight to catch a glimpse of a golden encasement in the distance.
-Monks waiting to see the sacred tooth-
From Kandy we took a stunning train ride to Nuwara Eliya which is known as “Little England” for its notable rainfall, tea and connection to the British colonial past. We took in a quick tour of the Mackwoods tea plantation and enjoyed a cup of tea. This town is the highest elevation in Sri Lanka and it’s known to rain afternoon on a daily basis. Sure enough, on the way home we encountered a torrent of rain which triggered many roadside waterfalls and mudslides.
-Tea time at Mackwoods Tea Plantation-
From Nuwara Eliya, we went on to Ella where which is popular for hiking. After climbing off the train, which questionably didn’t stop at the station platform, we took a memorable 1.7 kilometer trek to our guesthouse. Google maps failed to show it was up hill about 1.5 kilometers and we were soaked and didn’t believe that we actually made it up a steep hill with all of our gear in the high humidity and heat. We were rewarded with a stunning view of a waterfall from the deck of our guesthouse for about 45 minutes before the afternoon rain and mist set in.
-Waterfall on the way to Tangalle-
After spending a week inland we were anxious to make it to the coast. We started in Tangalle which had picture perfect beaches.
-Deserted beach where we stayed in Tangalle-
From there we made our way to Mirissa where we did a whale watching trip and had a dinner at one of the busy beachfront restaurants.
-Our first stop in Mirissa. Great view of the surfing-
Next was Unawatuna which seemed like the Russian Riviera since we were staying at a Russian owned guest house and encountered many Russian tourists. French visitors would also appreciate the many snails we came across!
-Hi snail. Why is your shell crooked?-
From there, we spent three nights in Hikkaduwa which was billed to be a nicer beach but was a bit a disappointment as there were not many beachfront restaurants, a rough surf and a sliver of a beach. The highlight was several sea turtles at the shoreline that we could feed.
-Heroes in a half shell….turtle power!-
We were headed back to Colombo where we would take a nail biting hour and a half tuk-tuk ride to the airport. Sadly, we didn’t have room in our bags for a souvenir Ceylon tea but each cup of tea in the future will fill us with memories of gracious hosts, emerald tea terraces and the sparkling beaches of Sri Lanka.
Check out our photo album of Sri Lanka: