Sri Lanka

First Impressions of Sri Lanka

The heat is what I remember most about arriving in Sri Lanka.

Once the doors slid open at the international airport just outside Colombo, the heat and humidity slammed into me like a ton of bricks. It wasn’t a waft or a wave or even a hurricane force wind. Instead, it felt like a wall of thick honey, dripping sticky from the sky onto my forehead, my shoulders, my arms, my back. The scent was equally heavy – full of exhaust from idling cars and tuk tuks and the sting of trash-fire smoke.

Despite this heat, a chill came over me and my skin puckered in goosebumps. I was so happy to have finally made it here.

Sri Lanka trip map with Frangipani

Sri Lanka is a tiny droplet of land covered in palm trees and frangipani flowers that sits just south of India and to the east of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. Despite the popularity of its neighbors, Sri Lanka is an off-the-beaten-path kind of destination. Tourism wasn’t exactly a priority until recently, as the country was plagued by years of civil war and cultural unrest. Though the war has officially been over since 2009, there are areas where human rights inequities and issues still exist. It’s a work in progress that I hope is on a path to a fair resolution.

Since 2009, more and more travelers have been making their way here to explore a culture that is relatively untouched by mass tourism.

Our trip started in Colombo, and from there we traveled through Sigiriya, to Kandy, down to Unawatuna, and back to Colombo before heading to India. Each place had a different feel, a different pace, a different environment, and a different scent. Each place gave us new reasons to fall in love with this tiny yet exotic little country.

In Sigiriya, we found beauty in the old and natural.

Sigiriya is one of the most important and unique landmarks in Sri Lanka and is a must-see if you are venturing up to the Cultural Triangle region.

But Minneriya National Park is even more spectacular, in my opinion. This park gave me one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with wildlife. If you visit during the northern dry season, you can witness hundreds of elephants gathering at the Minneriya tank looking for water, snacks, and a cool dip.

Panoramic mountain landscape view from the top of Sigiriya Sri Lanka

The hazy view into the distance from the top of the Lion Rock, Sigiriya

Apsara frescoes in the caves | Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Apsara nymphs painted on the walls of a cave carved into Sigiriya rock

Pensive elephant at Minneriya National Park | Sri Lanka

A pensive elephant in Minneriya National Park

In Kandy, we found life to be laid back and spiritual.

Kandy is a medium sized city set around a small lake amongst the Knuckles Mountain Range. It’s also home to the most holy Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka – The Temple of the Tooth. Part of the Kandy experience is visiting the temple for a pooja and grabbing a nightcap in the historic Queens Hotel.

Outside the Temple of the Tooth | Kandy, Sri Lanka

Outside the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha at sunset | Kandy, Sri Lanka

The sizzling Sri Lankan sun above the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha

Hills from Kandyan View Rest | Kandy, Sri Lanka

View of Kandy from guesthouse Kandyan View Rest

Unawatuna is the perfect beach town for a relaxing break…in the off season.

We traveled to Sri Lanka just before the southern monsoon, which happens to be the very beginning of the off-season. (Typical move for TravelShus – check out my guide to off-season adventuring!) We decided to stay in the former-sleepy-hippie-respite Unawatuna, despite having read a lot about it’s new reputation as a party hotspot for backpackers. Fortunately for us, the small crowds of the off-season reverts the town back into the hippie haven it once was. It was *exactly* what I wanted. (You know how I like my hippie havens.)

Edge of the bay at Unawatuna | Sri Lanka

So so so many palm trees in Sri Lanka.

Late afternoon overlooking the beach | Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

The view of the Unawatuna beach from our balcony at the Thaproban Beach House

The Gangaramaya Temple ended our trip on a spiritual note

We watch the Amazing Race religiously. That’s right, I said it. I love seeing the destinations unfold week over week and the harried racers grapple with international transit. The challenges don’t thrill me, but the travel eye-candy certainly does.

We hadn’t planned on spending anytime in Colombo until this past season of the Amazing Race brought the race to the Gangaramaya Temple. When I saw it on the show, I knew we had to stop by.

BGangaramaya Temple | Colombo, Sri Lanka

Buddhas from around the world, in layers.

I am so excited to share the details of this trip with you. These are only my first impressions of a country that has so many layers and details and beautiful surprises, despite its history of war and trouble with natural disasters.


Have you visited Sri Lanka? I would love to hear about the places I wasn’t able to reach in my short week.


 

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