Since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, tourists are tentatively beginning to travel to the island. It’s one of the most untouched places I’ve been; the roads aren’t fit for mass tourism and the friendly faces of the locals still dominate the winding streets. It’s beautiful.
We visited the southern province of Sri Lanka – which, officially speaking, is from Galle to Hambantota. Sri Lanka’s weather system is rather complex for such a small country so if you’re looking for year-round sun, the southern province is your safest bet.
Here are my top 5 places to visit in the province.
NB: Yala Nature Reserve was closed whilst we were there to give leopards some peace and quiet to mate. I’m sure, had we visited, it would’ve made the list. It’s closed from the beginning of September for around 6 weeks each year.
Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe (oo-da-wal-away) National Park is beautiful. You are dropped off about 5km outside of the park and make your way in, in an open-top safari jeep. Even the drive to the park in stunning; you drive through a vast, open space with hills that create a rugged backdrop beyond a lake to the left. It’s a photographer’s dream.
Udawalawe is known for its elephants. Aside from the hundreds in the park, there is an elephant orphanage nearby. You can get a lot nearer to the elephants in the park and the orphanage seems like a bit of a tourist attraction, so if you’re only planning to do one, I’d pick the safari.
Of course, the animals aren’t there for your amusement, they live there; so you don’t always see many. We saw three elephants, water buffalo, a few crocodiles, a lot of amazing birds – including three eagles and monkeys. Another couple we met saw 40 elephants the following day, so there’s no real pattern to when they’re out and about. Regardless of which animals you see, the landscape will still leave you speechless.
Sea Turtle Farm & Hatchery
The not-for-profit Sea Turtle Farm & Hatchery is a must if you’re in the Galle area. It’s a 30-minute experience, so it’s great to add on to a trip to Galle. Turtles are facing extinction due to the way humans choose to live their lives. Luckily, organisations like this exist; it has successfully released more than 500,000 turtles into the ocean. It also looks after turtles that are too injured to ever be released back into the ocean.
If you visit here, please leave them a tip. The man who runs it has faced extreme hardship in his life and he still manages to be so caring and dedicated to these little creatures.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
This experience is not for the faint-hearted. When you arrive (by Tuk Tuk because cars can’t get to it) you are thrown into the heart of the rainforest. Our guide started by dousing our feet in salt to stop leeches from attaching themselves to us. We saw all sorts during our 4-hour expedition. Much longer trips are available but this was perfect for us.
It makes me itchy just looking at these photographs. I thought I’d be scared of venomous snakes up close, but they aren’t very vicious. They stay quite still. Those spiders, however, were everywhere and they were huge. I don’t like spiders at the best of times but that was a real mental test!
The walk leads you to a beautiful waterfall – we weren’t told beforehand that it’s possible to go into the water, so we didn’t bring any towels or swim stuff, but it’s worth noting if you go. There’s plenty of fish in the water but I’d take those over leeches and spiders any day!
Spice Spoons at Anantara Peace Haven Resort
This seems like quite a random one, but it was truly one of my favourite experiences. It’s not just any old cooking class in a hotel. In the morning, you’re taken to the harbour to pick your fish. The chef goes along with you and talks you through all the different types; the fishermen have just returned from their night out fishing and are all busily offloading their fish onto the tarpaulin and sometimes even the ground.
From there, laden with a gigantic tuna and some shrimps we went by tuk-tuk to a rice paddy. We learnt so much about the rice and how it’s such an important part of Sri Lanka’s export industry. We tasted cardamom straight from the tree and watched water chickens shimmy around the lotus flowers.
Finally, we went to the vegetable market in Tangalle. The colourful sights, bustling sounds and fresh smells were a sensory overload. Tangalle is a small, fishing village and when you’re out and about you hardly see any other tourists. This topped off the experience for me. We finished the day by cooking a Sri Lankan feast and even got to keep all of the recipes to try at home. Perhaps I’ll add one to the blog at some point!
Watch The Stilt Fishermen
There’s a lot of controversy about these fishermen. In recent years, they’ve learnt they can make more money from having their photographs taken by tourists than they can from the actual fishing. That has led to a number of ‘fake’ stilt fishermen who just jump on a stilt when they see a naive tourist wandering along the beach, camera in hand.
I can’t be sure that these were the real deal. What I will say, is that they were there from 7am – 7pm each day at the beach in Koggola. Once their bags were full of sardines, they would go and sell them on the road adjacent to the ocean. So, if they were trying to trick us – it was a rather elaborate rouse!
These fishermen make their way along the shore throughout the year. They tend to stay in each place for two weeks before ‘upping sticks’ (get it?) so, we were lucky to see them.
Have you ever visited Sri Lanka? We’re already planning a trip back to see the North and to go to Yala this time, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!