When I first visited Sri Lanka in 2018, I was awestruck by its potential as a destination.
If you read my first-ever story about that visit (where I circumnavigated the country using only a tuk-tuk), I reminisce about a time when the country’s tourism economy was surging and when visiting the empty golden stretches of sand was like being in Bali in the late 1980s.
I’ve just visited again, and much of what I saw is the same. Sri Lanka still has its empty beaches and immature tourism infrastructure; however, the reasons are now very different. These are now symptoms of a series of terrible, compounding events that completely stalled the country’s exponential growth as an Asian tourism powerhouse.
The Easter Sunday terrorist attacks on Catholic churches in 2019 were soon followed by the pandemic and an economic collapse.
I used this context to help frame my recent trip and tried to be sympathetic but not let it define my observations five years on. The result? Sri Lanka is still just as incredible as it always has been and still has the potential to be the number one place for Australians to visit in 2024. Here’s why:
Picture: Jeremy Drake
Significant investment has been made in hotels throughout the country. Many big brands shut up shop when the pandemic hit, but those that have returned have put their money where their mouth is.
I still stand by my original article from 2018. Sri Lanka has the best beaches in all of Asia and the sub-continent. They are clean, uncrowded, and underdeveloped. And depending on the time of year you visit, both coasts offer incredible surfing. The once sleepy seaside village and horseshoe bay of Hiriketya are now upmarket and trendy, but five years on still as beautiful as ever.
Sri Lankan egg hopper, freshly cooked.
My diet in Sri Lanka is simple: a stringy egg hopper with dhal for breakfast each day and a spicy kottu roti (cooked between two meat cleavers on a hot plate) for dinner. These two local street delicacies are reason enough to make Sri Lanka the number one place to visit in 2024.
Culture & religion
The country is a melting pot of cultures and religions. While these differences inflamed a civil war for many decades, the generational influences from southern India, European colonialists and the majority of Sinhalese Buddhists live today in relative harmony. For a landmass about the same size as Tasmania, it makes travel from north to south feel like you’re moving through multiple countries.
Sri Lankan fruit vendor’s stall on the way from Negombo to Kandy.
Forget Mumbai, Kathmandu or even Dhakka in Bangladesh; this is the subcontinent’s most underrated city. Kandy is an oasis city amongst lush green mountains and shrouded in mist. With lake at its centre, the city is perfect for walking. It’s also home to Buddhism’s most sacred site, the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic, which is said to be housing Buddha’s actual tooth. Kandy was the impenetrable stronghold of the 2300-year-old Sinhalese monarch until the British invaded and took it over in 1815. You’ll need at least three or four nights here.
I’ve been in tuk-tuks worldwide, and I still get butterflies whenever I get into a Sri Lankan tuk-tuk. The smell, the noise, the speed and the upfront haggling for a price. It just hits differently here.
Get up close to the wildlife in Sri Lanka.
You get a magical feeling when you can get up close and personal with an elephant. In most Western countries (even in Africa), you’re often separated by a significant distance or fences. At The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, you can get up close and personal with one of the 85 elephants in the refuge.
The lush tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.
At least in my experience, Sri Lankans are generous, friendly and welcoming people. Their attention to detail makes them outstanding hosts, where no request is a problem. Most importantly, their willingness to help their nation rebound as a tourism hotspot means that most visitors returning after the pandemic receive the complete royal treatment. Now is the best time to think about going when the prices are still relatively low for Aussie visitors and the hospitality is second to none.
The writer travelled to Colombo as a guest of La Vie Hotels & Resorts and Raddison Hotel Colombo, Kandy and Galle.
Source From srilankatravel
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