The small island-country of Sri Lanka is not only ruggedly beautiful and culturally intriguing, but it’s also one of the most friendliest and welcoming countries I have ever visited, gifting me with touching memories and experiences.
There is an openness and inquisitiveness in the people of Sri Lanka that’s both surprising and enchanting. Everywhere I went, locals would unabashedly approach me and strike up a conversation, genuinely interested in where I was from, where I was traveling to, and whether or not I was enjoying my visit to their country. It was actually quite a surprise, albeit a refreshing one, to not have people approach me in the street, start a superficial conversation, and end with a sales pitch for a rug, a private tour, or another typical tout. In fact, it seemed almost a personal goal for the people I encountered that I took pleasure in their country and went home with positive experiences and memories to share.
With its wealth of natural unspoiled wonders, Sri Lanka is an ideal destination for adventure seekers and nature lovers. A highlight for many travelers is Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak as its commonly referred as, the 2,243 m (7,359 ft) holy site for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians as it is believed that a rock formation at the summit is the footprint of where Buddha, Shiva, or Adam respectively first stepped down from Heaven. Pilgrims and tourists alike ascend the 7 km climb of over 5,500 steep steps at night in order to arrive at the summit in time for a spectacular sunrise. The sight and experience is truly magnificent, despite the sore legs I endured for an entire week afterwards.
History is alive and well in the old city of Galle where Colonial architecture and remnants of a bygone era stand as living testaments of Sri Lanka’s storied past. With its beautifully preserved buildings, forts, churches, and lighthouse, Galle has become a popular destination for travelers and is also home to many artists, local jewelers, eclectic shops and boutique hoteliers, and other creatives. Galle is a city that begs to be walked in and may charm visitors enough to convince them to stay a few days more.
While the food can be quite similar to neighboring Indian cuisine, Sri Lanka does have a few stand-out meals worth the trip alone. With names like hoppers, pittu, and lamprais, ordering a meal has never been more fun. My favorite meal is the roadside kothu rotti, a type of stir-fry made with chopped rotti, fresh vegetables, eggs, spices, and cheese. The pickled fruit and sambol condiments complete the typical Sri Lankan meal.
The beaches in Sri Lanka gained worldwide attention when the devastating 2004 tsunami hit, decimating the coastline and killing an estimated 30,000. These days, the beaches and resorts have recovered though it would be hard to ignore the lingering memory of the disaster: there are numerous roadside markers of makeshift graves for those who were lost to the sea. Despite the tragic recent history, the people and beaches have slowly recovered; the shores picturesque and inviting, crowded even, with several areas with excellent breaks for surfing.
For those looking for a respite from the sweltering heat and intense sun of the southern coastal beach towns, head inland and to higher elevation to take in the fresh, crisp air atop one of the many mountain towns. Despite only having traveled a few hours away from the coast, it feels like you’ve journeyed over distant lands to a lush, green paradise, clouded over with a cool, gentle layer of mist and fog. The landscape is dotted with tea plantations and many offer tours of their beautiful hillsides.
Overall, the lasting impression from my time in Sri Lanka is of the people and their carefree, joie de vivre attitude towards life. Maybe because so many Sri Lankans were easy-going, friendly, and curious, I was able to spend my three weeks in Sri Lanka in a comfortable, relaxed state of mind, allowing me to be fully open to the wonderful experiences that awaited me. This left me with only fond, smile-inducing memories to share, which is exactly what Sri Lankans wanted for me and all the visitors to their beautiful country.
Well done, Sri Lanka, well done.