“Amid political turmoil and financial crisis, I still accepted an invitation to visit Sri Lanka in July 2022. Here is what I learned in my short yet educational trip to Sri Lanka and what changed my perception to accept that ‘I was wrong about Sri Lanka’.”
Fortunately for me, I was recently provided with the opportunity to visit some of the best places in Sri Lanka.
So, what happened was that I was among a group of travel professionals and other travel industry personnel invited there. It was a 6 nights and 7 days trip. We were invited by the Sri Lankan Airlines, Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), and Jetwing Travels, a very well-known tour operator, a part of Jetwing division, to see and explore for ourselves some remarkable and best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
The key purpose of this initiative was to educate the outside world on how safe and travel-friendly Sri Lanka is. By inviting foreign travel industry consultants and professionals to Sri Lanka, they wanted to negate the negative perception that foreign media outlets have been actively trying to portray ever since the country’s first-ever default in May 2022 and the political unrest that followed.
Additionally, this trip was to also serve another important reason. It would help regain the lost confidence of international tourists and attract them back to Sri Lanka. Like many other countries in the world, Sri Lanka’s tourism industry also suffered greatly due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions. And since its economy is heavily reliant on foreign tourists, its financial default and resulting political scenarios further deteriorated everything.
Despite accepting the invitation, I was still reluctant to visit Sri Lanka due to the negative vibes I had in my mind after hearing all the news and the uncertain situation of the country. However, after having seen and explored some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, I willingly accept that ‘I was wrong about Sri Lanka’.
Here is a brief account of the Sri Lanka tourist places I visited and what I learned in my short yet very educational tour of this island country.
Sri Lanka – A quick glimpse and an overview of this South Asian Island country
Stretching over an area of 65,610 square-kilometer (km2), Sri Lanka is a South Asian Island country in the Indian Ocean. It was previously known as Ceylon. But today, its official name is the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
It has a population of roughly 22 million and boasts great diversity in terms of cultures, ethnicities, religions, and languages. Like many other countries in the world, Sri Lanka’s economy too is heavily reliant on tourism and travel. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic contributed massively towards the decline of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, the best places to visit in Sri Lanka make it among the highly anticipated travel destinations in the world.
Best places to visit in Sri Lanka
So, here is what followed during my 6 nights and 7 days trip to explore the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Day # 1
After taking an overnight non-stop 4hr 30min flight from Abu Dhabi via Sri Lankan Airline, we safely reached Columbo roughly around 5 AM early morning. The representatives of the Jetwing Travels were awaiting our arrival at the airport.
From there, we were taken by a coaster bus to our first destination for breakfast. On our way, we were a group of around nine travel professionals. We were accompanied by representatives and staff members of Sri Lankan Airline’s, Jetwing Travels, a driver, and a helper. From handling luggage to providing water, wipes, and other traveling essentials, so far, my experience and half-hearted decision was honestly proving to be much better than some of my trips to Europe.
Jetwing Sea, Negombo Beach Area
Since it was Sunday early morning, we reached our first destination, the Jetwing Sea Hotel, Negombo Beach Area, in no time. Even though our visit to the Jetwing Sea Hotel was limited to having breakfast only, I could not help noticing its remarkable location. Jetwing Sea Hotel is a four-star hotel with an amazing and wide outlook of the ocean in front of you.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Soon after having breakfast at Jetwing Sea Hotel, we headed straight towards Kandy via Pinnawala to visit Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It is basically a shelter home and an orphanage for both baby and adult elephants who were either orphan and/or wounded.
As for the trip, it was an amazing experience traveling to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage altogether. It is basically situated up in a mountainous region and provides an excellent scenic view.
Besides being a safe place and a great home for the rescued elephants, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage also offers another attraction.
At just around six hundred meters from the park where this orphanage is situated, there is a river flowing. Every day, elephant herds each comprising merely 20-30 elephants are released for a freshwater dip in this river. Each herd races across a narrow lane, roughly 5-6 meters wide, to reach the river. This activity is carefully planned and guarded by a team who take care of the elephants.
While this activity was a unique experience and entirely one of its kind, it did remind me of the ‘Running of the Bulls’ event in Spain.
Mawanella Spice Garden
Another great destination that we visited enroute Kandy was Mawanella Spice Garden. After Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, we headed straight towards the Mawanella Spice Garden.
There, we met an Ayurvedic doctor who introduced us to several different plants and their unique natural uses. For instance, using aloe vera plant for hair treatment, etc. They also have a factory over there where they manufacture and sell medicines. I did buy some of their products. Overall, it was quite a learning experience besides the amazing scenic views that we came across.
Lunch at Golden Crown Hotel after reaching Kandy
After visiting Mawanella Spice Garden, we finally completed our trip to the Kandy city. It is a city built on a mountain and our journey comprised of passing through roads that went up and down the mountain side. An important fact about Kandy is that before Columbo, it used to be the capital of Sri Lanka. It was because the last Sri Lankan King resided over there.
Upon reaching Kandy, we headed towards our first destination which was the Golden Crown Hotel for lunch. It is basically a five-star hotel, located at a height from where you can view the entire city and the mountains.
Checking in at the Mahaweli Reach Hotel, Kandy
After having lunch at the Golden Crown Hotel, we headed to the Mahaweli Reach Hotel in Kandy and checked in. It is actually an amazing hotel with a great pool which I liked much. We had an overnight stay here.
Kandy Cultural Dance Show
Just within one hour of checking into the Mahaweli Reach, Kandy, we went to experience the Kandy Cultural Dance Show. Honestly, it was an overwhelming performance by some of the finest Sri Lankan artists.
After the show, we went back to the Mahaweli Reach for dinner and an overnight stay. Since we had not had any rests ever since we landed in Sri Lanka that day, we were very much tired.
However, after dinner we watched the cricket match between none other than our amazing host Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It was the Asia Cup final match which Sri Lanka won by twenty-three runs. Finally, we had a chance to enjoy a much-needed good night sleep and recharge ourselves for the next day.
Day # 2
Amith Gems (Pvt) Ltd, Kandy
We started our second day with breakfast at the Mahaweli Reach Hotel where we spent the night before. After breakfast, we checked out and headed towards the Natural Gems and Gemological Museum in Kandy. The Kandy area is well-known for gem mining such as sapphire and emerald. Sapphire is among the famous gems mined in Kandy.
Royal Botanical Garden and lunch at Oakray Tea Bush, Ramboda
After a brief tour to the Natural Gems and Gemological Museum, we headed towards our next destination for day two. It was the Royal Botanical Garden.
Spread over a massive 147 acres of land, the Royal Botanical Garden dates back to 1374. It is home to more than five thousand species of trees, plants, and creepers, including some rare plants as well.
Luckily for us, we had access to a buggy which allowed us to cover not all, but at least most areas of this place.
Moving forward, we headed towards the Oakray Tea Bush, Ramboda as it was time for lunch. Besides serving delicious lunch, the Oakray Tea Bush, Ramboda also provides an amazing view of the whole tea plantation site which we visited next.
Tea Plantations and Tea Factory – Blue Fields Tea
After having lunch, our next stop was to visit the tea plantations and tea factory while heading towards Nuwara Eliya. Tea is one of the major exports of Sri Lanka, with Sri Lanka contributing 25% to the world’s tea export. We also visited the tea shop from where we purchased some of the finest tea in the world.
Dinner and Overnight Stay at Jetwing St. Andrews, Nuwara Eliya
Finally, it was time for dinner and a good night sleep. For this, we checked into Jetwing St. Andrews at Nuwara Eliya. An interesting fact about Nuwara Eliya is its temperature which stays cool throughout the year. At night, the temperature can be somewhere around 12 degrees and during the daytime it never crosses 21-25 degrees.
Day # 3
Train Ride from Nanu Oya Station
On the third morning after breakfast, we reached the Nanu Oya Station for a train ride. The purpose of this ride was to enjoy some breathtaking and scenic views on our way to Ella. During the train ride, we came across some famous sites such as the Flying Ravana Zip Line and Nine Arch Bridge.
Although we could have done the same with a bus ride, it is not as enjoyable as having a train ride here. An important thing to mention here is the travelling time difference between train ride and bus ride. While the bus is faster and covers the same distance in nearly an hour and a half, the train ride took three hours.
98 Acres Resort
Finally, we reached our main destination which was 98 Acres Resort. The resort is famous for a couple of things and activities. It has a zip line, bungee jumping, and a peak which provides a 360-degree view of the whole surrounding area. Superb, isn’t it!
Jetwing Yala, Yala
For dinner and overnight stay, we checked into Jetwing Yala Resort at Yala. Yala is well-known for its wildlife natural reserve park called Yala National Park.
Day # 4
Yala National Park
On day four, we had a slightly different beginning than usual. We woke up at around 5 AM for a safari trip into the Yala National Park at 5.30 AM. We didn’t have any breakfast but who cares when you are to experience something remarkable and truly natural. Going this early for a safari trip was to see nature and wildlife at its best. Honestly, seeing wildlife so close and in open is no match to what you get to see in a zoo. The safari trip nearly took three hours after which we headed back to the hotel and had our breakfast.
At around 11 AM, we checked out and headed towards Shangri-La, Hambantota. It’s an 18-hole golf resort ranked number four in the world, and managed by Shangri-La. Besides this, this resort too had an amazing location. On one side, it faced its golf resort and on the other was a beach. Here we checked in and had our lunch.
Basically, we didn’t have many activities that day, so we relaxed and enjoyed the different facilities at the resort. However, in the evening, we had dinner with the management.
Day # 5
After spending the night at Shangri-La, Hambantota, the next day we had some gold lessons after a nice breakfast. In the afternoon, we checked out and headed towards the Galle city.
Galle City, Jetwing Light House Hotel, and lunch at Radisson Blue, Galle
Galle city is famous for the sea facing Galle Fort. We visited this and the Jetwing Light House Hotel which also faces the sea. The place is also famous for whale spotting but given the fact that we had limited time, we couldn’t grab this rare opportunity.
For lunch, we went to Radisson Blue, Galle.
Madu River Boat Ride
After lunch, we went for the Madu River Boat Ride. Basically, this includes touring a lagoon area where around 30-40 or even more lagoon islands are present. Out of these, only 15 are habitual while the rest are abandoned. This place too offers a unique and diversified eco-system.
Cinnamon Island and Fish Pedicure
We also visited the Cinnamon Island, famous for cinnamon and its related products. For example, cinnamon oils, cinnamon sticks, cinnamon powder, etc.
Another unique activity we did was to have fish pedicure where small fishes eat away dead skin from your leg.
Sheraton Kosgoda, Kosgoda
For dinner and an overnight stay, we checked into Sheraton Kosgoda, Kosgoda.
Day # 6
On day 6 after breakfast, we checked out and went to the Turtle Hatchery. There, we were educated about the whole turtle eco-system and how they come to the shore at night for laying eggs. These eggs are dug up and taken into safe custody for at least four days. After four days, they are released back into the ocean at evening time.
Meeting with the Jetwing Travels Representative and Lunch at Shangri-La, Columbo
After visiting the Turtle Hatchery, we had a meeting with the Jetwing Travels representative. Next, we had our lunch at Shangri-La, Columbo.
Overnight Stay at Movenpick, Columbo
After this, we checked into Movenpick, Columbo, had dinner and an overnight stay here.
Day # 7
Shopping and exploring Columbo
While nothing was part of the plan on the last day of our trip, we took this opportunity to roam around the city and do some shopping. We had some city tour as well.
Finally, it was time to head back to the airport and fly back home.
Conclusion/Final Thoughts – Why do I recommend (and why would I like to revisit)?
Altogether, this trip not only changed my perception about Sri Lanka but also raised my awareness as to what an amazing place it is. Although the tour was quite fast paced and we got tired a lot, it is important to mention that such is the nature of education-based tours. There is always less time and much that need to be covered.
Despite this, for those of you who might be interested, I can easily plan a detailed tour of Sri Lanka covering more places and visiting more sites.
And lastly, here is what I concluded from my trip to Sri Lanka –
- Security 5/5 Stars – Despite having a negative vibe in the beginning, it is much safer to travel in Sri Lanka.
- Cleanliness 4.5/5 Stars – With a few exceptions, Sri Lanka is amongst the cleanest countries in the Indian Subcontinent.
- Hospitality 5/5 Stars – The people here are nice and hospitable. They welcome you and serve in the best possible manner.