Sri Lanka is a tropical island traversed far, wide and around by tourists and intrepid travellers alike. The teardrop island is blessed with paradise beaches, exotic wildlife from leopards to blue whales, lush tea plantations, ancient ruins, metropolitan cities, a rich culture and exquisite cuisine.
Traditionally visitors have chosen the easy route to discovery by booking an imported air-conditioned car equipped with a driver moonlighting as guide. While a car and driver is the most convenient, informative and one of the quicker ways to get around the island, be prepared to take a backseat and cruise on Sri Lanka pace, vulnerable to city traffic, train crossings and narrow country roads. With the end of the war and subsequent rise in tourist numbers, access to Sri Lanka has improved immensely. Depending on your budget and length of stay, Sri Lanka now offers a variety of modes of transport to see the country by land, sea or air.
As the locals do
For the more daring traveller wanting a richer experience of the real Sri Lanka on a shoestring budget, a combination of hair raising bus rides between coastal destinations, government trains through the hill country and buzzing tuk tuks within towns will guarantee an inspiring experience, spicy snacks from mobile vendors and more than likely many an invitation to a village home from your fellow passengers. A visit to a local home is always a heart-warming occasion, where you will be greeted by beaming faces and opens arms while being fed with the freshest exotic curries and sweetest handmade treats usually made from an age-old family recipe. These are stories you will be telling for years to come.
Every which way
For the ultimate journey a car and driver with personalised service still fits the bill – the respite of air-condition, insider tips, and a driver to haggle and arrange your entry tickets to attractions makes for a convenient and relaxed journey, but for an authentic Sri Lanka experience this must be combined with more traditional conveyance. A ride on the Podi Menike (“The Little Maiden”) is a must, originally built by the British in the 19th Century, this scenic train ride takes you on a ten hour journey all the way from Colombo (though most often boarded in Perdeniya near Kandy) to the central highlands of Badulla.
The Podi Menike offers 1st, 2nd and 3rd class carriages with picturesque views as you ride on rickety tracks with steep drops, through the changing scenery of the hill country, rolling tea plantations, historic stations and alongside waterfalls.
After a stay in the hills, skip the windy roads and take a sea plane straight to the south coast, with your luggage following by road. The seaplanes offer a speedy service with a jaw dropping aerial perspective of the variety of landscapes Sri Lanka has to offer within this compact island. An exhilarating ride in one of the many brightly coloured tuk-tuks branded with their Singhlish proverbs is an ideal way to explore the coastal towns and bustling seaside markets. Be sure to stop at a roadside hawker and enjoy a cool thambili coconut along the way. For a slice of rural life inland, hire a bicycle and ride through the verdant paddy fields connecting one village to another and take the time to visit the local craftsmen and gleaming local temple stupas, the hub of village life.
With the standards of luxury travel improving on the island, sailing is growing in popularity as an excursion on the south and east coast. Enjoy a half day sail on a well-appointed catamaran, navigating the palm fringed coastlines and spotting dolphins and blue whales from your private charter, an unforgettable encounter.
If you are heading to the National Parks of Yala or the less crowded Wilpattu for a spot of glamping, swap your car and driver for an open top four-wheel drive and trekker. Listen for the alarm call of the samba deer and track paw prints for a sighting of the elusive leopard, get up close and personal with majestic elephants and take a moment to look overhead at the beauty to the morning sunrise speckled with migratory birds. An experience for the ultimate travel bucket list.
All good things must come to an end….
Finally allow your driver to tackle the traffic and toll booths and deliver you to the airport… if you find yourself able to leave.
Harshi Hewage is the Marketing Manager at Manor House Concepts.