Why Now Is The Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka
Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Photograph by Mr Julien Capmeil/Art Partner Licensing
Ah, January. That time of the year when you look forward, reflect and ask yourself the most pertinent questions about your life. No, not “what have I achieved this past decade?” or “will I be able to make it to the gym beyond 13 January?” The real question we have at this time of the year is “will I ever see the sun again?”
Luckily, there are parts of the world that enjoy year-round sunshine, places where the sun-deprived dwellers of the northern hemisphere can escape to in the quest for some vitamin D.
Sri Lanka lies south of India in the Indian Ocean. As well as plenty of sunshine, it’s got beaches, wildlife and a compelling history. Unfortunately, the country’s booming tourism industry took a hit after last year’s terrorist attacks, but it’s a resilient place and is bouncing back.
This is evident in the extension of the Southern Expressway, which leads from the capital city of Colombo all the way down to the south coast, to Balapitiya, Galle, Matara and beyond. It has cut journey times from the capital and it’s business as usual for the island’s workers, schoolchildren and tuk-tuk drivers.
What can holidaymakers expect from Sri Lanka? For starters, it is not short of beaches. In the coastal town of Balapitiya, Shinagawa Beach Hotel is located on the glorious waterfront of the same name, where the crashing waves greet you in the morning and lull you to sleep at night. In the evening, settle in at the poolside bar for a pomegranate cocktail or two.
Sri Lanka is also known for its wildlife, but you don’t have visit one of the many national parks to get close to nature. Just a few streets away from the beach is The River House resort, which sits on 13 acres of verdant ground, and where you’re transported into a landscape that looks like a Mr Henri Rousseau painting (thankfully, without the surprised tiger). You might spot a monitor lizard slinking off into the jungle, though. From here, the River House’s resident boatman, Mendis, can take you on a private boat safari on the Madu river to see the abundant flora and fauna that call the wetland home, along with some 64 islets on the water, from Cinnamon Island to Bird Island and an ancient Buddhist temple on Kothduwa Island.
Farther south, Le Grand hotel in Galle lives up to its name. The sleek, 57-room hotel is right by the ocean and has designated sea bath areas. You can also have dinner overlooking the historic Galle Fort at the on-site restaurant, Blue. Chef Mr Sujith Vithanage has created a menu of seafood dishes that feature lagoon prawns and locally sourced tuna. Meanwhile, the all-day dining spot Taste offers freshly cooked egg hoppers with spicy relishes for breakfast, along with pancakes, waffles and traditional rice and curry dishes.
A visit to Galle Fort, a Unesco World Heritage site, is a must, if only to witness the sunset from the grassy ramparts. Built by the Portuguese during the colonial rule in 1588 and fortified by the Dutch when they took over in the 17th century, the fort now stands as a monument to Sri Lanka’s endurance, especially as it withstood the 2004 tsunami. Now, a walk along Pedlar Street in the city’s centre reveals cafés, art galleries and boutiques full of local crafts and artisanal goods.
One of the best ways to explore Sri Lanka’s southern coast is via expert chauffeur-guides, many of whom are employed by trip-planning companies such as Experience Travel Group. Equipped with local knowledge, the chauffeur-guides add a personal touch to your stay.
The crowds may be smaller and the streets are not as packed as they would usually be at this time of year (December to April is peak season here), but it’s hard to miss the energy exuded by Sri Lankans, a people used to bouncing back when the going gets tough. There’s never been a better time to visit the island – and the best part? You can have Sri Lanka (mostly) to yourself. But for how long?