After braving the cold of the Himalayas, we were ready for someplace tropical. So we headed to Sri Lanka to relax and enjoy island life once again.
Where in the world is Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka consists of one main island which lies just off the southeast coast of India. It’s about half the size of my home state of Arkansas, or a little smaller than Ireland.
A Rocky History
As early as the 1500s, Sri Lanka faced colonial rule by first the Portuguese and then the Dutch. You may have heard of Ceylon, which is the name the British gave the island when they took control from 1815-1948.
Sri Lanka gained independence as a republic in 1972.
Unfortunately, in 1983 an insurgency took place against the government by a liberation army known as the Tamil Tigers. This military campaign lasted 26 years, with armed conflict and bombings across the island. The civil war officially ended in May 2009.
Looking around the island it’s hard to believe a violent struggle was taking place less than 10 years ago. Truly, Sri Lanka has made a remarkable recovery.
The infrastructure is excellent, with a huge network of cheap and reliable public transportation. Buildings are modern and accommodation standards are high. The population is well-educated and healthcare is accessible and free for all citizens.
Sri Lanka is quite developed compared to some of its Asian neighbors. And the country is waiting with open arms for tourists to discover its treasures.
An Island of Wonders
We’ve been to a lot of islands on our journey, but Sri Lanka is unique. This country has so much to offer!
The island is ringed with golden beaches and world-class surf, plus water sports and diving. There are many national parks filled with wildlife, including leopards and elephants.
The southern interior is tea country, with lush green hills and cooler temperature. And the north-central region hosts the “Cultural Triangle,” where three ancient cities offer a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s rich history with ruins and sacred sites.
Diversity and Tolerance
The nation is very diverse: most of the country practices Buddhism, but there are significant populations practicing Islam, Hinduism and Christianity as well. Many towns have places of worship for all four religions.
One thing we found remarkable is that religious schools are open to all students. We stayed with a Muslim family who told us they sent their two sons to Christian and Buddhist schools, because they wanted them to learn about other religions. Another local we talked with credited good education as the reason Sri Lanka has maintained the peace and recovered so quickly after the war.
Warm Smiles and Open Hearts
What I’ll remember most about this country is the world-class hospitality.
During one homestay our host picked us up from the train station, served us tea on his patio then drove us all over town for our errands. When we rented an apartment from a university professor, he came by every evening for a friendly chat and washed our laundry for free. At another guesthouse, we ate every meal in the family dining room while the grandmother grinned and encouraged us to eat more.
Local people also made us feel genuinely welcome. The level of spoken English is very good, and many times people anticipated our needs and offered assistance. I was flattered by the respectful way everyone addressed me as “madam.” Sri Lanka made me feel totally spoiled because I knew that we would always be taken care of as we traveled.
The Time is Right
In my opinion, Sri Lanka is in a very sweet spot for tourism right now. The country is well-developed, so it’s easy to find nice hotels and get transport. And the island is filled with attractions no matter what type of holiday you’re interested in.
Sri Lanka also feels more authentic than so many places we’ve visited. Even though we enjoyed plenty of creature comforts during our month here, we also found the local people and culture very accessible. There were a few tourist hot spots, but most of the time we felt immersed in the real Sri Lanka.
Because tourism is relatively new, Sri Lanka isn’t yet facing over-development like so many places on the Southeast Asia tourist trail. Don’t get me wrong, we still love Bali and Thailand. But for the chance to experience what those places were like decades ago, go to Sri Lanka.
And go now!