For a country that lies in India’s own backyard, surprisingly little of Sri Lanka has been discovered. There’s no doubt that the charming capital of Colombo, the hill station of Kandy, and the beaches of Galle are a great introduction to the country. But the resplendent island (as “Sri Lanka” literally means) has so much more to offer travellers seeking the roads less travelled:
Village life in Galkadawala: In the middle of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, sits the small postcard village of Galkadawala. Traditional village homes lie interspersed with rice paddies and seasonal farms, dry and marshy grasslands make an unusual terrain to spot elephants, and the friendly locals gather every evening for a dip in the village lake. There are no tourists here; a chance to soak in simple village life, swim, kayak, hike, and get to know the locals.
Make it happen: Buses connect Habarana, the nearest big town, to the rest of the country. Stay at Galkadawala Forest Lodge, a rustic eco-lodge made entirely with recycled materials in a mini forest that was once barren land.
Hillscapes in Ella: Ella, in Sri Lanka’s hill country, accidently became popular with backpackers in the 90s, as a gateway to Yalla National Park. In the backdrop of hills with gushing waterfalls and winding tea estates, charming guesthouses and quaint cafes have popped up to afford you a quiet break during the peak travel season in Sri Lanka. Abandoned railway tracks wind along the mountains here, local restaurants serve up some of the country’s best kottu, and Little Adam’s Peak offers breath-taking views of scenic tea estates and the hill countryside.
Make it happen: Take the slow train from Kandy to Ella, one of the most scenic train rides in the subcontinent. Stay at the boutique Waterfalls Homestay, run by a friendly Australian couple.
Tete-a-tea with nature at Madulkelle: An ode to Sri Lanka’s colonial era, the village of Madulkelle is home to the most pristine tea estates in the country. Sip the island’s best brew with a view of the majestic Knuckles Range, chat up the local women as they work their nimble fingers on the tea leaves, hike through picturesque mountain trails, and indulge in the old-world charm of a planter’s bungalow.
Make it happen: An hour from Kandy, Madulkelle is accessible by bus or tuk-tuk. Stay at Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge, in eco-luxury tents erected on stilts above the tea estates.
City life in Negombo: Colombo’s lesser-known cousin, Negombo is a city with a soul. Bike around its quiet neighbourhoods, along winding bylanes that hide away sprawling old Sri Lankan homes amid coconut and banana plantations. Stop by at a neighbourhood restaurant to indulge your taste buds in string hoppers and local curries. And end your day watching the sun set on the waves of a golden beach, as the locals try to convince you that it’s not one of Sri Lanka’s finest beaches!
Make it happen: Negombo is a short drive from Sri Lanka’s international airport. Stay at Villa Shade, a family-run homestay set amid acres of beautiful gardens.
Gentle blue waters in Passikudah: The Indian Ocean on Sri Lanka’s east coast is a bit like your own personal swimming pool – the waters are turquoise blue and shallow, the waves are gentle, the sand is soft and white, and only locals come to the beach on most evenings. After the war and the tsunami, life on the east coast has finally normalised, and there’s no better time to visit than now.
Make it happen: Passikudah is best reached by bus via Batticoloa. Stay at Centara Resort and Spa, a newer and more affordable boutique resort by the beach.
Shivya quit her corporate job at age 23 to travel the world. She was recently awarded India’s best travel blogger at The Indian Blogger Awards 2013, for her blog, The Shooting Star. Her stories take readers on the roads less travelled, with a focus on solo and responsible travel. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
For more expert advice and inspiration, check out our Sri Lanka travel guide.