Tales from an island

Endless beaches, charming towns, tasty treats and welcoming people make the tiny South Asian country of Sri Lanka irresistible

Galle Fort

If I had to pick one word to describe the idyllic island nation of Sri Lanka, it would be ‘underrated’. When you’re in Sri Lanka, you can’t help but be awestruck at the beauty of this picturesque tiny country located to the south of India. Sri Lanka is the perfect getaway for its untouched nature, welcoming people and delicious food.

On your first trip to Sri Lanka, begin your journey with the beach town of Hikkaduwa, followed by Galle in the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, and end with the capital, Colombo.

High on Hikkaduwa

Sandy beaches, beachfront shacks, inexpensive alcohol and fresh seafood are some of the reasons that make Hikkaduwa the ideal escape. I recommend staying near Hikkaduwa Beach, as all the activities in this quaint seaside town are beach related. These activities include snorkelling with turtles and taking world-class surfing and diving lessons. I took my first surfing lesson in Hikkaduwa, which was both exhausting and exhilarating. Learning how to surf or dive is an unmissable activity on your Sri Lankan sojourn.

Locals advised us to visit the Hikkaduwa Lagoon and the Kosgoda Turtle Farm to see Sri Lanka’s unique flora and fauna. In the night, after a day of exploring and surfing, we relaxed at Hikkaduwa’s beach bars, which are very Goa-esque shacks on the beach.

How to reach: Fly to Colombo and drive to Hikkaduwa, which is a two-hour journey south of Colombo. You could hire a taxi or take the train.

Tummy treats: The restaurants in Hikkaduwa are casual and intimate. They’re essentially like eating at the chefs’ houses. They serve some of the best seafood and Sri Lankan dishes I’ve ever had. Our meals at Hikkaduwa included authentic Sri Lankan dishes such as egg curry, potato curry, string hoppers (appams) and king coconut (local Sri Lankan coconut).

Gorgeous Galle

Galle is not only a pretty town, but also has an irresistible atmosphere. You can’t go to the historic city of Galle and not go to its centre, the Galle Fort. The Galle Fort, a fortress that was built by the Portuguese and fortified by the Dutch, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you’re inside this fort, it feels like you’re in a European coastal town such as Capri, Sorrento or Positano.

In the fort, you’ll find striking Dutch-colonial buildings, eccentric boutiques, quirky art galleries, exquisite jewellery stores, refurbished hotels and museums. I suggest watching the sunset from the Galle Fort, near the fort’s stately lighthouse.

While in Galle, also visit the Galle International Cricket Stadium, which is one of the most scenic cricket grounds in the world. We didn’t stay the night in Galle, as at night, it’s pretty quiet and there’s not much to do. I suggest doing a day trip to Galle, but don’t miss it on your trip to Sri Lanka.

How to reach: From Hikkaduwa, we took the local bus to Galle, which is a 40-minute drive south of Hikkaduwa. Alternative transport options include taking a tuk-tuk or a private cab.

Tummy treats: There are numerous restaurants and cafes inside the Galle Fort that serve scrumptious Sri Lankan and world cuisines such as Thai, Italian, French and Portuguese. We binged on tasty homemade seafood pasta and fresh fruit gelato at an Italian cafe that was a former British post office.

Capital magic in Colombo

Never miss visiting the capital on any of your trips. One of Colombo’s major attractions is Galle Face Green, a 12-acre ocean-side promenade. Get a drink or coffee at sunset at one of the seaside hotels here. Other attractions in Colombo include Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, National Museum of Colombo and Viharamahadevi Park. Do not miss these places.

Enjoy a snack at Gregory’s Road’s trendy street-side cafes, which are perfect for people-watching. Colombo also has a thriving nightlife with several nightclubs, rooftop bars, and lounges for different tastes and moods. If you enjoy gambling, check out the casinos, but don’t expect them to be super fancy.

How to reach: We took the train from Hikkaduwa to Colombo, like the locals do. The train route is very pretty as the tracks are along the coast. However, there is no air-conditioned compartment, and it can get pretty crowded. Our journey on the train was quite comfortable as there was plenty of sea breeze, and we reached the centrally located Colombo train station in about an hour-and-a-half.

There are numerous excellent options for stay in Colombo. I would suggest picking a hotel near Galle Face Green. Tuk-tuks are the most economical way to get around Colombo. However, cab-booking apps and private taxis are also available.

Tummy treats: When in doubt, go to the Old Dutch Hospital complex. It has multiple great restaurants, all in one place. These stylish restaurants serve incredible seafood and contemporary and traditional Sri Lankan food such as baked crab, dhal curry, prawn curry and kottu roti. Also, don’t miss the street food stalls at Galle Face Green for a taste of local Sri Lankan food.

There’s much more to be discovered and explored in the tiny island of Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, you’ll always be just a short trip away from somewhere completely unique.

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