Waves, Curry and Ancient Culture

Sri Lanka Offers Unspoiled Treasures in a Tropical Paradise

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Since its 26-year civil war ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been a country in full bloom: its coast ringed with tropical beaches, its interior filled with cool mountains, wild elephants and Buddhist ruins. Learn to tie a sarong, eat with your hands and look both ways before you cross the Galle Road, and Sri Lanka will embrace you warmly.

Where to Eat and Drink

Tea and Plenty of Curry

Now that Sri Lanka’s civil war is over, the northern city of Jaffna is open for business. This largely Tamil city reflects its ethnic identity with a blend of unique cuisine, language and culture.

Location: Jaffna

In the late 1800s, British planters introduced tea to Ceylon, replacing a failed coffee crop; the rest is history. Visit a tea factory to see how it’s plucked, sorted and processed, and then stay for a cup.

Location: Bandarawella | Learn More: bandarawelatown.lk

What to Do

Surfing, Diving and the Open Ocean

Arugam Bay
Paddle out and drop in on the consistent rollers at Arugam Bay, one of South Asia’s top surf breaks, then settle in for a Lion Lager in the sleepy town of the same name.

Location: Arugam Bay

Yala National Park
Book a Land Cruiser and go looking for Asian leopards in Yala National Park, where elephants and the elusive Sri Lankan sloth bear can also be spotted.

Location: B499 | Learn More: yalasrilanka.lk

The southern tip of Sri Lanka is home to one of the largest populations of blue whales, the largest creatures on Earth. Catch a boat out of the port town of Mirissa, and make sure you’ve got a spare memory card handy.

Location: Mirissa

One of the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carriers, the HMS Hermes, lies in 180 feet of water off the east coast, sunk in 1942 during a Japanese air raid. In summer, when conditions are favorable, hook up with a dive charter out of Batticaloa and go explore the wreck. (For advanced divers only.)

Location: Batticaloa

One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Anuradhapura is the epicenter of Sri Lanka’s ancient culture, and a vast amount of its Buddhist architecture can still be explored.

Location: Anuradhapura

The “Lion Rock” fortress was constructed in the fifth century at the top of a 650-foot rock that rises from the surrounding jungle. You can climb to the top, thanks to carved rock steps and bolted iron railings, and pause to view the beautiful frescoes halfway up.

Location: Sigiriya | Learn More: srilanka.travel

The Ella Gap is a steep, forested valley in the cool Central Highlands. Get directions from a local and hike to the top of 4,000-foot-high Ella Rock for the best views. Then reward yourself in the town of Ella, a favorite stop of backpackers.

Location: Kitelella Rd

Where to Stay

British Colonial Conversions

The Galle Face Hotel is a classic example of British colonial architecture in downtown Colombo. The hotel preserves many of the nation’s English traditions, including a daily high tea, which can be had while looking out over the Indian Ocean.

Location: 2 Galle Road, Colombo 3 | Learn More: gallefacehotel.com

Spend a night at the Galle Fort Hotel inside the Dutch fort at Galle, which was built in the 16th century, and whose ramparts saved the historic village within from the 2004 tsunami.

Location: 28 Church St, Galle 80000 | Learn More: galleforthotel.com

Trincomalee was once called one of the finest natural harbors in the world, and was home to Britain’s Eastern Fleet during World War II. Sober Island is a former strategic gun battery and navy barracks outside the harbor, and is now run by the Sri Lankan navy as a boutique hotel.

Location: Trincomalee |Learn More: soberislandresort.lk

Mount Lavinia Hotel
The Mount Lavinia Hotel is housed in the former residence of Sir Thomas Maitland, who purportedly had an affair with a local woman named Lovina Aponsuwa, facilitated by a secret tunnel in the basement. The hotel’s terrace bar is the perfect place to sip a gin and tonic and watch the sun set.

Location: Hotel Rd, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia | Learn More: mountlaviniahotel.com
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A version of this story appears in Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine, 286 pages of stories, reports, interviews and original photography from five distinct locations around the world. Subscribe Now: $35