A Glimpse at Galle, Colombo & Sri Lankan National Parks
I think it’s a fairly common fantasy of travellers to spend a week at a sunny destination such as exotic and mysterious Sri Lanka and think you could see yourself living there. It’s quite another to actually know when you arrive that you’ll be a resident for two years, possibly four.
When we were informed that Sri Lanka would be our next posting, I must admit, I knew very little about it, apart from the tsunami disaster of 2004. We landed in 2009, when the 25 year civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamil inhabitants was just coming to an end. This transition, together with it being a bruised and battered third world country, sparked much apprehension in what would lie ahead for my family.
In this last entry of our series, I’ll share my family’s favourite things to see and do, in and around Colombo. Raising two boys, in a foreign country, made for some memorable adventures.
As mentioned earlier in the series, the Expressway has made traveling down South of Sri Lanka to visit National Parks and quiet beaches, a much more pleasurable and less time consuming experience. Galle is a gateway of sorts between Colombo and the weekend getaways for those escaping the City for R&R. It appears at the exit of the first Expressway built in the country and has an interesting history. The Dutch built this fortified City in the mid to late 1600s, and much of it remains today. There is a National Maritime Museum, a beautiful old Lighthouse, and a myriad of hotels and boutiques to poke through. More than that, it’s a busy City that supports neighbouring beach communities and the local inhabitants.
Two of the most popular National Parks in Sri Lanka are Yala and Udawalawe. Depending on what time of year you visit, you can be rewarded with sitings of large numbers of wild elephants, water buffalo, snakes, and perhaps even the elusive leopard. Unfortunately, we did not see any of these when we visited Yala, so we continued on to Udawalawe and did manage to see a great number of elephants roaming free. There are many different safari operators that will take you out before the sun rises to the most popular spots for sitings. Some even offer the outdoor safari camping experience.
Where to Stay near Galle and National Parks – The Fortress
Hands down, my favourite place to stay in Sri Lanka, thus so many photos taken of it. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of amazing hotels, large and small, but this one was a perfect fit for us. With the new Expressway, it reduces a four hour trip into a much more manageable journey. From the moment the enormous front doors open, you are pampered and relaxed. Great food, the most amazing gingery-iced tea, great food, wonderful staff, and beautiful rooms. From it’s location, you can do a day trip to Yala Park or visit the Town of Galle.
Pit Stop on the way to Galle
There are several turtle hatcheries scattered throughout the southern part of the island, and they are a great place to visit if you plan to take the old highway to Galle or even on a day trip while in the Galle area. As the name would suggest, they not only care for the injured and endangered turtles such at the leatherback, but they also collect, protect, and then release the babies to the ocean when they are ready to fend for themselves.
Having lived in this City for 4 years, we noticed changes almost daily after our arrival. Security checks disappearing on the streets, sidewalks being built, and the arrival of more tourists. Colombo is a very busy City with insane traffic. Gems (figuratively and literally) are hidden all over the place.
In addition to the little souvenirs that end up at the back of everyone’s book shelf, Colombo has some really interesting shops that offer unique keepsakes.
I would say Sri Lanka is best known for three things, however: spices, tea and gems. The latter two can be found on nearly every corner in the City. The sapphire and moonstone are “the” gems Sri Lanka is perhaps known for, but you can also collect an array of beautiful semi-precious stones that can be crafted into almost anything in a very short period of time.
TIP: If you have gold that you would like transformed into something new, take it with you, as many shops will melt down your gold and incorporate it into the new item you wish made. Shops in the larger hotels will of course, be pricey! Venture out and bargain if you know what you’re looking for.
Where to Stay in Colombo
As mentioned, the number of incredible boutique hotels that can be found in Sri Lanka is astounding. Some can be found right in the capital city of Colombo like Tintagel for example, where Prince Charles was rumoured to have stayed when visiting Colombo.
This would most likely be my top pick for a large hotel in Colombo. It houses many great restaurants: Italian, Indian, Seafood, Sri Lankan, Steak House, an English Pub (small play area for young children), and others. It also offers a spa, hair salon, swimming pool, gym, coffee shop, and is connected to a small shopping mall.
There are a number of large hotels in close vicinity of each other which all offer some really great restaurants. The newly renovated Dutch Hospital complex also has some great new additions. If you are in Colombo for a while, rotate around and you’ll come away with a new appreciation for the degrees of depth in flavour. Curries, biranyi, roti, coconut milk based dishes, sambols, hoppers are abound and even though a great portion of the Sri Lankan food is spicy, it also has a unique and amazing flavour. There are many street side vendors with tightly wrapped luncheon rice packets, but I would recommend staying away from those, as the hotels can offer the same authentic foods in a more hygienic setting.
Add it to Your Bucket List
Visiting this Island will no doubt change you. It’s beauty, charming people, history, culture, and food will stick in your memory for a lifetime. I think exposing your children to other cultures is one of the most priceless gifts you can give.