Sri Lanka – seeing is believing

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and are planning a winter break – then Sri Lanka is a great place to visit. The expensive part is in getting here – as it needn’t be expensive once you are here.

Ergo … like many other far-flung destinations from a North European or North American perspective – the longer you can stay, the cheaper it is pro-rata. This is why Sri Lanka, like so many other Asian and South American destinations, is so popular with backpackers with time on their hands.

But this paradisiacal island is also popular with shorter-term winter sun seekers after a little unashamed luxury. Sri Lanka caters well for both extremes.

A number of people who’ll undoubtedly be making the most of Sri Lanka this winter will be English cricket tourists coming to watch their side play a series of one day internationals against Sri Lanka this winter during late November and December.

If you happen to be one of them, a word of warning – many fans enjoy betting on the cricket internationals with Betfair and other exchanges and bookmakers, to enhance their enjoyment of the test series. But gambling is prohibited in Sri Lanka so make sure you do this before you get here – or that you’re able to “phone a friend” at least.Kesara Rathnayake

by  Kesara Rathnayake (kesara.lk) 

Late November and December is probably the ideal time to visit this beautiful country – particularly on the southern and western sides of the island; the dry season in this area lasts from December to March.

As for what to do when you get here – well this will depend on your budget. You can certainly do Sri Lanka on a shoestring but if you’re coming for some winter sun luxury for a very short time – why not treat yourself? It still won’t cost the earth here.

For example, eating out can be done quite reasonably for around $10 a head (or a third of that if you’re on a real budget); just remember to book early as eating out in Sri Lanka isn’t a common thing amongst the locals. In particular, then, if you venture off the beaten tourist track, make sure you make arrangements well in advance (even to the extent of ordering your exact food several hours before you plan to eat).

Tipping is a bit of an issue too. You’ll usually see a ten per cent standard service charge added to your restaurant and hotel bills etc., but that doesn’t mean a tip isn’t expected. The service charge goes straight to the proprietors so tip the staff themselves – it’s polite to pay the same on top again, roughly – but only if it’s earned through polite service.

Drinking a little alcohol won’t cost you an arm and a leg either. The local brew Beer is Lion Beer, a surprisingly heavy beer using hops with barley, but you can get Kingfisher Beer – along with imported bottled beer etc. The cost will usually be in the region of around a $2 / £1.50 equivalent for a large beer.

Ice Cold BeerAs for where to stay – there are endless beach front locations in different parts of the island – so do your research before you come obviously – depending on your budget. The island’s official tourist guide is as good a place as any to start.

Prices range from somewhere in the region of around £20 / $30 a night for one star accommodation – which is perfectly clean and respectable and still in tourist areas near the beaches – upwards to around £70 / $100 per night for far more luxurious beach-front five star hotels.

Of course, these are just guidelines and you can pay less or more than these two extremes – but this should give you a decent feel for what you should be paying.

One thing that can get a bit expensive is sightseeing – particularly around the world famous temples. These are worth the price which is usually around £25 / $30-40 per head for entry. What grates a little bit with visitors is that locals will pay a tiny fraction of this amount – but “when in Rome”, and there’s no way around this unfortunately – save not going at all that is.

One place you might want to check out when planning your extended tour or short holiday is the amazing mountain town, Ella. This is a beautiful town with some excellent guesthouses and small hotels with stunning views over rolling hills. You may decide to hike through tea plantations to amazing waterfalls, and enjoy the rarefied and generally tourist-free atmosphere Ella has on offer, and generally soak up the rarefied atmosphere. What’s more, Ella is relatively tourist-free which also means it’s better priced than many other areas.

Also, near to the town of Dambulla is Sri Lanka’s largest and easily best-preserved cave temple. This was carved out of a 160m high cliff. There are a further 80 cave temples in the surrounding area surrounding it. The tourist part includes five of these caves, with religious paintings and statues all devoted to the Buddha and his life.

It’s well worth seeing – as is Sri Lanka in general. A trip here will leave you gasping in admiration – particularly if you plan it carefully and take in as much of this beautiful island with its beautiful and welcoming people as you’re able to. Enjoy.