Sri Lanka gets a lot of love for its golden beaches, its misty mountains and its elephants and leopards -but if you’re a traveller, local or foreign, this country has so much more to offer in terms adventure, splendour and sheer eye candy that you would be hard pressed to find in any run-of-the-mill travel brochure.
The Ampitiya National Seminary, located just a few kilometres from the city of Kandy, is a place of tranquility not unlike the secluded and often eerie monasteries scattered throughout Western Europe. With its expansive lawns and towering chapels, the place is the picture of peace and quiet, even if it does seem a bit foreboding at times. The seminary is located on a hill (accessible by road), surrounded by a small but adequately lush wooded area. Take the footpath to a secret hideout on top of the hill overlooking the Kandyan plateau. The view will take your breath away.
If a place could define the word eccentric, this would be it. With its disturbingly underlit corridors and creepy skeletons hanging on the walls and dangling from the ceiling, and the numerous murals of ghosts, ghouls and other equally foul things, it’s like the place is on a permanent Halloween theme. Named after its owner Helga De Silva Blow Perera, the delightfully weird Helga’s Folly hotel can only be described as an assault on the senses, though not necessarily in a bad way. Located just a few minutes away from the Kandy city centre, it’s an absolute must-visit for anyone looking for something new and interesting in the historic city.
Standup paddleboarding in Weligama
Weligama is fairly well known as a beginner/semi-pro surfing spot. You’ll find quite a few surfing schools scattered along the beach that rent out surfboards for a reasonable price, with a lesson or two thrown in for absolute beginners. But hidden away in a lagoon somewhere near the Weligama bay is a quiet, secluded body of perfectly still water surrounded by an abundance of mangroves that is ideal for paddleboarding. You can rent out oars and boards (a bit bigger and heavier than regular surfboards) from any of the surf schools nearby. The only way to access the lagoon is by foot, located a few metres from under the railway bridge just before the Weligama Bay. Standup paddling doesn’t require a lot of training or practice. The only tricky bit is to get the balance right. Once you’ve mastered that (which shouldn’t take more than a few minutes), it can be quite the experience. If you want to chill for a few hours, with absolutely nothing to disturb your thoughts, this the place to be.
Casuarina beach, Jaffna
While not exactly unheard of, Casuarina beach, located on the Karaitivu Island linked to the Jaffna Peninsula, is a long stretch of beach that is quite unlike any other found on the country’s coastal belt. What with its unusually white sand, the strange-looking casuarina trees lining the beach, and the turquoise (and thankfully shallow) water that seems to stretch for miles, it is without any hyperbole, one of the best beaches in the country. Since the end of the war in 2009, tourists have been flocking to the Jaffna Peninsula, but Casuarina , though no longer the hidden gem that it was just a few years ago, has been able to retain most of its charm. An ideal place for camping and some star gazing away from the invasive light pollution in the city. There are acres and acres of bare land, paddy fields and dried up lakes leading up the beach that are reminiscent of an idyllic pre-Independence past. If nothing else, it’s a great place for a hike.
Everyone and their grandmother has been to Sinharaja, at least once. But there is one particular spot in the country’s only rainforest that not many seem to have heard of. Located deep inside the reserve is Sinhagala, or ‘Lion Rock’, from whose top you can (on a good day) see all the way to Galle and Matara. Seriously, the view from up here is nothing short of spellbinding, from the canopy that lies just beneath to the distant mountains that seem to form a ring around the entire forest reserve. Trees, of varying degrees of height and thickness, as far as the eye can see. It’s insane. Well worth the strenuous trek and climb.
Well, there you have it. A very quick list of places to go and things to do in our paradise isle that, fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of people may not have heard of. We’ve only scratched the surface, though. This article is the first of a series we’re hoping to do on lesser known travel destinations in Sri Lanka. Keep your eyes peeled, and please feel free to drop a comment with any suggestions you might have for places we can cover.
Featured Image Credit: Abdul Halik Azeez