Neither Rosa or I had been to Sri Lanka before. We had seven days and seven nights. And while Sri Lanka may appear small if you’re looking at a globe, the distances are big. We did not want to spend massive amounts of hours in a car, so we narrowed down to the south, accepting that the mountains and tea plantations would have to wait for another time.
Seeing the best of Southern Sri Lanka in seven days and yet keeping it relaxing required some careful planning.
Pre-trip research is something I always have fun doing–and Rosa gave me the go ahead to make whatever bookings I saw fit. Once on the ground, I was happy to let her figure out the Sri Lankan currency and make sure we were paying correct amounts because I suck at math.
Here’s the itinerary I decided on:
Since the Sri Lankans have practiced their traditional medicine called Ayurveda for about 3,000 years, I figured it would be a quintessential thing to experience. Thus our first three days were spent at Plantation Villa, a homey and simple retreat offering Ayurveda packages. (Point A on map.)
The driver I’d arranged met us at the airport and was Johnny-on-the-spot; prompt, professional, English-speaking, with very clean and upscale sedan, and he found our retreat center with ease. We arrived at a charming colonial style house at the end of a long drive flanked by acres of Rubber Trees.
Our separate rooms opened to a veranda and a garden containing the largest Mango and Jackfruit trees I’d ever seen.
Because of arriving early in the morning at the airport, we got to Plantation Villa before lunch and thus were able to have three full days there. We plunged right away into treatments that were designed to help us achieve inner balance and radiant health. Mysterious pills and herbal potions were placed in front of us at every meal–tailored by the Ayurveda doctor for our personal constitutions.
Each morning we were given holistic treatments by soft-spoken bare-foot, lunghi-clad Sri Lankan men, who rubbed copious amounts of oil onto our bodies.
Our hair was absolutely drenched in oil daily from the shirodhara treatment, so we kept it wrapped on top of our heads for three days. (Liberating to totally ignore one’s hair!)
Organic, vegan, delicious meals were prepared for us daily by local women in a traditional kitchen, where we watched them grinding spices with a mortar and pestle.
Every evening we participated in what I called “the never-ending yoga class.” It went on for two hours and when I started cracking up about it being “never-ending” in the middle of class, I realized I had reached that extremely relaxed state where any number of normal things around me become a source of mirth.
On the morning of the fourth day, Johnny-on-the-spot picked us up promptly at 8:30 and drove us down to Tangalle. (Point B on map.) We arrived before noon and were able to maximize our two days there.
I chose Tangalle due to reviews that proclaimed it Sri Lanka’s prettiest beach.
Our hotel, Little Tamarind, (new, 4-room hotel perched on a hill with great views) was only a 5-minute walk away from the famed beach, on a path brimming with Hibiscus, Plumeria, and Blue Bengal Trumpet.
We had two blissful beach days, and the Indian Ocean, which can often be too rough for swimming, blessed us with tranquility. The scene is very mellow with a smattering of rustic shacks where one can take refuge from the sun and eat a fresh-caught, fresh-cooked fish for lunch, washed down with a Loin Lager.
We scored the same hut both days (we were glad to have avoided Christmas crowds by going in February!) and the “beach boys” brought us fish, rice, and beer, and seemed content to sit in the sand near our chairs and tell us in odd jumbled English of their longing to go to Australia or their interest in marrying us. They spontaneously brought us a big plate of noodles a few hours after lunch, and more beers even though we professed a lack of cash.
Every so often we flung ourselves down the little sand cliff and into the gorgeous water, where I managed to beat one of the boys in a swim race despite the beer and being 20 years older than them.
On the morning of the sixth day, we checked out of Little Tamarind, put our suitcases into the van we’d hired, and enjoyed a scenic drive to Udawalawe National Park. (Point C on map.) The driver kindly stopped so we could take photos of the lush landscape.
Mid-morning we arrived at the park and our driver handed us over to a young guide. We clambered into his long-bed jeep which we had to ourselves (another perk of not going high season) and spent a truly fabulous three hours that surpassed all expectations. The guide’s English was good and he was knowledgeable and organized.
AND THE ELEPHANTS! OH MY! It was my first “safari” and prior to it, I had never fully understood how thrilling it is to be so close to these magnificent mammals in the wild.
Outside the park, we hooked up with our driver again who had no problem waiting for us while we ate lunch in a roadside restaurant. Then he drove us to Galle. (Point D on map.)
Luckily we arrived about an hour before sunset so that after checking into our hotel and rinsing off, we were able to step into the charming streets in our dresses and make our way to the walls of the fort, on top of which the whole town seemed to gather for the sunset.
Galle is a flat little town with streets that are essentially pedestrian, surrounded by large walls. It reminds me slightly of Lucca in Tuscany, although outside the walls is the Indian Ocean.
The Portuguese founded Galle in the 1500s, and when the Dutch came along in the 1600s they fortified it, and later the British took control. These legacies can be seen in the beautiful Dutch colonial architecture, the red British letter boxes, and the British coat of arms over the gates in the walls.
Today it’s a multi-cultural, multi-religious, mix of locals and foreigners, and of Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians, all living together in an utterly relaxed and congenial atmosphere.
On the 17th century walls we stood looking at an orange-sherbet sky, relishing the soft wind, and taking in the mix of sunset gazers–young and old, European and Asian, Buddhist monks in saffron robes and school girls in uniform, local families sitting on the grassy hillocks in the middle of the wall, and traveling couples at the edge, hanging their legs over the side. The energy was awash with communal serenity. What a wonderful introduction to Galle. A town I immediately loved. I could live in Galle!
We were so enthralled with Galle’s shops, restaurants, and picture-perfect scenes that we happily spent the next day (our last) taking photos, admiring jewelry, browsing antiques, dining on the balconies of hip eateries and of course going back to the walls for the sunset. Our hotel, Fortaleza was a winner. A four-room boutique hotel in a colonial building that was once a spice warehouse. At their attractive courtyard
Our hotel, Fortaleza was a winner. A four-room boutique hotel in a colonial building that was once a spice warehouse. At their attractive courtyard restaurant, we had the best fish coconut curry of the trip. Our room was huge with a high peaked beamed roof and handmade furniture.
We had a second night in Galle and the next day, the journey to the airport was the longest drive of the trip. But who minds if the longest drive is when you’re leaving and you are so full of wonderful memories?
Both of us have spent extensive time in India and we found ourselves frequently exclaiming how much more calm Sri Lanka is.
We came away with not a single complaint. The people were gracious, it was easy to organize drivers and excursions, the Ayruveda retreat and the National Park were very well operated, the beaches that we saw were clean, we always felt safe, and Galle was an absolute gem. We saw a significant variety of places and did quite a range of things and yet it was full of flow and relaxation. Truly it was the best of southern Sri Lanka in seven days.
All photos by Chandi J. Wyant or Rosa Magruder Rishi