13 December, 2018

Google has just released its most searched-for travel destinations of 2018; and it’s little surprise that Sri Lanka ranks in the top 10.

This island of hazy tea hills and temples has long held visitors under its spell.

Not only is it one of Flash Pack’s most popular adventures, it’s also a place that our travellers rave about, from amazing Sri Lankan hospitality (hello, potent Arrack) to mist-clad mountain hikes.

“Sri Lanka is a friendly nation,” says Donald, Flash Pack’s guide who has been leading expeditions on the island for the past four years.

“We spend a lot of time talking to local people and going into their houses, to get a real idea of local culture. Tiny details add flavour to the adventure, so every day is different.

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“Flora, fauna, customs and traditions: all these things belong to a small island and when they come together, it’s mind-blowing.”

Need more convincing? Here’s five great reasons to put Sri Lanka on your hit list – as told by the people who love it…

The incredible wildlife

Leopards in Yala National Park

Whether it’s the lesser-spotted leopard, lofty elephants or little baby turtles, Sri Lanka teems with extraordinary wildlife.

And the great thing is, you can experience these great animals in a quite intimate and profound way.

For example, at Amaya Lake, Flashpacker Cindy Attwell got the chance to bathe Monica the rescue elephant.

“She was a true gentle giant who had been given a second chance after her life in Thailand,” says Cindy. “As an amateur photographer, it was a real highlight to photograph Monica up close!”

Then there’s our safari through Yala National Park, home to the largest density of leopards in the world; so there’s a high chance of spotting these elusive creatures, alongside sloth bears, crocodiles and wild boar.

And no trip to Sri Lanka would be complete without a visit to a very special marine sanctuary at Kosgoda, to help endangered baby turtles on their way to freedom.

“When we release baby turtles into the ocean at the end of the trip, it’s about creating a long life,” says our guide Donald. “When Flashpackers understand how important and unique the moment is, most people end up quite tearful. ” 

The rich cultural identity

Sigiriya Fortress

Wherever you go in Sri Lanka, you can’t fail to be moved by a deep sense of history and spiritual influence.

Take the 5th century Sigiriya Rock Fortress, with its ancient graffiti and panoramic views. We climb the 1,200 steps here at sunset, to see the landscape come alive in a canvas of pink.

“When we climb to the top of Sigiriya Fortress, I build up a picture of the architecture and conservation around the place,” says Donald. “People really feel its value within – they go ‘wow.'”

Another Flash Pack favourite is the medieval city of Polonnaruwa, where we bike around jungle temples and visit a local farmer’s house for lunch.

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“We cycled from temple to temple around this beautiful city in the monsoon rain,” says Cindy. “Roughly 70% of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and the beauty of these temples nestled away in lush greenery was truly beautiful.

“I felt such freedom here, and realised that I need to buy a bike to keep that feeling going!”

The moreish food

The food is pretty damn brilliant in Sri Lanka, and you certainly won’t go hungry here.

What’s more, eating is a communal experience; a way of getting to know the country and its people.

“Whatever we do on a Flash Pack trip, we do it together – I get everyone involved,” says Donald. 

“For example, the group won’t just eat a curry that someone cooks; instead, I take 10 minutes to show them how it’s made. Then it tastes more delicious, because you know all about the ingredients, whether that’s fried lake fish, long beans or coconut salsa.”

A standout moment for Flashpacker Alison Quinn was the “beautiful beach BBQ” we share at the end of adventure; but she was struck throughout by the Sri Lankan style of hospitality.

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“We explored a tea factory high up in the hilltops (fantastic for all us tea lovers!), partied with Arrack (a pretty lethal local drink) and had the most amazing feast at a local farmer’s house,” she says.

“People eat super spicy curries here for breakfast, lunch AND dinner,” adds Cindy. “It will be a while until I can look a curry in the eye again… and kottu rotti is delicious.”

The beautiful hotels

If you’re the kind of person who likes fine hotels, you’ll be well at home here. Sri Lanka does a GREAT line in stylish and secluded retreats.

Take Jetwing Lagoon, where we kick off in the coastal city of Negombo. This chic hideaway has a rather nice 100-metre pool lined by palm trees, along with an Ayurvedic spa (don’t miss Paada Abhyanga: the best foot massage you’ll ever have).

Jetwing Lagoon is “seriously stylish”, says Flashpacker Alison: “Think beautiful rooms, an enormous pool and lush views across the water…bliss.”

Then there’s Melheim, a gorgeous mountain lodge in the Haputale hills with scenic decks for bird-watching and a hot tub in the cloud forest.

Not forgetting Amaya Lake Hotel in Dambulla, where you can sip on King Coconut cocktails at the swim-up bar, while watching hummingbirds dart across the lawns. Oh, and make sure you book in for a candlelight garden feast.

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“The hospitality of the Melheim Resort was second to none,” says Cindy. “Drinking the local Lion beer with the most phenomenal view, searching for waterfalls first thing in the morning and being surrounded by rolling tea plantations was just magical.”

The adventure factor

Sri Lanka group with Donald

Above all, Sri Lanka is an island that brims with horizons unknown.

There’s endless scope for adventure here, best shared with a group of like-minded solo travellers.

Cindy says she noticed this most when hiking Little Adam’s Peak at dusk in the Ella tea hills (accessed via one of the world’s most scenic train rides).

“I was surrounded by rolling clouds and the sound of Buddhist monks chanting which reverberated across the valley,” she says. “This experience touched me deeply and it’s where I found true inner peace on the trip. One of the reasons I adore travelling, is its ability to touch the soul like this.”

Then there’s the people; first, the “incredibly humble, kind and friendly” Sri Lankans, says Cindy. And also, your fellow group of explorers.

“We had so many laughs and didn’t stop talking for most of the time,” says Alison. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. I have returned with twelve amazing new friends and I have gained a newfound inner confidence from knowing that I can do anything.”

Donald agrees that Sri Lanka has it all. “I am very proud of Sri Lanka, it’s my home,” he says. “I feel emotional showing things to people and I can’t wait to share the new things I discover as I travel everywhere.

“Rainforest, whale colonies, different religions, surfing spots, 434 species of bird – whatever you can think of, it’s here.”

Fancy a taste of the sweet life in Sri Lanka? Book your adventure now

Images: Claire Gregson, Alison Quinn, Cindy Attwell, Flash Pack, Shutterstock

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