I landed in Sri Lanka on 12th June 2022 and travelled within the country for a whole week, till 19th June. This was my second visit to the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, and I have returned mighty impressed all over again. In the year 2018, I had done a family trip covering its picturesque train route and the gorgeous beaches of the South Coast. This time, I was invited by SriLankan airlines as part of a media familiarization trip to visit the country and create new memories. I am sure you are wondering, “Is this even a good time to talk about travelling to Sri Lanka, let alone travel there?” The world knows that Sri Lanka is battling its worst economic and political crisis. And thus, I had my reservations too. I was in second thoughts about travelling to Srilanka when the country was dealing with scarcity of fuel. But since I was keen to revisit the country, I immediately went for facts check. I spoke to a few friends and even messaged some of my local acquaintances in Colombo. They got back immediately, assuring me that I had nothing to worry about if my transport was sorted. At first, it was hard to believe but now, post my trip, I have been repeating the same.
And I must say that I was happy to receive the brief from Srilankan Airlines. It was honest, convincing, and transparent. They had nothing to hide and a very purposeful asking. They wanted us to travel with them and see the ground reality for ourselves. I liked the idea of traveling for a purpose. I felt more responsible as a traveller because this time I had to present a different kind of truth, in addition to my travel experiences.
Also Read : Sunset in Colombo and My First Evening Around Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia
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What do Indians need for travelling to Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is a no-hassle country when it comes to the documents that one may need for travelling. Also, it was named the top country to visit in 2020 by Lonely Planet for its food, beaches, abundant wildlife, and other attractions. And it is easy to travel and explore too. I quite like the fact that you don’t have a long wait for a visa neither you have to queue up at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo for a visa on arrival. All you need is an ETA. Below are the essentials…
- Fully vaccinated certificate
- Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA)
- Travel Insurance
- Flight details
- Hotel bookings
All business and leisure travellers must have an approved Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) for entering Sri Lanka. This is like an entry pass or pre-visa. One can obtain ETA Srilanka in less than 24 hours and proceed with a Srilankan holiday. Also, don’t forget the dollars. Indian currency also works sometimes. SLR—Sri Lankan Rupee has taken a hit these days and you will have enough spending power. Thus, you can make the most of it right now.
Business Class hospitality of Sri Lankan Airlines
This was my first time with Srilankan airlines and I had the opportunity to travel in Business class. I felt pampered right from the Delhi International Airport. The check-in was a super smooth process. After I completed the process of luggage drop and immigration, one of the crew members of SriLankan airlines escorted me to the Plaza Premium lounge. Before the flight, I had good enough time to relax and dig in a small snack. Plaza Premium Lounge had a huge and lovely display of food but I was not hungry. I ate some salads and cake.
Sometime later, I walked towards the gate and boarded the flight. I had the first seat which had an abundance of space to spread out my legs, move around and enjoy the next 3 and a half hours. The inflight entertainment is something that I often enjoy on flights but this time, I had a very candid and loquacious co-passenger. I enjoyed our conversations about the two countries. He was an Indian who had been travelling to Sri Lanka for the last 25 years. He also had a house in Colombo and called it his second home. He had such good things to talk about in Sri Lanka. He shared many experiences and he was happy that some of us were travelling to talk about the real situation. He said, people should not be canceling their trips to Srilanka when the country needs it the most.
Two air-hostesses were on their toes for most of the flight duration and took great care of the passengers in the business class. As far as the amenities, cleanliness, food & beverages are concerned, Sri Lankan airlines did their best. I had pre-booked a Hindu veg meal and was happy to eat dal-rice, paneer, and Emarti while floating in the sky. The food was very good. Drinks, Ceylon tea, water, everything was served at regular intervals. I read a book, had some conversations, watched the sunset from the window, and ate my heart. And before I could feel the need for inflight entertainment, my flight was already making its way at the Bandaranaike International Airport.
I was received with lot of warmth by the crew of Sri Lankan airlines. She guided me to the immigration counter and in no time, my passport was stamped. It was sad to see that the queue was very less in comparison to the last visit. I am sure its just a matter of time. This phase will not last long and travellers will return soon.
Soon, I was received with a welcome drink, and my guide, Jayan was there to receive me. Jayan stayed with our team of bloggers for the entire trip and ensured that everything fell in place as planned. He ensured the fuel was there and looked after our needs for essentials, etc. Here, I would like to emphasize that if you sign up for a destination management company (DMC) and travel to Sri Lanka, you will have a vacation as smooth as a silk. You will not even realize there is an issue. It is their responsibility to make all the arrangements of fuel in advance.
My Itinerary – West Coast to East Coast
Day zero, first night – The night drive from the airport to the Cinnamon Grand hotel was enjoyable. I could see some of the queues for fuel but everything else in Colombo seemed peaceful. As I passed through some of the familiar buildings, memories came flashing back. I was happy to return to Sri Lanka after a hiatus of five years. By the time, I checked in the hotel, it was time to hit the bed. I had eaten enough in the flight and thus, did not order anything. It was going to be an early start next day and I was all excited.
Day 1 – The drive from Colombo to Habarana was smooth and enjoyable. It is always fun to travel with like-minded. We were a small group of travel writers from India and were keen to see Sri Lanka for the next couple of days. It all began with a very humble village tour experience which turned out to be authentic and heartwarming. The bullock cart ride, lake crossing, and the local Srilankan lunch gave a great start to this tour. The food was cooked by a village lady who did some of the cooking in front of us to give us some learning too. The Pol Sambal, Jackfruit curry was one of the best that I had eaten. After this, we took a tuk-tuk ride to Sigiriya. It was time to climb the iconic attraction of Sri Lanka. For all these years, I had heard so much about Sigiriya and finally, I was standing right in front of it. The views from the top were worth all the climb and the steps. The afternoon sun was harsh, hence I would suggest an early morning or evening climb. Sunset is a great time to be there and don’t miss the frescoes which are open to the public till 5.30 p.m, only. The climb is open till 7 p.m. I had a great sleep after the long and eventful day.
Day 2 – We had checked in Cinnamon Lodge Habarana the day before and it had a true jungle feeling. I woke up to the chirping of birds and chattering of the monkeys. I opted for a lazy breakfast and enjoyed some me time by the Habarana lake. By 12, I was all ready to leave for a local restaurant to relish some more Srilankan food. The real fun awaited us at the Hurula eco camp. The elephant safari turned out to be a great success. During the first hour, we did not have any sightings but once we came across the mother and a baby elephant, there was no stopping. They turned out to be super lucky for us. In the next one hour, we saw more than fifty elephants. If you love jungle safaris and are fond of elephants, Habarana is the place for you. I love safaris and I will always count this experience as a special one.
Day 3– On the third day, we were headed to the port city of Trincomalee. During my first visit, I missed out on the East coast of Sri Lanka. Therefore, I was curiously looking forward to it. When monsoon hits the West Coast of Sri Lanka, this one must head to the East coast. Trincomalee is a gem on the northeastern coast of Srilanka. It is famous for its huge Shiva temple, white sand beaches, and lots of history. We went to the popular Sri Thirukoneswaram Kovil first and then checked in to Cinnamon Trinco Blu Hotel. The temple and the beaches are a must-do here. The evening was well-spent by the hotel beach. Trinco Blu beach chalet has one of the best cool, calming vibes of Trincomalee beach. In the night, it rained to add to the beauty of the port city.
Day 4 – I woke up early to see one of the most magical sunrises and it was worth all the effort. Even if you are not an early riser, you cannot afford to miss the sunrise at Trincomalee. After that, we were headed to an exclusive marine island. Just two kilometers from the shore, Trincomalee beach takes you to Pigeon Island National Park, a natural land, protected area, and a great place for snorkeling. The corals are one of the best here. After having a great time on the island, we were headed back with lovely memories. Post lunch we started our return to Habarana. Our dinner turned out to be a very interesting affair, where we were given a kitchen experience and taught to make some of the Srilankan dishes, especially my favorite pol sambal and Kottu.
Day 5– We were set for an early start because we had to see the Dambulla cave temples. These rock temples are another very significant attraction in Sri Lanka, especially for the Buddha followers. Travellers must include the Dambulla cave temple in their itinerary. The views from the temple are scenic and more than that, the five sections of the caves and the settings of the temple leave one dumbfounded and mesmerized. The Buddha statues inside are gorgeous. After spending a couple of hours at Dambulla temple, we were back in the capital by evening. All along, road tripping in Sri Lanka had been a great experience because of the well-maintained roads, bridges, and lots of greenery on both sides.
Day 6– No trip is complete without a day or two in the capital. From the sunset at Galle to visiting the various temples, Independence square, museum and shopping malls, there is lots to discover. One cannot do all so you must pick and choose. We decided to keep a few hours for shopping and for the sunset photography. The early afternoon was used for visiting Gangaramaya Temple, Seema Malaka and Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara. The latter is a much revered Buddhist temple from the 5th century, also where Buddha had actually visited after enlightment.
The beautiful sunset gave a royal finale to our fantabulous and powerful trip. It was already time to return to India. During all these days, not once did I see or experience anything indicative of the political turmoil of Sri Lanka. The protesting camps were there but everything was going on peacefully. The locals are aware of the value of tourism and together with the hospitality and aviation industry, each one has been doing his/her best to prioritize the needs of the visitors. I witnessed no compromise in the hospitality during my stay in the hotels.
My Observations – The Truth Must Be Told
I have shared exactly what I saw. A lot of issues may have grappled Sri Lanka right now but despite those challenges, the whole country is prioritizing tourism. There is no denying the fact about fuel shortages. And one can see queues for gas and kerosene but the tourists and their vehicles are being given priority at the gas stations. If your trip is booked with the DMC or a local tour operator, there is no issue of any sort. Most of them have fuel in stock and they refill whenever the shipments arrive from other countries. Peaceful protests are going on in the capital, Colombo but there are no safety and security issues, of any kind. Right opposite the camps, one can enjoy the most beautiful sunset at Galle Face Green. Last but not the least, LKR has taken a heavy beating against Indian rupees and dollars. Thus, inflation isn’t doing us any harm. During my stay there, I observed and spoke to the locals. Life for them is posing challenges but they are resilient and have made lifestyle changes to meet them head-on. People are eating more home-grown food from their kitchen garden. Some of them have switched to wood-fire cooking. The restaurants are focusing on local food. Hotels are running on backup but they are keeping their guests informed of such issues. What I liked is that people are still holding lavish weddings, chit-chatting with their friends in tea lounges, and enjoying the sunset at Galle.
Once the fuel issue is sorted (as the Government is in talks with several countries) one must not miss on the opportunity of travelling to Sri Lanka. The country needs foreign currency and it also relies on tourism. The tourism and hospitality industry is desperately looking forward to the revival of tourism.
The Silk Route Experience and Serendib Lounge
The Silk Route is yet another facility for luxury travellers where one gets to be hands free all along till the flight. It is a service which you can avail to let the concierge handle your check-in, immigration and baggage formalities. As the name suggests, it streamlines check-in, customs, immigration, and security formalities. It was indeed smooth as silk as we entered through an exclusive gate, meant for the Silk route passengers only. The porter helped us with the security check and dropped our luggage. Our boarding passes were issued in no time.
After the immigration, we immediately made our way to SriLankan Airlines’ Business Class lounge – Serendib, to be pampered for the next two hours. The lounge had a cozy atmosphere with an exclusive 24-hour buffet. There was a good spread of starters, main courses, salads, fruits, juices, snacks, desserts, alcoholic beverages, and a choice of cocktails, smoothies, and mocktails.
I had lots of fun even on the last day till the last minute, before the flight. And then, the return journey to Delhi was equally comfortable. I used the leg space to my utmost comfort and slept like a baby. I liked the timing of the flight because, in my view, it’s perfect. It lets you have a full day in Sri Lanka and makes use of the night for returning home. Because of this flight, we had a complete day in Colombo and could check out of the hotel at 8:30 p.m. You may request a late check-out from the hotel, do some shopping on the last day, check out the sunset at Galle and then take your flight to Delhi.
To sum it up, I had a fantabulous trip. And I am sure the pictures above say it all. Do reach out to me for any queries related to Sri Lanka. And also do share your experience in the comments below. Keep following my journey on Instagram.