When traveling with children, one tends to think of locations with the least amount of hassel. We wanted to make this Xmas/New Years different and most definitely did not want a winter destination with our 15 month old. We had covered most of the Indian Ocean islands and Comoros was just not an option given its lack of facilities! So we thought of checking out the destinations our chosen airline would take us to; and – bingo! – Sri Lanka was perfect. It was only 2 hrs from Dubai and we could stop and refresh in Dubai before we connected.
Given Sri Lanka’s war past, the island is still struggling to recover itself from the tarnish and your average traveler would not even consider the island as a destination. Ironically, it is one of the most spectacular islands of the Indian Ocean by all means. It has a vast history dating thousands of years visible through its architectural heritage, a colonial past that is still reminiscent on the islands culture; an unbelievably pristine coastline and tea that’s worth every slurp!
The tourist path through the Great (Sri) Lanka (Island) usually skips Colombo and visitors are zoomed away to either the South of the island; a beach tourist spot known as Galle, or drived up to the Hill Country to cities like Kandy. I was lucky to have found an amazing company Sri Lanka InStyle whose agent Sugala worked so hard to understand our needs and accommodate us accordingly throughout the trip.
Many google searches kept telling me that Sri Lanka was a ‘mini India’. Our arrival into Bandaranaike International Airport was nothing like such. The airport was extremely clean, efficient and modern – most definitely not the Indian experience. We were escorted to the lounge by the InStyle team whilst our bags were collected. After a cup of tea we headed to Cinnamon Lake Side Hotel in Colombo city where we would re-coup for the night. Note: 5 star hotels in Colombo are highly priced due to the lack of capacity given the war that only ended in 1994, albeit going around the city you can see serious investment from hotels like the Raffles, Shangri La and so on – who are gaining confidence given the outstanding records in countries economic growth over the last decade or so and will bring more competition into the sector.
To keep us from spending too much time in a car, we hired a chopper form Colombo straight into Tea Country. The ride took 30 mins and a good few bucks (as oppose to 5/6 hours by car) straight into the hills country only half and hour from our cottage called Tea Trails (owned by the Dilmah Tea - Fernandes family). The cottages are in an extremely tranquil location called Hatton. As you get off the chopper, the weather suddenly cools, whilst driving through luscious tea plantations. It’s like stepping back in time, watching the Tamil workers picking tea in such precision manner.
The hill country produces ‘highland tea’ (fetching more income for the country than low land tea) is where Tamil workers were brought to by the British to grow and pick tea. The pickers are largely women who are paid between $10-15 for a 20 kg bag. The work is back aching and difficult under the blazing sun, but lack of education and facilities in these areas means there isn’t much choice in these areas and Tamil women continue picking tea for generations. The tea estates were historically owned by Estates holders of the British Empire. After independence, the new Sri Lankan state nationalized the estates until fairly recently where privatization has taken place and now Indian tea traders run many of these private plantations.
Our experience staying at the Tea Trails Bungalow in Castlereight was extremely exciting. It was step back in history and you begin to understand why the British did not want to let go, given the luxurious lifestyles the plantation owners had running these beautiful tea estates. Tea Trails managed to perfect everything, from its cozy rooms to its Michelin star food. My visit to Sri Lanka would not have been complete without this experience.
After a relaxing 3 nights we drive down the hill country to Tangalle, a beach destination south of Sri Lanka. Tangalle is an upcoming destination yet to be overwhelmed by tourists. My expectations were very high as we were told Amanwella was one of the best 5 star hotels around. No doubt the beach and ocean was mesmerizing, but the lack of TV (yes I want my tv in my room!), and pathetically poor service at the hotel made this one of my worse 5 start hotel experiences anywhere in the world!
Our last few days were spent checking out Colombo – and yes it’s well worth it! Taking a walking tour is the best way to see the old city and learn about its colonial past that’s still very reminiscent in the country today. My tour was lead by resident Mark Forbes who gave a deep insight into the cities past. Interestingly enough he was from the Berber communities (mixed dutch/English/ and sri lankans) who traditionally worked in the tea estates. Most of his community fled to the West during the war.
From my travels, Sri Lanka was a country that surprised me the most. Its spectacular beauty, fascinating history of its peoples and of course its food, makes it one of my top destinations in the world – with or without children! If you haven’t been to this captivating island, maybe this is the time!