We are open tomorrow from 9:00 am. Call 020 7590 0610
Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Trip Report: Sri Lanka

An expert's view

Article content

4 January 2024 by Debbie Mayger

Wexas Asia specialist Debbie Mayger reports back from the ancient wonders, golden beaches and wildlife-rich national parks of Sri Lanka.

I’m not a cup of tea but if I was, I wouldn’t be an English Breakfast Tea, I’d be the finest loose-leaf Ceylon. Ceylon, known today as Sri Lanka, is a stunning island nation in the Indian Ocean, a teardrop falling from the great Indian Subcontinent. And, while it is renowned for its terrific tea, there’s far more to this enigmatic country than the produce of those famed hill-station estates. Along its coasts you’ll find beautiful beaches, traditional fishing communities and vibrant towns and cities, while inland, ancient World Heritage sites sit alongside glorious countryside replete with wonderful wildlife. It’s also a delightfully serene place, home to gentle, gracious and obliging people, and framed by a unique topography and some truly amazing food. If you’ve visited India and loved it, you’ll adore Sri Lanka. And, even if India wasn’t quite your (ahem) cup of tea, I promise you’ll love Sri Lanka just the same.

One thing I've discovered on my travels in Sri Lanka is that the country is deceptively large, despite the obvious comparisons to its enormous neighbour. And, exploring it all on one trip is a tall order indeed. As such, on this trip – my second visit to the country – I concentrated on the popular southern half, taking in the ancient port city of Galle, wildlife-rich Yala National Park and the gorgeous beaches of Mirissa.

World Heritage Galle

The city of Galle is a seaside jewel which, I discovered, can be easily explored on foot. A venerable port town, it has grown from ancient origins, with the Dutch, Portuguese and British leaving their marks along the way. The ramparts of its UNESCO World Heritage-listed fort encompass the whole of Galle’s sea-facing promontory and served as Sri Lanka’s principal harbour for much of the nineteenth century. Always bustling and wonderfully colourful, the area is now home to everything from boutique hotels to cute cafés and chic shops, which I explored on a morning meander.

Galle's famous waterfront
Galle, Sri Lanka

Slightly outside of the fortified area, along the beach, you can find Galle’s famous stilt fishermen, an ancient method more widely adopted in the region following over-fishing during World War II. I was amazed and slightly saddened when our chap quickly caught “Dory” a little Powder Blue Tang. I confess to being thrilled when he gently popped her back though. Talking of Finding Nemo, for those who remember Crush the turtle, Sri Lanka is home to five of the world’s seven turtle species, and all hatch on this very stretch of sand. We even got to hold some babies at the local turtle nursery – a delightful experience.

Holding a baby turtle at Galle's turtle nursery
Galle's turtle nursery

Wildlife in Yala National Park

Sticking to the wildlife theme, my next stop was Yala National park. A huge area of forest, grassland, lakes and lagoons, this sprawling park is a wild and beautiful region bordered by rolling hills and the deep blue of the Indian Ocean. It’s a spectacular habitat, home to everything from leopards and elephants to bears and hundreds of bird species. There are also centuries-old cave paintings and Buddhist ruins to explore. I wasn’t lucky enough to see the famous melanistic (black) leopard – they keep themselves well hidden – or even any of his 80+ golden cousins, but the so-called ‘Lord of the Jungle’ is thriving in Yala, which is amazing for this endangered apex predator.

Being an avid animal lover myself, I was excited to spot a rare giant grizzled squirrel, which is considered the national animal of Sri Lanka, and an extremely rare Sri Lankan sloth bear. These slightly dishevelled yet adorably fuzzy chaps look like they’ve just rolled out of bed and are one of the lesser-known treasures of this park. It’s important to note that the park can get busy in peak season, and the roads are very bumpy, but this in no way detracted from what was a truly wonderful experience.

Elephant in the wild at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

On the beach in Mirissa

My final stop was the popular yet uncrowded beach resort of Mirissa, where you can relax at oceanfront boutique hotels, sunbathe on beautiful beaches, eat succulent seafood, enjoy a touch of nightlife and, of course, go whale and dolphin watching. From December to April, when the ocean is calm, you’re very likely to see blue whales on their migration between the southern and northern hemispheres. But that’s not all, as the region is also popular with fin, sperm and bryde's whales as well as many, many dolphins and even the occasional Orca.

Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka
Mirissa Beach, Sri lanka

In summary, Sri Lanka is a true gem. The people are easy-going, friendly and open, it’s incredibly safe and exceptional value for money. I dined on so much seafood including giant prawns and huge, succulent lobsters, had Sri Lankan curries at all times of the day and night, and tried the locals’ favourite ‘hoppers’ for breakfast. These coconut-laced rice flour pancakes are a revelation! The diversity here is incredible, and I only scraped the surface. From the hill stations near Kandy to the great temples of the north, there's so much more to explore.

Related offers

Elephants in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Wildlife and Whales

9-day tailor-made holiday from £3,175 pp incl. flights

Experience the best of Sri Lanka's natural world as you explore the Sinharaja Rainforest, Yala National Park, and go whale and dolphin watching off the palm-fringed south coast.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Best of Sri Lanka

15-day tailor-made holiday from £5,260 pp incl. flights

From sweeping tea plantations to UNESCO-listed treasures and the wildlife of the Yala National Park, spend two memorable weeks exploring the history, culture and beaches of this Indian Ocean gem.

Local fishermen at Unawatuna, near Galle

Sri Lanka’s West Coast Highlights

10-day tailor-made holiday from £3,390 pp incl. flights

In the company of your own driver-guide, you’ll explore the Dutch-colonial gems and stunning Indian Ocean beaches of Sri Lanka’s southwest corner, taking in Colombo, Galle and Bentota.

View of a deserted beach on Sri Lanka's East Coast

Sri Lanka's Ancient Kingdoms & East Coast Beaches

13-day tailor-made holiday from £3,910 pp incl. flights

Visit Sri Lanka's most impressive ancient monuments and beautiful beaches in utter luxury, enjoying the services of a private driver throughout and staying in only the finest hotels. Think beach villas and palatial country manors.

Why book with Wexas Travel?

At Wexas, we specialise in bespoke travel experiences. Our itineraries are just samples of what we can arrange, and can be changed depending on your precise needs, finances and ideas by our experienced destination specialists.

Contact one of our consultants on 020 7590 0610 to discuss how we can tailor your holiday.

Learn why Wexas is the leader in creating luxury holidays. What is tailor-made travel?

Expert advice & support

Visit us in our London office

Let our travel specialists curate the perfect holiday:

  • Inspirational ideas based on experience
  • Established for over 50 years
  • Tailor a holiday to your precise requirements
  • Personalised quotes and documentation

Every step of the way

Every step of the way

Our services are with you from start to finish:

  • Dedicated personal consultants
  • Free airport lounges on qualifying bookings
  • Care and guidance pre, post and during holiday
  • Full financial security: ABTA & ATOL protected