1. WHERE IS SRI LANKA SITUATED?
2. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE NAME ‘SRI LANKA’?
3. IS SRI LANKA AND CEYLON THE SAME COUNTRY?
4. WHAT IS THE LARGEST HOTEL CHAIN IN SRI LANKA?
5. WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
6. HOW MANY DAYS DOES A TOURIST NEED TO STAY IN SRI LANKA?
7. CAN A TOURIST COMBINE A VISIT TO SRI LANKA WITH ANOTHER DESTINATION?
8. WHAT ARE THE TOP 5 TOP ATTRACTIONS FOR THE FIRST TIME VISITOR?
9. DOES A TOURIST NEED TO BE VACCINATED TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
10. HOW DOES A POTENTIAL VISITOR REQUEST BROCHURES ABOUT SRI LANKA?
11. DOES A TOURIST NEED A VISA TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
12. WHAT IS THE SIZE OF SRI LANKA?
13. WHAT IS THE CURRENCY OF SRI LANKA?14. WHAT TO BUY IN SRI LANKA?
15. WHAT ARE THE TOP FIVE MUST-DO EXPERIENCES FOR A TOURIST?
16. HOW TO GET AROUND THE ISLAND?
17. WHERE ARE CINNAMON HOTELS & RESORTS LOCATED?
18. WHAT ARE THE IMPORTANT FESTIVALS?19. WHAT FIVE AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES TO ENJOY?
20. IS IT SAFE TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
21. WHAT IS THE BUDGET NEEDED TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
22. WHAT ARE FIVE LITTLE-KNOWN THINGS TO DO IN SRI LANKA?
23. WHAT IS THE BEST BEACH HOLIDAY TO ENJOY IN SRI LANKA?
24. WHAT ARE THE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN SRI LANKA?
25. WHAT KIND OF FOOD IS AVAILABLE IN SR LANKA?
26. WHAT KIND OF CLOTHES SHOULD BE WORN IN SRI LANKA?
27. IS THE INTERNET EASY TO ACCESS IN SRI LANKA?
28. WHAT ARE THE DOs AND DON’Ts IN SRI LANKA?
29. WHAT IS THE VOLTAGE TYPE IN SRI LANKA?
30. HOW IS THE NIGHTLIFE IN SRI LANKA?
31. DO TOURISTS NEED INSURANCE IN SRI LANKA?
32. ARE CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED IN SRI LANKA?
33. WHAT KIND OF COMMUNICATION FACILITIES ARE AVAILABLE IN SRI LANKA?
34. WHERE TO DO SHOPPING IN SRI LANKA?
35. WHAT IS THE CULTURE LIKE IN SRI LANKA?
- WHERE IS SRI LANKA SITUATED?
Sri Lanka is an island (approximately 65,525 square kilometres in area; about half the size of England) dangling off the southern tip of India to the east, 880km north of the Equator. Latitude 5˚55’ to 9˚50’N, longitude 70˚42’ to 81˚52’E.
- WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE NAME ‘SRI LANKA’?
Literally, Resplendent Island. “Sri” meaning ‘resplendent’ being added to the ancient name for the island, ‘Lanka.’
- IS SRI LANKA AND CEYLON THE SAME COUNTRY?
Geographically, yes. The colonial name of Ceylon was changed in 1972 when the country became the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. However, such is the progress and development in the country since then, it is a very different country from when it was called Ceylon.
- WHAT IS THE LARGEST HOTEL CHAIN IN SRI LANKA?
Cinnamon Hotels, part of John Keells Ltd, a Sri Lankan conglomerate, owns and manages more hotel rooms (2,019 rooms and 70 suites) than any other hotel group in Sri Lanka.
- WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
Whenever guests fancy having a holiday. Because of its location, year round temperature is mild. The beaches are best during the European winter (November to April) on the west coast, and great on the east coast for the rest of the year. The hill country and Cultural Triangle have a year round benign climate although it can turn chilly at night. Restaurants and hotels are open everywhere all the year round and you’ll find somewhere pleasant to stay at any time of the year.
- HOW MANY DAYS DOES A TOURIST NEED TO STAY IN SRI LANKA?
The island is small enough to see all that’s important during a 14-day holiday, allowing time to tour and also to relax at one of the Cinnamon Hotels on the island’s beautiful beaches. Tourists are granted a 30-day entry permit on arrival, so it’s possible to stay a whole month and see all the island has to offer.
- CAN A TOURIST COMBINE A VISIT TO SRI LANKA WITH ANOTHER DESTINATION?
Of course. Sri Lanka is only an hour by plane from Southern India and four hours from Thailand and Singapore. Many visitors tour Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle and Yala Nature Reserve and then take the 60-minute jet flight to the Maldives to stay at an associated Cinnamon hotels there for snorkelling, diving, and a relaxing beach island holiday.
- WHAT ARE THE TOP 5 TOP ATTRACTIONS FOR THE FIRST TIME VISITOR?
- Kandy Temple of the Tooth
The focus of any visit to Kandy, this temple has housed the sacred tooth of Lord Buddha since 1592. An object of veneration for Sri Lankans and a must-see for visitors (although they don’t actually see the tooth, the temple itself is amazing).
The rock fortress of a 5thcentury king which can be climbed 183m to the summit, with a view of ancient frescoes on the way.
- Galle Fort
The broad ramparts encompass nearly 500 houses within this living fort, begun by the Portuguese, extended by the Dutch and British, and now filled with trendy shops, bars and restaurants.
The gathering of elephants at Minneriya near Cinnamon Lodge
and Habarana Village in September is not to be missed, but if you do the Elephant Orphanage near the Cinnamon Citadel has
scores of orphaned elephants in a riverside elephant enclave opened in 1975.
- Tea factory visit
Sri Lanka is the source of Pure Ceylon Tea and many factories welcome visitors to see how tea is produced, and to purchase special grades of fresh leaf tea at factory prices.
- DOES A TOURIST NEED TO BE VACCINATED TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
Vaccination is only necessary for visitors coming from an area infected with Yellow Fever or Cholera.
- HOW DOES A POTENTIAL VISITOR REQUEST BROCHURES ABOUT SRI LANKA?
Go to: http://www.srilanka.travel/index.php?route=information/contact
- DOES A TOURIST NEED A VISA TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
Yes, unless the tourist has a Sri Lankan, Maldivian or Singaporean passport. Visas to visit Sri Lanka on holiday for up to 30 days are required by everybody else. The visa fee can be paid by credit card and obtained online at the government website, www.eta.gov.lk. A visa can also be purchased by queuing at a special counter on arrival at the airport.
- WHAT IS THE SIZE OF SRI LANKA?
The geographical size is 65,525 sq.km (25,299 square miles), similar to half the size of England. Length from north to south is 435km (271 miles) and its greatest width is 240km (149 miles).
- WHAT IS THE CURRENCY OF SRI LANKA?
Currency is the Sri Lanka rupee, at approximately Rs135 to the US dollar. It is not the same as the Indian rupee.
- WHAT TO BUY IN SRI LANKA?
The most popular purchases by visitors to Sri Lanka are precious and semi-precious gems. The simplest souvenir is Pure Ceylon Tea bought at source during a visit to a hill country tea factory. Local handicrafts such as carved, garishly painted masks and colourful handloom material as well as unique batik designs can be found in hotel gift shops.
- WHAT ARE THE TOP FIVE MUST-DO EXPERIENCES FOR A TOURIST?
- Yala Safari
Yala (part of the Ruhunu National Park) can be visited during a jeep safari from Cinnamon Wild Yala hotel either early morning or late afternoon to look for wild elephants, leopards and even sloth bears.
- Rice & curry buffet
Rice and curry is the traditional signature dish of Sri Lankans, and a wonderful way to try it is during the lunch time buffets at all Cinnamon hotels where a vast spread of different curries are available for guests to sample.
- Beach/pool sunbathing
Being close to the Equator, Sri Lanka is ideal for working on a gentle sun tan, but tourists shouldn’t stay in the sun too long as it is fiercer than it seems. A dip in the pool or sea tones down the sun’s impact.
- Gem shopping
Sri Lanka is the source of the world’s best sapphires as well as many other precious stones like rubies and cat’s eyes. Gems bought from reputable shops like those at Cinnamon hotels carry certificates of authenticity.
- Sunset watching
The setting of the sun below the horizon especially from the gallery of the Bentota Beach by Cinnamon hotel on a clear day is a phenomenal experience which sometimes reveals the rare ‘Green Flash’ – a pinprick of green light refracted by the disappearing glow.
- HOW TO GET AROUND THE ISLAND?
Touring Sri Lanka is easy if arranged by hiring a driver/guide and a vehicle through a Cinnamon hotel. Independently, touring can be done by train, some of which have special first class reserved compartments. Buses are not recommended due to the lack of comfort and erratic driving. Three wheeler taxis (tuk-tuks) are available for short hires to the shops or for a village tour.
- WHERE ARE CINNAMON HOTELS & RESORTS LOCATED?
Cinnamon hotels are located in every place tourists would like to visit. There are three major hotels in Colombo, about 35km from the airport. There is one hotel in Kandy, by the riverside and within a short driving distance from the city’s attractions. Two hotels of different grades are located in Habarana, ideal for exploring the Cultural Triangle. There is one laidback beach hotel on the east coast at Trincomalee and another for wildlife enthusiasts at Yala.
Three super hotels are on the west coast, the Cinnamon Bey at Beruwala, the Bentota Beach by Cinnamon on the beach and by the lagoon, and the Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon at Hikkuduwa, the beach resort favoured by the young at heart.
- WHAT ARE THE IMPORTANT FESTIVALS?
- Kandy Perahera
This takes place in the evening of the full moon in July or August with a huge pageant of caparisoned elephants, fire eaters, jugglers and dancers; an extravagant spectacle not to be missed.
- Navam Perahera
Held in Colombo usually in February, the perahera is organised by the Gangaramaya Temple close to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel and is a thrilling pageant parading the city streets.
- New Year Games
New Year in Sri Lanka is celebrated on the 13th & 14th April with religious observances and then traditional games (such as tug of war, climbing the greasy pole and pillow fights) held in villages, parks and even at the Cinnamon hotels on the beach.
This day, usually in May, is given over to religious observances and fantastic, hand crafted illuminations of lanterns including moving ones in town streets and private gardens.
Usually in June, street processions and illuminations commemorate this full moon day celebrating the advent of Buddhism.
19. WHAT FIVE AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES TO ENJOY?
- Watch turtles hatching.
A visit to a turtle hatchery where you help release turtles or even watch them hatching when they waddle ashore to lay their eggs at night, can be arranged through all the Cinnamon beach hotels: Cinnamon Bey, Bentota Beach, Hikka Tranz and Trinco Blu.
- See cinnamon peeling.
Learn how cinnamon is deftly peeled by village cinnamon growers on excursions from Cinnamon Bey, Bentota Beach or Hikka Tranz.
- Observe toddy tapping.
Toddy tappers in blue loin cloths shin up the trunks of coconut trees with amazing agility, and then walk along tight ropes linking tree to tree without any safety rope like nature’s acrobats. A thrilling spectacle to be seen on the west coast near the Cinnamons at Beruwela, Bentota and Hikkaduwa.
- Take a tuk tuk trip
The Indian-made three wheeler taxis are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka and are convenient for travelling short distances as well as a thrilling ride. On the west or east coast, hire one for a village tour, or to get around Kandy or Colombo.
- Go jungle trekking.
The Cinnamon Citadel at Kandy organises jungle treks through the Knuckles Mountain Range and at the Cinnamon Lodge and Habarana Village by Cinnamon, naturalists conduct treks through the wilderness, while at Cinnamon Wild Yala there are guided nature walks.
- IS IT SAFE TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
Yes. There is no longer a threat from local terrorism so Sri Lanka is a safe – or even safer – than in a visitor’s home country. However, tourists shouldn’t tempt misfortune by being careless with belongings or behaviour.
- WHAT IS THE BUDGET NEEDED TO VISIT SRI LANKA?
For a guest on a pre-paid full board holiday at one of the Cinnamons, the only extra expense will be personal spending like laundry, drinks and souvenirs, for which you could allow US$50 a day. Independent accommodation costs start from low budget guests houses at around US$35 a night to comfortable and secure Cinnamon rooms from $100 to $200 according to the season. Small, boutique hotels start at $250.
- WHAT ARE FIVE LITTLE-KNOWN THINGS TO DO IN SRI LANKA?
- Witness China Fort gem trading. Within a short tuk-tuk ride of the Cinnamon Bey at Beruwela is the unknown China Fort main street where hundreds of gem traders gather to sell gems to jewellers on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Visitors are welcome to watch, and even to buy as long as they are experts.
- Go to Lipton’s Seat some 10km drive from the hill country town of Haputale (which can easily be visited if you are driving from Cinnamon Citadel in Kandy to Cinnamon Wild at Yala). Sit where Sir Thomas Lipton sat and gaze over the hundreds of acres of tea.
- Check out the Railway Museum at Kadaganuwa just outside Kandy and near the Cinnamon Citadel. Opened on the 150th anniversary of the railways in December 2014, this little known museum has fascinating relics, as well as old steam and diesel locomotives, of 150 years of railways. Or ride a train through the scenic hills from Peradeniya to Bandarawela station
- Trace the history of Sri Lanka’s rubber industry while enjoying the seldom-visited Henarathgoda Botanical Gardens, at Gampaha (an hour’s drive from Colombo’s Cinnamon Grand, Lakeside and Red) where the roots of the first rubber plants imported to Sri Lanka from the Amazon via Britain remain.
- Film selfies at Sri Lanka’s own Hollywood, a permanent film set of replica houses and shops created on several acres near Hambantota and not far from the Cinnamon Wild Yala.
23. WHAT IS THE BEST BEACH HOLIDAY TO ENJOY IN SRI LANKA?
It depends on what tourists want, and when. Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon in Hikkaduwa is in the centre of the west coast surfing area, as well as ideal for snorkelling and diving and with a lively after-beach nightlife. Beruwela is more suited for families wanting a great hotel (Cinnamon Bey) with lots of facilities by the beach. At the Bentota Beach by Cinnamon, the atmosphere is more relaxed and traditional with a broad beach to stroll along and a beachside lagoon for splendid water sports. Trinco Blu by Cinnamon at Trincomalee on the east coast is popular from May to October for its tranquil beach life.
- WHAT ARE THE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN SRI LANKA?
Sinhala and Tamil are the national languages with English spoken in the main towns and villages, especially where there are business or tourist areas.
- WHAT KIND OF FOOD IS AVAILABLE IN SR LANKA?
Although the traditional cuisine is rice and curry, all types of food from European to Asian is available. There are also fried chicken, hamburger and pizza parlous in the main towns. Every diet is catered for at Cinnamon hotels where there are buffets and a la carte restaurants.
- WHAT KIND OF CLOTHES SHOULD BE WORN IN SRI LANKA?
Casual but smart clothes made of cotton are best for the climate. Visitors won’t need a jacket and tie or fashionable gown unless going to a formal function. However, wear swimwear only on the beach, not in villages or towns.
- IS THE INTERNET EASY TO ACCESS IN SRI LANKA?
Yes, all Cinnamon hotels have swift connectivity with the Internet. WiFi is also available free in many tourist establishments. There are also hotel communication bureaux with internet computers available for use for a fee.
- WHAT ARE THE DOs AND DON’Ts IN SRI LANKA?
Visitors should be natural and listen to what Sri Lankans say about their country to benefit fully from the experience of a holiday on the island. It is important to remember to remove footwear when entering a sacred place. Tourist shouldn’t take selfies (or photographs of others) posing in front of statues of Buddha. It is a crime to scribble on the Sigiriya frescoes or to go topless in public places.
- WHAT IS THE VOLTAGE TYPE IN SRI LANKA?
Voltage is 230AC; two and three round-pin and three square-pin sockets are used.
- HOW IS THE NIGHTLIFE IN SRI LANKA?
In Colombo, there are dozens of karaoke bars and disco-type nightclubs as well as four casinos, in addition to the entertainment provided for guests by Cinnamon Grand, Cinnamon Lakeside and Cinnamon Red. Out of Colombo, nightlife will be limited to a band or other entertainment provided by the hotel. At Hikkaduwa, close to the Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon, there are a few bars and discos and an annual all night beach party.
- DO TOURISTS NEED INSURANCE IN SRI LANKA?
Definitely! Tourists shouldn’t come to Sri Lanka without full travel insurance in case of flight delays and lost luggage as well as theft, accident or illness.
- ARE CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED IN SRI LANKA?
Yes, Mastercard, Visa and American Express credit cards are accepted in Sri Lanka, both for bill payment and for obtaining emergency cash through ATMs (available island-wide). However, a visitor may need to get authorisation from the credit card company to use the card in Sri Lanka.
- WHAT KIND OF COMMUNICATION FACILITIES ARE AVAILABLE IN SRI LANKA?
Connectivity in Sri Lanka is very modern with WiFi capability in most areas. There are several mobile phone companies with pre-paid SIM card arrangements available for visitors. Cinnamons have IDD telephones in guest rooms and facilities for sending faxes and emails through reception and WiFi is free.
- WHERE TO DO SHOPPING IN SRI LANKA?
Colombo is the main shopping centre with three shopping malls, including Crescat adjoining Cinnamon Grand, and some converted colonial buildings such as the Arcade at Independence Square and the former Race Course stadium. There are also two major supermarket chains, gem and jewellery stores, and many trendsetting shops as well as government sponsored souvenir shops. In Kandy, there is a modern shopping mall. In other towns, shopping is limited to daily needs with few local souvenir shops. The best place for shopping if you’re staying out of Colombo is in the gem and gift shops in all the Cinnamons.
- WHAT IS THE CULTURE LIKE IN SRI LANKA?
Sri Lanka’s culture is deep rooted in the country’s Buddhist, Tamil, Muslim and Christian heritage with many ancient monuments (some in ruins), Buddhist statues, religious observances and festivals, colonial relics, and a traditional lifestyle coupled with an eager acceptance of modern democracy and contemporary design and gadgets.
36. What is Sri Lanka’s top tourist destination of the future?
The East Coast. As Sri Lanka’s west and south coasts reach their full potential as tourist destinations, the undeveloped beaches of the island’s forgotten east coast are where the future tourist action will happen.
The country’s eastern seaboard stretches from Trincomalee, where the A12 arrives in the east after cutting across the northern half of the island from Anuradhapura, down the newly restored A15 past lagoons and deserted beaches through Passikudah to link with the A4 onto Batticaloa and then Pottuvil, the gateway to the surfers’ haunt of Arugam Bay.
The Queen of the East is Trincomalee and it has always been popular with visitors although the first ones came as invaders, attracted by its enormous natural harbour, used as a port from ancient times. On its eastern border on a precipice is a Hindu shrine at Swami Rock where the temple of a Thousand Columns is believed to have existed hundreds of years BC. This was demolished by the Portuguese after they took possession of Trincomalee in 1622. What they didn’t topple over the cliff into the sea (where divers can still see ruins) they used for their own fortifications.
The Portuguese stayed until ousted by the Dutch in 1639. During the Dutch tenure, some islands in the bay were occupied by the French, but they didn’t stay long. The Dutch added to the fortifications begun by the Portuguese and built Fort Frederick, which stands to this day with the date 1676 etched into its archway.
Nelson claimed Trincomalee was one of the best harbours in the world and when most of the island fell to the British in 1795, there were plans to capitalise on the harbour’s strategic location and make it the capital instead of Colombo. For many years, tea was regularly exported to England by ships loading at Trincomalee’s harbour.
Fort Frederick is one of the main historical attractions of the East Coast, Entrance is free for the walk through the grounds of the Fort to the summit of a hill for a view of the placid waters of the amazing harbour. Behind the temple there is the Swami Rock (121m high) and the ruin of the monument to a Dutch girl who is supposed to have flung herself into the sea from the rock when her lover sailed away. Stalls selling Sri Lanka sweetmeats, garishly coloured beverages and locally made souvenirs line the road through the Fort to put visitors in a holiday mood.
Tourism first came to the east coast in 1937 when a hotel was built on a hill overlooking the inner harbour. It still exists today although it has expanded with a modern steel structure as its entrance canopy and a couple of dozen rooms. A swimming pool has been added with a view of the harbour but the original wood panelled bar with its quarter moon bar counter survives off a glass-fronted corridor.
By tradition, the best time to visit the eastern seaboard is from May to October, which coincides with the European holiday season and when the popular beaches of the west cost are troubled by rough seas during the summer monsoon. However, local snorkellers and scuba divers point out that there are only two months a year when the east is not suitable for swimming, whereas the west coast has some six months a year of rough seas.
With the development of beach resorts with swimming pools and year round entertainment and facilities like spas and fine dining, and organised excursions to the area’s attractions, the east is becoming a year round holiday destination.
The oldest beach hotel, opened during the 1970s, is 5km north of Trincomalee, by the long beach at Uppuveli. Refurbished a few years ago with a genuine retro look, it is now known as Trinco Blu by Cinnamon. Its rooms are small, its attitude deliberately laidback, and its sole reason for existing is to provide a good beach holiday. A path leads past the long swimming pool to the beach, overlooked by its Crab restaurant justly famed for its seafood.
The beach at Uppuveli became a favourite of backpackers looking for low cost beach accommodation, and many guest houses and cabanas opened in the Alles Garden road area by the beach. Some remain as the place has not yet been transformed by modern boutique hotels as has happened in the west and south resorts of Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna. The beach runs for 16km up to Nilaveli.
Trincomalee itself is a laidback town centred around its vegetable market, fish market, and bus station. It is the terminus of the railway line from Colombo but is served only once a day by direct train, and that runs overnight. It does not yet have facilities such as souvenir shops, fast food restaurants, cocktail bars and nightclubs that support the tourist plant on the west and south coasts.
A beautiful drive of about two hours southwards past lagoons and paddy fields leads to Sri Lanka’s newest beach resort, Passikudah. Once deserted, the long, curving beach there has sprouted several hotels. They complement each other in what they offer so tourists can find something to suit all budgets. The attractions of Passikudah are the safe swimming, the absence of hawkers and hustlers on the beach, and the complete freedom to relax.
The nearest town to Passikudah is Batticaloa, 30 minutes away by road. Its nature can be guessed from the Sinhalese name, Madekalapuwa, which translates as ‘muddy lagoon.’ The Portuguese built a fort there in 1628 but ten years later this was captured by the Dutch who described Batticaloa as ‘a vile stinking place.’ It was taken over the British in 1795. Now it is emerging as a smart, low-lying town with a lagoon-side promenade and some modern hotels. It can be reached by daily train from Colombo.
It’s possible to drive further south down the coast to the surfers’ hot spot of Arugam Bay, after Pottuvil. The beach there was once the sole preserve of fishermen who dared to launch their fragile wooden boats in the raging surf. It was this surf that attracted intrepid young adventurers from overseas who journeyed across the island in the 1970s. There was no accommodation so they stayed with the fishermen at night and surfed all day.
Village homes were transformed into guest houses and wayside restaurants that catered for this motely crew of young surfers and their acolytes. They created an informal, do-it-yourself brand of tourism that even today gives Arugam Bay a laidback vibe. Accommodation there is designed for surfers and the young-at-heart. While the beach does not match the best in the East, the surf, the informality and the low-budget rooms add to the East Coast’s reputation as a holiday haven for all and the tourist destination of Sri Lanka’s future.
From Mallaittivu in the far north of the island pilgrims embark every year on a walk down the east coast to Kataragama in the south, known as Pada Yatra. This takes place from May to July and since it was revived in 1988 has attracted thousands who join in the traditional procession of village devotees. It has become an essential part of SriLanka’s mulit-cultural ethos with pilgrims moving from one sacred site to another along the east coast. Villagers encountered en route provide refreshments, food, accommodation and hospitality. It is an event that bonds the people of the East with those of the North and South of the island.
TOP TEN MUST SEE ON THE EAST COAST
- Thiriyai, ancient seaport of the Jaffna kingdom.
Drive 40km north of Trincomalee, on the road to Pulmudai through the beach resort of Nilaveli, and hot, dusty plains cultivated with red onions and chillies to Thiriyai. This small Tamil village used to be a seaport for the Jaffna kingdom. It is called Thalakori on the 2nd-century map of Ptolemy. Pre-Christian Tamil Brahmin inscriptions have been found in the area, the oldest belonging to the 2nd century BC.
- Ruins of the first stupa built in Sri Lanka.
Just north of Thiriyai are the ruins of the first stupa ever built in Sri Lanka, possibly the world, dating from more than 500 years BC. Known as Girihadu Seya, it was constructed by visiting merchants to enshrine a lock of Buddha’s hair. There are about 300 steps to get to the ruins of the stupa atop a hill with a spectacular view.
- Dolphin and whales leaping in the sea off Trincomalee.
The best time of the year is from May to October for whale and dolphin watching just a few minutes by boat from Nilaveli Beach. The sight of Blue Whales gambolling in their natural habitat is memorable. Huge schools of Bottle Nose Dolphins and Spinner Dolphins are regularly spotted too. Whale watching safaris are conducted by experienced boat crew who know where to look and whales suddenly surface just a few feet from the boat.
4 Pigeon Island Marine Park
Declared a sanctuary in 1963 and recognised as a national park in 2003, Pigeon Island is about one kilometre off the shore. Boats take scuba divers and tourists there from Uppuveli and Nilaveli beaches. There are actually two islands, one fringed with a reef where 100 species of coral and 300 species of fish have been recorded, including blue tip reef shark and hawksbill, green and olive ridley turtles. The park is named after the rock pigeon that breeds there and some of the best remaining coral reefs in Sri Lanka are part of the 471 hectare park.
5 Fort Frederick.
Above the arched entrance to the Fort, the date 1676 records when it was built. Entrance is free for the walk to the summit of the promontory with its grand view of Trincomalee’s natural harbour. The road is lined with stalls selling sweetmeats and some ancient buildings remain; domesticated deer roam freely and the place is popular with tourists on a day’s outing.
6. Swami Rock
Swami Rock rises 121m out of the sea behind the Hindu temple at the summit of the promontory reached through the grounds of Fort Frederick. In the sea around are said to be remains of the original temple toppled there by the Portuguese. There is a ruin of a monument to the Dutch girl who is supposed to have flung herself off the cliff as her lover sailed away.
7 Batticaloa’s ancient irrigation system
Inland from the town, is part of an ancient irrigation system that played a leading role in the agriculture of the area. The Dutch developed canals to irrigate the paddy lands and this was extended by the British with the Sakaman and Rugam tanks helping sustain the fertility of the area.
8. Kudumbigala Forest Hermitage. Created in 246BC as a retreat for Buddhist monks with over 200 caves in an area of 4,700 hectares, this seldom visited hermitage lies in deep jungle 2km from the east coast village of Okanda south of Arugam Bay and Panama. It has the only cylindrical dagaba remaining in Sri Lanka.
9 Dragon fruit at Passikudah’s Coconut Research Centre
Opposite the new hotels on Passikudah Beach, the Coconut Research Centre is fenced in with wire and concrete posts. These posts have been used as the props for a cactus-like plant which is actually dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus). Bright crimson in colour the fruit grows on spiky stems, beginning as green buds and then blushing to red (or yellow) while ripening. The fruit’s flesh, while being a little insipid, has many heath benefits.
10. Weapons on display at the Naval Museum
Located at Ostenberg in the Trincomalee peninsula overlooking the inner harbour, within the naval compound, is the little known Hoods Tower Museum. It is a 3km drive from the camp gate and permission needs to be obtained (from the guard house) to visit. Weapons from ancient times to the civil war are on display in the open and in underground casements built during the second World War
TOP TEN MUST DO ON THE EAST COAST
- Go deep sea fishing.
Local boats can be chartered from the diving schools or through hotels on the east coast for adventurous deep sea fishing.
- Go scuba diving and snorkelling.
The corals around Pigeon Island are fascinating for both snorkellers and scuba divers and expeditions can be arranged through the diving schools at Uppuveli and Nilaveli.
- Try to surf at Arugam Bay.
Sri Lanka’s famous surfing bay is a challenge for even experienced surfers but village youths will help visitors learn the technique as they enjoy surfing every day. Villagers originally learned from surfers from Europe and Australia who discovered this surfing haven in the 1970s.
- Play golf at the Eagles’ Golf Course.
This is a newly built golf course of 18 holes opened by the Sri Lanka Air Force at the base at China Bay, near Trincomalee. Tourists who play golf are welcome by prior arrangement.
5. Go on safari
The Yala National Park lies in the south eastern corner of the island and although access to the north east part of it is restricted to those engaged in official or scientific work, Ruhunu National Park (Yala East) may be visited by safari jeeps. Yala extends to an area of 1,260 sq kms and shares the northern boundary with the Lahugala elephant sanctuary. Dense jungle contrasts with open parklands so there many different types of vegetation. As well as spotting elephants and leopards, this is the only reliable place to view the endangered Black Necked stork, Sri-Lanka’s largest bird.
6. Go bird watching
Some 15kms inland along the A4 from the coastal town of Pottuvil is
Lahugala. It lies to the north east of the Yala National Park and is part of the elephant corridor where there is a great variety of bird life. Birds can be seen in the forested areas and at waterholes. They include aquatic birds as well as migrants. The best season is from November to February.
- Sample lagoon prawns at Batticaloa
Batticaloa is the source of freshwater prawns from its huge lagoon. Although there are no restaurants dedicated to tourists, visitors can sample fresh lagoon prawns as snacks in the local taverns, washed down with a glass of local beer or Sri Lanka’s equivalent of whisky, pure coconut arrack.
- Visit Okanda Devalaya. Also known as Murugan Kovil because of its importance to Hindus, this shrine is down a lane towards the beach from the small east coast hamlet of Okanda. Okanda is by the official entrance to the Kumuna section of the Yala National Park. The shrine lies atop a rock overlooking the sea. Pilgrims cleanse themselves by bathing in the rock pool there.
- Have fun on Passikudah Beach
At the southern end of the long beach at Passikudah there is an area in the sea cordoned off to prevent those who can’t swim from straying too far in the shallow waters that lap the shore. There are also changing facilities for visitors. Tourists are welcome to help fishermen haul in their nets at the northern end of the beach, or hire a jet ski for a jaunt around the calm sea from the water sports centres at the hotels along the beach.
- Photograph colourful market scenes.
There is a very active fish market at Trincomalee where fish vendors are happy to be photographed. For more photographs, visit the town’s bustling fruit and vegetable markets.