I could tell you that I was lured to Sri Lanka by its unspoiled Indian Ocean beaches and mystical inland mountains; by archeological treasures left behind by ancient Buddhist kingdoms; by my curiosity as to its social and economic development following a civil war ending in 2009.
All this is true. But I was first lured to Sri Lanka by Simon LeBon.
As a 1980s teenager, I loved MTV and Duran Duran. The British band released the song and video “Save a Prayer” in 1982. The images of the temples, monuments, beaches, children and elephants were intoxicating. They stayed with me. It was years later that I learned the video was shot in a country named Sri Lanka.
On an island the size of West Virginia, Sri Lanka lives up to the adventure and mystique from that early music video. Here’s a suggested loop for an active Sri Lanka adventure.
Climb a Rock. Arrange in advance for an international airport pick-up (the rest of your time, it will be easy and inexpensive to hire a driver on the spot) for the three-hour drive inland to Hotel Sigiriya. Relax away your jet lag with a swim and hop on some bicycles to take in the countryside. From the pool, ponder tomorrow’s climb of Sigiriya (“Lion Rock”) in the distance. Walk from the hotel, explore the ruins of a vast palace complex and enjoy the unfolding gifts as you climb the 200 meter rock plateau. It hasn’t changed since Simon LeBon and band member Nick Rhodes stood atop in their video. If you still have energy in the afternoon, visit the famed Dambulla Cave Temple.
Climb a Mountain. Hire a driver to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s last royal capital and later a seat for the country’s British colonization in the 1800s. Pick up any needed supplies and take the train from Kandy to Hatton. From the station, it takes an hour by tuk-tuk to get to Slightly Chilled Guest House in Dalhousie, your base for climbing Adam’s Peak. For more than 1000 years, the mountain has been a focus for pilgrimage for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, each of whom believe the “sacred footprint” at Sripada Temple at the 2,243 meter peak belongs to one of their legendary spiritual leaders. Begin the ascent at 3am to enjoy the peak at sunrise.
Train Through the Hills. From Hatton, take the train into the Central Highlands, winding through jade-green tea plantations to the smaller cities of Nuwara Eliya and Ella. Breath in the British colonial heritage, enjoying high tea at the Grand Hotel, a walk through Queen Victoria Park, and cozy up in your bed at heritage site family home Ferncliff. Make sure to visit a tea plantation for lessons in world-renown Ceylon tea. In Ella, it’s all about hiking and views; lodging options are mostly small family run guesthouses like Mountain Heavens.
Lounge at the Beach. Hire a driver to take you out of the highlands to Sri Lanka’s dreamy southern coastal beaches. From Tangalle to Galle to Kalutara, there is no “best” spot. We chose the more rustic Palm Paradise Cabanas & Villas in Tangalle. With Sri Lanka’s recent building boom, there are rustic beachside boutiques to high-end resorts to match every want and budget. The beaches to the southeast of Galle like Unawatuna are where you’ll see the stilt fisherman who mesmerized me in the “Save a Prayer” video.
Run Through the City. To get to the capital city of Colombo, take the train from Matara or Galle, or cut your time in half and experience one of Sri Lanka’s recent infrastructure projects by hiring a driver and taking the Southern Expressway. Stay at Casa Colombo and explore a former derelict mansion painstakingly and creatively restored to a 12-suite hotel. Wander the streets. Shop for textiles, gemstones or paintings by local artists. If you have yet to try the Sri Lankan specialty egg hoppers or want one more serving of fish curry, now is your chance.
And as you stare out the window as your plane takes off from Colombo, you’ll imagine you’re watching the pull away scene from your very own mystical Sri Lankan music video.
“You don’t have to dream it all — just live a day.” ~ Save a Prayer
(Cover photo of stilt fishermen by Lisa Bonner)