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by Guardian.co.uk” width=”140″ height=”45″ />This article titled “Places to go in Sri Lanka: readers’ travel tips” was written by Guardian readers, for The Guardian on Thursday 1st December 2016 11.30 UTC
Winning tip: Sri Lankan gothic
Have tea, dinner or cocktails in Helga’s Folly, a fabulously spooky gothic mansion in the midst of jungle flora with to-die-for views of the historic city of Kandy. Every inch is covered in paintings, photographs, mirrors and dripping candles. This is where Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier and Zandra Rhodes stayed and where the Stereophonics wrote an ode to its owner, Madame Helga. The eccentric proprietor, former model Helga de Silva Blow Perera, moves in circles of artists, politicians and intrigue, lives in the Folly and introduces herself personally to guests. Rooms may be a bit run-down and pricey, but the Alice-in-Wonderland-kitsch-meets-avant-garde gesamtkunstwerk style is not to be missed.
• Doubles from 0 B&B, special rates for writers and artists, helgasfolly.com
Temple of rock
A half-hour bus ride from the coastal towns of Tangalle and Dikwella, the rock of Mulkirigala erupts 205 metres tall from the surrounding jungle. The temple complex features dagobas and caves adorned with reclining Buddhas and ancient paintings. Well off the tourist trail, Mulkirigala provides an authentic escape into Buddhist tranquillity, and isn’t as busy as the famed Sigiriya and Dambulla rock fortresses. After climbing 533 rock-hewn steps, you are rewarded with a wonderful view and welcome breeze from the summit.
Kites in the city
Galle Face Green is an urban park in Colombo overlooking the Indian Ocean. During Ramadan, local Muslims gather in groups unpacking picnics, waiting for the sun to set over this bustling city. Children fly kites. Street vendors sell local snacks. Professionals exercise in business suits and trainers after work. Young couples hold hands and stroll along the beach. The choppy waters crash into the concrete wall creating a dramatic backdrop. But while sitting on a bench facing the ocean, one can see a different side to this city and can appreciate the rich diversity of religions and socioeconomics that make up Sri Lanka.
Cricket and street food
To get a real feel of Sri Lanka, spend a day at the cricket in Galle if there’s a match on. There are plenty of distractions as you sit on the grassy banks overlooking the old fort and watch the waves rolling in from the Indian Ocean while soaking up the sun. The local fishermen turn up in the afternoon to chat and grill their catches. Spectators can try street curries from vendors all around the ground. Tickets and food won’t be more than £10 and you’ll make a lot of friends.
I spent an exhilarating day in Yala national park, a pristine 130,000-hectare wilderness on the south-eastern tip of Sri Lanka. The landscape here feels alien: a flat expanse of twisted, bleached-white trees and hunched rock formations that evoke images of a prehistoric time. The beaches are vast and wild, rising cliffs against grey sand and empty sky. Best of all though is the jeep safari: bouncing along sandy tracks, binoculars in hand, in joyful anticipation of glimpsing elephants, peacocks, monkeys, and saltwater crocodiles. And if you are very, very lucky you may even spot the elusive Sri Lankan leopard.
• Entry , jeep tour from , yalasrilanka.lk
Best seat for short eats
For a magical free view to rival that from Adam’s Peak, take a trip from Haputale in the tea plantations out to the near 2,000-metre-high Lipton’s Seat. Don’t bother with the tuk tuks – the fun is in climbing up the mountain through the tea plantations, past schools and hospitals. Bright saris butterfly the tea bushes. At the very top is a panoramic view as far as the southern Sri Lankan coast and a tiny cafe selling magnificent short eats, tea and jaggery (cane sugar). Sit and survey the world just like Sir Thomas Lipton did more than 100 years ago.
Great B&B in Trincomalee
This summer my wife and I stayed off the usual tourist circuit in a secluded bay near the centre of Trincomalee, at a small B&B called Dyke’s Rest, right on the beach. The bay was deserted except for the occasional friendly fishermen coming and going. The water was clean, warm and safe and good snorkelling could be had by the rocks at the edge of the bay – an eco-conscious alternative to visiting the coral reef at Pigeon Island, which is suffering greatly because of unchecked tourism. You can watch the sun rise at breakfast and eat fresh fish barbecued on the beach at night. The hospitality was some of the best we have ever received and we cannot recommend this idyllic spot enough.
• Doubles from B&B, on Facebook
Dewmini, a small family-owned roti cafe off the beaten track in Mirissa, is well worth the 10-minute walk inland from the beach for a tasty breakfast or lunch roti. A plethora of savoury and sweet flavours are available, so there’s something for everyone.
Tropical architectural guru
Sri Lanka’s celebrated architect, Geoffrey Bawa, coined a tropical modernism style based on Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic traditional and colonial influences. His buildings blend seamlessly with their surroundings – their interiors, too. A splendid way to learn about the man, his work and his art collection is to visit his house just off Bagatelle Road in Colombo. The style is unique and the tour by occupants of the house who knew Bawa before his death in 2003 is very personal and insightful. The guidebooks say visitors have to book in advance, but we just turned up and were welcomed. One of the best cultural experiences in Sri Lanka and you can also stay there though it is not run as a hotel.
• Entrance , geoffreybawa.com
Cinnamon and tea
A taxi driver advised us to visit Mackwoods Labookellie factory, about six miles from Nuwara Eliya. There, we enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of orange pekoe while looking out over emerald-green fields. On the way back, we stopped off at 100-metre-high Ramboda Falls, where visitors can walk along the top of the cascade toward its source. We also had a great trip to Cinnamon Island in the Madu Ganga wetlands an hour’s drive north of Galle. You can only get there by boat, but this won’t cost you more than . There, our little group was shown how cinnamon is made from the inner bark of certain trees; the bark looks like rolled up paper when they are done.
Islands of the north
While Jaffna is an interesting place to visit, the islands of the northern peninsula are the highlight of this area. We set off early from Jaffna, on scooters borrowed from our guesthouse, to Punkudutivu. From here, we took the free ferry, run by the Navy, to Delft (named after the Dutch town), on the northern tip of Sri Lanka. Wild ponies roam among the Palmyra palms on this sparsely populated island. After taking in the ruins of a 1,000-year-old temple, the Dutch colonial fort and the numerous coral walls, we headed back. We rode along the causeways connecting Punkudutivu, Kayts and Karainagar, as if aquaplaning on the shallow waters, against a backdrop of fishermen and cormorants in the setting sun. Within the islands, the quiet, well-maintained roads were shared with the solitary fisherman, farmers passing by in tractors, and the occasional (harmless!) snake making a dash to the other side. Our tranquil island road trip, traversing the Jaffna peninsula on our scooters, was the most memorable moment in my visit to this sometimes chaotic part of the world.
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