What only Sri Lankans understand

SRI LANKA FOR THE OFF-SEASON


Travel expert

David Torcasso is a writer, media coach and blogger. He does not have a driver's license, but has an airline miles account. Since studying journalism at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW, he has worked as a freelance journalist for Tages-Anzeiger, NZZ, Die Zeit or Brand Eins as well as various online platforms and blogs. When traveling and in the nightlife, he puts his earned money into a stylish, if not always profitable way. His current favorite destination in Europe is Istanbul, overseas Los Angeles.

Sri Lanka has been experiencing an upswing for several years. More and more tourists flock to the island below the Indian subcontinent. Dream beaches, temples, fishing villages, world cultural heritage, Indian flair, delicious food and friendly locals make Sri Lanka a highlight of South Asia. It is only a matter of time before countless hotel complexes will spring up here sooner or later. A quick visit to the island is worth it. Also during the monsoon season. Because in Sri Lanka the sun is always shining somewhere.

A trip to South Asia outside the winter season makes many visitors skeptical. Too unsure whether the long-awaited vacation won't fall through because of the monsoons. In addition, bathing holidays are very popular in Europe in summer and early autumn. Nevertheless, the seaside resorts in Italy, Spain or France are by no means comparable to the paradise in South Asia, and of course also strikingly more expensive.

The monsoons in Asia are unpredictable: I am sitting in the hotel room in Tangalle and outside it has been pouring down for hours. There is a postcard beach a few meters from my hotel; Lush green palm trees, turquoise blue sea, white sand and gentle waves. It is early September, the main monsoon season in India and some other parts of Asia. Bathing in the midst of crackling raindrops is no fun. That's why most of the tourists flock here between December and March. At this time it only rains in the north of the countries, while the beaches in the south are bathed in sunshine.

Rain, sun, rain, sun - within a few kilometers

I am in no way frustrated with the rain. Fortunately, I am in Sri Lanka, the island at the tip of the Indian subcontinent. Beach holidays can be made here all year round. Because the country is only about the size of Ireland, traveling around is a good idea. In just a few hours, the sunny corners of the island can be reached by bus or taxi. When it rains in the west, the sun shines in the east - and vice versa. I get on the next bus, which, by the way, is properly written in English, and it takes about 120 minutes to get to Mirissa, Sri Lanka's "whale" travel destination. The sun is shining. I surf some waves and eat delicious seafood in the evening. I do without the whale watching boat tour, which is popular with tourists.

In «Lanka» different levels of rainfall are common throughout the year. Nevertheless, the monsoon season is not set in stone - and certainly no reason to forego this wonderful travel destination. Even during the main monsoon season between May and September, the sun shines in the northwest until four in the afternoon.

Small but mighty

Sri Lanka offers so much in such a small space. Hardly any other country in the world can compete here: eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, dream beaches, paradisiacal waves, safari excursions, captivating landscapes, big city bustle, tea fields and hiking trails. Sri Lanka is varied, quite cheap and not yet overrun by tourists. Due to its proximity to the subcontinent in the north, the country is strongly reminiscent of India (which is why the island is also called “the tear of India”). For travelers, however, Sri Lanka is better developed, cleaner and easier to travel thanks to a good infrastructure of trains, buses and taxi services.

The best tour in early autumn goes to the west of the island

Like most visitors, I land in the capital, Colombo, at the country's only international airport. For the time being, I prefer to do without the hustle and bustle of the big city. At the end of my trip I will still have enough opportunity to explore Colombo. I get into a tuk-tuk and drive towards Negombo. The fishing town is closer to the airport than Colombo itself. There are many beaches and some canals that were once laid out by the Dutch as transport routes for cinnamon. These run through the entire town and have earned the city the nickname “Little Amsterdam”. The sun hardly shines, there isn't much going on on the beach and generally there are few tourists. Despite the off-season; the restaurants offer delicious food and the hotels attract with good prices. In the evening I get to know a local fisherman who takes me out to sea by boat the next day at four in the morning. Then he conjures up a delicious meal for me. When I want to pay him something for it, he waves it away with a smile.

I want sun and sand ...

The hotel owner in Negombo explains to me that from the second half of the year the sun shines mainly on the east coast of the island. I decide to go to the surfing paradise Arugam Bay. The journey takes around five hours by bus - far less by car. The sun shines here with an almost blue sky from early in the morning to around four in the afternoon. Arugam Bay is actually not a city, but a street with a collection of hotels, restaurants and bars. The beach is right next to it. The tourists are accordingly to be found a little more numerous. Nevertheless, the place has not lost its charm. In addition to western-oriented restaurants, local food stalls can be found again and again. Locals serve Indian-Western menus, give surfing lessons and lovingly organize the evening fire shows in the bars. All in all, Arugam Bay offers a pleasant beach vacation: water activities are provided, as is culinary well-being. The bars have cheap drinks and good entertainment.

After a few days I drive on to Batticaloa, which is located in a bay on the east coast. Finding accommodation on the beach is not easy - I have this wonderful place all to myself. Since there are hardly any shady palm trees here and the sun burns down relentlessly, an umbrella should be in your luggage. In the evening I stroll through the city, which is unspectacular but authentic. I go in search of the "Singing Fishes". Allegedly, their singing should be audible on moonlit nights and when the sea is calm. To do this, a padel is dipped into the sea and the ear is held to the other end. Lovers of Sri Lankan handicrafts will certainly find what they are looking for in Batticalao. A total of two days are enough to explore the town.

Trincomalee, or Trinco for short, is even further to the northeast and is consistently sunny. The legendary Temple of a Thousand Columns is said to have stood here in the 16th century. Unfortunately, the Portuguese dumped it over a cliff into the sea. Trinco is predominantly inhabited by Tamils ​​and is therefore very similar to southern India. Up until a few years ago, there was war and misery here. A restricted area a little outside the city reminds of these difficult times. Trincomalee is worth seeing - especially the Koneswaram Temple or the hot springs of Kanniya. As a tourist, I'm an exotic here. I unintentionally attract the attention of the locals. I experience them as very friendly and helpful.

The agony of choice

I can hardly decide where to go next. The hilly landscape around the city of Kandy is said to offer numerous sights. Including the Temple of the Tooth, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka. The Pinnewala elephant orphanage is around 40 kilometers from Kandy. A visit to Anuradhapura, the oldest city in Sri Lanka, would also be worthwhile. Nearby Mihintale is one of the birthplaces of widespread Theravada Buddhism and an offshoot of the Buddha site in Bodhgaya, India.

I decide to go south. There is the most famous and colorful city on the island: Galle. The first stop in Tangalle turns out to be a failure. It rains intermittently. This fact spoils my long-awaited visit to a nearby dream beach. I continue to Mirissa. Many visitors hope to catch a glimpse of a whale there. The beach in Mirissa is equipped with cozy restaurants and the sea offers great waves for body surfing.

Galle is not really Sri Lanka but its charm is hard to beat

Finally I get to Galle by bus. The ancient port city exudes a unique charm like no other place on the island. This is mainly due to the mixed architecture and the many colors. Galle was built up by the Portuguese and used to be the gateway to the world for the trade in silk and spices. As I stroll through the streets, I also feel the cosmopolitan character of the city. The old town of Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A constant scent of spices hangs over the historic buildings. These can be bought on every corner. But beware of exorbitant prices! When I arrive at the well-known Galle Fort, it starts raining again. But that's not bad, because this place is a gold mine for hunters of ancient objects. So I visit many small shops with fascinating works of art. With the help of a tuk-tuk, one day is enough to visit the fort, the temple, the mosque and the lighthouse.

The Sri Lankans are arguably the friendliest people in South Asia

Finally, I'm back in Colombo. Most of the hotels, the parliament, the official residence of the president and all banks are located in the historic but also very modern business district of Fort. The cityscape is shaped by the imposing twin towers of the World Trade Center Colombo. This is one of the tallest buildings in South Asia. The growth of Sri Lanka is palpable in Colombo. As is so often the case in Asia, the capital differs completely from the villages in the interior with modern shopping malls and expensive cars on the streets.

The main artery of Colombo is Galle Road. It runs straight through the city and is richly stocked with glass complexes, skyscrapers, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. Towards the end of the street you come to the Islamic part of Colombo. A mosque that is well worth seeing adorns the cityscape. Later I will also visit the Gangaramaya Temple, which with its calm and contemplative atmosphere makes me forget the big city in front of the door. The temple with its numerous rooms is reminiscent of a second hand shop. It is crammed with objects and Buddha images. There is even a life-size elephant in the middle of the temple. Old Cadillacs on the streets are reminiscent of the colonial times.

Compact to travel in two to three weeks

Those who visit Sri Lanka in addition to the popular winter season will be amply rewarded: deserted beaches, lower prices and the undivided attention of the Sri Lankan residents. The highlight of the island are not only the temples and beaches, but above all the people. Their warmth is hard to beat. They are really extremely friendly and funny too - even if only a few of them speak English. As I wait for my departure at the airport, a young woman walks towards me in a sari embroidered with flowers. She politely asks me if I would like to fill out a questionnaire about my stay in Sri Lanka. The lady is from the tourism department. The questionnaire is quite long. The woman smiles sheepishly. The people of Sri Lanka go to great lengths to ensure that visitors have a good time in their country. They are helpful, meticulous, and charming. This devotion of the locals makes a trip to Sri Lanka an unforgettable experience.

Photos: David Torcasso, Jessica Feustle