Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

Calling all tourists: Sri Lanka’s spirit is still intact after Easter bombings

While hundreds cancelled and rearranged their travel plans, our writer carried on and flew to Colombo the week after the terror attacks – and she's glad she did

The beaches might be almost empty but Sri Lanka and its people are as beautiful as ever. Getty Images
The beaches might be almost empty but Sri Lanka and its people are as beautiful as ever. Getty Images

Sri Lanka had been at the top of my travel wishlist for months. I spent weeks planning a trip, daydreaming and poring over other people’s pictures of the place. But when the week of my holiday rolled around, I awoke to the horrific news that suicide bombers had killed 257 people in the country.

The attacks were carried out 48 hours before I was scheduled to fly to Sri Lanka, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think long and hard about postponing my trip. But both my travel partner and I chose to stick to our plans, despite the concerns of our loved ones and colleagues. We would not let terrorists win.

As I checked into my flight at Abu Dhabi International Airport, it was clear that others had not come to the same conclusion. When I asked the attendant for a seat near my friend, I was told that would not be a problem and I could sit wherever I liked. She wasn’t joking. Only 18 other people were on the flight to Colombo, a route usually teeming with holidaymakers.

But from the moment we stepped off the plane at the other end, we knew we had made the right decision. We landed in a country in mourning, its people visibly shaken by what had happened, but it was the people who made our trip so special. Everyone we encountered, from guesthouse owners and passport control officials to locals at the beach, showed compassion and, above all, a deep love for their country.

Until the Easter bombings, 2019 was shaping up to be Sri Lanka’s year in terms of tourism. The country was named as Lonely Planet’s top place to visit and it’s been 10 years since the civil war ended. Its beaches are some of the most coveted in the world, while pictures of its stunning landscapes had the Instagram generation flocking to its shores.

But Sri Lanka’s golden year was brought to an end by the attacks. Our driver said all of his bookings until the end of August had been cancelled apart from one, forcing him to go back to work on his father’s farm. One of our guesthouse owners also asked us with a sad smile to tell our friends about his accommodation, as he was worried for his future following seven cancellations. To the south of the island, golden beaches were also empty, apart from the odd surfer making the most of their run of the ocean.

But the spirit of Sri Lanka still shone through. We met cheerful fruitsellers who urged us to stay safe, and thanked us for visiting despite what had happened days earlier. Then there was the tuk-tuk driver who waited for us for about an hour without complaint after we were stranded in a rainstorm.

The hospitality and optimism of the people we met are what I will remember most about my time in Sri Lanka, and it’s already made me want to return, not only for my sake, but for theirs.

Yes, we had to adhere to a daily 10pm curfew, and yes, we were subject to a lot of extra security checks, but I never felt unsafe. In fact, I felt like I had the care and protection of every person I met, and those extra hours queuing at the airport and the sight of armed police will not be the thing I remember about Sri Lanka.

I will remember a beautiful country where I had unforgettable experiences, and most of all, I’ll remember its huge heart.

Every corner of the world can be attacked by extremists, and now, more than ever, Sri Lanka needs our support.

Updated: May 9, 2019 12:03 PM

SHARE

SHARE