Steve Luckings, British: It’s not often I get to the end of a family holiday where I’m not desperate to return home to creature comforts. However, by day 10 of our recent trip to Sri Lanka, the kicking and screaming (myself included) was because none of us wanted to leave. After a night in Colombo we took a train ride to the hilltop region of Kandy. We booked the observation deck and were treated to breathtaking landscape and the lushest greens. We then headed south to Galle to see the famous fort and watch aspiring cricketers knock the ball to all corners of the picturesque cricket stadium. Next stop was a little further along the coast to Mirissa where the “guarantee to see dolphins and whales” tour guide signs were as good as their words. For residents of the UAE with a young family, Sri Lanka is the ideal holiday destination: Four hours or less flying to Colombo, the most impossibly polite and friendly people and, more importantly, it’s cheap.
Sophie Prideaux, British: Visiting Sri Lanka the week after the Easter Sunday bombings was a surreal experience. We found a country in mourning, a visibly shaken community who were only just starting to process what had happened there, and what it will mean for their futures. But it was these people who made our trip to Sri Lanka so special. Every person we encountered - from drivers to guest house owners, passport control to people selling fruit on the beach - showed care, compassion, a genuine interest in us and a concern for our safety, and above all a deep love for their country. Despite their stories of endless cancellations over the coming months, their hospitality and optimism is one of the things I will remember most about my first trip to Sri Lanka, and it’s already made me want to return, not just for me, but for them.
Chitrabhanu Kadalayil, Indian: My first impression of Sri Lanka was that it reminded me of home, which didn’t come as a surprise given its proximity to Kerala. What struck me, however, was how much happier people seemed to be on the island; their attitude to life taking me back to a simpler time. This was strange considering I was in Seenigama, not far from Galle, to cover the rehabilitation efforts under way five years after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami took the lives of more than 30,000 people and displaced millions others. It was as if Sri Lankans, already set back by a decades-long civil war, had determined happiness to be the best response to a crisis. I have been back with my family since, for there is much richness to experience there – the bustle of Colombo, the sights of rolling hills and tea plantations that lie between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, and the serenity Horton Plains National Park has to offer.
Melissa Gronlund, American: I won’t pretend that Sigirya Rock was my finest moment. Maybe it’s better described as when my 30s definitively came to an end and I emerged, as through a chrysalis of panicked exhaustion, into my 40s, no longer buoyed by the challenge of a steep climb and a glorious finish, but muttering, hand-wringing in a corner: are these stairs safe enough? Have these guardrails been stress-tested? Should we have packed leashes for the children? Sigiriya Rock is a marvel: an entire palace, with rooms, courtyards and even swimming pools, built atop a 660 foot rock. It was erected in around 470AD and is now in ruins: you can graze through the rooms and passageways at your leisure, looking over all of Sri Lanka — if, of course, you can get up there. I worried and fretted all the way up and then once I got to the top put on a mad affected laugh as if I’d been fearless the whole way. Sigiriya Rock: I may not have conquered you, but you will live on in family lore. AFP
Rajesh Korde, Indian: Shortly after the 25-year-old civil war ended in 2009, my family decided to make a visit to Sri Lanka. It was a wonderful eight-day trip covering most of the country (barring the once rebel-held east coast). From ancient Buddhist shrines in Anuradhapura, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa to a morning climb up the treacherous rock-hewn steps of Sigiriya and not-so popular Pidurangala summits, the first four days made this tour something of a pilgrimage. The island nation is known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean and it lives up to its nickname as a hotbed for a variety of gems. We were able to visit a mine where people dug for these precious stones. Minneriya National Park safari gave us an opportunity to experience elephants in the wild, while charming, exotic, and full of history, Galle is a must-see in the south.
Hayley Skirka, Scottish: I’ve been to Sri Lanka three times in the last 11 years. The first visit was during the civil war, the second just after the Boxing Day tsunami and the third in April last year. I’ve seen a country transformed. From seeing guns and military at every corner to chatting to locals rebuilding homes that had been swept away to my most recent visit where I stayed at three brand new luxury hotels, a sign of the country’s tourism boom. Each trip brought lasting memories – from blind tasting at spice markets in Colombo to cooking traditional curry in Kalutara, learning to surf in a lagoon near Tangalle or getting lost on a moped on Galle’s cobbled streets. But the most lasting memory I have is the people. No matter where you go, you’re welcomed with warmth and smiles, and that’s the real magic of Sri Lanka.
Anna Zacharias, Canadian: Outside of a Negombo church, we met a tuktuk driver who, it turned out, had lived in the same area as Khalifa City A as my friend. He took us to meet his sisters and then to a local Perahara festival where we watched hundreds of dancers parade through the night. The next day he returned to our hotel. His wife had chided him for taking us to meet the sisters first. Now it was her turn. A few minutes later we sipping tea in the house he had built from money saved in Abu Dhabi. The following day, he saw us off at the train station. Sri Lanka is renown for its hospitality, and all it took was a Khalifa City A connection to be treated as long lost friends.
Chris Maxwell, British: From the raw, frenzied energy of the busy Colombo streets to the untainted beauty of its beautiful beaches, turquoise waters and lush greenery, Sri Lanka is several holiday experiences in one. I was taken aback by the rich beauty to be found in the country, the warmth of its people and, as a food lover, its culinary delights. Sri Lanka is a place just waiting to be explored. One minute you can be lazing on golden sands basking in beautiful sunshine, then within a short, though admittedly bumpy, tuk-tuk ride you can be in the heart of the city.
Karma Gurung, Nepalese: Almost a year ago, I visited Sri Lanka to explore its burgeoning art scene as part of a university class trip. We met young artists and filmmakers whose work were inspired by the Sri Lankan Civil War and its aftermath. I was surprised to learn about its painful history but also inspired by how involved its youth was in its documentation. When visiting Sri Lanka, stop at an art gallery or the national museum to learn about the island nation’s past. Most galleries are free to visit and you can find local artists hanging around. I also remember having an amazing meal at Nuga Gama in the Cinnamon Grand hotel, which I highly recommend for an ‘authentic’ Sri Lankan curry experience.
James Langton, British: It had been a long day travelling from the ancient hilltop fortress of Sigirya and the wild elephants in Minderiya National Park to the southern coast and the beach town of Hikkaduwa. The owners of our small hotel were insistent, though, that we shake off our fatigue and head down to the festival that was about to begin. A short tuk-tuk ride later and we were part of an excited and good-natured crowd of all ages moving towards the town’s temple. Out of the dark, a huge beast emerged. A elephant cloaked in red and gold, its body framed in strings of lights. Around it a shimmering mass of colour and movement from dances, stilt walkers and fire breathers. Eight years later the memory is as fresh as the night air of Sri Lanka.