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Colombo Short Stay – Your Posh Condo in the City

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With a magnificent setting in the 22nd floor of the Emperor Building, itself part of the five-star Cinnamon Grand’s complex, the luxury condo offered by Colombo Short Stay was an incredible place to spend our last night in Sri Lanka. Out on the balcony, with a bottle of red wine and a view that stretches over the Indian Ocean and most of the city, we couldn’t have found a better spot to wrap up our journey.

Rent Apartment in Colombo

The modern condo has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, sleeps six people, and combines the best aspects of a private apartment and a luxury hotel. Within the condo, you’ll enjoy the comforts of home, like high-speed internet (the fastest we’ve had in Sri Lanka), a huge flat-screen TV, BluRay player, washing machine, giant fridge, cozy furniture, and a well-equipped kitchen. Then you can step outside into the world of a five-star hotel — a swimming pool, incredible (and surprisingly affordable) restaurants, a workout room with ultra-modern machines and great shopping.

The Emperor Building is in one of the best neighborhoods of Colombo, right between the Galle Face Green and Temple Trees, which is where the president lives. And you have one of the city’s best shopping complexes, Crescat Boulevard, mere minutes away.

If you’re staying in Colombo for an extended period of time, definitely take a look at the availability in this condo. It also makes a lot of sense for families or small groups, who might otherwise have to rent multiple hotel rooms. We loved our stay here, and were happy to have such a comfortable final home in Sri Lanka.

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April 30, 2012 at 7:58 am Comment (1)

The Habaraduwa Turtle Hatchery

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Our Sea Turtle Excursion at Rekawa Beach

Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most important breeding spots for the endangered sea turtle, but heavy development of the coast has contributed greatly to their ever-declining number. To combat that trend, a number of hatcheries have opened along the southern coast. We visited one in Habaraduwa.

Super-Cute-Turtle

The small hatchery, which cost 400 rupees per person, was split into a few sections. A curiously tiny patch of sand in the corner contained batches of eggs (or “clutches”). Each was labeled with the date they were laid, the number of eggs in the clutch, and the exact species. We were told that about one set of eggs hatches every day. I was surprised how tightly the clutches were placed next to each other.

The rest of the hatchery was occupied by a bunch of water tanks. In one, dozens of baby turtles swam clumsily about. They were cute, and would stay in captivity until their fourth day of life before being released into the ocean. Our guide explained that when they’re a bit older, their chances of survival increase dramatically.

Other tanks held injured turtles, including one I nicknamed “Stumpy”. A propeller had carved Stumpy’s right flipper clean off, and the poor guy could no longer submerge. Instead he floated around on top of the water, continually rotating his stump. Five other turtles which had been found clinging to life on the beach, including a couple impressively large specimens, swam about their tanks, recovering in the hatchery until they could be re-released.

The Habaraduwa Hatchery is a private enterprise, unaffiliated with any offical conservation organization. And it was impossible to ignore the disquieting possibility, or likelihood even, that it’s more interested in tourist dollars than protecting sea turtles. The cold reality is that private individuals are going out at night, digging up sea turtle eggs from the beach, bringing them to their property, and then charging tourists to see them.

Seaturtle.org has a comprehensive article on the pros and cons of Sri Lanka’s private hatcheries. The truth is, something has to be done to protect these beautiful, endangered creatures. And if the government won’t step in with an official and adequately enforced conservation effort, private hatcheries might be the next best thing. Yes, they might just want our cash, but this might be one of those rare instances when the interests of capitalism and conservation align. Ultimately, we enjoyed our trip here and felt that it was an enterprise worth tentative support.

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April 27, 2012 at 8:47 am Comment (1)

A Sea Turtle Excursion at Rekawa Beach

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Sri Lanka has the extraordinary privilege of welcoming five of the world’s seven species of sea turtle to its shores. The turtles, who travel around the world and across entire oceans, somehow know to return to their natal beaches when the time comes to reproduce. At night, they emerge from the ocean and lay their eggs in the sand. At Rekawa Beach, the Turtle Conservation Project keeps a watchful eye over the eggs and provides tourists a rare opportunity to see the giant creatures clamber onto land.

Rekawa-Turtle-Watching

We showed up at 8pm, on April 11th — the same day as the massive 8.6 earthquake in Sumatra which sparked a tsunami warning across Sri Lanka. So we had accepted the possibility that the rough weather and seismic instability might discourage the turtles from braving the shore. But after only a few minutes of waiting in the dark (which afforded us the chance to admire the stars; something we’d missed in bright, densely-packed Sri Lanka), a flashlight down the beach alerted us to the presence of a turtle.

The turtles require a sense of solitude while they make their way out of the water. If they detect a human, they’ll abandon their attempt and return another day. Leaving behind an interesting track that looks like a Monster Truck’s tire, they head towards the shrubbery at end of the beach, and choose a spot for their eggs which is safe from the water and (hopefully) predators. People are allowed to approach only once the turtles have started the process of laying the eggs, which can take over a half-hour and during which they’ll remain absolutely immobile.

We waited patiently while the turtle, barely visible in the dark from about twenty meters away, chose a suitable place for her future babies. Unfortunately, something spooked her, because our guide suddenly urged us to run towards her on the beach, as she was escaping back into the water. A huge and beautiful creature, she could move a lot faster than I would have believed and I felt awful chasing after her, trying to snap pictures.

That was it. The guide brought us back and asked for our 2000 Rupee donation. We were disappointed — the night had just begun, and we didn’t understand why we couldn’t wait for the next turtle. But, he didn’t seem to care; we had seen our turtle, and now he could return to hanging out in the hut with his buddies.

Oh well. We had just seen a wild sea turtle on a deserted beach during a beautifully starry night. In the end, it was hard to complain.

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April 24, 2012 at 3:33 am Comments (5)

The Ruins of Polonnaruwa, Part I

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Travel Insurance For Sri Lanka

You’ll want to get an early start when you visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, for a few reasons. Mornings are cooler. The later the day gets, the more tourists arrive. And the archaeological site is so large that, even with a bike, you’ll need an entire day to see everything. But the chief reason is that you’ve just paid $25 to enter. And damned if you’re not going to get every single rupee’s worth.

Lankatikale
Lankatikale

You might assume that tickets would be sold at site’s entrance gate, but then… you might have forgotten what country you’re in. No, you have to make your way to the Archaeological Museum, which isn’t anywhere near the entrance. At 8am sharp, we stepped up to the desk and, with big grins plastered on our faces, plopped down $50 for two day passes. “Any chance we could get a map?” No map. “Or some information about the ruins?” No info. “How about a hug?”

Our plan was to bike to the northern end of the site (nearly 2.5 miles in length), and work our way back towards the south. This turned out to be a good idea; we were completely alone for the first part of the day, and had a good sense of the park’s layout before checking out specific sights.

Tivanka Image House

First up was the amazing Tivanka-patamaghara image house. The exterior, under a heavy layer of scaffolding, was difficult to appreciate but the interior was breathtaking. Tivanka means “thrice-bent”, referring to the sassy pose of the giant Buddha housed within (bent at shoulder, knee and waist). There was also an impressive collection of original paintings on the walls.

Lotus Pond Polonnaruwa

One of our favorite sights in Polonnaruwa was the modest and graceful lotus-shaped pond, near the image house. Still in a remarkable state of conservation, this was thought to be used for ritual baths. It would make an awesome hot tub.

Polonnaruwa-Travel-Blog

Probably the most famous of Polonnaruwa’s ancient monuments are the four Buddhas of Gal Vihara. Carved from a single rock, these statues are beautifully upheld; the massive reclining Buddha is especially revered. Unfortunately, these amazing relics of the past have been shielded from the sun by an enormous roof of concrete and steel: a modern monstrosity which ruins the magic of the place, and ensures that the statues can never be properly photographed.

Pollonaruwa

Further south, we found the remains of the Alahana Pirivena monastery. These included the Kiri Vihara, a nice-looking white stupa, and the awesome Lankatikale which is a temple that protects a giant headless Buddha statue between its narrow walls (seen in the top pic). A bit further south is the Buddha Seema Pasada chapter house.

The ruins of Polonnaruwa are nicely preserved and the light forest setting is quite beautiful. After we had explored the Buddha Seema Pasada, though, the crowds began to appear. Whereas we were always able to find pockets of solitude in the extensive grounds of Anuradhapura, there was no escape in Polonnaruwa. Weary, we sat down at a canteen near a large pond, for coconut and rotti. This bit of rest and relaxation was vital — we weren’t yet halfway through the ruins, and still had a long day in front of us.

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Stone Statue Buddha
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Indiana Jones Sri Lanka
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April 8, 2012 at 11:19 am Comments (7)

The Beach at Nilaveli

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Cheap Places To Stay in Trincomalee

Nilaveli Beach, about fifteen kilometers north of Trinco, was once one of eastern Sri Lanka’s favorite destinations. But then the twin catastrophes of Civil War and tsunami came along. The devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami left 35,000 Sri Lankans dead and displaced a further half million, mostly along the eastern coast. Nilaveli has spent the last few years in recovery mode and, if our short visit was any indication, it’s ready to welcome visitors back.

Dream Beach Sri Lanka

We hopped on a local bus from Trinco to the Nilaveli Beach Hotel: perhaps the most celebrated place to stay in the Eastern Province. Every local knows where it is, and the bus dropped us off right at the entrance. This resort hotel is truly beautiful, with a great restaurant, large, clean pool and a laid-back, almost Caribbean ambiance. But we skipped right through, on our way to the beach.

Two islands sit off the coast of Nilaveli, almost close enough to swim to (although it’s both dangerous and illegal to try): Pigeon Island and, a bit further out, Coral Island. Pigeon Island is known as one of the best spots in the country to snorkel. We considered going out, but learned that authorities have recently started charging foreigners those discriminatory entrance fees that Sri Lanka is so wild about. After talking to a couple who had gone out the day before, we took a pass. $85 for two people to snorkel around a heavily-damaged reef. Eh, there are better ways to spend that money.

Despite its name, the reefs of Coral Island are apparently damaged and bleached beyond all hope.

Spending our day on the sand instead of in the water was a fine consolation. After swimming and chatting with the military stationed around the beach, we went over the hotel and had a couple drinks over lunch. In all, a great day.

Location of Nilaveli Beach Hotel on our Map

Sri Lanka Beach Guide
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April 6, 2012 at 10:32 am Comment (1)

Uppaveli Beach

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A gorgeous stretch of beach just a few kilometers north of the city, Uppaveli was our home during the week we spent in Trincomalee. A chain of hotels lines the coast, but we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. After trips to action-packed cities like Kandy and Jaffna, a little sun, sand and solitude was exactly what we needed.

Dream Vacation

We stayed in the Aqua Inns, which has just recently come under the management of Fernando and Jo. They were still in the process of sprucing the place up, but our room was comfortable, clean and had an incredible view of the ocean (ask for room 115 for the view). The best part of the Aqua Inns is Fernando’s Bar. A stilted beach hut with cozy furniture and a breeze, this was my unofficial office during the week. And it was here that we spent every evening, with a cold beer or arrack.

There’s not much to Uppaveli Beach apart from the warm water, fine sand, and utter natural beauty, but what else do you need? We walked one day towards the north, where a small river empties out into the sea. After crossing the river, we arrived at a small rock outcrop with a beach made of coral and, just past that, a neat Hindu temple. That was a fun twenty-minute hike, and afterwards we felt another beer at the bar was totally justified.

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April 2, 2012 at 8:25 am Comments (8)

The Deer of Trinco

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Our first day in Trinco, while we were walking up Fort Frederick Road, we spotted a small deer in a park. Of course, deer are skittish, but we were unusually nearby and no “danger alarm” seemed to be going off in his head. Then we noticed another deer, walking alongside dogs, and another approaching a group of people. Then we saw someone petting one. Then I pet one. And after that, we watched a couple guys share their rice and curry with one. And that’s when I figured out there must be LSD in my water.

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But I wasn’t drugged, nor had we fallen into a rabbit hole and emerged in a Disney-esque land of wicked queens and singing chipmunks. Trincomalee, for whatever reason, has a large population of spotted deer who are perfectly comfortable and even sociable with humans. They’re especially prevalent inside Fort Frederick, but can be seen all throughout the city, foraging for grass and begging like dogs for food.

Cool. Every time you think you’ve basically figured out Sri Lanka, you get taken completely off guard.

Hotels in Trincomalee

Protect The Deer
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April 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm Comments (0)

The Besieged Fort of Jaffna

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Hotels In Jaffna

In 1618, the Portuguese built an enormous fort in Jaffna, to help protect their hard-won property. Colonial-era forts are fairly common across the world, but Jaffna’s must be one of the very few which continued to see action until the late 20th century. Recently re-opened to visitors, it was one of the first things we checked out in Jaffna.

Jaffna Fort

The Portuguese ruled Jaffna until 1658, when the Dutch sailed into town and took over. De Nederlanders expanded the fort and, after a century and half of dominance in northern Sri Lanka, ceded control to the British in 1795. Years after the tumultuous colonial years, the fort was the scene of major battles during the Sri Lankan Civil War. The LTTE controlled it until 1995, when a 50-day siege by the army finally uprooted them. Walking around the fort today, it’s immediately obvious how incredible the fight must have been. Almost everything is in ruins.

We were far from alone during our visit to the fort, which has apparently become a popular spot for a Saturday stroll. I’m unsure, though, whether the people visiting were from Jaffna or further afield. Now that the war is over, the peninsula has become a hot tourist zone for Sri Lankans, who hadn’t been able to visit the northern section of their country for decades. Perhaps even more than the fort itself, Jürgen and I were big attractions among the visiting families, asked to pose for picture after picture. It was a surreal, humorous touch to what had been a rather sobering day out.

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March 27, 2012 at 1:34 pm Comments (2)
Colombo Short Stay - Your Posh Condo in the City With a magnificent setting in the 22nd floor of the Emperor Building, itself part of the five-star Cinnamon Grand's complex, the luxury condo offered by Colombo Short Stay was an incredible place to spend our last night in Sri Lanka. Out on the balcony, with a bottle of red wine and a view that stretches over the Indian Ocean and most of the city, we couldn't have found a better spot to wrap up our journey.
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