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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.