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A sensory journey across Sri Lanka

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Nestled like a teardrop below the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka shares much in common with its neighbour. From the technicolour beauty of its landscapes to the olfactory intensity of the spices that wake up the taste buds, it offers a sensory adventure at every turn. Travelling around this small but perfectly formed island, you’ll find yourself distracted by a flash of lime as a green bee-eater darts past, or when a gentle waft of frangipani turns your head, only to have it turned once again by a plate of egg hoppers and fragrant pol sambol.

Let our local experts take you on a journey across Sri Lanka, discovering the country’s diverse landscapes, wildlife, and historic sites through the five senses.

Soak in the visual beauty of Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage

From the moment you step off the plane and into the waiting car, Sri Lanka’s energy and life unfold around you. Whether you choose to spend time exploring the capital city, Colombo, take a few days to unwind on the beaches of Negombo, or begin your journey north to the Cultural Triangle, you can’t fail to be captivated by the visual beauty of the landscapes, history, and daily life.

The Cultural Triangle is undeniably the historic jewel of the country, boasting Sigiriya Rock Fortress as one of its most visually impressive points. Rising dizzyingly from the plains around it, Sigiriya is a staggering sight that leaves you breathless, even before you’ve climbed the 1,200 steps to the top. Offering 360-degree views across the surrounding countryside, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was built around 477 A.D. and the remains of colourful frescoes, palace buildings, and landscaped gardens offer a glimpse into the distant past.

Travelling south from the Cultural Triangle brings you to the tea-dappled hills of Kandy. One-time capital city of Sri Lanka, before being conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the Dutch a century later and finally the British in 1815, Kandy wears its complex history with pride. At the heart of the town, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a feast for all the senses, but particularly the eyes. Said to house the tooth of the Buddha, it’s a key pilgrimage site for Buddhists, and monks in vibrant orange robes move serenely around the temple grounds, framed by richly-coloured frescoes. An occasional painted elephant lumbers by, while bright tuk-tuks weave around the lake.

This part of a sensory tour could take you around the entire country – after all, there’s always something new to see in Sri Lanka. From a mischievous monkey casually eating a banana on a wall while eyeing up your snack, to an endless tapestry of tea bushes tumbling down to a lake, it’s a visually mesmerising country.

Sniff out an aromatic adventure in Kandy

A stroll through Kandy’s bustling markets will have your nose twitching at every turn. Kandy Central Market in particular is a lively, colourful spot, its stalls overflowing with intriguingly-shaped fruits, fragrant spices, and local handicrafts. It can be a case of letting your senses be your guide here – the earthy scent of leather leads you to row-upon-row of handcrafted bags, while the heady aroma of piles of cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg drifts through the courtyard. Mountains of jackfruit and mangoes balance precariously below bunches of bananas, while locals barter jovially with the shopkeepers.

While in Kandy, it’s worth following your nose to a spice garden to find out how those piles of spices were grown. For centuries, Sri Lanka’s position on the Spice Route has seen fragrant cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and more exported around the world. Exploring the spice garden offers a fascinating glimpse into the origins of the cooking ingredients we have in our cupboards, and which add such aromatic intrigue to our meals.

Feel the exhilaration of white water rafting

Continue your sensory tour of the country by travelling south from Kandy to the tea country, through forested hillsides ripe with banana palms that give way to row-upon-row of perfectly manicured tea bushes. While driving this route may be quicker, part of the joy of Sri Lanka is the invitation to slow down, and taking the train allows you to do just that. As it leisurely winds its way around, and in some cases through, the hills, you’ll feel the temperature start to dip. This cooling respite from the heat of the plains is what drew the British tea planters to the area and you can almost feel the presence of the former residents in the quaint, rose-trimmed bungalows they left behind.

Though sipping tea and enjoying the more genteel pursuits of the tea country is one way to experience its charms, little beats the exhilaration of feeling the cool spray of the rapids while white water rafting in Kitulgala. While some of the rapids are class 2/3, much of the route is more gentle, allowing time to soak in the lush beauty of the landscape.

Test your taste buds in Sri Lanka’s tea country

From the fiery heat of devilled prawns to the sweet warmth of coconut sambol; if there’s one sense that’s likely to be used more in Sri Lanka than anywhere else, it’s ‘taste’. Whether feasting on lamprais, a rice dish left behind by the Dutch, feeling the heat of the chillies introduced by the Portuguese, or washing it all down with a cup of tea, Sri Lanka’s cuisine reveals the diverse cultural influences that have shaped this tiny island. Such culinary variety can be explored first-hand with a cooking lesson in a local home. Under the expert guidance of your host, you’ll be able to extend your culinary repertoire, learning new techniques, flavour combinations, and recipes before sitting down to share a meal with the family.

For the ultimate test of your taste buds, consider a tea-tasting and factory tour which offers a fascinating glimpse into the complex process of plucking, withering, rolling, drying, and grading. The British-era factories can make you feel as though you’re stepping back in time, their machinery and techniques little-changed in decades. After tasting the different grades of tea, surrounded by a blanket of emerald green studded with the tea pickers’ jewel-coloured saris, you’ll never look at your morning brew in the same way again.

Listen to birdsong in Sinharaja

Whether the sleepy sound of waves lapping the beaches of Tangalle or the call of a black-capped bulbul, the country plays a diverse soundtrack. One of the most memorable parts of a trip to Sri Lanka is the sound of the wildlife, as found on an early morning walk through the Sinharaja Rainforest. This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site is home to 830 endemic species, delivering a cacophony of orange-billed babblers, purple-faced leaf monkeys leaping from branch to branch, and the call of reed frogs from the undergrowth.

But perhaps one of the most exhilarating sounds you’ll hear in Sri Lanka is the melodic thud of an elephant lumbering through the undergrowth. A safari in Udawalawe or Yala offers the best opportunity to observe these mighty creatures in their natural environment, and while the chances are lower, you may even be lucky enough to spot a leopard. Sri Lanka boasts an incredible 22 national parks, so whatever route you take around the country, our locally-based experts can recommend a wildlife experience to suit.

Make it happen

If your senses are piqued just reading about Sri Lanka’s sights, sounds, and smells, our locally-based experts have the knowledge and experience to create a trip that’s entirely personalised to your tastes and interests. Get in touch today and start planning your trip to Sri Lanka.

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