Catherine shares some unique suggestions for Christmas vacation this season:
Christmas is an exciting time to be in Sri Lanka. The only downer is that this just happens to be the peak tourist season, so all the famous attractions are crowded to the hilt. I like to enjoy my Christmas vacations away from busloads of tourists and nagging vendors. From numerous questions and feedback I receive from friends and clients, I think that’s how most people want their Christmas vacations to be like. So, two years ago, I began a personal quest to look for hidden attractions in Sri Lanka for tranquil Christmas getaways. Honestly it was easier said than done. After (ahem) an arduous time visiting as many beaches and temples as I could, I managed to find these stunning, kind of hidden spots in Sri Lanka:
- Alankuda Beach, Kalpitiya
I completely love the scenic stretches of golden sand on Sri Lanka’s southwestern coast, except in December when the crowds descend. Instead, I prefer to escape to Kalpitiya, on the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka. Kalpitiya has become quite famous for dolphin watching, but it has yet to be known as a beach destination. My personal favorite, the Alankuda Beach, is a wide stretch of golden sand ringed by lush coconut palms. There was hardly anyone there when I went. Plus, there were so many activities offered near my comfy beach resort. Kite surfing, boat tours, cycling, and of course the dolphin-watching tours, were available. Between sunbathing sessions, I also went on exciting excursions to the nearby Wilpattu National Park to see wild elephants on a jeep safari. And another time, I had the time of my life riding a horse on the beach! Alankuda is a veritable crowd-free tropical beach paradise. I highly recommend this amazing place to anyone looking to get off the southwestern tourist trail this December.
Stunning Alankuda Beach in Kalpitiya
- Pahiyangala, Bulathsinhala
As much as I love the stunning Dambulla cave temples, I can’t stand the crowds that gather there. There’s a much less crowded and relatively isolated alternative in the western district of Kalutara, called Pahiyangala cave. It’s situated well off the tourist trail in a sleepy village called Yatagampitiya, near a town called Bulathsinhala. Pahiyangala is actually not a masterful work of art like Dambulla. Rather, it’s a massive cave locally known as stopover of the legendary Chinese travelling monk Fa Hsien. Better yet, it’s an impressive archeological site with evidence of pre-modern human settlements. When I went there, there were giant pits around the site dug by archeologists who’ve found bones and tools of hominines dating back over 30,000 years. I had to climb several steep, moss-covered steps to the cave. Inside was a huge golden statue of a reclining Buddha built recently. There were only one or two local grandmothers offering flowers to the statue. I wouldn’t call this a great Buddhist site, but I was deeply moved by the alluring natural beauty of the area.
Spectacular Pahiyangala cave
(Photo credit: Serendib magazine)
- Chundikulam Sanctuary
If you want to enjoy a thrilling wildlife getaway in Sri Lanka, but want to avoid the crowds at popular national parks like Yala, Udawalawe or Minneriya, then head over north to Chundikulam. This wildlife sanctuary was closed for the past 30 years due to the civil war, and has seen only a handful of visitors in recent years after the war’s end. I loved it because the whole area is so raw, wild and peaceful. The sanctuary borders a long stretch of unspoiled beach, where fishermen sometimes came to collect sea cucumbers. Most of the sanctuary is made up of creamy-white sand dunes that span far into the distance. There was only one guesthouse with basic amenities. It’s paradise for bird lovers. And, if you want to see sloth bears, this is perhaps the best place after Yala. Let me also tell you what I didn’t see—long lines of tourist-filled jeeps.
Stunning and peaceful Chundikulam Sanctuary
(Photo credit: Hon. Ashan Geeganage)
- Munai Beach, Point Pedro
Undiscovered beaches are almost impossible to come by, especially in southern Sri Lanka. However, the northern peninsula, that’s relatively new to tourism, has a gem of a beach called Munai, at Point Pedro, the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka. There are zero luxury hotels or restaurants anywhere near the beach. When I went there, there was no one else on the beach. Munai is one of the most pristine beaches I’ve stumbled upon in Sri Lanka. The powder-fine sand here is unusually white-gold, and the long stretch of beach was ringed by beautiful coconut palms. The best part is the shallow blue water that’s perfect for swimming. I swam here with a friend in our bikinis and no one was around to stare at or bother us. I highly recommend Munai for travelers who want to escape the raucous Christmas beach parties of the south and want to enjoy some tranquility.
White-gold Munai beach
(Photo credit: travelblog.org)
- Galkadawala Forest Lodge
It was almost like fate that I found this jaw-dropping eco-lodge tucked away inside a jungle near Habarana in north-central Sri Lanka. I love eco retreats, but I’ve been struggling to find a place that’s truly far away from it all. Then I stumbled upon Galkadawala, founded by a charismatic, nature-loving lady. The retreat has three basic rooms with mosquito nets. But the real attraction is the location. The lodge is situated by a scenic water reservoir, and the cool breeze often visited my room here. There’s no separating the lodge from the lush surrounding forest. Monkeys stared at me when I was outside, and my mornings were only interrupted by the cheerful chirping of birds. It was a great place to watch indigenous birds. In the evenings, I kayaked on the water reservoir (a place where wild elephants sometimes stopped by!) and went for long walks among verdant paddy fields. I was served meals with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Everything was perfect (except for the leeches in the jungle). I highly recommend Galkadawala for those looking for relaxing nature retreats this Christmas.
The stunning Galkadawala Forest Lodge
(Photo credit: reedsaroundtheworld.blogspot.com)
I’m still on the lookout for more Sri Lankan getaways away from the tourist trail. If you know any wonderful spots, please be kind enough to share in the comments section below.