Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is what happens when you take an island resembling paradise and add a few thousand years of cross-cultural percolation. English sailors, Dutch traders, Portuguese spice merchants – they’ve all called Sri Lanka home. And they left behind a colonial legacy that makes this tea-scented spice island a historical goldmine. One minute you’re climbing a 1500 year-old Kashyapa temple, the next you’re checking out a colonial church in Colombo, chatting with Tamil fisherman or sipping a Ceylon brew in the misty highlands of Kandy. Our Sri Lanka tours are all about cramming as much colour (and curry) into your trip as possible. Trust us, you’ll soon see why they call this place the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It’s important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.

Top responsible travel tips for Sri Lanka:

  • Be considerate of Sri Lanka’s customs, traditions, religions and culture.
  • Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered, especially when entering places of worship.
  • For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.
  • Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.
  • When bargaining at markets, stay calm, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It’s meant to be fun!
  • Learn some local language and don’t be afraid to use it – simple greetings will help break the ice.
  • Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.
  • Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.
  • Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
  • When on community visits or homestays, refrain from giving gifts or money to locals.

Sitting at Anuradhapura Railway Station just after sunrise, I thumb through the few pages in my guidebook devoted to Sri Lanka’s least-visited region one more time. I have almost no expectations for Jaffna, despite having researched this trip for nearly a year.

I know it will be different from the rest of Sri Lanka, but I’m not entirely sure how. I expect it to be hot, and I expect there to be some remnants of the decades-long civil war that ravaged the city, its residents, and the north in general.

There has been precious little written about Jaffna and the north of Sri Lanka compared to the rest of the island. Until recently, this was not a stop on any western tourist’s itinerary, and unlike the well-trodden southern surfer trail, I don’t anticipate hordes of backpackers cramming into endless juice shops and souvenir stands.

If you dropped me in the middle of Jaffna without telling me where I was, my first guess might be North Africa. Maybe Algiers. The small skyline is dotted with spires and onion domes, the salty sea air is hot with spices and the unrelenting sun. I would never guess Sri Lanka. Although I’ve been on the island for over two months already, Jaffna looks nothing at all like my beloved Ceylon. Even the language on the street signs has changed, to angular Tamil from the curvy flowers of Sinhalese.

Arriving at my hotel by tuktuk, I’m greeted by an impeccably dressed young man in a black and gold silk suit and matching turban. He takes my bag and opens the lobby door in one swift movement. Two sari-clad women glide forward to usher me into a plush armchair while another brings me a cool glass of tart wood apple juice and a chilled face towel. An ornate brass tray is placed in front of me and the ladies recite a Hindu blessing as one of them dabs a bit of fragrant tilaka paste on my forehead. This sandalwood-scented paste is a traditional Hindu sign of welcome for an honored guest.

This is the perfect introduction to what was once one of the most sophisticated and refined places in all of Sri Lanka. After spending a week exploring Jaffna, witnessing the dignity and determination with which its citizens are rebuilding their lives and communities, I feel confident in saying that one day it is sure to be that elegant enclave again.

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