Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Sri Lanka

Emma Emma on Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka © Emma Sparks

Emma Sparks, Deputy Editor at Lonely Planet, recently returned from a two-week trip to Sri Lanka.

Tell us more… My boyfriend and I travelled in a loop from Colombo to Kandy and along the southwest coast, spotting elephants in Uda Walawe National Park, pushing our tastebuds to the limit with spicy curries and paddling in the bathwater-warm sea.

In a nutshell… Sri Lanka is home to world-class train journeys, fiery-hot food, an abundance of wildlife and glorious beaches. There’s loads to see and do – think national parks, temple upon temple and colonial towns – but chilling out on the coast can be just as tempting. The island is larger than people tend to assume and journeys between points on the map can take longer than expected due to winding, narrow roads and mountainous terrain – so my advice would be to plan your itinerary with this in mind, and be prepared to improvise!

Mirissa Spend a day chilling out in paradise aka Mirissa Beach © Emma Sparks

Defining moment? Sitting on the deck of our thatched-roofed cabana at twilight, watching the waves crash onto Goyambokka beach. Each sunset, hundreds of birds would screech and swoop in unison, ushering in the darkness. Falling asleep to the sound of the ocean isn’t something Londoners like me get to experience every day. It was bliss.

Good grub? Let’s just say the No 1 Dewmini Roti Shop in Mirissa deserves its Lonely Planet ‘Top Choice’ status – the food was so delicious we ate there three times. Kotthu, made from chopped roti, vegetables and various spices, is the ultimate Sri Lankan comfort food; opt for the spicy version to taste the real deal. Everywhere you go you’ll be offered tea sourced from the Hill Country plantations (also well worth a visit), which can be surprisingly refreshing in the heat.

Adam's peak Waterfalls on the descent from Adam's Peak © Emma Sparks

If you do one thing… Climb Adam’s Peak. Speak to any Sri Lankan and chances are they’ve reached the summit at least once – it’s a popular pilgrimage route, as an indent in the rock at the top is said to be Buddha’s footprint. The route from Hatton is steep and unforgiving – start at 2am to reach the peak for sunrise. Unfortunately for us, a blanket of clouds meant the view was lacking, but the descent delivered, revealing grand distant waterfalls and luscious green forest.

Quintessential experience? Taking a tuk-tuk is a must in many Asian countries, but in Sri Lanka, it’s all about the buses. Decked out with fairy lights and TVs that blast out the latest music videos, crammed full of people young and old, these rickety vehicles career along the coastline at full throttle, honking loudly and barely braking to pick up savvy locals and unwitting travellers. Hot, chaotic and ridiculously cheap, if you want a true sense of Sri Lanka, this is it.

Watch the interview