From the busy streets in the capital of Colombo to the serene shores of the south, Kate Webster takes you on a journey chasing sunsets in Sri Lanka.
No matter where you are in Sri Lanka, one thing I found is the sunsets are magic. Some people collect souvenirs from their travels, I tend to collect sunsets.
There is something about sunsets I find alluring and romantic. It is a time to reflect on the day and give thanks for the experiences you have had, while holding the excitement that a new day is just around the corner, wrapped in mystery and adventure yet to be discovered. Also, the fact that a sunset goes hand in hand with a sundowner, you can’t lose.
My first Sri Lankan sunset arrived as I was sat in a car driving from Sigiriya to Dambulla. I had spent the morning exploring the infamous Lion Rock, an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka.
The 200-metre-high rock is a site of historical and archaeological wonder. The name Lion Rock is derived from enormous lion is carved into the rock. Climbing Lion Rock sets you back USD$30 and will take about 2 hours to take in the entire complex. It is best to visit early morning to avoid the crowds and give you enough time to move on to your next destination.
The drive from Sigiriya to Dambulla is quite scenic, winding through the country roads and avoiding the constant intervention from local buses but does take time. I unfortunately did not prepare for this, so by the time I was arriving at Jetwings Lake in Dambulla, I had to suffice for my first Sri Lankan sunset moment hanging out the window of the car. Still, it was satisfying, as the sun dipped below the mountains and farming land I passed along the way.
Waking for sunrise as a substitute the following day, I was not disappointed. Jetwings Lake is situated on a lake and surrounded by what can only be described as a serene panoramic vista. Birds morning calls broke the silence as the mist lifted off the lake and engulfed the mountainous surroundings. The golden glow spilled across the horizon as the sun rose and a hot air balloon floated silently across the horizon. For a short moment, I felt I was cheating on my love for sunset as the sunrise warmed my heart.
A property that has been built with the harmony of its surroundings in mind, Jetwings Lake is open and airy which offers an ambience of being one with nature. There was a feel of tread lightly here, not only in the fact the property’s dedication to sustainable living is evident in their operations, but the staff also seemed to breeze around with a delicate balance of helping when needed but leaving you to just enjoy being there at the same time.
From Dambulla it was time to move south. Determined to arrive at my next destination in time for sunset, I set off early. This time the chaotic traffic was broken for a moment when an old blue train chugged past and I felt transported back in time. I am told these blue trains are quite the experience in Sri Lanka and I am disappointed I am missing out on it.
Located where the southern and eastern coasts meet, Yala is the gateway to Yala National Park. The journey through provincial greenery and coastal roads is most scenic. As I get closer to Yala National Park the vegetation turns more to grassland and the sightings of elephants begin.
The elephants in the area seem accustomed to the human activity and roam right onto the road. I asked my driver to continue past the elephants and avoid feeding them in fear it just entices them more to rely on humans.
As the sun was getting low in the sky, I made my way along the outskirts of Yala National Park to check in at Jetwing Yala. Sprawled over 38 acres of uncharted coastal wilderness; Jetwing Yala is the closest hotel to Sri Lanka’s most popular natural reserve.
I was taken back by the raw beauty and wild luxury that lay before me. Harmoniously nestled amongst the surrounding bush and resting upon the shoreline of the Indian Ocean behind the dunes, Jetwings Lake makes you feel like you are one with the wilderness. After a speedy check-in, I was sat on the balcony of my room, a drink in hand and marvelling at the changing colours of the sky from pastel pinks into a burnt orange glow that reflected off the waves lapping on the shore. My mind wandered as I thought about what the following day would bring in this little piece of paradise I had found.
An early morning start took me on a game safari into Yala National Park. Being a frequent visitor to Africa and many game safaris there, I was keen to see the difference between the two destinations. Unfortunately, I found the experience quite busy and disorganised so returned to the hotel quite deflated and disappointed.
This disappointment soon dissolved as I returned to find Jetwing Yala had a glamping option, Yala Safari Camp, and there was an opening for me to stay. The tent was hardly like one you would pitch in the back yard. Nestled in the picturesque coastal dunes, these elegant tents bring together the pleasure of camping with creature comforts of modern living. A large wooden deck stretched out into the bush and it was here I would spend my next sunset in Sri Lanka.
Not only was the afternoon greeted by the setting sun, but the wildlife began to stir, finding refuge for the evening or waking for the evening hunting. I sat watching a nearby family of wild pigs, making snuffle noises as they fossicked for food under the bushes. As darkness fell the snuffle noises became louder and I realised it was no longer just the wild pigs present. The crack of sticks and rustle from the nearby bushes confirmed the presence of an elephant. As the last of the light drained from the sky, I thought to myself, you don’t need an entire National Park when the wild life comes to you at Yala Safari Camp.
From Yala I headed West along winding scenic coastal roads that lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Hiriketiya Bay. Hiriketiya Bay is a small stretch of beach that curves around the outside of Dikwella. Familiar with coastal towns, the relaxed vibe of Hiriketiya makes everyone slow down.
The place is a surfing mecca, as the curve forming a bay like shape causes the waves to come in high. Also, a hot spot for yogis, potters and designers, Hiriketiya oozes that entrepreneurial vibe. Hipster restaurants and quirky cafes are dotted along the palm tree fringed beach. I checked in to Salthouse, a short walk from the beach, run by Australians Cristal Napper and Rob Dixon.
The guesthouse has a holistic approach to your stay, with a yoga shala available for daily practice, a healthy menu packed with goodness and smoothies to boot. Rooms are designed to keep you in touch with nature while keeping a local Sri Lankan flare about them. Impressed by the ambience of Salthouse, I decided to spend a few nights here.
With plenty of time to spare for the afternoon, I wandered up the road, waving at the tuk tuk drivers that passed me. I had been told of a newly opened beachside café called Malu that served up some wholesome health in a bowl, otherwise known as a poke bowl. This sounded like a perfect lunch option before taking a quick swim to refresh from the heat.
The sunsets at Hiriketiya Bay would have to have been my favourite in Sri Lanka by far. An ice-cold glass of Mojito in my hand, funky tunes of Bob Marley serenading the crowd from a nearby café, my toes wriggling in the sand as the waves continuously lap at the beach in a rhythmic pulse. The salty air is warm and clings like a friendly hug.
It was time. The sky filled with colour, as if giving its last hoorah to the day. The sun began to set and I reflected on my time in Sri Lanka. This Land Of Serendipity had become for me, the Land of Sunsets.