Sri Lanka: A Revelation
By Ed Salvato
Sri Lanka is a feast for all the senses. This tropical island sits just a few degrees above the equator guaranteeing warm weather all year. Visitors are astonished at the depth and breadth of activities available, including surfing (in Hikkaduwa), fishing, and diving; dining on excellent fresh-caught seafood and a wide variety of luscious tropical fruit; exploring ancient civilizations and 17th-century Colonial era architecture; pampering spa facilities; great shopping (Sri Lanka is a center for the mining and finishing of precious and semi-precious stones); and animal viewing, with elephant safaris a must-do during any visit here.
Sri Lanka's first visitors were Arab traders, so Islam was the first religion on the island nation. There are still many Muslims but the predominant religion is Buddhism, followed by Hinduism. Buddhist culture tends to focus on the here and now, moving on quickly after calamities, like the war or the 2004 tsunami that killed between 30,000 and 40,000 Sri Lankans. There are also many Christians, with many gorgeous Dutch and Portuguese-constructed churches still in evidence. All religious groups get along here and, unlike neighboring India, Sri Lanka for the most part doesn't have the same sort of aggressive selling and begging that can often mar the experience of a trip there.
The gay scene is, in a word, non-existent, at least the way we in the west understand it. Technically speaking homosexuality is outlawed here though the law is not enforced with respect to foreigners or locals for that matter, but it does put a damper on the open expression of homosexuality. All visitors -- straight, gay, single or in couples -- are accorded a sincerely warm welcome. Both male and female locals look you in the eye and are quick with a smile and a laugh. Most Sri Lankans wear traditional clothing, which for the men is a lungee (or sarong), a long tube-shaped skirt worn to the ankles or folded to the knees. Sometimes they don't wear a shirt, which is very sexy considering most men are lean and muscular.
You may visit on a tour or independently. There's a very good train system and roads though they are quite crowded and it can take a surprisingly long time to cover even short distances. For first timers, the best approach to visiting this island may be to choose a hotel that offers dining, drinking and spa options and that can arrange pick ups, transfers and activities around the hotel property. Sri Lanka has two rainy seasons that take place at different times of the year in different areas making it a year-round destination. The best and driest seasons are from December to March on the west and south coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September on the east coast. They are working on reopening air service to the south (suspended during the civil war) and on completing a highway, which should considerably reduce travel time from the airport in Negombo to the south, where many upscale resorts are located including the two described here.