Posts Tagged ‘Colombo’

Travel Eye: Discover Sri Lanka’s East Coast



The lagoons are vast, the beaches deserted, the colonial ruins overgrown but full of history. Then there’s the food… Don’t get me started on the food. Kottu rotis, hoppers, kiribath (milk rice), spicy lamb curries, crabs and prawns coated in thick coconut sauce – it’s foodie heaven.

Since the civil war ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has become a top Asian holiday spot. Most flock to the south and western beaches as they are easier to access from the capital’s Bandaranaike International Airport, but the east and north have their own tales to entice you.

The vibe here is relaxed; there isn’t a huge amount to sight-see, rather plenty to immerse in: markets, cafés, fishing villages. The palm-fringed beaches are wide and relatively empty; the waves are a surfer’s paradise. There’s the odd army barrack – a sign of events recently passed. A few resorts are starting to pop up but accommodation tends to be basic, homely. It’s still all about the local people and the simple life here – and that’s what makes the east coast a joy to visit. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss:

1. Trincomalee

A Portuguese fort, a temple on a hill and a beautiful bay – Trincomalee is the place to sight-see if all the chilling gets too much. Wind your way along Dutch Bay’s crescent to Fort Frederik’s incline – and you’ll be rewarded at the top by the colourful Koneswaram Hindu Temple and a panoramic view over town. Book a room at the Orr’s Hill House (from £27 per night) for a slice of local hospitality and homemade curries.

2. Passekudah Beach


The only resort-centred area in the east, Passekudah is for those who are looking for a more luxurious stay. Four and five star hotels dot the beach with white sands running seamlessly into the turquoise sea. Catch the shade under the perfect palms – and at just an hour away from Trincomalee, it’s an easy day visit.

3. Nilaveli Beach


About seven kilometres north of Trincomalee, Nilaveli is not quite as idyllic as Vakari, but certainly has a whole lot less rubbish to contend with. Fishermen park their boats on the sand and the waves are a lot friendlier than the surf down in Arugam Bay – perfect for little ones to play.

4. Batticaloa Lagoon


Known as the ‘Land of the Singing Fish’ – legend says you can hear the music coming from the water under the Kallady Bridge at full moon – Batticaloa is a peaceful place to be. Check in to the Riviera Resort by the lagoon for £20 per night and you can while away evenings in hammocks, listening to the sound of the breeze whistling through the trees. Or you can visit one of the many eateries – Cafe Chill serves up western-style fries, fish fingers, bolognese and fried chicken, while the Riviera restaurant will tantalise your taste buds with spicy lamb curries, creamy dahl, roti, hoppers, rice and more…

5. Vakari Beach


Soft golden sands, no one around for miles – this is one of the east’s most beautiful stretches of beach. Sadly, as it is so deserted – it has also become a bit of a dumping ground. Of course, with a little care and attention, this will change – but for now, be prepared to dodge a few bottles and branches en route to the sea.

6. Minneriya National Park

About 40 minutes inland from Trincomalee, you’ll find this beautiful national park – and your chance to see some incredible wildlife. It is here that the island’s famous ‘Gathering’ occurs in the dry season – where wild elephants come from miles around to gather by the reservoir. Rice Villas offer private rooms on a paddy field (£27 per night) and hire a local guide for a truly wild adventure.

7. Navalady Beach


The point where Batticaloa lagoon meets the ocean is where you’ll find most of the town’s fishermen at work. Stop for a while and you’ll witness the precision and determination that goes into making a living here – and if you’re lucky, you might get a fresh catch to take back to the Riviera restaurant for a supper.

8. Arugam Bay


Every August, hundreds of pro surfers from around the world descend upon this little town for the annual Arugam Bay International Surfing Competition. If you’re not already a boarder, this is the place to learn – with plenty of schools dotting the main road. Located at the popular Surfer’s Point, Mambos is the place to watch the action, while Samantha’s Folly offers cabanas for £16 per night.

The deal


Kick back with Etihad Airways and you won’t be disappointed at the leg room – or the impressively up-to-date movie list. Return flights to Colombo‘s Bandaranaike Airport via Abu Dhabi start at £435 (Economy) and £1,595 (Business).

A one-way sleeper train ticket from Colombo to Trincomalee costs Rs760 (£3.50). Local tuk-tuk journeys shouldn’t cost more than Rs150 (60p). Hiring a car and driver starts from Rs5,000 (£25) plus petrol per day.

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Shangri-La increases investment to US$ 450 m

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The Shangri-La hotel chain, which will be initiating Sri Lanka’s first seven star hotel, has revised its plan of construction and has decided to increase their investment to US $450 million, excluding the cost of the land and along with an increase of rooms from the initial 500 to 625. The hotel is to be built on 10 acres of land overlooking the Galle Face Green.

The land was initially bought in 2010 with a price tag of US $ 125 million and the approval for the construction was received in the same year. With the increase of rooms and a newer plan already paving the way for the new building, the deadline has also gone up, with hopes for the project to see completion in 2017, though the preliminary plan was to finish the project in 2015.

The proposal for the new project has already been approved and the tax concessions will remain the same. With the project seeing fruition, the Electricity Board (CEB) will also have to shift one of their high-tension cables which are getting in the way of the construction and therefore, there are discussions underway between the relevant authorities with regard to this.

Shangri-La Colombo will comprise of a sushi bar, steakhouse, seafood market and Irish pub, specialty restaurants with Indian, Islamic, Szechuan and Macanese cuisines, a Sky lounge, meeting facilities, a swimming pool, spa and tennis courts.

In addition to this, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort and Spa, which is also in the pipeline, is set to include an 18-hole golf course and is set to offer 315 rooms, including 24 suites. Hambantota Resort and Spa will also comprise of a Sanctuary.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is a Hong Kong based company and five star properties are located across Asia, the Middle East, North America, Oceania and Europe. The first hotel of the group was the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore and this opened in 1971.

The chain is the largest Asian-based luxury hotel group in the region and is regarded as one of the world’s finest hotel management companies.


Sri Lanka, every holiday seeker’s cup of tea

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Tucked away at the bottom of India and surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the island of Sri Lanka is a haven for wildlife, filled with solitary beaches and snorkelling opportunities, plates of spicy curries, bustling cities and temples galore.

The usual mentality of people visiting Sri Lanka is to choose either the greenery or wildlife of the hill country and the north, or the relaxing vibe of the south, where all those beautiful beaches are. However, there’s no reason why a trip to Sri Lanka can’t take in the best bits of the whole country – particularly now that the previously war-torn north has become more accessible to tourists (although there is still a visible presence of the former situation in the region, such as checkpoints and so on). A well-planned trip to the country has the potential to include everything from a surf lesson in Weligama and a dive to an old shipwreck to a cooking course in Galle town and elephant feeding in Kandy.


Many travellers pass through this sprawling city and head down to the south without as much as a backward glance. Don’t make the same mistake – Colombo has plenty to offer visitors, from museums, galleries and tours to balloon rides, meditation centres, golf, shopping and restaurants.

Things to do

Get your camera out and be prepared for a whole lot of sightseeing. Colombo has a seemingly endless list of temples, churches, mosques, bell towers, and period buildings to see; and yes, some of them really are worth a visit. The Sri Kailawasanathar Swami Devasthanam Kovil is said to be the oldest Hindu Temple in the country and is one of the most elaborately decorated buildings you’re likely to see, while the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple is the most famous Buddhist site in the city. For culture vultures, the Colombo National Museum houses artefacts important to Sri Lanka’s history, while the National Art Gallery alongside the museum is a great place to check out the country’s best artists. Indoor exploring isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and luckily Colombo has an abundance of outdoor activities.

The cycling tour of the city is a great way to get your bearings and see Colombo’s hotspots. Choose from a suburban cycling tour – taking in the Talangama Wetlands, semi-urban areas, and lake surrounding the Sri Lankan Parliament – or the urban tour, which includes the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, Manning Market station, and Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court.

If you’re keen to stay active, but want to try something a little more adventurous, there are white-water rafting trips in the area, or you can organise a hot air balloon trip over the city. When all the ballooning, biking, and general hubbub of the city gets to be a little bit much, relaxation is the order of the day. There are seemingly hundreds of day spas in Colombo, which offer everything from a quick foot rub to a full-on body polish. If you’re in need of an even longer break from the hustle and bustle, there are several yoga classes (or courses) to try.

Going out

Although Colombo doesn’t have quite the nightlife reputation of Bangkok or Hong Kong, like any big, bustling city there are still plenty of pubs, clubs and bars to be found. Curry Leaf restaurant is well known for serving fantastic Sri Lankan fare, and there is also plenty of street food on offer from stalls dotted around the city. Big spenders would be well-advised to head to the Fort district – which is also the financial centre of the city – where there are a string of upmarket cocktail bars, as well as fancy hotel dining. Alternatively, a little way down Galle Road, there are a number of drinking establishments and clubs (both classy and questionable) to choose from.


Escape the city’s hustle and bustle at Colombo Beach Hostel in Mount Lavinia, or, for a more central location close to the action, try Clock Inn Colombo.

Galle and surrounding areas

Although many people consider a visit to Sri Lanka incomplete without including beach time in Unawatuna or a stroll around Galle fort, the area is refreshingly free of crowds and largely unspoilt by tourism.

Things to do

In such a beautiful area, it’s hard to muster up the energy to do anything bar taking pictures and kicking back with a cocktail. However, Galle and the areas nearby (including Unawatuna and Koggala) have a lot more to offer. A stroll around Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must. Much of the fort’s walls are now covered in grass, facing out into the sea, and there are more than a few photo opportunities here. In the town of Galle itself, cafés, cute shops and restaurants are dotted up and down picturesque streets, and locals are more than happy to point you in the direction of top-notch grub.

The little town is also a great place to book onto a Sri Lankan cooking course. Most lessons will encompass a market tour – where you can see exactly which spices and produce are going into the food you’ll prepare later – and are a great way to take some knowledge of the country’s delicious cuisine back home with you. Plus, you get to eat at the end of the evening. Winner. Just outside Galle, near Koggala, it’s possible to book onto a rainforest trek to learn more about the country’s ecosystem and spot exotic birds, monkeys aplenty and, unfortunately, the odd leech. Top tip: long sleeves and trousers are a must. In Koggala itself, the turtle hatchery (yes, it is as cute as it sounds) is a great place to see baby turtles, and, for a lucky few, release them back into the sea. If you’re fortunate enough to be in Sri Lanka between December and April, the area is a perfect base from which to book a whale watching trip. Tours take place about an hour’s drive from Koggala and start at around 6 am (so get set for an early wake-up call). All that yawning is worth it though; you’re likely to spot sperm whales, blue whales and dolphins.

Going out

Head to one of the beachfront bars and restaurants in Unawatuna for some Sri Lankan food and beer (or try the locally brewed arrack, which is distilled from the sap of coconut flowers, if you’re feeling brave). You’re also likely to find the odd late-night bar or low-key club alongside one of these stretches of beach if retiring early doesn’t float your boat, but be warned – Ministry of Sound it ain’t. Think drunken dancing in flip flops to dubious music with a gaggle of other backpackers.


Treat yourself with an eco-luxury style stay on an oldtea plantation at or try one of the many (cheaper) backpacker hostels in Unawatuna.

Courtesy: tntmagazine 

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Rotana Jet begins Colombo and Mattala flights

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3 flights a week effective 9 April from Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi

Rotana Jet will today operate to two of its latest destinations Colombo and Mattala in Sri Lanka. The airline will operate three flights per week from Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi to Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and to the second international gateway, using an Airbus A319 aircraft in Business and Economy Class.  Rotana Jet will increase the frequencies to six flights a week soon.
Abu Dhabi-based Rotana Jet operates both Executive Charter and Scheduled Airline services. It was the first domestic airline of UAE when it began operations in 2012. The airline currently operates flights to Bahrain, Muscat and Salalah in addition to the flights to Sir Bani Yas Island, Fujairah, Delma and Dubai. Rotana Jet’s Commercial and Planning Director Rajendran Vellapalath said: “Rotana Jet is glad to announce Colombo and Mattala as its first international destination’s outside the GCC. The Sri Lankan expatriate community and the increasing number of tourists visiting Sri Lanka will have greater access with the newly-introduced flights from Rotana Jet. “We take this opportunity to thank MP Namal Rajapakse for extending his fullest support for the successful progress and launch of our operations and making this new service a reality. We also acknowledge the assistance provided by all other authorities, particularly the Ministry of Civil Aviation. We are delighted to contribute to the connectivity between UAE and Sri Lanka with a good product and affordable fares.” For travellers from the capital, flights will operate between Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi and Colombo and Mattala on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The Abu Dhabi to Colombo and Mattala flights will depart Abu Dhabi Al Bateen Airport on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 05:00 hrs while the Thursday flight will depart at 23:45 hrs. The return flights will arrive at Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 18:00 hrs and on Fridays at 11:45 hrs. Rotana Jet has entered an interline relationship with Sri Lankan airlines. Rotana Jet passengers will have immediate connections to and from South Indian destinations like Chennai, Trichy, Trivandrum, Cochin, etc. via Colombo. “Rotana Jet also offers all inclusive holiday packages to Sri Lanka at affordable rates. Non-stop flights to Colombo offers passengers travelling from UAE with yet another unique holiday option to experience and we believe will create a wide range of new options for the tourism and business sectors. Rotana Jet is gearing up for an year of expansion with new routes steadily opening up, keeping in line with our commitment to provide passengers with choice and great value,” added Vellapalath. Rotana Jets scheduled flights to Colombo, Mattala and other destinations can be booked either through the website, through the call centre on +971 (2) 444 0002 or through travel agents.

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Convention Bureau to promote Base Jumping

While Colombo is fast becoming a place of ‘happening’, the latest addition to the event list would be base jumping. Sri Lanka Convention Bureau (SLCB) is facilitating Draig Technologies of Canada to organise this event in June this year and the team is already in Sri Lanka Selecting locations and doing the trials. They have already tested jumps from WTC, BOC Buildings and Bambarakanda. Today it will be a trail in Diyaluma. “Base Jumping is more exciting than para jumps because of the perceived risk factor and the thrill of having to jump within a given distance,” says Sri Lanka Convention Bureau General Manager Vipula Wanigasekera. “We are thankful to Defence Authorities for facilitating this process,” he says. This event will not only publicise Sri Lanka overseas as a location for base jumping, but also bring in revenue with the participants who follow this event from all over the world. The recce team here is led by Gareth Parry to identify locations and SLCB will assist the organisers and local handling Company Aitken Spence Conventions to make this event a success says Wanigasekera.

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Essential Experiences launches ‘Gourmet Rails’ on Viceroy II

All-new railway tourism concept featuring gastronomic delights, iconic properties and unmatched luxury

By Marianne David

Going beyond sun, sea and sand to offer a high-end gourmet experience on rails in luxurious comfort, Essential Experiences recently launched a concept that is guaranteed to meet the expectations of the most discerning traveller. Adding a new dimension to railway tourism, Essential Experiences’ ‘Gourmet Rails’ is introducing a first-of-its-kind adventure in Sri Lanka where people can discover the country via rail while indulging in gastronomic delights on board the Viceroy II.

This experimental gourmet wine and spirit tour is the brainchild of Essential Experiences Founder/CEO Venushe Wickramarathne, a Sri Lankan born entrepreneur who has made his way back from Switzerland with dreams of setting up shop where he says he heart belongs.

A graduate in hotel and hospitality management (Switzerland), Wickramarathne asserts that ‘Gourmet Rails’ is an experience that will push the boundaries and open up a new dimension in travel experiences in Sri Lanka. “This is a new and unique experience that we can market to the world and it will help draw in high-end customers. We can’t keep saying we are focusing on high-end tourism without having high-end experiences to suit that clientele,” he emphasised. Once he had the experience clearly mapped in his mind, Wickramarathne approached JF Tours and Travels, which owns the Viceroy II – the most luxurious carriage in Sri Lanka at present.
“I have nothing but praise for JF Tours and Travels and its Managing Director Pavithra Fernando.

When I heard they were manufacturing the carriage, I approached them when it was still in the conceptual stage. When I proposed the concept, they backed me to the hilt,” he said. The vintage Viceroy II has been refurbished in period style to reflect an ancient charm compatible with the authentic ‘Viceroy Special’ that made its debut in 1986. The newly-refurbished Viceroy II has a bar, a galley kitchen, high-end sound systems and Wi-Fi facilities and is best described as a unique travel experience. Also on board with Wickramarathne extending support and friendship which has been invaluable is Martin Strauss, a professional wine and spirit educator with a career spanning 40 years. Wickramarathne also expressed his gratitude to some of the key partners on the project: Manoj Rasiah and Rockland Distilleries, Eric and Decanter Wine Holdings, Sujeewa Samarasekara and the Shift Solution team and Yudi   Kanagasabai, CEO of PWC who he terms an unsolicited mentor for backing him when he only had a vision and an idea in his pocket. While the ‘Gourmet Rails’ experience will evolve to feature different places and properties around the island in the months ahead, coming up is a journey to the Closenburg Hotel in Galle. The day tour will start at the Fort Railway Station in the morning, where participants will be served a ‘Regal Champagne’ breakfast as they enjoy the stunning views along Sri Lanka’s coastline on the way to Galle. In Galle, they will travel by luxury coach to the Closenburg Hotel. Here a four-course lunch with matching wines, carefully selected by Strauss, will be served on the Luna Terrace – the new addition to the iconic Closenburg Hotel offering an absolutely beautiful view of the southern seas. The hotel stay will last around five hours, ensuring there’s plenty of time to have a swim and do some exploring.

The best is always saved for the last, where participants will indulge in a whiskey tasting experience on the way back to Colombo on the carriage, which includes some of the finest single malts available in Sri Lanka presented by Strauss. “With ‘Gourmet Rails,’ we will be highlighting the Sri Lankan heritage and culture and discovering Sri Lanka’s iconic properties. Some people have never even travelled by train before and this is a unique way of delivering an experience,” he said. Wickramarathne, a Royalist, is among the young Sri Lankans championing change and introducing new concepts to the country, a man who doesn’t shy away from hard work and firmly believes nothing is impossible once you set your mind to it. “This is just the start and it’s about creating a whole new culture. Essential Experiences has plans in the pipeline to go big and capture the experiential market and show the outside world Sri Lanka is ready to handle high-end clients,” he affirmed.

The Essential Experiences CEO also believes in giving young people a fair chance in life and doing things the right way, which led him to hire the staff for the ‘Gourmet Rails’ operation from the Ceylon Hotel School and other hospitality schools by offering them internships along with work contracts – breaking away from the habit of paying daily wages and ensuring job security as a result of his approach. Outlining future plans, Wickramarathne revealed that apart from ‘Gourmet Rails,’ his hospitality consulting company has partnered up with  Damastrategy, a highly renowned F&B and hospitality consulting company based out of Genova, Italy, and will be opening up some restaurants and bars in the near future, bringing Foreign Direct Investment into the country. ‘Gourmet Rails’ is operational now and with hoteliers just as excited as Wickramarathne about the new railway tourism concept, bookings are flowing in for the experiences that have been lined up. Apart from Galle, other destinations that are on the cards right now include Kandy, Habarana, Nanu Oya, the tea trails and Passekudah, to name a few. Hop on board for scenic journeys featuring gastronomic delights, iconic properties and unmatched luxury.

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Luxury passenger liner MS Le Soleal calls on Colombo during tour around island

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Compagnie Du Ponant passenger vessel Namely, MS Le Soleal called at the Port of Colombo recently with a total of 110 passengers and 137 crew members on board. This luxury cruise also called at the Port of Trincomalee and Magam Ruhunupura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port (MRMRP) in Hambantota prior to her call at the Port of Colombo.

She has 132 cabins and suites. The uniqueness of this vessel is that she is travelling far from the usual cruise itineraries, in the footsteps of the explorers who inspired so many travellers. To commemorate her inaugural call at Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) a plaque ceremony was held onboard the vessel between the SLPA and the Captain of the vessel along with CMA CGM Lanka Ltd. SLPA Harbour Master Capt. Ravi Jayawicrama and the vessel’s Master Capt. Genevaz Roger exchanged plaques to mark this commemorative occasion.

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