Upon arriving in Sri Lanka you can't help but be swept up by the infectious smiles and unbridled laughter that is everywhere, even after the long and exhausting journey from Australia.
It's almost like taking a step back in time, before tourism became big business. Sri Lanka is now what the rest of Asia was 20 years ago.
From seemingly endless beaches to timeless ruins steeped in history and amazing food packed full of flavour, Sri Lanka should be on every traveller’s bucket list.
For me, climbing the1,234 steps of Sigiriya Rock, the fifth century ‘Fortress in the Sky’, and trailing behind a sea of bright orange robes worn by the local monks was as much a highlight as it was a struggle. The view at the top was remarkable, well worth the effort and a definite must-do.
We packed a lot into our 11-day tour and only covered a small portion of what Sri Lanka has to offer.
We visited a local school and its surrounding village, truly experiencing the local culture. We climbed Pidurangala Rock for a memorable sunrise and breakfast carried up by our local guides.
We went on a jeep safari through Minneriya National Park in search of elephants and were not disappointed. The dirt road through the park suddenly opened to what seemed like an endless green field and around the next corner we came face-to-face with an entire herd!
We stopped in Kandy, a city of 125,000 people and home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. The temple was busy, but everyone seemed unfazed by the group of Aussie travel agents in matching elephant print shirts.
Our final stop was the capital, Colombo, but along the way we visited the Tsunami Museum, which houses displays and newspaper clippings from the 2004 natural disaster.
It was a truly moving experience with not a dry eye to be seen, but a great testament to a country that has bounced back from such tragedy.
Arriving in Colombo I was unsure of exactly what to expect. What we did get was a city bustling with people and chaotic traffic, but somehow it works and everybody still smiles.
Although busy, the city still manages to have its charms, including a complex assortment of tree-lined boulevards, colonial buildings, parks, open-air markets, temples, lakes and churches.
No visit to Colombo is complete without staying at the Galle Face Hotel, a testimony to both Sri Lanka's colonial past and its independent present.
Opened in 1864 and proudly overlooking the Indian Ocean, the property offers not only outstanding accommodation and facilities but the chance to step back in time and immerse yourself in its history.
The hotel also boasts a museum and I found myself wandering aimlessly through the corridors and up and down staircases wondering what was around the next corner.
Don't underestimate how much time can be spent in this wonderful country. I can't wait to return.
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