‘Is it safe now?’ This is something I repeatedly heard from people when they found out that I really wanted to visit Sri Lanka, particularly after the Easter bombings. But I’d wanted to travel to Sri Lanka for years, ever since a traveller friend of mine told me of his adventures in this teardrop-shaped island, where he encountered the kindest people he’d ever come across before. So, a random attack was not going to change my mind.
I run a travel blog called Brogan Abroad (https://broganabroad.com) and I live in London. Exploring the world and sharing it with my readers is what I love doing most. Last year, I was very excited to find out that Chaminda Munasinghe, Assistant Director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, was attending TBex Ostrava, an international travel blogging conference I’d be attending too.
I really wanted to meet Chaminda and see if there was a way for us to work together, for me to visit the country and share it with my audience. I didn’t have an appointment, so we had a brief conversation that we continued by email. After a few months of discussions, we agreed that I would attend a press trip at the beginning of May this year. But then disaster struck…
I was determined to still go as long as the trip went ahead, which it did. I live in London and, sadly, these things have happened here too. The attitude is that life must go on and we must not let terrorists win. However, the UK Foreign Office decided to issue a travel ban to Sri Lanka with the exception of essential travel. I was heartbroken and had to cancel my trip. And I wasn’t just heartbroken for myself, but for the wider implications that this travel ban would have in the country.
Fast forward to a couple of months and it was time for me to attend another travel blogging conference. This time it was Traverse, in the region of Trentino in Northern Italy, where I was delighted to meet Chaminda again. I was really happy to see that the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau was in full swing promoting the country as a destination again and of course, I still wanted to get involved.
Finally, I arrived in Colombo on August 6, eager to discover what the country often referred to as ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ had to offer.
My first impression confirmed what I had heard multiple times. The warmth of the Sri Lankan people was apparent and whenever I crossed paths with someone there was an exchange of smiles that made me feel at ease straight away. Everyone seemed happy to see me and I felt welcome from the very first moment.
This didn’t change over the 10 days I spent in the island. Sri Lankans are proud of their country and they want you love it as much as they do, so they will go out of their way to make sure you have the best experience.
But it wasn’t just about the people of Sri Lanka. The island itself has a great variety of landscapes that will guarantee to take your breath away. From the Northern plains of Kaudulla National Park to the endless coastline dotted with pristine white sand beaches. From the striking man-shaped tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, to the dramatic natural cliffs of Riverston Peak, there is certainly something for everyone here.
One of the things that struck me the most was the cultural diversity of such a relatively small island. A predominantly Buddhist country, other religions such as Christianity, Hinduism and Islam live in harmony in Sri Lanka. After the harrowing civil war that ended a decade ago, it was good to see that the country has reached a resolution and that the two main cultures, Sinhalese and Tamil, can live peacefully side by side.
And let’s not forget the food. I knew very little about Sri Lankan food before I arrived and I devoured everything that came my way. Fish curries, hoppers, dahl, jaggery and of course, the famous Ceylon tea – all mouth-watering! I have to admit that I miss Sri Lankan food.
So, is Sri Lanka safe? I would say it is as safe as any other country. I would even argue that it is safer. Sri Lankans are determined to encourage visitors back after the Easter attacks so they will ensure you are well looked after as a guest.
And how about my expectations? Were they met? Not really. Sri Lanka didn’t just meet my expectations but exceeded them many times over. I arrived with an open mind and I left with a heart full of love for this beautiful island I hope to visit again soon.