Here are some places to visit on a one or two day tour to Southern Sri Lanka
The small miracle that is Sri Lanka has a huge variety of wildlife and one of the best ways to see it is by having a safari in one of the 12 national parks and 52 sanctuaries. Yala is situated 260km south of Kalutara , and at over 1,000 sq km is the largest of the national parks. With some 35 leopards in the park, it has the highest concentration in the world, and they are active in the daytime – but of course there is no guarantee you will see one!
Yala was set up as a game sanctuary in 1894, and it is divided into five blocks, of which two are open to tourists. There is little evidence that the tsunami in December 2006 caused widespread animal deaths, but the park was badly damaged and national park employees died as well as tourists. There is a memorial by the beach.
Daytime temperature in the area can exceed 30˚C and the region can suffer from drought from June to October, the months following the north-east monsoon. The reserve includes scrubland and beaches, and jungle and lakes as well as parkland. There is a wide range of wildlife that you are likely to see, including elephant and water buffalo, and spotted deer and wild boar. In fact there are 32 different mammals in the park from hare to mongoose and from porcupine to macaque. Two kinds of both crocodile and monitor live there, as well as other lizards and tortoises and nine different species of snake. Ornithologists can try to spot 400 species, including 21 that are only found on the island.
The old town of Galle is on the southwest tip of Sri Lanka, between Yala and Kalutara. It now has a population of almost 100,000 but in days gone by it was a natural focal point for the ivory and silk routes between Asia and the Mediterranean. Certainly as long ago as 1400BC, cinnamon was being exported from here. In 1411 a stone tablet was erected here to celebrate the return of a Chinese admiral.
After a Portuguese ship was refused entry in 1505, the port was taken by force and a long colonial history began. By 1640 it was Dutch colonists who were exploiting the natural fine harbour, and they are largely responsible for the present fortifications. The mixture of Asian and European architectural styles led to UNESCO declaring the city a world heritage site in 1988. There is a Dutch museum with paintings and documents from the 17th century, and the Dutch Reform Church (1754) has no roof supports apart from the walls themselves.
The British took over in 1796, but preserved the fort without major development. After the tsunami in 2004, Melbourne “adopted” the town and helped redevelop the cricket ground as well as providing other support.
Famous golden beaches to the south of Galle are safe for swimming and particularly popular with foreign tourists. But other areas have strong currents, so take local advice. The name is said to come from a demon “Bem” who ruled the local river (river bank = “tota”). The area is famous for jewellery, and it is possible to visit the moonstone mines.
There are Bhuddist temples at Kande Vihare (160 ft tall) and Sri Kalyanarama Maha Viharaya, Kaluwamodera (made from ancient marble)
There is a range of water sports on offer. There are boat trips on the Bentota and Maadu rivers, with visits to local temples and cinnamon estates and great opportunities to observe the local wildlife. A romantic river safari is the highlight of many people’s holiday, but more active holidaymakers can try surfing, skiing and diving on the reef at Akurela beach.
The Wild Life Protection Society of Sri Lanka operates a famous turtle hatchery near Bentota. It was established in 1981 to protect Sri Lanka's turtles from extinction. The hatchery pays fishermen for eggs that they collect at night along the long sandy beach. 10% of the hatchlings survive their journey to the sea – 10 times the rate in the wild. Visitors can see and sometimes handle new born and older turtles. The main laying season is from October to April but some eggs and hatchlings can be found at Kosgoda throughout the year. The hatchlings are usually released at 2-4 days old.