The views around Kandy Lake are worth seeing. I recommend you walk around the lake and just enjoy it leisurely. Stop in a nearby cafe or under a shed if you needed to. Strolling around was actually kind of therapeutic to me after a whirlwind of sightseeing days before I arrived here. On my second day in Kandy, I had a whole morning free so I used the time to stroll around Kandy Lake.
After the early visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, I told my driver I’d spend the rest of the morning strolling. He was okay with it and told me where to meet him afterwards.
Kandy Lake is a man-made lake that was built in 1807 to beautify the the country’s most sacred Buddhist temple.
Ella Rock is the prettiest desktop background I’ve ever had on my laptop! No joke – the view from up here is absolutely jaw-droppingly stunning!
The trek to Ella Rock is only half a day tops, but it easily ranks as one of the best treks I’ve ever done with Stefan during our travels. And we’ve done some pretty amazing treks together, from the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Ella is a beautiful small town in the south of Sri Lanka in the Hill country located at an altitude of 1,041 metres (3,415 ft). It’s the ideal base to explore the surrounding hills and take in pretty breathtaking views of the Badulla green valleys. The weather is usually quite humid, with moderate air temperature, sunny mornings, and often rain showers in the afternoon. Ella Rock is a famous cliff, located high above Ella’s village, around 8km (5 miles) from the centre of town – around 4 hours total trekking there and back.
The trek to Ella Rock from Ella town is pretty straightforward if you follow our advice below! Sometimes finding the correct path can be tricky, so we’ve put together this easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to help you on your way.
“Colombo, the bustling capital city of Sri Lanka, is gritty, crowded but super charming.”
It has all the colourful quirks you’d find in India but with a more calming atmosphere. We felt like we were receiving a spiritual cleansing just by walking down the streets!
Colombo is bursting with Buddhist temples, markets and smiling Sri Lankan faces. Every corner is steeped in history and culture. We found ourselves torn over what activity to tackle next, what to see, what story to unravel, who to speak to, where to eat. It never gets dull for a moment!
As tourists with passing interests in history, it more than satisfied our needs. Everything from the museums to the many temples helped unravel the story of this great nation. As gay travellers, we still felt relatively comfortable to be ourselves (more about this below!) and find sparks of queerness in the city tapestry. Whether it be in the fabulous display of masks and costumes we found in the museums or the underground gay scene where we found our fellow brothers and sisters of the gay community.
We’ve put together this guide to Colombo for you to check out all the tips and tricks of exploring the city as an LGBTQ traveller. We also recommend you check out our gay guide to Sri Lanka alongside this guide if you’re exploring more of the country.
Is Colombo safe for gay travellers?
While homosexuality is still illegal in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans are very welcoming people and super curious towards foreigners whether straight or gay. We never felt in any danger for being gay, nor ever experienced any homophobia. Put it this way, we never thought twice about booking a double bed anywhere in Sri Lanka. In fact, there is even a growing number of hotels targeting gay travellers in nearby Negombo.
“Funny Boy” is a Sri Lankan book by Shyam Selvadurai, which we recommend every LGBTQ traveller visiting Sri Lanka reads. It tells the story of a young Tamil gay boy called Arjy, growing up in 1980s Sri Lanka during the civil war era, struggling to come to grips with his homosexuality in a very religious and traditional family and society.
Fast forward 30 years when we visited Sri Lanka, at a time when the country is thriving; the Civil War long ended and tourism flourishing more than ever, we wondered if much has changed for the country’s LGBTQ community. Be sure to check out our comprehensive gay Sri Lanka travel guide for our perspective as foreigners visiting. But what’s it like for local gay guys?
We met a Sinhalese author in Colombo who has published various books and poetry, some with an LGBTQ theme. He has asked to remain anonymous in this interview for fear of reprisal from family and his work, so we will instead refer to him by his nickname, “Kaluu”:
Hi Kaluu, please introduce yourself:
Good afternoon Stefan and Seby. I am Sri Lankan born, 39 years old, living in Colombo. I’m also a son, a friend, a gay, a Buddhist, a writer, and a poet. Above all, I am a human!
My friends call me “Kaluu”. It means “black” in Sinhalese and has become my nickname because I have darker skin compared to the average Sri Lankan.
Sri Lanka is a little pearl in the Indian Ocean. This paradise-like island has some of the most delicious food we’ve tried in Asia, the best safaris outside of East Africa and our favourite train journeys. Sri Lanka also has beaches, stunning landscapes for trekking and kind, warmhearted people who love welcoming foreigners, straight or gay.
For such a small place, Sri Lanka offers so much that many come here for their honeymoon. Yet the sting in the tail comes when you quickly realise that the country still clings on to its anti-gay laws introduced by the British during the colonial years in the 1880s. Even though the courts have declared these laws to be unenforceable, the fact that the Sri Lankan government refuses to get rid of them is a sad sign that Sri Lanka is still very much a conservative society where you do need to tread cautiously as an LGBTQ traveller.
We explore the anti-gay laws along with other general advice for LGBTQ travellers in this comprehensive gay country guide to Sri Lanka.
LGBTQ rights in Sri Lanka
On the face of it, it’s illegal to be gay in Sri Lanka. Section 365 of the Sri Lankan Penal Code dating back to 1886 criminalises “carnal intercourse” with up to 10 years in prison and a fine.
This law dates back to the British Colonial days. Ask a local and they will enthusiastically tell you “but it no longer applies!”, which is both technically right and wrong.
On the one hand, the Sri Lankan government refuses to repeal the anti-gay laws and often makes openly homophobic statements. They have even embellished the anti-gay laws. For example, in 1995, the Sri Lankan judiciary amended Section 363 to add “gross indecency” as a crime punishable with a fine and up to 2 years in prison (section 365A) without giving any guidance as to what constitutes “gross indecency”. As such, the LGBTQ community can either be arrested for “carnal intercourse” (if caught in the act), or for the more loosely defined “gross indecency”.
When we visited Sri Lanka, we did a safari at both Yala and Udawalawe, which are the most popular national parks in the country. The reason why we decided to explore both parks is because we just couldn’t choose between one or the other. Online research led us to believe that Yala is the best park for a safari in Sri Lanka, especially for spotting leopards. However, we also found a few forums where people raved about their experiences at Udawalawe, which included spotting leopards.
Therefore, based on our experiences visiting both parks, we’ve put together our comparison of Yala and Udawalawe National Parks side by side, to answer a simple question: which is the best safari in Sri Lanka?
And the answer might surprise you!
Yala vs. Udawalawe: a Few Facts!
Yala National Park is the most visited park in Sri Lanka and also one of the biggest in terms of size. It was the first national park created in Sri Lanka in 1938 along with Wilpattu. It covers an area of 979 square km (378 square miles) and is divided in 5 blocks. Only blocks 1 and 5 are open to tourists, with number 1 being the most popular for sightings (and the most crowded by jeeps). The other blocks cannot be accessed by the public because they are used for research and documentaries.
Udawalawe National Park on the other hand is smaller, a third of the size of Yala, covering 308 square km (119 square miles). Nonetheless, given its smaller size, Udawalawe has a greater density of animal to size ratio, particularly with Sri Lankan elephants. Being a less popular safari destination than Udawalawe, it is also quieter, which makes it a more enjoyable safari experience in our opinion.
After Colombo, if any city that totally mesmerized me in Sri Lanka was Kandy. Dotted with interesting places to see here and there, you’d see Buddhist temples and ancient relics that represent its former identity as the capital of the ancient kings of this land. From the Tooth of Buddha to some esthetical gardens and beyond, Kandy is the place that had modern architecture build around the historic religious and cultural centers.
I did 7 of these things out of 8. The festival in July or August must be an interesting event to see.
1. Visit the Buddhist Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
As the name suggests, the temple that is situated in the palace complex in Kandy is believed to have a tooth of Buddha. However, tourists and worshippers would be disappointed that they can’t really see the revered “sacred tooth” itself. They kept it in a golden box inside the center of the pavilion. Everyday, they do rituals which is interesting to see.
Colombo is an organized chaos. It’s the largest and the capital city of the island country, Sri Lanka. The best way to get around it is by tuktuk – if you don’t mind the heat and the dust. If you do, hiring an Uber is cheap so, your $10 can really go a looooong way there.
These are some of the places where I left my footprints in queer Colombo.
Sri Lanka: Top 9 Things to do and see in Colombo
1. Wander off at the National Museum
Large and sublime, the 19th-century building of National Museum holds the past of Sri Lanka from as far as 1877 to the colonial era and beyond. My favorites in this place were the room 5, which contains the throne of King Wimaladharmasuriya II, and room 2, which has the Bodhisattva Sandals made of bronze. There’s a nice café in the museum also.
2. Take a respite at the Dutch Hospital
Built in the 1600s, a hospital in the past and a busy shopping precinct in the present, the Dutch Hospital houses some of the most premium cafes that are located in the vibrant complex of the Fort. Taking a pause and having a cold drink here made me feel as if I was in some Buddhist monetary in a Hollywood movie.
On my walking tour around Galle Fort, I was accompanied by Swiss friend I’ve never seen in a long time. We met and started our walking tour at the Clock Tower and ended it there, too. But before we burned calories and hardened our calves, we had our lunch first at the former Dutch Hospital. And we talked everything that happened in our lives since the last time we saw each other.
Galle Fort. It was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century but heavily fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century. UNESCO declared it as a World Heritage Site in 1988 for it shows a unique fusion of local and Dutch architectural traditions – that are still visible until today.
Multi-religious Community. You’d be surprise to know that people of all faiths live inside the fortress. You’ll see a mosque, a church and a temple within distance from each other.
Free Admission. I have been to may forts in my travels and this is the very first one that is open to the public and tourists – for free. Yay!
The scenic ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is one I’d never forget too soon. We meandered on a narrow highway that goes nowhere but up. As we ascend, the views down the valleys and hills are getting better and more splendid. I had to open the car window to feel the cool mountain breeze so pure it sent my spine tingling.
We had a couple of stops, too – either for more fresh coconut juice or for panoramic views. We stopped for an hour at Blue Field Tea Plantation and Factory for a quick tour and photoshoot. On our way, we passed by so many tea plantations that I lost count.