Unique places to pitch your tent
WHAT MAKES A GOOD CAMPING GROUND? FOR SOME, IT’S RUNNING WATER AND FUNCTIONING TOILETS, WHILE OTHERS SEEK SOLITUDE NO MATTER HOW PRIMITIVE THE FACILITIES. WHATEVER YOUR PREFERENCES, ALL CAMPERS AGREE ON TWO THINGS: A GOOD CAMPGROUND SHOULD BE SPACIOUS AND SCENIC.
WE’VE LISTED SOME OF SRI LANKA’S MOST UNIQUE CAMP SITES, AND HOW BEST TO ENJOY YOUR NIGHT UNDER THE STARS.
Distance from Colombo: 206.8km
PRO TIP: If feeling extra adventurous, climb Little Adam’s Peak in the morning half of the day and Ella Rock thereafter. But be sure to climb with time to spare, in order to set up camp before nightfall.
WHAT TO TAKE: A jumper/sweater for cool misty mornings, good hiking shoes for steep climbing.
Located approximately 200km from Colombo, in the small town of Ella in the Badulla District of the Uva Province, Ella Rock is a must-visit for any adventure-seeker. At an elevation of 1,041 metres, the hike to the top of the rock takes around 3-4 hours, with primarily steep inclines.
There are several campsites along the way, towards the top of the rock, that have flat, soft ground. However, be extra cautious with campfires. Heavy winds at the top have caused many forest fires that spread rapidly, especially in the dry season. Due to such fires, camping on Ella Rock has been limited as of late (so obtain proper permission before venturing here, camping equipment in tow).
But the view from the top, at night, cannot be rivalled. The Ella Gap (between Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak) is highlighted, as the valley is lit up by the village lights. Mist covers the area at night and early morning, providing the ideal weather for a morning hike to the other side of the rock.
PHOTOGRAPH BY: SAAJITH MUSTAPHA
BLUE BEACH ISLAND, NILWELLA
Distance from Colombo: 180.9km
PRO TIP: Do not litter. Once on the island, it’s a significant walk back to land; so take plenty of garbage bags and be sure to bring back everything you take on to the island!
A MUS-TRY: The Insta-worthy location calls for many pics/videos. Set up a tripod on the rocks and capture a timelapse of the sun setting.
Hidden in plain sight off Matara, the formation of Blue Beach Island is what sets it apart. It is not an island, but a tied island – an island connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. At high tide, the sea waves coming from both sides of the connecting strip drown it out, making Blue Beach an island oasis. It is now a private property, and the owners host camping tours on the far side of the island. Snorkeling is included in the tour package. Setting up tents on the beach, they curate everything from meals to nighttime activities like barbecues and music.
The rock formation adjacent to the campsite also makes for a perfect set-up to watch the sunrise and see the Dondra lighthouse at night.
The sand bed is rigid and not too comfortable, but that’s what camping is all about. However, there is a portable toilet, for picky campers.
Distance from Colombo: 171.9km
PRO TIP: If you are afraid of leeches, avoid this one. Or carry along leech socks, and salt Detol water for added protection.
TOUR OPTION: Go on a night tour to catch a glimpse of nocturnal animals in their element; but take caution not to disturb/provoke them.
Perhaps one of the most picturesque campsites, Sinharaja will treat you to nature’s sights at sounds throughout the night and into the morning. Fall asleep to the sounds of animals and wake up to birds chirping right outside your tent. The national park stretches for 21km east to west and about 7km north to south. The primary attraction of this trek is the unique collection of the endemic species in birds, trees, mammals, amphibians, insects and even reptiles, and the nocturnal animals you can witness only by staying overnight.
There are several (luxury and basic) campsites in the park, suited for all types of visitors – from luxury glamping to roughing it out under the stars. But rest assured of an unforgettable experience.
Distance from Colombo: 168.1km
PRO TIP: Kalpitiya is known for sandflies, pesky little bugs that creep in everywhere. Mosquito repellent may keep them at bay, but also keep an aloe vera lotion in hand.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: During dolphin/whale watching season, October to May
Camping is common in mountains and jungles, but beach camping is unique to Sri Lanka. White sandy beaches and tropical waters provide the ideal backdrop to pitch a tent and enjoy the view all day, and night!
One of Sri Lanka’s most famed beaches in Kalpitiya is ideal for camping. Watch the sun setting from your tent and wake up to the sound of waves crashing a few feet away from you. Beaches are prized Lankan assets, so make sure you do not harm the area or litter – also make sure you have the proper permissions before setting up camp, as some beaches are areas protected by wildlife authorities.
In addition to canoeing, dolphin watching and kite surfing, jeep safari rides over sand dunes is a sought-after activity as of late. There is so much you can do from the moment you step out of your tent!
VEDDHA VILLAG E CAMPING
Distance from Colombo: 253.1km
PRO TIP: The tour includes elders from the village teaching guests their hunting methods – three words: bow and arrow.
Also in the Uva Province, the Buddha village in Mahiyanganya is the residence of Sri Lanka’s aboriginal people. The inhabitants of this village have their own culture, strongly rooted in their ancestors and the traditions and customs followed for years.
Camping among them is an interesting experience, as one can meet the people of this clan up close and experience their way of living, from hunting to their dialect.
Several companies offer tours and excursions to Mahiyanganya, immersing guests in the Veddha’s lifestyle and giving an insight into their unique way of life.