Where’s Nadia? STELLAR’s Travel Expert Sails With The Whales In Sri Lanka

The exotic location isn't as far off as you'd think, writes Nadia El Ferdaoussi.

Sri Lanka always sounded too far off and exotic for me to think I could actually visit there. But in the last few years I’ve noticed beautiful pictures of tropical beaches and lush countryside popping up a lot more often on my Instagram feed. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?

Turns out, it’s not even that difficult to get to, and when you factor in a comfy business class seat, the journey becomes a lot more enjoyable. I flew with Emirates from Dublin via Dubai, spending the short connection drinking Möet in their Business Lounge before hopping onto the second flight to Colombo, enjoying the last of the luxuries before heading into the relative unknown. Just 13 hours in
total and I was touching down on the island paradise. Relaxed, refreshed and ready to head south and get sailing.

I joined a G Adventures small group tour near Mirissa where we’d board an almost brand new catamaran for a week long adventure along Sri Lanka’s south coast. What I didn’t expect was a crew of four and an abundance of space on deck. Greeted by our guide, chef, captain and crew member with refreshing king coconuts and a tour of our floating home for the next few days, it wasn’t long before we set sail chasing the sunset at our first anchoring spot.

Shanthan, the cook, eased us in gently on the first night, with a simple supper of fresh fish, potatoes and salad, but with a glint in his eye I knew there were a lot of Sri Lankan dishes up his sleeve and I was very ready to try them.

The week passed by all too quickly in a blur of turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, tiny fishing villages where we were the only tourists and an endless supply of rice and curry with Lion beer. Our guide told us we’d spot blue whales, and not once, but three times we saw the gentle giant within feet of our catamaran! Between our front row seats for one of nature’s greatest displays and the almost daily races we had with pods of playful dolphins, endless swims, stand up paddling and kayaking, there was no chance of ever getting bored.

As blissful as a week at sea was, I couldn’t visit Sri Lanka without heading inland to get a better grasp of the beautiful country. First stop was Kandy where I had breakfast in a community project supported by Planeterra, a not for profit. Sthree Café is an initiative set up to help Sri Lankan women who have been affected by domestic abuse or disability. Everything sold is handmade by women around the country and all the money is ploughed back into supporting crisis centres. The perfect spot for some responsible souvenir shopping! I rounded off the trip with an epic journey on Sri Lanka’s famous railway between Kandy and Ella through the scenic tea plantations, crammed side by side with locals and tourists, eating 50c samosas and dangling my feet out the door of the slow moving train. An absolute must for any visitor to this beautiful island.

Getting there: Emirates fly twice daily direct from Dublin to Dubai where you can connect to Colombo in Sri Lanka. Return flights start from €730 in Economy with up to 35kg baggage allowance. From €2,560 Business Class with 40kg baggage, gourmet cuisine, complimentary Champagne, lie at seats and optional airport chauffeur collection service. Selection of fine wines across all cabins. See emirates.ie for more info and bookings.

How much: The seven day Sailing Sri Lanka South Coast tour starts at €1,299pp excluding flights. Includes six nights accommodation on a 53ft catamaran and all meals during the trip. For travel in the summer, the East Coast Sailing tour starts this July. See gadventures.com for more details on both.

Best for: Solo travellers will love the convenience and safety of joining a small group tour, but they’re also open to couples, families and friends.

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