Savvy Traveler Q&A: Sri Lanka with Expert Traveler, Lee Abbamonte
July 14 2015
Pristine beaches, mighty elephants, hospitable natives, spicy food, exotic fruits, mist-shrouded mountains and a rich culture and history all describe the sovereign island nation of Sri Lanka located near the southern tip of India. It may be tiny, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in its 3000+ years of history, diverse wildlife, geography, and myriad of activities that range from lounging on the sun kissed beaches to adrenaline pumping adventure sports. Seems like a country we all should visit, no? And while I haven't yet, there was one person that I knew who certainly had, Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to have visited every country in the world.
I serendipitously met Lee a month back while he was passing through Seattle. As arguably one of the most interesting men on the planet, he did not disappoint in person. Extremely down to earth and friendly, Lee fielded our questions about his travels with a smile. Undoubtedly he had heard our wide-eyed inquiries a million times, but he answered each as if it was the first. Listening to his tales about watching the Mass Games in North Korea to entering Libya in 2011 under gunfire (it was the last country to visit to complete the list) was all a bit swoon-worthy for this travel junkie.
Make sure you check out all of Lee's travel stories and "best of" lists on his travel site. In the meantime get to know him more through the musings and experiences he shared with us about his 4 times in Sri Lanka. Enjoy!
Name: Lee Abbamonte
Occupation: Multimedia Travel Personality and Entrepreneur
Hometown: New York City
When did you first fall in love with travel?
I fell in love with travel during my study abroad year my junior year in college in 1998-99. It literally changed my life and opened my mind and eyes to a whole new world that I never knew existed. I've been hooked ever since!
What’s your favorite way to get through a long flight?
I honestly am an expert at just spacing out, watching movies and getting what I call plane sleep. You know, that sleep where you're not really asleep but you're not awake either and it carries you through the next day! Other than that, it's simply having a positive attitude, accepting and preparing yourself mentally for the long journey.
What is your most unique memory of your time in Sri Lanka? Was there a favorite city you visited?
I've done 4 trips to Sri Lanka and my favorite memory was climbing up Sigiriya. I loved the climb itself, the view from the top and the cool artwork along the way. I think it is the most impressive thing in Sri Lanka; although Pollononaruwa is really cool too.
Lee at the UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, Sigiriya.
What was an interesting local dish that you tried?
I am pretty bad at remembering the names of everything I eat in all the countries I've been. However, I've tried all the must try things in Sri Lanka and while I liked most of what I tried, nothing really stuck out to me as awesome.
What has been your most unusual experience in Sri Lanka?
I agreed to do a driving tour with a Canadian woman I met at the airport tourism desk that was also trying to do the same thing I was doing. It turned out she was out of her mind and I wanted to shoot myself the whole time I was with her! Lesson learned, don't commit to things in strange places with people you just met! (Jen's note: If you want to read more about Lee's experience with the Canadian jump over to his post on the experience here.)
What is something you recommend everyone do if they go…a “must experience"?
Again Sigiriya and Pollononaruwa are great to see and experience. Also, Galle and Kandy are nice to see and Colombo is an increasing improving city that is becoming a destination in and of itself. Next time I go, I will be climbing Adam's Peak for sure.
Photo Lee took of Pollononaruwa
What has been your most memorable moment in Sri Lanka?
My most unique moment in Sri Lanka was talking to local people that had lost loved ones in the Tsunami a decade ago. That really hit home with me.
Do you have a travel tip for Sri Lanka or an essential item to pack?
It's really hot and humid in Sri Lanka, pretty much all the time. So be prepared; bring light clothes, bug spray and great walking/hiking shoes!
Is there something you learned about Sri Lanka while you were there that surprised you?
I guess it shouldn't have surprised me considering the proximity and kinship to India but the love of Cricket in Sri Lanka was amazing. I actually went to a Cricket match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Colombo that I won't soon forget!
Photo from the cricket match Lee watched
You mentioned that Sri Lanka was one of your favorite places to visit (I might be paraphrasing)…which is notable since you know the entire world. What makes it stand out to you over other countries…or why do you keep going back?
I wouldn't go so far as to say Sri Lanka is one of my favorite places but I do like it a lot and have gone several times. I love the fact that is still very primitive where you can see elephants walking the main highways but the population is not out of control like neighboring India so you never feel cramped or get harassed like in India. It's also very beautiful and a place you need multiple visits to see it all as you must drive places and it takes hours to get places.
Sea fisherman on a Sri Lankan beach. Photograph: Alamy