Growing up in an average middle class family, the idea of camping seemed to be somewhat farfetched. To be honest, when we were growing up, we didn’t have the opportunities or facilities available today for camping. As far as I know the only people who regularly went camping those days were the scouts. The family camping trips and father-son camping trips were “cool stuff” that happened in soaps and movies.
My first taste of camping was at Interact Youth Camp at Pedro Scout Camp, Nuwara Eliya. And boy that was one heck of an experience! Trekking through the forest on treasure hunts, having to face different physical challenges like crossing a river on a rope bridge and completing obstacle courses, learning how to build a fire and make ‘roti’ for dinner, sitting around a bonfire singing songs and spinning yarns were some of my most cherished memories. I honestly feel that youth camp changed me for the better! It took me out of my comfort zone and taught me how to rough it in the great outdoors!
Until a few years ago, camping and other outdoor activities catered to a niche market. The transition happened a few years after the end of the civil war that plagued our beautiful country. Many new destinations, previously considered unreachable or unsafe were not open to public. Tourism was booming and along with it came a more mainstream interest in camping.
If you’re new to camping, and happened to be interested in trying it out, there are a few different flavors of camping that you can experience. The basic and cheapest method is to get a group of likeminded friends, rent or borrow the required gear and head over to a public camp site. Just make sure that at least one member of your group has some outdoors experience, or you may end up biting off a little more than you can chew. Having a set of wheels is an advantage, since you can drive as close as possible to the camp site and trek the remaining distance on foot. You will have to carry a sleeping bag, a tent, some basic pots, pans, dry rations, and clothes with you! Don’t forget the essentials like a torch or a lamp (you can find lamps that charge via Solar energy), a box of matches, candles, a knife (a Swiss army knife if possible), a few machetes and/or axes, rope, basic medical supplies, power banks, rain gear and firewood.
A majority of the public campsites are found in reserves that are run by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. To use the facilities, you need to make a booking prior to your arrival and pay a smallfee at the entrance. Site reservations can be done by visiting their office or through the e-services. These campsites are well maintained by the relevant authority and when you enter the reserve they will do their due diligence to ensure that you are properly equipped for camping in the wild. There is no liquor allowed in the reserve and trust me, you need to keep your senses at their optimal levels in these conditions. Yala, Kumana, Wilpattu and Udawalawa reserves as well as the Hortan Planes reserve have campsites. Keep in mind that each location has a particular time of the year when the conditions are suitable for a pleasant camping experience.
The reserves are home to Elephants, Bears, Leopards and a host of other wild animals. Therefore, it is important to build a large bonfire that will burn through the night (or at least a majority of the night). The fire will keep away dangerous animals as well as the annoying insects that are attracted to lamps and smaller flames. When setting up a large fire, make sure it is a safe distance away from your tents and trees. Take all necessary safety precautions, because you don’t want to end up being the one who started a forest fire! Remember that you are in a wild life reserve, and you aren’t allowed to cut down any trees for firewood. There is no restriction on using wood from dead trees, but you’re better off taking your own firewood.
When erecting a tent it is essential to balance the tent and fasten it to the ground properly with the appropriate pegs. Failing to do so may cause a sudden strong gust of wind to blow your tent away. Another thing to remember is to pad the floor of your tent with a water proof material. By now you should understand as to why I suggested having at least one person with camping experience in your group!
By the way, don’t feed the Monkeys who scavenge around the camp site! Monkey colonies that run riot when visitors arrive are common at these camp sites. Just be patient, let them have a little fun, but don’t feed them and they will leave you alone. Once they leave, they will not trouble you again.
Other popular camping sites are the found in Belihul Oya; popular for river camping and home to a natural rock pool with clear and unpolluted water, the Sinharaja Rainforest with its rich biodiversity,( rich biodiversity,) Ella Rock where you can trek to the “Ella Gap” to get a breathtaking view of the countryside, and the iconic Knuckles Mountain Range.
For those of you who don’t want to rough it in the wild, but still want to experience camping, the best option is to arrange a camping trip with one of the many adventure sport companies in Sri Lanka. They generally have their own camp site with tents, fire places and instructors who will teach you about camping. It may not be the ultimate camping experience but it will give you a feel of the outdoors. And the toilets are much better! Camping packages offered by most adventure sport companies will include a few adventure sports like white water rafting, confidence jumps, stream slides and forest trekking.
Lastly, for a completely different camping experience, you can try Luxury Camping. This concept is now quite popular amongst tourists looking for an immersive camping experience, but with all the comforts of a luxury hotel. The campsites are well maintained with high-end camping gear, log cabins, and include waiting staff as well as a chef! The luxury camping experience is usually coupled with Safari trips and is therefore strategically located within the wild life reserves of Yala, Wilpattu and Udawalawa.
“A perfect day would be to get into the car, drive out to Yosemite and go camping. ”
– Michael Steger