As you may have seen over on my instagram, I recently got back from an amazing trip in Sri Lanka. Harry and I had been thinking about travelling somewhere at the end of the summer for a while, and after some intense Google sessions and a heavy recommendation from my mother (who lived there for a few years) we decided Sri Lanka was the place for us! We chose it because it is big enough for there to be lots to see, but small enough to do most of the southern part of the island in three weeks. From white sand beaches, to surf spots and chilly tea plant coated mountains, Sri Lanka is beautiful and has a little something for everyone. We had such a magical time, and the people were wonderful; always smiling, and always offering to help us (possibly clueless looking) travellers out. I thought I’d break down our trip, and what we got up to.
Route: We started in Colombo, which makes sense. The western side of the island doesn’t typically come into season until October, so it was monsoon rain while we were there. Luckily I have a lovely friend who lives there, and she showed us all the best spots to eat and hang out. I’d recommend Barefoot, and Paradise road as two great places for meals. Harry and I were glad to have one day there, but we felt ready to head off to Kitulgala the next morning for some white water rafting, and a night sleeping right next to that waterfall in the first image. We stayed at Gallene Gala Nature Resort; it was perfect after a few hours of white water rafting, and we managed to stay in the only bungalow they have which hangs off over a waterfall. Pretty idyllic, if you ask me.
The next day our hosts at Gallene Gala offered us a lift up to Sigiriya to climb Sigiriya rock since they just happened to be heading up that way. Harry and I jumped at the chance since the monsoon rains had returned, and we didn’t fancy the thought of tuk tuks and three busses in the pouring rain. There are plenty of affordable guest houses in Sigiriya, so finding accomodation there was easy and inexpensive. Climbing Sigiriya Rock was by far one of my favourite (and scariest) moments; the majority of the climb is just steps carved into the huge rock, but the final ascent is a rickety iron staircase hanging out over the edge – not great if you’re afraid of heights like I am, but definitely worth the jitters if you can make it all the way up to the top. The views are magnificent, and the ruins are beautiful as well. Harry and I spent a good hour just soaking it all in before I dragged him back down.
There isn’t a lot to do in Sigiriya, so after spending the morning climbing the rock we headed to Kandy. I loved Kandy; it’s a beautiful city with a lovely lake in the centre. We spent our first day in Kandy relaxing at our hotel, Bougainvilla retreat. We were a bit spoiled with this one; my family friend owns it, so we got were given a few nights refuge from backpacking life in the boutique hotel that really just felt like home. The staff there were so sweet, and the food was delicious. I won’t even get into the views from the infinity pool, but you can head to my instagram to check those out. We spent the next day exploring the botanical gardens, and the Temple of the Tooth. We had lunch at a small local indian restaurant around the corner from the temple called Balaji Dosai which served a great (and cheap) quick meal. After spending the afternoon exploring some more, we headed to the Slightly Chilled Lounge for some amazing views over Kandy and some cheekily cheap cocktails.
The next day came the bit Harry had most been looking forward to; the legendary train ride from Kandy to Ella. Harry and I had struggled to book seats but managed to get some in third class (which was fine, so don’t worry if you miss out on first or second class tickets!). It’s labelled the most beautiful train ride in the world, which makes complete sense. Harry particularly enjoyed hanging his whole body out of the train windows and almost giving me a heart attack. We arrived in Ella after six hours of breathtaking tea country scenery, and headed to the Rowinrich cottages which were inexpensive, clean and decked out with some pretty gorgeous views of the mountains around. Ella was great. It was the first place we’d been to that really felt like a traveller’s stop; our favourite thing to do was hang-out in Chill Bar while the afternoon rains took over with a book and a mojito. We spent the first morning there walking along the train tracks from Ella station (we made sure we went when no trains were scheduled for a few hours) to the nine-arch bridge to satisfy Harry’s inner engineer, and then onto a local tea plantation for a tour and some tea testing. The second morning we climbed mini Adam’s peak since Adam’s peak was off season; it was pretty scary at times, and definitely not the easy climb trip advisor had promised but again, the views were worth it. I mistakenly wore my favourite jumpsuit and most expensive trainers because I’m an idiot, but it was worth getting them a little dirty for.
After Ella, we headed to Arugam Bay; we ended up getting an incredibly cheap taxi as the taxi driver was headed that way to pick up his boss, but we had planned to catch two busses which would have been simple enough. Arugam Bay felt like the beach version of Ella; there were lots of fun, cool local hang-outs and rumour has it the night life is great here (Harry and I got too drunk on the great happy hour cocktails at Hideaway and fell asleep both nights). We stayed at the Water Edge Resort (pictured above) which wasn’t cheap as chips, but was in a really great location and had a nice vibe. Harry spent the days surfing while I rejoiced that we had reached the side of the island that was actually in season, and sunny. By this point I’d become addicted to the typical hotel breakfasts of fried eggs, toast, and buckets of fresh fruit – if you’re up for something spicier, the Sri Lankan breakfasts were lovely too (although I preferred to have them for lunch; curry at 8am is too much for my humble and weak stomach).
We then went to Yala for safari, which was a reasonable two busses away, unaware that the majority of the park was closed. We stayed at Gaga Bees Yala which I loved, but it was more expensive than I would have liked. The safari was lacking because only one fifth of the park was open, but we did spot some Elephants which made this lady very happy. We rented a day safari through Ajith Jeep Tours, and I’d definitely recommend them even if the animals were hiding that day.
After Yala we made our way back to the coast, to the quiet town of Tangalle. Tangalle was a really great spot; we stayed at Ganesh Garden Beach Cabanas and I can’t recommend them enough; the rooms all had a lovely beach view, and we even got upgraded when we arrived. The restaurant there was lovely, but there are more on the same beach if you feel like branching out. One of our mornings in Tangalle we spent at a Spa, which was Harry’s gift to me for my twenty first birthday. I had possibly the best massage of my life right on the beach at Eden Reverie Spa, and the couple who own it are incredibly sweet.
We then hopped on a bus to Unawatuna, which was only a couple hours away. If you make your way to Unawatuna, be sure to stay on Dalawella beach which is much quieter and less polluted than the main beach. We loved our little hut at Galawatta Beach Cabanas; it was beautiful inside and out, and about 10 feet from the ocean edge. Sadly the beaches, while sunny, were rough because we were a month before the season started on the south – it didn’t matter too much since Harry loves jumping in and out of waves, and I prefer to roll around in the sand but if you want calm seas, come to the south between December and March. As you can see below though, the sunsets were still pretty special.
While staying in Unawatuna, we headed into the town of Galle and Galle Fort to explore. This is an old Dutch town, and I thought it was just adorable. We had a really lovely lunch at the Pedlar’s Inn Cafe, and some quite frankly amazing ice cream at Pedlar’s Inn Gelateria. Nom. It’s a great place to spend a lazy afternoon of walking and eating, with quirky cafes and galleries peaking out of every corner. It was nice to end our trip with a week of beach goodness, and Harry and I did not feel ready to catch the train to Colombo when we had to.
Transport: The locals were our heroes on this trip; often we’d tell our tuk tuk driver who took us to the bus station where we needed to go, and he’d take us right up to the best bus and let us know where we’d need to change. At every station people are willing to help you out, and for the most part we never felt pestered. Busses are the way to go; it costs about £1 for a 5 hour bus ride, as opposed to the £60 you’d pay for a taxi. If you’re travelling from Colombo to Kandy, or Kandy to tea country then definitely take the train which is also wonderfully cheap. It’s probably worth noting that the bus drivers in Sri Lanka are insane; they’re treated like kings on the road, but if you get easily car sick then definitely take a travel sickness pill before you get on a bus. Most bus trips required one or two, and maybe a tuk tuk for the last ten minutes so shout out to Sri Lanka for the great public transport.
Safety: Having been to India, I wasn’t sure what to expect – the countries are very very close geographically, but I was told by loads of people Sri Lanka was a lot more slow paced and they were all right. I was worried as a woman, and specifically as a blonde woman I can get some unwanted attention from men abroad, but I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable for even a moment here. The civil war ended years ago, and while I know that there is still a lot of recovery needed within the country, it’s not a safety concern for tourists so don’t be put off by this. And as with all travelling, don’t do anything that seems shady and you’ll be fine. There havent been many incidents with local wildlife (they have crocodiles, bears and leopards around the country) but sadly a man died in Arugam Bay just a few days before we arrived because he went too close to a lagoon with crocodiles in. Stay aware and don’t wander off into the wildlife without a friend or a guide.
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