I certainly thought Sri Lanka would be a nice holiday, but it was so much more than that. Sri Lanka is lush and green and teaming with life – the people are colourful and you can’t avoid the wildlife (in a good way!) – especially the monkeys and the lizards. We were there for just two weeks, and boy, did we have an adventure.
We arrived on Sunday evening in Colombo, the huge capital city. The owner of our guesthouse Dolce Casa was a super helpful and clever Italian lady called Florence. She gave us loads of practical advice on Sri Lanka and Colombo. Thanks to Florence’s ultra efficiency, along with the chilled vibes we instantly felt in Sri Lanka, I was feeling very much at home already.
The next day we were due to travel to Kandy at 3pm, and by following Florence’s very exact itinerary on the best local sights in Colombo, we fitted quite a bit into our day:
- A quick visit to the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, which was kind of interesting, but if I’m honest was a bit too much of a tourist joint for me.
- A papaya juice at the decadent Galle Face colonial hotel.
- A ridiculously rushed (but tasty) lunch at the Ministry of Crab.
This hectic approach may not be the ideal way to experience Colombo – but we quite enjoyed it. And being able to get tuk tuks for £1 a journey certainly helped.
Next up was our train to Kandy – which was just 2.5 hours and a rather nice experience. By paying a bit more (all of £10) we ended up in the observation carriage which is air conditionned and reserved just for tourists.
Kandy is in Sri Lanka’s hill country – I wasn’t wowed by it but we still had a nice time there. I found it an intense, slightly overwhelming city. But our guesthouse up on the hill had pretty views.
What was good about Kandy was that it was a great base to go to Sigiriya Rock – which is about a 2 hour drive away.
Is an ancient rock fortress dating back to the 5th century. Sometimes I’m not very interested in historical ‘stuff’, but this place is magical. It’s quite a sweaty climb (it takes about an hour), but when you get to the top, you feel like you’ve entered a mystical land.
Kandy to Ella by Train
Our next destination was Ella, but this was a 7 hour train journey away, it is apparently one of the world’s most epic train journeys. Ok, we travelled through some stunning tea plantation scenery on the train, which was quite something, but if I’m honest it didn’t live up to the hype for me. 7 hours on a train is still 7 hours on a train – a bit too long.
Initially I fell in love with hill country town Ella – it seemed hippy and chilled and the surrounding hills are jaw droppingly picturesque. However my feelings soured quickly when I realised this tiny town was a backpacking mecca. Everywhere I turned there was some traveller boasting about their escapades – it was a little suffocating.
However what was spectacular about Ella, was our walk up to Ella Rock, which was a special and tingly experience. We met with our local guide at 6am (while it was still dark) and started our two hour journey up to this glorious peak. We walked along a railway line, past waterfalls and up a really steep climb at the end. And, best of all we were the only tourists up there because it was so early. The views, and the atmosphere were breathtaking. And our local guide Abi, was the sweetest guy – he really made the trip for me too.
Having identified that I don’t like long journeys on public transport, we opted for an air conditioned taxi to our next destination, Udawale, which was 2 hours way. It was gloriously easy. On arrival we booked ourselves onto a safari jeep and headed off to the wildlife park. I was trying to keep my expectations in check, as I wasn’t sure if we’d see much. But we were in luck, we must have seen about 30 elephants (and quite a few babies) and most were in spitting distance of the car. They were so graceful and elegant to watch. We also saw eagles, pretty bright green bee-eater birds, water buffallos, alligators and peacocks. Brilliant.
A quick 1.5 hours in a taxi and we were in Tangalle. When the taxi driver dumped us by a lake with a pulley boat to get accross to our guesthouse, I started to get nervous about how remote this place was. As it happens, it was pretty remote, but that didn’t matter, because the beach was like paradise, and the guesthouse served exceptional food, so we didn’t need anything else for two days. It was a lovely bit of time for relaxation and reading after all the hecticness of the previous week.
We downgraded to a tuk tuk to get to our next destination – which took a couple of hours and was a lot of fun. However when we arrived in Mirissa I was slightly horrified, it appeared we’d arrived in Sri Lanka’s version of Benidorm – the beach was rammed with burnt tourists. We were both really turned off. But, as we settled in, we started to adjust to being in a busy environment (the beach at Tangalle had been empty and vast), and actually started to totally fall in the love with the surfy, yogic hippy vibe of Mirissa.
Galle was our final destination and what a beautiful one to end at. It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and an old trading port full of imposing Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, grand mansions and museums. Apparently it’s had a lot of money pumped into it since the 2004 tsunamai because a lot of charities based themselves in Galle. It was definitely our poshest stop off. I really enjoyed walking round the ancient city walls and looking at all the glamourous colonial buildings. And we had the BEST meal of our holiday at Lucky Galle Fort restaurant where we shared 10 curries for just £7.50. These curries were exquisite – including banana flower, crispy fried aubergine, tamarind root, mango curry (basically stewed mango) and pumpkin curry. Every mouthful was a taste sensation.
I felt sadder leaving Sri Lanka than I normally do at the end of a holiday – I was treated to a slice of paradise on this island – the scenery, the gentle people, the crazy monkeys and lizards, the tasty curries and rotis – and there was always so much colour and life going on around us. I’m glad I’ve got a lovely load of cherished memories and photos to hang on to.
More Sri Lanka Blog Posts
I will be writing some more blog posts on my Sri Lanka trip if you’re interested where I’ll be going into more details on the destinations we went to. I’ll also write one on our Sri Lanka food experiences.
And for those thinkng about going to Sri Lanka you might be interested to know how much we spent in 2 weeks:
Our flights with Emirates cost about £500 each from Manchester (with a stop off in Dubai) – and our journey time in total was 14 hours.
Our accommodation in total was about £600, and each place ranged from £25 a night to £75 a night, but we mainly paid about £35 a night. And you really get a lot for your money for that. We weren’t staying in particularly posh places, but they were all clean and really nice and we were treated like royalty by the staff.
And while we were out there we spent between us about £800, so £400 each – and that included several long distance taxis, a safari, entrance to Sigiriya Rock and lots of lovely meals and cocktails! If you’re thinking of going on a budget you could easily do it cheaper and have a nice time.
Was about £2400, so £1200 each.