Back in February, (yes – February! I didn’t make a typo – it has taken me almost a year to get this blog post up…) we headed off for a little getaway to Sri Lanka. I’ve finally finished going through my photos and writing up my experiences and tips to share with you.
Let’s get the admin-y ones out of the way first:
Best time to visit: Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons – but this is a good thing! It means no matter what time of year you pick, either the North and East or the West and the South will be dry.
Route: I planned out our route in advance of arriving, making a small ‘loop’ of the island. Colombo -> Kosgoda -> Galle -> Unawatuna -> Mirissa -> Talalla -> Udawalawe -> Ella -> Kandy -> Polonnaruwa -> Sigiriya -> Dambulla -> Colombo. If anyone wants it, I’ve got my colour coded day-by-day itinerary on Google Drive and I’m happy to share.
Transportation: You can get around using public transport – there are lots of options, trains, buses and tuk-tuks. But we had an ambitious itinerary, wanted the flexibility and had luggage, which we didn’t particularly fancy hauling about, so, opted for a private driver. This is worked out to be about £30 a day which is pretty reasonable.
Along the way, we saw some beautiful sights,
And stopped off for regular roadside coconut fixes!
Our trip began and ended in Colombo, the chaotic capital city of Sri Lanka. Previously ruled by the Portuguese, British and Dutch the colonial influences can be found everywhere – for example, some of the well-preserved old architecture, nestled amongst the shinier new developments. In all honesty, I feel like we could have done with a shorter time in the city – especially as one of these days fell on a Sunday and many of the markets and shops were closed.
Sri Lanka is a melting pot of different religions – Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims and wherever you go, you’ll come across temples, churches and mosques:
^ Towering facades of gods and goddesses
^ A little church, sandwiched between two blocks
^ this incredible red and white striped mosque
There are loads of options for shopping in Colombo, sadly our final day in the city fell on a Sunday and so we didn’t catch the markets but it’s still worth a little stroll.
^ You can find everything from traditional dancing masks
^ through to HOT dried chillis. So vibrant!
^ And ofc, lots of street food and snacks. My favourite was fresh king coconuts – these are sweeter than most others and ofc you can eat the flesh afterwards too!
Pettah Floating Market
A nice little escape from the city’s mayhem, a collection of shops and cafes set on the canal side.
A perfect pitstop for our daily fresh juice fix. =]
T-Lounge by Dilmah
We popped into this cute little cafe for brunch on our last day.
The walls are lined with an endless variety of Sri Lankan tea – all available to try and purchase.
Both the food and the teas were pretty good but sadly the service really sucked. Here’s a pic of the sambol crepe (think coconut, chilli and lime). Yum!
Based in Kollupitiya, this restaurant serves up lots of Sri Lankan specialities. Most people opt for the buffet but we ordered off the main menu so we could try the hoppers.
The chicken curry was nothing to write home about but I did enjoy everything else!
^ Egg hoppers served up with sweet and spicy sambols.
^ Deviled cadjus – cashew nuts tossed in a sweet spicy sauce with peppers and onions.
Galle Face Green
Set on the coast, this little strip is a great place to come and grab some street food (of which there are plenty of options), find a comfy spot and watch the sunset alongside the locals.
^ Freshly fried crisps
^ Spiced up fruit – I quite enjoyed the black pepper guavas and chilli mango!
My favourite was the chicken kottu / kotthu, served at Nana’s King Street Food – chopped up strips of roti, veggies, egg, curry sauce with optional cheese and protein. It’s cooked up on a flat plate with a pair of clanging metal scrapers – the chefs give it a rhythm and transform it into something of a musical experience!
Oh, and it’s absolutely delicious!
The seafront is the place to end the evening and catch the sunset. Our last evening was quite a cloudy one and I didn’t have high hopes as it started off like this:
I’m so glad we hung about though because it quickly turned into a stunning sight.
Changing from orange hues into pinks.
Various species of turtles nest along both the west and the south coasts of Sri Lanka – but sadly, most of the eggs don’t make it due to various threats from humans (for food / accidentally getting caught in fishermen’s nets) through to predators like birds.
We popped along to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project who buy eggs from locals (saving them from becoming turtle omelettes), hatch them and release them to the sea at nightfall, thereby, hopefully preventing them from predators like birds.
They also run educational programs for the local community.
I question the ethics of it all and whether humans interfering is doing more harm than good but that aside, there’s no denying it, these little guys are seriously cute.
Once a key trading port, Galle is a picturesque city, based on the South-West coast of Sri Lanka. It’s steeped in history – built by the Portuguese and fortified by the Dutch. You’ll find everything from huge mansions through to quirky cafes.
These rickshaws/tuk-tuks really take me back to summers spent in India as a kid.
The beautiful Galle fort lighthouse:
A small beach nearby:
Royal Dutch Cafe
We stopped for lunch at this cute and quirky cafe, selling a variety of curries and rotis and also claiming the best tea and cake in town.
Service isn’t speedy because everything is made to order and it’s a small operation.
^ The vegetable roti, curry spiced and stewed veg served inside a folded flatbread. Not great in all honesty.
^ On the plus side, this chicken curry may not look like much but in reality was SO good with layers and layers of flavour and a hint of coconut. Without a doubt the best curry we had the entire trip!
^ Lunch dessert: coconut and date cake (too dense but good, rich flavour) served up with spiced chai and an iced coffee.
We spent the last hour or so of daylight hour enjoying the (fairly busy) beach at Unawatuna. It’s got a laid back, backpacker vibe and I just love watching the waves lapping the golden sandy shores.
Sunset on Unawatuna beach with the palm trees gently swaying in the wind. Simply put, beautiful.
Mirissa is a small town situated on the South coast of Sri Lanka. It’s blessed with a gorgeous white-sand crescent beach and beautiful blue waters. It is quite crowded during the day and a bit of a ‘party’ destination, with music (read: noise) being pumped out from various beachside bars and clubs late into the night.
^ There’s a tiny little island set off of the coast of the beach which is easy to access at low tide.
^ View from the mini island, overlooking the beach.
Gah – and this clear turquoise water. Sadly the weather wasn’t on our side when I took this photo!
^ I took this picture at like 7am before we left Mirissa if you’re wondering why it’s not at all busy!
The Southern coast of Sri Lanka is home to magnificent blue whales. You can take an early morning boat tour and see them in their natural habitat – don’t forget to bring a jacket – it gets pretty breezy! There are a handful of tour providers, we opted for Raja and the Whales, who follow international guidelines for approaching whales and also provide breakfast before departure.
^ Dolphins in the distance!
^ And up close! ❤
^ A blue whale in the distance, shooting out water from its blowhole.
They grow up to 25m long and weigh in at 140 tonnes!!!
I only really managed to get a few decent pictures, most of which were of their tails!
And with that, we headed back to the mainland.
Colourful boats lined up at the harbour:
Maggie’s roti shop
Simple, homely and cheap – the food is cooked to order and was better than the flasher seafront restaurants.
No.1 Dewmini Roti Shop
This cheap, cheerful and no-frills little restaurant is set on the backwaters.
Square rotis are stuffed with your choice of fillings and served up with chilli sauce and sambol.
Zephyr Restaurant and Bar
One of the most popular beachside restaurants, with a cool, laidback vibe. You can sit upstairs on the deck area or with your feet in the sand, downstairs. Service, sadly, is pretty poor – unattentive, slow and abrupt.
Veggie fritters and fresh juices to start:
^ These were really good – crisp, light and served with a spiced tomato sauce.
I opted for the mahi-mahi burger which was, disappointingly overcooked. (Bit of a cop out, I know, but I’m very quickly curry-ed out!). In the background, you can see Mr Man’s seafood pasta, again, not the greatest.
^ Footprints in the sand on our final night.
Talalla beach, located further along the Southern coast of Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve laid eyes on! Soft golden sand curves around the beautiful blue waves, framed by green palm trees. ❤
^ The best bit is that it’s almost completely empty!
I mean – come on! It doesn’t get much better than this.
^ Colourful fishing boats
^ Breakfast with our toes in the sand. Sri Lankan omelettes, loaded with fresh veggies, served with toast and mango juice. Yum!
We also saw this heron looking for his breakfast in the forest behind us.
❤ ❤ ❤
More fresh fruit juice after a quick dip – papaya and passionfruit:
And with views like this from the little cafe, it’s a wonder how we ever left.
I’m beginning to forget what it feels like to be warm without wearing layers of clothing and cranking up the heat – take me back!
Our next stop was Udawalawe, this is a small town located a few hours drive from the South coast, best known for its national park. We stayed at the Elephant Trail Hotel – a lovely little place and conveniently located near the main local sites.
We ate all of our meals in the hotel restaurant whilst staying in Udawalawe as there really wasn’t much going on in the town. It was decent and edible but nothing remarkable. It strikes me that it was probably adapted for tourist palettes which is a shame.
Elephant transit home
The Udawalawe elephant transit home pretty much does what it says on the tin – cares for orphaned elephants and once they’re rehabilitated, releases them back into the wild.
I’d recommend timing your visit carefully so you can, quietly and from a distance, watch feeding. It’s lots of fun to see the little elephants excitedly run up to get their milk.
This little one is too small to use the hose.
Fresh branches for dessert:
And off they go, back into the forest enclosure.
Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is one of the best places to come and see elephants in the wild.
We arrived bright and early, a little after sunrise. The park itself is lush and beautiful with a mixture of grasslands and forests framed with mountains in the backdrop.
With hundreds of elephants residing here, often in large herds, your chances of spotting them are pretty high!
There are also lots of large male elephants, who often live a solitary life, roaming the park.
Up close and personal!
We managed to get lots of great photos!
^ They feed for most of their waking hours.
Needs a bit more practice at best at hide and seek…
And there’s lots of other wildlife to be seen, including over 200 species of birds.
^ Pied Kingfisher
^ Peahen with her chicks
Lots of beautiful peacocks:
Painted stork and baby:
There are also lots of other animals to see!
And lots and lots of monkeys!
This guy was definitely side-eyeing me.
Lizards and monitors:
Croc lurking on the water surface:
Crocodile and stork:
Located in the beautiful hill country, and about two hours drive from Udawalawe, the small, chilled out town of Ella, was one of my favourite stops on our Sri Lankan adventure.
We stayed at the Alpine Resort, which, whilst a little remote (tuk-tuks/rikshaws will happily drive you back and forth up the dirt road) was absolutely amazing. The service was personal, the hotel was new and well maintained and oh, the views…
Waking up to breakfast with the mountains in the background before starting our day of hiking was simply perfect.
^ We saw this beautiful waterfall briefly en route to our hotel.
Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak is a fairly easy hike and easy to self-navigate thanks to signs. It took us about an hour to the top and would have been much quicker if I hadn’t stopped to take it all in (read: take all the photos) along the way!
The path winds its way through tea estates and you can see Sri Lankan women picking leaves, throwing them over their shoulders into the sacks on their backs.
Absolutely stunning views!
Towards the end, the path turns into stairs:
The views from the top:
Little statue/temple dedicated to Buddha at the top.
Perfect pink streaks in the mountains. ❤
The hike up to Ella Rock was definitely a little more challenging. The route starts on a train track…
It’s safe, trains come like twice a day and go pretty slow so you just jump out of the way in the grass if you hear one coming…
^ So beautiful!
The route then takes you through some overgrown fields and past a stream before inclining upwards.
Before long, you’re looking down at those same fields:
And after an hour or so, it’s even more beautiful!
Then through the forest – the final stretch.
Seriously – so lush, so green, so beautiful.
It is a little more difficult to self-navigate though, we definitely got a little lost and went on an hour-long detour through a little village (oops), so I’d recommend making sure you have lots of water and sunblock just in case!
Nine Arches Bridge
The nine arches bridge stretches 91m across two sides – Ella and Damodara. At almost 30m tall, the sheer size blew me away! We arrived late afternoon, a little before sunset were treated to this incredible sight:
We also lucked out and caught a train crossing (there are only a handful of trains a day so if you can, try and time your trip accordingly).
Seriously – it looks like something out of a film!
We stayed in Ella for a couple of days so had a chance to try lots of delicious food!
A small, cheap roadside restaurant serving up delicious food with a smile.
^ Cheese kotthu – roti strips tossed together with veggies and spices, topped with cheese – yum!
^ Curry and rice platter – a huge mound of white rice, framed with a selection of four curries (green beans, lentils, peppers with onions and coconut sambol) and topped with a poppadom.
A lovely homely restaurant, serving up a selection of delicious curries. They have outdoor seating overlooking the main street too.
I really enjoyed the aubergine cooked with onions.
But by far, my fave dish was this simple potato curry, topped with crispy fried onions.
This stylish restaurant seemed to be a hit with tourists and locals. It was absolutely heaving despite how huge it was and we had to loiter around for quite a while and secure ourselves a table after watching a couple finish up as the was no real waiting process! I’d recommend reserving in advance / arriving early.
We shared a burger and some pasta. The food was average at best but tbh, we just needed a little break from all the curry!
I can’t for the life of me remember what this little roadside restaurant was called but it was on the quieter end of the main street and was full of locals and we popped in on one of the nights for dessert: coconut and palm sugar roti with tea.
Train – Ella to Kandy
Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, the trip from Ella to Kandy is a six-hour adventure. It’s a very popular route, especially in the other direction (Kandy to Ella) so I’d recommend booking online in advance. It’s definitely more expensive but because tickets sometimes sell out weeks in advance, it’s worth it for the peace of mind and the certainty of a seat on the train of your choice.
I hope you’re ready for FAR too many pictures of this train ride…
The other little tip I have is to book a second class ticket, without aircon and thereby locked doors, so you can hang out and take better pictures, without the window glare!
Little roadside waterfall!
^ Passing through the lush tea fields in Nuwaya Elia.
A friendly man, waving hello to all the passengers:
This cute little house:
Oh – and don’t worry about snacks and drinks, these are in plentiful supply. Chai wallahs regularly walk through the trains offering up fresh hot tea and fried snacks.
I think we basically hung out at the door the entire train ride.
It was too beautiful not to!
I love the mountains in the background in this one:
The train makes lots quick stops at small stations along the way.
Only the locals really get on and off but the train empties out considerably at Nuwara Eliya. Sadly due to time constraints, we weren’t able to get off here to explore but, something to come back for one day maybe!
Kandy is a huge, chaotic city, based in the centre of Sri Lanka. We only planned for a very quick pit stop here before travelling onwards. As our train was running late too, we had even less time.
Kandy Muslim Hotel
First, and arguably most important stop, a late lunch at the Muslim Hotel. Restaurants in South Asia are often, rather confusingly, also referred to as hotels. I dunno, go figure.
Anyway, more to the point, we had probably one of, if not the best kotthu on our trip here. =]
Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue
Set atop a large hill, this giant Buddha statue, one of the largest in Sri Lanka, watches over the city of Kandy.
You can climb the stairs up to the shoulders of Buddha for a beautiful view over the city.
We stayed at the RHO Sigiriya Lake Edge Retreat. Off the beaten track and overlooking a small lake, this small hotel was a real gem. It took about 2.5 hours drive from Kandy and as we’d spent the bulk of the day travelling, we spent the afternoon chilling.
It’s had a great view of Sigiriya rock in the distance too!
And lots of wild birds like this red-wattled lapwing and peacock running/flying around.
Watching the sunset by the pool:
We also had dinner at the hotel, which was really enjoyable!
Mixed grill with fries and veg:
After an early breakfast and a little carb loading, we checked out.
^ Oh, and the papaya juice was absolutely delicious!
Located near the town of Dambulla, near the centre of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya Rock stands nearly 200m tall, overlooking the surrounding forest. Ancient civilisations built a fortified palace atop this rock formation.
We started our ascent up the 1,200 steps first thing in the morning to avoid the heat.
This also meant that we avoided the throngs of tourists who arrived a little later in the morning.
Looking down from about halfway up. In the distance, you can see a white Buddha statue:
Near the top, you’ll find a set of lion’s paws. At one point, the stairs would have led into a lion’s mouth, sadly, this did not hold up to the test of time.
They’re absolutely huge!
At the summit, you can find the remains of the palace:
Sadly as it was such a cloudy morning, we didn’t have a chance to fully appreciate how beautiful the views are.
Around the rock itself, are a series of moats, ruins and gardens.
And lots of monkeys!
This little guy looks so wise.
We also saw this little blue bee:
We stayed at the Thidas Arana Lake Hotel, which overlooks a beautiful lake.
A breakfast of fresh fruit. =]
Traditional fishing boats on the edge of the lake:
Fishermen returning from a morning of work:
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa was the home of the ruling Kings, 800 years ago. All that’s left now are ruins but with temples, tombs and stupas to explore, you can quickly begin to imagine how the city would once have looked.
The best way to see the place is to hire bikes (there are plenty available right outside, just make sure it’s sturdy and the tyres are okay – we got about 10mins in and ended up with a flat, which meant leaving the park to switch bikes). Then you can cycle around at your own pace, stopping every five or ten mins to see the next collection of ruins.
The Palace Complex of King Nishshanka Malla:
Each of these 48 columns in the council chamber has the name of the minister whose seat was one beside it inscribed into it.
In front of the stone lion, would have been the throne.
The complex is right beside a perfect view over the lake:
A close up of the carvings:
A traditional Buddhist temple, with four entrances.
Not a clue what this building was but I thought it was so beautiful:
Ancient carvings on this one:
The lotus pond, just a shame there wasn’t any water in it…
Kiri Vehera, White Pagoda:
^ So well preserved.
Rankoth Vihara, the largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa:
Ancient bathing pool or kumara pokuna:
^ Again, not sure what this building was used for.
Monitor by the lake:
And lots of Buddha statues – these may not look it, but they were huge!
A row of traditional dancing masks for sale.
There are lots of cheeky monkeys around too – we left our bikes whilst exploring and one of them definitely nabbed our water bottle!
Look at this little one, with his arm on his hip – so much attitude!
Mama and baby monkey:
Dambulla Cave Temples
A set of five, well-preserved temples with over a hundred different statues of Buddha, some said to be over 2,000 years old, sit 160m above the small town of Dambulla.
Lots of detail:
I love the colourful ceilings.
Outside, there are colourful ancient texts (at least, that’s what I think they are) fluttering about in the wind.
And lots more cheeky monkeys!
This one made a new friend!
A quick stop for some mango chips (without the extra chilli powder for me!)
Little gecko on the wall:
The golden temple, which sits behind the caves:
Ariya Rest House
For lunch, we stopped off at Ariya Rest House, who offer up a huge selection of delicious curries:
Free Paradise Resort
We stopped by this little place on our drive back to Colombo and had a delicious dish called hot butter mushrooms – battered and tossed with a sweet, sticky, spicy sauce and lots of crunchy fresh veg. Definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby.
And that’s a wrap. Hope you enjoyed reading about my Sri Lankan adventures!