And that’s just one of the reasons I loved it.
Now I’m not ‘the traveling type’. I’m not into hostels, or backpacks or smelly hair or spending months away from my family and friends. What I am into, however, is big holidays, but it can often be quite hard to squeeze a lot into a couple of weeks.
If you are into big holidays also, then I want you to bear Sri Lanka in mind for your next trip. It is a great place to start because it is cheap, easy and relatively quick to get around so you can pack a lot in to a short space of time. Below is a few ideas for some beautiful and diverse places to go in Sri Lanka.
All flights from Manchester Airport will fly to Colombo- the busy, bustling capital city of Sri Lanka. My only advice would be to get out of the city as soon as physically possible. It is dirty, loud, and totally overstimulating to say the very least.
I would suggest getting yourself to the station as soon as possible and get yourself on the train to Kandy. The journey takes about 2 ½ hours and will cost you next to nothing. The trains from Colombo to Kandy seem to stop in the afternoon, so if your flight gets in a little later, there are a few stations closer to the airport (Katunayaka South, Liyanagemulla etc.) where you can get later trains and connections.
These trains are pretty hot, busy and uncomfortable, but it is a small price to pay for the view of the tea country you will see out the window on the way.
Once you get to Kandy, there are a plethora of places to stay. Loads of hotels and guest houses are available, but pre-booked Air BnB’s are also about for a more than fair price. We stayed in the hills at this homestay which was about a 5-10 minute TukTuk ride from Kandy centre. It cost a total of £70 for four nights.
There is loads to do in Kandy city – like walking around the lake (watch out for GIANT lizards), visiting the temples such as The Temple of the Sacred Tooth and the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha, tea factory visits and watching the cultural dancing at the Red Cross Centre.
Getting a Tuk Tuk driver to give you a little tour is an excellent idea too and will cost you somewhere between 2000-3000 rupees (£10-15). Be wary though however, some driver can get a commission from taking you places- so have a loose idea of where you want to go and avoid any sort of spice garden at all cost – they are a con and proprietors will pressure you into buying overpriced products.
If you ask for recommendations from locals, most of them will tell you to climb the Hanthana Mountain Range which is an experience not to be missed. Walk up through the beautiful tea plantations and up the mountain to find one of the most beautiful views you will ever see.
The walk will take you about two hours in total, and isn’t too difficult at all. Make sure you take lots of water, however, and watch out for the baking hot sun.
In terms of food, I have to say that I was a little disappointed. It was somewhat challenging to find authentic Sri Lankan food, and instead, there was an awful lot of ‘Chinese’, and ‘Italian’ restaurants for the tourists which were more than disappointing.
A few highlights, however, was the street food and the bakeries. Sri Lankan’s are into their sweets, and the fluffy jam, chocolate and coconut buns were just what the doctor ordered after a long day of walking around.
After a four night stay in Kandy- it will become clear that it is time to move on. Ella is the other big place where all the travellers go, and I can guarantee your train will be stuffed to the gunnels with elephant harem pants and backpacks.
There are direct trains from Kandy to Ella which all leave first thing in the morning. A first class, air-conditioned carriage will cost you 1,350 rupees (£6), and the journey will take around six ½ hours.
I can guarantee this journey will fly by, however, as the view outside is said to be one of the most stunning in the whole world. You will be going through the vast, mountainous tea country which is awash in tones of emerald green. Feel free to go out and sit in the open door of the carriage for the full experience.
This tiny little town is a complete contrast to the lively streets of Kandy. I think it would be more accurate to call Ella a village- and one that is nestled quietly in a range of beautiful and awe-inspiring mountains.
I hope you brought your walking boots and waterproof, however- because if you are in Ella, you are going to be doing a lot of walking, and Hanthana is going to look like a mere pebble compared to the epic Adams Peak or Ella Rock.
Ella Rock is not to be missed, however, and Little Adams Peak makes a great warm up, and the magnificent Nine Arch Bridge is a must-see while you are there. There is an excellent guide to the Ella Rock walk we found here, but the main points are to start as early as possible, don’t listen to the locals (they will try and convince you that you’re going in the wrong direction so you will pay them to show you up), and watch out for trains.
The walk starts along the Train track beginning at Ella Station, which moved through a tea plantation and finally to the base of the rock. The total time for the walk is about 3-4 hours and I would say it is pretty east bar the last 20 minutes of steep hard walking.
All will be forgotten when you see that view though- there isn’t anything quite like it, and I can guarantee you will feel on top of the world.
Another fantastic thing to do in Ella is to see some waterfalls- of which there are a few. The word ‘Ella’ actually means ‘waterfall’ because there are so many in this area.
You can swim in many of these waterfalls quite safely, and it also makes a great way to relax your aching muscles. The most popular is Ravana Falls which is great for swimming (watch out for snakes on the rocks!), but others include Dunhinda Falls, Bomburu Ella, and Duwili Ella Waterfall just to name a few.
We actually paid a local Tuk Tuk driver to spend the whole day taking us to a few in the surrounding area which was a great way to see them all. This cost us 6000 rupees which is about £30 – not bad for a whole day or driving and the luxury of a private photographer all day!
The food in Ella was a much better experience. In the centre of the town, there are many bars and restaurants which are full of traditional Sri Lankan food. Make sure you get your fill of Stuffed Roti’s before you leave- they are delicious and a great snack to take on a walk. Kottu Roti is the chopped up version of this too, which is also delicious and very fun to watch it being made.
Most people tend to gravitate towards Café Chill which is full of travelling westerners, but we kept on going back to The Roti Hut at 360 bar again and again for some of the best roti’s I’ve ever tasted.
Speaking of food, it was in Ella where we realised we were missing a trick. After a long, sore day of walking, our charming Air BnB host offered to cook us dinner for 1,200 rupees (£7 ish), and it was phenomenal.
She cooked us a big plate of rice and four or five different vegetarian curries including dhal, spicy green beans, aubergine with grilled chilly, fried mushrooms and spicy coconut sambal to go on top. It doesn’t matter where you are in Sri Lanka, I highly recommend asking your hosts to make you dinner – it will be cheap, it will be authentic, and most importantly it will be delicious.
From Ella, you have a lot of choices to make your next move depending on how long you have in Sri Lanka. After so much time in the mountainous tea-country, a trip to the coast seems fitting. The stunning Aragum Bay is just three hours away on the East coast, and Yala is also a good choice if you are after a bit of Safari action also.
If the next stop is your last before heading back to Columbo, I would recommend staying on the West Coast. Galle is probably the best choice, as it is a lovely seaside town with excellent connections to other smaller places along the coast.
You can get a bus at the crack of dawn from central Ella which will take around six hours and will cost you… almost nothing. It wasn’t as uncomfortable either, just not as pretty as the train.
Galle really does have something for everyone. Whether it’s seeing the sights, wondering around the beautiful Dutch Fort, eating some great food, sunning yourself on the beach or learning to surf – it is a historic, beautiful, multifaceted place which will make a great end to your trip.
Again, you can stay in guest houses and Air BnB’s (like this one)- but in the centre of Galle Fort, there are some pretty snazzy hotels and restaurants if you want something a little more extravagant.
The walled fort is also home to some gorgeous restaurants, bars and cafes like Hoopa, Dumplings Café and The Fort Printers. The Stairway restaurant comes highly recommended if you are after some more of that Sri Lankan rice and curry – with a stunning view of the lighthouse on their rooftop.
Mirissa and Unawatuna beaches are the stand out stars with white sand, clear blue waters and great waves for swimming and surfing. The beaches are also lined with cute restaurants and shops, so be sure to check those out for some last minute souvenirs. Beachside restaurants tend to be pricey with low quality- so try and avoid as much as you can.
You can enjoy some swimming in the lovely waters, as well as snorkelling, jet skiing, surfing and even whale watching in the mornings. The beaches are also home to the famous stilt fishermen- but watch out, they will get furious if you try and take pictures without paying them. I speak from experience.
Along the coast, there are also various sea turtle hatcheries like the one at Mahamodara. These make a great visit to see the conservation process and give an opportunity to get up close and personal with some lovely sea turtles.
To be honest, when you are on the coast in Sri Lanka, it is more than likely that you will spend most of your time slugging out on the beach- but all these other things are options for when the sunburn strikes, and you can’t go in the sun anymore.
From Galle, you can get a train straight back to Columbo which takes about 2 hours. From there, you can stay the night in Columbo, or jump in one last Tuk Tuk to the airport before you fly home feeling very relaxed, cultured and full of good food I imagine.
Flights from Manchester Airport to Colombo start at £370 return. The flight is approximately 14 hours including a short layover somewhere in the United Arab Emirates.