Sri Lanka was recently ranked as the number one country to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet. Tourists have flooded to the place since the end of the civil war because there is so much to do and because everything is in such close proximity, it’s so easy to do it all!
A lot of tourists travel around the country using public transport but we opted for hiring a guide. Sid was absolutely fantastic – so much more than a driver getting us from A to B. His knowledge of the country was encyclopaedic and he arranged everything for us and made us feel completely comfortable in a foreign country. Being able to discuss everything with a local, visiting his family and friends and trying different things with him (from Sri Lankan curd to toddy) meant we left Sri Lanka with a better understanding of the place than anywhere else we’ve been to. Thank you Sid and Ceylon Trails for a fantastic trip! You can get in touch with them as well through https://ceylontrails.lk.
While travelling the country we compiled a bucket list of things that each traveller can tick off in this wonderful place!
Do a walking tour of Colombo
There are plenty of travel blogs which are less than complimentary about Sri Lanka’s capital, advising you to get out of it as soon as possible. That’s absolute rubbish in my view – Colombo has been central to the country for centuries now, ever since the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and there is as much history here as there is in Polonnoruwa or Anuradhapura. Admittedly through, we wouldn’t have realised this had we not been on a brilliant walking tour, again organised by Ceylon Trails and their wonderfully knowledgeable owner Sugee!
Full blog on Colombo can be found here: https://amarnitravels.com/2018/10/30/one-day-in-the-sri-lankan-capital-of-colombo/#more-749
Sample the local cuisine
The food is always amazing in this part of the world but a word of warning – have a glass of water to hand because even as Indians the spice was a shock! The must try dishes are:
1 Hoppers – the Sri Lankan version of Dosa, hoppers come in many shapes and forms. Egg hopper, string hopper, honey hopper but Amar’s favourite was the combination with fish curry. Shalini’s favourite? The good old plain hopper. Yawn…
2 Sri Lankan rice and curry – the locals seem to have this every day probably because it’s bloody delicious (tucking into one as I write this). You normally get an assortment of 5 or 6 curries to go with your rice and, as well as burning your tongue to a crisp, it’s always good. Favourites were Upali in Colombo and Chill in Ella as well as the two delicious home cooked meals we had with our tour agencies families.
3 Curd and honey – A staple dessert and pretty much what it says on the tin. We tried some from the street thanks to a recommendation from our driver.
4 Kottu – So simple! Instead of using the roti to pick the food up you chop it up and mix it in with the food. The roti to curry ratio works way better this way – my life has changed!
Visit Galle Fort
Outside of Colombo, Galle Fort is perhaps the most significant monument to colonial times in Sri Lanka. Built by the Portuguese and enhanced by the Dutch, walking the fort is the main attraction in Galle and is famed for its coastal location as well as a view over one of the best cricket grounds in the world.
Drink some Toddy
After all the history in Galle, we needed to get our hands on a drink and our guide kindly offered to show us some local Toddy (fermented coconut). Have to admit it was pretty disgusting but we drank it after watching the locals pretty much risking their lives walking between coconut trees on tight ropes.
Relax on a Southern beach
The South coast of Sri Lanka has a great collection of beaches although perhaps monsoon season wasn’t the best time to enjoy them. Nonetheless, we lucked out with the weather when we visited Tangalle beach which was a lovely peaceful place to spend a few hours. Unawatuna beach near Galle was the other one we tried which was a bit more touristy.
Visit a snake farm near Mirissa
We mentioned to Sid our guide that we were a touch disappointed about not seeing a snake in Australia. No matter, he knew just the place to get our fix. Run by an Ayurvedic doctor specialising in snake bites, the farm is essentially a shed of snakes that they have rescued from the homes of locals. Vipers, cobras, pythons and everything in between – we were assured that the ones we held we not poisonous. Not sure it made it any better!
Watch the turtle eggs hatch in Rekawa
Something we’d seen on wildlife programmes and really wanted to do! Unfortunately they didn’t come out this evening, but as a consolation we got to visit a turtle sanctuary which showcased some of the amazing work being done to protect turtles in Sri Lanka.
Safari in the Yala National Park
Best day of the trip! Yala is important for the conservation of a number of Sri Lanka’s rarest animals and its biggest prize is the Sri Lankan leopard – as there are only 80 within the park if you see on of these you can count yourself lucky. We heard rumours of a leopard in the bushes at one point during the safari but it didn’t seem to want to show itself. After a half hour wait most of the other jeeps got bored and left but we stuck out – and my were we rewarded! We also lucked out with a great shot of a family of elephants drinking water. A wonderful wonderful experience.
Hike in Ella
Ella was the start of the mountainous region in Sri Lanka – in our view the most beautiful part of the country. There’s plenty available here for the hiking enthusiast but the two most popular are Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock. It’s possible to do both in a day but we opted for Little Adam’s Peak – Ella Rock is slightly tougher which we didn’t fancy in the rain. The views are amazing in this part of the country wherever you go and Little Adam’s Peak did have the benefit of seeing the one thing you can’t see from Ella Rock – Ella Rock itself! The Nine Arches Bridge is another must do in Ella, ideally at a time when you can see the train on it as well.
Visit the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is known as “Little England” in this part of the world due to the architecture, temperate climate and general embracing of its colonial past. The area is also famed for making a huge contribution to another British institution – tea. The views of the plantations are stunning – rolling green hills with the odd worker amongst them picking leaves off the tea plant. We also did a tour of a tea factory which was fascinating to see given how central it is to our lives back home.
Take the Ella to Kandy train
Get your cameras out! The scenery is amazing on this train which takes you through the Sri Lankan mountains. There are no doors on the trains in this part of the world so you can get the best views looking outside them watching the world go by. We used up a lot of Go Pro storage!
Visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy
Buddhism is the primary religion of the Sinhalese regions in Sri Lanka and the temple in Kandy is perhaps the most sacred place of worship for the community. The temple houses the famous relic of a tooth of the Buddha and has become one of the most important symbols of Buddhism in the country. I have to say, the place was heaving with people so we were a little bit hurried when we went to see the relic itself. It’s in a gold case…I think….
Visit the Golden Temple of Dambulla
Probably the best temple in the country! It sits within five caves under a huge rock and was refuge for King Walagama as he ran from a bunch of Indians trying to take over his kingdom. Also known as the scene in which Shalini’s phone fell victim to a monsoon. RIP phone, we hardly knew ye.
Explore the ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa
Before the Europeans discovered Sri Lanka, the cities of Anuradhapura and then Polonnaruwa ran the country and a wonderful job has been done of maintaining the ruins so that these ancient kingdoms can be explored. Polonnaruwa especially gave us visions of standing in the council chamber addressing the king on his lion shaped throne – think Game of Thrones crossed with Bollywood epic Bajirao Mastani!
Climb Sigiriya- the Lion Rock
The number one attraction in Sri Lanka and for good reason! Sigiriya was home to King Kasyapa – an absolute nutter who murdered his father to take the throne, ran away from his home town to Sigiriya because he was scared of his brother taking revenge, and was later killed by said brother years later. Dinner at that family home would have been interesting! Sigiriya has amazing views of the surrounding area, ruins of King Kasyapa’s palace at the top of the rock and amazing gardens which make you feel you are in a royal residence. An absolute must do!