Sri Lanka best bits: a land of plenty

Sri Lanka best bits: a land of plenty

This was a major 2 week trip for me over Easter, and a country that had been on my bucket list for some time. There’s some truly fabulous parts to overload the senses, but there’s also a lot that I wish I’d been told in advance to get more out of this long distance jaunt. Read on for the Sri Lanka best bits:

3 THINGS YOU REALLY CAN NOT MISS:

SIGIRIYA ROCK | or ‘Lion Rock’ completely blew my mind: palace-ruins from centuries ago 200ft above ground, complete with Lord-of-the-Rings-esque giant lion head, saucy lady frescoes beautifully preserved, and awe-inspiring steps carved directly in to the rock face trodden by the nimble feet of Buddist monks. Also check out: Dambulla Caves.

Sri Lanka best bits
Immaculately preserved saucy frescoes part way up Sigiriya Rock
Sri Lanka best bits
One of many, many buddhas in the 5 caves at Dambulla

ELLA | tea country is beautiful, and much cooler at 3,000ft+ above sea level. Ella knows ‘travellers’ and there’s a distinctly different vibe (read: makes life easy for tourists) to other Sri Lankan towns, which we admittedly welcomed. The train ride delivers world-class views, and climb Little Adam’s Peak (the 98 acre restaurant saved us from a downpour). Also check out: Lipton’s Seat from Haputale.

Sri Lanka best bits
A definite trip highlight, getting the train to Ella
Sri Lanka best bits
Totally breath-taking. Thomas Lipton used to nip up here to mull over both his thoughts and tea his empire.

MIRISSA | we only made it to the South coast beaches, of which a favourite was this one – cleaner sand and water than neighbouring Unawatuna where we were staying, plus hundreds of spinner dolphins and several blue whales an hour off the coast (seasonal). Also check out: an afternoon at Galle Fort; Jungle Beach parties at Unawatuna.

Sri Lanka best bits
Sun, sea, and sand at Mirissa
Sri Lanka best bits
Sunset at unawatuna

3 THINGS THAT ARE WORTH A SNOOP:

ECO PARK HABARANA | yes, the jeeps crowded in driven by (only some) potentially cowboy operators (Yala was honestly not much better), but this was a fantastic way to see loads of gorgeous wrinkly elephants up close. The animals seemed non-plussed by our presence and were later spotted ambling across the main road in front of reckless public buses: far more terrifying. Also check out: Yala as an alternative, but no real need for both.

Sri Lanka best bits
The elephants have very set paths and would wait for a jeep to reverse even a couple of meters out of their way

NUWARA ELIYA | ‘Little England’ supposedly, and our experience was that, like England, it was cold and wet. And we had high tea – much cheaper at The Grand Hotel than The Ritz. If you’re in the tea country you’ll likely have the option to pass through/ by Nuwara Eliya and we used it as a base for Horton Plains and the walk to World’s End.

Sri Lanka best bits
Picnic stop at World’s End, Horton Plains

 

RICE AND CURRY | couldn’t get enough, which is lucky considering curry is on the menu 24 / 7. I’m a huge fan of the unique Sri Lankan way. Chefs can take hours to prepare spices for typically 5, sometimes 10+, different curry dishes, plus poppadoms and rice. The ultimate mix and match dining experience.

Sri Lanka best bits
The quintessential Sri Lankan curry
Sri Lanka best bits
Another Sri Lankan staple: hoppers. A bit like pancakes.
Sri Lanka best bits
Tea (and curry) with a view – Lipton’s Seat, Dambutale
Sri Lanka best bits
Sri Lankan treat: curd (buffalo milk) and treacle (coconut honey) sold on the side of the road

3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:

KANDY | it might have been that we were feeling a bit ‘cultured’ out, but this town left me underwhelmed. The lake in the middle didn’t inspire a stroll, and the traditional dance was interesting if a little like a school play (harsh, but fair). We sought out the market ready to haggle for gifts and goodies we didn’t need, but either found ‘the wrong one’ or just had too high expectations.

ANURADHAPURA | possibly a controversial POV. This was our first stop, a long full day drive, and a key reason we hired a driver. The giant dagobas dominated the blue skyline and there was a wonderful sense of calm and respect, but this doesn’t rival other temple complexes like Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Quick top: if you go, take socks! The tiles get so hot your bare feet burn.

Sri Lanka best bits
Reclining buddha at Anuradhapura temple complex
Sri Lanka best bits
Elephant wall at Ruwanwelisseya Dagoba, Anuradhapura
Sri Lanka best bits
Beautiful tiles in Anuradhapura (not so beautiful toes)
Sri Lanka best bits
White-painted dagoba at Anuradhapura

DRIVERS | having one was a real regret on my part. We’d debated the decision for ages. The efficiency of just $40USD a day swung the vote, and our driver Mr Samantha was very sweet. But we quickly felt smothered by the experience. Personally, it’s not my style of travel and I wouldn’t do it again. Instead I’d visit less places and take more time.

1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:

PUBLIC TRANSPORT | the train ride to Ella was not only stunning, but comfy enough (3rd class), on time-ish, and totally more liberating than our air-conditioned chauffeured car/cell. No doubt not all buses and trains are as fun, but I wish I’d given it a whirl.

Sri Lanka best bits
The Sri Lankan automobile

AND KNOW THIS:

Make curry powder from 7 spices: curry leaves, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, anise. Add chilli for the heat.

3 Responses

  1. Hi there
    Would you recommend your driver? We are looking for a driver from Ella to Mirissa.

    • Hi Rebecca
      We booked through Shan Tours, which had been a recommendation through friends too. Contact shanstoyrs@gmail.com (not sure if that’s a typo – tours not toyrs – but that’s what I have saved in my contacts!) and +94 71 129 9863 to call. The driver was a man called Sam, but it wasn’t initially arranged through him. As per my post, you might find having a driver frustrating/ restricting, but this company were OK. I wouldn’t rave about them (driver was sometimes late/ always tried to take us to touristy lunch stops when we asked for local places), but I think perhaps our expectations were high and this is just standard.
      Have an amazing time and try and catch trains when and where you can!
      Liz

  2. Loved all the pics and tip about the socks!

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