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