Travelling Sri Lanka
We visited Sri Lanka for the first time earlier this year and what an amazing place it was. We travelled around the island during the first week and then spent the second on the beach. We hired a driver to take us around the different locations which is a common way to travel through the country and a really good way of fitting lots in! We are so glad we did do this as our driver quickly became one of the highlights of our trip!
Here are the places we visited –
You can climb Lion Rock which is $30 per person – the views are great and it’s a really easy climb. There’s a mix between stairs and rocks but it’s not too strenuous, just quite hot in the midday heat! You can also climb Pidurangula Rock which is a lot cheaper to climb if you are on a budget and in doing this, you can get great views of Lion Rock across the way (as they’re next to each other). If you have a drone with you, they are not allowed to be used here, or any religious places in Sri Lanka for that matter, as a sign of respect. Being our first day in Sri Lanka and Louis’ first time using his new drone, he was somewhat deflated when arriving at Lion’s Rock and seeing a big sign at the entrance saying ‘no drones allowed!’. However, this was only one of two places throughout our trip where the drone couldn’t be used; Sri Lankan people were very excited to see it flying around and usually gathered in crowds to watch it go.
The next day we did a village safari which ended up being a great afternoon! We took a bullock ride into a village and then a boat journey along a river to a family in a mud hut who cooked us an amazing curry! It was a great thing to do, meeting some local people and experiencing a little bit of their culture and surroundings. This cost approximately $20 per person and, again, something our driver recommended to us.
I’d say that you don’t need more than two days in Sigiriya, unless you want to do the caves and temples that are nearby (we didn’t do them as we visited many temples in Vietnam and Thailand over the previous years and this was a shorter trip.
We stayed in a home stay – The Nature Park Villa – which was lovely. This was set out in the woodland and had a little bit of a treehouse kind of vibe to it. The food, however, was very average but the people were very friendly which made for a great stay! We love doing home stays as much as we can. We find that they’re much more interesting than big hotels, meeting the local people and getting a real sense of their culture – and they are always really good value for money too!
We were told by a friend to miss out Kandy as it’s a ‘busy, congested, kind of dirty environment!’ After doing big cities in other countries recently, we weren’t really interested in visiting this one. Tour guides will try to take you to Temple of the Tooth, which I’ve heard from a few people is very ‘touristy’ and somewhat deflating as you barely see much of it. However, if you do like the hustle and bustle of a city – then give it a go – I’m sure there are probably some hidden gems to find! We did stop there for lunch whilst on-route to Nuwara Eliya and the food was terrible. This combined with the dusty and muggy feeling of the congested city meant that we’d seen all we needed to ….so we left after an hour!
The ‘Little England’ of Sri Lanka. One of our favourites we visited. It’s a really cute place, a lot colder than Sigiriya though so a small jacket might be needed! It’s full of tea plantations which are lovely to see, so much green and you can stop off and hear about how tea is picked and made. There’s some great waterfall walks and Gregory Lake which you can hire bikes to ride around. We stayed at The Tea Garden which we really loved. Such friendly people and it’s situated on their own tea plantation so they’ll give you a little tour around and make you tea and cake!
We found that there are not many restaurants to visit in this area. The town is quite small with not too much on offer. We ate dinner at an Indian restaurant connected to The Grand Hotel which was nice, a little pricey but the food was very tasty.
On the drive through the plantations, you come across a lot of spice gardens that are quite sweet for a leg stretch stop. Originally we questioned how interesting this would be but were quickly pleasantly surprised. It took about thirty mins to go round and they tell you about cacao and avocados and tiger balm growth. After which, you can either buy one of their products or give your ‘tour guide’ a tip. We bought some vegetable curry powder, which we’ve recently had back in London and it was yummy!
The train from Nuwara Eliyah to Ella is an absolute must for your whole trip. Don’t go to Sri Lanka without doing it! (Your driver will just drive alongside with your bags and you will meet him at the other end) A third-class ticket cost us 38p for a four-hour journey!) You can book this in advance if you want a seat. If you do book a seat, try to get one by the window as the scenery throughout the journey is just breathtaking. However, I’d say it’s more fun to stand up as this gives you the freedom to move around the train and hang out of the side with your legs dangling. The journey goes through the tea plantations which are so beautiful, particularly when you’re going through the clouds at the top of the mountains.
This seriously was incredible and I imagine will be the best train journey that we’ll ever go on. I’d recommend getting a morning train as it’s about three to four hours to Ella. One thing that was slightly annoying about the journey was that the train stopped on many occasion with little explanation as to why. Luckily, after mingling with various Sri-Lankan people, we were informed that this is to let on coming trains go past, as there is only one track.
Ella is my favourite place I’ve visited and hands down the best in Sri Lanka! As it was my birthday when we were there Louis treated me with a stay at 98 Acres Resort which is hands down the best place I’ve stayed in! (You have to click on this link provided to see for yourself!) If you want to splash out and stay somewhere fancy, this place is an absolute must! The views are incredible, the rooms are beautiful and breakfast was delicious with gorgeous settings. It’s walking distance from Little Adams Peak so you can climb that in the morning before it gets too hot. This is a fairly easy climb in comparison to Adam’s Peak and one that has some incredible views at the top! (And you can use the drone here!) Adams Peak is for serious climbers, very steep and high and takes a lot longer! (Also there’s a Buddha at the top so you definitely can not use the drone there).
Also, you can climb Ella Rock, we didn’t do it but it’s meant to be good and a fairly easy climb again, but takes longer than Little Adam’s Peak.
9 Arch Bridge in Ella is a famous bridge close to the local town. This is where you can watch trains come through and capture some great photos/video (see the opening to our Sri-Lanka video for some great drone footage here). You can also walk along the track here (this is quite a normal thing to do in Sri Lanka. It’s funny watching people arrive at train stations as they just get off onto the track and continue with their day haha). You can walk through the tunnel which was really fun. So fun that we came back a few times again after!
Chill Bar in Ella town is so cool! Upstairs is very much a travellers vibe, sitting on bean bags, drinking beers/cocktails and playing cards – it’s a great atmosphere if you’re looking for a more chilled / cheap place for a bit! The Lumprais is amazing if you want Sri Lankan food, likewise if you fancy a break from rice – their pizzas are amazing too!
We also stayed in Country Homes which is another home stay. It had great views of Ella Rock and friendly owners and egg hoppers for breakfast which are yummy!
This was the Beach area that we stayed in. Unfortunately Bentota is full of big resort hotels which we didn’t realise at first. It’s very quiet in comparison to other areas. It didn’t seem like there were many bars or restaurants, especially not on the beach. Our hotel had seven restaurants and none of which were Sri Lankan. At first, we were really worried that we had made a bad choice in coming to Bentota, feel somewhat underwhelmed by the initial lack of atmosphere. Having said that, Bentota ended up providing us with some of our favourite memories. We did some research on TripAdvisor as we really wanted some Sri Lankan culture again. In doing so, we found two places to eat that we came to love! The first was called Happy Garden which was a stripped-back, basic restaurant alongside the train-track, run by a man and his wife. This was the place where we found (wait for it) the best curry we have ever eaten! It was just soo good! I think i’d happily get on a plane back to Sri Lanka just to eat one of those curries. If i came back to London the next day, it would be completely worth it!
Happy Garden is where we ate for lunch most days. For dinner, we went to Sun and Sea restaurant, which again was so basic yet so good! This comprised of a little tree- house-type-place with some fairy lights scattered around. The guy that owned it was very sweet and friendly. This place also threw a spanner in the works as the curry was also up there as one of the best curries we had – deciding between the two was very difficult, but we feel Happy Garden just had the edge (Sun and Sea was definitely the better setting – much more romantic). Both places were exactly what we were looking for in terms of culture. Not ideal if you’re looking for something fancy, but perfect for traditional Sri Lanka and amazing food!
We also did a Lake safari for the day in Bentota which was really fun! We went out on to the Bentota river with a guide where we climbed Mango trees, paddled through lagoons and a visited a family’s home where they carved ornaments out of coconuts and other cool materials. This was a great trip for the day and about $25 per person.
After this, we stayed with the same guide who took us to a water-sports centre out on the river. This was So much fun! With a variety of activities, you could choose from Water-Skiing, to Banana Boats and Rubber Dinghi Rapids (I’d never been on a rubber Dinghi Rapid before – it was so much fun!)
On the way to the beach there are many turtle hatcheries (which are about $3 to visit) where you can hold the turtles. Don’t be fooled when they tell you they will release the turtles into the ocean on “the day after you visit we realise them” as apparently this is something they say to entice tourists in but never seem to do. But it’s nice to see the baby turtles either way.
On the way to Bentota we stopped at a Tsunami museum which was really eye opening and amazing to see. Here they have lots of photos and information on the Tsunami and some of the wreckages from the wave itself. This museum is well worth a visit but is, as you can imagine, quite sad.
We got a train from Bentota to Negombo which took about two hours and then a tuk tuk from there to Columbo ready for our flight – be prepared Colombo is CRAZY busy and hectic, so again if this isn’t what you’re looking for, avoid it apart from using it to fly in and out of.
To finish off, hopefully this has been helpful and enjoy Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan people are some of the friendliest we’ve ever met – we occasionally speak to our driver Anton who was an absolute hero! If you would like to contact him, his number is +94 77989 3805. He will be more than happy to receive your call or whatsApp.