I remember flying into Sri Lanka and the first sight we saw was a country covered in massive palm trees (a sure sign of tropical paradise ???)
We travelled from Colombo down the West coast to the Southern province all the way to Yala on the East and then back through the jungle center – this took us nearly 3 weeks and we definitely could have stayed for longer.
Sri Lanka is divided into two main monsoon seasons, the south-western monsoon brings rain to the south-west of Sri Lanka between May and September, while the dry season in this region runs from December to March…we visited on the cusp at the end of March/beginning of April, so had pretty messed up weather for the majority of our time here…
We began our stay in Hikkaduwa, which we absolutely loved. Golden sandy beaches with lots of surf, stretching back to green tropical jungle – basically Sri Lanka in a nutshell. The weather here was good, and we ended up surfing, sunbathing and consuming a diet consisting of mainly coconuts and curry.
Sri Lankan food is unbelievable. The best curries I’ve ever eaten in my life hands down. (Plus everywhere seems to give homemade lemon, ginger and honey tea after each meal?!) The menu in most places consists of, simply, “rice and curry” – around 8 different curries are brought out with a mountain of rice and everyone digs in and tries some of each.
Potatoes, jackfruit, aubergine, dahl, the curries changed all the time and each tasted incredible. If you’re a lover of coconut (like me) then you really will love the Sri Lankan cuisine. The best curry we had in Sri Lanka was in Hikkaduwa at a family run local place called “The Bookworm Library,” UNREAL food and unbelievably cheap.
We did end up spending too much money on coconut iced coffee and smoothie bowls at hippy surfer cafes like Salty Swami’s though…(I still dream about that place I swear…) everything in balance guys…
One afternoon we spent swimming in the shallow waters with a massive 80 year old turtle (!!) and as we were having an evening beer on the beach (I know I know what a life) some locals came running down with a bucket full of baby turtles ready to be released! We ended up helping to release hundreds of these little babies to the sea, what an absolute DREAM day. Are you starting to see why I liked this place so much!?
From here things went a little downhill for me though…
Unawatuna was next on the list but the first night we ended up getting drunk and woke in one of the worst hostels of our travels. Being the idiot that I am, I also managed to wake up with a cut open arm and a pain in my ear (that later turned out to be the most horrific ear infection, not helped by a tropical bug that was going around Western Sri Lanka at the time) which was pretty scary in itself, not to mention the lack of sanitation and unfriendliness of the hostel.
We moved and changed accommodation there and then (one of the best things I’ve learnt about travelling, if you’re not happy somewhere don’t waste time – just leave!) and spent the next few days recovering in a much better place run by an absolutely lovely family, who helped me enormously. I spent far too much of my time in Sri Lanka from this point onwards getting tuk tuks to and from hospitals, being prescribed antibiotics and waiting in queues to see various specialists (read about this here).
I find it hard to write about the rest of my time in Sri Lanka because I feel like I couldn’t make the most of it in the state I was in, mainly due to the fact I couldn’t even go in the sea for the rest of my time here and my ear was soooo painful.
But, of course, we made the best of an unfortunate situation and still managed to see loads of the places we planned to (even if we did have to miss out on hiking Adam’s Peak, this time…)
One day we jumped on a bus and had a day trip to Galle, a beautiful town surrounded by a Dutch fort. Sri Lankan public buses are an experience in themselves – no timetables, order or schedule, you just have to walk to what looks like a gathering of people on the side of the road and jump on a bus that is headed in the right direction! The buses are sooo cheap and the views of the ocean on one side and jungle on the other is breathtaking. There isn’t any aircon but the windows slide open and a breeze actually keeps the bus a bearable temperature (even if your legs stick to the old leather seats…it’s so so hot in Sri Lanka honestly).
Another day we jumped on a bus and headed to Koggala where we grabbed a tuk tuk up into the hills to The Virgin White Tea Factory, after a free tour we sampled over 25 varieties of tea grown here in Sri Lanka and tried some cinnamon straight from the tree (cinnamon is actually the bark of a tree and yes I stood in a tea plantation munching on tree bark).
We even got a bus to Mirissa where we spent the day on the beach watching surfers ride waves against massive jungle backdrops over the reefs. We visited a coffee shop called “Aloha Coffee” that was unbelievable (if you like fancy barista coffee and over the top smoothie bowls, two things I clearly live for).
After a car journey all the way from Unawatuna to Tissa on the East Coast we arrived to such a weird little place. Most people stay here just to go to the Yala National Park (exactly what we did) so it seems like a bit of a stop over place, not much about and some of the people seemed v strange…our host had lost his phone for 4 days and didn’t even know we were arriving…we also went out for curry and were the only people in a restaurant, we sat in awkward silence whilst watching these two men cook for us..it was like having our own private chef haha!
ANYWAY, we got up at 4:00am for our safari around Yala National Park. The jeep was so bumpy that we all basically walked away with whiplash, but it was definitely bearable to be wildlife spotting all morning. Watching sunrise in the park was beautiful and it felt like magic to be surrounded by so much wild nature. During the 7 hour safari we managed to see so much of it!
Chilled out Ellie’s in their natural habitat, and even TWO LEOPARDS sleeping under some trees! Although we only got a glimpse, it was incredible – how many people can say they’ve seen wild leopards!?
I would 100% recommend visiting a national park whilst in Sri Lanka, this country has so many of them! Yala is the most famous, claiming the highest density of leopards in the world (but don’t bother staying in Tissa for too long, not a lot seems to go on there, and I’m not gonna lie, some of the people freaked us out a little, but we’ll leave it at that…)
The Sri Lankan Jungle
Despite all it’s beautiful coastline, and being here for loads of stormy weather (thunder and lightening bouncing off the mountain peaks each evening) one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka was Ella. The crisp fresh mountain air and leafy green jungle made everyday one of exploring. Hiking Little Adam’s Peak, exploring tea plantations and jungle walking to the Nine Arches Bridge (one of the most picturesque railways I have ever seen) are some of the things we got up to (as well as eating looots of coconut and honey Roti’s, you will eat a tonne of Roti’s if you ever visit Sri Lanka).
The train journey from Ella to Kandy is probably the most scenic I have ever been on. Famous for it’s winding tracks through mountainous jungle it made the 7 hours sitting on v uncomfortable seats and being stared at by school children bearable.
Kandy is a city surrounding a massive lake that is home to huge reptiles called Monitor Lizards, they actually eat birds and other large mammals (I couldn’t even make this up if I tried).
After a few days exploring Kandy by foot, visiting more Buddhist Pagodas and eating tonnes of cheap tasty curry we headed back to Colombo, which is actually such a cool city and the capital of Sri Lanka, before catching our flight to BALI.
Flying out of Sri Lanka and looking back on it now, I really do have a lot of love for the country and the places we visited. Animal cruelty and sexism are still common in some areas and a lot of places still lack basic sanitation and health care. In those respects, my expectations of Sri Lanka were not met, but it exceeded any of my other expectations. The Sri Lankan people are some of the happiest and friendliest we met and it is definitely a place I will be returning back to (this time hopefully without an ear infection).