Voyage across Sri Lanka
A small island country on south end of India is a perfect blend of heritage, adventure, wildlife and scenic beauty. When I was on my flight to Sri Lanka, I had thought of a 5 days rough itinerary with 3 destinations. I had a friend I was about to join; he told me I’d love the place. The journey started with landing in Colombo and directly heading to Kandy. On the train journey, I kept staring outside my window, the views change in every few miles; farms, small towns, forests, bare lands to engaging foot hills. It was going to be exciting!
Stop 1: Kandy
Kandy is located in the Central Sri Lanka. It is on a plateau surrounded by mountains with a beautiful centerpiece lake called Bogambara Lake. Because of its geographical placement, the city usually has pleasant weather with clouds floating in clear sky; the air is fresh and in the evening people loved to stroll around the lake.
We reached Kandy by later evening and checked into our hostel accommodation:
We picked this Hostel for it’s peaceful location. The balcony has a pleasing sunrise view. The host is local and very considerate towards guest’s requirements. It is a well-kept property; and at walk-able distance you can find grocery shopping mart and eating outlets.
Other good Hostel option in Kandy is Clock Inn Kandy: https://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/2in1-Kandy/Kandy/275643
It is located in the main market area; it has the city life feeling. All things are easy accessible; the main bus stop and tourism office is also at close distance. There are good restaurants and bars in the neighborhood that can be enjoyed later in the evening.
Day 1 in Kandy started with a pleasant sunrise popping out of the mountains and spreading it’s bright light across. Soon after breakfast we headed to the main bus stop and boarded a bus to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The bus takes you to a point and from there you it’s a 15mins way ahead for which you can take a 3-wheeler to the Elephant Orphanage. It’s a total 1:30hrs journey.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is vast and spread across acres. For tourist entry it is majorly divided into 2 parts. Briefly- one part has limited elephants where you can feed and help them bath, the other part is into the forest where you see herd of elephants and can bath with baby elephants in the river. As option 2 sounds exciting, option 1 is cheaper ofcourse.
Pinnawala is an animal care that is now home to 93 elephants. This location is wisely selected keeping in mind elephant’s comfort with lush coconut plantation, a river and good enough mahouts to take care of them. Volunteers from all over the country become part of the elephant orphanage to learn more about animal care and it’s importance.
After returning from Pinnawala- we wandered around Kandy trying to catch up on the city life.
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue: is a tall white Buddha statue that is settled on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the city. From here you can notice the lake, football stadium, old government buildings and a tea factory. Because of it’s prime location it is an ideal site to catch all shades of sunset and to see the city turn into bed of sparking lights.
Tooth Relic Temple: is an important highlight in Kandy, which also makes it a World Heritage site. Going back to its historic importance, this place houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. It is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. The temple is located in the beautiful royal palace complex. The temple gets crowded for the evening rituals, but it is a charming site to be a part of.
Day 2; we took a short trip to Sigiriya. It’s a 3hrs journey that can be started by bus from Kandy and then switch to a 3-wheeler for a short distance.
From a stubborn king’s fortress to a UNESCO Heritage site now, Sigiriya standing at 660 feet tall is a beautiful thing. The ancient rock fortress is said to be 1200 steps climb but feels like a lot more. The name of the place-Sihagiri is derived from it’s unique lion like shape. The sharply designed architecture is an example of strong defense. Because of it’s high location it was almost impossible for enemies to attack the palace.
The top of the rock was home to beautiful landscaped gardens and the upper palace; today it is the oldest surviving structure in Sri Lanka.
From on top of the Sigiriya rock you can notice a tall Buddha statue, which is built in reference to the Dambulla Temple nearby.
Dambulla Temple is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in all of Sri Lanka, holding five cave temples containing a huge collection of Sri Lankan Buddhist artwork, including statues, shrines, and murals.
The paintings and statues tell stories from Buddha’s life and his teaching’s. They are very precious 153 Buddha statues throughout the complex. The location of the temple is on top of a huge rock that overlooks the vast green area around.
Coming back to Kandy, we spent last evening in the city with some souvenir shopping and bar hopping.
Stop 2: Nuwara Eliya
I absolutely loved the public transport facilities in Sri Lanka. Apart from the government buses there are plenty of private buses running all through the day. They come with air conditioner and are as cheap as 75INR for 80-100kms journeys. From Kandy we took a direct private bus to Nuwara Eliya, it was almost a 3hrs ride. Another great way to reach Nuwara Eliya from Kandy is to rent a vehicle, as it is a scenic highland motor road. The whole way goes through mountains, but as soon as you can spot Nuwara Eliya from a distance, you can feel a change in vibes.
It is an old colonial town that has the impact of British settlement in earlier times. You can identify that with the architecture and neatly divided roads and gardens. It has a very British-country-village feel with its colonial architecture, horse race club, golf course, and Scottish bars.
Where we stayed:
Pidurutalagala or Mount Pedro is the highest mountain (2555m) in Sri Lanka. On a clear weather day, it can be visited by a cab or 3-wheeler. Nuwara Eliya located at 1890 meters above sea level is the highest city in Sri lanka. It is famous for it’s tea and coffee plantation and also production of European plantation that is distributed to rest of the country.
Victoria Park is located in center of the town. Spread over 27 acres, it is a perfect location for a day picnic. The sharply cut plant ceilings, tall eucalyptus forming arches, and flower in varied colors makes it suitable place to rest for all nature lovers. One can also spot migrant birds from neighboring countries building a new house around the small lakes within the park. The Nanu Oya River going through the park is a source of life to all flora and fauna in the park.
The south end of the park extends to the racecourse.
Gregory Lake is where you enter another time zone and forget all worries in life. It is massively spread across 91 hectares; the objective to build it was to preserve the water flowing through river Nanu Oya. The complex developed around the lake has few of the finest hotels, restaurants and coffee shops. It is also a fun place for young ones as it hosts few water activities.
Lovers Leap was a short walk from our hostel. As we were travelling before the season starts, most of the hike options were not open yet. So we decided to take this hike that goes through tea plantations and ends at a waterfall. It is actually known for it’s romantic folklore where two lovers wanted to marry each other but were faced with society norms and not supportive families; hence they decided that if they cant live together they would like to die together. Sad story but good view to have it as your last.
That is all we could caught up in Nuwara Eliya, but if you have more time in hand there are few more things to be seen; such as Botanical Garden, Single Tree Mountain, Horton Plains, Tea Factory and Golf club.
Next day we will hike the most talked about mountain in the country.
Adam’s Peak- is a tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. We hired a 3-wheeler to Adam’s Peak that picked us at 11pm and dropped us at Dalhousie-base point around 1am. It was a 2hrs Tuk-Tuk ride and the reason to do it midnight was to catch the sunrise from top. We started our hike as soon as we reached; the whole hike is a stairway. There are plenty of eating stoppages on the way, as it is also a popular pilgrimage site. It is almost 5800 steps climb to reach at top. We succeeded to reach on time. The breaking down view is beautiful but there is not enough space to stand at the top. It was comparatively less crowded as locals told us.
Adam’s Peak is a pilgrimage site as it holds importance for three different religions- Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity.
The route to top is the northern face of the mountain that makes it the steepest but also the shortest. I would suggest taking this hike in two conditions:
1. You have your religious beliefs
2. If you really really love to hike
Because I’m decently good in climbing but the stairway gave me sore legs for a week.
We came back to our hostel by afternoon and didn’t talk or move for rest of the day.
Next day after check out we paid a quick visit to Sita Amman Temple and Ashok Vatika. As per Ramayana (Hindu mythology)- it is believed to be the place where Sita waited for Lord Ram to come to her rescue from Lanka King Ravana.
Train journey from Nanu Oya to Ella.
It definitely deserves bolder and bigger letters, as it is one of the most recommended things to do when in Sri Lanka.
Quick tip: Try to make advance bookings; it can be crowded during the weekend.
The highlight is the scenic views so make sure of a window seat or take a seat at the door- be safe though. The dramatic changes in the view will leave you dumbfounded. You will also see a lot of local people travelling in the regular compartment, as it is a part of everyday travel for them. Apart from the scenic beauty this journey will give you a closer look at the lifestyle of the people of Lanka.
Stop 3: Ella
Ella is primarily famous for Tea plantation. One of the earliest and most popular tea plantations is the Lipton’s Seat in Haputale situated at a short distance from Ella. Ella is a laid back small town with beautiful guesthouses that hosts travellers from all around the globe. A lot of Sri Lankan citizens also visit the place for a weekend break, as it’s quieter and shares vacation vibes.
After sore legs from Adam’s Peak, in Ella we spent most of our time hogging in the cafes or chilling in our hostel which had a beautiful location and a culture of it’s own. Check the link to know more about the place https://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Tomorrow-Land/Ella/273648?source=adwordsdynamic&network=g&creative=230863546312&adposition=1t1&uniqueclickID=14808785269122373950&sub_keyword=&sub_ad=b&sub_publisher=ADW&gclid=CjwKCAjwhqXbBRAREiwAucoo-wRnrolf3kHJuU70eQ454pqhUVzrW-GRSwP0rijcPy2vjwq6s2mUoBoCHyAQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
Few sightseeing points nearby that we managed to catch up are:
Ravana Waterfall and Cave: The waterfall ranks as one of the widest waterfall in the country. It is in a short distance from Ella and is easily accessible through a Tuk-Tuk. As per the Hindu mythology Ramayana- this is where King Ravana had kidnapped and kept princess Sita. The cave where Sita was kept hostage is right behind the waterfall and can be visited going through a lush green forest hike.
Nine Arch Bridge: I missed to visit this site as I was drained and just wished to rest. But it is one of the most talked about sites in Ella, and if you have time in hand you can add it in your day plan. It is an old railway bridge with nine arches underneath. It is an old architecture and adds the vintage drama between the tea plantations.
Few other places that can be explored around Ella are: Little Adam’s peak- if you don’t plan to climb the actual Adam’s peak. Go for this one. It’s easier and has a beautiful view overlooking tea plantations. Diyaluma Waterfall- is the prettiest and isolated waterfall where you can take an open shower. It is a little task to reach here, but all worth it. Ella Rock is another good option for nature lovers and hikers. It’s almost a 2hrs hike.
Stop 4: Arugam Bay
I was so excited to finally see the sea!!
Arugam Bay is a surfer’s paradise. Infact it is listed in the top sites to surf in the world. The long and consistent right hand point break at the southern end of the Arugam Bay beach makes it one of the finest surf spot in Sri lanka as well as Asia.
Peanut Farm is where most of the beginners and professionals practice their surfing skills. You can also join a training session for 3-7days.
Few other things to catch on while in Arugam Bay are:
A quick climb to Elephant Rock; It is the kind of place where you just sit and not do anything.
Visit the Muhudu Maha Vihara Temple.
Take a Lagoon Safari; you can be lucky to spot crocodiles and elephants.
After Ella we hired a cab to cover Arugam Bay and Yala National park as we were very tired by now.
Stop 5: Yala National Park
To add a bit of Wild side in our trip- we decided to include Yala National Park. Also as we planned to travel the coastal line from East to West we needed more stoppages.
This is where you will find Elephant’s casually crossing roads while you pass by in your vehicle. It is also very popular for leopard spotting. There is variety of Safari rides available in Yala National Park that can be booked from your resort. As Safari rides are very regular, there is no hassle in the reservations but it is advisable to do as soon as you book your stay.
As we were travelling before tourist season the beaches were secluded and pristine. Also I feel Yala is still a less explored part of Sri Lanka or would be much crowded in coming years.
Stop 6: Mirissa
This is where you live the happening beach life! Also where I took my surfing lessons.
Mirissa is located in the Matara District and is easily accessible by Bus routes. It is tourist’s favorite destination because of its laid-back vibes, quirky shacks and evening bar scenes. It is also known for whale and dolphin watching, as there is a 50-50% we didn’t go for it and I rather focused on my surfing.
There are innumerable stay options across Mirissa ranging from all budget types. While staying here you can also visit Hikkaduwa to witness one of the biggest Turtle nesting in the country.
Stop 7: Galle
Landing in Galle was a sudden change of vibes.
We roamed around in Galle mostly on foot with our backpacks on as we had very limited time here. It’s a beautiful city with Dutch-colonial buildings, masions, museums, ancient mosques and churches. Because of the heavy tourist walk-in, you will find creative cafes and interesting boutique stores while wandering around the streets. It has big to small corner shops from where you can pick souvenir and gifts. I could find some good herbal/organic skin and haircare products.
We also took a quick tour of the fort, but at the daytime when the sun is beaming high it is not the best idea. Galle is one place I would definitely like to spend more time at.
If you can afford a little more, there are plenty of luxury properties in Galle. Give yourself a little treat!
From Galle we took a cab back to Colombo and then a flight back home.
I did not spend any time in Colombo, and I do not regret it.
- The coolest thing to do while travelling in Sri Lanka is to rent a Tuk-Tuk. It is as easy as to drive a scooter with better balance infact. We got this idea much later when we were done with half of our trip. It is also one of the cheapest ways to travel around in SL. The license of any nationality is valid.
- I have shared stay options only for the places that I recommend. For rest, we took any place that was available and cheap.
- With every cash withdraw from the ATM a certain amount is deducted. As I roughly remember it was 250INR for each transaction.
- Do not forget to buy Tea packs! It is exceptional.