Sri Lanka WOW! What an amazing place. My husband and I have just returned from a 9-day whirl wind trip where we squeezed in as much as we could! We would do it all again in a heartbeat but spread it over two weeks for some R&R time.
We flew with Sri Lankan Airlines from Melbourne direct to Colombo in Business Class. It was quite comfortable, with a variety of meal options and a good selection of movies. The service was great and crew very friendly. The flight home was a newer plane and the seats were more comfortable. The only bad part was the transit time in Melbourne each way to get back to Williamtown.
I designed our own tailor made itinerary and we pre-booked a private driver for a seamless trip- and it was! We nicknamed him ‘Google’ as he knew everything about Sri Lanka, (and the world!), and a was a very safe driver in pretty chaotic traffic. The car was clean, comfortable, air conditioned and he had a fresh bottle of water for each of us each day.
Even though you fly into Colombo Airport the Colombo city is a 1-hour drive so your first night is better spent in Negombo which is 15 minutes from the Airport.
We stayed at Jetwing Negombo (5 star) which was quite beautiful. Sadly, we arrived late and left early so didn’t get to enjoy the beautiful pool, but it looked amazing. Our rooms was quite basic but the resort beachfront location is fabulous, and the pool very beautiful.
Day 2 A big day travelling (3-4 hours) from Negombo to Anuradhapura (in the north) the first capital of Sri Lanka the grandest city of ancient Ceylon. We visit the famous the SriMaha Bodhi (Sacred Bo-Tree) which was a sapling of the tree in India under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Sri Lankans are EVERYWHERE here under the tree, praying -out loud. It is fascinating and quite moving. The stupas (Buddhist Shrines) are so surreal looking and so unique! Photo opportunities galore.
We then continued the drive (another 2 hours) to Habarana for a two-night stay. We arrived late afternoon and enjoyed a swim and cocktails by the pool at The Cinnamon Lodge (5 star). I loved this property. It is set on 27-acres an includes a lagoon frequented by elephant. Monkeys run around the property and will visit your room if you leave your door open! Our room was huge, beautifully appointed with a private balcony. We had half board; breakfast and dinner were buffets with a fabulous selection of Sri Lankan and Western food.
After Breakfast we drove to Sigiriya Rock Fortress. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, a spectacular Rock Fortress, is one of Sri Lanka’s major attractions. Built by King Kashyapa (477-495 A.D), the “Lion Rock” rises 200m from the scrub jungle. The rock was the stronghold of the 70-hectare fortified town complete with water gardens, throne, frescoes. To see all this, you need to make the almost vertical climb of 1200 stairs- rock stairs, metal spiral and metal vertical stairs. It was hard work, and hot, but the view from the top is stunning and the remnants of structures they built up there is mind blowing!
We head back to the Lodge to refresh/ recover with a swim and lunch.
At 2.30pm our private open top jeep picked us up and we head to Kadualla National Park for a safari. The dry zone peaks every year in June and most national parks in the area are parched so herds of elephant head to this area during July, August and September for the lakes. There were hundreds of elephants, and plenty of cute, cheeky babies. We also saw waranna (goanna), water buffalo, monkeys, and several birds. For the safari you need hat, sunscreen, water bottle and zoom lens camera.
After the safari our guide had booked us in for an Ayurvedic Massage. This was a lovely relaxing way to finish the day.
After breakfast and hotel check out, we head to the medieval city of Polonnaruwa, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, it became the capital (10th – 12th century AD) after the decline of Anuradhapura. The monuments show the glory of Sri Lanka’s past including the Royal Palace complex and the spectacular Gal Vihare complex of four massive images of the Buddha, cut from a single slab of granite! It is very hot and dusty here so best to visit early morning or late afternoon.
We then head south to Dambulla Cave temples (more steep stairs- 376). Dambulla is a World Heritage site and is the most impressive of Sri Lanka’s cave temples. The complex of five caves has over 2000 sq. meters of painted walls and ceilings is the largest area of paintings found in the world. These caves contain over 150 images of the Buddha, of which the largest is the figure of the Buddha carved out of rock spanning 14 meters. It was incredible. UNESCO are working their now to restore parts that have been damaged by insects!
We stopped at a Spice Garden for a quick lesson on herbs and spices and their uses. It was interesting and entertaining. They believe every ailment can be cured naturally and have many lotions and potions and spices available for sale after the talk. I bought tea, turmeric and a body scrub and had no problem getting them back into Australia.
We continued on to Kandy for an overnight stay at OZO Kandy which sits high on a hill overlooking the lake, town and mountains behind. It was a 10-minute walk into town and a $2 tuk tuk ride back up the hill. We were lucky enough to arrive during the Esala Perahera Festival of the Tooth. This is an 8-day Festival procession which gets longer each night. On the 8th night Buddhas tooth relic is carried by an elephant in the parade. The town is decorated in fairy lights and there are dancers, fire throwers and elephants decorated in outfits and lights. It is quite spectacular. Due to the Easter bombings there was a high level of security everywhere but especially here for this important festival.
After an early breakfast, we visit the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. Again, there were hundreds of Sri Lankans dressed in white praying out loud to Buddha and placing offerings. They are so passionate about their religion. Security is very tight here; and they are very strict on dressing modestly.
Our guide then dropped us to Kandy Railway station for our 11.30am train journey to Nanu Oya. There are three trains a day for this journey. The popular Blue train is just before midday- which we were on. We had pre-booked first class reserved seating as this only air-conditioned carriage. Tickets were $8 each. You can wing it on the day and get a 70 cent ticket but seats are not reserved so you have to push/run to secure a seat or you will be standing the whole time.
The full ‘famous’ rail journey is from Kandy to Ella and takes 7 hours. We opted to only do part of the journey by train, 4 hours. Our driver picked us up at Nanu Oya (Newira Elyia- aka Little England) and drove us to Ella. It was quite a windy drive but very lush and green- beautiful.
In Ella we stayed at The Mountain Heavens (4 star) which is perched high on the mountain side overlooking Ella Gap- the view is breathtaking. The infinity pool overlooking the valley was spectacular. The rooms were huge, and the staff were lovely. The walk down hill to Ella town took 10 minutes with critters popping up everywhere- monkeys, lizards, street cats and dogs galore.
This morning we head to see the beautiful Nine Arch Bridge. The stone bridge is almost 100 years old and engineering genius. Set between two mountains of lush jungle and tea plantations it is picture perfect. The track is not well sign posted and a little steep and difficult but well worth the effort as the bridge is magnificent. I found out you can actually drive right to the bridge from the other side. It is a long drive from Ella (45 mins) but means those unable to do the walk can still see the stunning bridge!
We then did the trek to Little Adams peak. This is a very civilised path winding up the mountain through villages. There is a zip line here also over Tea Plantations. Once you get towards the peak of the mountain there are uneven stairs and dirt tracks so the last part of the climb is a little difficult but there are plenty of rest spots. Once again, the climb was worth it as the view is simply stunning of Adams Peak and the Ella Gap valley. I enjoyed a well-earned foot massage and a few cocktails in Ella town that night!
Today was a long 4-hour drive from Ella to Galle. It was an easy comfortable drive with random Sri Lankan critters ON the expressway (cattle, dogs, goanna) Elephant crossing signs are a regular sight also!
We arrived in Galle late afternoon at Le Grand hotel (5 star). This is a stunning property, the rooms, restaurant and pool and grounds are all perfect. The staff speak English very well and are very accommodating to any request. You can see a wall of Galle Fort from the hotel which is less than 10 minutes’ walk. We were there in South West monsoon season so the surf was choppy but it is apparently much nicer in DEC/JAN.
We took an (overpriced) tuk tuk tour around Galle and visit to a Jewellery factory and store, another Temple, a Turtle Hatchery and the Stick Fishermen. It was fun!
Galle Fort another UNESCO heritage site is sensational. It built in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 onwards. It is a fortified town. Nowadays, the old beautiful buildings are transformed into trendy shops, cafes, and restaurants. You can spend hours exploring, shopping and photographing in Galle Fort. It is VERY hot in the Fort, so it is recommended to head there from 2pm which is when the shops open, and the day starts to cool down. Shops close between 6-8pm and restaurants around 10-11pm.
We had a late afternoon transfer from Galle to Colombo Airport for our flight home (3 hours drive on an expressway).
For travel to Sri Lanka I would recommend a reasonable level of fitness as there so many stairs, a local guide for historical sites as there is so much history and so much to see you only really want to know the highlights. Modesty dress- is required for all Temples and sacred sites for both Males and Females. Carry a long Sarong to cover up knees and light jacket or T shirt for shoulders. Not hats or shoes in Temples so wear easily removable shoes and take socks as the ground gets HOT!
The Sri Lankans are such beautiful, happy people and are hurting so much financially since the Easter bombings. We were only the 3rd customers for our guides since the Easter- so only 3 weeks of work in 4 months. The people are so grateful to tourists and thank you for coming to Sri Lanka. I did not feel unsafe once throughout this trip. The food was amazing- curries and fresh seafood galore. It is relatively inexpensive- even at luxury hotels. I would definitely recommend travel to this beautiful part of the world!