Why we LOVED Sri Lanka!
Written by Harry Shirt
Back in March 2020, just before the world started to lockdown due to the impending Coronavirus we were on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.
Now the way our holidays usually work are, I do all the planning, then I tell Jade we are going there. Jade usually replies with a “Yep, cool, let’s go!’ then I get stuck into planning the itinerary. When I draw up our plans I always try to incorporate as many features that we would both like, for me, it’s some history, culture and maybe some sport, for Jade, it’s the beach!
The England Cricket team were touring Sri Lanka that month so a couple of months before I decided to plan a full-to-the-brim itinerary that involved it ALL…history, culture, stunning landscapes, wildlife and of course the beach.
My first memory of arriving into Colombo (the airport is actually in Negombo, an hour north of the city) was the sheer amount of independent electrical retailers in the airport itself, with storefronts stacked with washing machines, tumble dryers, ovens, literally every electrical appliance you could think of – sadly all slightly too big to drag around Sri Lanka and then fly home with!
WE LOVED THE FOOD
We spent our first night in Negombo, it was pretty dark so we didn’t see much of it, but we did have our first amazing meal. I thought I would jump straight into it and ordered the Sri Lankan Curry and Rice; but little did I know that this dish is spread out across 8 different plates with dhal curry, pumpkin curry, coconut sambol, cucumber and tomato salad, green beans, mango chutney, popadoms and of course the rice. It was unsurprisingly filling, and exceptionally hot…welcome to Sri Lankan cuisine!
The following morning we woke up early and met our private driver Harsha for the first time. Sri Lanka is a small nation, so it’s pretty common to hire your own personal driver who takes you around the entire island. If the hotel you are in cannot accommodate them for the evening, they usually find a place nearby to crash at for the evening.
WE LOVED THE HISTORY
We headed inland to the Golden Triangle, more precisely Dambulla, home to the Dambulla Royal Cave and Golden Temple, a World Heritage Site that sits high up the mountain. These beautiful caves are filled with Buddha statues and paintings.
We spent a couple of nights at the Roo Mansala Boutique Villas in nearby Sigiriya, home to to the world-famous Sigiriya Rock. Rather than forking out a fortune to climb the actual rock, we decided to climb its much cheaper neighbour, Pidurangala Rock. After a reasonably tough climb to the top, we were treated with a stunning sunset over Sigiriya Rock and the surrounding fields.
TIP: Wherever you are, it’s usually better to go to the less popular observation platform; for instance, if you’re in New York, most people want to go up the Empire State Building, but if you went to the top of the Rockefeller building instead, you get an even better view with the Empire State Building in shot.
After some Egg Hoppers for breakfast (you’ve seriously got to try them!), we drove out to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa (I literally have to triple check these spellings ha). We hopped (literally – it was boiling that day and you can’t wear shoes in these sacred grounds) our way through ancient temples, stupas, palaces, burial grounds and more temples, all built during the 11th and 12th centuries.
We spent our afternoons and evenings enjoying the hotel’s pool and amazing food before heading down to the city of Kandy.
Kandy is a charming hill city, full of colonial architecture, bustling markets and a beautiful lake. Harsha made sure we saw all the important sites such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic as well as a Kandyan cultural dance show (we were in pure tourist mode by this stage).
WE LOVED THE LANDSCAPES
The following day we headed further into Hill Country, driving up winding roads past the beautifully kept tea fields. After a short tour at the DAMRO tea plantation (I truly hate tea, but it’s got to be done right?) we reached the colonial town of Nuwara Eliya.
Nicknamed ‘Little England’, Nuwara Eliya was where the British would escape to, to avoid the hot and humid conditions lower down. There’s examples of colonial history all over this little town, which has its own golf course, race track, post office and a number of gentlemen’s retreats such as the Hill Club. We had Afternoon Tea at the Grand Hotel (and boy was it grand) before getting stuck into some Sri Lankan beers at the 19th Hole Pub, where randomly we ended up downing shots with one of Sri Lanka’s famous sons, legendary cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan’s brother (small wins).
Nursing our first hangovers of the trip, our driver dropped us off at Nanu Oya train station. We took the train for this next journey as it is well-known for being one of the most stunning train rides in the world. Unsure what class to get in, we opted for 2nd Class expecting it to be packed, I’ve read stories of some people unable to get a seat for the 4-hour journey to Ella, but luckily, we had the entire coach to ourselves. The internet really cannot prepare you for the breathtaking views this train ride provides, and with the Sri Lanka authorities having some pretty laxed rules when it comes to health and safety, we had plenty of time to perfect those iconic Instagram snaps (guilty) as the train snakes its way through the hills.
Ella is a small laid-back town aimed more towards backpackers but there was enough to entertain every kind of holidaymaker, with boutique shops, delicious restaurants and cool bars aplenty. It is also the home to the magnificent Nine Arches Bridge where you can walk across this spectacular structure whilst you wait for that iconic train shot. We also hiked up Little Adam's Peak which is perfect for those who don’t fancy the tougher climb up Ella’s Rock.
This is where news of the Coronavirus pandemic was starting to catch up with us. We were then supposed to head to Udawalawe National Park where we could go on safari and check out the elephants, but sadly all the National Parks in the country then shut down. With rumours of the Sri Lankan government imposing a curfew as well as the UK going into lockdown we decided to spend an extra night in Ella and bring our flights forward (thankfully Emirates were very helpful!).
Because of this, we decided to splash out a bit by staying at the 98 Acres Resort – now this place certainly has some WOW factor. Usually, you have to book this place up to 10 months in advance but because of the times, they had a room free. We stayed in a thatched lodge perched high up with stunning views and a restaurant with some of the best food we have ever had.
WE LOVED THE BEACHES
The following day, we headed to Tangalle on Sri Lanka’s south coast. After all of the exploring we had done, this was supposed to be the part of the holiday where we (well, Jade) could put her feet up, unwind and concentrate on the tans. Tangalle seemed like a really cool area, with excellent beaches, beach bars and restaurants.
On our final day, we had pretty much all day to explore as much of the South coast’s beaches. We ended up spending most of this day in Mirissa, a really cool beach spot which we were desperate to spend more time at. Later in the day, we drove to the old town of Galle. After climbing to the top of the fort which overlooks the cricket ground, the same cricket ground I was hoping to spend a few days at watching Test Cricket with the Barmy Army, but sadly sat empty; we strolled around the charming, narrow streets of Galle Old Town. Again, it looked like a really beautiful place and we wish we could have had more time.
One thing’s for sure, Sri Lanka is quite a remarkable place, filled with gorgeous beaches, incredible history and culture, and jaw-dropping landscapes. There really wasn’t anything to dislike about the place, and it was all made even more memorable thanks to our incredible driver Harsha, who was patient, informative and incredibly helpful. He has become a lifelong friend to us both!
We will certainly be heading back to Sri Lanka, but with more focus on the beaches and hopefully to see some cricket!
We hope we've given you an idea of how amazing Sri Lanka is to visit, there truly is something for everyone! If this sounds like something you would like to do, get in touch with us today!