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The Sri Lanka Travel Guide

WHAT. A. TRIP.

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Sri Lanka had been top of our travel wish list for a while. Four of our closest friends had been over to visit in recent years and would not stop going on about what a great time they had over there. So we set down last year, found some cheap flights and went about planning a trip that basically turned into our second honeymoon. Sri Lanka has it all – sun, sea, safaris and seriously good food. The people are welcoming and friendly, the scenery STUNNING and it’s a year-round destination thanks to half of the country being pretty rain-free for the first part of the year, and the other half being nice and warm for the second part. It’s also got a bit of everything. Although you could hunker down in a beach town and have a great week or two there, we enjoyed moving around, touring the south-western corner of the country for 11 days and taking in big cities, some of the best train journeys in the world, hill country, tea plantations, a safari (or two!) and sandy coastlines. Fancy doing it for yourselves? Well check out our vlog from our time there, the have a read of our top tips and travel itinerary. It’s worth it for the hoppers alone…


OUR TOP SRI LANKA TRAVEL TIPS

Don’t panic about travel. I always like to have all of our travel pre-booked before we leave for a trip, but I didn’t realise how easy it would be to get around here – DON’T PANIC. Although it’s worth pre-booking train tickets if you can (see below for advice on that), the main way that tourists get around here is via cars as the public transport system can be a little patchy in places and so it’s the norm and so easy to sort out rides through local tuk tuk and taxi drivers or through your hotel or guest houses – they all have people they’d recommend. We did a mix of train travel, tuk tuks and transfers via cars that were booked by where we were staying and all were reasonably priced and so easy to sort out with short notice.

Seat 61. Speaking of travel, if you do end up deciding to do some of your journeys via train (which I highly, *HIGHLY* recommend – it was one of the highlights of our trip and some of the back roads around hill country are WINDING!), then check out Seat 61. It has *everything* you could ever possibly want to know about booking the trains, maps, even photos of the carriages. We were wimps and splashed out on the air conditioned carriage for like £3 more and the journey was seriously dreamy. Just be aware that there isn’t a tonne of space for luggage storage on the trains, so the smaller the better.

Have a think about your route. This is where we went a bit wrong. We followed a similar route to our friends who had been before, but we ended up booking nights in hotels before we’d really had a moment to think about what we actually wanted to do in each place. Some of the spots that we stopped off at only really needed one night there as they weren’t bulging with multiple things to do, instead having one major attraction. If we were to do the trip again we’d probably skip Nuwara Eliya and try and do a night someone close to Horton Plains so we could have got a major walk in, and stayed just one night in Udawalawe and got in a day or two at Ella.

The essentials. A pashmina came in so, so handy. SPF is a must, especially in the south of the island and even if you think you’re in the shade (we learnt that one the hard way!). Bite cream, snacks and super light luggage were also musts.



COLOMBO

Where we stayed: Paradise Road, Tintagel Colombo Hotel. As we were only in Colombo one night we just wanted somewhere that was was quiet, clean and not a million miles away from Colombo Fort station where we were due to catch the train the next morning at 6:45am. If I’m honest I’m not sure this is somewhere I would recommend. It was pretty expensive and the room was the least well-kept that we stayed in (plus we had issues paying by card at check out which we didn’t have anywhere else). I’m sure you could find a comfy bed for the night somewhere else for like half the price.

What we did: We didn’t do much in Colombo as we arrived just after lunchtime, checked into our hotel then headed out to pick up our train tickets for the following morning, swung by the hotel to grab some dinner (the Sri Lankan curry was good!), then fell asleep at like 8pm. Any Colombo recommendations then pop ’em below!


NUWARA ELIYA

Where we stayed: Ferncliff Bungalow. This place had more of a guest-house vibe. There were only four bedrooms and guests all ate breakfast together in the dining room. Our room was so comfortable and roomy and major props for the hot water in our beds when we got back from dinner. How nice is that?! If you stay here then opt in for the Sri Lankan breakfast, which was one of the and most delicious and comprehensive that we had.

What we did: We messed up our timetable by only have one night here as it meant that we didn’t really have time to do any of the nearby walks which is the main draw of Nuwara Eliya. Other than that it’s a pretty stop off on the spectacular train journey from Kandy to Ella, so don’t write it off. Victoria Park was just down the road from our hotel which was lovely to have a wander around and the Grand Indian was just as good as all of you guys said it would be.



HAPUTALE

Where we stayed: Thotalagala. OMG – THIS PLACE! A pricey place to stay, but the staff are the friendliest and most accommodating that I’ve ever come across. The room rate includes full board so we ate every single meal here and the staff were brilliant at catering for our veggie needs, taking requests for all the Sri Lankan foods that we wanted to try. Hoppers for breakfast, curries for lunch and even more curries for dinner; all were different and our waiter answered all our questions on ingredients and cooking techniques – we learnt so much. Such a special spot.

What we did: It’s all about walks and tea round here, so pack your walking boots and get ready for some tea tastings. The hotel had a 4km round walk around it’s grounds which was beautiful and a nice way to stretch your legs once you get off the train, but it’s Lipton’s Seat which is the main walk to do around these parts. Don’t be fooled, it’s a long one and basically takes up the majority of the day (we cheated and got a tuk tuk there and back as I was under the weather on that morning!), but the view from the top is lush. Some people opt for a sunrise hike which our tuk tuk driver said was the best way to experience it. On the way back down you can stop off at the Dambethenna Tea Factory, of which you can take a short tour around for just a few pounds. Our tour was short and sweet so I’m not sure it’s worth trekking there just for the tour – instead beef it out with the walk too! – but it was interesting to take a look inside and learn more about the tea making process.



UDAWALAWE

Where we stayed: The Countryside Udawalawe. This place is super cute. Just four villas make up this compound, with basic but clean and comfortable accommodation. The hosts were super friendly and the price was extremely reasonable (breakfast was included, but they could arrange and serve dinner for you too for a small extra charge). They were so helpful at pointing out local things to do, restaurants and booking our cars to our next destination. 10/10 would recommend.

What we did: There’s only really one thing to do here and that’s a safari in the Udawalawe National Park. We messed up our itinerary a tad because we ended up having three nights here, when actually one night – or even just stopping off for a safari as you pass through – is more than enough. Because of our mess up, it did mean that we got to do two safaris though; and we did one at 5:30am in the morning, and then the other at 1pm in the afternoon. The 1pm was the far superior option if you want to see elephants – we saw like five times as many during the day because the park was so much quieter – but if you do take the morning option then take a jacket as the ride there was C-H-I-L-L-Y (basically don’t be a fool like I was). Also don’t panic about pre-booking a safari before you go; our hotel had their own safari car and drivers and it was so easy to arrange the day before. If you do end up having three nights there like we did, then we enjoyed the curry buffet at Common Rose and the baby elephant feeding time at the Elephant Transit Home.


TANGALLE

Where we stayed: Amanwella. OK, this is perhaps the priciest place we have *EVER* stayed at, so this is one for honeymooners and people who have won the lottery, but then I’ve also never stayed in a room that’s basically a stone’s throw away from the ocean. The location is unreal and alternating between the beach loungers and the pool felt like the ultimate luxurious end to our trip. However you’re a captive audience here and the food, drinks, airport transfers and excursions were extremely overpriced, so if you do decide to head out I’d recommend sourcing your trips from elsewhere if possible.

What we did: For the final stop of your trip we chilled, and it was lush. The hotel is set in the grounds of Silent Beach which was so pretty that it didn’t feel real and is well worth a visit even if you’re not a guest of the hotel (it’s not the best beach around for swimming, but there are loungers and basic facilities down there). We did head out though and took a bike tour through local villages and rice fields which again was ridiculously beautiful (although do this through a local company as the hotel’s one was $$$!). Hiriketiya Beach was just a short 20 minute tuk tuk ride away and was the best nearby spot if you do fancy a dip in the water and had loads of cafes and restaurants nearby. Café Taprobane was such a cute mother-and-son run spot and was beyond a bargain. Tangalle Rice & Curry Restaurant was a 20 minute walk from the hotel and was brilliant too; serving up curries sourced with produce from the local markets on a balcony restaurant that was perfect for watching the world go by.


Photos by Mark Newton and I, taken on a Canon EOS 3* and Olympus Mju II*

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