The first thing everyone will tell you about Sri Lanka is understand the weather patterns. We came on a 2-week holiday towards end of May/early June just at the turn of the seasons: the south and west coast start monsoon and hoiday season begins in the east and north.
We had to be flexible with our travel plan as floods and rains chased us around the island, but ultimately the 2 week travel itinerary turned out to be the perfect Sri Lankan holiday. I doubled back on myself a few times on this trip but this is essentially what we did, and how I’d recommend it if you’re interested in the same sights:
The town itself has few attractions apart from the lake and the Tooth relic temple, but it makes for a good base into the highlands. We went to the Botanical gardens (1500LKR) and took a tour around a tea factory (free) where we saw the process from fresh leaves to finished product. From here you can catch the scenic train to Ella:
Train to Ella
The train that travels between Kandy and Ella (through Nuwara Eliya) is probably the most beautiful train ride you’ll ever take! I couldn’t stop taking pictures along the way. There are several trains that go through the day, but I’d recommend the blue train:
From Kandy-Ella they go at 8:47 and 11:10
From Ella-Kandy they go at 6:40 and 9:24
First class is air conditioned, but second class has big windows that you can lean out of. Tickets go on sale an hour before departure, and we arrived at ticket office in good time. Other trains at other times are fine, but just a bit older and less comfortable.
Nuwara Eliya is unexpectedly cute and colonial, it even has a horse racing track. Most people visit tea plantations from here.
Ella is even further high up and full of mystical mountains and hikes to eat your heart out.
From Ella it’s an easy 2-2.5hr taxi to Arugam Bay. This is the ultimate destination for surf travel. Thanks to surfing this area has really developed since the tsunami and is now a surf travel mecca. A big party is on every night at a different location, and you will not go short of seafood here.
Surf points we went to were peanut farm (smallish point break), whiskey point (larger point break), and main point (reef break). Whiskey point was by far my favourite, and I’d recommend you bring surf booties if you plan on surfing at main point! The reef there is seriously sharp and all of us got cut up haha
We stayed at Hideaway Resort which was brilliant. They’ve got cute bungalows with semi-outdoor bathrooms. The bar also had a pretty good vibe and happy hour every night. In arugam bay the big bars take it in turns to host a big party each night, so ask around, there’ll be the party of the night going on somewhere!
The spring suit is from Roxy’s new Pop Surf range here
Hideaway Bar Treehouse:
From Arugam Bay it’s easy to arrange a half-day safari to Kumana National Park. Well worth it! We saw plenty of wild elephants (with babies), a leopard, several wild crocodiles, water buffaloes galore, so meany wild peacocks you stop paying attention, and a whole bunch of other animals. Sometimes we are told you see bears that get high on fermented fruit and fall off trees…
The safari jeep + guide cost us 10,000 LKR to rent, and entrance fee to the park was approximately $10 USD each. Well worth it I think.
Take extra battery/memory card because you’ll be taking pictures like nobody’s bysiness.
We stayed in some beach huts called That’s Why on Nilaveli beach, which were very cool but rather isolated and far from everything else. We had a driver for our time there which made it easier to travel around the area.
Pigeon Island is a short boat-ride from Nilaveli and is just incredible snorkeling! Within minutes of going into the water we saw giant Hawk-bill turtles, severla reef sharks, and so many tropical fish! You can do it as a half day trip from anywhere along that coast line. The boats tend to come pick you up at your nearest beach/hotel/hut, and you stay on the island as long as you want, then they drop you back.
The thing to do here is to rent a bicycle (300-500LKR/day) and get a map to explore the beautiful UNESCO world heritage site at your own pace. It’s a great change from all that car/train travel to do some exercise yourself while getting around. It’s very flat and easy to navigate.
There’ll be coconut and drink vendors between the temples for you to stop for a refreshing break.
From here we also explored Mihintale (by car) with beautiful views. We were told sunset there is the most beautiful, and now I can see why, but unfortunately we timed it wrong.
Sigirya (Lion Rock)
From Kandy its a 2 hour drive to Sigirya, and similar distance from Anuradhapura if you’re travelling the other way. The hike from park entrance to the top takes about an hour. It’s really just a lot of small stone steps and not a difficult hike, but perhaps not ideal for those with fear of heights! But once at the top the views are breath-taking! Really the best I’ve seen in quite some time of travelling. There are a number of wasp nests hidden between boulders here and travellers are told to speak softly in case the noise sets them off. Although we had no trouble with them, if anyone in your group has anaphylactic reactions to wasps I’d recommend you carry an Epi-pen with you just in case….
We stayed at a beautiful Boutique hotel called 55 TG Suites in Colombo, and I highly recommend it. Every room is uniquely styled with incredible attention to detail. Breakfast was wonderful, usually a traditional curry + coconut sambol with strong hoppers or coconut naan, and plenty of fruit.
We had lunch at the Galle Face Hotel which was beautiful but unfortunately the charcuterie platter was the worst I’ve ever had. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful venue for scenic civil drinks at the end of dirty travel!
The easiest way to get around Sri Lanka is still to hire a driver for the time you’re there. It tends to work out cheaper if you hire one person for the entire tour than to arrange each trip separately. Our driver’s name was Pradeep Ferdinand and we would highly recommend him. He was kind, responsible, knowledgeable, and just so lovely to have on our trip. I can honestly say Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been the same without him.
You can reach him on facebook HERE.
His tour agency HERE.