Saturday, August 13, 2022

Exploring Sri Lanka: The mystical island in the Indian Ocean

The mystical exotic island in the Indian Ocean.  I had my eye on Sri Lanka for a while. I have a really close friend living there and as if she wasn’t enough to visit, it seemed rather untouched by the commercialized popularity of common coffee shops and restaurants.  It took me several years to get there because I needed a bit more planning than my normal trips (spontaneity is my middle name), so I started planning in September for travels over Christmas with my two kids.

Getting there

First thing were flights.  Flying from Canada to Sri Lanka isn’t cheap, I never see a seat sale so this is where you need to spend time and look outside of a website to travel.  A blog later to come.

We had two weeks in Sri Lanka and like most places, that’s not enough time to do everything on your list so you have to pick and choose.  When you look at a map of Sri Lanka and calculate time to get from point A to point B, it doesn’t seem to make sense with the length of kilometres, however I assure you it really does take some time driving.  

I wanted to be on the south relaxing on the beach for a few days, travel north and the centre of the island to Ella taking the scenic train ride to Kandy, Habarana and then to Colombo to celebrate Christmas with my friends for a few days.

Since this was my kids’ Christmas gift, I decided to get a chauffeur in Sri Lanka. It is common to have a driver and although it might seem extravagant, it cost me CAD $146 per day, and that included stops wherever we wanted for pictures, sightseeing, history lessons, and as a tour guide on excursions, plus our train ride from Ella to Kandy! Well worth the money.

When traveling on a budget, you need to think about time efficiency and cost.

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Think about how much you can get in with the best value for your dollar. I would have had to pay for three train tickets, spend more time on public transportation, and possibly not get in as much as we could so far to begin with.  

We were greeted by Parweez at the airport. He’s employed by Red Dot Tours and proved to be a perfect fit for my family. I highly recommend both for helping plan your Sri Lankan trip.

Hikkaduwa, Galle, Weligama

Our first two nights were in Hikkaduwa (southwest of the island). The beach was beautiful, and you could walk along passing many surf shops, restaurants, and tiny hotels.  It’s quaint, a little rundown, but has its charm.

This is where it’s handy to have a driver. I wanted to visit Galle, but didn’t want to overnight there, so on our way to Weligama (a town further south) we stopped by the fortified city founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, then later by the Dutch.  

It didn’t disappoint with a European style and slower pace—it was a peaceful town to walk in. The little streets are filled with churches, mosques, fantastic little coffee shops and the most beautiful jewelry boutiques. Sri Lanka is famous for their precious gems.

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After spending a couple of hours and having lunch, we traveled south to our home for two more days on the beach.  Weligama is a cute little town, quaint and the warm Indian beach did not disappoint.

We truly enjoyed our time there, did a bit of surfing (perfect for beginners and the beach was dotted with surfers from dawn to dusk), enjoying the relaxing atmosphere and our nightly walks along the water.

Ella, Bandarawela

The next day, we were off to Ella for a long car ride.  We did some stops along the way to break it up and of course I needed those popular photos I’ve seen on Instagram.  Coconut Tree Hill in Mirissa was definitely one of them.

Sri Lanka is a country with rich and varied vegetation, and if you’re not along the coast, the roaming hills, rice fields, and mountains take your breath away.

Our next home-away-from-home was Bandarawela, 12 kilometres from Ella.  Our morning view from Roseland Estates, and is a place that will remain etched in my mind forever.  

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We arrived after sunset to a delicious Sri Lankan dinner prepared by their local cook and the owner Rajiv sat and chatted with us while bringing us our meal and drinks.  The dining area was covered but open on two sides and I asked what view was in front of us. He smiled and said if you want to see it first thing in the morning, the sunrises at 5:45 a.m.  Even as I write this, I get goosebumps.

The view from our cottage balcony was of roaming tea plants and lush hills with the sun rising above, as if that wasn’t enough, you could hear the monks chanting in the distance.  

Bandarawela is close enough to Ella where you can enjoy the now very popular town and then return to Roseland Estates for true Sri Lankan authenticity.

First stop after our breakfast was to Ravana Falls in Ella. It was beautiful to see, but to be honest, I was enjoying the wild monkeys even more.  They like to hang out with the tourists in hopes of getting food, but I loved watching them run around and jump tree to tree.  Being in their natural habitat makes travels more authentic.

We head to Little Adam’s Peak, a very easy hike, and in the distance, you can see Adam’s Peak, a more difficult and higher hike.

We spend our afternoon at Nine Arches Bridge, where you could either walk through the lush greenery dotted with a village or take a tuk tuk.  In Sri Lanka, tuk tuks are like taxis and they are everywhere! So we decided to go for a ride, driving along edges and again if you could take your eyes off how narrow the little roads were and look up you see the most beautiful hills and landscape.  

When I travel, I research the sites and search Instagram for pictures, so I couldn’t wait to see the bridge.

You walk down this very uneven path hanging on to what you can for your next step, then you look up and there it is—exactly what you imagined.  It made me smile and be so grateful that I could take my kids on this journey with me. We stuck around for awhile taking pictures on the tracks (yes it’s safe and there is an announcement when the train is coming).

We waited for the train to pass, then took our waiting tuk tuk back to the main road for a fresh coconut.

We had our driver drop us off in Ella to walk around and grab lunch. It’s a great town with a lot of energy.

We were told Ella 10 years ago had only 20 hotels and now there more than 200. The country has grown in popularity in the last decade after the civil war, so it makes sense people want to travel to this country before it becomes too commercialized.  

Nuwara Eliya, Kandy

I was happy to return to Roseland Estates for the tranquility, great food, incredible view, and early night for our morning adventure. I had originally booked our train tickets from Ella to Kandy, because everything I researched suggested it was the most incredible view. But after talking to the owner of Roseland Estates, he suggest we take the train from Ella to Nuwara Eliya (that was the most scenic part) then let our driver take us the rest of the way to Kandy and to our final destination to Habarana.  

So that’s what we did. We took the two-hour train ride, and everyone was right about it being a beautiful scenery.

To the actual train and tickets, don’t go for first-class tickets. It may sound nice, but because there is air conditioning you can’t open the windows or doors to get those beautiful pictures.

We traveled in second class, and to be honest, so did most of the savvy travellers. The windows open up wide and believe it or not you can have the conductor open the door if it’s locked.  So to get the blue train along the lush green in your pictures go to the last cart and take advantage of the photoshoot!

You won’t regret it, just be very careful with the door open, this train doesn’t ride like the Shinkansen in Japan!

Now in Nuwara Eliya, we see yet again, a different landscape. This area is known for tea plantations and we stopped at Damro Tea for tea and cake, some lessons on leaves and a charming view.

We got to Kandy in enough time for lunch and a tour of the grounds of Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple which was completed in 1595.  

Habarana, Sigiriya Rock, Kaudulla National Park

Although it was fascinating, my kids were not impressed and preferred to move onto our next stop, but before doing so, I wanted to see an elaborate Hindu temple in Matale on our way to Habarana.  You can see these colourful temples throughout Sri Lanka and they are gorgeous in colour against the blue skies.

I didn’t go in, there was a cover charge, and you actually had to pay to be on the property and take the pictures which I thought was a bit much considering it was off the main road.  

Our drive to the next hotel, Habarana Village by Cinnamon, was eventful and made my day. Of course being in Sri Lanka we were on the constant lookout for wild elephants. I did a lot of research on seeing them in their natural habitat and had no interest in seeing them in chains or captivity.  

So I was delighted when we were driving at dusk and my daughter said there’s an elephant! Our driver turned around and I got to see an elephant’s bum swagger back into the dark jungle away from the road. Our driver told us at times the elephants walk into the city if there’s flooding in the national parks.

We had two days in Habarana and I wanted to visit the ancient city of Sigiriya, have an Ayurvedic massage, and visit a national park to see elephants.  We visited local shops, looking at organic and natural Ayurvedic healing medicines and perused the Surathura Spice Garden (although it was interesting and insightful, I thought it was a tourist trap).

The next day, we were up early for our quick drive to Sigiriya Rock.

When I travel, I always check to see when places open so that we can be one of the first ones without a lot of other tourists. It makes a huge difference.

Like I mentioned earlier, our driver was our tour guide and along our climb, he explained things to us, gave us the history, and important places we wouldn’t have known about.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as clear as I would have hoped, but it was still beautiful to see the drawings on the walls.

We went back to our resort for lunch and headed out to Kaudulla National Park to see elephants.

We weren’t disappointed.  The jeeps had to stay on the pathways so to not bother the elephants. This was their habitat and it was exactly what I wanted to see.

Our driver took us around and we went to other areas to show us birds, butterflies, and plants.  Just as we were leaving, it started to rain again and we were booked for our 90 min massages at the Athreya Ayurvedic Hotel and Spa.

On our way back to Colombo, we learned a lot about the different types of coconut trees, the once violent northern city of Jaffna to be the next big travel destination, and the difference in culture and people of Sri Lanka. Although it’s a developing country, education is still important for the younger generation and school is a priority.

I wouldn’t have changed anything about this trip. We didn’t get to play tourist very much, instead we were delighted to be involved in my dear friend’s Christmas celebrations.

Sri Lanka’s population is mostly Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and then Christian.  We visited neighbourhoods, friends, great restaurants, and a beautiful beach in Colombo called Mount Lavinia.  

There is a fantastic setup called Sugar Beach, complete with a bar and restaurant. I want to celebrate my 50th there…still a couple of years to go!

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Master Travellr
Master Travellr
Tips, guides, budget travel recommendations, and more.



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