SRI LANKA TRAVEL GUIDE: FROM COLOMBO TO SIGIRIYA, KANDY & ELLA
Hey guys! I have been super psyched to share my holiday pics with you and with all this crazy weather we’ve been having here in the UK, I thought you might enjoy some sunny snaps to brighten up your day. Sri Lanka is by far, one of the most beautiful countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The country is full of many contrasts, one minute you can be in the city surrounded by high rise buildings and bustling tuk tuk laden streets, the next you find yourself surrounded by green paddy fields and lush dense forests.
Keen to explore as much of Sri Lanka as possible in two short weeks, we decided on an adventure through the cultural triangle, then worked our way down towards the south and east coasts. Although we were naive at the time and thought we were planning a one of a kind experience, it turns out this is a popular tourist route and we met many others who were doing a similar journey to us, but it certainly doesn’t make it feel any less authentic.
So, I thought it might be helpful for those of you who are thinking of visiting Sri Lanka, to create a guide based on our trip to take the stress out of planning your own adventure.
First thing you need to know, is that Sri Lankan currency is called rupees and can only be bought once you are in the country. So, as soon as you step off the plane and enter arrivals in Colombo airport there are several banking desks where you can change your money. As far as I could see, they all offered the same very reasonable rates so don’t worry too much about which one you go to. After this you can also change money at any Sri Lankan bank with no hassle.
We decided it would best to spend our first night in Colombo so that we could relax a little before our early start the next day. Exhausted after being awake for over 24 hours we thought it would be easier to book a taxi at the airport to our hotel in the city which cost 3300 rupees. Make sure this also covers the cost of the Highway, this is a slightly quicker way into the city as the roads can become very congested and will cost an extra 300 rupees to pass through the toll bridge.
Be aware that many of the taxi companies will try to get you to book them as a personal chauffeur for the remainder of your holiday which has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I think that if you do decide on doing this it takes away some of the authenticity of the travel, some of my best experiences were whilst riding trains and tuk tuks. If however you do decide to opt for this method of travel around Sri Lanka and you don’t have a predefined list of places you would like to visit, the taxi companies are very good at ensuring you experience as much of Sri Lanka as possible so I would say they are totally worth it if you would prefer to travel in luxury, their prices are also very reasonable too.
We stayed at the Cinnamon Red Colombo and I cannot emphasize how amazing it was, with its panoramic views of the city, rooftop pool and bar – I would totally advise staying there if you get the chance, they also do a mean green veggie burger if you get a little peckish at lunchtime.
That night we ate at the Mango Tree which I can easily say was one of the best meals we had the whole time we were in Sri Lanka, if you like Indian food then this is restaurant for you.
The next day we were up early to begin our 4 hour taxi journey to Sigiriya. We decided to organise this with our hotel and although it was a little more pricey than what we were expecting it was totally worth it. Keen to ensure we were getting the most of our excursion, about half way into our journey, our driver stopped at the road side and encouraged us to experience our first taste of traditional Sri Lankan food – Pitta and Roti, which was delicious! I’ve been obsessed with making it ever since we got back.
Be warned the journey from Colombo to Sigiriya is a long ol’ ride and with very few rest stops as gas stations aren’t always the most pleasant of experiences, so it’s best to ask your driver to find a suitable stop.
Our second day was spent at the Sigiriya Village, an Eco resort surround by lush greenery with excellent views of Sigiriya rock from the pool. Not wanting to waste any time, as soon as we got to our hotel, we dumped our bags and headed straight for Sigiriya rock. I had been looking forward to hiking the rock from the moment we started planning our trip. The trek up to the top took about 2 hours. It was hot, it was sticky and it was tough but my goodness was it worth it! We had been advised morning was better for hiking but later in the day there had been a downpour which brought cool refreshing winds at the top, so i’m not sure I would 100% agree with this.
Guides will offer to help you up the rock but we felt comfortable enough to do it on our own after visiting the museum where you do really learn all you need to know. The views at the top were breathtaking, I couldn’t stop taking pictures, but no matter how many I took, they could never have done it justice! It really felt like we were on top of the world.
Next morning as we headed for breakfast a groundskeeper spotted me taking pictures of some of the plants surrounding our room. Sensing I might be interested in seeing more, he asked if I would like him to take us on a tour of our village which I politely accepted. He pointed out water snakes, terrapins and birds of paradise which for me was a dream. Sri Lankan people love to show off their country! I will always remember that mans kindness and he spoke so passionately about the hotel and their goals to be eco friendly, it’s little things like this that can really make a difference to an experience.
I also made friends with the cutest puppy, who we named pup pup. In fact, let’s talk about the dog situation for second. It’s tough! Especially for an animal lover like me. Most dogs are feral in Sri Lanka, a few are owned by a single owner or community but majority are left to fend for themselves which, for me was hard to stomach. A number of times during the trip we came across dogs that were in really bad conditions and as someone who couldn’t just do nothing, I spent a lot of time researching dog rescue charities whilst I was there. The one I had the best experience with was Animal SOS Sri Lanka who we have since donated too as they do such an amazing job. I only wish there was more I can do. I suppose I don’t just want to sweep it under the carpet and pretend Sri Lanka was all butterflies and rainbows. It’s a poor country, there’s not denying it, the welfare animals is pretty dismal but that’s all I will say on the matter.
Another early start the next day as we left Sigiriya for Kandy. Once again due to the duration of the journey, we thought it best to take a taxi. We let our taxi driver know that we wanted to make a couple of stops along the way and he was more than accommodating.
We visited the Dambulla Rock temple which felt like being on set of a Dr Strange film, over looking the mountains. It was a beautiful place and I could have sat and stared at the view for hours. It’s steep climb up to the cave so wear comfortable and non slip footwear. There was a torrential downpour as we headed back down and it did make the steps pretty slippy. When you get to the top there is a hut to the right of the entrance where you must leave your shoes as they cannot be worn inside the temple. There is a small charge for this but worth it so you don’t have to carry them around. As this is a pretty touristy place there are people trying to constantly sell you things. Most sellers are pretty good when you say your not interested but some can be persistent so be firm.
We then headed to Malatale to see the Sri Muththumariaamman temple. I was so excited for this!! It’s so colorful and after seeing so many amazing pics of it on Pinterest, I couldn’t resist going to see it with my own eyes. It’s even more colorful than you can imagine inside and out. We watched as the ladies light candles and give offerings of flowers to the Buddha. Something I’ve learnt even more from this trip is what a beautiful belief Buddhism is, it’s something I’ve been fascinated with for years and has definitely peaked my interest to learn even more.
Once we arrived in Kandy, we stayed at Oak Ray Heritage in the hills of Kandy. I would totally advise staying just outside of Kandy as the city is crazy busy with traffic at all hours of the day. Although the hotel was clean, very modern and room was comfortable there was a very loud droning noise that kept sounding intermittently throughout the night which could be heard all over the hotel? We had no Idea what it was so I suggest if you do stay here to bring ear plugs if your sensitive to sound. Overall hotel was amazing and views of Kandy lake were beautiful.
We didn’t even have 24 hours in Kandy which I was slightly saddened by. We visited Kandy temple and got approached by a guide, as a general rule, we had decided not to accept guides as they were often locals making a buck off tourist attractions however as it was getting darker, (we didn’t arrive in Kandy until 4pm), and I was keen to begin taking pictures before it got too dark, we decided to accept his offer of 1000 rupees as we knew nothing about the temple and thought it would be be good to know what we were seeing. Unfortunately it got to dark to take any photos as I suspected, but the tour was totally worth it and I actually wish we hadn’t rushed him around so much as I’m sure there was much more history he could have shared with us, so for this I would totally recommend getting a guide.
As we were now in darkness and we had another early start the next day, we decided to head for dinner at the world famous Helgas Folly, some might know it from the Stereophonics song ‘Madame Helga’. The whole hotel is decorated with weird and wonderful murals, and looks like something from a Tim Burton film, which by the way are my favourite films, making this the perfect venue in which to celebrate my 31st birthday. Everywhere you looked their was something else to see, it really was a wondrous place! Food here is cooked to order and different nights have different set meals for 4000 rupees (£20) each, you get a 3 course meal. When dinner was ready to be served we were taken upstairs into a romantic room with stars on the ceiling and hanging baubles which gave an amazing 3D effect, making you feel like you were in space. The first course was the best coconut soup I’ve ever tasted then we ate vegetable curry with a selection of rices and salsas for main and a fruit salad for dessert. Everything was just amazing and I would highly recommend visiting if your in Kandy. The place is slightly out of the way and the road to it was pretty dark we had to use the torches on our phone so I would advise getting a tuk tuk.
Once again we were up early the next day to catch our 7 hour train to Ella which was due to leave the station at 8:45am. I had read on a previous blog post to arrive an hour early, as the station can get pretty busy which was a handy piece of advice because it certainly was. Some previous research had said to buy second class as first class was booked months in advance and the best experiences and views were from hanging out of the windows and doors in second class any way. For about 4 hours we sat in the door ways taking pictures and enjoying views of forests, rolling hills, mountains and tea plantations. It’s the most scenic train journey I’ve ever been on and really didn’t feel like 7 hours at all. The whole journey really was amazing if not a little scary at times. Beware if your going to do this, wear some protective type trousers as your legs can get pretty bashed about by the bushes as they can get close sometimes. There are also a couple places you need to be careful with your legs barriers, high stone bridges etc so just don’t do anything too silly.
Tickets for second class were about 240 rupees each which is about £2.40 – bargain!!
There are toilets on the train but, they really are just a whole in the floor and the train can get bumpy so make if that what you will. If you do decide to brave it, take your toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
At Nuwara Eliyah the train got even more packed and the security officer on the train had to start moving people out of doorways to accommodate everyone so we were moved down to third class were there were so many empty seats. The views were just as good in these carriages with the windows open so would highly recommend this too!!
Thank you for reading today’s extra long post and I hope you have enjoyed our trip so far. I will post more about our time in Ella, our safari and some of the amazing beaches Sri Lanka has to offer so be sure to check back next week. Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka any time soon. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.