SRI LANKA TRAVEL GUIDE: FROM ELLA TO UDAWALAWE, UNAWATUNA, BENTOTA & COLOMBO
By now I hope you’ve been able to check out part 1 of my Sri Lanka travel guide. Today I am going to pick up where we left off in Ella, which had to have been on of my favourite places on the whole trip and from the photos, I think you will see why?
Once we arrived in Ella, we jumped in a tuk tuk, huge suitcases and all and headed straight to our hotel. Tuk tuks are by far one of the fastest ways of getting around anywhere in Sri Lanka, but there are some things you should know.
First, try to get tuk tuks that are on meters, these are a lot cheaper and are easily found in big cities like Colombo but small villages & towns not so. Second, Tuks tuks should cost anywhere between 50 – 90 rupees for every 5 minutes of the journey. So before you get in any tuk tuk first ask how long it will take to get there and how much using the above as a cost guide. And finally, don’t be afraid to haggle!! We weren’t brave enough to try this until the end of our trip and soon learnt we could have saved ourselves a lot of money.
Anyway back to our hotel, which was nestled in the side of an embankment overlooking little Adams peak. The views from our hotel were amazing and with a huge open window by our bed we were able to wake up every morning to the most picturesque scene, it was magical, like something that should be on a postcard.
As we didn’t arrive till 4pm we decided to take some time to explore the town in Ella which was slightly more touristy than I imagined it would be, but it was still beautiful none the less. There are lots of bars and restaurants, some good ones in particular were 360 degrees which did the most amazing veggie burger and Chill which had an awesome rooftop bar with bean bags and low tables perfect for relaxing. Whilst we were there, the bar experienced a black out, which was actually a lot more fun than it sounded, as it got everyone up and chatting to each other, it was super interesting listening to others experiences of Sri Lanka and the places they had visited.
The next day we took a tuk tuk to Uva Halpewatte tea factory where we did a tour of the factory and learnt more about the process of making tea. It was so interesting and our guide was brilliant at making the whole experience much more fun, than the workers probably think it is! I now actually enjoy drinking a cup of tea without milk, as I learnt which ones go well with and without. We then went for lunch at the Ceylon tea factory back in town, which I would highly recommend, plus their iced tea’s are superb!
Later that day we took a tuk tuk to the Ravana falls which to be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed with? It was packed with large groups of tourists and locals selling. I was also slightly confused as to whether or not it was safe to enter the water, as there was a sign noting the rather high death toll, which implied it probably wasn’t? However, I’d seen lots of photos on social media of people posing for photos underneath the falls which I now think might have been at their own risk, so just be aware of that if you would like to go and get a nice photo under the falls as I did. I wish we had done more research on the waterfalls in Ella as there are probably some slightly lesser known ones which are just as beautiful and less touristy.
In the afternoon we decided to walk to the famous 9 arches bridge. It was super simple to get to and took about 30 – 40 minutes to walk. All you have to do is walk through the train station and turn right, walking off the platform and straight on to the tracks which is quite safe as trains don’t come by often and are very loud so you can hear them coming way before you see them. They’re pretty slow to, so you have time to retreat safely to the side of tracks if you need to. I do wish we had gone in the morning when the sun was out but with the tea factory tour we had no choice but to go later which didn’t turn out too badly, as there were far less people on the bridge making it easier to get a shot without loads of tourists in the background.
Top tip! If your going to go later in the day beware of leeches on long grass so wear long trousers. Also, if you don’t want to walk there and back, there are tuk tuks on the bridge that will take you back to Ella although we were happy to the do the walk as it’s so beautiful!
The next day we took a taxi from Ella to Udawalawe which took about 2 hours. If you want to know the best way to get around places we used rome2rio.com which was really helpful and tells you how long the journey is via different methods of transport and how much it is likely to cost. We stayed at the Kottawatta Village in an old military style tent on the river. The hotel does offer air conditioned bungalows but we really wanted an authentic safari experience. It was pretty basic but we loved it!! It also come with its own shower and toilet which was handy.
As soon as we arrived we dumped our stuff and headed to the elephant transit home to watch young elephant orphans come in from the national park to be fed. There are about 30 orphans currently being looked after at the home each being fed milk 4 times a day, which is supported by the Born Free Foundation and donations. Their intention is to release as many elephants back into the wild as possible, so they try to limit human interaction as much as possible, meaning you can only watch the feeding from a viewing platform a few meters away but it was an amazing experience to hear they’re cries of excitement when they realised it was feeding time. We were so impressed with the transit home we have since made a donation to help buy milk for the orphans. I would also check out the website as it includes stories of how each orphan came to be in their care and how the project works with locals to promote the farming of elephant resistant crops.
As HUGE an animal lovers one of the main reasons we had chose to visit Sri Lanka was the chance to go on safari to see elephants in the wild. So the the next day was going to be an early start and was the day we had been looking forward to the most – safari!! Unfortunately I got really ill in the night with a urine infection and our plans had to go on hold as I struggled to even get out of bed!
Thank goodness for Sri Lankan pharmacists. Top tip! Ladies (& gents!) If you get ill on your trip you can get many prescription drugs over the counter without seeing a doctor which was an absolute god send! And so our Sri Lankan safari was put on hold until the next morning giving me some time in bed to recover and give my antibiotics chance to work their magic.
Luckily by the next day I was feeling much better and so at 5:30am our tour guide arrived at our camp to pick us up in his jeep to begin our adventure! We were the first to arrive at Udawalawa National Park, the sun was just starting to come up and almost as soon as we entered the park we were greeted by two elephants, who were slowly meandering up one of the tracks. As I wasn’t expecting to see them so soon, the shock of the situation made me a little emotional and I couldn’t help but shed happy tears. I was surprised by how quiet they were for such large animals. They didn’t seem a bit bothered by our presence and walked straight past us as we sat totally still mouths wide open.
We continued around the park with our guide pointing out Toque Macaques, Water Buffalo, Monitor Lizards, Crocodiles, Kingfishers, Hawks and many other bird species. As a wildlife lover I was in my element and never wanted it to end, but like all good things, as the sun started to warm in the sky, it was time to go. But we weren’t to leave without seeing the elephants one more time. This time a herd stopped us in our tracks as they crossed in front of our jeep and most exciting of all, they had a calf with them! As you can imagine my excitement levels were at their peak! We watched them for what seemed like hours as they tore up grass and dirt to throw over themselves,broke off large branches from trees to eat and carefully protected this tiny baby, making sure it was always in between them when ever they moved around. That right there, made our whole trip totally worth it and will be a totally unforgettable experience for as long as I live.
That afternoon we got another taxi to take us to Unawatuna, a popular tourist destination on the south coast of Sri Lanka, where we stayed at Dunes hotel a quaint family run business. Still tired from the early start and the lack of sleep the previous night due to me being ill, we decided to head straight out for dinner. Jina’s Vegetarian and Vegan restaurant was located just across the street from our hotel, what luck! The food was sooooo good!! If you visit you must try their vegan chocolate cake, I’ve never tasted cake so good!!
Unawatuna is a very popular tourist destination and keen to see a more cultural side to the south we headed to Galle Fort to learn all about its history, stopping at a Japanese Pagoda on the way. Don’t forget that many religious sites require you to cover both your legs and shoulders before you enter, so take some sort of cover up to wear whilst you visit.
In Galle Fort our first stop was the light house, then we wandered the European inspired streets taking photos of tuk tuks and colourful quaint ice cream stores. It was also here we came across an Embark store. Embark is a charity set up to rescue and re-home street dogs in Colombo. Keen to find out more about how they helped the dogs I asked for more information and was impressed with the work they did. I wrote more about the plight of Sri Lankas street dogs in part 1 and if your interested in other charities that help check out Animal SOS who also work tirelessly to aid as many cats and dogs as possible.
After a long day, we headed back to have dinner at a restaurant in Unawatuna called Bedspace. I loved it because it was slightly more hidden than the other places we had looked at, it also did the best Vegan Gnocchi. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there is no need to worry about food in Sri Lanka, as many of the locals are Buddhists, vegetarianism is pretty popular and almost everywhere we went catered for this type of dietary requirement, which was like music to my ears. Once thing I never felt in Sri Lanka was hungry, especially as the portions are always so huge.
The next day was another early start, leaving our hotel at 5:15am we traveled to Mirissa Harbour where our boat would be waiting ready for our whale watching tour! I had been so excited for this! We were lucky enough to see the second largest whale in the world! The fin whale! It really was the most amazing experience and I would highly recommend doing it, if you are in the south of Sri Lanka.
The tour was finished by midday so we decided to head to Dalawella beach for a more relaxed vibe. I loved it and only wish we had more time to chill there, if your looking for a quieter beach in comparison to Unawatuna this is the beach for you. We paid rs. 500 to have a go on the Pinterest famous rope swing, that I was initially to scared to try, then fell off, then gave up, but it was fun all the same. Then we spent the last hours of sunlight watching sea turtles feed around the rocks near the shore. That night we ate at the kingfisher restaurant back at Unawatuna beach which was delicious and very very romantic, the perfect way to end the day.
We spent our last morning at the dunes taking pictures of the wonderful flowers and animals at the hotel, it really is like someone picked up a piece of the jungle and plonked it in the middle of Unawatuna. I loved it here and was so sad to leave.
The penultimate leg of tour would take us to whispering palms in Induwara just a little outside of Bentota. After a jam packed 12 days it was time to relax. Our trip had been pretty full on from start to finish so we wanted to spend our final days chilling by the pool, eating delicious food, drinking cocktails and reflecting on all the wonderful things we had experienced together. In the evening we ate at the Osteria Romana next door to our hotel and it was so good!! We watched the sun set over the sea and the sky turn orange as a huge thunder storm rolled in.
The final leg of our tour took us all the way back to columbo for our very last day in Sri Lanka before we started the long journey back home. Keen to make the most of our final days we did the Cinnamon Red Street art tour, visited the National Museum and checked out the Malaka on Gangaramaya lake. There were a few exhibits on show explaining some of the history of Buddhism which was an interesting way to spend 20 mins. Just up the road was Gangaramaya temple but unfortunately we had left it too late to visit so instead headed out for our final dinner at the Jack Tree, which was another vegan dream and a place I would highly recommend.
And that’s it from me folks. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing my guide to Sri Lanka and as always thank you for reading. I really enjoyed writing this for you and it was a fantastic excuse to relive so many amazing memories. If you are going to be visiting Sri Lanka and have any questions on the places we stayed or visited, please drop your comments below or reach out on Instagram @bespoke-bride or my personal @emilypettiford.
Thanks again guys!!