I think I could easily sit and write about how much everyone needs to visit Sri Lanka for hours. Hours and hours. This is going to be a compacted version though, because you know, no one likes a bore.
First off, this country is beautiful. So beautiful that it’s hard to actually shut your eyes, even to sleep. There’s so much amazing scenery to look at and it’s so colourful it’s almost outrageous. My favourite thing about it though, is how it isn’t horribly commercialised. Sri Lanka hasn’t yet been ravaged by tourism like other parts of Asia. Whereas in parts of Thailand you feel like you could be on a Spanish party strip, Sri Lanka doesn’t yet have that vibe. Visit now. You won’t regret it.
Colombo is a surprisingly built up, orderly city, much like London in some ways, apart from the absolutely manic roads and insane buses. Oh and the beaches, obvs. Tuk tuk drives through the city are not for the faint hearted, though they are the cheapest and most efficient way to get around. They’re also used by locals which is unusual and tells you all you need to know. You don’t need long in Colombo, but if you do stay there take a drive through the financial district. You see the real contrast between rich and poor here, with the world trade centre set against derelict, tumbledown buildings and shacks. If you’re short on time a night is perfect.
For a hit of mountains, stunning panoramic views, treks, village vibes and wildlife galore, Ella is your dream destination. It’s just below the middle of the country and the train ride from Colombo, while very long, is utterly breathtaking and dubbed the most scenic in the world. First class is £12 and you get three meals, hot drinks and an observation deck to hang out on. If you’re visiting Sri Lanka, this is a must. It’s amazing what £12 can get you on a railway track outside of the UK. Kandy-Ella is the most appealing view wise, and looks a lot like this:
Ella has plenty to do, mostly involving walking and trekking but with plenty of other little treats thrown in. Ella Rock, Little Adam’s Peak, tea plantations and Ravana falls will keep you busy. Make sure you take trainers and a torch as it’s very dark at night when wandering around. It’s the perfect unwinding location, with chilled out little restaurants and a couple of bars to spend your evenings in after sunshine hours exploring. If you do trek to Ella rock. use a local guide, many books say you don’t need them but it can be a bloody hard, hot slog if you get lost, believe me. We ended up relying on two feral dogs to lead the way (I’m not joking, we named them and talked to them and witnessed them have a massive fight over a lemon puff against the most beautiful scenery in the world, but that’s a whole other story.) It’s worth your blood, sweat and tears though.
If you can drag yourself away from the beautiful countryside, the beaches are insane. Unawatuna offers a more touristy vibe and is seriously cool, with bars and mixed cuisines, while Hikka is surfers paradise and Mirissa is the ultimate luxury beach resort in Sri Lanka. The beach sunsets are to die for and your Instagram will NEVER be happier.
Drivers are cheap to hire and worth while, as you can get around on the new highways really easily and see a lot along the way. We were lucky enough to have the loveliest driver who told us stories and stopped off to get us fresh coconuts to drink from at the roadside as well telling what to avoid in terms of sites and attractions, which is always useful. He also cracked a lot of jokes and charged very little for a long days work. You’ll never see a happier recipient of a well deserved tip.
There are national parks, wild monkeys, big lizards, butterflies and lots of birds. The tea plantations are like bright green heavenly paintings and you should totally get a tour of one, it’s actually pretty interesting. There are also painful reminders of the devastation caused by the 2001 tsunami, with tiny museums and plenty of locals willing to share their stories. Periliya is a really interesting stop-off, with a little museum owned by a lady who lost one of her babies to the tsunami. She’s turned her home into a memorial with lots of photos albums, details of the clear-up process and even a rib bone from a dead whale which washed up in the aftermath.
The guest houses are fairly priced across the country and well looked after if you want a cheap stay, but there is luxury to be found as well. For a proper old Ceylon experience, don’t get a package holiday, put together your own itinerary and just float around. Take advice from the locals and let them take you on tours, just agree a fee beforehand, it will be dirt cheap anyway. If you want to spend money on a hotel, do it in Ella. A room with a view has never been more true. We stayed in Ravana Heights and LOOK AT THIS VIEW FROM BED:
Oh and the curry – if you want to eat a miracle, you need to get to Sri Lanka and get a vegetable curry and roti or anything devilled. I had the best curry of my life at Shanmuga’s in the Mount Lavinia area of Colombo. The staff all gathered round to watch and laugh at how much curry ‘five lovely white girls’ could eat. There are so many reasons to go here. Far too many to mention in a blog post, and many that I probably am yet to discover (I will be back). In a sentence though, it’s vibrant, rich in culture, beautiful, pained and brave from the tsunami and homes the most wonderfully kind and eager people. Get your passport out for the lads, it’s time to book a holiday.