In July and August I spent just over a month in Sri Lanka. I volunteered with wild elephants, sipped cocktails on paradise-like beaches, took the most scenic train journey in the world and hiked till my feet bled (okay, it was mainly from the leeches). The people were welcoming, the views were tremendous and the food was delicious. I miss having rice and dahl for breakfast each day. I completely fell in love with Sri Lanka and I could have easily spent a lot longer there; it’s my favourite country to-date. Here’s how I spent a month in Sri Lanka.
Days 1-13: Volunteering
My first two weeks were spent volunteering with the Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society. The main reason I chose this project was because it lacked interaction with the elephants, instead seeing them as we should, in the wild. I collected data, investigated elephant dung and interviewed local farmers about the human-elephant conflict. Each evening was spent observing, monitoring and identifying groups of wild elephants whilst watching the sunset behind them. Magical.
Wasgamuwa National Park
As part of the volunteer project we got one free visit to the nearby national park. Out of all the ones I visited in Sri Lanka, this was my favourite. We stopped at a beautiful lake where monkeys were hanging about and the thing that made the trip for me was watching a group of elephants playing in the water whilst the sunset reflected in it (yes, I love a good sunset). There weren’t too many jeeps there either.
After our first week of volunteering, myself and some others journeyed three hours to spend the weekend at Passikudah Beach. I’m not usually one to lie around on the beach, usually finding myself fidgeting with boredom, but relaxing there was just what I needed. It seemed very un-touristy, most of the beaches were practically empty. We spent our days at the luxurious hotel Sunrise at Jetwing. One word to describe this weekend: paradise.
Minneriya National Park
After reading so much about this Park I couldn’t wait to visit it at the time of year that the elephant gathering took place. This is where elephants from all over Sri Lanka visit Minneriya during the dry season. The group the week before us saw 400 elephants and usually people see at least 100… I saw 5, that’s the wild for you! Over 30 jeeps surrounded these 5 elephants, a huge contrast to my previous weeks peacefully watching herds of elephants across the water with no other tourists in sight.
Days 13-18: Kandy
(My partner, Mike, arrived at this point :D)
Kandy City Centre
Kandy wasn’t my favourite city but there were still many noteworthy things to do including the Temple of the Tooth, walking around the lake and shopping in the markets for those typical elephant pants. Mike and I also attended a cooking demonstration in someone’s home, booked through the tourist office, which we loved. We learnt to cook traditional Sri Lankan dishes and then proceeded to eat them in true Sri Lankan fashion, with our hands.
If you do a day trip from Kandy, there’s a good chance your driver will stop at a spice garden. The guides are very knowledgeable and demonstrate the many uses for the various spices. The shop is a little overpriced but I couldn’t resist some divine smelling Aloe Vera cream.
Sigiriya and Dambulla Caves
We organised a day trip to both places through our guest house. Climbing Sigiriya was a highlight of our trip in Sri Lanka. Seeing it in photos doesn’t justify its magnificence. We spent around 2 hours there overall but could have spent far longer admiring the views from the top. We also saw monkeys on the trek up. The Dambulla Caves consisted of 5 Caves, the most impressive being the Temple of the Great King. Although it was impressive seeing the temples inside the caves, it’s not something I’d recommend as a must-see.
Knuckles Mountain Range
The most challenging hike I have ever completed. I spent most of it in fear of placing a foot wrong and falling down the steep edge we were climbing. I did, however, appreciate the incredible views around us. We also saw a number of wildlife en route too including rhino horn lizards and eagles. It’s not a hike I’d recommend for everyone but the views were mesmerising. It’s still hard to believe I saw them with my own eyes.
Train from Kandy to Ella
Said to be the most scenic journey in the world, it’s certainly the most beautiful I’ve ever been on. It snakes through tea plantations, national parks and over waterfalls. Overall the train took 9 hours (a bus broke down on the tracks) but neither mike or I found ourselves bored for a second. Hopefully the photos explain why themselves. Read more about it here.
Days 18-21: Ella
Sri Lanka is not all about the cities and beaches. The beautiful Hill Country, Ella, has countless hikes and views to offer whilst the town itself has a very laid-back, chilled vibe. It’s my favourite place we visited in Sri Lanka.
This was one of the longer hikes we completed in Ella One tip: do not complete this hike at the hottest time of day like we crazily chose to do. It was doable but exhausting. The benefit though, we were practically the only ones at the top. I’ll let the view speak for itself.
A less demanding hike than Ella Rock, but with mighty views. This hike follows a path through luscious green tea plantations and up many, many steps. We chose to complete this hike before the heat of the day which was a wise decision.
Nine Arch Birdge
The Nine Arch Bridge is relatively easy to find from where we stayed; it takes around 15 minutes to walk there. Each morning at two separate times, the train snakes over the Nine Arch Bridge. We chose to watch this event from a view point, while many chose to wait beside the bridge. When the train is not approaching it is possible to saunter over the bridge and admire the surroundings.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Ella without buying local tea. We visited two tea factories: a black tea and a green tea one. The .. was my favourite, though I’m slightly biased as I love green tea. We learnt how the tea was made before sampling some for ourselves.
These waterfalls are very popular with the locals so I’d recommend visiting during the week rather than at the weekend, if time allows, for a quieter experience.
Days 21-24: Tissa
The main reason many people visit Tissa is for the local National Park- Yala. I have to admit that if it wasn’t for Yala National Park I probably wouldn’t have considered this place either. There’s not a huge amount to do in Tissa but there are peaceful cycles and my favourite car journey happened on the way there too.
Journey to Tissa
One of the most surreal moments in Sri Lanka was seeing elephants crossing the road. They, worryingly, seemed so unphased by all the cars. Unfortunately, many tourists feed these elephants which makes them accostomed to human food and increases the human-elephant conflict. We also saw monkeys, peacocks and a mongoose bravely rush across the busy road.
Yala National Park
One of our most anticipated days in Sri Lanka, a safari with a chance to spot a leopard. After a few minutes of entering the park we saw an elephant, one of the few we saw overall there. One of my favourite sites of the trip was seeing countless crocodiles in a body of water popping their heads up now and then gulping a fish. Just before we left our driver raced over to a spot where far in the distance there was a… wait for it… leopard! It was difficult to see, but hey, I’m so happy we saw one!
Wirawila Bird Sanctuary
We took a tuk-tuk to and around this stretch of water inhabiting various wildlife. We saw 2 types of lizard, many birds including an eagle and some water buffalo. There were no other tourists in sight so this made a peaceful morning trip.
Raja Maha Vihara
Next to this ancient Buddhist temple, there was a small museum.
My favourite thing to do in Tissa itself. Mike and I used the free bikes from our guest house and cycled along empty roads surrounded by rice fields whilst saying hello to the occasional local.
Days 24-28: Tangalle
Our bungalows were actually just outside Tangalle, which I’m glad about as we were on an empty beach. As I said previously, I’m not usually one for beach days, but staying on this beach was simply paradise.
The beach here was heavenly. The sea was extremely rough at this time of year, we couldn’t go further than knee-deep without being knocked over, which Mike loved! We walked along the beach and barely saw another sole, just the odd dog. Our time here was very peaceful.
On our third day here Mike spotted dolphins in the distance. The owner also spotted them and excitedly told us he hadn’t ever seen any in the 6 years he’d lived there. We stood on the beach and watched in awe.
This blowhole is the second largest of it’s kind in the world. On the day we visited, with the rough seas the water pressure built up to give an impressive jet of water every couple of minutes. Other times of year people can wait up to half an hour to see it.
Watching a Turtle Lay it’s Eggs
This was one of my most anticipated events in Sri Lanka. I was ecstatic when we got the call at 8pm one evening to inform us that two turtles were laying their eggs. We waited for a tuk-tuk and were on our way to a local beach. Seeing Green Turtles lay their eggs before making their way back to the sea, whilst being surrounded by fireflies, was simply magical. To top it all off, we even saw a Jungle Cat on our walk back to the tuk-tuk.
Day 28-30: Mirissa
Mirissa was a huge contrast to our peaceful stay in Tangalle. It was far more touristy and the beach wasn’t as pristine. However, we did enjoy the many restaurants along the beach with candle lit dinners.
No.1 Dewmini Roti Shop
Some claim that the best rotis in the world are served here. I have to admit they were delicious. The food was so cheap here that we got into the habit of having two meals at each sitting. We were hoping to take a cooking class but they were fully booked so I’d recommend booking well in advance.
Mike and I much preferred the peacefulness of Tangalle but we did enjoy the variety of restaurants offering candlelit dinner along the beach each evening.
We took a bus to Galle (pronounced ‘gauhl’) which was an experience in itself. The bus was colourful with music videos playing which provided a crazy atmosphere. It was lovely to walk inside Galle Fort. I made the most of all the unique shops. My favourite was one which was dedicated to helping street dogs in Sri Lanka, ‘Embark’. There’s plenty of places to stop for ice cream in Galle Fort and the walls are worth a walk along too.
Many visit Mirissa with the hope of spotting a Blue Whale. It was not the right time of year to spot them whilst we were there so we decided to give this trip a miss.
Day 30-31: Colombo
Cinnamon Red Colombo
After speaking to many people around Sri Lanka, we decided that we weren’t overly-interested in exploring Colombo. I’m sure that many people would find it a shame to miss the capital city but we decided we’d rather spend our last day relaxing around the infinity pool on the roof of our hotel. Up there we watched the sunset. It was the perfect way to end our trip to Sri Lanka.