A Travellerspoint blog

Sri Lanka

Galle, Sri Lanka

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Galle is a located on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka and is famous for Gall Fort which is an old fortified city that was built by the Portuguese during the 16th century, with stone sea walls that were added by the Dutch.

It's a Unesco World Heritage Site, and perfect to explore on foot with a mix of colonial buildings, mosques, churches, museums and large mansions. There are loads of winding lanes with cafes, boutique shops and hotels. The wall itself is a great place to walk along providing wonderful views out into the ocean and along Sri Lanka's coastline.

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Beyond the fort is a city of around 100,000 people which also has some great places to explore such as the Galle Cricket Stadium (if a match is on), markets and shopping options.

We arrived late and stayed at 'Secret Palace Guest house', a gem located at the end of a laneway. We had a private room and again enjoyed great hospitality and breakfast! The 'Indian Hut' serves up some great food, as does 'Spoons'! Be sure to check out sunset from the wall.

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Udawalawe, Sri Lanka

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Udawalawe National Park is one of Sri Lanka's most popular national parks in the country, famous for it's elephants and home to a wide range of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.

A herd of about 250 elephants reside in the park along with animals such as the rusty-spotted cat, the Sri Lankan leopard, sloth bears, deer, wild boar, water buffalo and mongoose. We were lucky to see a whole range of them as well as monkeys, birds and lizards.

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We stayed at the nearby 'Green Park Safari House' which was comfortable. Our hosts arranged for a 3/4 day jeep tour leaving early and provided us with lunch which was handy. It was just the two of us with a patient guide to showed us all corners of the park, a stunning place to be. On the way out, we stopped in at the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home which looks after abandoned elephant calves within the park.

We arranged for a driver to take us all the way to Galle, via Tangalle in the afternoon. Tangalle is located in the south and is renowned for great beaches - unfortunately the persistent rain and cloud made it a little difficult to see for ourselves!

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Kandy to Ella, Sri Lanka

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The train trip between Kandy and Ella is often referred to as the world's most beautiful train trip and we'd have to agree (or it's at least in the top 5). It's a 7 hour journey and as we were awestruck by the scenery, the time flew by.

It winds through a stunning variety of green and lush landscapes with tea plantations, steep mountains, through small towns, over bridges, by waterfalls and more.

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It's naturally popular which means you should book tickets in advance or you may miss out. This can be done in Sri Lanka or online. We arrived at Kandy station for an 8:30am departure, took with us some lunch, snacks and water and away we went. We booked a reserved seat which mean't we didn't have to battle with others to find a seat (well worth doing!). It stops at a number of places along the way, including Nuwara Eliya, which is a great place to check out. Otherwise it's a case of sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the scenery.

We arrived into Ella in the afternoon and immediately noticed the cooler climate thanks to the higher altitude. A short Tuk-tuk ride and we arrived at our accommodation, Lavendra Paradise. Wow, what a view. The accommodation throughout the trip has been great and this was no exception. Very welcoming, great room and another huge breakfast!

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Ella is set in the hills with dramatic valleys, mountains, tea plantations and some great eateries which means it lends itself to just kicking back and relaxing. It's a place that you could quite comfortably stay at for weeks. It's has noticeably more tourists and backpackers than the other places we visited, partly due to the fact that we were travelling off-season, but also because of it's beauty and laid-back lifestyle. Cafe Chill was a popular hangout and served up some great food.

We found plenty to do including:

  • Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory - The largest tea factory in Sri Lanka's Uva region, it's set right on top of a mountain with tours that give you great insights into the tea making process.
  • Nine Arches Bridge - An almost 100 year old bridge built with blocks of stone and cement without any strengthening iron or concrete. It's one of the engineering marvels in the early 20th century.
  • Ravana's Cave - A small cave, that was once used by King Rawana to hide the Princess Sita. It lies right on the foundation of a cliff.
  • Little Adam's Peak - Although it was raining, this relatively easy walk goes through tea plantations to a peak with a spectacular view.
  • Ravana Falls. - Just a small Tuk-Tuk ride away, right by the road is the impressive Ravana Falls.
  • Mate Hut - We also did a great cooking course at Matey Hut and learn't all about 6 curry dishes. Delicious and a great way to feast on some Sri Lankan food.

We reluctantly left Ella, and decided to incorporate a visit to some other great areas in Sri Lanka as we made our way to Udawalawe. This trip just seemed to be getting better and better as we drove via Bandarawela to Dambethenna Tea Factory and on to Lipton's Seat.

Dambethenna Tea Factory was built by the Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton in 1890, which is now known at as Lipton tea. Although the tour was disappointing, the drive to the factory and then beyond the factory to Lipton's Seat was fantastic. We wound through small villages and endless tea plantations, full of pickers.

The Lipton’s Seat lookout is one of the most impressive viewpoints in Sri Lanka, which unfortunately we could not see because of cloud! Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey the countryside and his tea plantations from here.

From there, we stopped off at Haputale and enjoyed some delicious lunch at the 'Golden Hill Tea Centre', a former tea factory and then checked out Diyaluma Falls - the second highest waterfall in the country (at 220 m high). We rolled into Udawalawe quite late reflecting on such a great day.

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Kandy, Sri Lanka

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We headed south with our host from Sigiriya and stopped at the Regent Spice and Herbal Garden in Matale. An interesting place where you get a tour of many local herbs and spices that can improve your health. From there we continued to Kandy weaving in and out of some crazy traffic. It seems like the bus drivers think they're in a Formula 1 car! The total trip is around 100kms, yet it takes around 2.5 hours.

Kandy is a large city completely surrounded by mountains, with rainforest and tea plantations. It's a bustling city of 125,000 with a scenic lake and is most famous for the Buddhist site, 'Temple of the Tooth' (Sri Dalada Maligawa) shrine.

The legend is that Buddha’s tooth was given to Sri Lanka in ancient times, which was passed down through various kings. The tooth is now housed in this temple, which is held in a golden stupa inside the shrine. With gold, moonstone and Buddhist carvings, it's impressive and is visited by worshippers the world over. You don’t actually see the tooth, it’s kept in a gold casket, inside a guarded room. Beyond that, the complex has a number of other temples, shrines and museums. It's oozes atmosphere.

Be sure to visit the temple during the day as well as at night when the ceremony is happening. There are drums, a pipe and the casket containing the tooth is brought out allowing you to take a peek.

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Aside from that, it's well worth checking out the giant Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue, which has some impressive views over Kandy. The Royal Botanic Gardens has loads of plant species and is known for a large orchid collection. And for some cultural entertainment, check out the Cultural Dance Show at the Kandy Lake Club.

We stayed at 'Bee View Home Stay', south of the city up into the mountains. Although it's a little far to walk into town, it was a great place to stay with welcoming hosts, a large breakfast and stunning views.

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Sigiriya & Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

sunny 30 °C
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Our host in Anuradhapura drove us to our next stop, Sigiriya and on the way we wanted to take a look at Dambulla Royal Cave Temple. It's a World Heritage Site and is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. An impressive sight with some great views and a good way to break up the trip.

Sigiriya is home to ruins of a 5th-century city and is one of those places that that takes your breath away. From a distance it's impressive, but once you explore it up close, the more amazing it gets.

Sigiriya rock is an ancient rock fortress about 30 minutes drive from Dambulla in Sri Lanka's Central Province. It's a huge column of sheer rock that soars vertically out of the ground to nearly 200 metres in height, formed from magma from an extinct volcano. It;s surrounded by relatively flat planes and therefore is visible from miles away.

The area is surrounded by an extensive network of fortifications, vast gardens, ponds, canals, alleys, cave shrines and fountains. In addition to that, is remnants of a ruined palace and an ancient civilisation on top of the rock itself.

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We arrived at the area early and as we were unaware of the extent of the ruins on top of the rock, were in for a treat. The top is accessed via a range of staircases attached to sheer walls to get to the top. On top lies the king’s upper palace which is vast and had of dozens of rooms, a hydraulic 'air conditioning system' that used water that was pumped up from a lake into the gardens under ground. The view from the top of the palace is incredible with the ability to see out into the lush green landscape in every direction.

We stayed at 'Sigiri Thilanka Rest' which was about 10-15 mins walk into the nearby town, well priced, clean and a friendly host. The town itself is small and has some pretty good food options for travellers. We ate at a few places including Chooti, which served up great curry and rotti bread.

Whilst in the area, we also did a day trip to Kaudulla National Park, a fantastic place that is home to over 200 elephants, monkeys, crocodiles and some leopards. We saw just about all of the 200 elephants as they were feeding and traipsing through the lake. It was quite stormy too which added to the experience.

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Anuradhapura & Mihintale, Sri Lanka

sunny 33 °C
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We caught the early train to Anuradhapura as the sun was rising and it was a great way to see the countryside. Anuradhapura is famous for it's well preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilisation. It's spread over a large sprawling area, with a huge collection of archaeological and architectural gems such as huge stupas, ancient pools and temples that were built centuries ago.

We stayed at a great guesthouse called Liyana Holiday resort, and took up the owners offer of a tour around the vast ancient ruins area. You can also rent a bike, however due to the heat and our stomachs in recovery mode, we went with the comfortable option! Plus it meant we'd get loads of local info as we went to each place. Liyana cooked us some great dinner and breakfast too.

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Anuradhapura Highlights

There were some fascinating places:

  • Sri Maha Boodhi Temple - a famous, sacred fig tree in the Mahamewna Gardens, which is said to be the southern branch from the Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment.
  • Abhayagiri Stupa - A sight to behold, this huge stupa dates back to the 1st century BC, and was once 100m high. It's one of the greatest structures in the ancient world and it's scale is only matched by the pyramids of Giza. It stands out for miles, in amongst the surrounding forest.
  • Ruvanvelisaya Stupa - A white stupa which is surrounded by elephants.
  • Jetavanarama Stupa - Similar to Abhayagiri, this stupa stands 70m tall and is said to consist of more than 90 million bricks!
  • Archaeological Museum - A good stopping point to learn more about this fascinating area.
  • Isurumuniya - A temple just next to 'Thissa Wewa' lake, built into rock, it's a great place to visit. We also explored the area nearby including Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, set in a scenic tropical wonderland.
  • Ratnaprasada - A wonderful monastery, which was once 7 stories high.

Further to this, we did a day trip to Mihintale, which has a whole new world of ancient ruins to explore. A must see part of Sri Lanka.

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Colombo, Sri Lanka

sunny 30 °C
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Sri Lanka had been a country we'd been wanting to visit for some time. It's a perfect next stop after visiting the Maldives being just a 1.5 hour flight away. We flew into the capital, Colombo in the evening and stayed in a guest house in Colpetty 'Colombo 3' which was a pretty good location. It's a bustling city of around 800,000 people and due to it being an important port for ancient east-west trade routes, there's a great mix of architecture comprising of colonial buildings with high-rises and shopping malls.

Like all capital cities, there's a whole range of things to see and do. We had 5 days to explore which is probably enough to see the major sights, however we were struck down with some gastro following a cocktail of questionable chicken, water and a beer! This wiped out 1 of the 5 days.

Still, we had a great time in Colombo and managed to squeeze in quite a lot. Getting around is best done on foot or with a Tuk-Tuk. They're reasonably priced, take you exactly where you want to go and can even be hired for a set number of hours.

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Sights in Colombo

There were some great highlights including:

  • Galle Face Green - Right by the beach, this urban park is is bustling with families, people playing and sitting down to one of the many eateries. It's also famous for sunsets of the Indian ocean. We arrived and enjoyed a beer with some great food at Nana's King and thought we'd miss out on the sunset due to the cloud. Next minute the whole sky started to light up in a magical orange/pink colour that completed stunned us! Without doubt, one of the most incredible sunsets we've seen.
  • Pettah Market & Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque - Teeming with people, the bustling Petta Market has everything from food, to electronics and homewares. It's a great way to sample Colombo's vibrancy. Plus, whilst you're there, check out the impressive red Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque.
  • Gangaramaya Temple & Biera Lake - An important temple in Colombo over Bere Lake.
  • National Museum of Colombo - Although we got there a little late, this large museum has loads of info about Sri Lanka. It's a great way to learn about some of the historical areas in the north, especially if you're heading in that direction.
  • Viharamahadevi Park & the Colombo Municipal Council - We wandered through Viharamahadevi Park on the weekend and it was filled with locals relaxing, having picnics and enjoying themselves. It's well worth a visit, plus you can check out the Buddha, that's facing the Town Hall.
  • Old Parliament Building - You won't be able to go inside, however is well worth checking out, if you're walking south towards Galle Face Green, or north into the Fort area.
  • Slave Island - Is well worth exploring with interesting architecture, shops and laneways to explore.
  • Cinnamon Red Hotel - Head up to the bar at the top of Cinnamon Red for drink and enjoy an incredible view with the option to use the swimming pool.
  • Colombo Lotus Tower - It was still under construction, however having a view from 350m high is sure to be an experience worth doing.

You can explore beyond Colombo by train, bus or get yourself a driver who can either take you to the next city and drop you off, or stay with you and take you around the whole country. Drivers are more expensive, however they greatly reduce travel time, offer some helpful tips along the way and are much more comfortable than the public buses. We used a combination of each.

Our next stop was Anuradhapura, which we went to by train.

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