Why Sri Lanka?
Well initially i had wanted to go to India to spot Tigers and do some trekking. In fact i had the flights on stand by. But my girlfriend didn’t fancy the hustle and bustle not to mention the 40+ degree heat with no beach! So, we decided to compromise and ended up with Sri Lanka, the “calm version of India” (so i have been told!) To cut a long story short, I was still absolutely over the moon to embark on another journey of hiking, beaches, safaris, good food and the promise of friendly people… let the holiday commence!
Anyways the trip we booked was 2 weeks in total, but a night at the start and a night at tail end of the holiday were spent in Dubai, so i technically only spent 12 nights in Sri Lanka. Was it enough? Yes, i didn’t feel rushed, i saw absolutely everything i wanted to see and more. Could i have spent more time there? Could you? Absolutely! I could spend months there! Like most countries, there simply isn’t enough time to do it all, but i really felt like 2 weeks was a great length of time to be there.
This leads me on to my first tip… if your flight is making a stop over (which it normally will) then check out how much extra it’ll cost you to have a night or two there at that stop over destination. This is something I picked up 10 years ago on my very first bout of travelling (I stopped in Singapore for a week on the way to New Zealand and Bangkok on the way home). This way you get to see a new country inside the price of your original holiday. Last year I flew to Peru and had a 3 night stop over in Toronto which cost a grand total extra of about £4!
Over the years I’ve booked many trips through a gentleman called Fenton who works at STA Travel in Cardiff. It’s worth giving STA a call or popping into your local store to see if this is something you can book through them, otherwise it might be a little bit of a nightmare trying to sort this online on your own. The staff at STA are extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and know how to hook you up with great flight deals, so it’s more than worth your time.
Back to Sri Lanka… Our flight landed pretty late into the only major airport: Columbo airport. From here we immediately jumped onto UBER and got a taxi to destination number 1: Sigiriya.
Destination 1: Sigiriya.
Sigiriya Rock (We climbed to the top of that! Click the picture to see more on my Instagram account @_edmorris
The UBER from the airport took about 4 hours, a little haggling and cost about 7,500 rupees (40 quid). You’ll find the drivers are “restricted” to zones or areas of the country, but obviously they’re not really, especially when your offering a fair price so they’ll take you wherever really. Smaller cars are cheaper than vans and then tuk-tuk’s cheaper again. We often chose small cars (check the air-con works!) and we didn’t ever have any issues. The roads aren’t particular safe but definitely in better condition than countries like Vietnam or Africa and the drivers are just as crazy. It seems a competition of who can over take who! I’d like to point out that it is probably more cost-effective to hire a driver for the duration of your trip and in heinseight we would of done this but we tended to do this trip a little bit last minute (if you’d like me to put you in touch with someone let me know, I don’t make any money from hooking you up).
Leaving the airport late was the best option for us (to arrive very late at our first hotel, around 1am) because we wanted to fit so much in to our trip. You could spend one night in the town of Negombo (where the airport is closest to) before heading off on your adventures (although we heard there wasn’t much here worth hanging around for).
We only had the following day to climb the main attraction in Sigiriya and that is: Sigiriya Rock. It was imperative that we got a hotel really close so that we had time to do this and i’m absolutely over moon we chose the Sigi Saman Home Stay .The location is so close to the entrance and cuts out any needless travel and expense. On top of this, our hosts were amazing and waited up for us to arrive, following this up by cooking an incredible breakfast before we set out on our hike. The room had air-con, was big, in the perfect location and cost around £20 for 2 people for the night including! What an amazing first impression of Sri Lanka, where you will hopefully find like us that the hospitality is simply outstanding.
Time spent here: 1 night
Accomodaiton: Sigi Saman Home Stay
Time in taxi from airport: 4 hours
Cost: Homestay £20 Taxi £40 and the entrance tickets to go up the rock were very cheap.
Destination 2: Kandy
From here it was a couple of hours taxi journey (similar price) down to Kandy. We were only heading here because it’s the beginning of one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys (Kandy to Ella) and something i was extremely excited about doing! I love trains! Unforuntately two things didn’t go our way in Kandy – the weather was bloody awful and it was New Years Eve Sri Lanka (Yep in April!) so most things shut early! Despite the rain and the absolute madness on the streets of everybody buying their last minute fireworks we headed out for a walk around the lake and to check out the town! If we had more time and better weather i would definitely recommend the botanical gardens and I’m pretty sure you can do a tour of the old abandoned jail in the centre of town as well. Apart from that we weren’t overly impressed with Kandy and were glad to get going (don’t get me wrong the people are still lovely but there’s better places to be heading). I’d like to point out that whilst all this was happening our accommodation was again good, the hosts got up very early to cook us a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast so we could join in the celebrations and offered to give us a lift down to the train station which was great with our big bags! (Take a suitcase, you don’t need a rucksack like we did and its annoyingly hot lumping one around!). The link to the hotel we used can be found here.
Now the train journey is an interesting one and all i can say is be prepared! It’s 7 hours, it’s boiling hot, you CAN’T buy tickets in advance and you CAN’T pick your seats… BUT if you can push your way into second class, hold your pee for long intervals and be prepared to mingle up close with some amazing local people then do it! Oh and the views from the doorways (the best seat on the train) are INCREDIBLE! We heard people getting off saying it was the worst experience of their whole trip, and if you’re stuck in the middle stood up for 7 hours i’d probably agree. But sit yourself in the doorway and it is one of the best journeys you’ll ever do! This is the type of thing that makes travelling what it is (and makes us feel grateful for our own systems at home when we complain). You will love it, and if you don’t, don’t complain to me haha.
Time spent here: 1 night
Accomodation: Kandyan Sweet Villa
Time in taxi from Sigiriya: 3-4 hours including lunch stop
Cost: Homestay £10-20 and train ticket was about all of £1.50 for 2 people!! (Buy at the station, 2nd class and arrive at least 30 minutes early because ticket lines are slow and the trains often arrive early).
Destination 3: Ella
Ella is amazing. It really does feel like you’ve entered backpacker land and it’s a real good vibe. It’s like Thailand towns but with less chavs. Once you’re off the train its a short walk down on hill, turn left and you’re onto the main strip. It’s pretty much 2 streets and that’s it, packed with cafes and bars. From here you can go walking or grab a tuk-tuk the many attractions around like Little Adam’s Peak And Ella Rock (both of which are superb).
Check out this amazing view – and to find Little Adam’s Peak just head for the most expensive hotel in Ella, you’ve got to walk through it and it’s awesome to stop here for a coffee on the way back down.
Our accommodation in Ella was the Mountain Miracle and was actually about 3km away from the main strip. Now under normal circumstances this would be absolutely fine but Sri Lankan New Year (to our surprise) doesn’t just last one night… haha! It really depends what you’re after here… It is set in the most stunning location with the BEST views (even better than the 5 star hotels) and is right above the famous 9 arch bridge so you can easily wander down! However if you go on New Years Day like we did be prepared for your hosts to be extremely drunk when you arrive (although still so lovely) and for there to be hardly any tuk-tuk’s around! We had 2 nights here so the first day we hiked little Adam’s peak (very easy and beautiful views) with a trip to the 9 arch bridge for sundown, and the second day we ventured on a much bigger and harder walk to Ella Rock! Ella Rock is a fair old walk but very worth it! To get there – head back towards the train station out of town but instead of turning right and going up the hill to the station, turn left and get on the train track!
Yep, on a train track with trains that come down it (although not very often) and walk for about an hour until you find on the left, a little passage down through someones field and up onto the beginning of the climb up to Ella’s rock! Don’t worry if you don’t remember this, people know where to go, and as much as i don’t advocate walking on a railway, we were told this is the only option and there are loads of people doing it, just be very careful!
We also attended a cooking class on the second evening and there are so many places to chose from to eat you’ll find something very easily! The food is outstanding everywhere in Sri Lanka!
Time spent here: 2 nights
Accommodation: Mountain Miracle
Time in Taxi: 0 hours, 7 hours on the train!
Cost: Homestay was £10 per night including a welcome buffet and an amazing breakfast both days, bargain! All attractions are free because they’re natural wonders!
Destination 4: Udawalawe National Park
As one of the best places to see elephants in the WORLD! Udawalawe was high up on our list so we booked two nights here at the Secret River Side Safari Lodge. This was by far our favourite stay of the whole trip. A really good location about 10 minutes from the gates of the national park with the best hosts a traveller could ask for! Amazing food and a beautiful family who organised safari’s for us (which are about £60 for 3 hours) AND pretty much sorted everything we could of wanted! One night my girlfriend was very sick and they made her different foods, checked on her to see if she was ok and generally just did everything they could to help. We spent 2 nights here and although it could of easily just been one (and do the safari the day before or after) we didn’t feel like we wasted time as it was a very good experience! Oh and the safari was excellent, so many elephants! (We did a number of safari’s for my wildlife photography and this does add up in price so one would be plenty for most people!). If you really want a taste of an absolutely beautiful Sri Lankan family lifestyle, this is the place to stay. We took the little boy with us on safari and he was amazing at spotting eagles and just generally great fun. Such a loving, warm family that I will always remember in my mind.
Time spent here: 2 nights (But time it right and 1 is enough).
Accomodation: Secret River Side Safari Lodge
Time in taxi from Ella: Couple of hours
Cost: Homestay was around £15 per night with air-con and including breakfast. Other meals were about £2 extra, beers about £3-4 and safari around £60 per person per safari (morning and afternoon both last 3-4 hours).
Destination 5: Yala National Park Cinnamon Wild Yala
We came to Yala National Park with the same hopes and dreams of seeing leopards as everyone else but there is so much more to the place than just that. After doing some research and with it being my girlfriends birthday whilst we were here (3 nights) i decided to book us into one of the best hotels in Sri Lanka.
It’s truly up there with the best locations for a hotel in the world. It’s inside the national park, animals roaming freely (you need to be escorted to your rooms after dark incase of elephants roaming around!) and all that separates the hotel swimming pool from the crocodile infested lake is a few steps and a small grassy embankment! A wildlife lovers dream! The outdoor pool was a real treat and the buffet was outstanding. The room was beautiful and all of the workers were so friendly! Now here is my money saving tip that you need to do… We booked our safaris online for a fraction of the price of what the hotel offered – $56 dollars per person for ALL DAY including lunch as opposed to $90 per person for 3 hours offered by the hotel! We used a company called Lanaka safaris and they were very good, including pick up and drop off at the hotel the same as every other safari will do for you. So my advice would be to use them not the hotel as i cant see the difference in what’s on offer except price and if you’re like me and want to do multiple days of safari’s for photography then this was the most cost effective method. Simply connect to the wifi and book online through WhatsApp, it’s really that simple to get hold of them and much cheaper than the hotel. Save your money for an extra night there instead! The great thing about this hotel is that its out of town, in the safari park, extremely close to wildlife (literally!) and has a wonderful outdoor pool with big rooms and delicious food. You would never believe it but both of my leopard sightings were actually INSIDE the hotel grounds, right where I went for my morning run… yep, it’s that incredible!
You can check it out here and i’m sure you will LOVE this place, if you do nothing else you have got to experience this place!
Time spent here: 3 nights
Accomodation: Cinnamon Wild Safari Lodge
Time in Taxi from Udawalawe: 4-5 hours
Cost: £420 for 3 nights (hidden taxes on all stays in Sri Lanka remember) + evening buffet £20 each (very worth it) + safari (use Lanaka safari’s for the best price).
Destination 6: Mirissa Beach
Now this place is also incredible…. what a beach! We stayed at the Handagedara Colonial Villa which is amazing (outdoor pool and fantastic breakfast) and is very very close to the beach. I did think it was a little expensive although i could just be underestimating the price increases as you get to the more touristy places? Anyway, the beach here is absolutely amazing and the whole vibe of the place is just wonderful which makes the increase in price very worth it. I think my fiancé loved this town more than any other and we’ve travelled a lot of the world together! So that’s saying how good it is! We spent 3 nights here and she could of stayed for 3 months ha (Don’t go to Galle or Columbo and stay here longer is my tip).
We went Blue Whale watching (do not spend more than 2000 rupees on your trip per person, check they have insurance and life jackets and be prepared to be in rough seas!) and generally just hung out by the pool, went to a local spa for a cheap but amazing massage and went running on the sand. It’s just such a nice place with really cool people and fun bars and places to eat on the beach in the night. The sunsets are lovely and you should definitely definitely definitely go here! It’s just one of those places you will never appreciate how nice it is until you are sat with a beer on the sand admiring the views!
Time spent here: 3 nights
Accomodation: Handagedara Colonial Villa
Time in Taxi from Yala: Over 4 hours (i think)
Cost: Around £150-200 for 3 nights including breakfast. Whale watching 2000 rupees each (check they have insurance and life jackets).
Destination 7: Galle
I’ll probably get slated for saying this but, i thought Galle was a massive let down! BUT only compared to how much people had hyped this place up before I got there. Before we set off for Sri Lanka everybody told us to avoid Columbo and described it is another big busy, dirty, smelly city and so we absolutely must finish our holiday with a trip to Galle. Sure it has a nice walled fort with loads of history but other than that, there’s really nothing to do except spend your time in an overpriced cafe or trying to navigate your way through an old town with nothing much to offer bar tacky shops. This was the only place in Sri Lanka we were properly hassled by people wanting to take us to “the best market in Sri Lanka that was closing in half hour so we must go now” and the usual pick up lines that you get in busy towns abroad. Ok, so the weather was also awful and i know i’m being hyper critical but trust me, if you can spend another day in Mirissa, or Yala, or any other place i’ve mentioned so far… i know what i’ll be doing next time i go back!
So what should you do when your there? Be prepared to pay over the odds, stay within the fort walls, check out the museums and talk to local people about the history of the city, check out the unusual and quirky antiques shops (not the touristy rubbish that’s everywhere) and continue to eat great food (The Indian next to the lighthouse on one corner of the fort was pretty good). Other than that… not much. The old town was a bit disappointing and the markets were not like the others in Sri Lanka. I would hate to finish this post sounding negative so if you are going to visit Galle, and i guess you should check it out for yourself, then get the train along the south coast. It’s not as good as Kandy to Ella but it’s definitely less busy, less hot and you still get great views of the beaches and towns as you pass by!
We stayed Secret Garden Fort and opted for the suite on the top floor. The breakfast is magnificent as always and the location is spot on if you do decide to come here.
Time spent here: 1 night (Wish I had another night in Mirissa or Yala though!)
Accommodation: Secret Garden Fort
Time on train: 4-5 hours
Cost: Around £80 for one night, as i said, it’s over priced compared to the rest of the places i’ve mentioned!
So, this is my 2 week itinerary for Sri Lanka and i’d love to hear your feedback if you’ve also explored this amazing country and i’d welcome any questions you have if you plan on going!
Everything i write in my blogs is an open, honest review of what i experienced, so i hope you will experience the same or better!
If you’d like to watch a video of the highlights of my Sri Lanka trip check out my YOUTUBE channel here and subscribe for more travel videos!
‘Till next time!