With its ancient cities, safaris, ocean beaches, culture and flavors, Sri Lanka has been calling out to us for a long time. We recently had the opportunity to answer this call. This relatively undiscovered paradise awaits travelers.
NOTES FROM OUR TRIP TO SRI LANKA…
By Remzi Gokdag – The 3rd century explorer Marco Polo called Sri Lanka “the most beautiful island of its size in the world”. The Arab sailors who discovered this island centuries ago called it “Serendib”, which means “beautiful coincidence”.
Through a series of coincidences, we recently spent nine days in Sri Lanka, which has everything a tropical island has to offer. We watched the sunrise on its sparkling beaches and ancient palaces. We battled sapphire blue waves. We walked through tea plantations and tracked leopards. We wandered through the most sacred areas of temples. We saw the mysterious light at the end of dark caves. We relieved our tiredness in the cool waters of waterfalls… What more can be expected from a trip…
We had actually planned a trip to Sri Lanka three years ago, but some unforeseen events prevented us from implementing this plan for a long time. Recently, again out of the blue, we decided to go to Sri Lanka. Everything happened in a few hours. While we were wondering whether it would happen or not, we found ourselves on the page where we bought the plane tickets. Beautiful coincidences were following us…
Our journey started on November 26 and ended on December 5, 2022. Sri Lanka was one of the most privileged places I have ever seen. It was literally mesmerizing with its nature, culture and people. The trip left us with a beautiful country we enjoyed exploring and unforgettable memories of it. We couldn’t get enough of Sri Lanka’s surprises, we appreciated this coincidence in the Indian Ocean even more when we returned home. We still haven’t forgotten the taste of this trip.
WHEN THE OPPORTUNITY COMES!
In the spring of 2019, when we made plans for Sri Lanka, this island was the favorite of travel routes. In those days, some unforeseen and sad developments took place. First, there were a series of terrorist acts that shook the country deeply. After the Easter bombings, the fate of Sri Lanka changed in an instant. The island, where tourists flocked, was suddenly cut off from the world. Immediately afterwards, the pandemic process began. Flights were banned, the period of combating the epidemic began, during which harsh measures were taken. Three years have passed exactly. We had not forgotten Sri Lanka, but we also knew that we would not be able to travel around the country comfortably before Covid-19 measures were lifted. We had the opportunity we were waiting for at the end of November, but our time to explore Sri Lanka was limited. We had to make the most efficient use of our time. We had to compress our route, which would normally fit into two weeks, due to time constraints. We listed the places we wanted to see and set off.
On our 9-day trip, we saw everything we planned to see. While exploring the Cultural Triangle in the center of the island, we traced the traces of past kingdoms. In Sigiriya, we gave birth to the sun on a giant rock rising in the middle of the uninterrupted jungle. We wandered around the ruins of the mysterious palace on the hill. We witnessed a religious ceremony in the country’s most sacred temple. We went on safari and tracked the leopard, and although we did not meet him, we watched the reptiles and elephants for a long time. We met Vishwa, first as our driver, then as our guide, and at the end of the trip he was like a close friend. We had our fill of curry, there were moments when tears came to our eyes, but we couldn’t stop ourselves from eating it again at every opportunity. We ate the food with our hands, just like them. We found peace in the hands of the people who gave Ayurvedic massage to the world. We watched the ocean in the shade of coconut trees, struggled with its waves and made friends with the dogs on the beach. We traveled slowly along the slopes of the green paradise on the famous blue train. We shopped from street artists, had adventures with tuk tuk drivers, tasted homemade ice cream…
Protected by temples, blessed by wildlife, cooled by beaches, Sri Lanka captured our hearts with its friendly faces and fascinating culture. What we saw, tasted and felt haunted us for a long time.
We followed the developments on international news channels until the last day of our flight. Daily life can change at any moment without any warning, the notes I will write may be invalid in a few weeks.
As of December 2022, Sri Lanka is ready to welcome tourists. The country, which has suffered heavy damage to tourism in the past during the bombings and the pandemic that followed, is trying to heal its wounds, but political tensions are slowing down this process. People are fed up with the failures of the parties. Inflation breaks records every month and people are fed up with the failure of politicians.
Prices are constantly rising due to devaluation. This situation has made the people miserable, but tourists who come to the country with dollars do not complain much. The record increase in the dollar exchange rate is not evenly reflected in prices and tourists are able to spend less foreign currency and travel more than five months ago. Supermarket shelves are full, even though the prices of goods in supermarkets are rising every day. There are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables at roadside stalls. Imported products are scarce and expensive.
There are planned power cuts lasting 1-1.5 hours every day across the country. Although the big hotel chains get by with generators, small boutique hotels and guesthouses are left in the dark during the blackouts.
We did not see the fuel queues we had heard so much about before we arrived, but there is talk of limited oil supply. Tuk tuk, bus and train services continue without interruption.
The economic crisis has caused a shortage of medicines, but over-the-counter standard medicines are not available.
Most countries have lifted travel advisories against traveling to Sri Lanka. It is useful to get updated information about the situation in the country before you go.
In short, do your research before traveling to Sri Lanka. Be aware of sudden curfews, travel restrictions between provinces and last minute changes in tourist attractions.
The country’s currency is the Sri Lanka Rupee (LKR) and the official exchange rate is 1 USD which was equivalent to approximately 350-370 LKR as of December 2022. Exchange your money at the airport when you enter the country. The best place to get exchange rates is the exchange bureaus at the airport. When traveling within the country, you may not find a place to exchange currency. Foreign currency is not accepted for local shopping, museum tickets and park entrances. If you get stuck, you can withdraw local currency from ATMs in major cities like Colombo and Galle.
SIM cards and data packages can be purchased at the airport at reasonable prices. Although there are different companies, the prices are almost equal. Dialog is the largest private phone company in the country.
There are various hotel options for every budget. Budget hotels are around 30-50 USD. In general, the prices in hotels or restaurants include a service charge, but tipping can always be a reason to spice up your day. Especially those working in the service sector always expect a tip in addition to the low salary they receive.
The majority of Sri Lankan society identifies itself as Buddhist. The freedom to choose and express religious affiliation is guaranteed under the Sri Lankan constitution. 70 percent of the population is Buddhist, 12 percent Hindu, 11 percent Muslim and 7 percent Christian.
Explore Srı Lanka
Although it is relatively easy to travel between cities in Sri Lanka by public transportation, our preference was to rent a car with a driver. The company we hired was better than we expected. They contributed to the plan and we saw many places we missed by listening to their advice. Vishwa, who accompanied us throughout our trip, added color to our trip and his professional information and guidance was great. If you are going to rent a car in Sri Lanka, I highly recommend Mango Vacations.
If you don’t have a lot of luggage and you are in big cities, it is also possible to use tuk tuks for journeys under 60-90 minutes. However, traveling on intercity roads with tuk tuks does not seem very safe.
While it is technically possible to rent a car for a Sri Lanka itinerary and drive around on your own, driving on the roads can be difficult and people (especially bus drivers) may make you regret it. You are not legally allowed to drive in Sri Lanka using an international driver’s license without proper local accreditation anyway. Sometimes it’s best to leave it to the experts and driving in Sri Lanka is no exception.
Securıty ın Srı Lanka
Throughout the trip, we experienced how warm-blooded and friendly people they are. Whether in big cities or rural areas, this friendly attitude of the people never changed. The first question they asked to start the conversation was where we came from. We heard this question from every Sri Lankan without exception.
Although violent crimes against foreigners are rare, little crimes are common. Be careful with your personal belongings, especially in crowded areas. Follow the safety practices that you should follow in every foreign country in Sri Lanka and be comfortable at the end of the trip. Be careful about going out alone after dark. It is always good to be careful and consider your own safety wherever you go.
Is 1 week enough for Srı Lanka?
Sri Lanka is an island about 430 km long and 220 km wide, but don’t let its compact size fool you. It took longer than we expected to get around the island. Most of the roads between cities are single lane. From time to time, herds of animals can get on the road and obstruct the flow of traffic. Monsoon rains are another factor in the long journeys.
In this case, is one week enough to visit the island? The answer depends on the individual, but you can complete your tour by including the most visited places in Sri Lanka in a week. We took two extra days and relaxed on the beaches by the ocean.
At the end of the tour, we saw the temples in the famous Cultural Triangle and UNESCO cultural heritage sites. We traveled with Buddhist monks on the iconic blue train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. We relaxed at waterfalls, wandered through tea plantations, enjoyed the ocean in the shade of coconut trees.
If you are looking for a simple 1-week itinerary for first-time visitors to Sri Lanka, you can find the route I would recommend in detail below.
Day 1: Colombo (November 26, 2022)
On Saturday morning, our Dubai-Colombo flight ended with our arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport around 09:30. We exchanged some money before meeting the driver who came to meet us at the airport. We did not buy a sim card because the company that prepared the tour had undertaken this service as well. The taxi fare from the airport to Colombo is about 20-25 USD.
It was after 11:00 when we arrived at the Hilton Colombo. We left our belongings at the hotel and went out for a short city tour. At the door of the hotel, tuk tuk drivers approached and offered us a tour. After a short negotiation, we agreed on a two-hour city tour for 1000 Rupees. We visited the Red Mosque, Seema Malaka, Gangaramaya Temple and the Dutch Hospital. In the evening we met Suat from Zagreb at the hotel and had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Tomorrow our big tour would start and we didn’t have much time left to recover from the road fatigue.
Day 2: Polonnaruwa (November 27, 2022)
Whatever the duration of your visit to Sri Lanka, don’t leave the country without seeing Sigiriya. Sigiriya is the most important part of Sri Lanka’s “Cultural Triangle“, 4 hours drive from Colombo. The 200 meter high “Lion Rock” is the most visited spot in the country. After the long drive, we decided to take Vishwa’s advice and postpone the ascent to the Lion Rock until sunrise tomorrow and visit the temple ruins in Polonnaruwa before dark. Located about an hour’s drive from Sigiriya, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa served as the capital of the country for about two centuries between the 11th and 13th centuries AD. It has wonderfully preserved historical sites. You can easily get around on foot. There is also a bicycle option for those who don’t want to walk. After walking around for about an hour, we returned to our hotel Il Frangipane in Sigirya as it was getting dark.
Day 3: Sigiriya Lion Rock (November 28, 2022)
Sigiriya Rock Fort (Lion Rock) is a former palace that has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Offering panoramic views, the Sky Palace consists of a mid-level terrace with the Lion’s Gate and gardens and moats below it.
We decided to watch the sunrise from another rock directly opposite this one, so we set off at 05:00 in the morning. It was dark and dogs accompanied us on our climb to this rock, which is directly opposite the Lion Rock.
The sun was about to rise when we reached the top. Around the rock, monkeys had also started their day. Some of them were asking us for food and wouldn’t leave our side. The sunrise was spectacular. The redness of the sky was slowly reflected in the forest below and the colors were changing from shade to shade. We had been rewarded for choosing this place instead of Lion Rock. The legendary rock in front of us was now ready to be explored.
The palace ın the sky
The palace ruins at the top of the rock were quite interesting. I guess every tourist who climbs this rock questions the logic of building such a structure in such a difficult place to reach. Everything is for safety, but the ascent and descent of the king will be a subject I will research and read when I have time.
The climb to Sigiriya Rock consists of about 1200 steps in total and is divided into several stages. The steps continue until the summit and can sometimes be very steep and narrow.
The stairs through the gardens at the base of Sigiriya castle are wide and easy to climb, but don’t let that fool you. A challenging track awaits you ahead. Around the first terrace, there are a series of terraces, caves and platforms to walk along, as well as resting areas.
The part of the climb that causes dizziness and leg cramps starts at the metal staircase in the middle of the rock. At the top of the narrow metal stairs there is a junction. One road leads to the Sigiriya fresco caves, one of the highlights of the tour, the other continues up the hill. We left examining the well-preserved frescoes inside the cave for the return and continued climbing up the hill.
The Lion’s Gate has two huge sets of claws guarding the last path to the Sky Palace. The last and most challenging part of the climb begins here. Even an unobstructed view of the plains surrounding the Sigiriya fort is not enough to relieve fatigue.
Built in the fifth century, this palace attracted the attention of British archaeologists in the 1800s. They were amazed by the rock art and frescoes.
Perched on a boulder rising above the jungle in central Sri Lanka, the Sigiriya palace is as imposing now as it was when it was first built in the fifth century AD. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
The fortress was swallowed by the jungle over the centuries. It was only known to the local villagers. When we reached the top, the view and the ruins of the palace we wandered through really made the exhaustion worth it. How many times in our lives will we climb to the top of a 200 meter high rock and wander through the ruins of an ancient palace? Every part of the summit is open to visitors. There is a 360-degree panoramic view on the horizon and this view is worth the fatigue. How many times in our lives will we climb to the top of a 200-meter-high rock and wander through the ruins of an ancient palace?
one of the secrets of hıstory
On the way down we visited the Sigiriya fresco cave. The Sigiriya Frescoes were painted on the western surface of the Sigiriya Rock in 480 AD. This work of art is considered the centerpiece of a huge palace complex built by King Kasyapa. The frescoes were clearly visible from every point in the complex, especially from the grand ceremonial western entrance. Today, only a few of these murals can be found on a small surface about 100 meters above the ground.
Some of the frescoes in the small, sheltered area a hundred meters above the ground depict celestial nymphs carrying flowers to kings and mortals. Others are suggested to be the queens and concubines of Kasyapa’s harem. The women of the Sigiriya fresco paintings have been the subject of speculation for nearly sixteen hundred years, but all this time they have kept their secrets, smiling enigmatically. The names of the women and the artists who painted them have been lost in the mysteries of history.
We reached the frescoes by climbing up three flights of spiral stairs in the Terraced Gardens at the southern end of the rock. There was a guard at the gate and his job was to prevent visitors from taking photographs. We had already read many times before coming here that the frescoes cannot be photographed. Therefore, we kept our cell phones and cameras in our bags.
Dambulla Cave Temple
After completing our visit to Sigiriya rock, we moved to Dambulla Cave Temples. This temple is a magnificent heritage. It is considered the largest painted cave complex in the world. Dambulla Rock Temple is located on the main road to Anuradhapura, about 75 km northwest of Kandy, the last capital of the Sinhalese kings. To visit the temples you have to climb a steep hill. The cave begins on a plateau 340 meters above the sea. Before entering the complex, stop to rest and enjoy the spectacular view of the green valley. The rock temples are one of the most extensive and oldest on the island.
The Dambulla cave monastery is still functional. Dating from the third and second centuries BC, this complex was converted into a temple in the first century BC. Valagamba, exiled from Anuradhapura, took refuge here for 15 years. After reclaiming his capital, the king had this temple built in gratitude. Many kings later added to it and by the 11th century the caves had become an important religious center. Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa had the caves gilded in 1190 and added about 70 Buddha statues. In the 18th century the caves were restored and painted by the Kandy Kingdom.
After visiting the cave complex, we ate authentic Sri Lankan delicacies at a restaurant recommended by Vishwa on the way. Then we went to a private Ayurvedic massage parlor called Isiwara Paura, also recommended by Vishwa. The most enjoyable moment of the tiring day had begun. After the climbing and hiking that started with the first light of the day, we felt like we had been reborn thanks to this massage. Our next stop was Kandy and we planned to get there before dark.
Kandy: The last capıtal of the Sınhala kıngs
The most revered temple in Sri Lanka was founded in the 16th century AD. The temple houses the relic of the Buddha’s tooth, believed to have been removed from the Buddha’s funeral pyre by one of his disciples. It was the King’s responsibility to protect the relic, as he was considered a symbolic representation of the Buddha and therefore had the right to rule the country.
It is also an important symbol of Sinhalese identity and pride. Every day thousands of white-clad pilgrims come to this sacred site with lotus flowers for offerings and prayers known as puja. While the tooth remains hidden in a golden coffin, visitors and devotees wait in long lines during puja just to get a glimpse of the well-guarded inner sanctum where the tooth is kept.
When we entered the temple, the ceremony was about to begin and it was Monday. Every week on Monday, the golden gates of the relic are opened and visitors have the opportunity to see the Buddha’s relic, albeit from a distance, during a special ceremony.
Before entering the temple, we were warned to dress appropriately and to make sure that our clothes covered our legs and shoulders. We took off our shoes before entering the temple. When we entered the hall, there were ceremonial offerings and prayers. Every year, during the Esala Perahera procession, the relic coffin is carried through the streets on a male elephant. This 10-day festival is considered one of the biggest Buddhist festivals in the world.
After watching this interesting ceremony, we visited the other halls of the temple. We relieved our tiredness by having coffee in a building adjacent to the temple and tasted local delicacies at Balaji Dosai before entering the hotel.
We spent the night at a hotel called Fox Kandy, on a hill overlooking the city. It was difficult to drive up the narrow roads. It was dark when we reached the hotel. We could realize the beauty of the view when we woke up the next morning.
Day 4: Nuwara Eliya (November 29, 2022)
Kandy Lake is located in the heart of the city, right next to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. The man-made lake, built in 1807 by King Rajasinghe, the last ruler of the Kandy Kingdom, dominates the magnificent view of Kandy. In the morning we started the city tour by walking by the lake, wandering the streets and shopping. We stopped by the Red Mosque, located close to the Temple of the Tooth. The mosque had a red and white sugarcane-like facade like the Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid in Colombo and there was a dense Muslim population around it.
After taking in the view from an area overlooking the lake, we went to Kandy Botanical Garden. After taking in the view from an area overlooking the lake, we went to the Kandy Botanical Garden. The Royal Botanical Gardens is one of the must-see places in Kandy. Covering 147 acres, the garden dates back to the 14th century. Today it is home to ferns, palm avenues, flower and spice gardens. The park is an extremely popular tourist attraction in Kandy and is also a place of great interest for the locals.
The places we visited in Sri Lanka were beautiful from each other, but Kandy’s place is completely different. Although it may seem crowded, its deep cultural and religious roots set this city apart from others. Although we could not give it the importance it deserves due to lack of time, we will give it its due if we come here again.
After a short break at Ravana Falls on the way, we arrived at Laxapana waterfall, the star of the day. We parked the car on the side of the road and reached the bottom of the waterfall after a half-hour walk. Laxapana Waterfall is the eighth highest waterfall in Sri Lanka with a height of 126 meters. There was a natural pool at the bottom of the waterfall, but we didn’t have the chance to swim there as it was getting close to dark. The waterfall can be extremely powerful during the rainy season, so watch your step and avoid walking on slippery rocks.
After stocking up on fresh air, we reached Damro Labookellie Tea Hall, one of the oldest tea plants in Sri Lanka, on the way to Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lanka is the fourth largest tea producer in the world. We learned this information on the tea factory tour. Tea is the essence of local life, just like in the Black Sea region. Sri Lankan tea, known as Ceylon tea, directly or indirectly employs more than one million people. Sri Lanka produces three types of tea: white, green and black.
Damro Labookellie is the oldest tea center in Sri Lanka. In the 150-year-old facility, we saw the process from picking the tea to processing and packaging. Tea saplings are replanted every 100 years on 5,000 hectares of lush tea plantations. This tea factory produces white and black tea, while green tea is processed in another tea factory and then sent to Damro. All types of tea have different production processes. At the end of our visit to the tea factory and plantation in Damro, we had the opportunity to try different flavors of tea produced in the region.
After the tea and cake tasting, we set off again. We were in Nuwara Eliya before dark. Before closing the day, we stopped by The Grand Hotel. Its one of the landmarks of Sri Lanka, has a heritage of more than 131 years. Built in 1828 as Barnes Hall, the home of the fifth governor of Ceylon, The Grand Hotel has been welcoming guests from all over the world since the late 19th century. Although we did not stay in the hotel, we had the opportunity to see the halls and the royal suite. After the hotel tour, we had afternoon tea (High tea) in the garden. The traditional British tea ceremony is also practiced here. We tasted the unforgettable taste of the famous Ceylon teas once again accompanied by plates full of cakes and snacks.
After a long and tiring day, we spent the night at the Cottage San Francesco hotel on the top of a high hill in the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, overlooking a lush green valley.
Day 5: Train journey to Ella (November 30, 2022)
We learned that Nuwara Eliya was overlooked in favor of its slightly more popular and trendy sister, Ella. Nuwara Eliya, the “City of Light”, is higher in elevation than both Ella and Kandy. This was one of the favorite retreats of the British during colonial times. The British found this mountain range in the 19th century and decided to establish the mountain town of Nuwara Eliya. The town is full of English cottage-style houses and half-timbered bungalows. It was named “Little England” because of its architectural characteristic.
While it used to be a quaint little town with only buildings from the Colonial era, now it is flooded by tourists with many modern buildings. A few buildings from those times are still standing. Nuwara Eliya Post Office has an important place among them. Built in 1894 by the British in Tudor style, this two-story red brick building with a clock tower is one of the oldest buildings in Sri Lanka.
Our next stop was Victoria Park. Named after Queen Victoria’s 60th jubilee coronation and established in 1897, the park has 27 acres of land. It is a recreation area where people spend time, especially on weekends.
After wandering around the park decorated with colorful flowers and palm trees, we went to Lake Gregory. Named after Sir William Gregory in 1873, the lake is an important attraction used for water sports and recreational activities. There are boat rides on the lake, and after walking around the walking paths and having a snack, we went to the station to catch the 12:30 train to Ella.
tea country and the blue traın
If you’re an Instagrammer, you’ve seen photos of passengers leaning out of a bright blue train and looking out over Sri Lanka’s vibrant green tea plantations. This is the famous train journey from Kandy to Ella and is a must-do on every trip to Sri Lanka.
The best way to see the mesmerizing beauty of Sri Lanka is by train. Any trip to Sri Lanka is incomplete without completing this journey. When we were making our plans, we added the blue train journey to our list. Actually, we could have driven to Ella, but we didn’t want to come to Sri Lanka and complete the journey without taking this train.
Our driver Vishwa dropped us at the train station and left for Ella. The blue train arrived at the station a little late. There were about 20 tourists waiting for the train with us. Tickets are sold as reserved seats or standing passengers. In the 3rd class car, we reserved our seats in advance and bought our tickets.
With the shrill sound of the whistle, the train slowly pulled away from Nuwara Eliya station, passing through the houses and alleyways of the town before opening up to coconut trees and green fields. As the train traveled slowly, the visual feast of the land of tea began.
Passengers were already filling the wagons for the scenic journey to the town of Ella. The open doors were the most popular spot and were quickly shared by tourists. The wagons were not crowded. Besides us, there were two other tourist couples and many Buddhist monks traveling in our wagon. To the sound of vendors walking up and down the aisle, carrying fried curry, egg packets, nuts, coffee and apples, the rails led us to the mountains and bright green tea plantations of Ella.
You cannot hang from the door of a train in Turkey, Europe or the USA. This is against the rules of travel. No one will allow you to risk your life safety. This rule does not apply to the blue train. As the train accelerated, people leaned out of the windows and formed a line to hang from the train doors. I joined the crowd, feeling the wind on my face the whole way.
The train slowed down as it climbed the hills and picked up speed on the plains. The road was full of curves. Sometimes the trees were so close to the road that I could reach out and touch them. As we moved further into the hills, the tea plantations began. The scenery was accompanied by rows and rows of bright green paths snaking down roads and rice paddies.
The journey took 2.5 hours. The train made frequent stops at stations. There was no air conditioning, but the windows and doors were open, so we didn’t feel uncomfortable. The scenery whetted our appetite, and I made sure to buy something from the vendors who occasionally stopped by the carriages. Since there is no limit to how many people can get on the carriages, I recommend traveling in reserved seats to avoid getting stuck in the crowd.
There were also travelers who joined this journey just to take Instagram photos. While the scenery was flowing by, they were trying to find the best pose.
Breathtaking views never left us along the way. Our train stopped at every station as we approached Ella. We traveled slowly for the last 10 kilometers. For the people going about their daily lives, this journey was a part of their time. The young Buddhist monks traveling to Ella in the same carriage with us seemed just as excited as the tourists. If you haven’t considered this train ride during your trip to Sri Lanka, change your plans immediately and add this journey to the list.
When we got off the train in Ella, Vishwa was waiting for us at the station. First we ate at Cafe Chill which he recommended and then we had a short tour of Ella.
Ella is a small mountain town in Uva Province in the south central part of Sri Lanka. There are many reasons why the town is preferred by tourists. Two of them are Little Adam’s Peak and the 9 Arch Bridge. We wanted to see the bridge before it got dark. After a short walk, we reached the bridge that we often see photos of. The Nine Arch Bridge is considered to be one of the most important structures of the colonial railroad history that has survived to the present day. Since it is an active railroad, it is flooded with tourists who want to see the train passing over the bridge. It was not very crowded when we went there. When we learned that the train that was supposed to pass at 17:30 was delayed, we went back to Ella. We spent the rest of the time for an Ayurvedic massage at a spa called Hela Osu Suwapiyasa and we recovered all the tiredness of the day. It was time to go to a hotel we had booked called Sky Green Resort.
Day 5: Journey to Yala National Park (December 1, 2022)
Ella was one of the most surprising points of this trip. This town had its own unique vibe and we noticed it immediately when we got out of the car. It was a stop where travelers met, gathered together and chatted. Every time I breathed in the cool and fresh air, greeted the friendly locals and spent time in the cafes, I regretted why we didn’t spend more time there.
In the morning we left Ella and climbed a nearby hill (Ella Rock). After an easy ascent on a road through tea plantations, we reached the top. Right in front of us was a unique view of Little Adam’s peak. We spent some time here and went back to Ella. Our destination was Yala National Park, but we would stop at a few more places on the way before we got there.
Our first stop was Ravana Waterfall. This area near the town of Ella in Sri Lanka is a paradise among the foggy mountains. There are rock pools along the descent path of the 3-stage cascading waterfall. Don’t leave Ella without seeing this view as it is one of the most easily accessible waterfalls in Sri Lanka.
The waterfall is named after King Ravana who, according to legend, kidnapped a princess and hid her in the caves behind the waterfall. If you love water and have time, you can spend at least a couple of hours here. Since it is on the side of the road, it is a popular gathering place for monkeys and every tourist who visits Ella stops by. There are many fruit and corn vendors around. The monkeys watch the tourists going to these vendors and try to share their food with them. After bribing us with some mangoes and corn, they allowed us to take photos side by side.
Yala Natıonal Park
Our last stop today is Yala National Park. After about 2 hours of traveling from Ravana Falls, we reached the park entrance where we changed our car and got into a 4×4 off-road vehicle. The entrance fee to the park was 70 dollars. We entered the park at 3 pm and the tour lasted about 3 hours.
You can go on an exciting safari in Yala National Park to see Sri Lanka’s wild animal species. This is the second largest national park on the island, bordering the deep blue Indian Ocean. The park is divided into 5 blocks and only 2 of them are open to tourists for safaris. Home to a wide range of animals from deer to elephants, birds to crocodiles, the park’s most valuable and rare animal is the leopard. With one of the highest leopard densities in the world, it is a popular place for those hoping to see a spotted leopard. Luckily for us, the leopard was nowhere to be seen. At one point, it was seen by the guides on a tree far away. We went to that spot but the leopard was so far away that even with binoculars it was just a shadow. We saw a lot of elephants and peacocks on the tour. Gazelles, crocodiles and pigs were also animals we saw frequently. At the end of the tour, we couldn’t help thinking that we could have done without this safari. Kenya is the only address for a real safari experience…
We spent the night at the DoubleTree by Hilton Weerawila Rajawarna Resort close to the park. The hotel is so close to the reserve that we had to share the pool with some reptiles. With its rooms, view and food, this hotel was a perfect paradise where we could relax after days of exhaustion.
Day 6: Ocean shores (December 2, 2022)
The tiring part of the trip is behind us. Now it’s time to enjoy the ocean beaches without running around…
It was hard to leave behind the hotel’s cozy rooms, pool and breakfast. When we set off from Yala, a heavy rain started and lasted for a couple of hours. By the time we reached our next destination, the town of Hiriketiya, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. Once a quiet fishing village, Hiriketiya Beach has become a hub for surfing enthusiasts looking for trendy cafes, co-working spaces and boutique hotels in Sri Lanka. Hiriketiya, or “Hiri” as it is known locally, is now considered one of the most popular beaches in the country.
After a short break in Hiriketiya, we arrived in Mirissa, which is located in the south of Sri Lanka’s tropical coastline. We had reached here after a journey of about 4 hours from Yala with occasional stops. We were going to stay in Mirissa for two nights at the Randiya Sea View Hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, it was already dark and raining.
Day 7: Mirissa (December 3, 2022)
We got up at 6 am and took a walk on the beach. The color of the ocean preparing for the sunrise was indescribable. Our walk was accompanied by many dogs waiting for tourists on the beach. We saw the same dogs the next morning. They didn’t leave us alone until we left Mirissa.
Mirissa is one of the most popular beaches in the south of Sri Lanka… Located between the big cities of Galle and Matara, Mirissa was just a small street with a few accommodations and a roti shop until a few years ago. Today it is full of boutique hotels, guesthouses and bungalows…
The area has it all: good Sri Lankan food, great waves for surfing and different kinds of creatures, from turtles to big blue whales. You can spend your days enjoying fresh coconuts in your hammock, eating delicious food from beachside restaurants and sightseeing by motorbike. We had reserved two nights for this paradise. The first one was already over and we decided to spend our last day in Mirissa without getting out of the ocean. We struggled with the waves all day long, got hungry as we got tired, ate as we got hungry, and napped as we ate… We did not neglect to relieve the tiredness of the waves and the sun with an Ayurvedic massage at the spa at The Point Mirissa.
Mirissa is also famous for its whale population, which can be seen from late November to March, but there is no guarantee of whale sightings. There are boat tours organized every morning and prices start from 25 dollars. We preferred to watch the sunrise on the beach instead.
Day 8 Galle (December 4, 2022)
Mirissa is a paradise where you can spend at least a week. We had chosen this place as the last stop of our Sri Lanka tour. We realized the correctness of our decision better after our tiring and fast Sri Lanka tour.
Before leaving Mirissa, we went to see the Coconut Tree Hill. The Coconut Tree Hill, which is on the Instagram profile of almost every traveler who visits Mirissa, is one of the most beautiful stops on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. This hill right next to Mirissa is a private coconut estate. Entrance to the hill overlooking the sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean and the pristine golden beaches is free. The trees rising from the base to the firmament give a spectacular view at any time of the day as well as at sunset.
Our next stop was the town of Unawatuna. After a walk on the beach and some shopping, we continued on our way to Galle.
Galle is one of the most interesting cities to visit in Sri Lanka. With a walk along the walls of Galle Fort, you will observe the city and breathe in the ocean view. The history of the fort dates back to the 1500s. Famous for its European architectural styles blended with South Asian traditions, this city was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988. The walls, which are about 3 kilometers long, were built using lime, sand and coral stones.
Founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Galle is now the capital of the larger Galle District. The city was fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century and served as an important port and military fortress before the arrival of the British. The old town of Galle is almost like a small city within a city.
The fort itself is small but every street inside deserves to be explored. There are many attractive places to eat. If you like ice cream, don’t leave the town without stopping by Dairy King Cafe. It is possible to see the interesting products of artists in the Peddlers’ Square.
Another structure of Galle that is as famous as the castle is the Lighthouse. Built in 1848, this lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in Sri Lanka and is about 30 meters high. Galle’s iconic lighthouse is almost synonymous with Sri Lanka. Look in any Sri Lanka travel guide and you might see a photo of the white lighthouse framed by palm trees!
The Old Dutch Hospital is one of the oldest buildings in Galle Fort, dating from the Dutch colonial era in Sri Lanka. As the name suggests, it was built by the Dutch as a hospital to care for sick officers and sailors serving under the Dutch East India Trading Company. Since the 1850s, it has been converted into barracks, town hall and government offices. After an extensive restoration, the building reopened in 2014 as a dining and shopping complex. Today it houses boutique restaurants and cafes.
Founded in the 16th century by Portuguese colonizers, expanded by the Dutch and ruled by the British, Galle attracts both local and foreign travelers, history buffs and nature lovers with its imposing colonial buildings, ancient churches and mosques, beaches, mansions and museums, quaint boutiques and delightful coastline.
Before wrapping up our trip, we visited the Urawatte sea turtle sanctuary, a very interesting place where you can meet and touch the turtles. In this place where the eggs of the turtles are protected and cared for until they hatch and then released back into the sea where they belong, you will witness the damage caused to marine life by harmful wastes thrown into the oceans through the turtles themselves.
Day 9: Negombo (December 5, 2022)
Now we were at the end of the journey. We left for the airport early in the morning. When we said goodbye to Vishwa, who accompanied us throughout the trip, at the airport and entered the security check for ticket procedures, the Sri Lanka adventure ended.
Sri Lanka, the island country of South Asia, is as ancient as it is beautiful. Its 2,000-year history is as complex now as it has been at any point in its history. Despite the Easter the recent turmoil, Sri Lanka remains an important destination.
Travelers who can’t decide between culture, nature and the beach can try Sri Lanka. This tropical island packs a lot into a small package. Beach lovers can choose one of the postcard-perfect spots along the Indian Ocean. There are not only golden beaches on the island. Take a chance to go inland to touch the history of Sri Lanka, which lies on the southeastern tip of India. Do not leave the country without visiting the cultural triangle. If possible, start your trip from the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, which was the capital of the country in the 12th century. Climb the Sigirya rock, also known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. See the temple in Kandy.
It was an unplanned surprise trip with full of beautiful memories… The landscapes we saw were fascinating, the people we met were friendly and the food was delicious. We tried to see a lot in a short time. We were tired, but what we saw was worth it.