Sri Lanka.

August 24th 2017

My sister and I spent a month together traveling India in 2013 and have been trying to recreate that trip ever since (minus a few of her belly issues). Sri Lanka looked similar. On the map it looked like India’s adorable little sister. They had curry. There were cool temples and hikes and ELEPHANTS. Flights were cheap.

So off we went…24 hours of flying (+layover in Doha) and here’s what we did while there:

DAY 1: Colombo to Galle. Land at Bandaranaike International Airport at 3am, drive directly to Galle. There was no traffic and it still took us 2 hours longer than everyone said it would. This is the theme of Sri Lanka. Nothing is close. Everything is way, way farther than you’re told it is. Check in to Niyagama House (rated #1 hotel in Galle on TripAdvisor). We loved it though its distance from town while nice (it was removed in this lush green forest, super peaceful) was also unfortunate (because I think we missed out on really getting to know the town). We had breakfast at Galle Fort Hotel, checked out the actual Galle Fort (meh), explored the town. Highlights included massages at Galle Fort Spa (AMAZING) and lunch at AmanGalla (try to sneak in and see the pool). Take a tuk-tuk and explore outer Galle area (fruit and veggie markets, fisherman villages).

DAY 2: Galle. Wake up early (jetlaggg), meditate on Niyagama House roof as the sun rises, take the 3 mile walk around the Niyagama House property and then do aerial yoga with the proprietress (part of the reason we booked the hotel was that the food was supposed to be great – and it was – and the owner is a yoga instructor who specializes in aerial).

Visit Unawatuna Beach (everyone said it was a GORGEOUS beach – we walked back and forth trying to find the gorgeous beach, thought we were at the wrong place, but we weren’t soo…not that gorgeous FYI). We got massages at The Sanctuary Spa (not the best of our 5 ayurveda massages but great vibe – services are done in cool little tree houses with the beach breeze blowing in) then checked out the pagoda + Buddha, drank coconuts, etc. The whole area has a backpacker-y vibe without the energy or the actual backpackers. Another theme of Sri Lanka is that no one is there. It all feels very deserted.

For dinner, take a cooking class at Lucky Fort or Niyagama (we did it at Niyagama, it was yum.)

DAY 3: Galle to Tangelle. We stayed at Buckingham Place (it had amazing reviews…it was bad. Cold, dark and the food was gross and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere). We then took a 3 hour ride to Tangelle Beach (which was supposed to be much shorter). Honestly you could kind of skip it but it was VERY deserted when we were there (sidenote: I literally have no idea where all the other people are in Sri Lanka?!) and a cloudy day. The reason to go? The AmanWella is there. We had lunch and hung on their pretty stretch of beach. By ourselves. You could also go at night to see the turtles hatch in Rekawa but we passed when we read it was “like watching paint dry”.

DAY 4: Tangelle to Udawalawe National Park to Ella. This was a long day and it wasn’t even our longest drive. We woke up at 4:30am to take the two hour drive to Udawalawe National Park. Literally just typing Udawalawe gives me butterflies! The elephant safari here was the HIGHLIGHT of our trip/my life. 600+ elephants roam free (the only place there’s more is in Africa) and they’re everywhere. We watched them bathe, saw soo many babies and they all came within two feet from our 4-wheeler. If you can find our guide Nandu he is an angel. He is doing his part to conserve the park – he picked up litter everywhere and was so respectful of the elephants. He knew each and every one of them. (“She is like you, madam,” he said when we came across a 32 year old female).

The safari was supposed to be 3 hours but we were so obsessed we did two back to back safaris so we basically spent the whole day in the park until my sister had had enough and made us leave. I would have slept there. I would actually still be living there probably. The first safari was awesome because it was dawn so lots of animals but also more crowded with vehicles. The second safari was really quiet; we watched the elephants bathe and saw jackals devouring a baby buffalo. We also got to go further into the park to areas that people don’t usually see.

Afterwards we drove straight to Ella. About 4 hours. We thought it would be shorter. We stayed at the Mountain Heavens hotel. We really wanted to stay at 98 Acres but we booked nothing ahead of time and it was sold out. So I guess that’s where everyone is in Sri Lanka?

DAY 5: Ella. In the morning we realize that we really like Mountain Heavens (don’t get it confused with mount heaven aka mount hell). The hotel was nice – small and cute and the view is insane. Nicest view we saw in Ella. We loved Ella! Have cake at Little Folly and hang out with the owner. Take one of his walks. Go see the train – it’s so cute like a little toy. Get massages at Suwamadura but only if you’re ok with super creepy massages. It is a full (full!) body massage so nothing is off limits. Or maybe me and my sister just got molested? We also got a free extra hour that we didn’t pay for.

Dinner was a buffet at Zion View. You have to preorder it (and leave a deposit) earlier in the day. It was good – very clean, lively and great view.

DAY 6: Ella to Central Province. Spend the morning at 98 Acres – have lunch, use the facilities, etc. I had researched and researched and found this hotel called Taylor’s Hill that I decided we HAD to go to.

It was going to be perfect to break up the 6 hour drive to Kandy except it was literally terrible. It took us 6 hours just to get to central province (instead of 3) because we cheaped out and hired a non-English speaking driver who got very lost and was so weird – made us friend him on Facebook and told us our laughs or lives were beautiful and then didn’t understand another word we said including “please stop for a picture” and “how far away are we?” and “STOP THE VEHICLE”.

It would have been cool to stop in Nuwara Eliya on the way (we didn’t because of above driver mishap). It’s an interesting town that they call “little England” but not really worth a night because why be in England when you’re in Sri Lanka? FYI it’s also freezing in this one little specific area, like 20 degrees colder than the rest of the country – we could feel it just through the windows.

Taylor Hills was pretty. Doing it over, we probably would have just stayed another night in Ella, though, and gotten more massages. Or taken the train somewhere?

But we woke up had a leisurely morning at Taylor’s hill (it’s an old English tea plantation farmers home). It’s sort of a standard bed and breakfast like you’d find anywhere in England or New England. We visited the James Taylor tea plantation. Meh.

DAY 7: Central Province to Kandy. Stay at Theva house. Pre Order the 17 spice curry dinner. Watch the sunset in Kandy it’s absurdly beautiful. Whatever you do, don’t get pink eye and go to the public hospital on a Sunday, like I did.

DAY 8: Kandy. Visit the temple of the tooth (we went on Sri Lankan Independence Day so it was insanely crowded but apparently it’s always crowded which is part of the experience), visit a tea factory (or don’t because it’s not that exciting), visit the large walking Buddha (we liked this!) and the royal botanic gardens which is the Central Park of Kandy. Very pretty – bring a book! Have dinner again at theva house bc the special rice and curry was so good.

DAY 9. Kandy to Colombo. Usually I hate when people tell you to skip the place where the airport is (i.e. I’ve spent time in Guatemala City, Bangkok and a million other places that people have told me to skip) but really, you can totally skip Colombo.

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