Giant Buddha in Aluthgama
Sri Lanka was an unexpected destination as we hadn’t planned on going there. When we realised that we could squeeze in a visit en route from Malaysia to India, we were chuffed and started to see why so many people visit this cool island.
Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island nation south of India in the Indian Ocean. Its diverse landscapes range from rainforest and arid plains to highlands and sandy beaches. It’s famed for its ancient Buddhist ruins, including the 5th-century citadel Sigiriya, with its palace and frescoes. The city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital, has many ruins dating back more than 2,000 years.
Although Sri Lanka has a lot to offer for tourists, there are not many tourists around at the moment due to problems within their government and their current Prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
We travelled around anti-clockwise from Negombo down the south east coast and around through Ella and Kandy up to Sigiriya & Dambulla and back to Negombo.
We had 20days and had a safe and enjoyable trip in November- December 2018.
There are many public transport options some of which we used. However we have been travelling for nearly 9 months and do not have as much energy as we used to so we did opt for taxis as opposed to long bus rides.
This is our 3 week Itinerary
- Highlight – Giant Buddha in Aluthgama
- Lowlight – Taxi journey from Ella to Sigiriya
- Must do – Whale watching and jeep safari
- Nicest Hotel – Lagoon beach resort Tangalle
- Worse Hotel – Happy Elephant Udawalawe
- Best thing about Sri Lanka – Lovely genuine people
- Worse thing about Sri Lanka – Lacks variety in their cuisine
We arrived late to Colombo International Airport which is actually in Negombo, north of Colombo. We booked a homestay 10mins away as we knew the kids would be tired. We were very happy with the service we received from Optimum Residencies. They arranged a free pick up from the hotel and the guide who was holding up our name card at the airport was most helpful. He arranged a Hutch Sri Lankan sim card for our phones for less than £5 and it had enough data to last a month.
We recommend getting a sim card in Sri Lanka as Wi-Fi can be sketchy throughout the island.
We downloaded an app called ‘PickMe’ which is like Uber, you can be picked up by Tuk Tuks to Mini Vans using the app. Be careful in some parts of Sri Lanka as the local taxi drivers do not like ‘pick me’ so use it discreetly. We found it most helpful as a bench mark for prices to prevent being ripped off.
We were greeted at our hotel by a lovely husband and wife who showed us our own little apartment with basic kitchen, dining area and bedroom with 2x double beds.
We had only planned to stay 1 night but the place was so comfortable with great Wi-Fi that we stayed another night to plan the rest of our trip. Negombo beach was 10mins away so we popped out to check it out. It was nice but nothing special.
The best thing about our stay in Negombo was the
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We arranged a pick me taxi to take us to Colombo Fort station. We thought about looking around Colombo itself but we hadn’t heard great things and didn’t really want to contend with the hustle and bustle so we took a train straight out of Colombo and headed to Kosgoda. The coastal views were fantastic and we loved people watching as we past beaches, busy towns, beach platforms and queues of traffic waiting for the train to pass!
We unfortunately boarded the wrong train and had to get off in the dark and get a pick me the rest of the way!
We met a lovely tuk tuk driver with great contacts, Kumar (+94767515340). He took us around Bentota and we saw some lovely buddhas. The giant one in Aluthgama was a real highlight as we got there at sun set and the red sky reflecting on the buddha was beautiful!
We also went to a Turtle Hatchery in Kosgoda and learnt all about how the turtles crawl onto the beach to lay their eggs. This hatchery collects the eggs and waits for them to hatch before letting them out into the sea to give them a better chance in life.
We decided to give the coastal train another go and jumped on the train to Unawatuna. The carriage class wasn’t that clear so we ended up getting on 3rd instead of first-class. It was packed and a real struggle with 2 kids and luggage. It only cost 100rupees each though!
Once we arrived in Unawatuna, 2 tuk tuk drivers convinced us that they could get us to our hotel faster than a taxi and at a much lower cost so off we went! During our drive, the heavens opened and monsoon rain pelted down on us. We arrived at our hotel and got drenched getting out. Luckily our hotel was on the beach with its own restaurant so we chose our fish and got it cooked on the BBQ for dinner.
Day 5-6 Unawatuna
There is something very calming about waking up to a beach view. Benjamin beat the sun worshipers and was up enjoying the sunrise while reflecting on our journey this far.
Unawatuna was a nice beach, lots of restaurants, sandy beaches and mad waves!
We attempted swimming but the waves kept dragging us in. The kids though it was funny but we didn’t feel it was safe for kids. We chilled on the sand and travelled a little with every wave!
My sister gave us a tip about a cool way to experience the Galle Fort area which is a cool area owned by the Dutch. So we rented out a classic car with an open roof and explored Galle like move stars!
We had a few meals at Black and White Cafe and enjoyed them. They do a good breaky too.
Day 7-8 Mirissa
We weren’t too thrilled about jumping on another train so we called a pick me and headed to Mirissa. We stayed at a decent little place called Liyanage Hotel and the breakfast was lush!
We explored Mirissa by foot and went to check out the famous No.1 Dewmini Roti Shop. Unfortunately we were disappointed. I had been craving yummy banana rotis since we left the south if Thailand but these were no where near as good. The roti was doughy and there were no crispy bits. Just soggy stodge!
The beach was nice but busier than Unawatuna and less beach. The tide came in close to the restaurants too. Coconut hill viewpoint was worth the short hike up!
The next day was all about Whale Watching. I don’t think anyone comes to Mirissa without taking a boat trip into the India ocean in search of beautiful whales!
Day 9 Tangalle
Tangalle was a quick stop to break up our drive to Udawalawe. My sister told us about a nice hotel so we stayed there. We would recommend the hotel for relaxing and chilling on the deserted beach! Lagoon Paradise Beach Resort
Day 10 Udawalawe
We got a taxi to Udawalawe to visit the National Park. The hotel we booked was shockingly bad. No matter how many reviews you read online, you’re never guaranteed a good place when you’re on a budget. We reduced our stay to 1 night and booked a jeep safari for the next morning. We got picked up at 7am and set off to the National Park. The Jeep was open all the way around and our driver was nice. The short drive to the park was pretty and we were looking forward to spotting some animals. We struggled to decided between Yala and Udawalawe National Park. Although the repertoire of animals seemed to be less at Udawalawe. We opted to go there as it’s a lot less busy and we didn’t like the idea of jeeps rushing the animals. (This is what we had read and heard anyway).
We saw lots of elephants, peacocks, buffalos, crocodiles and a variety of birds and reptiles.
Day 11-13 Ella
We gained an extra day in Ella after cutting down our stay in Udawalawe. We booked a nice homestay 5minutes walk from the main strip. The owner was kind and had a baby and lot a of animals. The kids loved being there in the hills and we certainly felt at home. We enjoyed being in Ella, it had a great vibe and some nice restaurants. We ate at Cafe Chill a few times and enjoyed it. Visited Nine Arch Bridge and hiked up to little Adams peak and soaked in the cool vibes of Ella. We visited the train station and bought our tickets for the scenic journey to Kandy. The train journey from Ella to Kandy by train was too long but we didn’t want to miss the scenery so we booked to jump on half way at Nanu Oya near Nuwara Eliya. Check out our video all about the scenic train journey here.
Day 14-16 Nuwara Eliya
Another taxi took us to Nuwara Eliya also known little England! The weather is temperamental and usually rains everyday. We weren’t quite ready for the change in climate and felt cold when we arrived. Luckily we had 1 nice day and spent it by Gregory lake and enjoying afternoon tea at The Grand hotel. It was so lovely sitting out overlooking the gardens and definitely had an english feel to it. The next day we visited Pedro Tea Estate which was only 20mins from town. The views of the tea fields on the way were lovely and so green. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of seeing a Tuk Tuk come wind around the hills. The train ride to Kandy was lovely, the views were absolutely beautiful. Check out our video here.
Day 17-18 Kandy
We didn’t have high hopes for Kandy but we actually enjoyed our time there. We stayed at a comfortable hotel 10mins walk from the lake. We spotted a lot of fish and Sri Lankan Monitor Lizards. The kids enjoyed playing in the park on the lake too. We couldn’t get enough of the Devil Mutton Pizza from Dominoes so we made sure we got another taste while in Kandy. We also enjoyed a nice lunch at the Empire Cafe. There is a cool seated Buddha statue that overlooks Kandy a bit like how Christ the Redeemer overlooks Rio but not as big. It’s lit up at night so you can see it from Kandy town which is cool. There are also some nice botanical gardens and tea gardens that you can visit.
Day 19-20 Sigiriya & Dambulla
Our second to last stop in Sri Lanka was Sigiriya. It is actually the most visited site in Sri Lanka and was pretty epic. You can climb Sigiriya rock itself which has palace ruins at the top or climb Pidurangala rock to get great views of Sigiriya/Lion Rock. The hike up Pidurangala was manageable until the last section which was pretty much a rock climb. Benjamin had Zach on his back in the Ergobaby carrier and Emiliana pulled and climbed with help to get to the top. We very nearly turned around but I’m glad we persevered as we were so close to the top when it got more challenging.
The next day we visited the golden temple and cave temple in Dambulla. They were nice to see but the cave temple was most fascinating. So many buddhas inside each of the 5 caves and the carvings on the ceilings were amazing. We kept wondering how the Buddha statues was carved and placed inside the caves when we had to walk up steep stairs for at least 15minutes to reach the caves.
We reached Negombo in time for dinner. We returned to the same home stay that we started at because the family were so nice. We rested up, reflected on how fast our 3weeks in Sri Lanka had flown and booked our next couple of nights accommodation in country no.20 India!
Day 21 Negombo to India
The hosts made us a take away breaky for our early flight and dropped us to the airport for free!
Another reminder of Sri Lanka’s greatest quality, it’s people!
Bye Bye Sri Lanka and thank you for the kindness you showed us x