We weren’t planning a trip to Sri Lanka at all. But, we squeezed in a short Introduction to Sri Lanka trip after we realised that we were at risk of exceeding our 60-day Indian visa. So a quick week-long trip to Sri Lanka was a perfect stop gap before flying to India.
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As we hadn’t planned this trip, we weren’t prepared for it at all. We had done no research, hadn’t had time to anticipate and look forward to the trip, so when we arrived, we really didn’t know what to expect. We’d managed to book a driver through SrilankaCarAndDriverHire.com, and the first few nights’ accommodation, but no more. We arrived late at night, concerned that BBC Asia had weather warnings out for severe rainfall over the next days. We were worried.
Initial plan had been to go to one of the national parks, but after speaking to a few people, we changed our plans to a trip to the Tea Estates and Hill Country instead. We’d get more advice from our driver, we thought.
Next morning we were met by Thuminda (from Eagle Eye Holidays), who would be our driver for the next 6 days. He arrived in a teeny, weeny car, and I thought there would be no way that our luggage would fit. But, he gave me a broad smile and did some magic. 15 minutes later we were on our way to Kandy.
What soon became evident was the Thuminda wasn’t just a driver. He was a guide – and a brilliant guide at that! Over the next 6 days he showed us his Sri Lanka with such enthusiasm that we slowly fell more and more in love with the country. By there time we were due to leave, we had wished we’d allowed more time. But it does mean we will return soon.
Our Sri Lanka Itinerary
Our whistle-stop trip had us flying into Colombo (airport is actually in Negombo!). From Negombo we traveled to Kandy, where we spent 2 nights, onto Nuwara Eliya for 1 night, Ella for 2 nights, back to Negombo, and flew to India the next day. But I would definitely recommend at least 2-4 weeks in Sri Lanka if you really want to do it justice.
Bear in mind that there are hardly any motorways. Most roads are narrow and windy, and cars barely manage the 70km/h speed limit, so driving from town to town will take much longer than you think!
Kandy is known for the The Temple of the Tooth, and it’s beautiful lake, which the city is built around.
There isn’t much to do other than visit the few tourist attractions and mooch around the city. But as in many Asian countries, most of the walking is done in the road, as pavements vary from none existent to full of parked motorbikes. Careful of the buses, in Sri Lanka they rule the road!
This is proper Hill Country and known by the locals as ‘Little England‘. In fact, I think the place resembles Greytown, South Africa, more than it does England! There are still some beautiful colonial style buildings in various states of disrepair, but overall your average British traveller wouldn’t really identify with Nuwara Eliya as it is probably 90% Sri Lankan and 10% colonial!
The weather is cooler: misty (like Greytown!) and you’re surrounded by Tea Plantations. It is stunningly beautiful.
The journey there is a little hair raising, as multiple vehicles complete for space on the narrow mountain passes. Luckily Thuminda, our driver, was a good and cautious driver and he navigated the roads safely for us. We stopped at the thundering Ramboda falls along the way.
We missed out on a trip to the Hill Club, as we didn’t have enough time. Next time, perhaps!
Thuminda had suggested that we take the train from Nuwara Eliya, and he would meet us in Ella with the car. It was a brilliant trip. Price Rp60 = 30p. The journey on the freight train, 3rd class, took 4 hours and passengers were a mix of locals and foreigners. If we had more time, perhaps we could have done more train travel!
Ella is a strange old place. It is possibly the place with most activities in the Sri Lankan Hill Country, but when you arrive, you feel like you’re back in Backpacker-ville! There is very little local industry other than tourism, and it’s geared towards backpackers and independent travellers. The menus are filled with pizza, burgers and pasta! Not what we were hoping for. But luckily we had Thuminda to guide us. He taught us to eat with our hands, introduced us to string hoppers, egg hoppers, Sri Lankan Pancakes, curry and rice Sri Lankan style and more. His typical phrase was: “We eat local, no?”. To which our answer was always a resounding “Yes please”!
Ella is great for the outdoors: walks to Little Adams Peak and the Nine Arch Bridge. Rain (and perhaps the unavailability of suitable footwear!) stopped us from doing the walk up to Ella Rock. Next time we will come prepared!
Back to Negombo
We didn’t even have time to see Negombo, as the drive back took a bit longer than we’d hoped, and our flight to India was very early the next morning. This is the one day that it did indeed rain all day! But we were lucky with the weather otherwise.
Falling in love with Sri Lanka
As the journey progressed, we definitely fell in love with the country. It has been described as “India-lite“, and I think that is a good description. There certainly is a lot to offer in a relatively small country: activities, beaches, culture, good food, nature, wildlife and more. And it is very affordable.
There is a high likelihood that we will return, and hopefully before it is properly on the Asia tourist trail.