The next destination on my itinerary was Sri Lanka. I enjoyed a wonderful 2 weeks on this stunning island. Thankfully, I managed to finish my trip before the COVID-19 situation became serious. As my 14-day quarantine ends, I am happy to note, that I feel well and healthy with lots of wonderful memories.
Solo but in a group
This trip was several first times for me. First time traveling solo, without anyone I know. First time going with a group trip travel company. And of course, the first time in Sri Lanka.
I am kind of preparing myself for a real solo trip. But before that, I decided to take a trip with a group travel company. There was no one I knew before and it was a good chance to gain new friends and acquaintances. And my parents were sleeping better knowing I am not completely alone 🙂
I chose a small Slovak travel company concentrating mainly on young people. Flying Banana, has a lot of great reviews and even some of my friends traveled with them. I can’t but recommend them too.
Getting there and getting around
I traveled from Vienna to Colombo with a short stop in Dubai. The rest of the group was flying from Budapest. Once again Emirates showed that they are rightfully one of the best airlines in the world.
A large advantage of going with a travel company is that you have the on-site transfers taken care of. We had a minibus that transported our group the whole 2 weeks we were in Sri Lanka.
I did not try the local transport, but the buses are supposed to be pretty sparse and unreliable. The best way to travel on the island is by taxi, tuk-tuk, or hiring a car. But seeing the traffic and the crazy driving of the locals, I wouldn’t recommend the last option. I had the opportunity to experience the road from the front seat of our minibus and I thought we were going to crash every 10 minutes.
If you are in Sri Lanka, don’t miss the famous train route between Kandy and Ella. It takes about 6-7 hours. But you can shorten it by getting on the train in one of the stops between these two towns. We got on in Nevara Ellia and continued to Ella. It took about 3 hours.
Where to stay
This part was also taken care of by the travel agency. I usually enjoy looking through hotels and apartments and choosing the right one. So I was a bit sad I had no say in it this time. But all the hotels were quite nice. Not luxurious, but comfortable and (mostly) clean.
We stayed at the following hotels:
- Camellia Resort & Spa (located in Sigiriya) – a wonderful hotel in a quiet place, great pool.
- Ganga Addara Hotel (Kandy) – a bit of a labyrinth but nice views of the river.
- The Plantation Hotel (Kitulgala) – a hotel built in an old coffee plantation. It’s surrounded by nature and right next to a river.
- Mount Heaven Ella (Ella) – amazing views of the hill slopes and the best breakfast I had on Sri Lanka.
- Lagoon Paradise Beach Resort (Tangalle) – a great hotel on a beautiful empty beach where you can’t really swim due to the large waves.
- Paradise Beach Club (Mirissa) – a good hotel right on the most amazing beach. But there was quite a lot of mold in the shower. I tried the SPA. I am not an expert, but I enjoyed the massage and steam bath. We also had dinner here. There was a nice selection of food including desserts which made me especially happy.
What to see and do on Sri Lanka
1. Climb the Sigiriya Rock and the Pidurangala Rock
Even if you don’t do any of the other things, Sigiriya Rock is a must-see in Sri Lanka. The not-too-long climb will give you spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and the ruins of the ancient castle and gardens. Pidurangala Rock is a hill right next to Sigiriya Rock and there are also amazing views from it.
2. Watch wild elephants in the Mineriya National Park
You probably won’t see lions and giraffes on this Safari. But there are many wild elephants strolling around this green country. It’s a nice and animal-friendly way to see the elephants. Don’t worry, they are used to the traffic and spectators, and are pretty chill.
3. Get to know the history at Polonnaruwa
The ancient ruins of the old capital of Sri Lanka are located at Polonnaruwa. Take a local guide with you who will explain what all those rocks used to be.
4. Visit the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy
The holiest Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka where Buddha’s tooth enshrined is. Take a picture from the outside. Going inside was not a very pleasant experience. Too many people and Buddha’s tooth is hidden from the eyes of the public anyway.
5. Visit a tea factory
We visited the Glenloch Tea Factory. It was interesting to see how the tea is being picked and processed. We could try picking the leaves ourselves. In the end, we had a small tasting and could buy some tea to take home.
6. Take the train between Ella and Kandy
During the 6 hours, you can enjoy the beautiful views all around so make sure to get a place next to the window. The train usually runs with all windows and doors open. If you dislike cockroaches, don’t stay in the third class of the train.
7. Climb Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak (or even the Adam’s Peak if you dare)
If you like hiking, you will love Ella. We made two shorter hikes here. Both will give you stunning views of the mountains. These hikes are pretty easy, so even if you are not an experienced hiker, you will make it.
8. Get your adrenaline pumping while rafting and canoeing in Kitulgala
I admit I did opt out of the canoeing (jumping and sliding down a river canyon). The rafting was pretty adventurous for me already. Also, it was my first-time white water rafting.
9. Relax on the beaches of Sri Lanka
The beach in Tangalle is undoubtedly beautiful and almost empty. But swimming here is not so easy due to the large waves. Mirissa is a bit different. You can easily get into the water, the sand is so soft, and the water amazingly clear. But there are also many more people.
10. Eat the local food
Curry, curry, curry. That’s the main food here. If you like Indian food, you will love it here. I tried to pick the less spicy options which was usually possible. Anyway, it was still tasty even though the chili made me cry a few times. Also, try the local roti, either plain made from coconut flour (blessedly mild) or the ones filled with meat or vegetables (spicy as hell). And the Sri Lankan specialty – coconut sambal. It’s shredded coconut with shallots, chili, and lime eaten as a side with rice and curry.
Bonus: Buy some useful souvenirs
Forget the heavy elephant statues and get supplies of Ceylon tea, various spices, and ayurvedic cosmetics (favorite of our group was the ayurvedic toothpaste).