Sri Lanka is a country engulfed in controversy. Starting with the Hindu mythology Ramayana that depicts the Great King of [Sri] Lanka, Ravana, who kidnaps Goddess Sita and keeps her captive. In the end, the good overcomes the evil and Lord Rama manages to free his consort and return to India. In addition to the mythical controversy, Sri Lanka has also spent a lot of time in the headlines due to the Civil War that started in the early 80s and lasted for over 25 years, making one of its region (Jaffna) still considered to be a bit risqué to tourists.
There is a slight chance that you may not have known any of the above due to the rise of Sri Lanka as a go-to travel destination in the recent years, and why not. The island has a diverse landscape with towering mountains to trek and beautiful golden sandy beaches to soak up the sunshine. The landscape changes within relatively shorter distances, giving travellers a variety like no other destination. The cultural diversity, the generosity and kindness of people, crowned with its rich, melting-pot cuisine, which is influenced by its geography, bursting with flavours.
My mother-in-law (MIL) was going to join us for this leg of our journey so it was important that the trip was organised at a relaxed pace to accommodate her, without missing out on a lot, because we are the FOMOists after all! Due to the diverse offerings of Sri Lanka, it took me a lot of time to organise this trip, but I was fortunate enough to find Nimal from Destination Sri Lanka. I found him through one of the many TripAdvisor forums. Nimal was kind, patient and without him and his team, I don’t we would have enjoyed our trip as much as we did.
We arrived at Colombo Airport (CMB) around 10.00am. My MIL’s flight was due to arrive later in the afternoon, so we got picked up by the lovely Nimal from the airport and taken to a guest house in Negombo (15-min drive from the airport) to sleep until later in the afternoon. I was going to change some money at the airport, but after consulting with Nimal, he advised that he could get us a much better rate outside (and he did). When we checked into the hotel, we didn’t even have any money to get lunch and Nimal was kind enough to lend us some in the meantime. His kindness really touched our hearts and it continued throughout.
Sigiriya and watching elephants
Once the MIL arrived, we picked her up from Colombo Airport and started our journey to Sigiriya. We were going to hike up the ancient rock fortress in the so we spent the night at the Kassapa Lion Rock Hotel Sigiriya. The hotel (and our rooms) exceeded our expectations.
After a great night’s sleep, we started our day around 8.00am, leaving to climb the Sigiriya Rock. The climb up the rock was of medium difficulty and the views from the top, breath-taking. After taking a few pictures and admiring the views, we came down and headed to Kaudulla National Park. The park is particularly famous for getting up and personal with the elephants. While mammoth in size, there is something majestic about the way elephants move and we spent a fair few hours admiring them.
Dambulla Cave Temple and Kandy
The first couple of days in Sri Lanka had us craving for more. So, the next day we started with visiting the Dambulla Cave Temple. We got there early to make sure we didn’t have to battle with the crowds (Nimal’s idea, thankfully). Like any place of worship, the temple was tranquil and a great way to start our journey to the city of Kandy.
Kandy is usually top of the list of anyone visiting Sri Lanka, and why won’t it be? The city is compact, perfectly enveloped around a lake. The city dwellers (and visitors) inhabit the towering mountains that all look into the views of the lake. Nimal also organised for us to attend a cultural dance show that was packed with like-minded tourists. While reasonably entertaining, if I missed it, I wouldn’t have been upset, and that’s coming from a self-confessed FOMOist! In Kandy, we stayed at Hotel See Kandy, which boasted panoramic views of the city and the lake. It was in Kandy as well where Nimal graciously took our leave to look after her ill mother and handed us over to Sugath.
Sugath and World’s most beautiful train ride to Nuwara Eliya
Traveling is not only about the places you see, but for us, a large part is about the people you meet. Sugath, our new driver, has been working in the company for almost 10 years now. The love and respect he had for Nimal was endearing. He regarded Nimal as his father and was eternally grateful for his guidance and support in helping Sugath build his life. We really enjoyed Sugath’s company and listening to his stories.
The train ride between Kandy and Colombo has been dubbed as World’s most beautiful train ride. While extremely comfortable, we didn’t want to do this journey and miss out on everything else, so Sugath put us on the train from Kandy and arranged to meet us at Nanu Oya. The train ride lived up to its reputation. As the train snaked through the constantly changing beautiful landscape, the low clouds played hide ‘n’ seek revealing deep valleys, towering mountains and steep valleys.
We arrived at Nuwara Eliya, where it was constantly raining so after an early dinner, we checked into the quaint Cocoon Hills Resort and just relaxed watching television that we couldn’t understand. It may seem like a waste, but we were appreciative of the unplanned break.
World’s End, Little Adam’s Peak and Ella
One of the main reasons we appreciated an early night in Nuwara Eliya is because we had a 5.30am start to Horton Plains, which is the starting point for the World’s End trek. The idea is, by the time you get to the World’s End look-out point, it will be around 9.00am, the cloud will lift and you’ll get to see the infinite nature of this beautiful place called Earth.
As luck would have it, we got there in time, waited for over two hours but the clouds just won’t lift. Then on our way trekking back, torrential rain battered us around. While it may have not gone to plan, we all loved the experience. The views during our trek to the World’s End were surreal and all three of us lived to tell the tale (and laugh at it). After our failed attempt at seeing World’s End, Sugath suggested that we take a quick detour to Little Adam’s Peak so we can at least tick “successfully completed a hike in Sri Lanka” off our list.
After a jam-packed day, we made our way to Ella, dropping our bags at Sky Green Resort and going into town to get a massage. The views from our rooms were amazing, but the hospitality at this hotel was shocking. The reception was unattended after 8.00pm, they switched off the WiFi before they left, the TV in the room didn’t work and there were blood stains on one of the pillows. When we complained in the morning, the owner of the resort yelled at us, commenting that even the Westerners don’t complain as much as we did! We were mortified, with Sugath and Nimal hugely apologetic. It’s all part and parcel of traveling so we shrugged it off and left for our next adventure.
Yala Safari and unlimited hoppers
After leaving Ella, we went straight to Yala National Park for an afternoon safari. It is amazing to see wild animals in their natural habitat and the knowledge that the locals have of how to spot the animals. Our best memory from the Safari is seeing a leopard perched on top of one of the largest rocks in the national park, while swarms of jeeps lined up for the photo opp. The leopard seemed like he purposely went up there to get his picture taken and sat there magnificently, enjoying the all the devotion.
For this leg of the trip, we stayed at a very swanky Kithala Resort in a neighbouring town called Tissamaharama. I have been craving hoppers (appam in the local language) since the day I arrived. The problem is, it’s traditionally eaten for breakfast and we’ve either been sleeping in or rushing to get somewhere.
To fuel my FOMO, Sugath went out and found this little hole-in-the-wall shop, owned by a couple and convinced them to make us hoppers and curry for dinner. As soon as we all sat down, the lady started making them and we all started demolishing them as soon as they came off the stove. It was Mrs FOMOist, MIL, Sugath, his mate and I who enjoyed them as they were being prepared, fresh, only for us. When it came to paying, the lady asked us (through Sugath) to confirm how many we may have had. None of us had any idea so we just picked a large number and paid her accordingly. It amazed me how people who have so little have such big hearts to cater for strangers. Since then, I’ve paid over £8.00 for one hopper at a London restaurant and it still doesn’t hit the spot same as the one from that lady’s kitchen that we hijacked.
Galle and Colombo
The next day we got back into the car and headed to the city of Galle, famous for the Galle Fort. With the cultural influences of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, it is a quaint little town, with tight winding lanes, lined with boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. This part of the country almost doesn’t feel like Sri Lanka and I’m not sure if I enjoyed it as much as some of the other places we had been to.
Our last stop of our Sri Lanka adventure was Colombo. When planning the trip, everyone told us to spend the least amount of time here, and I agree. Once we reached Colombo, it took us far too long to reach our hotel due to traffic. We stayed at Ellen’s Place Bungalow, which is a beautiful centrally located boutique, hotel with one of the best breakfasts of our trip. While in Colombo, we just spent time soaking in the hustle and bustle of a busy capital city and buying the all-so-important souvenirs for the trip back home.
Sri Lanka packs so much beauty and diversity in such a small space. While we got to explore a fair bit of it, I genuinely can’t wait to go back. Sugath tells me there are plenty of hiking trails around, that I’d love to explore.
Finally, if you need to get the best and friendly service, from friendly locals, make sure you take note of the below details:
Contact: Mr Nimal De Silva
Please note, I get nothing from Nimal or his company Destination Sri Lanka. I have never recommended anyone from any of my other trips. I am recommending Nimal and his team purely because they are awesome.