So excited to be invited to travel to the island of Sri Lanka, just off the southern tip of India, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. Our Hosts Ian from Exodus Travel and Nkar in Sri Lanka.
Off I went from Heathrow to Colombo straight through, on a night flight, woke in the morning landing in Sri Lanka. Wow! What an arrival, greeted by Nkar Travel representatives and our guide for the week Sujan, with garlands of beautiful flowers, hung on ribbons, a cultural dancing group, with drums, tambourines, lots of noise, and this was just the arrival hall and car park!
Transfer by mini bus to Sigiriya and our hotel for the next two nights. I could not keep my eyes off the roads as we were travelling there, they constantly beep their horns, walk into the road, dogs and cows everywhere.
Woke early next morning to this, as it was dark when we had arrived, Evicted two frogs from room who had decided to stay the night eeK!
Hotel Sigiriya pool and a beautiful view of Sigiriya Rock Fortress, a ruined palace at the summit, which we were to later climb to the top. It is one of the World Heritage sites as declared by UNESCO.
We then travelled to Polonnaruwa Ancient city in the north Central Province, and to the huge lake constructed in 1200. The ancient city has also been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Many swift roadside take aways were firm favourites on this trip, fresh Mangos, Banana and Coconut, to name a few, all cut to size by machete just perfect.
After our lunch stop we travelled on to The Minneriya Park, a national park in the North Central Province, which is best known for its high density of Elephants, so excited about this, the chance to see Elephants, and wow did we see them, around 70 going about what Elephants do, such huge majestic animals, so lucky and privileged to have seen them from the top of our jeeps. The Sri Lankan Leopard and Sloth bear which are rare and endangered species also inhabit this area. This area is a wildlife sanctuary in order to protect, not only the animals but also the lake.
Leaving our Hotel at Sigirya and travelling South today to the Dambulla Cave Temple which dates back to 2nd century and another world heritage centre as declared by UNESCO. It has five separate caves with 153 Buddha Statues.
This area also has a very large population of monkeys, which drop mangoes from the trees to break them, so they can eat. Hazardous area!
Following our visit to the Cave Temples we travel to Matale Spice Gardens, which is an organic garden growing every spice you can imagine, many of which have healing properties, needless to say the cocoa pod was my particular favourite.
Another Coconut refreshment stop en route
Arriving at dusk after travelling further south into Kandy this is the cultural centre of the Island and a UNESCO heritage city, we stayed overnight at Thilanka Hotel, - keep balcony doors closed said the sign! Beware of Monkey’s…. but what a view over the lake.
Out the door for a cultural show, quick walk into town for dancing, drummers, tambourines and fire eating, plus walking on hot coals.
We went on to visit Hotel Topaz for cocktails on their rooftop terrace, overlooking the valley, followed by our evening meal, we met the staff who were very friendly and hospitable to us all.
The following morning was to be spent in Kandy, to visit the Scared Temple of the Tooth Relic. The sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha is enshrined at the Dalada Maligawa, the temple of the tooth.
We then proceeded to the hill country within the central province of Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya the city is also known as Little England.
This area is known for its tea cultivation, the climate is a little cooler here. We visited a Tea Factory and learnt all about the ‘two leaves and a bud’ which is then transformed into the tea we drink today.
We had some free time to look around Nuwara Eliya, we went to the Bazar. It sold anything and everything, some of the sights and smells, probably best forgotten!
Most of the fish stalls were clouded with smoke from incense sticks
We then travelled South East to Kataragama, arriving during darkness to the hotel Mandara Rosen, where the next day we had a very early start, and a packed breakfast as we were off on a Jeep Safari to visit the Yala National Park, this park is home to the largest breed of leopard.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any Leopards, but were lucky to see a lone Elephant on his travels, plenty of peacocks, water buffalo, kingfishers, deer, monkeys, wild boar and crocodiles.
We also got to sit on the beach, as its part of the Yala National Park, so this was also my first sight of the Indian Ocean, and my first paddle in it too!
Having left the National Park we then stopped for refreshments at Hotel Chandrika in Tissamaharama, we met the staff and management here, such lovely, friendly and hospitable people.
For the final part of our travels in Sri Lanka we were off to Ahangama, a beach side resort, where in the distance you can see the fishermen, sat on sticks in the sea. Our hotel Insight Resort was directly on the beach, the view and sunsets from the room stunning to say the least.
We spent the evening with our hosts from the trip, with our farewell dinner set on the terrace of this stunning place.
The last day, we stopped en route to Colombo in Galle, and had some free time to wander this beautiful town. Plenty of Colonial style here, along with shops and restaurants, the Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was built by the Dutch in 1663, and surrounded on three sides by the sea.
Our trip is now coming to an end, at Colombo one last evening here then off to the airport in the morning.
What a fabulous trip, my personal favourite bits has to be with the elephants, the funniest sharing a room with two frogs, the prettiest, watching firefly’s dancing about in the dark whilst sitting on the balcony, most in awe and speechless seeing three elephants crossing the road at dusk in front of the mini bus.
My top tip – don’t take a cagoule, you’ll be like a walking sauna, it’s a tropical country so It’s possibly going to rain, a small brolly would be worthwhile.
Allyson Sollars, Travel Professional