Outstanding Beauty in Central Sri Lanka

While the beaches and coastline are undeniably incredible, Sri Lanka also has a huge amount to offer inland – from the famous Sigiriya Rock to a multitude of national parks. Being from Africa and growing up around similar animals I wasn’t particularly interested in the wildlife parks, but my friend Anna and I did spend a week exploring Ella, Kandy and Sigiriya.


Ella Rock
Ella Rock

Getting Inland

We travelled to Ella from Hikkaduwa via a train, bus and tuk-tuk, starting with the 20 rupees (10p) train from Hikkaduwa to Matara, which is the end of the line. From there we took a short tuk-tuk to the bus station, but if you really want to save it’s a walkable 1km. There is no direct bus to Ella but we quickly found a bus to nearby Waliwaya for 120 rupees (60p) and soon we were off on a crazy 5-hour bus ride through winding mountain roads. Buses in Sri Lanka are not for the faint-hearted, but despite the speed and traffic, I think the drivers know what they’re doing and it’s relatively safe.


View from Ella Rock
View from Ella Rock

At Weliwaya we had the option to wait an hour for another cheap bus that then takes a further 2.5 hours to Ella, but instead opted for a much faster 2000 rupee (£10) tuk-tuk as we had had enough of buses for the day. If you really want to save money you could do the entire trip for about £1.


Ella

Ella is a small but surprisingly beautiful mountain village that’s very popular with travellers. Despite being very small it has quite a few bars, coffee shops and western restaurants. It has many cheap guesthouses and few hostels, including the centrally-located Hangover Hostel, and Tomorrowland – which is a bit out of town but is a popular party hostel with an alternative hippy/trance vibe to it and some communal mattresses to crash on if you stay too late.


Walking the tracks
Walking the tracks

On our first day, we headed off on a walk along the train tracks to Ella Rock. This I can’t recommend highly enough! The trains only run very seldom so it’s fairly safe and if one did come we knew we would hear it with more than enough time to avoid it.  With each corner that we took, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the stunning Ella Valley. After crossing a rickety iron bridge, we eventually reached a big Boa tree and a small tea hut where we had been instructed to take a left turn off the tracks and follow a small path to a beautiful waterfall.

After the waterfall, there is an option to continue up to Ella Rock viewpoint, but we were told not to accept an offer of a guide from one of the locals, or they will try stiff you for 1000 rupees at the end of it!  Sure enough, a local emerged from the forest and offered to show us the way.  When I said I had no money, he quickly disappeared again.  We didn’t go all the way to the top but managed to find a nice place to relax and watch the steam train chugging along across the valley.


26229469_10159958891990220_8884308501645148706_nNine Arches Bridge

After that we went back to the station and caught the 3:15 pm train to Demodera which crosses the famous Nine Arches Bridge – I would suggest doing this rather than going to the bridge on foot as most people do (or possibly do both if you have time). It’s a really beautiful bridge with great photo opportunities and it gives that extra special feeling to be on the train. On the way back we stopped at a really cool bar called One Love and had a few beers with a nice couple from India and Switzerland, while listening to psy-trance and building a small bonfire.


Kandy

Kandy was up next and I would suggest going there just for the beautiful train ride alone because Kandy itself is actually a big, noisy city and neither of us enjoyed it much. The train is only about 100 rupees and takes about 5 hours but is a never-ending stream of beautiful mountainous scenery the entire way. We spent a night in Kandy and had a fairly nice time at the Victoria hotel bar chatting to a group of Danish travellers, but from my impression, Kandy is mostly over-priced and there is very little to see or do. We decided to skip the popular botanical gardens, which is fortunate because a friend of mine said it’s not really worthwhile.


Dambulla

We headed north to Dambulla first thing in the morning on a local bus that was a few rupees and took about two hours. It’s also quite a nice drive except for the incessant hooting, so when travelling by bus always bring some in-ear headphones to block it out with music.

At the pool
Anna by the pool at Rangiri Dambulla Resort

Anna had decided she wanted to splash out on a fancy place with a pool for one night, so we stayed in Rangiri Dambulla Resort which is just outside of town and close to the Dambulla Cave Temple. It has some proper glamping tent accomodation with air-con and satellite TV, but unfortunately doesn’t have an alcohol licence. Luckily they can organise delivery from the town wine store at a decent price.

Rangiri tent
Rangiri Dambulla Resort ‘glamping’ tents

That evening we went to the cave temple, which turned out to be 1500 rupee entrance! Between us, we didn’t even have enough for one person but luckily they took pity on us and let us both in anyway. I’m glad because if I’m honest I don’t think it’s worth that much – if you’ve never been to a buddhist cave temple before it might be interesting, but the one’s I saw in Thailand and Vietnam are a bit better and cheaper. Afterwards, a nice Dutch guy who had rented a tuk-tuk gave us a free lift to town so we could draw more cash, and then we grabbed dinner at a place in Dambulla called Mango which does great fried chicken!

Sigiriya

Sigiriya was our next port of call and is home to arguably Sri Lanka’s most popular tourist attraction, the ancient Sigiriya Rock fortress, which dates back thousands of years. It’s very impressive but for $25 entrance and a huge queue of people to climb up it, we decided against going in. Fortunately, there is a much cheaper rock nearby called Pidurangala which has just as good views and is only 500 rupees, but is fairly difficult to climb – the last bit requires a certain amount of fitness and bouldering skills!

View of Sigiriya

We hired bicycles the next day for 300 rupees (£1.50) and cycled into the wilderness around Sigiriya, along beautiful dirt roads and pathways that winded off in various directions and got smaller and smaller until they were just single tracks going through thick jungle with no people or buildings in sight. We eventually reached a stunning lake with a view of Sigiriya and Pidurangala rocks in the distance, reflecting off the still water with an eerie dead tree in the middle populated by white long-necked storks. On the way back we were stopped by three local girls, the youngest of which offered Anna a small bouquet of flowers she had picked from the surrounding nature. 26804600_10159966079535220_4402602553823377998_n

We almost felt bad accepting them with nothing to offer in return, but I think they had picked them especially for us as a gift because they had seen us come past and knew we would have to return that way. We finished off the day relaxing by the pool at our accommodation, Flower Garden Eco Village, and drinking our own cocktail invention the “Pinacolanka” – local coconut rum (Arrack) with fresh pineapple juice.


If you are visiting Sri Lanka I highly suggest not missing out on Ella and Sigiriya – they were definitely in my top 3 favourite things of the country, and even if you only have a week you’ll have enough time to see them and get a bit of beach time. From Colombo, there are buses direct to Sigiriya and trains to Kandy, where you can change and go to Ella by train or Sigiriya by bus.

Read more on Sri Lanka:  Sri Lankan South Coast

 

Sri Lankan South Coast – Surfing and Sunsets

Sri Lanka is GMT+5:30 and uses the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). £1 = approx 200 LKR

Arrival in Sri Lanka

When exiting Colombo airport there are loads of taxi’s hanging around outside offering lifts to Colombo city centre for 3000 rupees (about £15), but you can get the bus from just across the road for about 100 rupees (50p).

The bus drops you a short walk from Colombo Fort station where you can get trains to pretty much anywhere in Sri Lanka, except parts of the north and east coast. I bought a ticket to Weligama for about 70p and then found a little shop nearby selling sim cards with 8GB of data for 699 rupees (about £3).


Weligama

In Weligama, I dropped off my bags and went to meet my friend Mike. We had a few beers and then made plans to go meet his friends in Unawatuna, about a half hour tuk-tuk ride away. Stupidly I was a bit drunk and gave the tuk-tuk driver two 5000 rupee notes instead of 500’s. Rookie mistake! Always take some time to get to know the notes when travelling to a new country. That was a £40 waste that I could ill-afford.

Sri Lankan sunset
Sri Lankan sunset

That night we partied on Unawatuna beach with Mike’s friends and then headed back to Weligama in the morning, ensuring we paid the correct amount this time. At my hostel, we got chatting with a fun group of people from all over the world, including Germany, the US and Iraq.  A bottle of whiskey appeared and a few drinks later we were all quite drunk and decided to go surfing.  We rented boards from Surf Mania on Weligama beach for 250 rupees an hour (£1.25).  Needless to say, I didn’t catch many waves.

Surfing Sri Lankan Style
Surfing Sri Lankan Style

Solo Christmas Party – Sri Lankan Style

That evening I moved to a new place nearby called The Classic that had private rooms for only 1000 rupees (£5).  Everyone had gone to sleep by then so I headed out on my own to find a Christmas party on the beach. I could hear music and see lights from miles down the beach so I walked for about half an hour amongst fishing boats, tripping over ropes until I finally reached what turned out to be just a few Sri Lankan guys dancing to very loud, cheesy rave. Turns out this is standard at any party around here. At least they had a tiny make-shift bar so, I grabbed a few beers and ended up having a great time practising break-dancing with them until about 1 am.

Sri Lankan Yoga


Sri Lankan sunset
Sri Lankan sunset

Read more of Sri Lanka here: Outstanding Beauty in Central Sri Lanka

Need somewhere cheap to stay? – Stay : Sri Lanka

 

Sri Lankan street parade
Sri Lankan street parade

After checking into our rooms at Space Garden Hostel, we were surprised by an awesome Sri Lankan street parade passing by! They had lots of dancers, musicians and even elephants (although the elephants didn’t look too happy). Unfortunately, at the end of it a fight broke out and a guy got smashed in the head with a bottle which was a bit of a downer.

Space Garden Hostel
Space Garden Hostel

The day before New Year’s Eve we bumped into an Austrian stuntwoman who had just arrived and we all decided to head down to the beach, where we spent the day chilling in hammocks under palms trees, drinking beer and chatting to another English couple.


Sri Lankan New Years

On New Years eve daytime, Mike and I headed down to the palm tree area and put up the slackline. We spent the majority of the day slacklining and attracting the interest of various people until eventually, we decided to grab some quick dinner before heading back to our respective hostels to prepare for the evening.

Mirissa Beach
Mirissa Beach

For once the music was actually decent and all the people we had met in the past few days were together on the dancefloor. We celebrated at midnight with hugs etc and then continued to drink and dance until about 3 am when I decided to call it a night. I left Mike and the others sitting on plastic chairs on the beach as the ocean washed up around their feet. That night I slept on a makeshift bed on the rooftop under the stars and full moon, which turned out to be a great way to enter the new year.


Sea Turtles and Slacklining

A friend of mine arrived from France the next day and that evening four of us went for dinner on the beach and saw a giant sea turtle wash up right next to the bar we were at.  The staff asked us not to take photos though as it scares them away and they’re trying to find somewhere to lay eggs.


We spent our last day in Mirissa swimming, slacklining, relaxing in hammocks and chatting to a hilarious Australian couple from Alice Springs – proper bogans, in the best possible way!

Slack-lining
Slack-lining

Unawatuna and Camp Kush

After Mirissa we headed north-west and booked 3 days in Unawatuna at a cool little place called Camp Kush, which is made up of tipi’s built around a campfire in a clearing amongst palm trees and a mangrove swamp. It has a few private rooms for £20 and five-person shared tipis for £7 per person.


There is a main covered sitting area with sofas and a dining table, and the lovely host Buchi tends to your every need – offering tea, coffee or beer at every opportunity. The facilities are fairly basic in a campsite kind of way – cold water, outdoor showers and only two toilets…. but if you aren’t too picky you’ll find it more than sufficient.

Camp Kush
Camp Kush

The first evening we took a tuk-tuk to Jungle Beach, where apparently you can snorkel with turtles. We didn’t see any turtles unfortunately but we had a great time swimming and drinking on the beach anyway.  After sunset, we headed back to camp for an amazing pasta dinner and partied the rest of the night away with some other guests who had arrived.

Surfing, Sri Lankan Style!
Surfing, Sri Lankan Style!

Attempting to Surf

The next day we went to Martin’s Surf Point (MSP) near Galle to do some surfing. I spent most of the day swallowing sea water and not catching waves since I can’t actually surf, but it was good exercise. The board hire is only 300 rupees an hour (£1.50) and they are very relaxed about it – so much so that we almost forgot to pay when leaving and nobody even said anything. That evening we again joined everyone at the campsite for dinner and afterwards had quite a few drinks, including a fair amount of the local Sri Lankan coconut rum, ‘Arrack’, mixed with coke – known as Arrack Attack!

Wijaya Beach
Wijaya Beach

On day three in Unawatuna, we finally got to swim with giant sea turtles! Typically my GoPro battery was dead so I didn’t get any footage, but it was an amazing experience none-the-less. We then watched the most amazing sunset from Wijaya beach and took photographs of the stilt-fisherman silhouetted against the horizon. That evening after dinner we decided to explore the nightlife in Unawatuna and went to an awful bar called Happy Banana, playing music so bad we endured it for only 15 minutes until deciding to call it a night.

Sri Lankan Stilt Fisherman
Sri Lankan Stilt Fisherman

Hikkaduwa

I spent a few nights staying in Hikkaduwa at a place called Hilda’s Guest House, run by a Swiss woman.  It’s a bit pricier than most places but has a swimming pool and includes a free breakfast of eggs, toast, fresh fruit and yoghurt.

A friend and I spent an evening having traditional Sri Lankan fish curry at a beach restaurant called Drunken Monkey. Very affordable too – large 620ml beers for £1.75 and curry for just over £2. Then we explored a bit of Hikkaduwa town before heading back to the guesthouse to swim and drink until midnight.

I also spent a few days with a group of friends at a large Airbnb house called Casa Hikka Villa, a few kilometres outside of Hikkaduwa.  It has a huge swimming pool, kitchen, living room and BBQ facilities, and is exceptionally good value for money if you have a large group.

Mirissa
Mirissa

 

The Southern coast of Sri Lanka has some of the most beautiful beaches and awesome surf spots I’ve ever seen! It’s still relatively cheap and unspoilt by tourism so if you have the chance I suggest you get out there soon!

 

Read more of Sri Lanka here: Outstanding Beauty in Central Sri Lanka

Need somewhere cheap to stay? – Stay : Sri Lanka

 

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