At the end of summer 2016 my sister travelled to beautiful Sri Lanka for 16 days. Here she talks about the first part of her trip including her visit to Colombo, Kandy and Dambulla…
We started our trip with a couple of nights in the capital city, Colombo. Here there are a number of Buddhist temples, including the serene Seema Malaka Temple on the Beira Lake, and the larger Gangaramaya Temple further inland. We travelled around the city by tuk tuk, definitely the easiest and cheapest way to get around!
After visiting Colombo, we took an amazing 3.5 hour train ride from Colombo Fort Railway Station to the city of Kandy. The bumpy train takes you past stunning scenery with views of the hills, valleys and greenery, and also some of the more traditional and hidden Sri Lankan villages. This is definitely the best way to see more of Sri Lanka’s natural beauty, and to experience some of the best views you will see during your trip. TIP: Leave plenty of time to buy tickets as there was a long queue, and only a couple of trains leave per day, and First Class for a more comfortable and still very cheap ride.
Here we met our driver, Lakmal, who would be with us for the remaining two weeks of our trip. On our second day we visited the Temple of the Tooth, and sat in the gardens watching the sun set behind the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue. We had some of the best (and cheapest!) food of the trip at the Balaji Dosai vegetarian restaurant in the village centre, recommended by Lakmal. This whole meal for two cost less that £4, and the cheese dosa was the best I have ever tasted! The restaurant was full of local families, and the owner took time to recommend different dishes for us to try.
Another place with reasonably priced food was the Empire Café next to Temple of the Tooth – we visited here for dinner and brunch for some rice and curry. Whilst in Kandy we also went to the Royal Botanical Gardens and walked down palm avenue, a long grand path with tall symmetrical palm trees on either side.
3. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
One of my most memorable experiences in Sri Lanka was my visit to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, about an hour and a half drive from Kandy. It was incredible to watch the elephants amble through the village on their way to bathe in the lake, and to climb down to the lake to feed them bananas. This was the best way to see elephants up close and should be top of the itinerary when visiting Sri Lanka!
On the way to Pinnawala we stopped by the road side to buy some fruit, and came across a group of monkeys which had swung down from the trees to sit on the railings next to the car!
4. Trip to Dambulla
After visiting Kandy, we made our way up to Dambulla. On the way, we stopped for one night at Arika Villa, a pretty boutique hotel hidden in the quiet jungle.
The next day we stopped at a spice garden to break up our drive. We bought some fresh spices to take home, and had a relaxing massage outside in a wooden hut in the middle of the spice garden. Before arriving at Dambulla, and after visiting the Golden Temple (well worth a visit), we stopped at a fantastic roadside restaurant called Sakura and had the lunchtime buffet. The aubergine curry was delicious and the manager explained that all food is home-cooked by his wife. They have just started running cooking classes which can be booked through their Facebook page!
5. Dambulla – Heritance Kandalama
Without a doubt, the Heritance Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla was one of the most impressive hotels I have ever stayed in, and is an absolute must-visit when travelling to Sri Lanka! The 5* luxury hotel is built into the rock in the hillside, and has spectacular views over the Kandalama lake and world-famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress.
Some of the hotel is open-plan, with monkeys swinging from the banisters and birds flying through the open hotel corridors. We spent the afternoon relaxing in the infinity pool, one of the hotel’s three swimming pools, and eating endless plates of delicious food in the Kanchanalak restaurant. The staff were very friendly and welcoming, and went out of their way to set up a table for us on our first night so we could eat outside by the fire.
We stayed in a stunning suite with a jacuzzi in the bathroom and views of the lake. One of the best experiences during our visit was waking up to hear tapping and chattering outside the windows, and opening the curtains to find a group of monkeys feeding on the wooden decking outside the windows! It was amazing to be so close to wild monkeys and to watch the babies feeding.
6. Dambulla – Elephant Safari and Sigiriya Rock Fortress
On our first day at the Heritance Kandalama we went on a safari at the nearby Minneriya National Park. We saw many different herds of elephants, but the safari guide drove too close to one of the groups and we almost got attacked by an angry elephant as it started snorting and got ready to charge at our tiny open-top truck. Luckily we moved away fast enough. This photo was taken beforehand…
On our last day in Dambulla we climbed the incredible Sigiriya Rock Fortress. In total we climbed around 1200 steps to the top of the rock, but it was worth it for the beautiful views! On the way up our tour guide told us to whisper as loud noises can disturb the hornets which live in huge nests stuck to the side of the rock. He said that on a few occasions tourists have been attacked by swarms of hornets and hospitalised.
Soon Katie will post part 2 of her trip to the East and South coasts of Sri Lanka – Arugam Bay, Tangalle, Koggala and Negombo!