Sri Lanka in 10 days: an astonishing country ready to be discovered
That's pretty much how it went down.
"Guys, what about going to Sri Lanka for ten days during the Easter holidays?" - I suggested.
"Yeah, why not?" - Enrico and Valerio said, speaking almost on a single voice.
Within a week we had booked tickets to Colombo.
The days spent in Sri Lanka, a land that soon turned out to be wonderful - were probably some of the most beautiful I’ve has in the past years. In this post I would like to tell you more about them, hoping not to forget anything.
Before going into the story itself, however, I would like to spend a minute to remember all the victims of the Easter massacre in the cities and towns of Colombo, Batticaloa, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Negombo, Dematagoda and Kotahena. The explosions happened while we were there (only one day after we landed). In the following days, a climate of mourning and grief completely enveloped the whole country. We lived such intense days ahead. Thanks to the hospitality of the Singhalese people though, we were able to enjoy Sri Lanka at its best. A country rich in history, incredible places and that I really recommend everyone to visit at least once in their lives.
I love planning trips and, to be honest, I think I'm also pretty good at it. Enrico and Valerio left me carte blanche on routes and hotels/guest houses to book (thank you guys!). After having brought to the table some different options to them, and after having carefully evaluated the usual climate of the island in that period (we went from April 19th to 30th, 2019), we decided to go for a four to five stops route (and by "stops" I mean places we would have slept in), by also adding some relaxing time at the beach.
I carefully booked our stays for the first seven days, leaving the last three days for whatever we would have been felt like doing at the moment.
So, let's jump into the trip, I'll make sure to leave a map with all the stops at the end.
We left from Milan Malpensa airport on April 19th, heading towards Colombo, with an intermediate stopover in Doha. We flew with Qatar Airways (super nice!). On our arrival in Colombo, the driver Steve came to meet us and, under his suggestion, we took the money from the cash machine and bought a sim card to use for the following days. The driver accompanied us for the first four days, until the drop-off in Arugam Bay. Initially, the idea was to do all the rest of the route by public transport, but due to the attacks, we decided - for safety reasons - to rely on drivers for the rest of the holiday, except for the train ride from Ella to Nuwara Eliya (which I will tell you about later).
Tip: driving in Sri Lanka is absolutely crazy, the only existing rule seems to be to honk just before you throw the car in the middle of the road to overtake the vehicle in front of yours. If you are not used to this type of driving, I strongly recommend you to contact a driver. Ours was fantastic and we strongly recommend him!
First stop: Sigirya Rock, Minneriya Park and Polonnaruwa
During the first three days we decided to visit the ancient cities and a national park. In particular, we visited the imposing Sigiriya Rock, a 370m high rock to be climbed that will leave you speachless once you reach the top. We weren't able to visit Anuradhapura, for a matter of time, so we decided to spend a day visiting Polonnaruwa ruins. This archaeological park contains hundreds of ruins dating back eight centuries.The site is very nice and our guide helped us giving the most relevant information about every single site worth visiting.
We also chose to visit Minneriya National Park, which is definitely less crowded than Yala national Park, for a chance to see some amazing animals.
Tip one: A great place to sleep around the ancient cities is the town of Habarana. We stayed in a wonderful guesthouse, called Bissa Villa - very clean and with a swimming pool. The owners are super kind and the homemade breakfast is p-h-e-n-o-m-e-n-a-l. With a tuk-tuk you can easily reach the city center to walk around and eat some food.
Tip two: To visit the sacred places, you have to cover your shoulders and legs. I do suggest you bring a cloth in your bag to cover yourself when necessary.
At this point, after the attack, we thought a lot about what to do and we also discussed it with our guide.
Our decision was to continue with our planned route - trying to be as careful as possible, therefore avoiding long stops on the road and crowded places. We thought that the least safe place at the moment would have been the airport, so we kept away from it.
The day of the attack was followed by 10 days of curfew, which we were clearly required to respect. That is why we tried to make the most of it every day, going to bed early in the evening and getting up at almost sunrise.
After this parenthesis, let's continue with the itinerary, which saw us heading towards the sea.
But first, a special mention to these extraordinary temples we met on our way from Habarana to Passikudah. We had to stop the driver on the way so many times to take pictures of these gorgeous buildings and he was so kind to give us a little explanations of what our eyes were staring at.
Tip: if you can, stop on the way for breakfast/lunch at a local place. Do ask your driver to take you to a place he would usually go, no touristy stuff. I guarantee it will be a unique experience.
Second stop: a quick hello to Passikudah beach
Yes, we totally spoiled ourselves. It's something I always try to do on a long-ish holiday, especially if I know that the next place we were headed would have been much more uncomfortable. I like to put a little treat in the middle of the trip, just to recharge and have a nice hot shower in a nice clean place with fabulously comfortable beds, plus prices in Sri Lanka are definitely less expensive than Europe! Amaya Beach Passikudah is definitely one of the most beautiful resorts I've been to. In those days, however, it was semi-empty. There were a bit of fear and grief in the air. The resort was controlled night and day by the military. We then discovered that the owner of that resort was the same as one of the structures that were attacked in Colombo, that's why in all his properties he had activated such controls. However, this for us was a day of relaxation in a wonderful place, compared to the previous days which were full of walks and steps.
Third stop: the lovely Arugam Bay
Needless to say, of all the places, this was my fave. We were expecting nightlife and beach parties. Clearly, we didn't find any of that because of the curfew. But we did find a wonderful wooden house right on the beach when we arrived, paid about 4€ per night per person, the name of the place is Beach Hut. Not very clean and with really uncomfortable beds. Yet sleeping there was such an amazing experience.
For three days we relaxed among super cheap street food, surf and Ayurvedic massages. We rented mopeds for 5€ a day and went exploring the nearby areas.
Looking at my photo gallery, I couldn't find a lot of pictures of this particular stop, that might be because I was busy relaxing.
Tip one: you can't miss an ayurvedic treatment if you're in Arugam!
Tip two: if you want to eat really well in a nice place with fantastic cocktails (ice safe, Valerio can testify), give Leaf and Vine a shot. Prices are higher than Arugam average, but still comparable to a modest dinner in Italy, you will not regret it.
Fourth stop: Ella and the famous train to Nuwara Eliya
If you go to Sri Lanka you can't miss the famous train trip that goes through tea plantations. We chose to do it from Ella to Nuwara Eliya, which apparently seems to be the most breathtaking bit. We bought a ticket the day before at the train station, going for a second class ticket. We made this choice because the third class is usually very crowded. On the other hand, the first class has air conditioning and, although this may seem a perk, it is not if you want to admire the view and take nice pictures, since the windows cannot be opened.
We stayed in this very nice guesthouse called Little Folly. Nice rooms, nice beakfast. Nothing to fancy, however good value for money I'd say.
Tip: Ask a tuk-tuk to take you to the Rawana Waterfalls - where you can swim. Going down to that panoramic road in a tuk-tuk was an unforgettable adventure for us.
Fifth stop: Nuwara Elyia and its lovely tea plantations
Last stop, but definitely not least, we made it amidst tea plantations. We stayed in a lovely (I know, all the places I mentioned are "lovely" but what can I say? I made the right choices) up on the hills, quite difficult to reach but with a breathtaking view. It is called Misty Mountain Villas. Our initial idea was to climb up on the world-famous Adam's Peak. Of course we couldn't, because of the curfew. However, the owner of the guesthouse suggested we go to Horton Plains instead to see the equally famous World's End. To be honest, the World End's itself was nothing special but a cool cliff with a view, but the park and the walk were very nice. Last day we spent it in a Tea Factory, Pedro Tea Estate, which I particularly loved and recommend it, in case you have to choose one of the many.
Some general tips: some usual safety advices such as not drinking water that is not sealed and avoid raw food. Buy before you leave: mosquito sprays, sunscreen, tampons, which are things very hard to find in Sri Lanka. But probably one of the main tip I would like to give you is book your stays in guesthouses! They are such a cool way of getting in contact with people and their traditions. Singhalese people are so kind and helpful, words cannot even describe. We found a population open to tourism, always smiling and willing to help.
Here is a map of all the places we have visited, just in case it might be helpful.
Have you ever been to Sri Lanka? Would you like to go?
Feel free to contact me if you need any information or if you would like to share your adventure.