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Ellis’ adventure in Sri Lanka
On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, Ellis was bowled over by this unique and calm country which is worlds apart from nearby India. From the fascinating culture of the north, to the scenic rolling hills of Tea Country and the beautiful golden beaches on the coast, there is no end to the country's beauty.
I started my adventure around Sri Lanka at the Wallawwa located on a coconut plantation in Negombo. Spending a night relaxing in this stunning boutique property was the perfect way to ease myself into my adventure in Sri Lanka. As I sat on the terrace enjoying a wonderful dinner al fresco, I knew I had arrived in an exotic and wonderful country. It was raining, but that just enhanced the experience, with the captivating sound of the rain hitting the leaves and keeping the air cool.
From there, it was off to the Cultural Triangle, which covers the north central towns of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sirigiya and Dambulla. Home to mystical ancient cities, hill stations and rich jungle, there is so much to do in this area. I was staying at Vil Uyana – a beautiful hotel with an exceptional location and a level of attention to detail that will impress even the most particular of travellers! One of the main attractions of the Cultural Triangle is of course the Sigiriya Rock Fortress (also known as Lion Rock) and the beautiful gardens surrounding the rock. There are a lot of steps to climb to reach the top, but our guide was great and very patient; he went at our pace and stopped where possible, giving us a chance to catch our breath and also imparting some of his abundant knowledge on us about the kings that used to live in the fortress at the top. Aside from this, other must-sees include the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, which you can explore on foot or by bike with your local specialist guide, and the Dambulla cave temples, which are a great way to break up the journey from here to Kandy. There are five temples embedded into the rock, which helps protect them from rain and keeps them very cool inside. It is a wonderful experience and our guide really helped us learn more about Buddhism and the history behind this beautiful temple. For me, another real highlight of the Cultural Triangle was visiting a local village by boat – getting to know the locals, learning about their culture and experiencing their daily life gives you a real insight into how these local communities get by. You can also have lunch with them and experience some true home cooking! There is also lots of great wildlife in the Cultural Triangle, and if you don’t have enough time to visit one of the big national parks, I would definitely recommend going on an afternoon safari in Minniriya National Park, which is known for its elephant gatherings. If you want to search for leopards and see beautiful birdlife, Wilpattu isn’t too far from here either.
My next stop was Kandy – the cultural capital of Sri Lanka with a beautiful lakeside setting. We stayed in the stunning Kandy House, which is a beautiful old bungalow which has been converted into a boutique property. It’s not in the centre of Kandy, but its tranquil and picturesque setting makes it a real Imagine favourite. When in Kandy a visit to the Temple of the Tooth is a must. It is a very busy temple, and when you’re there you get a real sense of how it is impacting on so many people’s lives, providing peace and comfort to many. Next to the temple we saw a cultural dance show, including fire walking and fire eating. After the show, the sun had started to go down and there was a beautiful glow over the lake and the temple was lit up – a really enchanting sight. While you’re in the area you should visit the botanical garden or the gem museum, or if you’re willing to travel slightly further afield, around one and a half hours from Kandy you will find Pinawala Elephant Orphanage, where you can interact with elephants that have been abandoned but are being looked after with warmth, love and affection.
From there it was onto the wonderfully scenic Tea Country – a personal highlight for me, mainly because I love walking and drinking tea! I visited two tea plantations and factories and was amazed to learn both were still using machinery which the British had left over 100 years ago. I had never realised how lengthy the process of tea making was and I definitely appreciate a cup of tea a lot more now I know! I stayed for two nights in Tea Country in a stunning bungalow at Ceylon Tea Trails. The staff there were fantastic; they suggested lots of lovely walks for me to do and the service was top notch, not to mention the afternoon tea which was exquisite! If you’ve strolled the rolling hills of Tea Country and are now looking for something a little more adventurous, I would really recommend taking on Adams Peak or venturing out for some white water rafting. Adams Peak is tackled through the night so that you reach the summit by sunrise. It’s no mean feat, but the views from the top are stunning and make it completely worth starting the ascent at 2am!
Our next stop was Thalpe on the south coast, where we stayed at Why House – a beautiful property around a ten minute walk from the beach, and the perfect place to relax by the pool, soak up the sun and enjoy a few cheeky G&Ts! Unfortunately on Sri Lanka’s south coast you can’t swim in the sea as there is lots of coral and the waves are quite rough, but while these conditions might not appeal to humans, they do attract lots of wildlife, mainly turtles. A visit to the turtle hatchery or an early morning excursion to go whale watching are excellent ways to fill your time here, when you’re not strolling the beach or chilling out in the pool.
Galle Fort is not too far from Thalpe either (only around half an hour by car) and is a town of huge historical importance which has held onto its charm and colonial atmosphere. The British, Dutch and Portuguese used Galle as their main port until Colombo’s harbour was developed in the late 19th century. The fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its street network, built by the Dutch, is a charming area around which you can walk relatively free from the hassle of street vendors. The ramparts of the fort with their landmark lighthouse provide a pleasant evening stroll. We stayed in the lovely Fort Printers which is set in the middle of the fort and surrounded by lots of restaurants and shops, including one of my personal favourites, which is called Stick No Bills and sells beautiful vintage postcards and posters. This beautiful 18th century mansion has served as a school, Buddhist institution, bank and printing press but is now an elegant boutique hotel. If you’re spending a few days in Galle, I highly recommend going for dinner one evening at Dutch Hospital, which is known for its spectacular crab dishes. From chilli crab to baked crab, it’s a real celebration of Sri Lanka's wonderful seafood. In Galle I had come to the end of my Sri Lanka adventure, and it was with a heavy heart that I was heading home. It is a truly beautiful country which is so diverse and has bundles to offer! I can’t wait to return…