Sri Lanka – We visited the island nation of Sri Lanka in March 2018, and spent a week travelling the country starting from Colombo, into the central highlights, down to the southern central plains, and out to the coastal cities in the south, before returning back to the capital city. Whilst there are many attractions in the country you may be keen to visit, we jot down our itinerary and some of our food and hotel recommendations here, hopefully to help ease your planning.
Day 1 – Colombo
A visit to the capital of Sri Lanka may not be the most intriguing travel destination in the island nation, but with one quarter of Sri Lanka’s population calling the city home, you should not miss the hustle and bustle of one of Asia’s fastest growing city. No visit to the city will be complete without visiting Galle Face Green, with the new skyscrapers sprouting out at every corner of the city center. Here, the 101st Shangri-La Hotel in the world opened at One Galle Face development and on the right of the Galle Face Green, the global hotel chain Grand Hyatt will be opening soon should the developer resolve their money woes.
Drive north from Galle Face Green, you will get into the old city, with Old Dutch Hospital Complex housing the Asia’s 29th Best Restaurant – Ministry of Crab. Further east, your drive will get you to the Fort Railway Station and the Manning Market, the city’s wholesale market.
Another 15 minutes drive down south from here, you will get to the country’s Independence Square. The Independence Memorial Hall here was modelled after Kandy’s Magul Maduwa. Interesting to find the locals using the space for arts, with painters and dancers using the hall during our visit.
Must-Eats: Ranked highly by the Asia’s 50 Best, go to Ministry of Crab for their highly raved Sri Lanka crabs; and The t-Lounge by Dilmah to sip some local tea by one of the most renowned Sri Lanka brands globally.
Should-Stays: We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel Colombo for a night during our visit. Centrally-located, with a perfect view of the Galle Face Green from your hotel room and the swimming pool.
Day 2 – Colombo to Kandy
Leave the capital early, and make your way up to Kandy. Take a break at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage along the four hour drive, with the highlight being the elephants showering along the Maha Oya river. We find this excursion somewhat commercialised now, although the noble project of the orphanage taking care of the young abandoned and maimed elephants deserve some of our support.
Onward to the old capital city, Kandy, where its central location on the island nation made it the choice hub of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka. The main attraction at Kandy is the Sri Dalada Maligawa, or commonly known to tourist as the Temple of the Scared Tooth Relic. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, and located within the royal palace of the former Kingdom of Kandy, it is now a religious centre for the Buddhist visiting from across the country.
After visiting the temple, take some time to walk around the city by foot. Stroll by the Bogambara Lake, and the busy streets of Sri Dalada Veediya to the other end of the city centre where the Kandy Clock Tower sits.
Must-Eats: Make a visit to The Empire Cafe just outside of the Temple. Take a sip of their coffee, although you should skip their pasta selections.
Should-Stays: There are no major brands in Kandy, but if you are looking to splurge, go for The Hermitage by Edwards Collection. With only 3 rooms, you are nestled amongst nature and almost no other fellow guests around you. Enjoy your day here with the resort’s 41 species of birds, monkeys, wild boar, deer and a variety of lizards.
Day 3 – Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
The drive from Kandy to the tea plantations en route to Nuwara Eliya is an uphill task, literally. Be prepared for the winding road as you drive higher grounds, and plan for stops along the way. Pay a visit to the Glenloch Tea Factory, a commercialized 15 minutes guided tour through the tea factory, and you are free to roam into the tea plantations at the backyard. I will recommend you to visit the Pedro Tea Factory just off Nuwara Eliya. The factory tour at Pedro was better executed and more informative, with complementary tea samples for your enjoyment. Pedro Tea Factory was also previously visited by the Duke of Edinburgh back in 1954.
Enjoy the cooling weather at Nuwara Eliya, and after a quick walk around the city, you will notice various English-architecture inspired buildings dotting the small town, including the century old Nuwara Eliya Post Office. Just minutes walk from here, you can visit the city’s Central Market.
Must-Eats: This hidden two-story zinc-wall green building next to the Lake Gregory serves up the best pizza in Nuwara Eliya, or perhaps, in Sri Lanka. Salmiya Italian Restaurant does all your pizza order ala-minute, and you should make sure a visit to Salmiya gets into your schedule here.
Should-Stays: Located a short drive from Lake Gregory, The Blackpool Hotel won the World Luxury Hotel Awards 2017 Country Awards for Sri Lanka. Located at 1876 meters above sea level, the cooling weather, coupled with the colonial decor of the hotel, you are almost certain to have one of the best night’s rest for your trip in Sri Lanka.
Day 4 – Nuwara Eliya to Ella
The highlight for most travellers in Sri Lanka is the scenic train ride. Make sure you book your seats on the train ride between Nuwara Eliya and Ella. The almost 4-hour train journey will bring you down from the tea hills, through the central highlands, before arriving at Ella. Take this opportunity to capture some of the most inspiring scenic photos of the train riding through the Ceylon peaks, starting from Nuwara Eliya’s Nanu Oya Railway Station to Ella Railway Station. The First and Second Class cabins guarantees you a seat, while the Third Class cabins are free for all, with some travellers having to settle down by sitting on the floors. Some travel websites have branded this as “one of the most scenic train rides in the world“, though we will refrain from making such a bold claim.
Upon arrival at Ella, this small town serves primarily as a pit stop for most tourist to Adam’s Peak, although climbing it will perhaps take you between 3 to 4 hours to reach the summit. If you are looking for an easier option, go for the hike up to Little Adam’s Peak. Within 30 minutes, you will be able to enjoy gorgeous views of the mountain range.
Take time to hike to the Nine Arches Bridge too, the incredible views of the bending stone bridge can be enjoyed at either ends of the bend. Climb up to higher grounds for a bird’s eye view of the train tracks.
Must-Eats: Make sure you visit The Barn by Starbase for your caffeine fix. One of the best spots in Ella to people watch, and while the afternoon away.
Should-Stays: While tracking up Little’s Adam Peak, this hotel will come into view. With sweeping views of the peak, and a private pool for its guests, 98 Acres Resort & Spa ought to be amongst your top choice for a night.
Day 5 – Ella to Udawalawe
Taking a break from the city, head over to Udawalawe National Park at the country’s southern central plains. Book a safari jeep, and take your time to spot the wild elephants, buffalo, peacocks, monkeys, crocodiles and tons of unique birds that call the park their home. Choose between half or a full day out at the safari, although we feel that a half day tour should suffice.
Most people have asked if they should be visiting Udawalawe National Park or perhaps the comparatively more popular Yala National Park. We chose to skip Yala primarily due to Udawalawe being closer to our route, without having to spend more hours on the road.
Unfortunately, there may not be any other attractions or sites to explore in the nearby towns of Udawalawe. Check yourself into a resort for a good rest, or move on to the southern beaches once you are done with the safari.
Must-Eats: We did not have any expectations in this small town, and you should not as well.
Should-Stays: We picked Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort with its proximity to the park, and we were glad we made the choice. The hotel impress us on many levels, with its polished service and good facilities.
Day 6 – Udawalawe to Galle
Less than 2 hours drive away, you will reach the south-western coast of Sri Lanka. Galle, one of the most important cities of the country, having been one of the key coastal cities where the European colonial masters took control of in the 16th century. First built by the Portuguese in 1588, and subsequently fortified by the Dutch, Galle Fort is a must-visit in the coastal city. Much of the walls today are still intact, and you can take a stroll around the city walls with sweeping views of the sea on one end, and the city on the other.
Along the way to Galle, you can take time to visit the Stilt Fisherman that once lined the southern shores. Be prepared though, this is a traditional method of fishing, and most (if not all) of the fishermen on stilt now are basically posing for the cameras. You can also head over to the Weligama Bay or Mirissa Beach for beach activities, or just chill at one of the many cafes dotting the coast.
Must-Eats: Head over to Cantina Lanka for brunch and a perk-me-up cup of coffee. The pizza and tapas selections here may not be exhaustive but they are most definitely on point.
Should-Stays: We did not regret our two nights stay at The Sandhya. This nine rooms only boutique hotel feels almost like an adult-only hotel, with the shared living room, and communal dining hall, except that you get to enjoy it with a pseudo-private beach and a luxe bedroom. It was an enjoyable stay, with erratic chats and casual catch-ups with fellow travellers, sharing stories of the daily lives we chose to escape from.
Day 7 – Galle to Colombo
On the last day before returning to the capital city Colombo, take some time to visit the Tsunami Photo Museum, less than an hour drive up north from Galle. In 2004, the southern coast of Sri Lanka was badly hit by the tsunami that struck many parts of Asia. With almost 50,000 lives lost in the country, this museum seeks to provide tourist an insight into the impact and outgoing rebuilding efforts by the local communities. Take the opportunity to support the museum and donate to the community, where possible.
Further north, you can head out for the Madu River Safari. A 45 minutes ride out into the swamps along the banks of the Madu River, and into the Maduganga Lake, where you can visit a Buddhist temple, head onshore to the Cinnamon Garden, dip your legs for a fish spa, or simply enjoy the boat ride. Just a side note, it has sadly become too commercialised now, and you might be bluntly asked to give tips.
Must-Eats: If you are looking to stop by for a lunch break, you can consider The Villa Café at the Paradise Road Hotel in Bentota. For dinner, you can head to Kaema Sutra at Shangri-La Hotel Colombo, which focuses on local Sri Lankan cuisine. Kaema Sutra is by celebrity Chef Dharshan Munidasa, whom is also behind Ministry of Crab and Nihonbashi, two of the most successful restaurants in the country.
Should-Stays: We recommended the relatively new Shangri-La Hotel Colombo earlier, but if you are spending another night here in Colombo, perhaps you should check out the historic Galle Face Hotel Colombo. This property has been a symbol of the city, having been around since 1864, and was also previously listed amongst one of the “1000 Places to See Before You Die” publication.
Ranted by The Rantee