How to spend 9 days in Sri Lanka
People talk about Sri Lanka in so many ways, and they don't lie. But actually, even after explaining places and showing photos to anyone and everyone (who'll listen), they'll never quite show the true beauty of the country, without seeing it for yourself.
Our nine day trip was a bit of a whirlwind, as there was so much of the country we wanted to see, but on such a tight schedule (had to get back to finish up my work notice didn't I?) we had to plan plan plan. And when I say we, I totally meant me. I did my research, and then some more, and added a list of all the places we (I) wanted to visit, and the places that didn't seem as important to us (me). And then I made a plan. And searched endless hotels and Airbnb's. I left the flights to the male.
And on the 29th June, we packed up our backpacks (we weren't all about the backpacker life, but for ease of travel, these were ideal. Plus it was fun to see the male with a backpack), and headed to the airport, without a hangover. For once.
DAY ONE - Colombo to Kandy
We arrived in Sri Lanka about 4pm, and decided the best thing would be to get ourselves a taxi to Kandy once we'd collected our luggage. After a little bit of bartering (from the males side because I was whispering how cheap a 2.5 hour journey was...), we left the airport ready for our adventure and agreed on 5,000 Sri Lankan rupees (about £25). Nearly four hours later and some incredible roads driven we arrived at Ozo Kandy. I found it quite strange that it had gotten dark about 6.30pm, so almost didn't fully feel on holiday.
Nonetheless, we dropped our bags down, sprayed ourselves in insect repellent and headed to their rooftop bar to grab some food and appreciate what we could of our first night.
The following morning we woke to an incredible view overlooking Kandy Lake, so decided to wander around the city for a few hours before heading to our next location. The Lake was incredibly picturesque with all kinds of people wandering around - from tourists, to locals and school children. It was buzzing, and we were pretty sad to be leaving after less than 24 hours.
Ozo Kandy was a great place to stay, it was clean, fairly modern and the staff went above and beyond the care. It was an ideal location in terms of the city, where it felt a little further out, but only took a five minute walk towards the lake.
We'd definitely recommend a few nights here, as the temples are worth seeing, and apparently the traditional food is amazing too.
DAY TWO - Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
I'd originally planned for us to get the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, as it was one of the most talked about things to do in the country. However at this point, the male wasn't fully ready for this, and with us having not settled somewhere for 24 hours, we opted for a taxi again which would take 3 hours. Ozo Kandy helped arrange a taxi from the city, and a kind Sri Lankan man picked us up, stopping en-route to show us all of the fruit stalls that were by the side of the road. Half of me loves that we got the taxi, because the views were beautiful, driving through the tea plantations (which Nuwara Eliya is famous for), and being able to stop at any opportunity, but also, think the views inbetween the mountains on the train, would have also been stunning, if not more!
We arrived in Nuwara Eliya just after lunch and although we knew it was known as the 'Little England', we weren't quite prepared for what it had in store. It was drizzly, and cold, like very cold. We were up in the mountains, and the views were stunning that the cold didn't bother us. We pulled out our only hoodies that we had, and headed towards our accommodation. I'd booked us into Luxe Wilderness, because I was totally lured in by their decor (and THAT bathtub). Unfortunately, with the area, it was damp and the walls were thoroughly soaked through with the mist (we're talking like a shower had been left on constantly). And mist equals a whole host of mosquitos!
We tried to put this past us, as the lovely guy showed us around, but couldn't help feel a little uneasy when he explained there wasn't many restaurants here except a Pizza Hut delivery or Indian takeaway. Refusing to order pizza, we headed down towards the village for some evening food.
Nuwara Eliya is a place to visit for sure, and online, people are either all for staying a few days to truly explore, or a pit stop place for a few hours. For us - we wished we'd stayed an extra day in either Kandy or our next stop, Ella, rather than here. Apart from the fascination of the tea plantations, the town itself didn't do really anything for us. I mean, we did completely appreciate and admire the traditional Sri Lankan hustle and bustle (and in finding a red post box so high up in the clouds!) and found ourselves in a proper market that was insanely busy. I also found myself having a mild panic attack from the overwhelming attention that we were getting down these narrow lanes, so couldn't quite manage to relax here, even though I tried so hard.
Our night was long, in that we wrapped up for bed, for fear of being hounded by mosquitos, and watched movies until the sun came up. We managed a few hours sleep before packing up again and taking a Tuk Tuk to Nanu Oya train station for our next stop.
DAY THREE - Nuwara Eliya to Ella
As soon as we arrived at Nanu Oya (it took us 20 mins in a tuk tuk), we almost felt calmer seeing many other backpackers ready for the train. If you're wanting to stay the night around this area, it seems Nanu Oya has much more to offer.
After much debate over 1st or 2nd class tickets, I managed to convince the male that 2nd class tickets would be better, because of what I'd read online. First class has aircon for sure, but there's almost a sense that you're not truly getting to really enjoy this train ride in its true form.
For a three hour journey, I don't think even a month since returning home, I've stopped telling people how it was 50p for a ticket! FIFTY PENCE. Of course, I understand this is all relevant to the country, but found it fascinating how it was on time, and how appreciative Sri Lankan's are of their trains.
What an incredible experience it was. We sat with our feet out of the door, the whole way, admiring each and every view and landscape that we passed. Talk between us was minimal, apart from agreeing how amazing a view was, and instead just found ourselves completely and utterly falling in love with this country.Is there a top tip to which side to sit on the train? People told us Nuwara Eliya to Ella is best on the right side, but after twenty minutes or so on the train, I'd disagree. But whichever side you choose, you'll agree with what the people say - it really is the most beautiful train journey in the world.
After expressing how amazing the train journey was, it actually broke down a stop before Ella. So we grabbed ourselves a tuk tuk to take us to our accommodation. Still to this day I laugh about what happened - I'd booked Serenite Ella, up in the trees of Ella basically because it's a spot for monkeys visiting on your balcony in the morning. And of course, I wanted to see a monkey.
Our tuk tuk driver didn't have any change, so wandered into the accommodation with us, which apparently was described as 'still being built' by the male. Twenty minutes and one slightly agitated male later (who'd definitely been browsing booking.com for a hotel), we'd finally got change to send the tuk tuk driver on his way, and were being greeted by the sweetest lady taking us to our room. As we settled onto our balcony, I could see the calmness coming back to the male who couldn't help but agree with why I'd booked this accommodation. Overlooking Ella and the waterfall, is one of the reasons I'd highly recommend Serenite Ella. The owner even came to chat with us all about his culture, and the staff couldn't have been more helpful.
We took a tuk tuk down towards the town, and LOVED it. Ella is a place I wish we'd stayed for 3-4 days, there was so much happening. We set up camp in Cafe Chill for the night, tucking into Lampraius, a Sri Lankan curry cooked in a Banana Leaf until finally heading back for an early morning of monkey spotting.I woke at 5am, where we enjoyed a home-made breakfast from the lovely lady, on our balcony. And whilst we heard monkeys in the distance, we didn't see one single monkey.But it wouldn't stop us staying here again!
A taxi was booked for us by the staff, to take us to our next stop (it was nearly a five hour trip ahead!), and had offered to stop at Nine Arches Bridge on the way.
Nine Arches Bridge was amazing, even after the thought that we were lost forever, the mud stained dress and the sweat that had appeared everywhere for the trek. But as soon as the bridge came into view, none of that mattered anymore. We spent our time there wandering on the train tracks, looking out at the tea plantations and sitting with our feet over the bridge (OK, maybe not the male, because he's afraid of heights) blown away by the landscapes. We didn't want to leave here at all.
DAY FOUR - Ella to Unawatuna
Our driver that was booked for us, couldn't talk any English unlike the others but that didn't stop us enjoying this journey. Whilst it felt long, we saw another side to Sri Lanka. Having done the city, the jungle and tea plantations, it was fairly flat on the journey from Ella to the South West coast. If we'd have had more time, I'd have loved to have visited one of the National Parks, but alas, our relaxing days on the coast were waiting for us. We slept a fair amount of this journey too, but were soon awake when greeted with the choppy coast on our left.
DAY FIVE - Unawatuna
Unawatuna didn't typically have much to do, but we were fairly happy in the comfort of Cantaloupe Aqua. We chilled, read books, ate and drank and talked. Lots. And we took walks along the beautiful and serene beach. We did however get the opportunity to do a culinary demonstration which was an amazing experience. The chef at Aqua, took us to the market the following morning where we were shown all the amazing fruit and veg the country had. We tried some fruits (Rambutan was a favourite!), and felt in amazement as all of the colour. Heading back to Aqua, we cooked seven dishes and then got the fun of eating them - was there any dhal left? Absolutely NOT! I'd 100% recommend a cooking class in Sri Lanka, wherever you are!
DAY SIX - UNAWATUNA TO GALLE
After a day and a half of relaxing at Aqua, it was time to move onto the next stop for some more unwinding (and eating of course!). As we loaded up the van that kindly took us to Cantaloupe Levels, we met some people that the male knew (forever fascinated by the world we live in), so arranged to see them that evening.
En route to Galle, we stopped at Wijaya Beach where we were informed of a beach swing (ultimate IG moment right here). Taking off his flip flops, the male paid his 500 rupees and attempted to climb up the tree for the swing. Let's just say it wasn't his most graceful of moments, but alas, he managed something!
Back in the van with sandy toes, we headed up the winding road towards our next jungle retreat. And it did not disappoint. Within minutes of arriving at Cantaloupe Levels, we decided this was our favourite of the two Cantaloupe hotels. The views were unbelievable, looking out towards Galle Fort. You can read my full review of Cantaloupe Levels here.
The evening was spent in the company of the couple we met earlier, watching the sunset over the fort, eating delicious Sri Lankan dishes and drinking the hotel out of beer. We certainly slept well that night.
DAY SEVEN - Galle
Our time in Galle was planned for us Cantaloupe Levels, to visit the Japanese Peace Pagoda and followed by a jungle trek but with us being non-stop at home, and having a huge pool overlooking the sea, we couldn't help but want to just lounge around. And so that's what we did. We watched Youtube videos of dogs, we listened to music, we read our books, we talked and then we talked some more, we ate lots of Dhal (obviously) and we swam in the pool. And it was absolute bliss. We're not normally ones to do very little, but fully switching off was just what we needed in that moment, so we were completely and utterly making the most of it.
DAY EIGHT - Galle to Negombo
We woke to rain (the first in the time we'd been there considering the season we visited), so had a lazy morning in bed followed by another showstopping breakfast. After a mooch around, and a little wander up the winding roads near the hotel, we packed up our bags and decided to take the train to Colombo. We'd debated staying a night in Colombo, but as we had an early flight, and researching that it was still roughly an hour to the airport from the city, we headed straight for our final night in Negombo.
Levels helped book us a tuk tuk to the station, where we easily got our tickets and boarded again, this time in third class (which was fine, as we had a window seat - and I loved people-watching too!). It was slightly different to the other train ride in certain elements, that really stuck with me. We saw another side to Sri Lanka, with the train heading right through the slums and the quieter villages with little on offer. But what really got me, was how happy these people were. How grateful they appeared, and just how friendly and warming they were when we passed by. Not a single person didn't wave. It was quite bittersweet. But equally heartbreaking, as we forget just HOW lucky we are to have a sturdy roof over our head.
We arrived into Colombo a few hours later, and my gosh, we did not expect Colombo to be SO busy. It was heaving, and chaos and everything you normally expect when a train is delayed here in the UK. But this is everyday for them. We managed to hail a taxi, who took us the remainder of the journey to our hotel in Negombo. Driving through Colombo, we were a little pleased we didn't stay the night as it didn't seem for us. But to be fair, neither was Negombo. However when England are playing in the quarter finals, The Gateway Hotel, was just the place that the male wanted to be. Big screens outside, beer, burger and football.
And whilst it may not have been how I pictured our last night in this incredible country, I was ready for some stodgy food in the way of pasta, because Sri Lankan belly is also a thing.
And yes, I got it real good.
To sum up our trip, it was an unbelievable country and I would highly recommend a visit. Whilst we managed a fair amount in nine days, it definitely wasn't enough and we'd suggest two weeks so that you can explore more of the country and it's beauty.
What we loved in particular, was how one day we'd be in a city, then the misty tea plantations, followed by a jungle before heading to the coast for absolute bliss. Sri Lanka has so so much to offer, and getting around is also easy. I wish we'd taken the train more, but knowing we had only 24 hours in some places, meant that taxis were easier for us. For a four hour journey we're talking £60, which isn't too bad, although the train is a much cheaper way to travel - and an amazing experience! So take a backpack, travel 2nd class and fully embrace the beauty that Sri Lanka has to offer.
Is it too early to plan another trip?