Southern Sri Lanka

The last stop on our traveling journey was Sri Lanka and it was an absolutely perfect place to end our journey!! When initially planning our travels, we did not intend to go to Sri Lanka. However, many people we met over the last five months recommended it and since it was on our way back towards the USA we thought, why not give it a try!

We started our Sri Lankan journey in Colombo. We landed on January 6 and only had one day to explore the city so we made sure to keep ourselves very busy. After checking into our hostel, we had a quick lunch at Thalis Restaurant Indian Vegetarian Cuisine. This restaurant served both north and south Indian thalis and was absolutely delicious. The owner walked us through the menu and helped us pick out two, simple dishes. He also enjoyed laughing at us as we tried to eat with our hands and handle the spicy food.

After lunch we took a tuk-tuk to Vigaramahadevi Park, the city’s main park which contains the National Library and War Memorial. Surrounding the park are several museums and government buildings.

We walked through the park to get to the Sri Lanka National Museum. The large colonial building takes visitors through the long history, dating back to prehistoric times, of the island of Sri Lanka. We walked from the museum to the Cenotaph War Memorial, which was a bit underwhelming for a tourist.

We then found another tuk-tuk to take us to the famous Pettah Market, a central produce market that has been expanded into an enormous day market for everyday goods. On our way there, we drove through the Fort, the historic downtown area home to the modern financial district. We spent the early evening walking through the Galle Face Green Walk, a park on the water where dozens of small restaurants pop up each evening serving local food. We grabbed a drink at Sugar Bistro & Wine Bar (a sister restaurant of Sugar 41, which a friend recommended) and then went back towards the hostel for an early dinner.

Based on recommendations, we hired a guide to take us around southern Sri Lanka starting from Colombo. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into and boy were we beyond satisfied by our time with our guide Prasanna.

On January 7 Prasanna picked us up from our hostel in Colombo. All we had planned with Prasanna was which cities we would be sleeping in each night; we did not know what each day towards those cities was going to consist of.

As we started our 4 hour drive from Colombo towards Sigiriya, Prasanna gave us a brief history lesson of Sri Lanka and told us about some current developments within the country. Sri Lanka’s written history dates back 3,000+ years, but historians trace its prehistoric societies to 100,000+ years. In recent history, Sri Lanka was colonized by Portugal, The Netherlands, and Great Britain. In 1948, Sri Lanka gained its independence from Great Britain, however it experienced a period of turmoil during its 26 year civil war which ended in 2009. Since then, the country has flourished under its free market economy and its exports revolve around tea, clothing, and rice, with a growing tourism industry.

After driving for about an hour, we stopped along the road for fresh, yellow coconut water, coffee, and lavariya (string hopper with coconut honey). Prasanna described how there are many different types and colors of coconuts in Sri Lanka and that the yellow ones yield the most tasty coconut water.

After a bit more driving, we stopped for a buffet lunch. We had chicken curry, dhal curry, mukunuwenna mallum (great for eyesight), and pappadam. Prasanna explained how most locals eat with their hands and showed us the proper way to just use our fingertips. We then got back on the road to reach our first sight: the Dambulla Cave Temple. This temple consisted of five caves which are filled with beautiful cave paintings and many Buddhas.

The caves were home to a king who sought refuge from the Indians in the 2nd century BC for over 15 years. After reclaiming power, the king built the temple and it has been contributed to by following kings since. Interestingly, the Buddhist temple also contains a small Hindu temple, exemplifying how the two religions coexist peacefully in Sri Lanka.

After hiking down from the caves, we got back in the car to drive to our elephant safari. When we arrived at Minneriya National Park, we got in a jeep to head into the land of the elephants! Among all the countries we have visited, Sri Lanka treasures its biodiversity the most. No one is allowed to own wild animals, so elephants roam free throughout the country (and are known to kill people regularly) and it is illegal to harm an elephant. The elephants in the massive reserve were bountiful and free, a stark contrast to what we saw in Thailand.

Towards the end of the safari, a lone male juvenile charged at our truck from about 50 feet away and got very close. We were too frightened to take a picture and the driver sped off before he got too close. We left the park around sundown to head to our hotel for the evening.

On January 8 we had some coffee and then met Prasanna to head to Sigiriya Lion Rock, known as the eighth wonder of the world. The rock has been worshipped in Sri Lanka for centuries and was made famous by a ‘prince’ who killed his father in order to gain power. He sought refuge at the rock for 18 years and built a massive palace with 7 floors atop the rock. Today, only remnants of the structure remain as time and invading armies have destroyed the palace. Pictures on the rock are below, including the old swimming pool!

After our morning hike, we had some roti with banana and honey at a nearby cafe.

We then got on the road to head to a local village. We went to the village by bull cart (known as a “ferarri” back in the day) and a catamaran.

When we arrived to the village, a young woman showed us many cooking techniques that she uses on a daily basis.

We learned how to make delicious roti and a dip for the roti. Her roti recipe consisted of fresh coconut flakes, some salt water, flour, and a little bit of butter. The dip she made to go with the roti was even better than the roti! The dip recipe consisted of a few hot peppers, some pepper corn, salt, garlic, coconut flakes, and onion. She muddled all of the ingredients together with two big stones.

After our cooking lesson, we said goodbye to her, her husband, and their adorable baby boy.

Our next stop was the Lakruka Wood Shop. Here we learned about the many different types of wood that are gathered in Sri Lanka and saw the workers carving and making beautiful pieces. We bought a small elephant with its trunk facing towards the sky symbolizing “good luck.”

From the wood shop we made our way to Regent Spice and Herbal Garden. We were expecting to learn about the different cooking spices grown in Sri Lanka, but this was not the case. Instead, the private tour was more focused on home remedies and medicines that the locals use many herbs and spices for. At the end of the tour, we got complimentary massages and then met with the herbal doctor to learn about the different, natural medicines we could be using.

After the spice garden we made our way into Kandy to settle into our hotel. We had a causal, early dinner at The Garden Cafe.

On January 9 we had breakfast at our hotel before getting picked up by Prasanna. Our first stop for the day was The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, an extremely special Buddhist temple. This is the most famous temple in Sri Lanka and is host to the country’s most valued relics and religious ceremonies. The old capital of Kandy is extremely well fortified with only three roads leading to the city through massive walls. Prasana was very excited to show us what he deemed as the most important Buddhist temple.

After spending time at the temple, we had bite with Prasanna in town and then went to the car to start our day’s journey to Nuwara Eliya. Our first stop on the way was Hemachandras (Kandy) Limited, a famous gemstone center. At this gemstone center we watched a movie explaining the excavation process and then we went in the factory to see the workers.

As we continued to make our way higher and higher in the mountains to Nuwara Eliya, we passed beautiful tea plantations.

We stopped at Glenloch Tea Factory where we got to get a tour of the factory and learned how the tea is made.

We then drove about 10 minutes to reach Ramboda Falls. We hiked a bit towards the falls and then had a late lunch overlooking the falls.

After lunch we went to two more tea plantations: Blue Field Tea Factory and Danton Tea Factory.

We then continued into higher and higher elevations to reach the town of Nuwara Eliya for the evening.

January 10 was a big driving day. We drove about two hours from Nuwara Eliya to Ella and stopped for some coffee at Chill. Then we drove about five more hours before reaching Weligama. Along the way we stopped at a waterfall and at some markets along the road to try some local bananas and the famous Sri Lankan curd with honey.

After checking into our hostel in Weligama, we walked along the beach to find a casual spot for dinner. We ended up eating at Catamaran and ordered traditional chicken kottu roti. We spent the evening relaxing at our hostel, Basecamp (another great hostel we looked into is Ceylon Sliders, but it was fully booked).

We spent the remaining five days of our travels between the beaches in Weligama and Mirissa. We enjoyed complimentary, local breakfasts at Basecamp, laid on the beach, surfed, did some sunrise yoga, and laid on the beach some more.

We took some initial surfing lessons at Batu Surf School and then, once we were pros, we rented boards from Surfer’s Paradise.

We had local (and a few Western) lunches at Hangten, W15, Zephyrs, and The Doctor’s House.

And some amazing spots for dinner were Tiki Bar, Chef Akila, Kama Mirissa, and Big Fish.

Weligama is truly a surfer’s paradise with amazing food and a perfect climate. Surf board rentals are less than $2/hour and the food was amazing. Everyone we met was exceptionally welcoming and we were amazed by the hospitality of all the locals. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to end our 5 month journey!!! 😁

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