Some countries leave their mark immediately. Sri Lanka was most definitely one of those – there was no way I could stop the kind, attentive nature of the locals and spectacular mountains and beaches from winning me over. After all, there aren’t many other islands that can offer such an array of diverse wildlife (think elephants, leopards and turtles, to name a few) in such contrasting environments; curved bays with golden sands give way to lush green mountains. Sri Lanka really is a destination that punches way above its weight, something which I discovered for myself when I visited last November…
The best view is from the top
Jumping straight out of the main airport I set about finding my accommodation for the night in the outskirts of Colombo, the country’s capital. Here you’ll find a network of high-rise hotels, not to mention a delicious array of local cuisine, accompanied by equally delicious cocktails. But one of the beautiful things about being on an island is that you’re never far from the beach. We quickly learnt that the nearby city of Negombo is a much better place if just landing or, in our case, imminently departing. A more laid-back vibe and vast swathes of sand ensure for a more authentic Sri Lankan start or end to your holiday. With that said, we set off about 5am the next morning to search for some more intrepid experiences beyond the beaches – and we didn’t have to wait long.
The verdant, undulating mountains of Ella provide an opportunity to experience the varied landscapes of Sri Lanka first hand. Little Adam’s Peak is a good start, but if you really want the apex of views, Ella Rock will not disappoint. Roughly two hours up and two hours down, it’s worth the effort. Hopping between pillars on the unused railway track and meandering through long grass and steeped forest floors we eventually reached the summit, a jutting piece of rock serving up sweeping views to make even the steadiest legs shake a little. Be sure to pick up a large bottle of water and pack a light jumper. Whilst that might sound a bit much when you’re sitting in 20-25°C sunshine at the bottom, it can get a little chilly at the top, especially at sunrise!
Hopping from beach to beach
Moving on from the mountainous centre of the island, our next stop was the curvaceous coastal bays of the south. Starting at Tangalle on the east coast, we hopped between beach towns by car or the infamous (and cheap!) tuk-tuk. Whilst we were lucky enough to see the purple and pink sunsets of Unawatuna, the real highlight was the relatively new hotspot of Mirissa. A little further west on the coast, Hikkaduwa saw its heyday in the eighties and nineties but is now reduced in places to a small patch of sand littered with the floating debris of worn-down, beach-side buildings. Mirissa, however, hasn’t been spoilt in this way. Its combination of charming beach cafés,restaurants and bars – relaxing by day and beautifully lit by candlelight by night – make it impossible not to fall in love with the place. A brisk walk venturing past the main bay rewarded us with the discovery of a small bar that served ice-cold beer whilst the sun set over the Indian Ocean. The perfect way to watch another blissful day unwind.
Getting caught in the rain
Whilst travelling during monsoon season (Oct-Nov) does mean getting caught in the occasional tropical storm, it’s never really raining for longer than three or four hours at most, and the downpours almost-always happen in the late afternoon/evening, giving you plenty of time to soak up the sunshine in the morning and explore or relax, depending on your travel style. Travelling later (Dec-Apr) will put you in peak season, which means more crowds but less chance of any unplanned showers! But we didn’t mind the rain; who doesn’t love an evening lightning show above the Indian Ocean anyway?!
A little bit of luxury
From hiking the mountains in the centre, to sinking our toes in sand in the south, we’d had a busy 10 days, and were very much ready for some rest and recuperation. That’s exactly what we found in the sleepy town of Bentota. Staying at the AVANI Bentota Resort and Spa, the most exertion we had was the daily activity of switching between the pool or the adjacent (and deserted beach) for some ultimate chill time. Worth the quick tuk-tuk ride is a turtle sanctuary in the neighbouring town. With luck on our side we arrived late afternoon, just enough time to take a look at the inhabitants of the sanctuary ready for release into the wild that day. We were over the moon to have the opportunity to release a baby turtle into the sea ourselves, helping it get a strong start to its adult life. It was the perfect end to our holiday, where we got to see all that the diverse island of Sri Lanka has to offer.
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