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A Guide to Exploring Sri Lanka

It is no wonder that Sri Lanka is nicknamed the pearl of the Indian Ocean: it is a land of natural beauty where mountain jungles, beautiful beaches and cultural treasures await around every corner.

On the Road

Hoping to explore as many of Sri Lanka’s charms as possible, we decide on a 10-day road trip. There were five of us on this adventure tour around former Ceylon – my mum, dad, sister Emily, our driver Saman and myself – and together we were exploring the homeland of my mum’s father, my grandfather.

The greatest luxury about a road trip is seeing all the scenic landscapes that you pass along the way. It’s these moments of serendipity in between destinations, where you witness the little things and see true Sri Lanka – like the man leading his herd of buffalo cattle along the road, a monk dressed in deep orange robes travelling to the nearest temple to pray, or wild monkeys hanging out with their clan in the tree canopy above.

Train Ride to Ella

Our most exciting journey is the 60-kilometre train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. We board the rickety mahogany-red carriage and travel in second class alongside locals and Western backpackers. The train winds along a simple railway track traversing through dense mountainous country.

For the majority of the journey my eyes are glued to the window; a kaleidoscope of green tropical hues blur past us as the train weaves its way through otherwise unreachable landscapes. The locals precariously hang from the open doors, and street sellers board the carriages selling Sri Lankan delicacies caked in cardamom spices. It’s a journey for the senses, as much as it is for the eyes.

Sri Lankan Cuisine

Reaching Ella, we refuel at Café Chill, ready for our hiking adventures the following day. My sister and I opt for the delicious lumprais: a ten-dish Sri Lankan curry with rice, served in a banana leaf and with a pot of coconut sambol on the side. The flavours are exquisite and it’s full of spice. It’s not just the food that’s alluring in Ella, but also the laidback, mountain village vibe. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained during the evening, and cooking classes are available during the day, too.

Little Adam’s Peak

The mountain calls, and come next morning we head straight for Little Adam’s Peak. Views of moss-green mountains surround us as we make our way along the windy trail. It’s a fairly gentle hike and it takes us 45 minutes to reach the top. Climbing the last few steps to the summit, a thick blanket of clouds engulfs us, obscuring the views and adding an element of mystery to the mountain. It doesn’t last for long. The white stratus moves gently along, revealing a landscape of vivid-green mountains trailing off into the distance.

On the way back down, we pass villagers selling handmade bracelets and a local lady who prepares us a concoction of fresh fruit and coconut juice, served in a king coconut, in her outdoor café perched above her humble plot of land – it’s the perfect refresher after climbing the mountain!

Nine Arch Bridge

Next on our agenda is a 1.5 kilometre hike to Nine Arch Bridge. Folding back the leaves of tropical trees that cross our path, we hike through the jungle – this trail is slightly wilder than the last – and after about 30 minutes we are rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the “bridge in the sky”.

Standing at 100 feet tall, and located almost 3,100 feet above sea level, the viaduct is an impressive feat of engineering. It was built almost 100 years ago, and is made purely from stone, bricks and cement – no iron or concrete whatsoever! We arrive in time to cross the bridge and perch in a prime spot on the other side just before the bright-blue train snakes it’s way along the man-made marvel. It appears slow and steady, chugging along, and people wave from its endless line of carriages. Before we know it, the train disappears from sight, back into the dense mountain jungle.

Surfing in Weligama

At the end of our family road trip, my sister and I head to Mirissa for a week of surf and yoga. Surf lessons take place a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride away, in neighbouring Weligama. Surfing here is a dream: the waves are perfect for beginners and intermediates – not too big, not too small, white waves and green waves – and the ocean is beautifully warm. There is nothing more peaceful than sitting on your board while the waves gently ripple underneath, as you look out at the turquoise-blue Indian Ocean beyond, waiting to catch the next perfect wave that approaches. The ultimate vitamin sea!

Sunset Yoga in Mirissa

Coconut Tree Hill, overlooking the ocean and with palm trees gently swaying as the sea breeze creeps over the hill, is our outdoor yoga studio for the week. It’s a serene place to practise sun salutations, where a tangerine sunset paints the sky and the distant waves form the soothing soundtrack. Mirissa has a chilled-out beach vibe, and in between surfing and yoga there are plenty of restaurants to feast on Sri Lankan curries and seafood so fresh you can almost taste the ocean! Not to mention the rotti shops, which serve up fillings ranging from avocado and cheese to mango and chocolate.

Climbing Adam’s Peak, Nallathanniya

As our trip nears its end, I make one last solo journey: to climb Adam’s Peak in the central highlands. A pilgrimage up Sri Pada Mountain – translated as sacred footprint in Buddhism – is most popular just before sunrise. I climb the mountain during the day, when it is less busy. There are 5,500 steps to the top, but it’s totally worth the climb. The trail passes through a small village, a huge Buddha statue, a talcum powder-white temple, and lush green mountains, some with small cascading waterfalls. The occasional monkey also makes an appearance, as you push through to the top.

The views at the top are incredibly green. The journey to the top seems to be the very essence of Sri Lanka – a place of natural beauty, where untamed landscapes lend to its unique charm.

Our tailor-made holidays to Sri Lanka can include all of these incredible activities and more – make an appointment to meet one of our Travel Consultants for more inspiration.

Written by Sophie Cole

Always dreaming about the next travel adventure, I am happiest when I am on the open road exploring the wild beauties of the natural world. I love a challenge, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, whether it’s learning to surf, running a marathon, hiking a mountain or skydiving through the African skies.

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