We loved Sri Lanka. The New York Times had it right when they deemed it destination of the year 2010. This country – its land, its people, its beaches, its food, its wildlife – is gorgeous. It was clean and un-hurried. There was never a smash of people and it didn’t feel over run with tourists. All this only a 5 hour travel time from Penang. Don’t miss an opportunity to get there!
Getting there. We had a late evening Malaysian Airlines flight out of Penang and landed in Colombo just before midnight. Immigration was smooth with our online-obtained visas, and we were welcomed to Sri Lanka with a smile and a SIM card (pre-loaded with credit). We checked in easily to our hotel, which was waiting with baby cots. Seamless! The next morning, we hopped in a taxi-van (arranged through the hotel) for a four hour ride to Kandy. We bumped along and watched the green country roll by.
Kandy. First stop Kandy train station, where we secured 6 of the remaining 8 seats for the ride to Ella in three days time. Off to our hotel. The Cinnamon Citadel was on a river, and seemed miles from town. It took us a bit of room shuffling, but we finally ended up in two rooms in the garden just beneath the pool (261 & 262). Each night, at dusk, the colonies of fruit bats from the nearby botanical garden would take wing and go out to feed. We spent three days here, heading into town to see the Temple of the Tooth, youth park and the spectacular botanical gardens. Mostly we just relaxed, my husband spent the majority of the time in his Sri Lankan sarong, receiving a namaste-style greeting from every male server when he once wore it to dinner.
The Train. Again, no crush, no rush, it was easy to get on the train. We found our seat and settled in for the 7 hour ride. There was a group of about 10 boys in the back of our car, with drums and a tamborine, and they provided a soundtrack of folk music for the first 3 hours. The train stopped every 20 minutes or so at a station, and vendors sold samosas, yogurts, water and fruit through the windows or hurriedly in the aisles. The views from the windows were stunning. We arrived on time to quaint Ella.
Ella. There’s not a ton going on in Ella, but the view from our hotel was enough entertainment for the 2 nights we had. Mountain Heavens was located right at the center of the top of the Ella Gap, and we spent sunrises and sundowners on our huge balconies taking it in. The stars in the new moon sky were fantastic. In between, we visited a tea factory that smelled strongly and pleasantly of, well, tea. We took a few walks down the railroad tracks, and submitted the Small Adam’s Peak. It was dry (especially on Sri Lankan National Day Feb 4 – all the bars were shut!), cool and relaxing. Exhale.
Uda Walawe National Park. We hemmed and hawed on whether or not to stop by the elephant park on the way to the beach. It would be noon, hot, and would we even see any animals? In the end we did stop (may as well support the national park with our entrance fee) and it was a great decision! We had a fully canopied jeep which means at noon that everyone inside has shade. We bumped through the park for about 2 hours, seeing an astounding number of animals, elephants being the highlight, but also water buffalo, a python and an assortment of birds. This was a major highlight of the trip for me, and the kids loved it!
Marwella Beach. We pulled into the Tangalle Mansion at 5pm, took off our shoes and made for the beach. The sand was powdery and felt like velvet, the sea cool and marvelously clear and clean. The kids ran, caught clams (which we ate at dinner), and got soaked in the surf. The next 3 days would follow a delightful beachy routine, complete with sand, surf, drinks and fantastic meals in the courtyard. We only saw our staff and the fishermen, the beach had no hotel and only a few other villas to provide tourists. It was breezy, tropical, quiet, perfect.
Colombo. Alas, we had to leave paradise. We replaced our shoes that had not been worn for 3 days, loaded back up in the van and drove clockwise along the coast, stopping in Galle, with it’s European charm, for lunch. I was shocked how different the sea was after we rounded the 6 o’clock point on the island, it was calmer and the sand was rougher. There were little rock formations to scuba around and we saw lots of whale watchers and surfers. Here we found the tourists. We arrived in Colombo at sunset for the night, at another very nice Cinnamon hotel. Determined to explore, our family ventured out for dinner, wandering the deserted unlit streets and got the runaround by some tuk-tuk drivers. Colombo redeemed itself the next morning as we wandered around the market and had delicious local breakfast. It was time to go home.
I would also recommend the driver we used, Upul. He is good at responding to SMS (will even call you internationally to make plans). His van seats 10 passengers, has working seatbelts and A/C: +94 (77) 792 0580