View from Sigirya rock

A trip to Sri Lanka

Ideas for a relaxing holiday

Living in the Middle East is giving my wife and me the possibility to explore the eastern part of the world. Also, we usually try to be on holidays on our birthdays, so last August we headed to Sri Lanka.

It has been a while since our last vacation and we decided to take a few days off in the coastal village of Negombo north of the capital Colombo. As the tourist season was off the calendar, we enjoyed a laid back climate, little tourists roaming around and several locals spending time with their families before school started.

Negombo was our base from where we organized our two weeks trip to discover Sri Lanka; locals have been very helpful in providing directions and suggestions.

A beach in Sri Lanka

During the few days at the beach, relaxing and chilling with a few Lions (typical light Sri Lankan beer), we planned a much more hectic full-day in Colombo. A picturesque trip via tuk tuk allowed us to enjoy the Negombo Fishery Harbour and village scenes.

In the span of a few hours we stopped by several major attractions, from the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque to the Gangaramaya Temple passing by the St. Andrew’s Church, one of the local main fruit and veg markets, one of the first shopping malls (ODEL) and the Viharamaha Devi Park in the neighborhood of Cinnamon Gardens.

Here we go! It is time for the inner Sri Lanka with its ancient civilization, tea plantations and a city on top of a rock all culminating in one of the many beach locations on the island’s south west. Our trip will touch Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigirya, Kandy and culminate on the sea side of Unawatuna and Galle.

Anuradhapura once the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, presents many well preserved sites which granted it the title of one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The stay here was an intense three days of walks under blistering sun, across numerous stupas and temples. The one we particularly loved is the Isurumuni Raja Maha Viharaya.

One of the many Stupa’s in Anuradhapura

Travelling further east, we organised another three days stop for the second UNESCO World Heritage Site on our way, the city of Polonnaruwa and its royal ancient city in the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa. During the transfer day we took the time to reach the footstep of Sigirya Rock and climbed up to the tip of the rock on a cloudy day. Crowds of locals were celebrating one of their national religious days and arrived in mass to the rock making the ascent quite uncomfortable and at time very irritating.

Sigirya rock with climbing people

Kandy was our next destination not before a stop at the precious caves of Dambulla. The beautifully conserved Cave Temple complex is well known among tourists, however the low season made the experience very pleasant. In one of the caves, water drops through the rock into a collection jar; still as of today it is unknown where this water comes from and how it can reach that point.

The Esala Perahera is a celebration in honour of the Sacred Tooth Relic and four Gods in Kandy. Best time we could not choose to stay in Kandy exactly in the time of these ten days of celebrations. Lights, thousands of people and dressed up elephants warm up the streets of this calm city in the center of the hills of Kandy plateau. While in the city we visited the Degaldoruwa and Bahirawakanda temples and the nearby village of Paradenya and the beautiful Botanical Gardens.

A trip to Sri Lanka is not a proper one if you do not experience the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya (also known as Little England). The road from Kandy takes a passionate, curvy climb to some of the highest tea cultivations of our planet. As it is tradition, only women pick the tea leaves and few shy groups were busy in their daily work while we walked on one of the many fields. We visited Bluefields (Mount Harrow) where misty clouds and pouring rain accompanied us in the tea factory and most of the time through the hills. Two less known stops are the Ambewela farm and the Aadishakti Seeta Amman Temple (Sita Mata Temple) famous across the Indian community.

Tea plantation from train

Ella was our next visit but instead of the usual car commute, our driver strongly suggested we had hopped on the inexpensive, dramatic train sceneries. Covering the trajectory between Nanu Oya (Avissawella – Hatton – Nuwara Eliya) and Ella Railway Station (Wellawaya – Ella – Kumbalwela) in approximately two hours, such breathtaking train ride allowed us to enjoy the green tea plantations, mountain views, picturesque villages and their people.

At the arrival in Ella, a light rain welcomed us. Our journey across Sri Lanka was about to slow down in this unusual quick expanding village. A huge contrast between the home of the Sri Lankan curries and the booming of European style bars, cafes, restaurants and galleries was the most impressive discovery we made. Hiking the Little Adam’s Peak was the only activity we engaged on during the three days stop as rain constantly hanged around us.

Nine Arches Bridge

Last, but definitely not least, of our discoveries across this beautiful land, was the south east. Unawatuna beach was our base from where to explore Koggala, Weligama, Tangalle, Mirissa, Matara, Galle and its fort. This fort built by Portuguese and further developed by Dutch, is today home of several expensive bars, cafes and large number of boutiques and artists exhibits.

Main photo: View from Sigirya rock. All photos by Daniele Cermelli CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0

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