Luxtripper Travel Editor
We loved Sri Lanka and we hope you do too!
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of stepping out of an airport and feeling that wave of heat hit you, I swear the thick, warm air has healing properties. As I tucked my cardigan back into my suitcase and chucked on my Ray Bans, I couldn’t help but smile as I gazed upon my new beautiful surroundings. Where do I begin? How do I fit the whole of Sri Lanka's history and culture into one trip? I guess I’d better hail a tuk tuk and find out.
I spent the morning travelling through Sri Lanka's lush forests and past street food vendors and the alluring smell of their freshly made roti’s until I arrived at the most impressive boulder I had ever seen. Trails of beautiful lotus-laden water ways led me to the towering Sigiriya Rock, and I must admit I was a bit intimidated by how many stairs I was going to have to climb to get to the top, but once I saw an elderly couple about half way up I pretty much ran towards it.
After an energising climb to the summit of the Cultural Triangle I was rewarded by one of the most incredible ancient sites I had ever seen, crumbling walls and dusty ruins revealed not only the beautiful palace that once stood there, but also the impressive structural planning that went into it. After taking in the panoramic vistas of endless green tree tops and sparkling lakes that surrounded this incredible rock, I grabbed my partner so we could snap a shot of us standing on top of the world, for Instagram of course.
With one UNESCO World Heritage site down, it was time to visit the next one, and there’s eight in Sri Lanka alone! While Sigiriya Rock resides within the heart of the island’s world famous Cultural Triangle, my next stop makes up one point of it. I’d read that Polonnaruwa was once the ancient capital between the 11th and 13th centuries and truly represents the handiwork and craft of medieval Sri Lanka at it’s finest.
As I gently touched the weathered rocks while walking by, I couldn’t help but notice how serenely quiet everything was here, all I could hear was the gentle whispers of others and the buzzing of insects in the forests, it was almost magical. How has somewhere this aged stayed so well preserved? Some of the buildings and Buddha’s are made almost entirely of stone, so they look almost exactly like they did thousands of years ago.
Nestled in the centre of the Cultural Triangle sits Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks, both boasting stunning dry tropical forests, steamy wetlands and lush greenery that’s home to spotted deer, macaques, monkeys, sloth bears and many wild birds. Most notably though (and my reason for coming here) is that floating from one park to the other is a huge herd of beautiful free roaming Asian elephants, and I knew I had to do everything in my power to see them.
One morning we caught wind that the elephants were moving within Kaudalla, so we hopped in a jeep and set off to find them. The journey was bumpy but full of laughter and fun conversations with our driver who I’m sure knew almost everything there was to know about the park, but once we arrived we suddenly became quiet and was on the look out for wild animals. Though that all went out of the window when from behind a tall female elephant walked out the tiniest beautiful baby elephant who must have been no taller then my waist, and that was the point in the trip when I knew I’d witnessed something truly special and unforgettable. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone back home.
So far I’d seen incredible ruins of bygone eras and witnessed beautiful animals in their natural homes, so I was ready for something a little different. Dambulla Caves’ richly painted temple walls date back to the 1st century and holds a huge collection of 150 Buddha statues, all astoundingly well preserved. Upon arriving I looked straight up and came face to face with a gigantic, golden statue that glittered in the sunlight, it was spectacular.
As we wandered from one beautifully coloured cave to the other, I just couldn’t believe how remarkable every statue and each delicate detail looked, it was almost as if the caves had cast a spell on the relics it was housing that kept them suspended in time. That evening we found a stunning local restaurant and enjoyed an incredible banquet of Sri Lankan curries and steaming rice, it was the perfect way to end the day.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I visit somewhere new and exciting, I always make sure I put aside time to trawl through it’s eclectic and colourful markets. Under the heat of shaded tents, haggling for sparkling trinkets and trying local delicacies and teas is when I’m truly in my element. We made a beeline for Kandy as I’d read that the whole city itself was a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s location among the misty mountains and next to an idyllic lake made it feel more like a beautiful colonial town then a famous city.
I headed past the colourful old buildings towards the golden roofed Temple of the Tooth. As soon as I walked into the two storied shrine I could smell the delicate scent of incense floating through the warm air and could hear the drumming and chanting of a prayer ritual. I was mesmerised by the mahogany framework and stone pillars that were dressed with colourful fabrics and motifs. It is said that one of Buddha’s sacred teeth is stored here, and locals holding beautifully crafted floral offerings were queuing to make their blessings to it. This incredible experience is a must-do for everyone who visits Sri Lanka, as you wander the halls of the temple you can’t help but feel calmer and more relaxed by all of it.
It would be an absolute injustice to the people and the history of Sri Lanka if I didn’t visit the Tea Country in the central district of the country, so we grabbed our bags and went to Dickoya Castlereagh. I can honestly say that this was the most beautiful part of Sri Lanka we had seen so far, as we drove through the countryside I was truly blown away by the sublime hues of green that clung to the smoky mountains.
Sprawling layers of rice terraces stretched further then my eyes could see, and colourfully clothed tea pickers smiled and waved at us as we drove by. Ceylon is old name of Sri Lanka, and is therefore the name of the tea produce that comes from the many factories that reside within this part of the island, so we headed to one of them to see the magic as it happens! Be sure to take a tour around these great factories, I loved the smell that filled the air as we walked past mountains of freshly picked tea leaves.
It’s said that the scenery along the railway journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is the most gorgeous place you’ll ever witness in your life, and this was one of the experiences I was most looking forward to! Here’s a little tip from me, make sure you grab a 2nd class seat on the train, as you’ll get comfy seats and windows that open so you can look out at the surroundings without obstruction.
We boarded the train and as it slowly broke away from the station, we let our shoulders relax and we decided to watch the background shift from town buildings into beautiful hills. After a little while I laid my arms along the window sill and let my head rest in my hands as the sun warmed my skin, and took in the endless views of sublime mountains, rolling hills and valleys, and locals picking their teas and walking along the country paths, it was honestly a once in a lifetime experience that I know I will never, ever forget.
Picture the scene. It’s 5am and the sun is just beginning to rise and is filling the sky with shades of red and orange, the climate has shifted from the cool and wet climate of the mountains to the drier more arid plains of Yala National Park, and I’m slightly sleepily climbing into a jeep for a chance to see the a. As we rolled away from the drive and headed for the wild bushes, I was immediately awakened by the act of staying as quiet as possible and keeping an eye out for hidden animals!
We gasped excitedly as we saw spotted deers run among the forests, peacocks displaying their gorgeous colours and even a few more elephants walking in pairs through the thicket, one even pretended to charge at me! As we turned a corner past a colony of curling tree branches, I spotted a leopard leaping through the forests and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was, and I knew I’d experienced so much more of Sri Lanka then I ever thought I would.
For the final part of our journey, we headed to Talpe Beach for some rest and relaxation. Before the sun set along the beach front, we grabbed a king coconut each and found a spot on the sands overlooking the ocean. We sat on my sarong and sipped our drinks while watching the Sri Lankan stilt fisherman collect their catch of the day while suspended on thin, wooden stilts against the backdrop of a sublime golden sunset. If there was ever a perfect photo op that encapsulated the peace and beauty of this stunning island, this was it.
After sundown we hopped in a colourful tuk tuk to the nearby Unwatuna Beach and I couldn’t believe what we found. Towering fire pits cast smoke trails into the night sky, neon lights blinked to the rhythm of music blaring from huge speakers, and large colourful bean bags and daybeds were lying along the beach front, drawing couples and groups of friends to sit and share their stories of their trips around the world. It was like I’d been transported to Thailand 15 years ago, maybe this is the new cool, seemingly undiscovered place to be? As my partner passed me a colourful cocktail, I laid back onto our colourful bean bag and exhaled, finally taking a chance to truly take in the beauty of the gorgeous twinkling stars that filled the warm night sky.