Sri Lanka - Where to Stay and What to Do
Following from my last post relating to some logistical things to know about traveling in Sri Lanka, I'd like to share with you some info on nice places to stay / visit and stuff to do on the South Coast and in the Hill Country which is where I spent a week.
In regards to our itinerary, we a started in Colombo as it's the capital and major city closest to the international airport. I only allocated about 12 hours (overnight) here as I'd heard from several sources it's a bit of a non-event kind of place. If you're in to exploring markets and Buddhist temples, it might be worth giving yourself more time. After a touch-and-go mission in Colombo, we hit the new Southern Expressway south to the beaches. We made a short stop in Galle, a 17th-century Dutch city-within-a-fort, and continued on to Mirissa, one of the South Coast's most popular beaches. Many people go to Mirissa for the surfing, as well as the opportunity to see whales and dolphins on organised boat cruises. From Mirissa, we had only a short drive to Talalla Retreat, a surf and yoga haven near the beach.
My traveling companion, Jenni, knows the Aussie owner of this retreat but unfortunately he wasn't there when we visited for the afternoon. We would have stayed here if it hadn't been booked out when we checked; it is just lovely. The food is delicious, the grounds are beautiful and the vibe is totally chilled out. In the centre of the resort is a big pool, lined with hammocks and lounge chairs, and a lovely yoga pavilion which accommodates two classes per day. The retreat is a few minute walk to the beach which is apparently quite a good surf break. I loved the monkeys running around and the open-air rooms. Perhaps not ideal for a honeymoon as I'm not sure how much privacy you'd get here but I thought the rooms looked lovely and their prices are very reasonable.
From Talalla, we made tracks toward Tangalle, a less crowded ribbon of sand a little further along. Here we stayed the night in a quaint little bungalow called Little Tamarind which was a 3-minute walk to the most stunning palm tree-fringed, golden-sand beach which didn't have a soul in sight. Divine.
Little Tamarind, Tangalle
The bungalow is owned by a lovely French family who, when we were there, were just putting the finishing touches on their new restaurant as well as several more upmarket rooms on the property. The food here was beautiful and the water views from the restaurant were amazing. The beach close by is very private and tucked in an 800-metre crescent-shaped cove. We only had to share the sand with the guests staying at the Amanwella Resort which is a super-luxe resort at the other end of the cove. It's crazy expensive (USD $600-800 per night) but supposedly divine. From my spying efforts, it looked pretty bloody good to me!!
We reluctantly left our private beach and ventured inland to the Hill Country, making a quick stop in Uda Walawe National Park to check out some elephants. From here, we winded our way up to the famous Ceylon tea region of Sri Lanka where the climate is much cooler and the landscape much greener. We put down roots for two days at Sherwood Tea Plantation, a beautiful estate house with 360-degree views of tea fields.
Sherwood Tea Plantation, Haputale
It's always the homesteads like this one where you get the best food! We were the only two staying here and we had staff who anticipated and catered for our every need. A little off the beaten tourist track but well-worth it for a taste of authentic Sri Lanka.
In Haputale, you can do the gorgeous (and hilly!) walk to Lipton's Seat viewpoint for some stunning misty mountain top vistas.
While I'm the area, we were recommended to visit the Aislaby Estate tea plantation. It was closed when we got there so instead we decided to pop into Kirchhayn bungalow for an afternoon tea.
Kirchhayn Bungalow, Bandarawela
The rooms looked big and cushy and the grounds were gorgeous, even in the misty rain. Think colonial estate with private tennis court, pool, etc. set on a beautiful tea plantation. This is the kind of place you'd stay with a family and waltz around all day in a big white robe, having cups of tea and biscuits and reading by the fire.
A little less than an hour away is the town of Ella which has a cruisey vibe and way more tourists. Ella is a great place for doing walks to waterfalls and mountain peaks. We really enjoyed the walk to Little Adam's Peak which is, from town, about 1.5 hours round trip including lots of time at the top to absorb the views.
We weren't mad on our guesthouse so hopefully you have better luck with accom when you come to Ella. If you feel like breaking the bank and going a bit fancy pants, book your accommodation at 98 Acres Resort. We didn't stay here but admired from afar.
From Ella, it's quite a ways (about 5 hours drive) to Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka, and a hub of the Cultural Triangle, known for its temples and gardens. We only had a day and a half here before heading back to Colombo to fly out. There wasn't heaps to see or do here so I think you could give it a miss.
If I were to visit Sri Lanka again (and I plan to!), instead of moving from place to place every night, I would set up camp (not literally - hopefully next trip will be a bit more luxe!) for half my time at the beach and the other half in the Hill Country. At the beach, I'd stay at either Talalla Retreat or somewhere in Tangalle enjoying the sun and salt water on an uncrowded postcard-worthy beach, swimming and snorkelling. In the Hill Country, I'd stay in Haputale or Ella and curl up with a cup of tea on a cozy estate plantation amidst the rolling hills and majestic mountains. Otherwise, if I was feeling more adventurous, I'd explore the beaches on the east coast (like surfy Aragum Bay) and/or head up into the north to check out the plethora of temples and cultural sites. So much to see!
Every time I think I'm going to tick something off my 'Places to Visit' list, I add at least a few new ones on! I suppose there are worse things in life, eh?!
What cities or countries are on your Places to Visit list? Have you considered traveling to Sri Lanka? Always keen to hear from you!
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