After Cuba, this is the second trip with our friends Kurt, Rita, Ulli, and Tom. We have already discussed that we will spend the first 3 days in Negombo to get used to the climate, then go on tour through the island and that there also should be time to enjoy the beautiful beaches. But we don’t have an accurate plan and so we are all excited about what will await us.
We already booked the first few nights in "Jetwing Sea" together with the flight. Coming from Zurich, we arrive at Negombo at 3.00 a.m. The bus transfer to our hotel works very well and we are prepared that we can’t check in at this time of course. But while we enjoy a delicious fruit juice as a welcome drink, the receptionist tries to get rooms which we can move in immediately. This effort and the friendliness of the people here, we will find again and again during the next weeks.
After breakfast, we first take a walk to explore the surrounding area. We aren’t used to the sultry heat yet, and since it seems that we leave the city more and more, we stop two Tuk-Tuks to take us to the centre. Our drivers Fernando and Abdullah try to explain everything we see on our way and so we get almost a sightseeing tour. The fish market is a must. Here the catch is cut, salted and dried in the sun. It smells terrible.
On our first day, we are already victims of a classic rip off in a Spice Garden. There tourists first get informed that the guide is free, but if required, one can finally give a small Obulus. There are less than 10 plants to be seen, but then follows a "sales show" and a massive oppression in the added shop to buy corresponding products. And the height of the obulus is also not that selectable.
In the afternoon we meet a guy at the Hotel’s beach who offers boat trips through the harbour and the Mangrove swamp.
At 10 o'clock next day he picks us up and together we walk a short distance to a canal created by the Dutch. There we descend into the boat and chug the incredibly dirty waterway along the harbour. At the side are colourful fishing boats and the men are mending their nets. The children along the way laugh and waving at us, especially when they notice that they are photographed. We see beautiful kingfishers, vultures, herons and eagles. We don’t find any crocodiles, but a lot of monkeys, which can be lured directly into the boat with a bit of fresh fruit and then they swim back to shore. We end the wonderful day with super delicious food in the "Beach Lodge".
Actually, today we wanted to go to Colombo, but first, it rains and later it is so sultry and hot that we don’t like to go for a City trip. This day we have to contact our driver Surash, who was recommended to us by a friend and we also want to get a SIM card to make cheap phone calls. We take dinner at the Steakhouse, which is right next to our hotel and also here meal is very excellent.
On Day 4 we travel on to Ella. Although it is only a 250 km distance, it takes more than 7 hours to reach the small village in the mountains. During the ride, it rains again and again, but in Ella it is dry and soon we also find an accommodation. We are tired of the long drive and so we only take dinner and fall asleep. Surash returns to Colombo and will come back in a few days together with our friend Kumar.
In Sri Lanka, it is easy to organize things. No matter if you need a guide, a driver or just a tip for good food - there is always someone who knows someone who is waiting to be called.
So we also have a guide for the next day. We take the public bus to a nearby waterfall. Then we continue on foot to Little Adam's Peak, from where we have a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains (like the Ella's Rock) and valleys. Through tea plantations, we walk to our guide’s house, which is located on a hill directly above the 9-Arches Bridge. There we wait for the old train coming from Kandy. Through the jungle, we walk back to Ella, where we enjoy a cold Lion beer. Despite the low season, the village is busy. Ella seems to consist almost exclusively of hotels, homestays, bars, restaurants and small shops because almost all tourists make the train ride from Kandy to here.
Our guide from yesterday has organized a driver to take us to Nuwara Eliya. After a short stop in a Buddhist temple, the steep and winding mountain road goes up to 1,900 meters.
Nuwara awaits us with a cold wind and 15 degrees. After checking in at the Hotel Inroma, Tuk-Tuks take us to the Gregory Park next to the nearby lake. We walk along the bank, but the weather is really uncomfortable, so we get to the city and first visit the post office, a Tudor style building. That is the only beauty in the city that we perceive as loud, chaotic and dirty. We haven’t discovered any of the former British magnificent buildings on this first day. Since in the hotel the hot water doesn’t work, we warm ourselves with tea and rum.
Next day, we organize a driver into the Horton Plains National Park. To observe animals, we should have had to leave at 5 o'clock in the morning. But we start at 10 a.m. and even so we enjoy the ride through the beautiful landscape. Vegetable farming, orchards and small villages alternate. As we get higher and higher, it gets so foggy that we are afraid that we will hardly see anything. The entrance fee to the park is quite high (6,000 rupees per person) but at least the mist is distorted and we enjoy the walk on a nearly 9 km circular route with a constantly changing landscape, whose highlights are World's End and the Baker's Falls. Quite tired we return and ask the driver to drop us off at Nuwara in a pub. This is the only place where you get a beer. While we are still eating curry, the light falls out all over the city and so the evening ends at our hotel by candlelight and whiskey, which we had bought at the airport.
The next day Surash and Kumar arrive and we go on to Kandy.
First stop on the way to Kandy is the tea factory Glenloch. Of course, we try different kinds of teas, get a guided tour through the factory and take some tea as a present for our family and friends.
Since our hike in the Horton Park, Tom's foot hurts and so we take a golf cart in the Botanical Garden of Kandy, which brings us through the spacious park. We are deeply impressed by the variety of plants and trees and the beauty of the complex. Then we check in at the Hotel Suisse - an old Grand Hotel with perfect service. We have only a few minutes to be on time for the evening ceremony in the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. It is a very spiritual experience and since Kumar himself is a priest, we get a lot of background information. Surash takes us to a nice roof restaurant, where we dine - as every day so far - excellent.
Unlike the cold nights in Nuwara we sleep wonderfully here and after an extensive breakfast, we drive to an elephant sanctuary. On the way we stop at a Spice Garden, this time it is really interesting. We are not sure if the elephants are happy and their terrain seems quite small. Only the bath in the river, which they can take in the afternoon, seems to be fun. That evening we have tickets for a dance show in Kandy, which turns out to be a colourful spectacle with a short fire show at the end. Afterwards, Surash takes us to a restaurant at the Viewpoint, from where we have a wonderful view on Kandy. Some musicians sing songs from the 60s, the service is perfect and the food is unique.
Next morning the staff surprise Ulli with a birthday cake for breakfast. We fulfil her wish for a safari and for this we move on to Dambulla. Kumar leaves us on the way and promises to meet us in a few days on the east coast.
We drive into a nature reserve by jeep and soon an elephant bull comes nearer to us than we like. It is something quite different to watch animals in freedom. Even if we get some bruises on the ride through the washed out paths, we enjoy the trip very much.
Then we continue towards Trincomalee, which we reach in darkness. We have reserved rooms at the Sea Lotus Park Hotel while driving and because it makes a good impression and is located next to the sea, we decide to stay. After dinner, we pay Surash for his previous trips and send him back to Colombo. Since we don’t know what we are going to do in the next few days, we don’t want to stop him unnecessarily long.
It is a rather long distance from our hotel to the city, but we walk along the beach to find some nice spots. Apart from Fernando's bar, where we have eaten yesterday, and an office that offers snorkel-/dive-trips and whale-/dolphin-watching, there are only fishermen who pull their nets ashore. The city itself is just as dirty and noisy as Newara. A bit disappointed we go back by Tuk-Tuk and find a few nice restaurants near our hotel, which we can reach on foot in the evening.
The next day we go snorkelling at Pigeon Island with Thussi Tours. A nice day, even if the small island is quite crowded and the snorkel area quite small. But as an absolute highlight, we see a turtle and even a small shark. In the evening we drive to the Swami Rock and visit the Hindu temple. At the Dutsch Bank Café we have dinner and then we finish the day with a fine glass of wine on the hotel terrace.
Kumar calls to tell us that he is on his way to the north and will not meet us anymore. So we only go to the city to change some money and spend the rest of the day at the pool/sea. The pool is however no longer usable, since yesterday half of the village people have bathed there fully dressed. But we have a wonderful last evening in the hotel Trinco Blu. At their restaurant "The Crab", one can dine on a wooden deck directly at the beach and enjoy great music and a beautiful ambience.
If you are not here for relaxing, diving or snorkelling, Trincomalee doesn’t have much to offer and we agree that two days would have been enough. Now we are looking forward to our next stop, Arugam Bay.
The ride along the east coast is much faster than in the mountains. The landscape is not quite as varied here and again we have heavy rain while driving. So far, we had been really lucky. Whenever it rained, we were on the road or were already sitting in a hotel or restaurant.
We booked rooms at the Shell Resort on booking.com. It is not located at the sea but is furnished like a small jungle camp. Since Arugam Bay is known as a surf spot, there are many young people here. Shops, bars and restaurants line up along the bay and we find a nice place where it is so relaxed that we don’t only take a few drinks, but later also eat there. Late at night, we go back to the Shell Resort, of course by Tuk-Tuk.
Since we only stay 2 nights, after breakfast, we discuss what we would like to do in our last vacation week. We decide to take a longer break in Tangalle and then spend the last two days in Colombo. Driver and hotel are quickly organized. So the rest of the day we have time to go shopping, walk on the beach, watch the surfers and just relax.
Sanji's Seaside Cabanas are a fantastic oasis with 8 bungalows, a small main house and pool. Sanji, who has been working for a long time in Munich, takes really care of his place and you notice this at every corner. If you just want to relax, this is the place to go.
After arriving in the afternoon, we stroll just a bit along the beach, bounce into the pool and have dinner here. Therefore, the stuff places tables at the beach, lit candles and serve the three-course menu.
The next day we have another birthday child among us. We get a kind of milky-rice-cake with candles for breakfast. Then we drive to Tangalle to have a look what we can do in the next 4 days. Tangalle was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami, so much has been rebuilt. In some places, however, there are still destroyed houses left by the inhabitants. A mark indicates how high the water was. We have often noticed that in Sri Lanka, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims live very peacefully side by side, and here in Tangalle, too, this is very visible. At 8 p.m. we set off for Turtle Point. Here one can observe sea turtles as they go ashore and lay eggs. We are really lucky to see one, but the place to lay eggs does not seem to please her and so she returns slowly to the sea.
Back at Sanji, we fire some birthday rockets, which make a lot of noise. But no one seems to have awakened.
A fishing boat takes us along the coast next morning, but as the sea is very rough and the fish don’t bite we return to the harbour after an hour. The 12,000 rupees we pay are definitely too much, but exceptionally we can’t bargain. A nearby bay is famous for snorkelling directly from the beach, but since it’s Sunday, the place is overcrowded and there is also no shady place. It is very, very hot. As a market takes place we decide to walk through the large market hall, where it is loud and colourful. Equipped with nuts, wine and Arrak, we sit together in front of one of our bungalows in the evening and look at the pics we have done so far.
We spend our last day quite lazy at the pool and dine again at Sanji. He already organized a driver for the trip to Colombo and so we just have to book the hotel for our last two days.
The trip across the highway to Colombo leads through a beautiful area. We regret that we have spent so much time in Trincomalee and unfortunately will not be able to make a stop in Galle. Around Colombo, the traffic becomes stronger and so it is late in the afternoon when we arrive at Mandarina Hotel. In the evening we walk to a nearby park and end up at the Mango Tree, which I found as a restaurant tip on the Internet. The service is initially very bad - we are the first guests - but the food is fantastic. It's Children's Day, which means that in all of Sri Lanka no alcohol is served.
Pettah, the oriental bazaar, is our aim the next morning. We have got used to the crowded, noisy streets, but here everything is much, much more turbulent. What a hustle and bustle, just gorgeous. Only the heat is hard to bear and therefore we drive to the Cinnamond Grand in the afternoon. Here we take lunch and go shopping in the adjoining shopping mall. Chris is not doing well today, and until we get back to the hotel, he has a high fever. The mosquito bites and sandflies have left a heavy mark and we hope that it is nothing serious.
The next day, the fever is almost gone and since our flight departs at 9 p.m., we walk through the zoo. In the morning it has rained and it is that sultry, that even my camera is constantly misted and reports a system error. At Barefoot, we buy last souvenirs and have some last Lion Beers in the Garden there.
Sri Lanka offers a breathtaking, diverse landscape and impresses with beautiful Hindu and Buddhist temples. People are just wonderful: friendly, open-minded and always ready to help. The island can be travelled well all year round because if it rains on the west coast, it is dry in the east and vice versa.
Accommodation is available in every price class and if you don’t travel during main season reserving is not necessary. Also, a driver for the next travel stage is easily organized everywhere.
The network of ATMs is big, alternatively, you can change money everywhere. It is worth to compare rates and to bargain.
The distances are not to be underestimated. Especially in the highlands, you can easily need 4 to 5 hours for 200 km. Mosquito protection is absolutely recommended.
- Sarath Boat Tours, Negombo
- Curry in The Beach Lodge, Negombo
- Horton Plains National Park, Nuwara Eliya
- Kandy, 6.30 p.m. Ceremony Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic
- snorkelling/diving with P. Thussi, 32 Alles Garden Uppuveli, Trincomalee
- Trinco Blu, Restaurant The Crab, Trincomalee
- for surfing, relaxing, partying: Arugam Bay
- Sanji's Seaside Cabanas, wonderful, small area in Tangalle
- Barefoot, Colombo
- Pettah Market, Colombo