On my flight to Sri Lanka, I learned that it had just been ranked by Lonely Planet as 'Top Country to visit in 2019' so I was keen for my adventure to begin to find out why. Surprisingly, my highlights began even before I hit Sri Lankan soil. Our flight was scheduled to land in the Maldives and as we were coming in to land, we were treated to the most spectacular view of the islands, you could even pick out the water bungalows, incredible!
Our journey continued on to Colombo where we met with our Gadventures CEO (Chief Experience Officer). Gadventures use local CEO's, in our case our guide was UD who accompanied us throughout the week. We transferred half an hour north to Negombo where we checked into the Jetwing Sea Hotel. The hotel has a beautiful setting on the beach. Since it was just towards the tail end of monsoon season, we grew to expect rain and storms to roll in on a nightly basis from 6pm. That first nights storm was like nothing I've seen or heard before! But worth it for the picture perfect blue sky the next morning. Negombo is a working beach with plenty of fishing boats and nets dotted along the shore.
Next morning we started our journey inland to Kandy, stopping at Mawanella, renowned for its production of spices. Spice is one of the main industries in Sri Lanka. Our tour of the spice garden educated me in the fact that there is a spice to cure every ailment. Call me gullible but who wouldn't want shiny hair, a slim figure, no aches and pains, smooth skin, strong nails and a natural hair removal cream? To my good fortune the tour ended with a visit to the spice plantation shop. Prices here were not what I was expecting but then again I did want all of the above, so I stocked up! Lunch was the Sthree Craft Centre. GAdventures supports local communities worldwide as part of their Planeterra project. It is non-profit and at Sthree (which translates as ladies), the proceeds go towards funding the local women’s crisis centre. Each of the women working in Sthree had their own individual story.
We checked into the Hotel Thilanka overlooking Kandy Lake. Kandy was the ancient capital & is set high in the hills in the centre of the country. It is most famous for the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the most sacred places of Buddhist worship. Twice daily, ceremonial offerings are given at which time visitors queue to file past the golden casket in which the tooth is hidden beneath.
Getting off the beaten (tour) track leads to my favourite adventures and over the next few hours walking through Kandy we mixed with the locals, bartered in the markets, took a spin in a Tuk-Tuk, chanced crossing the road and learned that the spice plantation charges more than double what the markets do for the same products!!
Next morning, we packed up and headed for Nuwara Eliya. The hills outside Kandy are home to some of the most famous tea plantations in Sri Lanka. The misty hills and cool climate provide perfect conditions to grow the best varieties of tea. The views were stunning. We visited Glen Lock plantation which is set on 60 acres. The tea picking is done by women - over 200 work 6 days per week with just 5 days off per month in rain or sun. They handpick and collect at least 20kg of tea leaves per day!
Our journey to Ella would see us travelling by train on one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. Having spoken to a couple of people that previously travelled by train to Ella, they seemed disappointed for me that we didn't get blue skies and clear views, but I have to admit at the time I found the weather conditions brought a mystical feel to the trip. I spent most of the 3 hour journey hanging out of the train taking photos of the views.
It was apparent when we arrived in Ella that the small town is popular with backpackers who visit to take on one of the many hiking trails. The 8km trek to Ella Rock is the most popular alongside Little Adam's peak which is the 3km hike we opted for. The views are stunning, a photographers dream as you are surrounded by rainforest, waterfalls, mountains & tea plantations. While in Ella, I took a hairy 15 minute Tuk-Tuk ride to The Nine Arch Bridge, but it was nothing compared to the 10 min walk through the leech infested trail to the track. It was a constant mental battle trying to figure out if you should keep going or stop to check your legs. The whole terrifying experience was worth it to see the incredible panoramic view of the bridge.
Every day brought a new experience. Next stop was Udawalawe National Park. There are 26 National Parks in Sri Lanka, each with a dominant animal, in Udawalawe it is the Elephant. We hopped into our safari jeep and headed into the park to begin our search and were lucky enough to spot a few of the gentle giants.
Our home for the night was at Big Game Camping where we stayed in pre-pitched tents and enjoyed 'wilderness dining'. It was a great experience to sit around a campfire for the night with a drink and a sing song. The next morning as the campsite was in stillness, the sounds of the birds and animals around us was nothing short of magical.
The last part of our journey brought us 3 hours to Galle, located along the southwest. The walled city of Galle Fort with its Portuguese and Dutch influences is a beautiful world heritage site. With narrow streets offering restaurants and shops, it is the perfect place to spend a few wandering hours. We spent the afternoon at Unawatuna Beach, a banana shaped beach which is lined with plenty of beach bars.
We stopped off with the stilt fishermen, for of the most iconic traveller pictures from the area. The fishermen fish at sunrise and sunset. During the day, they hang about waiting for tourists to stop by and pay them to take photos. When I was offered to give the fishing a go, obviously I didn't say no!
Sri Lanka is the size of Scotland, and is home to almost 22 million people. Despite how small it is, due to the mountainous narrow roads, getting around takes a lot more time than you would expect. This was not my first group tour, but it was my first with GAdventures and I would have to say the experience was superior from the point of view of our guides knowledge and attention to detail and the standard of accommodation. Group sizes with G average at 10-12, with a wide range of ages. I'm already studying the brochure to decide on my next tour!!
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