The Route and Departure to Sri Lanka
I was very excited to go on my trip to Sri Lanka because I had planned and arranged everything on my own. I prefer traveling to Asia and had Sri Lanka on my list for a while. Many of my friends had been and I heard great stories about their experiences, so now it was time to experience it myself. My cousin had also wanted to visit the country and joined me.
I wanted to see as much as possible so I calculated the route by looking at the location of the attractions and the nights we would stay in each hotel to give us enough time to go for sightseeing. To visit the most important attractions we stayed in five different places in Sri Lanka. We started in the north in Habarana then went south to Kandy, which is located in the mountains. After an incredible four-hour train tour from Kandy further into the mountains to Nuwara Eliya, we then traveled to the Kitugala forest area. Our last travel was back to Negombo to have some beach time. I was thrilled and excited and hoped that everything would work out the way I planned.
My holiday started on 24th September at Amsterdam Schiphol. I booked my flights with Emirates first to Dubai and then from Dubai to Colombo. Our travel time was around 12 hours in total but less exhausting than expected. We arrived in Colombo the next morning at 8.45AM so our day was just getting started – I felt like I could use a very long nap by then!
The driver, which we booked from the Netherlands, was already waiting to bring us to our hotel in Habarana. The highway in Sri Lanka is a narrow two traffic lane with trucks, buses, and a variety of vehicles all on the same road. Pedestrians and animals also appear on the road without warning. In the beginning I had to get used to overtaking vehicles but our driver was managing that very well.
After a four hour drive we arrived at our hotel at the Cinnamon Lodge. This resort is nestled in nature’s serenity right in the heart of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. The bungalows are spread over 27 acres of wooded gardens amidst evergreen forest!
Swimming pool at Cinnamon Lodge Habarana
A Warm Welcome
The first day in our bungalow we got a very warm welcome from the monkeys! Actually, it was more like an ape attack. Once they saw us settling in the bungalow they started to climb on our balcony. We were a bit afraid so we closed our balcony door, but I had left my hair mask outside and one of the baby monkeys started eating it. The whole day and night monkeys were hanging around our bungalow. We could even hear them through the air-conditioner. At one point, there were 20 monkeys on our rooftop excitedly making noises. We ended up calling the reception to help us since they began throwing the roof tiles around!
The Kings Royal Palace – Pollonaruwa
The next morning the driver brought us to Pollonaruwa which was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura 993. It comprises besides the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas, the monumental ruins of the garden city created by King Parakramabahu.
First, we went to visit the ruins of the Ancient city. We entered the Archaeological Museum and right after walking out of the museum there were many locals selling postcards, sculptures and holy materials. Some could even speak Dutch – they had learned it from other tourists.
After the museum visit we went to the ruins named the Royal Palace Group. This group of buildings dates from the period of King Parakramabahu I (1153 – 1186). The Kings Royal Palace is a massive structure, measuring 31m by 13m, once including 50 rooms supported by 30 columns. Even today it is quite an impressive building, but picture it being seven floors tall with 3m thick walls, as the archaeologist’s claimed it once was.
The Kings Royal Palace
Walking further around this area we entered Gal Viahara. Gal Viahara is a group of four Buddhas in perfect condition, cut from granite. I thought the most impressive one was the reclining Buddha.
A reclining Buddha is a statue that represents Buddha lying down. It is a major iconographic and statuary pattern of Buddhism and represents the historical Buddha during his last illness, about to enter the parinirvana. He is lying on the right flank, his head resting on a cushion or relying on his right elbow, supporting his head with his hand.
The reclining Buddha at Gal Viahara is 14m long
The Lions Rock
The second day we had an amazing trip to the famous Sigiriya also known as the lion Rock “the eighth world wonder” and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This rock is nearly 200 metres high!
The top of this rock contains ruins of an ancient palace complex, built during the reign of King Kasyapa and surrounded by the Royal Garden. We climbed up the rock which has 1200 stairs. Luckily, we were prepared and had our sport shoes and water with us. The stairs were really slippery and at every end of the stairs there were many locals warning you and trying to help you up. While climbing up we discovered many paintings and depicting scenes of hundreds of women. The meaning and purpose of which still remains a mystery.
Standing in front of the Lions Rock
Stairs to climb the Lions Rock
Halfway up the rock we saw the lion’s claws. The igneous rock earned its name from the enormous lion which greets visitors halfway up the rock on a small plateau. A gateway to the Sigiriya, a lion carved from rock served to both welcome visitors and warn enemies.
We took a little break and rested here. While doing so, we saw many big wasps and got unexpectedly stung by them – not fun! We still had to further climb up to the top after that to get to the amazing 360 views. The last stairs were the hardest with 30 degrees vertical, but the view was incredible and so worth it!
Wasp Warning Sign at Lions Rock
Incredible Minneriya Resort Elephant Safari Tour
There are many national Parks in Sri Lanka with great wildlife so we decided to go to the popular Minneriya Resort which is rated as the 6th greatest animal spectacle by Lonely Planet. I had never gone on an animal safari before so this was an awesome chance for me to experience it. We decided to do an afternoon/evening safari as we could spot more elephants during the evening.
After a 30 minute drive we reached the park and spotted our first elephant along the way. Driving further into the park we spotted a group of elephants, also called the gathering, standing together and drinking water at the water reservoir. Many were also playing and snacking on the green grasses. The baby elephants were playing with mom and dad getting protected very well. A few times the baby elephant was trying to escape from mom and dad’s protection which was funny to see.
Beside us there were many other Jeeps in the park, and as the evening fell the field and the forest had a beautiful shimmer. While the sun started to sink more elephants came out of the shady trees walking towards the water reservoir.
Did you know: The Sri Lankan elephant is protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka (FFPO), and killing it carries the death penalty?
Baby elephant between mom and dad
Goodbye Habarana, welcome Kandy
The next morning, we drove from Habarana to Kandy which was around three hours. On our way we stopped at Dambulla Cave Temple also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. In this area there are a total of 153 Buddha statues and more than 80 caves with paintings and Buddha statues in the surrounding area.
Golden Temple Dambulla
Our driver and guide in Kandy
Our driver and guide, Gihan, was a great guy who made sure we visited all the important places and gave us advice on the best restaurants. He also bought us “narial pani”, which means coconut water in Hindi (not the Sri Lankan language, Sinhala), because he knew we really liked it!
We arrived in Kandy in late afternoon. The hotel we were staying in, Earls Regency, was on a hill amidst greenery and we had an amazing view over the city of Kandy. They had a buffet restaurant where we had a great dinner. The food in Sri Lanka in general is delicious with many fresh prepared vegetables – very tasty. It was a quick stay in Kandy for only one night. The next morning we had to catch the train for our train tour from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya which would take four hours.
Our driver and guide, Gihan
Amazing train tour from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
We had early breakfast and then left on our way to the train station.
The train trip was amazing. I was standing in the open doors while the train was moving and enjoyed the views of green carpets of the tea plantations, the amazing landscapes, mountains, and waterfalls.
We arrived around 1:30 PM at the train station and our driver picked us up. We could really feel the weather difference since it was pretty chilly in Nuwara Eliya. The temperature was around 14 degrees so we went from almost 30 degrees to 14 degrees! Nuwara Eliya, also referred to as little England due to the colonial architecture, is a city in the hill country with many tea plantations. We stayed at Salt Lake hotel and as the evening started to fall it got chillier even in our hotel room. That’s when we found out the heater wasn’t working! At some point it began storming and raining. I have to be honest, the night was challenging with the temperature, so I was happy it was only for one night.
The waterfalls of Ravana
Next up, we visited the waterfalls of Ravana. Many tourists were there to visit, so it was very busy. Walking on the rocks towards the waterfall was quite challenging too. It was very slippery and you had to walk very carefully in order to not fall down. Later we saw a sign that there had been 36 deaths to date by trying to climb the waterfall and slipping down from the rocks.
The falls are named after the legendary character Ravana, which is connected to the famous Indian epic, the Ramayana. According to legend, it is said that Ravana (who was the king of Sri Lanka at the time) had kidnapped princess Sita, and had hidden her in the caves behind this waterfall, now simply known as the Ravana Ella Cave.
Ceylon Tea Plantation
After leaving Ravana waterfalls we went to Bluefield Tea plantations where we got a tour through the factory and walked through the fields. The huge fields and amazing nature was very impressive to see. We had a guide who was showing us around and told us that tea production in Sri Lanka is one of the main sources of foreign exchange. The humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall of the country’s central highlands provide a climate that favors the production of high-quality tea.
Our trip to the Jungle
After visiting the tea plantation and tasting the tea in the restaurant, we headed on our way to Kitulgala. This is a small town in the west part of Sri Lanka and in the wet zone rain forest. We stayed at Ceylon Adventures an adventure sports and resort in the middle of the jungle. We got a bit lost on our way to Kitulgala and we reached the place late in the evening. It was hard to see our hotel, so we parked the car beside the road to figure out where we were. Two staff personnel came and told us we had to walk to our hotel from this point on. We followed them down some stairs into the woods. We could not see a glimpse of where we were going, we just disappeared into the woods. I think it was about a 10 minute walk in the middle of the jungle, crossing bridges and climbing up stairs before we finally saw some lights coming out of the woods where the bungalows were located. The next morning we discovered where we walked and were surprised to see an unexpected lake!
Later on, we decided to do something adventurous and go water rafting and confidence jumping from waterfalls.
The Academy Award-Winning, The Bridge on the River Kwai, was filmed on the Kelani River near Kitulgala. Although, nothing remains except the concrete foundations for the bridge (and, supposedly, the submerged train cars that plunged into the river in the climactic scene).
Rafting in the Kelani River and confidence jumping
Last night in Negombo
After the water rafting and confidence jumping we left for our last destination Negombo. This would be our last night. Again, our hotel was amazing. Golden Sands Hotel was located next to the beach. This was actually the first time we saw a beach in Sri Lanka. We were still tired of the adventure we had from our sport day, so we opted for a relaxing evening.
Golden Sands Hotel Negombo
Orphan House and Market Visit
On our last day in Sri Lanka we took advantage of our late evening flight and spent the day sightseeing in Negombo. We stopped at an orphan house to deliver presents for the children and to donate some money. Unfortunately the children were not there when we arrived as they went out for a holy festival. So we left the presents with their mentor who would give them to the children once they returned. We also got a tour of their living quarters while there.
After the orphan house we went to a market where they sell fish, fruits and vegetables. We made a round there and then it was time to go the airport.
I had such a great time and was able to see and learn a lot about Sri Lanka. I am so happy for these unforgettable moments!
Giving gifts to orphan house
Goods at the market