Here’s to a country that was a huge surprise for me! Before buying tickets to Sri Lanka I had side thoughts like «Ok, I’ve been to Asia, I’ve seen different sides of it. What could possibly make me wonder?» — you know, that bad effect of traveling frequently. Good news: the former Ceylon has a lot to show you and to leave you in awe with its unusual climate zones, history, eternal tea fields, waterfalls, beautiful reserved areas with wild animals standing right next to the road and so much more. Don’t forget the railroad, of course!
Colombo — Anuradhapura — Dambulla — Kandy — Adam’s peak — Ella — Arugam Bay — Colombo
Here’s a trick with the weather in Sri Lanka: it’s an island very close to the Maldives so you’d expect it to be warm or even hot all year around. Well, it’s not like that in the most interesting way. In the central part it often rains and is quite cold all year around. The South-West gets covered with rains from May till October and the East gets its rains from October till May.
I went to Sri Lanka with my bf in May and we planned to surf at the end of our trip so we’d need the ocean. That lead us to Arugam Bay where the rainy season ends by that time. But before hitting the beach we wanted to explore a few historical places of SL and climb to Adam’s peak using only public transport to move between main sites.
The map is pretty accurate about the transportation but I’ll specify:
Colombo — Anuradhapura: Train (~4$)
Anuradhapura — Dambulla: Bus
Dambulla — Kandy: Bus
Kandy — Hatton: Train
Hatton — Dalhousie (Adam’s peak) — Hatton: Bus
Hatton — Ella: Train
Ella — Arugam Bay: Tuk-Tuk (5000 rup)
Arugam Bay — Colombo: Bus (~9$)
It was hot and humid and several people told us the only way to get from the airport to Colombo would be in the vans they drove (for sure). 10 minutes later we found a bus x5 cheaper and it was still quite empty. 1hour of traffic jams later we arrived in Colombo and were hit by the noise, hot air and gazillion people trying to help us carry our backpacks (not for free).
We stuck to our initial plan to buy train tickets first, get a good breakfast, charge our phones and then dive into the central province.
If it seems like I didn’t like Sri Lanka from the 1st sight it’s the opposite — I did enjoy the vibe as everything was so full of life and movement! I was very curious to be there.
Anuradhapura is an ancient city used to be the capital of SL in IV BC. It’s located on a river bank that once turned Anurad into a huge center of trading and religion. But goodness doesn’t last forever and the city was destroyed by Tamil tribes from a southern Indian country named Chola. For that reason, the city of Polonnaruva became the new capital.
Now Anuradhapura is divided into 2 parts: the new touristic one where most of hotels and cafes are located, and the old one with ancient stupas almost 2000 years old, temples and a sacred Bodhi tree that is believed to be the oldest in the world.
If you’re heading there look for little guest houses as it’s the most reasonable option when it comes to price-comfort balance. And the hosts often serve the best local dishes so you don’t have to go far. My recommendation would be Yoho Sanctuary: just look at this dinner!
When it comes to sightseeing, there are 3 main options: by bicycle, by car or by tuk-tuk. As savvy travelers and bicycle admirers, we rented two of them for 4$ each/day. Perfect!
Anuradhapura circle and the ancient temple took us about 5 hours and I’d say it’s good we already had a similar experience in Angkor, Cambodia. The day was super hot and, to the extent, we had to put our shoes off as in every sacred Buddhist place.
As it often happens, there were a lot of places right under the sun with stone floors so it hurt a lot to walk around barefoot. Can’t tell you how happy I was I took socks for that walk (holy internet) as we both wore sandals.
Well, the photo above shows all the suffering of not remembering you have the socks. And I guess now we know how the Egyptian walk was born!
First, we visited the ancient temple to see the historical place colored by blooms. Of course, it’s not a must-see but if you’re into history a little museum on the temple territory may interest you. It did so with me! Besides, it was a place where we met some cute small creature that, I promise, will make you smile!
Straight from there we moved to the Bodhi tree and started the Anuradhapura circle, that goes around all stupas. At that time they were the oldest manmade things I’d seen in my life so I was really impressed!
Traveling around Anuradhapura by bicycle is almost a day-long journey if you really want to appreciate how cool and fascinating this place is. It is tiring but worth it. Just don’t forget to take socks with you and put them on!
Just as we finished exploring stupas we jumped on a bus to the next place. Can’t say Dambulla has such a rich history as Anuradhapura or Kandy (next city) but it’s surrounded by really beautiful sites like Golden Buddha, Rock Temple and the amazing Sigiriya the Lion Rock.
We stayed at a guest house which was simple but nice until next day our host tried to make us pay 2x than we had to. Still, our evening was kind of romantic: we had to use candles as the electricity went down because of a storm and the food was just what we needed.
In the morning we arranged a sightseeing tuk-tuk ride with our host for a whole day. This time we thought that the distances were too long for bike-riding plus it was such a hot day!
Our first stop was Golden Buddha and Rock Temple. If Anuradhapura made me say ‘wow’ because of its history, here I was completely blown by nature’s and sites’ beauty. All the place was surrounded by tall trees, flowers, high rocks and monkeys jumping from one branch to another. And how shiny is that Buddha statue!
The complex was built in I BC and has 5 separate rooms in the rock connected by outer passage. Each room has its unique name and differs from other rooms, i.e. one of them has a well where water goes up from the bottom. This collection of Buddha images is one of the biggest in the world. Some of the statues are more than 2000 years old! No wonder that UNESCO took this place under its patronage.
Next stop: Sigiriya the Lion Rock!
Sigiriya is the most visited place in Sri Lanka and no wonder why. It had been inhabited by monks since V century BC; in V c. AC king Kashyapa took part in his father’s murder and then usurped the throne. He ordered to build a fort-city in Sigiriya to hide from his brother’s vengeance as this place was lost in forests and stood 150 m above the sea level. A palace was built on top of the mountain and when you go up it just makes you crazy how they created all that!
This is just a brief story of Sigiriya
- Entrance price to Sigiriya is 35$
The 1st thing you notice here is, ofсourse, the rock itself but it is worth visiting the Archeological museum first to be more aware of what’s coming.
And as it often happens to us, a great day at the top of the rock had been coming to its end with a heavy rain, wind and packed backpacks as we had train tickets to Kandy for the same day.
Third capital city of Sri Lanka and its beautiful center. Many times I’ve heard that girls in Kandy are the most beautiful in SL and the city itself is kind of a cultural habitat. For us, it was a point to rest in the 1st place as we finally got to spend more than 1 night in the same bed.
We didn’t plan much to really rest and just enjoy our time there. Kandy appeared to be very green and even fresh — just what we needed. And! Great food!
We rolled into the most random cafe in the street that was empty to our surprise. Do you know a better view for a lazy morning turning into a lazy day on a southern island?
2 portions of curry rice, 3 desserts and 4 hours later we slowly moved to the Temple of the sacred tooth relic. There we caught a ceremony where they show the tooth. Well, not the tooth itself but the case it is held in. A stunning case! I believe the tooth is just as stunning..
One place I would definitely not miss in Kandy is its Royal Botanical Garden. It is large, with lots of exotic plants and bats hiding in tall trees.
While everything’d been going pretty smooth the climb to Adam’s peak held a surprise for us.
One train ride from Kandy and one bus ride later we arrived at the Dollhousy village(or whatever the name was). It is the closest point where you can rest before going up to Adam’s Peak early in the morning. Nothing interesting there except monkeys that break into your (our) room to steal and rip all the food you have inside if your window is opened. My avocado died in an awful way that day…