Sri Lanka, an exotic paradise off the south-eastern coast of India. An island nation so vibrant and colourful, rich with history and beauty. In 2017, Sean and I spent one month in Ceylon, not knowing what to expect but happy to immerse ourselves fully in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. After landing at Colombo airport late at night, we immediately make our way to Negombo, a small fishing village just north of the busy capital and a perfect base to adjust to the time difference and tropical climate. Our tuk tuk driver drops us off in a tiny lane, pointing to a small hotel a couple of hundred metres down the dirt road. We can smell the salty ocean and hear the palm trees gently swaying in the wind. We have arrived.
We spend a few days in Negombo acclimatising to the hot and humid weather and getting an insight into Sri Lankan cuisine. We try our first "Rice & Curry", the national dish "Kottu" and spicy chilli crab. We wash it all down with ice cold bottles of Lion Lager and feel pretty content gazing over the vast Indian Ocean. After three days in Negombo, we take the train inland to Kandy.
Kandy is set on a plateau surrounded by mountains, which are home to tea plantations and biodiverse rainforest. The city's heart is scenic Kandy Lake, which is popular with locals going for a leisurely afternoon stroll to escape the day's heat. Tourists are drawn to Kandy mainly for their abundant sacred Buddhist sites, including the Temple of the Tooth shrine, which we choose to admire from outside the main gates. We politely refuse numerous invitations from local touts selling tickets to a traditional dancing show and simply sit by the edge of the lake, admiring the soft rays of light transform the lake into a place of utter tranquility.
We continue our journey through the centre of the country by train, slowly passing through lush tea fields, deep valleys and mist covered mountains. The vistas here are simply spectacular! After a few hours, we finally arrive in Hatton, where we decide to stop off for a few days to split up the train journey. Hatton is a small town in the Nuwara Eliya District of Central Province and the heart of the Sri Lankan tea industry. Less busy than Ella, we spend a few peaceful days wondering around the lush tea fields and getting to know a few locals.
We leave Hatton with a heavy heart and continue on to busy little Ella, a true magnet for backpackers. We hike up Little Adam's Peak, only to be submerged in heavy clouds at the top of the mountain, denying us the promised vistas. We warm up over a hot cup of tea from an elderly local couple who overtook us earlier on the trek with their entire gear strapped onto their backs and scrambling up the slippery path with an old pair of plastic flip flops.
The next day we walk the train tracks to Nine Arches Bridge, which forms a viaduct between the Demodara and Ella Railway stations. Built at 3100m above sea level among the craggy peaks of the Central Highlands, the bridge is one of the best examples of colonial-era railway construction in the country. We run through the nearby tunnel just in time to see the iconic train pass over the bridge.
Having seen enough of tea fields, we continue by train and public bus to Udawalawe National Park, where we go on Safari to encounter local elephants and other native wildlife. We spend one night at the beautiful Big Game Camp where we befriend the manager who takes on a late afternoon private bush walk. We walk to the edge of the camp and onto a huge collection of boulders, from where we can see across the entire game reserve...
The quaint little guesthouse "Dreamtime" in Hikkaduwa is our next stop, where we spend three nights after originally having planned only one. Owned and managed by an Australian-Sri Lankan couple, we immediately feel at home. Several small cottages are carefully placed into a lush, jungle-like garden, using only natural materials. Feeling somewhat tired from constantly moving around, we feel content to lounge by Sri Lanka's most beautiful pool, eating "Hoppers" and drinking, of course, tea.