7 days in Sri Lanka
by Alessio Sanzogni As it so often happens, the travel bug’s voice is calling… And I have to leave! After a chat for getting days off work, I finish up my work at the office, and end up buying a last-minute offer to Sri Lanka with my boyfriend, partially by pure chance, and partially thanks to a good combination of cheap flights and innate curiosity towards Sri Lanka. I have about 7 days, a good amount of time to start discovering this wonderful country. Here are my tips and my places that should not be missed!
First stop: Kandy, Ella and tea plantations
After a trip that was made easier on us by a 7-hour layover in Abu Dhabi — during which we actually managed to squeeze in a quick swim in the warm seawater of the Emirates — and a totally unexpected upgrade on Etihad Airways, we get to Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital city. Let me start by saying that the perfect trip, for me, needs to have a fluctuating balance of good amounts of different things: adventure, backpacking, total relax, and maybe a few cuddles in a dreamlike location. My bucket list for this trip included beautiful landscapes, unexpected experiences, relax, sunshine, seawater, nature and… Good foodWe decide to treat ourselves to some luxury, as we know we only have 6 days and a very rough itinerary idea — including Colombo, Kandy, Ella, Tangalle, and Bentota, which was love at first sight for us, thanks to beautiful lake Koggala. The luxury we’re talking about here is hiring a private driver, not just to go to Kandy, the historical inland town, but for the entire stay. Our driver was a wonderful source of information, as well as incredible help in making the best of our limited time. We definitely recommend you do the same if you have little time, and want to enjoy your stay as much as you can.
We get to Kandy in the middle of the night, and rest in a B&B. We wake up at dawn to go visit one of the temples overlooking the romantic lake, a temple surrounded by a multitude of vendors, who sell beautiful, colorful flowers for devotees to make their offerings. A few hours later, we move on to Nuwara, where we are planning to catch the 12:43 train. The train ride between Kandy and Ella is considered one of the most striking in the world, and we would like to see at least a portion of it. Sitting in third class, with families and inhabitants of the surrounding towns, we admire the wonderful landscape for the entire three-hour trip, and we really can’t sit still: we keep leaning out of the window and the doors, since these stay open for the entire trip, showing breathtaking views of old, colonial-style railway stations, tea plantations and multi-colored flowers.
We get to Ella in the afternoon and we stay, again, in a B&B. This one has the look and feel of a mountain hut, though, since it’s wooden, its facilities are basic and the bathroom is very basic, imagine, we had to use bottled water to shower! This very simple place also had beautiful views on the area’s surrounding valleys, though: our breakfast on the cliff was absolutely magical and worth the slight discomfort for one night. We visit Ella’s town center for dinner, but decide not to stop by for too long as this is mostly a hiking destination… And hiking is not really part of my plan, since I come from an area of Italy with plenty of valleys and mountains, and I am lucky enough to still go on wonderful hikes pretty often.
Safari and Tangalle
From Ella, we make our way to Udawalawa where, with our driver’s help, we organize a safari — we still want to call it that, despite only seeing a few buffaloes, elephants and a few colorful birds here and there. This safari gifted us with beautiful memories, despite the distinct lack of tigers and lions. From here on, our trip became a lot more relaxing. It’s a holiday after all, and we also need to rest a little, before we go home! We drive, therefore, straight to Villa Maya in Tangalle. Villa Maya is an old, colonial-style mansion with a few rooms and suites with a pool view. In a nutshell, it’s paradise surrounded by rice paddies. The hotel’s traditional cuisine seduces us, and we finally get to spend a few hours in complete relaxation under the sun. If you decide to include Tangalle in your trip, you can’t miss a late afternoon swim in the sea there, which will give you beautiful sunset views, to be enjoyed while sitting on the sand, sipping cold beer.
From Tangalle, we drive along the south coast and stop by for a few hours in Mirissa, just a few hours to take in a bit of sunshine and enjoy our lunch on the shore; and off we go, again, to Koggala, which instantly earned a special spot in our heart. After a short ride in the thick jungle, we get to Kahanda Kanda, a wonderful boutique hotel with ethnic style influences in its decor, and a breathtaking view on the seemingly endless view of palms surrounding the lake. We stay in one of only six villas that form Kahanda Kanda: they all have different characteristics, and they all share tasteful and original decor, whose style is influenced by the country’s British colonial past. The special feature here is the infinity-edged plunge pool, from which you see the lake, and admire sunset around 7PM. We thoroughly enjoy the hotel’s impeccable service, but also make sure we often go out to jog and hike, walking into the surrounding villages and along the lake. It was only after a few outings that we found out that the lake is inhabited by crocodiles! These are apparently not dangerous for humans, though… At least usually. All jokes aside, the locals reassured us by telling us that these crocodiles are not considered a real danger by the local authorities, so we took their word and carried on with our exploration.
After three days, we still don’t feel like leaving. Since the beaches in the surrounding areas don’t seem to have particularly crystal water, we decide to stop here sometime longer, since this is one of the most charming locations of the south coast, in our opinion. We discover another gem that we couldn’t miss, the Tri Lanka, a wonderful, new hotel that has just been opened, right on the shore of the lake. Tri Lanka is a geometrical masterpiece of beauty, sustainability and integration with the surrounding environment… And it also seduces our palate with its choice of fresh, organic ingredients, mixed into a cuisine that blends Sri Lankan flavors with international trends. Trust us on this: it’s really worth a visit, even just for dinner. Its minimal, eco-friendly style gives us peace and calm, adding to the pacifying work of the gentle waves of the lake breaking on the shore nearby. We also visit Cinnamon Island, on which two families have been harvesting cinnamon for centuries, and sell their products that will then get distributed all over the world. Here, at Tri Lanka, our favorite moment is being woken up by the rays of sunlight that gently touch the surface of the lake. We will be back very soon.
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