When you think “Sri Lanka” the first two things that pop in your head are “Sea” and “Nature”. And this is exactly what I was expecting to find while packing my backpack.
Everything is ready and after 10 hours from London we are in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. The first impression is not a bad one. The weather is hot and the air is polluted, we could feel it while rushing to get our bus to Colombo fort. And we are actually lucky as the bus is already there, ready to depart and so we jump on it just on time and the locals are so kind to make sure we have a seat for the 1 hour long journey to the station.
All good so far, but 2 minutes into the trip the bus breaks down and so we had to wait another 15 minutes for a replacement to come to pick us up and bring us to Colombo fort. The price for this journey was 150LKR (Sri Lankan Rupee) per person.
Once there, it all seems a mess, tuk tuk overtaking buses trying to avoid people on the street, noise and dirt is the picture in front of us, not a surprise for a poor and overpopulated city.
Our goal is to get to Maharagama station from which we will need to get a bus to Galle.
We immediately are approached by a guy, initially he will ask us where are we from and where are we going, he will make us comfortable telling us where we can get food and toilet before to offer us a tuk tuk ride at an overpriced rate. After some negotiation we agree a more reasonable price and we will get to the bus station.
Galle is a town in the south-west corner of the island. We have been on the seaside just 6 Km from it. The place is great for some relaxing time as it is not overcrowded and it has good beaches. There is also the possibility to spot some turtle if you are lucky.
We have been in an hotel right on the beach and enjoyed the sound of the waves at night. It comes with a price tag though, but there some very cheap options available as well.
UNAWATUNA TO TISSAMAHARAMA
After a couple of days of relax, our adventure in Sri Lanka begins. First stop: Safari at Yala National reserve.
The journey from Galle to Tissamaharama (aka Tissa) is quite long and a completely new experience.
Leg 1 of 3: Galle to Matara. The cost of the ride is 100 rupee per person and it takes a bit more than 1 hour with the bus 32. The first ride will finish at Matara bus station where you can grab some food and water in preparation of a longer journey.
Leg 2 of 3: Matara to Tissa. The cost of the ride is about 100 rupee per person and it takes about 4 hours. We decided to leave this bus at Weerawila Junction as it was quite close to our destination. Make sure you leave at a bus stop where you can get a tuk tuk. Leaving in the middle of nowhere will be a bad move that may force you to some long walking.
Leg 3 of 3: Weerawila Junction to hotel. We got a tuk tuk for the price of 900 rupee. We might have negotiated a better price but we were very tired to do so. It took us about 20 minutes as the driver was very slow.
When in Tissa we have stayed at a lovely place on the river side. The cabana we booked was open (no windows) so it felt like sleeping in the nature. We also got a private light show provided by fireflies that joined our cabana during the night. And the morning we woke up with monkeys screams, that although may not sound exciting, it is what we were looking for staying in that type of room.
About the city itself, we did not have much time to visit it, so we have just been in one of the many Buddhist temple. Our main purpose of staying in that area was the proximity to the Yala national reserve.
YALA NATIONAL PARK – SAFARI
First safari for Giovanni. Second for Elena (she has been in Kenya, you can read about it here). We have booked a jeep just for us and left the cabana at 6.00 (they usually start the day earlier, but talking to the driver, we agreed that 6.00 was the best time). The total cost for a full day safari for the two of us has been $140. Not a bad price considering that the price on the official website was $130. We also got breakfast, lunch, and water along with entrance ticket, transport and guide for that price, so we think that for 2 people the price was quite convenient. Of course if your group is larger, then booking directly on the official website may be more convenient, as they charge per jeep.
The trip from hotel to Park took about 40 minutes and by 7.30 we were already looking for animals. The big shot was the Leopard, as Yala is the national park with one of the highest leopard density in the world.
The first couple of hours have been calm and we have spotted some water buffalo, crocodile, elephant and different kind of birds, especially peacocks. After a bit, our driver stopped saying that in that area the day before they have spotted a Leopard and that’s why he suggested to wait there for a few minutes. He did not even finish the sentence that a leopard crossed the road just in front of us, it was fast and caught us unprepared and we did not take a clear shot of it.
During the next hours we would be thinking about the missed occasion of picturing the beautiful mammal, but luck was on our side that day and slightly before lunch our driver received a call on his phone about a leopard being spotted. He literally flew from a side of the park to another and gave us the opportunity, overtaking the other dozens of jeeps, to enjoy a clear view of this amazing animal walking just a couple of meters from us. That was the peak moment of our safari and we were happy with it. We then had lunch and one hour rest next the foundation of an hotel destroyed by the tsunami in 2004. It is a peaceful place and makes you think about how nature can be unpredictable and dangerous and must always be respected.
We spent the rest of the day chasing some sloth bears around (unfortunately did not get to see any) and enjoying encounters with other inhabitants of the park – elephants, buffaloes, crocodiles, deers, several interesting bird species. Our jeep left the park when the sunlight was almost gone. We were back to the hotel in over an hour, as in the evening there is some traffic on the way back. Time to get some rest in preparation to the tiring following day.
TISSAMAHARAMA TO ELLA
This trip took us less time than expected (or at least less than people were telling us).
We did take a tuk tuk from the hotel to the bus stop. It was a 15 minutes ride. We have then waited 20/30 minutes at the bus stop (buses run not very often, so we recommend you ask to locals ahead of your journey) before to jump on a ridiculously busy bus. When we have seen it approaching we thought “well, we need to wait the next, and God knows when it will pass”, but the ticket seller told us to jump on it, in cooperation with some very kind people that left the bus to let us in (we were amazed by such behaviour). Half of the people were probably floating in the bus and the journey to Wellawaya has been around 3 hours long.
Once we got to the bus station we decided to get a taxi to Ella instead of another 2 hours bus. The taxi took 45 minutes and obviously costed us way more than the bus.
We strongly recommend you to have a quick walk to the train station and check the timetable if you are planning to get the train from Ella. Some trains may be suppressed or some other may be added.
The town is famous for the arch bridge, well known spot for instagrammers. Other than that we did not find it interesting or worth a longer stay.
HAPUTALE – LIPTON’S SEAT
We took the famous train Ella – Krabi stopping in Haputale. The train journey is really cool and we recommend to get to the station a bit ahead to get 1st class tickets, the carriages are more spacious, emptier and you will get the opportunity to get some pics (we know you want it :P). The landscapes during the journey are breathtaking and the train is slow enough to allow you enjoy them. It took us 1 hour to go from Ella to Haputale.
Just the time to put our bags in the hotel and we did go up with to the Lipton’s seat with a tuk tuk hoping to enjoy a great view, but instead we found a very cloudy scene. Still nice and enjoyable, but not as much as we expected. We then decided to go down walking to take some shot of tea leaf pickers and enjoy the hill itself, but again, luck was not on our side as out of the blue heavy rain started to pour from the sky. We will never stop thanking the lovely family that stopped to give us a lift down to the hotel, and saved us from a sure cold/flu. Another act of kindness by some lovely Sri Lankan, and very nice 30 minutes discussing with them. Amazing people.
HAPUTALE – HATTON – COLOMBO
The following day has been a quite challenging one in terms of travelling. Unfortunately we have not been able to get a 1st class ticket, so we had to use the 2nd class carriage. What a difference! The train was extremely overcrowded, with people barely having space to stand. The journey has been ONLY 3 hours, but it felt like 6 or 7. I can only feel sorry for the people that were going to Colombo.
So, we stopped in Hatton to get a quick bite before to continue our journey to Colombo, by taxi. Another 3 hours on a road full of switchback turns, not the best if you have just finished eating, but still better than another 5 hours standing in a crowded train.
Colombo despite being the capital is not the main tourist attraction. In fact we have not really spent much time there. We have only been able to visit a Buddhist temple and have a walk in the city, rethinking about the beautiful places we have visited the days before.
How to take bus in Sri lanka: Quickly ask if it goes to your destination (as there are different journeys for what seems the same bus number) and if it goes where you need, just jump on it. Don’t worry about the ticket, a ticket seller will come to you to collect money and will release a receipt/ticket. If he does not notice you, just wave at him and show him the money. When you need to leave the bus make sure the driver is made aware (either pushing the button located under the bus roof or simply telling him or the ticket seller that you need to leave) and be fast leaving the bus.
Most of the hotels do have sockets identical to the ones used in UK (fig.1). Some other though, have the type D or M (fig.2 and fig.3). We do have an universal adapter and but it does not come with type D nor M. So plan ahead of your trip to avoid having issues.
We do not recommend you to take a tuk tuk from Colombo to the airport. The tuk tuk cannot go on the highway making the journey longer. If you are not in a rush it is still a pleasant journey though, but otherwise a bus or a taxi is more convenient.
Every time you will arrive to a bus or train station there will always be one or more people trying to offer you a tuk tuk ride. Usually the price is way higher than it should be, I would say that the price they offer is usually the double as a ‘normal’ price, and maybe 3 or for times higher than the one “for locals”, so don’t be shy to negotiate and walk away if you don’t like the price, there will always be somebody else offering a better price or a cheap alternative.