When we told friends we were headed to Sri Lanka with our family of three kids in their 20s for the holidays we were met with a lot of “Really? Sri Lanka?!”, “How did you choose Sri Lanka?” “Is it safe to travel there?” “What does one do in Sri Lanka?” “Where is Sri Lanka?” and general blank questioning stares.
In response to the above:
-We chose it because our family has traveled to many parts of Asia (we used to live there when younger) and we love that part of the world. Our family enjoys travel to places that have activities, are a bit off the well-beaten travel path, and haven’t yet been overtrodden with development. It was an amazing trip and we highly recommend it!
– Yes it’s safe. The government is currently stable and they are trying to beef up tourism after Covid shut the country for two years.
– Sri Lanka offers beautiful beaches (it’s a backpacker surfers paradise), amazing green countryside, activities such as rafting, canyoning, surfing, and birding, is affordable, and has safari options and historical relics/temples to visit.
– Sri Lanka is an island nation just off the southern tip of India.
Our trip was booked via Inspire World Travel who then used the local tour company Hummingbird Travel. They helped plan the itinerary and booked all the hotels, the driver, and the activities. There is a wide range of price options in Sri Lanka – from backpacker cheap to very high-end. So pick whichever route works for you! But having a driver for the trip makes it easy – we didn’t see a lot of people renting cars and the driver seems the way to go while here.
It’s a long way from California. About 30 hours of travel. 17 hours to Singapore, a couple of hours layover, and 4 more hours to Colombo, Sri Lanka. We arrived at midnight and were picked up by our driver (who we had for the entirety of the trip) and driven for three hours with a transfer to a pickup truck for the last half hour up a dirt road to our hotel, with a 4am arrival to Palmstone Retreat!
One child and I went two days ahead of the rest of the family so he could do some birding, of which Sri Lanka has TONS. So the Palmstone Retreat was our landing spot to get over jetlag and to do some birding. The rest of the family joined two days later and we met them in our second destination of Kandy.
The Palmstone Retreat is located by the town of Kitulgala, where there are lots of birds as well as outdoor activities like rafting and canyoning. The hotel was really nice, located remotely 30 minutes outside of town up a dirt track in the beautiful lush forest. It had a pool, villa rooms set in the forest overlooking the river and trees like treehouses.
After a great breakfast we hiked with a hotel guide through some local small ‘villages’ (more just individual huts/homes’ and tea growth areas to a beautiful waterfall with an AMAZING swim in a waterhole above the falls. Beautiful! Birds en route. There were some leeches in the forest that got us (they don’t hurt or make you stick…just sort of yucky and then you bleed due to their anti-coagulant).
Lots of birds in the hotel area.
Lunch at hotel and quiet rainy afternoon with bed at 4pm- skipped dinner and slept to get over jetlag.
Couple hour drive through beautiful countryside along a canyon, rice fields, and villages to Kandy.
Met family at Ru Boutique hotel which is situated right on the lake.
Visited the Buddhist temple (which contains a tooth of the Buddha tooth) on the lake, went into Queens hotel, drove to lunch overlooking the river, visited a sapphire store (hard sell), drove back to downtown Kandy, walked around the lake and went to the coffee shop Secret Alley which was a good little spot for coffee and bites.
Dinner at the hotel – not good- where Xmas carols played over and over!
Climb up and explore the rock (about 30 minutes up and maybe half hour exploring around the top and then back down- maybe 1.5 hr total.) Escaped the rain!
Stopped at Bababatik store which was a bust ($$$!) and at a spice tour which ended in a massage for 5 in the forest somehow!
Rainy afternoon in Kandy. Lunch at Empire Cafe which we loved – playing cards and good food and drinks.
Got train snacks and rested until walked to restaurant called Sharon Inn for dinner in the rain. It was closed and they opened for us and started cooking a big Sri Lankan dinner. The owner has been there 30 years and wanted to chat! He also wanted to play guitar for us after but his guitar string was broken and taber couldn’t fix it and the guy was very sad! The food was amazing – like a big home cooked dinner. Go hungry!
Left at 8 for the train station. We had confirmed 2nd class tickets (with open windows which are preferable!) months ahead of time, but somehow (black market issues?) got first class tickets unfortunately where windows were shut and on left side front. Be sure to get 2nd class seats on the right side of the train so you can see all theamazing scenery clearly, and you can lean out of the windows for phots etc. It’s a 7 hour ride through beautiful tea plantations, rice paddy’s, forests etc. BEAUTIFUL RIDE!
Got to Ella about 3:30 and checked into 98 acres hotel – super nice with amazing views over the valley. Our rooms were terrific with amazing views. The hotel is about a 20 minute walk from town, a 10 minute walk from the start of the 9 arches bridge trail (but the whole walk takes maybe 20-30 minutes) and it’s right at the start of the Little Adams Peak trail – great location.
Signed up for massages the next day (2 hour massages for $40!).
Explored the grounds, including the pool area and the ‘party area’ where they have zip lining, a ‘bar scene’ etc in a big beautiful structure.
Little Adams Peak is right across from the resort and the trail to it starts at the resort. Many recommended going for sunrise but we didn’t climb at sunrise due to rain.
Breakfast at 8 then walked to 9 bridges at 9 for the train crossing and pics (20 minute walk down a trail near the hotel). Some leeches from the walk back down to Ella. It was about a 40 minute walk from the bridge through the forest trail and down to town.
Ella is a backpackers type of town with a few streets of restaurants, a couple stores etc (not great shopping). We had coffee and played cards at Chill restaurant (popular spot for travelers) and wandered a bit.
Tuk tuk back up the hill to the hotel
Walked up little Adams peak (30 minutes up a trail with a view out in all directions)
3:30-5:30 massages for three of us for $39 each
Dinner at Chill Cafe in Ella at 7 (had made reservations as is popular spot)
10am departure to Yala. Maybe a 3 hour or so trip. Had lunch at the spot where the safari guide was to meet us, which was good.
Driver picked us up at 1:30 in the Jeep and we drove 45 minutes or so to the Yala park entrance.
Safari for a few (3-4?) hours. Not a tons of animals in the park really, but we did see the leopard which is hard to do. He was right next to us which was great. Elephant, crocs, birds, boar as well. It can’t be compared to an African safari, but was fun to see the animals we did.
Hour drive to the Wild Culture Hotel – arrived about 7. Hotel is beautiful – great view, nice big pool, bar area, really nice staff.
We cancelled our morning safari was due to the fact that the close park entrance was closed and we didn’t want to do a 5am pick up and have to drive an hour each way to get to the other entrance.
Left 10am for the 3 hour drive to Galle.
Wandered around the old fort city which had a lot of charm. Ate lunch, shopped (liked the stores Karma (beautiful fabrics and clothing) and Barefoot (beatiful fabrics). There overall isnt’ great shopping in Sri Lanka and these were the stores we liked best.
Went to check into the beach hotel KK Resort. The hotel is right on a beautiful 2km soft sand beach, with a nice pool and terrific staff. Rooms have little balconies and look right over the water – really nice.
Dinner at hotel
Day 9 – Beach
Summary: Surfing, beach time
Hired tuk tuk for the day to take us 30 minutes down the coast to Weligama. About $17 for the day for the tuk tuk who waited for us and suggested where to go.
Surfed at the local beginner surf spot Weligama at lucky surf school – hired boards for $1 and John and I rested in one of their covered cabanas as it was super hot out. The kids surfed for a couple hours. Great area! We were going to go surf next at a harder spot but we were all enjoying it so much we just stayed there. Great coffee and drinks from a truck on the road and a beach shack.
Lunch at Cactus in Midigama (or Ahangama?) which was half way between the hotel and Weligama. Nice lunch spot with a little boutique as well. Lots of little surf areas along the road with cute places.
Hotel hang out in afternoon.
Dinner at the new italian restaurant Stella – a 5 minute walk down beach from the hotel. Great pizza (owned by an Italian).
Day 10 Beach/Unawatuna/Head Home
Summary: Beach, Unawatuna Visit, To Airport
Morning beach walk and swim and breakfast
Pool hang out
Tuk Tuk to lunch and wander in Unawatuna – a hopping area on the beach outside Galle (bewteen our hotel area and Galle). Lunch on the beach at Tararuga Hotel. Great setting, ok food.
Wandered around the streets where it was lots of restaurants and shops and backpacker vibe. Bought stuff at Karma.
Leave hotel 6 for 3 Hr drive to airport, midnight flight to Singapore (4 hours), 2 hour layover and 14 hr flight to San Francisco.