Hi hi hi!
Obviously I’m late on this post on things to do in Sri Lanka. I want to be VERY thorough on this post, because I feel like you need to know ALL the details. When I travel to a new country, I want to know all the ins and outs, you know? I don’t only want to know what’s great. I want to know what sucked, what I should be avoiding, things to be aware of, etc.
Ok, let’s jump right into this. (It’s a long post. Grab a glass of wine)
I’ll start off by saying Sri Lanka ISN’T for everyone. You have to be somewhat of an adventurous traveler to go to such a country. Andrew and I were both really excited about this trip, because 1. It was our first time traveling together, and 2. We both LOVE to travel!
Sri Lanka is one of the most BEAUTIFUL countries I’ve ever visited, but like, you need to be in the right mind frame. And you need to be okay with being uncomfortable. That’s the main thing.
Don’t expect to stay in 5-star hotels everywhere. The whole experience is being able to sort of ‘rough it out’ like the locals do. Pretty much everywhere we went, I was uncomfortable. But that’s how I like to travel. I want to immerse myself in the culture of the country and experience it ALL. And I may not come off as that type of person, but when I travel, it’s different. I value their culture.
We arrived in Colombo, which is your standard city-like place. You don’t need to spend too much time here. It’s a busy city…just like all cities. We decided to stay at the Cinnamon Red Hotel, which is a gorgeous hotel. We had just spent 2 weeks in India and needed a nice hotel with nice showers and a king sized bed for at least 2 nights.
The hotel was a slice of heaven, which was just what we needed. The hotel staff was very helpful as well. They have a buffet breakfast every morning, which costed us $10 CAD each. Very reasonable. The food was delicious. They have a mix of American and Sri Lankan food, fresh juices, breads, etc. They had a coffee machine, which in my opinion was NOT the best. To be very honest, coffee wasn’t a strong point in India or Sri Lanka. They specialize in tea. So, if you’re a morning coffee drinker (like me) you’ll have somewhat of a hard time. I was being slightly dramatic the whole trip about not having good coffee in the mornings. LOL. But I survived.
When we arrived in Colombo it was dinner time. We we’re starving. The hotel had a night bar, which was a beautiful roof-top restaurant, with a night snack menu. This didn’t include any Sri Lankan food unfortunately, which was disappointing. I didn’t want mini beef sliders and French fries when I’m in Sri Lanka…
Before settling on the hotel restaurant we did walk around the area for almost an hour and didn’t find a single restaurant anywhere. There was one right outside the hotel called Mango, which wreaked of incense. We’re not super picky about places, but you could barely breathe in there. After walking around for about an hour and finding NO restaurants, we decided to order a bunch of apps at the hotel restaurant.
The next day we found out that all we really needed to do was get out of that area by tuk tuk (their local transportation) about 10 minutes out and there would be a ton of restaurants.
The next morning, after a REALLY goodnights sleep, we felt refreshed and ready to explore Colombo. We headed to an area called Pettah. It’s a crazyyy busy local area. Tons of shopping. It can definitely get overwhelming if you’re not into crowds. But it’s really cool to see if you want to go somewhere totally local. They have tons of little streets selling local food, fruits and veggie markets, and everything from leather belts, shoes, wallets, etc.
For dinner, we were recommended to go to Off The Hook restaurant by a good friend of mine, and because we were not over the crab curry we had for lunch, we had to have it for dinner as well. I ordered the Jaffna Style Crab Curry, and Andrew ordered the Badum Crab, which was more of a marinated-style crab dish. It wasn’t a curry. We also ordered the deep fried Handalla Fish that came with a lemon/cilantro sauce that was AMAZING. Both crab dishes were to die for. One thing to remember is the food in Sri Lanka is SPICY AF. So, even if you’re used to eating spicy, ask for medium. Because Sri Lankans love their spicy food!
The next morning, we headed to the train station in Colombo by tuk tuk and took the 2.5 hour train ride to Kandy City. We booked our train tickets in advance. It’s highly recommended that you book at least a month in advance. We booked first class tickets for all our train rides well in advance, however sometimes they over-book and you get bumped to second or third class. Slightly annoying because that did happen to us. Not on this train, but another. No big deal though.
Anyway, we arrived in Kandy and headed straight to our hotel. We stayed at a hotel called Kandy City Stay. If you do book this place, DON’T judge the hotel from outside. Because the moment we arrived, I slightly panicked. It looked pretty horrific from outside. But once we got inside, the little hotel was actually quite beautiful. And more importantly, clean.
We stayed in Kandy for 2 nights. The city is beautiful with lots to see. When we walked around we quickly realized that most tuk tuk drivers will take you around to see the city. Kind of like a private tour? You can bargain on price, which is great. I totally recommend seeing the city this way as opposed to a tour bus. We paid 2000 Sri Lankan Rupees for a 4 hour day. This comes to $16.00 Canadian. They took us all the way to the Millennium Elephant Foundation which was about 1.5 hours from Kandy City.
If you were following on Insta, then you know I fell in love with this place. Before going to Sri Lanka, I did A LOT of research on a proper elephant foundation. There are a few that are very popular in Sri Lanka. But from researching, I found that this one was the best when it comes to treating their elephants with care and respect. They teach you about how riding elephants actually hurt their backs, and how people are still doing it these days. It’s extremely sad. We were partnered with Raja the elephant for a couple of hours. We took him for a walk, fed him, and bathed him. It was probably the best 2 hours of our entire trip. We felt so comfortable and safe with this gigantic animal, and we really did not want to leave him. Walking by his side and bathing him melted my heart. It was truly an experience I think EVERYONE should have at least once in their life.
After we spent a few hours there, our tuk tuk driver was patiently waiting for us at the agreed time outside. We then visited the Botanical Garden, which was amazing. You need at least 1.5 hours there; however, I recommend even more time if you have it. We felt a little rushed with only 1.5 hours. I would’ve liked to sit there and have a picnic or something. There are so many amazing plants, trees, birds, monkeys etc. Andrew was in heaven with all the monkeys and bats that were just roaming the garden. After that, we visited the White Buddha Statue, which is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. It’s a Buddhist place of worship, and the views are beautiful!
We didn’t get a chance to do the Udawatta Kele Forest, which we really wanted to. It’s basically another hiking spot. If you like the outdoorsy stuff, I highly recommend this. It’s very lush, with lots to see. They close at 5:30pm every day, which made it very hard to see.
Before heading back we stopped at a roadside restaurant. Our tuk tuk driver was kind enough to stop. There aren’t too many places up there to grab food, but there are a few roadside stops. Most restaurants are very clean in Sri Lanka, so you don’t need to be afraid to eat at them. In fact, most hole-in-the-wall spots are AMAZING.
Muslim Hotel Restaurant: If you Google good food spots in Kandy, this one will come up a lot! And I definitely recommend it! We had the best food here. Andrew got the Chicken Parantha Fry, which was soooo good, and I got the Vegetable Kottu. Kottu is a famous Sri Lankan dish, so wherever you go, get that at least once to try. You won’t be disappointed – but ask for very little spice!
We finally headed to Ella after a couple days in Kandy. We took the train on 3rd class as we got bumped for an unknown reason. They do that, so you just have to roll with the punches. 3rd class wasn’t horrible. It was a bit squished and hot because there was no air conditioning. However the windows were big and we were able to open them. The train ride from Kandy to Ella is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world…and I can confirm that it truly is! People say to sit on the right side because the views are better, however, in my opinion you can sit on either side. It was so beautiful; I couldn’t stop staring outside the windows. The train keeps going up the mountain, and the highest point was 1850 meters above sea level. Totally worth the 7 hour train ride!
Once we arrived at Ella, we stayed at a Guest House called Little Paradise. Ella is full of Guest Houses, not many hotels around. Every guest house has a spectacular view of the mountains, because you’re so high up. Ours was very cute, and clean. We had breakfast delivered right to the balcony of our room, every morning. It was a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast cooked by the people who lived there, which was delicious.
Ella was a bit disappointing because of how touristy it was. We were expecting more culture and more Sri Lankan food, but we got a lot of Americanized restaurants, and barely any Sri Lankan people, to be honest. Again, tuk tuk drivers are the way to go if you want to see the city. We booked one for another 4 hours, and we ended up seeing Little Adams Peak, the 9-Arch bridge, Rawana Caves and Waterfalls. This all took about 4 hours because Little Adams Peak and the Caves were a lot of walking/hiking up hill. Make sure you wear proper shoes if you go here, because you climb hundreds of stairs, and walk up all kinds of steep hills.
We also found that Ella was more expensive than other cities we had visited in Sri Lanka, and this was probably because it was very touristy.
One evening we did a cooking class at Ella Spice Garden, to learn the ins and outs of Sri Lankan cooking. Both, Andrew and I are very much into cooking….and eating so this was perfect. We wanted to learn a few Sri Lankan dishes so that we can make them at home. The cooking class books up SUPER fast so, as soon as you arrive, make sure you head over there to book that. However, if you don’t get this one, there are others.
This cooking class was hands down, one of the best I’ve been too. I’ve done a few cooking classes in Indian, Thailand, and Bali, and I have to say, this one was the best. Our cook, Chandika, and the group of people we had in our class, were amazing. We literally went over to Chandika’s house, where he lived with his parents, to learn how to cook. He was young, engaging, funny, and you could tell he was a GREAT cook. The class had 8 people in total, which was a good amount, and it was about 5 hours long. We learned how to make 4 different curries, and a few other side dishes. Chandika gives everyone a booklet to fill out as well, which was great because you can take notes as you learn.
Honestly, if you’re ever in Ella, try and make it to this cooking class. You will NOT be disappointed. After we cooked, we all gathered together and ate the food we cooked. It was really the best meal we had in Ella.
Ella was our last stop before heading back home as well. We took the 8 hour train ride the next day back to Colombo to catch our flight.
I’m still not sure that I’m fully back yet. Mindfully, that is. The trip was amazing, and I’m sure we’ll definitely go back to Sri Lanka someday.
If you guys are heading to Sri Lanka or thinking of visiting, feel free to email me with questions. I’d love to help!
Hope you enjoyed that post!