First of all, you’re probably wondering – why Sri Lanka? Well, we wanted to go to Maldives, and the flights directly from Australia are VERY expensive. One of our friends told us how they flew to the Maldives for around $100 from Sri Lanka, so we looked into the option of travelling around Sri Lanka first before relaxing at the Maldives. Having travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia with a local travel company called Hanuman Travel found via TravelLocal, I returned to TravelLocal to check out which local travel companies they had connections with in Sri Lanka. They recommended speaking with Viraj from Sri Lankan Expeditions to customise the perfect itinerary.
Itinerary, cost and inclusions
Soon we had a final itinerary, including the following locations:
- Day 1 – Colombo, Negombo
- Day 2 – Sigiriya, Habarana
- Day 3 – Minneriya Sanctuary, Polonnaruwa, Habarana
- Day 4 – Dambulla, Kandy
- Day 5 – Ella
- Day 6 – Ella
- Day 7 – Ella, Yala
- Day 8 – Galle, Yala, Negombo
- Day 9 – Colombo
The total price was $4200 (US dollars) for two people including:
- Accommodation with breakfast (except Ficus Canopy in Kandy)
- Air conditioned transfers with an english speaking chauffeur guide
- Activities and park entrance fees for cycle to Sigiriya, safari in Minneriya National Park, hopper making and dinner, scenic train journey from Kandy to Ella, fishing with the Community (Responsible Tourism initiative) and safari in Yala National Park
- Flight to Maldives from Colombo via Sri Lankan Airlines
Day 1 – Flight Brisbane to Colombo and first night at Jetwing Blue
A couple of days after our wedding, we flew from Brisbane to Colombo via Singapore Airlines. The first flight was 8 hours to Singapore, followed by another 3.5 hours to Colombo. Chandimal from Sri Lankan Expeditions was waiting for us at the airport, and drove us 15 minutes to Negombo to check in at Jetwing Blue our accommodation for the night. We were greeted with a refreshing drink, looked out at the beach which had a darker brown colour sand than most beaches in Australia and noticed the people selling their wares. Once we were settled in and covered in mosquito repellant, we went for a walk down the road from our accommodation to find an ATM and get some cash. While we were out we bought some water and snacks from a store, and a bottle of wine from what looked like a hole in the wall, all to enjoy on the balcony at our accommodation with beach views.
The staff at Jetwing Blue came to do a turn down service and brought chocolates. Perfect addition to our snack platter and wine. But snacks can only go so far, so we got ourselves ready and walked up to Petit for dinner around 8:30pm. We tried the chicken and cashew nut (Harry’s favourite) and coconut prawns. Yum! Recommend. We were all done, home and in bed by 10pm ready to sleep after our big day of flying and arriving in a new country.
Day 2 – Drive to Habarana, cycle near Sigiriya rock and stay at The Other Corner
After a buffet breakfast at Jetwing Blue, we met Chad (Chandimal) around 9am. Today we drove to Habarana which took around 3.5 hours in crazy traffic with lots of horns beeping. For lunch we attempted to go to a local place but it was closed, so we stopped at restaurant offering a buffet. It was nice but a lot of food, costing 2900 rupees or around $20 Australian dollars. Harry had a Lion beer and I tried a fresh pineapple juice.
Our next stop was our accommodation The Other Corner. There were monkeys climbing in the trees at the entrance where you park the car and walk across the short bridge. At reception we were invited to light a candle with some other guests that had arrived, and enjoy an iced tea. We were shown to our bungalow which had a treehouse out front. Our room felt like a treehouse itself except on ground level, with an eco friendly design. The modern additions included the mosquito net draped over the bed and air conditioning.
At 3:30pm we waited out front in the car park watching the monkeys climb through the trees some with babies, as the jeep arrived to take us to go cycling near Sigiriya rock. First stop was to pick up our bikes where we gave them a test run and then cycled approximately 11km through villages with both dirt and main roads, no helmets necessary. What did we see? Well, as animal lovers we noticed mostly giant squirrels, chameleon, dogs that appeared to protect their driveway as they barked and ran out at us, lizards, peacocks and more monkeys. We waved to locals as we rode past and they kindly waved back, especially the children. Along the way we stopped at a few temples and learned about Buddha being protected by the cobra. The next part of the cycling adventure was following a local guide near Sigiriya rock. It was such a great way to see the rock from a distance before actually climbing the rock in a few days.
It was also a good excuse to have a massage that evening, to which Chad drove us to and from. The place is called Artery Ayurvedic Hotel and Spa and it took about 30 minutes to get to from The Other Corner accommodation. For dinner we had biriyani and kottu rotor with chicken at our accommodation. Bit spicy but delicious!
Day 3 – Polonnaruwa temple cycling tour and Minneriya safari
Early start today, with a 7:30am drive to Polonnaruwa temple. There we did a cycling tour, slightly shorter than yesterday with a guide around the ruins. This is where one of the biggest stupas in Sri Lanka is located at 62m tall. It is also where Buddha’s tooth used to be located. Our guide told us that only 20 to 25% of the ruins had been discovered, with the rest to be excavated. To enter the temple you must take off your shoes and hats, there are no selfies allowed and no back to the temple.
For lunch we had another buffet at Rukmali hotel before returning to The Other Corner. With some free time, Harry climbed the treehouse outside our room (the actual treehouse), and we had a swim in the pool to cool off.
Our afternoon activity was a safari! Pretty excited to see what animals we could find! Our safari departed around 3pm. This was our favourite activity so far, as we got to see LOTS of elephants including a baby only a few days old. This time of year (September) it was the start of the annual gathering where there can be around 350 elephants together in one place. Sadly because it was busy a few of the elephants appeared to be unhappy with the vehicles and surrounded a few of them, tapping the cars with their trunks. The vehicles moved on. Later during the safari, our jeep actually broke down! After a few guys tried to fix it and couldn’t, we and Chad had to hitch a ride in another vehicle. Very thankful given the sun was starting to go down and we were in the middle of nowhere with some cranky (justified) elephants.
On the way home we asked Chad to stop at what we would call a ‘bottle shop’ in Australia which in Sri Lanka was another ‘hole in the wall’. Very small shop with alcohol behind bars. Back at our accommodation I tried the Lion Stout beer which was 8.8% alcohol with the snacks we’d bought at a supermarket nearby. Tonight we ordered room service which was half the price of dining in and still just as good!
Day 4 – Climbing Sigiriya rock, Dambulla cave temple, Temple of the Tooth and unique home stay in Kandy
Today was the day we were actually going to climb Sigiriya rock after seeing it from afar on bikes a few days ago. Following breakfast at 7am we drove to Sigiriya and on the way saw an elephant having a bath in the river. The price for two tickets to climb Sigiriya fortress rock cost 9660 rupees and as I was purchasing the tickets the national anthem came on, so we had to stand to attention until it was finished.
It was warm already, and we were covered in sunscreen and our hats ready for our climb. There were lots of monkeys around, and as we walked towards the rock we saw a monitor lizard. We took turns taking our photos at the lions paws (not something you can capture by selfie) and continued to climb to the top. A local man took my wrist and led me up the steep stairs however stayed with us as we got to the top and insisted on taking photos at the spots he recommended. We didn’t have many rupees left on us after buying tickets and told him this, but he chose to remain with us. Unfortunately it became annoying, the photos were not good and he was disappointed when at the end of our photo session we could only give him 300 rupees (around $5 Australian dollars). It also meant we went back to the spots we actually wanted to take photos in, and do it all again selfie style. Sigiriya fortress rock reminded me of the Lion King movie, though used to be a fortified city. It took us around 2 hours to climb up and down including time for photos (twice).
Next we visited Dambulla cave temple, a UNESCO world heritage site. To get in, Harry had to purchase a scarf to wear as a skirt and cover his knees to be allowed in. This place is like the Sri Lankan version of being inside an Egyptian tomb with Buddha images and rock paintings in vivid colours on the walls. It is quite impressive inside and from a distance. Nearby there is a temple that is free to visit with a large gold Buddha. We took our time wandering around the area, it was much quieter than the more popular Dambulla cave temple. One of the benefits of having our own local guide is finding out about these places!
From here we had a two hour drive to Kandy to visit the Temple of the Tooth. This is where Buddha’s tooth is now located. You are required to have a local guide here so after paying the fee we were shown through the temple which has 7 levels. We were told that the tooth was the only thing left of the Buddha, and a story about the tooth flying up into the air and landing in a lady’s hair when someone tried to destroy it.
After another day of exploring, it was time to make our way to our accommodation – Ficus Canopy Tree House home stay. This was our favourite accommodation so far, a treehouse next to a family home where we were invited for a cooking class and dinner. It was a climb from the road to the family home and we were met at the top by Ringo the dog. Once settled in to our treehouse, the family brought us a watermelon drink, and green fruit and nut ice-cream and left it on the balcony for us to enjoy at our leisure.
That evening we were invited into the family home to learn how to make hoppers. They are made with rice flour and coconut milk and considered a Sri Lankan delicacy. They are eaten either plain or with an egg broken in it, accompanied by a spicy onion symbol called ‘lunu miris’. Harry did the honours of learning with ‘Aunty’ and we tried our best to eat them all but could not. They are a very generous and kind family and we couldn’t believe our luck at having this type of experience. The man likes to draw and drew a picture of Harry as we ate our dinner. I asked for my picture which was drawn the following morning at breakfast.
Day 5 – Wedding gifts at Ficus Canopy, long train trip Kandy to Ella, 98 Acres Luxury Resort
For breakfast, the family at Ficus Canopy made us milk rice which is a celebratory meal and took turns presenting us with wedding gifts. This included a drawing, flowers and spoons made from wood and coconut shells that we still use to this day. It was extremely heartwarming and a moment we will never forget.
Today we were catching the train to Ella. Chandimal drove us from the treehouse accommodation to Kandy train station for our journey which was slightly delayed, departing around 9am instead of 8:47am. It was a LONG journey, taking around 7 hours but with some very beautiful scenery. We attempted to take some footage including outside of the windows and daringly the open door, but I held on tight and mostly kept inside as Harry leaned out of the door with our Go Pro mounted on a selfie stick.
Chad had quite the long journey too, meeting us by car at the other end shortly after 3:30pm. He took us to the main street to a place called Rotti Hut. Rotti is like a flat bread, and here it was served similar to a kebab with meat and vegetables inside. It was delicious.
While Ficus Canopy was our favourite accommodation so far because of the local experience, our next accommodation 98 Acres Luxury Resort at Ella became our favourite for another reason. The name probably gives it away but we had a chalet made from recycled materials with a balcony that had sweeping views of the mountains. The luxury resort and views really made it feel like we were on honeymoon. Just wow. They spoilt us too, delivering cake to celebrate our honeymoon and fruit to the chalet. Glad we were here for a few nights!
Day 6 – Nine Arches Bridge and exploring Ella town
As if the accommodation couldn’t get any better, there was a cat that came to visit us to make us even happier. What an amazing place to wake up in. With breakfast included, we made our way to the buffet breakfast and seating area with equally stunning views of the mountains. All the food looked good, so we ended up with quite the mix on our plates including omelette, prawn curry and pepper fried chicken. To drink we had a glass of fresh pineapple juice.
With the day to ourselves and no plans to go anywhere or do anything, we read our books with the mountains in the background until about 10:30am before moving. Having seen some amazing photos of nine arches bridge, we did a bit of research on train times and how to get there. The train wasn’t going past until 11:55am but we started making our way there, walking from our accommodation including along dirt roads that weaved up, down and around until we eventually arriving at a small cafe with views of the train tracks. We still had time before the train was due, so we descended down to the train tracks to look at the bridge more closely. It is popular and there were many other tourists there taking photos. As it got closer to 11:55am, we went back up to the cafe, purchased a juice and got into a good position. I can see why so many people go here. It is a rare sight and feels special to see the train make its way along the curved bridge, from this spot tucked away from the main part of Ella.
Back at 98 Acres, we decided to catch a tuk tuk to town next time instead of walking. It cost 300 rupees and was worth it in the hot weather and to save some time. Chad recommended a restaurant called Chill, so we went there for lunch and had pizza and beers. Good recommendation. It cost around 3520 which is about $24 Australian dollars. We wandered around Ella town, buying an ice-cream and snacks from a local supermarket before getting a tuk tuk back to our resort.
We are professional snackers, with Harry making the perfect snack platter. So after a nap to catch up on all those early mornings during our trip so far, we had snacks and drinks as we listened to music and got ready to head back into town. Another 300 rupees later we were back in Ella town via tuk tuk around 7pm for dinner. We went back to Chill for mojitos, poppadoms, burgers and schnitzels. Cost around 4200 rupees. After dinner we went for a walk, looked through the souvenir shops and Harry bought a magnet to add to our fridge collection.
Day 7 – Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory and Yala safari
The same cat from our chalet joined us for breakfast and we fed him (or her) under the table as we said bye to both the cat and those amazing views. Once checked out we met Chad and he drove us on a windy path to Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory. It was really interesting to learn about the tea making process. There was no production that day but they still showed us through, explaining each step and the equipment used. The workers appeared to be mostly hosing and cleaning that day, walking around barefoot. The things you remember. The cost for the tour was 480 rupees each which includes a cup of tea in the cafe and souvenir shop at the top with more mountain views.
From here we drove to Yala which took about 2.5 hours, stopping along the way at Ratana Falls and buying a mango sprinkled with chilli. Surprisingly tasty! It was a bit of a maze to find our accommodation – Yala Lake Adventure Camp – but we eventually found it and were very happy with our luxury air-conditioned tent to cool down.
Changing around the itinerary a bit, we did the Yala safari this afternoon at 2pm instead of the following morning. We were grateful because it was much cooler in the afternoon. From the safari vehicle we saw elephants on the road, and on the safari saw mongoose, crocodiles, brown fish owl, kingfishers, monkeys, deer and were trying to track snow leopard but no luck during the day. Some of the areas were closed but we still enjoyed the experience especially the elephants on the road or on the side of the road. Some of them even curiously poked their trunk into the vehicle, probably to see what food they could find!
Back at the accommodation we realised how quiet it was here, and we were happy to bring some business to them. In fact, we were the only people at dinner at the accommodation that evening, with a special meal prepared for us including curry, rice, fried chicken and vegetables.
Day 8 – Fishing with locals and exploring Galle fort
First thing in the morning, we got ready to go fishing with the locals. Wearing our life jackets, we watched them get the boat ready on the water’s edge, along with about 10 cows on the grass nearby. We got on the boat with two locals who pushed us out from the banks for our fresh water fishing experience. They cast a net and pulled it in, continuing the same actions, sometimes getting fish and others not. They also had rods and we took turns seeing what we could catch. The technique was similar to normal fishing but once you felt a bite you whipped it out and into the boat. No reels here. I caught more than Harry and felt quite proud of myself.
After checking out and thanking our hosts, Chad drove us to the historic port city of Galle, known for its old Dutch quarter and fort. It took about four hours to drive from Yala to Galle, reminding us how grateful we were for our driver and easy transport from one place to another. We explored the fort first which was interesting to see but quite windy next to the water so we soon returned to the narrow streets to find a local restaurant for lunch. We had success, sitting at a table outside one of the venues to rest our feet and share a very large pizza.
Despite having already travelled four hours by car today, we had another three hours ahead of us. Transfer back to Negombo, the beachside town, where our honeymoon adventure started. This time we stayed at Goldi Sands Hotel, and couldn’t believe we were at the end of the first part of our honeymoon. To celebrate a successful holiday, we went to Rodeo Pub and Restaurant for dinner and drinks. Our final meal out and about in Sri Lanka!
Day 9 – Flight to Maldives
And just like that, it was time for the second part of our honeymoon – the Maldives!
Travel: September 2018
Written: September 2021