Ceylon. Sri Lanka.
Swaying in a hammock under a coconut tree, this is how you relax in Sri Lanka. After over a year traveling through and around this gorgeous country (this was written a few years ago now), this country is certainly one of my favorites. If you are looking for an adventure full of colorful saris, speeding buses, picturesque tuk-tuks, wild elephants, spectacular surf, towering temples, beautiful scenery, rice and curry with a chai-tea dinner, I think you have found your match.
I first came to Sri Lanka desperate for a sun and saltwater rejuvenation holiday to heal my overworked mind. After an emotional break up and a soul-less job, I needed to relax. Surfing, adventuring, and rejuvenation were the goals of this trip, so I booked a one way ticket with a heart full of excitement to the tear drop shaped island formerly known as Ceylon. I was going to Sri Lanka. Lets just get into it.
Nearly everyone arrives to Sri Lanka via Colombo International Airport.
A bustling city full of comfortable hotels and fine restaurants. It wasn’t until my 5th trip to Sri Lanka that I spent time in Colombo. I am not much into cities, but there are some great spots to check out. If you just want to get to a beach then catch a taxi, train or tuk tuk and head to the white sand beaches and luxury resorts of Bentota, or continue a little further south to the surfing capital of Hikkaduwa. These are within an hour or two from the airport.
I always stay at Black Cat Coffee and Guesthouse if I arrive late to Colombo. After a long flight, all I want is a nice comfortable bed and a guaranteed good coffee in the morning. Black Cat always delivers. I have heard rave reviews about sweet little Villa Kapuru in Negombo as well.
At first sight, I knew I had reached a surfer’s paradise. The waves are gentle, food is cheap, and surfer friends are plentiful. In season, a multitude of mellow right hand point breaks stack up along the dry desert coastline. Simple huts and guesthouses dot a wide and empty beach, perfect for strolling, surfing, and soaking up the sun. My daily routine while in Arugam Bay involved a tuk-tuk rides along bumpy, dirt paths past wild elephants and excitable village kids to one of the many serene little surf breaks.
A single fin longboard tied on top and hair blowing wildly out the side of a three wheeled tuk tuk, I felt like a modern day surf explorer. Each morning after a massive tropical fruit salad and a strong cup of coffee, my biggest decision was where to go: Whiskey point, Potuvil Point, Lighthouse Point, Elephant Rock, Peanut Farm, Okanda or the towns most famous Main Point Surfing break. The options are truly endless.
To be honest, the Sunni Muslim population in this part of the country lacked a very warm, welcoming feel, but the sweetest little treehouse community at Ranga’s Beach Hut quickly feel like home. Now when I revisit Arugam Bay (with a digital nomad husband and smiley little baby) I chose to stay a little more upscale. The most comfortable and still very affordable place to stay is the Hideaway. Second option is Water Music Cabanas.
I get asked one question more than any other. When to go. Yes. Its a great questions. Monsoons rule half of this island-country for half of the yea. So you end up running east or west to avoid the seasonsal wind and rains. From April to October, you will find surfers heading to the east coast, Arugam Bay. Then from October to March, the rain clouds swap coasts. This is when we would say the Western and Southern coasts are in season.
Weligama, Ahangama, Midigama
Lets talk South Coast now. A place I know much better than anywhere else. This is where I made a new home for nearly 9 months of my 12 in Sri Lanka.
Weligama is a beautiful long boarding beachbreak lined in coconut trees and surfboard stands. Weligama is a bustling little Sri Lanka town, with a market, bus stops and lots of local eateries. There can certainly be better waves around, but its a great spot to base yourself as the waves spread both directions down the coast.
My dear friends Peter and Linn have recently opened the sweetest little surf cafe and guesthouse just in front of Trobene Island in Weligama. Check out their very instagrammable cafe and rooms at Ceylon Sliders.
When my mother came to visit at the end of November, we decided to base ourselves three kilometers away in Mirissa. Mirissa is a tourist village with a stunningly beautiful stretch of beach with a plethora of eateries and surf breaks. Postcard perfect infinity pools, cheap massages and a respite from the endless rice and curry dinners make it one of the most sought after destinations in the country. Each morning, my mother enjoyed swimming in the crystal clear Indian ocean waters while I enjoyed a soul-satisfying surf. Thats a family holiday for the win!
Initially we had big plans to adventure all over the country during her three week vacation, but we found it impossible to leave what some claim to be “the most beautiful beach in the world.” We satisfied our wanderlust cravings with local tuk-tuk adventures to a few of the following spots. The fort city of Galle, where you can spent the day shopping, eating and sightseeing. Dont miss a bite at Poonies Kitchen. A surf and stroll at Midigama or the photographic little surf spot of Gurugabilla. You can stay at Lion’s Rest in Gurugabilla, which has always been a favorite place to grab a coffee after a fun surf out front.
There are not shortage of secluded white sand beaches running up and down the main road. Go off this guide and out of the the tourist bubble and grab a glimpse of Sri Lankan life, where poverty, tsunami wreckage and civil war wounds can still be felt and seen.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve & UdaWalawa-National Park
After my mom left, I adventured into the interior of the country with a few new friends. Our first stop was to the UNESCO world heritage Sinharaja Forest Reserve, where a towering rainforest is home to gangs of howling monkeys. This birder’s paradise is a nature lover’s dream. Continuing on, not so far is UdaWalawa-National Park where you can find hundreds of wild elephants. Elephants are the most tranquil massive beings on the planet. There is something so amazing about being in their presence, especially in such massive numbers.
Ella to Kandy
One of the most popular trips in Sri Lanka is the scenic train journey from the mountain town of Ella through tea plantations and wilderness sanctuaries to the cultural capital of Kandy. Although long and bumpy, the views are definitely spectacular. Spend a day hiking in Ella to little Adam’s Peak. Or Jump on the train and get off at the stop in Hatton for a big hike to the top of real Adam’s Peak. Sri Pada, Adam’s Peak. Adam’s peak is a pilgrimage site for Buddhist, Muslims, Hindus and Christians. Most Sri Lankans and tourists find themselves walking up thousands of stone steps to reach the 7,359 Ft. summit. At the top, the views are immensely rewarding . I hiked this peak three times while living in Sri Lanka, both times during the off-season passing only a handful of people. But if you are hiking during peak season, expect a massive line up the mountain full of colorfully dressed Sri Lankans waiting to see the sunrise.
Back on the train to Kandy, I found myself content to just sit, legs feeling like Jello and a belly full of rice and curry, I spent the next few hours staring out the window. I spent three enjoyable days in Kandy popping into Ayurvedic shops, meditating to chanting monks, touring all the town’s temples and eating to my belly’s content. At night, there are cultural ceremonies full of music and dance. Kandy is only 3 hours from the airport making it an easy first or last place on any Sri Lanka vacation itinerary.
When in Sri Lanka, I suggest you take the time to learn a little bit about Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a holistic medicinal approach to health that derived from the Hindu part of the world. Ayurveda means “life knowledge.” I believe it is a way of living that keeps us healthier, happier and overall well-balanced. The Ayurveda shops in Kandy are full of balms, oils, herbal toothpastes, soaps and medicines. It’s the perfect place to end your trip and fill your suitcase full of thoughtful souvenirs.
My last day in Sri Lanka, I sat in the early morning sun enjoying a cup of chai-tea next to a peaceful orange robed monk. These unplanned moments are the ones you will remember and cherish forever. We learn so much through travel. Although the overly eager tuk-tuk drivers may challenge your sanity at times, the tranquil moments laying on a beautiful beach make up for it. Sri Lanka remains at the top of the New York Times Travel Destination List and is the top selling Lonely Planet. A few years after a brutal civil war, tourist infrastructure and development are only recently beginning to take off. Thats why the time to go is now. It is exotic. It is beautiful. It is a place you must see. Sri Lanka, I love you.