We’ve got an exotic and exciting honeymoon in store for your Wednesday, thanks to Jen Lynne Photography. She’s sharing her recent trip to Sri Lanka with us, including all of her recommendations for where to go, what to eat and where to stay. This country has so much beauty at every turn, and would make a wonderfully unique honeymoon destination!
Despite having just emerged from a 26 year long war, and being ravaged by a tsunami in 2004, this little known island has come into it’s own and makes the perfect honeymoon destination for couples seeking adventure, culture and beautiful beaches! If you are going to Sri Lanka, the one thing you should know is that one-week is not enough time to see everything! After spending 9 days on this magical little island, we quickly realized how much this place has to offer. Here is a recap of our itinerary that we felt was just enough to see the highlights and get a taste for Sri Lanka.
Photos and words: Jen Lynne
We spent months researching where to stay and feel that we picked the best of best to give us an unforgettable experience in each region. We started our journey in the city of Dambulla, one of the top areas to stay in with several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We spent two nights at the award winning Heritance Kandalama. The architecture alone is worth the visit. From the infinity pool there is a view of the famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Monkeys roam freely throughout the hotel and play by the pool. Don’t worry; they are super friendly and really fun to watch!
Don’t miss the Golden Temple in Dambulla.
This Buddhist temple dates back to the first century BC. The best time to visit is late in the day when the sun is about to set. Take your time climbing the many stairs and watch the monkeys come out to play. The temple offers not only gorgeous views, but is “a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery, with its five sanctuaries, is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka.”
The Buddhist mural paintings (covering an area of 2,100 m2 ) are of particular importance, as are the 157 statues.” After you make your way back down, pick up a fresh king coconut for some refreshing hydration.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Dambulla, Sri Lanka
A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the central province of Sri Lanka. King Kassapa built the rock fortress over 1600 years ago. The ruins can be seen from the moment you enter the site and all along the 1200 plus stairs to the top of the rock, where the views and palace ruins provide a breathtaking view of Sri Lanka, and its magnificent mountain ranges.
Be sure to take plenty of water with you, as it can be a long hot climb to the top!
On the road from Dambulla to the Knuckles mountain range, you can find several amazing spice gardens. Most offer free admission with a guided tour of the gardens. It’s a great introduction to the abundant agriculture grown in Sri Lanka.
With close to 1000 tea estates in Sri Lanka, you cannot visit this island with out stopping for a taste. Ceylon tea, or black tea, is one of the countries largest exports. We suggest stopping at GlenLoch Tea Factory for an informative guided tour to see how tea is grown, picked and made for consumption.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
Our next hotel wasn’t so much of a hotel, but more of a “glamping” experience. Set in a private tea estate, Madulkelle sits high up in the Knuckles mountain range, home to some of the world’s largest Ceylon tea plantations.
They have an amazing infinity pool where you can relax and watch the tea pickers make their way through the endless rows of tea bushes. Arrive early enough and you can walk through the organic vegetable garden with the chef and take a cooking class! The food was out of this world good and the view was spectacular.
After a one-night stay in the city of Kandy, we made our way high into the mountains to “Little England”, Nuwara Eliya. We checked into our cute little bungalow, The Ferncliff. Tucked away in the corner of a quiet residential area, we felt as though we had been transported to another time.
With forest like surroundings, this hidden gem was the perfect place to rest and take in the sights and sounds. In the evening you can relax in the rocking chairs on the front porch and listen to the sounds of the chanting from the local Buddhist monastery. In town you can walk through the bustling open-air market and take in the local culture. Stop by a local pub for some traditional Sri Lankan food with a bit of an “English” flair.
Udawalawe National Park
If wildlife is what you are after, then a trip to the Udawalawe National Park is a must see. We really wanted a unique experience where we were surrounded by nature. We found the Banyan Camp on Airbnb, it was exactly what we were looking for. Situated on a beautiful lake, this open air camp is the perfect place to see nature at its finest.
Not only did the staff provide a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast, lunch and dinner for us, but they kept the place spotless and critter free so we could relax and take in the sights.
They even arranged for a driver to pick us up in the morning to take us on a safari through the park where we saw a plethora of elephants, monkeys and beautiful birds! Be sure to ask for the sunrise safari, the light is amazing and the wildlife is more active.
Our last stop was in Unawatuna. A charming little beach town filled with surfers, nomads and expats. It was the perfect ending to our journey.
We stayed at the Thambapanni Retreat. Set back from the busy main road, this boutique hotel was just what we needed as we prepared for our journey home.
It was an easy walk to the beaches, restaurants and shopping. We really enjoyed eating at the King Fisher. Great seafood, beach dining and awesome drink.
We found the best shopping to be in the beach towns of Galle and Unawatuna. Walking through the streets you will find a lot of souvenir shops selling local fabrics; hand carved wood items, tea, incense and more. One of my favorite shops was in Unawatuna called Saffron Robes Gallery. We spent hours in this tiny shop looking through hundreds of paintings by local artists. The owner of the shop was kind enough to wrap our painting securely so we could bring them home in our suitcase. It is one of my most cherished purchases from our whole trip!
Tips for your trip to Sri Lanka
Flying into Sri Lanka was a fairly easy process. We were in India before flying to Sri Lanka so our experience was a little different than if you were not coming from India. We found Sri Lankan Airlines to be the best, most frequent and least expensive route. We flew directly into Colombo with no problems! If you are leaving from India, be sure to arrive at the airport about 4 hours before your flight leaves, as it is a bit chaotic during the security process.
Hire a driver!
One thing you should know about Sri Lanka is that driving is not for the faint of heart. Between the tuk-tuk drivers, road construction and wandering cows in the road, driving from place to place can make for long travel days. We did a lot of research on how to get around in Sri Lanka and found the best option for us was to hire a driver. We found his rates to be very reasonable (we paid $450 USD in January 2016) and he was not only our driver through out our trip, but our tour guide. He stopped when he thought we might want to take a photo, he took us to sights he thought were a must see and protected us in areas where he thoughts we might be unsafe. It was the best decision we made!
Before hiring a driver here are a few things to keep in mind: Research reviews, a lot of them. // Google the names of the drivers you do contact and their email addresses. // Don’t pay any money over the Internet or up front. Everything should be done in person between you and your driver. We paid half in the beginning and the other half at the end of our trip, along with a big tip for being such a great guide! // Contact your hotels to see if they have driver accommodations. Since your driver is with you during your entire trip they will need a place to sleep as well. Most hotels in Sri Lanka have driver accommodations, some are better than others. Check them out ahead of time and read the reviews online. Chances are if you wouldn’t sleep there, your driver probably would want to sleep there either.
Take the train
When we were planning our trip in Sri Lanka, everything we read said “take the train from Kandy to Ella”. It is supposed to be an unforgettable journey and the views are out of this world. We arrived early to the train station in Kandy to buy our tickets, but must to our dismay we found the train was completely sold out!
Our advice: buy your tickets the day before or two days before if you can. Buying them online is very confusing and not always safe to do. We brought our driver as our translator and even he was amazed that the train was sold out. So just a word of caution, book in advance if you can or have someone go to the train station to buy the tickets for you.
Each month on the day of the full moon, Sri Lanka celebrates a public Buddhist holiday called Poya. It’s an extraordinary event to watch as the whole country celebrates this day with events and festivals. However, be aware that on the Poya day, there is no alcohol served anywhere, banks and most ATM’s are closed as are a lot of restaurants. We were lucky enough to be in Kandy on Poya Day, and our dear sweet driver made sure we stopped at a liquor store the day before to buy some local whisky in case we wanted to celebrate with a drink.
Sri Lankan food is not too far from what you would find with most Indian cuisines. They use a lot of coconut, hot peppers and cinnamon (which is grown locally in Sri Lanka and exported to the rest of the world)!
A typical breakfast in Sri Lanka might consist of:
Meat, Fish or Chicken Curry
Potato Curry: (A mild, coconut-based potato curry, more like a soup).
Egg Curry: Hard-boiled eggs in a similar mild coconut sauce.
Dahl: Sri Lankan dahl is denser than its Indian counterpart.
Coconut Sambol: Shredded coconut, hot chilies, lime, tamarind, green onion and salt.
String Hoppers: These look like nests of spaghetti made of fine strands of rice flour batter. Delicious!
Plain Hoppers: Bowl shaped pancakes of rice flour and coconut milk. Most people use these as a bowl for their eggs, sambol and curry. This was my favorite!
Coconut Roti: Another bread type roti, this one is fairly thick and dense with coconut.
Don’t be afraid to eat the street food in Sri Lanka. If you are comfortable with it, you can actually find some of the best food comes from the street vendors. The general safety rule is that if the food is cooked hot and in front of you, then it is usually safe to eat. I am vegan so I didn’t eat any of the meat there. Use your best judgment when it comes to that.
Do’s and Don’t’s
• Be respectful. About 90% of Sri Lanka’s population is Buddhist. They are quite conservative so keep your shoulders covered and don’t wear anything too revealing. Especially if you are visiting a temple. I suggest always carrying a scarf to put over your shoulders; you never know where the day might take you!
• Don’t drink the tap water. It is still a third world country and you don’t want to get sick! Make sure the water you do buy is sealed in the bottle or comes from a trusted filtered source.
• Do try to get out for a hike to some of the waterfalls, they are spectacular and should not be missed!
• Visitors to Sri Lanka having tattoo of Buddha or other tattoos of religious significance may be arrested and deported, it is advised to cover up religious tattoos at all times if you want to visit. There are no issues with non-religious tattoos.
• Try out the local fruit. Sri Lanka has many varieties of fruit you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Our favorite was the king coconuts, rambutan and wood apple jams. Many road side stands will have fruit that is safe to eat.
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