Of all the places I have visited, Sri Lanka is one of the most interesting and exotic. The first part of my backpacking trip, taking in Mount Lavinia and Galle, was a truly memorable experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for an unusual and varied holiday destination.
The boyfriend and I flew from Manchester Airport to Colombo in Sri Lanka. The flight takes around 12 hours 30 minutes; it was my first ever long haul flight, and nothing could have prepared me for the tiredness I would feel.
By the time we landed in Colombo, I could barely keep my head from falling forwards at every opportunity! It’s also worth noting that Sri Lanka is five and a half hours ahead of the UK, so be prepared for some serious jetlag!
On arrival, we took a taxi to the quiet beach town of Mount Lavinia, about 10km north of Colombo, where we had arranged to spend our first night.
Accommodation in Sri Lanka is unbelievably cheap. You can get a hotel room in Galle itself from as little as £16 a night, for a perfectly acceptable, clean room. The New Old Dutch House and the Pedlar’s Inn Hostel, both in the centre of Galle, come highly recommended for travellers on a budget.
Our first night was spent in Colombo Hostel and it did its job, it provided a place to sleep in but it wasn’t really great. Felt like a prison cell but it’s location was quite good. Best thing about it was the small shack next door where I had the best breakfast in Sri Lanka. Still dreaming about it.
If you’re looking for an AWESOME place to stay, further down the road from Colombo Hostel is the beautiful Villasunshine in Mount Lavinia.
It cost us £19 for the night, for which we received a spacious duplex suite, complete with traditional wooden carved furniture, including a four-poster bed! It was immaculately kept, and unbelievably good value.
I wrote a full review of it in another post here.
Mount Lavinia and the Turtle Conservation Project
Mount Lavinia is an exceptionally quiet beach town; we couldn’t even hear the traffic or any ambient noise from tuk-tuks or passers-by! It really is a tranquil, tropical paradise with a long stretch of golden beach. The beach was only five minutes’ walk from our accommodation, so we spent our first few hours exploring.
If you keep walking to the south of Mount Lavinia Beach, you will come across a sea turtle hatchery with the very welcoming name of Our Turtle Conservation Project.
Visitors get the incredible chance to get really close to the turtles, and my boyfriend and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of releasing a baby turtle into the sea! That memory will stay with me for as long as I live.
The Train to Galle
We decided to get the train to Galle, where we were to spend the next three nights. We were already in our second-class carriage (standing room only), when we realised we were on the wrong train! Our journey took us a further hour away from Galle, but it was an experience I would not have missed for the world due to the fascinating insight it gave me into the life of a Sri Lankan commuter.
The trains are crowded and unbelievably hot, with ceiling fans rather than air conditioning. They’re so over-subscribed that people actually travel hanging off the train doors! There is no first-class option on many of the trains, but if you can get it, it’s well worth it, as it is so cheap. This is how we eventually travelled to Galle, after a meal in the station.
Galle and the Fort
Galle is a beautiful and eclectic city, where a tropical backdrop frames Dutch Colonial architecture featuring eaves and pillars on most of the houses and hotels.
The city is dominated by the Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was built in the Dutch Colonial era and is still a bustling hub of local life today, featuring many businesses including jewellery and fashion shops, cafes and restaurants.
For a more cultural experience, you can also find the National Museum of Galle and the Lighthouse here, both of which are worth a visit.
In the afternoon, we had a dip in the sea to cool off as the heat had become unbearably intense and we had sunburned our hands on one side from where the sun had hit us as we were walking!
While we were swimming, we met some lovely locals who were celebrating the Poya, a Buddhist religious holiday which is observed every full moon.
Some more pics of Galle:
Eating and Drinking
Fish and seafood feature heavily on all menus in Galle, due to the vast availability of fresh produce from the sea. Crab and cuttlefish are particular specialities here, but the most popular dish by far is sour fish curry.
It is typically made with tuna and a variety of spices, and in spite of its off-putting name, it was delicious!
There are a great many street vendors selling traditional food and there is a wide selection of excellent restaurants. My favourite: “A minute by Tuk Tuk”. Can’t find a website for it but it’s on the Dutch hospital complex. Pictures below.
Those on a budget will love the Lucky Fort; while if you’ve got a bit more cash to spare, the Sun House is well worth a visit, and also has an atmospheric cocktail bar.
Udawalawe National Park
The following day we were up at five o’clock to begin our journey to the Udawalawe National Park. We had arranged a taxi and guide for the day, which was ideal as it takes almost three hours to get to the park from Galle.
It’s a wonderful safari experience, offering the chance to see elephants, wild buffalo, deer and leopards in their natural habitat.
We were lucky enough to have a very close encounter with an elephant, which was a truly unforgettable moment! Udawalawe’s elephant population is thought to be around 250, so you have a great chance of seeing them if you visit the park.
Our taxi and guide would then stay with us as we began the second part of our Sri Lankan backpacking adventure, moving on with us to Ella.
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