As the days get shorter and the air starts to get that crisp chill you know, summer is a distant memory and winter is around the corner. Looking to get some sun we narrowed down to the far away land of Sri Lanka for our October Midterm break. I had been hearing some great things about this country and how it’s becoming a very popular holiday and volunteering destination from Australia, Europe and America.
We booked our flights early August and got some great deals, flying out to Sri Lanka in October is not very popular as of now. We narrowed down to Emirates who were offering some great deals at the time with a total flying time of 11 hrs excluding the 5 hrs stopover in Dubai.
Flying out of London late in afternoon we landed in the capital Colombo the following morning. The drive to the city is an hour depending on the traffic. Your options for transportation from the airport is mainly buses and taxis, but make sure to finalise a price before setting out if you chose the taxi. . In terms of accommodation plenty of choice between hotels, hostels and home accommodations depending on your budget and travel plans so book accordingly. We went with a local brand this time which surely lived up to its reputation from reviews. They are a chain with properties in all major cities of Sri Lanka.
Our hotel The Cinnamon Grand Colombo was in the heart of the city with several restaurants and a large outdoor pool. After checking in we relaxed by the pool and caught up on some well-deserved rest after the long journey.
Our Travel Plan – Spend 2 days in the capital Colombo followed by 5 days between the famous beach destinations of Bentota / Galle / Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna along the South western coast of the island.
The two days were spent looking around the tourist sites in Colombo and sampling some mouth-watering cuisines in the many cafe’s & restaurants this city has to offer. It’s a foodie’s paradise especially when it comes to seafood, fiery curries, flavourful pickles and a local speciality the coconut roti. The city is quite modern with shops, malls, cafes and some swanky restaurants and bars. A well planned city with plenty of local transport available at reasonable prices. The rickshaw rides are available everywhere and are an economical mode of transport within the city.
Day 1 we hired a Tuk Tuk (rickshaw) for a few hours and went around the city visiting some of the suggested tourist sites. Our driver was knowledgeable and very pleasant knowing most of the tourist attractions at the back of his hand. I have listed some of them in the Must Do’s. He showed us around the city stopping over at some of the souvenir shops and the famous Barefoot Cafe where we picked up some local handicrafts and the famous Lankan tea. Sri Lanka is famous for its tea plantations so make sure you sample some of the best teas here.
We headed back to the hotel and after freshening up headed the famous Taj Samudra Hotel for our very first dinner in Sri Lanka.
Day 2 was spent visiting some of the tourist attractions again followed by a visit to a local school which is helped by a volunteering programme from the U.K. This was suggested to us by a friend back home who has been working closely with programme. The kids loved the experience and it was quite interesting to see them interact with the children here. Sri Lanka is fast becoming a popular destination for volunteering programmes and I must say it was a pleasure to see the work some of these organisations are doing to help and develop some of the under privileged children here.
We had lunch at the highly recommended restaurant The Paradise Road café and yes it was worth the visit.
Later in the afternoon we spent some time along the famous Galle beach front enjoying the cool breeze and views while the kids enjoyed a game of cricket with some locals.
We visited the famous Galle Face Hotel for afternoon tea. The Galle Face Hotel is an iconic building in Colombo and was founded in 1864 being one of the oldest hotels east of Suez. The hotel was originally built by four British entrepreneurs and its name derives from the stretch of lawn which it faces, known as the Galle Face Green. It began as a Dutch villa called The Galle Face House and the property has remained largely unchanged until the present day, though with many extensive restorations.
The evening was spent at the famous Dutch Hospital Quarter which houses some shops and the famous Ministry of Crab restaurant. We completed our tour of Colombo with a hearty dinner here and headed back to the hotel for some much required rest.
Asokaramaya Buddhist Temple.
Galle Face Green.
Mount Lavinia Beach.
St Lucia’s Cathedral.
Explore the night-life as Colombo is known for it’s bars, clubs and casinos. For a fun evening, take a tuk-tuk ride and head to Park Mews which is a small lane with 8-10 different bars in a row.
There are a couple of other attractions like The Sky Lounge and Casino if you are looking for more entertainment.
Must Eat’s :
Ministry of Crab http://www.ministryofcrab.com/
Paradise Road the Gallery Café https://www.paradiseroad.lk/gallery_cafe/
Barefoot Cafe https://barefootceylon.com
Café Francais. https://www.cafefrancaisbypourcel.com/
Local cuisine Nuga Gama @ The Cinnamon Grand Hotel. http://www.cinnamonhotels.com/en/cinnamongrandcolombo/
Check prices as some of these are £££
Day 3 started with a heavy breakfast and our journey towards the coast (leave late to avoid the morning rush hour). For travelling within Sri Lanka there are a few options, local bus, train but we chose the more comfortable yet affordable one (private taxi) which cost us just under £50 for a 2.5hr journey to Hikkaduwa.
We reached our hotel (The Hikka Tranz) in the afternoon and after a lazy lunch enjoyed the beach and the pool. Our hotel had a large pool area, its own private beach and was famous for these lovely sea turtles that came to the shore every day to feed. It is a beautiful property and highly recommended if you are in this area.
It was a great experience seeing these majestic animals swim around in the shallow waters whilst the kids loved feeding them. The locals take great care of these turtles and I must say they are beautiful gentle animals.
You can short day tours to the many Turtle farms around this area.
Galle & Unawatuna
Day 4 we took a tour of the historic town of Galle, a major city situated on the south-western tip 119 km from Colombo and the administrative capital of the southern province. We hired a taxi for the day which would take us to Galle and Unawatuna for just under £50.
Galle was known as Gimhathiththa before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, when it was the main port on the island. Galle is the best example of a fortified city built by the Portuguese in south east Asia, showing the interaction between Portuguese architectural styles and native traditions. The city was extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 onwards. The Galle fort is a world heritage site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers.
Other prominent landmarks in Galle include the city’s natural harbour, the National Maritime Museum, St. Mary’s Cathedral, the main Shiva temple, and Amangalla, the historic luxury hotel. On 26 December 2004, the city was devastated by the massive tsunami, which occurred off the coast of Indonesia a thousand miles away. Thousands were killed in the city alone. Galle is home to the Galle International Stadium, which is considered to be one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world. The ground, which was severely damaged by the tsunami, was rebuilt and test matches resumed there on 18 December 2007.
We walked through the rustic city and the famous light house after a sumptuous lunch headed to the beach town of Unawatuna.
Unawatuna is a small beach town in southern Sri Lanka and a 30 minutes from Galle. It is known for its coral reef and its palm lined beaches, like Unawatuna Beach. Nestled in the nearby jungle, the Japanese Peace Pagoda has a stupa with ocean views. The Sea Turtle Farm and Hatchery south of town protects endangered species.
There is a good selection of guest houses and restaurants around Unawatuna and this part of Sri Lanka is very popular with travellers. This is more of a sunset drink place then a late night rave spot if you just wondered. The kids enjoyed the beach followed by a walk along in the narrow streets of Unawatuna before heading back to our hotel.
Dinner was mainly at the beach side restaurant of our hotel and yes some local delicacies and very fresh sea food.
There are a few restaurants and cafe’s dotted along the main street of the town if you fancy eating out of your hotel.
Day 5 & 6 were spent in the beautiful resort town of Bentota. Bentota is a resort town on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast and half way between Hikkaduwa and Colombo. It’s long Bentota Beach stretches north, where it becomes a sandy strip known as Paradise Island parallel to the Bentota Lagoon. You can also enjoy Canoe Rock a coral-rich dive site or the century-old Galapota Temple which has a large Buddha statue.
We left Hikkaduwa for Bentota quite and visited some of the villages that were completely destroyed by the tsunami and re built on the way. We checked into our hotel which was on a small private island and a bit unique, you had to take a boat trip to reach the main reception area and complete the formalities. This hotel again has its own private beach but is also linked to the main beach where you can have long walks.
Most of our day was spent relaxing by the pool as the kids made some new friends and had a great time. There is a busy market area in the centre of Bentota town which you can also visit for souvenir shops and restaurants that are busy with locals and tourists. After spending some time here we retied to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.
The following day we took a boat tour on the Bentota River and a visit to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Protection Association.
We returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the day by the pool not missing out on the water sports that out hotel had to offer. As the sun set we walked along the beach for the last time leaving our foot prints on the golden sands of Bentota.
Back to Colombo and home.
Day 7. We had an evening flight from Colombo so we left the hotel in the afternoon. A late breakfast and one last swim for the kids in the pool . It took us roughly 3 hrs to drive back to Colombo, a pit stop at the services on The EO1 the first expressway in Sri Lanka which connects most of island and in no time we were in Colombo airport ready to board our flight home.
What an experience, from the hustle and bustle of Colombo to the quiet calm waters of the Bentota river. Pristine sandy beaches and turtle conservation sites , jungles and mountains all on this beautiful island called Sri Lanka.