If you like curry and adventure, you’ll love Sri Lanka. I had no idea what to expect when I hopped on a plane with my spicy man in November 2014. We touched down in a damp Colombo, popped in our new SIM cards and rolled our suitcases outside into the island air. After bargaining rates with the cabbies we settled into our ride and started our drive through the city.
I rolled down my window and the humid air rushed through my curls – it was 9:00am and people were opening up their storefronts, heading to work in their blouses and dress pants, music was playing and the horn-honking drivers were kicking up dust from the roads as they weaved around pedestrians.
After settling into our BnB, we crossed the street in the pouring rain into a small local restaurant called Green Cabin where we ordered hoppers (like miniature crepes in the shape of a bowl with either egg or milk in the middle), chicken curry, mutton rolls and lime soda. With our bellies full we planned out the next two weeks of our trip and here are some of the things I recommend you do when you go to this beautiful island:
Colombo is a bustling city with a lot going on. You can wake up at around 5:00AM, take a tuk tuk to the Galle Face beach and walk along the boardwalk as the sun rises. You can walk across the street from the beach to the Taj Samudra where you can dine like a queen on a breakfast feast of coconut-milk-rice, fish curry, spicy omelets, hoppers, coconut sambol (freshly shredded and spiced coconut) and exotic fruits like starfruit, papaya and mango followed by the most famous tea in the world, “Ceylon tea”.
The tea is so fresh and fragrant that you need no milk or sugar to enjoy it. You can drive seven miles from Colombo to the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, one of the most revered Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka where you can remove your sandals and take in your own moment of peace and gratitude. You can pop back into the city and visit the variety of artsy cafes and shops including, my favourite, Hansa Coffee, to eat some bombtastic brownies and iced mochas. Finally, for the foodie in you, treat yourself to an authentic lumprais from the Dutch Burgher Union, which may be one of the few times you eat deliciousness out of a banana leaf.
Beddegamma & Yala National Park
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a tree? Me neither – but #bae wanted to go so we went. On the way to Beddegamma from the city we stopped at almost every fruit stall to drink out of orange coconuts and eat mangosteens (tip: do not eat the wood apples – they taste like socks – not wood or apples).
Our treehouse had a full queen-sized bed, a toilet, a sink, and a giant tree trunk that ran through the middle of it. At night I counted the stars and fell asleep feeling a cool breeze and listening to wild birds. I woke up at 5:00am the next morning, took a cold shower, crept down the stairs and we made our way back to the camp site where a jeep picked us up and drove us into Yala for a safari. It was a phenomenal experience! We drove through mud roads into the park where we saw families of spotted deer, monkeys, a group of grazing elephants, exotic birds, peacocks and more.
If you like tea, high altitudes, rolling hills, waterfalls and lots of nature you will love Nuwara Eliya. I am a tea fanatic so when we arrived at the Tea Factory Hotel, I was overjoyed. The hotel is on a tea plantation and you can wake up to see the sun rise over the hilltops. Eating a breakfast of string hoppers rolled over a mixture of honey and shredded coconut was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.
Kandy is another bustling city with a lot to offer. The markets were busy with smells of fresh spices and exotic fruits. The curry tasted just like my aunt’s. Oddly, they didn’t serve rice and curry and night – instead, the variety of restaurants offered Chinese food. While we love Chinese food, we were determined to find some good kothu roti. We found a greasy spoon only frequented by locals where nobody spoke English and we had the BEST chicken kothu roti in the city – it was intensely flavourful and the owner was so happy we came by that we all took a group photo before we left. After dinner we walked to a dessert shop for wattalapam (a very sweet dessert made up of jaggery, coconut milk, eggs and spices) and finished off the night with watermelon juice.
If you can only stay in one area of Sri Lanka and you are in need of some good R&R then you must go to Heritance Kandalama. The hotel is an architectural masterpiece by Geoffrey Bawa who integrated the jungle and caves into the hotel. When you walk out on the balcony attached to your room you walk right into the jungle and can hang out with the little monkeys who try to con you for bananas. Your room is stacked with a box of fresh fruits and the bathroom has a glass wall so you can hang out in the tub and watch baby monkeys swing along the trees. The food in the dining areas is second to none. You can take a cooking class and learn how to make fish curry or relax in the infinity pool or organize a trip to Sigiriya Rock, an ancient rock fortress you can climb and take in the view of the jungle.
Sri Lanka is by far one of my favourite places to travel to and has (along with Italy) the best food in the world. If you have the time and can save up the money, it’s definitely worth a visit!