Welcome to the Jungle; 10 Days in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka was always on our ‘must visit’ list, but after Lonely Planet ranked it as the top destination in 2019, we knew we had to venture there before it became overrun by tourists.
The most difficult part about our trip to Sri Lanka was deciding just how we would spend only 10 days there! I mean, there is so much to see, and although it is an island, it’s a BIG island and getting around from place to place can take time. Here’s how we broke it up:
4 days in Kandy
1 day in Dambulla
4 days in Ambalangoda
1 day in Colombo
Most of our friends recommended that we visit Kandy, so we hopped in a car as soon as we landed at the airport (we actually negotiated for a private driver for the next 5 days, which was super convenient). It was a 3-hour drive with many twists and turns, but we were very thankful that we weren’t the ones driving.
The Radh Hotel had just opened a few months prior and is insanely beautiful. It was the perfect refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city life right outside, and our room even had a private plunge pool!
It was easy to find things to do in Kandy. Here’s what we got up to:
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This is probably the most mentioned site in Kandy, famous for housing a tooth of Buddha. Our favorite part inside the complex was the Buddhist museum with history and artifacts from around the world. We spent a few hours in there and it was a perfect Buddhism refresher.
Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue. There’s a big white Buddha sitting atop a hill overlooking the city (you will see them all over the countryside). You can easily take a tuk tuk all the way to the top, but we opted for an urban hike. This statue is huge and definitely worth taking a peek at.
Attend a cultural dance show. There are three or four places that put these on - usually from 5-6PM every night. We weren’t sure what to expect, but they did a good job of keeping it interesting throughout and even ended the show by bringing the audience outside and demonstrating walking across hot coals.
Elephants! You aren’t more than an hour from a variety of elephant interactions. We picked a day to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to watch 40 elephants bathe in the river, which was quite the site to see! Then, we ventured over the the Elephant Freedom Project, where we got to give Kumari — the resident elephant who was rescued from a life of logging and tourist rides — a scrub down and fed her lots and lots of pumpkin. We love interacting with animals in a responsible way, and this was super enjoyable and in a small group of only 6 people.
Eat lots of fresh food. Our favorite restaurants in Sri Lanka were pretty much all in Kandy. Cafe Secret Alley and Cafe Banana Chill were our go-to spots for vegan smoothies and avo toast. We also went to Balaji Dosai for a cheap dinner where all the locals were. Get the onion and cheese dosa — OMG.
Next up, we knew that we wanted to go north to Dambulla, so we spent one night there and hit up to see two specific sights (there’s not much going on in the city itself):
Sigiriya Rock. This is mentioned as the most visited place in Sri Lanka by visitors and locals alike. Get there early to avoid the crowd. You basically walk up a thousand stairs to get to the top of a rock fortress. Beware: you’ll be rewarded with phenomenal views (and lots of monkeys) at the top.
Dambulla Royal Cave Temple. There are a bunch of Buddhist paintings and sculptures built into caves that you can wander through, and the entrance is marked by a big gold Buddha.
After all this time inland, we wanted to end our trip with a few days relaxing on the beach. We opted for a less frequented beach town called Ambalangoda and selected the most perfect Airbnb right on the beach. This time was mostly spent relaxing, but we did venture to both Galle and Hikkaduwa to check it out — the main recommendation from there is to eat at Salty Swamis right on the beach in Hikkaduwa. They know how to do proper coffee and tea, mind-blowing smoothie bowls, and the best breakfast burrito we’ve had in a while.
Our last night in Sri Lanka was spent in Colombo so that we were close to the airport, so we managed to do a bit of sight-seeing before we hopped on the plane. Mosquée Jami Ul Alfar is a must-see, but we also have a couple restaurant discoveries to share:
Cafe Kumbuk. Mmmmm lots of vegetarian and meat options, and perfect for a nice brunch. They are attached to a yoga studio and really focus on quality ingredients with a friendly attitude. They even gave me a free dessert for International Women’s Day!
The Gallery Cafe. Amazing place for a dinner with sexy outdoor ambiance. Not to mention, they have a huge menu with a variety of dishes and cocktails.
Life Food. Lots of coffee drinks and juices plus unique and filling salads and sandwiches. Right across the street from Gangaramaya Temple, which is also worth a visit.
The only thing we wished we had more time for is a train ride to Ella and a leopard safari. We could always spend more time on the beach, of course, but I think we did a good job seeing a bunch of things for the limited time we had there. We will definitely be back someday!