Since Natalie travelled Sri Lanka in 2013 she has been eager to retrace her steps and I’ve been eager to experience the amazing country she described. She told me about the beautiful Sri Lankan countryside, the delicious Sri Lankan food and the most kind, friendly Sri Lankan communities. It had been on the agenda for years, and finally we decided 2020 would be the year to visit Sri Lanka.
Fast forwarding to now, I can hand-on-heart say she was telling the truth – the Sri Lankan countryside is beautiful, the food is delicious and the locals are incredibly kind and friendly.
We spent seven days exploring this incredible country, even better we spent seven days driving around in our own TukTuk gifted to us by TukTuk Rental. Driving our own TukTuk was the most amazing experience and it allowed us to experience the real Sri Lanka, traffic jams included.
On our first day in Sri Lanka we landed at Colombo Airport at 2:55am. We headed straight for the official ‘Airport Taxi’ desk and jumped in a car which took us to our first hotel, The Pineapple Villa in Wathurugama. The drive took around an hour and 15 minutes and as soon as we arrived the wonderful staff were ready and waiting to check us in – which took all of about 5-minutes before we turned off the lights and snuggled up in bed.
Once we finally stirred from our few hours of sleep we could see the sun shining through the windows and feel the heat through the walls. We walked out to a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, pineapple juice, coconut roti and homemade milk rice with Pol Sambola, a Sri Lanka spicy coconut dish. It was our first taste of Sri Lankan food and it was absolutely delicious. Pol Sambola quickly became one of our favourite dishes throughout our trip, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
After we’d finished breakfast we heard the faint sound of a TukTuk driving up the driveway. We instantly knew it was TukTuk Rental dropping off our TukTuk for the week, which also meant it was time for Natalie to learn how to drive a TukTuk. First, we were shown the basics including petrol, oil, gears and breaks. Then we had a quick demonstration of how to drive the TukTuk before it was Natalie’s turn to take the reins. After an hour of test driving the TukTuk we were handed the keys and that was that, the TukTuk was ours for the week.
In the afternoon we put on our bikinis, grab our books and headed to the pool. We spent the rest of the day switching between reading, swimming and napping – the perfect way to unwind on holiday. Plus, being the only guests at The Pineapple Villa meant we had it all to ourselves. It was so peaceful, we could hear the palms tree rustling in the wind and the birds singing.
When the sun started to set we went for a short walk to explore the surrounding area of the hotel, we found some beautiful fields where we sat and watched the sunset behind the trees.
We decided to stay at The Pineapple Villa for dinner where we had the most delicious selection of Sri Lankan curries, including Pineapple Curry, Dhal and, of course, Pol Sambola. We were ready to pop by the end, we rolled ourselves back to the room to relax in bed.
We were up bright and early on our second day as it was time for our first big drive in the TukTuk, we were driving from Wathurugama to Dambulla. So, after another delicious breakfast we packed up our bags, took some coconut roti for the road and said goodbye to The Pineapple Villa.
The drive from Wathurugama to Dambulla takes five hours in a TukTuk, driving through mostly rural areas but also some major towns. Although we started off slow after a while Natalie found the drive easier and easier – we soon found ourselves loving the TukTuk and taking in our surroundings.
After about three-hours on the road we hit a little bump. We were driving through a major town when the TukTuk cut out and we were unable to restart it. We ended up having to get out of the TukTuk and push it to the side of the road with other cars, TukTuks and buses roaring past us. Luckily, many of the locals came to our rescue and helped us reach the side of the road. Plus, not before long they had fixed the issue and we were well on our way again.
We stopped of once more along the journey to buy some apples from a local fruit stall – we would have loved to have stopped off more, there were so many amazing places along the way, but our goal was to reach Dambulla in one piece.
Two-hours later we had reached our destination: The Elephant Stables.
After a reasonably stressful morning for Natalie we decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and admiring the view from our sun loungers over the Dambulla Hills. It was truly breathtaking, especially during sunset.
On our third day we had a very early start as we were heading to Pidurangala Rock to watch sunrise. The drive from The Elephant Stables took around 45-minutes to Pidurangala Rock – we did not feel confident enough to drive the TukTuk ourselves so we booked a car through the hotel.
We arrived around 5:45am, bought our tickets for 500 rupees each and started our climb to the top. The climb to the top takes around 20 – 45 minutes depending on your pace, at the beginning it is steps, steps and more steps. Only towards the end is when it becomes more rocky and the path becomes less clear. Then right at the end you have to squeeze through a small gap in the rocks to reach the top. Luckily, there was a local man at the top to help us up the last little bit.
Once we had made it to the top the sky was still pitch black, we found a spot and settled down to watch the sunrise, of course playing with the dogs who live at the top during that time. When the sun started to rise the sky turned into magical pink colour, it was so beautiful and peaceful. After the sun had truly broken through we could see for miles across Dambulla, as well as Sigiriya Rock in the distance.
We stayed at the top of Piduragala Rock until the sun had risen and we were surrounded by clear blue sky. Running across to every possible side to see the 360 degree views.
Next, it was time to head to Sigiriya Rock, also known as Lion Rock. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress with 1,200 steps which lead you right to the top. The climb can take around an hour or two and we have to been honest it was a rather stressful experience. The steps which lead to the top are not the most secure and the view downwards is pretty petrifying. Natalie, luckily, had a local guide who held her hand the whole way to the top.
Now, if we’re honest we weren’t overly blown away when we reached the top, we don’t think the views were much better than those we saw from Piduragala Rock. Plus, Piduragala Rock doesn’t come with a stressful 1,200 step climb or the 4,500 rupees entrance fee. We spent most of our time at the top of Sigiriya Rock thinking about the fact we had to climb back down. However, there is a few ruins which are interesting but if you only have time for one we would say Piduragala Rock for sure!
Once our feet were firmly back on the ground we headed back to the hotel to eat lunch, spend another few hours by the pools, pack up our bags and head to our next destination: Kandy.
The drive from Dambulla to Kandy takes three hours in a TukTuk, again taking you through some major towns. But three hours later we arrived at Simpson Forest Hotel to the most delicious welcome sorbet made with lemons from the hotels own garden.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool, which again had breathtaking views of the hills of Kandy. We stayed by the pool with a cocktail in hand until the sun had fully gone, setting off the most beautiful reds, pinks and oranges across the sky.
We left Simpson Forest Hotel bright and early to drive into Kandy, around an hour in the TukTuk, as we were jumping on the train to Ella. The day we had been most looking forward to on the trip! We met a driver from TukTuk Rental at Kandy Railway Station who drove our TukTuk down to Ella while we were on the train. It was an incredibly smooth process and we made it onto the 11am train without any hassle.
The train from Kandy to Ella must be on your to do list when travelling Sri Lanka. The views and scenery are absolutely beautiful, you could honestly spend the whole six hours staring out the window and taking pictures.
However, you must remember to book your train tickets online 32 days in advance, they do save some on-the-day tickets but it is not worth the risk or the stress. We were speer unorganised and unfortunately missed the 32 day deadline, but were lucky the hotel were able to source some tickets for us – although we ended up paying more than four times the original price, which still actually only came to £8 each.
We were sitting in the reserved seated third class which we really enjoyed as we were able to speak to the locals and truly experience the train. We even went into the train conductors carriage at the end to sit by the doors and watch the world go by.
Once we arrived in Ella we jumped in a TukTuk to our hotel, Chill Ville. As soon as we arrived we felt at home and we were even upgraded to the honeymoon suite. Not long after our TukTuk arrived and we were reunited.
In the evening we headed into Ella town for dinner at Chill Ville restaurant called Chill Cafe where we had the most delicious Sri Lankan curry served in a banana leaf and tasted our very first Lion Larger. We don’t normally drink when were away but Ella has such a fun vibe that it was just part of the package. Ella is the most modern/ wester town that we visited in Sri Lanka and has a Bali-esk feel.
On our fifth day we were up early again as we want to visit the Nine Arches Bridge, the oldest bridge in Sri Lanka. We arrived around 6:30am to avoid the crowds and just in time to see the first train cross the bridge. We spent an hour walking along the tracks, down the hill to the bottom of the bridge and back up again. The bridge is truly incredible and a must see when in Ella.
Afterwards we headed back to Chill Ville for an incredible breakfast of honey and curd, fresh fruit and Sri Lankan omelettes over looking the hills of Ella. Next, we met up with Dilshan who works with the hotel and had taken us to the Nine Arches Bridge that morning in his TukTuk.
We had asked Dilshan to take us to Ravana Falls. Now, last time Natalie travelled Sri Lanka she had visited the Ravana Falls and climbed to the top pool where you could swim and see an incredible view over Ella. However, as Ella has become a much more popular tourist destination the Sri Lankan police have closed the top two pools to protect both the visitors and the waterfall. Although we completely understand why they have done this, it does mean Ravana Falls has lost its charm and become yet another tourist hotspot.
Long story short, we would not recommend visiting Ravana Falls. Luckily, Dilshan had a solution to our problem. He told us about a secret waterfall where you can walk to the top pool and swim in the water. When we first pulled up it looked like an abandoned house with rubbish tips growing outside it, but when you walk through the hedges you find yourself at the bottom of a beautiful waterfall. We walked right up to the top and spent a few hours relaxing in the water and sunbathing on the rocks.
When we decided to head back to the hotel we felt like exploring Ella more, so rather than contacting Dilshan we walked back. The walk took around an hour and took you across some of the most beautiful views and tea plantations, we stopped to watch the locals working in the fields and spoke to the local children who were walking back from school.
By the time we reached the hotel we were hot and sticky, we were in desperate need to cool off so we jumped in the pool and relaxed until sunset. Also sampling some of the delicious vegetable samosas from the snack menu.
That evening we headed back into Ella town and went to AK Ristoro for dinner. AK Ristoro serves traditional Sri Lankan curries, but also serves the most amazing sushi as the owner is Japanese. You wouldn’t normally think curry and sushi mix well, but oh boy they did at AK Ristoro.
Top tip: If you’re visiting Ella and fancy visiting the secret waterfalls, or you’re in need of a TukTuk driver, then contact Dilshan on 077 849 6520.
Our sixth day was reserved for the longest drive we would do in the TukTuk. We were driving from Ella down to Galle, around a six and a half hour drive. Although the beginning of the drive was along straight and well-built roads, towards the end we had to drive down windy lanes past rice paddies. It was even worse when a bus started driving in the other direction!
On this drive we also forgot to change our settings on Google Maps to avoid motorways and toll roads, TukTuks are not allowed to drive on these. When we thought we only had about two-hours left, we accidentally drove onto a toll road, luckily we noticed in time and were able to reserve back down, not the nicest experience in a TukTuk! Plus, the slight error meant to then actually had another three and a half hours to go.
However, six and a half hours after leaving Ella we had made it to our next destination: Bilin Tree House, Galle.
When we arrived we savoured our welcome drinks and tipped our toes in the pool before heading to the room to get ready for sunset and dinner. For sunset we jumped in a TukTuk to Dream Cabana, a bar on Dalawella Beach with the famous rope swing. We paid our 500 rupees each to swing on the rope swing – an Instagram heaven – and then sat down we our Lion Larger to watch the most beautiful pink sunset.
Once the sun had set we walked along the beach to our restaurant for the evening. We had been recommended Tartaruga Beach Restaurant on Unawatuna Beach by the staff at Bilin Tree House. When we arrived they had arranged the most beautiful table on the beachfront, complete with candle light and the most delicious cocktails. Ginger mojito? Yes please!
At Tartaruga Beach Restaurant we had some amazing traditional Sri Lankan curries, including Dahl, Pineapple Curry and Pol Sambola. It was the most relaxing evening and to be honest, there is nothing better than eating dinner with your feet in the sand and listening to the waves crashing on the beach.
Our last day in Sri Lanka was reserved for a full on beach day, but first, we had to say goodbye to our beloved TukTuk. We had arranged to drop the TukTuk off with TukTuk Rental at one of its many TukTuk stations, only a 10-minute drive from Bilin Tree House. So after another delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and eggs, we jumped in the TukTuk one last time.
Handing over the TukTuk was a quick and seamless process, before we knew it we were making our way back to the hotel TukTuk-less. If felt so strange not having the freedom to drive ourselves around. Plus, how were we going to get to the beach?!
Luckily, we were able to book a TukTuk to take us to Mirissa Beach, around a 45-minute drive from Galle. We were heading to Mirissa to meet up with Milly from Whats Up Beaches before exploring the town and finally reaching the beach. We met Milly at Shady Lane where we had the most refreshing smoothies, and although we didn’t eat the smashed avocado topped with everything to could dream of looked incredible.
Next, we walked 15-minutes from Shady Lane to Coconut Tree Hill, the hill is beautiful and overlooks the beaches below. While we were there we also saw couple getting married. It was truly amazing but we didn’t stay too long to interrupt the service.
Finally we made it to the beach. We spent the rest of the afternoon napping, reading our books and swimming in the sea. We stayed until sunset, even buying some samosas and vegetable rolls from the bakeries on wheels which drive along the beachfront – best. invention. ever!
After the sun had set we jumped in a TukTuk back to Galle and headed for dinner at A Minute by TukTuk, located in Galle Fort. We tasted our last Sri Lankan curries, perhaps the best yet, and sipped our last Lion Larger. It was the perfect way to end our trip in Sri Lanka.