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7 October 2019

nine things you must do in sri lanka

thankfully, my itinerary in Sri Lanka was totally pre-planned for me, so i didn't have to think about what to see and what to do at all while I was there. and while I didn't totally love everything we did on the tour, there were so many amazing highlights that they carried me through those other times, and are the things I continue to talk to friends about now when they ask about the trip. those things? read on.

hike Pidurangala Rock in Sigiriya

I am not a hiker by any stretch of the imagination, so when I was told about this hike, I was nervous. I was talked into it by our guide who maintained it was very doable, not very steep, not hard at all, and very quick to climb. well, when I saw it on the horizon from our hotel balcony (the one on the left in the above photo), I was quite sure he was lying to me through his teeth. then, when we got there, and I started climbing, I knew in my heart he was lying. but, I took it slow, took lots of breaks when I thought my heart was going to race out of my chest, drank a lotttta water, and when I made it to the top and saw the view: I knew he had lied for an excellent reason. 365 views of the Sigyiria and the sun setting slowly on the horizon - simply the most amazing view I've ever seen. so worth the 45 minute trek up the mountain, a decent amount of spider-monkey-ing up some rock faces, and worrying slightly for my life.

cost: donation of 500 LKR per person (roughly £2.30)

take a jeep safari

we did two jeep safaris while in Sri Lanka, but my favourite was the first one we did, at Minneriya National Park. we were lucky enough to visit the park during the Great Gathering - the once-a-year pilgrimage the elephants take from across the country to the man-man reservoir in the middle of the park, once the wet season is over. the fresh grass that grows during the drought is full of nutrients that the ellies bloody love, and even though I knew this, I still wasn't expecting to see any. reader, in the two weeks in Sri Lanka, I reckon we saw close to 500 elephants - the majority of which were in this park. the safari was great, and we saw loads of other animals too - birds and alligators and other jungle critters, but the elephants were obviously the highlight for me. the whole thing took around two and a half hours, and I didn't stop smiling the whole time.

cost: 19,150 LKR for two adults in a private jeep tour (£82 roughly)

watch a traditional dance

while in Kandy, we had the opportunity to take in a traditional drum dance show, at the local YMBA. it was a last minute decision, but was totally, utterly worth making the dash down from the mountains and across Kandy with not much notice. the costumes, the music, the jangling ankle accessories of the highly skilled dancers, was all just such a personal highlight for me. the majority of the show happened inside the auditorium, with and added fifteen minutes outside by a fire pit where the men (dressed as warriors) danced, ate, and walked across the fire. absolutely amazing show, and would watch that every night for the rest of my life, for sure.

cost: 1,000 LKR entry fee (roughly £4.50, plus the same as a tip on the way out)

ride the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

be warned: the train lines in Sri Lanka were built by the British, so they are typically running late. ours, from Kandy was an hour late to leave the station, and then at every stop it sits and waits for trains passing in the other direction - up to fifteen minutes at a time. the journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya by road would take two and a half hours, but by train it took us over four. also, if you want first class reserved (nothing like British first class, you still just get a plastic seat, it just means you are guaranteed a seat and some air con), you need to do this up to a month in advance. otherwise, you run the risk in second class of no air con, and without reserved seating, you run the risk of standing the whole way. though, the train stops enough and people are on-and-off enough that you're bound to get one regardless. plus, you're going to want to hang out the windows and doors for those amaaaaazing tea country views anyway, but a seat for a few hours is a nice treat for the bum. I believe we were second class reserved, but it's hard to know as the tickets were provided in advance.

costs: from £2 - £15 depending on date/time 

see the Nine Arch Bridge in Ella

the Insta famous bridge does not disappoint - the views from the middle of the bridge are stunning and vast, while the intense pleasure and exhiliration of sitting on that bridge while the train pootles past is pretty damn fantastic. we were not expecting the train to come while we were hanging out on the bridge, but heard the whistle in the distance and noted the scurry of tourists from the tracks to the sides of the bridge, hoping it would be enough room to let the train pass without getting struck. the passengers on the train were just as excited as us at bridge level, with both sides taking videos of the other. honestly, it was such a fun experience! there was a small hike down from the road to get to the bridge, but it was light and easily done in sandals.

cost: freeeeeee

eat at a local's house

the best food I had in Sri Lanka was in the homes of locals. they don't speak much English, so have your guide handy if you have dietary requirements like me, but they basically give you a full cooking demo and explanation, before serving it to you in the middle of their colourful homes - surrounded by their family and belongings. it's so personal and heartwarming, and each of the times we did this (maybe three times?), it was better than the last time. we're talking all sorts of sides and garnishes, as well as the main course which is always an incredibly creamy curry, loads of rice, and popadoms to finish. if you love food and want an authentic experience, you definitely need to do this.

costs: various, from £20pp for the full local experience

turn up for baby elephant feeding time

as if seeing the ellies on safari wasn't great enough, we also had the opportunity to head to the Elephant Transit Home in Uda Walawe National Park (where our second safari was too) for feeding time. the Transit Home takes in orphaned ellie calves from across the country, feed them, give them medicine and make sure they're well enough to be out on their own in the jungle. they don't take them in and keep them on site, they ensure they still live in the wild, and only come to the feeding area for their daily feed. this is so the ellies still maintain their independence and so they don't get too used to people doing stuff for them. you can tell they have the staff wrapped around their trunks, though, as when they're not getting enough milk they make all sorts of trumpet noises to make sure it keeps coming! we sat and watched them for about half an hour before they started to make their way back out into the jungle and we headed out for another safari. I would have liked more time in the park to learn some more about the history, but I just love me some elephants.

costs: can't find the price of entry tickets, only how to donate!

head to Galle Fort

Galle is a UNESCO city, first built in the 1500s by the Portuguese, and later fortified by the Dutch, so the architecture and decor is so very olde European. it's such a pretty little city, full of colour and surrounded by the beautiful Indian Ocean, and it was a real highlight of our journey to Colombo. in Galle we wandered around the beautiful coastline, window shopped in the independent boutiques, and gorged ourselves on the most amazing sorbet in the ridiculous heat of the day. while we were wandering around Galle, we were lucky enough to catch another traditional dance performance, watch some locals fishing off the pier, and hear the beautiful call to prayer from the only mosque in the town. we were only there an hour or so, but it was such a well spent hour.

costs: free to wander!

enjoy an urban food tour in Colombo

it's a pity we did this tour on our last night in the country, as it would have been an excellent way to start the tour, to get a taste (pun intended) of the food we would be enjoying over the next few weeks. on the food tour in Colombo though, we got to sample more than just local delicacies, with the tour taking us on foot through some of the city's most popular markets and streets, and gave us a real whirlwind tour of the capital as well. and, we got to see that famous Sri Lankan sunset doing its thing in a cityscape, rather than the beach or mountains we had grown accustomed to.  there were about five or so different foodie stops all included, with a beer with the guide right at the end too. we were stuffed by the end of the tour! and while Colombo was not my favourite part of the trip, it was a great way to get a feel for the city on our last night!

costs: roughly £10 per person, food included

*the costs are rough because my tour was all inclusive, so I've had to look up each of the individual activities to determine the prices. there are likely cheaper and more expensive ones out there, this is just a guideline for planning purposes!

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