Our Travel Diary - The Costal Sri Lanka of South
Updated: May 19, 2021
Wijaya Beach, Galle
Duration – 10 days (February 2018)
Getting there – Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport near the capital city of Colombo is well connected by air with Middle East, Asia and European cities via direct or one stop flights. We flew Qatar Airways from London Heathrow via Doha (one stop with 13.5 hours of travel time including stopover)
When to go – The best time to travel to Sri Lanka is from November through to March. During these months the weather is cool enough to enjoy the historic sights and the natural beauty of Sri Lanka. During these months the costal weather is excellent all through the day, water temperature is prefect for a swim in the oceans, and with minimal rain if any, makes this time ideal for beach holidays.
What to buy – Sri Lanka offers amazing handicrafts to bring back home – head to the government shop of Laksala for wooden and leather handicrafts (Sri Lankan Masks are beautiful pieces of art). The proceeds go directly to the craftsmen and thus supports the art and the artist and sustains local economy.
Staying comfortable – The tropical weather means shorts and light T-shirts are the best options while in Sri Lanka. However you may a light raincoat or jacket if you are the tea growing hilly region of the central part of the country .
Day 1 - Arrival and drive to Galle
We arrived late afternoon at the Bandaranaike International Airport to be picked up by our driver. One important point to mention here is foreign exchange. Sri Lankan rupees is not sold outside the country and therefore you can only option to convert your local currency is once you arrive into Sri Lanka. The best exchange rates are often offered by the banks. All the major banks have outlets at Bandaranaike International Airport arrival lounge and offer best exchange rates.
After a painful long wait just to get to the car amidst the airport traffic we left for the coastal city of Galle through the recently build highway, result of the Chinese investment into the island nation. The drive to Galle from Bandaranaike International Airport in Nigambo is around 3.5 hours depending on traffic. The local radio channel streaming the favourite numbers added to the ambience. Local music is amazing during long drives as it instantly connects you to the feel of the place.
As the sun set in the horizon, we arrived at our abode for the next two nights -a beautifully restored Dutch villa in Galle (Green Casa). We then headed straight to the Galle fort area for dinner at a tiny curry restaurant called Coconut Sambol which is well known for serving delicious Sri Lankan rice and curry. After a filling meal we headed off to get some well-deserved rest after spending a few minutes capturing the lone mosquito in our room.
Day 2 – Galle and surrounding areas
Day 2 started off with some nice home cooked breakfast served in the property’s courtyard. We spent a few minutes exploring the property and admiring the thoughtfully restored architecture. We then headed off to the Galle Fort Area. The Galle Fort is the main tourist attraction in Galle and was built during the 16th century by the Portuguese and thereafter extensively fortified by the Dutch during then 17th century. It is now maintained by the Sri Lankan Archaeological department and this historical, archaeological and architectural heritage site of Sri Lanka has also earned its place as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A delicious breakfast at our Villa - Green Casa
Light House of Dutch Fort
Alleyways and vintage car in Galle Fort
The outer wall of the Galle Fort
Lunch at 'A Minute by Tuk Tuk'
The fort area is inhabited by local people and boasts many beautiful and old Dutch houses, villas and hotels, restaurants and boutique shops. The main attractions of Galle fort area are the Light House, Dutch Hospital, the Clock Tower, Dutch church and the outer wall of the fort. The iconic light house is the most prominent landmark of Galle Fort Area. Couple of minute walk from the light house is the Dutch Hospital which has now been turned in to a trendy shopping area housing many boutique shops and restaurants, and among the restaurants the most famous is 'A Minute by Tuk Tuk' – with a stunning sea view. We sat on the first-floor veranda and enjoyed the ocean breeze and the authentic and mouth-watering Sri Lankan food which was interrupted by the untimely need for a loo break by the little one! One of the eternal questions is how the little one’s time their loo break to perfectly coincide with the second the food arrives on the table, not earlier, not later!! So as soon the aroma wafted through the air, a felt nudge on the elbow signalling me to spend the next 10 mins talking through the loo door and answering the endless questions. Finally re-united with the delicious food, and savoured every bite of the food and every moment of the experience. We then spent a few minutes to stroll through the small streets and alleyways of the Galle fort area to see the boutique shops and vintage cars on the road. Walk on the outer wall of the Galle Fort. Take a moment to also see the Galle International Cricket stadium from the top of the Galle Fort.
Japanese Peace Pagoda
Japanese Peace Pagoda: Situated at the Top of the hill just outside the town of Galle. Tranquil, serene and quiet at the top of the hill where the white colour pagoda is situated. The view from the pagoda is beautiful, the lush green coconut trees surround the hill and you can view of the sea at the horizon.
Coconut swing at Dalawella Beach
Wijaya Beach, Dalawella Beach and Mihiripenna beach: After lunch we headed to the beach -Dalawella and Mihiripenna beach are next to each other and connected. Theses beaches are fringed with lush green coconut trees, and the white soft sand hugs the turquoise water. The atmosphere is very relaxing. There is a famous coconut swing at Delawella Beach courtesy Instagram. Legend has it that once upon a time someone created a swing and some beautiful damsels did some beautiful shots swinging out into the sea- hair blown beautifully by the sea breeze and toes pointed to the sky! Soon there were more and more damsels lining up to get a shot and then some smart local put a dollar value to the ride!
So part with your dollar to have a heavenly swing over the sea and then relax at the beach, take a dip, and a sip of a fresh coconut. At Wijaya Beach Hotel restaurant situated at the Wijiya Beach serves one of the best wood fire Pizzas in the Galle area.
Sea turtle release at Habaraduwa beach
Sea turtle release at Habaraduwa beach
Baby Sea turtle ready for release
Sea Turtle Hatchery – Habaraduwa: The Sea Turtle Hatchery at the Habaraduwa beach is one of the many privately owned turtle rescue centres that helps protect and revive the sea turtle population of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is home to 5 species of sea turtles and conservation work by the local and with the help of non-profit organisations could help turn the tide. The centre rescues the turtles injured by the fisherman’s boat and fishing nets. These injured turtles get rehabilitated at the centre before getting released. The centre also collects eggs of sea turtles from the surrounding beaches and this helps protect the eggs from dogs and humans who often eat and destroy turtle eggs. At the centre the eggs get a chance to hatch into small turtles which are then released back in the water. In exchange for a small amount of money (we got 10 baby turtles for £10) you can buy baby turtles and release them back in the water during sunset. The money you pay is a small contribution to this great work.
Releasing these baby turtles into the sea as the sun was setting was very special… we hoped the little ones survived the big day and lived on to see the sun rise and set over and over again.
Fun fact – When the eggs hatch in the hatchery the sex of the turtle can be manipulated by controlling the temperature of the of the sand where the eggs are buried for hatching.
After sunset we came back to the Galle fort area and it was amazing-small restaurants whipping up delicious Sri Lankan rice and curry and many other local cuisines. Time to dig into some sumptuous dinner.
Day 3 – Koggala, Mirrisa, Tangalle
After breakfast we checked out from our Villa in Galle and hit the costal road towards east, our destination being the coastal town of Tangalle. On the way there were quite a few things to see and enjoy.
Stilt fishing at a beach in Koggala area
Stilt fisherman with his catch
Koggala beach: Beautiful, scenic and tranquil beach, this is one of the best places to see the famous stilt fishermen in action. Try to arrive early (preferably before 9 am) and you could still find a few fishermen practicing the age-old fishing technique of stilt fishing perched on the top of a pole on the beach. Like a lot of other things this technique is fading away in the fast-paced urban life, and therefore we didn’t mind when we had to pay to get a picture of these men in action. Perhaps they only do it now for the money they get for photographs but maybe this could just about give a few extra years to this form of fishing technique. The koggala beach is a not very touristy and we enjoyed the sound of nature and the warmth of the tropical sun.
Koggala Lake: The visit to Koggal beach was an impromptu decision and so was the Koggala lake which was recommended to us by some people who we stopped to ask a few things. We realized the boat belonged to one these locals who like many others operate boat rides around the lake. The ride was not bad- though it was over-sold. The day was nice and with nature all around us we enjoyed the mangroves growing around the lake. The first stop was an island which houses a Buddhist temple at the top of a hill. The calm and serene atmosphere of the temple brings calm and serenity to your own mind. The temple had some beautiful wall paintings. From there we headed to another island where local people cultivate spices like cinnamon. We walked around the island to see their way of life and the little cinnamon making workshops. We paid 5000 Sri Lankan rupees (roughly £20) for this two hour boat ride.
Mirissa beach: Almost Halfway between Galle and Tangalle is the town of Mirrisa which is very popular for its beautiful beach. We had a quick stop here before continuing our journey to Tangalle.
Traditional Sri Lankan Rice and Curry is a restaurant near Tangalle
One of the many open air cocktail bar and restaurant at Tangalle beach area
Tangalle beach: After checking into our hotel we went to the Tangalle beach. A narrow road (Vijaya road) runs alongside the beach that houses many restaurants and cocktail bars. The beach attracts lots of tourists. We enjoyed the dip in the ocean and soaking up the sun before watching the marvellous sunset. As the night drew in the atmosphere evolved around us with the lit-up cocktail bars and groovy reggae music. We sat there and enjoyed the music and drinks until the mosquitoes came to claim their share of night life!
Day 4 – Yala national Park and Jungle Camp
After breakfast we left Tangalle and headed to Yala National Park. On the way we stopped as there was traffic and a huge Buddhist procession. Our guide told that it was to pay donations for good causes and so we gave some money and to our surprise our name was announced on the loudspeaker with some before and after context in Sinhalese. It’s funny how these little episodes of limelight cheer you up like a kid! One the way we also discovered pots of buffalo yoghurt and honey- apparently quite a famous desert in this part of Sri-Lanka.
Our tented accommodation at Big Game Camp Yala at the edge of Yala National Part
The lone tusker at Yala National Park
We were finally picked up from a pre-arranged location by the camp’s vehicle. We arrived just before lunch and after checking in to our tent at the edge of the forest (Big Game Camp Yala) we headed to the ‘dining’ area and enjoyed an amazing lunch and the famous yoghurt and honey.
After relaxing for some time in the tent and walking around for a bit we went for a safari in the Yala national park late in the afternoon. We had arranged and booked the safari with an experienced safari driver. The highlight of the evening safari was a huge lone male tusker which walked along the dirt track behind our vehicle for a while to reach a water hole, where there was a herd of elephants and other wildlife. After three of safari we headed back to the camp. It was almost dark. We sat at the ‘reception’ tent with other tourists and enjoyed the evening with a cup of tea and chit chat with others.
Dinner was soon served under the open sky around a big wooden fire –the aroma of grilled food, the sound of animals in the wilderness and the dazzling sky was magical. Using a torch to find our tent kept the little one excited until the very end of the day! Once inside we looked for any creepy crawlies before we zipped our tent. The bathroom was like an ‘add-on’ tent and was less creepy crawly proof than the main tent. The sightings of giant spiders or winged insects was guaranteed during the bathroom safaris! ‘Sitting’ on the edge literally!
Day 5 - Yala morning and arriving at Ella
We started our day early- rather very early at 3:30 am. The early morning tea was a Godsend especially for the little one, who gobbled down biscuit after another with sleepy but guilt free eyes! Children’s appetite magically surfaces at weird places- other people’s homes, expensive restaurants or in the middle of a jungle where there are 2 jars of biscuits ‘to share’!!
We were picked up by our safari driver from the camp at around 4:30am and we went straight to the Katagamuwa gate so we could beat the rush and catch a glimpse of the famous Yala leopards before the day heat made them disappear under the thick vegetation. After lengthy chases following leads for what seemed like eternity we finally were met the beautiful creature in person!
We were the only ones in that area and as luck would have it the leopard sat on a high rock giving us the perfect view! It was magical- we were stunned and awe struck- and as we and the leopard exchanged glances our hearts skipped a beat!!
Little Oviyan had been whispering like a seasoned wildlife lover sat with his mouth open- speechless!
The leopard then slowly got off the rock before disappearing in the wilderness. We had lost sense of time, it felt like eternity, but we couldn’t get enough of it. Feeling privileged and lucky we headed off to our breakfast point and enjoyed the delicious packed lunch given by the camp. To keep the magic factor we were just mins away from the beach- having seen a leopard and seeing the beach while eating breakfast was just mind boggling!
The illusive leopard of Yala National Park
We came back to camp and at the same time other fellow travellers were also coming in. We were the only ones to have had a leopard sighting that morning. We didn’t have another chance during this trip so it was more special to go back with this memory.
After getting a quick shower on high alert we checked out at around noon. But we had one last surprise waiting for us! We spotted a huge cobra making its way into is burrow just 2 steps away from our tent. We were told that this was our wild neighbour! Some part of us was grateful we didn’t receive this fun fact the day before!!
Toque Macaque of Sri Lanka - easily recognisable of it's distinctive hairstyle
Leaving the wilderness of the Yala National Park and all its inhabitants behind us we headed towards the hill town of Ella in the south-central part of the country. The landscape during the journey from Yala to Ella changed dramatically. From flat land forest landscape to rural villages and paddy fields to the hills. This journey was a testimony to Sri-Lanka’s diverse landscape. Just before the entry to the town of Ella we stopped a Ravana waterfalls for lunch. This was a place for locals and the food was spicy. But the staff was very helpful and they cooked an omelette at our request for Oviyan.
We checked into our hotel late afternoon. This was a family run place undergoing renovation, but the views were spectacular!
Avoiding the temptation to just sit and enjoy the views, we headed out to the iconic Nine Arched Bridge. We gave in to Oviyan’s pleas for a tuk-tuk ride and after a lot of climbing down through rocks we managed to keep our timing to witness the sight of a train passing over the bridge. The anticipation built up as we and others waited in front of a café. Our driver brought in news to cheer the crowd- the train has left the station. Sitting in close proximity to people from all over the world and in the same anticipation we clapped and cheered as the train finally emerged chugging its way over the giant bridge. The slow coach was worth the wait, or maybe the wait and attention made us fully appreciate its beauty in all its glory!
Train passing over the Nine Arch Bride
As the evening set in, we enjoyed walking through the main road of very bohemian Ella town. With lots of amazing cafes and restaurants, Ella is popular with Western backpackers. We spent the evening at a nice restaurant enjoying the buzz, the music and the food.