Sri Lanka has been on our top list for many years – and when we did, the country surprised us in many ways. We packed 15 days itinerary that was filled with excitement as we traveled from west to the central, down to the south and way up to west again exploring local culture, cuisine, UNESCO sites, beaches and more along the way. We booked a car for ourselves from a local travel agent in Sri Lanka since we were going to tour an ideal length with a child and was one of the fastest modes of transport for reaching from one point to another.
Upon our arrival in Colombo, we took a three hour journey to Sigiriya through Kandy road. The drive was beautiful with misty morning and dotted with coconut trees blooming as we passed by. Sigirya sits right in the center of SL and is technically referred to as an ancient city.
We did an hour stopover at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It is a government run organisation to protect abandoned elephants. Although it was a lot touristy and chaotic, Little A had fun feeding fruits and milk to the elephants. Inside the orphanage there were a lot of them walking around freely around the huge territory. We also got lucky to witness elephants bathing in a nearby river. Visiting the orphanage and spotting wild elephants in the forest, like we did in Yala National Park, are two far opposites. Honestly, we’d rather prefer seeing elephants in their natural environment in many national parks of SL.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIGIRIYA
After lots of research on hotels in Sigiriya, we made a fabulous decision of booking 2 nights at Hotel Sigiriya. It is located with a perfect view of Sigiriya Rock and has a rustic feel brought to life with the property surrounded by a dense forest area. Just to let you in for an extra information, don’t be surprised if a large iguana passes through the pool all unintentionally! The casual seating bar overlooking the pool and the fortress was delightful as you could sit and enjoy couple of drinks. Our room was spacious and had all the basic amenities. The extensive breakfast buffet comprised of hoppers, Sri Lankan curries, dal, sambol and an English breakfast. We dined at the hotel’s only restaurant on our first night and although we found it to be a bit expensive, it was a perfect introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine.
Lion rock or Sigiriya rock is the most famous tourist landmarks and is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka; also known as eighth wonder of the world by Sri Lankans . It is the most exquisite example of ancient art, architecture, engineering and landscaping of the country dating back to the rule of King Kasyapa. It was challenging conquering more than 1000 steps to the top, but once we arrived, we were greeted with an incredible 360 degrees view over the whole area. Tip to remember – carry water and wear comfortable shoes while hiking.
On the same afternoon we climbed Sigiriya Rock, we took the opportunity to have a tour of Anura Village which started off with a ride in colorful tuk-tuk down some twisty, muddy roads through a jungle; followed by a boat ride on the other side of the lake to enjoy primitive ways of life of the village. A lady introduced us to her family, showed around her hut and cooked for us a spicy lunch all in her quaint kitchen that still uses the stone grinder to mill the flour and a traditional stove.
GOLDEN DAMBULLA TEMPLE
The day we checked out from our hotel and were on our route to Kandy, we pulled over at Golden Dambulla temple. It is a tourist site, of course, yet a very spiritual place for the country’s Buddhist majority. Golden temple is another UNESCO site that preserves the history of the place. There are about 300 steps to climb to reach five cave temples holding the holy Buddhist shrines. The caves contain precious paintings and innumerable Buddha sculptures.
RUINS OF ANURADHAPURA
The ruins of Anuradhapura is an extensive complex of dagobas and collapsing temples, built during Anuradhapura’s rule over the country and a pilgrimage destination for Budhhists from around the world, situated on the North Central province on Sri Lankan map. As we wandered through an entire site, we were completely overwhelmed with an impressive cultural achievement and monumental stupas; each one telling its own story.
KOTTU ROTI AT AHINSA RESTAURANT
Amongst the little bunch of eateries in Sigiriya, we found Ahinsa the value for money with great service and authentic chicken kottu roti. It is an insanely popular dish in Sri Lanka made from chopped bread mixed together with veggies and chicken and lot of aromatic spices and Ahinsa offers it all in an austere hut style sitting.
Here are a few things to consider :
1. We traveled between February and March, when the climate was relatively warm yet humid, mostly in Anuradhapura. Do not attempt to cover everything in one day. Since we spaced out our itinerary for Sigiriya over two days, it was relaxing.
2. Offer donations at each temple of Anuradhapura where entrance fee is nil to cover up the maintenance cost.
3. Dress modestly when you are visiting a temple or holy shrines.
4. Wear comfortable shoes as it involves lot of walking.
5. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of king coconut water along the journey.
6. Hire a car with a driver if you are traveling with a child to make your trip more relaxed.