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Beaches, hills and forests
Colombo (Sri Lanka) to Nuwara Eliya (Sri Lanka), February 2011

We spend the first couple of days of our visit to Sri Lanka in the capital city Colombo. Many other travellers try to avoid this city during their travel to Sri Lanka, because they think that the city is dirty and chaotic. But that is absolutely not true. We experienced Colombo as a pleasant city, with friendly people and a couple of nice sights, like the Fort area and the picturesque little train that travels very close along the coast to the southern suburbs. We also had to bring a visit to Colombo to extend our visa. If you arrive at the airport, you get 30 days on arrival, but if you like to stay for a longer period, you have to extend the visa, which is never a big issue if you limit you total stay to a maximum of 60 days.

After our visit to Colombo, we decided to travel to Kandy, the second city of the country and the gateway to the Hill Country. This central part of Sri Lanka, a former proud Sinhalese Kingdom, feels like a different part of the country because it is hilly, green and lush, and cool because of the higher altitudes. But when we arrived, it was raining cats and dogs; already for a couple of weeks which also lead to the big flooding in the central and eastern part of the country. We eventually waited for five days for better weather, but when it didn’t come, we decided to change our travel plans for Sri Lanka. We travelled via Colombo to the southern town of Galle, a former Dutch colonial stronghold. And in this part of the country, the south, it is always nice weather during this time of the year. Sri Lanka has two monsoon periods, one for the south, west and Hill Country (April – October), and one for the east and north (November – January).

Enjoying an afternoon drink in Galle
Galle is a nice little town with an uninteresting new and an interesting old part of the city, in where many colonial building survived last centuries. But Galle is also a destination that attracts many foreign visitors. The accommodation and food prices are inflated. Most restaurants have a different menu for foreign tourists, of course with higher prices, and also the 10% service charge that most places charge is only for foreigners. This makes Sri Lanka much more expensive than for example India. But if you look around a little bit and try to sleep at local families, which often have a couple of rooms for rent, and try to eat at the smaller local restaurants in stead of the tourist places, than Sri Lanka is still a value-for-money destination. We used Galle also as our base for a daytrip to the beach of Unawatuna, one of the most famous beaches of Sri Lanka. We drank some beers on one of the many terraces and enjoyed watching the beach life, including the Russian women with their nipple-stickers who were barbequing themselves in burning sun.

We continued our journey along the south coast of the country to the east where we visited both Bundala and Yala National Park. Yala is a world famous park because of it elephants and leopards, but we also enjoyed Bundala National Park a lot, because of its beautiful wetland and the many birds it attracts (see also the articles about Bundala and Yala, and the photo impression). In Tissamaharama, where we stayed and arranged the safari’s, we had an argument with the hotel owner, because we decided to do our second safari through a different agency (see also the column about this incident). After our visits to the parks, we decided to stay a couple of days more on the south coast to enjoy the beaches before we headed north to the Hill Country. We went to Mirissa, a less developed beach in comparison to for example Unawatuna, and for that reason also more atmospheric in our opinion.

After a couple of weeks in the southern part of Sri Lanka, we hoped that the weather was improved in the Hill Country. So we went up, after visiting the tremendous rainforest of Sinharaja Forest Reserve. This is the last major undisturbed rainforest in Sri Lanka and an easy way to visit such a forest if you are in the country. The dense and wet forest is a heaven for the millions of leeches, but if you stepped over this fear, it is a must-see destination. You won’t see elephants or leopards in this forest, but the forest itself, the colourful snakes, the colour changing lizards and the beautiful birds are worth the visit. Sinharaja is a forest where you can see 18 of the 20 endemic bird species of Sri Lanka (see also the photo impression of Bundala, Yala and Sinharaja).

By train from Haputale to Ella

When we eventually arrived in the Hill Country, the weather was improved. It was sunny and cool and that was the ideal climate for the hikes that we made in the areas of Haputale and Ella. We especially enjoyed Haputale, because it is still a Sri Lankan village. Ella to the contrary, is a typical tourist village in where you won’t find local restaurants anymore. Most people in the village smelled the tourist-dollars, which means that you are now dependent on overpriced hotels and restaurants with names like ‘Dream Café’ and ‘Nescoffee’, that even offer WIFI. In most parts of Sri Lanka you pay around 100 Rupees for a good traditional Rice and Curry lunch meal, but in Ella you pay 300-400 Rupees for a weak version of it. Also when walking in the area of Ella, you notice the commercial attitude of the people. Men try to guide you through the hills, ladies try to sell water or sometimes even taxi’s to your next destination and school boys and girls ask for money, pens and candies. Unfortunately, Ella isn’t the real Sri Lanka anymore.

After Ella, we travelled to the town of Nuwara Eliya, also called ‘little England’ because of its landscape similarity. In the heart of the town you will find the old Victoria Park where local people and tourists mix during the cooler hours of the day. Victoria Park is also the place to spot two special and difficult to see birds, the Indian Pitta and the Pied Thrush. We tried hard and saw both of them. In Nuwara Eliya we also decided to end our visit to the Hill Country, which means that we will skip the tourist attractions ‘World’s End’ and ‘Adam’s Peak’. We have seen enough of the touristy part of Sri Lanka and want to spend our remaining time in Sri Lanka in a less touristy area. We thought about going to the eastern part of the country, but that’s the part of the country where it is raining a lot during this time of the year. And travelling for almost two weeks in the rain is not what we are looking forward to. We will see.


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