Here comes part II of our itinerary for Sri Lanka:
Day 8 – Goodbye Ella, welcome to Udawalawe
This morning we went for an easy stroll (45 min) to Nine Arches Bridge in the pouring rain. We stopped at the viewpoint above and waited with a cup of tea for the incoming train at 9:30 am.
The Nine Arches Bridge is one of the best examples of British railway constructions when Ceylon was yet a colony of the British Empire. The bridge is built solely with stone bricks and cement and without any steel.
The bridge was a neat stop and we walked back to Ella on the train tracks.
Other things to do and see in and around Ella:
- Spice Garden and cooking class
- Hike to Little Adam’s Peak
From Ella we took the bus to Thanamalwila junction for about 1h where we had to switch buses in order to reach Udawalawe. It was a rough ride, standing for most of the time in the packed bus racing down the hills. Unfortunately, all other busses towards Udawalawe were also fairly full at that time and wouldn’t take us 7 backpackers with luggage. After some bargaining we found a driver and van to take us to Udawalwe 40km away (5 USD/4 EUR per person).
That town didn’t have much to offer, to be honest, so we relaxed the afternoon at our lovely hosts and guesthouse – the Happy Elephant Resort. The guest keepers provided us the warmest welcome and we quickly decided on a safari tour for the next day. We walked to the Elephant Orphanage for the 6:00 pm feeding which was quite entertaining even though you don’t get very close to the elephants.
Day 9 – Udawalawe National Park Safari
Since the park opens at 6:00 am we had another early wake-up call but it was totally worth it. Our guide was fantastic and tried his best to show us as many animals in the park as possible. Most of the times it was just the two of us and the guide and no other car nearby. We saw plenty of elephants, babies but also really big mammals. Another highlight was watching a hawk devour a lizard right in front of our eyes. We also saw a couple of crocodiles, peacocks, water buffalos, eagles, monkeys, and a chameleon.
We thought the 4-hour tour was just the right amount of time to spend in the park as we could expect. Arriving back at our guest house around 10:30 am (yes, our guide extended our trip by almost an hour) we enjoyed a late breakfast before making our way to Tissa (take the bus to Thanamalwila and change to another one towards Tissa; overall journey about 1h30min).
We didn’t pre-book any hostel there as we thought there would be plenty of options. We met a hostel owner in the bus who we ended up staying with. As soon as we checked in, it started to downpour which kept us from exploring the surrounding area by bike and swimming in our pool.
- Costs safari Udawalawe National Park: 32 EUR/38 USD per person for a 4h safari incl. entrance fee, jeep (only us two), and guide
- What to bring to the safari: Water (but don’t drink too much since there are no restrooms inside the park), sunscreen, DSLR, and telephoto lens if you have it
- Where to stay: The River Front Hotel has a nice pool and big, comfortable rooms. We also booked our Safari to Yala here.
Day 10 – Yala National Park and First Dip into the Indian Ocean
Another super-early start for us at 4:30 am since the entrance to the Yala National Park is about 45 min drive from Tissa. We even debated on whether we would want to go since it was still pouring down that morning but the guide convinced us to come regardless. Obviously, the experience wouldn’t be nearly as good by rain since a lot of animals try to find shelter as well.
Yala is one of the few locations to spot leopards. The park is divided into 5 blocks, covering nearly 130,000 hectares of land. Usually, you will only visit one of the five blocks which also has a coastline. Yala is home to about 30 to 35 leopards and 43 other mammals as well as 215 bird species.
There were a lot more jeeps around here than we saw at Udawalawe even though the weather was still pretty bad. Even though there were many jeeps (about 170 that day), we were able to explore away from each other until we got “called”. Our guide suddenly changed directions and we had our hopes up for spotting a leopard. Unfortunately, it was “only” the elephant sighting where we all the guides in the park tried to get to. This ended up into a major traffic jam but we got pretty lucky to see the elephant family with the baby up close.
Overall, we found it much more difficult to see animals at Yala which was also due to the wet weather. We saw similar animals as at the Udawalawe National Park but less frequent and it involved more driving. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any leopards nor sloth bears but an elephant family, crocodiles, buffalos, tons of monkeys, peacocks, sambars, spotted deer, and some colorful birds.
Apparently, the best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water levels are low and animals are searching for ponds.
- Which tour to book: We actually wanted to do an evening or night tour, however, these weren’t really an offer that time, thus we decided to do a morning tour and hoped the rain would stop. We decided to do a half day tour from 4:30 am to about noon. The tour for four of us including entrance fee, jeep, guide, and packed breakfast (basic sandwiches and fruit) cost 122 EUR/144 USD (around 30 EUR/36 USD per person).
- Yala vs. Udawalawe: That’s a difficult choice but for us, Udawalawe was the better experience. We also heard that in high season there might be over 500 jeeps at Yala during the day!
After the safari we finally headed to the beach to our first stop – Tangalle. Well, we found a really cute catamaran house to stay at the Rekawa lagoon, 15 min walking distance from the beach. It was a cozy eco-friendly home we fell in love with and the host was very nice and showed us a great swimming hole. The pristine beach was completely empty and we enjoyed the last sun rays playing in the waves while our host prepared an outstanding dinner for us including fresh lobster!
Day 11 – Sleepy Beach Town Mirissa
We woke up to my favorite breakfast, a huge fruit platter with traditional Sri Lankan yogurt (curd) and of course, black tea. After a dip into the ocean, we took off to our next destination – Mirissa. Mirissa is a laid-back town with tons of accommodation and food options as well as bars with sea views. We quickly decided on a hostel and of course, it started to storm and rain again as soon as we checked in and wanted to hit the beach. It rained so much that the streets were flooded and we had to wade through 15 cm of water to reach the main road.
For dinner, we found a highly ranked roti place which was absolutely delicious and a local’s favorite.
- Where to stay: Mirissa Golden Resort
- Where to eat: No. 1 Dewmini Roti Shop and try the tasty Kottu roti. Also, don’t miss the dessert rotis. We still crave the Banoffee Roti which was to die for.
- Where to drink: For sea views, head to one of the many bars along the beach. Every night one of these bars hosts a party but we decided for a more quiet place and a relaxed drink. Try the Arrak cocktail (Sri Lankan coconut whiskey) and don’t order the Pina Colada!
Day 12 – Diving at Unawatuna and Visiting Old Dutch Town Galle
Since I woke up early and the sky was blue and sun strong I hit the beach at 7:00 am. I enjoyed an early beach stroll and watched local fishermen, runners, and swimmers. What a perfect start to the day.
Guess what!? We were so obsessed with the Roti place that we went there again for breakfast. Banoffee Roti and Avocado, Cheese and Tomato Roti were our favorites.
Now we were ready to explore another beach town called Unawatuna where I had my eyes set on diving. I went into the first shop I saw, Sea Horse Diving Lanka, and they quickly offered to take me to the nearby reef an hour later. While I went on my private dive trip Harrison, Stefan, and Stefanie chilled at the beach. The dive was nice and it was great to be diving again after a year off. It was an easy 25m dive around a rock with many colorful fish. The perfect preparation for my first wreck dive the next day, which I was really excited about.
From the main beach in Unawatuna, we trekked to Jungle Beach up and down the hill. Unfortunately, this beach was tiny, lot’s of people around, and the water looked fairly dirty, probably also due to the incoming storm. On a nice day, you could go on a nice snorkeling adventure here apparently.
We decided to head further to Galle, the Dutch colonial town, which was once the main port of the island. The city reached the height of its development in the 18th century, during the Dutch colonial period and is the best example of a fortified city built by the Portuguese in South and Southeast Asia. Galle Fort is a world heritage site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers.
Galle was a nice place to stroll through and visit some shops (e.g. Barefoot souvenir store). Before heading back to the bus station we watched some kids playing cricket and learning some martial art practices.
- Where to stay: we slept another night in Mirissa before heading back towards Colombo
- How to get around: public bus towards Colombo or Galle; driving time Mirissa – Unawatuna 45 min; Unawatuna – Galle 15 min
- Diving costs: 30 USD/25 EUR incl. Equipment rental
Day 13 – Diving, Surfing, and Swimming at Hikkaduwa
We faced another early check-out on our last day as I booked the wreck diving trip for 8:30 am and Unawatuna is a 45 min bus ride from Mirissa. I was happy with the dive company I chose. The equipment was a good standard and the manager and dive instructors very friendly. Also, how can you go wrong with an all-inclusive dive trip for 25 Euros? Since no other people signed up for the wreck dive that morning I had another private trip. The British steamboat we explored sank in 1887 just 3km off Galle Fort and is 50m long. Visibility was not great because the sea was quite rough but it was still a really cool dive and I saw the deadly stonefish among many other colorful fish.
Since the weather was quite good, we hung out at the beach for a bit more before heading towards Colombo. We planned to stay the rest of the day in Hikkaduwa, which is the second favorite surfing town of Sri Lanka.
We managed to find a hostel that kept our backpacks for the day and let us shower in the evening before we left for the airport (costs: 3 USD/2,70 EUR).
Things to do there:
- Surf: rent a surfboard or take a surf lesson at one of the many vendors along Narigama Beach (2,2 EUR per hour or 5,50 EUR per day)
- Eat & Drink: Salty Swamis Cafe which is run by a couple of surfer boys and has a really cool vibe. The food and drinks are really good but quite expensive for Sri Lankan standards starting at around 5,50 EUR for a sandwich.
- Stay or store your luggage: Love & Kind Hostel, a few minutes walk from the bus station Hikkaduwa Beach
Hikkaduwa was our favorite beach location we visited in Sri Lanka. Very chilled, a lot of sports opportunities and nice bars.
Should Hikkaduwa be your last stop before you leave Sri Lanka, we recommend you to leave plenty of time to get to the airport. We went by public bus to Colombo bus station where we arrived around 11:00 pm after almost 3h of driving. Unfortunately, the express bus to the airport was not running anymore at that time, so we had to wait for the very slow local bus. We barely made our flight, leaving only 70min before take-off to check-in, go through security, and board. We were super stressed out and hope you don’t repeat our mistake. If you are cutting it close, keep some spare money so you can afford a tuk-tuk or better a taxi to drive you to the airport directly!
We are very happy the way our 2 weeks in Sri Lanka worked out and wouldn’t have done it any other way. Just wished we had a few more days available to spend on the lovely beaches and swim, snorkel, dive, and surf more.
Have a fun trip and don’t hesitate to ask any further questions of you have some!
Did you miss Part I? Read it here!