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The Best Things to do in Sri Lanka: The Highlights
- Exploring the old city of Kandy
- Safari at Yala National Park
- Learning to surf in Ahangama
- Swinging on the infamous rope swing in Unawatuna – scroll down to find out how to find this famous tree!
- SUP yoga near Ahangama
Sri Lanka had been on my bucket list FOREVER, and I can safely say it lived up to every expectation! I chose to do this trip a little differently to my usual adventures, booking onto an active retreat with New Horizon Escapes (highly recommended!) with a few days of exploring first.
After landing in Columbo, we ventured to our hostel, Colombo City Hostel, which was a perfect base for our first two nights. With a beautiful roof top chill out area, and a great free breakfast, you can’t go far wrong with these cheap dormitories. That said, Colombo really isn’t a place to hang around in. Beyond the lovely little street food placed called Nana’s just north of the hostel, there isn’t a whole lot to do.
Therefore, early the next morning we set off to Kandy via a 3 hour train journey. Most people choose to go to Kandy for a few days, but we felt we had the perfect amount of time as a day trip. Kandy is regarded as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, best known for its Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – a very important Buddhist pilgrimage site. Visiting this is an obvious must, whilst the surrounding town itself is wonderful to walk around – it oozes with old colonial style and traditional Sri Lankan vibes. Our favourite part by far was to escape the crowds and climb (or in our case, get a tuk tuk!) up the hill to the giant white Buddha. Up here, we were practically alone with magnificent views over the city.
Tip: train travel is so much easier in Sri Lanka than India, so don’t think that you need to book far in advance! We simply arrived at the station 30 minutes before the train and bought tickets then and there. There are three classes of travel: 1st, 2nd and 3rd. We didn’t try first class as it was very expensive, and actually found 3rd class to be far more comfortable than second – neither have air conditioning, but third class was surprisingly quieter and we got seats.
We then met up with the group for our retreat and journeyed South to Ahangama. This is by far my favourite part of Sri Lanka – its wonderful laid back atmosphere surrounds pristine beaches.
Our retreat with New Horizons focused on active adventures. Each day we would do one beach workout, and one activity. Workouts ranged from beach HITT, kickboxing and strength training; whilst activities including surfing, hiking or yoga. Throughout the week we also had several excursions to other areas of Southern Sri Lanka. As someone who normally shies away from any kind of organised tour, I was blown away by how much I loved the retreat with New Horizons, and would recommend it to anyone seeking an adventurous but health conscious getaway!
One of the key activities that I would really recommend is learning to surf in Ahangama. The waves here are perfect for novices! We surfed with LaPoint Surf School, who had excellent instructors and equipment. I used to surf as a kid, but had pretty much forgotten everything, and they were so patient with me re-learning the ropes!
However, my favourite activity by far has to be SUP yoga – yoga on paddle boards on a beautifully tropical lagoon just a short tuk tuk ride away from LaPoint. This was probably my best travel experience to date! Don’t get me wrong, I like yoga, but I’m no proficient yogi – and I still absolutely loved it. We paddled out in the centre of the lagoon, anchored our boards to some rope, and spent an hour doing yoga – divine!
Our main excursion of the week was to Yala National Park for a day safari. Before visiting Sri Lanka, I came so close to booking to go to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I’d seen so many photos on Instagram of these adorable baby elephants, and since they advertised themselves as an ‘orphanage’ and ‘sanctuary’ I thought they must treat the animals well. Thank goodness I gave them a proper google before we went – Born Free Foundation have revealed the atrocities of how they treat the animals, it’s awful! I’m so pleased that we had the opportunity to go and see these amazing creatures in the wild – we got within metres of a massive male elephant, and it was one of the highlights of my whole trip!
Tip: Yala is split into ‘blocks’ – although there are far fewer tourists in Block 2, be careful not to pay the extra to go here unless you have a very experienced driver. The mud is SAVAGE and without proper tyres you could easily spend your whole day digging your truck out!
And finally… how did we find the infamous rope swing tree in Unawatuna?!
I’d seen it on Instagram so many times. That beautiful shot of someone swinging above a pristine beach. And every time I saw it location tagged as ‘Unawatuna’ – THIS ISN’T STRICTLY TRUE!!!! Unawatuna is the nearest town, but the tree is actually located just outside. Ask a tuk tuk to take you to Dalawella Beach. Walk along the beach till you find Dream Cabana Homestay, and here you’ll find the rope wrapped around this beautiful palm. Be careful because it’s super scary climbing up there to make the jump! The locals will charge you a small fee to use the swing (which we initially thought was crazy) but it makes sense as they have to help you get up the tree first.
Hope you get to give Sri Lanka a try soon, and check out New Horizon Escapes for something a bit different!