If you’re going to Sri Lanka you must do a safari. Might I be so bold to suggest two safaris? We did one each in Uda and Yala and it was the best decision we made. Uda Walawe is a lot smaller and condensed than Yala and holds one of the largest populations of wild elephants per square kilometre in the world. About 800 elephants reside in an area about 300 sq. kms. We saw about 40 elephants of all ages, both males and females on our morning safari (very important to go in the morning rather than the afternoon) amongst many other creatures including crocodiles, birds, buffalos, and golden jackals. It was such an interesting day. The only downside is that there are so many safari jeeps rattling around and they don’t fill them—we were the only two people in our 6-person vehicle. We stayed two nights in Uda and it was just right. Arrival and chill out day, next day safari and third morning leave.
We spent two days in Yala National Park as well, and did a second safari in this much larger park. It is nearly 1000 sq. kms and we managed to organise with our guesthouse to go with four other people so that our jeep was full. Since the park is much larger, the amount of exciting wildlife is harder to see since the animals have more space to roam. We were lucky to see a sloth bear near the entrance which was cool, but the big draw of Yala is the chance to see wild leopards. The driver had a guide with him so we had extra eyes to spot our spotted friend and near the end of our tour he proved to be worth the money. He found a leopard mere meters away from our jeep, and none of us would have found it ourselves since it was camouflaging in some bushes. We got to spend about 10 minutes looking at the leopard and tracking it (from our jeep) while it slunk this way and that, most likely trying to avoid our jeep. Other jeeps and other guides starting arriving and soon we had to leave because of the cacophony of several safari vehicles drowning out any sound of actual nature. That’s the thing. We were lucky to see what we came for, but you do kind of get a sense that instead of observing wildlife, you’re stalking it. I’m glad we did it but it makes me more aware of my travel-activity decisions for the future. We stayed in Yala for two nights but one could have been enough. It’s just that after waking up at 430am to catch the 445am jeep to the park, and sitting in a jeep all morning straining your eyes to see animals, you’re pretty knackered by noon and wouldn’t really feel like getting on a bus to go to your next destination. All you want is food, to jump into a pool and have a nap.
Most people go on to Tangalle after doing safaris, but we went to Talallah and enjoyed the Talallah Retreat. We were originally going to do a “yoga retreat” but when we were checking in, they didn’t have our names down. Fortunately, we could just join sessions when we wanted to, signing our names on a sheet to run a tab on our room. As it turns out, a full yoga retreat would have included an early morning meditation, morning yoga (read: challenging), a mid-morning seminar on something or other, afternoon yoga (easy) and a souvenir canvas bag. We like our sleep in the morning and we also like to lounge by the beach or pool in the mid-morning, so we ended up joining morning and afternoon yoga and saved a bucket load of money. A yoga retreat for two people for 3.5 days was going to cost $1000 but we ended up paying only $15 per session (pp) so got to do as much yoga-ing as we wanted for a fraction of the cost of the retreat. The instructors were different every time, which was cool as we got to experience different styles of yoga and different styles of teaching. It was challenging enough to motivate us, but not too hard that we felt defeated. We opted to pay for food inclusions with our room since the restaurant was buffet style, which was great because you always got to choose what and how much to eat. The grounds are gorgeous and the pool flawless. They even had an on-site spa so I had a couple of treatments done (facial and pedicure). Loved it!
MIRISSA, GALLE, & COLOMBO
Mirissa was a different vibe altogether from Talallah. Obviously, since Talallah was a retreat and Mirissa is a beach town which attracts surfers and hippies. We had a hard time finding breakfast (make sure it’s offered at your guesthouse before booking) but dinners on the beach were wonderful. Nice little place to hang out for a couple of days, but not super memorable. From Mirissa we visited Galle, a historic fort built by the Dutch in the late 1600’s. The buildings within the fort are interesting and the shops and restaurants were fun to get lost in as well. The fort also houses plenty of every-day folks just living their lives, so it’s not just a tourist destination.
On our last night in Sri Lanka we stayed in Mount Lavinia, which is a 30 minute tuk-tuk ride to Colombo. Colombo is boring. There is very little to do and see in this fairly average city. We spent the day at my new favourite department store, Odel. The only interesting thing in Colombo that we saw was a very large protest group marching the streets. It was about a kilometre long, this group of young people, all shouting about something to do with university costs, I presumed.
Finally, the airport situation. We were told to get to the airport 5 hours before our 11pm flight back to Perth. This seemed crazy to us…surely 2.5 hours is enough! But no, because of the construction and renovations at the Colombo International Airport, flights going in and out are only at night. Therefore, there are heaps of people. And heaps of people on the roads trying to get to the airport. In order to get to the airport for 5 hours before our flight, we needed to leave Mount Lavinia 2 hours before that. We thought this was nuts, but our guesthouse host insisted that if we wanted to catch our plane, we must leave at 4pm. So, we did. It took nearly 2 hours indeed to reach the airport. Just so you know, it is 44kms. Yup. Once in the airport, the processes seemed like a dream compared to our experience in Delhi, for example. (a story for another time. Not my best moment, to be honest.) We went through no less than four different security areas and finally got to our gate a full 4 hours before our flight, so we weren’t impressed, but at least we were where we needed to be. I prefer to be somewhere early rather than right on time, but 4 hours was a bit excessive. I spent time editing photos and watching TV on my computer. Eating dinner took up some time as we traversed the entire airport searching for affordable restaurants. They don’t exist. Sri Lanka’s airport is frickin expensive. Like, a burger from a place similar to Burger King or Hungry Jack’s was about $18 USD. We were amazed. We opted for personal pizzas from Pizza Hut for $10 USD. They were gross and tiny and I wished we had chosen the burgers. Oh, well, lesson learned.
Our time in Sri Lanka was amazing and we had many other experiences that I did not write about—these are just the highlights and I would recommend going to see it to anyone. What struck us the most about it was that everyone was there. What I mean by that is that there were old people, young families with small children, young couples, singles, a healthy dose of gay couples, and all of this just communicated that Sri Lanka is a welcoming and accessible place for anyone. It is very safe and the ocean water is warm like bath water, people. And because it is so warm, it is too warm for sharks (something we think about a lot in Perth) so very safe for swimming. We loved it!