Nuwara Eliya: 2 day guide

Nuwara Eliya (pronounced as one word) is often referred to as ‘Little England’ and it is easy to see why.  This beautiful city in hill country in Central Provence is full of quintessentially British charms and with the addition of the temperate climate, it’s a welcome change if like me, you struggle in the heat!


Little England: Surely the only place in Sri Lanka you will find a mild climate; horses, complete with racecourse and a man made lake!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all Brits LOVE tea and being a stereotype, tea was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Sri Lanka and it has not disappointed.  The first tea plantation in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was cultivated in 1867 by James Taylor, having made a trip over to India to learn about tea plantations.  From here the business boomed.

I love tea! (The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya)

Nuwara Eliya is world renouned for tea and if you have the time in Sri Lanka I would definitely recommend visiting the tea plantations here instead of Ella.  2 days is a good length of time to spend here and below is my suggested itinerary:

Day One

  1. Visit Victoria Park
  2. Tour of a tea factory and estate
  3. Lover’s Leap waterfall
  4. Take high tea at the Grand Hotel

Day Two

  1. Horton’s Plains
  2. Walk around the racecourse and down past the lake
  3. Botanical gardens
  4. Onwards train from Nanu Oya to Ella


Day One

Visit Victoria Park

Becky, not looking at the camera

Victoria Park is a public park by the centre of town and a nice place to walk around and sit and read a book.  Compared to the rest of our trip around Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya was a good place to wind down and relax a little, so take the most of these opportunities.

Victoria Park

Despite being a public park, tourists are expected to pay entry to maintain the park and this is a common theme in Nuwara Eliya, even some footpaths have tourist fees!

Also the disadvantage to this is that often it is all fenced off so there is only one clear entrance and exit and you essentially become trapped, so to get out we cheekily jumped a bit of fencing by the bus station in order to get out without having to go all the way around and along the main road again.

Rebel without a cause Mason


Tour of tea factory and estate

On the drive in to Nuwara Eliya we passed hundreds of tea estates as we winded our way around the hill sides passing through plantations with very English names, my favourites being Devon, Somerset and Blackpool!

Driving through the country

Just out of the main centre of Nuwara Eliya there are tea plantations as far as the eye can see and some are better renowned than others and produce better quality teas (so do your research before hand – we were advised against the main ones such as Bluefield Tea Factory on the road from Kandy) and instead were recommended Pedro Estate by a few Sri Lankans.  It may not be the most picturesque but it was very convenient; just a short tuk-tuk ride from town and a short walk over to Lover’s Leap waterfall.

Pedro Tea Estate

Many reviews discredit Pedro on the basis that it is not as beautiful and has some pylons running through the plantation.  This is true, however, I don’t think it dampend the experience at all as we had already seen the untouched, picturesque plantations on our 3 hour drive to Nuwara Eliya.  Also, I think it’s impossible to expect a fully operating tea factory next to a town not to have pylons.. this is 2018 and although some people are searching for that fully Nomadic experience we are about 100 years too late.


We actually met a lovely French couple who were going to try find a smaller and less corporate plantation, however, most of the tea production in Sri Lanka is government controlled and have certain standards to meet.  You can’t always sure that what you’re getting is 100% fair trade and that people aren’t over-worked but I believe the larger estates will be better at maintaining workers rights.  Pedro, at least from the outside, appeared to try and uphold these values.


Also, it turns out Prince Philip visited in 1954 and if its good enough for Phil, then it’s good enough for me!

Royal Visit

Whichever tea factory you visit it will be an amazing experience.  We learnt so much about tea that I’ve filled about 3 pages of my travel diary just with interesting facts.

Factory tour

IMG_1433Also, I was exceptionally lucky to be travelling with a fellow tea-addict.  Normally, we are proud Yorkshire Tea girls but I have to admit, since my return I have only been drinking black Sri Lankan tea.

Pedro tea plantations


Lovers Leap Waterfall

Just over the road from Pedro Tea Estate is Lovers Leap waterfall.

Lovers leap waterfall

We were short of time when visiting as wanted to get back in time for tea (yes – more tea! But this time of the afternoon variety) so we actually asked our tuk-tuk driver Samanta to take us up.  This is definitely not accessible in a car as the roads are very narrow and bumpy but after nothing but trekking for our first week I rather enjoyed the bumpy tuk-tuk ride.

Off road tuk-tuk’ing

Now for anyone like me who just thought Lover’s Leap was a lovely name it has a bit of a darker story attached.  It is a small waterfall which got its local name as it was the rumoured point where a prince and his fiancee jumped to their deaths after they were refused the right to marry….. maybe not such a sweet name after all.


High Tea at the Grand Hotel

Tea on the lawn – ‘more tea vicar?’

The only thing better than tea, is tea with all the trimmings, aka. an English Afternoon Tea.  Coming from Yorkshire and being a frequenter of Betty’s I know I probably have high expectations when it comes to this and The Grand Hotel did not disappoint.

High Tea at The Grand Hotel

A beautiful establishment and very colonial.  It reminded me of being in Kenya and some of the hotels we stayed at with a traditional facade, decadent interior, bellboys and chauffeurs.  I have never seen so many waiters, overstaffed is probably an understatement and working in the NHS it is something completely foreign to me!

Initially our intention was to sit on the front lawn and take tea in front of the hotel but the waiters (who were obviously more knowledgeable then us) wanted us to sit closer to the hotel and we took a seat of the veranda.

Lucky we took their advice as the weather in Nuwara Eliya can change.  Like I said previously it is much cooler than the rest of Sri Lanka, with low cloud cover that often creeps down in the afternoon until you are surrounded by a blanket of mist… glad we didn’t stay on the lawn!

Here come the clouds

High tea at the grand was perfect, just what we needed the day after climbing Adam’s Peak.  It is served from half past 3 and as we were enjoying it so much we stayed the entire afternoon and then decided to treat ourselves to a cocktail each… when in Rome.


The highlight of the hotel, despite the incredible tea, stunning on-site jewellers and beautiful interiors, were the toilets.  They deserve a mention as they were such a welcome change and were the only toilets of the trip that we awarded a 10/10 – yes, we graded toilets but this is an important element to travelling.

I know for a fact it was a highlight as when I flicked though Becky’s photos it appears we both took snaps of the loo; it was just that good!


Day Two

Horton Plains

Many people if they are short for time often cut Nuwara Eliya out of their trip and instead visit tea plantations around Ella.  However, Horton Plains is a good enough reason on its own to visit here.

Magical morning at Horton Plains

It is a nation park about an hours drive from the city and boast beautiful views including the famous World’s End.  Unlike the rest of Sri Lanka this reminded me more of African Plains than anything I have come across before in Asia, the park being split into two distinct categories, the grasslands and the evergreen forests.



Even if you just stop off overnight and do a morning hike around the plains and then catch the train onwards I think it would be worth it.  It is completely unique.

Horton Plains is best seen early morning just as the sun is rising and the whole landscape is surrounded by cloud forest: a thin layer of cloud that covers the floor and transforms this place into something magical.

Becky walking into the morning mists

If you’re planning a visit, you will need a driver, the roads are just not made for tuk-tuks.  We actually stopped to pick up some German tourists whose taxi had broken down on the way.

The two main attractions of the park are the viewpoint at World’s End and Baker’s Falls.  With a name like Worlds End you would expect a rather impressive view and it doesn’t disappoint.

Sitting over the edge of Little World’s End

It is at World’s End that Horton Plains comes to a sudden end, as a stunning vista overlooking the escarpment.  Sitting on the edge of the precipice it is easy to see how this place got it’s name.

Depending on which way you are walking there is also a smaller but equally lovely viewpoint ‘Little World’s End’ you will come across.  It is a circular walk around the park, we took a left turn on entry which took us to this first, then the larger and finally round to the falls.  I personally think this was a better way to see it as in my mind the viewpoints were more impressive and if you are a quick walker you can miss the crowds.

At World’d End: enjoying the view

Baker’s Falls, named after the famed Samuel Baker who attempted to settle in Nuwara Eliya and build an agricultural village, is a pretty waterfall within the national park.  At only 20 metres it is by no means the most impressive but the setting is lovely and a great way to break up the hike by taking the short walk down and back again to see them.

Baker’s Falls

As previously mentioned the weather in Nuwara Eliya can be unpredictable and an early morning walk here is essential.  If you arrive any later than 9 or 10 am it is unlikely you will see anything at all due to the dense cloud cover often referred to as the ‘white wall’.  The park opens at 6am and is an hours drive from town, so it is best to make an early start.  Even though we left at 5.15, when we arrived the queue of traffic to get into the park was unbelievable.  Although our driver said this was the longest he had seen, it is worth setting off a little earlier so that when it hits 6am you are front of the queue to get through and get hiking sooner, before the swarms of tourists.

By 9am there must have been thousands of people at the reserve, both international and domestic tourists.

Being early is worth it! On our way back from the viewpoints we were passing everyone on their way up.

A fast pace goes a long way so I’m thankful I was with the Machine Mason who loves a yomp as much as I do.



Racecourse and Lake

My favourite feature of Little England was the racecourse, proud of place in the middle, it even had a grandstand.  Although used infrequently for one or two races a year, it was a nice touch, especially for Becky whose granddad is a racehorse trainer… Lets just say the ponies out there wouldn’t quite be up to scratch in a UK meeting.


Racecourse in use for the school sports day

As we were walking through they actually had the racecourse in use for a sports day with all the governors sat watching and the tannoy announcing the next house events.  I could not stop smiling as this was scarily reminiscent of home and yet we were in the middle of Sri Lanka.

The main difference between this scene and home was that a few rouge horses which had been running around the fields, were being chased away by dogs and some of the maintenance team.  I’m not sure our school groundskeeper would have been quite so relaxed in this position!


Lake Gregory is slightly further away from town past the racecourse and has that air of British summer times past.  There are more ponies around the lake and pedelo swans, as well as picnic spots and well maintained childrens play areas.  The perfect place for a summer getaway and mainly utilised by the Sri Lankas, both local and tourists which is amazing to see.


The disadvantage with the lake is, like Victoria Park, you have to pay to walk around it.  And yes there is no way around…. I hate breaking rules but we couldn’t see a way in and all around it is fenced off, even with barbed wire in some places.  So, Becky and I tried to jump over for a closer look, before being chased away by a security guard – yes, they actually have guards patrolling the lake!

So I would be lying if I said we actually walked alongside the lake, we didn’t.  Being cheap (and yes I’m aware it’s probably pennies) we walked along the road adjacent to it instead and got just as good a look at what was going on.


Botanical Gardens

Becky at the botanical gardens

I’ve added this to my list of things to do in 48 hours but having said this, if there is one thing to cut out of the itinerary if you are worried about time, it would be this.

The gardens were unremarkable and although lovely to walk around and sit and read a book, Kandy botanical gardens are equally as good.  Also, unfortunately as with the UK because Nuwara Eliya is higher, it has a more variable climate.  This brings more distinct seasons and with it, good and bad times to see the gardens.

In shock at finding one of the gardens open!
Inside the greenhouse

I was desperate to see the rose gardens but these, along with a lot of the other enticing subsections to the garden do not come into season until May.  Therefore my advice would be to visit during Spring and see the gardens in full bloom and they will be beautiful, otherwise it is nice to kill some time but is also quite expensive to visit if none of the displays are actually in flower.



Onwards Train

Nanu Oya is the closest station to Nuwara Eliya and the only way to travel from here and onwards to Ella is by train.  It is a must.  For more travel tips/ advice on this check out my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’.

Train passing over Nine Arches Bridge


The Travel Stuff

Nuwara Eliya has lots to offer and is completely unique compared to the rest of Sri Lanka, from the climate to the people.  Over half it’s population are actually of Indian Tamil origin and this also has a notable impact on the community.  There is not as much to offer in the way of Sinhalese cuisine (I was dismayed), instead lots of Indian restaurants and street food.  Also, to me there seemed to be a more obvious class divide between the workers and the wealthy living in the larger, typically British houses.

Houses built amongst the tea plantations
The central Post Office built by the British – reminiscent of a bygone era

As a result, we were warned by our host to be careful in the evenings as some of the locals have been known to drink and she had mentioned of one or two female tourists who had been walking around had been targeted.  This is not something to put you off, it felt a completely safe place to walk around during the day but just to beware it does have a different atmosphere to the rest of Sri Lanka and as a female traveller who often goes solo travelling I would want to pass this advice on.  As I said, there is not much in the way of eateries or anything that would particularly entice you out past dark so my advise would be to avoid it unless necessary or grab a tuk-tuk back from town after dinner.

Nuwara Elyia town

The other thing to be aware of, as I’ve already mentioned is the higher tourist prices that we noticed here more than anywhere else.  They maintain the city well and therefore the odd tourist fee is expected but the gardens and the reserve are fairly expensive.  If you’re travelling on your own you might want to look into that before you go, or if I were travelling solo just go for the day, try and grab a taxi with some others for an early morning hike around the plains, view a tea factory and then catch the train onwards.

I hope you enjoy Nuwara Eliya and happy travels!

If you decide to follow this at all let me know how you get on. x

Ella: Top 5 things to do

Ella is the most beautiful place.  High in the hills, with breath-taking views it is understandably one of Sri Lanka’s most popular stop-offs.


Ella is one of those beautiful places where it feels time stands still.  It has much more of a backpacker vibe than the rest of the centre; which means if you have time on your hands, it would be an amazing place to while away a few days relaxing here.

If I had the time I would grab a bike and head up to the surrounding hills and visit even more tea plantations (as you can never have too much tea). But having said this, I think two or three days is more than enough for what we wanted, so for those with a tighter time-scale, these are my top 5 things to do in Ella:

  1. Catch the train
  2. Ella Rock
  3. 9 Arches Bridge
  4. Eat at Raha cafe
  5. Little Adam’s Peak


Catch the Train

Train passing as we were walking along the tracks in Ella

Catch the train… Now this sounds like simple enough advise but if anyone thinks this is easily done, then check out my diary entry: ‘no room on the train’.  Needless to say any journey that I am partaking is unlikely to go to plan.  However, despite this, we had the most incredible journey.

Beckys best impression of Jeremy Corbyn

The stretch of railway from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful in the world; it is a must and therefore tops my list of things to do in Ella.

View from the train when we finally got enough room to look out!

You can catch the train from Kandy itself or Nanu-Oya, the closest station to Nuwara Elyia.  The length of the journey depends on which train you catch as there are slower, local trains that run the same route.  More information on how to catch the train is in my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’.

Platform at Nanu-Oya


Ella Rock

Top of the World on Ella Rock

Ella Rock is coming in at number 2.  In a place of such natural beauty, hiking is one of the most popular things to do in the area, the two most popular being Ella Rock and Little Adams Peak.

Ella rock is a short walk from the town along the railway tracks.  Lots of people climb Ella rock for sunrise but having done Adam’s Peak only shortly before we were happy to have an early morning walk instead.  This insured beautiful views on the way up and down; still kept it relatively quiet from a tourist point of view and increased our chances of passing a train on the tracks – we saw two.

Morning commute

You can either set off from the train station itself or at the crossroads in the main village there is a steep path up a hill, to cut up to the railway tracks.  If in doubt ask the hosts at your hostel/ guesthouse – you do not need a guide.  Take a left turn once you reach the tracks and keep walking until you pass over a small, metal bridge. Soon afterwards you will pass a 166.5 marker and there will be a large granite rock on your left where you take a sharp left turn (I forgot we were looking for 166.5 and thought we were looking for 165.5 which added a bit extra onto our journey!).

If you follow these instructions you shouldn’t go wrong.. when we retraced our steps to see if there was anything to make it easier to follow there really isn’t, it is a large rock and the only one around.  I don’t know how we missed it.


From here the instructions we followed told us to ‘follow your nose’ – it appears that Becky and I have a terrible sense of smell as we went wrong on numerous occasions but contrary to all the warnings we read online, any locals we met were all really helpful, correcting us and sending us on in the right direction.

Getting taken back the actual way!

If you do go wrong, it’s not far to retrace your steps and once you’ve found your way to the base of the climb even we couldn’t go wrong from there!

Turning off the railway tracks

From the base it only took us about 30 minutes to get up (we are quick walkers) so although lots of people advise 4 hours in reality it only took us about 2.5 from the village and back.

Base of the climb

It is a steep climb at the top so don’t forget trainers and some food for sustenance.  We LOVE peanut brittle!

Also, be warned, Ella is not as hot as the coast but most of the hiking we had done so far had been very early morning.  Even getting towards 11am was becoming too hot for me.  I would not want to be walking up during the heat of the day between 12-2pm as I am terrible in heat! Early morning or late afternoon is best.

Stunning views across Ella makes the steep ascent worth it

Once at the top you have a beautiful panorama of Ella itself and the surrounding hillside.  There is an obvious viewpoint but my advice would be to turn right at the main clearing and carry on for a further 5 minutes or so through the trees, to get to a prettier spot with less tourists.

Follow the route a little further round through the woods… trust me on this, it’s worth it!

There is a small cave temple so you will know if you’re in the right place and the views are definitely worth that extra bit of hiking.


Quote Becky: ‘Oh well, might as well get once now we’re here’ [takes selfie]
If you time your walk right, you might even be lucky enough to see a train passing.



9 Arches Bridge

I was so excited taking this, you’d never think I’d seen a train before

Now surely this has to be the most photographed spot in all of Ella.  Nine arches, also known as the ‘Bridge in the Sky’ in Sinhala, is situated at Gotuwala, between Ella and Demodara. The viaduct was built in 1940 whilst Ceylon was under the reign of the British Empire and is a fine example of engineering.  The bridge itself is made of rocks, stones and cement and it was rumoured this was as a result of the war effort and the steel assigned for the bridge was instead used on war related projects.

A feat of engineering

The architecture is beautiful and again if you time it correctly you will be able to catch a train passing through the bridge.  We went around 5pm and incidentally caught the 5.30pm train passing. This is a great time to visit as the heat of the day is over, there are a few less tourists than earlier and all being well, you are generally guaranteed a clearer background for photographs.

Waiting for the train

It’s easy to spend time playing around taking photos at the bridge and even though I am absolutely terrified of heights there is a slight thrill in standing atop the bridge.

The bridge is in the same direction as Little Adam’s Peak so after we had been here we did Little Adam’s Peak at sunset on our way back to the hostel.  Again the bridge is easy enough to find and if you grab instructions from your guesthouse you can’t go wrong (except for we obviously did!).

Walk on walls


Raha Cafe

I’m in food heaven!

For anyone that knows me it is unsurprising that a restaurant/ cafe has made it into my top 5 things to do in Ella.  To me food is so important and Sri Lankan cuisine is now one of my favourites.  I think it would hard to appreciate a place without embracing their culture and with that comes their food.


Ella has lots of eateries, its sad to say that over the last few years it has hugely developed with more guest houses on the way.  This means lots of lovely places to eat but my favourites will always be the small, local options which more often than not also prove to be the cheapest (yay!).


Raha cafe was both of our favourites and I think we ate here a total of 4 times, which I know seems excessive and we should have tried somewhere new but when the food is that good, it’s impossible not to go back.  In fact, I would be tempted to go back to Ella just to eat here again!


The menu had the basic roti, kottu roti and curries and they were all incredible.  Just go! You’ll see what I mean.



Little Adam’s Peak

The circle of life

Last but by no means least is Little Adam’s Peak.  This is another beautiful spot.  An easier climb than Ella Rock and from the road only took us 20 minutes to climb up.  Towards the top it does get a little steeper, but having done the real deal only a few days before Little Adam’s Peak seem like a walk in the park.

Another hike!

The views from Little Adam’s Peak and over Ella Gap to Ella Rock were stunning and I would definitely recommend a sunset climb.


It is quieter than during the day and Becky and I were probably the last two to come down and it’s easy enough to find your way in the dusk.  We perhaps left it a little late as by the time we hit the road we were walking back in the dark but it’s simple enough to follow the road back to the town.


Sunset itself was cloudy but still worth seeing as you watch it setting over the rock to the west.  As mentioned above, link this is with the 9 arches bridge as they’re in the same direction and you’ll have an amazing afternoon.

Mordor or Sri Lanka?
Buddha atop Little Adam’s Peak



This is by no means an extensive list of what to do in Ella but what I would recommend as definitely worth doing.  Other things if you are around for longer would include hiring a scooter to see the surrounding countryside; going up to Lipton’s seat and visiting Rawana Falls (although you can easily do this as you are leaving Ella and I’m not convinced would be a good use of a day).

Rawana Falls

As I mentioned, as Ella is so popular it has understandably been going through development recently and has much more of a backpacker vibe than most of the other places we visited in the centre.  Lots more guest houses and infrastructure was being built whilst we were there.  However, having said this although there are bars and live music it doesn’t appear to be a wild night out or huge for drinking.  Peak time appears to be in the early evening and often when we were vacating around half 10 a lot of the restaurants/ bars were already clearing out.  Obviously like us, getting ready for another early morning hike the following day!

Enjoy x


Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has been growing in popularity these recent years and it’s easy to see why…


This guide is going to cover the basics to travelling.  The things you need to know/ wish you’d have known, to get from A to B.


-Arrival/ Departure

-Travelling Around





I have been desperate to visit Sri Lanka since some of my friends worked there after we finished Uni in 2012 and with its increasing popularity in the last few years I was keen to go before it became too commercialised, like other areas of SE Asia.

With incredible history, beautiful scenery and stunning coastlines it’s easy to see why over three times more tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2016 compared to 2010 (statistical reports of Sri Lanka Tourism).  These figures likely have a lot to do with the ending of the civil war in 2009 between the government and the Tamil Tigers, lasting 26 years.

Wild elephants at Yala National Park

Normally when travelling, I like to create the whole itinerary myself.  However, we had so many good recommendations for Sri Lanka we based a lot of our route on tips from friends and with a bit of improvisation, I now think we have it pretty much sorted.

We travelled in January and February, apparently peak season which we hadn’t realised until we got there.  At this time of year we were pretty much guaranteed sunshine in the centre and on the South coast, so based our trip around these areas.  This worked perfectly, as they’re the best!

I travelled with one friend, Becky (aka. Machine Mason).

Becky ‘the machine’ Mason

Having travelled some of SE Asia together before, albeit 5 years ago, we were pretty sure we could survive three weeks in each others company!

One thing we did notice travelling here compared to other areas of Asia, was the majority of other travellers were couples.  There were a few groups and solo travellers here and there, as well as some other female duos but we felt exceptionally single! So lucky we had each other!


Because of this, I would say it is potentially harder to travel around Sri Lanka easily on you own compared to other places if you’re not a confident solo traveller; unless on the coast, where you will find more of a backpacker vibe.


Arrival/ Departure

Getting to and from a place is equally as important as travelling around it.  You can get a Sri Lankan Visa (ETA) easily online.  I only sorted mine the night before, it cost $25 USD and came through immediately.  Then you just need to fill in an arrivals card when you get there.

The airport is fairly standard, it flies planes but don’t expect the full luxuries of an international airport.

Shopping is minimal and I had forgotten/ lost my memory card for my camera.  I was hoping to pick one up on arrival and although there are multiple electrical shops which sell everything from washing machines to toasters, they sadly don’t stock anything as practical as an SD card.  I managed to last my entire trip on only 16GB by constantly deleting photos – quite proud of this achievement!

The airports closest city is definitely Negombo and as an interesting town with Portuguese and Catholic influences, as well as a long stretch of beach, it is generally peoples first choice over Colombo.

Negombo beach at sunset

Colombo itself is worth a visit but a day is enough.  It is further to the airport but the buses are good, taxis fairly reasonably priced or if you want something a little cheaper than a taxi, grab a metred tuk-tuk.  All of Colombo have these, don’t believe them if they say they can’t put it on a metre; just grab the next one passing.

If you want a tuk-tuk from the airport then you’d have to leave the airport enclosure and make your way towards the road to flag one down as they’re not allowed into the main pick-up/ drop-off area with all the cars.

Seema Malaka in Colombo

When leaving, the airport has limited choices available for eating and drinking; all of which appear overpriced compared to Sri Lankan cuisine outside the airport.  My advise would be to eat before you go or grab some roti to take through with you which is far tastier and means you don’t need to pay a fortune.

Top Tips:

  • Bring any electricals you need and don’t expect to pick up anything on arrival.
  • Negombo is an easy place to stay when you arrive but still about a 20 minute drive away.  It is smaller and more picturesque than Colombo.
  • If travelling round Colombo, be sure to use metred tuk-tuks to get the best price.
  • On departure, eat before arriving at the airport or grab food to take through with you as the airport meals are basic and dear.


Travelling Around

We used various methods of transport on our trip.  It was so easy and I could not praise their transport system more highly, it’s great!  In fact, so good, the buses when direct don’t take that much longer than driving.

Also they drive on the left which keeps things simple for us Brits!


Private Drivers

Our first week we had a lot of ground to cover in a short space of time, so following advice, we hired a driver.  Including drivers accommodation you can expect to pay about 9000LKR / day and this couldn’t be easier.  £20 each for us to be driven the distances we were, door to door; stopping wherever took our fancy, without the hassle of worrying about backpacks was an absolute bargain.

Our amazing driver Palitha

Just to put this in perspective, I missed my train from Leeds to Manchester Airport (as I was still packing!) and my replacement ticket cost me £30.

It’s easy to arrange; we sorted ours 9.30pm the night before and he met us at 8am. Actually 8am as well, Sri Lankans it turns out are very good at keeping time and unlike most of SE Asia which runs on what I call ‘Laos time’, aka. 3 hours late, they were on the dot for everything.

That, and our driver Palitha was absolutely amazing.


Every time he saw us he’d jump up and give a huge smile and double handed wave to welcome us.  So attentive – almost too much, we tried to explore a little on our own but he didn’t want us walking anywhere!

Service stop

The other advantages to a driver beside stopping at beautiful services like this…

DSC_6511 if you’re anything like Becky it means you can sleep in comfort.  Trust me, this girl can sleep anywhere!


Buses in Sri Lanka are great and doable if you have more time but if you want to see as much as possible, as quickly as possible, definitely get a driver around the centre.


Our driver left us in the beautiful Nuwara Elyia (pronounced as one word), where we explored the tea plantations.  From here to Ella we caught the train.


I’m sure most people, like me, have the train at the top of their Sri Lanka to-do list.  The stretch of train line from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka and the World; travelling through tea plantations, forests and hill country.  You can either jump on at Kandy and go the whole stretch or midway as we did, at Nanu Oya (the closest station to Nuwara Elyia).


Don’t feel that because you caught the train from Nanu Oya you’ve missed out on some of the scenery, in fact we drove to Nuwara Elyia and our approach via road, winding through tea estates was equally as breathtaking.

We even picked up a friendly police officer en-route!


The trains are fantastic and the majority whilst we were there, were on time.  However, they can get full… very full!

Our train from Nanu Oya to Ella

We hadn’t booked and when we tried to book a few days before, all the seats were sold out.  This is not uncommon, it turns out most trains are fully booked a month in advance.  We actually bumped into a tour guide who revealed he booked almost double the number of seats required just for his group to travel with a little more space.  Assuming these tourists book trips months- years in advance, it’s hardly surprising we couldn’t get a seat turning up at the counter 2 days before!

Nanu Oya ticket office

I was also unaware that you could book online (in truth, I didn’t bother checking!) but was told by a Dutch couple it is possible and ‘seat 61′ [] is a great website for doing this.

If you are lucky enough to book a seat, firstly, congratulations!  Secondly, either 2nd or 3rd class would be my choice of travel.  They’re fairly comfortable and although 1st class has the luxury of air-con, this means the windows don’t open and you can’t get that wind-in-your-hair train feeling or those all important travel shots for instagram!


Not that we managed to get any at all.. as we were packed like sardines for our journey.

You can just about see the view if you stand of tiptoes for 5 hours!

At one stage the small area between the carriages about half a metre wide had 16 of us and a stack of precariously balance backpacks squashed together.  This is no exaggeration, Becky even had to scratch an itch on her nose using my shoulder as couldn’t release her arms! An insta train photo for us was out of the question.. or at least a less orthodox one.


Our train was particularly busy as it was national independence day so everyone was travelling.  We wanted to catch the first train to arrive in Ella by lunch, however, this was one of the older Sri Lankan trains with less carriages and they travel slower; so we stood, very squashed, for 5 hours.  The advantage to this, is we got more stops to enjoy the journey to the full extent and with the national holiday locals in the next carriage were singing and playing music.


If you don’t have a seat and are worried about this, check seat 61 as it tends to say which train is at what time and some of the later trains are the modern blue ones imported from China.  These trains are faster, about 2 hours for our stretch of the journey and they have more carriages, which means more space if you are standing.

The other option, if boarding at Nanu Oya and you want to have a higher chance of getting an unreserved seat, jump on at the station before as it will be quieter.  We did read about this and considered it but thought we would be OK being early.  Turns out you have to be early, some people arriving ‘on time’ couldn’t even get standing room on the train.   If you do try this, let me know how you get on!

Of course it’s not always as busy as when we travelled and I for one loved our experience and am glad it panned out as it did.  I am also beyond impressed at myself, and those that know me will appreciate this, but I made it nearly 6 hours without going to the toilet! That has to be a new PB.

Galle Railway Station

Just to prove it is possible to actually get a seat we also caught the train from Galle up to the capital at Colombo Fort.  As this is a slightly quieter line and with more locals, we managed to buy our ticket on the morning and reserve a second class seat.


The main advantage of a seat is you can actually enjoy the view instead of worrying about being pressed up against a stranger for hours.  Although the seat was wasted on Becky, who as usual promptly fell asleep and missed all the views.

Platform at Galle

The views for this stretch of railway were fantastic and having basically missed the panorama on one of the most beautiful stretches in the World, this was some consolation.  Beaches and palm trees instead of tea plantations but equally stunning and at about £1 a ticket you can’t go wrong with the railways.

Sunrise at the station


From Ella onward we took one taxi but otherwise used buses all the way to Galle.  The buses were so easy, you literally just hop on and off anywhere.  The technique is they slow a little, you shout at the conductor where you’re going and if they are too, the bus slams on its breaks.  They only stop just long enough for you to clamber up the steps and find some seated/ standing room for the journey.


Going from bus stations is so simple and we generally found it easier on these occasions to get a seat but people are always on and off so it’s less of an issue than on the trains.


The buses go pretty quickly and the blue/ white ones even play out music TV, generally Bhangra style and good fun.

The distances between the coastal towns are minimal and with the cost of the buses being so cheap (only 70LKR from Mirissa to Unawatuna) this is definitely preferable to drivers/ taxis, unless of course money is no object in which case you should get the bus anyway just for the fun of it!


Tuk Tuk

The faithful tuk-tuk.  How they make me smile!


I even saw an ice-cream tuk-tuk for the first time and thought they were the most amazing things ever!

The key with tuk-tuks is always haggle and like I said previously, if in Colombo, go on the metre.


The final mode of transport we considered were mopeds.  We had the idea last minute to hire bikes to get from Unawatuna to Galle but the morning we wanted to go they were all in use!  We’ve been caught out before in Sri Lanka by everyone else’s organisational skills, so if you want a bike, you’re best booking it at least the day before

Top Tips

  • If travelling to lots of places in a small amount of time definitely get a driver.
  • Book a seat on the train in advance, 2nd class gets you an open window.
  • If you haven’t booked and fancy a seat travelling from Nanu Oya to Ella try turning up the station before.
  • You can’t beat buses as a mode of transport along the coast.
  • If you want to hire a bike, don’t forget your drivers licence and don’t leave it until the day you want it.  Book a bike at least a day or two in advance to make sure you get one.


What you Need

So, what to pack?

Sri Lanka had a warm climate and minimal rain whilst we were there and I took what I would consider standard things for travelling SE Asia, some I needed, some I didn’t.

On top of the obvious packing list these were essential/ would have been useful:


We didn’t buy/ take any adaptors for non-UK sockets as believed Sri Lanka to use both UK and 3 circular pin plugs.  It’s true they use UK plugs in a lot of places but not all of them.  We ended up relying on portable battery chargers in between places with UK sockets, so it would have been good to have at least one 3 circular pin adaptor.

Shawl/ Maxi

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and like most others expect you to cover up when in temples.  I never went anywhere without my shawl to cover up shoulders or maxi skirt to slip on over a pair of shorts, you never know when you might need it – essential!

Leggings and Hoodie

Believe it or not I was actually cold some days and not just from air-con!  Hill country is a lot colder and although Ella you can just about get by with shorts and t shirts, Nuwara Elyia is much cooler.  I ended up wearing a jumper during the days, hoodie in the evening and even needed to sleep in my leggings!

Horton Plains

Layers are also useful for some of the early morning hikes in hill country such as Hortons Plains and Adams Peak, if you’re waiting for sunrise on top of the mountain it gets cold.

Immodium/ Dioratlye/ Senna

I won’t say which of our party (or both) needed to resort to the medicine bag at some point but I am ashamed to say I have never not needed one, or all of the above at some stage whilst travelling (except perhaps Australia) .  I’ll leave you to come up with the details but don’t forget them! They save your life if you have a long days travelling ahead on public transport.


Sri Lanka is amazing for hiking but all of the terrain in manageable in trainers.  I wore my trekking shoes (which are hideous but functional) but Becky wore trainers which were absolutely fine for all of our hikes, including Adam’s Peak.

Adam’s Peak descent


Non-essential items, aka. I over-packed but don’t want to admit it:

Travel Pillow

I take this everywhere but sadly did not need it.  Unlike previous travelling there were no long overnight buses to get place to place and no extreme camping that required a pillow.


Again no camping but I thought we would need it for Adams Peak ascent.  This was not the case, candles and lit all the way.



I hope this is useful to get your trip planned, it is the most incredible country so enjoy every minute.

Have a look at my ‘top tips’ for Sri Lanka for ideas to plan your route in more detail!  It combines our favourite things and our recommendations having made a few mistakes along the way.  If you’re going on a 10 day or two week trip I have some suggested itineraries so take a look and let me know what you think if you decide to follow them.

Happy travels x

Top Tips for Sri Lanka

If you want to know the basics for travelling/ getting around Sri Lanka then check out my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’.  However, if you want to know the good stuff… then these are my top travel tips.  Enjoy!


Don’t miss out Sigiriya, Lion Rock is definitely worth the trip.


When staying in Sigiriya, try Wijesiri for dinner. It is a family run restaurant and the food is delicious, a great introduction if this is one of your first stops.  When we were here we weren’t allowed to drink as it was a public holiday so instead had a rather unusual cup of tea!


Grab a bike and cycle around Polonnaruwa as it’s the best way to see it and we ended up covering over 10km. (Yes, I logged it into Strava!)


If you’re visiting Polonnaruwa wear covered clothes for ease, even with a maxi and shawl we were taking them on and off every 5 minutes to go into the relics.


In Kandy, for a ridiculously cheap but incredible meal try the Garden Cafe by the lake, it’s on the opposite side to the Temple of the Tooth.


If you’re visiting the Temple of the Tooth, avoid going at 9am as this is when everybody goes.  Either go earlier, or later, but 9am not only clashes with all the tourists but also all the locals giving their offerings at the start of the day.


A day is enough to see Kandy.  If you’re staying longer then don’t miss the botanical gardens and get lost in wonderland when you try tea at Helga’s Folly, a quirky boutique hotel.

Spot the odd one out…
Helga’s Folly

Visit Millennium Elephant Foundation, it’s amazing and about an hour from Kandy.  Try walking with elephants instead of riding them.  It involves a thirty minute walk around the forestry with the ellies and an opportunity to bathe and feed them.  This foundation houses ex-working elephants and encourages tourists to engage in this instead of the bareback rides they also offer, in the hope to stop the exploitation of these beautiful animals.

Elephant Whisperer
The beautiful Ranmenika

If you do visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation go early, we arrived around 10am and it was getting busier as we left around lunchtime

Bath time!

Don’t forget to check out the Elephant Dung Factory next door, a great project!  (We were told these Elephants can produce around 60kg of dung a day – which is impressive in itself! 10kg of dung can produce 10000 sheets of paper which if my maths is correct means 1 elephant can produce 60000 eco-friendly sheets of paper per day!!! WOW)

DO NOT MISS ADAM’S PEAK – if you like hiking that is.  This was our trips highlight and I cannot recommend it enough.

Top of Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is an incredible experience.  Set off at 2am and you’ll have bags of time for sunrise.  The best thing about sunrise was seeing the view for the first time on decent, absolutely breathtaking.

At the top of Adam’s Peak don’t forget to ring the bell.  One ring = one ascent.  I could go on, so if you’re going to do it have a look at my post on ‘Climbing Adam’s Peak’.


 Visit Nuwara Elyia for the tea factories, plantations and Horton Plains.  You only need a short stay here but have a look at my guide for an idea of an itinerary.

Pedro Tea Factory


Pedro Tea Estate

Arrive early, 6am to Horton Plains to avoid queues and to avoid the ‘white wall’

The cloud forests at Horton Plains

Catch the train from Kandy or Nanu Oya to Ella.


As mentioned in my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’, book a seat if you want to sit down.


In Ella make sure you do my top 5!

Take the train
Hidden cave temple, Ella Rock
Nine Arches Bridge
Eat at Raha Cafe – the food is insanely good!
Sunset hike up Little Adam’s Peak

Don’t miss out on a safari.


We chose Yala as it is one of the best and there is a higher chance of seeing leopards (we were lucky enough to see one, although too far away for a photo).


People say it isn’t as good if you’ve been on safari in Africa but I would disagree, as it is a totally different experience.  It’s true, it can’t compare to the open plains of the Maasai Mara but it is still incredible.  The wildlife is native to Asia and I even saw a hornbill which I spent my entire trip around Borneo looking for, but was unable to find, so I was buzzing!

Wild elephant at Yala National Park

Tangalle, on the coast, is beautiful.  It’s slightly less touristic than others and an absolute paradise.


If you are visiting then try and get to a secluded place called Think Club in Goyambokka for sunset.  We caught it just as dusk was passing and it would have been sensational.  I’m not even sure how we came to find it we just jumped in a tuk-tuk who took us there and it was completely deserted.  Be warned it is pricey but would be worth it for a romantic meal; or if like us you’re travelling on a bit more of a budget, you can have a few beers and head back towards Medaketiya beach for dinner.


Go blue whale and dolphin spotting in Mirissa.

Wild dolphins
Blue Whale!

Visit ‘secret beach’.  To find it, walk through Mirissa harbour (you need to pay a small fee for this) and up the hill.  You should pass a resort and keep going until you see signs for a ‘secret beach’ (obviously not so secret!) but definitely worth visiting.  It’s a small beach nestled in behind the rocks and far nicer than Mirissa beach itself.

Love this girl!

On our way we even stopped for a spot of cricket.  England vs. Sri Lanka.

Becky batting
The teams!

Visit Unawatuna for the beautiful beaches and take a cooking course at Happy Spice.


Take a day trip to Galle from Unawatuna by bus, tuk-tuk or moped.  It gets very hot so avoid the midday sun.


Visit Dalawella beach and see what paradise looks like.


If you want Sapphires (this was believe it or not the only part of my entire trip that I looked at in advance – this will not surprise my friends in the slightest) then go to a reputable seller.  Ensure you get a certificate and have it validated, there are lots of blogs on this so have a look.  After reading a few I went to Salie’s in Colombo which was amazing and I would definitely recommend them.  Sri Lankan sapphires are world famous and they were stunning!  My new favourite is the peach sapphire, WOW!


Most importantly, eat as much food and drink as much tea as possible!

These tips are a combination of recommendations, what we loved and what we learnt the hard way.  Sri Lanka is the most incredible country so enjoy it!