We got a private driver to take us the three hours from Udawalawe National Park to Ella, our eventual favorite city in Sri Lanka. We opted for this as public transportation wasn’t an option and it was pretty cheap considering. And the idea of riding a tuk tuk that many hours sounded miserable. Ella is a beautiful mountain town nestled into green hills and tea plantations and overall is much more chill and sleepy than the beach cities. There is only a handful of restaurants and places to stay and all are in a small area so it’s easy to get around. We stayed in an awesome guesthouse with a small deck overlooking the mountain gorge so we had stunning views of the sunset each night. Only annoying part is the two squirrels who lived on the roof so we would hear the two of them scamper around all night which got annoying fast.
In Ella there are awesome day hikes you can do to nearby peaks and always something beautiful to take pictures of. While on one of our hikes, we met an Irish couple who was just starting out their year long trip so it was fun to swap stories and advice from one long term traveling couple to another. Little did we know we would randomly meet them again in the Philippines three months later. How small is the world?
In addition to hiking, we spent time touring a tea plantation and eating at the tasty local restaurants. Our absolute favorite from there (and Sri Lanka as a whole) was the Matey Hut. This little gem of a restaurant is the epitome of a hole in the wall. There are no more than eight seats for guests. They take orders and then make the full meals before moving on to take the order of the next table. So each table must wait for the tables in front of them to get all their food before their food is even started. While this creates an hour wait to get seated and fed, it is totally worth it. The homemade, huge portions of local grown food are some of the best we have had in our travels. The food is so fresh that at one point the cook walked out to the side of the restaurant to pick fresh herbs for our drinks. If there is one restaurant you can’t miss while in Ella, this is it.
After a couple of nights in Ella we caught the famous train from there to Kandy. This train is a backpacker and photographer favorite as it is a blue old school train that weaves its way through vibrant green tea plantations, farms and countryside. You can hang out the windows and the doors (do as the locals do) as it only goes about 20mph and allows you to get some great shots. Although in some parts the train doesn’t have much clearance from trees and such on each side. We realized this as Katie had her head hanging out the window smiling for a picture with her back turned to what was oncoming. Luckily I yelled “get in!” in time. While the train ride takes about 6 hours, the landscape is stunning and makes the hard seats worth it. Also at every stop locals would hoist up baskets of freshly made food below the open windows so you could buy a snack to go.
Once in Kandy we made our way to our resort which was very centrally located in the city. While many people rave about Kandy, we weren’t overly impressed. Maybe this is because we’ve been to so many foreign places in recent months, but overall it seemed like a pretty average city. We spent most of our time walking around the central lake and visiting some of the temples and museums. Once our time in Kandy was up, we caught another train to Colombo to finish the big loop we traveled and get us back for our flight to Mumbai.
In the end, Sri Lanka blew us away. The people are some of if not THE nicest people we have met in all of our travels. There is a true kindness exuded from just about everyone we met and it didn’t feel forced or for a reason other than it was just who they were. The food was wonderful, it was extremely cheap, there was plenty of outdoor activities, and the overall level of tourism was low which is always a plus for us. When all that is added together, it makes it easily one of our top three countries we have seen thus far on the trip and a place we can’t wait to get back to.