The bad news for all non surfers is that the majority of beaches in Sri Lanka are not exactly suitable for swimming and bathing. Even in Mirissa, where there’s only a small surfer spot in the very corner of the bay, the waves can often get too high even for experienced swimmers. But don’t be sad just yet:
Beachfun in Unawatuna
Unawatuna beach is located in a bay and I do not exaggerate when I say that I have never seen a beach like this. The white sand and turquoise water look like the setting of a very cheesy postcard.
Yes, Unawatuna is a tourist hotspot and can be quite crowded – and also quite expensive for Sri Lankan measures – but the beauty of the place clearly makes up for it.
Unlike many of the other towns aligned on the coast, Unawatuna has more to offer than “just” perfect beaches (even though, for most of the time, that would be more than enough). With its numerous cocktail bars and restaurants, it feels like an actual holiday town and is the perfect spot to chillax for a few days.
The beach town is also a good spot for shopping (unlike most parts of Sri Lanka) and I bought a nice handmade dress, altered to my measures by the lovely store owner. Make sure to have dinner at the Pink Elephant at least once – I loved this cosy place and the food was ultra delicious.
Located in a historical fort just a short ride from Unawatuna, the old town of Galle is everything you imagine a colonial port to be. European inspired architecture and shops meet local style.
In the unlikely event that you will get bored of rice and curry, fancy Galle also offers many western food options, such as pizza or lobster. (I ended up having rice and curry once again at Mama’s roof café and it was totally delicious). It’s a great spot to spend a lazy afternoon/evening shopping, eating and drinking.
I loved Galle very much, but personally found that half a day there was sufficient for exploring everything the fort has to offer and actually recommend to stay in Unawatuna for the night, as the beaches in Sri Lanka easily beat just any potential shopping.
If you do need accomodation in Galle, I can highly recommend the Galle Center Home Guesthouse. It’s only a short walk away from the Fort – which makes it much cheaper than many of the overpriced hotels inside the Fort – is very nice and clean.
It’s also just a few meters away from the amazing Galle food market. So much tasty, fresh goodness to discover <3
Safaris, yoga, surfing, swimming, sunbathing, getting drunk…: There are so many things to do in the picturesque Sri Lankan south. Please take me back to this happy place!
Surfing in South Sri Lanka
Surfing is probably the first thing that pops to your mind when you think of Sri Lanka, and for now I can surely not think of a better place for my first surf adventure. I have not been to one of the world’s most legendary surfer spots – Arugam Bay in the east of the island – due to rainy season, but the south coast alone offers more than a gazillion beautiful spots for all levels (full list here).
You can either check in to one of the surfcamps (read all about my stay at Talalla Surf and Yoga Retreat) or hit the waves on your own. Another option which I highly recommend – especially if your surf skills are as ridiculous as mine – is to take private lessons with a local coach. There are numerous surf shacks on Weligama beach, and you can take lessons or hire a board whenever you need – no reservation needed.
I enjoyed surfing with my coach Loco so much that I actually ended up hitting the waves there every morning and evening for almost an entire week. Loco is the nicest guy on earth – he even helped me send my overweight stuff back to Austria by post, which sounds so much easier than it actually was! – and I was more than sad when it was time to say goodbye. Not before sharing a beer and cigarettes on my last evening and a hearty breakfast in a local teashop before it was really time for me to leave, of course.
After a week of surfing with my awesome coach April at Talalla, the private sessions with Loco in Weligama were the perfect way to improve my skills.
Travelling South Sri Lanka – Good to know
The towns are all relatively close to each other, so in my opinion it does not make sense to constantly move all your belongings from town to town. Staying in Mirissa is probably the best option, especially if you don’t have tons of time. It’s very easy to make day trips by bus or tuktuk to the neighbouring villages and Mirissa also has a decent amount of beach bars, restaurants and spas to offer. There are numerous excursions starting from Mirissa as well, such as whale watching or safaris.
Busses go regularly between Matara and Galle, and you could even take the train to get around (even though highly unrealiable so probably not the best option).
If you know how to drive and are not scared of the crazy Asian traffic (watch out for the high speed busses in the middle of the freaking road!), then renting a scooter is a very good idea as well.
Two places I can really recommend – not exactly for their perfect locations, as there is not much to do in these towns, but rather for their welcoming hosts and delicious food, are Asanka’s guesthouse in Midigama and Buddhika’s guesthouse in Matara (read all about my wonderful first day in Sri Lanka with Buddhika and his family here). We were lucky to stay in Sri Lanka during Buddhist new year, and Asanka and his family kindly invited us to celebrate the traditional festivities with them in their house. This involved a lot of food and my newfound Swiss friends and I were very full, yet very happy afterwards.
Sri Lanka is blessed with an enormous diversity of flora and fauna and you can even see blue whales – the world’s largest animals – if you please.
This clearly is an activity for earlybirds, as the boats set out at about 6am form the cute port of Mirissa. I went with Raja and the Whales and fully recommend them. They are more eco-responsible than many of their competitors and put the wellbeing of the animals first. This means you might not get as close to the whales as some other boats, but I think respecting the animals is a clear priority.
In any case, don’t expect a Free Willy-like jump over your boat. We saw a couple of whales from the distance – but that was all it took to make me happy in those early hours of the day. Seeing the water fountains blowing out of the backs of these majestic animals was pure magic.
Another highlight was seeing a giant turtle as it was chilling in the sea before we approached. It’s hard to describe those kind of encounters, but seeing those majestic animals in their natural environment is a very emotional experience, which I highly recommend.
At about 60USD, whale watching was not exactly the cheapest of activities one could find in Sri Lanka. But due to many years of experience, the guides will almost always know where to spot some whales, so it’s worth the experience. And you get a very yummy breakfast on board!
Just beware that going whale watching is not exactly a good idea if you have a weak stomach. Even though the boats are quite big, things can get quite shaky on the deck.
And speaking of wildlife, I actually also went on a safari to Yala National Park. This, however, is one of the rare things I should have missed out on. Of course, you never know how lucky you get and if the elephants feel like showing up or not. Well, they didn’t seem to be in a good mood on the day I went, as we only spotted a single one – from very far away… If you really want to go on a Safari, I recommend going to Udawalawe instead, as everybody I know who went there was raving about it. But in any case, keep in mind that Sri Lanka is not Africa and that going on a safari in South Africa should definitely be way more exciting.
Oh, Haputale!! I was not planning on going there at first but am so glad I ended up in this magical little town in the middle of Sri Lanka, as it’s quite possibly one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
After walking up (and down) the approximately 5000 stairs in the middle of the night to watch the beautiful sunrise from Adam’s Peak – the most sacred site for Sri Lankan Buddhists – with my new found friends, we decided against some much needed rest and continued our journey straigt away on the very same morning. (And I am more than thankful we did, as the train ride from Hatton to Haputale might just be my favourite Sri Lankan souvenir.)
Luckily, Haputale is the perfect place to get some rest after an exhausting hike followed by a three hour train ride spent with about 10 people in a 2m² corridor. Why? Because except for some early morning hiking excursions, there is absolutely nothing to do there! And sometimes, that’s just the perfect way to spend a day.
The weather can get quite gloomy in the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea county, and I was more than happy to cuddle up in my sweater and to enjoy my book over a nice cup of tea. (Ok I actually made friends with a bunch of Australian ladies in the best age and we spent the whole after noon chatting and giggling and I also went to get a massage.) In the evening, my friends and I all went for the best dinner at a local Roti shop (Oh how I miss them!!!), where we indulged on some of the most flavourful food in the whole of Sri Lanka for about a Euro each.
After a few beers on the terrace of our guesthouse, we all headed to bed at a reasonable time, as we were planning on getting an early morning wake up call once again! If somebody had told me before that I would get up in the middle of the night almost every day on my much deserved vacation, I would not have believed a single word of it!
But as Sri Lanka is so close to the equator, the sun sets quite early every night. And with a pretty much non existent nightlife, you just want to make sure to get the most out of your days. But once more, I was not disappointed to leave my cosy nest while it was still dark outside. Our tuktuk driver – a local surfer boy we met at the liquor store the night before – came to pick us up in order to drive us all the way up Haputale’s major tourist attraction.
Must-Do in Haputale: Lipton’s Seat
I suppose you all have enjoyed a cup of Lipton’s tea (the one in the unmistakable yellow packaging) at some point in your life – but I bet you didn’t know that the global brand has its origins in Sri Lanka. Thomas Lipton started building his impressive tea company on this fertile island, and he chose no other place than the top of a hill in the surroundings of Haputale to build a platform from which he could enjoy the satisfying view ower his growing empire.
And he chose wisely, as it sure is a hell of a view. Watching the sun go up over this bright landscape left me in awe and I really have a hard time describing how stunning the view really was. Apparently you can even see the sea on very clear days. Just make sure to drive up there really early (like 5ish), as it might get misty in the morning and you won’t see a thing!
Once the sun is out, you can get a cup of tea or two (of course!) and some fresh Roti (did I mention how much I miss those???) to finally wake up for real and to get ready for some exercise. Because while riding up the tuktuk all the way up is nice and stuff, you should definitely take the time for a walk back down! Our legs were still so so heavy from Adam’s Peak, it was worth the pain once more:
Those early hours of the day are when the teapickers of the surrounding villages get on their way to work and their warm way of greeting us made me love Sri Lanka (and tea) even more. The tea pickers – a job that requires delicate fingertips and is reserved exclusively for women – earn next to nothing for spending the whole day out on the fields and usually live in small huts with I don’t know how many people squeezing into one room. And yet, we were greeted with nothing but friendly smiles by the women we passed by.
Plus the view along the whole track is breathtaking and the walk down took us quite a while because we just couldn’t stop gazing and taking pictures. You can even walk in the fields – not just on the street!! And at the risk of repeating myself: This walk was just so, so awesome!!
Learn all about tea in Haputale’s Lipton Tea Factory
Midway between Haputale and Lipton’s Seat you can visit the original Lipton Tea Factory – which today is still up and running. The art of producing tea has not changed much since the “modern” machines were first invented in the 19th century.
I already learnt quite a bit on how to produce tea in Kandy’s Cylon Tea Museum, so not much we heard on the guided tour throught the factory was new for me. However, it was still very interesting to see the actual machines at work and if you are in Haputale, you just can’t miss out on this place – no matter if you care for tea or not. Only down-point: We were pretty disappointed that we were not offered a cuppa at the end of the tour. I mean come on, you get tea everywhere in Sri Lanka safe the place that is actually at the origin of the local tea culture!?
Haputale is a clear favourite of mine and if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, I strongly suggest to make a stop there. Marta and I even enjoyed it so much, that I decided to stay one extra night in order to go for this little hike again the next day. This whole experience was pure bliss and I loved every second of it.
While I enjoy hanging out in Austria in the summer, I feel how my feet are getting more itchy every day. A clear indicator that it’s time to hit the road again. So yesterday, I finally booked the flights for my next adventure. I will leave for Buenos Aires in 5 weeks. From there, I have about three months to make it up to Cuba, as I will fly out of Havana right in time for Christmas.
Argentina has been my number one dream destination for I don’t know how many years and I CAN’T WAIT for my trip to start. As for Cuba, I figured it’s probably best to go there asap, before it will be invaded by US mass tourism. And for everything that is going to happen in between: Todo es posible, nada es seguro. 34 days till takeoff!
After spending two quiet nights in for some much needed detox- and alone-time in the horrible city of Kandy, it was time to pack up my bags again for an adventure I was very much looking forward to: Hiking up Adam’s Peak.
The hike up this holy site was one the few things I knew I absolutely wanted to do when in Sri Lanka – besides surfing and taking a cooking class. What makes this walk so special is that you have to do it in the nighttime, in order to watch the beautiful sunrise from the top.
It turned out there was no need to be worried about hiking up – and down – the approximately 5000 “stairs” that lead the way to one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites on my own: While I was waiting for my train in Kandy, another solo traveller asked me to watch her backpack for a few minutes. It turned out she was going to Adam’s Peak as well, and so Marta and I (and a sweet couple from CZ) ended up not only hiking up the Peak together, but also travelled on to Haputale together.
We stayed in the Green House guesthouse in Dalhousie, which I fully recommend to anybody who is keen on walking up the peak. The guesthouse is located a mere 30 second walk from the starting point of the hike and there really is no better location to stay in the whole town.
The rooms and bathrooms are super basic, so don’t expect anything even slightly fancy. But it really doesn’t matter, as you are only here for a few hours anyway. However, the whole place is really cosy, providing plenty of out- and indoor seating opportunities – perfect for getting some rest over tea and a good book while enjoying the fresh air and the hilly scenery.
But the best part of this guesthouse was without a doubt the food. Oh! My! God! The Food! I don’t remember what exactly was served for dinner, but – as always in Sri Lanka – it was some sort of rice and curry, with plenty of small dishes to share. All the guests had dinner together and it was such a nice evening spent at the guesthouse; exchanging travel stories with fellow travelers while indulging on this delicious meal.
We sadly had to call it a night quite early though, as we had to get up in the very early hours of the next “morning”. Be prepared to set your alarm clock at about 2 or 2:30am. For a less painful start to your day, I recommended you sleep in your hiking clothes and prepare your backpack well before going to bed. This way, you just have to brush your teeth, put on your shoes and you’re good to go.
Oh and how you will be going. Walking up the 5000 steep “stairs” all the way up to the peak might not be the most adventures hike in the world, but it still is no walk in the park. Especially if you – like me – are clearly not an early-morning person.
Luckily, you can buy delicious tea (after all, you are in the middle of tea county!) along the way, which makes the walking so much more bearable. And once you get to the top – after about three hours of walking – in order to watch the beautiful sunrise, you know that the pain was very much worth it!
While the hike can be a bit crazy – after all, the way is quite narrow and can be very crowded, especially once you get closer to the top – the atmosphere on top is very quiet and peaceful. Take a moment to consciously watch the picture perfect sunrise, which draws light on the surrounding tea plantations and lakes in a very Lord-of-the-Rings-esque kind of way.
It was up there that I realised how in our busy everyday lives, we watch sunrises far too little. That is, unless we are walking out of the club all wasted on a Sunday morning, starving for a kebab and figuring out how to find a taxi to bring us home…
Watching the planet getting back to life after a long night of darkness is one of the most perfect things to do, and Sri Lanka is without a doubt one of the best places for doing so. I am so thankful I chose Sri Lanka for this solo adventure of mine, as its beauty clearly helped me to find joy again in the small things of life.
But enough with all the sentimental talk. After all, you have to walk back down all those 5000 stairs as well! And while walking down is far less spectacular, let me just assure you that your calf muscles will be burning! By about 8am, we were back in the guesthouse and all felt so sore but so good! Not only is walking such a good way to clear your head. Also, when was the last time you got so much exercise before even having breakfast?
After all the hiking, I would have been ready to eat pretty much anything. But of course, eating a really mouthwatering breakfast after all these early morning activities makes the whole experience even more rewarding. Luckily, we were more than spoiled upon getting back to the guesthouse, with fresh tea and fruit and pancakes and several other mouthwatering servings that I can’t remember. (Sorry, but I was so hungry and couldn’t be bothered about writing down the names of all the yummy dishes).
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get any well deserved rest after this early morning workout. Since – besides walking up and down Adam’s Peak – there is really nothing to do in the town of Dalhousie, we all decided to hit the road again the very same morning after breakfast and a quick shower.
Green House, Dalhousie. (The guesthouse is quite big and showing up without reservation shouldn’t be a problem. In case it’s fully booked, there are plenty of other guesthouses in Dalhousie)
How to get there:
Trains go regularly to Hatton from Colombo and Kandy as well as Ella – if you’re coming from the other side. Make sure to secure a spot next to a door or window, as you will drive by some of Sri Lanka’s most picturesque sceneries. A bus will be waiting for you outside the train station to drive you up to the town of Dalhousie. Attention, the road is very curvy, so you might want to make sure to spot a seat in the front of the bus and to avoid heavy foods just before…
What to bring:
Long trousers and a sweater, as it can be pretty chilly on top of the peak in the middle of the night. Also, a walking stick is very helpful, as your legs will probably be super sore on your way back down..
There is no need for crazy fancy hiking equipment and lots of food supplies: The locals walk up in flip flops, so hiking in regular trainers will do the deal for you. And you can buy water, foods and tea every few meters, so no need to carry more than one or two liters of water.
Keep in mind that you are on a place of pilgrimage, so please be respectful and avoid shorts and tight shirts as a girl – even if temperatures rise fast once the sun is out.
Adam’s Peak for solo female travelers:
There is no need to hire a guide to walk up with you (as recommended by some guides to solo female travellers). The guesthouses are packed with backpackers all sharing the same goal: Getting up in the middle of the night for some very-early-morning hiking. Everybody is leaving the guesthouses at about the same time, and you will surely find somebody to start walking with, as in fact you will only have to walk on a badly lit, deserted way for the first thirty minutes or so. Also, it is impossible to get lost, as there is only one way up!
When to go:
DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT WALKING UP ON A SATURDAY OR SUNDAY NIGHT!!!! This is when lots of locals go on the pilgrimage as well, and hiking up might take six hours due to the massive crowds.
An estimated 99% of all travelers have a black suitcase (non-representative study conducted by me on my recent layovers). So why not step up your luggage-game a little with these beautiful and original luggage tags? Plus they are all made from leather, for the extra touch of chic while traveling.
Waiting for your suitcase (or backpack) at the luggage belt is always a particularly stressful moment, so when spying your beautiful luggage tag, you will be even happier that your luggage has arrived safely.
So yesterday I finally had the balls to do something I have been thinking about for years: I got a tattoo. Turns out that my fear was not necessary (even though it did hurt) and 12 hours later I am still completely in love with it. I’ll definitely post a picture soon, but for now, check out these beautiful travel related tattoos found on Instagram.
Yes, every basic white girl on Instagram seems to have this tattoo these days. Chiara Ferragni also has it. But whatever, I still think it’s a nice one. Bonus: You can colour the countries you have been to.
While I do not have great memories of all the airports I have been to (read more about my Airport Adventures – One Old Gypsy here), this tattoo is such a cool and easy way to instantly bring back awesome travel memories.