Sri Lanka is a small teardrop island South of India and is an ever increasingly popular holiday destination due to its diversity. The people are incredibly warm and friendly, the surf is consistent year round, the food is insane, it’s budget friendly to stay there for a looooong time, there are palm trees and fresh coconuts everywhere you look, you can count on a good cup of tea and the place is full of serendipity and surprises around every corner.
I was lucky enough to embark on one of Intrepid Travel’s Sri Lankan trips for Billabong Womens Australia last year, my second time to Sri Lanka, but a whole new experience entirely. We certainly spent some time on the road, getting from place to place but it truly made us appreciate the landscape of the country and is what being ‘intrepid’ is all about. A common phrase is that “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” and this was true to our time there. It was spent immersing ourselves in the local way of life, travelling responsibly by reducing our single use plastic purchases and using local transport which usually carry less of an environmental impact. The trip was filled to the brim with activities, but also had equal parts down time where we could chill by the pool, surf til the sun set or wander around the bustling villages taking in the years of cross-cultural percolation, all the while documenting and shooting our little long boarding babe; Josie Prendergast.
Our first night we spent in Negombo as it’s only a 20 minute drive from the international airport in Colombo and a great option to rest your head before starting your Sri Lankan adventure. Everyone flew from different airports so we all met up the next morning for breakfast and made the introductions. We had Josie and I from Billabong, Will and Andrew the photographer and filmer from California, and Deni who was the fashion editor for Cosmo magazine.
The first day we travelled 4 hours to the city of Kandy which is surrounded by mountains, a beautiful lake, tea plantations and bio-diverse rainforest. We stopped on the way and visited the Royal Botanical Gardens which was a perfect chance to stretch the legs. We saw all types of native and international flora and fauna and even lots of monkeys, our favourite part being the Palm Tree avenue!! That evening we went to the sacred Buddhist site named the Temple of the Tooth, where monks visit daily to worship. You are able to purchase a flower offering for a small fee, as well as buy incense and a candle to make a wish.
The next day we set off on our 7 hour train ride through the lush rolling mountains from Kandy to Bandarawela. It was such an incredible experience, with the wind in our hair, chatting to locals and listening to them sing songs and play the guitar on the journey. Passing through the tea plantations, rice fields and small villages with children running about playing soccer was enough to keep us entertained for hours, although we did start getting a little hot and bothered at one point. Make sure to pre-purchase tickets to guarantee a seat, take water and snacks as there is no shop on board. As bad as it sounds, i tried not to drink too much water as the toilet was a hole in the train floor – straight onto the train tracks! The locals make a wail like cry when the train goes through every single tunnel and it makes for quite the experience! It is considered the most scenic train ride in the world and for only $1.50 a ticket, it’s something for the bucket list.
After a long journey we decided to get our legs moving and hike to the top of Ella Rock. It took around 4 hours but we definitely took our time, stopping at every chance to take in the breath-taking views, it was as green as far as the eye could see. Our local guide knew so much about the area and taught us all about the native plants and wildlife along the way and when we got to the top he whipped out real coconut shells that we were to drink hot lipton tea from and Sri Lankan coconut biscuits! It was exactly what we needed to rest and refuel. On the way down we stopped at a local family’s house where they had prepared us a traditional lunch of stir-fried vegetables, curries, dahl, coconut sambal and buffalo curd for desert. The young children who were part of the family bought it all out to us and it was a special moment we all shared! Our afternoon was spent wandering the township of Ella and taking in all the sights and sounds.
Finally, it’s time to see the sea! We made our way to Arugam Bay which took 4 hours, weaving through the small villages, staying out of the way of the hurtling buses and slowing right down for the stray dogs on the road. Time travelling is always so dependant on the traffic so never try and stick to a tight schedule. We wandered around the main stretch once we arrived, grabbed a healthy lunch at a place called Gecko’s and instantly fell in love with the vibe of A Bay. Full of yoga places, healthy eateries, surfers, young travellers and beaches, we were so glad we were here for two nights. It was a public holiday for the full moon so all the locals were swimming at the main point and it was beautiful to see. We had a sunset surf there and Josie danced her way along the waves until the sun had long disappeared below the palm trees.
Today we ventured to a surf spot called Whisky Point for sunrise, which is a bit off the beaten track. Think 4WD terrain in a tuk tuk, to a great right-handed beach break that peels off a rocky outcrop situated at the point. It was small, but super fun and the landscape reminded us of a deserted beach in Mexico. During the middle of the day it was too hot to do much, so we relaxed at the hotel before another surf session, this time at a spot called Peanut Farm. Only 15 mins South of A Bay, Peanut Farm is a fun, sand bottom, point break that isn’t too crowded despite being so close to the main point of Arugam Bay. After Josie got cheers and claps from the locals watching her surf, we made our way home in the tuk tuk with a beautiful full moon lighting our way home. We had to stop halfway home to let a wild elephant cross the road. A magical moment to end an incredible day!
Another 5am surf session back at Whisky Point to start the day before heading to Udawalawe National Park which was about a 6 hour drive. Once we arrived we were treated to a beautiful lunch and then jumped on board our open-air Jeeps for a safari through the park. The free roaming elephants were definitely a highlight and whole herds are often seen feeding, bathing or playing in the water. That night we rested our heads at Big Game Camping in the most amazing tents that have modern comforts, like your own private bathroom! Not a traditional camping set up by any means. Dinner under the stars and story telling by the bonfire made us feel grateful for all that we had experienced.
This morning we visited the Elephant Transit Home which is a place where they rehabilitate orphaned calves so they can be released back to their natural habitat when they are aged 5 and able to take care of themselves in the wild. We watched their morning feed and they were incredibly cute, especially when they ran over to their friends. It was nice to observe from afar and to be on a ttrip with Intrepid Travel, who banned elephant rides on their trips worldwide back in 2014. That afternoon we made our way to Mirissa; a small town on the South Coast of Sri Lanka with the best beaches we’d witnessed. We had a nourishing feed at Ceylon Sliders, surfed for sunset at Weligama Beach off Taprobane Island which had a little left coming off it, perfect for Josie to do her thing.
Our last day we made our way down the road to Unawatuna for the final night before departing the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. We just chilled by the pool, played with the bunny rabbits and packed our things. We were sad to leave, but also smiling from filling up our soul from the trip. It was all made possible by Intrepid Travel and we couldn’t be happier that It happened.