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Cat Meffan

SRI LANKA TRAVEL GUIDE

Needless to say, I fell a little bit in love with Sri Lanka. It's been on my wanderlust list for quite a few years, so when I decided to take a holiday to celebrate the end of Yoganuary, the first place I researched was Sri Lanka. It helped that I had a friend out there already and another friend travelling at the same time. Here's what I got up to, where I stayed, ate, surfed, did yoga and more.

GETTING AROUND

Depending on what vibe you're after and if you plan on moving from place to place, I recommend hiring a car or a scooter. Just be aware that driving on the roads of Sri Lanka is more like Mumbai that London, so only do it if you feel confident. I had a friend of mine driving, who knows the roads, so I didn't need to get any public transport. From talking to others though, the train system is actually pretty good, and super cheap for 1st class which has air conditioning. Every other vehicle on the road is pretty much a bus, so they're not in short supply and I imagine run very frequently.

HIRIKETIYA

SURFING - Let's get one thing straight before I start writing about surfing... I don't know much! I'm a newbie, or what the cool kids call a kook. Basically I'm the person with all the gear and not much of an idea, but I did try my best, I caught quite a few waves, I got up on my feet a lot and most importantly, I loved it. Even the coral cuts on my feet are memories of a good time.

Hiri is great for beginners, as the waves are small and if you get it on a good day, they are pretty frequent too. As with any surf area (I assume) there are flat days, which in Hiri, had me sitting on a board for up to 15-20 minutes at a time, waiting for a wave. It didn't bother me though, just being out in the water is a happy place for me. Other than Hiriketiya beach, I ventured along the coast, just past Weligama and Fishermans, to surfed Lazy Right. Yes, there is a Lazy Left, and I'm pretty sure you can work out where it is. The waves here were bigger, but still good for a beginner like me. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but wanting to give you a true representation, I didn't find the popping up hard or even the balance, it was more about timing, reading the waves and having enough power in my paddle. So even though I'm a beginner, I'm going to say that I'm a half decent beginner!

You can hire boards at most surf spots for either an hour or a full day. I was out surfing a few times a day in Hiri, so it made sense to hire it for a full day. The guys at the hire hut are super friendly and offer lessons too, which I recommend getting if you're a newbie like me.

YOGA - I can't give you the full run down of yoga in Sri Lanka, only what I got up to and as I took my own mat with me, a lot of the practices I did were either my own self-practice or online tutorials. If you're looking for some, check out my yoga flows on YouTube and my website. Aside from my own practice, I did a morning session at Talalla and heard good things about the morning yoga sessions at Dots in Hiriketiya. Talalla is a retreat resort, but you can turn up for drop in classes too. I would just call ahead and double check they have space, as the class was super busy with resort guests when I went.

FOOD - 

The Grove: I had the chilli pumpkin salad and vegan tacos, both twice, both amazing. Oh and brunch at The Grove is good too. The setting is super cute. Kind of feels like you're dining in someone's front garden with pretty lights hanging above you and chilled out tunes coming through the speakers.

Salt: Good for the smoothie bowl and a turmeric latte. The service at Salt isn't the greatest if I'm honest, but if you've read this blog post before going, then you'll know to turn up a bit before you're hungry, so that the wait doesn't make you too hangry! The only thing I wish they'd had was granola on top of the smoothie bowl, but that seemed to be hard to find in Hiri.

Verse Collective: In all seriousness, I actually think the vegan burger at Verse is one of the tastiest I've had. And that's high praise because I order vegan burgers a lot!

Dinu's: Ok, so Dinu's isn't actually called Dinu's, but that's what everyone calls it, so I'm going with the majority. It's located on the main road just up from Verse and serves traditional Sri Lankan food. You can go for 'all you can eat' curry and rice, or the traditional Kotu, which is what I ate both times. Lots of veggies and all of the yumminess!

Nomads: Smoothie bowl (pictured below) and taco heaven! I went to Nomads on my little surf trip up the coast towards Fishermans. I massively recommend going to Nomad's for food if you can. You might have to wait for a table, but I promise the wait will be worth it.

WHERE TO STAY

Again, I recommend Verse as a great base in Hiriketiya, especially if you want to socialise with good humans and are in need of decent wifi. They have a co-working space set up on the ground floor, so people will be in and out, grabbing coffee (which is great btw) and doing their work. AirBnB has so many options in Hiriketiya, but I'd definitely recommend going somewhere with a nice hostel vibe if you're travelling solo as you'll have more chance to meet people.

I found pretty much all of my accommodation on AirBnB, and would definitely recommend that over staying in any big hotel chains. There weren't any big hotels in the places I visited, but obviously if you head to cities like Colombo then I'm sure you'll be inundated with big hotel groups. For me, they kind of ruin the experience of travelling to a country like Sri Lanka, so aim for something smaller.

UDAWALEWE

If you want to see elephants in the wild, this is the place for you! We drove up to Udawalewe and had the most magical experience whilst driving. A huge elephant just casually crossed the road in front of the car! She was on one side and then when I looked to the other side, there were about 10 elephants including babies, just hanging out, eating, strolling, living life! All that before we'd even gone into the national park.

BANYAN CAMP -  I found Banyan Camp through a friend I follow on Instagram, which is one of the many perks of social media, as I'd have never found it otherwise. Located around a 40-minute drive from the national park entrance, Banyan Camp is an eco-friendly, sustainable and super chic place to stay. I stayed in the beautiful Wine Lodge, which can sleep up to four people, and is so open to nature. Falling asleep to fire flies above me and so many wild sounds around me was a truly unique experience... as was having dinner on the raft! I won't tell you anymore about that, as if you stay at Banyan Camp I'm pretty sure you'll experience it too. There are other options too. The renovated truck is by far the coolest to look at from outside and the new huts with outdoor bathrooms are a more reasonable price and still very cool.

UDAWALEWE NATIONAL PARK SAFARI - We had a car, so getting to Udawalewe National Park was easy. Once at the entrance, we paid 7,000RUP for the jeep to drive us around and then around 3,000RUP each for entrance. Like I mentioned, I'd be spoilt by seeing the elephant crossing the road the day before, but even so, the National Park was a fun experience with more than just elephants. Sadly there aren't any leopards in Udawalewe (you need to go to Yala for that), but we saw crocodiles casually hanging out with water buffalo, whilst the elephants cooled down on the banks. Oh and a few peacocks and lots of birds... but I'm not much of a bird watcher!

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ELLA

LITTLE ADAM'S PEAK -  If we'd had more time I think we'd have hiked the actual Adam's Peak, but after a full day of playing tourist, the little one was all we could manage. It's worth the climb, especially if you have a clear evening and can watch sunset from the top. Sadly the day I did it, it was overcast, but the view of Ella Rock (pictured left) alone was stunning, so made it very worthwhile.

KITHAL WATERFALL - There are numerous waterfalls in Ella, some huge and some very popular with tourists. I purposely didn't want to visit a busy one and ideally wanted to be able to swim or dunk my head under the waterfall, so off we went to Kithal Waterfall, where we had to walk along the train line to reach it. This was one of my favourite memories of the whole trip. We had the place to ourselves, hopped under the waterfall for a bit and then dried off in the sunshine, before sitting in front of the most beautiful view and doing a meditation practice. I hope I always remember that moment I opened my eyes and breathed that view in again.

NINE ARCHES BRIDGE -  (Pictured above) A pretty standard tourist attraction, but I can see why people want to go. The bridge pretty epic to look at, but be prepared for it to be very busy, especially if you time your visit with a train coming.

CHILL CAFE -  The only decent place I found for coffee and food in Ella, so I massively recommend going there. Head up to the top floor, take your shoes off and relax on some bean bags. The food isn't necessarily going to blog you away, but they have some good vegan options and the vibe is a nice break from the hustle and bustle on the street below.

So there you have it. My run down of everything I got up to in Sri Lanka. I can't recommend it enough and I recommend going sooner rather than later, as it's only going to get more overrun with tourists like us! January is the high season, so places were busy, but the weather is good all year round, so maybe try going in October/November instead for a bit more peace and quite. I might see you there!

Happy travels. Love, Cat x

Surf images by Mark Pejkovic. All others are my own.

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