Once we made it to the arrival hall, our driver was waiting with our names on a sign and as soon as he saw us he whisked us away to our car. As soon as we stepped outside the airport, we could feel the heat and humidity, it was a balmy 84 degrees (at about 6pm). The drive to the hotel (Summer Side Residences) in Negombo, was about 20 minutes. Our room was clean and fairly modern and there was an A/C unit to cool us down, so we were pretty happy.
Even though the beach was only about 0.5 a mile away, it was very dark and we decided to just grab some quick local takeaway.
Right down the street from our hotel was Emil Bite Centre.
It’s literally a little take out window and kitchen attached to a home. They sell fried rice, fried noodles, stews, and curries. There was a decent size line at the place and after checking out what the locals were ordering, we ended up getting a half order of the mixed noodles (300 LKR) and a half order of the chicken rice (200 LKR), which totaled about 3.50 USD for everything. I thought it was super interesting that they wrapped the food in plastic sheets and twist the top and tied it with a rubber band; then the bundle was wrapped up in paper (no to go boxes here!). Everything was super tasty, a little bit of heat and some curry spices, we were very pleasantly surprised.
Day 1 Itinerary:
- Sigiriya (Matale)
- Minneriya National Park
Our tour guide, Sangeeva, was waiting outside our hotel bright and early in a surprisingly new and clean Toyota sedan. We weren’t able to grab breakfast before we left the hotel, so Sangeeva stopped by one of his local places and got us what he called “hoppers.” He got us an egg and a honey version, both were actually quite tasty.
As we started to drive, Sanjeeva asked us what we were interested in seeing on our visit to Pinnwela Elephant Orphanage, as some people did not like to see the elephants chained up. He mentioned that at Minneriya National Park there were hundreds of Elephants out in the wild. After some discussion we decided that we would visit Minneriya National Park instead, even though we had heard some good things about the work done at Pinnwela. The allure of seeing heards of elephants in their natural habitat really appealed to us and Sanjeeva adjusted our itinerary accordingly.
As we hit the road, the first thing I noticed was that Sri Lanka has such thick and lush jungles. Even if there are buildings there are trees everywhere and animals roaming in the wild. The air quality near the cities is what you would expect, but when you get out of the city and up in the jungles and mountains, the air is nice and you can just really stop to enjoy the landscape.
The first site we saw the Buddha statue in Kurunegala; we stopped from a lower vantage point and took a few photos. It is supposed to be the world’s tallest granite Buddha statue in the world.
After the Buddha statue, we stopped for flower tea, which Sanjeeva is said to be good for your digestive system. There is a row of small shacks set up on the side of the road, so we pulled the car up and sat in a couple plastic lawn chairs.
While we were waiting for our tea, we made a friend. This cow hangs around the stalls as it tries to get some food from the patrons. Here he is enjoying some bread that one of the customers gave it, there is some spicy jam on one side causing the cow to end up with a sticky tongue with a mix of jam and mud. Soon after this, the cow came up to Scott and gave him a nice lick on the leg….ewww… The tea was pretty mild and we were given a small piece of rock sugar to eat while drinking it.
After we got Scott cleaned up with a wet wipe, we finished up our flower tea and got back on the road. Our next stop was Sigiriya. Sigiriya is a rock fortress located at the top of a rock column (Lion Rock) that is about 200 meters (660 ft) high and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hours of Operation: 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Cost: 4,350 LKR (30 USD) – adult, 2,175 LKR (15 USD) – children (6-12)
(Make sure to keep your ticket somewhere handy as there are 3 checkpoints and they will make you show your ticket, no exceptions.)
As you can see from the map, Sigiriya is quite large and there are a total of 1,200 steps up to the very top. Right after you buy your tickets, there will be many locals around trying to be your “tour guide.” Our driver, told us that we did not need a guide to climb up to the top and he was right, it was very straightforward.
Here we are just starting our walk to the big rock.
Just keep going up and you’ll be going in the right direction!
We saw a few of these signs during our trek….let’s just say a lot of the other tourists were NOT heeding these signs, I did not want to find out if they were true or not, so I maintained a whisper. We did not see any wasps attacking during our visit though.
This is the Lion Rock Gate, easily identifiable by the two huge lion’s paws! There used to be a a lion’s head along with the paws, but it collapsed some time ago. This gate is the only way up the rock column to the palace. As we ascended these steps, a local man started talking to us, and kept talking….and following us up and tell us about the area. We told him that we did not want a guide, but he continued up and kept talking….and following us.
When we made it to the top, you will be shocked to see the semblance of a complex city at the top of the rock. I really didn’t think there would be much up there, but was definitely surprised. You could see all the foundations of the different buildings and even a pool.
The next thing you will notice is the view; it’s spectacular! You can see all of Minerriya National Park and all the surrounding areas. Really amazing vantage point.
What I don’t have pictures of from our time at Sigiriya are the frescoes that are painted on the rock walls and in the caves. We were able to look at them, but not permitted to photograph them. The paintings are of various nude women, the drawings were really very beautiful and colorful.
After we descended from Sigiriya, we stopped in for some lunch nearby.
Gamagedara Village Food
Address: G.K. Chandani Karunarathna, No 65 A-1, Kayamwala, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Cost: 1,500 LKR
The restaurant is an open air, wooden building and our lunch was what they call a “village lunch,” it consisted of different curried vegetables and fried lake fish. The family running the restaurant was super kind and each dish was super rich in spices.
After lunch we made our way to Minneriya National Park, our guide had told us that the herds were currently there. However, depending on the time of year, you may want to make your way to Kaudulla National Park or Eco Park. It really depends where the elephants are at the time, since they roam around this entire area. The locals really will know best where to take you so that you can see the most elephants in the wild, they want you to see them so you have a good time.
When we arrive to the park, it was just starting to sprinkle, and word to the wise, I recommend wearing some comfortable clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, because with all the mud and the open jeep, I ended up with quite a bit of mud on me during the ride. But it was all worth it to see these beautiful elephants! I want to say that we got to see over 200 elephants out in the wild.
There is nothing like seeing a happy elephant wrestling with its friends, rolling around in the mud, spraying itself with water, and just being an elephant. We were fascinated just watching them walk around and just interacting with one another. This is definitely a must do in Sri Lanka.
So I mentioned that the weather was rainy, and that created a lot of mud. Well, there are a lot of jeeps out in the park believe it or not, not everyone has 4 wheel drive. Not smart, but they are out there. Sanjeeva told us that we had the best driver, with the best Jeep when we started our tour. Well that reputation rang true as our driver helped pull 4 Jeeps out of the muddy crevices, I’m not even exaggerating. It was totally crazy. So definitely keep that in mind too when you are getting into a Jeep. There were definitely some more “luxurious” looking Jeeps out there…..that we got to see close up as we pulled them out of the mud.
We did drive around the park some more and saw some other animals, but really the Elephants were the highlight of the park.
After our wilderness adventure, we headed to our home for the night.
Lake Nilla is literally in someone’s home, their guest rooms are located off to the side of the main house. Our room had 2 beds and connected to a bathroom. The room itself was very simple, but clean and the A/C worked well. The bathroom had hot water and a flushing toilet, yay!
We also had dinner at the guesthouse, which was cooked by the proprietors, the okra and pumpkin dishes were especially tasty (dinner cost 1,600 LKR for 2 people and 450 LKR for 1 bottle of beer, less than 14 USD).
We were so happy to get a shower and a good meal after our full day on the road.
Check back soon for what we did on Day 2!