Backpacking around Sri Lanka in less than two weeks

Sri Lanka is without doubt one of the most fascinatingly alluring, diverse and culturally thirst quenching countries I have been lucky enough to visit. I’ve wanted to write this post for a while but a recent conversation with two different people about this place prompted me to lay it down in writing.
I’ve long been a fan of multi-centre holidays, as a way to see more places in my vacation time and to get a real flavour of somewhere. This country is definitely the sort of place you need to tour to get a real sense of the culture and diversity it offers, in fact it would be criminal to just stay in one place.

We flew into Colombo after a stop off in Mumbai and chose nearby in Negombo as our base to help us acclimatize and rest. Although the beaches are far better in the south, it does add up to another 6-8 hours onto your journey, as it is pretty much single track roads all the way, so doing that on top of the flight is quite a lot.

After a really long flight we didn’t have the best start by being dropped off at our hotel, waiting for an hour, only to be told we’d been dropped off at the wrong one and had to be moved. After 20+ hours of travel door to door, we were not impressed, and really, really tired. However, it was this introduction that helped us get a sense of the sometimes chaotic, laid back but well intentioned friendliness of Sri Lanka. This is not the place for you if you like cosmopolitan, fast paced, perfection and to some extent, pavements and lighting everywhere, but it is just the right time to feel like you are making a bit of a voyage of discovery. At the time of our visit, it was not yet over developed like it’s cousins in places like Thailand, but had all the culture, natural charm, beautiful scenery, excellent food and friendly people…plus it was cheap!

After arriving at ParadiseHotel, our smaller family run hotel complex, we settled into our room and gazed out over an expanse of beach to the ocean. We soon discovered that although it is a large beach, it is rarely used for bathing and the sea was quite rough, perhaps due to the time of upcoming monsoon season, so we tended to use the poolside more but have walks up and down the beach. There was nothing lovelier than watching the absolutely jaw dropping sunsets on the beach with a cocktail in hand.

The strip had hotels along it, some 5* luxury all-inclusive type offerings, as well as smaller run guest houses, restaurants and bars, with shops selling locally made crafts dotted intermittently between. We were spoilt for choice for places to eat, with the food being some of the yummiest and freshest we’ve ever had. That goes for our entire time in Sri Lanka with only one or two exceptions. 

The local Thalis were our favourite dishes – a tray with various compartments containing yummy curries, rice, poppadoms and other local fayre. The food was full of the freshest tastiest ingredients and despite my efforts, I’m still unable to exactly replicate the curries we tried there. My other half had the most amazing chilli crab and beautiful seafood and also felt it was some of the best food he’s ever had despite travelling the world.

A meal for two with drinks was around £10-15 but bear in mind we visited in 2011 before inflation and tourism rose, so bargain prices may now be more difficult to come across.
There were also a few decent café bars where a cocktail or beer could be enjoyed. The local spirit is Arrack which is a vodka like substance and is incredibly strong, especially served in the measures they offer. So much so we nicknamed it Arrack Attack! Often locals and tourists alike would congregate together chit chatting and getting on like a house on fire. 

This felt quite different to most holiday destinations were it is quite distant and impersonal. At first it felt quite alien and we were a little distrustful but we soon realised it is just a part of life here. Getting an invitation to someone’s home for a lovingly prepared meal after knowing them a week is just par for the course. Of course, it is still good to keep your wits about you, though.

All in all Negombo is a great base for a few nights before you continue on your travels around the country due to its proximity to the airport but it also has decent restaurants, bars and shops for those that are happy staying in this area for the duration of their holiday.

Next time I’ll be covering our trips to Nuwara Eilya and the tea plantations, Pinnawela Elephant Sanctuary, Kandy, Yala National Park safari, Galle, Bentota and Hikkaduwa.

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