I recently took a major jump out of my comfort zone and joined a group tour for solo travellers… destination Sri Lanka!
I did basically no research before my trip, packed my bag full of things I knew full well I would never use (the ‘ooh just in case’ mentality took over), fretted over whether I would get along with my roommate and mostly just worried myself into a little ball of nerves.
If only I had a magic ball to know how I was wasting my energy. My adventure totally blew me away so here are my top 9 reasons why I think Sri Lanka will stir your soul as much as it did mine:
1. Enjoy tea with a view
Our first stop was Negombo. The overwhelming highlight was staying at the Jetwing Lagoon Hotel which has been beautifully designed by Geoffrey Bawa. The photo below overlooking the lagoon is the view for my first morning cup of tea. For those that know me, coffee is my thing, but Sri Lanka is known for its tea…so when in Rome as they say. Negombo is also known for its fish markets, specifically the making of dried fish, so it goes without saying that the one smell that stays with me from this area is the strong smell of fish, ahh fond memories!
2. Meet unforgettable locals
Bathing Monica the rescue elephant at Amaya Lake was the next adventure on our journey. She was a true gentle giant who had been given a second chance after her life in Thailand, and as an amateur photographer it was a real highlight to photograph Monica up close! After this amazing encounter, we stopped for a king coconut along the road. The locals chop it open right in front of you, bringing a whole new meaning to the word ‘fresh’ and I literally loved these, you can feel the buzz of goodness seeping into your cells.
Overlooking Amaya lake with a king coconut in hand was the first time on the trip I really took a full breath and started to relax. By this time I also realised that all my pre-trip worries were for nothing, we had a great group and my roomie was just wonderful and literally lives down the road from me in London. I miss our daily de-briefs!
3. Sprint up ancient rocks
Next up we climbed Sigiriya rock. Now in normal circumstances, one leisurely walks up and down this epic rock, but alas this was not to be our fate. Riz, our tour guide, literally made us sprint up and down the rock in record time to avoid the looming monsoon rains. I could feel my calves the day after that’s for sure, but more importantly the view. It was incredible.
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4. Soak in the sweet sights of Kandy
Kandy brought with it local markets and a stunning lake that we nicknamed the Sri Lankan Riviera. For me the highlight was the breakfast view from our hotel which truly captured the tropical essence of the country. When I look at this photo, I think Sri Lanka. Enough said.
5. Go temple hopping (whatever the weather)
Our next stop was one of my favourites, Polonnaruwa. We cycled from temple to temple around this beautiful city…in the monsoon rain. Very glad I packed my trusty rain jacket as it came in rather handy! Roughly 70% of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and the beauty of these temples nestled away in lush greenery was truly beautiful. I felt such freedom here and realised that I need to buy a bike to keep that feeling going!
6. Find peace in the mountains
Into our bright purple bus we climbed and headed straight for the Ella mountains. It is here that I truly fell in love with Sri Lanka, my soul connected with this area. The hospitality of the Melheim Resort was second to none, drinking the local lion beer with the most phenomenal view, searching for waterfalls first thing in the morning and being surrounded by rolling tea plantations was just magical.
Farewell beautiful Sri Lanka, you have utterly blown me away… ▪️I found such peace in your mystical mountains and rolling tea plantations ▪️Super spicy food with curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner! ▪️Your traffic is something to behold and I took my first tuk-tuk trip ▪️What will I do without my daily fresh fruit stall stop, drinking king coconut water ▪️Breakfasts were my favourite meal with delicious papayas, pineapples, fresh guavas and little sweet bananas and loved kottu rotti for dinner ▪️Cycling to and from Buddhist temples in the monsoon rain made me realise I need to buy a bike, loved the freedom! ▪️Early morning hiking in search of waterfalls ▪️Your climate with its humidity, heat and monsoon rains made sure I didn’t give a hoot what I looked like ▪️Never ever seen so many stray, yet peaceful dogs hidden around every corner ▪️Experienced a safari with elephants and buffalo and rice paddies as far as the eye can see ▪️Made wonderful new friends, laughed until we cried and can’t wait for our catch ups in London ▪️ Daily drives in our bright purple bus ▪️Watching beautiful sunsets from a nearby beach bar and releasing turtles into the ocean ▪️Your landscapes are literally a photographers heaven ▪️And finally your people, oh how incredibly friendly, humble and kind you all are… I leave your country more peaceful, grateful, energised and feeling immensely blessed #srilanka #adventuresworthsharing #makingmemories #grateful #travel
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7. Get your head above the clouds
The experience on the trip that sealed the deal for me was hiking up Little Adams peak at dusk, so high up I was surrounded by rolling clouds and the sound of Buddhist monks chanting which reverberated across the valley. This experienced touched me deeply and it’s where I found true inner peace on the trip. One of the reasons I adore travelling, is its ability to touch the soul like this.
8. Go on safaris come rain or shine
Our national park adventure nearly didn’t happen. The monsoon rains came. And my oh my they came in full force! Now as a South African I am well accustomed to wild animals so I was fully aware that they don’t like being out in the rain so our chances of seeing anything were pretty much nothing. Luckily the weather gods were on our side so the clouds lightened up for us to explore Lunugamvhera National Park. I was really chuffed to get this dramatic shot of the massive reservoir.
9. Hit the beach and relax
The final stop on our adventure was the beach. Lying on a lounger, banana smoothie in hand, sun kissing my skin, listening to the ocean, laughing until we cried and all round relaxing in paradise was very welcome. We also visited the Kosgoda sea turtle conservation project where I released a baby turtle into the ocean and named him ‘Toffee the Turtle’. Around 25% of turtles that are released from the project survive and Toffee was definitely one of the first in the water so I have high hopes for my talented little swimmer…
To summarise, some of the things I have discovered about Sri Lanka is that people eat super spicy curries here for breakfast, lunch AND dinner (it will be a while until I can look a curry in the eye again…), kottu rotti is delicious, the steamy climate means I didn’t give a hoot what I looked like, the traffic is something to behold (I loved my first tuk-tuk trip!) and lastly how incredibly humble, kind and friendly Sri Lankan people are.
I leave Sri Lanka a better, more confident person with greater perspective and more friends, feeling more in love with photography, more peaceful, more grateful and reminded that when one returns home after travelling, everything will be the same, except that something inside you has changed, your soul has been stirred…
Cindy Attwell is a 30-something banker whose favourite thing in the world is capturing her passion for travel through the lens of a camera! Find her on Instagram @cindy_attwell
Ready to escape to Sri Lanka? Here’s your ticket outta here!
Photos: Shutterstock, Instagram