Our trip to Sri Lanka was the most fun-filled, action packed trip we have taken to date, but it was so worth it. I was able to come home knowing we had seen and experienced as much as we could have in the 6 days that we were there. Prior to our trip, we had booked a private 6 day tour with a company called Chauffeur Sri Lanka and this was the best decision we ever made. Our tour with Chauffeur Sri Lanka included all entrance fees, all hotel fees, and breakfast and dinner at each different hotel. The only thing we had to pay for ourselves was our lunches. Chauffeur Sri Lanka also made a custom tour for us based on the sights that I said I wanted to visit and they organised all the hotels in the relevant places. In the end we did a tour of pretty much the entire country with zero stress because it was all organised for us, and we didn’t have to fumble with cash, because all our entrance fees were included in what we paid for our tour, but here is a handy list of popular tourist attractions and their entrance fees.

We were greeted at Colombo airport following our Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi at 4am by Madu, our very friendly tour guide and brought to the owner of the company, Hiran’s house. We had a little rest, and were given refreshments and a lovely gift of a hand painted picture, which we still have displayed  in our living room to this day. We had slept lots on the plane, so we set off for our first destination – Sirigiya Rock (or Lion Rock), a 5th Century ‘Fortress in the Sky’ UNESCO world heritage site. The locals have coined this fortress the Eighth Wonder of the World and we could see why. The site was bustling with both locals and tourists. The entrance fee is approx 3900LKR (approx. €20) Originally, the rock was designed and carved into a giant stone lion, which is what gave this place it’s name – Sirigiya coming from the word Sihagri meaning Lion. At the top of the 370m high rock are the remains of a ruined palace, and up close, you can see the remnants of the lion claws, which is all that is left of the original lion. After this trip, we were brought to our first hotel of the trip called Nice Place Bungalows  where we were stunned by our amazing cabin in the trees. 

We had a well deserved nights sleep in our cabin and the following morning, we woke early and our tour guide Madu was waiting for us after breakfast reading to set off to the Hindu Temple and afterwards, the Dambulla Cave Temple. Up a short, but steep hill, there are five caves, each of which are shrines filled with statues of Buddha and other persons. With over 150 Buddha images in the cave, it is stunning to see and it is even thought that some of the paintings date back to the 8th Century. Beside the Dambulla Cave Temple is the Dambulla Golden Temple. The stunning giant gold Buddha can be seen from the roadside and the monastery is covered with 2,000 year old murals. The entrance to the Dambulla Golden Temple is free, but bear in mind, there are very small fees (less than €0.50 from my memory) at most temples to store your shoes while you go inside.

After the temples, we set off for Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – an orphanage which was founded in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation to care and protect for the orphaned wild baby elephants found wandering in the forests of Sri Lanka. At the orphanage, you can get the chance to feed some of the elephants for a small fee, which we didn’t mind paying at all, because all of the fees (including admission fees) are used to care for the elephants. There are set times to see the baby elephants being bottle fed by staff at 9.15am, 1.15pm and 5pm as well as a twice daily trip for all the elephants to the nearby river for bathing at 10am and 2pm.This opportunity must not be missed! Admission fees to the orphanage for tourists is 2,500LKR, (approx €14) but it is well worth it, especially considering your entrance fee will help all the beautiful elephants that you will see inside. After this, we headed for our next hotel, The Serene Grand Hotel, where we had a beautiful large room, and stunning breakfast views.

The next morning we set off for our famous train ride to Ella, which I had heard so much about before our trip. On the way, we stopped in the picturesque town of Nuwara Eliya, nicknamed Little England because it was established in the 1840’s as a base for colonialist – and still has some red post boxes! We had some lunch by the lake, followed by a trip to the also British influenced Blue Field Tea factory, where we got to see the process and try some of the tea. We also got to stop for coconut water or corn on the cob snacks along the road, which were always welcome!

Afterwards Nuwara Eliya, our tour guide Madu, dropped us to the train station. The train journey takes approx 3 hours and costs just 60LKR (approx. €0.50) for third class, or 1,000 LKR (approx. €7) for 1st class and it is the best 3 hours of scenery you will ever witness. Not one part of the trip is boring and being able to mix with locals and other tourists makes it a very social experience too. Though 1st class has air conditioning, in 3rd class, the open doors create a natural air conditioning, and even gives you the opportunity to stick your head out for a better look at the scenery (but be advised, there are lots of tourists on the train who all want to do the same thing, so you will have to wait your turn!) Some locals like to literally hang out of the train, but we didn’t try that! That night we checked into our hotel called Ella Mount Heaven – and the views… well it’s in the name – Heaven! Our room looked out over the fabulous Ella Gap, which is just stunning. 

The next morning, I realised we were very close by to the Nine Arches Bridge, which I had read about. I asked our tour guide if it would be possible to stop by, and despite us having a pretty packed schedule, Madu was keen to show us and even researched quicker routes to get there for us. This was one of the many benefits to having a private tour, rather than a group one as we were able to deviate from the schedule. It was a short hike through some stunning woodland and we saw it. It was even more stunning than we had imagined. Madu had taken us the route so that we could fly our drone and take some pictures, but if you take a different route, you can actually go out onto the tracks, just make sure you know the train times as the bridge is still fully operational!

After Madu very kindly amended our schedule to bring us to the Nine Arches Bridge, we headed for our next stop, which was Yala National Park, which is famous for having one of the highest number of leopards in the world, though they are notoriously hard to spot, as they prefer to come out at night. We were able to spend the morning relaxing at our hotel, named the Yala Peace Cottages, where each room is a small cottage. In the afternoon, a 4X4 picked us up and we headed for the National Park. Our driver was so informative and was so enthusiastic about everything we saw, from the tiniest lizard, to the biggest elephants and everything in between! The real excitement happened when the driver got a message on his walkie talkie that the elusive leopard had been spotted. There was an scramble of all 4X4s to get to the spot, and we were lucky enough to see the leopard, although he was too far away to photographs. We were also lucky enough to have an elephant walk right by our 4X4 – it was phenomenal. We were dropped back by our guide and went for dinner in our hotel. The staff were so friendly and the owner informed at dinner (which was divine) that he had built the cottages himself. 

Most of our last day was spent driving back to Colombo for our departing flight, however we did get a chance to stop in Galle for lunch and some shopping on the way. Our final night was spent in Hiran’s (the owner of our tour company) house for a homestay experience. This was truly an amazing way to end our trip. We met other travellers and also Hiran’s wife and children. Hiran even drove us himself to a local hotel where we could use the pool facilities. Hiran also cooked an amazing dinner and after dinner we chatted with Hiran and wife and children. It was such a lovely relaxing last day in the beautiful country of Sri Lanka and I would recommend anybody going to Sri Lanka to contact Hiran and his lovely team at Chauffeur Sri Lanka! If you’d like to see more of my travel photos, check out my instagram page!

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