Having visited Vietnam last year and loving the experience, we decided we wanted to go somewhere else in Asia this year as well. After looking into prices of various places, we settled on Sri Lanka.

We figured that since we were only going for two weeks, we’d better plan everything in advance this time, rather than just winging it when we were there, so a good dose of Google and Booking.com was required! We knew we couldn’t see all of the country so we decided on a clockwise route from Colombo, up to Kandy, to Ella on to Tissa, then Udawalawe, Matara, Unawatuna and finally back to Colombo!

The flights were pretty reasonable at about £400 each and we ended up getting a direct flight there, but changing in Doha on the way home.

Most of the hotels were really cheap, but then, we were travelling outside of the school holidays, so I think that helped! Our first hotel not actually being open when we got there was a bit of a problem though! But it only took about 20 minutes to find another one, close to the train station.

We’d booked the train tickets in advance, on exporail as we knew the routes we wanted were in high demand. Our first night in Colombo was pretty awful though, we unfortunately fell foul to a dodgy Tuk Tuk driver that tried to charge us a fortune for a very short ride, it was a bad start to the holiday and we hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come! Thankfully, it wasn’t, everyone else we met was lovely.

On the second morning, we got an early train to Kandy, taking just under 2 hours. The train was incredible, you could stand on a platform on the carriage and hang out the side to get an awesome view. It wasn’t exactly a smooth ride, but the views more than made up for that! As did the second place we stayed, an incredible home-stay, with a lovely family and amazing food. He even drove us into town a couple of times.

While in Kandy, we went for a walk through Udawattakele, great place, if you can put up with the masses of leaches! The forest is full of wild boar and monkeys though, so worth it (and we didn’t get bitten, just had to flick about 20 of the things off!). That night, sitting on the terrace, we turned the lights out to notice masses of fireflies in the garden, beautiful to watch them flitting about.

The train journey from the tiny station in Peradeniya to Ella was just breathtaking, through tea plantations and mountains, there was scenery to take your breath away around every bend. Ella itself was a quaint little town with some amazing walks and we had a view looking straight at Adam’s Peak from our lodge. We walked up Little Adam’s Peak and had some amazing food at Chill Cafe.

The journeys from here onwards were by car, we didn’t fancy local buses when travelling with a toddler. But the taxi’s were all reasonably priced. We travelled to Tissa and stayed in a lovely little tree house and the next day was probably the highlight of the trip. A safari in Yala National Park. We booked a jeep to ourselves, including lunch on the beach in the park. This was probably the most expensive thing we did here at £80, but well worth it. Not only did we see loads of elephants, wild boar and crocodiles, but we were lucky enough to come face to face with the elusive Sri Lankan Leopard. Sitting in our jeep, looking up at his piercing eyes will be something that I never forget! Jessica has no idea how lucky she is.

After another night in the treehouse, we got a taxi to Udawalawe where we were staying at a Safari Lodge, this was the first place we’d stayed at that had a pool and we made the most of it, especially as since it was the off-season, we were pretty much the only people there! The food here was incredible, although the chef was a little too attentive, I think mainly because he was bored due to the lack of guests!

We had an early rise again the next morning as we got our jeep to Udawalawe national park. Elephants galore here! Over 750 elephants roaming the 31000 hectare park, attracted to the area by the huge reservoir. There are leopards here as well, but you’re much less likely to see them than at Yala. The highlight of this safari had to be the few 2 week old babies that we saw, adorable! But we had to be careful as the mum’s have a habit of giving any jeeps that get too close for their liking a little nudge.

From Udawalawe we headed to Matara, with a stop at the Elephant Transit Home on the way. The ETH is probably the only Elephant Orphanage you should bother going to in Sri Lanka in my opinion. The “big” tourist one is the one at Pinnawala, but being that Pinnawala let you ride elephants, it’s clear that they’re more about generating profit than caring for the elephants. The Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe doesn’t let you get too close to the elephants and unless you go at feeding time, it’s empty, the orphans are free to roam the park, but they know when it’s feeding time and come back to the gate. They come in two by two and are funnel fed, up until they’re around 5 months old, at which point they’re tagged, and set free to roam in the park. The only older elephant that was in the park was one which had lost a leg, and the staff had built him a prosthetic to help him get around.

When we got to Matara we had planned to take a nice walk from the hotel into the city centre and go and find somewhere local to eat, however, the hotel wasn’t actually where the booking.com map said it was! Annoyingly, we were much further away from the city centre than we expected. The hotel was nice though, right on the river front with plenty of wildlife to see. The manager took us across the river on a raft to meet a local family, and they picked us some sharp tasting red fruit from a tree in their garden. I have no idea what they were, but they were really refreshing. Although, full of ants, so we had to soak them in water first. At night, sitting on the balcony of the restuarant, the sky was absolutely filled with bats, hundreds of them!

An hour long Tuk Tuk ride the next day took us to Unawatuna, a beautiful beach resort, where we’d treated ourselves to a penthouse suite (the whole balcony was a swimming pool!) we had 3 days here and it was lovely to just chill out and relax for a couple of days. We found some local bakeries to eat it, visited a turtle rescue centre and took a walk to Jungle Beach. I can see this place being really bustling in the high season, but again, it was dead we had most restuarants to ourselves!

Interestingly, chatting to one of the guys in the restaurant, we asked how come there were so many staff. They said that they needed all of the staff during the high season, and it would be immoral to lay them off during the low season, so they paid them all year round. Doubt you’d get that over here!

We had planned to go back to Colombo for our last night, but after our initial experience, we just booked into an airport hotel with a pool and restaurant, which was guaranteed to be relaxing. It was all a beautiful experience, and over far too quickly!