Day 5 – Sigiriya
UNESCO-World Heritage-listed Sigiriya (otherwise known as “Sri Lanka’s Machu Picchu”) is a mesmerising spectacle. Like its Peruvian counterpart, it was abandoned for centuries, only to be rediscovered in the 19th century. “Ooh. I can feel me old heart beating,” says one Yorkshire tourist as we attempt to tackle the 1.000 or so steps leading to the summit of the extraordinary granite outcrop, which soars almost 200 metres above flat, forested plains that lie roughly 55 kilometres west of Polonnaruwa. Although Sigiriya was inhabited in prehistoric times, its “golden era” was during the reign of the parricidal King Kassapa I (AD 477-495), who turned it into a fortified citadel where he would receive various concubines and resist plots from warring rivals. In a cave halfway up the rock, we survey an amazing set of frescoes of buxom maidens before scaling the ruins of King Kassapa’s Palace. The views of the surrounding countryside are magnificent jungles, rice paddies and streams covered with lily pads. Our only regret? We didn’t take a picnic.
Days 6 and 7 – EllaAfter overnighting back in Kandy, we venture higher into Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, where narrow roads snake past sculpted tea bushes that fan out photogenically from countless plantations that can be frequented for tea sampling sessions. Many tourists stay in Nuwara Eliya, which is known as “Little England” because British colonials set up camp there to direct the booming tea industry and escape the sweatier lowlands of Ceylon (the former name for Sri Lanka). We stay in Ella, a village nestled deeper in the highlands. It’s a great place for travellers wanting to chill out, enjoy massages and gorge on tasty homemade food. We indulge in some delicious lamprais – slow-cooked meat, rice and vegetables wrapped in banana leaf. The luxuriant, hiker-friendly landscapes on Ella’s doorstep are definitely worth writing home about. Think: misty mountains, gushing waterfalls, sweet-sounding birdlife and jaw-dropping views.
Days 8 and 10 – Mirissa & Galle
We spend our last three days by the seaside. From Mirissa, one of the burgeoning resort towns lining the south coast, we embark on a whale-watching trip, hoping to see the mighty blue whale (the world’s largest living mammal). We’re out of luck, but we do spot a bashful Bryde’s whale, a leaping bottlenose dolphin, a few manta rays and a beautiful whale shark that swims right up to our catamaran. At night we have candlelit seafood dinners on Mirissa’s scenic white-sand beach, with its backdrop of soothing waves. A two-hour tuk-tuk ride away is Galle, our final stop. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this delightfully picturesque old town is wedged onto a peninsula jutting into the ocean. Gorgeous heritage buildings shelter a slew of charming places in which to eat drink, shop and sleep. Ambling through Galle’s grid of cobbled streets, past aromatic thickets of banyan, coconut and frangipani trees, and happy-go-lucky teenagers playing cricket by the grass-edged fortifications, we agree we chose wisely with Sri Lanka. We just wish we could have stayed a bit longer.