Travel to Central Sri Lanka

Elephants at Kaudalla national park

Our travel to central Sri Lanka took the majority of our 11-day tour. However, several regions make up what I have classified here as the central area of Sri Lanka. These include North Central, Central, Sabaragamuwa, and Uva provinces. We started our visit in the north observing local life and eating a home-cooked meal in Dambulla farming village. Then we hiked up Sigiriya rock and explored the ruins of the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa.

We had a brief visit to the Sabaragamuwa province when we went river rafting in Kithulgala. The area is famous as the site of the film Bridge over the River Kwai. In fact, we rafted down the Kelani Ganga river near the bridge.

Next, we headed south to Kandy, a cultural centre of Sri Lanka. There we watched a traditional dance show including fire walking. We also visited the temple with the sacred relic of Buddha’s tooth. As we travelled into the central province, the landscape changed and became more mountainous and green. The hills were often covered with tea plantations and Nuwara Eliya had a very British feel.

Finally, we enjoyed a scenic train journey to the beautiful and quaint town of Ella. It is well-known as a starting point for nature hikes and for its 9-arch bridge built by the British. We enjoyed the local hiking to Little Adam’s Peak. And we did an amazing cooking course at Kitchen Garden Ella. I often make my favourite Sri Lankan Recipes at home, as they are delicious and not too complicated.

Me walking on the trail at Little Adam's Peak
Me walking on the trail at Little Adam’s Peak
River rafting on the Kelani Ganga River in Kithulgala
River rafting on the Kelani Ganga River in Kithulgala
Stupa at Polunnarawa
Stupa at Polunnarawa
Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
Nuwara Eliya Post Office
Nuwara Eliya Post Office
Lunch we made in our cooking class at Kitchen Garden Ella
Lunch we made in our cooking class at Kitchen Garden Ella

Highlights

  • Dambulla Farming village for lunch and experiencing local life near Randeniya Wawe Lake
  • Hiking up Sigiriya, aka Lion Rock, with its ancient castle ruins on top
  • Polonnaruwa, the ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka. Statues of Buddha. Many macau monkeys roaming around
  • Kaudulla National Park- we saw water buffalo, elephants, an eagle, and a crocodile
  • Dambulla Buddhist cave temple
  • Kandy temple with the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha
  • Kandyan cultural centre to watch the traditional dance show including fire walking
  • Kandy Royal botanic gardens to see beautiful flowers, giant palm trees, cannonball trees, birds and bats
  • River rafting on the Kelani Ganga river
  • Nuwara Eliya town, known as little Britain with its old post office and Central market
  • Damro tea factory and plantation
  • Climb to the top of mini Adam’s peak
  • Ella city centre for the nightlife and shopping
  • Ella food and cultural festival
  • Kitchen Garden Ella cooking course
  • Ella Nine arch bridge which was built by the British

Before you go

  • You may need mosquito repellant as the areas with lakes and water have mosquitos
  • It is best to drink bottled water as tap water may not agree with tourists
  • Diet soda was more difficult to find than regular so we picked extra up at stores when we found it
  • Driving is on the left side of the road, like in the UK
  • Cash machines may or may not have cash so try to exchange some money at the airport. You should have some cash for tipping
  • The music video for Duran Duran’s Save a Prayer was filmed at Sigiriya
  • You may need a long skirt to cover your legs at religious places
  • We were two friends travelling together and sometimes it was not possible to get twin beds, so we had to share a double bed
  • The Bridge over the river Kwai was filmed at the Kelani Ganga river, the second largest river in Sri Lanka
  • Be prepared to do some hand washing of clothes so bring things that can dry quickly
Crossing the lake in Dambulla
Crossing the lake in Dambulla
9-arch Bridge in Ella
Damro Tea Plantation and factory
Damro Tea Plantation and factory

Transport

  • We mostly travelled around the area by car with our driver Danan from BH Tours Lanka.
  • Nuwara Eliya and Ella were small enough for us to do some exploration on foot.
  • A memorable trip with beautiful scenery was our rail journey from Nanu-oya rail station to Ella. The BH Tours Lanka company had promised to upgrade us to first class… This did not happen but they did pay a guy at the station to run into the train and save us seats in third class. That ended up being very fun as we were squeezed in between locals and tourists, and we had a free drum concert by some teenagers. At the stops, people would jump off the trains from both sides, so onto the tracks rather than the platform.

Accommodation

  • We stayed for two nights at Wewa Addara Hotel in Sigiriya. We were welcomed with cold strawberry and watermelon juice. Our room also had a lovely view of the lake.
  • We enjoyed the comfort and views of the Hotel Topaz at the top of the hill overlooking Kandy
  • In Kitulgala, we stayed at the Adventure Base camp hotel. It was basic but clean, and had a great view of the river. The shower did not have any hot water but luckily we were not feeling too cold.
  • Our hotel in Nuwara Eliya was called Unique Cottages and it was quite up-scale so we enjoyed the luxury for a night.
  • The view from our window at the Ella Gap Panorama hotel was amazing with green hills and valley. Luckily we were there for two nights! No air conditioning needed since the mountain air was cool.
Buddha statue at Polunnarawa
Buddha statue at Polunnarawa
Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple
Cannonball tree at Kandy Royal Botanical Gardens
Cannonball tree at Kandy Royal Botanical Gardens
Our delicious local lunch in Dambulla
Our delicious local lunch in Dambulla
Buffet lunch at Damro Tea cafe
Buffet lunch at Damro Tea cafe
Lunch at Chill Cafe, Ella
Lunch at Chill Cafe, Ella
Lion beer at
Lion beer
Our instructor Swarna at Kitchen Garden Ella cooking class
Our instructor Swarna at Kitchen Garden Ella cooking class
Lunch we made in our cooking class at Kitchen Garden Ella
Lunch we made in our cooking class at Kitchen Garden Ella

Food

Our first delicious meal in Central Sri Lanka was at a farming village in Dambulla. It was cooked by a local family and we tasted many vegetarian dishes.

Dinner was included with our stay at Wewa Addara Hotel. We had beef salad, mushroom soup with a nice ginger flavour, spicy chicken with fried rice and a poppadum, and papaya for dessert. And on our second evening we had a poached egg salad, seafood chowder, spicy beef with noodles, a poppadum and crème caramel or fruits.

For lunch after the Polonnaruwa visit, we ate at the Hotel Ariya. We enjoyed the buffet with rice, noodles, poppadum and many choices of vegetarian curry.

Near Matale, we stopped at Sangraha restaurant for the vegetarian buffet. It was good and we had rice, lentils, aubergine, green beans, breadfruit and poppadum.

In Kandy we ate at a fancy food court called Worldspice KCC (Kandy City centre). We had stir-fried oak Choi from the Chinese area, pad Thai shrimp from the Thai area, a vegetable pizza from the Italian area, and Coke Zero from the drinks area.

The Adventure Base Camp had simple tasty food such as fried rice and a chicken drumstick or vegetarian noodles and fries.

The Damro tea factory and plantation had a wonderful buffet lunch with lots of variety.

In Nuwara Eliya, we ate at the Araliya green city food court for dinner. We had a mix of Indian and Arabic food including naan stuffed with paneer, mutabal, shish taouk (chicken), and camomile tea.

Our first meal in Ella was at Chill Cafe. I ordered a mix of vegetarian curries and rice, and it was very tasty. Kem had fresh fish fingers and fries.

We had a break from curries at MozzarElla pizzeria in Ella. They have a Wood-fired oven and also make crepes. We ordered a large pizza with pepperoni, onions and capsicum/peppers. And we ordered the “yellow bubbly drink” which was Lion beer.

One of the culinary highlights was learning how to cook Sri Lankan food with Swarna at Kitchen Garden Ella. We made 7 curries, coconut sambal, coconut roti and poppadums. A feast!

Kandy Temple of the Sacred Tooth
Kandy Temple of the Sacred Tooth
Kandy Cultural Centre Dance show
Kandy Cultural Centre Dance show
Nuwara Eliya Central Market
Nuwara Eliya Central Market

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: Yes it is helpful, or at least a driver so you can get between the different places.

Q: Do people speak English?

A: Yes most people spoke English

Q: Is it a walkable city?

A: Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa are tourist sites so you can walk around them, but need to be driven between them. Kandy was quite large and crowded so we felt more comfortable driving around. On the other hand, Nuwara Eliya and Ella were walkable cute towns.

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