Sri Lanka, a tear-drop shaped island located off the south east coast of India is a country of extremes and contrasts. From the perfect beaches and rain forests of the south, to the tea plantations and high mountains of the center, to the ancient cities and ruins of the north; Sri Lanka is blessed with both natural beauty and man-made treasures. Of course, even though we sort of knew what Sri Lanka had to offer, we were completely blown-away by the variety and depth of the landscapes; not to mention the genuine friendliness of the people and deliciousness of the food.
Probably the best choice we made in terms of accommodation for the 3 weeks we were there, was the 1st and last place we stayed in Sri Lanka; Villa Shade in Negombo. We believe it was both the best introduction and conclusion to our trip we could have asked for. One of our focuses of this trip was to check out other guesthouses and hopefully learn from them; what they got right and what they got wrong. Villa Shade was definitely in the former. Perfect, personable hosts, awesome rooms and common space and one of the nicest house gardens I’ve ever seen. Negombo itself is a bit tricker; though we enjoyed it and the beach was damn nice, there wasn’t too much holding it all together. We might not have given it enough time because there definitely are interesting sights-Dutch canals and an old fort (now being used as a prison.)
After Negombo, we took the train to Galle, hands down the nicest city we went to Sri Lanka. Galle has a super interesting story which is plainly read in the old streets, ramparts, churches and massive trees which live within the city’s massive walls dating from the Portuguese and Dutch eras. It really does feel as if you are in some old Dutch city from the 1600’s, not in the middle of tropical, South Asia. Every single building is in it’s original state (or restored) and there are a slew of wonderful guesthouses, cafes, galleries and museums to add some focus to your wanderings. Our guesthouse was housed in one of those old Dutch buildings, right next to a cricket field abutting the city’s 5 meter thick walls-crazy sunsets every night.
As hard as it was to leave Galle, it was time for our 1 “splurge” of the trip; the 3 night resortish stay on the southern beach of Talalla. This was our real treat to ourselves for our first year of operation at Sen. Talalla retreat is in such a good spot, beautiful open-air rooms, huge pool and on the prettiest stretch of beach that I have seen in a long while. We had a great time swimming, lounging at the pool and exploring the area. The thing is, it really felt like a retreat from Sri Lanka, the one thing we did not want to retreat from. The staff were these cold white people, with the Sri Lankan staff in a sort of servant position, very much in the background. Food was the worst in Sri Lanka (and the most expensive) and the other guests were as cold as the staff (mainly Scandinavian families with kids). Next time we will just stay at a little guesthouse/homestay when we go to the southern beaches…lesson learned.
This came to the end of our pre-Sri Lanka planned portion of the trip, so from then on out, we were sort of just figuring it out as we went along; mainly from the advice of locals and other travelers. Our next stop was the Shinharaja rain forest, staying for a couple nights in the busy market town of Deniyaya.
Shinharaja is the largest tract of rain forest left in Sri Lanka, and we had an amazing trek through the jungle, spotting amazing animals and birds, flicking off leaches and swimming in natural pools under waterfalls. The canopy was thick and the sounds were all around us-really an amazing place to visit. The rest house in Deniyaya was pretty interesting. Built during the British era, this is pretty much the only place to drink in town, so it sort of doubled as the place to hang out for rich locals (the president’s sister and her husband were there one evening). The room was huge, by far the biggest room we stayed in, but cold water showers and not exactly clean, though not out-right dirty either. The highlight is definitely the view from the massive columned porch overlooking the rainforest-plus the food was great and very cheap.