• Escape to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, its beautiful beaches, easy and perfect waves, magical sunsets, coconuts and palm trees, what else could you wish for ? Discover the real 'Lanka' with Maria from Chat Blanc blog.

"Beautiful beaches, fish curries, tuk-tuks, impressive wildlife and the renowned Ceylon teas. I won’t lie, before I headed out to Sri Lanka my idea of what it had to offer for an average traveller was based on these fairly vague and familiar themes. And so with an open mind and a Lonely Planet guide in hand, I traveled to the island hoping to discover the real ‘Lanka’.

My journey, like the one of most Sri Lankan travellers, begun at Colombo, the capital located in the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. I started my trip by heading out east to the infamous Arugam Bay - Sri Lanka’s prime surfing destination due to its consistent waves that are perfect for beginner and intermediate surfers. Many travellers who go to Sri Lanka try to surf here in the peak months of July and August hence many of the ‘easier’ spots can be quite crowded. Regardless, there are quite a few other places to explore. Whisky Point, Peanut Farm or Elephant Rock were perfect for surfing or relaxing when I wanted a change of scenery from the main bay.

As throughout the whole of Sri Lanka tuk-tuks, otherwise known as three-wheelers, were my main source of local transport. After being acquainted with a local driver called Anees, it was easy to get around and explore the area. Travelling in a three-wheeler really gave me an opportunity to get to know some of the locals, who were always friendly and keen to help.

Arugam Bay itself is surrounded by beachfront accommodations which dabble as restaurants and bars later on in the evening. Being a complete food lover that I am, after a couple of days of trial & error I found my favourite hotspots. I would definitely recommend the seafood curries, rotis (Sri Lankan flat bread wraps served with various ingredients) and local style pancakes at Nice Place. This is an adorable homestay located 100m from the beach, where two ladies cook everything from the heart. Fresh lobsters, traditional fish curries as well as Sri Lankan breakfasts are all highly delightful there. The atmosphere here is wholesome while the prices are not too inflated.

Apart from wonderful culinary experiences, many of the resorts in Arugam offer yoga classes for which you can easily sign up for the day before. What can be a better way to greet the day than with a sunrise yoga class overlooking the ocean?

In general, my days spent in Arugam Bay mainly consisted of surfing, eating delicious food, exploring nearby beaches and enjoying the vibrant nightlife offered by various beach bars. During the peak season this area gets very humid and hot hence between 11am - 3pm you’ll find most of the locals and visitors finding shelter in the shade.

Elephants are a trademark of Sri Lanka and you’ll find no shortages of them on mini safaris, animal orphanages or National Parks. Initially, I was keen to visit Yala National Park, however during my first day in Arugam after seeing wild elephants whilst driving to a surf spot, I thought it wasn’t a necessity. Seeing an elephant walking two meters away from me roadside was definitely an unforgettable experience. Not only it wasn’t premeditated like in the organized tours, but completely natural to the animal as well as me, which made it very special too.

After over a week spent in Arugam, I decided it was time to head south to explore the small towns of this province. With tourism booming in Arugam, the southwest coastline felt much quieter. The season here starts from November to April, when the surfers come to take on the waves of the many reef breaks. Hence in the off-season, from the bigger city of Galle to smaller towns like Mirissa, you’ll discover many uncrowded beaches and affordable villas within which you can escape the hustle of tropical travel. Whilst in the South I took some time to check out Galle. It is a bigger city famous for its fort, first built in 1588 by the Portuguese

Having travelled only by taxis, buses and tuk-tuks, I felt it I was ready to finally live the Sri Lankan train experience. Hence in the last days of my trip I decide to head by train to the Northern ‘Hill Country’ and pay a visit to Ella. Ella is a small hill-country village situated over one thousand meters above sea level. After 12 hours of train travel through hills and tea plantations this charming village felt like a hidden oasis. The nearby Ravana Falls, Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock attract many travellers and keen hikers. The views are astonishing and really make you feel as if you're in a completely different location, miles away from the iconic Sri Lankan fishing villages.

Furthermore the surrounding tea plantations offer a sanctuary for tea lovers who wish deepen their knowledge of the manufacture process and satisfy their tea tasting cravings. For the best buffalo curd and kithul syrup, a traditional Sri Lankan dessert prepared from buffalo milk and sweet syrup or honey, head over to the Curd Shop on the main street. There is no way one can leave Sri Lanka without trying one. On the opposite side of the street you’ll find the down town Roti Hut which serves really good kotthus, another Sri Lankan speciality consisting of shredded flatbread, veggies, meats and spices.

When I got a little tired of rice and curries, it was a great alternative. So, what makes Sri Lanka a great all round destination? It's delicious food, diverse landscapes or friendly locals? You can’t pin it down to only one. Even though I spent two weeks in this weird, yet wonderful, country, I still feel like there remains much more that I need to uncover. Whether it is climbing Sigirya Rockor exploring the north coast, I’m sure I’ll come back one day to really deepen my understanding of this country’s complex culture."

Follow Maria on Instagram @mariaaaakk and on her blog Chat Blanc