Sri Lanka 🇱🇰: Turtles 🐢, Tsunami 🌊 & Snorkeling in Hikkaduwa

The last stop on our (too short) tour in Sri Lanka was Hikkaduwa and its beach. It hadn’t been part of our initial itinerary, as we had Arugam bay on our list instead yet changed our mind to make for more convenient travels.

Hikkaduwa is just a stonethrow away from Galle and the train ride over was yet again pleasant be it with a lot more people than the slow train to Galle the day before.

We opted to rent a scooter for some mobility and after a refreshing swim in the hotel pool we explored Hikkaduwa.

2004 Tsunami – Sri Lanka hit hard

The 2004 Tsunami originated near Indonesia, but had a devastating impact on Sri Lanka. While in Indonesia close to 230,000 people died, at 40,000 Sri Lanka had the 2nd highest death toll (and at 0.2% of total population more than twice the relative death rate than Indonesia).

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While Hikkaduwa got away with it (one death) being protected by elevation and a large coral reef just off the beach, the nearby village Peraliya got wiped out. 2,000 people died especially as the second, ten meter high wave hit. A museum documents the tragedy.

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Sea turtle hatchery and sanctuary

Second stop on our tour was the sea turtle hatchery and sanctuary. One the one hand they help injured turtles for example after a loss of limbs due to boat propellers. Usually fishermen bring them in.

Secondly, they hatch turtle eggs in a save environment and release the young turtles into the sea at about two days age. Fascinating little creatures and certainly a memorable event when we got to release a turtle each ourself. Good luck!

Beach time

Given that we were in an island, beach time has come a little short to be honest. We managed to catch up a little and went snorkeling on Hikkaduwa beach.

We rounded it off with a nice fish meal beachside that night. 😋🐟

Colombo & good-bye Sri Lanka

Our time in Colombo was unspectacular other than the train ride often right along the beach and our visit to a Bavarian restaurant that stocks my favorite mustard (Bautz’ner Senf from Saxony). The city itself isn’t worth spending much time in and easily the worst we have seen on the island.

If you must, laura’s two highlights from her time her prior to my arrival in Sri Lanka are the Gangaramaya temple with many Buddha statues and Gangarama lake (the smaller of the lakes) with its Buddhist temple (very pretty at night).

Bye, bye Sri Lanka. It has been wonderful. Now the North of India 🇮🇳 awaits – somehow i already feel we will miss you…

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Sri Lanka 🇱🇰: An afternoon in medieval Galle 🏰⚔⛵🇵🇹🇳🇱

Galle has a very different feel to it than other Sri Lankan cities we visited. At least as far as the pretty old town is concerned (that shows few marks of the devastation of the 2004 tsunami).

The old town, basically a city within a fortress, looks more akin to a medieval place in Europe. That is thanks to the first Portuguese (16th century) and second Dutch (18th century) colonial architecture throughout. In fact, Galle Fort is the largest fortress built by Europeans in all of Asia.

Galle Fort daredevils

While wandering along the walls of the fort, we spotted locals jumping off a rock into the water. Its pretty shallow there and the water rocky – in short it is not without risks. This tradition apparently goes back to the 90’s (as per this article) and is a mix of ego and making some money off tourists. Crazy stuff!

It also feels different in other ways than buildings – on the street are almost exclusively tourists, it is the only place i recall with a visible muslim presence (people & the calls of the muezzin. 🕌 🙏 The latter are Sri Lankan moors that make up 26% of inhabitants and have descended from Arab traders that settled here.

Definitely a city worthwhile seeing. Be it only for an afternoon.

Sri Lanka 🇱🇰: Whales 🐳 & Dolphins 🐬 in Mirissa

The journey from Tissamaharama was painless and actually fun. We took the bus to Matara for next to no cost (Rp 540 / U$3 for both including luggage) – a bus that wasn’t as crowded as the one we let pass in Ella (and took a cab instead). There was even some decent on board entertainment – Sri Lanka cover rock. Not bad.

From Matara it was a 20min tuk tuk ride to Mirissa – the whale watch center of Sri Lanka. You are well advised to stay in the village as 🐳 tours start early (expect 6am pickup). We booked ourselves into Swedish run Satori private rooms and recommend it – good size, A/C and private beach (accessed through Satori hostel).

We had a tasty chicken and cheese roti for dinner before hitting the lively Mirissa beach for a few happy hour cocktails.

The night finished early yet again, as we prepared for our 5.50am pick up. The harbour was still sleepy. On our way out we saw several fishing boats coming back in with the mornings catch. The sunrise was truly amazing!

Type of whales

The main type of whale you spot around Mirissa is the blue whale. Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth. These giant marine mammals are up to 30 meters long and weight upwards of 200 tons.Blue whales are baleen whales, they have “baleen plates” instead of teeth. Baleen, is made of keratin just like fingernails and hair. Each whale has many plates that hang down from its upper jaw, one after the other. It’s diet is small crustaceans known as krill (blue whale eat krill (2-4 tons per day).

We didn’t have to wait too long as a large group of dolphins came into sight. Beautiful animals that seemingly like the attention all the tourist boats offered.

On to the whales! We followed the route other boats had taken. They were lined up on the horizon already watching a whale in his 10min cycle of diving and breathing (10-25sec on surface). Pity you only see a fraction of the total body – still enormous animals!

Sri Lanka 🇱🇰: Yala safari – Leopards 🐆 & more

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Most of Sri Lanka’s surface is covered in green and 9% of the land are dedicated national parks. We decided to go with the most popular option, Yala, to get a chance to see leopards 🐆. We were not to be disappointed…

National Parks in Sri Lanka

There are about 22 different national parks in Sri Lanka. Here is a link with a good overview of each one of them. Yala is the biggest (see green spot bottom right).

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We booked a full day for U$100 each including two meals. 5:45am was pick up at the hotel and off to Yala we went.

We hadn’t even entered the park yet when a fellow guide spotted a leopard lying on a hilltop. He probably just got up. Amazing! Good morning to you! There are only about 30 leopards in the park (tendency sadly falling) or 1 per 33sqkm. Lucky!

Mid morning break – monkey mob attack

We stopped for toilet & refreshments … A stop well known to monkeys who wasted no time to go through our rubbish. They even brought the little ones along …

Thereafter we saw basically all the animals you can see in the park … Truly breathtaking!!!

Sri Lankan Leopard 🐆

It is estimated some 700-950 wild leopards roam Sri Lanka (+75 kept in captivity worldwide). Since 2008 it is considered an endangered species. For leopards (which live in Africa and Asia though ever less present in the latter) they are rather on the large side at up to 100kg for a grown animal. Even though smaller than tigers, the tamil have used the leopard as symbol / mascot (‘tamil tigers’).

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By noon had picked up lunch from the park entrance and relaxed near a beautiful beach. We were both pretty tired and nursed a headache – partly due to the constant rattling on the park roads. 🚙

After a morning session that kept the camera clicking as we moved around the park, the afternoon session offered no new animals (other than a rabbit) and the tactic was more to wait at certain locations like waterholes. It turned into a longer waiting game and wasn’t as enjoyable anymore.

However, just before it was time to leave Yala luck stroke again as we spotted a leopard roaming through the bushes. Not as clear a shot, but amazing still. Love 🐆!

A few videos  …

Sri Lanka 🇱🇰: Busy day outdoors in beautiful Ella

Our only full day in Ella started bright and early with a 7am breakfast – much to the delight of our lovely homestay hosts who had family commitments in another city to attend to. Tasty Sri Lankan breakfast with pancakes (pani pol), dahl & coconut with dough and fruit (🍉🍍& papaya) 🤤😁😋. Our day would take us a good 30km around Ella starting with Ella Peak.

Ella Peak 🗻 – Buena vista no1

It was about a 5km hike to the top with c300m vertical. The route is straightforward – just follow the rail tracks from Ella to c500m past Kithalella station and uphill from there. We followed the steps as described in this blog post.

Don’t let locals fool you off track or into using their services (they try just after Kithalella station), unless you want company of course.

The views from the summit back to Ella and into a deeply green valley are amazing and best enjoyed with a fresh king coconut (sold for Rp200 amongst other refreshments).

Passing by Ravanna cave

We followed a different route back, which i had found on my viewranger app (great trail details google maps won’t have). It led us down the other side of Ella valley.

The Rp150 entry were a bit of a waste. The tiny cave is a steep hike up. That was ok. Yet offers close to nothing to see. Not so ok. Well, a good work out!

Ravanna falls

About 5km from the cave are the Ravanna falls. Pretty big and worth seeing. Some people even swim in one of the natural pools at the bottom though it is technically not allowed.

For transport there best take one of the frequent busses from Ella (Rp30) or a tuk tuk though they will charge Rp1000 return.

Sri Lankan food we like so far
Finally we got some local food options having felt Kandy didn’t offer much. Other than an amazing breakfast as discussed above, the sri lankan cuisine we tried in Ella offered a decent curry (though not with the same number of variations as India and generally less spicy) and a kind of shredded, oily piece of dough called rotu or kottu. To that you add veg, chicken, cheese or whatever your belly screams out for. We also love hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes) with dahl curry. So tasty!!!

Little Adam’s peak 🗻 – Buena vista no2

A lot closer than Ella Peak is little Adam’s peak (the little brother of the roof of Sri Lanka – Adam’s peak).

On the way you also pass by the Ella zipline experience. A 550m ride in arguably spectacular scenery with set you back U$20.

Views from the summit over the valley are great and, if it isn’t too hazy, let you get a glimpse of many more hills further away.

Nine Arch Bridge 🌉 – Waiting for the Hogwarts Express 🧙‍♀️ 🧙‍♂️

This bridge is a beautiful example of colonial architecture. A stone viaduct with nine arches similar to the one you’ll see the Hogwarts express steaming over – though that one stands in Glenfinnan, Scotland and boasts 21 spans.

There are four trains daily to and from Ella. We waited for the 3.30pm train to get our pics sorted (alongside many other one-off train romantics 😍🚂). And we all got what we wanted… After a 45min delay.

Needs to be seen. Both the bridge and the 30min hike there are spectacular!

Popular rumours suggest that when construction work commenced on the bridge, the Great War began between the empires of Europe and the steel assigned for this site was reallocated to Britain’s War related projects at the battlefront. As a result, the work came to a standstill, leading the locals build the bridge with stone bricks and cement, but without steel.

And so quickly was our time up. Ella is clearly a place dominated by tourists, but so far it is well-managed and the vibe reminds me of places like Pai in Thailand or San Augustin in Colombia. After an amazing time here we are now off to a safari in Yala national park 🐘 🐆 🐃 🦌 🐦.