Never did I imagine I would live in the Middle East. And never did I imagine I’d fly farther, over India, to Sri Lanka. I knew very little of Sri Lanka before coming to this part of the world, and once here, all I knew was what I heard from other people flying to Sri Lanka because of how cheap it was to travel there as a family. So, with winter break in our future, we figured what better way to spend one of our vacations than seeing a brand new part of the world, and on a family budget!
My hopes for this trip were to open my children’s eyes, yet again, to the beauty of the World around them, and hopefully the people living in it. I was hoping for a teaching lesson through this vacation, especially around the holidays…a time for them to remember why we celebrate Christmas and what we have to be thankful for. I also wanted them to soak up nature. They currently live in the desert where they can admire camels and stray dogs and cats. In the jungle of Sri Lanka, I knew they’d get up close and personal with all kinds of animals and bugs, and I was excited for that. I wanted them to ask questions about everything they saw. Well, I thought I did until they actually started asking so many questions during the trip that I wanted to cover my ears! LOL! But I was thankful they did. They paid attention, they absorbed their surroundings, and from that, I knew we made the right choice in coming to Sri Lanka.
Here’s a brief idea of where we went in Sri Lanka, what there is to do in each area, and some pictures to give you a taste of the experience. But let me warn you…NOTHING can replace the feeling of actually being there, seeing it, and doing it all for yourself. You will fall in love with the area, the people and the food.
Days 1-5…Hikkaduwa, Galle, Unawatuna and Mirissa
Upon arrival in Sri Lanka, we needed to make our way from the Colombo airport down to the southern coast to our town of Hikkaduwa. Luckily, the home we arranged came with a tour guide who was willing to coordinate transporation for us during our entire stay. Not only did he coordinate two vans, one for nine people and one for all the luggage, but he came to greet us at the airport as well. The drive to the southern coast used to take upwards of three hours, however, this past month, they opened a brand new highway, very nicely done and comparable to Western standards, which cut the drive down to two hours. The drive is beautiful, and assuming you arrive during some daylight, I recommend staying awake for it. You’ll see the hustle and bustle of Colombo city itself, and then the amazing rice patties, cows in the road, dogs wandering and people going to and fro…some with shoes, many without.
As we arrived into the town of Hikkaduwa, we found our bungalow nestled back in some jungle terrain. We stayed in a four bedroom, two bathroom home, on a very nicely landscaped piece of property. It had a fabulous outdoor dining room table to seat twelve comfortably, plenty of room for kids to explore, and had the rustic charm common to many of the houses in Sri Lanka. No glass windows, only wooden shutters. Mosquito nets placed on all the beds. No AC, only ceiling fans in each room. Again, I emphasize the word RUSTIC, but so charming. Expect bugs in Sri Lanka…there’s no way around it. It was common to find large spiders, centipedes, mosquitos and ants. I cam thoroughly prepared with all kinds of mosquito repellent items from wearable fans and natural sprays to wrist bands and ultrasonic devices for the kids. Come prepared as there are a lot of mosquitos here, and if you’re sensitive like me, you’ll want to keep them at bay the best you can. Proud to say that I only ended up with eight bites, my son three, and my husband maybe two.
The best part of this home was the couple that lived next door in their very modest house. They are the caretakers for the house where we were staying. Greeting us the first day, we agreed to a daily rate for them to cook and clean for us during our stay, plus the cost of groceries. They also owned a tuk tuk, so they drove us wherever we needed to go in town. My children fell in love with this couple, running into the kitchen every time they were preparing a meal in hopes of helping them. We made it a point to get to know them, learn about their lives, and spend time with them. I’m so glad we did. I couldn’t imagine going to a country and not knowing anything about the people when I left. We grew so close that we all shed tears and exchanged gifts on our departure.
Within Hikkaduwa, we did lots of shopping for handicrafts made by the locals at souvenir shops in town. We also ate at two fabulous restaurants called Refresh and Mia’s, swam at the Coral Sands Hotel pool for a mere $4/adult, $2/child, visited the turtle hatchery where we learned about the turtles and released five day old turtles into the ocean (a bucket list memory), held a monkey on the beach near Mia’s restaurant and visited our tour guide’s home and cinnamon farm in the jungle. Hikkaduwa is like a small beach town with one main road of shops and restaurants and all the houses down small side roads leading into the jungle. It’s cute, friendly, and worth hanging out for a few days. You’ll find the people welcoming and charming. Feel free to barter on your items you choose as it’s accepted and common…but keep in mind, you’re not paying much for anything! I bought the girls’ some dresses, $6 each. Flip flops that we needed, $2 each. A hand carved tuk tuk, less than $3. So really, you can pay what they are asking, and it’s not much in the grand scheme of things. They needed it more than I did…and I kept thinking about the fac
t that they were still recovering from a tsunmai.
Galle is the next town down around the coast. It’s more congested, but has the closest biggest grocery store for supplies you may need. It is also home to Galle Fort and the Lighthouse. We didn’t spend much time in Galle except for the groceries we needed upon arrival. If you choose to go, it’s a short tuk tuk ride from Hikkaduwa.
Down the road again, you’ll find Unawatuna, a hip, beautiful tourist destination among the towns of the southern coast. It is small, much like Hikkaduwa, but has more side streets lined with shops and restaurants. The beaches are quite nice there, and the there’s a restaurant called The Happy Banana which reminded me a lot of a Carlos and Charlie’s of Mexico. Unawatuna has great hang out, lots of tourists (if that’s what you want), and fun for a day visit. You’ll probably want something larger than a tuk tuk to take you from Hikkaduwa to Unawatuna…depending on your group size as it’s a slightly longer drive of maybe thirty minutes. On the drive between Unawatuna and Mirissa, you can see the famous pole fish catchers…a sight to see, but they’ll make you pay if they see you taking pictures of them…or they’ll just hop down right as you pull your camera out!
Mirissa is the main fishing port area, and also the departure gate for the whale watching excursions. It was fun to see all the fresh locally caught fish being displayed for purchasing along the docks of the marina, but not really a place I’d walk casually with my children as it was all men doing the wheeling and dealing. Not that you need to fear anyone here…they are just curious and welcoming. But after a while, my kids became sensitive to being the spectacles. The town was another small, quiet town, but had some nice beaches.
Days 1-5 flew by yet provided us with relaxation. We packed a lot in, and yet found time to appreciate everything around us. We had already grown attached to the country and commented more than once that we all wanted to come back. The rich beauty of this country and the resiliency of it’s people after the 2004 tsunami touched our hearts deeply. We were sad to say good-bye to the southern coast, but we were now on our way to Kandy, up in the mountains and ready to see the long awaited elephants.