We first went to Sri Lanka back in 2014 and man what an awesome place - from mangroves to beaches, mountainside tea plantations and thick lowland tropical rainforests, it was certainly one of, if not the, most diverse place we’d ever been to.
We knew as soon as we arrived that it was suitable for everyone; awesome with friends for adventures and exploration, family trips for culture, learning and relaxation, or students looking to get some invaluable conservation experience. Even a great spot for two guys to check out awesome projects for you lot ;)
It has it all:
Incredible temples, beautiful by sunset (which was a complete fluke and now a standard for all of our trips).
Perfect beaches for surfers, sundowners and cold beers.
Tranquil and luxurious, yet sustainable, eco-lodges for yoga and ayurvedic massage. Ideal for families wanting some downtime or couples looking for a nice little romantic escape.
Safaris to explore, learn and embrace nature.
Historical UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Tea plantations, where you can see the production taking place and even sample a variety of leaves and local delicacies.
Even travelling from one site to the next is an epic adventure in its own right.
After we arrived at the airport (and nearly sold a fridge freezer, toaster and microwave...very odd) we made our way to Negombo, which is a little further North but actually quicker to get to as the traffic into Colombo is crazy. It’s also a much nicer place to settle in as you’re by the beach and have plenty of restaurants, beach bars and just a more relaxed feel. We usually go for a run when we first arrive as it's nice to shake off the legs, after a long flight, but also just to check out the local area. It gives us a nice sense of direction but more importantly, we find so many cool places and ear-mark where our meals are going to be over the forthcoming days :)
There are loads of cool shops to buy souvenirs so if you are going to take back more than just memories and photos just make sure that what you buy is ethical. Think about the materials it’s made from, certainly no animals or items that have been exploited from the local environment. We don’t want to fund any of these activities nor let locals think it’s ok and that ‘tourists’ actually want this stuff. The more responsible travellers, like you, cause less of a demand for these products, this is what will create change in the long term.
During our first morning in Negombo we went out on a little fishing boat to check out the mangroves - it was beautiful when we left, blue skies and getting pretty hot but don’t let that fool you. The rain came out of nowhere, it only lasted about ten mins but those without their ‘macs’ got pretty drenched - so always keep something handy and closeby. (Waterproofs these days can fold up to practically nothing and is essential in these tropical places, which is all mentioned in the kit list that we provide). We ventured through the Dutch canal, passing fishermen who were returning with their morning catch and setting up market stalls right on the beach, it was such a cool sight and it doesn’t get much fresher. We continued out to the mangrove system and as the tide went out we went for a little walk to explore. Unfortunately, we did see some turtle shells, which was quite sad as they’d clearly been cooked and eaten by people as opposed to other wild animals - a sign that poaching vulnerable species is a problem and that conservation efforts are a must.
After the boat safari, we started our drive to Sigirya Rock, passing by Dambulla Cave Temple, an awesome network of prayer halls built into the side of the rock. The buddhas and religious artefacts range from small trinkets to monumental sculptures, hidden within the cave network. It's a pretty epic temple and you can wander around at a casual pace and see it all within an hour. Over the next few days, we explored a few other amazing sites, including Sigiriya Rock and Polonnaruwa, which we did on (pedal) bikes, with helmets of course. After lunch, we then got into our ‘old skool’ jeeps and ventured into Minneriya National Park.
Seeing elephants in the wild is breathtaking!
There were probably about 80 of them, it’s actually one of the biggest gatherings in the world and reaches numbers of around 300. We also saw some crocs, water buffalo, numerous bird species, snakes and lizards. It was an incredible afternoon and, as always, plenty of time for a swim before dinner.
Before we made our way to the elephant project, which was one of the main aspects of the trip, we hiked up Sigiriya Rock. It takes a moderate amount of physical exercise but you can walk at your own pace, there’s no rush. Watch out for the monkeys and please don’t feed them or get too close for photos as they WILL take your phone - plus they can be pretty hostile so keep your distance and observe from afar and you’ll be fine.
The views at the top are out of this world. You can see temples and forests, for as far as the eye can see, as well as smoke trails from small village communities prepping their meals and getting on with their lives. It made us really appreciate where we were. The temples and sites are incredible but we love the day-to-day way of life - The ‘present’ culture!
The food, the people, the praying...That's what makes it so special and up here you can see it, hear it and feel it.
Get your photos, post your Insta's and Snapchats (whatever you feel that you need to do) but then just take a seat, sit back and enjoy the view. We could have stayed up here for hours. In fact, I think we did!
Then we arrived at the project, which turned out to be one of the best conservation projects we’ve ever visited...
The exciting bit for us, when going to see a new project, is not knowing what to expect. Don’t get me wrong, unfortunately, this can often be very disappointing and I’d say we probably take on about 10% of the projects we visit. This is due to a variety of reasons...It may be the underlying values that don’t align, such as a financially tourist-driven model that has a negative environmental impact, or a sceptical rehab and release programme. Whatever it may be, we always ensure that they meet our BCorp and sustainability ethics as well as our personal values: friendly, approachable, transparent and most importantly, see them as being part of the Floogle Family.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with big beautiful smiles and showed to our bunks. It’s a research centre so it’s basic with brick walls around 5 foot high, metal corrugated roofs, mosquito nets and the most simple of showers. A pipe out the wall and concrete foundation but, outside looking into the forest - an awesome way to wake up.
During our time here we learnt heaps about wild elephants and the impact they have on the local community, not to mention other species including lizards, snakes and bees.
The project itself was established back in 2006 during studies on captive elephants, whereby they noticed that they’re averse to citrus. This gave the idea to use orange trees as a natural deterrent to protect farms, lives and livelihoods whilst protecting these magnificent animals. A hundred years ago there were more than 20,000 wild Asian elephants in Sri Lanka, today there are around 4,000. This is due to competition for space, agriculture, human development and poaching.
Every year up to 200 elephants die and almost 100 people due to this conflict as a result of deforestation and urbanisation. There is also destruction to over 3000 homes and $10million in crop damage. The problem is unfortunately….us!
Elephants have been migrating through these lands for thousands of years, it’s only recently that we’ve put the roads, houses and farms in their way and as human populations grow so does the need for more agricultural processes, more land and as a result more competition for resources. Therefore, more conflict.
There isn’t one solution to this issue and circumstances for different villages and different environments change but one thing we do know is that it all starts with education and that’s exactly where we started. The more we learnt, the more we realised how awesome this community-based conservation project was and how it impacted all social, environmental and economical factors - in short, a great sustainability project that we wanted to support.
We thought it was ace for students who wanted to get some really good hands-on conservation experience but also perfect for adults and families that might just want to drop in and check it out. Fortunately, we’ve also located some other accommodation for those that are happy to spend a little more and want a few extra comforts after a day out on the animal trails.
Whilst it was basic, it does feel homely after 24hours, you get into your rhythm of morning sunrise bird walks, showers overlooking the jungle, jeep rides to the local ‘tank’ (reservoir), wild elephant observations, incredible home-cooked food and an evening beer overlooking the rice paddies and lakes - not a bad way to the end the day.
After the project we made our way back to Kandy to The Sacred Temple of The Tooth Relic and seeing it by candlelight was different class. We walked in just before sunset and could hear the prayers echo through the corridors. It was pretty busy in certain places but we enjoyed just meandering our way around, enjoying the beautifully decorated and embellished halls. By the time we finished the whole place was lit with small candles and lanterns...It was such a lovely way to end the day as it was quite a long drive so after reaching our hotel, with enough time for a quick swim, we got showered and changed and walked down to the temple...definitely a night we won’t forget.
We forgot to mention, that before arriving in Kandy we stopped off at a tea plantation. Now we don’t know if you’ve ever been to a plantation before but it was pretty awesome. Firstly, we couldn’t believe how old the equipment was, it must have been 1950/60s and still going strong. Big massive extraction type fans and conveyor belts to segregate different parts of the leaf and who knew that all tea comes from the same plant whether its black, oolong, green or white it all comes from Camellia sinensis. We had a few samples, Brad bought some tea for his dad, who probably keeps them in business, and then we continued on to Kandy.
As you can imagine, we spend a fair amount of time in Sri Lanka so often go straight back to Colombo. It's pretty hectic but kind of nice to be somewhere a little more cosmopolitan and enjoy your last meal before flying out the next day.
Alternatively, if you have the time, head south - it's awesome. Beautiful beaches, time to chill, do some yoga, surf, eat some Kottu, check out Galle and have a wander behind the fort gates. The perfect way to start the relaxing part of your trip or rest for a few days before returning home.