I wanted to like Sri Lanka, in fact, I wanted to love Sri Lanka. The country has always conjured up images of great food, amazing beaches, stunning scenery and friendly people. So why did I leave after just 11 days of a month long trip, totally dejected and feeling let down by everything I saw?
Read on for the first of a 3 part trip report to see what was good, and what wasn’t.
The wildlife in Sri Lanka, particularly the bird life, was fantastic. We were fortunate enough to see everything from blue whales and Asian elephants, to the small stuff such as green pigeon and more peafowl than you could shake a stick at.
Our first port of call was Mirissa, a small town that has become much busier in recent years because of whale watching. There is now a plethora of boats to choose from, we opted for one of the original operators to head out into the blue and search for one of the largest animals ever to have lived – the blue whale.
Our chosen operator, Raja and the whales, was a slick, well run operation with a good boat and helpful crew. Within an hour of leaving the harbour we found a pair of blue whales which we followed at a comfortable (for the whales) distance. They would surface for 2-3 minutes then dive for anywhere up to 10 minutes.
One unfortunate consequence of going with the best operator is that many of the others simply wait until they see Raja’s boat slow down then head over to see what we had found. Fortunately as we went out very early (6am) we had the whales to ourselves for the first half an hour after finding them. When we left, there were a half dozen other boats all jostling for position.
Accommodation in Mirissa was in the Bon Accord guest house – highly recommended. Keith and Prasad run a nice, very homely little place to stay. It was the most comfortable place we stayed in Sri Lanka. As ever in the tropics, there were plenty of additional visitors, such as this nice little lizard.
Leaving Mirissa we headed along the busy roads to Tissamaharama (Tissa) which is where most people looking to visit Yala National Park tend to stay.
Our first park was actually Bundala National Park, which is famed for its bird life. The scenery was very nice, large wetlands, lakes and coastline, and the wildlife was prolific.
The following day we made the 5am start for Yala National Park, in the hopes of finding a leopard. Torrential rain meant our chances of spotting a leopard were slim to none, so it was no surprise we didn’t see one. We were fortunate enough to see a bear, although it was head down and bum up as it tore apart an ants nest.
There were plenty of other animals to make up for it, and the scenery was again very nice.
Tissa itself has several dagobas and stupas, plus an enormous number of fruit bats who take flight over the lake every evening.
From Tissa, a short drive North brought us to Udawalawe, where we would be heading for the national park of the same name.
The town itself is not a place to linger, but the park was great. Whilst we didn’t see any herds of elephants we did see several individuals, as well a large number of eagles, and the nicest scenery out of all the places we visited on this trip.
We stayed at LeGreen Udawalawe, a comfortable little guest house, where we had the best curry and rice of our entire trip. The food was proper home cooked and there were piles of it.
Leaving Udawalawe to head North into the hill country was the beginning of the end for this trip, it brought to a head many of the issues and annoyances we had encountered so far, as such that will be in part 2 of the trip report.