It can be difficult when choosing your excursions during a trip. A lot of factors have to be considered like time, money, the level of difficulty and personal interests. Since my travel buddy and I share similar interests it was easy to agree upon our specific destinations in Sri Lanka. We based most of our decisions on places that could offer great views & photos that are unique to the country.
I have traveled to many countries, but I have been unsatisfied with the quality and lack of photos I have taken during my travels. Maybe it is a sign of me getting older, but I made a point to document my travels the best I could through photography. So here is a short guide on a few places in Sri Lanka that offer amazing photo opportunities with their potential drawbacks.
My first recommendation is using the public railway system. I know this is not considered a destination, but the train ride through central Sri Lanka, specifically between the cities of Kandy and Ella, offers breathtaking views of the lush tea-fields and mountains. This train ride has not made anyone’s top ten list as one of the world’s most scenic rides, but there is a certain charm to them.
This may be attributed to the fact that the trains are older than your parents and the tracks probably aren’t meeting safety standards, but I think it’s getting the sense of feeling like a local when you’re on board. Regardless of what seat you buy, the absolute best spots are the floors of the entrance doors. Obviously sitting or standing in this area may not seem like the safest or most comfortable place, but the whole side door as your window thing was priceless.
We had the freedom to stick our whole bodies outside the train and feel the Sri Lankan air envelope us. To get first dibs at these spots, one almost needs to head to the doorway right after boarding. However, in my experience, even if other tourists beat you to the punch, they are more than willing to give up their spots for a few minutes to allow you to take pictures and enjoy the views.
This transitions nicely to my second recommendation: The Nine Arch Bridge. If you happen to be in Ella, a short but sweet excursion is the walk along the railway tracks from the Ella railway station. The walk is flat, easy, scenic and only about 20 minutes long. Walking towards the bridge provides great photo opportunities along the railway tracks with the mountain backdrop. The bridge itself is beautiful and if you time your walk with the train schedule, you can easily catch the train going across the bridge from a close but safe distance.
My third recommendation is Adam’s peak. It is Sri Lanka’s most famous and frequently climbed mountain. Also known as Sri Pada, meaning “the sacred foot” in Sinhalese. It is believed to have sacred footmarks at the top of the mountain. Buddhists believe they belong to Buddha, Christians claim they’re St. Thomas’, Hindus think they’re Siva’s, while the Muslims say they are Adam’s.
Regardless, the mountain is an important religious site for many. For the average traveler like ourselves, the purpose of trekking up Adam’s Peak is to see to sunrise from the summit. Some say it is one of nicest places to catch the sunrise in all of Asia, so this was something we needed to experience for ourselves. Unfortunately, trying to catch the sunrise makes planning this excursion more challenging.
One cannot, not, simply make a day trip out of it. We had to arrive in Nallathanniya during mid-afternoon the day before our hike to get adequate rest so we could wake up around 2 AM the following day.
All the guesthouses and hotels in the area are about a 10 to 15 minutes walk to the entrance of Adam’s Peak. We chose to stay at the guest house, White House, which was approximately a 7km hike to the top. I am a fairly active adult who goes to the gym and exercises regularly, but this hike was still very challenging for me.
I believe anyone can do it, but it’s the amount of time one needs to allocate for the hike that will differ. We left White House around 2:45 AM and were at the top by 5 AM. Since we wanted to make sure we were at the top before sunrise, we were hiking at a more intense pace.
If you are not an experienced hiker or someone who exercises regularly, I recommend you give yourself at least 3 hours. I wish I could conclude this segment with amazing photos of the sunrise from the summit, but we did not see it. Since we were hiking during the rainy off-season, all that awaited us at the top were grey rain clouds and the closed gates of the Buddhist temple.
I knew that it was the rainy season, but I thought our optimism would be enough to change the weather. It was still a great experience and accomplishment for me and I have no regrets.
However, I do wish other travelers the opportunity to see the sunrise, so plan your trek up Adam’s Peak between the months of December and April.
My fourth recommendation would be the city of Mirissa.The city is known for their whale watching tours, but I chose this destination because I wanted to see the dying lifestyle of the stilt fisherman.
I remember seeing Steve McCurry’s iconic photo of these fishermen and was blown away. Stilt fishing started during World War II in Sri Lanka. Fishermen originally used the wreckage of fallen aircraft’s and capsized ships. Fishing in the water proved to be more effective than the overcrowded fishing spots near the shore. This practice soon evolved to the wooden cross shaped stilts one sees today.
Due to a devastating tsunami that hit the southern Sri Lankan coast in 2004, accessibility to prime fishing spots using this method diminished. Stilt fishing also stops entirely during the southwestern monsoon season from May to September, which was the time we were visiting. During these months, the fishermen rent out their stilts to actors who act the part for tourists.
Unfortunately, this is when we happened to be in Mirissa. When our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at a fishing spot along the coastline of Weligama, we were greeted by a man who quickly asked us to pay a viewing fee. We were reluctant and upset with the whole staged situation, but it was still memorable to get a glimpse of the beauty and art of this type of fishing.
There are so many other wonderful places and areas in Sri Lanka one can experience and travel, but I could not include all of them on this short list. However, no matter whether you are a surfer, hiker, beach-bum, animal lover, or foodie, Sri Lanka definitely can have something to offer for all types of travelers.