Our First 48 Hours in Sri Lanka
A 10-hour bus ride to the capital, 5-hour flight to Qatar, 10.5-hour layover, 5-hour flight to Sri Lanka, and a tear-filled landing (of joy, we promise)
New Year, New Country
We landed in Sri Lanka a few days ago and honestly it felt like a dream. Mainly, because this has been our dream. 2 years ago, we started planning an extensive backpacking trip to Asia and we had finally made it to the beginning.
Although our international trip started in Europe, Asia has always been our original goal destination. Since most countries were closed due to COVID when we wanted to start our trip, we headed to Europe.
Don’t get us wrong, Venice, Slovenia, and Croatia were amazing but when we heard that borders were opening out this way, we couldn’t buy a plane ticket fast enough!
To get here though, it definitely took a while and made room for little sleep.
Our Journey to Sri Lanka
We said goodbye to our wonderful Workaway family and caught the night bus from Dubrovnik to Zagreb.
In the beginning, we were both worried we wouldn’t sleep much but after the Bosnian border stop in the first hour, we both remember very little of the drive. We arrived in Zagreb at 7 am and after a coffee, got a shuttle to the airport
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia so we assumed the airport would be a decent size to spend time in…we were wrong. The airport was so small that we couldn’t even check in and hand over our bags yet.
Tip: If you’re heading to Croatia anytime soon, don’t plan on needing much time at the Zagreb airport.
After a long (8 hour) wait, we checked our bags and eventually made it on the plane. Our flights were with Qatar Airways and everything was super nice!
We reserved tickets for a lounge in Qatar since our layover was so long. The lounge included a buffet of food, free drinks, and had lounge chairs to curl up on (which we totally did).
We could only spend 6 hours inside without paying more so we hurried in, ate some food, and TRIED our best to sleep.
Our second flight from Qatar to Sri Lanka was just as nice as the first. We watched some movies and had a delicious meal. As we were landing, Sam couldn’t help but tear up because she was so happy we were finally here.
Arrival in Paradise
We were picked up by our accommodation and arrived at our guesthouse by 6 pm. The sun had set but it was still SO WARM outside and HUMID. Oh man, is it humid here! The guesthouse offers meals too so we had an amazing dinner called Kottu Roti (noodles and veggies) with two different curries to put on top. After dinner, we took a short swim in the pool before crashing out for the night.
In the morning, we ordered the Sri Lankan-style breakfast. We weren’t sure what this meant but ordered it anyway. We were served a LARGE amount of coconut milk rice and two curries to put on top, as well as, a sweet coconut syrup for the rice. On top of this, we had papaya smoothies and a fruit-stuffed pancake-like roll. Everything tasted amazing but there was SO MUCH FOOD.
The Friendliest People
The staff here was so incredibly friendly. They made us feel so welcome and always had smiles on their faces. Sri Lanka might be the friendliest place ever. One staff member even hand drew a map so we could get to town.
Since we were taking this first day to rest up, we spent most of the day enjoying the sunshine and the pool.
We met some girls from Norway and Sweden that flew in that morning. We hung out with them for a while and later we all sat together for dinner.
All the food
Ty and I ordered more of the Kottu Roti from the night before because it was so good and we also ordered another dish that we didn’t get the name of. The other girls didn’t realize how large the portions would be and ordered 4 dishes. There was SO much food leftover, we were begging the staff to sit down and eat some, but they wouldn’t. Hopefully, the leftovers did not go to waste!!
Heading to Sigiriya
The next morning, one of the staff offered to arrange a driver for us to get to Sigiriya. This is common in Sri Lanka and although more expensive than the local bus, it’s comparable to the bus tickets we had bought in Europe. It was definitely worth it to arrive faster and have A/C the whole way.
On the way, we talked to our driver, Nimal, and learned he served in the Sri Lankan Army but has been a driver for over 8 years. He even drove by his home and we met his daughters and saw his grandkids wave from the window.
We stopped for a restroom break and we learned that toilet paper is not very common in Sri Lanka… You will most likely find bidets instead. However, at this restaurant, the water wasn’t working, so this made things interesting.
Tip for Sri Lanka: Learn how to use a bidet OR carry toilet paper
We didn’t have any plans for the day, besides arriving in Sigiriya. So, when our driver asked if we wanted to go on a Safari tour we COULDN’T say no.
We arrived after driving about 3.5 hours and hopped in the jeep. There are 2 national parks and an eco preserve in the area where elephants roam freely. The safari drivers keep in touch with each other so they know where the elephants are for the best tour experience.
We had read that the parks can get very crowded with the jeeps and that some drivers aren’t respectful of the elephants’ space. When we arrived, there were at least 30 other jeeps but after entering the park, we were spread out for most of the drive.
Our safari driver, Samid, was so friendly, just like everyone else we have met so far. Throughout the safari tour, he stayed a respectful distance from the elephants, told us some facts about the elephants and other animals in the area, and pointed out some really cool birds!
Where The Elephants Roam
Seeing the elephants roaming in the wild was even more magical than we imagined. We saw so many we lost count and even saw a 2 or 3-month-old baby. They seemed to be in groups ranging from 3-7 all over the park.
In the jeep, we rode standing up in the back, bouncing around from the rough road, trying to spot more elephants. We drove down a road and found there was no one else around except a mama elephant, her baby, and another elephant chomping on some grass.
We watched them for a while, still not believing we were watching them in real life. The mama walked pretty close to us. When Ty waved his arm in the air, she seemed to respond by throwing her trunk up back at him.
View of the Jungle
Towards the end of our tour, we pulled up to the edge of a giant rocky hill. Our driver told us the view at the top is amazing, so we headed up! The view from the top was breathtaking. The jungle seemed to go on forever. We even spotted another elephant far off in the distance, it didn’t seem like anyone else noticed her so that was pretty special.
Throughout this entire experience, we kept saying to each other that this couldn’t be real. Everything felt like it must be a dream. We had been dreaming of being here for so long. And here we finally were, on a jeep safari, watching elephants, in SRI LANKA.
Arrival in Sigiriya
After the amazing safari, we got back with our driver and headed to our accommodation for the night. Our homestay was pretty far back on a dirt road at the edge of town.
Since it was dark, our driver said he was nervous about elephants coming out onto the road! Sadly, we didn’t see anymore but were greeted by our super friendly host at our new guesthouse.
End of the Beginning
These first 48 hours in Sri Lanka seemed like they lasted much longer (in a good way). This was an amazing start to our journey through Sri Lanka. The food is delicious, the scenery is breathtaking, and we’re blown away by the kind souls of the people here. If this was the first 48 hours, we can’t wait to see what’s coming next!
Until next time,
Sam and Ty