A Sri Lankan Safari in Yala National Park
After spending Christmas and New Year in Unawatuna on our Sri Lankan Adventure we had 4/5 days at the end of our trip where we hadn’t planned anything in particular.
Exploring Habarana | An exciting adventure in Sri Lanka
After our overnight stop in Colombo we boarded an early morning train to Habarana which is pretty much in central Sri Lanka. We chose this area as it had good access to a few of the top sights that were on our list to visit.
Getting to Habarana from Colombo
One of the most exiting things we like to do when travelling is use public transport and in Sri Lanka that is a dream as their public transport system is pretty good. They’ve got the Tuk Tuk situation pretty much sewn up in whichever town or village you visit. The bus service is frequent, cheap and can cover distance and the trains are just fab. Busy, hot but such an incredible experience. We were up at the crack of dawn to get to the train station in Colombo Fort for 5am to purchase tickets for the 6am train. You can buy tickets for the train from Colombo to Habarana in advance this will save you from the queues
The train journey
The early morning trains are usually in the station pretty early so you can board and bag a seat. I would advise, even if you have a ticket, to get to the station early as the trains get jammed pack full and with the gorgeous countryside you need a window seat.
One of the other incredible things with trains in Sri Lanka is that people jump on at each stop with food and drink and make their way up and down the busy carriages selling their wares. At some stations you can buy snacks through the train windows from sellers on the platform. We absolutely loved travelling by train in Sri Lanka and wouldn’t have missed this experience for the world.
Where did we stay in Habarana?
Once we arrived at Habarana, which wasn’t really a station by the way, just a grassy bank along side the tracks, we grabbed a Tuk Tuk and headed for the bed and breakfast we’d booked. Where we were staying was called Winmi Resort and the host Banda was there to meet us when we arrived. Our room was sparse but had all we needed for our stay. If we were returning to this area we’d definitely stay here again and would recommend this B & B to anyone.
It’s quite a small town, having said that it has a good selection of accommodations to choose from you can check these out by clicking Here
Here’s what we got up to when we visited Habarana
Dambulla Rock Temples
When we were researching Sri Lanka this was top of Lynne’s to do list and we took a trip out here on our first day in Habarana. The rock temples were only about a 30 min drive away and Banda, our B & B host got us a driver for the afternoon so we could visit.
Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Major attractions are spread over five caves, which contain statues and paintings.
The afternoon we visited it was raining, not surprising as we were visiting Sri Lanka right at the end of the rainy season and it was forecast to be beautiful weather for the rest of our stay. The rain made everything seem fresh and alive and on our walk up the path from the car park to the rock caves there was mist swirling round the adjacent rocks and hills. It seemed magical.
It costs approx £5 (1500 LKR) to visit the Rock Temples and its superb value for money. You must pay in cash as there is no facility for card. The ticket office is at the car park so make sure you buy your ticket before walking up the hill. The caves are open from 7am to 7pm but the ticket office closes at 5pm so make sure you arrive in plenty time.
The walk up the hill is stepped and is quite a leg stretch but there are handrails and if you take your time you’ll be up in no time. The views as you rise up the hill are spectacular. When you arrive at the Rock Temple entrance there is a shoe rack to place your shoes on. The chap that runs the shoe rack does ask for 20 rupees (about 7p) and if your shoes are dear to you then pay the man so that he can keep an eye on them for you. Our tip for visiting the caves is start from the end and work your way back. There are 5 Rock Temples in total to see and should take no more than a couple of hours to see everything.
As every temple in Sri Lanka and possibly the world requires shoulders and knees to be covered and take off any hats. There are no “rental shawls” available to make sure you have one in your bag if you are wearing anything without sleeves or shorts etc. This place was indeed amazing. Statues of Buddah’s large and small, statues of kings and paintings on every wall and surface. It really is spectacular and I know you’ll have a fab time. Put this on your to-do list if visiting this area.
Polonnaruwa was the thriving commercial and religious center of Sri Lanka some 800 years ago. It consists of a lot of temples and religious buildings. For three centuries it was the royal capital, of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms. In the early 13th century the cities glory was fading, it was abandoned, and the capital moved to the western side of the island where Colombo is today. That was the sad end of the era of beautiful Polonnaruwa as a capital.
We got to Polonnaruwa by local bus. Our B & B host Banda was insistent that we go with his driver but we were really keen to use public transport as much as we could. So he finally relented and dropped us off in the centre of Habarana and right stop. The bus ride was incredible. I sat next to a little old lady who must have been 100 if she was a day with a neat little headscarf on and no teeth. She spoke no English but kept pointing to interesting things out the window and smiling. One of those interesting things was an elephant. What a lovely woman she was. Chris was up front with the driver as there were no other seats and he got a front and centre view of the wonderfully erratic, fast and thrill ride driving that Sri Lankan bus drivers excel at. Exactly the experience we were looking for.
We’ve arrived, now what?
We told the driver where we wanted dropped off and sure enough he stopped, gave us a shout and there we were, just down the road from the entrance. The return bus stop is just across from the entrance and down the road a bit, really easy to find.The bus is number 48 and takes approx 1hr 43 mins.
First thing we had to do was get some bikes. Polonnaruwa is best explored by bike and we chose a couple of bikes from a shop near the entrance. Paid the daily hire fee which was tuppence and pedalled off. The entrance cost for the site is 4500 LKR which is approx £16.00 and you pay at the entrance where you get a ticket and a map. The site is pretty vast so take your time, explore and enjoy.
Day trip to Sigiriya Rock and Pidurangala Rock.
Sigiriya Rock (Lions Rock)
Sigiriya is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular tourist attractions – and with good reason. This ruined, fifth century city has some extraordinary features, including moat and wall fortifications, elaborately landscaped gardens, and a monastery. But it is the two-hundred metre high granite rock that stands out from these ruins that is undoubtedly the star attraction, with its exquisite frescoes and the remains of a royal palace on the summit.
We arrived at the site and immediately headed for the ticket office to get a ticket to the site. The entrance fee is 4500 LKR which is approx £16.00 GBP and well worth the cost. Hang on to your ticket as it could be checked at different points and the fine for not having it is quite substantial.
After purchasing the ticket we headed across the grounds and gardens to the base of the rock where the stair climb starts. Narrow metal spiral staircases dangle off the side of the rock to lead you up to the Sigiriya fresco caves. You aren’t allowed to take photos of the frescos in the cave and there are guards on duty to make sure no camera or phone makes an appearance. A few more hundred steps and you arrive at the Lion Gate where 2 massive sets of claws frame the path upwards to the top for the last set of stairs that takes you to the top.
Finally you reach the sky palace and can almost explore every part of the summit from terraces to 360 degree views from edge to edge. The path back down is shorter and quicker than the climb up the steps. A fantastic attraction to see.
Pidurangala Rock is only a kilometre or so away from the more popular tourist site of Lion Rock (Sigiriya). After climbing Sigiriya in the morning we headed for Pidurangala in the afternoon. Now this was a completely different experience than Lion Rock. For a start it only cost about £3 to enter and was a bit more of a strenuous climb than Lion Rock.
As you enter the complex you have about 100m of the temple to cross through and like all temples in Sri Lanka there is a dress code. Shoes off, shoulders and knees covered. There are shawls you can borrow but as its only approx 100m then its best to just take a scarf in your bag. Once through the temple complex, you can pop your shoes back on and start making your way up the hill. On route there is another temple cave but you can pass this one without the need to take off your shoes.
The path is fairly clear. There are signposts along the way but as you reach nearer the top the path becomes a little trickier and you have to make your way through boulders and rocks however the easiest route is signposted. There were some really tricky parts especially if you’re small like me but a shove from behind or a helping hand from above gets you over the larger boulders and onto the top.
At the top there are magnificent views and one of the best is over to Lion Rock which you can see in all its glory. As with the path up the initial path down is a bit precarious as you make your way through the boulders and rocks again before coming onto the main path back down.
Tip of the trip for this one is – try and go early in the morning or later in the evening as we went mid afternoon and in some of the trickier places it was a bottleneck of people trying to go up and people coming down and you really had to get your elbows out to move forward.
Habarana and the food
Although we were only in Habarana for a couple of nights stay we did eat in some lovely restaurants. Banda, our host suggested two and we let him take us there. Actually if we’re honest we did want to eat in the local curry restaurant that we saw on the Main Street which looked like a locals hangout and absolutely amazing but Banda wouldn’t hear of it. I think he wanted us to have a more “typical tourist” experience which was fine and we knew that further on in our trip we’d have the freedom to explore the foodie scene more.
So the first restaurant we went to was Windy Corner Seafood Restaurant. The restaurant was excellent and the food, typically Sri Lankan was delicious. It was located on the Main Street of Habarana and only a short Tuk Tuk ride away from our hotel. The second restaurant was the Lucky Restaurant and this was tucked away in a forested area off the Main Street of Habarana. The Tuk Tuk ride was quite something as it was pitch black and then suddenly looming at the end of a track was the lights of the veranda of the restaurant. Superb Sri Lankan curry and lovely hosts who chatted away about all sorts of things and it was a really lovely evening.
Booking resources for your trip
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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A Sri Lankan Safari in Yala National Park
Exploring Galle, Sri Lanka
One of the things we love to do when visiting a new city is to see as much of it as we can with the time allowed. I don’t know about anyone else but I hate to miss anything.
We found a cooking class.
Any travelling experience for us tends to involve food and when we landed in Unawatuna in December 2018 we were delighted to find that one of the restaurants we visited did cooking classes.