“Down South”: Beaches, books, and more


I’ve learned in Sri Lanka that I’m more of a “mountains and rivers” and less “beaches and palm trees” kind of girl. That said, I have spent more time on the beach in the past few months than I thought I’d ever spend on the beach in the course of my entire lifetime. The beaches in the southern part of the island are generally quite accessible to me in Colombo thanks to a new highway. Nowadays it takes only two hours to get to Matara, for example, and before the highway that trip could take several hours along the coastal road.

I’ve also learned in Sri Lanka that, while I love the amenities a city provides, I also am a country girl at heart and need to get out of the hustle and bustle (and honking horns and traffic) quite often to keep myself enjoying the city life. So because it’s quick escape from city living in Colombo, I’m learning to love the beaches down south. I say “learning to love” because I still love my mountains and rivers but I’ve grown to appreciate the unique gifts of coastal getaways, despite my extremely sunburn-prone skin (I’m recovering from a burn as I write this) and the propensity for sand to migrate home with me from the beach only to inexplicably turn up in my bed (WHY??).

The south has not just provided me with a beaches but also with some fun activities, too. Here’s a round-up of some of my weekend excursions in the south over the past few months:

Dalawella beach

Towards the end of last year, some friends and I got into our heads that we should rent a villa with a pool near the beach. And, honestly, it was the best idea ever because it felt very luxurious but was actually reasonably priced because we brought most of our own food and split the cost of the house evenly. It was relaxing and wonderful to have time by the pool during the day and then venture out to the beach for sunset. It was a very low-key weekend but I think back to it fondly (except for the *wonderful* tuk-tuk drivers who ripped us off on the way there… but what to do?).


Hanging out on the giant rock on the beach (some people went higher but I 100% chickened out!)


The after-thunderstorm sunset was breathtaking on the beach


We rented a villa with a pool! Such luxury!

Whale watching in Mirissa

For my friend’s last weekend in Sri Lanka, we decided to finally invest in seeing some whales. I say “invest” because it’s one of the pricier activities you can do in the south. I wanted to make sure I went with a reputable company that treats with the whales with the respect they deserve and I also wanted to make sure I was safe on a boat in the middle of the ocean so that meant going with a more expensive option.

At dawn, we were picked up from our hotel (a rather… interesting… establishment in nearby Weligama, where we had spent our Saturday lounging on the beach). Then we were shepherded onto the whale watching boat, which was much bigger than I expected, and given breakfast while we went about an hour out into the ocean, until it was deep enough to find the whales. Sri Lanka has a variety of whales that you can see but we were looking in particular for blue whales – the biggest mammals on Earth!

It took a bit but eventually we saw a few for ourselves. Because they are so big, they don’t breach the water like humpbacks or other smaller whales could. Furthermore, they are more shy and less curious than some other species so even though they are massive, they can be more challenging to find. When we did find them, it was amazing to see their backs come up out of the water and then see their tails as they dove into the depths again. We also saw approximately a billion dolphins on our way back to land, which was truly breathtaking.


Late afternoon on Weligama beach, a favourite spot for surfers in Sri Lanka


Caught the sunrise in Mirissa while heading out to find some whales


Breakfast on the boat started with a HUGE plate of fresh fruits


One of the whales we saw as it dove into the ocean (photo by Raja & the whales, the company we went out with)


Some of the hundreds and hundreds of dolphins we saw on our way back in (photo by Raja & the whales, the company we went out with)

Galle Literary Festival in Galle Fort

People who know me know I’m a little more than extra nerdy about books and reading and it’s only gotten worse in Sri Lanka with my newfound love of audiobooks. So when I learned that there is an international literary festival in Sri Lanka, I was sure to visit! The festival is in Galle in January each year. I went earlier this year and stayed inside the fort to have easy access to all the events. I spent Friday afternoon, the whole day on Saturday, and then Sunday morning in Galle, attending events with authors like Christina Lamb, John Gimlette, Shyam Selvadurai and more. I also watched the sunset each night – which is spectacular from the fort walls – and, of course, I indulged in all my favourite Galle fort treats like fruity gelato, fancy ice teas, and I even took myself out for a fancy Sunday brunch by the sea at Jetwing Lighthouse hotel.


One of the many beautiful sea views in Galle


Cute outdoor hang-out area set up by the festival


One of the AMAZING performances I saw during the festival


I also had the honour of hearing Sri Lanka’s first Everest mountaineers speak about their climb in May 2016


The Galle fort walls are one of my favourite places to catch a Sri Lankan sunset


It took me a long time to finally get myself to Hikkaduwa but eventually one too many friends shared photos of themselves with sea turtles that I simply had to get myself down there. I visited friends in Matara on Saturday. We browsed beautiful batik at Jez-Look Batik and ate dinner by the ocean at Dutchman’s Street in Fort Matara. Then, on Sunday, I took the morning train to Hikkaduwa. When I got there, I immediately went for a long walk on the beach… at high sun… without sunscreen… (I’m really smart.) So after acquiring myself quite a lovely sunburn, I spent the rest of the day under palm trees reading and chatting with friends. Oh, and we all finally got to see Sri Lanka’s sea turtles! After seeing smaller sea turtles in Borneo at Christmas when I went snorkeling for the first time, I needed to see some again. They are so amazing and the ones at Hikkaduwa are so big and wonderful. It might have even been worth the sunburn.


Very green view from my friends’ balcony in Matara


Hikkaduwa beach (Taken as I accidentally baked in the sun… oops! Remember to wear sunscreen ALL THE TIME in Sri Lanka, folks)


GIANT SEA TURTLE! So beautiful and amazing!

Here’s to more beautiful beach time in the future!

A beautiful overnight in beautiful Galle Fort


While I was away at the youth programme in Naula, Sabrina messaged me asking if I wanted to go to Galle Fort for the weekend. Not one to ever turn down exploring a new place, I said “sure!” and pretty soon she had booked us an AirBNB and figured out how to get us there and back by bus and train, depending on which we preferred. I was only to spend one day – Canada Day, actually! – back in Colombo after the youth programme before jetting off again. My schedule’s been busy but it’s also been a lot of fun to discover new things all the time, so I’m definitely not complaining.

Part of the plan from the beginning was to take the train because it’s supposed to be very, very beautiful since it runs along the coast. We had originally planned to take the train there and the bus back but we had a later morning on Saturday than anticipated so we flipped that plan, taking the bus there instead of the train. We hailed one of the nicest tuk-tuk drivers in all of Colombo (I mean, I haven’t done studies, but he was VERY nice) to drive us to Maharagama Bus Stand, where we caught a luxury bus (with air con!) to Galle. I’m not sure how long it took us to get to Galle, if I’m honest…. because, as usual, I fell asleep on the bus, losing my spot in the audiobook I was listening to. Point is, the bus was quick and easy as every bus experience in Sri Lanka has been so far.

Once we arrived in Galle, we took a quick walk to the train station just to see about train timings for the next day as well as know how much it was going to cost and know exactly where we needed to go. Then we negotiated with a less-nice tuk-tuk driver to take us into the fort, where we spent the rest of our time in Galle. The Galle Fort was establish originally by the Portuguese but mostly built by the Dutch, who significantly expanded the square-footage. Because of the Dutch influence, the fort has a very unique feel to it. There’s Dutch arches and architecture everywhere and even the Buddhist temple and Muslim mosque had a distinctly European feel to them. Since the end of the civil war in 2009 and upon recovery from the tsunami in 2004, Galle Fort has transformed into a very popular tourist destination because of its unique look.

It is now filled with beautiful shops and boutiques for excellent shopping of souvenirs, clothes, and more. It also is home to some really beautiful small guest houses and hotels. Plus, there are some great restaurants! Definitely a perfect place for a weekend getaway from Colombo. We spent our first day just wandering around, trying to avoid the occasional downpour and stay cool during the hottest part of the day. The fort tends to get extremely hot because there isn’t much to ward off the heat; it’s mostly houses and cobblestone with few trees or gardens. We ate lunch at the delicious Indian Hut then wandered through shops like Barefoot, Exotic Roots, and the Stick No Bills art gallery. We picked up some strawberry gelato and sat along the sea wall of the fort, watching the sun set. For dinner, we ate at the Heritage Cafe, where I befriended (accidentally) a stray cat that really, really wanted to be my friend. After, we walked over to Taphouse in the Galle Dutch Hospital shopping arcade for a post-dinner glass of wine. We got home around 10PM and settled into our little room at the Galle Fort Guest House, feeling satisfied with how our first day went.

The next day, we both slept in until about 10AM, which meant we got a later start and were faced with the heat of mid-day faster than I would have liked. We didn’t let the heat stop us, though, searching out a walking tour of the fort to learn more history. We hired Fazal, who calls himself Galle Fort’s storyteller, to take us around and tell us about the history. We learned a lot over the course of the next hour or so, not only about the colonial history but also about how the community has evolved since tourism became a major force in the area. Galle Fort is considered a must-see in Sri Lanka now, which means foreign money is coming into the area (good for economic development). This change has affected the dynamics of the community, though, with fewer Sri Lankans living in the area, deciding instead to sell their family homes to foreigners or to be used as tourist shops or guest houses. I really appreciate Fazal’s honesty about his feelings about how his community has changed as it reminded me that my presence as a tourist has an impact on the places that I visit.

After our tour, we ate at Fazal’s restaurant – the famous Royal Dutch Cafe. Signs outside boasted the best tea and the best rice and curry in the city (or maybe the country?). I have to admit, I was doubtful about these statements until I drank my delicious, delicious tea and ate my delicious, delicious curries. If you are heading to Galle Fort, you have no choice: you MUST eat at the Royal Dutch Cafe. With sated appetites, we headed to the train station for our much-anticipated train journey. Notably, its recommended that you take second class to ensure good views of the sea from your window. First class has air con, yes, but the windows don’t open so apparently it’s not as easy to see the beauty of the ocean or take photos. So we scrambled into second class, obeying the directions of a very caring ticket taker at the train station (thanks, dude, for your help!), and prepared for our journey back to the city.

The train was indeed beautiful. It goes along the coast, especially in the last hour or so approaching Colombo. It was longer than the bus but worth every minute for the views. It was an excellent way to end a pretty successful weekend. We did little more than wander around and eat incredible food but sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.


The street of our guest house – Mango House on the lefthand side of the street is one of Galle Fort’s lovely boutique hotels


The incredibly cool art in the Stick No Bills gallery


Inside one of the busier souvenir shops in Galle Fort


Post-rain sunshine


I have so, so, so many photos of tuk-tuks… They’re so cute!


We also visited the strange and busy and cluttered Mansion Museum inside the fort


Collection of records inside the museum


Collection of plates inside the museum


Collection of currencies inside the museum


Galle was quite affected by the 2004 tsunami. This small artifact in the museum quietly reminds visitors of this tragic history.


Sabrina caught this photo of me while we explored the fort walls. Behind me, you can see part of city of Galle. (Also I’m repping WUSC Sri Lanka with my WUSC tote bag and Uniterra rainbow umbrella!)


One of the piers just outside the fort


This is apparently the oldest breadfruit tree in Sri Lanka, brought over by the Portuguese.


We visited a church, too!


Very interesting to see how the buildings are constructed. They didn’t have concrete so the buildings were made with all sorts of interesting things, including limestone and coral.


Any time is tea time at the Royal Dutch Cafe


Fazal showed us an album of photos he took in Galle after the tsunami in 2004. Heart-wrenching images.


Bye for now, guest house! I’ll hope to come back soon!


The train schedule board at the Galle train station


Heading out on the train


Beach views on our way home


More beach views – Sri Lanka, you’re beautiful as always!

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.