Sri Lanka began as just a layover between Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan, but I quickly got excited about what we could see there and our planned visit grew by a day here and a day there until it became six days. It still felt rushed, and I’d recommend more time.
Elephant Gathering (Kaudulla National Park)
In the dry months, hundreds of wild elephants from all over Sri Lanka gather at two massive lakes in this area because most other water sources are dried up. The gathering spans two national parks, Minneriya and Kaudulla. The best park to visit depends on the day, and where the elephants have chosen to wander. From the town of Polonnaruwa, our home base for wildlife viewing, we joined a group of 4x4s in Kaudulla park. We saw an incredible number of elephants (our estimate: ~150 across several herds). It was a little mind-bending to remember that they’re completely wild and are there simply because they want to be.
Monkey Camp and the ancient city of Polonnaruwa
Thanks to Airbnb, we were able to stay at an actual monkey research station. That afternoon, we toured the ancient ruined city of Polonnaruwa with a research scientist who taught us all about langurs and macaques, who are much smarter than langurs and treat them kind of like pets. Being surrounded by these primates felt like a fantasy come true for me because I’ve always been interested in monkeys. I took a ton of great photos; if you’d like to see more, check out our Google Photos album (about halfway down). Here are my two favorite videos: juveniles sparring, baby monkey pratfall. I also recommend the 2015 Disney Nature movie filmed here, Monkey Kingdom (imdb).
The tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya
Next we drove to the highlands of Sri Lanka to see where Ceylon tea is grown. I’m a big tea drinker and Ceylon tea is among my favorite kinds. We were also excited for some cool weather after so long in southeast Asia, and it delivered: we pulled out our warm coats for the first time. At the Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre, we got to see a working tea factory as well as scenic terraced tea fields. Of course, we sampled the tea as well!
Kate’s book recommendation: I like to read books set in the places I visit for additional context, history, and color. For Sri Lanka, I recommend Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera.