9 reasons to go on safari

I don’t like to make a habit of setting my alarm at 5am, but I can make an exception on safari. In fact, on a recent trip to Greater Kruger in South Africa, I found myself bounding out of bed as soon as I heard the guide’s gentle knock at the door. A far cry from burying my head in a pillow like I normally do. It was the thought of seeing lions in the wild that made me, but there are many other reasons to go on safari besides that!

If you’re unsure whether a holiday spent spotting wildlife is the one for you, I’ve rounded up my top 9 reasons to go on safari. I’m sure there are millions more, but these are the ones that made me fulfil a lifelong dream and book one. 

Reasons to go on safari

Reasons to go on safari

1. See animals in their natural habitat

This reason should be enough, in my opinion. Where better to see wild animals than in their own environment? Granted, a safari still seems to be a bit of an invasion of their privacy but if they don’t like the look of you, they can run away. And anyway, it’s miles better than locking them away in a cage in a country that their bodies just aren’t made for. Do a solid and go to them instead. 

Reasons to go on safari

2. Learn more about animals from the people that really know them

All of the guides I have had the pleasure of meeting have been fantastic. At Africa on Foot, the trackers had all grown up in the bush and the guides dreamed of protecting animals from a very young age. This gave them a passion for their job that you just don’t see with other professions. You could ask them a question about anything and they would tell you the answer with a big smile on their face. 

Africa on Foot: Staff

3. Support conservation 

All safari lodges in designated national parks charge park fees at the end of your stay. Instead of an annoying tax, this fee directly contributes to the animals’ welfare through park maintenance and anti-poaching tactics. As you settle in to your game drives, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re helping to protect the wonderful animals you’ve come to see. 

Reasons to go on safari

4. Support local communities 

The majority of staff at safari lodges are local to the area. In fact, five of the seven staff we met at my lodge in South Africa were born within a twenty minute drive of the park gates. By going on safari, you can help these communities by funding staff wages, buying local crafts in the souvenir shops and eating and drinking local produce. 

Africa on Foot: Staff

5. Relax

When you’re not out on a game drive, a safari lodge is a great place to relax. Most lodges have communal areas where you can read a book, have a coffee or watch the wildlife go by from the verandah. All are a great way to recuperate after early mornings and too much pinotage the night before. 

Africa on Foot: Drinks around the campfire

6. Make new friends

Safaris really are for everyone, meaning you’re likely to meet a very diverse group of people at your lodge. And they always have one thing in common – a love of animals. On our three nights at Africa on Foot, our fellow guests came from Australia, USA, Germany and France and we all had a great time drinking around the campfire, reminiscing about what we had seen during our day’s activities. 

Africa on Foot: Staff

7. Unique experience

The beauty of nature is that every safari is different. You’ll never see the same thing twice, making it an incredible experience each time you go. I know I’d much rather go on safari every year than stay at the same beach resort for a second time! 

Elephant in Yala National Park

8. Good photography opportunity 

Animals make fantastic photographs. If photography is your thing, you’ll be snap happy on a safari. Plus, the landscapes in national parks are just beautiful. Even if you don’t see any animals worth capturing, you’re sure to find incredible mountain scenery, lush forests and never ending plains through your viewfinder. Depending on where you visit, of course! 

Reasons to go on safari

9. Explore more than just Africa 

Remember that safaris shouldn’t just be reserved for Africa. I’ve had fantastic trips to see tigers and elephants in Indialeopards and deer in Sri Lanka, as well as lions and giraffe in South Africa. With a safari holiday, you’re spoilt for choice as to where you go. Try them all to see which type you prefer! 

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India

If my reasons to go on safari have convinced you it should be your next holiday, check out my review of Africa on Foot – a boutique safari lodge in South Africa – to start planning!

Have you ever been on safari? If not, do you think you’d enjoy it? If you have, where did you go and what made you book it in the first place? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!

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Reasons to go on safari

Africa on Foot: a boutique safari lodge in review

Back home, I’m used to waking up to find my cat using me as a mattress. But, as I stirred from my bed deep in the South African wilderness, I was pleased to find the local big cats hadn’t had the same idea. I had just begun a three night stay at Africa on Foot, and I wasn’t ready to be eaten just yet.

I had dreamed of going on safari for years. My rose-tinted glasses conjured up visions of me staying in a comfy room, meeting friendly staff and encountering wildlife galore (only not in my bed). With such high expectations, whichever lodge we chose would have a lot to live up to. Luckily, this little gem in the heart of Klaserie Private Nature Reserve came up trumps on all counts. Read on to find out why.

Warning: This post contains a pretty graphic image from a game drive. Don’t look if you’re at all squeamish or an impala-lover.

Bush Walks

Of course, the main reason most people stay in a safari lodge is to spot wildlife. The opportunities to do this at Africa on Foot are second to none. As well as the traditional game drives that all safari lodges offer, Africa on Foot does what it says on the tin. The guides are trained to take you on bush walks, giving you a completely unique and close-up perspective on the wildlife.

Africa on Foot: Bush Walks

On our first bush walk, we learnt how to tell the difference between animal tracks, and all about the plants and trees around us. But of course, it was the animals themselves that we were desperate to see.

A close encounter

After about half an hour of walking through makeshift pathways and around stale elephant dung, we spotted three silhouettes moving in the distance. As we drew nearer, our tracker ducked down behind a tree and, in complete silence, encouraged us to do the same. We peered through gaps in the leaves, all vying to catch a glimpse.

And then the silhouettes came towards us.

Two young white rhino and one very pregnant mother crept up on us as silently as we had stumbled across them. We knew their eyesight was poor, but their strong sense of smell alerted them that there was something (us) hiding behind that tree. And they were determined to find out what it was.

So they came closer still.

Africa on Foot: Safari

My heart was beating faster than a cheetah can run, and I was ready to launch myself in the opposite direction. Only I couldn’t. Our group was completely surrounded by the three rhino, and there was no escape, even if I wanted to.

So I gave up worrying and decided to watch as the magnificent beasts sniffed and plodded along around us. They still didn’t know what we were, so our guides clicked their fingers to give them a clue. Yet, this seemed to intrigue them more than anything, so they took another couple of steps closer. Our guides had grown wary of how close they were, so they tapped their rifles to make an unfamiliar metallic sound.

And then they ran away.

Game Drives

That same day, we had another unforgettable experience on a game drive. Our guides had tracked a pack of wild dogs close to our camp. We followed them as the pack reunited and set off on the hunt for food. They were too fast for us to keep up, but the vultures circling overhead told us the dogs’ efforts were successful.

We caught up with them as they dragged their meal to a clearing and then let the vultures take over. Even for a vegetarian, that was a pretty special moment and one I’ll never forget.

Africa on Foot: Safari

Thanks to the abundance of wildlife in Klaserie Private Nature reserve, we managed to see all but one of the Big 5. It was only the elusive leopard that kept us guessing. That said, I know that lots of lucky Africa on Foot guests have seen one since.

Africa on Foot: Safari

Africa on Foot: Safari

Africa on Foot: safari
Africa on Foot: safari

Africa on Foot Staff

They say it’s the people that make a place, and the staff at Africa of Foot certainly made us feel welcome.

We got to know our tracker, Enoch, and guides, Luane and Chade, pretty well throughout our stay. They knew absolutely everything about the bush and the animals that called it home. Their ability to drive and spot wildlife in the distance, all while answering our questions and listening out for signals over the radio is incredible.

Africa on Foot: Staff

Unlike many other safari guides, they wanted us to have the best experience possible. They preferred quality sightings over quantity. This all helped us to see some truly incredible things rather than ticking all animals off our list. Each sighting was accompanied with an in-depth description of the animal – what they eat, how they live and how to tell the difference between male and female. I’m positively an expert now!

Africa on Foot: Staff
Africa on Foot: Staff

One of my favourite moments in the camp was when the guides joined us for dinner. They kept us entertained with their stories around the campfire. I could have listened to them for hours!

Africa on Foot: Drinks around the campfire

JD and three lovely ladies took care of everything back at the lodge. They greeted us with hot face towels and aperitifs after a chilly winter game drive. It was this attention to detail that we loved most.

Delicious Food

The food was just too enticing for me to take any photos. You’ll have to imagine the tasty, home cooked meals all served up from a tiny kitchen hut. The food is different every day, and the cooks will start the meal by explaining the menu first.

Africa on Foot: Food

After the morning bush walks, the lodge serves up cereals, fruit and yogurt, before a hot breakfast if you can manage! At about 2pm, the cooks provide a buffet lunch with salads and a yummy dessert. For dinner, there is a three course meal on offer every day at about 8pm. How they managed to find enough food to cater for a pescatarian, two vegans and a coeliac in the middle of the bush is beyond me.

Rooms & Accommodation

The majority of rooms at Africa on Foot sleep two people in rondevels: traditional African huts with thatched roofs. Only they’re a little more luxurious than that, with four poster beds, mosquito nets and little wardrobes.

I adored our room, Tjankbos. At first, I dreaded the outdoor shower, but this became its charm. We could watch the world go by while washing our armpits, and the beating sun made up for the shower’s very occasional lapse in heat.

Luckily, however, the toilet was indoors.

Africa on Foot: Accommodation

Africa on Foot: Accommodation

Each night, the lodge staff would make the bed and hide hot water bottles under the covers. They would also leave traditional African fairytales on the pillows to make going to bed even more enticing. The little touches were just adorable.

Lodge Facilities

Beyond the safari, there is plenty to keep you entertained in the lodge itself. Guests can swim in the pool (not recommended in winter!), drink at the bar or read books in the lounge. You can even head up to the treehouse for unrivalled views across the national park.

If you’re brave enough, you can even spend the night in the treehouse. Other guests raved about their experience up there. They were able to hear the animal calls throughout the night and sleeping under the stars.

Africa on Foot: Treehouse

Africa on Foot: Treehouse

Overall, our stay at Africa on Foot was the best three days of any holiday I’ve ever been on. People often ask me where I’d most like to go back to. I can hand on heart say this is it. And no, they haven’t paid me to say this. Africa on Foot is an incredible place to stay, and I’m delighted to be able to recommend it.

This visit was just the start of my 2 weeks in South Africa. Read my recommended itinerary to find out what else I got up to!

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Now tell me, what’s the one place in the world you wish you could go back to? What made it so special for you? Let me know in the comments!

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Africa on Foot - a boutique safari lodge in review

2 weeks in South Africa

“Two weeks? You’re only spending 2 weeks in South Africa?” My mum’s face was a picture when I told her my summer holiday plans. I understood her concern. With a history spanning 100,000 years, and beautiful scenery taking up 120,000 square miles, South Africa is a whole lot of country to squeeze into a short space of time. 

But, as a part-time traveller, I don’t have the luxury of unlimited travel, so I was damn well going to spend my two weeks wisely. 

Below, I’ve outlined the itinerary I followed for two weeks in South Africa, so you can do it too.

Day 1 – Fly into Johannesburg 

Try to get a flight that arrives in Johannesburg in the morning. That way, you can try to sleep off your jet lag or head out on a tour of Johannesburg for the afternoon. 

Stay: Safari Club, Johannesburg for a cosy garden room with super friendly staff and free 15 minute airport transfer. 

Day 2 – Safari in a private nature reserve 

A safari is a must in South Africa, so head to a private lodge or camp in Greater Kruger to spot incredible wildlife for a few days. The transfer can take up to 7 hours by road, so pack entertainment and snacks to keep you going. The scenery is pretty spectacular so don’t waste too much time sleeping!

When you arrive at your lodge, head out on your first game drive in the afternoon and keep your eyes peeled for the Big 5. You’ll have time for a sundowner before you drive back to the lodge on the lookout for nocturnal animals with the help of your guide’s spotlight. 

2 weeks in South Africa: Africa on Foot

2 weeks in South Africa: Africa on Foot

Have dinner in the main camp with the other guests and enjoy drinks around the campfire before bed. 

Transfer: Ashtons for a professional shared minibus service to a number of stops in Kruger National Park. Make sure you allow enough time, though. Our first driver managed to add two hours to our journey as he kept taking wrong turnings and ignoring his sat nav! 

Stay: Africa on Foot for the most incredible guides, beautiful accommodation and access to a private nature reserve. I have genuinely never recommended anything more. I fell in love with the lodge as soon as I stepped foot in it, and never wanted to leave. 

Days 3-4 – Two full days of safari

Spend two full days at your safari lodge, waking up early for a morning bush walk as the sun rises, and taking afternoon game drives as the sun goes down. When not out on safari, your lodge is the perfect place to relax and look out for wildlife that could stroll through the camp at any moment. After a cosy night sleep in your camp, you’ll be ready to do it all again the next day! 

2 weeks in South Africa: Africa on Foot

2 weeks in South Africa: Africa on Foot

Stay: Another two nights at Africa on Foot for delicious food and evening drinks around the campfire. 

Day 5 – Transfer back to Johannesburg 

You won’t want to leave your safari lodge, I can almost guarantee that. But, sadly, it’ll be time to go after your final game drive in the morning. Say goodbye to your guides and the wildlife as you see what else this beautiful country has got to offer. 

2 weeks in South Africa: Africa on Foot

The Ashtons transfer back to Johannesburg should take 5-6 hours so I recommend another night in the city before flying south to the coast. Upon arrival into Johannesburg, check into your hotel and relax…

Stay: Safari Club, Johannesburg for one more night. 

Day 6 – Fly to Port Elizabeth

The flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth takes just over an hour, but it’s chockablock with spectacular scenery and one of my favourite approaches ever. Coming into land at PE, you fly out over the sea and then gently descend over the lovely little town. If the flight is empty, you may even be offered a jammy upgrade like we were for just £25! 

If you arrive before 2pm, you could transfer to Addo Elephant National Park with enough time for an afternoon game drive. The park is home to hundreds of elephants, a pride of lions and the world’s last remaining flightless dung beetle. You could drive yourself around, or book one of the shared jeeps driven by an experienced tracker and guide. 

2 weeks in South Africa: Addo Elephant Park

2 weeks in South Africa: Addo Elephant Park

Stay: Addo Elephant Rest Camp for a bungalow right on the edge of the national park. 

Day 7 – Start the Garden Route 

After a final game drive in the morning, it’s time to make your way to the Garden Route. The Garden Route is a beautiful stretch of countryside, lush forests and rocky coastline in the south of the country. It runs for 300km so you’ll want to spend a few days on it. The journeys always take longer than you think. Every two minutes you’ll want to stop to take photos of the scenery. 

2 weeks in South Africa: The Garden Route

The Garden Route officially starts at Tsitsikamma National Park, so that’s where you’ll head first. It is THE place to be for adventurers and thrill-seekers. Along the trail to the park, you can leap off the highest bridge bungee in the world, but it was too windy for us to jump. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

2 weeks in South Africa: Tsitsikamma National Park

So, instead we stopped off to visit a 2,000 year old tree. Much safer!

Stay: Tsitsikamma Village Inn in the heart of nearby Storms Village. The hotel rooms are set in original cottages and buildings, laid out around a central courtyard and garden. 

Restaurant recommendation: Tsitrus Cafe in Storms Village for a cosy meal of homemade pizzas, local beer and cider. 

Day 8 – Explore Tsitsikamma National Park

Head to the National Park for the day to take your pick of wonderful activities. You could take a walk along the beach, hike up a mountain, go snorkelling, kayak, or head to the open fronted restaurant overlooking the sea and spot dolphins while devouring seafood. Guess which one we did…? 

2 weeks in South Africa: Tsitsikamma National Park

2 weeks in South Africa: Tsitsikamma National Park

2 weeks in South Africa: Tsitsikamma National Park

Back in Storm Village, you’ll be equally spoilt for choice for the afternoon. Go for walks in the woods, zip line through the forest, taste beer at the microbrewery, eat ice cream sundaes in the village diner and make friends with the local cats. Whatever takes your fancy. 

Stay: One more night at Tsitsikamma Village Inn to sleep off your adventures.

Restaurant recommendation: Rafters in Storms Village for a romantic meal on the patio. 

Day 9 – Oudtshoorn

Today, continue along the Garden Route to Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world. You could stop off at a farm for a tour to learn more about the animals and visit incubation sites. However, if you pull over next to an ostrich field, you’ll get hundreds of the things wandering over to say hello! Save those pennies!

2 weeks in South Africa: Oudtshoorn Ostriches

In the afternoon, visit Cango Caves: a cavernous complex of tunnels and chambers filled with stalagmites, stalagtites and questionable formations. You can only go in with a guide to find out about the history and discovery of the caves. Apparently a farmer noticed his cattle were disappearing, and he tracked them down a massive drop into the caves! It was a pretty awesome moment when the lights went out to show how dark it would have been when he first arrived. You couldn’t see a thing!

After your tour, head back to Oudtshoorn to relax and wander around the sleepy town before dinner. 

Stay: Turnberry Boutique Hotel for large, comfortable rooms and a good, central location. 

Restaurant recommendation: The Black Swan in Oudtshoorn for tasty wine, delicious food and a wonderfully classy atmosphere. 

Day 10 – Stellenbosch & the wine region 

Get a good breakfast this morning – you’ll need it. There’s lots of wine coming your way today!

It’s quite a long drive from Oudtshoorn to the main wine estates, so sit back and enjoy the spectacular scenery. You could stop off at Ronnie’s Sex Shop – a little building in the middle of nowhere. The story goes that Ronnie sold jams and marmalades before his friends vandalised the sign. It’s now world famous but still has nothing to do with sex!

2 weeks in South Africa: Ronnie's Sex Shop

Have lunch at Rooiberg Wine Cellars where you can enjoy a glass of wine with your meal for absolute pennies. And it’s good stuff too! I could have stayed here all day, looking around the cellar shop and admiring the view from our al fresco lunch spot. Yet our day of wine had only just begun! 

2 weeks in South Africa: Rooiberg Wine Estate

Next, head to Simonsig – one of the more traditional wine estates in the Stellenbosch region – for a wine tasting. To celebrate my birthday, we were treated to a premium tasting of seven delicious wines. This included a sparkling wine that Tim opened by sword! The whole tasting was pretty special and something I would urge any visitor to South Africa to try!

2 weeks in South Africa: Simonsig Vineyard

When you’re satisfyingly sozzled, it’s time to head to Cape Town to round off your amazing two weeks in South Africa. You should arrive in time for dinner, and there’s an incredible amount of choice in the city. Find out where to eat in a Cape Town in my blog post, coming soon! 

Stay: Townhouse Hotel in Cape Town for a little bit of luxury in the centre of the city. 

Restaurant recommendation: Kloof Street House for a pretty spectacular meal in a beautifully romantic setting. Booking is highly recommended as we had to sit in the lounge for our meal, rather than the restaurant itself!

Days 11-13 – Cape Town

Spend another 3 nights in the Mother City checking out all it has to offer. Hint: it’s a lot! 

You could take the cable car up to Table Mountain, catch a ferry over to Robben Island for a guided tour, explore the colourful neighbourhood of Bo Kaap, drive to the most South-westerly point of Africa at Cape Point and while away the hours souvenir shopping, wine drinking and seafood eating at the V&A waterfront. 

2 weeks in South Africa: Cape Town

2 weeks in South Africa: Boulders Beach

My complete guide to Cape Town is coming soon, so keep checking back!

Day 14 – Fly home 🙁

Sorry guys, but your trip has to end eventually! Today, take a transfer to Cape Town airport ready for your flight back home. 

What an incredible trip! It was through doing this two week itinerary that I completely fell in love with South Africa. I found two weeks was the perfect amount of time to start exploring, but I’ve only scratched the surface. Now I have a much better idea of what South Africa has got to offer, I’ll certainly be going back!

Have you been to South Africa? Where would you suggest I go on my next visit? I’d love for you to tell me in the comments below! 

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Ranthambore National Park: the real life Jungle Book

There are fewer than 4,000 tigers left in the wild. Over half of them live in India, and it was our mission to find one.

With the Bengal tiger its national animal, India is doing all it can to conserve the endangered animal population. In 1973, a Government sponsored scheme called Project Tiger was launched to protect the environment they live in, monitor their movements and, critically, foil the efforts of poachers. It has seen some success, with some reserves experiencing enough breeding activity to kick-start growth in other areas of the country.

Ranthambore National Park, India

One of the reserves Project Tiger protects is Ranthambore National Park, which is in the north of the country close to the Golden Triangle tourist circuit. With 31 adult tigers and a few cubs calling it their home, Ranthambore is one of the best places in India to see tigers in the wild; Yet, you’d still be very lucky to catch a glimpse of one. Much like everything in India, the park is absolutely beautiful. It’s set in an area of jungle, and is easily identified by the ancient abandoned fort that overlooks the park, giving Ranthambore its name. If you’ve ever seen or read Kipling’s The Jungle Book, you could imagine Mowgli running through the trees, King Louis sitting on his throne and Shere Khan silently stalking his prey. For us, it was the perfect setting for spotting tigers.

Ranthambore Fort, India

Our safari experience was interesting. We had three game drives over two days, all of them in a shared canter, though we longed for a two seater jeep like the one that zipped past us to get the best views. By the third drive, we had come to learn the safari guide’s routine: the leisurely drive along their preferred route, the secret signal that meant ‘no tigers here’, and the very random toilet break in the middle of the park where you are, very much, at the mercy of nature. A tiger could literally jump up on you and rip your face off if it wanted to, and at times, I wished it would.

Ranthambore National Park, Indai

Ranthambore National Park, India

Now, let me tell you about the animals we saw: langur monkeys, deer, mongeese, peacocks, more deer, pigs, a few other birds, did I say deer? We even saw no less than three sloth bears (which are actually rarer than tigers in the park) that kept our carnivorous yearning at bay for a while. But there was only one thing we wanted to see.

Sloth Bear in Ranthambore National Park, India

I started to think everything was a tiger. The orangey colour the sunlight made as it hit a rock, the growl made by the canter’s engine as it changed gear, even the trees growing straight up in formation started to look like tiger stripes, but alas, no.

Sloth Bear in Ranthambore National Park, India

Until…

On a number of occasions we were told by passing guides they had spotted something in a different area of the park. Each time, we raced on a rollercoaster ride through the park in the direction they pointed us. Most of the time, it was a false alarm. But once, it worked.

Yes, readers, we saw a tiger.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India

And it was just about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Hidden under a tree and its thick foliage lay an adult male tiger. He yawned, stretched and heaved his incredible body up onto his front legs, before lifting up on to all fours. He then walked ahead of us, his eye-catching black stripes and orange fur now unmistakable against the green jungle surrounding him. He stalked confidently alongside our queue of jeeps, apparently undeterred by the vehicle engines and shrieking humans who couldn’t believe their luck.

Everyone leapt up on to their seats to catch a glimpse, their heads blocking our view. But then, the tiger crossed in front of the traffic, giving us the perfect angle to see his majestic figure as he disappeared back into the undergrowth and into our memories.

Mission accomplished.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India

Our other two game drives were fruitless, and we heard people who took three game drives but didn’t see a single one. We’ve even heard stories of people who travelled to India three times and have never seen anything.

Sadly, that proves our conservation efforts are not enough (or that the tigers are too good at hiding from us – I hope that’s it). But it’s certain that more needs to be done to put an end to poaching and to safeguard the tigers forever. These beautiful creatures are far too precious to ignore and never see again. And let’s face it, zoos just aren’t the same.

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If you’re thinking of visiting Ranthambore to see a tiger, do it soon. Before it’s too late.

Have you ever seen a tiger in the wild? Would you want to? How do you think we can better protect the remaining population? Share your thoughts below.

The Best of Sri Lanka

A week ago today, we returned from one of the most beautiful countries on earth – Sri Lanka. When we first told people where we were going, we were met with mostly confused responses – “Isn’t Sri Lanka just a rubbish version of India?”, “Are you going for the beaches?”, “Is Sri Lanka still really dangerous?” “Is there even anything to do there?” No, no, no and YES!

Sri Lanka is a misunderstood country thanks to its pretty turbulent past and recent civil war. But now that the troubles are over, it is still a relatively untouched paradise that feels like the majority of tourists in the country are its own residents. We were attracted by its stunning countryside, tropical climate and friendly people, but mostly because of its endless list of things to see and do.

Here’s what we got up to on our 10 day tour with On the Go Tours (who I very highly recommend by the way!)

We climbed a 200m high rock in the searing heat at Sigiriya

Sigiriya

Said to have been home to a King who murdered his father to take the throne, Sigiriya is an ancient fortress at the top of a 200m high rock. Thousands of visitors scale the 1200 steps to the top every day and, despite the terrifying climb, I was determined to be one of them.

There is a rather flimsy looking staircase winding its way around the huge rock, but the Sri Lankans leap up without a care in the world. Our guide even completed the climb in flip flops! Desperately clinging to Tim in front of me, I slowly reached the top and can assure you that every step is worth the effort.

Ruins of the King’s palace are still visible on the rock’s level top, but the real reward for your efforts are the views. You can see for miles in every direction, and Sri Lanka is a treat for the eyes no matter where you look.

We got spiritual in Polonnaruwa and Dambulla

Buddhism is the most popular religion in Sri Lanka, with Buddha images and temples on every corner. Our favourites of the bunch were at Polonnaruwa and Dambulla in the centre of the island.

Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is an ancient royal city that has now become a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the ruins of a palace, temples and other Buddhist relics. We had a guided tour of the site, including the Buddha images impressively carved out of a single rock face at Gal Vihara. The whole site is covered with monkeys – both grey langurs and macaques live in the area, and we even saw a fight between the two tribes as they tried to defend their land from each other.

Dambulla Rock Temple

The Dambulla rock temple is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of 5 caves filled with Buddha images, figurines and paintings of historical scenes. Being a religious site, we needed to take our shoes off to walk across the rock surface that had been baking in the sun. We were all hopping about madly as it was so hot! For me, the most spectacular part of the temple was the panoramic view from the top where we could see as far as Sigiriya.

We ate like a local in Kayanwala

One thing to be aware of is that, as a western tourist, you might get treated a bit like a celebrity. This was no more apparent than in Kayanwala when we visited a local lady to have lunch in her mud brick home. On the way to the house, we crossed a lake in a canoe where a family were having their daily bath. In between shampoos, they stopped to wave at us and looked like they had just met the Queen when we all waved back. The little things, eh?

Traditional Sri Lankan lunch

At the house, the lady gave us a quick demonstration of how she cooked our feast of 10 dishes on one tiny stove. It was very impressive, and really made us think about whether we really need all our cooking utensils and dishwasher. But, yes we do! The food was all absolutely fantastic – we had curry, dahl, fried fish, pickles, rice, fresh fruit and a weird vinegary curd yoghurt with sickly sweet syrup. It’s all the rage out in Sri Lanka, and I was the only one in the group that actually liked it!

We learnt about Sri Lankan traditions in Kandy

Kandy

Kandy is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site – it seems Sri Lanka is full of them! The city is the second largest in the country, and is set around a central lake that makes it a really beautiful place to visit.

Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

It is home to the Temple of the Tooth, which is said to contain one of Buddha’s teeth – only you can’t see it as it’s hidden in seven golden caskets to protect it. While we were visiting the temple, we watched some Buddhist rituals including offering food to the monks and traditional drumming in front of the temple’s inner chamber.

Sri Lankan music and dance

We saw the same kind of drumming again at a show of Sri Lankan music and dance later that night. There were 20 or so performers including drummers, plate spinners, dancers, acrobats and fire walkers, all wearing traditional costumes. It was really good to see, and certainly gave us an insight into the more cultural side of Sri Lanka.

We took a train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya 

Sri Lanka train

No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a journey on the railway, and we were lucky enough to spend four hours staring out at the most spectacular scenery from our 2nd class train cabin. As the train climbed higher into the mountains, we saw beautiful waterfalls, tea pickers collecting tea leaves in the plantations and passengers hanging out of the doors at the back of the train. It was such a great experience.

We went back to the Victorian era in Little England, Nuwara Eliya

There’s obviously quite a lot of English influence in Sri Lanka, thanks to its British rule dating back to the 1800s. The influence is really obvious in Nuwara Eliya – a town high up in the Sri Lankan hills that was founded by a British man in 1846. Because of its cooler climate, it was perfect for British colonialists who wanted somewhere to play cricket, drink tea and ride horses.

Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

Nowadays, it has retained most of its British architecture, including the Grand Hotel where we were lucky enough to stay the night. There’s not much to the town itself except for a tudor style Post Office and green Victoria Park. We used the town as a base to explore the surrounding areas, full of tea plantations and a beautiful waterfall in nearby Ella Gap.

We survived some hairy journeys across the country 

Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

Drivers in Sri Lanka are nutters. No matter whether we were travelling in a tuk tuk or on our own tour bus, we were always a bit surprised to get to our destination without crashing. Cars overtake each other in front of oncoming traffic, and their horns are used far more often than their brakes. I was woken up from car naps so many times when our driver broke too hard or beeped the car in front to get them to move over. Despite all this, road rage was really uncommon and we always stayed in one piece.

We saw the wildlife where they belong (in the wild) at Udawalawe, Yala and Bundala National Parks

This might surprise you, but Sri Lanka has wildlife and safari opportunities to rival Africa. Seriously. Ignoring the Elephant Orphanage, which is more theme park than sanctuary (more about that here), wildlife is very well cared for in Sri Lanka. National Parks are staffed by conservation experts, and other than the safari jeeps that cart eager wildlife spotters around, the animals are allowed to roam completely free.

Elephant in Yala National Park

While on game drives in no less than three National Parks, we saw elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, water buffalo, wild boar, jackals, hundreds of birds, tortoises, deer, iguanas and mongooses. In Yala National Park, we were also lucky enough to see an illusive leopard leap up and down from a tree – amazing.

We stared at the Indian Ocean along the south coast

Yala, Sri Lanka

Don’t panic all you beach lovers out there – Sri Lanka will definitely keep you happy too. As an island in the Indian Ocean, it has some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. Our hotel in Yala was right on the beach with views you just can’t help but stare at.

Whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Mirissa is a small coastal town that has grown in popularity recently, thanks to it offer of watersports and other activities. Did you know that Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see blue whales? They migrate across the Indian Ocean between December and April, so we went at the perfect time to see them… and we did! We managed to spot a 25m long blue whale, complete with blowhole spurt and tail flip. Just incredible.

We toured the capital city of Colombo

When we returned to Colombo, we had a half day tour of the Sri Lankan capital before heading back to the UK. Most visitors use Colombo as a transit town to get to their real destination, but there are some treats to be had around town too. That said, our half day tour did seem to be enough for us!

 Gangaramaya Buddhist temple, Sri Lanka

We visited the beautiful Gangaramaya Buddhist temple, full of Buddha images and vintage cars (random, huh?), wandered around the Independence Memorial Hall and drove past the Town Hall – built in the style of the Capitol Building in Washington.

As well as all of its cultural sights, Colombo is a great place to eat and drink. The Dutch Hospital is a lively area, home to one of the best restaurants in the world – Ministry of Crab – as well as plenty of modern Sri Lankan eateries like Semondu (our pick of the bunch). You can also find some cool bars and a tourist shop to keep visitors like me happy. What a great way to spend our last night in Sri Lanka 🙂

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I genuinely can’t recommend Sri Lanka enough. Go now to take advantage of its peace and beauty while you still can! 

Have you ever been to Sri Lanka or is it on your bucket list? What would you most like to see if you went?