Since coming back from Sri Lanka I’ve told all my friends that they should go there for their next holiday, and now I’m going to tell you…

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It was March and I had some much-anticipated and much-needed work-free weeks before I moved to Manchester and to a new job. Sri Lanka felt like a good destination for a two-week escape – small, warm and good value. Armed with those three preconceptions and a handful of excellent travel tips from my friend Sarah, my boyfriend and I set off without much sense of where we were really going or the fact that it was going to be as equally restorative as it was surprising.

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And what a treat we were in for… We’d only pre-booked our first night, choosing to head straight to Kandy (the bustling ‘second city’), rather than the far larger Colombo, which we hadn’t heard great things about. A car picked us up from the airport, smooth and air-conditioned, and we were quickly whisked to the Kandy View Hotel. As a budget hotel, we didn’t expect a lot, but we had a view over stunning palms, cheeky monkeys frolicking in the trees and the food (enjoyed by candlelight due to a black-out) was incredible and far-surpassed the expectation set by the price tag. A fish curry (cooked in front of us to my embarrassingly mild taste) and a host of gorgeous vegetable accompaniments was washed down with beers and happy smiles. Breakfast was another delight, with dahl and cocoanut sambal served side by side with home-cooked banana pancakes and fresh fruits.

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Through the hotel, we organised a driver to take us to Sigiriya (extreme hiking heat but well worth it for the views and ancient cave paintings) and The Golden Temple of Dambulla (Buddah statues enclosed in high-up caves – stunning and spiritual but pack socks as only bare feet are allowed and the ground is BOILING). Trusting in the brilliantly friendly hotel manager, we then booked a subsequent 3-day trip that gave us a real taste for this beautiful country. We shared a hugely comfortable, roomy van with a lovely couple from the Czech Republic and our fantastic driver. The most tranquil moment was body-rafting down a calm, cool river flanked by jungle and sunshine. The most exciting? Seeing an elephant emerge from the trees during a safari at the Yalla National Park – we had sat with bated-breath for what felt like an eternity whilst it rustled nearby trees and trumpeted loudly, before, suddenly, it was just… there. Utterly incredible.

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From the tea-covered hilltops of Ella, we headed to the beach, jumping in a tuk tuk along the coast for three, literally perfect nights in Dikwella staying at Bloom Villa. The house had only two, gorgeous, air-conned bedrooms and was set directly on the beach. It comes, gloriously, with a personal chef who whipped up huge grilled tuna steaks and summery salads with deft hands and a ready smile. My top tip (which is actually my friend Sarah’s top tip)? Take a tuk tuk to Hiriketiya beach – a perfect, paradisiacal horseshoe.

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With pure white sand, rolling waves and fresh papaya juice each morning, it was all too easy to forget the tsunami tragedy and civil war this jewel of a country has experienced. All I can say is that the locals were incredibly welcoming, spoke amazing English and that there was never a hidden agenda to be wary of. They seemed genuinely proud to show people their country and I can see why.
Our journey ended at Galle Fort, a gorgeous French-a-phile town with delicious food and stunning sunsets from the city walls.

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And during that whole two weeks, we spent £450 each for EVERYTHING (all our accommodation, food, travel and experiences). In short, Sri Lanka is bliss on a budget and the memories it leaves? Well, as Mastercard would say, priceless.

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