Emily and I first got to know each other through work, and quickly became friends when we bonded over our love for travelling. We were catching up a few days ago about Christmas and New Years and she started telling me about her incredible adventures in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. From scuba diving with giant manta rays, to exploring lush green tea plantations and photographing wildlife- she had me hooked to learn more! Before she even finished speaking, I had to ask her to write something for me-and a couple of days later, there it was in my inbox. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did. You can follow Emily on @eatthinksweet
People think the Maldives is all about honeymooning, but for the keen diver and underwater photographer like me, it has one of the most incredible dive areas in the world. And the islands, they’re pretty special.
We arrive and step onto the jetty, immediately greeted by waving and smiling island staff. It felt like I’d arrived at someone’s house; instead it was their small, sunny haven. We were shown to beanbags and welcome cocktails, before being shown our bungalows. With your very own section of sandy beach, hammock and sun lounger, it quite possibly is paradise. There’s also the option of water bungalows - the stereotypical Maldivian experience.
There are over 1,200 islands in the Maldives (200 of which are inhabited) collected into 26 atolls, and each atoll has a distinct flavour, each island its own charm. I was looking for great diving, which varies across the atolls - big fish such as whale sharks and mantas in the south (South Ari Atoll without doubt the best spot), or macro diving up north, or anything in between. But don’t expect beautiful corals - unfortunately more than 60% has been affected by bleaching.
Surrounded by a house reef, you could dive at your leisure (if qualified to Advanced level - currents in the Maldives can be strong). Ropes marked dive entry and exit points, with a steep wall dive waiting below, housing sharks and eagle rays. There was even a baby white tip reef shark living in the bay - I could watch it from the comfort of my sun lounger. We did pick the island for its diving!
We took a long boat trip to some of the common Giant Manta dive locations (around Moofushi island). There I spent 20 minutes at around 15-20 metres depth, sitting just under the wing of a Giant Manta, watching it being cleaned by cleaner fish. Its wingspan must have been at least 2.5m and it was an unforgettable experience - such majestic animals. And I was so close that if I got any closer, either I would have been hit by the edge of its wing, or it would have swam away. But strangely, while I was gripping onto a rock in the sand so I wouldn’t get washed away by the current, wasting energy and air while attempting photos, the manta was maintaining its positing in the water effortlessly - barely moving.
On the island, going for an all-inclusive package is a must - it’s what the majority of visitors do and makes everything even more relaxed and easy. Plus, you’ll be eating and drinking like a king. The buffet restaurant even had a separate air-conditioned room containing the desserts...that’s my kind of buffet.
Now the weather - a fairly consistent climate all year round, between ~27 and 29 degrees and sunny. An ideal temperature, November-April is perfect for winter sunshine and no humidity. There is technically a wet season (May-October, with June-August being the wettest) although the rain sometimes comes in the dry season, so I wouldn’t read into it too much.
Lastly, the Maldives is the lowest country in the world and therefore unfortunately threatened by climate change. I’d save up and head over if you ever get the chance - I will definitely be visiting again soon.
Since the Maldives was our main destination of the holiday, we decided to start with a taster 3-4 days of Sri Lanka as it’s just an hour’s flight away. Having been to India I was wondering how similar it would be. It seems more spread out and laid back, less oppressive - no one seemed to bother us, as tourists. It is a diverse island - from 2000m hillside towns, to humid safaris, to sparse lands with ancient rock fortresses, to beachside escapes, and finally to colonial replicas of England.
Nuwara Eliya is aptly nicknamed ‘Little England’ for a reason. The climate is a perfect British summer, though very chilly in the evenings. A blissful hillside town surrounded by lush green tea plantations, perfect for hiking and biking. But scattered with English-looking post offices and English-looking parks.
If I ever recommend a train journey, it will be the following: Nuwara Eliya to Ella. Less about travel, more about experiencing some of the most stunning views the country has to offer.
At times there were sheer drops either side of the train, spreading to incredible views across the valley - the photos do not do it justice. But it’s busy if you don’t get hold of a pre-booked seat - the 2nd class carriage tickets (recommended, biggest windows) are released 30 days in advance.
Another highlight of Sri Lanka was Udawalawe National Park. It has a high concentration of elephants and is the perfect place for a wildlife photographer. As an enthusiast, I had a go - a couple of shots are below. The ‘Little Green Bee Eater’ birds are my favourite, though tricky to snap!
Contrasting this to Africa, where I’d spend hours a day waiting to spot something other than Wildebeest, in Sri Lanka there are elephants, peacocks, eagles, crocs and birds popping up everywhere, so you can see a lot in a day. Though not quite the Big Five, it’s 100% great.
Along the way to Galle, our next destination town, we stopped at waterfalls, herbal gardens, where they produce interesting natural medicines, and of course a tea factory. In Galle we visited the most adorable turtle ‘hospital’ - saving baby turtles from the treacherous beaches (very, very adorable) and wandered around the Fort Walls and seaside.
I spent my last night in Sri Lanka with a traditional coconut curry pondering the next places I would visit on my return. These include the town of Kandy (coincidentally where my grandfather was located during World War II), Sigiriya (an ancient rock fortress) and Yala National Park (to find the Sri Lankan leopard).
I hope this has inspired you to visit these two beautiful countries! If you have any recommendations about things to do in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, please let us know- we will certainly be going back!