Recently on Sun Scribes’ Instagram account, I discussed the relationship of travel and social media. The topic is open to a lot of debate, whether travel influencers and their Instagram accounts are doing more harm than good – do travel accounts inspire and help fellow travellers plan their dream trips, or do they leave people with unreal expectations, who expect to see these heavily edited shots come to life when they reach their chosen destination?
Thanks to social media, holiday hotspots can pop up overnight. Secluded secrets can go viral within 24-hours if they are posted by the right people. Sri Lanka is on the brink of a tourism boom, largely thanks to Instagram and its viral nature.
One particular spot that has garnered a lot of attention over the last year, is the famous palm tree rope swing of Sri Lanka. Popping up like carbon copies of each other, post after post appeared on Instagram of travellers all swinging away into to the distance, silhouetted by a saturated sunset in the background.
I knew a lot of these images had to be superimposed, a glowing pink hue added to the shots and no doubt a cue waiting to get on the swing. But I didn’t care…I had to get there!!
Like the classic millennial that I am, a few quick Google searches and I had my answers. I knew where the swing was, I knew how much it cost (yes, it costs money!) and I knew with every day passing, it was growing increasingly more popular.
What I didn’t realise was, we were about to have the best few days of our entire travel lives – all thanks to the amazing, affable Sri Lankan family we stayed with!
Keep reading to find out more!
Where is the Palm Tree Swing?
The famous palm tree swing is located on dream Dalawella Beach, which is south of Sri Lanka, near the popular town of Unawatuna. Plenty of buses pass this little town on the way to Unawatuna and Mirissa and it takes about two hours to get here by train from Colombo.
Or if you’re thinking of road-tripping around Sri Lanka in your own jeep like we did, we drove from the previous town Hikkaduwa to Dalawella and it only took about 30 minutes.
Unawatuna is a tiny place, so reaching the swing is easy. It turns out the swing is actually owned by a family who run a little homestay right on the water’s edge, called Pearly’s Dream Cabanas.
Pearly’s Cabana – The Best Guesthouse in all of Sri Lanka
We came for the swing, and we stayed for Pearly and her warm, welcoming family! Pearly is the matriarch of this big Sri Lankan family! She’s head of the clan and runs a smooth ship, which consists of her husband, sons, mother and father and some brothers and wider relatives that popped in sporadically throughout the day.
Pearly’s family home sits right on the beach, and the swing was initially erected just as something fun to do for her family, on a sunny evening. Above the family home, there are big, spacious rooms built for guests, with air-con, big bathrooms and double-bed cabanas, equipped with fresh towels and hot water.
Rooms cost 6,000LKR per night (about €30) and include breakfast. Pearly also offers to include dinner at a small cost, which is amazing! She whipped up a traditional Sri Lankan curry, and we sat around with the family drinking beers, asking questions and telling stories! The hospitality was not unlike that of an Irish family, with the mother tipping second helpings onto our plates and the father sloshing more beer into our jugs!
The friendliness and kindness of Pearly and her family was undeniable. Pearly herself was the motherly, loving sort, always holding my hand while she spoke and tucking bits of hair behind my ear as I listened to her stories.
The Famous Rope Swing of Sri Lanka
As I mentioned before, the rope swing began initially as simply a means of entertainment for the family and their local friends, sitting around in the evening with a few beers. The swing is over five years old, but has really taken off in the last two years.
The swing is actually deceitfully very scary! It looks beautiful and innocent from afar, but when you climb up that steep trunk of the palm tree, it’s a terrifying stark drop! The rope swings precariously like a pendulum, way out over the water and back again, flying back dangerously close as it builds serious momentum!
Staying at Pearly’s had the extra bonus of using the swing as many times as we liked. We kind of felt a bit special hopping on whenever we felt, while others forked over the cash! Some were a bit disillusioned having to pay to use the swing, but it is understandable, as the far-reaching palm tree is taking a huge brunt of swinging weight everyday. The tree requires maintenance and upkeep throughout the year.
We pretty much had the swing all day to ourselves, but come evening time, the “Insta-babes” were out in force! I couldn’t believe the outfits women were turning up in, with full faces of makeup, and even looking to their Instagram feeds for reference as to which poses were the best to pull!
Even the guys were getting in on the action, trying to out-do each other for the craziest poses on the rope swing and I even witnessed two guys have a very passive aggressive argument over whose turn it was next as in their words “the good lighting was fading”…very entertaining indeed!
But once the sun had set along with the photo-op, the crowd dispersed and the beach was silent once again. Many people who came to the swing did not know you could stay at Pearlys and left, longingly looking back over their shoulder.
TIP: We went in mid-September, which is low season, on the cusp of the good weather again. Things were incredibly more quiet this time of year, though the sunsets are pretty non-existent. It’s a toss up between wanting an empty beach versus that Instagrammable sunset…you decide!
Pearly’s Dream Cabanas and the Turtle Rescue
Having spent a blissful day at Pearlys, eating good food, getting to know Pearly and her family, and playing on the rope swing all day, we thought our stay couldn’t get any better. How wrong we were!
Throughout the day we got talking to Eranga, one of the gang at Pearly’s. A young guy about our age, he and Darren got on like a house on fire, talking about their love of diving, travel and animals! We shared a few beers that evening and he told us all about his love for turtles, and how he tries his best to save them! Eranga was big into helping the environment and told us all about how the turtles of Dalawella Beach are in danger from fishermen who steal their eggs.
Later that night, Eranga and his friend invited us out to walk the beach in search of turtles laying their eggs. We started at Pearlys, and spilt up taking opposite ends of the beach. We strolled up the beach under the moonlight and about thirty minutes later, came across a mother turtle laying her eggs. She was absolutely giant and was heaving mounds of sand beinhd her with her huge flippers! After about an hour, she was finished her motherly duties, and dragged herself back to the water’s edge.
Once the deed was done, Eranga carefully dug the eggs back up and glenty placed them in a bucket. He explained that this beach is no longer safe for eggs, and even less safe for new-born turtles freshly hatched. Between tourists trodding a well-beaten path, stray dogs roaming around, and fishermen after the eggs to sell, the eggs needed to be moved to a quieter location.
Eranga buried them in a shallow hole for the rest of the night (it was too dark to bury them fully and safely) and marked the area. The next morning, we woke early and helped count and replace the eggs into a deeper hole, under the safety of daytime light. We counted 84 eggs in total! It was surreal holding the eggs. I always thought they would be the same feel as a chicken’s egg, but in fact the shell was quite subtle and soft!
With a pat on the back well done, we were all chuffed with ourselves having done our bit to give these baby turtles’ the best chance at life! However, it wasn’t long before we witnessed first-hand the struggles these little guys face before they even leave their shells! Out from under the wooden cabanas skulked a giant monitor lizard, tongue flicking and eyes unblinking. Over a meter long, it darted for the turtle nest, spraying sand everywhere and gobbling up whatever it could shove into its mouth!
The dogs went wild, barking and growling, while the children ran out with giant sticks, chasing the huge lizard off down the sand! It was clear to see this unwelcome visitor was a common nuisance in Pearlys. The slithering enemy managed to gobble up nearly twenty eggs in just a few short seconds!! I stood transfixed in place, the chaos all over in seconds; I wasn’t quite sure what has just happened!
Booking Pearly’s Dream Cabana
The beauty of Pearly’s is that it is not available on Hostel World, Booking.com, Agoda or any of the other big booking names. This keeps is relatively low profile and off the grid. Granted the price was a little high for a homestay, but this place was without a doubt are most favourite spot in Sri Lanka!
To book, simply email Ianmlund@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 07 9466 23406 to get through to Pearly. You can also check out the Facebook page, and give it a like.
To finish up, I’d like to jump back to initial point at the top of this blog post regarding social media and its relationship with travel. This “famous rope swing of Sri Lanka” is the perfect example of Instagram’s work at its finest. Thanks to social media, I found this little gem of a spot, and had an absolutely amazing stay.
However, the darkest side of social media is creeping into this Sri Lankan haven too. I witnessed girls obsessing over getting their perfect snapshot and saw two men arguing over whose turn it was to use the swing in the good lighting.
Just remember, if you are heading to a destination you have found via social media, make sure to make the trip your own. Don’t become another carbon copy, obsessed with obtaining the same image as everyone else. Enjoy your time, soak in the moment and put down the camera.
Happy travelling Sun Scribers.