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We are trying to narrow down our itinerary, and to break up the drive from Galle to Hill Country it is suggested we do a safari at Yala. I pushed for Uda Walawe but was constantly told "it's just elephants" and it will also be crowded like Yala as this is over Christmas week. Apparently the natural surroundings of Yala are prettier, more like plains in Africa...which is something I would enjoy, so I've decided to do Yala. My husband is also interested in leopards. Any thoughts?

Also we are considering 2 nights in Ella as there is a great looking boutique hotel about 30 minutes outside of town. This is in addition to 2 nights in Nuwara Eliya (Tea Factory), at the end of the trip (starting in Galle). We do like relaxing and hiking, but should we cut Ella to one day? We need 2 in Nuwara Eliya to go to Horton Plains, and plan on the train from Ella to Nuwara Eliya.

Last question - any thoughts on the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle vs the Frangapani? I think the Frangapani looks much nicer, only 9 rooms rather than the large Lighthouse hotel, but there is a significant price difference.

Booking this trip has been frustrating as I contacted a few agents, and all seem to find different availability and prices for the same hotels. For example, 2 out of the 3 agents say the Frangapani is fully booked Dec 20 - Jan 2, but one seems to have availability. I never use agents so I'm not sure if i'm supposed to bargain with them, or quote other rates....in China that's what I'd do, but not sure about SL.

Right now the plan:

1 night Negumbo (cheap hotel)
3 nights Galle
1 night Yala (new Jetwing hotel)
2 nights Ella (Koslanda)
2 nights Nuwara Eliya (Tea Factory)

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    Agents have relationships with hotels and may have a number of rooms blocked for them. So one agent might have a room left and another doesn't. If you think the prices you are being quoted aren't competitive, say so, ("I can get that hotel from X for $20 a night less. Why is that?). But in my experience, the agents don't really bargain. They may check it out and tell you why (Yes, but that is a garden view room and I'm quoting you ocean view").

    If you go to Yala, remember it will be packed with people. For me, that would detract significantly from the experience. Personally, I'd skip it, but it depends on your interests and your tolerance for game drives packed with jeeps.

    I'd spend two nights at each Ella and Nuwara Eliya, as I consider one night stays more bother than they are worth. I expect you'll find plenty to do.

    For Galle, I'd stay inside the fort at Fort Printers. If you want to stay at the beach, either of your selections would be lovely. I've read some rave reviews of the Lighthouse, and the Frangipani looks very nice.

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    I definitely preferred Yala to Uda Walawe. Yes, both sites were crowded with people. Uda Walawe is also so crowded with elephants that they've stripped a lot of the landscape bare.

    The landscape of Yala is prettier, and if you are ok with clearly stating you are NOT interested in leopards you can have a good time there. A lot of the crowding and poor behaviour is brought on by people who feel they must see a leopard.

    Yala is one of the most densely populated parks in the world for leopard. What typically happens is that one vehicle will come across a leopard and then call in all the other vehicles to come and see, hence the crowding. If you are lucky it is possible for you to be the first to spot a leopard with no other vehicles in sight. This happened to us a few times, but then I was with an extraordinarily good tracker.

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    hi tansmets,

    I've not been to Udawalawe, but we did go to Yala and i endorse everything that Femi says about positively avoiding all the jeeps that are chasing after big animals - leopards especially. we went to see the elephants at Minneryia, and as soon as an elephant was spotted, jeeps would descend upon him or her from every direction which was pretty appalling.

    so when we got to Yala, we made it very clear that we didn't want to do that, and that we wanted to see birds and other wildlife that others weren't interested in. We had to say it several times, but eventually the message got through, and we had a nice enough time. we didn't get to see a leopard but that was OK with us.

    The advantage of Udawalawe is that it is on a more direct route between Gallle and the Hill Country. I think it took about 6 hours from NE to Yala, and another 6 hours from Yala to Galle. your plan to do this on successive days [when would you do your Yala safari?] would be exhausting. [no, I know it doesn't look as if it could take that long, but believe me, it does. and even on good roads the driver won't be able to go very fast as there is a 50 mph speed limit which is strictly enforced with stringent on the spot fines].

    BTW i just looked driving times up on google maps and they are saying that it's 4 hours from Ella to Galle via Tissa - [the nearest town to the park entrance] - so you can't rely on what they say as that's about 1/3 of the actual time it would take.

    I agree with Kathie - it's not worth going all that way to Yala just for a night.

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    Thanks all. I'm actually ok with not seeing leopards. I saw a pair on safari in Kruger, but I think my husband might want to see one. I really like elephants but as you all know, there are many places in Asia to see them. I did notice Uda Walawe was only about 20 KM out of the way from Galle to Ella.

    We have been quoted 3.5/4 hours from Galle to Yala, then Yala to Ella is 3 hours, while I think Galle to Yala is 6 hours, so the way this was proposed to us by the agent is that yes, it's two shorter drives instead of one long drive. I personally could skip Yala; however my husband wants the night of safari / something different rather than adding a 4th night to Galle. I think to do a morning/night safari over different days we need to pay to enter the park twice, which is irritating.

    I don't think Fort Printers is available for our dates, and I had thought about splitting time between the Fort and the beach, but it's easier to just go back and forth via tuk tuk rather than change hotels. There is a lot of hotel changing on this trip.

    The agent with availability at the Franapani is Sri Lanka in Style. They've been good BUT they won't per their company policy give me an itemized quote with the breakdown of the hotel costs which I think is ridiculous. Boutique Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Expeditions are willing to tell me the charges per night, the driver costs, etc. Sri Lanka in Style will just give me an overall quote. Their quote right now is a bit high, and I'm trying to figure out why, so I've asked the agent to sub the Lighthouse for the Frangapani and generate a figure. I did have to push them a bit when they were trying to give me an executive floor room at the Tea Factory claiming no others were available by telling them I'd book it on my own online. At this point I'd prefer Boutique Sri Lanka but they can't get me a room at the Frangapani and possibly Koslanda. Since I can't use any points in Sri Lanka, this trip is adding up to a bit more than I expected, so I guess I just need to be firm with the agents.

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    I think you've done your homework well. It is so annoying when an agent won't give a breakdown. I have refused to use an agent that won't. Good luck in getting it all worked out.

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    I think to do a morning/night safari over different days we need to pay to enter the park twice, which is irritating. >>

    I think you're right. what we did was an afternoon evening safari, and a morning walk with one of the guides at Yala - probably not as good as a morning safari but we enjoyed looked at the birds and other wildlife so close to the hotel. [actually in it - at night, you were supposed to have one of the staff take you back to your room in case there were any marauding elephants or wild boar - we had a family run right across our path].

    If you can't stay in Galle itself at a place you like, then I agree about staying outside and using tuk tuks to get about, rather than moving from beach to town or vice versa.

    why don't you book the Franapani yourself if BSL can't? As I understand it, you don't have to use them to book all of your accommodation to use their services, just some of it. The Franepane is on TA with agoda or directly here.

    Like you and Kathie, i am reluctant to work with an agent who won't provide a breakdown of the charges.

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    Hi --

    Some thoughts:

    - 2 days/nights in Galle was fine
    - I had no problems not using an agent and booking directly with the hotels
    - I loved, loved Apa Villa Illuketia outside of Galle. Am totally into rainforests, monkey and other critters, architecture. If you prefer ocean, their other propertywas also beautiful. Descriptions and photos on my trip report: http://www.esmetravels.com/category/travel-blog/sri-lanka/
    - The time it takes to travel between two points in Sri Lanka is always longer than you think
    - I enjoyed Yala and staying at Chaaya Wild, which is now Cinnamon Wild
    - Stop at the crazy temple between Yala and Galle

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    Hi Esme,

    Thanks for reminding me of the crazy temple! I read your blog, and saw the picture of the crazy temple and showed it to my husband, who keeps mentioning wanting to visit it. Probably the only temple we'll see on our trip! He will be happy to know it's on the way from Galle to Yala.

    I think since I'm traveling at Xmas the hotels reserve some rooms for certain agents. So Sri Lanka in Style claims the Frangipani is available, but I emailed the hotel, who told me they were fully booked except for the 22nd. I don't want to be switching hotels IN Galle.

    We originally booked Apa Villa Illuketia for 4 nights but we do want the beach so I cancelled the reservation. Sadly Apa Thalpe is only available 2 out of our 3 or 4 nights in the Galle area.

    I'll look into Cinnamon Wild again. The new Jetwing property in Yala is maybe $75 a night less, but maybe it's not worth cutting corners here. Thanks again for the advice!

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    Chala [now Cinnamon?] wild was lovely, with very nice "roundels" for rooms [very good air con, excellent showers, comfy beds etc] and a great situation next to a lake which attracts lots of birds and other wildlife. Also a terrific pool, nice open air bar and a la carte restaurant.

    where it fell down was the service particularly in the main upstairs restaurant [where they served breakfast and the half board dinners] where the staff were pretty uninterested in what they were doing, And charging extra for fresh orange juice was a bit rich, we felt, though lots of people were willing to pay it. i suspect that we had been spoilt by the service at the Kandalama in Dambulla which was, i suppose, exceptional.

    perhaps being taken over by the Cinnamon group will improve matters.

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    I have some general thoughts on your itin below. Also, I don’t know what your budget is, but you might consider using the air taxi or helicopter transfers on Sri Lanka air. That will save you a good bit of time. See http://www.srilankan.com/en_uk/flying-with-us/airtaxi (I find it far better to call, as routes and times change and their website is not always current)

    1 night Negumbo (cheap hotel)

    If you are staying here just because you have a late arriving flight form the US, please don’t bother. You should be able to take the new highway now directly from the airport to Galle. The last portion of this highway, which now means you can bypass Colombo, is to open this month. The trip will take about 2 - 2.5 hours. While driving at night in Sri Lanka is not generally a good idea, this is an exception. It is a 2-lane highway with virtually no traffic (no truck traffic esp as they won’t pay the tolls to use it). So if your travel agent confirms that the highway from the airport will be open, I would head straight to Galle when you arrive. While this can make for a long day, I think this is better than staying in awful Negombo (about the only place I have been so far in Sri Lanka that I can say that about). (and actually, if you do arrive late at night and the highway bypass is not yet open, driving through Colombo after about 10 PM to get to the Galle highway should not add a huge amount of time to the trip; I think you could get to call in 3.5 hours.)

    Otherwise, if you just can’t face a drive and have the budget, I would stay at the Wallawwa. Lovely hotel.

    If you still want to stay in Negombo, then look at the Paradise Beach Hotel. Fine for 1 night.

    3 nights Galle

    As you have 3 nights, moving hotels seems kind of silly, you will end up someplace for only 1 night. So you have to decide whether you want beach or city. I prefer to stay inside the fort as you can really explore it, esp in the evenings and at night when most tourists go back to their beach hotels. (Sunset on the fort walls is lovely). You can always go for the day to someplace like the Lighthouse or the Galle Fortress for a spa treatment, lunch/dinner and hang out at the pool. In Galle itself, I prefer the Galle Fort hotel over Fort Printers, as they have a lovely garden and pool area.

    1 night Yala (new Jetwing hotel)>

    No comment other than it is a long drive for 1 night. And add game drives on top. If you don’t have to stay in Negombo, perhaps you can add a night here?

    2 nights Ella (Koslanda)
    2 nights Nuwara Eliya (Tea Factory)


    I wonder if it really is worth moving between hotels for this area, as you may find them quite similar in terms of geography. Perhaps 3 nights in either Ella or Nuwara Eliya place and then you can add another night elsewhere?

    Just an opinion on the Tea Factory: I don’t think I would want to stay in a converted tea factory. There will not be any balcony or outdoor space off your room. One of the pleasures to me of the small Sir Lanka hotels is having immediate access to outside space, for tea, meals, reading a book, or just taking in the views. I personally would feel cooped up in a tea factory building. I don’t know that a nice garden off the lobby would be the same.

    You probably don’t have time to get further north to Dambulla, but it would offer different geography and feel than 2 places in the tea country (and allow you to see Sigiriya and also possibly the elephants at Udawalawe Wildlife Park.

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    Hi Cicerone,

    Thanks for your comments. We are coming from Hong Kong and have a not too long layover in BKK. I guess we could drive directly to Galle, but we arrive at about 9pm. Spending the one night just sleeping in Negumbo saves quite a bit of money, but I'll look into going straight to Galle and then adding the night to Yala.

    I am also split on the 2 nights Ella and 2 nights Nuwara Eliya, but the hotel I wanted in Ella, the Koslanda, had a 2 night minimum. And I didn't want another 1 night stop, and I thought 3 days at the Tea Factory would be a bit long. Do you have other recommendations for hotels in the area, aside from Tea Trails? I can spend more than I did a night for the Tea Factory ($250 USD or so) but the $740 or so for Tea Trails is out. I do see your point on the Tea Factory! It is an ugly building.

    I didn't want to really spend 2 nights at Yala - it seemed sort of "on the way" and there is a temple along the way my husband wants to see. My expectations are low having been on African safaris but I think it is a change in activity. I also felt I could moving the night from Ella back to Galle would be a bit much in Galle. I originally really wanted to see Sigiriya but it would have made the rest of the trip too rushed, and I have limited interest in the other sights in the Cultural Triangle. Most people would add the day to Kandy but somehow the sites there aren't that appealing. I've been in Asia too long I guess and the colonial side appeals to me.

    We booked the Lighthouse in Galle for now; I wanted the Galle Fort hotel but it was unavailable. This is a getaway from (somewhat crowded) Hong Kong and it's typically poor late December weather so my husband wants something a bit more "relaxing" so he pushed for the beach hotel. Thanks again.

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    For the NE area, take a look at Mas Villas, see http://www.masvilla.com/. I have not stayed but have friends who have been there and liked it very much.

    I totally understand the beach vacation desire, so my opinion is that you skip Yala and spend more beach time in the Galle area, and then go up to the hills. You can do whale watching in Galle, so that may be enough for your wildlife experience. There are also many lovely beaches for day tripping, such as Welligama. I think the Lighthouse is a good choice, you might also look at private beach villas, may be too late for December (unless before Christmas). I had actually booked the Beach Hut (http://www.thebeachhutgalle.com/index.html) for last November, but ended up having to cancel. I have not seen it, but as it was in the Luxe Guide I trust them. I have toured several of the villas in Galle itself, and they are quite nice, but if you want beach then you need to stay outside the fort.

    I am still puzzled by your comment about wanting to escape "typical poor late December weather” in Hong Kong. Do we live in the same place? I wait all year for December weather! If your first winter here was last December, then please don’t use that as a standard, it was rainy. But for the other 12 years I have lived here December is dry, sunny, with low humidity. I wouldn’t leave in December, I wait for awful March….

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    Thanks for the recommendation of Mas Villa. Looks a lot cozier than the Tea Factory! I still want to keep the two nights at Koslanda - it only has 5 rooms and hopefully the boutique experience I wanted from Sri Lanka (until I decided to go over Xmas when everything was already booked). We also definitely want to take the train from Ella to Nuwara Eliya, part of the reason for spending a night there. Not sure if I can move the night from Yala at this point, but we plan to whale watch for sure. I'm not that interested in leopards and prefer Uda Walawe but my husband made the choice. His job is much more stressful than mine so I'll let him make some decisions about vacation.

    Will also look into the Beach Hut. My original beach choices were all fully booked. The lighthouse is bigger than what we want but the rate our agent got is good and its closer to the Fort than many other beach hotels.

    It will be my third HK winter- I'm a bit different than most in that I don't mind the summer heat and humidity. I spent way too much time bundled in my apartment seated next to my space heater last year! Yes, last spring was awful. My mother visited and had her first amber rain experience...hopefully when she returns in November we have nice fall weather.

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    hopefully when she returns in November we have nice fall weather.>>

    oh, i hope so too, tansmets - we're stopping off in HK for 3 nights in November en route from the UK to Oz.

    I'm guessing it'll be cooler than SL!

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