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deb52 May 18th, 2016 01:43 PM

Sri Lanka in 12 Days
A friend and I (both in our 60's, active, well-traveled) spent 4 days in Kolkata, 8 days in Bhutan, and 12 days in Sri Lanka. We like good food and wine, want to see the major sights, experience the culture, and stay in a few great hotels. Kolkata and Bhutan are in a separate trip report. This covers the Sir Lanka portion.

We arranged this portion of our trip with Doris at Tropical Travels (Boutique Sri Lanka). She booked all hotels and provided a driver/guide + car (Toyota Allion). Our itinerary: 1 night in Negombo, 2 nights Anuradhadura, 2 nights Dambulla, 1 night Kandy, 3 nights Tea Trails, 3 nights Galle. Doris was very efficient and responded to our e-mails promptly.

We arrived in Negombo/Colombo in the early afternoon on Sri Lanka Air from Kolkata. We took a government regulated taxi to our hotel, the Jetwing Beach Negombo (1600 rps). The taxi desk was inside on the right as we exited immigration. ATM’s were also in the same area. We had opted to meet our guide and start the tour the following morning. The cost for this tour was $2,550 pp excluding airfare, most meals/drinks except breakfast (Tea Trails was all inclusive), tips and sight entrance fees. We paid by credit card on her secure site which added a 3% surcharge.

My impressions of Sri Lanka: scooters, good 2 lane roads, humid, tropical, coconuts, teak trees, rubber trees, ancient sites (Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa) stupas, caves, beaches, Portuguese in 1505 to Dutch To Brits to independence in 1948, ayubuvan (greeting), crazy driving with tuk tuks/cars/buses/scooters – always passing slower vehicles, Hindu and Buddhist temples, beautiful tea country, Galle Dutch fortress, current President vs. corrupt/scandalous past President/family, Colombo to Galle toll road/highway, sapphires.

Negombo – Jetwing Beach Negombo: great location on the beach, good food, 30 minutes from airport, nice room, beautiful pools

Anuradhapura – Ulagalla – what a treat!, beautiful setting, golf cart to villa, large secluded villa on stilts with bedroom, bathroom, living room, deck, dipping pool. Good food, enjoyed 1 hour horseback ride even though the heat was a killer, beautiful main pool, great service. It didn't apply to us, but a romantic place. Unforgettable.

Dambulla – Heritance Kandalama: large hotel, standard room, not close to town, great food – we opted for fine dining instead of the buffet due to the weekend crowd/kids. Much ado about the architect, but I was not that impressed.

Kandy – Secret Kandy: in the city so very noisy, call to prayer at 5:00am, nice room, great service, good food. We needed two beds, so they merely added a cot/twin bed which was very uncomfortable.

Hatton – Ceylon Tea Trails, Dunkeld Bungalow: my favorite. We originally booked 2 nights here and 4 in Galle. After a few hours, we decided to add another night here and shorten Galle – great decision and Doris arranged it immediately with no cancellation charge for Galle. All inclusive, fantastic food and wine, wonderful high tea, comfortable room/bathroom/dressing area, exceptional views/scenery, very relaxing. It is a bit pricey, but worth every penny – I will never forget our days here! There is a tea factory tour which was worthwhile, but too long at 2+ hours. There are hiking trails through the tea fields - I did a 1 hour walk which was beautiful. There are also mountain bikes available - I tried, but the roads were a bit too rough and steep for me.

Galle – Tamarind Hill: 18th century mansion converted to hotel – charming atmosphere. Nice room, bathroom not air conditioned which was very uncomfortable, good food, nice staff, 15 minute tuk tuk to the fort area, a/c restaurant and bar, although you could eat outside. Again, second bed was a cot/twin bed which was somewhat uncomfortable.

As already mentioned, we generally ate all of our meals at the hotels with no complaints. We ate lunch when out and about with no memorable experiences. When in Galle, we had lunch at Kingfisher Restaurant, Unawatuna Beach – relaxing, on the beach, fantastic fish and giant prawns.

Anuradhapura – active religious site with tree from Buddha – recommended
Sigiriya – cloud paintings, lion gate/paws, great views at top, climb the rock all the way to the top – highly recommended
Polonnaruwa – newer ruins than Anuradhapura, but in good shape – highly recommended
Dambulla caves – it is another climb, but interesting Buddha relics in the caves, although there used to be an entrance fee, there is none now – recommended
Temple of the Tooth in Kandy – drum ceremony worth it – highly recommended
Galle Dutch Fortress – great strolling thru the town, good shopping.


We were in Sri Lanka April 20 – May 3. It was very hot (90’s) and humid except in tea country where the weather was pleasant (70’s). It rained in the afternoon at Tea Trails but the rest of the time the weather was sunny and clear.

Electrical adaptor type G worked in all places although most hotels had built in adaptors or you could borrow at the hotel.

We used ATM’s (all over) and paid cash outside of the hotel. Credit cards were used at the hotels. When used, we never let our credit cards out of our sight as we had read there could be problems.

We tipped our guide/driver 500 rps per day for both of us per advice from Trip Advisor. Seemed to little to me, but advisor was emphatic.

The Colombo airport is something else. When you exit immigration, it is a shopping mall, complete with appliances! We purchased wine at the duty free shop – not cheap, but it was convenient.

We had a great tuk tuk driver in Galle. He lived near our hotel and drove/waited for us during our two days of exploring the fortress and Unawanatuna. We paid him 3,000 rps each day for 4-5 hours of his time: Manju, ph no. 778671775, [email protected].

I purchased sapphires in Sri Lanka with little experience/knowledge. Our guide recommended Sifani Gems in Kandy – you never know with this type of recommendation because the guides get a commission. I preferred Lihiniya Gems in Galle which was recommended on Trip Advisor. I haven’t had the gemstones appraised yet, so I don’t know if I got a deal or ripped off – I’ll report back here when I do. I do know that I had a great time looking at gemstones. I bargained at both places, Sifani started at almost double what I ended up paying; Lihiniya 20-25% off initial price. Mr. Lahir at Lihiniya was a pleasure to do business with.

Kathie May 18th, 2016 01:50 PM

I'm glad to hear that you had a good trip. We loved Sri Lanka!

But I found sapphires there much more expensive in Sri Lanka than what I can buy them for in Bangkok. We bought a little there, but could have paid half the price at my long-time jeweler in Bangkok.

tripplanner001 May 18th, 2016 03:25 PM

Thanks for sharing, and glad you had a good trip. We really enjoyed the Kandalama, as well as the Secret (we stayed at the one in Ella instead of Kandy), but I am sure that neither of them compares to Tea Trails.

deb52 May 19th, 2016 12:57 AM

Kathie - I had bought sapphires in Bangkok 20 years ago. In researching vs. Sri Lankan, a lot of Thai sapphires are supposedly heated to get darker blue color. Most in Sri Lanka are natural. I'm going to have my Bangkok sapphires appraised also to find out if they are heated.

An addendum to our trip: our flight back to the US from Colombo left at 3:30am. Tamarind Hill gave us a late checkout and we were able to stay at our hotel until 9:00pm that night. We had the hotel arrange for a car to take us to Colombo from Galle (15,000 rps). We allowed 3 hours for this, but it took only two (our driver drove like a maniac). You have to show ID and ticket to get into the airport. We then had to wait outside security and check-in until our flight was available for check-in (2.5 hours before departure). Everyone then lines up to check-in at once and it was very slow at Qatar Airways. The Colombo airport was fine once you get past security but limited seating, food, etc. before that.

Kathie May 19th, 2016 08:29 AM

My point was that I have purchased Ceylon sapphires in Bangkok for less than half the prices I saw in Sri Lanka. Sapphires mined in Thailand and those mined in Sri Lanka are different colors. Most colored stones one buys world-wide these days have been heat treated. Ceylon sapphires are a lighter, "cornflower blue" than the deeper blue of the Thai sapphires. The cornflower blue stones are the most desirable, most expensive.

Craig May 20th, 2016 06:08 AM

It is nice to know that there is a brand new 5th bungalow (Dunkeld) at Tea Trails. Did you see any of the other bungalows for comparison?

Smeagol May 20th, 2016 12:03 PM

I too was totally underwhelmed by the Heritance and Loved Tea Trails...I would go back to TT in a heart beat....

filmwill May 20th, 2016 10:13 PM

This whole thread is getting me re-invigorating for our trip in December. Finally excited to hear some feedback on Ulagalla, too. There's precious little of it here on Fodors.

Sounds like a great time. Thanks for reporting back!

annhig May 30th, 2016 01:32 PM

I can;t help you with feedback on Ulagalla, filmwil,l as we didn't go there but we loved Sri Lanka and keep thinking about going back.

where are you going?

deb52 Jun 5th, 2016 06:36 PM

Craig - sorry for the late reply. We visited Castlereigh and Norwood for high tea. Castlereigh is very nice, but further down the hill from Dunkeld so the view was not as good. However the gardens there are spectacular and the bungalow had a good feel. Norwood had no view of the reservoir and I did not like it as much as Dunkeld. Summerville was under renovation but we could see it directly across the reservoir from Dunkeld so that would probably also be a good choice once it reopens.

deb52 Aug 11th, 2016 11:46 AM

An update on my sapphire purchases at Lihinaya Gems in Galle. The gems appraised in the U.S. for almost exactly what I purchased them for in Sri Lanka. So no great deal, but no rip off either.

Kathie Aug 11th, 2016 12:11 PM

Thanks for coming back and giving us follow-up.

live42day Sep 5th, 2016 07:36 AM

Great report. We have put Sri Lanka on our radar for next Fall and just starting research. Appreciate your taking time to post such a detailed report

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