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Sri Lanka in 7 Days: highlights & lessons learned


Oct 20th, 2013, 12:57 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2013
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The drive from the central highlands to the south was the longest by far, over six hours. The new Southern Expressway connects from outside of Colombo down to the coast in 1.2 hours with a speed limit of 100km, so the last part was fast.

Note to trip planners: we'd debated between beach vs. trekking (to World's End at Horton's Plain not as far from Nuwara Eliya). We chose the beach to avoid risk of rain on the trek day, since October is not yet dry season. But if you're going for a longer time, you may want to include HP or Yala National Park en route to the south coast.

We got to Unawatuna Beach Resort mid-afternoon. Like Cottages, clean and basic, not write home-worthy. The beachfront had receded due to it being off-season (hotel staff said from December onward the water is calmer and the beach widens). We were slightly deflated at that, but then, we weren't paying high-season prices. UBR's highlight was its buffet dinner - everywhere we ate in the south, squid was particularly good.


Galle was a close 5km away. Spent the morning at the Fort: what a place! I madly, deeply love medieval cities: Barri Gotic, Mdina, Bern, Fez ... Galle Fort is not as old, yet has the same sense of what I think of as breathing history. Glen and I were won over soon as we entered through the old gate. Built by the Portuguese and extended by the Dutch in the 16th-17th centuries, today it's the Soho of Sri Lanka, with galleries, cafes, shops, villa hotels in a colonial period backdrop.

Sitting with Lion beers on the rooftop at Mama's (one of the only non-hotel spaces that serves), we talked about wanting to read travel literature of that period, to get a sense of what it was like to live in a place like Galle Fort 400 years ago, from both Ceylonese and Dutch perspectives. Even authors who wrote about more recent times (Greene, Forster, etc) would make interesting reading after visiting a country that has experienced colonialism for centuries.

That evening we went to the Fort again to meet friends also on leave from Dubai for drinks at Deco on 44. They were at Weligama (half hour from Galle) which they were happy with for surfing. Back at UBR for a nightcap, we struck up a talk with the next table, three Dutchmen who'd been to SL multiple times. Fun conversation until after midnight, mostly about life in the US vs. EU, travel, and of course, solving the world's problems
Tara_M is offline  
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Oct 20th, 2013, 03:07 PM
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That's it for NE. Please tell me - how much did we miss?!>>

well, we stayed just outside NE and did very little apart from walk through the tea plantations while we were there, but we did spend a lunchtime there, and were very impressed by the Royal Victoria gardens and the cafe attached to them. There was also a fruit and veg market which was quite interesting and fun.

We too loved Galle AND ate at Deco on 44 one night. We loved staying in the fort itself and took tuk tuks to get out to the beaches. i wish that we'd spent another night there [we were there for 2 nights only] and less time in Colombo.
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 12:02 AM
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excellent review about Sri Lanka Tara! You seemed to have had a wonderful time with your husband.

Wish you had more time to visit the Yala national Park and rainforests, but you seem to have covered some of the main cities.

Always glad to hear people say good things about my country
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Nov 15th, 2013, 01:35 AM
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Imalka, I totally agree - we'll have to go back again, for Yala and Arugam Bay. The good thing is it's just four hours away. Also we've been recommending it all our friends, and two couples are going this month.
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Oct 30th, 2015, 04:56 PM
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You are probably no longer checking this but at your advice I have booked Aruna Chaminda as the driver for our honeymoon trip in Sri Lanka this December. Thanks for the recommendation.
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Jan 5th, 2016, 07:10 PM
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Very helpful trip report, thanks! Especially since we are considering a 6 day trip to Sri Lanka in March but 6 days is all we have & I'm not sure if it's worth it!
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Jan 5th, 2016, 07:26 PM
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We loved our time in Sri Lanka. But I think we had 12 days. How many nights do you have? If you have 5 nights, you have just 4 days - enough to visit just one location - likely the cultural triangle.
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Jan 5th, 2016, 10:16 PM
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Where are you (excited-confused) travelling from? If you are flying in from the region (Karachi, Mumbai, Dubai, Singapore etc) then a short 6 day trip is okay but if you are flying in from the USA 20 hours flying tie them a 6 day trip does not make sense.

Short holidays travelling relatively shorter distances are quite common, need to be planned accordingly.
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Jan 1st, 2018, 07:40 AM
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Hi Tara,

thank you very much for your very detailed report and we took some of the things you did to build our itinerary.

We do like nice hotels and also are relative relaxed during vacation. We traveled with our 12 year old son and he usually enjoys a swim in the pool in the late afternoon as do we.

We did (number of nights in brackets)

Colombo (2) - Dambulla (1) - Sigiriya (1) - Kandy (1) - Hatton (1) - Weligama Bay (2)

You already covered quite a lot of the sightseeing we did and I won't repeat the comments because yours are spot on.

Hotels we used with some comments

Colombo Hilton: nice location, nice pool area, close to Dutch Hospital and Light house (large construction in the area though where they reclaim land at the ocean for a huge project, does not bother you at the hotel though since it is far enough away but you can see it from the window). Rooms are a bit dated but we upgraded to a suite and had plenty of space to also repack (we did stay before at the Maldives) our stuff.

Heritance Kandalama: as already described very interesting architecture. Also great view from their pool across the lake and towards Lion Rock. Dinner (buffet) was not that good though and servers were overworked during the dinner (same at breakfast).

Water Garden Sigiriya: Best hotel we stayed at in Sri Lanka. It is a great property with individual villas. Awesome view towards Lion Rock.

Cinnamon Citadel Kandy: ok hotel but we also did find a mouse in our room late at night. Apart from this hotel is nothing to write home about.

Governors Mansion Hatton: very nice property, just 11 rooms, all in Victorian Style. Supposedly in the 50ths (then princess) Elisabeth stayed there. In the middle of tea plantations close to top of a mountain. It was our favorite place during the trip (location, garden, ... it is a throw back to a different period). Dinner though was the worst food we had eaten for a while (not sure if the cook had a day off, it had 0 spices in the food, not even salt in the soup, breakfast made to order was excellent so go figure).

Marriott Weligama Bay: New Marriott, just 5 month open. Very nice and new rooms, the hotel is an eye sore though with 10 stories smack in the middle of the bay (great location). Lots of small service issues (relative to their 5 star expectation) and it still shows teething issues. We enjoyed being away from Galle though (and did a nice trip there driving along the cost to the Fort) and it is a great bay (lots of surfers out, we also tried it for a 90 minute lesson).

Some other (random) comments:

- We did use Aruna Chaminda and he was great. I can only recommend him to anybody looking for a driver. We used his van (he got the car still and now a van as well) and liked the space and our son decided to take a lot of naps on the last row during the long drives).

- Drives are a bit a pain and you spend a lot (too much) time in cars. Average road speeds are just too low. Driving itself never felt dangerous though (also Aruna doing a great job) unlike some other countries.

- Road infrastructure and also some tourist infrastructure in general needs to develop more if Sri Lanka wants to grow tourism. It is e.g. getting popular now in China (and we saw quite a lot of Chinese already) but will reach capacity especially in high season.

- We did not have time (too far off from Hatton) to visit Mackwoods and ended up at a different tea factory. They did a decent tour and a nice tea tasting. But the prices they charged at the store were highway robbery (at least by a factor of 3 or 4). We bought 1 small bag of tea to 'pay' for the tour knowing it was overpriced.

- Same story around pricing at the spice garden we went too. Nice tour there as well but pricing in the store is just way off (Aruna did already tell us ahead of time). I do not mind paying for a tour (tea factory or spice garden) but I do not like tourist rip offs and at the end of the day also do not think it is good for tourism on the long run.

- We did like the smaller road side restaurants and did eat there with no issues. Only time we (my wife) had a problem was on the way home with the food in the Sri Lankan Business Class Lounge in Colombo which gave her trouble later on.

- Hotels we would go back for sure were Water Garden Sigirya (it was also the highest priced of our hotels) and the Governors Mansion in Hatton.

- Van was nice to have with more space and sitting up a bit higher. Again can only recommend Aruna (and we did also stay at his house for dinner after he invited us, he also rents out space in his house to stay overnight, it is basic but very clean).

Thanks again for everybody's comments and recommendations.
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Jan 1st, 2018, 11:47 AM
Join Date: Jul 2010
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Thank you Tara for your trip report. We leave in 7 days for three weeks in SL and found your report most informative as we will be going to many of the same places but longer stays i.e. 4 nights in Kandalama, 4 nights in Galle (Literary Festival) etc.
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