Sri Lanka twice
Made two journeys to Sri Lanka, so here are the facts to help you on your visit; Infrastructure within the country is very poor, I rode trains, buses and hired a private car, you will save a ton of money riding the train and bus but you need to be aware they seldom run on time are very dirty and crowded, there are several train routes on the west coast and to the town of Kandy and Ella, besides the train routes I mentioned overall travel within the country without a private car will be challenging, roads are generally in poor condition and it will take time getting from location to location. ATMs are located at all major banks so money exchange is not a problem. The majority of Sri Lankans are friendly and willing to help a fellow traveler but be advised some will expect a tip for helping you out and you will be haggled/harassed/pestered by many street vendors as they are everywhere and the moment they see a non Sri Lankan walking they make a mad dash towards you. My first journey was to tour almost the entire island, start at one point head east then north and then west and ending at the airport
Adams Peak; a grueling climb that will take you at least 3hrs to ascend (you can do it in less time if you are in good shape), if you plan to climb at night take a FLASH LIGHT without a flashlight it will be impossible to climb in the non daylight hrs very few lights on the path work and a guide is NOT necessary. If you arrive at the summit before sunrise, it is a pretty impressive sight the temple on the summit with the “footprint” may or may not be open. Bring water for your climb and dress warm as it will get cold and windy the higher you get. No admission charge, the “Slightly Chilled Yellow House” is perhaps the cleanest place to stay in the area and offers an excellent vantage to tackle the peak.
Beaches; Unawatuna in the south is perhaps the best beach in Sri Lanka, however, it is quite a distance from Colombo, with calm waters and a small sandy beach Beaches north of Colombo at Negombo were dirty and I saw very few tourists in the water, hotels in the Negombo area are more modern then most of the country and most offer lovely pools with a good view of the beach (I stayed at the Paradise hotel-very nice a great price) . Personally I enjoyed the beaches at Hikkaduwa, I found them to be great for surfing as well as swimming and they where clean + the town has a lot of interesting little places to enjoy, I stayed at the Drifters Hotel, basic & clean 3 star.
Yala Park; Very expensive admission (3700R+) and you will need a jeep (extra cost about 4000R) a government guide is provided at no charge. The road into and inside the park is very rough, seeing animals is hit and miss, I would not recommend visiting the park as I thought it was a waste of time and I saw very few animals. The park is located in the southern part of the island.
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage; admission (1000R), and located about an hour west of Kandy. You need to plan your visit around feeding time (morning, late midday and evening) otherwise you will only see the elephants walking to the river to bathe, bathing(at least 2hrs) or walking back to the orphanage. If you arrive after feeding time and the elephants are at the river, DO NOT waste your money by purchasing a ticket, just walk down to the river get a seat at one of the cafes and watch the elephants.
Waterfalls; There are numerous lovely waterfalls throughout the island some of which are massive, getting up close and trying to swim in the waterfalls will is be almost impossible except for a few which are located close to the road.
Buduruwagala Budu (Buddha); a MUST visit site that is truly awesome. It is the tallest Buddha carved in a rock in existence, the site is located off the beaten path, northeast of Galle and admission is only 200R. This site is very well maintained and a guide will cost you 100-200R and is worth it.
Citadel of Sigiriya – Lion Rock; pretty amazing structure, admission is 2800R. Do not be intimated by the climb it is fairly simple and you can go slow. Personally a guide is not needed, I was told that there is a very good museum at the base but I was unable to locate the museum, plan for about a 2hr visit.
Scared Tooth Temple: located in the center of the town of Kandy opposite a lake, admission is 500R; you need to have your knees covered to enter. Do not waste your time on a guide rent the audio guide (one of the few sites that I found the audio guide). Do not expect to see the tooth as it is located inside a sealed chamber, but you can see the chamber and take plenty of pictures. Hard to spend more then an hour at the site.
Dambulla Cave Temple; located almost in the center of the town of Dambulla, admission is 1000R. No guide needed and there is a small uphill walk to get to the caves. The cave is considered part of the cultural triangle and contains numerous Buddhist relics, on the grounds there is a Buddist museum and be aware that there are vendors everywhere. Modest dress is required for the Cave entrance, do not let that scare you as there are numerous vendors willing to rent you the leg cover, and do not pay more than 50R for that, plan for an hr visit.
Towns; I visited many towns so I will highlight a few
Kandy- a busy dirty town with not much to see except for the scared tooth temple, Ella- a small little village in the hill country, set among-st the lush green tea plantations, it was ok for a quick visit and you can catch a train from there to Kandy. Ella was not very pedestrian friendly as it is spread out. I visited a much talked about spa and was disappointed in the massage. Galle- in the south on the coast, besides the Old Dutch fort where there are numerous small places to visit; “Printers Hotel”, museums there is not much else. Nuwara Eliya- located south of Kandy, northwest of Ella, I found this to be a lovely town to visit, a touch of old England still exists and pay a visit to the Grand Hotel even if it is just for tea. White water rafting; This is not a town but a much talked about activity, if you have never been rafting then do it, three class III rapids and the rest are very simple, I was told during high water the rapids are more challenging so ask if you are an experienced rafter. Excursions/touring; I spend many hours of research and sent dozens of emails to vendors mentioned in tripadvisor. I settled on Lalith Priyankara owner of the “drifters hotel’ (email firstname.lastname@example.org), I found him to be totally fantastic, he did not go on the trip with me but helped me plan with no pressure, made excellent recommendations and gave me a driver and car that where excellent. He also negotiated good hotel rates before my trip and included them in the tour prince. I would recommend him to all, a wonderful and honest person who wants to promote tourism in Sri Lanka.
My return journey to lovely Sri Lanka but this time I decided to slow down and enjoy the sun, surf and local eats. Before arriving Sri Lanka I completed the visa on arrival application paid the fee (using a CC) printed the approval letter, it was a breeze on arrival (make sure you arrival card is filled out). As I made my way towards baggage claim I stopped at the duty free stores and stocked up on drinks (alcoholic kind) alcoholic prices in Sri Lanka are quite high except for local beer. The Colombo airport (located 45 minutes from the city) is new and easily to navigate but traffic through the city is at a snail’s pace I was thinking of spending a few days in Colombo but after much research and talking with fellow travelers decided that would have been a bad choice so I decided to forgo the bus and the train adventure and arranged for direct auto transportation to Hikkaduwa town, cost was $70 and if you had a friend to share my cost would have been cut in half. For my visit to Hikkaduwa, once again I stayed at the Drifters (http://www.driftershotel.com) a very nice hotel(read my review on trip advisor). Hikka is a small tourist town with a very nice beach, restaurants, and tourist shops. There are various clubs scattered along the main road and many facing the ocean but the main attraction is the lovely and gentle waves for wanabe surfers like me. Walking along the beach there is one main small rocky area with some marine life for snorkeling and a few HUGE turtles are usually swimming around, I dropped by the Turtle hatchery which was well worth my time except there were no baby turtles to be released. Besides my miserable efforts at learning how to surf and just hangin out, I took the train to Galle the largest town in the south and walked around the Old Town of Galle and its fortifications. Sri Lanka is a very lovely island prices are reasonable as the island has yet to be discovered, if you are considering this part of the world give this country a look I WILL be BACK!