I am so busy with college work these days that I am struggling to squeeze in blogposts. We recently holidayed in Sri Lanka for the Diwali holidays (which coincide with the UK half term holidays). Our Travel Period was From 16th – 23rd Oct 2017. Rez has helped me compile this blog with his review of places from his Trip Advisor posts. We can all highly recommend Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful country with lovely people, weather, food and infrastructure.
We were met on arrival at Columbo airport by our wonderful guide and driver Charmalla. It was around 9pm when we arrived (the only direct flight with out an overnight flight) so we transferred directly from the Airport to our hotel in Katunayake.
There were a few things we noticed immediately; the roads were smooth, there was no rubbish on the roads and the autos were Red, green, blue, black and cream.
Rez’s ReviewTamarind Tree Hotel, Katunayake
Pleasant hotel with large colonial style rooms grouped in lodges. The hotel has a pool and has ponies wandering the grounds. Breakfast was split into veg first then non veg next. Self service tea and coffee.
Day 02: Transfer from Katunayake to Habarana
Dambulla is a large town in the Matale district in the central province of Sri Lanka. It is the centre of vegetable distribution in the country.
It is also the location of the largest and best preserved temple complex in Sri Lanka.
Sungreen Resort and Spa, Habarana
Lovely hotel with rooms arranged around a central pool. Food was delicious and the hotel was ideally placed for such attractions as the Dambulla Golden Cave Temple complex, the Sigiriya Lion Rock and the elephant safari in Minneriya National Park. The staff are very friendly and welcoming.
Dambulla Golden Cave Temple, Dambulla
Set into the overhang of what can only be described as a ridiculously large boulder, the Dambulla Golden Cave Temples are accessed up a steep set of stairs – elderly and unfit beware.
The temple comprises of 4 individual temples created at different times. Inside are ornate paintings on the cave ceilings as well as a large variety of state representations of Buddha in various poses including sleeping and deceased.
The guides are knowledgeable help you get through quickly and then allow you to return to each cave temple to get the photos. Be warned though flash photography is not permitted.
Back to the hotel for a 7 course Dinner was amazing and delicious. Comfortable and tranquil overnight stay at the hotel.
Transfer from Habarana to Sigiriya. Climb Sigiriya Rock & Visit The Fortress.
Sigiriya (Lion Rock)
Described locally as the eighth wonder of the world and recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site, it certainly is a very imposing granite rock which has had a royal palace and a monastery on top. Your entry fee gives you access to the full Sigiriya complex… be warned entry fee is pricey.
Be advised, this is a bit of a hard climb. My phone tells me I climbed the equivalent of 69 floors! The steps can be a bit hit and miss at times so watch your footing.
There are spiral staircases that take you up to visit some murals painted high on a seemingly inaccessible face of the Sigiriya monument… yes it’s amazing they managed to paint the murals in this location but was it worth the climb? Not in my opinion.
Also be aware there are wasps nesting around Sigiriya and if agitated they will swarm. This happened when we visited when a group of typically loud Chinese tourists decided to disregard the advice to keep quiet and proceed to go directly to one of the wasp nests and ended up causing them to swarm.
Let me tell you, seeing people running around frantically trying to swat away dozens of wasps on their face and arms is not a pleasant sight, not least because there is nothing you can really do to help them as you yourself are huddling down to avoid the attentions of the wasps.
The staff at Sigiriya are very well trained for such incidents and even have a large first aid tent at the midpoint plateau where wasp stings can be administered to. When such events take place they climb the rock to the top armed with large nets and take the victims down under cover of the net to safety and if required first aid treatment.
Another thing to watch out for are the numerous “guides” dotted all over the place. As you make your way up the steps if you look even remotely tired / old / unfit then suddenly you will get a “helpful’ push in the back to “help” you up the stairs. They tried it on with us on several occasions (I’m the first to admit I need to lose a few pounds!). Initially we were able to reject their help with a firm but friendly No but the last one just wouldn’t take no for an answer. To be honest I was curious to find out what help he was going to offer as he looked to be about 70 but to be fair to him he was also as thin as a racing snake. His “help’ comprised a very gentle push in my lower back… so not really much help at all if I’m honest!
Overall I’m very glad that we visited… the views from the top are stunning and it was good to get some exercise in on the holiday… Could have done without the trauma of the wasp swarm though.
Evening Jeep Safari at Minneriya National Park.
Our elephant safari was booked at one of the many roadside vendors but ours came recommended by our trusty driver. The Mahindra Bolero 4×4 picked us up from our hotel and took us to the Minneriya National Park where our guide was very quickly pointing out exotic wildlife to us… kingfishers, Peacocks, Crocodiles, water buffalo, monkeys and of course the Elephants.
The Elephants were the highlight of the tour, initially seeing a solitary bull elephant and then shortly thereafter seeing a herd of around 70 elephants of all ages travelling down to the waters edge of the Minneriya reservoir. After taking hundreds of photos of this magnificent herd in brilliant light conditions we moved to find a smaller family group of 5 elephants and then later a mother large herd of around 60+ elephants.
It was an absolutely awe inspiring sight seeing these magnificent creatures up close in the wild like this. Be aware though that yours is not the only jeep on the safari… at one point the number of 4x4s exceeded the number of elephants! The drivers are all aware of the issues this poses and do their best to avoid driving into one another shots.
Day 04: Transfer from Habarana to Kandy.
Nalandia Gedige (Centre point of Sri Lanka)
This was described as the absolute centre point of the island of Sri Lanka though when you go there very little suggests this to be the case. What you do find is a Buddhist temple which was rescued from the rising waters of the Nalandia Gedige reservoir by building a platform onto which the temple was moved stone by stone.
The highlight was what the guide described as “Giant Squirrels” and he wasn’t kidding, these things were the size of terriers!
Spice Garden, Matale
We stopped here on our way south to Kandy. A very friendly guide shows you around the spice garden where you can revel in the exotic plants and herbs. For some (my wife and daughter) this is really interesting and a real joy to learn about. For an engineer like me… not so much.
The guide describes in great detail the medicinal, cosmetic and healing properties of each of the plants and herbs and even gives a demonstration of the natural hair removal cream which after 7 minutes saw a 1/2 inch square of hair from my arm removed… effective then!
Following the tour of the gardens we offered a massage demonstration which was very relaxing and only required a tip to pay for. Following this we had an opportunity to purchase some of their produce. Be careful it is very easy to get carried away with the purchases. (Deb’s note: we did – and it was great,if expensive!)
Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden,Kandy
I’m not really a fan of the green stuff but even I have to admit this was a pleasant walk around the botanical gardens. The gardens are very well maintained, and separated into distinct sections.
Cultural Dance, Kandy Red Cross Hall
This was pleasant enough but with no real explanation other than faded photocopied sheets handed out ahead of the performance it was a little difficult to follow.
The drumming… well it really felt like just a loud banging noise with no sense of rhythm about it and seemingly no agreed timing between the four drummers.
The dance itself was well done by the ladies and there were some visually stunning costume changes along the way. The male dancers… well more acrobats really as their dancing wasn’t really up to much… at one point I thought they were doing the early 90’s “big Box, Little Box” dance.
One interesting discovery was that this sort of dance recital appears to be a key ingredient in the search for immortality… time certainly seems to pass a lot slower when watching this sort of thing!
Swiss Residence, Kandy
A very friendly and pleasant hotel set on a very steep hillside overlooking stunning views of the valley in which Kandy is nestled.
Our room had been recently renovated and looked very good for it. Spacious bathroom with shower and bath, large bedroom with the wardrobes and bed forming an island in the middle of the room. Our room had large bay windows giving us a stunning view of the scenery.
The buffet dinner and breakfast offered a good selection thought they could have done with having some soya milk in to help with a dairy allergy.
Day 05: Transfer from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.
Store Field Tea Factory
This was a short stop on the road up to Nuwara Eliya where we found out all about the process for taking freshly picked leaves through various rolling, fermentation drying and sieving processes to arrive at the various grades of Orange Pekoe tea. Turns out the strong tea favoured by the British aka ‘builder’s tea’ is nothing more than the dust residue left at the end of the process! The obligatory factory shop yielded some fresh Ceylon tea for the larder.
Araliya Green Hills Hotel, Nuwara Eliya
A very pleasant hotel set in what is colloquially described as ‘Little England’. Nuwara Eliya is at an altitude of 6000ft which means the climate is one the British can relate to very easily and goes a long way to explaining why the locals are all dressed in jumpers, fleeces, jackets, hats and earmuffs!
The hotel is modern and well appointed. We were greeted on arrival with a hot chocolate and shown to our room. The hotel has a small indoor heated pool which is needed as an outdoor pool would be a bit nippy.
Day 6: Transfer from Nuwara Eliya to Bentota.
Centara Ceysands Hotel, Bentota
We stayed the last two nights of our holiday here and were very glad for it. The hotel is reached via boat across the Bentota Ganga river where you are greeted by friendly courteous staff for a very smooth check in process. The rooms are of a high standard, ours was on the first floor and had a view overlooking the pool and the sea. The pool was a good size and pool toys (inflatables) were available. There was maintenance ongoing to the outside of the pool. My daughter and I had fun finding loose tiles and leaving them for the maintenance crew.
The food at the Café Bem buffet was excellent with a wide choice of foods available to suit most palates. Our arrival coincided with Oktoberfest so the array of German foods was greatly appreciated.
The poolside changing rooms are a little cramped and offer only toilet and shower cubicles with private / dry area available for changing in.
To get to the beach you will cross a sand track and there it is, a long flat sandy beach, great for playing on, and exercising on. You need to go a long way out to get to any real depth so good for paddling around in. Be aware of the beach flags, and take their advice.
Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre, Kosgoda
This was an excellent visit with informative staff guiding us around the work they are doing to ensure the turtles have the best opportunity for getting to the sea.
Sadly a bus load of Chinese tourists arrived right after us and began to barge around talking very loudly and frankly abusing the turtles with their rough handling and flash photography despite signs everywhere telling us in pictograms not to. We elected to let them blow through before continuing with our tour.
I’ve read a lot about people being upset at the rescue turtles swimming around small concrete tanks. Yes, they’re not too big but these are blind or deformed turtles since birth. The alternative really is release and then becoming dinner for another sea creature… is this a better alternative?
Zahra loved this place and listened intently to the volunteer guide. She asked questions and got to handle the baby turtles. She was so gentle with them. We stayed for quite some time and saw a few tour groups going through whilst Zahra took it all in. It was a small place but a great project. They buy turtle eggs from scavengers and pay higher than the black market rate for them, ensuring the species thrive. Releasing them on the beach(at night) will hopefully also ensure that they return to the same beach in 30 years time and lay eggs again. Zahra declared she wanted a job there. We then spent a fortune in the gift shop (all proceeds go to support the conservation effort). They gave us their business card and told her to return soon!
This was a guided boat ride around the Maduganga Lake, exploring the flora and the fauna this wetland has to offer.
We made several stops along the way including a refreshment stand on stilts in the middle of the lake, Cinnamon island to see the locals preparing cinnamon sticks and a Buddhist temple.
Lunch at a fabulous fish restaurant suggested and recommended by our guide.
We ended the day with a short boat trip out to sea to see the coral reef and fish swimming over it. It was a bit turbulant to say the least and after a substantial lunch it didn’t take long for me to feel sea sick. whilst Rez and Zahra fed the fish with ice cream cones I tried not to feed the fish with my lunch!
We were supposed to have a day in Colombo touring and shopping in the city but as we had bought gifts and souvenirs whilst we were touring there was nothing left we wanted to buy. Also, Zahra was keen to have some more beach and pool time. She was up at 6am dragging me to the beach for an early morning paddle before breakfast. Straight after breakfast was a dash to the pool.Thankfully as the morning progressed she made friends with some other children and the hotel events person organised a water polo match which went on for some time. we finally left the hotel at 2.30pm to get to the airport on time for our check in and departure.
As is traditional in Sri Lanka we gave our guide / driver a tip in an envelope as we departed ways at the airport. Once inside we met another expat family from Bangalore and we knew at least another two families wete holidaying in Sri Lanka at the same time. it is a popular destination for good reason and I for one cant wait to return.