First things first you will need to go on line and buy a Visa–www.eta-sri-lanka-visa.com, the site is easy to navigate and our driver gave us his name and e-mail address to use as a contact. They never asked for the actual visa but we had it just in case.
A trip to Sri Lanka is a journey through history. After years of war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils the country is poised for a rediscovery.
We flew from Seattle on Emirates via Dubai and spent one night at the airport Le Meridien hotel. This is a great choice since there were several good restaurants on the grounds. The next day we flew to Colombo, Sri Lanka and were picked up by our driver, Udaya, (firstname.lastname@example.org) and started the first of many wild drives to our hotel, The Cinnamon Grand, on Galle Road. We were across the street from the famous Galle Face Hotel so after taking time to walk the beach we enjoyed just sitting in their garden on the water and having a drink, the cool air is soft and the mood relaxed.
That first night we shared one of the best dinners on the trip at “Ministry of Crab”, the famous mud crabs were served to us two ways, black pepper crab and chili crab. When you visit Sri Lanka go out of your way to experience this Fabulous dish, http://www.ministryofcrab.com.
The next morning Udaya arrived with a big smile and we headed to the hill country, known as the Cultural Triangle, Sri Lanka’s most important ancient sites. One of the things that you notice first is the traffic and the way the people drive, seems there are no rules and the horns never quite honking. Our drive was to be about 4 hours so Udaya suggested we stop after about 1 1/2 hours and have a massage at an Ayurvedic spa. This was a must do, we were in a city called Habarana, the spa is owned by Desmond Kelly. Mr. Kelly has a very clean spa–found at Number 97 Anuradhapura Road, email@example.com or have your driver reserve ahead at 077-599-039. We felt great and our skin was smooth. We did not look great since our hair was now a mess of oils but worth it.
We stopped along the road for a simple local lunch and then headed to our hotel —Heritance Kandalama in Dambulla. This would be our home for 2 nights while we explored the hill country. firstname.lastname@example.org
This area is were you will see several of the eight UNESCO Heritage sites of Sri Lanka. Our first adventure, The Rock Temple will take you about 20 minutes to climb the many stairs to the caves the first one has a 46 foot long statue of a dying Buddha, the next two caves have paintings depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life, all of these paintings were done in 1120. You will need to wear something to cover your knees and shoulders to enter the caves, also comfortable shoes the ground is uneven on your hike and it is hot. (hint we bought socks along the road since they make you take off your shoes to enter the grounds and the rocks hurt your feet and it is dirty.)
The same area has Polonnaruwa, once a fortified city, you will be amazed by the 6,000 acre man-made lake that provides the water for the farms. We then did a drive around Sigiriya, a large flat rock called the Lion’s rock. This iconic structure was built around AD 475. We did not climb the rocks 1,200 steps, much of it twisting metal staircase, but you can walk the gardens or ride a bike around if you prefer. We then went on an elephant safari for a couple of hours. We saw about 30 elephants and enjoyed our guide explaining the many different birds and other small animals we came across, if you have kids they would really enjoy the time spent in the jungle looking for the small groups of elephant families.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped along the road to sample the local snack, Hoppers. These simple rice flour treats are cooked over small fires in a pan looking like a mini wok. You can have them with a craked egg in the middle or plain with coconut chili along side. These special treats are not available until after 4pm. The next morning they were making them for breakfast at our hotel. Udaya was great about showing us the true local way of eating and he was always ready to stop any place so we could explore or take a crazy picture.
We were up early and checked out of the hotel headed up into the tea plantations and toured a tea factory. Since they grow 80% of the worlds black tea it is for sure that every piece of available land in the area is planted with tea plants. ( ladies that pick tea taking a breakThe road twists and turns with cars, buses, tuk tuks, the drive is long and slow, so the stops were welcome. We stopped at a spice market and toured the grounds buying a few herbal tonics. Next we stopped in Kandy to see the area, had a local style lunch, about $4.00 a person, and a bottle of ginger beer and met Udaya’s family. Off on another 3 1/2 hour drive thru the tea plantations arriving in Nuwara Eliya. This is the garden area where the most beautiful vegetables are grown and grazing land for the dairy cattle. We stayed at a new small hotel, Unique Cottages–112 Queen Elizabeth DR. The rooms were large and very clean, since they had only been open a few months the gardens had not matured. The staff could not have been nicer and since they did not have a restaurant for dinner they drove us to other places in the evening to dine.
The other hotel recommended was The Grand Hotel, http://www.tangerinehotel.com, its name tells you what it is. An old restored resort hotel with several restaurants and beautiful old wood floors and rooms. We had an excellent dinner in the free standing Indian restaurant, Indian Grand. The next night we dined at the Grand Hotel scanning their buffet you could have every type of cuisine available, it was expensive for the area but well presented.
We spent our time in this area exploring the local market, buying pepper and cinnamon sticks, walking through the beautiful parks in the city and driving up into the surrounding hills to see the farms. Udaya took us to his friends place, a bed and breakfast called Carnation, where the owner prepared us a great lunch of local fare, about $3.00 each. You can also stay in the little place for around $50.00 a night. The rooms are clean and all have their own bathroom.
The next morning we drove just outside of Nuwara and boarded a local train riding through the mountains for about 3+ hours to the city of Ella. The train trip cost $1.50 each and was an experience to treasure. Udaya drove ahead with our bags and met us at the other end. We met interesting people some traveling for the experience while visiting the country, some locals going to visit friends. There was a man selling small lentil cakes out of a basket with many roasted chilies tucked into each small bag as he sold to the people on the train, delicious for about 20 cents each.
When Udaya picked us up we had another 3 hours drive to “Chaaya Wild Yala” game reserve in the village of Kirinda, Tassamaharama. While we were driving we stopped to see the Buduruwagala monument in the city of Budulla. These huge stone carved buddhas were carved into this mountain over 3000 year ago. We stood and marveled at their size and the idea that men carved them so many years ago. The Chaaya game reserve is off the main road and you wonder if you will ever arrive after driving on the rutted dirt road for several miles. When you do arrive it is like a piece of heaven. Our beautiful cabin was tucked into the winding paths with monkeys swinging from the trees and birds of many colors singing to you as they walk you to your room. When it gets dark you will have to have a guide to walk with you since the wild hogs and stray elephants seem to enjoy walking through when night falls. The pool is so large and welcoming after all the time in the car we were looking forward to sitting under a tree and swimming.
We took a safari the next day with a local guide that was a friend of Udaya’s, saved us $250 off the price the hotel was charging. The 3 hour safari was worth the time and during our adventure we saw so many different animals and wide array of birds. We even got a glimpse of a leopard, this reserve holds one of the largest leopard populations in the world. It is a very rough road but our safari guide had an eagle eye and missed no chance to point out the smallest bird or largest lizard crossing the road.
After 2 days of resting, swimming, having an adventure with the wild life we got up and headed to the seaside village of Galle. Along the way we stopped in Madilla Beach, Tangalle, Udaya had called ahead and made arrangements for us to feast on fresh lobsters for lunch. We drove along the beach until we came upon the hotel/restaurant “Blue Horizon”, email@example.com. We had lobsters and large shrimp watching the surf roll in while the sleepy dogs sat under the umbrellas on the beach.
Along the way to Galle we slowed to watch the famous pole fishermen perched on a single pole off the shore of the beach, rod in hand. They will want money to have their picture taken and often send small children to collect a few pennies for the perfect picture.
We check into the Jetwing Lighthouse in, Galle, one of the many hotels designed by the famous Sri Lankan Geoffrey Bawa. The spa is beautiful and their staff gives great services. There are two large pools and the hotel sits nextto a nice beach. This is a great place to sit back and relax, http://www.jetwinghotel.com. (another beautiful high end hotel is the Amanresort in Amangalla, if you don’t stay here at least go for a drink)
Galle has a vibrant commercial district, but pass through the fort walls housing buildings dating back to the Dutch era and you to will be transformed. It is an amazing collection of structures and culture, large red hibiscus and palm trees welcome the visitors. When you step up on the encircling walls the views of the ocean and town remind you why this is another Unesco World Heritage site. This is a working community and we found several great shops to buy gifts for our families back home. One of the great finds was a beautiful jewelry store called “Aysha”, 39 Church Street. The owner Mr. Mulaffer, e-mail newchoicegem.yahoo.com, is ready to make you anything that you want in a matter of hours. His gem stones are fun to just sort through. We did buy several fun necklaces and my friend Ingrid had a lovely pair of earrings made.
We had two great days in Galle but then had to head back to Colombo for our return trip to Seattle.
On our drive back to Colombo, fighting the heavy traffic going every which way we had a detour in Kalawila Village, Beruwela so we could tour the gardens and house of Geoffrey Bawa. Bevis Bawa Gardens are open to the public. There is also one of his design hotels in the area of Bentona. Located by the beach he designed the hotel and gardens with interesting sculptures, no TV but great charm.
It was a long crazy drive back to Colombo, 2 1/2 hours, then had to travel an hour through the city to reach our last hotel in Sri Lanka. We had an early flight out the next morning so we stayed at the much written about, Wallawwa Hotel. This beautifully restored hotel only has 17 rooms so be sure to book early. When you reach the gates looking into the amazing garden with giant rubber trees and bamboo 20 feet tall you will begin to relax. The rooms are large, the shower welcomes you after your long drive or a dip in the pool and if you have time stop in the spa for a massage. Dinner on the deck was very nice and we did not have to venture out since our driver had left us. We had a beautiful breakfast with the last of the fresh fruit and egg hopper before we caught our flight back to the rain in Seattle. http://www.thewallawwa.com
Notes: Our guide Udaya speaks perfect english and will respond quickly if you write him an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Udaya’s wife Michelle, is from Australia and helps booking his tours. The car Udaya uses for 2 people is in good shape but small. He can make arrangements for a larger car if you wish but you need to let him know in advance. We paid $70.00 a day using the smaller car and gave him a $150.00 tip for the 10 days, he was worth every dime. If you use a larger car or van it will be closer to $125.00 a day. We did include Udaya in our lunches and two nights game him an extra $25 a night for a room. Other nights the hotel did provide sleeping accommodations for drivers.
Uydaya has a lot of energy for his country and excitement to share all experiences and make sure his guests have a great time. We often had to remind him not to ask us if he was doing a good job because he was the best guide we could have asked for.
http://www.srilankadriver.com is his web site.
Sri Lanka is very casual, humid and hot. All the hotels offered free WIFI which made staying in touch easy.