For our third wedding anniversary, we decided to take a relaxing vacation to Srilanka. We spent 6 days going around in the country in December 2016.
This blog post is about what we did and a recommended itinerary to experience much of the country in under a week. If you have longer, you can do more off beat things.
Itinerary Break Down:
Day 1 - Arrival - Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage - Golden Cave Temple Dambulla - Relax at resort Day 2 - Hike the Sigiriya Fortress - Relax at resort Day 3 - Drive to Kandy - en route Botanical Garden and Spice Garden - Tooth Relic Temple - Kandy Lake - Cultural Show
Day 4 - Drive to Nuwara Eliya - Horton Plains Hike
Day 5 - Drive to Bentota Beach
Day 6 - Colombo City - Gangarama Temple
Best time to visit
The weather cools down from November to March. We enjoyed amazing weather when we visited during the second week of November.
Flights and Visa
We flew with Fly Dubai or Oman Air - short, one-stop flights all through the week.
For the visa - apply online on their website. Pay $20 per person and you will get an email with the visa in less than 24 hours.
Srilankan Tamil - the official language.
People also speak English and you should have no problem communicating when in the major tourist spots.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
As always, best to have medical and travel insurance. Life doesn't stop happening even when you are on vacation. Credit card machines don't work everywhere. I would recommend carrying cash in local currency.
We did a package tour with Al Rostamani Travel Agency here in Dubai. Since we did not have the time, they coordinated with their local agent in Srilanka. The trip was well organized and driver spoke good English and was flexible to our schedule.
You can also rent a car to drive in Srilanka - roads aren't great but if you are used to a bit of rough driving, you can waltz through Srilanka.
Had no issues with safety. We felt everyone we met was warm and helpful.
As always we wanted to try the local food - tried to get them to make it vegetarian as often as possible. As you would expect in a tropical island, there was a lot of coconut and fish. There were still good options in every buffet - like the authentic variety of spicy chutneys.
We landed in Colombo, quickly did our visas and exited the airport. We were greeted by the driver from the local agency.
Our first visit for the day was the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. Established in 1975, the orphanage commenced with seven orphan elephants. Today some of these orphans enjoy the fortune of seeing their grandchildren born in the same location.
With the help of local and foreign elephant experts, Pinnawela started a scientific captive-breeding program for elephants. It was beautiful watching the elephants being fed.
After lunch at a local joint, we visited the Golden Temple in Dambulla. This place has been a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. It is also the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. You can spend hours walking around exploring the Buddhist mural paintings - there are more than 150 statues of Buddha, each of them depicting a different time in his life.
This temple actually sits on a small hill, so while the climb up can be a little taxing, the views more than make up for it.
Pro Tip: mind the monkeys!
After a long day on the road, we finally checked in to The Paradise Resort in Dambulla, for a two-night stay. This resort had everything we were looking for - it was serene, secluded from the city and had plenty of recreational activities including a stellar pool view, board games and racket sports.
After a healthy local breakfast (a huge spread that included both local and continental food), we headed to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress.
The rock fortress is a world heritage site, built by King Kashyapa. The 'Lion Rock' is a citadel of unusual beauty rising 200 meters from the scrub jungle.
The rock was the innermost stronghold of the 70 hectare fortified town. It was hot day and for us to visit the sheltered pocket of the rock, we had to make our way through a spiral stairway. We were told once we reach the top, the views were unmatched. So ho ahead and make the climb - watch the lush green kingdom engulf you in it's history.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our room. We rode our bikes to a small lake nearby and watched the sunset. We then enjoyed a delicious Italian meal at the restaurant. Would highly recommend the Vegetarian Pizza and Pasta.
Early start towards Kandy en-route visiting a spice garden in Matale to see different spices for which Sri Lanka is famous for. The guide in the garden showed us the different spices and how some of these spices are grown and processed. I particularly loved the fresh smell of vanilla and coffee beans. After which we also decided to spend some time at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. This Botanical Garden is 147 acres in extent and provides an amazing variety of trees and flowers.
Later in the afternoon, we drove around the Kandy Lake built by the last Sinhala king, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. My favorite part of the tour was the visit to the gorgeous Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy. The white structures and the details on the domes were too beautiful for words...such a peaceful place.
Pro Tip: If you have the time, I would also recommend visiting a theater to witness a cultural show.
Our over night stay was at Ozo Kandy. This was a trendy contemporary hotel with stunning views of the river and the city. The food and buffet was delicious as well.
Early start to the day because we had to drive all the way up to Nuwara Eliya. En-route we stopped by a small tea plantation for pictures. You can all learn about the process of manufacturing tea. You can also see how tea is graded and taste a cup of pure Ceylon tea in the factory.
As you drive past the endless green pastures of land, you know you are already in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka's most popular hill resort.
After we checked in to our hotel, we made our way to what I call "poor man's New Zealand" - the Horton Plains. This vast area is located on a high windswept saddle at about 6,900 to 7,500 ft above the sea level. The plains are an expanse of misty grassland with scraggy trees and ice-cold rivulets.
The unique feature of Horton Plains is the "World's End". It is considered to be the finest view in all of Sri Lanka. The awesome escarpment drops vertically for about 4,000 feet, hence the name. When you are inside the Horton Plains, also include the picturesque Bakers falls on your list of things to do (it is about a 15 km walk). There will be clear signs for both the World Ends and the Baker Falls - just follow the trail and you will be just fine.
This place was one of the highlights of our trip. We fell in love with the calmness of the place. It was mostly empty, so we took our time, explored the entire length of the path and clicked tons of pictures. If you are heading to Nuwara, you have to visit this place. Nature in all it's glory!
We stayed at the Grand Hotel for the night. This place had the best breakfast spread - massive and YUM. We loved staying here, the ancient British feel of the rooms, even the chilly weather did not bother us. Could not recommend it enough.
Downwards from the mountains and on to the pristine beaches in Bentota.
We stayed at the Vivanta by Taj for the exclusive beach access with the most amazing sunset views. Also, you have to try the restaurant buffet - worth every penny!
Needless to say, it was a flawless end to our vacation.
Departure day morning was spent driving to Colombo and exploring the city. The throbbing metropolis, Colombo, is the country's commercial capital. Drive along the clean streets edging the crystal white Race Course. I wanted to visit the Gangarama temple, so that's what we did. As soon as you enter you can smell the scent of incense and listen to the chiming bells.
We spent the afternoon at a local mall, soaking in the festive vibes, caught up with few friends and boarded our flight back to Dubai at 7 p.m.
One week will give you plenty of time to experience the different landscapes within the country - we wanted to cover the city, the hills and the beach.
If we had done this trip on our own, we would have also visited the Nine Arch Bridge. Perhaps a good reason to head back soon.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in comments.