I can’t believe this, but I was in Sri Lanka in 2013 and never blogged about it. Luckily I have notes on what we saw/did while we were there so I don’t have to rely on my memory. Let’s dive right in!
We were in Sri Lanka for 10 days, and I will start right off the bat by saying, that we both would have liked a little longer there. I think two weeks would be ideal. We didn’t do the east coast because that is apparently a lot of fabulous beaches, and neither myself or Phil are really beach people. I’m a pale red head so I just get burned too easily, and spending days lying on the beach is not appealing to us. However, if you are looking for beach relaxation time, then definitely head to the east coast!
We flew into the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo and then headed straight to Negombo, which is probably 20 minutes in a taxi. This was a great first stop to relax and get our bearings. There was a nice beach there, a great local fish market and lots of temples too! Make sure to check out the Dutch canal while there. We stayed in Negombo for two nights, and spent our days checking out temples and eating! There are plenty of tuk tuks around and that is probably the easiest way to get from A to B while there. The local fish market was very interesting and a local fisherman showed us around, explained everything to us and gave us a great tour. That’s one thing about Sri Lanka, the locals were so welcoming and friendly to us, it was great! There is an amazing restaurant in Negombo that I highly recommend if you are there. It’s called Lords Restaurant and the food was absolutely fantastic. Make sure you are hungry when you go there, as the portions are huge! The Dutch Canals are also worth a look. If you want more info, check out Me with My Suitcase’s post on A Walk Along The Hamilton Canal in Negombo.
When we arrived in Sri Lanka, we had nothing planned past our first two nights in Negombo, so while we were there, we started researching where else we should go. We came across this magnificent 5 start hotel called the Heritance Kandalama in Dambulla and I really wanted to stay there, for a 5 star hotel, the price was unbelievable so we booked that for 5 nights. We then went to a travel agents in Negombo (they are everywhere) to see where else we should go. We got talking to them in there and ended up actually booking a driver through them for the next 5 days. We told them we had two night booked at the Heritance Kandalama and wanted to end up back in Colombo for our last couple of nights, before we headed to India. They were fantastic in the travel agent and suggested some other places to go. The driver for the 5 days cost $500 USD and that also included two nights accommodation that they organized for us. They will ask you what kind of accommodation you want, we just said we wanted mid priced accommodation and I have to say, both places they arranged for us were really nice, with excellent food. I highly recommend doing this if you are laid back and not too worried about what you see and do. However if you are a planner, this probably won;t work for you. You can also plan yourself and travel by train or bus, rather than taking the travel agent route.
Our driver was absolutely amazing, he was so chatty and friendly, and because he was a local, we ended up stopping at some places that were off the beaten track, like little markets and stores that we would never have known about. He took us to a tea factory where we got to see how the tea was made, and that of course resulted in me buying ridiculous amounts of tea to bring home with us!
I definitely recommend visiting Kandy while you are in Sri Lanka, it is a large city in central Sri Lanka. There is a famouos temple here – The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
The legend says that the sacred tooth of the Buddha was snatched from the Buddha`s funeral pyre in India in 483 BC. In the 4th century AD, it was hidden in the hair of a princess and smuggled into Sri Lanka. The tooth has over the years been moved around Sri Lanka and was returned to India in 1283 by an invading army. It was then retrieved by the king of Sri Lanka and brought back to the country. It was believed that whoever had the custody of the tooth, had the right to rule the country.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic was built by the Kandyan kings between 1687-1707 and 1747-1782 and was part of the royal palace. You don`t, however, get to see the real tooth in the temple, as it is hidden in a golden casket shaped like a dagoba. We went to the temple in the evening and it was great. It was quite busy with locals and tourists alike, as Sri Lankan Buddhists go there to worship. We found it really interesting and it’s a beautiful temple.
Top tip: Make sure when you are visiting the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic that your shoulders and knees are covered, this goes for most temples in Sri Lanka. You won’t be allowed in if you are not appropriately covered as it’s very disrespectful. A lot of tourists aren’t aware of this. I always had a scarf or pasmina with me to cover my shoulders and our driver was very good at reminding me!
In Kandy we also went to a traditional show, where they showcase their traditional dance and also do fire walking. It was very impressive; the costumes were amazingly elaborate and it was a great experience. There are a few place sin Kandy that you can see the shows. You can find them all here in Lonely Planet’s guide.
If you want to purchase some jewelry at a very reasonable price, then I recommend visiting Isini while you are in Kandy. Its a mix of both a jewelry store and a mini museum where you can learn the history about gem mining in Sri Lanka. They will give you a tour and then end up in the showroom. Now obviously, in the showroom they will encourage you to purchase somethng, however, I didn’t find them to be aggressive at all. If you do want to purchase something, haggle with them. I spotted a sapphire ring I loved as the sapphire is my birth stone and I didn’t even haggle, I just said it was too expensive and the price immediately came down. I ended up getting it for a great price. If you look them up on trip advisor, there are mixed reviews but we enjoyed the experience, and I still wear my sapphire ring that i purchased there almost 7 years ago!
Sigiriya Rock is an absolute must while you are in this area. To this day I regret that we didn’t do the hike. Unfortunately on the day we went there to hike it, it was very wet and rainy, foggy and overcast. We debated whether it would be worth the hike or not as we knew we wouldn’t get the amazing view from the top because of the weather. It costs $40 to climb it, (or that was the cost in 2012) and if we ever go back to Sri Lanka it’s on the top of my list!
Just outside Kandy, there is an elephant orphanage that you can visit. It’s called Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I had mixed feelings about the elephant orphanage originally, however, when we were there I didn’t see anything that alarmed me, nor did I feel that the elephants were being treated poorly. You can google this place and read arguments on both sides of the fence, so I will leave you to make up your own mind on that. I will say, after being there I felt ok about it. While you are there, you can see the elephant bath time which was amazing! They walk the elephants through the village and accross the street to the river. You can hang out beside the river, there is also a restaurant and bar there so you can have a drink and watch the elephants bathe. I have since read reports that the elephants are forced into the water and beaten with sticks, however we didn’t witness anything like that. I think with any kind of animal sanctuaries, there will also be arguments on both sides, so I will leave it at that and let you make your own mind.
You can also do safaris in this area, we didn’t as we were already booked to do some safaris in India over the following weeks, but if you are interested in doing a safari then do them in that area!
Dambulla is near Kandy (about a 2 hour drive) and as I mentioned, I wanted to be fancy and stay in a 5 star hotel for the first time ever. The Heritance Kandalama was everything I dreamed of and more and I highly recommend it. It’s architecture is very cool and modern, but the way it was built is fascinating. It was built in a way where the outside jungle comes into he hotel, so there are areas that are totally opened, and the outside world literally sprawls into the hotel; plants, trees and even monkeys are in these areas. I really loved that about it! There are two restaurants there and both of them were absolutely amazing and there is an infinity pool that overlooks the jungle and that was just stunning!
Next up, Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa is an old city of Sri Lanka,thousands of years old and you can see the ruins of the royal castle, which is very spectacular. There are beautiful stone carvings and you can even see the King’s swimming pool! The Sacred Quadrangle is a compact group of beautiful and impressive ruins within a raised up platform bounded by a wall. This is the most concentrated collection of buildings in the whole Ancient City, and a must-see for any visitor! You must go to Gal Vihara while you are there. This is is a rock temple of the Buddha from the 12th century. Here you will see the seated Buddha, the reclining Buddha and the standing Buddha. These are considered to be some of the best examples of ancient Sinhalese sculpting and carving arts, and it’s very impressive.
We then made our way to Colombo where we said goodbye to our wonderful driver. We spent our last two nights in Colombo. Eating seafood is an absolute must in Colombo, so whatever you do, make sure you eat seafood! I also recommend the beautiful botanical gardens, although beware the monkey’s! Galle Face Green is a nice area to go for a seaside walk and some seafood snacks from beachside vendors! There are also some great restaurants there and you can eat while looking out over the ocean. Good Market is a nice place to check out for fresh fruit and vegetables and artisan foods.
Until next time 🙂