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Sri Lanka - itinerary and guide help

Sri Lanka - itinerary and guide help

Old Jan 30, 18, 6:35 pm
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Sri Lanka - itinerary and guide help

Mrs. EssexNYC and I will be stopping in Sri Lanka for a week in August as part of a larger trip. We did a stopover for 12 hours last year between the Maldives and Dubai and were intrigued enough to go back for a longer visit. Our tastes skew luxury but we like traveling outside of package tours and love local experiences. My current plan is: arrive CMB late evening, overnight at Wallawwa (stayed there last time), fly Cinnamon to Sigiriya, spend three days in the Cultural Triangle (Kalundewa Retreat), then road to Koslanda or Ella for a night (with a day in Kandy on the way), then road to the ocean for two nights, then fly back to CMB to connect to our international flight.
Questions: 1) anything I am overlooking (trying to avoid crowds/traffic of Colombo and potential August rains of SW coast); 2) for ocean stay - any advice on Chena Huts (heard Yala park is overcrowded) vs. Amanwella (heard so-so); and 3) any recommendations on a guide that we can hire for 3-7 days (solid knowledge, English-speaking, in tune to needs)? Thank you all!
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Old Feb 1, 18, 5:41 pm
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Curious about this as well. I'll be going there in March and just booked Amangalla and Amanwella to make it as easy as possible (we'll be traveling with a baby).

Anywhere I can go to dig for sapphires?
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Old Feb 1, 18, 9:30 pm
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The only comment I have is that it is a lot of driving in one day from the Dambulla (Cultural Triangle) area, through Kandy, to Ella or Dickwella. However, the scenery will be pretty nice, especially going through the hill country. One option is to go by road from the Cultural Triangle area, spend a night in Kandy, and then take a Cinnamon air flight from Kandy to the southeastern coast.

Cinnamon air has a flight from Kandy (Polgolla) to Weerawilla, which is close to Yala, and onto Dickwella, which is about 30 minutes west of Tangalle, and then finally to Koggala, which is 30 minutes from Galle. In December 2017 I took this flight from Polgolla to Koggala and thought the $175 I paid for the 1.5 hour flight was totally worth it. The drive from Kandy to Galle would have taken the whole day. The day we took the flight there were no passengers getting off at Dickwella. So it was Polgolla to Weerawilla, and on to Koggala.

Last edited by sooge_sj; Feb 2, 18 at 1:27 pm
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Old Feb 2, 18, 8:47 am
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Agree that the drives are long. The roads are 2 lanes - one in each direction with lots of old trucks and giant buses that have a lower speed limit than cars which means it can take a long time to get from place to place. And you'd be driving through the mountains as well. So I think that is unrealistic to drive that far in one day including a stop in Kandy - which deserves at least a day on it's own.

I traveled with Kulansa tours which is a very small operation. But there are many other tour operators that offer the same sort of service with a driver/guide to take you around the island.

I liked Ella a lot. The view from my hotel out over the valley was spectacular. The hotel itself was fairly basic though.

I visited Yala and didn't find it especially crowded. We arrived before dawn and had to wait for the gates to open. It was a little bit of a free for all at first but then people spread out a little bit. Saw a few leopards which was apparently somewhat rare and caused a stir with lots of jeeps racing to the same spot - they communicate with each other by radio.

For just 1 week I think your plan might be a bit too ambitious. Perhaps limit yourselves to the cultural triangle area plus Kandy and tea country. There is Minneriya National park with tons of wild(-ish) elephants and lots of tourists close to Sigiriya. So maybe get your fill of animals there.

I spent 2.5 weeks doing Colombo, cultural triangle, Kandy, Nuwara Ellya, Ella, then Yala, an overnight at the Boulder Garden hotel followed by a morning at the nearby national park which I will have to look the name of, Galle and then a couple of quiet days on my own Ngombo. It really is a gorgeous country.

Last edited by glennaa11; Feb 3, 18 at 7:21 am
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Old Feb 3, 18, 5:04 pm
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Thank you for the thoughtful replies. I was concerned about the drive (I've been on a lot of these types of roads before!) and your guidance is making me re-plan the itinerary.
Currently, I am thinking: My current plan is: arrive CMB late evening, overnight at Wallawwa (stayed there last time), fly Cinnamon Air to Kandy with one night in Kandy (Elephant Stables), road to Dambulla area to spend three days in the Cultural Triangle (Kalundewa Retreat), then road to Trincomalee to be by the ocean for two nights (Uga Jungle Beach), then fly back to CMB to connect to our international flight. This way, we have only two drives of two+ hours between hotels, and we get a mix of town, culture/scenery, and beach. Does this make more sense?
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Old Feb 3, 18, 8:52 pm
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Sri Lankan here!

1) Yes - your most recent itinerary makes sense (and I totally agree with the previous commentators about keeping daily road travel short).

2) It's a bit late, but re: your questions on Amanwella vs. Chena Huts - I've been to the former, and found the service there to be of a very high quality (despite the reviews on Tripadvisor saying that hotel does not meet Aman's legendary standards!).

I've not been to Chena Huts, but I have stayed at a couple of other properties by Uga resorts. Their hotels are also pretty good, although I did find their standard of service to be a bit variable between properties (from extremely high, in the Uga Residence in Colombo, to merely "pretty good" at Ulagalla, Anuradhapura).

A couple of close friends have stayed at Uga Jungle Beach; they described the service as being less polished than Ulagalla - although this again is a relative comment; any of the Uga properties are still better than most "5-star" hotels in Sri Lanka!
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Old Feb 27, 18, 8:07 am
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If I could jump on this idea, we are passing through Sri Lanka in August and are thinking of extending the layover to 24 hours or so. Would that be worth doing, or is that just not enough time? It's unlikely that we will be able to make another trip to the area, so it's either 24 hours or we don't go at all. I'd be open to anything, either a beach, city, or middle-of-nature.
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Old Feb 27, 18, 9:37 pm
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24 hours would be sufficient time for a tour of Colombo city + souvenir shopping; alternately, you could spend that time in Negombo, exploring the beaches (although these are mediocre compared to those in the South/South-East/East of the country) and lagoon.

If you're energetic, you could try and pull off a trip to Sigiriya and back (~4 hours each way); a closer attraction is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (~2 hours of travel, one-way). My feel though, is that either of those trips would be exhausting if pulled off during a 24h stopover.
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Old Feb 27, 18, 11:51 pm
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For those contemplating a self driving option, I just learned the following from Sixt Car Rental agency. Sri Lanka does not recognize DL's from other countries, and will require that you buy a local temporary one for LKR 7200 (takes 3 hrs at their DMV). International Driving Permits require some kind of approval, which costs (surprise!) LKR 7200.
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Old Feb 28, 18, 12:00 am
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Frankly, I'd strongly advise against driving in Sri Lanka, unless you already have experience driving in South or South-East Asian cities.

The driving here is based on situational awareness (most drivers simply ignore the road rules), and you have motorcycles and trishaws criss-crossing in front of you, squeezing in beside you, and doing vehicular acrobatics at a moment's notice.

I'd say that the risk of an accident (and the sheer stress of driving under those conditions) is not worth it - especially when hiring a driver + car is relatively cheap.
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Old Feb 28, 18, 12:37 am
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Originally Posted by npsomaratna View Post
Frankly, I'd strongly advise against driving in Sri Lanka, unless you already have experience driving in South or South-East Asian cities.
Any advice how to get an acceptable driver without prior experience?
Sixt does have a car+driver option, but are dead silent about who they have available. They also have a form requiring renters not to leave anything unattended in the car with driver -- not exactly an endorsement of their own contractors.
Are there any driver listings with names, photos, reviews, etc.?
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Old Feb 28, 18, 12:59 am
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1) To the best of my knowledge, there is no review service or website for drivers.

2) Re: driver + car rentals - Kangaroo Cabs is a good choice. The drivers are experienced, professional, and reliable (I can attest to this from personal experience, as well as that of many local and foreign friends). However, they are one of the most pricey options, costing about LKR ~12,000 to 13,000 per day or so (~USD 90).

3) Re: getting a driver alone - I can provide the contact details of a reliable "rent a driver" service, which I use myself when going on long-distance trips. Off the top of my head, the price is between LKR 2,000 to 2,500 per day; it is also customary to provide the driver with a small amount of additional money to buy lunch and dinner.

Note: I am not sure if providing such details is against the forum policy; if so, my apologies. Just to be clear, I am a doctor by training and the current CEO of a medical education tech company; I have no hidden interests.
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    Old Feb 28, 18, 2:47 am
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    Originally Posted by npsomaratna View Post
    ... I am not sure if providing such details is against the forum policy; if so, my apologies. Just to be clear, I am a doctor by training and the current CEO of a medical education tech company; I have no hidden interests.
    IMO very helpful info, and perfectly appropriate for the forum. I'll PM you about the specifics.
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    Old Feb 28, 18, 11:49 am
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    most local tour companies should be able to arrange a car/driver for you. That's one of the main ways people see the island. I did a 17 day trip around the island with a driver/guide.

    Trip Advisor should have some tour company reviews, I think.

    For the person with only 24 hours, I'd say you would barely be scratching the surface. Colombo isn't really the greatest city....lots of traffic jams and not much in the way of sights anyway. I don't know where you're going to or from but the idea of just spending the time in Negombo does make some sense if you just want a beach. Given how long it takes to get from place to place I wouldn't probably go too far afield. But if you are really ambitious I suppose you could get to Dambulla or Anuradhapura. Google maps seems to think you can get there in about 3 hours but I recall it taking much longer. I suppose another consideration would be exactly when those 24 hours start/end...
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    Old Mar 5, 18, 2:35 pm
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    No matter what you wind up doing you're going to love Sri Lanka.

    I was going to suggest taking the tea train from Kandy to Ella. For the last three hours of the trip the train winds through tea plantations and a national park of incredible beauty. At the end you're in Ella, high in the mountains among the tea plantations with stunning views.

    We stayed at 98 Acres in Ella, which provides individual huts that overlook the Ella Gap while surrounded by tea and an enormous amount of birds including parrots and parakeets. Next time we're there, we'll stay in the exact same place and do the exact the same thing which was nothing but sit on the terrace and soak it all in.
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