In August 2016 we spent 7 nights in Sri Lanka. Before our visit we had heard mixed reviews, people either seemed to absolutely love it or just weren’t bothered about it all. We thought we ought to find out for ourselves!
Read on to find out what we did, where we recommend, and where we don’t!
PLACES I RECOMMEND:
Where: Central Sri Lanka
We stayed at: Hotel See Kandy (would recommend)
Duration: 2 nights
Kandy is a cool place – vibrant, busy and colourful. Our hotel was situated at the top of a hill and had beautiful views.
Royal Botanical Gardens: We loved it here. There is so much to see, from giant bamboo to bats and monkeys; from gorgeous flower beds to perfectly straight palm trees.
Kandy Esala Perahera: Our time in Kandy coincided with their annual festival also known as ‘The Festival of The Tooth’. Imagine fire dances, traditional costumes, fireworks and music. The city was alive with festival fever when we were there and it was cool to experience.
Kandy lake: It’s a lake. It’s pretty. Have a wander!
Temple of the Tooth: We didn’t actually visit because we were rather ‘templed out’ but it is one of the main attractions in Kandy.
Where: Central Sri Lanka (North of Kandy)
Accommodation: Hotel Eden Garden (would recommend due to location and pool, although we did find a frog in our room!!)
Duration: 1 night
Sigiriya Rock: Climbing ‘Lion’s Rock’ was undoubtedly our favourite activity of the entire trip. Our hotel was about a 15 minute tuk tuk ride away and we hired a lovely driver who stayed with us for the whole day. He even brought us some fresh corn from his garden and cut us down some coconuts which were so refreshing after our sweaty hike! Read my full post on climbing Sigiriya here.
PLACES I WOULD SKIP
Where: South-West Coast, (just South of Colombo)
Accommodation: Wunderbar Beach Hotel (would not recommend)
Duration: 3 nights
We arrived in Bentota with great expectations of a beautiful beach, fantastic food and perfect weather. Unfortunately, we were quite disappointed! It was rainy to start with, and even when the weather cleared we couldn’t swim in the sea as it was too choppy. Having been lucky enough to have visited amazing beaches, Bentota did not stand out either. The food was unexciting too.
Although we did enjoy our time here overall (it was nice to relax at the start of our trip) we should have only booked 2 nights.
Despite this, our room was lovely and the location was cool – you had to cross a train track to get to the beach!
Where: West Coast (just North of Colombo)
Accommodation: Camelot Beach Hotel (would recommend)
Duration: 1 night
Again, it was nice but nothing spectacular. The Camelot Beach Hotel was a lot nicer than the Bentota hotel though, and the food much better. The pool area was lovely but other than sunbathing there isn’t much to see.
However, if I had to recommend somewhere to start/end your trip close to Colombo Airport I would choose Negombo over Bentota.
DECIDE FOR YOURSELF:
PINNAWALA ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE
Elephants have always been one of my favourite animals and seeing them up close has always been on my list. We researched Pinnawala before visiting and found very mixed reviews, so chose to visit and decide for ourselves.
Although it is amazing to see these beautiful creatures up close, you soon find out that the guys encouraging you to take a photo with the elephants are holding a sharp metal rod against the elephant so that they don’t move. And, when they move locations within the orphanage there are chains around their legs. This did upset me and it seemed cruel and unethical. They do get hours a day bathing in the nearby river, and watching them march through the street is like a real-life scene from the Jungle Book, but many of them are chained to rocks under the surface of the water which isn’t obvious at first glance, especially not in the beautiful Instagram photos I’m sure you have seen.
After some research however it seems that male elephants go through what is called a ‘musth period’ for certain months of the year which can give them aggressive tendencies, and testosterone levels 60 times higher than normal. Therefore the safety of the other elephants and the visiting public have to be taken into account. Also, many of these elephants may not survive in the wild if released, having now been brought up by humans.
So, on the one hand you have almost 100 healthy elephants living at Pinnawala with an abundance of food and drink with lots of space to roam. On the other hand, potentially only half of these elephants may survive in the wild, but will perhaps live a slightly happier and more natural life. It is not an easy question to answer and could easily warrant a blog post in itself!
There are multiple issues surrounding Pinnawala and lots has been written about it but I do think the elephants are looked after well all things considered. Whether you visit is up to you!
A TRAIN RIDE!
Ok so this doesn’t really belong in this section, you SHOULD go on a train ride in Sri Lanka. The scenery is epic.
The reason I put it under this heading is that the experience didn’t end up being the best one for me! I can get claustrophobic sometimes and we chose to take our first Sri Lankan train ride on the hottest day of our trip during rush hour. Cue me telling J I wasn’t feeling so good and then waking up having passed out on the floor with about 10 faces staring down at me! I got us a seat though haha! In all seriousness, experiencing a train journey is one of the must-sees of Sri Lanka, just be prepared for the heat and lots of people!
WHAT WE WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY:
- Our Sri Lankan ‘beach experience’ was disappointing – if we had more time I am sure we would have travelled further afield to reach the better beaches and our experience would have been different.
- Because our Sri Lanka trip was followed immediately by 4 nights in The Maldives I think we would have cut out most of our chill time in Sri Lanka and factored in some more activities.
- I would have liked to hike Adam’s Peak, gone on a proper safari in one of the National Parks instead of Pinnawala and visited Galle on the South Coast.
I feel like this post is almost a little negative but I’m always honest about my experiences! We did think it was a beautiful country, just not one of our favourites!
I hope this post has helped you learn a little more about Sri Lanka!
Let me know if you have any more questions!
Or read my post specifically about climbing Sigiriya Rock here.