I have been selling the island of Sri Lanka for about 25 years now, and finally decided to visit myself. I am so glad I did, what a wonderful country! We decided to tour with a private car and driver as I am not good on coaches. Our driver met us at Colombo airport and drove us to Bentota, about two hours’ drive away for an overnight stop. This was purely to break the journey down to Yala NP.
We stayed at Centara Ceysands Bentota. This is quite a unique hotel as the reception area is on the mainland and then you go over by a boat to the actual hotel which is on a strip. Our room was lovely and there is a choice of restaurants besides the Buffet Restaurant which is the main one if you are on HB.
Early the next morning our driver was waiting for us at the reception for the 4-hour drive to Yala NP. I was so glad we had a driver and did not decide to attempt the drive ourselves. It is mad. So many tuc tuc's and motorbikes. Plus, hundreds of dogs that just wander into the road. On the way down he pointed out paddy fields and explained how they harvest the rice and how they lived. He made the journey go really quickly. They drive on the same side of the road as us, and I was surprised to see nearly all the signs were in English. Obviously from when it was a British Colony.
On arrival at Jetwing Yala we were quickly checked into our room, which was amazing. It is at the far south of the country and borders a beach through the trees. We were advised not to wander down there after dark. We soon discovered why as there was a lone elephant eating the bushes right outside of the hotel. Plus, the next day we saw a herd of wild pigs walking through with their babies.
The first evening we went for our safari into the park. We had our own driver for this, along with Roshan our guide. It was not long before we saw a small herd at the side of the track. The biggest problem with Yala NP is the number of vehicles allowed in. As soon as we saw the elephants, we were inundated with other jeeps all converging. It did spoil it a bit, but we were so excited to be so close to the elephants we decided it was worth it.
Early the next morning (5.30 am) we went off for our morning safari. If we thought there were a lot of vehicles the evening before, we were stunned to see how many were lining up to enter the park for the morning one. It was like Piccadilly Circus in rush hour. But, once again, it was worth it as, as soon as we were in the park, we saw a leopard walking along the track. You could practically touch him. He completely ignored everyone though, clearly used to it.
On the third day we made our way north to Nuwara Eliya, another 4-hour drive. This time we were in the mountains and it was beautiful. This is Sri Lankas tea growing region and the town itself still has a very colonial feel to it with some of the buildings. We decided to only stay here for the one night. Again, Roshan pointed out places of interest along the way, stopping at a waterfall so we could stretch our legs and have a wander. This was a very green and lush environment. I was even more glad of Roshans driving as the road twists and turns as it climbs and they do not drive slowly.
The next morning, we began our drive to Kandy, back down the mountains for a three-hour drive. Kandy is a very busy bustling city full of noise. We chose to stop at the Royal Botanical Gardens Peradeniya just outside of Kandy. A much-needed break from the hustle and bustle as it was so beautiful, and we enjoyed our walk around here.
We had 2 nights in Kandy and the next day Roshan collected us in the afternoon for a visit to the Temple of the Tooth. One of Sri Lanka's prime tourist attractions. He advised that we fist enjoyed a cultural show before heading into the Temple to experience the nightly 'puja' which is a ritual of offerings to the Buddhist Monks. Roshan explained the origins of the Buddhist Tooth. What was once the Buddhits Bath House is now the local police station.
From Kandy we drove to Sigiriya and the famous Lions Rock. We stayed here for two nights and could have stayed longer as there is so much to see and do in this area. which is known as the Cultural Triangle. The rock is 656 ft high. Once again Roshan told us the history of this amazing site. We did not climb the rock, we left that to the younger visitors.
The next day we visited Minneriya NP. This area forms part of the Elephant Corridor that connects the surrounding areas. Once again, we saw herds of elephants. some with babies. It was not nearly as hectic as Yala was.
Our last day we visited Dambulla Caves Temples. Wow. There are 5 caves in all, each one as amazing as the last. How on earth they carved the beautiful statues out of the granite rocks is beyond me. We found this very moving. We ended our journey in Negombo for an overnight stop before flying to the Maldives the next day.
There was so much of Sri Lanka we did not see, and I would definitely go back. But it’s the people that make this country as wonderful as it is. Their hospitality knows no bounds. Everyone is smiling. I wish I had not waited so long to visit this fabulous country.