We are a family of 5 – kids aged 13, 11 and (almost) 3. We had a travel agent in Sri Lanka plan our 10 day tour and make all hotel bookings and train tickets for us (you’re welcome to pm for info). But since I also used this forum I just wanted to give some ideas and info back.
Normally I’m planning our trips myself, so I did not notice until 3 days before departure, that our travel dates did not match the bookings – we arrived 1 am on 16th not 15th of August, this meant we had to go straight from the airport to Ella to catch the train for Nuwara Eliya.
We arrived (about 2 am) in the airport and went through immigration really easy (no lines at all, so immigration took only 5 minutes), got our bags, just to find out our stroller was totally destroyed – so it took some time to get the paper, to show the airline, when we come back. Our fantastic driver Mr. Bandara was waiting for us, helped us with mobile card (which is really easy even at 3 am) and 3.20 am we started the tour.
The agent described the bus as: modern minivan with ac – and I must say, that the ac was working, but I was kind of expecting a vehicle from this millennium…… But the seats reclined and soon we were all sleeping, and woke up, to the magnificent mountains – I was stunned by the views, waterfalls and all the greenery. Simply beautiful!
We arrived in NE about 10, had breakfast and went to the station, just to find out the train was 20 min late, turned out to be 55 min in the end. We had tickets to 1st class observation car, and was a little disappointed, that the windows was small, so you had to be out on the small platform to get the real views. But it was still impressive, we took tons of photos. Train is slow, but it’s worth the trip, and one of our favorites in Sri Lanka.
Arriving in Nanu Ora, our drives picked us up, and we headed for Kandy – stopping only to get pictures of the waterfalls. Around 7 pm we arrived in Kandy and our hotel: Mountain Breeze (ok, a bit worn out, but seemed clean and staff was helpful, breakfast was nice and with fresh juice). We asked for dinner and was told it would take about 1 hour! Still we ordered and then took a bath while waiting. Food was ok – but would have been better to eat before arrival.
The next day we saw Temple of sacred tooth relic – this can not be recommended on a Saturday – simply too many people. We also visited a tea factory (interesting) and had a walk in Kandy city. We had tickets for the Kandy Perahara (only for the adults) and had to be on our spaces by 5 pm according to the tickets. Could have just been there 7.30 pm. We paid 85$ per ticket on 1st floor of the Midland Deli, but was showed of to Pizza Hut. I would advise people to not by tickets at this price, but rather wait and by on the day – we saw several signs with availability and it was A LOT cheaper. The Perahara itself is interesting but very, very long, we’re glad we left the children at home!
Next day we left for Sigirya – stopped by a “Spice garden”, which the kids found very good, was (again) fooled and paid way too much for the products. Also stopped to climb to “Dambulla cave temples”, which to us was ok, but nothing more.
In Sigirya we stayed at “Kassapa Lions Rock” – our favorite hotel of the tour. Nice big, clean rooms and bathrooms. Cool swimming pool, good food and attentive staff.
We decided the kids could stay at home, while we did the climbing of Sigirya Rock, but really I think they missed out on this trip. I was impressive and not as hard a climb as it looked. We took a “guide” at the entrance, and I don’t think we would have enjoyed the place so much, if we had done it on our own. I would advice that you agree on a price before you go, as ours declined the 1000 Rupees we offered and asked for 2000 instead – before I could react my husband had given him the money – together with the entrance fee of 30$ per person I think it was expensive.
Afternoon we did the Safari in Minnerya National Park. Thanks to TA I knew the price, and did not pay the 50$ per person they tried to charge, but insisted to pay 50$ for the jeep and the pay the entrance fees myself (15$ per adult 8$ for kids 6-12 years+8$ administration fee and 12% Vat). We had a nice afternoon – to others: remember to apply sunscreen before you go. Saw lots of elephants, but little else.
We reluctantly left Kassapa Lions Rock hotel and drove of to Trincomalee – Pidgeon Beach Resort, would not recommend this hotel, as it was old, worn out, pool was green on arrival and had no shade, beach was nice, but did not have enough sun loungers/parasols, food was hit and miss and pricy.
But worst of all: they charged 95$(+15$ entrance fee for the island!) for 2 dives, 25$ more than the Chaaya Blu, and since we’re 4 divers that would mean 100$ overcharge. I tried to ask for discount, but we ended with 2 of us diving from Pidgeon Island and the rest had a nice day snorkeling. The next day we went to the Chaaya Blu and had fantastic dives –It not Maldives or the read sea, but we saw lots of beautiful colored corals and even a turtle on each dive.
We had 4 nights in Trincomalee, and then did the long drive back to Colombo/Negombo, where we stayed at “Paradise Beach Resort” a mosquito infested place, that I would never stay at again – suddenly we were very happy for the mistake on the dates since it saved us for a night in this hotel.
I should write about the driving and traffic in Sri Lanka – maximum speed limit seemed to be 60 km/pr hour, cows and dogs frequently crossed the road, and TukTuks, bikes and motorbikes seemed to be everywhere, but could “easily” be passed – just honk the horn, busses are a bit more difficult…… I would say though, that it felt safe and in 9 days we saw 2 minor accidents – which is more or less the “daily rate” I see, where we live.
Mozzies: I normally get bitten a lot, but found most places we visited to be mosquito free! Got 3-4 bites from we arrived and till we checked in an Paradise Beach Hotel – that one night I got 20-30 bites.
Stroller: we never missed the stroller – most places you can’t use an umbrella type anyway.
All in all we liked Sri Lanka for the beautiful scenery and smiling people – most places we visited had great service. But we left with a little sour taste in the mouth for the prices that tourists are charged, I don’t mind paying more that the locals but this felt like “squeezing the lemon”.
We paid 2200$ for the driver, hotels and train tickets.