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20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Bengaluru, India
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20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Hi,

My husband & I will be visiting Sri Lanka for 20 days, from approx. 17th Jan to 5th Feb 2014. Despite reading a lot of advice on this forum, we’ve decided to hire a self-drive car as we like driving around and don’t really enjoy being chauffeured. It seems to me that driving conditions and hazards in Sri Lanka are very similar to that in India (if not better), so we should hopefully be able to manage.

I’ve been reading my Rough Guide and trawling this forum for a few weeks now. However, I do have some questions for which I’d appreciate your help. A bit about our preferences, which may explain some of our questions / choices – We like to travel slow rather than see ‘everything’, like hikes & treks, are nature and wildlife enthusiasts and interested in history, culture and architecture. I definitely must thank you in advance for the patience you will need, to read this lengthy post!

My itinerary:

Day 1 – Fly into Colombo at 11:30 am. Use the rest of the day to relax, pick up the car and do paperwork for the AA permit. Overnight at Colombo.

Day 2 – Early morning drive to Anuradhapura (5 hrs). Sightseeing after lunch. Overnight at Anuradhapura.

Day 3 – Full day safaris at Wilpattu National Park. Overnight at Anuradhapura.

Day 4 – Spend time till about 3 pm, in Anuradhapura. Drive to Sigiriya/Habarana (2 hrs) before sunset. Overnight at Sigiriya/Habarana.

Day 5 – Sigiriya rock in the morning. Ritigala after lunch? Overnight at Sigiriya/Habarana.

Day 6 – Full day at Polonnaruwa. Overnight at Sigiriya/Habarana.

Day 7 – Leave early, see Dambulla on the way and reach Kandy for a late lunch. Overnight at Kandy.

Day 8 – Full day at Kandy. Overnight at Kandy.

Day 9 – Drive to Nuwara Eliya. Overnight at Eliya/Haputale/Ella (base undecided).

Day 10 – Horton Plain and World’s end. Overnight at base (undecided).

Day 11 – Spend the day at Eliya/Haputale/Ella. Overnight at base (undecided).

Day 12 – Drive to Sinharaja Forest reserve. Overnight at Sinharaja.

Day 13 – Full day at Sinharaja. Overnight at Sinharaja.

Day 14 – Drive to Mirissa. Overnight at Mirissa.

Day 15 – Whale-watching trip. Overnight at Mirissa.

Day 16 – Spend in Galle / beach in the South / beach on the West coast.

Day 17 – Spend in Galle / beach in the South / beach on the West coast.

Day 18 – Drive to Colombo. Return car. Overnight at Colombo.

Day 19 – Colombo. Overnight at Colombo.

Day 20 – Leave by afternoon or evening flight to India.

My queries are:

Does this itinerary seem rushed?

Colombo to Anuradhapura – I’m confused about which route to take. I’m planning a non-stop drive as I want to reach Anuradhapura early. However, if there are places you’d recommend seeing en-route, I’ll see how to incorporate that.

It seems a shame to not go to Wilpattu. However, that does eat into our time at Anuradhapura and I’m wondering if the time we have there (a little over 1 day) is okay. From what I’ve read, the scale of the site at Anuradhapura seems akin to Hampi (in India) and I can imagine being able to spend even 3-4 days there. However, I’m torn between this and Wilpattu. Also, given this time-frame at Anuradhapura, Mihintale seems ruled out. Would you strongly recommend adding a day to this sector?

Is it realistic to go to Ritigala in the afternoon, after Sigiriya rock, considering that we may not have more than 2-3 hours, including driving time from Habarana, before sunset? We’d like to avoid any night driving.

At all sites in the cultural triangle, is there a ‘SAARC discount’? I’ve heard it mentioned on & off but absolutely unsure how it works.

I’m confused about where to base myself in the Hill country – between Nuwara Eliya, Haputale and Ella. Any pros/cons I should look out for?

I’m not sure if Jan-Feb is a good time for trekking in Knuckles range. If so, I’ll probably add a day to Kandy and deduct one from Nuwara Eliya/Haputale/Ella.

Since we’re self-driving, we’ll need guides at certain places. Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Ritigala, Polonnaruwa and Kandy – guides seem to be available at entrances to all these places. However, considering my interest in history & architecture, I’m wondering if it would be wise to hire a knowledgeable local guide but I haven’t found any information except about driver-guides. Any recommendations on how to do this? Again, I’ll need guides for Wilpattu, Sinharaja and Knuckles range. Is there somebody I can contact? For both, I’d prefer small, local set-ups as opposed to big travel agents.

Other than Mirissa, I’m unsure of where to spend a couple of days along the coast. I’ve narrowed it down to Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa or Bentota. I’m not particularly looking for a noisy or active night-life, nor does the ‘resort feel’ of Bentota seem appealing. All I need is accommodation at walking distance from the beach, a good stretch of sand for walks, a sea which is safe for swimming and some restaurant/shack options for dining.

I’ll be in Colombo during Independence Day on 4th Jan; is that going to be a problem? I’m specifically wondering about traffic while moving around Colombo, availability of rickshaws, places being shut, or any other restrictions.

Sorry to have rambled on; I’d really appreciate your feedback and advice.

Raji

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Destination Expert
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1. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Hi Raji,

Will try.

1] Kurunegala or Puttalam routes are about as fast. Probably with the new Airport Expressway the Puttalam route is 20-30 mins quicker, but cost Rs 300 extra.

2] Wilpattu, just like all Indian reserves, hardly has interesting things between 9 AM and 3 PM; too hot for the beasties. Hence a fullday might be too much.

3] A'Pura has an entrance fee for the sights _per day_, so more than one day eats from the budget. In the end your choice.

4] Yes the sights here should all have SAARC discount, probably around 50%.

5] Sigiriya costs 3 hours hence Ritigala could fit yes.

6] Ohiya, Haputale or Ella are all good bases while IMHO Eliya is not.

7] Mirissa, Unuwatuna and Hikka could all be fine for you

8] 4-Jan avoid Colombo city centre, the rest would be fine.

All the best,

<Erik> & [Sandya]

Fredericia, Denmark
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37,532 posts
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2. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Why avoid Colombo city centre 4 January?

Hans

Colombo, Sri Lanka
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for Sri Lanka
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3. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Oops yes, I think OP typed it wrong and that 4-Feb, not 4-Jan, is Independence day. On which for sure the city centre needs to be avoided due to road blocks, parades etc. But they WILL be there that date, it's just a typo in the message. Thanks for pointing out the copying of the typo....

<Erik> & [Sandya] / in town 4-Jan...

Edited: 11 December 2013, 13:05
Fredericia, Denmark
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4. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

In the last few years Independence Day parades have not been held in Colombo.

Hans

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Destination Expert
for Sri Lanka
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5. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Yes right, last one was in Trinco. But next one still needs to be announced, for current tourist planning I'd say better safe than sorry ....

Tnx,

<Erik> & [Sandya]

Bengaluru, India
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6. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Oops...extremely sorry! Hans, thanks for pointing that out. That is a typo; I meant 4th Feb. I will be there in Colombo then and will avoid the city center.

Erik, thanks for your response. Since the route to Anuradhapura via Kurunegala is good, would it also be worthwhile spending a couple of hours at Kurunegala, Arankele or Yapahuwa?

Like you've rightly said, there won't be too much activity at Wilpattu once the sun is harsh. But, from what I've read about packages offered, you can either book a 'half-day' i.e 1 safari, or a 'full-day' i.e 2 safaris. They also offer 'picnic packs' for the full day safari, so I presumed that was the standard package. I'm not inclined to have a picnic in the park and would rather return to the park gate after the morning safari, rest and grab a bite to eat before the evening safari. Is there a hotel nearby, which will allow visitors to walk into their restaurant for lunch?

Anuradhapura - Because of my itinerary, I may have to shell out the entry fee for two days, then. What is your opinion of Mihintale? I may need to add a day at Anuradhapura if I decide to go there.

I hadn't considered basing myself at Ohiya; now that you mention it, it seems a great option!

Raji

Edited: 11 December 2013, 13:34
Fredericia, Denmark
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7. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Yapahuwa and Mihintale are both worth a visit.

Hans

Colombo, Sri Lanka
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4,668 posts
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8. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

1) As Erik said, the (A3) Puttlam road is 20-30 minutes quicker than the OLD colombo - puttlam - annuradhapura road. Lately there has a been a bit of traffic - sand lorries - on the (A6) Kurunegala Dambulla road. Colombo, Negombo, Puttlam, (A3 and A12) Annuradhapura is the easiest way to go.

2) IF you're really determined on Wilpattu AND you're only spending a day in Annuradhapura, then you *could* spend the first night in Kalpitiya, and then drive to Annuradhapura (via Willpattu) early next morning. This is obviously just an idea since your initial itinerary sounds fine.

8) I've heard the next independence day celebrations being in Kegalle. So maybe the Colombo /Kandy road should be avoided.

Bengaluru, India
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9. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

Hans, thanks; will see how I can accommodate that.

Seeking places, that is a good idea. Instead of spending the first night in Colombo, I could have the car dropped to us at the airport and drive on to Wilpattu itself and stay there for the night. Kalpitiya may be a little too far if we want to make it on time for the early morning safari without waking up at unearthly hours.

My only worry is this - I'm not sure if our car rental agency can arrange for our permits without us having to go to Colombo for it. And, if I want to reach Wilpattu before sunset, I'm not sure if landing in Sri Lanka at 11:30 am is okay. I might need to take the red-eye from Madras, in that case. Will sleep this over.

Edited: 12 December 2013, 05:48
10. Re: 20-day self-drive itinerary - need help tweaking

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