Itinerary: Colombo - Galle - Haputale - Kandy - Sigiriya - Wilpattu - Negombo
Day 1 and 2 - We arrived at Colombo Airport early morning, easily exchanged money at the airport exit (not the best rate of course), we choose to find a taxi outside but we got scammed, the driver told us R2000, we said ok we left the airport then a few minutes later he stopped and said ok so it`s R3000…. lots of talks and arguments, we kept on going with him anyway, too tired to start all over again. No traffic at all, we arrive in Colombo in 30mins. We had booked 2 nights at Lake Lodge, small boutique hotel, quite nice and well located. No driver needed while you are in Colombo the Tuktuk are much cheaper. (Short one way drive is between R150 to R300). I would say that 1 full day could be enough in Colombo, there is not much to visit. We went to the Old Dutch Hospital, walked in Pettah (Be careful in that area if you are a solo girl traveller), around Viharamahadevi Park and Galle Road to the Barefoot shop.
Day 3 - We had book a driver in advance via email thanks to reviews online (see driver comments at the end), so we started our road trip from Colombo to the south, there is an expressway to Galle so if you need to save time it could be useful. We took the road along the coast, most of the road is inland but it is quite nice to cross villages, anyway the beach is not very nice before Galle. On the way we stopped at the Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery knowing that the best time to visit is on evenings as this is when they release the 3 days old turtles into the ocean but as our hotel was quite far we just stopped to see the centre. They give a good information about their project to save turtles, it seemed relatively honest even though the entry price keeps going up every week. But you just never know if they help the turtles or they just run a business. Next stop was Galle, easy to walk around not many cars, a few shops and hotels. We walked around the fort walls. The 3 hours stop was enough for us but most people choose to sleep there. Back on the road towards Mirissa, we chose an hotel a few km after Unawatuna (Cantaloupe Aqua Hotel), a bit lost but so nice to relax. Great restaurant on site.
Day 4 - We woke up very early to drive to Mirissa and do the whale watching cruise, be very careful with this as there are at least 10 different boats all going to the same spot, tickets can vary from R4000 to R10000…It was the end of the whale season so we only saw one, and a few dolphins, the nicest thing about the cruise was to see the sunrise from Mirissa fishing port, with all the coloured fishing boats, very nice pictures. On the way back we went to Unawatuna to get a quick lunch on the beach. This is where everyone stays, made me think of busy Koh Phi Phi island in Thailand, lot of europeans mostly backpackers, not sure if it`s a really good party place but it looked like a spring break spot.
Day 5 - Never trust the timing on google map! We drove to Haputale, even using the expressway it took us almost 6 hours to get there.. long driving day. This drive needs to be split somehow.
Day 6 - We visited Dambatenne Tea Factory (bad review, not worth the visit), and drove to Pattipola train station to take a ride on the train to Ella (Journey maps:www.seat61.com/SriLanka.htm, timetable:http://eservices.railway.gov.lk/schedule/homeAction.action?lang=en). Amazing views onboard, this is definetly a must do. We were quite surprised when we arrived in Ella, reading the guides it looked like the place to be but it was a small village with too many European style restaurants and coffee places. We drove back to our hotel lost in the mountains, Melheim resort.
Day 7 - Once again long drive! Haputale to Sigirya, another good 5hours. We stopped on the way at the Mackwoods tea factory not to visit as we had already visited Dambatenne but just to make a stop and enjoy the free tea. Along the road surprising scenery, lot of tea pickers. We arrived for lunch in Kandy, and were glad to make it a quick stop, the city is quite big, lot of traffic, not for us. We walked around the lake, visited the Selyn shop, and that`s about it. We didn`t want to visit the temple so just kept going to Sigiriya as we wanted to stop in Dambulla to visit the cave temple. Unfortunately the rain started and once in Dambulla it was so heavy, the roads were flooded, there was no way we could visit anything.. We arrived in Sigiriya at the Elephant Corridor Hotel early evening.
Day 8 - Ready to climb up Lion rock! I agree it`s better to go early, we arrived just before 9am and it was ok all the groups arrive around 9.30/10am. At the ticket counter, the price was in US$.. and it changes every day, we payed R3900 each. Be careful with those guides and so called helpers on the way, they just want money. The climb up is not hard, a kid could do it easily, but you still need to be fit as even at 9am it is already 35 degrees. Take lot of water, you will drink it all anyway. The last part of stairs till the summit is quite steep. We didn`t spend that much time at the top, the way down is easy except that steep part. To get back to the parking you need to go through different shops, where you can buy water, juices and a whole bunch of very weird souvenirs.
From there we drove straight to Polonnaruwa, tickets R3500 each. You can rent bikes at the main entrance, we visited around noon so this was not an option way too hot, we went to the sites with the car and some are walking distance from each other. For this site they ask you to be covered (knees and shoulders), but we were the only ones to respect it. We visited about 6 sites including the reclining Buddha. You need to take your shoes off, be careful the sand/ground is burning, take socks with you. On the road back we saw one wild elephant by the lake. Usually there are many in this area.
Day 9 - We were heading to Wilpattu NP. But visited a Batik Fabric and a Spice Garden on the way, very informative but not the place to buy anything, spices can be found easily in markets. We took a back road to Wilpattu, great drive. We arrived at 3pm and instead of doing the morning Jeep Safari we went straight for an evening drive.
Entrance fee for 2 was R5800 (mostly taxes..) and Jeep hire R5000 a bit too much for two but ok if you are 2 couples I guess. We were a bit disappointed by the park itself, but we are used to African Safari so of course they can`t compete!
Nice lakes with the sun going down, great colours, as for the wildlife we saw many colourful birds, deers, buffalos, a crocodile, a leopard (but half a sec behind the bush) and heard an elephant. We stayed at the small guesthouse near the entrance, Wilpattu Teal Cottages. There is another hotel nearby, I believe you can just arrive and check-in no need to pre-book online.
Day 10 - Drive to Negombo, stop at a big Tamil Temple on the road. We stayed at a beach hotel, Goldi Sands so didn`t explore Negombo city itself. Along the coast, heaps of restaurants, hotels, bar and shops. After all it`s the closest city to the airport so everyone needs to stay there at least one night! Which is more than enough.. If you are thinking about skipping Galle to Tangalle coast to replace it by Negombo, you`re making a big mistake as Negombo beach is nothing magical. Taxi to the airport was R1600.
General comments on hotels: Half of our hotels were full so we were glad to have selected and booked online. If you don`t book anything the driver will always bring you to an hotel which has a nice accommodation for him fist so be careful. Hotel`s restaurant can go from cheap and perfect to overpriced and bad for the same hotel price range. Keep you belongings safe.
General comments on drivers: We hesitated a long time between renting a car or having a driver, I remember reading a comment saying it was not worse than driving in Italy.. it is! There are many buses on the road and they drive crazy always passing cars and other buses, with tuktuk in the middle mixed with bicycles.. plus directions are not always clear, even with the GPS on the iphone it was tricky.
Car + Driver is not that expensive from US$45 to 65 per day all inclusive. Of course a tip is appreciated on top of that. We met drivers who were speaking Spanish, Italian, French, Russian so I am sure you can find what suits you best.
We contacted Anu (www.srilanka-4u.com), he replied very quickly to our emails. Anu has a pool of drivers, so if he`s not available he will find a reliable driver for you.
Budget: We spent $2500 half of this for hotels. You can easily have a smaller budget if you stay in more basic hotels.
Food is cheap if you avoid fancy restaurants in Colombo.
10 days was perfect, I guess you could do it in 8 but not less.
If you have more time there are plenty of other places to visit on the east coast of the island.
Trip Advisors Links
Hotels in order - We reviewed all of them
One great website to plan your holiday http://www.reddottours.com