Help me visit Sri-Lanka
January 4, 2017 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Dear Hive, could you help me plan my honeymoon in Sri-Lanka?

I know where I want to go within the country but have no idea of transportation, restaurants or hotels to stay. Complicating matters we only have 5 days and 6 nights.

This our high level itinerary (in no specific order)

Rambukkana (ethical Elephant volunteer day)
Anuradhapura (one complete day)
Dambulla and Kandy (one day)
Kandy (second day)
Negombo (last day before leaving)

We arrive Feb 21st at 5PM and leaving February 27th at 5AM.

My questions are the following:

What are the main methods of transportation and approximate price? (Ideally we want to take the train once just so we can experience it)
Can we visit all the cities above or is it unrealistic?
Any specific hotels or restaurant recommendations?
posted by The1andonly to Travel & Transportation around Sri Lanka (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
That sounds ambitious, but doable. Those places are all relatively well connected and not too far apart.

Your transportation options are basically hiring a car and driver (relatively expensive, but quick and easy) or taking the train and buses (really cheap, slower, not always comfortable, but much more authentic, if that matters to you). There are some air conditioned buses that are more expensive and more comfortable, but only on some routes. The train is generally more comfortable and quicker than buses, and generally more pleasant, so take it whenever it is an option. Expect to pay only a few dollars per train or bus ride. You should not expect much space for baggage on the bus (carrying a small backpack is ideal) and you should expect that you might have to sit on the floor or stand on the bus or the train if it is full. Higher class tickets give you a better chance of sitting, but are not always available. Tuk-tuks are pretty cheap for local trips.

You can get a SIM card for your phone at the airport or pretty much anywhere for a few dollars, so you have data to look up schedules and maps. Train schedules are easy to find online and Lonely Planet has good details on buses (the tricky part is finding the right part of the bus station and the right bus).

There are tons of reviews online for hotels and restaurants, especially in touristy places like your destinations. You can pre-book or you can just show up, pick a place that looks good, and negotiate. Expect to pay $25-$60 for reasonable hotel rooms, depending on the location. Meals are a few dollars in local places, more at touristy places.

The train up into the hill country is pretty incredible; I would highly recommend going up past Kandy if at all possible. I'd rather travel on the train into the hill country than spend the day in Kandy, myself.
posted by ssg at 8:18 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Came in to say just what ssg said. I absolutely loved every minute of every train ride. Kandy was super-neat, but I *loved* the train rides. I really enjoyed Dambulla, but I'm not sure it would have been as enjoyable if I'd rushed it. Those steps at the cave temple are steeeeep.
I really recommend airbnb there. Unless you're looking for high-end lodging, there are a lot of very nice, very cozy homestays where the homeowners operate primarily through airbnb. Most of my favorite meals came from those homes as well.
posted by piedmont at 9:05 PM on January 4, 2017

This may be terribly irrelevant but the gorgeous Maldives are super easy to get to from Sri Lanka.
posted by cacao at 9:33 PM on January 4, 2017

I would do this the following way:

Land and hire a car (and driver) to Kandy, it's a three hour drive and costs around 60 US.

Kandy offers every level of comfort in accommodations, but for a honeymoon I would consider Mahaweli Reach Hotel.
Kandy is easy to get around by tuk-tuk, ( a few dollars per ride), but if you've hired your driver for the whole trip then he could take you from place to place too.
This is a good time to note that tourism is in its infancy in post civil war sri lanka and drivers for hire is a growing industry, very competitive. there are kiosks right in the terminal at the airport that can pretty much hook you up with a driver for what you plan to do. Expect to pay 50-70 US per day. the driver will find his own accommodations wherever you go.

Dambulla and Anuradhapura can be done together, and are often the beginning of a loop that takes in Trincomalee and Nilaveli beach (pigeon island), the return leg goes to Minneriya (wild elephants) and Sigiriya. I mention this because road travel in Sri Lanka is slow. You will average 40 kph or so and overland trips all take hours and hours so going up to the north and back again along the same path is a waste of your time (IMO).

Absolutely take the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. Again it's about a 3 hr ride to go 76 km. It's about 10 bucks to ride first class (no air conditioning, share seats well worth it) for the price I would just have the driver meet you in Nuwara Eliya and continue from there.

I have no knowledge of Rambukkana, but it seems like it is easy to close the loop through there and back to Negombo, although I wouldn't dedicate a day to Negombo other than getting to the airport 2 hrs before your flight.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:15 PM on January 4, 2017

I personally find your itinerary too ambitious; the roads in Sri Lanka, while better than they used to be, are quite primitive by western standards. It's also incredibly hot and humid. You will be far more exhausted by road travel than you expect and will need commensurate recovery time. The cultural triangle is large and you could easily spend three full days exploring it. From your itinerary, I would cut out Negombo; it's quite touristy and the beach is nothing special if you've been to Caribbean etc. You may find it exhausting even with this modification, particularly on a honeymoon where one expects a more languid pace.

In terms of transportation, I would advise a car and driver wherever possible. I can't comment on the train but your itinerary seems impossible if you're relying on the bus, and self drive is paradoxically close to the cost of car and driver for foreigners due to aforementioned road conditions.
posted by sid at 6:09 AM on January 5, 2017

I absolutely nth taking the train from Kandy to the hill country rather than spending a lot of time in Kandy. I would spend 4 days like this (leaving one for the elephant thing, though I'm not sure where to put it since I don't know where it is located):
- drive to Dambulla and visit the cave temples plus Anuradhapura/Polonnaruwa (pick one, that's a lot of ruins)
- 2nd day climb Sigiriya (you might have to wrestle yourself free from zealous "helpers" to take those stairs at your own pace) then drive to Kandy, explore Kandy in the afternoon.
- Take the train to Nuwara Eliya for the gorgeous scenery. It's cheap and very slow and incredibly lovely jungle and tea plantations. Have your driver take your luggage and meet you at the top. Taste some tea/explore Nuwara Eliya.
- Drive back down to someplace coastal. I really liked Bentota for some architectural goodness + a nice beach + low elevation tea for comparison, and it's close to Colombo for your departure but less tourist-trap-tastic than Negombo.

Absolutely hire a car and driver. The roads are terrible. I worked with a travel agency for hotel bookings and the driver and it was pretty painless. Memail for details if you like.
posted by janell at 12:43 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks Janell, Rambukkana is right in the middle of Colombo and Kandy!
posted by The1andonly at 2:42 PM on January 5, 2017

Oh, I should add, if you are really into the trains piece and want to do some train watching, you should take the train maybe to Ella instead of Nuwara Eliya. There's the Nine Arch Bridge between Ella and Demodara, and the train track loops around and tunnels under itself at the Demodara station.
posted by janell at 8:51 AM on January 6, 2017

« Older Non-alcoholic Robbie Burns options   |   Help me organize my job hunt, ADD edition Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.