Sri Lanka

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My husband and I are thinking of spending a month in Sri Lanka in Jan/Feb 2012. Has anyone out there traveled throughout the country? Thanks for any info.

Been there twice but only up to Kandy and the former British Hill Station "'Nuwara Eliya" which I can highly recommend. I used SITA to make my arrangements and they took care of everything, car, driver, hotels and airport pick-ups. Lovely country, narrow winding roads so it takes a while to get from here to there. No sign of past tragic political troubles, though traffic in Columbo is choking but can be a lot saner on Sundays if you can schedule that. It still retains that wonderful feeling of Old Empire architecture and city parks and planning and exotic local culture, food and horticulture, but prepare to heat and humidity. So sorry, no reports from beyond these several well touristed locales. Most hotels are on the "American Plan" which means they include dinner as well - so plan accordingly if you want to sample local cuisine for dinner instead. Grand old hotels in this country, as well as stunning newer ones as well. Street food tasty and did not have any travellers troubles.

Sri Lanka is stunningly beautiful, people are happy, well-educated, well fed and in this post-tsunami time, anyone who wants to work can find it. I visited on a group tour about 6 years ago, and here are some general thoughts for you:

1. If your travels take you near Sirigriya Rock Fortress, Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage or any Buddhist sites, be sure to stop in - there will always be licensed (ask to see the license to be sure) guides hanging around the entrance to the site.

2. In Colombo, you might enjoy stopping for tea or lunch in the Galle Face Hotel - a 140 year old Colonial Raj-era place. It sits at one end of a wide beach and boardwalk style area.

Galle Face Hotel
2 Galle Road

3. When visiting Yala National Park, think about staying at the Rosen Renaissance Hotel in nearby Kataragama
It was one of my favorites in Sri Lanka and was a complete surprise. Kataragama is a nothing town, near Yala National Park and a famous shrine dedicated to (I think) Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. Rates on the weekend are higher as that is when businessmen come to worship. Rates during the week are more moderate. Their swimming pool has underwater music! All the rooms have balconies or patios.

4. Food
Service in Sri Lanka is slow. So almost all restaurants have buffets for all meals. If you order off the menu, it takes about 45 minutes. We always ate from the buffets, which were good. Food is not expensive in Sri Lanka and it is less spicy that that of India. No one in our group got sick (though we all drank bottled water) and we ate salads and fruit plates galore with no ill effects.

5. Shopping
A. Sri Lanka has wonderful gemstones, especially sapphires (blue, pink and yellow), rubies and star sapphires and aquamarine. They have a very rare stone called Alexandrite - which runs from $600 to $2000 a carat! If you buy gems, you need to get an customs certificate which certifies that the dealer has paid the tax, otherwise you will be taxed on your way out. Our guide told us to get three receipts: a receipt for the amount paid, a certificate of authenticity and the customs (tax) receipt.

It is always better to buy from a reputable store that you find yourself. If your driver or guide takes you in - you can figure on at least a 20% markup. This is customary in both Sri Lanka and India.

B. You will see Colombia brand sportswear for sale in the markets. It is the real thing! Colombia has factories in Nuwara Eliya and their “seconds” or “five finger discount” items end up in the public markets. It is VERY inexpensive!

6. Ayurvedic Medicine
Sri Lanka (and South India, especially Kerala) is known for this type of therapeutic massage. Most of the hotels will offer it and it is essentially massage with herbal oils. If they do it right, you will lay on frangipani flowers and two (same-sex) people work on you at the same time.

7. Sri Lanka Airlines
I flew from Chennai (Madras) to Colombo and later Colombo to Trivandrum and was really pressed with their service. Even on short flights, they serve a meal. If you haven’t made your reservations yet, check out the difference between economy and business class. It might not cost that much more and you have the benefit of short lines and use of their lounges.

8.When you change money, get as many small denomination notes (10/20/50 rupee) notes as possible. It is helpful to pay with exact change as small vendors often don’t have a lot of change.

Good luck with your travel research. I know you will enjoy your month in Sri Lanka!

I spent two and a half weeks in Sri Lanka in January - trip report here:

I used a car and driver as I was booking the trip while traveling. It's certainly the easiest way to get around, and I heard some bad reports on the trains. I would skip Colombo - I went because my father had been there during WWII but other parts of the country are far more interesting. You need to book early as SL is now a popular destination for Europeans if not for Americans.

Thank you so much for the info. it will definitely come in handy.

Thank you so much for the extensive information. It will certainly come in handy.

Thank you so much for the info. It will certainly come in handy.