General Tourist Information
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Before we visited Sri Lanka we found it very useful to read several guide books to help give us an idea of where we wanted to stay and what we wanted to go and see.
We found the Lonely planet guide book very useful as was 'The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka'.
We also found the following websites very useful:
See the Volunteering page for information about our experiences volunteering in Sri Lanka and some general information.
General Information From Our Own Experience as Tourists!
Hikkaduwa is marked in red on the SW coast.
Places to stay
We can really only comment on a few places to stay from direct experience.
We spent our first two nights in Hikkaduwa in the 3* hotel Coral Sands. We felt that staying in a decent hotel for a couple of nights would be the best way to ease into life in Sri Lanka, deal with culture shock and get over jet lag! Once we made ourselves at home in our room, the hotel was fine, with hot water in the showers! Initially there were few other tourists staying at the hotel, although numbers certainly increased during our month in Hikkaduwa. For breakfast there was an extensive choice of things. At dinners the food was good, although seemed to have a funny taste to us! There was certainly plenty of food, with three courses and a chef who came around to see how it went down! In our opinion the best thing about the hotel were its two swimming pools, which although small, were great to cool off in and the fact that the hotel sat on the beach!
Website for Coral Sands hotel: http://www.coralsandshotel.com/
Neela's Guest House
For the remainder of our time in Sri Lanka we rented a room in Neela's Guest house, which had been recommended to us by Julie's sisters. Moving to Neela's was a great move, as it felt as though we were more settled and independent than in the hotel. For instance it was great to choose what you wanted for dinner and when! The room had everything we needed and was nice and homely. The owners remembered my sisters and made us feel very welcome and were always about if we needed something- such as cockroach removal services! Photos below are of Neela's, from the outside, and inside with its familiar pink mosquito net!
Bentota Beach Hotel
We did not actually stay in the Bentota Beach Hotel but spent a couple of afternoons there, using their pool and dining facilities. This hotel was really gorgeous, it was obviously more expensive than where we were staying, as using their pool cost only 100 rupees less than our room for the night. But if you are looking for a luxurious, relaxing stay and to see Sri Lanka in style, then this is the kind of place for you! Staying in a resort like this means you can experience as much or as little of local culture as you wish. For instance those not wishing to walk the few minutes into the bustling Bentota town centre can stroll down the hotel's very own arcade of souvenir shops etc- completely hastle free! However, as I said the town is very close and additionally there are many tuktuks waiting at the hotel's entrance ready to take you there for inflated prices! While we wouldn't change our own experiences, we really enjoyed taking a break from the sometimes intense interaction with local culture to relax and become invisible as just another tourist! The pool and hotel grounds were amazing as well, as was the stylish inside of the hotel, even the toilets! The hotel was guarded, and had a great beach front entrance. The photos below were taken in and around this hotel.
Other Hotels in Bentota
Walking along the beach, we came across several other large rather nice looking hotels, one at the end of the beach showing the contrast of the lavish hotel and the local seller's beach shack.
We were lucky enough to have a hotel room arranged for us by a friend in Kandy. It is probably very difficult to book a room in Kandy at the time of the Perahera, so we would advise booking well in advance especially for the more upmarket hotels where you could check out the websites before you left home. In Kandy the weather can be a bit cooler so it many be nice to have hot water- our hotel room in Sky View Hotel did- it was quite nice after several weeks of cools showers! The hotel served did food on request but there are plenty of places to eat in the centre of Kandy-look out for local roti shops- rotis are a filling tasty snack!
Places to Eat
There are plenty of places to eat in Hikkaduwa- you could eat in a different place each night if you wanted to. The sides of Galle roads are packed with restaurant after restaurant! This is what partly makes Hikkaduwa a nice place to be based, as there is so much choice in really easy reach! When we were feeling lazy we could even pop next door from Neela's to Rita's, and came to love the toasted sandwiches there (jaffels). For more information about food see the Food page.
Places to visit
Except for the four nights we spent in Kandy we stayed in Hikkaduwa, so did not travel more than an hour by bus or tuktuk when visiting sites. Sri Lanka has a wonderful selection of beaches (see pics) complete with lots of sand crabs! they sound quite creepy buy you soon get used to them. Out of season the sea can be quite rough and not very safe for swimming.
Hikkaduwa- Has many attractions such as: Beaches, diving, a lagoon, temples and shops etc. We visited the Lagoon near Hikkaduwa- this was a very relaxing trip as we were rowed around the edge of the lagoon for a couple of hours in a catamaran, bird spotting. At sunset the views over the water were amazing and the birds started to come to life- we saw many Cormorants dive bombing to catch fish.
The beach at Hikkaduwa
Lagoon Trip- Near Hikkaduwa
Unawatuna- We found Unawatuna a very beautiful place with a lovely beach that was more suited for swimming out of season. There is also a temple just up some steps from the beach, if you get restless from all the beach relaxation!
We also visited a turtle Hatchery near Unawatuna where the guide told us in surprisingly good English about the seven different types of turtle.
We visited Bentota a couple of times, once to go the the beach and the second time to go on a boat trip up the Bentota river. The beach at Bentota is lined with many expensive looking hotels, but there is more sand than at Hikkaduwa and it was pleasant to walk along the beach and then cool off in one of the hotel pools.
(Galle is situated south along the coast from Hikkaduwa)- a very interesting town with a good selection of Old Dutch buildings, quirky museums and the Old Fort to explore complete with a light house and clock tower. The town is also quite interesting, full of sari shops etc.. The cinema in Galle is worth a visit- just to be able tell your friends that you have been to an Asian cinema.
From Kandy we visited Pinnewala elephant orphanage, Sigiryia Rock and Nurwara Eliya. In Kandy we explored the botanical gardens and visited the Temple of the Tooth.
Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage
Nuwara Eliya -We went round a tea plantation factory and sampled the tea.
The Pera Hera
We planned our whole trip around the dates that the festival was taking place- it was well worth the visit!! Although visiting the South West of the Island in July/August was out of season and it was the monsoon period we still had a great time.
The Perahera in Kandy is called the Esala Perahera. It is often described as the most important and spectacular festival in Sri Lanka. It occurs for 10 days during July/August (Esala) and ends on the Nikki full moon. The procession ends on the 10th night with a replica of the Buddha's Tooth being paraded through the streets on an elephant.
Recommendations- bring a small radio to experience music!
We tried to pack for every eventuality but found that this was not actually necessary as most things could be purchased there even marmite! Although a good supply of medication is a necessity! especially some anti-histamine cream for any nasty mozzy bites.
We also found a length of string very useful- not all guest houses will come with a mosquito net or a place to hang it so if you take some hooks and a length of string you can usually improvise. Clothes pegs would also be useful as was a vanish bar and a tube of travel wash. Its so dusty that you get dirty really quickly! Rechargeable batteries and a battery charger were also invaluable. A torch was a necessity due to the frequent power cuts- the streets were also quite dark and with unexpected obstacles like pot holes and piles of sand/rubble.