With our biannual Family Christmas scheduled for this year, we decided to celebrate Christmas and bring in the New Year in Sri Lanka. We planned to stay on the plains and see the north central area around Sigiriya, Dambulla & Pollanaruwa and then the coastal areas around Galle.
Day 1 – 24th December
Flew into Colombo from Chennai and got in at 11 am. Bandaranaike International Airport is small and pleasant. Immigration was quick as we had our ETAs already. Luggage came out by the time we reached the belt. We were met by our driver from the travel agency I had booked through.
The driver was a great help getting us organized with local currency and a local SIM. He advised us to change our currency in the Bank of Ceylon at the airport which would be the best rate.
After that we drove to our hotel – Pegasus Reef Hotel, which was about 26 km from the airport. This is an old establishment, but well maintained and wonderful service.
After a late Christmas lunch at the Pegassus Reef sea food restaurant – The Fisheries, we spent a relaxing evening at the beach and swimming pool.
Day 2 – 25th December
After breakfast and morning mass at a church nearby, we set out to see Colombo city.
Of course, being Christmas Day, the shops were mostly closed. However we did see the Red Mosque from the outside, visited the Galle Face Hotel and its museum, Galle Face Green, St. Anthony’s Shrine which has been renovated after the Easter bombing, Gangaramaya Temple located on the Beira Lake – which has the smallest Buddha statue and other interesting exhibits, and finally the old Dutch Hospital which has been converted into many eateries and souvenir shops. This look the full day and we returned to our hotel by 5 pm.
Followed this up with our Christmas Dinner at the Sea Food restaurant. Wonderful variety of fresh sea food and tasty preparation.
Day 3 – 26th December
After a good breakfast, we set out for Habarana at 10 am. This was a 4 hour drive. We stopped on the way at a family run restaurant for lunch. Great local Sri Lankan preparations!
Arrived at our resort – The Kadulla Resort, after lunch. We spent the evening relaxing in its forest like surroundings.
Day 4 – 27th December —Wildlife
Spent a relaxing morning and then left to see the Elephants. There are three sanctuaries around Habarana – Mineriya, Ecocamp and Kadulla. The Elephants move from one to another depending on local conditions and floods. Since our information was that the concentration of Elephants was in the Ecocamp, we took a Safari there. This costs 35$ per head inclusive of entrance fee and hotel pickup. (Children are half price)
We saw a lot of Elephants, Peacocks and a Monitor Lizard. You can’t expect more from an Elephant sanctuary.
Day 5 – 28th December — Sigiriya and Dambulla
Sigiriya, also known as the Lion Rock, was developed by King Kassapa in a tussle for the crown. He built a palace on top of this rock which looked like a Lion’s head in the early times. This facade was destroyed eventually.
As advised by our host, we made an early start to climb the Sigiriya Rock in order to avoid the heat. Left the Resort at 7 am for the 25 minute drive. Entrance tickets are $30 each and half price for SAARC Countries. You need to carry your passport to get this discount.
Sigiriya was originally a monastery and after the King’s death it reverted to being a monastery.
The Sigiriya complex comprises of the central rock and two rectangular areas which are surrounded by moats and three ramparts.
The gardens around the rock are amongst the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. They consist of three forms – Water Gardens, Cave Gardens and Terraced Gardens.
The first part of the climb is gradual.
Once you hit the base of the Rock the flight of starts starts. After sometime you come to a spiral staircase which takes you to the caves with frescos. There are two sets of paintings of ladies – identified as Apsaras. Unfortunately, we were not allowed photography so I cannot show you what I saw!.
You then come down the same spiral staircase and continue along the metal corridor lining the ‘Mirror Wall’. This Mirror Wall is made of a kind of Porcelain and in early times was so well polished that the King could see himself while he walked. At present this has been partially covered by verses and other subjects.
This path then took us to the to the Lion’s Foot. This is a good rest area to catch your breath. The next phase of the climb starts at the Lion staircase which leads to the Palace Garden. Sadly, only the two paws of the Lion remain.
From here the steps continue winding their way up to the top. The climb up took around 1 and a half to 2 hours.
On the top are the ruins of the Palace.
There is also a water reservoir – how the water is replenished is unknown!
The views from the top are amazing.
The walk down is much quicker and we passed a few more interesting caves on the way.
After this, we returned to the resort for a late breakfast. Going early to Sigiriya was a sensible decision as we avoided the heat.
We then had a leisurely few hours before leaving at 3 pm for Dambulla. We stopped on the way for lunch, drove past Kandalama lake / reservoir – where part of the road is below the lake level, and then reached Dambulla at 4.30 pm – following advise that we should again avoid the hottest part of the day and go near sunset.
Dambulla Cave Temple is also known as the Golden Temple. When it was buil it was one of the largest and most important monasteries. The climb to the Cave Temple has about 300 steps. Quite a climb! Entrance fee is LKR 1500/- per head.
The cave temples were amazing. Mostly statues of Buddha and the ceilings having reasonably preserved paintings. All these relate to the life and events of Gautama Buddha.
There are five enormous caves from different ages. The most recent caves are the best.
After this we got back around 7 pm.
Day 6 – 29th December — Pollanaruwa
Since we had only one visit planned, we left after Breakfast for Pollanaruwa. The drive is about 50 km and took just over an hour.
It is a scenic Drive much of it through Mineriya National reserve. Passing Mineriya Lake and Girithale Lake.
Pollanaruwa was Sri Lanka’s 2nd largest kingdom. This ancient city remains one of the best planned archeological sites in the country. This ancient city has also been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
On arrival at Pollanaruwa, we first visited the Pothgul Vihara Complex on the banks of the Parakramaba Lake which was built by King Parakramaba. This had the Kings Statue and remnants of a monastery.
We then went to buy tickets at one of the ticket counters since other areas required tickets. Tickets were priced at $25 for foreigners and 50% reduced for SAARC nationals.
The next stop was King Parakramabahu’s Palace which is basically the ruins with walls of three floors standing. In the compound was also the Council Chamber – the Citadel.
We then stopped at the Sacred Quadrangle ….. which had two temples which housed the tooth of Buddha during the reigns of the Kings. As per legend, only those who had the Buddha’s Tooth’s could become king. There was also remnants of a 7 storied Stupa.
From there we passed another Stupa – Pabalu Vehera, and then on to Manik Vahera – a much larger Stupa with a lot of small image chambers inside.
From there we went onto Gal-vihera (via a number of other ruins of the Kings palace and complexes) where there are three statues of Buddha in three positions – Sitting, Standing and Sleeping.
Then via the Lotus Pond on to our last stop – the Titania Image House which has numerous images of Buddha on the outer walls in ‘image alcoves’. Inside is a sacred place with an image of Buddha and very nice murals.
That completed our interesting tour of Pollanaruwa. On the way back we stopped at a Village Farmhouse restaurant – Gami Gedora, for a traditional Sri Lankan lunch. A truly wonderful gastronomic experience!
The journey back was made interesting with the spotting of a wild elephant crossing the road as we passed the Minneriya National Park.
Day 7 – On the road to Galle.
The first part was the same road used from Colombo, till we joined the Toll Road to Galle. The Toll Road was extremely good compared to the old road and we made good time, reaching our hotel just beyond Galle by 4 PM.
Day 8 – Galle
After those who wished had their morning swim, and then, after we all had breakfast, we left for Galle around 11. This was a 30 minute drive. On the way we passed a few ‘Stick Fishermen’. (Not much real fishing going on, they were posing for tourists and then demand money for the photograph)
Reached Galle and got dropped off near the Lighthouse. From there we walked through the streets of the old town, with the ramparts of the fort on one side.
Galle old town is quaint with a number of well preserved old buildings.
We had a great lunch at ‘Hoppa’ – a small restaurant serving Hoppers and other Sri Lankan specialties.
After lunch we went to the Old Dutch Hospital – which is now a shopping center and food court. Then walked to see the Clock Tower. Wonderful views from there.
We then went to Unawatunna beach for the evening swim and dinner before returning to our hotel.
Day 9 – Weligama
Most of the family went out for the morning swim and then we all relaxed after a heavy Breakfast. Decided to go out only after the heat of the day.
Then drove down to Weligama and onto Mirissa. Weligama has a long stretch of beach which is suitable for surfing. Mirissa on the other hand has a smaller beach but the water is calmer and safe for swimming.
Both have numerous shacks on the beach where you can get good food. Weligama also has a fish market of sorts where you can pick your fresh fish and get it prepared in the shacks next to the market on the beach.
Day 10 – Hikkaduwa and on to Balapitiya
After Breakfast we drove to Hikkaduwa, which took less than an hour.
Hikkaduwa has a nice surfing Beach and a place for snorkeling. Some of us went for an hour’s snorkeling, which was very nice. This is organized by various groups and costs $10 per head with a little extra for the guide.
They also organize diving classes and deep sea snorkeling.
After this we had a good lunch at Mama’s restaurant which has excellent reviews.
After lunch we drove to the hotel – Ocean Caves.
This was a nice resort close to the beach. It has a private patch with a deep pool surrounded by rocks. This is safe for swimming. There is also a lovely long stretch of sandy beach where you can swim freely.
Day 11 – Balapitiya & Bentota
After Breakfast we went for a boat ride in the Madu River near Balapitiya.
Great experience going around the islands, mangrove forest and visiting the Fish Farm and Cinnamon island. The Fish Massage was a good experience. Funny feeling having the fish nibble at your feet.
Then on to the Cinnamon Island where we were educated in the method of making Cinnamon from the bark. We bought a few packets of cinnamon and a few bottles of cinnamon oil which is good for various aches and pains.
The trip down Madhu River also took us through the Mangrove forests and also an old Buddhist Temple.
We then drove to see the Turtle Rescue Centre and hatchery and then on to Bentota. The hatchery had a number of rescued and injured turtles. We were also showed eggs being kept until they hatch. The young ones are released on the ….. third day.
Bentota beach is mostly inaccessible as it has numerous hotels and resorts lining it. This was a disappointment as I had heard a lot about it. Since we could not get access to the beach directly, we drove out of Bentota and stopped at the same beach outside town – which was quite nice.
Day 12 — End of Sri Lankan holiday!
Our driver Nilushka was wonderful, very helpful, courteous and provided excellent advise on places to visit and eat. I would recommend him and his parent company Visit in Lanka Tours for anyone wishing to drive around Sri Lanka.