Traveled in December, 2012 for 7 days. Places been to: Polonarruwa – Sigiriya – Dambulla – Kandy – Nuwareliya – Hortain Plains National Park – Kitulgala – Colombo
If I have to pick one destination from my past trips where natives were truly warm and welcoming, I would pick Sri Lanka. Barring none everyone I met went out of their way to assist me when required to make sure I had a pleasant experience. In my view Srilanka and South India are so similar, yet strikingly different.
Entry formalities for Indians: Get ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization – VISA equivalent) in advance by applying online – http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/. The process takes less than half a day. Charge for 30 days tourist permit is 15 USD.
Stay: The concept of homestay is widely prevalent in all parts of Srilanka. You will get clean, economic options and opportunity to interact with natives not to mention home-cooked authentic food. Now you can be assured of your room only when payment is made. During peak season there is a good chance you might be turned away inspite of having a mail confirmation. Searching for a room on spot might not work well either at some places and also if you a solo woman traveler.
If you do not want to take a chance, on advance planning most homestays can be booked online through www.agoda.com; www.booking.com. For more options check the official tourism website http://www.srilanka.travel/index.php?route=common/home.
Getting around: If you are used to public transport in India, it is no different in Sri Lanka. Contrary to what is mentioned in guides/websites/blogs, I found the buses convenient, cheap, and comfortable and I always got a seat. I spent less than 2000 LKR by travelling in buses as opposed to 38000 LKR if I had taken a cab for 7 days. Note: There are no buses available after 6:00 pm between cities.
Currency: Carry USD which can be exchanged for LKR at Thomas Cook currency exchange counter, Colombo airport. Safety: I did not face any problem but solo woman travelers avoid travel in the night.
After 2 months of research I put together my itinerary with the help of Lonely planet guide Sri Lanka. At first glance I included almost all tourist attractions, then having learnt the entrance fees to each site, my plan dwindled to fewer below noted places:
Day 01: Colombo airport – auto to Negombo bus station (400 LKR, 15 mins) – Kurunegala – Polonnaruwa (No direct bus to Polonnaruwa) – Polonnaruwa ruins – Stay at Rock Cascade Homestay, http://rockcascade.com (best budget homestay)
Day 02: Polonnaruwa – Sigiriya – Dambulla (Cave temples) – Stay at Takeshi Inn, +94 78 460 6090 (away from the town, no restaurants close by but food can be ordered from town)
Day 03: Dambulla – Kandy (temple of tooth relic) – Evening cultural performance (Kandyan Art Associations Hall, 5:30 pm, 500 LKR) – Stay at Sujatha homestay, http://kandy-homestay.com/ (English style building, friendly & helpful host, loved it)
Day 04: Kandy – Nuwareliya – Hortain Plains National Park – Nuwareliya – Stay at Sincere Wilderness, 0094774072378, firstname.lastname@example.org (on a hilltop, host is a naturalist, I highly recommend this homestay)
Day 05: Nuwareliya – Kitulgala (White water rafting, Ravi 0094773559945, email@example.com, www.raftingteam39.com) – Colombo – Stay at Mt. Lavinia homestay (Very close to the beach and away from Colombo center, kitchen available for self cooking, http://www.mountlaviniahomestay.com/)
Day 06: Colombo, stay at Mt. Lavinia Homestay; Day 07: Check-out – Airport