Sri Lanka was never part of my travel plans, but it’s been getting a lot of good press lately and a few friends have visited and raved about it, so it leapfrogged several other Asian destinations to the top of my list. I was able to spend a week exploring the southern half of the island with a driver/guide. I was impressed with the beautiful landscapes, friendly people, and cleanliness of the island.  After a week in India, Sri Lanka was a much-needed breath of fresh air.

PLAN
Day 0: evening arrival in Colombo, overnight in Negombo
Day 1: drive to Dambulla, sunset climb of Pidurangala Rock, overnight in Dambulla
Day 2: visit Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Polonnaruwa ancient city, overnight in Dambulla
Day 3: visit Dambulla Caves, drive to Ramboda via Mathale and Kandy, visit tea plantation and waterfall, overnight in Ramboda
Day 4: visit Nuwara Eliya, catch train to Ella, visit Demodara Bridge, overnight in Ella
Day 5: hike Little Adam’s Peak, visit Rawana Falls, drive to Tissa, late afternoon safari at Yala National Park, overnight in Tissa
Day 6: drive to Mirissa, stop in Tangalle and Matara en route, afternoon visit to Secret Beach, overnight in Mirissa
Day 7: see stilt fisherman, explore Galle town and fort, afternoon drive to airport, evening flight to Abu Dhabi
Day 8: fly to NYC

FLIGHTS
Sri Lanka Airlines (economy): DEL-CMB
Good price for a 4 hour international flight.

Etihad (business): CMB-AUH-JFK
I used 70k American Airlines miles to fly from Colombo to NYC via Abu Dhabi.  The first flight was on a regional jet with comfortable seating. The 14 hour flight to NYC was on the double-decker A380 which has Etihad’s new business studio.  The entire upper deck is business and first class. I slept, watched many movies, and ordered food continuously from the on demand menu.

HOTELS
All of my accommodations in Sri Lanka were arranged by my tour company, Sri Lanka Bros, who were excellent. The hotels and guesthouses were all deluxe with nice, modern rooms and great amenities (swimming pools, good wifi, and delicious food).  I would recommend all the places I stayed.

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Nice Place Bungalows, Dambulla
Ramboda Falls Hotel, Ramboda
Ella Panorama, Ella
Grande Hotel, Tissa
Paradise Beach Hotel, Mirissa

HIGHLIGHTS
I absolutely loved every minute in Sri Lanka so it’s hard to narrow down a list of highlights, but I will try.

Yala National Park
I’ll admit that I’m addicted to safaris and my game drive in Yala National Park did not disappoint.  During the 4 hour drive, I saw 2 leopards, a large herd of elephants, crocodiles, mongoose, and many birds.  We didn’t see the impossibly shy sloth bear, but I was more than satisfied with the drive. In recent years, Yala has restricted the number of vehicles that can enter the park to address the overcrowding.  We were only caught in traffic jams when we encountered the leopard, otherwise, we were alone to enjoy nature and majestic landscape of the park.

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Pidurangala Rock, Sigiriya
Climbing this huge rock for sunset was strenuous, but the reward was an amazing panorama view of central Sri Lanka.  The location also offers prime views of the more famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress.

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Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sigiriya
The most famous landmark in Sri Lanka and the most expensive at $30 per person.  The fortress is impressive and the views are worth the trip, but if you are on a budget, you could probably skip it and pay $5 for nearby Pidurangala Rock.

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Beaches around Mirissa
Mirissa Beach is one of the largest along the southern coast and offers great people watching and swimming. Secret Beach is less accessible but more scenic as it’s located in a cove with large tide pools and surrounded by palm tree covered hills.  All along the coast are many other inviting beaches that I didn’t have time to visit, but wish I had. You can also spot the famous stilt fisherman in this area, but be ready to give a generous tip for photos.

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Galle Fort
The most popular part of Galle is located within the old fort walls that historically protected it from sea invaders.  I walked around the entire old city embankments overlooking the Indian Ocean. The small town is also filled with very cute shops, restaurants, and boutique hotels.

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NEXT TIME
Trincomalee – coastal town adjacent to jungle
Anuradhapura – first ancient city
Jaffna – northern capital
Wilpattu National Park – largest wildlife park in Sri Lanka

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