This is an extensive trip that takes in most of what Sri Lanka has to offer - one night stops only apart from Kandy (3 nights) and Ahangama (2 nights towards the end of the holiday), so expect plenty of travelling with some early morning starts to pack all the sightseeing in. It may be classed as "leisurely" but I found the ascent up Lions Rock at Sigiriya a bit of a challenge and I opted out of climbing Adams Peak, choosing the white water rafting option instead. All jungle walks, cycling, and other organised and optional activities were most enjoyable and straight forward!
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
I particularly enjoyed the pleasant walk around Horton Plains, followed by one of the best meals of the holiday - beautiful freshly prepared curries and side dishes served in a "local" style roadside hut, way different from the typical tourist restaurants and hotels we'd been eating in up until then. Made a nice change from the endless buffets!
I was among 4 more serious photographers who also managed to organise a second game drive around Yala National Park, which despite the 4am alarm call was well worth it. Although no leopard were sighted, we did spot the shy and rarely seen sloth bear digging up ants in some bushes. Despite some frantic jockeying for position between the 3 or so jeeps that were in the vacinity we all managed to get a worthwhile shot or two before the bear shuffled off out of view. Back to the hotel in time for breakfast!
I also enjoyed the free time we had in Galle Fort, just wandering around the narrow streets taking in the views. There was a very relaxed, slightly hippy feel to this place with less hassle than some of the towns we'd visited, or perhaps it was just that there were fewer people around being the Sri Lankan New Year. Either way its a lovely place to visit, and a shame we couldn't have stayed longer.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Sujee is a very accomplished and competent group leader. He managed to pull strings and do a lot of organising behind the scenes in order to make sure that most of the groups' expectations were fully met, while keeping in line one particular member of the group who seemed to want the entire itinerary to be tailored to their particular requirements!
Sujee clearly loves his home country and wants everyone to feel the same way, whilst his strong Buddhist beliefs keep him calm and assured.
Well done and many thanks to Sujee, and his back-up team of Chmi who always made sure the coach was clean and tidy with plenty of cool drinking water always available, and Lasa for driving such long distances safely and comfortably.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
The formal evening meal at The Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya was all a bit of a joke really, and not worth the effort. After dressing up in shirt, tie and trousers and borrowing a jacket (which I was told to put back on having found it too warm and uncomfortable to wear), the food and service were just not very good. Never mind, the surroundings and quirky hotel made up for it.
April in Sri Lanka was hotter than I expected it to be, but plenty of water was at hand and all but 1 of the hotels were A/C and most had swimming pools. Plenty of sun screen and insect repellent required!
The tip kitty organised by Sujee worked really well for us and took the pressure off individuals having to tip guides, restaurant and hotel staff, porters etc. A full account of expenditure was presented to the group for audit on the last day of the trip! Well worth paying into if you get the option.
Meals are relatively cheap and sometimes the buffets are good value, especially if you are short of time and feeling hungry. If not then go a la carte but expect a long wait! Even when ordering meals 2 hours in advance there can be a bit of a wait, but that's why beer was invented! Beers are around £2 a bottle, Three Coins being my favourite.
Change about £150 at the airport and you'll be OK for the first week or more. I took £500 spending money with me, did most of the optional activities, bought a few souvenirs, ate and drank well and came back with £150 unspent.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Some of the guide books suggested that all was not as it should be in terms of animal welfare at the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawela. I didn't see any evidence of this - all elephants looked in good condition, but its true to say that the place has developed into more of a zoo and a major tourist attraction than an orphanage, as many of the babies are born in captivity and will never be released into the wild. Having said that, if you're OK with zoos then this is a fantastic opportunity to see 80 or so Indian elephants up close, and having a fun time together washing themselves and each other in the river.