When given the choice between beach or mountain, I´ll always chose mountains. So my two weeks travel in Sri Lanka focused mainly on the Hill Country and the Ancient Cities. As always I travel independentely, without a guide or driver. I traveled between December 8th-21th 2016.
Day 1: Arrive Colombo and train to Kandy
I arrived on a Qatar Airways at 9 am, took the local bus to Colombo city center, a dusty place which I left a couple hours later on the local midday train to Kandy.
Day 2: Kandy (Temple of the Tooth), bus to Dambulla (visit Cave Temple), tuk-tuk to Sigirya (visit rock)
The Dambulla cave temples are quite wonderful with beautiful reclining Buddhas lining the caves which are reached by walking a couple of hundred meters up a rock. Even more so is Sigirya, the iconic Sri Lankan site, with a temple-ruin on top of a free-standing rock and magnificent views all around.
Day 3: Local bus to Polonnaruwa and visit of the ancient site.
It really is very easy traveling on local buses here: Distances are relatively short, it is very cheap and I don´t think traveling would be much faster in a private car. This time I sat next to a man who traveled between Sigirya and Polonnaruwa every two weeks: He was a hotel manager of the top Polonnaruwa hotel and had gone to hotel school in Switzerland. As for the UNESCO heritage site of Polonnaruwa, it is definitely interesting: A classic outspread area of ruins, interesting, but perhaps not as remarkable as Sigirya or Anuradhapura.
Day 4: Local bus to Anuradhapura and temples
The Anuradhapura temples are wonderfully alive and in full use, predominantly by locals. I saw very few tourists here. Interestingly these rural destinations in Sri Lanka are devoid of restaurants and nightlife: Sigirya, Polonnaruwa and now Anuradhapura. Sri Lankans obviously prefer to eat at home and most tourists seem to head for the beaches or national parks.
Day 5: Local bus to Kandy, train to Nuwara Eliya
I had booked the tourist open view carriage on the Colombo-Badulla trail, where lunch is served and seats are assigned. Honestly I did not find the town of Nuwara Eliya very atmospheric, plenty of construction is going on here, though there are clear remnants of the colonial-era getaway it used to be.
Day 6: Tuk-tuk to Horton´s Plains, walk to World´s End, train to Ella
Quite frankly I found Horton´s Plains and the walk to World´s End overrated. It is a 7 km (GPS) circular walk through tussock and pleasant mountainous landshape, but nothing out of the ordinary, especially for those familiar with mountains. Rather, this is something of a local attraction, obviously being quite different from the jungles and coastal landshapes elsewhere.
Day 7: Ella
Something of a tourist trap, in my opinion. The town itself is quite simply ugly, full of concrete buildings and ongoing constructions and entirely without atmosphere. The surrounding tea plantations are quite lovely, though touristic, as is the famous Demodara train bridge.
Day 8: Train to Haputale, walk up to Lipton´s seat, visit Dambatenne Tea Factory
The walk up the original Thomas Lipton tea plantation is very interesting, encountering the Tamil teapluckers and their villages on the way and is described in a separate post. Furthermore Haputale is vastly more interesting and atmospheric than Ella.
Day 9: Train to Hatton, tuk-tuk to Dalhousie
The train line stretch from Haputale to Hatton lovely, and driving through tea plantations on the way up to Dalhousie is quite spectacular. Dalhousie is the entry point for the walk up to Adam´s Peak, the highlight of my visit to Sri Lanka and described in a separate post.
Day 10: 3 am start up to Adam´s Peak, descent to Ratnapura, local busses to Galle.
The Adam´s Peak hike was the highlight of the trip and is described in a separate post.
Day 11: Galle
Spent the day searching for wifi in a couple of cafés and recovering from the Adam´s Peak walk.
Day 12: Taxi Galle-Negombo (close to the airport)
Day 13: Leave Sri Lanka in the morning
The walk up (and down) Adam´s Peak.
Walking in tea plantations near Dambatenne Tea Factory.
The living temples of Anuradhapura.
Sigirya Rock, a major site and just as impressive as it looks on photos.