Sri Lankan currency is difficult to get in the UK but the rate is best on arrival anyway. Go straight to the THomas Cook exchange at the airport where you will get the best rate currently 200 to the pound. This is quite difficult to work out so its best to remember that 1000 is about a fiver.
We had planned a packed itinerary over our four days in Sri Lanka
Our first night was in Waikkal, just north of Negombo which is around 40 minutes from the airport. We really enjoyed our stay at Club Dolphin, the service was excellent, great facilities, nice rooms, right on the beach and the food was absolutely delicious. I would definitely recommend it and I would definitely like to return sometime. The big advantage in staying in Negombo or Waikkal is that you avoid the worst of the traffic
We spent the next two nights in Kandy so as Pinnawala Elephant orphanage is on the way, we asked for a quote to include this.Most of the tours go really early to catch the 0915 feeding but we wanted to spend the morning in Waikkal so we opted for the later feeding at 1.15 which worked better for us. It was lovely to see so many elephants in one place but it is a bit of a tourist trap.We didn’t mind paying a premium for being tourists, that is perfectly understandable but I didn’t then appreciate being asked for more money to take photos and again to feed the elephants which made this once worthy cause just a tourist rip off. I did enjoy seeing the elephants bathe and play in the river from the bar/hotel/restaurant overlooking the river but you can enjoy this experience without paying the entrance fee. There also some nice little shops
We used a local agency as it isn’t easy to find Kandy based tours in the UK. Rainbow Tours organised the rail for us from Kandy where it was really interesting to see really old rolling stock and Canadian steam engines, Our scenic rail journey went past tea plantations, waterfalls and stations with very English sounding names like Hatton and very Indian sounding names while vendors sell food up and down the train. Our driver met us at Nanu Oya and drove us to Mackwoods tea plantation and museum and to Ramboda Waterfalls. He also picked us up the next day to take us to Temple of the Tooth Relic which has a small entrance fee and then you end up paying for a guide as well. We also went to the Botanical Gardens which is an oasis of peace away from the busy city. In the afternoon we took the train back to Colombo Fort station past lush rainforest. I would strongly advise being picked up from Colombo Fort. The hotel car was reasonably priced and hassle free but we were literally hounded by tuk tuk and taxi drivers while we tried to locate our driver. Mount Lavinia is a long way from the station and even further from the airport so you have to allow a good two hours.
Colombo is much nicer than I expected. There are a lot of new hotel complexes and offices being built close to the station so in a few years time it will grow for the corporate market, but Colombo desperately needs an efficient transport system, either a tram or monorail. Buses and cars go nowhere and it just takes ages to get anywhere
Our last night was in the Mount Lavinia hotel. I wanted to stay there and experience its colonial history. It is indeed a beautiful hotel and our room overlooked a rather nice beach. Of course the rooms are old, dark and in a classic style so if you are looking for a contemporary boutique hotel it is not for you but if you want classic luxury it is perfect. Prices in the hotel are very reasonable and the service is excellent and it is lovely to stay there for a couple of days but for relaxation it is better to stay either north of the airport in Negombo or Waikkal or at the nicer resorts further south like Beruwela but be prepared for a long drive from the airport.
Overall I really enjoyed Sri Lanka, lovely people, very scenic and the food is delicious. I would spend longer in Waikkal and then it would be nice to see some of the other UNESCO sights.