Elephants and Temples Itinerary in Sri Lanka

Whilst at our base in Negombo which I wrote about here we visited the many travel agents in the area to ask about exploring the country. Another tourist couple we met had just returned from a tour of the island with a driver and recommended him highly.
It was a private tour, so not booked through a travel agent, which comes with an element of risk but we were assured it was all above board. For around £130 for us both, we would get accommodation and private transport to many of the  major attractions in Sri Lanka, which seemed very cheap!

Now, it’s fair to say for that budget, some of the accommodation was rustic, let’s say, so I would definitely recommend paying more to get a better standard of accommodation, unless you are used to backpacking on a budget. Sri Lanka is still quite under developed and there is a big difference in accommodation standards, so make sure you check where you’ll be staying and be prepared to pay more if you don’t like where your driver has taken you.

We were up early in the morning outside of our hotel and picked up by a comfortable people carrier that would be our transport for the ensuing days. Our driver Fascinder (or Fash for short) had a smile a mile wide and tried to put us at ease instantly. He explained the first stop on our journey would be Pinnawela Elephant Sanctuary founded in 1975 as an orphanage for un-weaned baby elephants without mothers or older injured animals.          

It is now a national institution which allows people to get up close with them and watch them crossing the big river daily. You see them taking a bath and being fed by the keepers. You can even pay to bottle feed a baby elephant, which I was assured was entirely ethical and safe. Watching the daily river crossing and bathing was quite a spectacle to behold.
There was also a shop selling elephant dung paper, which has become a big industry for Sri Lanka and a natural way to use this waste product. Be warned that in Sri Lanka there is often a different tourist price to what the locals pay, which surprised us, but I guess tourists may be comparatively better off so it makes sense for there to be a tiered price list. You will also often be quoted higher prices in shops, so haggling is an accepted norm in this country.

We then set off for Kandy, the cultural centre of Sri Lanka in many ways, with various and numerous temples and local traditional entertainment. We visited Temple of the Tooth which is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, which houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Since ancient times, the relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is a World Heritage Site mainly due to the temple.

We also visited Lion Rock or Sigiriya, which an ancient palace that is also a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site and to the local people is classed as the eighth wonder of the world, due to  the expanse of rock it takes its name from and its spiritual roots. Until the 14th century it was used as a Buddhist monastery.
You also have the choice of seeing some traditional Kandyan dancing and drumming in Kandy but we opted out of this. Along the drive there are many shrines, monuments and temples that are worth having a look at and your driver will often stop to tell you the history of them. The choices of restaurants lined up for us were pretty touristy, which is obviously more expensive to eat and not always offering a better quality of food, so we often asked our driver to take us to a street stall selling string hoppers, rotis or any number of other delicious local options.

Next stop: Nuwara Eliya or Little England, Yala National Park, Galle, Hikkaduwa and Bentota.

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