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Old 2nd February 2024, 17:41   #1
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Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Prologue



About a couple of weeks ago, we (a group of close friends and bhpians from Bangalore) visited Sri Lanka and did a road trip within Sri Lanka. This is a photologue of that trip.

The group consisted of @RSUDARSANAN, @robimahanta, @praveenbalan and his better half, and finally I and my better half.

It was a 5 days/4 nights trip. Robi has been to Sri Lanka a few times before, and he suggested a nice itinerary consisting of driving on highways as well as on coastal roads, visiting wildlife places and taking safaris, and then spending time at some nice beach resorts too. Basically a mix of a variety of experiences and locations. We loved this plan and immediately agreed to the plan. Thanks to Robi for coming up with the plan, and thanks to everyone for the great company. We had a great time together and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this trip.

The approximate driving plan and routes we took:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-map.jpg

As you can see in the map above, we drove on E01 which is a lovely 4-lane highway built to absolutely world-class standards (full of well designed exits and interchanges; this highway is as good as any you see in the developed countries) and went to Hilton Weerawila Resort (this was a fantastic resort and a highlight of the trip for me). We used that as a base resort to visit Yala National Park. And then, we drove back via the coastal route, staying at Mirissa Beach and then at Taj Bentota resorts on our way back. The coastal road is very scenic too, and reminded us of a typical coastal road in Kerala or Goa.

For this road trip, we took Bangalore-Colombo flight, and then rented cars (self-drive rentals) at Colombo.

Robi rented this Hyundai Ioniq, and @RSUDARSANAN was his companion in this car through this trip:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm17.jpg

For the rest of us, unfortunately, due to a combination of many factors (including strong demand for cars in this peak tourist season and some goof up on the part of the car rental company), all we got was an old Toyota barge called "Toyota Allion".

Toyota Allion that I drove most of the times, with three passengers in the car other than me:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm49.jpg

The car was spacious enough for the four of us and our luggage. And that is where the positives end. Otherwise it was an old car (with more than 263,000km on the odo), had a pathetic CVT transmission that I hated to the core, had a weak engine (I assume it was 1.5L engine variant), and was generally not in great condition. But nevertheless, it served us well and once we got over the issues and got used to the car, we had a fun road trip anyways.

It did help us that roads in Sri Lanka are top class, traffic is very thin, and the driving discipline is absolutely great. Thanks to all these conditions, it was a breeze to drive there. And therefore, even in an ordinary car that was not in great shape, it was quite easy to drive around and reach our destinations in quick time. It also helped that the distances were very short.

Overall we had a fun drive. The quality of roads and driving discipline is something that really surprised me. Definitely a great country to enjoy scenic drives without worrying about traffic jams and bad drivers.

With this short introduction, let me share more details in the subsequent posts.

Post 2 below includes some of our driving experiences, roads, and hotel stays. Post 3 includes photographs from Yala National Park. And then finally, to wrap this up, Post 4 includes a few photographs from twilight times at various locations in Sri Lanka.

Last edited by Dr.AD : 4th February 2024 at 18:09.
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Old 2nd February 2024, 17:45   #2
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Roads and Hotels



In this post, I will summarize the roads we took, the hotels we stayed at, and the overall travel experience.

On the day of our arrival in Colombo, we stayed in Colombo Central Business District (CBD). We stayed in a simple hotel named "The Steuart by Citrus, Colombo". Although it is not a fancy or luxurious hotel, it was still very nice! It is an old British colonial building that is converted into an hotel now. The rooms were quite spacious and clean, and the hotel had a very nice restaurant too. As we later experienced everywhere in Sri Lanka, their hospitality and service was top notch! The main advantage of this hotel for us was that it was perfectly located right in the Central Business District, with a couple of iconic restaurants literally next door, and the main sea facing city area just a short walk away.

It was great to explore the CBD area by just walking around. Colombo is a lovely city to walk around. It has nice roads, walkways, and lot of eateries everywhere. By sunset time, we walked to the sea facing area and enjoyed both the sunset views and then the city skyline views after sunset (please see Post #4 below for these skyline photographs). I was very impressed by how nice and well organized the city was, and the overall state of infrastructure and development there. The weather was perfect that January night, and we certainly had a memorable evening in downtown Colombo.

The highlight of the night was dinner at a restaurant called "Ceylon Curry Club". This was literally next door to our hotel. Fantastic food, great ambiance, and very nice and friendly service. We loved the food and the overall experience there. After a nice and elaborate dinner there, we called it a day.

The next morning, we started driving on the first leg of our road trip. Our first destination was Hilton Weerawila, which turned out to be an amazing resort. I loved this place a lot. This was our base for visiting Yala National Park the next morning. The first day drive was on the expressway E01. As I mentioned earlier, this is an absolutely world-class highway.

Driving on E01:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm07.jpg

We reached Hilton Weerawila by lunch time, and that gave us plenty of time to enjoy a nice lunch there, then spend the rest of the day chilling in this wonderful resort, walk around in the resort in the evening enjoying the lake views, and then have another sumptuous dinner at one of the many restaurants there. I loved this place so much that I made a mental plan to go back to Sri Lanka just to spend a few days here in this resort.

Our spacious room at Hilton Weerawila (had a nice sit out too with a view of the forest and the lake):
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm08.jpg


The resort is located on the edge of a large natural lake, and had such beautiful views all around:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl02.jpg


Internal walkways within the resort:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl03.jpg


View from one of the many terraces:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl04.jpg


One of the many sitting areas on the backdrop of the beautiful lake:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl05.jpg


Lovely place to spend an evening at:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl07.jpg


We took one such corner for us and enjoyed spending evening hours there watching the moon rise over the lake:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl08.jpg


View of the lake:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl09.jpg


Another beautiful sitting area in the resort:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl10.jpg


Random photo of the evening scenes at the resort:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl11.jpg

The resort also had multiple restaurants, and each of those had a great ambiance and nice food. Overall we had a great time there.

The next morning we did a safari to Yala National Park (please see Post #3 below for photos from that safari), and they picked us up and dropped back at this resort.

From Weerawila area, which was close to Yala National Park, we then drove to the coastal area, where our first stay was at the famous Mirissa Beach.

At Mirissa, we stayed in a small boutique hotel called "Triple O Six, Mirissa". That name was unusual, but the hotel turned out to be lovely. Small hotel with a few rooms, but the rooms were quite big, well-appointed and comfortable. The restaurant there was very nice and the food, service and hospitality was top class. They had a large swimming pool which formed the main element in the ambiance of the hotel. Overall, it was a lovely hotel with great ambiance and a small scale, homely touch to everything.

Parked at the boutique hotel in Mirissa:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm15.jpg


Beach shacks! Mirissa beach is full of beach shacks and restaurants (reminds one of Goa), and we had a nice lunch at one such place:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm12.jpg

Our next destination was the famous Taj resort named "Taj Bentota", in a beach resort town called Bentota. The highway E01 was again the fastest route from Mirissa to Bentota, but we decided to take the slower and more scenic coastal road. This coastal road would also take us via the city of Galle, where we visited the famous Galle Fort en route.

On the scenic coastal road from Mirissa to Galle:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm31.jpg


Views from the side of the road:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm27.jpg


Galle Fort area:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl2.jpg


Blue sea water near Galle Fort:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl33.jpg

After visiting Galle Fort and checking out the historic buildings and many shops there, we continued our drive towards the resort town of Bentota. This coastal road from Mirissa to Bentota was very similar to our coastal roads in Kerala or Goa. It had lovely sea views from many locations, and it went through small towns with some nice shops and local attractions on the side. We could just pull over and enjoy the sea views at many places. And of course, this road is full of sea view resorts and restaurants all the way. We passed by all sorts of hotels and resorts - from simple basic hotels to fancy sprawling sea view resorts.

Coconut water break on that road reminded me of driving back home (except that these Sri Lankan coconuts were orange in color, and they had a very nice sweet taste):
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm38.jpg


Another view of our car parked next to a small temple on the side of the road:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm41.jpg


The scenic road:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm44.jpg


We could not resist frequently pulling over at such locations on this road:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm46.jpg


Our two cars together at a handicrafts and masks museum-cum-shop (hand-made wooden masks are famous handicrafts items in Sri Lanka, and this shop had a nice collection of the masks and other wooden items; we ended up buying a lot of wooden items in this shop):
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm57.jpg

The luxurious beach resort by Taj, "Taj Bentota Resort and Spa" was our home for the next day.

Taj Bentota Resort and the sea view from our room balcony:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm1.jpg


Our room at Taj (this was really huge and luxurious):
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm60.jpg


The sitting area in our room (this itself was very spacious), with a large balcony with good views:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankasm61.jpg


The resort's own beach shack (named very simply as "Shack) offered a nice location and sea views:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl35.jpg


View of the resort from the beach:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl36.jpg


Parting shot of the ubiquitous orange coconuts, which were indeed very sweet:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl37.jpg

Last edited by Dr.AD : 4th February 2024 at 17:18.
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Old 2nd February 2024, 17:48   #3
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Yala National Park:



Early morning safari through Yala National Park was one of the main "activities" in our trip. Robi had organized a safari through an operator listed on the official website of the park. The safari vehicle was a Toyota Hilux, converted into a camper kind of vehicle, with 6 seats on an elevated platform. This vehicle picked us up at Hilton Weerawila at sharp 5am!

At the early morning dark hour, this Hilux, with 6 of us seated on the open-air seats, drove us to the National Park which was about 45 minutes way. It was certainly an interesting experience.

We reached the park before sunrise, and were surprised to see not just a few, but literally hundreds of vehicles (most of them were Hilux safari vehicles just like ours, but there were also a few tourist buses) waiting at the entry gate. This place is incredibly popular in Sri Lanka, and in this peak tourist season, was overcrowded with safari vehicles. In fact, even on safari tracks, we were often stuck among a large group of Hilux safaris traveling together. It was certainly a weird experience to see a traffic jam of safari vehicles in a national park.

But keeping aside the traffic, the park is very beautiful and scenic. We started our safari just before sunrise, and that meant we also got to see beautiful sunrise views in the park. You will see plenty of sunrise photos below.

By the way, some of the tracks were at quite advanced off-roading level, and the off-roading prowess of Hilux was fully used in some stretches. It was a fun experience to sit on the top of this converted safari vehicle and experience off-roading in that. Unfortunately I could not take any photos of those off-roading stretches as the vehicle was moving a lot, we were in an unsecured position, and all I could do was to hold tight and make sure I do not fall down. Photography was forgotten in that state were not falling down or not bumping my head into something was the main priority.

But apart from those off-roading sections, I did get some decent photos at other places, and I am sharing some of those here.

A line of safari vehicles in front of us as we enter the national park:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl42.jpg


A peacock at sunrise (the park had many peacocks, and we saw many of those from close distance, but this silhouette of a peacock at sunrise is what I liked more than the other peacock photos I got there):
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl12.jpg


Sunrise at Yala:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl43.jpg


Another photo of the sunrise there (I am basically a landscape photographer and enjoy taking such nature photos more than the actual wildlife photos in a safari; the early morning pre-sunrise start offered me many opportunities to take sunrise photos there):
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl47.jpg


A painted stork at that sunrise hour:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl46.jpg


Another photograph of sunrise over one of the many water bodies in the park:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl49.jpg


Black-winged stilt at sunrise:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl48.jpg


This dry tree looked lovely with the rising sun behind:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl55.jpg


Another view of the trees and their reflections:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl53.jpg


Notice the shadow of our Hilux as we passed one of the many water bodies in the park:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl14.jpg


A monitor lizard on the tree:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl13.jpg


Another one, right in front of our Safari vehicle, in the middle of the track:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl16.jpg


Monitor lizards were seen in the safari tracks, and also on the roads and highways where we drove (we saw a couple of dead monitor lizards on the highway E01 too, unfortunately killed by the vehicles):
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl17.jpg


Safari vehicles and the open land at the park:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl21.jpg

The park is not a thick forest as such, but a vast open land with plenty of water bodies, trees, and bushes. I really liked the landscapes there.

Some nice landscapes all around, with vast open land and trees:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl18.jpg


Plenty of water bodies too in the landscapes:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilanka201.jpg


A view of the safari track lined with trees:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl25.jpg


And then there we saw one large elephant on the side:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl2.jpg

The elephant was trying to find a way to cross the road and was confused by the large number of safari vehicles crowding that area. The safari drivers noticed this, and they all backed off, offering a clear path for the elephant to cross. And then that elephant crossed the road from there, giving us some nice views.

Elephant crossing:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl22.jpg


Elephant in the windscreen (it came straight towards us and tried to scare us for a second...):
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl23.jpg


Before peacefully walking away:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl24.jpg


A pair of bee-eaters:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl56.jpg


Another bee-eater:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl59.jpg


Landscapes around the water bodies in the park:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl28.jpg


Finally, could not resist sharing one more landscape from the park, which I loved more than the wildlife I saw there:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl29.jpg

Last edited by Dr.AD : 4th February 2024 at 17:52.
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Old 2nd February 2024, 17:50   #4
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Twilight Photographs



Please allow me to wrap up this report with a few photographs in the twilight, at various locations in this road trip.

We started the trip with a nice evening walk in Colombo, and we saw sunset at an area called "Port city". That area had a nice sea facing walk and a public garden.

Moments after sunset at "Port City", Colombo:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl41.jpg


Colombo city skyline looked nice in the lights just after the sunset.
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl38.jpg


Colombo CBD area at moon rise:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl39.jpg


Parting shot of the lovely city skyline in the night:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl40.jpg

Another place where we got great sunset views and twilight views was Mirissa Beach.

Sunset scenes at Mirissa Beach:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl60.jpg


This cliff offered good views by itself, and also great sunset views from top of it:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl61.jpg


Sunset view from the top of the cliff:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl62.jpg

Finally, the beach at Taj Bentota offered some lovely sunset experience too.

Sunset at Taj Bentota:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl65.jpg


Moments after sunset:
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-srilankatl66.jpg


And with that, please allow me to wrap up this photologue from a short but memorable Sri Lanka trip. Once again, thanks to my friends on this trip for their great company (as always). These are great guys and I love traveling with them. I hope some of them will add their own experiences and their photographs below and make this report complete.

So that is all from my side. Thank you very much for reading!

Last edited by Dr.AD : 4th February 2024 at 18:33.
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Old 4th February 2024, 19:36   #5
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 4th February 2024, 19:37   #6
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Thanks a lot AD for the detailed trip report. It was indeed a lot of fun doing a Sri Lanka road trip again with you all. Since most of the stuff is already covered by AD in his post, I will just share a few pictures from the trip. I went on this trip with just a small back pack and no camera, as I wanted to enjoy the driving and locations without any distractions. All photos are shot with my phone.

Thankfully, I got a previous generation Hyundai Ioniq as the rental car for the trip from Sixt. The car was well maintained and had new tyres. Most roads in SL are fantastic and devoid of speed breakers and pot holes. Everyone follows rules and there are proper signages all throughout. It is relaxing to drive around in SL.
Time for the pictures,

About to land in Colombo
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-landing.jpg

The car for the trip. Drove close to 700kms in the four days we were there.
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-beach.jpg

Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-ship.jpg

Cruising around in the near empty expressway
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-100kmph.jpg

Wanted to have dinner in the iconic Ministry of Crab, but it was closed that evening. So ended up having a nice meal next door at the Ceylon curry club.
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-club.jpg

Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-out.jpg

Next morning we drove all the way to Weerawila (near Yala NP) and checked into the lovely Hilton property there.

A lovely breakfast in Colombo before heading down south
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-breakfast.jpg

A very large pool in the Weerawila property
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-pool.jpg

Evening spent by the lake side
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-hilton-lake.jpg

Early morning safari into Yala NP in a Hilux
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-morning.jpg

Yala gate with peacocks and a Mahindra safari jeep
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-gate.jpg

Yala scape
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-scape.jpg

Close encounter with an elephant
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-elephant.jpg

Next day we drove down to Mirissa and had a lovely time by the beach
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-mirissa-eve.jpg

Morning went whale watching, saw a few fin whales and some dolphins
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-fin-whale.jpg

Drove down to Galle enroute to Bentota for the night, stopped at the stilt fishing beach on the way
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-fishing.jpg

Evening in Bentota
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-bentota.jpg

Sunset in Bentota
Driving Trip in Sri Lanka-bentota-beach.jpg

Thanks for your time. Until the next trip. Cheers!
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Old 4th February 2024, 20:56   #7
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

As usual a great travelogue from Dr AD with excellent photos which ignites one’s appetite to travel. Thank you for sharing and keep on munching miles. Just one question, can one drive in Sri Lanka with Indian Driving Licence.
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Old 4th February 2024, 21:14   #8
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Sounds like a fun trip! Galle, Mirissa and Bentota have such beautiful beaches - loved our time there!

When we visited Sri Lanka a couple of years back, we'd contemplated a self drive vehicle; but decided against, given our itinerary.

What's the procedure to rent vehicles? When I'd enquired, our guide mentioned we have to apply / get the driving permit from some office in Colombo and only then drive around the country - this is despite the Indian DL. He wasn't sure about the IDP.
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Old 5th February 2024, 08:00   #9
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kkumar View Post
As usual a great travelogue from Dr AD with excellent photos which ignites one’s appetite to travel. Thank you for sharing and keep on munching miles.
Thank you very much!

Quote:
Just one question, can one drive in Sri Lanka with Indian Driving Licence.
Yes, we can drive there on Indian Driving License, but it needs an endorsement/permit from local authorities. The car rental companies arrange for this endorsement, but of course, at an extra fees. We did this through our car rental company and our local endorsement documents were handed over to us at the time of renting the car. That local endorsement plus our Indian Driving License become the combined documents allowing us to drive in Sri Lanka.

Quote:
Originally Posted by libranof1987 View Post
Sounds like a fun trip! Galle, Mirissa and Bentota have such beautiful beaches - loved our time there!
Yes that area is indeed quite nice!

Quote:
What's the procedure to rent vehicles? When I'd enquired, our guide mentioned we have to apply / get the driving permit from some office in Colombo and only then drive around the country - this is despite the Indian DL. He wasn't sure about the IDP.
Yes this is correct. As I mentioned above, you need a local driving permit/endorsement on top of our Indian Driving License. One can directly go to the local authorities and get this done at a nominal fees. But since that is not feasible for foreigners, the car rental companies offer to do this in advance for an extra fees. We got it done very smoothly through our car rental companies. All the paperwork was properly arranged by them.

You do not need International Driving Permit (IDP) as such. The only advantage of IDP is that on an IDP, you get 1 year local driving permit in Sri Lanka. Whereas on an Indian Driving License, they give only 30 days of local permit. Thus, for a short visit, it does not matter. But if one is going to visit Sri Lanka frequently, then taking an IDP and getting 1 year local driving permit maybe the better option.
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Old 5th February 2024, 09:21   #10
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

I'm doing a similar 5 night trip mid-march & this was really helpful. I'm planning to rent a car & drive around the beaches in the south.
Definitely staying at the hilton property for a night, it looks beautiful.
Can you pls share the details of the people you did the yala safari & the whale watching tour with. Did you have to book in advance? Thanks!
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Old 5th February 2024, 11:30   #11
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Quote:
Originally Posted by deep_blue View Post
I'm doing a similar 5 night trip mid-march & this was really helpful. I'm planning to rent a car & drive around the beaches in the south.
Definitely staying at the hilton property for a night, it looks beautiful.
Can you pls share the details of the people you did the yala safari & the whale watching tour with. Did you have to book in advance? Thanks!
Yala we booked it online, you can also mail info@yalasrilanka.lk and get all the details. As for the whale watching, we did it using the hotel concierge. It included pick up and drop from the hotel in a tuk tuk. There are many options for whale watching depending on the size of your group and boat requirement.

Hope that helps. Thanks
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Old 5th February 2024, 12:01   #12
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Fantastic travelogue. Had been there in 2019 but had to take a car with a driver as I was not confident to drive a HIACE! We were a big group.
Which rental agency did you engage this time?
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Old 5th February 2024, 15:13   #13
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Great Travelogue. What was the overall cost of the trip.

Wish there was a way to take our cars on a ship to anywhere in SL and then drive on from there.

I do know that there was a ferry before but it doesn't exist anymore.
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Old 5th February 2024, 19:13   #14
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Wow, AD and Robi! You guys are amazing with your photography. Superb report. Yala National Park seems very very beautiful. Overcrowded safari reminded of my recent visit to Kaziranga!
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Old 5th February 2024, 19:53   #15
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Re: Driving Trip in Sri Lanka

Dr.AD Thanks for sharing yet another wonderful travel and driving experience, this time outside India. The pictures are captivating

And thanks to Robi also for the update and his share of pictures!

Looks like you’ll time-boxed the trip and didn’t include other places in your itinerary, probably saved for another visit.

Last edited by NPV : 5th February 2024 at 20:17.
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