This was my first trip to the sub-continent, and it clearly won't be the last. Each destination visited is covered by a report centred around the hotel where we stayed. Effectively we made our way from Colombo down the coast to Ahungalla and inland through the mountains to Nuwara Eliya, onto Kandy and thus to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, before returning to Colombo.
The beaches are fabulous, especially around the Bentota area, the only drawback being the beach hustlers -- whilst never being threatening, they were a nuisance, and I found myself retreating to the hotel for a bit of peace. Each major town has its own series of resort hotels. The political troubles have kept out the main deluxe resort chains, leaving the market run by domestic companies, with the result that these properties are very affordable and hold a rustic local charm. If you want super-deluxe, change planes in Colombo and move onto the Maldives.
Our itinerary also took us into the highlands of the country, first to Nuwara Eliya. Nestled 6,000 feet up in the mist-covered mountains, this area is good for hiking and wildlife. We arrived after dark and a little incident with a local driver who, in avoiding our bus on a corner, turned his van over and crashed into the ditch. I am pleased to say he was not hurt and was able to chase us half a mile up the pass, throwing rocks as he went. Sadly, this was only an overnight stop, as next morning, it was onto the tea-picking estates. Many do tours and offer the opportunity to pick up first-rate teas in handy gift packs to take home.
Next stop was Kandy, and the mystical 'Temple of the Tooth,' a sacred Buddhist relic. You are free to wander within and watch the faithful at prayer, provided, of course, your shoes are removed and shoulders covered. The whole area is deeply powerful, and despite the cooling rain, the ground felt warm with all of the energy here. I have had some wonderful experiences with Buddhism and look forward to investigating further.
The following day came the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, home to hundreds of elephants. These would not survive in the wild due to injury or being orphaned at a tender age. Consequently, they are found a home here. Each day, they wander freely through the village on their way to bathe in the nearby river. This is nature at its most spectacular. The restaurants in the area overlook the river, so it is possible to spend a relaxing hour just watching these beautiful animals at play. In the orphanage itself, you can watch the feeding and have your photo taken with them.
Finally, a warning: most hotels offer buffet fare where you can try to eat a la carte, and be careful of the shellfish. Out of 18 on our trip, 16 were affected by stomach disorders. Love it is we did, Sri Lanka is not as hygienic as most Westerners would desire, and due caution must be taken.