Starting from Colombo I travelled to the North of the Western Province and covered these places.
Colombo: The international airport is in Negombo which is about 30kms away from the capital Colombo. Before exiting the airport it’s easier to pick up a local SIM as most of the telecom firms have a booth (the international roaming charges for Sri Lanka are pretty steep). I was looking for Mobitel, however at their counter the guy suggested to go in for airtel as they had better plans for India. Most hotels/guesthouses do have WiFi so it’s not that bad to not have a local SIM, the choice of course is yours. To get to Colombo you could hire a taxi or a tuk-tuk or take the shuttle bus. The bus stop for 187-E3 which is the express bus to Colombo city center is right across the road as you exit the airport and plies every half an hour.
What to do in Colombo…. I just wrote a blog on it and below is the link. Most travellers just skip Colombo or stay at Negombo and the head on.
There are various ways one can do Wilpattu National Park and Dolphin watching at Kalpitiya. Puttalam is the main town area around here. So you can either stay at Puttalam, or towards the national park itself or in Kalpitya. Most hotels/ guesthouses will arrange the safari rides or the boat rides for you.
Wilpattu National Park : Puttalam is the main point of stop for Wilpattu. Buses plying to Anuradhapura, Jaffna pass through here so the bus frequency is good. I took a Anuradhapura bus from Pettah stand at Colombo. I believe there are also local buses to just Puttalam which is very slow. So make sure before you catch the bus.
Safaris to the national park are arranged by the hotel/ guesthouse you are staying at. There is no booking of jeeps at the park entrance. The jeep costs 6000lkr and the park entrance fee per person would be around 3000lkr plus taxes. Higher the number of people in the ticket the taxes are less I was told, so take a group ticket. Also if you can share the jeep with other guests it will reduce the overall cost. The morning safari, park opens at 6:30 and is suppose to leave the park max by 12pm. Evening safari is at 3:30 to 6:30. You do get more time in the morning, however in Wilpatu, in February, Elephant sighting is more in the evenings I was told, leopards anyway is a luck in either slot.
We were very lucky, morning safari, saw eagles, strokes, a single elephant wading through water and around 10 when we had almost given up a leopard. Beautiful sighting, just made my day.
Kalpitiya : I travelled on to Kalpitiya after the safari. Staying in Kalpitiya is great if you want to try kite surfing or diving along with the Dolphin watching. The town itself is very small with a small naval base which is built around a small fort, regular tours of the fort are conducted for free by the naval folks. Nothing great, but if you are here and have time, something to check out. Other than that there is really nothing in the town. You can chill out only at your hotel. Luckily I met up with a few guests staying at the guesthouse and there was a good coffee place a few steps off so had a great evening.
Next day morning I signed up for the dolphin watching. The ticket for this is around 1350lkr with boat cost separate, so again if you can join with other folks the cost reduces. There was a huge pod of dolphins not very far from the shore. We spent about an hour with them. The only irritating part was that the boats try to chase after the dolphins and they just vanish into the sea quickly. After repeated request to just stop the boat finally he slowed down for a while. But yes thoroughly enjoyed them, they did some flips (which I did not get on my camera), swam around, blew air out of their noses … totally enjoyable.
As you walk down the beach you will see many centers offering diving and surfing options. So it’s easy to sign up for either.
Getting Around Sri Lanka : The bus transport is pretty good here both in terms of convenience and frequency and the cheapest. Of course your luggage is a concern if you opt for bus transport so travel accordingly. Most buses are 3+2 seater and at least so far the drivers have allowed to have my backpack in the front. There are smaller buses too, usually on the non-main routes, I have also travelled in an a/c minivan on the route to Kandy. Even to travel within the town to various sites you can look at taking a bus. The frequency is really good and usually the drop offs are at the entrance to the sites.
For travelling within a place tuk-tuk is an option. And usually to touristy sites or hotels the prices are high. At least when you compare the per km price its higher than what you would pay in India.
Cabs are expensive as expected but of course you get the luxury and fast mode of transport.
In Colombo there is Uber service and their prices are much lesser to a tuk-tuk. Only issue is sometimes the driver speaks only Sinhala and usually you have to direct the drivers to your pick up point for some reason so you better have somebody around to help you out.
Food in Sri Lanka : Rice is the main staple food here. String hoppers (idiaapa) made of rice flour is available at all times in most places. Hoppers (aapa) not always but another staple breakfast and at most small eateries made in the evenings. With both these it’s chicken curry/dal/fish curry/potato curry and sambal(dry coconut chutney). All currys are made of coconut milk so they do have a unique flavor. Kottu (kothu parata of tamilnadu) is another meal found at most places for lunch and dinner, a mix of shredded rotis, meat, egg and vegetables. Lunch and dinner is usually rice, curry and sambals.
Stay in Sri Lanka : Homestays are the best option. There are minimal basic amenities ones to quite classy ones. And usually it’s run by the host so you get to interact with them and have some home cooked meals.