Category Archives: traveling

Traveling around Sri Lanka

I’ve spent two amazing weeks on Sri Lanka, visiting as many places as possible and I just want to write little feedback on the places… for the future reference I guess. Overall impression was really cool. It’s the kind of place you have to like. It reminded me of India, but of the good things from India – like good food and ridiculous ways to get around. On the other hand, people are not so pushy as in India and usually it took only one ‘no thanks’ to the tuk-tuk driver to go away. The whole island provides an unique opportunity to jump from jungle to highlands and to dry tropics in the next moment. And I loved that diversity. We also tried very diverse attractions, so if you’re interested, read ahead…

Kandy
Kandy is essentially a gate to the region called in tourist guides as the Hill country. The city itself is quite big, easily reachable from pretty much everywhere by bus (one arrives on rather chaotic bus station) or train (from Colombo or from other towns in Hill country). The lake itself is nice and the Temple of Tooth is well… I wasn’t very excited about that, since in my opinion I saw much more beautiful buddhist temples (for free) and this was simply overpriced tourist attraction (1000Rs). Plus you don’t get to see the relic anyway. Much more interesting was Peradeniya botanical garden. Lots of flowers, trees and fruit bats. Walking through there is like walking through the calm oasis, totally cut out from the world outside. But one has to take the bus there from Kandy, it’d be rather long walk along the main road, which is with local drivers skills really risky.

Sigiriya
Also called Lion’s rock. The signature place of Sri Lanka, protected by UNESCO with entrance priced accordingly. $35!!! It’s worth going in the afternoon, since by the evening, you see all the amazing colors the Sun draws on the rock. If you’re aiming for the stunning ancient ruins, you might be disappointed. The murals are very impressive though. The rock ascent is not hard, but the vertigo can be annoying. The views are simply stunning. All in all I still think it’s little bit pricey for what you see, but a place not to miss.

Polonnaruwa
Here goes the place for impressive ruins. The old city is hidden in the forest, which makes it a nice walk, I kind of don’t understand why both Rough guide and Lonely Planet suggest renting a bike. With bike you’ll have hard time access some of the cool but more hidden places. And some of the nicest views. I was deeply impressed by Gal Vihara, statues of Buddha carved into the big rock. Especially the reclining Buddha has a very serene face… and all the texture of the rocks. Simply breathtaking. Also the dagobas were impressive, mostly in size. I really liked the snow white appearnce of Kiri Vihara. While the entrance to the ruins is also quite pricey ($30), it’s totally worth it. Also, don’t forget the ruins by the lake. They’re for free and very nice too.

Adam’s peak – Sri Pada 
One advice here – don’t go out of the season. While the weather in most parts of Sri Lanka might work even out of the season, this is not the place to be during the monsoon.  When it rains, it pours. That pretty much ruined our chance of night ascent. And unfortunately we didn’t have extra day for another try and the guest house (White house) was a nightmare to stay in (don’t go there unless you’re mold lover). I hiked one third up in the morning, but the humidity was killing me. So yeah, next time in the season.

Lake on the way from Dalhouse to Hatton

Horton Plains
National park, hence the entrance is annoyingly expensive. Including the tuk-tuk ride from Haputale, we paid 4500Rs for the whole trip, per person. Be sure to go very early in the morning, since the weather sucks in the afternoon. The main attraction is 9 km hike, mostly on flat surface with an easily visible trail. There you encounter Baker’s falls – quite nice waterfalls, and two major viewpoints – Poor Man’s World’s End and World’s End. One smaller and one bigger. Both of them are pretty impressive. Prepare for the chilly weather and mist. The guide book said it’s a cool place for bird watching, but honestly, we were glad that the mist was not much thicker 😉 In general, very nice place which I’d recommend.

Haputale – Lipton’s seat
Essentialy a viewpoint which is not that easy to reach. You can walk, but the asphalt road is just not ‘the’ hiking surface. One can also go by tuk-tuk, I have no idea about the price, since for us, it was included in the Horton Plains trip. The views are incredible. Tea is stretching everywhere and in the distance, one can see Udawalawe lake. There’s also a small tea shop on the top. The place itself is for free, which is nice.

Haputale – Dambatenne Tea Factory
Only tea factory opened for tourists. If you go too early in the morning, you won’t see anything, if you go to late, same story… The entrance fee is moderate, 250Rs and officially one can’t take pictures inside. Well, officially. It’s really cool to see how the cup of tea I drink every morning, is made. It takes surprisingly long time. But don’t buy local tea there, buy it anywhere else, here it’s ridiculously overpriced – around 1000Rs for the same stuff which costs 100Rs in Haputale.

Bambarakanda Falls
Well, we stopped here on the way from Haputale to Udawalawe. I don’t think it’s worth the trip solely on purpose of seeing this waterfall. I mean, it’s nice and tall. You can ‘swim’ there, in the tiny lake for a moment and you can take a picture of you standing under the waterfall. And that’s it. Also they apparently started to build some stairs there which might mean that at some point, there’s gonna be an entrance fee.

Udawalawe National Park safari
Prepare to spend a lot of money here. Jeep safari costs around 6000Rs per person (all taxes included) and you can’t go in without the jeep. For a good reason – there are wild animals running around. There are a lots of elephants, so those are sure thing when you go there. Also herds of water buffalos. But don’t rise your hopes for leopard. They’re in Yala. Here in Udawalawe, there are some, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see them. But there’s a lot of bird species and crocodiles, monitor lizards… And no matter what, hire a guide. They can point out animals you would miss in a blink of an eye. I think this safari was worth the price.

Rekawa 
Rekawa is ‘the place’ for turtle watching. Well, people are usually staying in Tangalla and then pay like 2000Rs per person to go to Rekawa to watch turtles lay eggs. The deal is, if you go to Rekawa on your own, the beach is public, so are the turtles… and it’s not very hard to find them, since they’re surrounded by tourists paying to get there with the agency. The problem is, for whatever reason, the agency wants to charge you, if you just walk around. Strange huh? And from what we saw, people in big group waiting for turtle and taking pictures. Well I’d say I pass.

Galle
The Fort is the major tourist attraction in Galle. Tourists concentrate there which means high prices of everything. Though the accommodation is doable on a budget. If you aim for souvenirs, just go outside the Fort and there is Lakana (or what’s the name) store, which essentially provides goods to the stores in Fort. They have bargain prices. If you’re into shopping, one of the builings in Fort harbors factory outlet. You can get Gap, Tommy Hilfiger etc. on ridiculous prices (10 euros per pants and remember, the outlet still makes money!!!). But the outfits for chicks are scarce, guys are more likely to be lucky there. The tags on the clothes are simply cut, co nobody can really resell it in a brand store. In Galle, we found an amazing restaurant called Crepeology. We paid 4000Rs for two people, including the desert, but the place was superb. I wouldn’t stay in Galle for more than a day, since it seemed little bit boring.

And that’s it. Anybody interested in the accommodation rating from me, check Trip Advisor. Also a good advice. While moving around he coast etc, buses are nice cheap alternatives for everything. But once you go to hill country, getting from one spot to another might take the whole day, so think about renting a tuk-tuk. We got one for 7000Rs (40 euro) for two days and if you think about that, it’s not a lot of money. And you got the freedom of stopping anywhere you want…

Hiking Nevado de Toluca

So when I was planning the trip to Mexico, I knew I had three free days by the end of my stay. I wanted to do some hiking, but Mexico suffers from one thing – everything is far away. There are two hiking options just outside Mexico city though – Itzaccihuatl, also offered on Tuesdays by some travel company and Nevado de Toluca. While Itza cannot be hiked all the way up, since it’s snow covered and you need equipment and preferably more than two days, Nevado de Toluca can be hiked in one day. But there’s a lot to take into account.

First of all, the weather changes drastically over the day. While morning is amazingly blue sky, in the afternoon, the clouds come and fill the caldera and it rains. So the earliest you leave from Mexico city, the better. Apparently what one can do is go by bus to Toluca and then take a taxi up there. I was the lucky person who didn’t have to do any of there, so I simply won’t comment on how doable/expensive it is. But bear in mind, from Toluca, it takes a lots of time, since the road up to the mountain is everything but in a good condition.

The entrance to the park, according to Lonely planet, is 20 pesos per vehicle, apparently they started to charge per person. Lonely planet also suggest there’s a camping ground in the national park, I suppose they mentioned the place close to the entrance to the park. From there, it’d take still quite a long time to hike up. Another option is sleeping directly at the spot by the end of the road. We took this option, sleeping in the car… it’s 100 pesos per night and be aware of the fact that you’re some 4.2 km above the sea level, in another words, it get’s chilly .. actually it get’s below freezing, so really good sleeping bag of heating in the car are in order. They have very basic bathrooms available there (no showers, only sink&toilet).

Hiking up in the morning is a good idea. You can either try to go around the whole caldera (takes a loooot of time, not because of distance, but because it’s essentially climbing on rocks once you reach the rim) or you can reach any of two peaks. If you take the path going to the right, when you face the lakes, you’ll get to slightly smaller Pico del Aquila (4,640 m), if you go around the Laguna de la Luna, to the left, you’ll go up Pico de Fraile (4,680 m). We took the right path, since we weren’t sure which way is doable and there was some group on the path on the right. It doesn’t take long to reach the top, but prepare for sliding sandy surface and rocks and non-negligible altitude. And it’s probably not good for people with strong vertigo.

The clouds started to come early in the afternoon, so we decided to go down the same path as we climbed up. It’s perfectly doable. So all in all, as one day trip, this would be a killer, with overnight, it was a very nice trip.

Nevado de Toluca

My first Mexican impressions

Okay, I don’t want to write about how you should walk around in Coyoacan in the evening or visit Teotihuacan. I just want to express my first  impressions of Mexico city and those little things that made me stop and think for a moment.

First thing you realize: the place is crowded. Let’s put it this way, my whole life, I was living in cities with less than 1,000,000 inhabitants… my country of origin has 10 milion people and here? There’s almost thrice as much on an area comparable to Tenerife. That’s a huge crowd. It’s actually little bit scary. Especially the area around Museo de la bellas artes and Zocalo. Geez, so many people everywhere. It feels overwhelming. On the other hand, I’m staying in Coyoacan, really nice residential area which feels surprisingly safe. There is not that many people and they just hang around, sit on the benches and enjoy living.

With a lot of people comes the need to transport them. I admit, I didn’t get the buses, meaning the local ones, the big ones going outside of the city are pretty obvious. Metro, or underground if you want, seems to be pretty convenient way of transportation here. It can get awfully crowded (really like the human equivalent of sardines can), but it’s nicely cheap (3 pesos… which is like 20 cents, and with that you can cross the whole city if you have the time :D). One peculiar thing about the metro are the sellers . They sell everything from sweets to USB sticks. Usually up to 10 pesos. The best ones are with huge speakers, playing some kind of music and selling the CDs. The sellers get on the train at one stop and get out on the following one.  It’s quite fun to observe the stuff they sell.

Quite unusual for me is the way to get food. Supermarkets are simply not that common here, therefore you just buy water and drinks on the street and other stuff somewhere on the market. It seemed strange to me at first, but one can easily get used to it. The other thing is just getting lunch on the street. I guess there might be certain health risk, but if I’ve survived India, I can survive this. Tacos or quesadillas cost like 15 pesos (1 euro) and one is good enough for me as a lunch. And it’s sinfully good.

Well… more to come, stay tuned and enjoy my picture of Pyramide del Sol in Teotihuacan, just before the rain started…

Pyramide del Sol