I'm planning on 2.5 weeks in Sri Lanka in January next year so am in the early stages of planning. I'd really like to travel independently and not have to do an organised tour; is it easy and efficient to use public transport to get around? I'll be sticking to the main highlights - probably Anaradhapura, Adam's Peak, Kandy, Sigiriya, Unawatune and Bandarawela. Does that sound feasible in the time frame I have?
It is fairly easy to get around, connections are good. However, train is very slow, although it is pleasant. Buses are usually overcrowded and drivers are madman, so you may have to stand and pray on the bus. But it is all part of the fun.
We used wikitravel and helped us a lot. Although train and bus schedule on certain lines seemed more frequent than what we had read.
- We went on a different route, but from our experience the train ride along the coast from Colombo to south was very nice.
- We also liked the colonial/historical town Galle and the mountain village Ella.
Ella-Kandy train ride offers beautiful scenery, although the seven hour ride was a bit tiring at the end. Better to buy second class ticket than the first-tourist class one. It's more airy, pleasant and you can have more fun with locals.
- Kandy to us wasn't a bit of a disappointment.
- We stayed in Colombo, in the "center" / "shopping area" (where KFC/Pizza Hut are) in a small guest house in one of the alleys towards the seaside, however it is probably better to go a bit more south to the tourist/holiday area and sleep at one of the guest houses near the beach. It is only 15 minutes on a local bus from the shopping area anyway, so it is fairly convenient to get into town and explore Colombo.
- We went to the very south to find a nice beach in a town called Tangalle, but the coast was not that nice and waves were way to strong even just to dip in the water. So, probably better to find a nice beach on the west side of the island. Although, locals said nicest beaches can be found somewhere on the middle of the east coast, but it is a bit time consuming to get there.
- Better to get enough rupees in Colombo, as later on it might be difficult to find ATM/exchange facility.
Have a nice time in Sri Lanka!
One more thing: travelling in Sri Lanka is mostly hassle free. However, unfortunately we did come across with some "friendly" locals who were desperate to become our helpers, guides or friends. Always be suspicious about these people, in best case they will just demand money, however in a worse case they can be involved in "gem scams", which is not at all a pleasant experience. Just tell them politely but very firmly that you are not interested and don't want their company - even if it sounds/feels very impolite and rude toward your "new friend".
And at many tourist restaurants they cook with coconut oil. So, unless you fancy it, better to ask to use vegetable oil instead. We didn't like it and ruined our otherwise delicious meal a few times...
Thanks so much for the useful advice kichkacha.