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Dave Williams

Sri Lanka Self drive?

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Dave Williams

@NancyS Oh dear! Thanks for sharing those pictures. That was my dread, being involved in that. Been there and done it in the past and swore never again. Your jam looked far worse too. Out of interest, were you on a half day safari?

Two years ago the bombings had yet to occur and numbers were at their highest, 500 jeeps a day can be in Yala I'm told and hence the need to get in there as early as possible. From what I can gather though for many "less serious" wildlife watchers part of the thrill is being driven at crazy speeds in a rush to be first in line. It can't be good either from a safety point of view and besides all that noise must push everything deeper in to the bush.

The park authorities really do need to do something to regulate what is happening before they kill the golden goose and a few other species in the park too.

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NancyS

We did the 1/2 day morning safari and then 1/2 day afternoon safari. In the morning, after awhile, at our request, we did abandon the crowds leopard hunting and got away from the crowd, which was much better. We left for lunch and then were supposed to go back for the afternoon. After the morning experience, the guide said that if we wanted we could go to zone 5 for the afternoon, which is farther but much quieter.  That is what we did. Much better! I hope it has changed since then because it was crazy and not good at all for wildlife or people.

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xelas

Even Yala can be enjoyed ... one can stay clear of main leopard trails and it will have it almost to herself/himself. For this to happen, one has to instruct the driver precisely.

 

However, Dave, you have seen your leopard! Lucky you.

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Dave Williams
4 minutes ago, xelas said:

Even Yala can be enjoyed ... one can stay clear of main leopard trails and it will have it almost to herself/himself. For this to happen, one has to instruct the driver precisely.

 

However, Dave, you have seen your leopard! Lucky you.

 

I guess it's always nice to see a Leopard, or anything else for that matter. As far Leopards go I had great views in Kruger just a few months ago and had two very close encounters in Sri Lanka on previous visits so I guess I can afford to be a little less demanding. For those who have never seen one in the wild I can imagine the thrill of the first encounter, just as I remember mine. What a magnificent beast they are, possibly equal to a Tiger but not much else to touch one in my book.

This was my last visit to Yala

30425450535_3db91ef8fd_o.jpgLeopard Yala NP,Sri Lanka 2013 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and this to Wilpattu in the north, my first encounter and had me buzzing for the rest of the day!

30424920985_c92984d051_o.jpgLeopard   Wilpattu NP,Sri Lanka by Dave Williams, on Flickr

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xelas

Lovely! Not much chance to see one on our upcoming trip, but later in the year, in Kabini, @Soukous promised us to see one (even if a bit less colourful being a monochromatic version:P).

 

 

Edited by xelas

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shazdwn
12 hours ago, NancyS said:

 

 

 

DSCN7283.jpeg

 

OMG - speechless.  

 

I'm seriously starting to consider if Yala is a good idea?  However it is reportedly one of the best wildlife areas in Sri Lanka?  Maybe if I just follow Dave's plan and cross fingers we get a leopard away from the usual areas?

 

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xelas

@shazdwn Yala is a great park ... just avoid the rest of the crowds! Discuss with your jeep driver, tell him tip will go down each time you will see more then 3 vehicles :D, basically follow Dave.

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Soukous
13 hours ago, xelas said:

Not much chance to see one on our upcoming trip, but later in the year, in Kabini, @Soukous promised us to see one (even if a bit less colourful being a monochromatic version

 

Promised ??????????????????????????:huh::o

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Dave Williams

@shazdwn I think the most important thing is to take a whole day safari, that way you are far more likely to avoid the morning and evening crowds in Block 1. If you do go I can pass on our guide/driver's number.  

For me, Block 1 was a huge surprise, I was expecting hell and it didn't happen. It was no busier than the southern end of Kruger NP where we went last October.

Mind you, the Leopard jams in Kruger were nothing on those shots NancyS has posted. Once you are in the thick of one of those there is no way of extricating yourself, you just have to sit and wait. To me a waste of precious time, but to others worth it I guess. 

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Dave Williams

When planning this trip there was one place I knew I wanted to include, the lovely Spice House Guest House in Mirissa. 

Guest House? Well the proprietors call it that but it's more like a boutique hotel really.

I first discovered it about 6 years ago and it's been a pleasure to watch them grow the business. Their eye for detail and personal service is superb, the hotel is kind of quirky. It's set on a hillside just out of town. The main building houses some guests whereas other stay in separate rooms within the grounds. The rooms are very tastefully built and furnished using reclaimed materials for things like doors and windows which make an interesting different experience.

Last time we stayed we stayed in the Lemongrass House and I made a special request to have this room again because it offered superb wildlife viewing.

Leaving Cinnamon Wild behind I fully expected to have an improved garden experience. The taxi ride  had been arranged by Phil, the owner of Spice House. R10,000. Our driver did the journey in 3 1/2 hours, We were greeted by Spice House staff who carried all our gear to our room...thankfully... while we had a refreshing welcome drink in the garden.

Since our last visit they have continued to expand and progress and have built a new unit housing three rooms and another  swimming pool. 

Our room had changed significantly too.

The bedroom was now a living area.

The Spice House, Mirissa

The shower and toilet area remained as before.

Spice House,Mirissa

but a new bedroom had been added.The Spice House, Mirissa

a full window leads on to the balcony

The Spice House, Mirissa

where outside you can relax on the huge lounger!

Spice House,Mirissa

I mean what's not to like!! 

For 99.9% of the visitors they would say fabulous. Me, a tad disappointed if I'm honest.

In the 4 years since my last visit, the wrap round balcony that offered perfect viewing of the glade in the woods and stream of visiting birds had now been taken up by the bedroom extension.

Not that it mattered. The glade had disappeared too. Things grow at an incredible rate when you have sun and rain! Sri Lanka is incredibly green as a result. The trees towered above the level of the balcony. Ah well, it wouldn't stop me visiting again. No way. I love this place and it's very handy to wander in to town for a beer on the beach or a browse of the shops.

Oh, and the food is exceptional. £60 per night B&B, R3000 (£13-£14) the price for two for the wonderful banquet of local food they provide in the evening.

No, the answer would be to choose another room where the open aspect gives more avian opportunities and there are several to choose.

I wandered up to a more open area and did get some decent shots.

This was the only place I had a Drongo opportunity, strange because in many similar climate countries they are very common.

White-bellied  Drongo  Dicrurus caerulescens

I'm always delighted to see Paradise Fly-catchers

Indian Paradise-flycatcher  Terpsiphone paradisi

and the garden had both females and the long tailed males too.

Another bird that can be quite skittish is the Black-hooded Oriole.

Black-hooded Oriole   Oriolus xanthornus

That one posed brilliantly for a few seconds.

Back on our balcony though, the Toque Macaque were far from lacking in confidence. 

Our balcony was invaded every morning but they behaved themselves unlike the last time when one hurled itself at me with teeth bared having chased me down the balcony. Fortunately I'd managed to step inside the room and shut the door in the nick of time.

That particular beast is no longer, and I didn't ask too many questions as to his fate either.

No, the rest were far more amiable but still had a certain arrogance about them.

Toque Macaque

On one morning we had 15 on our balcony!!

The other monkey species seen in the garden , and I was pleased to see they were still there, were the Purple-faced Langurs. They are fairly shy and don't allow close approach. from that point of view our room was perfect when they arrived in the evening to feed.

Purple-faced Langur   Semnopithecus vetulus

Hopefully they will continue to survive in the area which is currently being developed quite intensively. The Langurs are a threatened species for this very reason.

No, our 4 nights in Mirissa were very enjoyable despite my disappointment.

Mirissa is famous as a whale watching departure point and for it's surfing opportunities. It was fairly windy while we were there so there were some decent waves. We were not too concerned as surfing was never on the agenda and neither was whale watching really. Well, not unless something special was out there. Not that Blue Whales are not special but once seen is enough for me. They might be the worlds largest but they are not exactly spectacular as they only show a tiny proportion of their body and the only action is a flip of the tail as they dive in to the ocean depths.

it was time to head back to Negombo and a return to where we'd started. We'd have 2 whole days to fill and I was considering a day trip to Kalpityia where the dolphin watching can be spectacular.

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Dave Williams

Leaving Mirissa behind we were once again taking another step towards going home. With hindsight I would probably have stayed another day there had I thought it through or maybe not. Maybe I'd have tweaked the whole of our planned holiday.

In the end we spent the last two days in Negombo doing very little other than lazing by the pool, oh and a couple of hours local tour to see the sights of Negombo and to stock up on a few spices to take home.

I had considered a dolphin trip to Kalpityia but the reality was it wasn't that practical. A 3 hour plus drive to get there, it was a long day and the Dolphin might not show. It did happen once before!

No I'd keep that one up my sleeve for the future and would arrange to stay up that end of the island too, take in Wilpattu NP again, maybe visit the far north, the area where the civil war was fought not that long ago. Over on the east coast there was much unexplored island to see as well. Certainly enough to make the visit interesting.

Had this trip been a success? Well, not as much as I'd hoped. We'd chosen well with the accommodation, eaten well, had excellent weather so from that point it had been a great success. I guess the one aspect that I wasn't happy with was the fact we never actually settled anywhere for long enough, never unpacked our bags. Then there was the local wildlife viewing opportunities, again a bit of a disappointment. I'd done so much better in the past from that perspective.

Don't let me put you off Sri Lanka as a holiday destination though. It ticks so many boxes if you plan it correctly. It has a bit of everything, history, culture, game parks and sealife, water sports, hiking, interesting travel modes from the old Pullman style steam trains to Tuk Tuks. I am actually trying to point my grandson to take a chunk of his gap year back packing there, it's ideal and a better option than the Far East in my opinion.

We will go back I'm sure, all being well in the future. If you have never been I suggest you go sooner rather than later whilst tourist numbers are at their current low. 

if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask!

Cheers

Dave

Edited by Dave Williams

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TonyQ

Really enjoyable Dave. The Spice House looks a really good choice, and you got some great photos there.

I agree that Sri Lanka is a lovely place. MrsQ and I went a number of years ago travelling independently- pre internet so just turn up to hotels, have a look and take a room. Lovely people.

I also backpacked there about 40years ago, spending 2 months there. So grandson- go for it!

 

Thanks for posting, I always enjoy your reports, and this was no exception.

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Kitsafari

beautiful images  - and I'm so jealous of your Indian pitta and the owl!

 

you spent full days in the parks - did you need special permission to do that (I know in India you have to get that) and were the additional charges a lot more than the 2 half-day game drives?

 

having experienced Tadoba, we have developed a strong allergy to safaris in India, to be honest, so we havent' had the greatest desires to repeat safaris in India to date. It sounds like yala is the same, but I think if we ever go, we will have to put our foot down very firmly and insist on getting out of leopard drives. We told the guide in our tadoba drives to stop waiting for the leopards but somehow we still ended up waiting, and waiting,and waiting, and getting more frustrated. 

 

We will need that number and contact from you of that excellent private guide and his teenage relative if we ever get to Yala!

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Dave Williams
9 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

beautiful images  - and I'm so jealous of your Indian pitta and the owl!

 

you spent full days in the parks - did you need special permission to do that (I know in India you have to get that) and were the additional charges a lot more than the 2 half-day game drives?

 

having experienced Tadoba, we have developed a strong allergy to safaris in India, to be honest, so we havent' had the greatest desires to repeat safaris in India to date. It sounds like yala is the same, but I think if we ever go, we will have to put our foot down very firmly and insist on getting out of leopard drives. We told the guide in our tadoba drives to stop waiting for the leopards but somehow we still ended up waiting, and waiting,and waiting, and getting more frustrated. 

 

We will need that number and contact from you of that excellent private guide and his teenage relative if we ever get to Yala!

No special permission needed to take a whole day safari but the vehicles have to park up in the dedicated area for maybe 2 hours at lunch time. The best improvement is they have proper toilets located there now, used to be head for the bushes which was very primitive. If you do two half day safaris not only do you get less time but you have to pay two entry fees although maybe if you do them on the same day perhaps the ticket is valid for the day. 

As I wrote in my TR, I was very pleasantly surprised how traffic free Block 1 was, it turned in to an excellent day out!

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Galago

Just caught up with this and read it straight through while storm Ciara is lashing the trees outside, so a welcome escape. Some really lovely photos and the Purple-faced langur is stunning.

I was in southern Sri Lanka over Xmas 2015 on a group tour. I agree Galle is so touristy, wouldn't bother again.  Cinnamon Wild was busy but the food was seriously good and, just to annoy you :), we saw Sloth bear, Indian pitta and...... a pangolin..... in the grounds! It was my first ever pangolin and the best Xmas present ever.

However, Yala itself was something else. I have never, ever seen such reckless driving and disrespect for wildlife, even worse than Tadoba @Kitsafari. A collision happened right in front of us and the passenger hit the windscreen so hard it cracked. As I was in a group I couldn't ask to go to a quieter part because several were focused on leopard sightings. I doubt I'd ever go back there because, like you, I want to go north to Mannar and to the east coast too.

I loved the whale watching off Mirissa, 12 blue whales in one trip plus Bryde's with calf, and Spinner dolphins. 

I think I liked Singharaja best though. The birding both in the forest and around the lanes was wonderful.

Thanks for an enjoyable report.

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Dave Williams

@Galago Yep, I'm seriously annoyed!!!! Jammy doesn't come near to describing your luck!!!

Claire almost trod on a snake on the day I went to Block 1. That was about as wild as it got. 

Cinnamon food was a bit hit and miss for us really. The first visit it was fine, next visit the first night was superb the next two quite disappointing. Breakfast was OK though not the best we had. I must admit though the buffet  choice was beyond anything I have seen, even on cruises.

Never been to Singharaja , would love to but there is nothing suitable for Claire from what I have seen and read.

 

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Atravelynn

The 3 posing monkeys of the 15 made a great shot.

Hope Claire recovered quickly.

The Brown Fishing Owl turned out perfectly.  Even when we think we have ruined a photo, it often comes out fine.

So many great tips on Sri Lanka that also demonstrate it's good value. 

 

 

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JayRon

 

@Dave WilliamsThanks for your trip report,  really detailed and informative as usual :) 

 

 I visited Sri Lanka for 4 weeks in february 2019(before the attacks)  and agree I lot with your "conclusions". Lovely and nice accomodations (we also stayed at Optimum Residences and really liked. The most friendly people we met in Sri Lanka), nice weather, friendly people and good food. So with that in mind it would met the criterias for most people. But people coming for wildlife will probably be disappointed in some way. We visited Willpattu, Udawalawa and Yala. Willpattta was ok in terms of traffic, but the guides was very poorly trained. Our guide didn´t know the names of the sloth bear and repeatedly called it black bear (we didn´t see one) and in general knew very little about nature. Udawalawa was ok, but lots of cars. Yala was just pure madness. So many cars that we drove in convey most of the time. At no point we were alone(I had thought about going to Block 1, but thought "how bad can it be", I was surprised, it was horrible.) So I really wish I seen your report before. @Kitsafari I been to Kanha and Bandhavgarh and if you compare these to Yala, they are managed so much better. Especially Kanha is actually very nicely regulated. Bandhavgrah not that much, but at least they have a limited numbers of cars into the park. Yala also have limited numbers but I think it is 300 in around 90 km2!!

I am glad I seen Sri Lanka, but I probably won´t return.

 

The queue to get into Yala. And we were late, so this was 20-25 minutes after the opened the gates.image.png.ae616e7133628fc6ab222fead1f1eb50.png 

Edited by JayRon

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Dave Williams

Interesting observations @JayRon. Out of interest, was your Yala Block 1  a half day trip ?

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