Having spent 5 days bored in a sleepy fishing village we were really looking forward to the tour and meeting some new people. We’d booked a tour of Sri Lanka with G-Adventures for two reasons. Firstly, this backpacking thing is entirely new to us both, and secondly, Sri Lanka is notoriously difficult to get around.
The tour was really good fun in the most part and I’m glad we did it as we met some really cool people including our guide Prabash and his team.
I would say that doing things on your own rather than on a tour is probably going to be a lot cheaper and we both agreed that we don’t think we will do any more organised tours on this trip for this reason. Doing it the way we did worked well for us though as being new to travelling, we got eased into the life of backpacking and had a good group to socialize with after a very quiet 5 days in Negombo.
The highlights of the tour for me were;
‘Village safari’ – a visit to a village of people that live in tree houses in the jungle(to avoid roaming elephants at night) who showed us how they lived and then served us a great lunch in their food hut
Asian Elephants safari where we saw up to 60 Asian elephants bathing and relaxing at a huge lake before they made their way back into the Jungle for the night;
Climbing Sigiriya rock – although the climb is steps rather than a hike the views from the top are just stunning (anyone who knows Sarah will already expect that she didn’t get to the top due to her fear of heights but she did try (sort of)
The Ella rock hike was good fun and not too challenging even if like me you’re a fair way from peak physical fitness, again there was some amazing views all along the way, our grouped adopted a loveable stray dog that we named Jerry, he followed/led us the entire 12km and got fed all of our packed lunches at the top as his reward which he seemed very happy with.
Whale watching tour where we got to see 4 blue whales – the last of which was a real poser, this was just amazing and something that neither of us will ever forget.
Honourable mention also goes to the River party Prabash sorted out to break up a long travelling day where we went to a fresh water river, all chipped in for a few bottles of Arrack (local liquor), had a few drinks, listened to music and swam in the river. This wasn’t on the itinerary but Prabash wanted to show us how Sri Lankans relax and have some fun – turns out to be basically the same way we all relax only there is more water and less clothes than in the UK. He didn’t have to make the effort to do stuff like this, but it was to his credit that having spoken to some of us, and having got a good read of the group he arranged this. It was a real laugh and we enjoyed it a lot.
Would we do another tour like this? As I touched on earlier I’m not sure that we would, at least not whilst on this trip. Though that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who wanted to see what a country has to offer without the hassle of constantly looking for the next place to stay/thing to see, especially if on a holiday rather than a longer trip and time is restricted. Sri Lankan public transport could be challenging at times to say the least and you can waste a lot of time waiting around train/bus stations which is obviously not ideal if you only have a couple of weeks to get around everywhere that you want to see.
G Adventures seem to be a good company to go with, and there were a couple of people who were on their 3rd, or even 4th tour with them so they must be doing something right. The big challenge with a ‘’budget tour’ is everyone has a different idea of what ‘budget’ means, so if you do decide to do it, just be aware that they seriously under estimate how much cash you will need. Some of the hotels we stayed in were luxurious for people expecting to rough it for a year, and some the places we were taken to eat were out of our price range, but you don’t really have a choice.
We both agreed however that the guide makes all the difference on these tours. We were extremely lucky to have a tour guide in Prabash who quickly learnt what people were willing to spend money on and what they weren’t, what they were interested in seeing and what they weren’t. There were a couple of activities he arranged outside of the published itinerary which were so much better than some of the ones organised by the tour company. He was really knowledgeable about his country, and this added to the experience for us, as we really got to know a lot more about the country and its history. Though the day he told us all there were no women Tuk Tuk drivers in Sri Lanka because it was too competitive for women was well ………interesting. You can imagine Sarah’s thoughts on that one, and there were another 10 women on the bus under 30 who were less than impressed by that statement.
The other thing to think about is, do you actually want to spend nearly 2 weeks with the same people? We were really lucky and had a good group of people on our tour, with a good mix of long term travellers and people on their annual holiday but as you spend almost all of your time together I could see it being a bit of a drag if you are in a group that you don’t get on with. This was a “YOLO” tour and we were right at the limit of recommended upper age so (obviously) nearly everyone was a lot younger than us. At first we were a little worried that it might be an issue but it turned out to really not be at all, though I suspect our lack of responsibility and general silliness helped with that. Everyone got on well with no drama and it was good to have a group of people to share some amazing experiences with. We both really enjoyed the social aspect of the tour and we have stayed in touch with most of our group but if that’s not your thing, then maybe steer clear!