For our last day in Colombo, our goal was to check out some of the beaches on Sri Lanka’s west coast. Unsure of how to go about it, we weighed several options, including apps and private tour companies. In the end, we ended up taking an awful tour from Colombo to Galle that we had to escape to finally make it to a beach.
Sri Lanka sucks for many reasons, the most important of which is that getting around from city to city is a hassle and you have to rely on people who may or may not be reliable. So when we wanted to spend a day on the beautiful sunny beaches of Sri Lanka, we had to figure out the most hassle-free way to go about that. Though Uber was extremely reliable within the Colombo area, we couldn’t be sure that if we were dropped off on some gorgeous beach in the middle of nowhere that we would be able to find another Uber to get us back to Colombo. After having taken this trip, our instincts on that were correct. Not only are there fewer Uber drivers outside of Colombo, it’s also way more expensive.
So we decided to go with the seemingly safest choice, though not the cheapest, and book transport through our 4-star hotel, Mandarina Colombo. They could take us where we wanted, waited while we did whatever we wanted and transport us back at the end of the day for a flat rate. As we would come to find out, this would be a huge infuriating mistake.
The Colombo to Galle tour
Somewhere between arranging details of our transportation with the front desk and them relaying it to the driver, everything that we had requested went out the window. Instead, the driver was under the impression that we were on the standard Colombo to Galle tour, which by the way, if you’re considering is a huge waste of a day.
As we got on our way, through the nasty Colombo traffic, the driver started to talk about some of the stops we could make along the way. Nothing sounded so awesome that we wanted to request any of the stops, but we figured if they were on the way to the beach, seeing a moonstone mine might be kind of cool. Pretty soon, it became clear that all these random places he had rattled off were not so optional, and he was going to make every single stop whether we wanted to or not.
As the day wore on, our subtle (and blunt) hints about how we intended to go only to the beach and even our specific request to stop at one specific beach went ignored. As we became more and more direct, the driver told us it was too hot to go to the beach and we would see it on the way back from Galle. So we had to endure all the stops he made along the way, because at that point, what else were we supposed to do?
The bullshit attractions from Colombo to Galle
One of our first stops was at the Ceylon Tea & Herbal Medicine Shop in Kalutara North, a fruit and spice garden. Here, some dude walks you around the spice garden so you can see and smell some of what they have with the aim of eventually convincing you to buy some. After a tour of the garden, he did a product demonstration that began with a mini-facial and ended with light sexual assault, as the guy individually took us to some back room to give us aloe massages, getting increasingly more uncomfortable as he undid my bathing suit top, while telling me my breasts were beautiful.
After taking us to get groped by some random guy, we stopped roadside to have a fresh coconut sold by the driver’s wife’s friend. This was on the edge of a rocky beach, though one that looked too isolated for us to stop and spend time at. Thinking our destination was some better public beach, we got back in the car and kept going.
When he mentioned he would be taking us to a temple in his hometown and then to have tea at his house and meet his family, we realized he had completely misinterpreted our expectations. We politely told him we were dressed for the beach, which isn’t appropriate dress for a temple – a concern that he waved away as he took us anyway.
He pulled over and gave us a small walking tour of Kande Vihare Temple in Kalatura. This may possibly be the highlight of the Colombo to Galle tour, though there are a lot of temples in Sri Lanka with a giant Buddha statue, so this is nothing special. It’s certainly nothing we were interested in seeing on our beach day.
Then we did, in fact, get taken to the driver’s house. After the experience at the spice garden, I was starting to think, are we about to get human trafficked? But when we arrived we were met by his two kids, his parents, and his wife. I don’t mean to sound like a bitch for shitting on the hospitality of his family… they prepared some tea and fruit for us and sat down to talk to us. Nonetheless, we were basically kidnapped on this tour, so our main goal was to get the fuck to where we were going, which was not this dude’s house in the countryside.
Other stops on the worst tour ever included a Sri Lankan mask museum and a moonstone mine, which is now dedicated to showing tourists on this tour circuit how mining is done and selling them what are probably fake moonstones.
By then half of our day was already wasted, we were fed up and started to turn down his attempts to stop, which were numerous and included everything from a river safari in Bentota, a turtle hatchery (another example of Sri Lanka’s animal exploitation), a tsunami museum, and a cinnamon plantation.
Escaping the Colombo to Galle tour we didn’t intend to take
Up until we arrived in Galle, the driver had been with us the entire time. Unwilling to go where we had requested to be taken, we were basically stuck going where he was trying to take us. This was made all the worse by the drive along the coast where we could see gorgeous empty beaches passing us by along with our time, which was 6 hours in total.
When we arrived in Galle, he dropped us off at the Dutch fort and went to go have lunch. He gave us his phone number and told us to explore the fort and then he would meet us soon. Finally free, we took the first tuk tuk we saw to Jungle Beach, where we finally enjoyed some of the afternoon sun on the beach and had a very late lunch. When he texted us to ask where we were, we told him to wait until we were ready to go and pick us up at the beach.
After all that, this man had the nerve to be annoyed that he had to go pick us up 7 km past the end point of the tour which was supposed to be Galle Fort.
When we returned to the hotel, the driver followed me to the front desk where I was clearly going to complain about our awful day. I decided to let it go to avoid a verbal altercation with this neanderthal, and I wrote the hotel a strongly-worded email about the experience. Surely terrified that I might go on Tripadvisor and blame the hotel for the whole thing, I met with like three Mandarina Colombo executives and the hotel tour manager about the experience and they agreed to refund us for the cost of the tour. Suddenly, people who had basically ignored everything we had asked for until that point were paying very close attention to what I had to say.
In the end, though we were able to get our money back (in theory, cause I’m still waiting for that refund), we basically lost an entire day. Even if I had been on that garbage tour on purpose, it would have sucked. Nothing about the roadside attractions between Colombo and Galle are interesting or worth sitting all day in a car for.