Sri Lanka is known almost equally for its lovely beaches and for its enchanting hill country, with most of the population and tourism being in the south of the country. Kandy is the largest city in the hill country so just about everyone who visits the country stops there for at least awhile. Fortunately then, it has a lot going for it, far beyond the lovely lake at its center.
Kandy is also the spiritual center of Sri Lanka as it’s home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, which is an important symbol in the community. It’s located just next to a large temple that is also a popular stop for tourists, though most of the charms of the area are located on the outskirts.
The vibe in Kandy, Sri Lanka
As with any city of any size it’s worth looking at and discussing the heart of town first, and this is an interesting subject here. The population of the city is officially around 125,000 and the downtown area is surprisingly small considering that number, but it’s also very dense and mostly lacking in charm.
Partly for this reason, only a few older hotels are actually in town or very nearby, so the vast majority of visitors stay in hotels on roads surrounding the lake. If you are planning a visit you will be interested in knowing that staying within walking distance of the town center should not be a priority. The lake is about one kilometer long and many of the best hotels are in the hills surrounding the end opposite the town center. Also, tuk-tuks and other transportation options are cheap and plentiful.
The steep hills surrounding the lake tend to have lovely views of the area, but the main attractions including the Three Temples, Botanical Gardens, and the Tea Factory are even further out of town. In order to experience Kandy in any depth you’ll be covering quite a bit of ground so forget about walking and arrange for a tuk-tuk or taxi for a tour.
The climate is another of the things Kandy has to brag about since its elevation keeps things generally mild all year round. Down at sea level Sri Lanka is incredibly hot and humid from April to September, but in Kandy you won’t even need an air conditioner most days.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Kandy, as elsewhere in Sri Lanka, doesn’t have many tourist-friendly restaurants or bars to speak of. There are very few non-tourist-friendly places as well, so most people end up eating most meals at their hotel or perhaps at a nearby hotel. Hopefully in the coming few years this situation will change, but for now it can be a bit frustrating to be in a touristy area and find out there isn’t nearly enough infrasture for the visitors.
The prices of things in Kandy
Hotels in Kandy are typical of Sri Lanka in that there is almost nothing available in the hostel or 1-star range, but the 2-star and above range offers very good value. You can get a room starting around US$20 including breakfast, and for US$40 per night you’ll get something a bit fancy. There are a few traditional luxury hotels that are only a bit more expensive than that, so this is a good place to splurge a bit.
Food will range from around US$2 for a full meal of the ubiquitous rice and curry to about US$4 for a standard lunch or dinner main course. Needless to say, at the more expensive hotels the cost of food goes up as well so you can pay triple these prices if you stay at one.
A large bottle of beer will cost about US$2.50 at the cheaper places or double that at the nicest hotels. The local liquor is arak and it can be very cheap, especially by the bottle, but the fruit juices and other mixers can add quite a bit to the price.