An up and coming destination filled with diverse culture, delicious food, fun and adventure. Located on a beautiful palm tree covered island in the Indian Ocean, know as the Jewell of Asia, Sri Lanka has something for everyone!
Visas are to be organised before you go and this can be done online, at the official Sri Lankan Immigration website and cost $35USD. It will only take a couple of minutes to fill out, print of a copy of the visa receipt along with your return flights and take it to the airport with you along or they may not let you on your flight. Sri Lanka requires you to have return flights to enter the country - If you do not have return flights, try your luck by clicking here and follow the prompts.
All international flights to Sri Lanka fly in and out of Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport located about 1-1.5 hours north of the city. You can arrange a Taxi, Tuk Tuk or Bus once you land, prices vary on where you will be going to.
Taxi's and Tuk Tuk's are a better option for reaching your accommodation directly, for between 1,500-3,000 Rs (Taxi's are at the higher end). If you want to save a dollar, you have more chance of waving down a cheaper Tuk Tuk by walking outside the airport and standing on the road. There is also the public 187 bus which will take you from the bus station to Colombo Fort which cost 110 Rs.
Some people opt to spend the night in the small beach town of Negombo, located about 10-15 minutes drive away and cost about 500 Rs in a Tuk Tuk. There is not much going on in this little town but its a lot more relaxed than Colombo. Alternatively, you could head straight out to Kandy on a direct bus from the Bus Station, located about 5 minutes away from the Airport or just organise a private car direct from the Airport.
Sri Lanka has a numerous modes of transport, there is a substantial train network spanning from Colombo throughout the country. The train is very cheap, for public seating and standing, it generally cost between 10 Rs unto 200 Rs depending on the distance, then the long distance sleeper trains to Jaffna and Trincomale can cost up to 1,400 Rs for a reserved bed (this is great value at around $10-12).
Shared Taxis/Vans can also be hired to driver between towns and can cost between 1,500-3,000 per person depending on the distance. Lots of travellers band together at hostels and move together via this mode of transport instead of take the long and crowded public bus when no trains are available. You can also organise a Tuk Tuk to take you to your next destination, this is cheaper again however this is not as comfy and you can only fit two people in the back along with your luggage.
There are two forms of bus, as mentioned previously the cheap and crowded public bus or the private air conditioned coaches. The price difference will not break your budget, generally the public bus will cost between 50 - 325 Rs to get between locations all over the country, depending on distance and then for the air conditioned coaches 350 - 1,000 Rs.
The final method we stumbled across while travelling in Sri Lanka was to hire your own Tuk Tuk or Scooter and drive around. This is what we did of the last two weeks of our trip, you can find more information on that here!
We were in Sri Lanka in October which is just before it starts getting busy over the peace season from November-February so we could afford to barter with hotels and guesthouses. We found that for accommodation in a good central location, a clean private room with an ensuite would cost between 1,500 - 3,000 Rs, we even managed to get a beachfront ocean view room with a balcony for 2,500 Rs in Hikkaduwa, just don't be scared to ask around when you are there!
Food was generally really cheap, street food cost; 30-40 Rs for a Samosa or Rotti, 150-220 for Kotthu or 300-800 for a Rice and Curry. Western food at restaurants was generally 500 - 1,500 Rs. The Rice and Curry dishes come out with 3 or 4 different types of curry, dhal, a couple of vegetable dishes, fish or chicken - it was awesome! Bottled water is capped at 80 Rs for 1.5 litres, soft drinks were 100-200 Rs and beer was around 280 Rs for a 1 litre lion at a local shop or 300-600 Rs at a bar or restaurant.
It comprises of the congested capital of Colombo, which like most Asian cities does not have a lot too offer tourists other than shopping and a couple historic sites like the Old Fort and Seema Malaka Temple which is a good place to watch the sunset. There is also a long and sandy beach which stretches all the way from the Port past Mount Lavinia - the only down side is that I wouldn't swim there, doesn't look to pretty!
Located around Kiri Muhuda, this city is Sri Lanka's second largest and also home to the ever popular Temple of the Tooth - A temple which holds one of Buddha's teeth after it was claimed to be smuggled out of India. Kandy is a mix between a city, a cultural hub and a the forest, where you can take a scenic walk around the lake, visit the temples and botanic gardens, cheap local shopping or head out into the hills to visit the tea plantations on parklands. The best thing we did in Kandy was visiting a local Budhist Yogi called Saman, we spent a few hours with him and felt great afterwards - he doesn't have a website but his business is called Yoga Reiki Meditation and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org to organise a private session.
A little patch of paradise on the North East Coast, we planned to stayed a night or two and ended stayed a lot longer. Trincomale town does not offer much aside from the Old Fort, a couple of temples and markets, however Uppuveli and Nilavelli beaches just 5-10 minutes north in a Tuk Tuk offer some beautiful and relaxing beaches. Aqua Hotel in Uppuvelli is the main spot where everyone congregates, located on the beach and offering cabanas, lounges, a dive centre and waterspouts facilities, along with the cool and rustic set of Francescos Bar this is an excellent place to chill!
The hotel accommodation was over priced how ever they did offer and alternative.. Beachfront Hobbit Caves! Pretty cool if you ask me!! We stayed in there for a night, they provide a mosquito net so that you can leave the door open during the night, I thought it was great, my girlfriend not so much so we found a cheap place directly across the road for less than half the price of what Aqua Hotel was charging so we stayed there and come back to use the facilities and have lunch each day.
There are a heap of great places to eat in the area, lots of fresh seafood, curry and fruit. 'Rice n Curry' offer an all you can eat buffet for around 500 Rs, Ceylon Seafood Cafe has an awesome set up and Restaurant Tuna was cheap and filling.
You can organise snorkelling day trip to Pigeon Island, just off the coast of Nilavelli. The island is now a protected area and there is a park entrance fee which I don't really see how it contributes to the conservation for the area but apparentley it does - The fee is between 2,000-4,000 per boat. You can walk around the island in about 2 minutes and there is a section where you can snorkel around some roped off dead coral, just when we though it could not get any better.. We actually saw a few turtles and white tip reef shark which made the experience a little more interesting. Overall, the trip was far from amazing but something to do for the day! We also did some scuba diving around the island which cost $55USD each, the water was a bit green and murky but visibility was not too bad and we did see some a few fish down below.
Located in the cultural hub of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is a large rock, formerly a fortress with ruins scattered throughout the grounds, the area makes for an interesting day trip. We stayed in the town, which is around a 15 minute walk from the complex, there are a small number restaurants and guesthouses on the strip. Entrance is the biggest set back at around 4,000 Rs, it is one of the most expensive activities in Sri Lanka but our logic was that we were all the way there so why not? The hike up was a bit congested but only took about an hour from the entrance to get to the top, overall the view was ok but not spectacular. It only took about 30 minutes to get back down so we continued on over to Pidurangala Rock which is a slightly more enjoyable hike which involves a little climb to get up top and offers views over Sigiriya for only 500 Rs.
Tough but good hike to the top! Get the train to Hatton, then either the bus (2hrs) 50 Rs or a Tuk Tuk (1hr) 1,000 Rs for two people to Dalhousie where you will find a number of guesthouses at the base of the mountain - depending on the time of year, you may have to book ahead. We stayed at a guesthouse about 100m from where the bus dropped us and started the hike early the next morning. We got up at 3am and began the 15 minute walk from Dalhousie to the start of the steps in the pitch black, but you can buy torches from the shops at the bottom the day before.
There were a couple of people standing at the Hindu Temples who call you over to say a prayer for you, wish you luck and then tie a little string around your wrist, only to ask for a hefty donation for their 20 second stunt.. We got done twice. Whilst hiking, we overtook a fair few people on the way up (this would prove to be a bad idea the next few days as we were pretty sore), the steps got steeper the close to the top and towards the end the was even a hand rail. There were times where it rained but nothing too bad, it was more of a drizzle. Occasionally there were people selling water and food along the journey up but we had packed ahead because we read that they may not be open - I believe this varies on the time of year that you are there.
We reached the peak in about an hour and 45 minutes, only to find an ugly large concrete structure and with minimal wind shade and about a few cold tired tourists who also made the journey up. We waited about half an hour for sunrise and although it was nice, the sky was full of clouds so we could not see the scenic outlook that we had hoped for, so we waited an extra hour up top, but there was no change so we started our trek back down. The walk down took about an hour and a half and by the time we got down we looked back to the peak to see blue skies and not a cloud in sight, if we stuck it out the views would have been spectacular.
After predominately staying in guesthouses in the centre of town we opted for a change and stayed at TomorrowLand. Located on in the hills, about 6 km out of town, this place was something different! Accommodation comprises of small two man tents, or large loft areas with large open martesses for everyone to sleep on and there is a huge common area with a heap of cushions to lounge on. The owner and staff are locals who I believe genuinely want everyone to have fun!
There are a lot of nice walks in Ella, we found that the best one that covers everything is starting at Finlays Newburgh Estate Tea Plantation where you can do a free tour, then walking up to Little Adams Peak, after our decent we stopped for a fruit juice at the Pool Bar at 98 Acres Resort & Spa before crossing the road and following the train to the Nine Arch Bridge (f you have trouble finding the path ask the man selling coconuts on the road). Once we took a few photos of the Bridge we walked across and through the tunnel, following the railway line all the way back to Ella Station in the centre of town - the walk took about an hour.
There is also a ‘Secret Waterfall’ but you will have to ask the locals, if I knew where it was, it wouldn’t be a secret.
UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK
We originally intended on heading to the most popular reserve in Sri Lanka - Yala National Park, however we heard mixed reviews regarding the animals and amount of jeeps driving around then we found out the park was actually close for maintenance so it was an easy decision to head to Udawalawe National Park instead.
The temperature was pretty hot at the time we were there so we looked for a hotel with a pool and in the end found one for 2,500 Rs with air conditioning. The hotel was located directly opposite the Elephant Orphanage and which is about 10 minute’s from the Udawalawe National Park Entrance. Tours can be organise from town or at the park entrance for between 3,000-3,500 per jeep and the best time to go is between 9am-12noon or 3pm-6pm as the animals try to escape the heat in the middle of the day. We organised a private jeep so that we could move from side to side to get a better view of the animals which meant the park entrance fee is 9,000 Rs, this is for two people and the vehicle - it was worth it! We saw around 30 elephants, some in herds, some solo, some just a mother and calf, monkeys, crocodile, peacock, chameleon and a number of different bird species.
This beautiful little gem on the southern coast was hard to leave, there is not much in town, just a few shops and restaurants but a short stroll down the beach is a different storey. The beautiful little beach has about 20 restaurants spanning across it with reasonably priced meals, happy hour in the evening and also taking turns to host beach parties after that! Most famous for its whale watching, there are are few things to do around town. You can take the short windy stroll to ‘Secret Beach’ which is a little bay on the outskirts town with a restaurant, there are expensive but good yoga sessions every morning on the top of the hill near the temple and cooking classes at some of the local restaurants in town.
Larger than Mirissa and located only ten minutes down the road, Weligama has a larger shopping percent and long beach with small rolling waves - perfect for surfing beginners, board hire is 250 Rs per hour or 800 Rs per day. Hangtime Hostel has a rooftop restaurant with really nice food and also yoga sessions twice a day for 1,000 Rs. You can also organise tours to the snake farm 1,000 Rs, stilt fishing in Midigama for 2,000 Rs, Ayarvedic cooking class for 2,500 Rs and boat party & beer pong if you want to have a few beers and mingle.
The windy streets of Unawantuna lead to an awesome little beach full of restaurants which also turn into bars in the evenings - similarly to Mirissa, they alternate beach parties each night. There is a short walk to ‘Jungle Beach’, the Buddah statue overlooking the beach, snorkelling in the reef, cooking classes or alternatively you can head down to the Instagram hotspot (as we did) at Dalawella beach and take a sunset photo on the palm tree rope swing that hangs over the ocean. We also went to the Old Gelle Fort for breakfast and had a look around, i would only recommend an hour or two there, some people spend a day or two but I would rather spend more time at the beach!
The popular surf town of Hikkaduwa is located along a stretch of beach a few hours south of Colombo and is usually the first stop for most travellers. Renowned for its surf breaks, there is also a reef near the centre of town which people try and sell snorkelling tours - we didn't do it, but it is there and we did see a turtle while walking past. There are lots of cheap restaurants, a music shop where you can learn to play bongo drums, and a few bars that kick on during the night in peak season. We liked Niligama Beach a little better, its only a couple of kilometres down the road but the water was a was a bit nicer and bluer plus we ended up finding a beachfront room and ended up finding one with a balcony that had an ocean view for 2,500 Rs a night.
Just two hours south of Colombo, this little beach side down has a few big resorts and a big long beach! We had spent the last couple of weeks travelling along the beach and stumbled across an organic farm stay which was located a few km inland of the Bentota Town so we opted to stay there for a few days to mix things up a bit. It was fantastic!
The family were so nice, the food was delicious and helping out at the farm was fun! We helped milk the cows and buffalo, make curd for a local restaurant, fed the pigs and even played with the new litter of puppies. The owners even organised for us to go and see a local Ayurvedic doctor in a nearby village which was really interesting!
In summing up, we headed straight to Trinomale in the North East and spent about five days up there relaxing before heading through the centre of the country. Most of the time we only spent one or two nights at a time at each place until in each place until we arrived in Mirissa on the Southern Coast. We travelled by bus except for the scenic train route from Kandy to Ella (with a pit stop in Hatton for the Adams Peak summit). From Mirissa we hired a Tuk Tuk and drove back along the coast at our own pace - at times it was sketchy with the crazy bus drivers, cows and stray dogs crossing the road but it was a lot of fun and I wish we had the Tuk Tuk longer. If you have a week or a month, I think that you could still have a good time and enjoy Sri Lanka, its great value for money for a western traveller and easy to get around! The food is great, the people are absolutely lovely and the weather was good - minus a few heavy showers.
Do yourself a favour and go there before it becomes the next Thailand!
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us at email@example.com :)