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Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Welcome to Sri Lanka!

Located south to India is a beautiful island with spectacular views, lush forests, and pristine beaches. 

In the past, the island was known as Ceylon and in 1972 was changed to Sri Lanka- the holly island. Sri Lanka has been through a lot of upheavals and was ruled by 3 different empires. The rich history of the place brought about multiple religions, cultures, food, and architecture. 

You can visit Sri Lanka all year long and is suitable for all types of travelers- for couples and honeymooners, groups, backpackers on a tight budget, solo travelers and surfers (at all levels). Most important, tourism on the island is still underdeveloped so you can find a few areas that are not super touristic. 

It’s time to book your flight to this unique destination. 

What’s the best itinerary? How much money does it cost? When should you travel to Sri Lanka? Which are the best hotels? 

All this and more in the ultimate guide to Sri Lanka!

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DESTINATIONS

Southern Beach Towns

Arriving at the south of the island you will find fun beach towns like Mirissa, Unawatuna, Weligama, Kabalana and more.

Throughout this area, you’ll be able to take surfing lessons at all levels.

If you’re arriving at the other season you will probably stay at Arugam Bay at the west of the island.

The famous blue train ride

Unlike other trains, in this one, you won’t be rushing to find a seat in the carriage but finding a spot by the open doors so you can enjoy the scenic ride.

Thanks to the amazing views of lush tea fields this train ride became one of the biggest attractions in Sri Lanka. The nice part is that a ticket costs a dollar or less.

 

Sigiriya and Lion’s Rock

One of the most famous attractions in Sri Lanka is the Lions’ Rock in Sigiriya. After climbing up 1200 steps you will reach the top of the fort and enjoy 360 degrees views of eternal green forests.

If you want a view of Sigiriya and pay less you might want to go for Pidurangala rock instead.

Ella

Make sure you include Ella is in your itinerary! This town has a great nightlife and different attractions like a sunrise tea to Ella’s Rock or to Little Adam’s Peak.

In Ella, you will also find the photogenic 9 Arch Bridge the fills up with people as they wait for the train to cross.

Galle

One of the most significant relics of foreign control Of the Dutch rule is the fort city of Galle. When you walk through the picturesque streets of Galle you might think you’re in Europe.

Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains 

Nuwara Eliya is a messy greyish town that serves as a departure point to the national park Horton Planes.

The entrance to the park is pricy, and the walk in the park until reaching the “World’s End” point wasn’t that impressive in my eyes, so if you’re short in time, you might want to skip that city.

In case you did choose to go to the national park, I would recommend staying outside Nuwara Eliya in the fantastic hotel (with its amazing prices), The Waterfall Villas.

 

Kandy

Kandy is quite hectic, but it has a botanical garden as a few temples to visit. If you’re short in time, you could totally skip Kandy, especially if you’ve seen beautiful temples in South East Asia before.

In all these destinations, you will find photogenic photo spots, so I’ve created a whole list about the most instagrammble places in Sri Lanka.

In all these destinations you will find photogenic photo spots so I’ve created a whole list about the most instagrammble places in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka- Itineraries and Costs

How much time do you need to travel to Sri Lanka

The first thing I realized after coming back from the trip is that you could do Sri Lanka in a week and do a lot or stay for a month only in the beach towns. So what you need to decide first is what kind of trip would you like to do.

You can divide Sri Lanka in 2:

The greens- Center of the island where you can find cities like Kandy and Ella, and you can find more urban traveling and hikes.

The blues- the beach towns where you can relax and surf (in the south of Arugam Bay depends on the season).

We took a trip that combines everything in 16 days. I would be happy with our trip even if I had to skip the 5 days in which we stayed in Negombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. As far as I’m concerned, the itinerary would have perfect even without these spots.

My itinerary

Negombo (2 days)—> Kandy (3 days)—> Nuwara Eliya (2 days)—>Ella (3 days) —> Mirissa (3 days)—> Unawatuna and Galle (3 days).

The Ultimate Sri Lanka itinerary:

In this itinerary, you can enjoy a little bit of everything. Some tens and beautiful views, the “must” touristic attractions and of course the beach, sun, and fun. A trip that combines all of this would take about 10 -14 weeks

  • Sigirya (one night) – Lion’s Rock and Pidurangala Rock 
  • The famous train ride
  • Ella (2 nights)-  Ella’s Rock hike, 9 Arches Bridge, Lipton’s Tea Fields, Nightlife
  • Mirissa (2-3 nights)- Laying on the beach, Coconut Tree Hill, Secret Beach, Parrot’s Rock, Surfing Weligama.
  • Unawatuna (2-3 nights)- Jungle Beach, Tree Swing at Wijaya Beach, Visiting Galle

*** If you’re interested in surfing, you could skip Sigiriya and just extend your time on the beaches. If you want to take surfing lessons, you should opt for sleeping in Weligama, where the waves are perfect for learning.

Arugam Bay

In the European and American summer, the tourism in Sri Lank switches to the east side and focuses on Arugam Bay.

Costs- accommodation, food, and attractions

Similar to other destinations in the east, Sri lank is considered a relatively cheap destination in which you can enjoy hotels, food, views, and beaches at ridiculous prices.

The prices change from one city to another but basically, a private room in a good guesthouse with AC will cost about 20$ and a room in a great hotel would cost around 100$

Sri Lankan meal could come up to 3-6$ and a more western meal can cost about 9$.

A surfing lesson with. Sri Lankan teachers would cost around 17$.

My trip costs- my trip of 16 days including good hotels, food, and some shopping came out to 1600-1800$

Note these prices are correct and valid for 2019 and obviously change with time.

Seasons and Useful Information

When should you visit Sri Lanka?

You can travel Sri Lanka throughout the year since each season there is a different area you can go to when it comes to beaches- Arugam Bay or the southern park (where Mirissa is)

When should you visit the beaches?

South beaches (Mirissa and the area) December- April or July- September

Eastern Beaches( Arugam bay) May- September

Monsoon season (the rainy season)

May-July monsoons in southwest

October- January (monsoons in the southeast)

We traveled Sri Lanka in January and visited the southwest beach towns ( Marissa and that area), in the center (Ella, Nuwara Eliya), and in Negombo and Colombo and the weather was perfect.

My recommendation– visit Sri Lanka between December and April so you can see as much as you can of this island. If your main interest is surfing you can visit Sri Lanka whenever you’d like since you can switch from the south beaches (Weligama) to Arugam Bay.

Visa to Sri Lanka

The cost of getting a visa through the website is 35$. You’ll get a confirmation email in a day. You can also get a size at the airport for 40$.

Official website of visa to Sri Lanka (other sites take a commission)

Useful information

Vaccines

You should consult your doctor previous to your flight regarding the necessary vaccinations.

Money and ATM’s

If you have dollars you can change them in different jewelry stores (Euro is less accepted)

Note that the bigger the bill is you will be charged less commission. Meaning – a bill of 100$ is better than 5 bills of 20$. We lost around 300-500 (around 3$) rupees in each change we made.

You could also just withdraw Sri Lanka rupees from the ATM.

SIM card

The most important tip is- buy a SIM card!!! The wifi in Sri Lanka is super slow and the last you want is to depend on it!

You can purchase a SIM card from Dialogue for about 1000 rupees or less (about 6$) and charge it with a data plan. 

From what I gathered you should not buy a SIM card at the airport since prices there are subsequently higher so we just bought one in a stand next to our hotel in Negombo. You can buy these cards almost everywhere and even ask the driver that takes you from the airport to make a stop in a store that has them.

I purchased local calls and data and it turned out as a good decision. In Sri Lanka, you might need to call your drivers so it’s always good to have local calls. 

Useful vocabulary

Only a few people make an effort to learn a word or two in Sinhala but trust even a word or two will make a difference and the locals love it. 

Stuti– thank you

make– little bro/dude- used to call a waiter or a tuk-tuk driver… you have to pronounce it differently so I would ask a local how to say it. 

Buda amado–  Basically OMG. We used these two words quite a lot during our crazy tuk-tuk rides. Again there’s a way to pronounce it so ask a local. 

Transportation and Safety

Transportation and getting around

Getting around inside the cities is with tuk-tuks. Note that the original price is always double or triple than what it’s supposed to so it doesn’t hurt to ask around and negotiate a bit (but not too much- don’t forget that for you it’s a dollar here or there but for them, it’s a lot). 

Getting from one city to another is either with taxis or in busses for ridiculous prices. 

The prices of taxis surprised us and we met people that rented drivers for their entire trip for 50$ a day. It’s turned out as a great idea especially for the parts of the center of the island in which you take long rides. On the beaches of the southeast, there’s no need since you can just take a bus or tuk-tuk from one beach ton or another. 

In several places, you can use the Sri Lankan Uber- Pick Me. Their prices are amazing!

Pro tip- we took a ride with the app from Negombo to Sigiriya but we didn’t realize that in Sigiriya the app doesn’t work and we forgot to take the number of the driver that brought us there. I highly recommend booking a driver for when you leave Sigiriya and that way pays less. 

Only when we got to the south we started using the bus to travel from one beach town to another (like from Mirissa to Weligama- a 15 minutes ride costs about 20 rupee- which is a few cents). The bust gets to its destination pretty fast (some will say too fast) and I highly recommend using it in these areas. 

Safety in Sri Lanka

 Sri Lanka was pretty safe in my eyes… especially compared to Latin America and in terms of stealing and pickpocketing. 

Solo Female Travelers in Sri Lanka 

In the case of female travelers, you should take extra precautions during the night time. If you don’t feel safe it’s better to not take a tuk-tuk for long rides in which you’d have to cross deserted areas during the night 

In any case, from what I gathered the danger cannot be compared with India. Compared with my trips to Latin America as well I felt much safer in Sti Lanka because there’s less catcalling. But that’s my personal experience and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

If you do choose to take taxis for long destinations you should book the ride with recommended drivers like the amazing Sanjaya that was our driver in Kandy. We also met other drivers that kept our luggage safe while we were having lunch and were very kind overall. 

Here are some of the recommended drivers:

Sanjaya– for rides around Kandy or for your entire trip. He has a spacious car.  

Phone number- + 94779025303

Eddi– for a ride around Nuwara Eliya. He’s a great tour guide that comes with his driver, speaks perfect English and has a huge van (super important in cold Nuwara Eliya).

Phone Number- 0776326663

Wasanta– for rides around Ella. He comes with a big van. 

Phone number- +94774283386  (doesn’t have WhatsApp for what I know)

איפה לישון בסרי לנקה?

Accommodation in Sri Lanka is relatively cheap but because it’s cheap it’s also tempting to spend a little bit more and stay in nicer places. 

It’s important to note that Sri Lanka is not Thailand so, on the one hand, it’s less touristic and on the other hand cheaper. As far as it comes to hotels, that means you should have the right expectations. 

During our trip, we switched it and opt for cheap guest houses and in amazing hotels. 

I can give you a rough estimate and say that nice, cheap guesthouses (with AC) will cost between 2,500-3,500 rupees (14$-20$). Some people pay even less.

Great hotels come out to 15,000-25,000 rupee (90$ – 140$).

From my experience, most people that told be were disappointed with their accommodation in Sri Lanka didn’t do their research properly because from what I read on booking.com everything matched the reviews. 

So if you’re going for a weekend and want to splurge without spending a fortune or if you want to stay in guest houses and save some money just go into my list of recommended Hotels and Guesthouses in Sri Lanka.

If you’re traveling with a group or family the best is to rent out a vila, especially in the beaches area. 

For a 32$ discount on AirBNB click here. 

אוכל צמחוני וטבעוני בסרי לנקה

Looking for vegetarian or vegan food? No worries in Sri Lanka you can find several options!

Generally speaking Sri Lankan food and its Indian cousin include many vegetarian and vegan options. My difficulty was actually the spiciness and not the lack of options. 

Here are some things you need to know about the local dishes you have to try:

  • Rotti is usually vegan. It’s made of flour, water, and oil (it might include butter instead so just make sure you ask). Vegan add ons will consist of banana and honey if you eat it. 
  • Hoppers– a type of thin crepe made of rice flour and fried in a round pan so it gets the shape of a bowl.
  • String hoppers– Steamed rice noodles. It’s simple but kind of tasteless on its own so you usually eat it with curry or some sort of dip.
  • Samble– some sort of fried coconut crumbs (sometimes with sugar).
  • Non-dairy milk- very difficult to get but there is some good coconut milk you can buy.

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