What all you need to know. The places I covered and my recommendations
Sri Lanka is known for its rich Buddhist culture, beautiful temples and landscapes, rich flora-fauna, nice beaches and most importantly its religious and historical significance. Sri Lanka has an old-world charm with Buddhist temples and monasteries, places of historical importance and then it has a quirky side too which has more beaches, resorts and party places. It has humongous opportunities for travellers because it is vast. I planned this trip for a week in January, around a long weekend. There’s nothing that I do not love about Sri Lanka right from people to homestays to places I visited, food and just everything.
Sri Lanka has a rich diversity. The country has a population of 2,18,03,000 (as of 2019). Here in this blog, I will be sharing my idea behind travelling to this exquisite pearl-shaped destination in South Asia, formerly known as Ceylon and the itinerary to help you plan your trip.
How did I Go About Planning My Trip to Sri Lanka
I wanted to explore a budget-friendly destination outside India, and Sri Lanka topped the list. You must know that 1 Indian Rupee (INR) is 2.66 Sri Lankan Rupee (SLR). The second important thing to be considered is the Visa process. Sri Lanka accepts Visa on Arrival. You can obtain the Sri Lanka e-Visa valid for 30 days for a short vacation or business trip. It’s a simple process to avail it. You can directly apply at www.eta.gov.lk/ or take third-party assistance. A tourist visa with double entry for 30 days validity is approx. INR 1, 500.
Booking the Flights~Srilankan Airlines
I believe in planning my trips in advance, especially when travelling to a new destination. So, I booked the flight tickets much in advance. I booked my tickets from Srilankan Airlines in August for the January trip. The airfare from New Delhi to Colombo, Bandaranayke airport was approx. INR 7,000 inclusive of taxes and almost the same for the return flight.
Booking on Airbnb
Being a nature lover, I prefer the countryside over city life. Beautiful landscapes allure me more than the cityscapes. If you too like the same, you must read further. People of our likings mistakenly plan to start exploring Sri Lanka from Colombo. I did the opposite. Here is how I planned my stay:
2N/ 3D in Hikkaduwa
2N/3D in Kandy
2N/1D in Mihintale
1D in Colombo
I prefer eco-friendly resorts more than hotels; Airbnb is my preferred choice. All my Sri Lanka bookings were via Airbnb. My total stay expense was around INR 7,000 for six nights (sounds amazing, right?). I booked my stay two months in advance.
Transportation in Sri Lanka
Once my flight, Visa and Stay were sorted, the next major step was to plan the transportation. Sri Lanka does not have services like Ola or Uber. Now, you might find Pick Me taxi services. They have specific parking areas in the market where you can hire them. If you have to explore this country in its entirety, you need a couple of months. I wanted to make the most of the little time I had and preferred booking a cab for the entire trip of seven days. It was the only most expensive affair during the trip. It cost us INR 30,000 approx. Taxis in Sri Lanka cost approximately INR 4500 per day ( I travelled in 2018). The larger the number of co-travellers, the smaller is the amount you pay for the transportation if you split the amount. After years of travelling, I recommend travelling by shared local public transport if you are solo or booking a cab for your entire trip. I prefer travelling solo or in small groups with like-minded people because I believe in slow travelling and absorbing the beauty of the place rather than rushing to another and aforementioned are my preferred choice of travelling.
Mobile/ Network Connectivity in Sri Lanka
It’s advisable to buy a local prepaid card the moment you land at the airport. This will be cheap than using your India number on roaming and you can connect with your loved ones back in India through Whatsapp calls. Airtel is the best buy and the internet connectivity is good.
Sri Lanka for Tourists/ Solo travellers
Sri Lanka is a warm and welcoming place for tourists. It is neat and clean. It is also safe for female travellers. However, I am telling from my personal experiences. I still would add a cautionary line for female travellers to ensure their safety by travelling during the daytime and following some safety measures irrespective of where you are (Leave in your comments if you would like to know the safety measures I usually take while travelling solo). The locals are friendly, love to interact without poking a nose in your privacy. Language can be one barrier because their native language pre-dominantly is Sinhala. Approx. 68% of Sri Lankans speak Sinhala. Despite that, they try hard to communicate in sign language or English. Some of them would also speak Hindi and some South Indian regional languages.
Places I Visited
- Hikkaduwa – Hikkaduwa is a beach city in the Southwest part of the country. This place is truly a marvel. The beach was hardly a walking distance from the place I stayed. I explored beaches with deep blue water and white sand. I also enjoyed food on the sand, enjoyed the sunrise, sunsets and explored a few other places. Hikkaduwa and Bentota are the areas known for their beaches and turtle farming. It was a wonderful experience to have visited one such farm. It’s also home to other activities like Scuba Diving, Moonstone Mining and is also known to be ground zero for the most hazardous Tsunami in 2004. I also visited the Tsunami Museum here; the images and messages would leave you disheartened. Aside from this, you can also explore the local market and go shopping at throwaway prices. You can also witness coral reefs outside the Coral Sands Hotel and visit the Ambalangoda Mask Workshop and Museum, portraying the native tribes of Sri Lanka and its rich culture.
- Kandy – Kandy is the second-largest city in Sri Lanka and is worth visiting. Its natural beauty, surreal sunsets, exotic mountain ranges and tea plantations would rejuvenate your soul. Sri Lanka has different sides to it. Other than the beaches, it is known for temples and train rides overseeing tea plantations and much more. At least two days are required to explore this captivating city. During your stay in Kandy, you can visit the Royal Botanical Garden holding more than 4000 species of flora. The entry fee to this garden is approx. 2000 LKR. You must not miss the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It is divine, and you must witness the beautiful architecture and interiors. Girls must keep their arms and legs covered while visiting this temple. The best time to visit is early morning to avoid the rush and witness the legendry tooth relic of Buddha enclosed in a gorgeous bejewelled golden box. It’s one of the most important shrines with a beautiful interior. Then you also have an Elephant Orphanage in Kandy. You would get to see a herd of elephants and can feed them. It’s a popular thing in Kandy. There are other things to explore like Kandy Lake, Buddha Statue, train rides from Kandy to Ella-considered one of the most epic routes in the world.
- Mihintale – It’s a beautiful mountain pilgrim site of ruins and religious monuments. The place is of great historical importance because the Buddhist Monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa, believed to have met here and brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. It’s a peaceful place and you have to take approx.1800 steps to reach here.
- Dambulla – Dambulla Rock temple, The golden temple of Dambulla and The Caves and Paintings of Dambulla are a must-visit. The beautiful construct of the cave outside and the idols of Buddha in different postures inside—meditative, relaxing, lying, preaching sermons to his disciples, are very well depicted. There’s enchanting peace. The temple is situated on a mountain top with beautiful scenery all around. The Golden temple is another pretty temple with picturesque golden gates and domes. The caves and painting enthuse a lot of positivity and energy in you.
- Galle – My personal favourite, other than the beaches, is Galle. Again, the streets, the white colonial-style buildings, the brick gateways with bright bougainvillaea falling on them, wooden balconies and high ceilings make this place a visual delight. This place will remind you of French Colony in Pondicherry or Fort Kochi in Kochi but has its unique essence and charm. Situated on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, this old city was founded by Portuguese colonists in the 16th century. It’s truly spectacular to find stone sea walls, encircling car-free streets with architecture reflecting Portuguese, Dutch and British eras. Notable spots include a beautiful white lighthouse overseeing the Indian Ocean. It’s a breathtaking sight and this place, true to its name, is called the jewel of Sri Lanka. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The true beauty of this place can be explored on foot.
- Colombo – I definitely wanted to visit Independence Square and the Arcade. Strolling around this place is one of the best things to do. The structure depicts the Independence Memorial Hall built to commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka from British rule. Then there is Independence Memorial Museum and a shopping mall in the same complex. These three comprise beautifully renovated buildings, keeping intact the original architecture, in white against the sprawling green lawns. Visit Dilmah T-lounge at the Independence Square Arcade for some Tea/ coffee mocktails. T-kitch is a must-try if you love strong tea with condensed milk and spices. Apart from this what can be explored in Colombo is The Colombo Fort and Railway Station, built-in 1917 that boasts beautiful architecture and the Red Mosque, the oldest mosque in Colombo resembling the mosques in Russia. There are also temples, churches and malls. Before reaching the airport I spent the last few hours at The Lulu Mall shopping and eating whatever I missed during my seven-day stay.
Cultural Dance and Activities in Sri Lanka
If I visit a new destination, I try to get familiar with its traditional art and culture. Other than the above destinations, I also enjoyed the popular Kandyan dance and activities by Mallawaarachchi Show in Kandy, Sri Lanka. There is a variety of Sri Lankan dances, each having its cultural relevance. The Kandyan dance is the most popular one and is performed with its regal headgears and traditional costumes. It is derived from the ancient purification ritual. The fire show was another performed art I witnessed right before the show. It is believed to be auspicious and is witnessed by hundreds of people. The entry ticket was for INR 1000 were Rs 750 was the entry fee and Rs 250 was the entertainment tax.
Food in Sri Lanka
Food the most basic needs a special mention. The food in Sri Lanka is not a challenge because you get almost everything you have in India. The taste however may differ. They mostly use coconut oil for the preparation and the food is somewhat bland. You, however, would not have a problem in finding vegetarian or non-vegetarian food and trying different cuisines like Chinese, Indian and of course Sri Lankan. Do try the authentic Sri Lankan food at a local’s place which includes Pol Roti made of coconut and some seafood. The vegetarian food is also made of some special spices and herbs which tastes much more delicious than the usual food you get in a restaurant. If in Sri Lanka, you must try Ceylon tea or coffee. Especially in Colombo, you can try tea-based cocktails or mocktails and even desserts. Sri Lanka is one of the biggest exporters of coffee around the world.
Sri Lanka for me has been one of the most memorable trips. It was a perfect balance between fun and relaxation, nature and monuments, spiritualism and pleasure. I would like to revisit Sri Lanka perhaps with ample time on hand at least for a minimum of 2 weeks. If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, plan for a minimum of ten days. Hope this blog about my experience of visiting Sri Lanka is of help to you. If you have any specific questions, please drop them in the comments and I would love to answer them. Keep exploring!
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