Sri Lanka is entirely new to me. I once pictured it as something similar or maybe tamer than Nepal, but as our plane flew over its land and I saw all that expanse of greens, I knew it would be quite different from what I had in mind. Indeed, Sri Lanka has its fare share of temples, both Muslim and Buddhist, some of which are listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it also has a unique culture, in terms of food, architecture and practices. But most of all, what it has, up its sleeves, are its unspoiled natural environment. Here wild elephants still graze the plains, its long beaches are almost always deserted and its tea-laden hills and mountains, pristine and blanketed by constant mists.
|KALKUDAH BEACH, BATTICALOA|
During our Beach Hop Asia 2016 summer tour, we allotted almost two weeks in exploring what we could in Sri Lanka. We knew beforehand that the country has two totally different weather seasons on its western and eastern halves—dry season from May to September on the north-eastern regions; and December to March on south-western regions. Since we travelled in the middle of May, we left of parts of the west and headed straight to Sri Lanka’s heart after landing in Colombo. We then dove to its easternmost places before circling back south and back to Colombo once again.
|VIEW FROM THE ELLA TO COLOMBO TRAIN RIDE|
Our route took us from the city bustle of Colombo, to the temples of the Cultural Triangle—Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa—then we moved to the beaches of Batticaloa, finding the eastern shores of Passekudah and Kalkudah. From there we moved southwards toward the surfing town of Arugam Bay, then to the mountains of Ella in the province of Uva from where we circled back towards Colombo via a magical ten-hour train ride. It was a trip, simultaneously exciting and relaxing, as we mixed our Sri Lankan itinerary with activities both strenuous and laid back.
SRI LANKA VISA APPROVAL
|SIGIRIYA ROCK, MATALE DISTRICT|
Sri Lanka is visa-free for tourists holding passports from Maldives, Seychelles and Singapore. All the rest are required to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization or ETA. Getting one is quite easy, simply head on over to their website, fill in the forms, pay the requisite USD30.00 fee using a credit card and wait for the approval. Applicants are required to have a booked roundtrip tickets to pass the Sri Lankan visa application. Approval takes just a few minutes after and would be sent to you via email. Print it out and you’re ready to go!
GETTING IN TO SRI LANKA
|FLYING OVER SRI LANKA|
There are direct flights from Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand, UAE and the United Kingdom to the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. During our trip, we booked our flights via AirAsia from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to enter Colombo, and exited via Mihin Lanka Airlines from Colombo to Male in Maldives.
STAYING CONNECTED ONLINE IN SRI LANKA
|TOURIST TAKING A SELFIE AT ELLA|
Internet connection in Sri Lanka is surprisingly reliable, even on out of the way places like Sigiriya, Kalkudah and Ella. On our first day in the country, we bought a Dialog tourist sim card at one of the few malls in Colombo (also available at the airport). The card is free but we need to top it up with LKR 499.00 for a 1GB data quota. I shared the card with my companion during the duration of our two-week trip using tethering and still, we weren’t able to fully utilize its 1GB quota. Prepaid sim cards are required by law to be registered, so prepare at least ten minutes in the kiosk while the vendor helps in registering your card.
GETTING AROUND SRI LANKA
|ELLA TO COLOMBO TRAIN RIDE|
There are three ways of getting around Sri Lanka. While on the first week of our trip, we hired a tour car from the airport via JNW Lanka Tours, one can entirely use the country’s somewhat dated, but still efficient, transportation system via its local metered trishaws or tuktuk, non air-conditioned buses, and trains. Fares are extremely cheap and all the trishaw drivers and bus conductors we’ve met were quite honest in their dealings. For a breakdown of all the transportation expenses we incurred during our two-week Sri Lankan adventure, check the itinerary below.
WHAT TO EAT IN SRI LANKA
|ROTI, BREAD AND NOODLES|
Sri Lankan food is heavily inspired by Indian food, so expect a lot of curries and spiciness! A typical breakfast consists of string or plain hoppers, roti, potato curries and dahl. Unfortunately, we haven’t really tried this since we mostly eat our first meal in our hotels or inns. For lunch, the ubiquitous rice & curry rule. It’s basically an eat all you can steamed rice, a bunch refillable side dishes, plus, your curry of choice—which is usually fish or chicken (no pork, since Sri Lanka is a predominantly Muslim country). Short eats are eaten in between these meals and in the evenings. These are mostly snacks in the form of vade, rolls, pastries and rotis. Between all the dishes I’ve tried in Sri Lanka, the short eats are my favorite.
|RICE AND CURRY|
Fast food chains like KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut can be found in Colombo, but once you go out of the city, they’re practically non-existent. Convenience stores at every corner are also not that common in Sri Lanka, even in urban places like Colombo. What they have though are mini supermarkets, the most popular of which is Cargills Food City.
|ROTI AND CURRY|
For beer lovers, the only place you can buy alcohol besides bars and select restaurants are at registered liquor stores. These, however, are quite hard to find if you’re not familiar with the city. Your best bet is to ask your hotel concierge for the exact address of these establishments. Alcoholic drinks are not sold on groceries and convenience stores. The most popular local beers in Sri Lanka are Sando and Lion.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN SRI LANKA
|FANTASTIC ACCOMMODATION IN ELLA|
It’s quite easy to book any types of accommodations in Sri Lanka. Be it hostels and inns from the urban sprawl of Colombo or rustic villas at the countryside of Sigiriya and Ella. During our tour, we booked ahead of time online via Agoda. It really wasn’t that surprising that lodgings, even the luxurious ones, are quite affordable throughout the country.
SRI LANKA TWO WEEKS ITINERARY & BUDGET
Our tour around Sri Lanka totaled twelve days, but one can easily extend this to two weeks by staying a day longer on any particular place. The budget is made with two persons traveling and sharing rooms together in mind. Transportation fares marked with * (asterisks) are approximations, meaning we really didn’t experience those, but had gathered the information on various sources—the reason being we rented a tour car for the first half of our trip (USD60.00). Regarding the food, the LKR 400.00 per meal per person is set on street restaurants where most locals eat. I purposely didn’t include the breakfast since most accommodations offer free breakfast with the rent.
The total traveling cost is computed without the tour car and our expensive accommodation in Ella. But if you think about it, the USD60.00 paid for the six-day rental of the tour car via JNW Lanka Tours from the airport is well worth it, especially if you’re traveling with a companion (up to three persons in a car). The roundtrip tour at Polonnaruwa alone is worth USD33.00; factor in the airport transfer to your inn in Colombo, the drive to Sigiriya, the tour to Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Cave Temple, plus the overall convenience. It is worth considering.
Sri Lanka uses rupee (LKR or Rs) as currency. The exchange rate, as of this writing, is at LKR 150.22 to USD 1.00.
DAY 1 | COLOMBO ARRIVAL | LKR 2,590.00
- Arrival from the airport
LKR 110.00 x 2 - BUS 187-E3 FROM BANDARANAIKE (KATUNAYAKE) AIRPORT TO COLOMBO
- Check in at Clock Inn Colombo for one night
LKR 1,500.00 - HOTEL RENT [CHECK AVAILABILITY]
- Colombo day tour
LKR 100.00 * - BUS FARE AROUND TOWN
- Early departure to Sigiriya on Day 2
LKR 240.00 x 2 – TRAIN FARE FROM FORT COLOMBO TO HABARANA
LKR 300.00 – TRISHAW FROM HABARANA TO SIGIRIYA
DAY 2 to 5 | SRI LANKA CULTURAL TRIANGLE | LKR 34,620.00
- Late afternoon arrival at Sigiriya
- Check in at Grand Regent Holiday Resort & Spa for two nights
LKR 9,600.00 – 2 NIGHTS HOTEL RENT [CHECK AVAILABILITY]
- Visit Sigiriya Rock & Dambula Cave Temples on Day 3
LKR 300.00 * – TRISHAW FROM HOTEL TO SIGIRIYA ROCK
LKR 4,260.00 x 2 – SIGIRIYA ROCK ENTRANCE FEE
LKR 300.00 * – TRISHAW FROM SIGIRIYA TO DAMBULLA
LKR 1,150.00 x 2 – DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLE ENTRANCE FEE
LKR 800.00 * – TRISHAW FROM DAMBULLA TO HOTEL
- Visit Polonnaruwa on Day 4
LKR 5,000.00 * – RENTED TAXI FROM SIGIRIYA TO POLONNARUWA, ROUNDTRIP
LKR 3,550.00 x 2 – POLONNARUWA ENTRANCE FEE
- Depart to Batticaloa on Day 5
LKR 300.00 * – TRISHAW FROM HOTEL TO HABARANA TRAIN STATION
LKR 100.00 x 2 – TRAIN FROM HABARANA TO KALKUDAH STATION
LKR 200.00 – TRISHAW FROM KALKUDAH STATION TO INN
DAY 5 to 7 | PASSEKUDAH & KALKUDAH BEACH | LKR 7,942.00
- Noon arrival in Batticaloa
- Check in at Nirmaa Shadow Inn for two nights
LKR 6,200.00 – 2 NIGHTS HOTEL RENT [CHECK AVAILABILITY]
- Visit Passekudah and Kalkudah Beach
LKR 400.00 – TRISHAW FROM PASSEKUDAH TO INN. 1ST DAY
LKR 400.00 – TRISHAW FROM PASSEKUDAH TO INN, 2ND DAY
- Early departure to Arugam Bay on Day 7
LKR 350.00 – TRISHAW FROM INN TO BUS STATION
LKR 44.00 x 2 – BUS FROM TOWN TO BATTICALOA
LKR 59.00 x 2 – BUS FROM BATTICALOA TO KALMUNAI
LKR 93.00 x 2 – BUS FROM KALMUNAI TO POTTUVIL
LKR 200.00 – TRISHAW FROM POTTUVIL TO INN
DAY 7 to 9 | ARUGAM BAY | LKR 6,954.00
- Lunchtime Arrival at Arugam Bay
- Check in at Seahorse Inn Arugam Bay for two nights
LKR 6,200.00 – 2 NIGHTS HOTEL RENT [CHECK AVAILABILITY]
- Surfing and beach hikes
- Early departure to Ella on Day 9
LKR 249.00 x 2 – BUS FROM ARUGAM BAY TO MONORAGALA
LKR 59.00 x 2 – BUS FROM MONORAGALA TO WELAWAYA
LKR 69.00 x 2 – BUS WELAWAYA TO BADULLA (ELLA)
DAY 9 to 11 | ELLA | LKR 7,380.00
- Lunchtime arrival at Ella
- Check in at Ella Jungle Resort or alternate inn for two nights
LKR 53,500.00 – 2 NIGHTS HOTEL RENT [CHECK AVAILABILITY]
ELLA VILLAGE INN ** ALTERNATE, MUCH AFFORDABLE HOTEL **
LKR 7,000.00 – 2 NIGHTS HOTEL RENT [CHECK AVAILABILITY]
- Staycation / Tour around Ella
- Visit Ravana Ella Falls
- Take the Ella to Colombo train on Day 11
LKR 190.00 x 2 – TRAIN FROM ELLA TO COLOMBO
Day 11 to 12 | DEPARTURE | LKR 1,720.00
- Early evening arrival at Colombo
- Check in at Clock Inn Colombo
LKR 1,500.00 - HOTEL RENT [CHECK AVAILABILITY]
- Walk around Colombo on Day 12
- Fly out of Colombo on Day 12
LKR 110.00 x 2 - BUS 187-E3 FROM COLOMBO TO BANDARANAIKE (KATUNAYAKE) AIRPORT
● Total budget for accommodation, tours and transportation:
LKR 61,206.00 for two or LKR 30,603 each
● Total budget for lunch and dinner meals at LKR 400.00 per meal per person for twelve days:
LKR 19,200.00 for two or LKR 9,600 each
● Total Travel Expenses for 12 days around Sri Lanka:
LKR 80,406.00 (USD 535.61) for two or LKR 40,203.00 (USD 267.80) each
SRI LANKA TRAVEL GUIDE AND ITINERARY
UPDATED JANUARY 21, 2017