Travel to Sri Lanka

9-arch bridge in Ella, built by the British

My friend Kem and I had a great opportunity to spend eleven days in Sri Lanka in mid-August 2019. I had wanted to travel to Sri Lanka for awhile, but the timing had not been right to avoid the two monsoon seasons. Luckily we had mostly sunny, warm weather. There were some other rain showers but not for the whole day. And the one day of torrential rain was when we were going river rafting so were getting wet anyway.

We started out on the west coast in Negombo and Colombo. Then we visited the central areas including Dambulla, Sigiriya, Kandy, Kithulgala, Nuwara Eliya and Ella. Next, we explored the south coast such as Yala National Park, Wirawila Tissa sanctuary, Kudawella, Dickwella, and Koggala. Finally, we made our way up the southwest coast to Colombo. On the way, we stopped in Galle and Moragalla.

There are such a variety of things to see and experience in Sri Lanka that it is difficult to summarise in a few posts. The island has diverse landscapes from beaches to mountains to savannah areas to rivers. We were able to see a lot of wildlife including elephants, monkeys, boar, turtles, fish, lizards and birds. In additional, the plant life is unique and interesting. My favourite was the cannonball tree at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy. The fruit are true to their name and look just like cannonballs.

Of course, another highlight of the trip was the food! We ate well, and washed down the meals with local tea or beers. In addition, we did some cooking at a wonderful course in Ella. The curries are mostly-coconut based and not too saucy. Hoppers are something unique and I tried the authentic version at a street carnival in Ella. They are thin, fermented rice pancakes shaped like a bowl and often containing a fried egg in the middle. And they are delicious!

The private driver and guide option worked well for us, so we could maximise our time to see a few different areas. Also, compared to the UK or US, the cost is lower so we could afford it. I highly recommend that you travel to Sri Lanka for a visit if you get the chance! This post is a general guide to travel to Sri Lanka, and I will post more about the areas we visited.

Elephants at Kaudalla national park
Elephants at Kaudalla national park
Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
Reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara (Rock temple) in Polonnaruwa
Reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara (Rock temple) in Polonnaruwa

Highlights

  • City walking to see the old and new architecture in Colombo
  • Sigiriya aka Lion Rock
  • Polonnaruwa, the ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka
  • Many beaches around the coasts
  • Tea plantations
  • Seeing the local wildlife including elephants, monkeys, boar, water buffalo, turtles, fish, lizards and birds
  • Sri Lankan cuisine
  • Kandy temple with the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha
  • Kandy Royal botanic gardens
  • River rafting on the Kelani Ganga river
  • Nuwara Eliya town, known as little Britain with its old post office and Central market
  • Damro tea factory and plantation
  • The train journey from Nanu-oya to Ella
  • Climb to the top of mini Adam’s peak
  • Ella city centre for the nightlife and shopping
  • Ella food and cultural festival- we lucked out to be there for this outdoor event with food and dancing in mid-August
  • Kitchen Garden Ella cooking course
  • Ella Nine arch bridge, built by the British
  • Safari drive in Yala National Park
  •  Hummanaya blow hole
  • Turtle hatchery in Habaraduwa
  • Galle fort with its walls, clock tower, ramparts, lighthouse and prison spaces
  • Galle town to see the old churches and buildings
  • National museum in Colombo

Before you go

  • In advance of travels, citizens of the US or UK should apply online for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) to enter Sri Lanka
  • Immigration was very quick at Colombo airport
  • The time difference between London and Colombo is 5.5 hours (4.5 hours during UK summer hours)
  • There are two monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka and weather can be difficult during these times. In October and November, the strong northeast monsoon usually hits that side of the island. And in May through June, the more gentle southwest monsoon affects Colombo and the southwest.
  • Driving is on the left side of the road, like in the UK
  • It is best to drink bottled water as tap water may not agree with tourists
  • Diet soda was more difficult to find than regular so we picked extra up at stores when we found it
  • Cash machines may or may not have cash so try to exchange some money at the airport. You should have some cash for tipping
  •  In Sinhalese thank you is stuti
  • The junglefowl is the national bird
  • At some religious places, shorts are not acceptable so you may need to rent or buy a skirt or wrap to cover your legs
  • We were two friends travelling together and sometimes it was not possible to get twin beds, so we had to share a double bed
  • Get a massage if you like those, but check which oil they use. Our oil smelled of curry and I had a hard time to get rid of the smell!
Train to Ella
Train to Ella
Dickwella resort - walking along the beach
Dickwella resort – walking along the beach
Kandy Cultural Centre
Kandy Cultural Centre

Transport

  • My flight from London to Sri Lanka on Qatar Airways left late in the evening so I had a layover in Doha overnight. My flight onwards was also 4.5 hours late so I spent quite a few hours in the airport. In total, the flight was 7 hours from LHR to Doha and another 4.5 hours to Colombo. However, the total travel time was about 24 hours!
  • Bandaranaike International Airport is closer to Negombo than Colombo so we stayed our first night in Negombo.
  • We booked a tour with BH Tours Lanka so had a friendly driver guide named Dananjaya (Danan for short).
  • We also took some local transport options such as boats, tuktuks and safari jeeps.
  • A memorable trip with beautiful scenery was our rail journey from Nanu-oya rail station to Ella in 3rd class
  • Uber and Uber Eats are active in Colombo

Accommodation

  • Beacon beach hotel in Negombo. A nice comfortable hotel with ocean views
  • Wewa Addara Hotel in Sigiriya was located right next to a beautiful, peaceful lake
  • We enjoyed the comfort and views of the Hotel Topaz at the top of the hill overlooking Kandy
  • In Kitulgala we stayed at the Adventure Base camp hotel. It was basic but clean, and had a great view of the river.
  • The view from our window at the Ella Gap Panorama hotel was amazing with green hills and valley
  • Our hotel in Colombo, The Fairway, was very central

Currency

The currency is the Sri Lankan rupee. As of February 2022, one British pound is equal to about 275 rupees.

I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave as this fluctuates

Sri Lankan Rupee
Sri Lankan Rupee
Buffet lunch at Hotel Ariya near Polonnaruwa
Buffet lunch at Hotel Ariya near Polonnaruwa
Lunch at the Tuna and the Crab, Galle
Lunch at the Tuna and the Crab, Galle

Food

First of all, try a variety of the delicious curries! Most of the curries have coconut and a variety of spices. They call the coconut tree the tree of life because they use every part of it for different purposes: Food, shelter, farming, decoration. 

The Sri Lankan version of poppadums is thicker than the Indian version I am used to in the UK. I loved the crispiness and they were less oily too.

Try the locally grown cashews. They somehow seems tastier and larger than the normal nuts in Europe.

We learned to cook some local cuisine at the Kitchen Garden Ella. I will share some of my favourite Sri Lankan Recipes as I cook them at home.

I’ll highlight some specific restaurants and dining experiences in the posts about specific cities and towns.

Cooking at Kitchen Garden Ella
Cooking at Kitchen Garden Ella
Anchor Beer
Anchor Beer
Spicy beef for dinner at Wewa Addara Hotel
Spicy beef for dinner at Wewa Addara Hotel

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: No it is probably not necessary as there are trains and buses to travel around. However, we really enjoyed having our private driver and guide. We learned a lot about everyday life by chatting with him. He also knew some tricks and tips. For example, for the train to Ella, he tipped a guy to run into the train and save us seats.

Q: Do people speak English?

A: Yes most people we met spoke English

Q: Can I travel solo?

A: Yes it feels safe and friendly for tourists

Q: How easy is it to send postcards? It is easy to find postcards in any of the cities or larger towns. It was also easy to communicate at the post office to buy stamps. I bought most of my postcards at the old British post office in Nuwara Eliya.

A: See Sending Postcards from Abroad for details on cost and the time it took to reach the USA.

Go to Country Map

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.