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Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Atualizado: 4 de jul. de 2018
Sri Lanka is an island country located in South Asia (southeast of India and northeast of the Maldives). The population of Sri Lanka is about 22 million people and its official languages are Sinhalese and Tamil. The Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) is the official currency (1€=181,45 LKR as of December 21st 2017).
It is mandatory to apply for a visa to visit Sri Lanka. If you are a Portuguese citizen, you may apply for an e-visa some time before your trip. For the online application use the following link. The steps are the following: 1) fulfil the online application form; 2) in some time you should receive an email with the visa approval, called Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA); 3) there is no need to print this document, since immigration will know that you have the approval when arriving Sri Lanka. A touristic visa is valid for 30 days and costs 35 USD.
Although Sri Lanka is not is a huge country, weather conditions may vary substantially from one place to another. Check further information about the best time to visit specific regions of Sri Lanka.
A SIM card may be easily obtained while arriving in Sri Lanka. At Colombo's airport, there are plenty of telecommunication companies offering this kind of service. We opted for Mobitel, the national company, and for the package offering a considerable amount of data services: 20 GB during day time (from 9 am to 12 am) + 20 GB during night time (from 12 pm to 9 am), during 30 days. The price was 3500 LKR (19,29€). Bear in mind that there are several areas where the coverage is poor.
It is very easy and cheap to travel by bus or by train in Sri Lanka. Alternatively, if you are travelling with a group of more than 3 people, the private taxi might be a good option.
From our experience, people from Sri Lanka tend to be extremely friendly and nice. Moreover, generally we found it as a safe country for travellers.
We spent 20 days in Sri Lanka with the following plan:
(I) Adam's Peak
Detail city by city
Colombo (1 day)
Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and it has a long history as a port on ancient east-west trade routes, ruled successively by the Portuguese, Dutch and British.
Naturally, we arrived in Sri Lanka through Colombo International Airport. Our plan was to head Dambulla on the next day, so we just spent the night in Colombo and we did not have the chance to visit the city.
From the airport there is an Express bus that will take you to the city center (Colombo Fort bus station) in 40 minutes and the price is very reasonable, 180 LKR/0,99€ including luggage. We stayed in Hostel at Galle Face, well located in city center and it offers comfortable and clean dorms.
Dambulla (1 day)
Dambulla is a large town, situated 148 km north-east of Colombo and 72 km north of Kandy. It is part of the Cultural Triangle, followed by Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. It is known for the cave temple complex of Sri Lanka.
Arriving time: we came by Government bus from Colombo city. The journey is quite long, about 5 hours, but the tickets are extremely cheap (196 LKR/1,08€). However the bus is somehow uncomfortable.
Sleeping time: we stayed in the Hotel Shan Inn Dambulla. The owners were a nice couple that made everything they could to please us. It is also very close to the caves (some minutes walking distance). We highly recommend this place!
Eating time: the food in our guesthouse was delicious and at a fair price.
Visiting time: Dambulla Caves are the main attraction in this city. The entrance fee is quite expensive (1500 LKR/8,27€), but it is worth the visit. Golden Temple is also a must visit and it is located inside the Dambulla caves complex, so you do not need to pay extra to enter in this temple. Moreover for animal lovers, the Golden Temple is home to more than 4.000 monkeys.
Sigiriya (1 day)
Sigiriya is also part of the Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle. It is an ancient rock fortress located near the town of Dambulla. Sigiriya today is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site.
Arriving time: we came to Sigiriya from Dambulla in a private van. Since we were making this trip with a group of 4 friends, we found it more convenient to use private transportation to save some time. Once the total price was shared by the 6 of us, this solution was not that expensive. The trip was quite quick, about half an hour.
Sleeping time: we chose Sigiri Thilanka Rest. It very close to Sigiriya Rock (walking distance). If you opt to climb Pidurangala Rock instead, a tuk tuk would take you to the main entrance in 10 minutes.
Eating time: our meals were taken at the Hotel, since it was more convenient. The food was local. We had the chance to try our first chicken Kotu in Sri Lanka!
Visiting time: Sigiriya Rock, or the Lion’s Rock, is considered by locals the Eighth Wonder of the World. The ticket costs 4500 LKR/24,80€. However, if you prefer to pay less, climb a less touristic place and have a view to the Lion’s Rock, Pidurangala Rock is a better alternative. We decided to go for the second option. The entrance fee is only 1000 LKR (5,51€) and it takes only 30 minutes/1 hour to climb, depending on your pace. The view at the top is just amazing!
Kandy (1 day)
Kandy is a major city in Sri Lanka located in the Central Province. It was also the last capital of the ancient kings' era of Sri Lanka. Kandy is both an administrative and religious city. The main attraction in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth Relic. It is considered one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world, declared a world heritage site by Unesco in 1988.
Arriving time: we took a private van from Sigiriya as it was shared by 6 people. It took us about 3 hours to reach Kandy.
Sleeping time: our hotel was 24 by Suyaama. A bit far from the city center of Kandy, but nice staff and comfortable rooms.
Eating time: we had dinner in a restaurant in the city center called Sky Lounge Delight. There was some typical food and the view to the city was wonderful.
Visiting time: The Temple of the Tooth Relic is the main attraction in Kandy. The entrance is considerably expensive (1500 LKR/8,27€ per person), and we think it is not a worth visit. In case you decide to visit it, try to do it at around 6 pm. At this time the Tooth is shown to visitors everyday. Kandy Lake is also worth a visit, as well as the local food market.
Ella (2 days)
Ella is a small town in the Badulla District of Uva Province. It is approximately 200 kilometres east of Colombo and it is situated at 1041 metres high. Ella is surrounded by hills covered with forest and tea plantations.
Arriving time: to go from Kandy to Ella we took the famous train that travels surrounded by green landscapes. This trip is considered a touristic attraction and from our experience, it is something anyone visiting Sri Lanka should not miss. Reserved seats are very difficult to obtain, since the tickets are always sold out. Our advice is to go very early to the train station and buy a train ticket with unreserved seats for second class (we do not recommend first class, since the windows are closed because of the air conditioning, and therefore you could not enjoy the view in the same way). The tickets are cheap, only 240 LKR/1,32€ each one. Once in the train, try to find a seat or just go next to the train doors to enjoy the view and take some nice photos.
Sleeping time: we stayed in the Pearl View Guesthouse. It is quite difficult to reach since it is located up in the hills (from the road, which is the drop off point, you still have to climb several stairs). However, the amazing view surrounded by green and the nice family who welcomes you, will certainly make you want stay there. Moreover you will have a nice 20/25 minute walk until Ella's busy center.
Eating time: there are plenty of options to eat and drink in the main's Ella street. Cafe Chill is a good example, with an European touch and a very chilling environment. For a sunset drink we also suggest 360 Ella.
Visiting time: do not miss the climb to Ella Rock. In case you want to know more about this trekking experience just read our article on this topic. Nine Arch Bridge is also a mandatory visit in Ella. For the perfect photo, watch for trains schedule. We could not do it and we highly regret it.
Udawalawe (1 day)
Udawalawe is known for its National Park, which was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animal. The most famous ones are the elephants, but you can also find crocodiles, several bird species, buffalos and monkeys.
Arriving time: we reached Udawalawe by taking a private van from Ella, a 2-hour journey. Again, by sharing a private van with 6 people it makes a good option.
Sleeping time: we stayed in Sulanga Holiday Safari Resort. Its location is near the National Park. The nephew of the owner organises safaris to the Park for a very fair price. See more about this experience in the “Visiting time” section.
Eating time: apart from Udawalawe National Park, there is not much around the area. For this reason, we took our meals in the Hotel.
Visiting time: the main attraction is, of course, the safari in Udawalawe National Park. We visited the Park in a 6-person Jeep guided by the nephew of our Hotel’s owners. He was an expert on the good spots to see the animals. He also knew a lot about the animal species in the Park. We started very early in the morning, at 6 am, at the safari lasted 3 hours. During this time, we had the chance to capture nice pictures of elephants, water buffalos, birds, monkeys, and one crocodile. We paid 3500 LKR/19,29€, a very reasonable price, especially when comparing to Yala National Park, the other national park we consider to visit when planning the trip to Sri Lanka. After some research, we decided to visit Udawalawe, since it is a less touristic and crowded place, and also less expensive (according to Yala National Park website, ticket rate is of 3688 LKR/20,33€, plus the cost of the Jeep, that would be of 40 USD for 6 people for half-day). Apart from this experience, we also visited a Baby Elephant Orphanage, called Elephant Transit Home, where it is possible to see the baby elephants being feed. The entrance fee is 500 LKR/2,76€ per person.
Mirissa (1 day)
Mirissa is a small town on the south coast of Sri Lanka, known for its beaches and nightlife.
Arriving time: we came from Udawalawe on a private van. It took us around 3 hours to reach Mirissa.
Sleeping time: we spent our night in Hotel White Horse. Although a little bit far from the beach (15 to 20 minutes walking), it offers a good breakfast and service. But please choose AC rooms, otherwise you will die with such a hot environment!
Eating time: Papa Mango and Paragon Beach Resort are two restaurants options we recommend. The first one for a light lunch at the beach and the second to eat some fresh fish or seafood and drink cocktails by the beach.
Visiting time: Mirissa Beach is a very touristic destination. Being so, we spent our day on the beach and at night we had dinner in a restaurant with our feet on the sand and listening to the waves’ sound. Good spot to relax and party! Mirissa is also known for the stilt fishermen. It was used to be a traditional way of fishing in Sri Lanka, although nowadays the fishermen are only there for the pictures, demanding money from the tourists who want to photograph them. It was a bit disappointing, but still we could not leave without taking some pictures.
Galle (4 days)
Galle is a major city in Sri Lanka located in the south coast of the island, where the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century.
Arriving time: we arrived from Mirissa by taxi. The 2-hour journey along the coast is quite pleasant.
Sleeping time: Hotel Windy Garden was the place we chose to spend some time relaxing in Galle. Owned by a nice family, we were given a diverse breakfast everyday. The only aspect less positive is its location (around 30 min walking from the Galle Fort) and quite far from the famous beaches. Nonetheless if you do not mind walking or taking buses it is a good value for money.
Eating time: we found the best restaurants in Galle Fort. The Kitchen and Pedlar’s Inn Cafe were the two places where we had the best dining experiences.
Visiting time: around Galle there are plenty of nice beaches to visit. Unawatuna Beach is one the most famous beaches of the south coast of Sri Lanka. It offers nice restaurants along the beach. Wijaya Beach is another beach that worths a visit. Less crowded that Unawatuna, in this calm beach we found a beach pool to have a bath. From Galle city center it is possible to reach these beaches using the local bus for a very cheap price. Galle Fort is also a must visit. Take long walks within the walls of the Fort and enjoy a perfect sunset in the lighthouse area. There are nice shops and restaurants to try, especially at nighttime.
Adam's Peak (2 days)
Adam’s Peak is a 2243 meters high mountain in central Sri Lanka. It is locally called the Sri Pada, the "sacred footprint", which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition that of Shiva and in Islamic and Christian tradition that of Adam, or that of St. Thomas.
Arriving time: we had a long journey from Galle. There is a direct train from Galle to Colombo and another one from Colombo to Hatton. From there it is possible to catch a bus (about 2 hours) or a tuk tuk (about 1 hour) to get the Adam’s Peak area, which is called Dalhousie. Unfortunately, the trains were on strike, so we had to take three buses and a tuk tuk to get to Adam’s Peak. Still, we made it!
Sleeping time: we stayed in Grand Adam’s Peak Hotel. It is very well located to clim Adam’s Peak and it also offers a restaurant with an amazing view to the Peak and the tea plantations.
Eating time: Apart from the Hotel restaurant, which was quite expensive, we tried some meals in a small and local restaurant, Gale Cafe & Restaurant. Delicious food and affordable prices!
Visiting time: we visited this place to climb Adam’s Peak, of course. As everyone, we started our climb during the night, at around 2:30 am, and it took us 2 hours and 40 minutes to get to the top. Be prepared, because you will see endless stairs. Along the way, there are plenty of small shops selling food and beverage. They are opened since 2 am! At the top, enjoy the sunrise at around 6 am. It was one of the best moments we had in Sri Lanka! To go down, it will take you around 1 hour and 40 minutes and you feel in your knees. But the overall experience will certainly surpass the effort...
Dehiwala (6 days)
We spent our last days in Sri Lanka in a town near Colombo called Dehiwala, meeting a Buddhist monk friend of ours. During this time, due to some health problems, we did not had the chance to explore Sri Lanka, at least in the way we were planning before. However, during this time we had an amazing experience, as shared in our article The human shape of kindness.
Best of Sri Lanka
In case we had to choose our top 3 in Sri Lanka, according to our experience in this country, we would vote for:
Adam's Peak - for the amazing experience of climbing the mountain and enjoying the sunrise at the top;
Sigiriya - for the view at the top, especially if you climb Pidurangala Rock;
Galle - for its nice beaches and its pleasant Fort!
What we will not miss next time
Of course, in 20 days it is not possible to see the whole country.
In the end, we really regretted not having the time to explore some places, which certainly we will not miss next time:
Nuwara Eliya - known for the green tea plantations and the English town called "Litte England";
East coast beaches - such as Trincomalee and Arugam Bay (the weather conditions were not so favourable at the time of our visit, that is why we decided to skip this area);
Ride a motorbike in the south coast - to explore the smaller beaches of this amazing coast.
Hope you enjoy this guide we created based on our experience in Sri Lanka. In case you have any questions, please contact us by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).