Planning Your Holiday to Sri Lanka

Published Categorized as Destinations, Asia Travel, Sri Lanka Travel, Travel Blog
Hotel Elephant Bay - Pinnawala, Sri Lanka
Hotel Elephant Bay - Pinnawala, Sri Lanka

If you are planning a holiday to Sri Lanka, this blog post is a must read.  Sri Lanka’s tropical climate, friendly locals, stunning stretches of sandy beaches, and incredible cuisine are some of the many reasons to include this beautiful country on your travel bucketlist.

We visited Sri Lanka for 4 weeks in February 2020 (prior to Covid-19) not really knowing what to expect.  We were both pleasantly surprised and knew we would return in the not too distant future to visit other areas we didn’t get to this time. It is easy to fall in love with Sri Lanka’s charm.


READ MORE:

SRI LANKA: 3 WEEKS ITINERARY

8 REASONS WHY WE LOVE MIRISSA, SRI LANKA

PINNAWALA ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN SRI LANKA

20 TRADITIONAL FOODS IN SRI LANKA YOU MUST TRY


“Sri Lanka is an island that everyone loves at some level inside themselves. A very special island that travellers, from Sinbad to Marco Polo, dreamed about. A place where the contours of the land itself forms a kind of sinewy poetry.”

– Romesh Gunesekera –

Planning Your Holiday to Sri Lanka: FAQ’s

Where Is Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is an island located in southern Asia, just southeast of the tip of the Indian subcontinent. It has been called ‘the pearl of the Indian Ocean” because of its shape and location.


Map of Sri Lanka

image
Map of Sri Lanka

What is the Population?

The 2020 population of Sri Lanka is estimated at 21,413,249 people at mid-year according to UN data. This is equivalent to 0.27% of the total world population.


How to Get There?

Although some cruise ships do call into Sri Lanka, the most common way to get to Sri Lanka is by flying into Colombo (Bandaranaike International Airport). Many budget airlines operate flights between major hubs in Asia and Sri Lanka and fights from India are especially inexpensive.

We flew with Sri Lankan Airlines, the national airline, and they were fantastic! They consistently win awards for friendly service and reliability, and the food on the flight was exceptional.


When Should I Visit Sri Lanka?

A holiday to Sri Lanka can be planned anytime due to it being a year-round destination, although the best time to go to Sri Lanka is between December and mid-April, which is considered to be the peak season for overall weather and therefore overall visitor numbers.  Whilst there is good reason for this, there are equal benefits to travelling outside of this period, with the shoulder season often providing the best of both worlds; namely great weather and a lower visitor numbers.

Temperatures are fairly constant year round, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25-30°C and the highlands 15-18°C on average.

If you’re holidaying to Sri Lanka during the summer months (May to September) you’ll want to head towards the east coast and northern regions for dry, sunny weather, as the west and south west coasts experience rain at this time.

On the flip side, Sri Lanka’s popular south, west and central areas enjoy favourable weather conditions during the winter months (October to February) when the monsoon season hits the east and north.


Colombo and West Coast – Bentota, Colombo, Negombo, Kalpitiya

  • Best weather is expected between late November and April
  • Average temperatures rarely drop much below 30 °C
  • Rainfall is at its highest between June and September, although August is often an exception with much lower rainfall

The South – Galle, Weligama, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Mirissa, Tangalle, Yala National Park

  • Best weather expected between late November and April
  • September and October can also see heavier rain
  • By November blue skies are expected once again, with good weather expected through till May

East Coast – Passekudah, Trincomalee, Arugum Bay, Batticaloa, Kuchchaveli

  • Best weather is from April to September
  • Monsoon season runs from October until January

The Cultural Triangle – Dambulla, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Minneriya National Park

  • High rainfall in November and December
  • Conditions remain fairly arid throughout the year
  • June and July may experience hot, strong winds that help keep the south-western monsoon at bay

Kandy and Tea Country – Kandy, Ella, Nuwara Eliya, Haputale, Hatton, Adam’s Peak

  • Sitting at nearly 2,000 metres above sea level, the region is much cooler than elsewhere in Sri Lanka
  • December marks the beginning of the Adam’s Peak pilgrimage season, which runs throughout the dry season until May
The View from our Guesthouse, Ella Happy View - Ella, Sri Lanka
The View from our Guesthouse, Ella Happy View – Ella, Sri Lanka

What are the Visa Requirements?

If you are planning a holiday to Sri Lanka, all visitors visiting for tourism purposes must obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), unless they are exempt (citizens of Singapore, the Maldives, and the Seychelles), prior to arrival to Sri Lanka and they must obtain a visa in advance.

Applying for a travel visa to visit Sri Lanka is easy, inexpensive, and can be done quickly online—you do not need to pay an agency to help you get one. If for some reason the electronic process doesn’t work, you can visit a Sri Lankan diplomatic mission to obtain a visa before flying to Colombo.

The default length of stay granted for tourism is 30 days. The process for getting a visa for Sri Lanka is extremely efficient; no passport photos or additional paperwork are necessary.


What Currency is used in Sri Lanka?

The Sri Lankan currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR or Rs). The notes that are currently in circulation include Rs10, Rs20, Rs50, Rs100, Rs500, Rs1000, Rs2000 and Rs5000. 

Exchange Rates

AUD$1 = Rs 137, US$1 = Rs 185 (at time of publishing)


ATM’s

The ATM machines are easily found throughout most popular tourist areas and work well. They often issue Rs5000 notes so try to break a few as soon as possible as small vendors may not accept large notes.

Top Tip: To avoid unnecessary costs, choose the local currency when withdrawing money.  


Cash

Any bank or exchange bureau will change major currencies in cash, including Australian dollars, US dollars, Euros and British pounds.

Top Tip: Change rupees back into hard currency at the airport (before security, there are no exchange counters after) prior to leaving, as even nearby countries may not exchange Sri Lankan currency.


Credit Cards

MasterCard and Visa are the most commonly accepted credit cards. Cards are generally accepted at most midrange and all top-end hotels and restaurants.


Exchanging Currency

Since the Rupee isn’t rated as a major currency, exchange rates out of the country are often terrible. It is best to go to banks or reputable offices such as those at the airport. Money changers can be found in major tourist centres however, although their rates are competitive, scams are abundant.

Top Tip: ATM’s / banks are safer and more reliable.

Top Tip: The Sri Lankan rupee cannot be exchanged outside of Sri Lanka, so ensure you change any remaining cash at the airport before you leave.

download
Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR or Rs)

Phone Plan / SIM Cards in Sri Lanka?

The easiest way to stay connected to family and friends whilst you are on a holiday to Sri Lanka is to get a SIM card before leaving the Colombo airport. As you walk past the baggage claim area and money changers towards the exit, you will see the main telecommunication company outlets selling SIM cards.

We purchased a Tourist Mobile Plan from Dialog due to its strong network coverage but we have also heard Mobitel is very good.  The plan cost Rs 1299 and included:

  • 10GB of data
  • Rs 600 of International Calls and SMS
  • Rs 350 of Local Calls and SMS

What is Internet Access like in Sri Lanka?

Wi-Fi in guesthouses and hotels is the norm. Mobile data is reasonably quick (at least 3G speeds) in larger towns and all cities. 


What Safety Precautions Should be Taken in Sri Lanka?

Despite a heavy militarized police presence in Colombo and some cities in the north (a result of the 21 April 2019 terrorist attacks), Sri Lanka is statistically safe to travel with the usual amount of vigilance.

As with any country overseas, always carry travel and identification documents with you. We have an A4 page with copies of both of our passports, and contact details for family in Europe and Australia in the case of an emergency.

Tourists usually don’t get targeted for anything more than annoying travel scams such as overcharging and fake goods, especially jewellery and gems.


Insurance

We highly recommend travelling with the appropriate travel insurance as you never know when you will need it.

Jonas had an accident in Vietnam and ended up in hospital and needing surgery. One phone call and our insurance provider gave the necessary approvals to go ahead with the surgery and agreed to pay for all associated costs. Never have we been so thankful we had it…

BOOKBuy Travel Insurance Here


Water

Avoid drinking tap water in Sri Lanka. Although it’s generally chlorinated and safe to drink, the unfamiliar micro-organisms it contains (compared with what you’re used to at home) can easily precipitate a stomach upset. Also avoid ice, unless you’re sure that it’s been made with boiled or purified water.


What are the Recommended Vaccinations for Sri Lanka?

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend the following vaccinations for Sri Lanka: 

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever
  • Japanese Encephalitis
  • Rabies
  • Meningitis
  • Polio
  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella
  • TDAP – Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis
  • Chickenpox
  • Shingles
  • Pneumonia
  • Influenza

Mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever and chikungunya, are present in Sri Lanka. We recommend using insect repellent with DEET both during the day and evening to avoid mosquito bites and prevent these diseases.


What is the Voltage in Sri Lanka and What Types of Power Plugs and Sockets Do They Have?

In Sri Lanka, the power plugs and sockets are of type D, M and G. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.

  • Type D: mainly used in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and some African countries. This socket only works with plug D.
  • Type M: looks like plug D, but with larger pins. This socket only works with plug M.
  • Type G: this type is of British origin. This socket only works with plug G.

How to Get Around Sri Lanka?

Due to the size of Sri Lanka, it does not take long to travel from point A to B, especially with the new modern expressways. The main forms of public transportation are trains and buses, however, although cheap, they are extremely slow and very overcrowded.

As such, the best and most convenient way to get around Sri Lanka is by hiring a private car and driver, or for shorter distances to take a taxi / PickMe or tuk-tuk.


Transport To / From Airport

If you have had a long flight or late arrival, consider spending your first night in Negombo city which is only a few minutes from the airport. This is also a great option if you do not plan on spending anytime sightseeing in Colombo.


Bus

Public buses leave from the airport every 15minutes to the central bus station in Colombo (Pettah area). Travel time is approximately 30-45 min and the approximate cost is Rs110 per person.


Tuk-Tuk

To get a tuk-tuk, you must walk onto the road outside the airport as they are not allowed into the airport. You will see them queuing on the opposite road. Haggle with the driver for an agreed price prior to getting into the tuk-tuk i.e. approximately Rs2200 to Colombo and Rs1000 to Negombo.


Airport Taxi

We opted for the convenience of the airport taxi service when we arrived in Sri Lanka after a very long flight and very late arrival in the evening. There is a counter in the arrivals hall and you can find an exact price (fixed) to your destination on their website. Travel time to our hotel in Colombo via the new high-speed road E03 was 35 mins at a cost of Rs3500.


PickMe App

We highly recommend downloading the PickMe app (similar to Uber) and using this in the big cities in Sri Lanka. Prices vary depending on the distance and type of car you choose, but overall, we paid under half the price of what paid drivers were quoting us after serious negotiations. 

We booked a driver through PickMe for our trip back to the airport from Negombo and it cost Rs800.

Tuk-tuk doing the school pick-up in Sri Lanka
Tuk-tuk doing the school pick-up in Sri Lanka

By Road

Route Planner / Road Distances
image 4
Sri Lanka Road Distance Calculator (Source: srilankacaranddriverhire.com)

Tuk-Tuk

When walking around in the tourist areas, you will be inundated with offers from tuk-tuk drivers. We predominantly used metered tuk-tuks in Colombo (by law all tuk-tuks should have a meter). With metred tuk-tuks, one of the most common scams is for drivers to take a longer route so make sure you have the information of where you are going downloaded on a mapping app on your phone.

However, like most Asian cities, some drivers like to turn the metres off or refuse to use them, so clearly agree on the pricing upfront prior to getting in the tuk-tuk to avoid problems later on.

Metered tuk-tuks around Colombo are Rs40 per kilometre, and Rs50 for the first kilometer. Outside of Colombo, very few tuk-tuks have metres so you must negotiate your price. Surprisingly (or not), tuk-tuk drivers rarely have change so make sure you have small notes on you.

It is also possible to rent and drive your own tuk-tuk and this is something we will definitely consider on our next trip to Sri Lanka.


Bus

Buses are the primary mode of transport for the locals in Sri Lanka. They are extremely cheap but always overcrowded and hot. Most buses have no air-conditioning, and they drive with the windows open. I recommend that you go for the train where possible (they are also cheap and more comfortable) instead of the bus.


Taxi

All sizable towns and cities in Sri Lanka have taxis. A few of them are metered taxis (mostly in the capital Colombo), but over longer distances, you have to negotiate on a price. Most taxi rides cost around Rs60-100 per kilometer. Most hotels can arrange for a taxi for you, usually at good prices.


PickMe / Uber / Taxiyak

As previously mentioned, we used the PickMe app regularly during our trip in Sri Lanka.  The app allows you to book a car for any time of the day and night, and select your pick-up and drop-off destination anywhere in Sri Lanka (for instance a hotel or the airport).

You can also choose between various vehicle types to sit your individual needs. Fare rates will be based on the time and distance, but there is a minimum base fare.

You can select how you want to pay for your ride, in cash directly to the driver or through your credit card that you add into the app when you register your user details. Highway tolls must be paid directly at the toll gates in cash.


Private Driver

As Sri Lanka is a compact little country, most distances take between 3-4 hours by car, and much longer on public transport. As such, we used private drivers (only when PickMe was unavailable or not servicing the area) when we needed to go further distances due to the convenience. Most hotels and guest-houses can easily arrange a private driver for you.

We also loved the fact we could stop whenever we wanted i.e. Ravana Waterfall on the way to Ella or simply to take photos.


Self- Drive – Car / Motorbike / Tuk-Tuk

Whilst driving around the island yourself provides the highest level of freedom, do so at your own risk. Local trucks and buses, often overloaded, speed recklessly along Sri Lanka’s roadways. The head-on “chicken” passing antics by these drivers certainly made us very uncomfortable on many occasions.


By Rail

Traveling by rail is the slowest (often delays) but most scenic option for getting around in Sri Lanka. If you aren’t in a hurry, going by train is a memorable experience.

Sri Lanka Railways is the only rail transport organisation in the country.

image 6
Sri Lankan Railway Network (Source: www.railway.gov.lk)

Main Scenic Tourist Routes
  • Colombo down the West coast through Hikkaduwa, Galle, Mirissa to Matara – approx. 2.5 hours

Top Tip: Sit on the right side of the train heading south to see the coastal views. Also, as seats are unreserved on this line, board the train at Colombo Maradana Station for a better chance of getting good seats.

  • Colombo to Kandy – approx. 3 hours

Top Tip: For the best views, sit on the left side of the train with your back towards the engine.

  • Kandy through Hatton (closest station to Adam’s Peak), Nanu Oya (closest station to Nuwara Eliya) to Ella – approx. 7 hours

Booking Train Tickets in Sri Lanka
DSC05032EDcutsm BWwebsite
Our train trip from Ella to Kandy – a must do when in Sri Lanka!

What Accommodation Options are on Offer in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka has a huge range of accommodation options to suit every budget. There are modern five-star boutique hotels, beautifully converted colonial homes, tea and rubber plantation buildings, jungle cabins, tree-houses, eco-lodges, guest houses, as well as glamping options.


Best Hotels in Sri Lanka


Best Guesthouse in Sri Lanka

Our lunch view at Hotel Elephant Bay - Pinnawala, Sri Lanka
Our lunch view at Hotel Elephant Bay – Pinnawala, Sri Lanka

Best Airbnb’s in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, we only stayed in hotels or guesthouses, however, there are a number of great Airbnb options available. Some of those that come highly recommended over and over again in blogs include The Box House in Tangalle, Your Dream Home in Mirissa, and River Edge in Bentota.

But again, regardless of your budget, there are plenty of Airbnb options in Sri Lanka.

Click here to search for Airbnb’s in Sri Lanka.


What Does Sri Lanka Have to Offer?

History and Culture in Sri Lanka

The culture of Sri Lanka is influenced primarily by Buddhism and Hinduism and is the home to two main traditional cultures: the Sinhalese (centred in Kandy and Anuradhapura) and the Tamil (centred in Jaffna).

The British colonial culture has also influenced the locals. The rich cultural traditions shared by all Sri Lankan cultures is the basis of the country’s long life expectancy, advanced health standards and high literacy rate.

Sri Lanka’s cultural depth is recognized by UNESCO, which has declared six archaeological World Heritage Sites in the country.

  • The sacred city of Anuradhapura
  • The ancient city of Polonnaruwa
  • The golden temple of Dambulla
  • The ancient city of Sigiriya
  • The sacred city of Kandy
  • The old town of Galle and its fortifications

Religion

Buddhism is the largest (practiced by 70.2%) and is considered as the ‘Official Religion’ of Sri Lanka.  Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 2nd Century BC by Mahinda Maurya. The Sinhalese embraced Buddhism however, the Tamils remain Hindus in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any predominantly Buddhist nation.

Hinduism is the second most prevalent religion and predates Buddhism. Today, Hinduism is dominant in Northern, Eastern and Central Sri Lanka.

Religion plays a prominent role in the life and culture of Sri Lankans. In a 2008 Gallup Poll, Sri Lanka was ranked the third most religious country in the world, with 99% of Sri Lankans saying religion was an important part of their daily life.


People

Whatever their situation in society, the people of Sri Lanka possess a warm and friendly nature reflected in persistent smiling faces and eagerness to help those unfamiliar with aspects of local life. You’ll find that Sri Lankans are very hospitable and take pride in inviting people to their homes, however modest they may be. So don’t be surprised if a driver or guide, or indeed virtually anyone encountered, requests the pleasure of your company. And don’t decline, as Sri Lankan hospitality is taken very seriously.

DSC03350BWcutsmwebsite
Sri Lankas are some of the friendliest people we have ever met

Language Spoken

Sinhala and Tamil are the two official languages spoken in Sri Lanka, but English is widely spoken and considered the link language between Sinhala and Tamil.


Eating and Drinking

The cultivation of many types of rice, spices, vegetables and fruit, coupled with past foreign influences such as the Dutch, ensures that Sri Lanka enjoys a varied cuisine. As a staple, rice is consumed with an assortment of colourful curries (eggplant, potato, green banana, chicken, and fish) that range in potency from delicately-spiced to extremely hot.

Other Sri Lankan staples and must-try foods include:

  • Parippu Wade (deep fried dhal curry snacks)
  • Hoppers (a paper-thin basket-shaped pancake-like snack)
  • String Hoppers (steamed rice noodles)
  • Pittu (a mixture of flour and coconut)
  • Kiribath (milk rice dish made with rice and coconut milk)
  • Roti (flatbread made with wholemeal wheat flour)
  • Kottu (chopped godhamba roti and vegetables)
  • Deviled sweet and sour fish curry
  • Lamprais (rice and accompaniments baked in plantain leaves – a legacy of the Dutch)
  • Wattalapam (a rich pudding of Malay origin made with coconut milk, jaggery, cashews, eggs, and spices including cinnamon and nutmeg)


Seafood is plentiful and very reasonably priced so seafood lovers will delight at the fresh fish, prawns, crab, squid and crayfish available.

Fruits available include the popular mango, pineapple, banana and papaya, but also many lesser-known but distinctive examples such as sapodilla, mangosteen, rambutan, woodapple, custard apple and beli.


Shopping

Shopping in Sri Lanka can take many forms:

  • haggling with a handicraft-seller while sunbathing on the beach
  • choosing fruit from the traditional village store, the kadé
  • checking out the bargain-priced latest international fashions (Sri Lanka is a major garment exporter) while enjoying the ambience of a luxurious shopping centre in Colombo
  • visiting a handicraft shop and seeing traditional designs such as makara (a mythical animal, lion, swan, elephant and lotus) which are most evident in brasswork; silverware (ornately carved and filigree jewellery, tea-sets); ritual masks; lacquer ware; batik; handloom textiles; lace; and wood carvings
  • Sri Lanka has the widest variety of precious stones among the world’s gem producing countries – blue sapphires, star sapphires, rubies, cat’s eye, garnets, moonstones, aquamarines and topazes

Top Tip: Unless you are shopping at a fixed-price shop, you must bargain. In general, if someone quotes you a price, halve it. The seller will come down about halfway to your price, and the last price will be a little higher than half the original price. Try and keep a sense of perspective though as chances are you’re arguing over less than $1.


Ayurveda and Spas

Sri Lanka has been a centre of spiritual and physical healing for 2,000 years. The most popular method used to restore and rejuvenate tired bodies and weary souls has been Ayurveda, the oldest and most holistic medical system available in the world. Ayurvedic programmes consist of a range of herbal treatments and various types of baths and massages, together with cleansing and revitalization techniques such as yoga, meditation and special diets.

Sri Lanka now has a number of retreats and spas, mainly on the west and south coast, which not only provide Ayurveda but also other Eastern and Western therapies, such as Thai massage, hydrotherapy, herbal baths, reflexology and beauty treatments.


Wildlife

Sri Lanka possesses a high degree of biodiversity. The island (together with the Western Ghats of India) has been identified by Conservation International as one of 34 world biodiversity hot spots. In addition, The Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the country’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A safari in one of the 14 national parks offers the chance to see elephants, leopards, sloth bears, sambhurs, spotted deer, hog, mouse and barking deer, wild boar, porcupines, ant-eaters, civet cats, loris, giant squirrels, and monkeys such as the macaque, purple-faced leaf monkey and grey langur.

READ MORE: PINNAWALA ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN SRI LANKA

Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary - Sri Lanka
Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary – Sri Lanka

Adventure Sports

With over 1,600km of coastline, Sri Lanka is an ideal location for wind-surfing, water-skiing, surfing, sailing, scuba-diving (including wreck-diving), snorkelling, speed-boating and banana-boating.

Sri Lanka possesses over 100 hundred rivers, together with lagoons and ‘tank’ (irrigation lakes), so there are plentiful opportunities for year-round kayaking and canoeing. Two popular locations are the Kalu Ganga and the Kelani Ganga (rivers).

The Kelani Ganga, near Kitulgala, has fast headwaters and rapids ideal for white-water rafting (November to April only), with names such as Virgin’s Breast, Head Chopper, Killer Fall, Rib Cage and Slot and Drop.

Varied landscape, wildlife, and archaeological sites offer excellent opportunities for trekking. Nature trails of exceptional interest include the Sinharaja rainforest, the cloud-forests of Horton Plains, the Knuckles (mountain range), and Hakgala Strict Natural Reserve.

In addition, para-gliding, rock climbing, cave treks and mountain biking are possible.


Festivals / Events Calendar

Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization endows the island with a legacy of colourful festivals relating to the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian religions. Furthermore, these festivals are commemorated with the flair of a people with a genius for pageantry and ritual.

JANUARYJULY
Tamil Thai Pongal Day
Durutha Perahera – Kelaniya Temple
Colombo Marathon Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage Season
Dolphin Watching in Kalpitiya  
Kandy Esala Poya Perahera
Vel Hindu Festival in Colombo
Kataragama Esala Festival
Surfing Championships – Arugam Bay
Surfing Season – Arugam Bay
Whale Watching in Trincomalee
Leopard Season – Yala National Park  
FEBRUARYAUGUST
Independence Day
Navam Perahera – Gangaramaya Temple
Maha Shivratri Day
Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage Season
Dolphin Watching in Kalpitiya
Kandy Esala Poya Perahera
Vel Hindu Festival in Colombo
Nallur Festival
Minneriya Elephant Gathering
Surfing Season – Arugam Bay
Leopard Season – Yala National Park
Whale Watching in Trincomalee  
MARCHSEPTEMBER
Love Sri Lanka Festival
School Cricket – The Big Match SeasonAdam’s Peak Pilgrimage Season
Dolphin Watching in Kalpitiya
Whale Watching in Mirissa
Nallur Festival
Whale Watching in Trincomalee  
APRILOCTOBER
Sinhalese and Tamil New Year Celebrations
Nuwara Eliya Flower Show
Nuwara Eliya Horse Races
Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage Season
Whale Watching in Mirissa
 
MAYNOVEMBER
Vesak Poya – The Festival of Lights
Surfing Season – Arugam Bay
Whale Watching in Trincomalee
Sloth Bear Season – Yala National Park  
Diwali
Dolphin Watching in Kalpitiya
JUNEDECEMBER
Poson Festival – Wadduwa
Surfing Season – Arugam Bay
Leopard Season – Yala National Park
Whale Watching in Trincomalee  
The Christmas Market – Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo
Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage Season
Dolphin Watching in Kalpitiya 
New Year’s Eve

Places to See in Sri Lanka

There are enough interesting things to do in Sri Lanka to satisfy every type of traveller.  From beautiful beaches along the west and south coast, to tea plantations in the cooler, higher elevations in Sri Lanka’s green interior, to wildlife viewing in the numerous national parks; and UNESCO heritage listed temples.  Below are just some of the many suggested places and popular attractions.

  • Adam’s Peak – Climb the slopes at night to watch a breathtaking sunrise at dawn that you will never forget.
  • Arugam Bay – Experience golden-sand beaches with the freshest tropical waves at the best surf spot in Sri Lanka.
  • Bentota – Located on the Southern coast of the island, this resort town’s stretch of beach is more affectionately known as “Paradise Island” and rightfully so.
  • Ella – Nestled in a valley surrounded by lush, green hills, spectacular views are in abundance in Ella.
  • Hikkaduwa – The original beach hideaway, Hikkaduwa is the go-to destination for surfers, snorkelers, divers and beach bums everywhere.
  • Kandy, Dalada Maligawa – Considered one of Sri Lanka’s greatest attractions, the ancient Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a must see.
  • Kitulgala – Discover the region’s white-water rafting, jungle trekking, birdwatching and cave exploration.
  • Mirissa – One of many beach hideaways, you can spend your days soaking in the sun on a hammock or whale watching.
  • Nilaveli – Famed for its pristine beaches and a sunrise that is unparalleled, this East Coast town is the ultimate destination for some R&R.
  • Nuwara Eliya – This 19th Century hill station retains its colonial charm with its golf courses, gentleman’s clubs and mock-tudor buildings.
  • Galle, Old Dutch Fort – UNESCO World Heritage  listed and considered the greatest example of a European-built fortified city in South Asia, Galle’s fort is a fascinating place to explore.
  • Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary – Observe the largest herd of orphaned and captive bred elephants in the world bathe and play in an open area by the river. READ OUR BLOG POST: PINNAWALA ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN SRI LANKA
  • Polonnaruwa – Well preserved and full of archaeological treasures with hundreds of ancient structures like tombs and temples, statues and stupas.
  • Sigiriya – Rooted in culture and history, this rock fortress is of legendary opulence.
  • Sinharaja Forest Reserve – A UNESCO World Heritage Site and biodiversity hotspot, this forest reserve will immerse you in unspoiled greenery.
  • Udawalawe National Park – Soaring highlands and herds of wild elephants are expected when visiting one of Sri Lanka’s supreme national parks.
  • Unawatuna – With a reputation for palm-lined beaches and stunning coral reefs, this beach town is ripe with scenic beauty.
  • Yala National Wildlife Park – Spanning over both the Southern and Uva Provinces, this renowned park is infamous for its variety of wildlife and outstanding coastal lagoons.

Sri Lanka Sample Itineraries

To help you plan your Sri Lanka itinerary and decide where you would like to go in Sri Lanka, we have put together some sample itineraries covering some of the best places to suit every interest.

One Week Itinerary

  • Negombo – Fly into Bandaranaike International Airport.
  • Galle – Explore this historic city on foot and delight in its rambling lanes, stylish cafes, quirky boutiques and impeccably restored hotels.
  • South Coast Beaches – Choose from some of the best beaches in Sri Lanka i.e. Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Hiriketiya, Tangalle.
  • Go on Safari –Udawalawe or Yala National Park both offer differing options for safaris.
  • Ella – Visit a tea plantation, hike to Ella Rock or Little Adam’s Peak. 
  • Kandy – Do a day trip to Sigiriya.
  • Negombo – Depart from Bandaranaike International Airport

Two Week Itinerary

We would suggest following the above 1 week itinerary for a holiday to Sri Lanka but spending a little longer in each of the areas.  You could add in any of the following:

  • Colombo – Spend a day walking around the city and exploring temples, the city’s historic fort and Pettah districts.
  • Kandy – Visit the sacred Temple of the Tooth, explore the pretty Botanical Gardens, see a traditional dance show or go hiking in the Knuckles Mountain Range.
  • Sigiriya – A great base from which to explore the highlights of the cultural triangle including Sigiriya Rock, Polonnaruwa and the Dambulla Cave temples.

Three Week Itinerary

If you have a three week holiday to Sri Lanka or more, we would recommend further slowing down your trip and staying longer in each of the destinations mentioned above. Also consider adding in the following:

  • Nuwara Eliya – Sits in the hill country in eternal temperate winter weather, and is charmingly called “Little England” due to it being where British settlers built their holiday bungalows and spent their downtime.
  • Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary – Observe the largest herd of orphaned and captive bred elephants in the world bathe and play in an open area by the river. We stayed at Hotel Elephant Bay where we could watch the elephants from the comfort of the infinity swimming pool.
  • Kitulgala – Discover the region’s white-water rafting, jungle trekking, birdwatching and cave exploration.

Costs in Sri Lanka

We found Sri Lanka to be an affordable country for travel, although prices are on the increase. We spend a lot of our time travelling in South East Asia and we found Sri Lanka more expensive than Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines or Thailand. However, compared to travel in Europe, costs are significantly lower.

Some Examples of Costs

  • Meal in Inexpensive Restaurant – Rs150-350
  • McDonalds Combo Meal – Rs850
  • Lion Beer 500ml – Rs300
  • Coke / Pepsi 350ml – Rs100
  • Bottle of Water 350ml – Rs50
  • Pringles – Rs420
  • Mens Haircut – Rs500
  • Massage – Rs2000

Tourist Prices

At all national parks and reserves, and at government-run archaeological sites, the authorities operate a two-tier price system whereby foreigners pay a significantly higher entrance fee than locals, sometimes almost a hundred times more than Sri Lankan nationals. At the national parks, for example, locals pay an entrance fee of around Rs50, while overseas visitors pay around Rs5000 once various taxes and additional charges have been taken into account.


Reflections on Our Trip

When I first suggested a holiday to Sri Lanka, Jonas showed no interest at all. After repeatedly ‘bringing it up’ in general conversation, he agreed to go if it was a place I really wanted to visit. As such, we agreed to go in February for the month, just prior to boarding a cruise in Mumbai, India.

I spent months planning the trip to ensure the best experience for us both and we were not disappointed. From the people, to the food, to the beaches, to the cultural history, it is a country that has so much to offer. 

Our holiday to Sri Lanka was an unforgettable experience and one we will be repeating in the not too distant future.

Have you been to Sri Lanka or plan to visit? Let us know in the comments section below.


Exit 45 Rating

The Exit45 Rating scale runs from a low of 1 to a high of 5 in each of the 9 categories.  As such, the higher the score out of 45, the better the Exit45 Rating.  N.B. These scores are our own personal opinions and are based on our experiences, budget constraints and what we love doing i.e. adventure seeking foodies who love snorkelling and water related activities.

Value for Money4
Cuisine4
Friendliness of Locals5
Ease of Language Barrier5
Climate4
Activities and Tours4
Ease of Travel5
Culture Barrier4.5
Safety4
TOTAL EXIT45 RATING39.5 / 45

Like This Article? Pin It!

PLANNING YOUR HOLIDAY TO SRI LANKA

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


SRI LANKA TRAVEL: RELATED BLOG POSTS

Want more info to help you plan your Sri Lanka trip? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel in Sri Lanka below and continue planning your trip.

By Peta Wenzel

We are Peta (Australian) and Jonas (Swedish/Australian), a couple in our mid 40’s / early 50’s who have been travelling the world fulltime since January 2018. We met and lived on the Gold Coast, Australia and spent many evenings researching and watching YouTube vlogs about travel and dreaming of the day we would retire and be able to enjoy a lot more travel ourselves. Over the years, a number of events happened to family and friends and an opportunity arose which made us decide to not wait but to instead take a “Gap Year”. We are now in our 3rd year of travel and still hunger for new adventures and embrace the uncertainty that comes with full-time travel. If you want to know more about who we are, why we choose this lifestyle and how we do it, please follow our adventures and see how you can do it too.

3 comments

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap