Updated: Aug 15
Sri Lanka is not about white sand and azure sea, and you definitely won't like it if you stay in one place. Sri Lanka is an Island to explore! It is about yellow sand, blue powerful ocean, wild nature and a lot of green everywhere. You can get an unforgettable experience here.
Our trip started in March 2018. Flight took about 10 hours with a short transfer to get from Kyiv to Colombo (capital of Sri Lanka). Till that time I learned a travel life hack to take a lot of water, some skin cream, eye drops, since it dries very much in such long flights.
If you need VISA, simply apply for it on the official website. Also, VISA can be bought directly in the Airport, but from my experience applying for online VISA is a bit cheaper.
Climate here is mostly warm and humid. To get into the dry season, it is better to go to the west coast from November to March and to the east from May to September. We have visited Sri Lanka in March and most of the time it was sunny. However, rains here are quite warm and if you catch them, they should not spoil your vacation.
Our Route in Sri Lanka
We had 9 days in Sri Lanka. According to our timeframes we have planned to check the most interesting places on our opinion.
Here is the route which we eventually planned:
Colombo > Pinnawala > Nuwara Eliya > Ella > Tissa > Unawatuna > Hikkaduwa
We used to travel by buses (cost for the ticket 6 – 9 cents), trains (ticket costs about $2, depends on the carriage class) and tuk tuks (about 30 – 50 cents for km). But my favorite way to travel around the island is train.
I'm totally in love with trains in Sri Lanka, all windows and doors are open and you feel exited like a kid. And the views are amazing: you meet on the way monkeys on branches, enjoy views of the mountains, waterfalls and local nature. It turns out a great tour of the island.
By the way, at the beginning we got on the wrong train and for almost an hour did not realize that we were going in the wrong direction. No one checks tickets at the entrance, so it’s easy to get confused. Pay attention!
In addition, if you would like to get into carriage with open doors, usually it is third class. Second class has opened windows. First class has the condition. However, on my opinion to travel in train carriage with open windows and doors is must to do.
Also, we used to rent a bike in Hikkaduwa. It costed us $20 for 3 days, and $5 for the petrol (petrol costs about $0.73 per liter).
We went to the local police station just to ask where nearby we can safely rent, and that is how we found our bike. Police asked some local to bring the scooter and in 20 minutes it was in place. For a deposit we left a document. Also, the policeman gave his number and told to call him in case police will stop us anywhere. So we got such an interesting experiment with bike rental.
Before rent, be sure to take a photo of all the damage and make a test drive. It is important to have insurance and a taxes document which the motorcycle owner must give you.
The traffic on the roads of Sri Lanka is left-handed, it is customary to give a warning signal before overtaking. And be careful when seeing the bus. They drive very fast here and like to overtake in the opposite direction. So to meet the rushing bus right on you is not uncommon here.
Money and Costs in Sri Lanka
Based on our experience, here is the budget for two people for 9 days in Sri Lanka:
Flight from Kiev cost us $575. We used to fly with Airarabia and had a short change in Sharjah.
Accommodation for two cost us $300. We were looking for the hotels with good reviews. In general there is no concept of luxury in Sri Lanka. So do not expect All Inclusive. Sri Lanka's greatest wealth is beautiful landscapes and nature.
Food costs us about $150. Sea food is so good here, and if you would like to try lobsters and crabs it will cost about $30 for a dish. Fruits here are so sweet and cheep. For example, pineapple on the market costs about 80 cents, and coconut 20 cents. It is difficult to stay hungry here, there are no problems in the local cuisine.
Public transport cost us about $40. As already mentioned, we traveled by trains, buses, and in the city we used to catch tuk tuks. To compare prices, the fare from Hikkaduwa to Colombo Airport by taxi is costs about $70, while the fare for a bus is about $1. However, buses are for those who are not afraid to tickle their nerves, because they drive as participants in the Formula 1.
Entertainment costs us about $250. More about entertainment see below in the article.
Must to Do in Sri Lanka
✔ Botanical Garden
✔ Snorkeling & Diving
✔ Sea Turtles
✔ Whales & Dolphins
Elephants in Pinnawala
One of the best places to meet elephants is located in Pinnawala. It takes about 3 hours to travel there from Colombo by train. Elephant orphanage works daily from 8:30 to 17:30. Adult ticket costs about $16. You can check more information about prices on the official website.
Visiting an elephant orphanage approximately takes 4 hours. You will be able to feed young elephants with milk from a bottle, adult elephants you can feed with fruits. After feeding elephants go swimming to the river where you can take some beautiful photos.
If this experience is not enough for you, there is a place not far from the orphanage where you can get to know the elephants closer. Usually locals know such places and can propose to drive you there on tuk tuk. There you can ride and wash an elephant.
It is amazing how calm and beautiful these creatures seems to be.
Botanical Garden in Kandy
The botanical garden in Kandy is amazing. It is just teeming with creatures: the chameleons cross the road, one part of the park is completely covered with flying foxes, geckos are running on gigantic trees, monkeys are hiding on the branches.
Monkeys feel great here and do not mind eating your treats. This is the only place on the island where we met monkeys so close. In the area of the beach we no longer saw monkeys.
Also in the Peradeniya Botanical Garden the atmosphere of romance is everywhere! There is no tree or bush where couples would not hug. This place really impressed me and local nature is incredible.
Price for the adult ticket is about $11. Opening Hours 7:30 – 18:00. More details about prices you can check on the official website. I believe everyone will enjoy visiting this place.
Mountains of Sri Lanka
Mountains of Sri Lanka are about tea plantations and waterfalls.
One of the fantastic waterfalls recommended seeing is Ramboda. Its height is 109 m. Sri Lanka has over 400 waterfalls and Ramboda takes 11th places of the highest waterfalls on the island. It takes about 20 minutes of climbing to get to the top point of the waterfall. Turn left — you'll get to the observation deck, turn right — you'll get directly to the waterfall itself.
It is a good idea to check out one of the local tea factors, just to learn about tea making process, which is quite curious.
Wild nature impresses most of all. A lot of green everywhere, jungles are breathtaking, and mountains are must to visit if you want to fell in love with Sri Lanka.
Trekking Ways in Sri Lanka
We did not have enough time to try most popular trekking ways in Sri Lanka, however this might be a great idea for those who would like to try. Sri Lanka has 2 popular ways for trekking are Adam's Peak and Sigiriya.
Adam's Peaks is a mountain to climb the 5200 steps to a height of over 2000 meters. Most of the people climb in the morning to meet a sunrise.
Hiking in Sigiriya Lion's Rock is one of the most popular tracking ways in Sri Lanka. To get on the top you will need to climb 1200 steps. There you will explore ancient palace ruins and an amaze with views.
Safari in the Yala National Park
For jeep safari experience in Sri Lanka we went to the Yala National Park. It is one of the oldest and largest national parks in the country.
We found our jeep on the streets of Tissa. The way to the National Park took us about 1 hour.
Safari is available for half a day (from 6:00 to 11:00 or from 15:00 to 18:00) and for full day (from 6:00 to 18:00).
Usually half day ticket will cost about $30 per person. For the whole day, the cost is about $50. Jeeps can accommodate groups of up to 4-6 people. A ticket to Yala Park costs about $20 for a day pass, but the price often changes. We started looking for a jeep at the last moment and the price for two turned out more than $100.
Here inside a jeep you cut through the wilderness in search of animals. This entertainment takes about 4 hours. You can take a safari for a full day, but it is exhausting, and there are no guarantees that you will see more animals if you take more time.
If you are interested in catching leopards, the morning time is better for this (from 6:00 to 11:00). For elephants an evening safari is better (from 14:00 to 18:00).
There will be no time to get bored while searching for animals, because you will have fun while jeepers ride off-road through puddles and drive into high hills.
The best moment of safari was when we saw a newborn baby elephant who was less than 3 months old. He was so cute and followed everywhere his mom. We also saw a hiding leopard, a huge crocodile, monkeys living only in Sri Lanka, a bitten mongoose, a monitor lizard, toucans and other animals.
Snorkeling & Diving in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka there are some places where the coral reef is right off the coast and such places are prefect for snorkeling. One of the most popular is located in Hikkaduwa.
If you do not have the mask, there is a rental on the beach. Hour costs about 80 cents. However, masks are not in very good condition, so it is better to snorkel with your mask.
The underwater world is amazing. There are interesting fish and huge turtles. The experience is breathtaking.
If you would like to try diving in Sri Lanka, the best time for diving is from November to March. Here you can see coral reefs and crash sites, in the area of which a lot of interesting sea creatures live.
You can go dive in Sri Lanka all the year, but on the west coast of the island the best conditions for diving are from December to April, and on the east coast from March to December. In popular areas there are many diving centers where you can learn and rent equipment for the diving tour.
When we checked the diving prices, it was announced the price of $75 per person including instructor. And about $30 dollars if you have a diver certificate.
Sea Turtles in Sri Lanka
In Hikkaduwa, there are several great places to see sea turtles.
Locals recommended us to go to the Turtle Hatchery located 8 km from Hikkaduwa in the direction of Colombo. Here you can meet adult turtles, newborns and tortoise eggs.
Also, here live disabled turtles which have been rescued, but unfortunately they cannot be released into the ocean. At least you can donate money for their maintenance. Entrance costs about $1.40.
Next and my favorite place is located on Hikkaduwa beach near the coral reef. Turtles stay here to lay eggs and have a rest after many years of swimming. You can feed them with seaweed. And the best thing, that you can watch turtles swimming underwater while snorkeling.
There is nothing more wonderful than watching the birth of turtles. On the same beach there are egg laying. We waited until all the turtle hatched and watched their first way to the ocean.
It's amazing how they feel the direction to the water. Even if they are turned over, they immediately turn towards the ocean and run there.
Imagine, they will return to the same coast in 30 years to continue to lay eggs. Wish them all the best in their journey!
Surfing in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a perfect place to learn how to surf. Surfing in Sri Lanka is not expensive, beautiful views are guaranteed and here are places with small waves which is perfect for newbies.
Hikkaduwa is the most popular place on the island to surfer. Here you can find a lot of serf schools to start learning.
We preferred to hire a private instructor. Private lesson costs around $25 per hour. Renting a surfboard costs around $4 per hour and $15 per day.
I recommend spending all day surfing if you really want to learn. An hour definitely would not be enough. Enjoy!
Whales & Dolphins in Sri Lanka
Near the coast of Sri Lanka there are several places where you can watch blue whales. A high concentration of whales can be found on the coast of Dondra from December to April. Whale watching is also possible during the months of June to September along the east coast in the Trincomalee area.
The average whale watching time is around 4 hours, and the tour usually starts at 06:30 in the morning. Also, pay attention to the size of the boat. It is better to take a tour in a big boat reduce the risk of becoming seasick.
Best whale watching places in Sri Lanka include Alankuda Beach in Kalpitiya (you can also see dolphins here) on the west coast, Mirissa and Dondra on the south coast and Trincomalee (you can also see dolphins here) on the east coast. Areas such as Aluthgama and Hikkaduwa are also known as good places for whale watching.
We used to book hotels in Sri Lanka through Booking. I recommend to check reviews on TripAdvisor. There you can compare prices on different resources and directly go to the site you liked to book a hotel. Usually I choose hotels with 4 or 5 rating.
We were completely satisfied with the following bookings:
Bedspace. This place was a first pleasant surprise in Unawatuna. Guesthouse has incredible kitchen, I would say this is one of the best places in the city to eat. Value for money is great and this place has 5 out of 5 at TripAdvisor. Rooms are cute and have enough space. Just couple of minutes to the beach.
Sapphire Seas Beachfront Hotel. Place where you can relax and enjoy the peace of mind. Located right on the beach. The beach is huge and deserted, the waves are
big. View from each room is directed to the ocean, very beautiful. We also liked the food at the hotel.
I advise you to read visitor reviews and hotel ratings before booking. We have chosen hotels with a rating of 9 and 8 on Booking or 4 and 5 on TripAdvisor. Accommodation prices are low compared to Europe, the rooms are clean, but do not expect that you will get a good experience in Sri Lanka without leaving your hotel. Change your location and explore the island!
If you love wildlife, search for incredible panoramas and collect impressions — Sri Lanka will be an unforgettable memory for you.
Sri Lanka is worth to visit, because you will see the homeland of the famous Ceylon tea, and as a result, you will for always have an association with forever green tea plantations.
You will enjoy the memories of endless beaches of Hikkaduwa and miss the sunrises on Wijaya beach in Unawatuna.
And how to choose words to describe the sunsets! You definitely should see it at the point that I have marked on the map of Unawatuna.
It’s just an incredible place where the waves are breaking on the rocks, splashes of water fly at you, and all this against a colorful sky.
Waterfalls and landscapes will impress you. Wake up in Ella and enjoy the view on the mountains, have a walk to the waterfall and chill in Cafe Chill in the evening.
How wonderful it is to touch the wildlife, to learn closer local fauna.
And of course, meeting locals will remain a pleasant memory. Even when you understand each other quite a bit, they are so friendly and hospitable, that you leave them as friends. We had a good experience with them.
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I hope this article was useful. Wish you discoveries and an unforgettable trip to Sri Lanka!