Your Insider’s Tips For Ceylon
Always Keep Small Change
Break big banknotes into smaller change. Most people in Sri Lanka don’t like to keep change on them – you’ll know what I mean after a few encounters with tuk tuk drivers (or buying anything, really!). Avoid being in a situation where you have to pay more than you’re supposed to because neither you nor your friends have the right change.
An Itinerary for Reference
I started in Colombo,worked my way up to central Sri Lanka, and then made my way down to the south (the coast). This route works perfectly for a 10-day or two-week itinerary as Central/Central-North Sri Lanka is what people call the ‘cultural triangle,’ where you get to see temples, UNESCO heritage sites and go hiking. But trust me, you will be ‘templed-out’ after spending a few days in the area! The best idea would be to head south and soak up the chilled beach vibes (think coconut cocktails, seafood and surfer boys – yum!).
My 10-Day itinerary: Colombo (1 day) -> Habarana (3 days) -> Kandy (1 day) -> Ella (1 day) -> Udawalawe National Park (1 day) -> Mirissa (3 days) -> Colombo
The Tastiest Meals are at Guesthouses and Resorts
I have never travelled to a country where guesthouses and resorts offer such high quality breakfast and dinner options – so much so that you won’t have to leave the guesthouse in search of authentic Sri Lankan meals. It’s not the usual ‘breakfast included’ hotel package you would expect (you know, scrambled eggs, toast and jam) but a FULL Sri Lankan affair with coconut roti, hoppers, coconut pancakes, curry samosas and tropical fruits (heaven!). Who doesn’t love waking up to a delicious brekkie and not have to hunt for dinner after a long day exploring?
One day Is Enough for Colombo
Capital cities are not always the most exciting places to travel to but it’s usually where we start our journey. Colombo is no exception. Although it’s heavily congested and the air is badly polluted (a tuk tuk ride will guarantee a thick layer of dust on your face), people are super friendly (like everywhere in Sri Lanka) and there are interesting places to visit. I didn’t go to the National Museum, but I had a lovely time exploring the Kelaniya Buddhist Temple, which is just seven miles from Colombo if you’re keen to escape the bustling city for a while.
The Scenic Train Ride Between Ella and Kandy
If you’ve done your research on Sri Lanka, you’ll know that the train ride between Ella and Kandy is described as one of (if not the) most scenic rail journeys in the world. Many have this train trip on their bucket lists and consider the experience the highlight of their travels in Sri Lanka. I’m all about keeping it real and honest, so let me tell you about my experience.
First of all, it’s impossible to buy train tickets online, and for this particular stretch, the reserved tickets (for first and second class) are sold out at least a month before your departure date. But don’t worry as the unreserved ‘second class’ is actually what most tourists (and adventurous families) go for, so you can easily buy a ticket for the day you want to travel on at the train station. I decided to get on the train at Peradeniya, which is one station before Kandy to avoid the crowds (I had this once-in-a-lifetime train ride all planned out). My aim was to get the ‘prime spot,’: the open doorway where I could sit on the edge and have my legs hanging out in the air. I loved it!
The scenic part only starts around two hours after you leave Kandy, so you have plenty of time to figure out the best spot for upcoming tea plantation views. The train was packed from the start, but it was still bearable until the Nanu Oya Railway Station (around three hours after Kandy). I could no longer sit at the doorway and was pushed to the middle by a huge amount of tourists who were desperate to squeeze into the cabin. As you could already imagine, my train ride was ruined for the next three hours.
This route itself is a tourist attraction and my advice is not to have high expectations. Don’t get me wrong – the landscape this train takes you through is absolutely stunning. But your experience depends very much on which station you board at and whether you manage to save yourself a good spot (or seat) throughout the ride.
Kandy is the Best Place to Buy Souvenirs
If, like me, you are a fan of loose-fitting elephant pants (If you’ve been to Southeast Asia then you’ll know the ones!) then you’re sure to find the best bargains and styles in Kandy Market (next to Kandy City Centre). You could easily spend a few hours shopping around and hunting for the best buy. The best bit? Each pair costs Rs. 500-700 (USD$3-$5).
Things To Do and Eats Under Rs. 500 (less than US$4)
Sri Lanka is a true heaven for (budget) travelers because everything is so affordable. When I say affordable I mean an en suite room costs US$30 and a mouth-watering Sri Lankan buffet for less than US$3. Here are some tips and suggestions to help keep track of your expenses:
All-you-can-eat buffet for R.s 350 (less than US$3):
What’s included: a wide variety of curries, rice and side dishes
Environment: clean, air-conditioned and next to the railway and ocean
Yatch Cabin, Global Towers Hotel, Wellawatta, Colombo 06
Must-try Sri Lankan food (less than US$2):
– Hoppers (with or without egg)
– Kottu (chopped Godhamba roti with veggie, egg and/or meat)
– King Coconut
– Curd with jaggery honey (tastes like plain yogurt and, in my opinion, is the best dessert ever!)
A Tuk Tuk ride within Colombo city should be no more than Rs. 500 (pay local prices!)
Airport shuttle bus no. 187 (goes to the Fort in city centre): Rs. 150 (less than US$1)
Surfboard rental per hour (in Mirissa and beaches around): Rs. 300 (less than US $2)
Bring US Dollars With You
Exchanging currency in Sri Lanka is easy peasy at the airport and in Colombo/bigger cities, but it can be tricky in certain areas, so make sure to change enough money before you head off. Do keep some US dollars with you as you can occasionally pay some shops and restaurants with them.
These tips by no means guarantee a hassle-free journey, girls but they will come in handy once you hit the road. Now that you know what to expect – pack your bikinis and climbing shoes and enjoy everything sunny Sri Lanka has to offer!