By Juhi Bansal
If you’ve been around for sometime, you know K and I are last minute vacation planners. True to our nature, the trip to SL was finalized just about 10 days before the date of departure and even then given the Omicron situation, we were mentally prepared we may have to cancel it last minute If things get out of hand. However, we managed to take the trip!
This is our first trip to another South Asia country (other than India- Maldives doesn’t count since you barely get to experience local culture there) and we weren’t expecting much. However, we were in for a surprise. Not only is the country extremely beautiful, it also packs a punch given the amount of varied experiences you can have compared to its size. From hill stations to jungle safaris to beaches, Sri Lanka has something for all kind of travelers.
When to go
The best time to visit the tear shaped country is from December to March especially if you’re planning to do the West and the South coast however if you’re planning to visit the East coast then May to September is the best time.
We were there from NYE until the first week of January and it was absolutely gorgeous.
SL experiences a tropical climate throughout the year which means temps hover between 25-30°C in the west coast. As for the South which has mountains, temperatures can drop to below 10 °C especially in Nuwara Eliya but it’s absolutely lovely. While it is not the rainy season in the West and South Coast then (SL has two rainy seasons- separate for West & East coasts) you may still experience surprise showers (as we did!).
Flights & Visa
We travelled from India and booked our tickets just days before the actual travel. It cost us about 90k for 3 people. The flight from Bangalore to Colombo is just 90 minutes. I am sure if you plan in advance and not wait until the end like us, you can get them for slightly cheaper. Visa to SL is available on arrival. However, given the circumstances, you don’t want to spend any extra time on the airport and that’s why applying for ETA online maybe the best. It’s almost instant. Just make sure you sit with all your hotel bookings and itinerary while applying for the ETA.
One Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) translates to about 2.6 INR which turns out to be very favourable in terms of spending locally. Almost everything is either similarly priced or cheaper than India. However, a lot of locals preferred being paid in USD as against their own currency.
Almost everyone we met and interacted with spoke English. We had hired a car for the duration of our trip and our driver was more than kind to translate for us, whenever required.
The Lankan culture is very similar to India. The people look like us, are religious and very polite. You also see remnants of British and Dutch influence at some places. They love Indians and our culture! While everyone we met was very polite and courteous we couldn’t help but notice the service levels were not upto the mark. Most service staff although polite and well behaved, had a very “chalta hai” attitude towards the tourists even at fine dining and 5 star places.
SL food is lip smacking, affordable and there is a lot of variety for vegetarians. Do check out my detailed write up on Sri Lankan food.
We were in SL for 7 days and had a jam packed itinerary. We like it like that. The last holiday for us was to Maldives and it was a week of sea, food and doing nothing. We needed action and we needed lots of it. While designing the itinerary, I had to make some choices between destinations because we had limited time. We gave up on Sigiriya for 2 reasons. It was 5.5 hours from Colombo which meant we needed atleast 1.5 days for it plus it’s a bit of a climb which was not very enticing given we have a 7 year old. So, I decided to drop Sigiriya from this trip. (there is always a next time right?).
Landed in Colombo and immediately drove to Kandy. Spent the night in a cosy boutique hotel in Kandy. The main reason for a stopover in Kandy was to break our journey to Nuwara Eliya which is about 6 hours from Colombo. We went for a walk around the City Centre and along the Kandy Lake. Kandy is the second largest city in the country and lies at an elevation of 465m above sea level which means there is a slight nip in the air in the evenings and nights can get cold.
After a hearty Sri Lankan breakfast we checked out from the hotel and went to the Temple of Tooth Relic (you will have to pay in cash here and also keep some change handy for the person at the shoe counter). The views from the temple are gorgeous. Some other things to check out In Kandy are:
- View point
- The Buddha Statue
- Local designers and karigars who do batik
On your drive towards Nuwara Eliya make sure you make several stops on the way and check out the gorgeous views and the waterfalls.
Nuwara Eliya is a hill station and the coldest city in the country. It is largely known for its tea estates. The weather tends to get fairly chilly.
Check in at the Nuwara Eliya hotel. Another gorgeous boutique property. Since this was NYE night, I made sure to not book a large hotel because we wanted a quiet night in.
The evening was spent doing covering the local spots like- Gregory lake and lakeside, little England Tour (a drive around the Nuwara Eliya which looks exactly like an English countryside), tea tasting at Damro tea factory (don’t miss the delectable cakes there!), the local buildings which are reminiscent of British architecture like the Post Office etc.)
Woke up early and after a hearty new year breakfast full of dosas and string hoppers we made our way to the Sita temple and the Ashok Vatika (both of Miss Iy’s insistence). Went to another tea estate for a walk and to witness the gorgeous skyline. Drove to the Nanu Oya railway station to catch our train to Ella. This train ride is supposed to be gorgeous and amongst the top ten train rides in the world. However, we were out of luck since after almost 3 hours of waiting and two postponements, we decided to ditch the train ride and drove towards Ella.
Ella is a fairly small town but very hippie. We passed through the city on our way to Ravana falls and Yala and were bummed at not having planned a stop there.
After a stop at Ravana Falls we drove all the way to Yala National Park. We stayed at Jetwing Yala which is a gorgeous property right on the Yala beach.
After spending some time in the pool and an early dinner, we decided to call it a night. Yala National Park is the second largest and the most visited National Park in Sri Lanka.
Woke up at an ungoldly hour (4 AM) for an early morning safari to the Yala National Park. It was a great experience. We packed a breakfast and drove around in the park for almost 4 hours. While we spotted various wild life, the leopards remained elusive as is mostly the case.
After the safari we spent some time on the beach (read a LOT!), had lunch and started our journey towards Galle.
We reached Mirrissa in the early evening hours and decided to spend some time at the Secret Beach there. It was very reminiscent of our time in Goa and K & I toasted fondly while watching the Sun go down.
We decided to stay on the Unawatuna beach in the Galle district. The Unawatuna beach is one of the most popular beaches. It once featured in the top twelve beaches of the world before much of its beauty was destroyed by Tsunami. However, I would still rate Unawatuna very high since it is buzzing with activity and is dotted with eateries.
Spent the morning at the beach and the rest of the day at Galle Fort area. The lighthouse and the Fort are splendid with gorgeous views. The area also boasts of some of the top eateries in the district and I would totally recommend eating there.
On our way back from Galle, we stopped at the Dalawella beach for the Unawatuna swing (it’s chargeable at a measly 500 LKR per person) but is an absolutely fun experience. We also spotted some Stilt fisherman largely to tell Iy about it. They don’t fish like that any longer and their main source of income is actually posing on the stilts and charging the tourists. Not complaining!
Spent the morning at the Unawatuna beach again. After check out, started our drive towards Colombo with the following stops:
- Turtle hatchery
- Tsunami museum
We had lunch at Taj Bentota and it was the best meal ever! Spent some time at the Bentota beach before starting our drive towards Colombo.
We reached Colombo during peak traffic hours. I had really wanted to see the Pettah floating market in Colombo but by the time we reached there most shops had closed down. We still walked around and window shopped.
Reached the hotel and called it a night.
Last day of Sri Lankan breakfasts and my favourite egg hoppers! After breakfast we spent time at the hotel’s Jacuzzi and pool overlooking the ocean. Packed up and left for the airport for our flight back home.
Things to keep in mind
You can take a local phone connection at the airport which Is fairly cheap. Also, instead of converting dollars or euros I would advise you to withdraw LKR from the ATM. There is only one conversion so works out to almost the same and is more convenient. Almost everyone has a credit card machine so the rest of the payments can be made via your credit card. However, do keep some local cash handy for tips and small time purchases.
If you are planning to self drive in SL (totally doable especially for Indian drivers) do make sure you have enough time for getting a local driving permit. We decided to hire a car and driver via visit in Lanka (not sponsored) and they were the absolute best! For 7 days they charged us USD 350 inclusive of petrol and driver expenses and drove us around everywhere. We had a sedan at our disposal which was fairly new. We drove about 1000 kms over the 7 days and the driver Joseph was extremely patient and kind. Do look them up while planning your road trip in SL and don’t forget to leave them a huge tip. They deserve it!
We totally loved our time in SL and hope to be back there someday to explore the Eastern coast and spend some more time on the West and South Coast. While planning your own trip give Sigiriya a serious thought. You can totally skip Kandy and add that instead. Also, the entire Galle district is beautiful so explore as much of it as possible.
For shopping I would totally recommend Odel and Laksala especially for local artifacts and souvenirs. They are both very affordable and have a huge range.
Ayubowan and do write to me for any specific questions!
Our stays in Sri Lanka
|Kandy||Rivora Residence||Lovely boutique property|
|Nuwara Eliya||La Grande||Lovely boutique property but expensive|
|Yala||Jetwing Yala||Totally recommend|
|Unawutane||Araliya Beach||The worst! Claims to be 5 star but nowhere close|
|Colombo||Marino Beach||Loved the property!|