Sri Lanka is quite under the radar. A country in the South of Asia and not a lot people know about. You’ll be amazed for it has a lot of great things to offer. From dry lands, highlands, beaches and mountains. Scenic view of landscapes, tea plantations, and all shapes of rice fields. Mixed of serenity and chaos, historical places, and rich culture in all regions. This is a very budget-friendly country to visit. So here’s a quick guide of our 9 days adventure in Sri Lanka and might help you with your visit.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SRI LANKA
Sri Lanka is a year-round destination. A tear-shaped tropical country where the weather doesn’t run like clockwork. To work out the best time for you to visit, you need to know where you want to go, attractions you want to see and things to do as weather differs for every region. You can always be surprised in this amazing country.
December to February is the most crowded period of the pilgrimage season. Try to avoid weekends and other public holidays, as huge number of locals tend to travel during these days.
January to March – best period to visit Sri Lanka
April – whole month has a festive vibe as New Year is celebrated on 13th and 14th of the month. Expect all tourist places to be packed with locals during April but if you are a traveller who wants to experience the local and exotic Sri Lankan culture at its best then this is the best time for you.
May and June – rainy season in the Southwest (Bentota, Galle, etc) and in the Tea Country (Nuwara Eliya, Ella)
July to September – the weather is perfect to go around Cultural Triangle and coastal areas in the south and east. Though you might experience a little rain at Nuwara Eliya, Kandy and Ella as these places are situated on mountains & highlands.
October and November – mark the second Inter-Monsoon season and the whole island can expect thunder storms every afternoons and evenings especially in November.
December – plenty of sunshine especially on the last 2 weeks of the month but you will still experience little rain in the Tea areas.
HOW TO GET SRI LANKA VISA
You can apply a Sri Lanka visa though this link https://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/
As for Philippine passport holders, we are included in the list of countries who are exempted paying ETA fee when travelling to Sri Lanka as tourist from 01.08.2019 to 31.01.2020.
- Passport – valid for not less than 6 months from the date of arrival
- Confirmed return ticket
- Proof of hotel accommodation or an invitation from hosts in Sri Lanka
After submitting the ETA form online, you will then receive ETA confirmation via email. We have received ours within 15 minutes.
WHERE TO STAY IN SRI LANKA
During our 9 days in Sri Lanka, we stayed on 6 different places. At first, we thought it was a crazy idea but then when we were there, we realized that it was a great idea as going back and forth from one place to another with 50-70 km/h speed limit will definitely consume so much of our time.
We did all the bookings though Booking.com as we find it very easy to use and it’s giving us a lot of options.
SIGIRIYA – Hotel Sigiriya
Pros: Overlooking Sigiriya Rock (walking distance), good sized pool with amazing view, food is great.
Cons: Cleanliness of the room is 2 over 5 because it is pretty old. Mid – range price too.
KANDY – 390 Villa Vista
Pros: Amazing views overlooking Kandy, very accommodating host, very clean, food is great. Great interior and kind hosts!
Cons: Far away from the main road. You need to walk and do a little hike to reach the place and you are lucky to get a tuktuk at the area.
NUWARA ELIYA – Panoramic Vista
Pros: Very cheap price and good for backpackers.
Cons: There is no facilities/amenities.
ELLA – Ella Master Point
Pros: Amazing views overlooking Ella Rock. Food is ok, basic Sri Lankan breakfast.
Cons: A bit far from the main road but shortcuts are available. Tuktuk drivers will definitely bring you here safe.
UNAWATUNA – Epic Unawatuna
Pros: Opposite the beach area, near the main road, food is great and very friendly staff
Cons: No pool or gym available
COLOMBO – Star Anise Boutique Capsules
Pros: A unique experience. It is very clean and very affordable. The bed is comfortable. All basic needs are available. They also have a rooftop where you can bonding with other travellers, living and dining area and even laundry room. It is perfect for backpackers.
Cons: Since it’s a capsule, you don’t have enough space for your luggage. It’s either you sleep next to it or you put it outside the capsule.
SRI LANKA CURRENCY AND MONEY EXCHANGE
Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR)
1 LKR = 0.021 AED = 0.30 PHP = 0.0057 USD
Once you arrive at the airport, they have a lot of exchange booths available which has almost the same rate from the outside shops. If you are visiting during festivals/holidays, please take note that most of the banks are close as well as the money exchange stores. Most of the shops and attractions don’t accept card so better secure some cash with you. Luckily, ATM machines are available in the city centers where you can withdraw but with certain fees/deductions.
GOING AROUND SRI LANKA
The fastest and easiest way to go around Sri Lanka is by car which you can rent beforehand or from the airport at the arrival area. If you have no valid license, local drivers speaks very good English and they recommend a lot of things to do/try/visit that you can’t find in the internet.
If you are adventurous and wanted to embrace the Sri Lankan culture and you are travelling for more than 2-3 weeks then we recommend you to use their public transportation (bus, train, tuktuk). It is a cheaper way to go around the country but take note of the bus stops of your every destination and their timings as it is not available 24/7.
Local flights are also available in the country if you are in a very tight schedule. One of their local airlines is Cinnamon Air (check for more info).
But the one that you should not missed and we encourage you to experience is the 4 hour train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Ella (or vice versa) offering scenic views of the forest, tea plantations, mountains, etc.
ESSENTIAL SINHALESE WORDS/PHRASES
- Hello / Good morning / Good evening – Ayubowan / Suba rathiyak way va
- Thank you very much – Bohoma Istuti
- Yes / No – Ovou / Néhé
- Please – Karunakara” Karu-nah-kara
- My name is – Magae nama
- How are you? – Kohomada sahpa sah neepa?
- Sorry – Samaāva
- How much is it – Meeka Kiyadha” Meka Kiyada
- Hotel – Hotela
- Food – Kaama
- Bank – Bank Eka
- Restaurant – Apana Sala
Dambulla → Kandy → Nuwara Eliya → Ella → Beach Area (Unawatuna, Galle, Mirissa) → Colombo
Arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Negombo at 5:20AM. Expect a long queue at the immigration as they normally ask questions before stamping your passport about your itineraries, accommodations, etc so be ready and if possible have your documents on hand. Then we headed straight to the money exchange where there’s a lot of booths available at the airport and we bought a local sim card (Etisalat) with unlimited data for 7 days for around 300 LKR. We hired a car and a driver at the airport for the entire trip for $300 including gas, tolls, driver’s food and accommodation.
On our way to Sigiriya, we stopped by a small local bakery to grab some snacks. They have varieties of pastries but our most favorite was sausage in a bun with sliced chilies on top. We also had a quick stopover along the side road of Kurunegala surrounded by the long and wide trees with monkeys.
We reached Hotel Sigiriya past lunch time and we decided to stay in the hotel, relax, enjoy the facilities and the buffet with the local band performing.
- A UNESCO heritage site located near Dambulla. It is an ancient rock fortress where you need to climb 1,200 steps before you reach the Lion Rock Fortress on top of Sigiriya Rock.
- Timings: 7AM – 7PM. The best time to visit is early morning or before sunset. If you want to avoid the crowd, don’t come on weekends or holidays when locals mostly visit.
- Entrance fee: around LRK 5,000. Ticket can be purchased on the gate.
- Wear comfortable clothes
- This ancient city in Sri Lanka is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It consists of hundreds of ancient structures – tombs and temples, statues and stupas – that has been there since the 10th century.
- Rent a bike. This is the best way to go around the ancient city. At the gate, there’s a lot of bike rentals available. Some might give it to you for a higher price especially if you are a tourist but don’t pay more than LKR 300.
- Entrance fee: around LKR 4,500.
- Make sure you don’t lose your ticket as they will require it on the museums.
- Food is expensive inside the city and you’ll probably spending 3-4 hours to go around. We suggest you bring your water and food.
Get an Ayurvedic Massage
- It is one of the many things that Sri Lanka offers. It is there way of life known to generations of Sri Lankans for over 3000 years. After our hike at Sigiriya and biking adventure at Polonnaruwa, it is the best thing to end our day.
- It’s a massive rock formation that has the best view of Sigiriya Rock.
- Best time to visit: before sunrise
- Fee: free unless you wanted to hire a guide (available at the entrance of the temple) going up to the rock
- Wear sarong from the entrance until you pass through the temple
We had our last breakfast at the hotel and a quick dip at the pool before heading off to our next destination, Kandy. On the way, we passed by Dambulla and a wood carving shop where we bought souvenirs and our beautiful Buddha.
Dambulla Cave Temple
- Also knows as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, this temple is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka.
- Timings: 7AM – 7PM (with lunch break)
- Entrance fee: around LKR 1,500.00
- Note: (1) From Sigiriya, you can pass by Dambulla Cave on your way to Kandy (2) Buy ticket at the entrance. Once you reach the top, go left and you will see the temple. We missed it the first time and we ended up going back and forth. (3) There’s also another temple with Golden Buddha and group of monks at the main road just at the opposite side of the Dambulla Cave . Don’t miss it. (4) No shoes/slippers allowed inside the temple. You need to leave it at the entrance where you need to pay LKR 25.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
- Also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Buddhist temple is located in the city of Kandy.
- Timings: 5:30AM – 8PM
- Fee: around LKR 1,500.00
- Note: Wear clothes that covers your shoulders/arms and legs. They have sarong available at the gate, if needed.
Traditional Kandyan Dance
- It is considered as Sri Lanka’s greatest cultural export. You can watch it at Kandyan Cultural Center during night.
After a long day, we checked in at our accommodation, 390 Villa Vista. It was a stunning home and amazing hosts. The pool and the veranda has a lovely view of Kandy. Though it’s far away from the main road, we had a great time and enjoyed the home cooked food that they served including egg hoppers, Sri Lankan pancake, coconut roti, sini sambal, Sri Lankan devilled chicken, fruits, shakes, coffee, butter, jams, etc.
Gemstone Factory Tour
- We were brought by our driver to a gemstone factory where we watched a presentation of their mining process, how they are cleaned and shaped. We also visited the show room full of gemstones which is sold way way cheaper than at the malls/stores.
Peradeniya Botanical Garden
- It is the largest of all botanical gardens of Sri Lanka located in the city of Kandy. It is 59 hectares garden occupying 4000 species of plants. Our favorite parts are the palm trees and the giant bamboos.
- Timings: 7:30PM – 5PM
- Entrance fee: around LKR 1,250.00
- Note: There’s a cafeteria inside the garden where you can enjoy good food surrounded with beautiful flowers and trees but it gets very busy during lunch time.
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue
- A huge concrete Buddha statue visible from most spots in Kandy including our accommodation. It has steep stairs leading to hilltop views from the Buddhist place of worship.
- Best time to visit: Sunset
- Fee: around LKR 170.00
We woke up early for breakfast as it will be a long drive going to Nuwara Eliya.
- Picturesque tea plantation offering tours of its 1885 factory, as well as a tranquil tea house. They showed us the process how the different kinds of tea are made, the benefits and of course it wouldn’t be a complete experience without the tea tasting. We also roam around the plantation and met the farmers.
- Timings: 8AM – 11AM. 2PM – 4PM
We stopped over a souvenir shop along the road with an amazing view. Though the items are quite expensive, they are allowing guests to go to the rooftop and take pictures for free.
Boat Tour around Gregory Lake
- Before reaching our accommodation, we passed by a boat tour near Gregory Lake. The speedboat rent fee is LKR 4000 for 10 pax. It is expensive for us since we rented the whole speedboat but if you are in a big group, it is surely a good deal.
We checked in to our hotel, Panoramic Vista. It wasn’t that nice, though it is really cheap we don’t recommend it. Good thing the weather in Nuwara Eliya is very cold, foggy and conducive for sleeping so we still had a good rest. Even the breakfast is a disappointment.
We left the hotel early to catch the train to Ella. We were dropped by our driver at the train station and we were first in the line for the trip and that’s a good thing as when they started opening the counter a lot of people especially tourists started arriving.
We had a 4 hour scenic train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. This is one of the highlights of our trip as the ride showed us how beautiful Sri Lanka is. Sitting at the train door, going up and down the hills, entering numerous of tunnels, meeting a lot of people along the ride. Amazing experience 🙂
When we arrived in Ella, we had a lunch at this very cool hangout place, Chill Café. We tried their Devilled Chicken with rice (very spicy) and Penne Arrabiata.
Nine Arch Bridge
- Also known as the Bridge in the Sky, is one of the best examples of colonial-era railway construction in the country. We were lucky that when we arrived there is very less people as normally it is packed with tourists. We were amazed by the wonderful woods, trees, view surrounding the nine arches, railway, amazing architecture.
- From the drop off point, you need to walk for 20-30 minutes (6KM) following the rail and it will lead you to the Nine Arches. Or you can rent a tuktuk to take you there.
We checked in to our accommodation, Ella Master Point. We didn’t know how far it is from the main road because you need to go around to reach there by car/tuktuk. The view from our room is amazing and that made us really happy about the place.
- One of the best waterfalls in Sri Lanka. It is currently ranks as one of the widest falls in the country.
Woke up early to see the amazing view of Ella Rock during sunrise while enjoying our breakfast.
- Adam’s Peak is a 2,243 m tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. It’s 2-4 hours hike. In our case, it was raining so we need to cancel it last minute.
Then we decided to leave to head to the beach side of the country. It was a long and crazy trip down the mountain and hill side to dry and low lands to Unawatuna.
At our accommodation, Epic Unawatuna, we were welcomed with guava strawberry juice. We had a quick snack at the hotel then went out for a walk at the beach and started searching for Dream Cabana.
Dalawella Beach Swing
- It is the most talked about swing in Sri Lanka just right outside Dream Cabana guesthouse.
- Fee: LKR 500 for unlimited swing. Yes, you need to pay for the famous coconut tree swing and since the locals are very friendly and welcoming, we didn’t mind paying at all.
- the little beach away from the crowd. It is secluded, very relaxing and peaceful spot at Unawatuna.
Since our hotel is known for their delicious food, we had our dinner there which we really enjoyed.
Started the day early, had a breakfast then took a bus to Galle Fort.
- The fort is located in the Bay of Galle and was built first in 1588. The place is full of history. Old beautiful buildings with trendy shops, cafes, and restaurants. Though it is quite expensive to dine and shop but the ambiance, the view is incredible.
After our morning trip at Galle we went back to the hotel then we took an hour bus ride to Mirissa.
Mirissa Coconut Tree Hill
- Coconut Tree Hill is we think one of the most well-known place in Mirissa. A palm tree forest that overlooks the ocean has grown up from the red soil. It is not easy to find as it is hidden but it is worth it.
- Best time to visit: Sunset
Mirissa Secret Beach
- Hidden beach with a bar that sells drinks and food. They also have day beds and snorkeling gear for rent.
We found this amazing restaurant, O Mirissa Cafe and Bistro where we had seafood fried rice, fish and chips, papadam, mango chutney, chili, brownies. We really enjoyed the food and the place. Also, the staff are very accommodating. It is a fantastic find.
Colombo Tour. After breakfast we head down to Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. We checked in at Star Anise Capsule then we went around using tuktuk as we have very limited time.
Places that you should visit are the following:
- National Museum
- Fort Area (Colonial Buildings)
- Gangaramaya Temple
- Beira Lake
- Independence Memorial Hall
- Old Dutch Hospital
- Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil
Sri Lanka is an inexpensive place to travel but with a lot of things to offer. Your budget really depends on how long you are planning to travel and what activities you would like to do.
I have summarized below the expenses for our 9 Days DIY Trip for 2 people.
- FOOD – AED 500.00 (cheap eats to mid-range restaurants)
- ACCOMMODATION – AED 1,500.00
- ENTRANCE FEES – AED 700.00
- TRANSPORTATION (Car rental with driver) – AED 700.00
TOTAL: AED 3400 = USD 925 = LKR 163997.41