The top must visit places in Sri Lanka!
Oh Sri Lanka, you blew me away with your diverse landscapes, endless beaches and cheap prices. I didn’t know what I was expecting. You need to get Bali, Thailand or Goa in India out of your head. The hassling, the banter, the free flowing beer everywhere, the “come to my restaurant” doesn’t really exist. Bartering like India and Thailand is not part of their culture so once they have a fixed price and you try and go a little lower, they are more than happy to send you away, keep this in mind.
This place is truly untouched in comparison to those countries and plays host to more Europeans than Australians, which was a nice surprise. You can spend your time surfing or hiking the hills, or both. It is by far the cheapest country I have been to, but it sometimes doesn't feel that way because you are generally paying 5 times more than the locals (thats how cheap it is).
I spent three weeks around this coconut filled, beauty of a country and ate far too many jackfruit and mango curries for my own good. Here are some tips that I would have liked to know prior to coming and venturing out on my own!.
Sri Lanka is one of the easiest places to navigate around. It has ONE, MAIN, HIGHWAY. Same goes with the train, there is something so amazing being on a train next to the ocean.
Catching a bus or train is the cheapest way to get around. If you travel 3km it will be 20 Rupee (Rs) however sometimes they are cheeky and will charge you 100 Rs - five times the normal price. Don’t get too worked up – they make their money seasonally and if we have to pay equivalent to 80 Aussie cents instead of 20, that’s fine by me.
You may have to stand for a while, you may think the bus driver wants to kill you, but there is something so adrenaline filled in the chaos of catching local transport that I loved.
The first time I caught the bus, it didn’t even stop for me, it slowed down but the driver was hanging out the window telling me to “RUN RUN RUN HURRY HURRY HURRY”. With my big back pack I somehow got on the moving bus, dripping in sweat and frustrated. After cooling down, I looked around and noticed I was the only foreigner on the bus. I got a seat, listened to the Sri Lankan music that was playing and looked out at the palm-tree lined road. I felt totally free and special that I could experience this.
SHOULD I HIRE A PRIVATE DRIVER?
Next time I come to Sri Lanka, I won’t be doing the whole “I’m a poor, solo back-packer” thing, so I will be investing in a driver. But doing this on your own is very expensive.
If there is a group of four, it is totally worth it. You can hire a private driver that will take you around the whole country and wait for you until you need to reach your next destination. This is very easy, and affordable (I heard roughly 300 euro for two weeks, driving every third day or so that includes airport pick up and drop off).
This will be my plan next time I go if I am with more than two people. I still advise to catch the local buses for the experience and if you are a solo traveller.
CHEAP! I spent $550 Australian in three weeks. This is including ALL my meals which was breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffees, snacks, fruit as well as accommodation and transport (hostels, home stays and buses). The average price for a hostel is 1200 Rs ($10.00 AUD) a night, which includes breakfast. There are some "cool" hostels to stay at for double the price with no breakfast and majority of the travellers I met said they were very hyped up.
Reason I may have spent so little is because I hardly drank any alcohol, soft drinks or did any shopping or activities apart from surfing. Breakfast was usually included with my hostels, fruit and nuts for lunch and one dinner.
The food is fucking unbelievable. When you order rice and curry it doesn't come with one but usually four different ones to try. Mango, jackfruit, banana, orka and beans where my favourites. I was unaware that basically the whole time here I was vegan! It was way too easy to avoid milk and egg products but they are available.
If you are into meat and seafood dry the "Devilled" fish or chicken. Don't be scared by the name, its actually more sweet than spicy.
Curries // Cheap and local ranges from 150 – 300 Rs. Going to a place with a better ambient ranges from 500 - 700 Rs which is fine too, but more expensive than that I usually avoided because it was a tourist trap and you are literally paying 10 times the normal price for a curry.
Kottu and Roti // 150 - 300 Rs
Fresh fish and seafood // 1000 – 2500 Rs
TRAVELLING AS A WOMEN, SOLO OR IN A GROUP
There were times I felt uncomfortable in my bikini so I would advise buying a sarong or getting a one piece. The further down the coast you went, the more people weren’t used to seeing a women in a bikini.
On one occasion on Madiha beach in Matara, a friendly local man came and sat down on my towel, right next to me. With broken English he smiled and seemed as though this was normal, I told him to move off my towel and said I was reading a book. He continued to stay before he asked if I had a husband and I said I did and that he was coming - he soon left.
If you are in this situation, don’t be afraid but also do not be rude. Instead of standing your ground, simply gather your things, say goodbye and leave the beach or move somewhere else to avoid a stressful and rather creepy situation.
Although there is a great surf culture and people are friendly, the men are not afraid to talk to you or be in your presence. Be mindful and alert when on trains and buses.
TRAVELLING THE COAST
From Colombo you have a choice to go inland first or the coast. It depends how you want to finish your trip and both ways are just as easy as the other.Sri Lanka has an amazing Surf culture and here are some of the places to visit.
The first stop for most after or before Colombo – a two hour train or bus ride. Hikkaduwa is great for divers as there are many places that offer for you to get certified. It is known to be a party town with great cafes, restaurants and bars. I stayed at City Hostel Hikkaduwa which I would recommend – very basic, cheap and a good location.
EAT: Get Fresh – Prawn and lemon curry, Salty Swamis – AWESOME for smoothie bowls, coffee and juices
Good for a day or two – nice cafes and beach. From chatting to other travellers, the favourite hostels were cycling hostel for its clean accommodation and delicious free breaky. Camp Kush was another favourite but set in a hippy environment where you camp in the jungle.
Stay: I stayed at the Jungle hostel which was near Jungle beach (away from town) and a short walk to the Japanese Peace Pagoda. Super basic but for $8 Aussie a night thats what you get.
Weligama is the surfing spot! I stayed five nights and surfed everyday and caught a 10 minute bus to nearby Mirissa for food and beers. Decide to stay between either Mirissa or Weligama as they are only 3kms apart and you will either venture in Weligama for the surf or Mirissa for the nice swimming beach and food.
Stay: My Hostels - I paid 1200 per night with a cooked breakfast and thought this was fine, there are hostels that are double the price that offer cool vibes maaaaan, but pfft. No point!
Board hire: 300 per hour or 900 for the day. Stay away from where everyone hires boards and veer left to avoid collisions with learners. Go at 6:30am for less people.
EAT: Chef Akila - Pre booking required, gets super busy for sunset as the view is amazing, Shady Lane - BEST smoothie bowls, No1 Dewani place - Cheap and delicious kottu and rotti.
More local and quiet area, everyone loves waving and saying hello. Do not stay in Matara as it is very crowded and busy with not much to do. I stayed at the Drs House, which was the main reason for going to this beach, very awesome vibes and is the meeting spot for drinks. But apart from the turtles at Polhena, there is not much to do. Majority of the restaurants in this area are owned my hotels so food is expensive. I would do two nights maximum.
Matara was my last beach stop but I was recommended the following beaches to explore: Dalawella, Tangalle, Hirikatiya (I heard stay at the somestay Rosis).
Get ready for your breath to be taken away, you have never seen this colour green before. The views are incredible and you have so many adventures to choose from that includes safari, hikes and trekking. Unfortunately I only explored this area for five days but I do recommend a week to see everything.
Safari - National parks
There are many national parks to choose from but the most popular for Elephants was Udawalawe. Others offer leopards however there might not be a guarantee. We paid 4750 Rs but it is usually 5500 Rs, do not pay anymore than that. We also saw monkeys, birds, crocodiles and other lizards. It is pretty amazing because the elephants walk right next to the cars.
I loved this town! Surrounded by big mountains, waterfalls and tea plantations. Hike one mountain per day, Ella rocks (two hours up, two hours down) and Little Adams Peak (one hour up). For Ella Rock please research how to get there before as locals will try and guide you off the track as it is difficult to find a normal way up. We accidentally went through someones garden and paid him to help us find our way out.
EAT: Ella Rocks - A little cafe on the corner down the road from the train station - get the vegetarian curry, the cheapest and most delicious place, Chill cafe - Expensive and okay food, more modern and American. Matey Hut - I didn't eat there but I did their cooking class which was the BEST, most DELICIOUS curry I have had in Sri Lanka - really good to know how the food is made too! (cooking class 2000 Rs).
Ella to Kandy Train
A very slow train, seven hours for 130kms but so worth it. 2nd class tickets where booked out so I had reserved seating for 3rd class which was exactly the same in my opinion. Its so relaxing to sit with your feet hanging outside the train, watching the farmers work and women in the fields wave as you pass by. Would highly recommend it. Make sure you book the ticket at least the day before, no need to do it online.
Sri Lanka is a really incredible country and I would highly recommend going for a relaxing trip with some adventure, make sure you don't come for the party. It has beaches, wildlife, hiking, heritage sites and a good culture. Happy Travels!