Thursday, 14 September 2017

Our Sri Lanka top tips and some practicalities

We spent 10 days in Sri Lanka in late June/ early July 2017, visiting the 'cultural triangle', the east coast and the hill country.


Tea pickers in the hill country

We really enjoyed our trip and wanted to share some of the things we learnt about the practicalities of travelling around the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean'. Obviously, after a 10 day trip, we are far from being experts on the country, but the information below is a combination of our own experience, what others told us and what we learnt through our research. 

As ever, do feel free to add any corrections or additions in the comments below.


1) Getting around
We usually try and use local transport to get about, but because we had so little time in Sri Lanka, we ended up mostly using a taxi to get from place to place. 

We were arriving from India (so, short flight) and with just a 10 day trip, I didn't want to hang around in the capital. And there just didn't seem to be an easy way of getting straight from the airport (which is an hour out of Colombo) to where we wanted to go. So I emailed our hotel and asked them for advice.

They offered us a transfer from the airport for 90US$. For a 4 hour trip, this didn't seem too bad and it would mean we could start our visit properly straightaway. I had intended to look at buses for the next bits of our trip, but discovered the website Sri Lanka Car and Driver Hire. It allows you to put out a post saying where you want to go and taxi companies give you a quote. The website also allows you to advertise for car shares, if you want to split the costs with other travellers.


With our driver Maisan
We went from Habarana to Arugam Bay for 90US$ with Kosala of Taxi Habarana in his small, but therefore fuel efficient, Tata Nano car. From Arugam Bay, Maisan took us to Ella for around 50US$. It did make our trip easier and gave us more time at each of our stops.


To get from Ella back to Colombo, we took the 9 hour train journey along one of the most beautiful train routes in the world. Nine hours seems like a long time, but the first 6 just flew by as we snapped away at the beautiful hills, tea plantations and forests that the train took us through. Lots of visitors to Sri Lanka get themselves a driver for the whole time, but the way we did it felt more flexible, we didn't need to pay anyone while we were stopped in Habarana for 4 night and meant we could jump on public transport f we'd wanted to.

Once in a place, we got tuk-tuks to get around.




As we didn't get any buses, I don't have any personal experience of what they are like. However, from my research and talking to other people, they are very cheap, but notoriously packed, on the warm side and slow. Bus routes are also much more set up for locals than travellers and so they don't always go to the places you'd want to go to, at least not directly, i.e. you are likely to have to change buses, which is part of the reason why they take so long.





2) Accommodation
When we travel, to find places to stay we usually use HostelWorld and Air BnB, mixed with finding reviews on TripAdvisor and blogs to then book directly. HostelWorld worked particularly well in South America. We've also used booking.com once or twice, but in Sri Lanka, it was the only site that seemed to have any selection of hotels or hostels on it. 

If you have some time and don't mind shopping around a bit, this is worth doing when you arrive in a town. The prices on booking.com are higher than you'd get if you just turned up. 

Of the places we visited, I'd most recommend this for Arugam Bay as its easy to walk along the one main street where every other building is a hotel. In the other main places we stayed - Habarana and Ella - the hotels were much more spread out, making this more tricky.

I have already blogged about each of the places we stayed in Sri Lanka. But I'll repeat it again here - if you are going to the cultural triangle, stay at Mutu Village! 


Tasty breakfast alfresco at Mutu Village
3) Visas
You can get a visa on arrival in Sri Lanka, but its really easy and recommended to get on online in advance. 

After filling out all the information online, our visa approval arrived within a day. It costs 35US$ and lasts for 30 days. You don't need a passport photo.

If you want to extend your visa, this post by Where in the World is Nico? is a handy guide on what to do.

4) Where to go and the monsoon season
There are two monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka. From May to July, its the south-west monsoon and so the weather is best in the north and the east. October to January birngs the north-east monsoon and so the weather is better in the south and the west. 

We were there at the end of June/early July and so for a bit of beach time, we headed to the east coast and Arugam Bay. There had been reports of quite serious flooding in the south before we arrived in Sri Lanka, so we were determined to avoid that part of the country. That said, while the seas are much rougher along the south coast at the time of the year, and out of season fewer hotels and restaurants will be open, we did hear from other travellers that it wasn't constantly raining in that part of the country. 




One of the best times of year for all round the country travel is reported to be January to March, as there's little rain anywhere. However, the great thing about Sri Lanka is that there's stuff to see and do (and visitable beaches) all year round in Sri Lanka. This website gives a good overview of what you might expect across the year. 

5) Where to go and what to see
There is a lot of different stuff to see in Sri Lanka - ancient cities and ruins, tonnes of wildlife, beaches, tea plantations, beautiful hill country and impressive religious buildings.

Work out when you are going (see above for a guide on what impact this might have) and what you really want to see and do.


Sigiriya

Our route saw us going straight from the airport to Habarana in the cultural triangle. We arrived late afternoon and had a walk round the town before returning to our homestay for dinner. We based ourselves in Habarana for 4 nights, visiting Sigiriya, the Dambulla Cave Temples, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa and Minneriya National Park


Polonnaruwa

From Habarana, we went onto Arugam Bay for a day and a half of beach time. Then we went to Ella, where we stayed 3 nights. Then we had our final night in Colombo.  


Ella Rock

The stuff we missed included Galle and the beautiful beaches of the south coast, but it was the wrong time of year for that. We'd also like to go back and visit Yala to try and see a tiger. - we just couldn't fit it in this time.  I am also intrigued by the far north of the country, but not quite sure what there is to see and do when you get there. 

I remain a tiny bit baffled at the attraction of Kandy. There wasn't much in the guide book that made me feel like it worth a visit. And the travellers we met when in Sri Lanka did not rave about it. Yet, it seems to be part of most people's itineraries. Am I missing something?

6) Socks!
Yes socks! When going into temples and holy areas in Sri Lanka, you are expected to take your shoes off. 

On our day out in Polonnaruwa, I at first felt that I hadn't dressed properly when I saw people slipping in and out of their flip-flops to walk around the old temples. I was wearing socks and trainers, but soon realised that this was actually a good idea. The stone of the ruined temples was absolutely baking in the sun and my socks helped make my wander round that little bit more comfortable. 

Have your been to Sri Lanka? What was your experience? Maybe you found the bus journeys part of the experience? Did you visit the south coast during its monsoon season? Or the east during its monsoon? Or you loved Kandy? Let us know!

Related posts
Where we stayed - Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle: Part 1 - A rock and some caves
Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle: Part 2 - An Ancient City
Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle: Part 3 - A massage and a herd of elephants
Sri Lankan beach time - Arugam Bay
What to do in Ella

Two Traveling Texans

9 comments:

  1. Great tips, especially about the socks! There are often so many small things like that that you wouldn't even think about before getting there and experience it for yourself!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Bryna. Hope you get to go to Sri Lanka - its a beautiful country

      Delete
  2. Great tips for traveling to Sri Lanka! I hope to make it there one day! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!
    (www.caliglobetrotter.com)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do put it on your list! Definitely worth a visit.

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    2. Hello,
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  3. I have been to Sri Lanka twice - absolutely loved the country and wouldn't mind returning again. I visited Colombo, Kandy, Dambulla Caves, Polonnaruwa and Galle. But my visit to Galle was quite short, so if I was to plan the 3rd trip to SL, I would spend more time in Galle, the beaches in the south, and take that train trip! :-) #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  4. Sri Lanka is on my list. I really want to visit some of the beaches there as I have heard lots of good things. These are great tips! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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    Replies
    1. Hello,
      Visit Sri Lanka Wonder of Asia! Travel Agency – Ceylon Elite Tours We are Totally Dedicated to Provide a Comfortable Transport Service for Valuable Guests Who come from Abroad from the time they Arrive at the Airport, Enjoy amazing holidays With Ceylon Elite Tours. Recommended by a number of travelers from around the world, we can offer you the most specific travel experience since we understand the subtle details of every traveler and deliver the best service accordingly. Contact us and let us design the best tour package for you.

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  5. Hello,
    Visit Sri Lanka Wonder of Asia! Travel Agency – Ceylon Elite Tours We are Totally Dedicated to Provide a Comfortable Transport Service for Valuable Guests Who come from Abroad from the time they Arrive at the Airport, Enjoy amazing holidays With Ceylon Elite Tours. Recommended by a number of travelers from around the world, we can offer you the most specific travel experience since we understand the subtle details of every traveler and deliver the best service accordingly. Contact us and let us design the best tour package for you.

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