Sri Lanka

Traveling to Sri Lanka: what to know and how to prepare

The endless beaches, the foamy waves, the salty breath of the ocean is like a warm bath. We feel the heat of the sun while lying under the palm trees. Surfers are chasing the waves one after another, street dogs are looking for shelter under the sunbeds, as well as food and little bit of love. The variety of the nature has surprised us. The green mountains, waterfalls, tea plantations, narrow meandering roads and animals of the inland create a whole new perspective on the island. The traffic is madness, horns are honking and cows are walking along the road. When sitting at the back of tuk-tuk while driving along the road the wind catches your hair. The locals greet us, children wave their hands and you can hear a song echoing from the temples.

Dalawella beach, Sri Lanka

As a group of friends, we’ve been dreaming to travel together somewhere to Asia for years now and finally it happened. Our first choice was Bali but as it’s rainy season in March we started searching for alternatives. We were thinking the paradise islands Maldives or Seychelles, but we agreed wanting to do more during our 2-week vacay than just chill at the beach. At the end we decided to book a trip to Sri Lanka which appeared to be a perfect choice! Sri Lanka is a rising destination and listed as number one country to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet.

Sunset at Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka

It is a good idea to pay attention to some practical things before you go on a trip. When traveling to Sri Lanka, the passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip and the ETA visa application must be made in advance. You can do the ETA application online and the approval will be sent to your e-mail. ETA costs 40€ and is valid 30 days after arriving to Sri Lanka.

It is good to check your vaccines before you go. You can find all the info you need from your doctor or from Internet. Besides your basic vaccines you are recommended to be vaccinated against hepatitis and influenza. If you are going to stay in rural areas/jungle more than 2 weeks you are also recommended to be vaccinated against typhoid fever and Japanese encephalitis. We had all our basic vaccines already updated but some of us had to get vaccinated against hepatitis and typhoid fever. Mosquitos transmit many diseases in Sri Lanka so it’s important to take good mosquito repellent and long-sleeved clothes with you.

Currency used in Sri Lanka is Sri Lankan rupee (LKR), and 200 rs. equals around 1€. When arriving to Sri Lanka you cannot have with you more than 20 000 rs. (~100€). So to get more cash you can either bring euros or dollars with you and exchange them in Sri Lanka or the easiest option is to withdraw the local currency from ATMs. Only problem we faced regarding to money was that we got big bills and many places didn’t have exchange money to give back. Especially when paying for tuk-tuk you should have small bills and pay the exact amount to the driver. If you want to be connected throughout your travel and not being dependent on free Wi-Fi (which usually didn’t work even at your hotel) we recommend buying a local SIM card. We bought Dialog SIM card from the airport which included some minutes for calls, some text messages and 8GB Internet (4GB day time and 4GB night time) for 1300 rs. (~6,5€). A reload to get 14GB more Internet cost less than 1000 rs. (~5€).

Coconut Tree Hill in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Jenna and the boys had a night flight from Helsinki to Colombo via London. The idea of first flying backwards couple of hours and after that long flight from London to Colombo didn’t sound the best one at the beginning, but actually being able to have a good night sleep at the plane was perfect. The first flight was with British Airways and the second with Sri Lankan Airways. In total the travel time was 17 hours and our return to home was with same airlines and routes. The tickets cost 500€/person including 30 kg of checked baggage. Sri Lankan Airways was a great airline, all the flights were on time, service was friendly, warm dishes were served twice per flight with drinks, the plane was spacious, and everyone had a screen attached to the seat in front of them to watch movies or play games. Also, the checked baggage found their way to us on time. We booked a ride from the airport to our hotel in advance and our driver was waiting us at the airport on our arrival. The drive from Colombo airport to Hikkaduwa took us around 2 hours and cost 10 000 rs. (~50€).

Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka

The other part of the group, Sanna and Adrián, had their flight with Qatar Airways from Madrid to Colombo via Doha. The flight took off at 10 p.m. and arrived in Colombo the next day in the afternoon. The Qatar Airways tickets weren’t the cheapest option, 630€/person (30kg checked baggage included) but guaranteed some peace of mind for doing a trip so big for the first time. The service on board was impeccable, food delicious, entertaining system versatile, transfer in Doha super easy and everything on schedule. We were a little worried about our checked baggage making it on time as the stop in Doha was less than 2 hours, but no problems occurred. Only thing Sanna had in her mind was the delicious food and when she could get some more of it.

After arriving to Colombo, we exchanged some money at the airport, bought a local SIM card and started looking for a ride to Hikkaduwa. We could have taken the train (cheapest option) but would have arrived after midnight. Instead we met 2 Swedish guys at the airport who were heading to the same direction and we decided to share a van with them, the negotiated price ended up being 9000 rs. (~45€). The Colombo area was under a lot of traffic at the evening and our trip to Hikkaduwa took 3 hours. Our new Swedish friends were more than prepared for a long drive and they opened a bottle of rum, which ended up being almost empty at the end of the drive. Finally, when getting to the hotel where the Finnish branch was already waiting for us, the reunion was cheerful, and we decided to go out and celebrate.

Sunrise on top of the Little Adam’s Peak

The itinerary:

  • Hikkaduwa 4 nights
  • Mirissa 3 nights
  • Tissamaharama 1 night
  • Ella 3 nights
  • Kandy 3 nights
  • Negombo 2 nights

We ended up with this travel plan after reading several blogs in advance and trying to consider all the wishes of every travel companion. We booked all our accommodations before the trip and Safari in Yala National Park, but otherwise the plans were made along the travel. Our accommodations varied a lot from guest houses to five-star luxury hotels and the total accommodation cost for 2 weeks was around 400€ / person. Minimum requirements for each accommodation were air conditioning, swimming pool and breakfast.

Fishermen at Dalawella beach, Sri Lanka

We did short trips from place to another with tuk-tuks and longer trips with van where all 5 of us could fit perfectly with all the luggage. Tuk-tuk trips generally cost around 300 rs. (~ 1.5 €) depending on the length of the trip. As a rule, it is good to try to get a little off from the price suggested by the driver and if you are not satisfied with the price, the best way is to say no thank you and go to the next tuk-tuk (because there are many of them just waiting for you), works every time. One tuk-tuk can take up to 3 people but we were told it’s not that strict at night time and once we were 6 people plus the driver in a small tuk-tuk.

The van and the driver usually cost around 10,000 rs. (~ 50 €) regardless of the trip or travel time for one day. The price is good to be negotiated with the driver in advance and be sure to go through what is included in the price. Before the trip, we read a lot of comments about scams, but we did not come across any. However, drivers may suggest visiting places which differ slightly from the route agreed earlier, and if you are interested you should ask if there is an extra cost to avoid misunderstandings later. Drivers may also ask for a partial payment in advance, but we never agreed to the payment until after the trip. At its best, drivers are excellent local guides who share tips and help you with a smiling face.

It is also possible to rent a scooter or a tuk-tuk, but as the traffic is quite impossible, we decided not the take that opportunity. We often covered our eyes while sitting at the back of the van or tuk-tuk as it was pretty scary. In Sri Lanka they drive on the left side like in UK and the roads were narrow, only one lane for one direction, and the same lane was used by buses, trucks, cars, tuk-tuks, mopeds, bikes, pedestrians, cows and dogs, you can only imagine. Train is a cheap option to move around from one place to another and the timetables are easily available online, the different thing is if the trains will be on time.

Train ride from Ella to Kandy / Tuk tuk in Galle

The nature on the island is very varied. The coastline around the island is like a never-ending beach and there is coral reef near the beaches in many places, although they are still recovering from the 2004 tsunami. The vegetation is dense as well as green and different comparing the coast and the inland. The island is a great place to spot several species of animals like elephants, bats, turtles, whales, dolphins, crocodiles, leopards and monkeys.  As you go inland, the landscape suddenly turns mountainous, and the green hills charm you with their tea plantations and slightly fresher temperatures. The sunrise was at 6 a.m. and sunset about 12 hours later at 6 p.m.

Monkeys in Ella

Sri Lankan people are really friendly, happy and chatty people. The island is big and has 22 million inhabitants, but it still felt like everyone knew each other. Every time seeing the locals, they warmly greeted us, smile was answered with even a bigger smile and especially the children were interested in us. Whenever there was a school bus passing us, the bus windows were full of happy faces, you could hear screams of joy and dozens of hands waving at us.

Green market in Galle, Sri Lanka

The most popular food in Sri Lanka is curry with rice. It is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it is eaten by hand. Another traditional food is roti, which is bread made from wheat flour and coconut and served with various fillings / side dishes. Other traditional dishes are kottu, which is cooked with vegetables and meat / seafood on the grill, and devilled foods that were spicy meat-and-vegetable sauces and served with rice. Exotic fruits and freshly squeezed juices are also popular. Coconut is much used in cooking and the taste of local fresh vegetables and fruits is just pure joy. Food is often quite spicy and sometimes it was eaten with tears and sometimes we asked even more chili.

Hygiene in Sri Lanka is slightly better than in other South / Southeast Asian countries, and the tap water is basically clean even though it is not recommended for drinking (drink bottled water). We survived the trip without any big stomach problems without using any disinfectants and we literally ate everything. However, it is recommended wash your hands well especially before eating. In general, the cost of food was 300-500 rs. (~ 2 €) for meal and a drink about 200 rs. (~ 1€). In Sri Lanka the use of alcohol is not common, and it is not sold in grocery stores or even in many restaurants. Like Finland, Sri Lanka has a “wine shop” where you can buy beer, wine and stronger alcohols. Beer in the restaurant cost about 400 rs. (~ 2 €), wine is expensive because it’s imported from elsewhere, wine glass in restaurant cost about 800 rs. (~ 4€).

Sunset at Dalawella beach, Sri Lanka

Our trip to Sri Lanka was an amazing adventure and we can warmly recommend this destination to anyone who is looking for a bit different, not that touristic experience. We are going to write more blog posts about each place we stayed in, so if you are interested in hearing more stories from magical Sri Lanka, stay tuned! For more info we also recommend to check out Instagram account where we posted daily journal from our trip.

With love Sanna & Jenna

2 Comments

  • Likes Depot

    Anyone who has done some research should already know that you can’t drink the tap water in Sri Lanka — though ice from hotels and tourist bars is usually fine. Instead, grab bottle after bottle of the country’s reverse osmosis water, but make sure to check the expiration date before you pop the cap. Also note that, depending on how sensitive your tummy is, you may or may not want to settle for a salad since the greens could have been rinsed in tap water.

    • From Lapland To South

      Thank you for your comment! Yes as we said the tap water in Sri Lanka is NOT recommended for drinking so you should drink bottled water instead. And yes it’s good to check the expiration date and also the seal should not be broken. What we are saying is that in general the hygiene level in Sri Lanka is better than in other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia or Thailand to compare with but not even comparable to Europe for example. It is also true that every one has a different body, so of course if you already know your tummy is sensitive you probably are more cautious of what you put in your mouth. Every one makes their own choices and we decided not to be too strict with the food, this time it turn out good 🙂

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