Published by Gail Leach at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Gail Leach
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Sri Lanka is a small country and at first glance it looks like it will be easy to plan your tour of Sri Lanka –Right? You are so wrong!
Bad infrastructure, cows, tuk-tuks, crazy elephants, slow moving tractors and high volumes of traffic on single track roads all add up to long and tiring Sri Lanka Tours.
With this guide you will be able to quickly discover how to make the most of your backpacking travel experience in Sri Lanka. Learn about the train routes, how to book a seat, which trains to book and which trains to avoid at all costs. Discover what types of buses are used, which ones are luxury and safe to travel in and which ones to avoid if you don’t want your valuable possessions stolen.
We give you the full picture, not the fairy story so that you can avoid the scams and stay safe throughout your Sri Lanka tour.
This is an essential guide for INDEPENDENT adventure travellers who want to successfully organise their own Tour of Sri Lanka. We give you the luxury travel options as well as bargain Lanka travel choices. The guide includes the pros and cons of each transport option and comes with an essential train map, timetables and major bus routes.
Sri Lanka has many attractions to see, but unless you have 3 plus weeks for a tour of Sri Lanka or you decide to do part of your Lanka travel by plane or helicopter, you will not be able to see them all. Using this guide will help you get the most out of your tour of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a tropical country close to the equator, so it is hot and sunny all year round. The sun rises around 6am and sets around 6.20pm. There are no hot summer or cold winter seasons as the temperature remains fairly constant throughout the year ranging between 26°-35°C. The northern tip of the country around the cities of Jaffna and Trincomalee normally has consistently higher temperatures all year round. There are however, monsoon seasons.
Monsoon seasons bring rain and tropical storms, luckily, it rarely rains all day. Morning rain is followed by afternoon sunshine, afternoon rain brings cooler evenings. It remains warm throughout the monsoon season and it’s still possible to get a tan if you want to head off to one of the beach resorts. However, the worst monsoon is the Second Inter-monsoon which occurs in October & November, this is when the cyclone like storms come in off the Bay of Bengal. The monsoon rains will affect your tour of Sri Lanka as the sudden deluge of rain often leads to flooding and a standstill in traffic, trains are disrupted and many private air conditioned buses stop running altogether, making Sri Lanka travel impossible. If you are backpacking Sri Lanka by public transport this could mean that you are left stranded. In heavy rain there is no alternative transport – no tuk-tuks, no taxis, nothing. If you get caught in monsoon rains at night the best thing is to find a hotel and start your tour again in the morning.
First Inter-monsoon season – March – April
Southwest monsoon season – May – September
Second Inter-monsoon season – October – November
Northeast Monsoon season – December – February
First Inter-monsoon –March-April
Expect hot humid conditions with thunderstorms in the afternoon. High rainfall can be found in the south along the south west coast affecting beach resorts like Mirissa, Unawatunna, Welligama, Galle, Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Mount Lavinia, Colombo and Negombo. The Hill country receives the most rain so it is definitely not the best time to tour the Sri Lanka Hill country around the areas of Adams Peak. The mountain roads are slow moving single track roads which can be very difficult to navigate during heavy rains.
Map showing rainfall in the Central Highlands
During the South-West monsoon you can expect a lot more wind. If you are backpacking Sri Lanka this is actually quite nice as it cools the temperature a little and makes it more comfortable to travel Lanka. It’s also great if you are doing a Sri Lanka tour by car or tuk-tuk as it helps to keep the car cooler. It rarely rains all day but it can rain for a morning/afternoon or evening. You can still tour Sri Lanka during the south west monsoon.
A lot of people advise not to travel to Sri Lanka during the monsoon as it is “not the season”. This is nonsense! The greatest impact of the monsoon is not on backpackers or adventure travellers of Sri Lanka, it is on the fishermen and those offering diving/boating/sea sports. The monsoon weather brings with it very strong currents making it very dangerous to swim in the sea or take boats out on the south/ west coast. Even on calm days there may still be a lot of sand being shifted, this means little or no visibility for divers or on the glass bottomed boat tour in Hikkaduwa, making them a complete waste of money.
Map showing high rainfall in the South
A tour of Sri Lanka during these months can be more challenging particularly if you are backpacking Sri Lanka on public transport. During this monsoon the rain falls across all of the country, it’s normally the tropical thunderstorm rain which can be heavy and it makes travel around Sri Lanka difficult. It often results in widespread flooding and can result in landslides in the hill country. Expect delays to your Sri Lanka tour itinerary and be prepared to find last minute accommodation if you are backpacking by bus and train, as cancellations are likely. During this month there can be cyclone like weather and storms that come in from the Bay of Bengal, lightening strikes often result in power loss and sea sports are a NO GO. You can still tan at the beach resorts! Rain rarely lasts the whole day and most storms take place early evening.
Cyclone weather in October & November
This is the best monsoon period as cool winds blow in from the Indian land mass, they are dry and cold and bring with them clear skies and cooler mornings. During this time the Knuckles/Rangala mountains in the hill country receive the most rain. This area is very popular with the more adventurous tourists backpacking Sri Lanka who enjoy trekking/hiking/activity holidays. A tour of Sri Lanka at this time can be very pleasant as you get the best of the weather to travel Lanka.
Best weather during December-February
You can see from the rainfall charts that the north west/north east and east coasts have the least amount of rainfall throughout the year. If it’s sun sand and beach resorts you want then it makes sense to pick a destination like Trincomalee, Passekudah, and Arugum Bay. Passekudah is a developing destination with nothing in the way of bars and restaurants so you may end up spending all your time at the hotel so choose wisely. If you are a surfer then head to Arugum Bay from April to the end of September.
Due to cyclone type weather in October/November, it is best to check the long-term weather forecasts before booking a tour of Sri Lanka or planning a backpacking adventure especially on the east coast. During this time the sea is likely to be too rough for any sea based activities and there are also stronger winds and heavier rainstorms during the months of October/November.
Most Guide books will advise that you go to the south and west coast – Mirissa, Unawatunna, Welligama, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Bentota, Mount Lavinia, Colombo, Negombo from mid November to March and to the north and east coast Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Arugum Bay from March to October, however, this has more to do with the sea tides than the actual weather. If you are not into seawater sports /fishing/boating/diving/snorkeling then there is no need to follow this advice. However, it’s best to try and avoid the cyclone season (October & November) as travel across country becomes very difficult.
The monsoon seasons were once relatively easy to predict but that has since changed due to the warming of the Pacific ocean called the El Nino effect. Since 2010 Sri Lanka has seen 5 major floods and 4 droughts due to a change in the climate, so whilst weather is guaranteed to be hot, the monsoon rainfall cannot be accurately predicted. In 2015 Sri Lanka was hit by the El Nino climate effect resulting in high temperatures and flash floods across the country severely affecting Lanka travel.
Tour the East coast from April to October
Tour the West coast from late November to April
Any one wishing to enter and tour Sri Lanka will need to have;
• A valid Passport.
• A Visa.
• Return air flight ticket.
• Details of a hotel/guest house where they will stay.
• You will also need to complete a Landing card on arrival.
Visa’s can be obtained online or on arrival and are normally valid for 28days.
It’s very easy to apply for a visa to backpack Sri Lanka, if you are backpacking or planning an independent tour of Sri Lanka you will need the address of a hotel/guest house to complete your visa application form and landing card. You can apply for a visit visa online by visiting the government website or you can apply on arrival.
Online approval can come through within 24 hours, however, depending on the volume of applications or whether it’s a holiday or such like it can also take up to 1 week for the visa to be approved, so make sure you leave plenty of time to organise it.
If you plan on obtaining a visa on arrival, it’s best to pay in USD for your visa as not all currencies are accepted. You will see a small visa kiosk in the arrival area, you must pay for your visa first at the kiosk and then go to immigration. There is an ATM in the airport if you need to withdraw local currency for the visa.
Landing cards. Some airlines give out the white landing cards before your arrival; if they don’t then you will find them in the immigration arrival hall on the writing desk areas to the right of passport control. Fill it in before going to the immigration.
Extending Your Visa . You can extend your visa for a further 2 months without too much difficulty, providing you have money and a flight ticket out. It’s a time consuming process and takes 3- 4hours on average.
Essential Requirements for Extending your Visa
If you want to extend your tour of Sri Lanka and need to extend your visa you will need to head to the passport office in the Department of Immigration and Emigration, 41 Ananda Rajakaruna Mw ,Punchi Boralla Colombo 10
Take with you –
• A blue or black ink pen,
• Passport size photos (get photos near to the immigration building there is one by the lifts and entrance to the visa section –this is the easiest and quickest one),
• Cash for payment of the visa.
• Something to read or keep you occupied whilst waiting.
• You will need to show you have cash or a credit/debit card for living expenses and an outward plane ticket.
Get there really early – 8.30am is perfect. This is a crazy busy building, foreigners need to go to the 3rd floor. There’s no obvious system but this is what you do. Either download the visa application form from the net or get one from the 3rd floor reception desk on the left as you walk in. At the reception you need to have your application marked with your time of arrival and a number, you will also be given a slip of paper with your number on it.
There is a large hall with seating outside of 3 office doors. Inside each office is an immigration officer. Pick anyone and sit outside. Some may push in front of you, try not to let this happen or you will be there all day. There are people who are given priority treatment either because they have paid a bribe or have employed an agency for priority service, they will always be dealt with before you.
Once you are inside the office with the immigration officers they will either approve or reject your application. If they approve they will keep your file, you then have to go outside and wait.
Payment: You will have to wait between 1- 2 hours for your number to be called again. When it is called go to the office windows at the front of the hall and collect your passport and paper. Take it to the payment counter at the rear of the hall, pay and then sit and wait for another hour or 2. Payment is CASH ONLY in Sri Lankan Rupees.
Once you have paid your passport will be retained and sent to be stamped, go and sit and wait again. Your number will be called again, finally you can go to the front office window and pick up your passport. Check it before you leave the building, if there is any error seek immediate assistance.
BUSINESS, RESIDENTIAL & WORK PERMITS are more complicated contact for assistance.
Sri Lanka is an island so unless you have a yacht/boat there’s only one way to travel to Lanka– Fly!
If you are thinking of sailing into Sri Lanka bear in mind that until the civil war ended strange boats/yachts were likely to be blown out of the water by the Navy. So be aware you may encounter a few obstacles sailing into Sri Lanka, as they are not yet geared up to expecting tourists by sea.
There are 2 main airports in Sri Lanka, Bandaranaike International which is just outside Colombo and Hambantota airport in the south of Sri Lanka. Bandanaranike is the better option to begin your adventure tour of Sri Lanka.
Bandaranaike is called Colombo airport it is in Katunayake, it is NOT in Colombo.
Hambantota airport was constructed after the end of the civil war with the idea of encouraging trade and tourism, however, it was extremely ill conceived and built slap bang in the middle of a bird migration path and elephant stomping ground. Net result some airlines refused to fly into the area due to the danger of birds flying into the aircraft engines and crashing. There is also the added problem that this area of the country had little in the way of infra structure. They now have a few good roads in the area which have also been fenced off from the Elephants, you may be able to get some cheap flights to this airport but just be aware it’s not a great starting point for your Lanka travels.
The national airline carrier is Sri Lankan air; they have direct flights to many countries including the UK. Direct flights are shown on the map below. Some of the top airline carriers fly into Sri Lanka such as Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airlines, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific etc. Sri Lankan airlines operate a code share with many other airlines, this means when you book with Sri Lankan air you may find yourself flying with another airline operating on the same route such as British Airways. What better way to start your tour of Sri Lanka than flying with a good airline.
DIRECT FLIGHT ROUTES BY SRI LANKAN AIR
Taking a tour of Sri Lanka by bus or train can be interesting, adventurous and low cost but it is also hot, humid and cramped. Many buses are driven dangerously and accidents are common. Packed trains and buses are also a haven for thieves looking to steal your stuff, so before you plan your backpacking tour, here are a few things to consider about transporting your luggage.
Space on buses is very limited both on government owned buses and the privately owned buses. On some of the private buses extra seats are added to maximize revenue, this effectively means that there is no space for any luggage especially not backpacks or cases. As a result you either have to pay for an extra seat or sit in extremely cramped conditions with the backpack on your lap.
The experience on trains is not much better. If you are booking first or second-class reserved seating then there may be a place in the aisle to keep your luggage, otherwise it’s going to be very uncomfortable tour of Sri Lanka.
If you are planning a Sri Lanka tour by car it’s best to Triple check what type of car you will be traveling in. Not all cars have good luggage space and booking a tour online does not guarantee you a decent car. So check and recheck, as the last thing you want is to be stuck in a small car completing your tour of Sri Lanka with your luggage on your lap.
Many of the local banks such as Commercial, HNB, accept foreign credit or debit cards. However, do be aware that they may charge a fee. There are only a few international banks such as HSBC & Standard Chartered that operate within the country. You will only find these banks in the bigger cities.
The larger shops in Colombo and the cities do accept debit cards. If you intend to pay by debit card in a restaurant /café/bar do check before ordering your goods as often the debit/credit card symbols on the doors/windows/counters are just for decoration!
Accepted by the bigger hotel chains, some city shops and more popular restaurants in Colombo. It’s unlikely you will be able to use them in the smaller towns and villages.
When Backpacking Sri Lanka don’t expect to be able to charge the cost of train/bus travel to your card. This is just not going to happen!
If you are doing a Sri Lanka tour by car/van again unless you have booked with a large travel company or pay online BEFORE you come, the chances are you will not be able to use your card!
MONEY CHANGE AT THE AIRPORT
There are at least 3 money change counters in the arrivals hall, they all give the same rate and charge the same commission.
When changing your money ask for smaller bills 100, 500, 1000lkr. It is difficult to change a 1000 rupee note and getting places to accept a 2000 or 5000 note can prove impossible.
When you leave Sri Lanka you can only change rupees at the airport if you have your original receipt.
MONEY CHANGE ON DEPARTURE
Changing money is easy but changing it back is DIFFICULT! If you have no receipt or have lost it head into Negombo and change your rupees there at one of the many shops or exchange centres.
There are many official and unofficial moneychangers across the country. Jewelry shops, clothes shops, tour shops, general traders etc. they will all change the major currencies. If you find your own money changer whilst backpacking Sri Lanka you may be able to negotiate a better rate. If your Sri Lanka tour is organized or you are travelling by tuk-tuk/van or taxi then you should know that your guide/driver will receive a commission from the exchange shops.
[* POYA DAY- Every Month *]
There is a Buddhist public holiday every month that is known as a Poya day or Full moon day. Poya days are fixed annually according to the moon cycle and so the dates vary every year but basically there is one every month. On these days, the early morning temple prayer broadcast will be exceptionally loud, the temples will be full and the popular beaches will be packed full of locals enjoying their day out. Many shops, bars and restaurants close for the day and everywhere is prohibited from selling alcohol and fresh meat products. In practice the supermarkets will not sell meat joints or mince but you can buy frozen ones or sliced meats and beef burgers, go figure! Finding a place to eat and drink can prove difficult on Poya day but depending on the size of the restaurant, their religion and the location you can still buy meat dishes on a Poya day.
MAHASIVARATHRI DAY 27 FEB . Hindu festival for Lord Shiva, date may vary. No major disruption to your Lanka travel itinerary.
NATIONAL DAY 4 February.
On this day Lanka celebrates it’s independence from the British. Most places shut down and there are no legal sales of alcohol. Colombo hosts the annual parade and sees a fine turn out of military and marching bands. Possible disruption to your tour of Sri Lanka is to be expected.
[* SINGHALESE NEW YEAR- 13 -14 April *]
The Sri Lankan New Year occurs on the 13-14th April.
It can be an interesting time to tour Sri Lanka. During this time most of the country shuts down and there is a great deal of noise and holiday traffic. You will see huge queues forming outside of shops and stalls as retailers give away free food samples. Beach resorts like Negombo beach park get swamped with locals who turn up in their 100’s, packed into the back of open trucks or hired buses. All of them singing and dancing and going crazy on the beach. The downside of this is it becomes impossible for foreigners to walk on the beach without getting hassled every 5 yards by people wanting money or photos, to talk with you or to sell you something.
The little parties continue into the early hours and there are a huge amount of fireworks that go off throughout the day. For some strange reason fireworks are mostly enjoyed during the day, they are unsupervised and can be let off anywhere.
Once the locals have departed, the beach is generally disgusting and is nothing but a rubbish dump with plastic bags, bottles and old food just discarded everywhere on the beach and floating in the sea.
Lanka travel is difficult, trains and buses are limited and those that run are normally crowded, there are also fewer tuk -tuks/taxis available to help you tour Sri Lanka.
Celebrating Sri Lankan Style
GOOD FRIDAY – MARCH/ APRIL. Dates vary. Christian holiday celebrating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Very little disruption to your Lanka travel.
[* MAY DAY- 1 MAY (Labour day) *]
May day is very much embraced by the Sri Lankans who take to the streets in there 100’s to protest over everything connected with work rights or lack of them. Expect delays to traffic in the bigger cities as protesters take to the streets to march and let off steam. This is one day when you want to allow plenty of time to get to your destination or you could find your tour of Sri Lanka getting seriously delayed. Travel through Colombo will be difficult.
ID UL ALHA (HADJ FESTIVAL DAY) SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER. 3-Day global Islamic festival, dates vary each year. Not much of a disruption to your tour of Sri Lanka.
DEEPAWALI OCTOBER/NOVEMBER. Hindu festival of light celebrated annually on variable dates during the month of October or November. Expect lots of lanterns especially in Colombo and a slight disruption to your Lanka travels.
*CHRISTMAS DAY 25*TH DECEMBER
As this is a Buddhist country, Christmas is not YET a big celebration in Sri Lanka. However, things are changing slowly and lots of the bigger hotels now enter into the spirit of Christmas. It is a public holiday so it does mean that many shops and restaurants do close. Expect very little disruption to your tour of Sri Lanka.
KANDY ESALA PERAHERA FESTIVAL
Perahera dates are variable from year to year as they are fixed according to moon cycles. Estimated for 2016 is an 8th August start.
Kandy Esala Perahera is a major festival that takes place annually in the city of Kandy, it’s a Buddhist festival that lasts for 10days and involves 100’s of elephants and entertainers. If you are planning to backpack around Kandy during the festival time or have to go through Kandy as part of your Sri Lanka tour you will need to plan carefully. During the festival Kandy becomes like a traffic no go zone and accommodation and transport get fully booked. During this time trains and buses are completely packed out. Tuk-tuk and taxis prices dramatically increase and the city gets super congested with traffic and people. Expect prices of hotels in Kandy and surrounding areas to skyrocket throughout the festival period. If you have to pass through Kandy during the festival be prepared for major disruptions to your tour itinerary.
From 4pm onwards streets in the centre of Kandy around the temple get closed off to traffic and diversions are set up ready for the parade, which starts just after sunset. Locals begin to camp out reserving their spot on the pavement ready for the parade from early morning.
The parade gets bigger with each passing night as more elephants and performers join the parade. Restaurants/shops rent out chair space and some offer toilet facilities, which is actually a good thing as otherwise you will be sitting /standing for 4/5hours with nowhere to pee, so getting a place with a toilet is a bonus.
The Bad thing about the parade – the so called dancing elephants aren’t actually dancing they are distressed elephants and despite the fact that young elephants are not supposed to be taken from the wild, you will see many young elephants in the parade, so it would seem elephants are still being poached from the wild!
Every night a parade of elephants, dancers, acrobats, musicians and fire-eaters follow a fixed route from the temple around the streets of Kandy. The lead Tusker carries on his back a casket that contains a symbolic representation of the Buddha’s tooth. The real tooth is locked away in side golden caskets in the Temple of the Tooth.
Below an ancient photo of Buddha’s Tooth
ESSENTIALS TO PUT IN YOUR BACKPACK
1. Mosquito repellent. Mosquitoes in Sri Lanka carry dengue fever, so a good mosquito repellent is essential. You can buy a good repellent called soffell (made in Singapore), which is available from all Sri Lankan pharmacies and is used by the locals on their children. It costs just 300lkr and unlike many commercial brands it actually is a pleasant smell. If you prefer the more natural repellents then try the local citronella oil. In September 2015, there was a very bad outbreak of Dengue fever on the south west coast around Galle due to the prolonged rainy weather, so it is really important to protect yourself. Dengue can kill – don’t ruin your tour of Sri Lanka, use repellent.
2. Light weight, light coloured clothing. Around the coastal areas Sri Lanka is hot and humid all year round and sweaters are unnecessary. Inland around Kandy and the tea plantations it is hot and humid during the day but drops in temperature at night to around 16 so you may need a sweater/wrap for the evening or early morning. If your tour of Sri Lanka involves trekking up Adams Peak you will definitely need some warm clothes for the summit and long trousers for the trek up to guard against leeches. If mosquitoes love your blood, choose light coloured clothing and stay away from blacks and dark colours as mosquitos love dark colours! If there are a lot of mosquitoes, especially the big variety do make sure you put repellent under your clothing as they can easily penetrate through many types of clothing
3. Clothing for Temples. Bare shoulders on women and shorts/clothing above the knee are frowned upon. For Men bare shoulders and football/sports shorts are frowned upon. Get yourself a pair of light weight baggy pants to slip on and a bedouin/indian wrap. It is perfectly acceptable to wear Sari’s even though they expose a woman’s back, chest and stomach, strange but true! I have yet to find anyone who can explain why shoulders and knees have to be covered.
4. Small torch. Street lighting is optional in Sri Lanka, many rural areas are without any lighting at all. This combined with broken pavements (where they have pavements) or uneven surfaces and holes in mud roads make it difficult for walking. If your tour of Sri Lanka involves a walk about then definitely take a torch as it gets dark from 6.30pm. It is worthwhile packing one as chances are you will need it, even if it’s just for finding your way around the guest house!
5. Footware. A good pair of fitflops/walking sandals is sufficient. Many backpackers come wearing their hiking boots, these are quickly discarded as they make your feet too hot and sweaty causing them to expand and become extremely uncomfortable. Unless you love your boots or are going jungle trekking hiking boots aren’t necessary for a tour of Sri Lanka.
6. Plasters/First Aid Kit. Pack medicated plasters of various sizes, particularly large ones. It is difficult to get plasters in Sri Lanka as most people use the gauze dressing and tape for complete coverage. For any open wound no matter how small cover it with a plaster to prevent flies or other insects laying eggs/infecting it! If you tour of Sri Lanka involves diving or snorkeling, it’s worth taking a small first aid kit just in case you get cut on the coral. The majority of tour boats/diving boats etc. do not have first aid supplies.
7. Rehydration Salts. It is so easy to become dehydrated when travelling in Sri Lanka, hot buses, trains, treks up Adams Peak. Sometimes water is not enough! Check your urine to monitor yourself and drink plenty. King coconut juice is also good and you can find them being sold everywhere on your Sri Lanka Tour.
8. Anti-fungal Cream. High humidity and the heat cause many people to suffer from sweat rashes particularly women. Rashes are likely to appear under the breast area, this results in smelly unpleasant red rashes. Some people recommend using talc or coconut oil but by far the best treatment is an anti fungal cream the sort used for athletes foot.
9. Essential Oil. High grade therapeutic Lavender/Tea Tree essential oil is great for treating painful mosquito, ant or sand flea bites, relieving swelling and itching, it’s also an antiseptic so it can be used to treat any cuts or open wounds from coral etc.
10. Sunscreen and Aftersun. Take your own as it is difficult to find supplies, especially if your tour of Sri Lanka takes you away from major beach resorts.
11. Travel adaptor. Sri Lanka uses a variety of sockets most common are the round 3 pins, however, others may also be used as nothing is standard. Some hotels do supply adapters but they can be bad quality and likely to blow up, so get a good one and save the trouble. If you are lucky you might get 3 types of sockets like the one in the photo.
12. Good bottle opener. Opening beers or drinks can be a hassle unless you want to use your teeth like the Sri Lankans do!
13. A Pair of Old Socks! If you are planning on visiting a few temples then a pair of old socks is a great idea. Entrance to the temples requires NO SHOES. If you don’t like going bare foot in the dirt or want to protect yourself from the scorching hot sand/stones wear a pair of old socks, these are allowed.
14. Tampons. Tampax/lilets etc. are virtually unheard of in Sri Lanka, it is also difficult to get sanitary towels. It’s best to take your own as there is no guarantee you will be able to find any on your tour of Sri Lanka.
15. A lighter. If you are planning on trekking through the rainforests or climbing Adam’s Peak – especially out of season take a lighter for the simple reason you will need something to kill the leeches. If you go through any wet jungle/rain forest area watch out for them, give up on looking cool, tuck your trousers into your socks and your t-shirt into your trousers. If you do get bitten then remove by fire, soap, deet, alcohol, salt or lime juice. If they get inside your nose or vagina get to a hospital right away, most doctors surgeries are fairly basic and wont have any equipment to help you. You can try a salt water douche to try and help as you make your way to the hospital.
16. GPS App. If you plan on doing any part of your journey by tuk-tuk or taxi then a good GPS App can be extremely helpful especially when it comes to negotiating fares. Just show point and go. There are a huge number of drivers who have no clue where they are going so being able to give directions is a real help.
17. Backpack Covers. If you are planning on travelling on normal non airconditioned buses then a back pack cover will help keep out unwanted theiving hands, also good for keeping the rain out during monsoon seasonJ
There is one more thing to take with you – A sense of humour. You will need it! If you are feeling unhappy just take a look around at the various signs etc. Sri Lankans love their English and are not really bothered about the spelling. You will notice that there is more than one spelling version of the city and town names, however, to add to the confusion there are also many towns with similar sounding names, so writing the address down doesn’t always help!
Buy smart and you could bag a bargain on your Lanka Travels. Don’t expect to find lots of fancy designer shops or huge shopping malls with all the big labels and the latest gadgets on display. Do expect to see lots of gem/jewellery shops, kitsch artwork, retro leather bags, teas, spices, ayurvedic products, lots of crappy clothes shops. You will find many market stalls selling fruit/veg/fish and cheap plastic rubbish imported from China. The best items to buy are tea, spices and ayurvedic products (many ayurvedic products are sold directly from spice gardens).
Sri Lanka mines many semi precious gems and the precious stones of Red/Pink Rubies, Blue/Yellow Sapphires and star sapphires. Most of the gems come from Ratnapura, an unremarkable town in the centre of Lanka towards the south of the country. In Ratnapura it’s possible to buy gems from street traders.
Precious gems are quite expensive so be careful about the price and the quality, Unless you are an expert it’s very difficult to detect a good gem from a bad, small flaws inside the gem really do bring down the price and some scam jewellers are happy to sell you the fake instead of the real. Many popular gem shops give huge commissions to tuk-tuk drivers/tour guides/taxi drivers who bring in clients, some as much as [* 50% of the sale value *], so don’t be afraid to bargain hard if you like what you see. If you want to buy gems and aren’t sure whether you are paying too much or not, just leave it and buy at the duty free in the airport. The prices are good at the airport as they don’t have to pay commissions.
If you are interested in gems but don’t want to go to Ratnapura then include the Kandy Gem museums in your tour of Sri Lanka, they are not genuine museums as such, more like an exhibition and display of jewellery, some are interesting and include exhibits that look like working mines, others are just rubbish.
Sri Lanka grows some of the finest tea in the world, green tea, slimming tea, breakfast tea, black tea and the more exotic blends like orange pekoe and silver tip. The tea produced is exceptionally good quality and full of flavor. Including a working tea factory in your Sri Lanka tour is really worthwhile especially the older factories such as that just outside Kandy on the Colombo -Kandy road, the factory is also a shop and tea room where you can also taste teas and buy at a good price. If you head off to the Central Highlands you can experience the peace and tranquility of the tea plantations, visit one of the many tea factories such as that of the Mackwoods Tea factory and museum where you can enjoy tea and cakes in beautiful surroundings.
Curry powders, chilli, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, lemon grass, pepper, turmeric, and many others are all grown in Sri Lanka mostly in the hill country around Nuwara Eliya. The spice gardens are well worth a visit and are a good option to add to your tour itinerary as the spices are definitely worth buying. Spices are also readily available at very good prices in the supermarkets, check Arpico, Keels and Cargills. There are plenty of spice gardens in and around Kandy, just off the Colombo-Kandy road, next to the elephant orphanage as well as in Ella. It’s worth adding them to your tour of Sri Lanka as they can be very interesting, many give you a free massage, and a demonstration of their products.
Try the herbal hair removing cream or try a taste of special spice tea.
Retro leather bags, backpacks and travel bags are actually very well made and good value for money, if you like classic retro styles then definitely bag a bargain. Other leather goods include bohemian leather chairs and puffs. Sri Lanka is now developing more sophisticated leather travel bags, they look and feel good and have a hefty price tag around 18000lkr. Add Crescat Boulevard Colombo to your Lanka travel itinerary to check them out and pick up some teas and spa products at the same time.
Elephants and demon masks are the biggest items of woodwork produced, you can find them everywhere on your Lanka travels. If you see something you like, barter for a price you are happy with. There is a rising trend to have bespoke furniture made and shipped abroad, it’s not cheap and if you go down this route be sure to check out the quality of the work thoroughly before buying and also check that the price includes all export permits. All wooden furniture requires a permit to be exported to certify it has not been made from illegally cut trees.
ANTIQUE MAHA KOLA DEMON MASK
Sri Lanka is a country with its roots deeply embedded in superstition, as a result Sri Lankans love their Demon Masks.
You can find masks almost everywhere on your tour of Sri Lanka, they were originally associated with demons believed to be living in trees.The masks fall into four basic categories, demons, animals, humans and mythological creatures, each group of masks has a particular function and is used in various ceremonies to invoke spirits/demons and connect with the afterlife. They are used for a number of purposes connected with all life aspects such as initiation, rites of passage, fertility, secret societies, warfare, money, curative and for exorcism.
Sri Lankan’s love drama and they love theatre, exorcism involves both of these elements. Exorcisms known as Thovil involve actors, ceremonial dance, ritual music and of course the exorcist who performs the exorcism wearing the Maha Kola mask. Maha Kola is the overlord of 18 demons, each represented on the mask. Each of the lesser demons represents a disease or ailment that has been inflicted on the patient, the overlord is used to rid the individual of the disease/demon which is done through dance music and chanting in a very theatrical style. The exorcist will be accompanied by other mask wearers symbolising some or all of the lesser demons.
The ritual is called the Daha Ata Sanniya or 18 diseases ceremony, when fewer masks and demons are used the exorcism ceremony is called the Sanni Yakum (sanni meaning disease).
To learn more about the masks add the [* Ariyapala Mask Museum, Ambalangoda to your tour of Sri Lanka found just off the Colombo- Galle coastal road. *]
If you are prepared to rummage through the shops you can find branded goods such as Levi or Tommy Hilfiger t-shirts or Marks and Spencer clothes for a fraction of their normal price. You can also find a few at the Pettah market in Colombo, but be prepared for crowds and a lot of searching. COLOMBO has to be the best shopping place for clothes, little boutique shops are springing up all over, Odel is by far the best department store for clothes, otherwise it’s a case of sarongs and sari’s and nothing much spectacular. A new shopping arcade has opened near to Independence Square in Colombo and this has a few branded stores. Galle fort is host to 1 or 2 little designer boutique shops and also has the popular Barefoot shop and Odel.
WHERE TO SHOP IN COLOMBO
If you have added Colombo to your Sri Lanka Tour then you really need to visit the following shops.
Odel department store
Ask for the one nearest the Town Hall or get the 138 bus which drops you close by. Great store, lovely gifts, teas and clothes and a welcome addition to your Sri Lanka tour itinerary.
There are a number of shops in Colombo, visit 213 Dharmapala mwa Colombo 7 for a large selection of gifts and a stylish little café. Paradise Road Gallery café at 15 Albert place is a great place to eat and admire the art, just a small shop at this location. Albert place is also close to Crescat Boulevard and the Galle road where you will find Barefoot shop and café.
Barefoot shop and café
Great for handmade cotton/linen clothes most of which are made on a hand loom. Table linen, artistic gifts and a lovely garden café to chill and have a beer or a decent glass of wine.
When you have been on a hot dusty tour of Sri Lanka it is so nice to visit one of these places so you can relax in a very comfortable atmosphere and just chill.
Colombo also has numerous gem shops including the Gem Museum on Duplication Road which according to Tuk-tuk drivers always has a sale!
If you want to buy teas then the Tea centre on the Galle road stocks teas from a number of different manufacturers, it’s also just a few 100 yards from Barefoot!
One more place to add to your tour itinerary in Colombo is the Cricket Club. This is an old favourite in Colombo with good food and drink at reasonable prices and crammed full of all kinds of Cricket memorabilia, it’s like stepping back in time but it is also good fun and the food is well priced and yummy.
Although Sri Lanka grows many varieties of fruit and vegetables the sad truth is Sri Lankan cuisine is very limited and really doesn’t do justice to the local produce.
When backpacking Sri Lanka the most common food dish you will encounter on your tour of Sri Lanka is spicy hot Curry. It is not the same as Indian curry and you certainly wont find the variety of spicey food you get in India.
RICE & CURRY
Throughout your Lanka travels you will find curried fish, chicken or potatoes are by far the most popular curries in Sri Lanka. Some tourists complain that they get fed up of eating the same old rice and curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Curry in various forms is eaten for all 3 meals, rice, side dishes etc. get served depending on the mealtime. Curries are cooked using whole curry leaves and Rampa leaves, which gives the curry a unique flavor, that is really quite delicious.
The local rice is white, short and stubby; frankly sometimes it smells like dirty drains! However, the good news is if you love it there is plenty of it!
String hoppers are like a birds nest of thin noodles served only at breakfast as compared to hoppers that are served at dinner which are more like a very thin pancake with an egg cooked inside. String hoppers have no particular flavour, unlike the coconut milk rice, this is more like a slice of rice made with coconut milk, both string hoppers and coconut rice are served at breakfast time.
You will notice when backpacking Sri Lanka that there are many strange cooking smells, one of the smells comes from the coconut oil that the food is cooked in. If not changed frequently this can give the food a strange taste and a very unpleasant smell.
Dhal curry with string hoppers or bread.
String hoppers eaten with coconut sauce/Kiri hodi and pol sambol.
Coconut roti with sambol.
Bread with mild potato curry.
Coconut milk rice.
Typical Lunch Foods
Curry with boiled locally grown rice & spiced/curried vegetable side dishes and Sambol (grated fresh coconut, chili, sometimes dried fish) and Karapincha (chopped up green Karapincha leaves).
Spicy fried rice or noodles
Lamprais – lump rice (rice cooked in a banana leaf).
Typical Dinner Foods
Curry with bread or coconut sambol or boiled locally grown rice, with vegetable side dishes.
Hoppers with sambol.
Kottu Roti (chopped up rotti fried with veg/meat/cheese curry sauce).
Sri Lankans are very particular about when they eat certain foods, so you will not be able to buy Egg hoppers from food shops in the morning as it is a food served for dinner. Likewise string hoppers and coconut pancakes are a morning food, so no chance of getting them at restaurants in the evening!
FISH & SHELL FOOD
Sri Lanka is a big fish-eating nation; they catch a lot of tuna, white fish, cuttlefish, crabs and prawns. The crabs and prawns can be delicious but not every restaurant that you visit on your tour of Sri Lanka can actually do them justice. Smaller restaurants with fewer foreign guests tend to over cook them making them hard and rubbery.
Chicken, pork, mutton, beef and fish appear on most menus, which you can have in the following ways:
Devilled – pan cooked in tomato ketchup with chili, onion tomato and peppers.
Fried – pan fired with chili, onion tomato and peppers.
Curried – with chili, onion tomato and peppers.
With Kothu – thick roti cut into pieces with a curry sauce, chili, onion tomato and pepper.
Wherever, your Lanka travels take you, food is basically the same, with the exception of Jaffna, which has a Tamil based cooking culture and uses herbs and spices in a slightly different way.
Fruit is plentiful in Sri Lanka – most popular is Mango, Papaya, Watermelon, Pineapple, Limes and Bananas of which there are approximately 100 varieties.
Fruit gets sold at the road side so it’s really easy to snack as you tour Lanka, but be warned it is often served in plastic bags with a little salt and chilli added. There are some unusual fruits that are quite difficult to eat and are definitely an unusual taste like the Ambarella, in the photo it is served with a chilli dipping sauce.
Sri Lankans love sugar, as a result desserts have very little flavour as the only thing you can taste is the sugar.
SHORT EATS AND FOOD STALLS
Road side food stalls sell cheap eats from 2lkr -40lkr common foods sold are:
Wada – fried lentils (sometimes with fried prawns).
Deep fried cream crackers, vegetable or fish samosas (triangle shaped deep fried pastries), battered deep fried peppers with fish/onion stuffing. Ulundu Wada which are like savoury donuts.
Muslim and Tamil owned food stalls/shops are very popular as the food is often fresher and tastier than other Sri Lankan food sellers.
Short Eats are platefuls of fried meat with onions and peppers or fried cashew nuts with curry leaves.
FOODS TO AVOID ON YOUR LANKA TOUR
Stay clear of beef dishes, as Sri Lanka is not in the business of rearing cows for meat. Unless you are going to dine in a 4* hotel or top Colombo restaurant using imported Australian beef, you are likely to lose your teeth trying to chew the beef. The mutton also tends to be very difficult to chew as they use the wrong cuts of meat for stir-frying.
The safer option is to choose fish, pork and chicken. However, the pork tends to be very fatty so if you like lean meat stick with fish or chicken.
Sri Lankans love their dried fish, it has a very strong flavor and is exceptionally hard to chew and swallow, sometimes it’s like chewing wood, it’s often mixed in curries or just fried and eaten.
Many tourist backpacking Sri Lanka survive on roadside food stalls selling samosa/spicy rolls/vegetable roti’s. This food is normally spicy but good. Lunch packets which are take away packets of rice and curry are also sold at the roadside. Avoid buying lunch packets from stalls in the sun or buying them late in the afternoon. The rice tends to ferment in the heat and you can get a nasty Delhi Belly from eating it, given the shortage of clean toilets in the country the last thing you want is Delhi Belly on a tour of Lanka.
DISGUSTING FOOD FACTS
If your Lanka tour is by car or taxi and you plan to stop off at the more popular roadside restaurants /food shops on the main routes check the restaurant food serving system before you order the sausage buns, roti’s etc. Take a look around you and check what food system they are using before you buy.
Many bake houses/eateries will put a plateful of food on the table in front of their customers. The customers then pick them up, check them out, OPEN THEM UP, touch the food etc. They then either eat them or put them back on the plate to be returned and given to another customer. It really is impossible to tell how many people have had their hands on the sausage bun you are about to eat!
Some of the more popular restaurants on the commuter routes that serve delicious curries also have a dirty secret. The sauce or gravy as they call it, that is left on the plate after a person has finished eating is scraped back into the fresh curry ready to be served up to the next person. So when you are desperately searching for a clean looking eatery with clean toilets as you tour Sri Lanka, double check the serving system before tucking into the food!
Sri Lankans are the 2nd biggest drinkers in the world!
Sri Lanka is a nation of hard drinkers, *85% of alcohol being consumed is hard local liquor called Arrack. Sri Lankans love their liquor and have now boozed their way into the number 2 spot of world boozers according to Capital Alliance. In 2012 Sri Lankans got through 85million liters of alcohol or 11.2 liters for every Sri Lankan. In reality the males are far the biggest boozers. Women are looked down upon if they drink and are considered by many to be sluts and prostitutes if seen getting drunk or having a drink in public bars/restaurants.
Unofficially there is much more hard liquor being consumed with many rural areas producing their own alcohol known as Kasippu, (the local illegally manufactured alcohol that contains harmful alcohols and has been mixed with things such as cement to help it “ripen” quickly), this is a type of moonshine and is a sure way to an early grave, but it’s strong and cheap, that makes it very popular. Ironically it’s a favourite of the Tooth Temple musicians who can often be seen with glazed red eyes swaying unsteadily with the music. Definitely a drink to avoid on your tour of Sri Lanka.
(*source:World health organization 1961-2010 survey)
Buying Alcohol When Backpacking Sri Lanka
Whether you are backpacking Sri Lanka by bus/train or taking a tour of Lanka in a taxi or tuk-tuk, it’s always good to know where you can buy a nice cold beer on your Lanka travels.
The supermarket chains of Arpico, Keels Super and Cargill’s sell alcohol. Not every store has alcohol for sale but many do, especially in the tourist areas. The alcohol section may be outside of the main store or in their basement, like Keels in Kandy (In this shop you have to go through an unmarked white door in the store and down the stairs to the car park area) so always ask if you don’t see the alcohol section as it may be hidden.
Beer and wine stores
You will see these dotted about on your Lanka travels, normally they look like a hole in the wall with bars across where you go and select beers or local liquors, 99.9% have green sign boards. Some of them are just a hang out for the serious drunks who loiter around the counter area. If you are a woman do not go to these – find another one. You will be stared at, shouted at, treated with contempt and viewed as a prostitute, a truly awful experience that you just don’t need or want during your tour of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is not a huge wine-drinking nation, so storing and keeping wine is a skill yet to be mastered. Chances are the wine you buy from a hole in the wall is going to be nothing more than vinegar. 2015 saw a few wine stores improve the buying experience and make an effort with the wine storage by keeping their wines in air-conditioned rooms and in chillers. In restaurants you will be told they have white wine or red wine – they do not know anything more than that.
What Alcohol to Drink
Sri Lanka has it’s own unique style of beer and alcohol, it is cheaper than imported brands and can be found throughout the country so you can be quite sure when you tour Sri Lanka you will be able to find something interesting to drink.
Lion the local brewer produces 2 lagers, Three Coins and Lion (normal lion and strong 8.8%) there is also a stout 8.8%. They were originally produced by rival breweries. Lion had the largest market share which meant Three coins was not so easy to find, the Three coins brand has now been sold to the Lion Brewery. Three coins was much superior to Lion lager in terms of flavour and quality as it was produced to a traditional German method. It’s now back in production and can be found in many supermarkets and bars. Enjoy!
Lanka has a variety of home made liquors mostly produced from coconuts; some like the gin and vodka are very drinkable others are like liquid paraffin.
Arrack is the preferred drink of locals it is supposed to be like a whiskey, it is strong and definitely an acquired taste. Different brands have different tastes and prices; it is best mixed with coke or sprite.
When you come across a well-stocked alcohol shop on your Lanka travels, it’s best to stop and buy your drinks there, as not every store offers a wide variety of alcohol.
Try these local spirits as an alternative to the more expensive imported brands – all guaranteed to make your backpacking experience in Sri Lanka go with a smileJ
Mendis Old Arrack much smoother than other arracks and a pleasant taste mixes well with sprite/7up.
Rockland Lemon Gin- adds sprite, soda or tonic.
Rockland Green Apple Arrack – best mixed with sprite to make a long refreshing ‘Alco-pop’.
Rockland Grape Arrack – when mixed with sprite and fresh passion fruit this makes a good cocktail.
This is fermented coconut juice that Sri Lankans believe is good for their health, it’s certainly not for everyone and has a very distinctive taste, some say it tastes a little bit like vinegar, personally I don’t like it, but if you enjoy extreme Asian cuisine you are bound to enjoy it. Availability is limited, but when you travel Sri Lanka check the coconut trees, if you see rope stretching between the trees you will know that it is a Toddy producing area. Toddy is also available at some of the spice gardens.
This is illegally produced local liquor made from anything the locals can get their hands on, dead animals, fermenting fruit. Add to that a little bit of rust or cement powder to help the fermenting process and you have Kasippu. Best avoided if you want to keep your eyesight and your body fully functioning. Guaranteed to take you to an early grave and bring your tour of Sri Lanka to an early end. If you are backpacking Sri Lanka you have a greater chance of coming across Kasippu, particularly in Kandy.
Poya Days/Public holidays
When planning your Sri Lanka tour, it’s a good idea to check out Poya Days and other public holidays. Poya Days are Buddhist holidays that celebrate the full moon. There is a Poya Day every month on full moon day, no alcohol can be sold legally anywhere and fresh meat or meat dishes should not be sold.
You will however see plenty of alcohol being consumed by locals on the beaches and in the parks, although it’s illegal to sell it – it is not illegal to consume it!
When you tour Sri Lanka you will find the usual suspects of Coke, Pepsi, Orange Tango, Sprite and 7UP and that’s it. In places like Colombo and Negombo and some tourist spots you can sometimes get red bull but otherwise the choice of soft drinks is limited. Locally made fizzy drinks such as cream soda are made for local tastes and are basically coloured sugar water. Very often the small shops stock small glass bottles of sprite, coke etc. You have to drink these on the shop premises and are not allowed to take the bottle away.
Tonic and soda water are amongst the local favourites for mixing with the local arracks, they are also the only 2 drinks not infused with sugar. The locally made Ginger Beer (non alcoholic version) is made from fresh ginger and is a sweet and spicy combination that can be quite refreshing. Ginger beer is produced locally and is the one soft drink you are guaranteed to find everywhere when you tour Sri Lanka.
Fresh Fruit Juices
Finding a decent juice bar when backpacking Sri Lanka can be a challenge. If you do come across a juice bar ask for your juices without sugar or for sugar syrup on the side. There is a very good reason why so many Sri Lankans have diabetes and that’s because they have excessive amounts of sugar in everything. Juices are no exception. You will end up asking “Can I have some fruit juice with my sugar please?”
“Fresh juices” in cartons and bottles sold at the supermarket also contain a huge amount of sugar, so unless you have a very sweet tooth they are best avoided.
King coconuts can be found every where on your Lanka travels, they are great for rehydrating and are very refreshing – served without extra sugar added!
The word “HOTEL” appears on the sign boards of many food eateries in Sri Lanka. It can be very confusing as the little food huts selling rice and curry or serving short eats are clearly not hotels!
The term hotel links back to the days when Muslim explorers and pilgrims such as Ibn Battuta used to visit Sri Lanka. In those days it was common for food restaurants to also offer a bed or a room to travellers as well as a meal. The term hotel was used to separate the food houses with food and beds from the food houses that had no accommodation. Today, Sri Lankans just like the word hotel on their board, they don’t provide accommodation and they are certainly not a hotel by todays standards.
There is no regulation of hotels. This means anyone can put up a building and open it as a guest house or hotel. As a general observation, guest houses and hotels that have been built by expats tend to be better by design and with better safety features such as stairs you can safely climb up and down.
The accommodation in Sri Lanka goes from ultra luxurious to complete total dirty dumps that should be closed down. The star system cannot be relied upon as an accurate prediction as to how good or bad a hotel/guest house will be. Tourist board approval is also no indication of how good or bad the accommodation will be. Many locally owned guest houses are run down, neglected, dirty and over priced.
When planning your tour of Sri Lanka it’s best to read the reviews of other travellers or go for a good local chain if you have a bigger budget.
Sri Lanka has a handful of good hotel chains, they are Cinnamon hotels, Jetwing hotels and Aitken Spence all 3 hotels offer 4/5 star hotel accommodation at various locations through out Sri Lanka. They really are good quality hotels, the rooms are good, food is good (the cinnamon grand Colombo is famous for it’s Sunday brunches), facilities are good as is the hospitality. You can check out hotels and guest houses
If you want to splash out there are a handful of top end boutique hotels in select locations offering luxury rooms in tranquil settings.
If you are doing a shoe string tour of Sri Lanka then it has to be guest houses and hostels and small hotels. Hostels are a new concept to Sri Lanka and some of them are just nasty. Dirty old guest houses have changed their name to a hostel to jump on the band wagon. Again check out reviews first. Watch out for fake reviews, sites such as are good as you have to be a verified member with an actual booking before you can write a review.
Sri Lanka has a high literacy rate and most of it’s population have attended school and studied English as a 2nd language. The official language is Singhala, however, Tamil is spoken in the north in and around Jaffna and English is widely spoken in Colombo and the more established west coast beach resorts like Negombo, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Mirissa, Unawatunna. Other languages such as Russian, German, Mandarin are also spoken in the tourist areas
Sri Lanka is full of natural resources from precious and semi precious stones and minerals, commodities such as rubber, tea, spices, fruit and vegetables, a glut of seafood, all are there in abundance, add this to a beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife and historic sites and a booming tourist industry then it really is difficult to understand why there should be anyone except for the displaced Tamils really starving in Sri Lanka.
It is true that wages are not high in Sri Lanka, waiters and restaurant staff get between $125 to $450 USD per month, however, accommodation costs are cheap and most Sri Lankans have their own home or plot of land plus extended family to help out. For $500USD a local person could rent a large 4 bed house with a pool, the same house would be rented to a foreigner for double or treble the price! TV, Internet, electric and water are all cheap in comparison to other countries.
Many tourists begin their tour of Sri Lanka with the notion that they are wealthier or somehow better off than the locals. They then discover this is not the case, the cities, towns and tourist resorts have plenty of people with money who live in houses that have all modern facilities and drive top of the range BMW’s and 4×4’s. Tax on all vehicles imported is a staggering 350%, despite this the number of imported cars continues to rise and the number of top of the range cars being sold continues to increase.
Sri Lankan house with all facilities.
By the end of their Lanka travels many tourists have changed their mind completely about Sri Lanka! Tourists quickly understand that many Sri Lankans plead poverty when in fact they have an adequate house already paid for, a tuk-tuk/car/motor bike, paid for and an extended family to give them money or feed them if they need it. If they have a bad day, week or month they essentially lose nothing but their beer money.
It is sad to say that the Sri Lankan’s are their own worst enemy. There is an inbuilt jealousy within the culture which means if one Sri Lankan tries to improve his life the others around him will pull him back down. It is so well known amongst the locals that there is even a famous joke about it which goes something like this –
The PM was showing an important visiting politician around the country. He showed him 3 huge holes in the ground. The first hole was very deep and had thick iron bars over it. The 2nd was also deep with bars that were also strong. The 3rd hole was not as deep and had no bars at all.
The PM said, “This is where we keep the American prisoners, it has to be deep and have strong locks and bars because we know they will try and try to escape.”
“This is where we keep the Japanese, we know they will also try to escape.”
“And who do you keep in the 3rd hole?” asked the visitor “Are you not worried they will escape?”
We keep the Sri Lankans in the 3rd hole. We know they will not escape because as soon as one climbs up the others will pull him down!”
Busting The Myths About Sri Lanka
• Sri Lanka is not a 3rd world country. Lanka is much more advanced than a 3rd world country and improving all the time.
• It is not as cheap as India or Thailand for food, accommodation and transport.
• The cities are not as crowded as cities in India or cities like Bangkok.
• Sri Lanka is not 100% Poverty stricken, it is nothing at all like the poverty in India.
• Sri Lanka is not as dirty as India.
• Sri Lanka is not easy to travel around.
• Sri Lanka is not 100% safe for females to travel around.
• Sri Lanka is officially anti gay men and homosexuality.
• Unofficially Sri Lanka is a gay guys paradise with a huge population of homo-erotic or gay men.
• Sri Lanka is a sexist society that has lots of hidden brothels
3 Things You will NEVER SEE on your tour of Sri Lanka
A Sri Lankan female buying liquor at a local wine/beer store.
A group of Sri Lankan women out drinking for the night.
A Sri Lankan woman at a local party sitting down at the same table as her husband and drinking Arrack with her husband and the rest of the boys.
Why You Don’t See Sri Lankan Women Out Socializing
Sri Lankan women are not encouraged to go out alone or with friends after 6.30pm, many are told from an early age that things like demons will follow them and get them, others are just ordered to remain in the home.
You will see foreign women drinking at the table with Sri Lankan men. If it’s at a private house the foreign women will be seated with the men whilst Lankan wives remain in the house cooking the food and never joining the party.
Many Sri Lankan men hold the view that there are only 2 reasons why foreign women go out in the evening after 6.30pm, the first is to have sex, the second is to get drunk. Therefore, foreign women are prostitutes or bad women and Sri Lankan women should not be allowed to follow the western lifestyle. Instead they prefer to keep women at home under their control to cook, clean and to be used as brood mares. By contrast men are allowed to go out, get
drunk, sleep around etc. etc.
Sri Lankans can be very friendly and pleasant but that doesn’t mean you should trust them!
Little has changed in the attitude of Sri Lankans since the time when Robert Knox a famous British sailor and writer was captured in 1659 and held captive by the King of Kandy. He was held within Kandy but was able to roam freely, to build his home and to buy and sell items. He kept a journal and observed the everyday life of Sri Lankans, during his captivity he was frequently robbed and exploited by his friendly Kandyan neighbours.
This tradition of exploiting foreigners continues today. As a foreigner you will pay more to enter the heritage sites, you pay 3000lkr, locals pay 100lkr. Go to a fruit stall you pay 100rupees for a king coconut Lankans pay 40lkr. Take a boat trip you pay 2000lkr locals pay 500lkr and so it goes on. It’s referred to as a skin tax or foreigner tax and you will experience it everywhere on your Sri Lanka Travels.
Before you begin your Lanka travels it’s worth getting to grips with the hype, myth and bullshit surrounding sex drink and dress codes.
Although drinking in public is frowned upon, many people do it. Technically it is not allowed to sit and drink on beaches so keep it discreet and don’t go wild.
Dress for Temples
Females need to have clothing that covers their shoulders and shorts/dress /skirt that goes past the knees. However, if you want to wear a sari that shows of your back, chest and stomach, that’s perfectly fine! Males need to have a t shirt/shirt covering shoulders and shorts at least to the knee.
Dress in Beach Resorts
When in the POPULATED BEACH tourist areas Like Negombo, Unawatunna, Mirissa, it is fine for men to walk around shirtless and for women to go out in shorts and bikini tops. However, women should be prepared to get a lot of unwanted sexual attention, this may be in the form of sexually aggressive comments, unwelcome groping, lot’s of guys trying to chat to you and get your number or trying to take your photo.
Despite being a “Good Buddhist” country, Thailand and Sri Lanka are very similar, sex is a big business in Sri Lanka. Unlike Thailand sex is a little more underground in Lanka, it is readily available for gay men or heterosexual females, there is also a very worrying growing increase in child sex.
Gay or hetro sexual relationships with Lankans can cost you dearly! Remember, GAY SEX BETWEEN MEN IS ILLEGAL, so If you have sex with a Sri Lankan you become a target for scams and blackmail. You will be asked to pay for sex, if you don’t pay you may be blackmailed or set up in a sexual encounter and then caught by the police, you will then face criminal proceedings or have to pay a bribe.
Females are seen as easy sex and a walking ATM. The men will tell you they love you but the truth is they DO NOT LOVE YOU. They love your money or the prospect of a visa to a good country.
As a straight woman or gay man it’s a really bad idea to invest in Sri Lanka or try to start a business with a Sri Lankan lover. Statistically you will lose your heart and your life savings.
For hetro-sexual male tourists you will be offered females in brothels, this is one of the only places you will get to meet Sri Lankan women. If you are approached by a Sri Lankan female who claims she is not a prostitute then chances are you are a target, it is not a coincidence, fate love or anything else. You are the ATM and you are about to be cleaned out!
These guys are just Bad News, they view tourists as walking ATM’s. They swing both ways and will be with a woman one minute and a man the next. Women are targets for sex, money and a visa out of the country. Gay men are targets for long term money scams and short term blackmail.
Locals will have fights over tourists as to who “owns” the tourist. Locals will also fight with male tourists over girls, these fights can get very nasty. Try and stay out of fights, you are 1 they are many. You might win the fight but they will come back with their gang plus weapons!
Dangers for Female Tourists.
With the exception of Jaffna all females on a tour of Sri Lanka especially white skinned tourists are automatically labeled as prostitutes and therefore available for sex 24/7. The overwhelming majority of Sri Lankan men believe that you as a foreign woman have no morals, that you are desperate for sex and will have sex with anyone who asks, in any location and at any time. Drinking or smoking reinforces their belief that you are available for sex. Staying at a good hotel means you are available for sex, rich and potentially their ATM!
Sri Lanka is based on a patriarchal society where men are like kings and women are like slaves, men in Sri Lanka do not understand that you may not like them or that you do not want sex with them! Do not be friendly with the men you meet on your tour of Sri Lanka, you will not get rid of them. Remember, NO EYE CONTACT OR THE MEN WILL THINK YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THEM!
In 2002 Sri Lanka had approximately 500 hectares of land being used to cultivate Cannabis, it was the only major drug readily available in Lanka. However, this has changed. Heroin, cocaine, party drugs and rape drugs are now on the increase in Sri Lanka. In 2004 it was estimated 3.5 tonnes of Heroin were coming into Sri Lanka making it a major trafficking centre. It is highly likely you will be offered cannabis on your tour of Sri Lanka especially at the more established beach resorts. Be careful! It is a Punishable Offence, if you choose to accept it, know that they could be setting you up for a raid by the police. You will then have to face criminal charges or pay a substantial bribe.
Taking a tour of Sri Lanka can be exciting but expensive, even if backpacking Sri Lanka it’s not always easy to keep your budget under control. High tuk-tuk or taxi costs, expensive accommodation and very expensive entrance fees to tourist attractions really do add to the costs of your Lanka travel. To help keep costs under control give some very careful consideration as to what you want to see and do on your tour of Sri Lanka and then stick to your planned itinerary.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, it has a very varied landscape, hot dry coastal areas with long white sandy beaches and calm shallow seas perfect for diving and snorkeling, dark golden/black beaches with rougher waves that are enjoyed by surfers, the inland mountain areas like Nuwara Eliya with cooler climates that give rise to endless tea plantations and picture perfect waterfalls, in contrast there are the dense tropical rainforests like Sinharaja Rain Forest teaming with wildlife,100’s of birds and rare plants and trees.
Sri Lanka boasts 8 world heritage sites recognized by UNESCO making it a country rich in cultural history. Ancient ruins of cities like Polunarruwa and Anaradhapura both stepped in history and well preserved are fascinating to backpack around, whilst ancient and famous temples like the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and the world heritage cities of Galle fort and Kandy add to the diversity of this small island and are an interesting addition to your Lanka travel itinerary. It’s a country full of iconic Buddhist statues and monuments with a temple on every corner.
The Asian elephants are a major tourist attraction in Sri Lanka and safaris around the national parks where elephants roam freely are big business, other elephants are cared for at the elephant orphanage or elephant foundation. Tragically some are abused and have been poached from the wild, they are forced into performing at the annual Kandy festival (perahera).
This is a real wildlife extravaganza that has been described by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s must see nature events. As the dry season approaches 100’s of elephants trek to the Minneriya Reservoir up in the North East of the country. The reservoir is one of 2 remaining ancient reservoirs that exist in Sri Lanka both of which are major draws for the elephants, it’s here that they can find lush fertile grasses growing on the banks of the reservoir as the waters slowly recede. Every morning and evening the elephants meet to drink, eat, play and socialize around the reservoir, it’s an incredible site. Definitely one to include in your Sri Lanka Tour itinerary. This wild life spectacle is listed in the top 100 wildlife events in the world. Best time to experience this is between July to October. The best months being August-September.
WILDLIFE SAFARI/ BIRD WATCHING
There are a many national parks /wild life reserves in Sri Lanka all teaming with wildlife. In fact Sri Lanka has one of the highest concentrations of leopards in the world, most of which can be found at Yala National park where you can also see naughty monkeys, sloth bears, Asian elephants and endangered species such as the Loris, Purple –faced Langur and Toque Macaque. A few parks provide accommodation such as chalets that sleep up to 10, or larger dorm like accommodation making them more convenient to include in your tour of Sri Lanka.
Diving is very popular in Sri lanka and there are a number of schools offering PADDI diving courses. Hikkaduwa, Welligama, Mount Lavinia, Negombo to name but a few on the west coast and schools/dive centres in places like Trincomalee and Arugam bay on the east coast. Trincomalee has much clearer, calmer waters than other destinations as well as the very popular Pigeon Island with it’s coral reef, which is great for diving or snorkeling. For surfing include Arugam Bay and Hikkaduwa in your Lanka Travel. Arugam Bay is excellent for beginners and there are plenty of instructors around to teach you. More experienced surfers need to catch waves at points away from Arugam Bay or head over to the west coast to places like Hikkaduwa for more of a challenge.
TEMPLES & CHURCHES
As you embark on your Sri Lanka tour you can be certain that you will find in every single town and village a Buddhist Temple. All of them require you to leave your shoes at the entrance and to walk around bare feet. I recommend wearing old socks to prevent your feet from getting burnt on the hot sand/stone. Each temple has a unique atmosphere and often they are famous for certain types of miracles.
Cathedrals and churches are not so wide spread. Negombo and Colombo appear to have the lions share of them, whilst the highly decorative Hindu Temples can be seen almost everywhere on your tour of Sri Lanka.
The mystical mountain that has been claimed as a Pilgrimage site by 4 major religions. On the top of Adams Peak lies a giant foot print that measures 5ft 7 by 2ft, Hindus claimed it belonged to that of God Shiva, Catholics said it belonged to Adam, Muslims alleged it belonged to Allah and the Buddhists claimed it as that of the Buddha, however, the original occupants of Sri Lanka the Veddas named the mountain Samanala kanda after the God Saman. Adams Peak is a popular attraction and gets included in many tours of Sri Lanka either as a pilgrimage or as adventure travel, the challenge being to climb the 2243 steps to Adams Peak summit. On a clear day you can see the most magnificent sunrise or sunset, but most of the time you will be shrouded in the cool mountain mist and your best views will be on the journey up and not at the summit.
The climbing season runs from December-May. Adams peak is not itself a world heritage site but it is in the Central Highlands which is a UNESCO World Heritage site
(Adams peak photo credit Ashor1)
WORLD HERITAGE SITES
For a small country Sri Lanka has a number of interesting world heritage sites 6 cultural and 2 natural.
The cultural sites
Ancient City of Pollunnaruwa
Ancient City of Sigiriya
Golden Temple of Dambulla
Old Town of Galle Fort
Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Sacred City of Kandy
The Central Highlands and the Sinharaja Rain Forest are included as areas of outstanding beauty and of bio diverse importance.
AYURVEDA HEALTH TREATMENTS
Ayurveda is a sanscrit term meaning the “Science of Life”. A revival in Ayurveda medicine began in Sri Lanka back in 1925. At that time a Government body was formed to help promote and regulate the practice of natural herbal remedies and healing practices. Sri Lanka now has a number of Government owned Ayurvedic hospitals as well as private ones like the Siddhalepa Ayurveda Hospital and a registered body of doctors qualified in providing Ayurveda health treatments. For details of hospitals and registered doctors check the Ayurveda government website. http://www.ayurveda.gov.lk
Ayurveda is a holistic form of health treatment, this means before making any diagnosis or recommending any treatment, the doctors take into account a persons complete lifestyle, their emotional state, stresses and strains of work and family life. The medicines used in the treatments are all plant based and are tailor made depending on the needs of each individual. For those needing long term treatment a residence visa can be obtained find out more at www.flyingexotic.com.
There are now many hotels and spa resorts springing up all over Sri Lanka offering reasonably priced spa treatments and good quality spa products. If you are concerned about hygiene opt for spa treatments at the 4/ 5 star beach resort hotels.
ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE AND ELEPHANT FOUNDATION
The orphanage was first established to help elephants that were orphaned or injured in the civil war. It was a great place where the elephants could find care and a good home. Sadly it has changed dramatically and is now just another money making tourist machine that is included in every commercial tour of Sri Lanka. Everyday a herd of elephants is taken to the river to bath, it is a special sight! However, they were once allowed to play freely in the river, now they are confined to one section only, this is purely for tourist and money purposes. Keeping them in one spot means tourists get a good photo of lots of elephants, whilst their keepers demand tip money for allowing you to pose for a photo with the elephant.
The elephant foundation aims to educate Sri Lankans about protecting and conserving elephants, they strive to give the Elephants the dignity and respect they deserve. At the elephant foundation you can ride, wash and bath with the elephants, you do not get to see herds of elephants, it’s a one on one experience which is a great deal of fun and lovely to include in your tour of Sri Lanka. It also has a cheaper ticket price.
Buses and Trains
Trains and buses run regularly from Colombo and Kandy, exit at RAMBUKANNA for the Elephant Foundation or Pinnawala Elephant orphanage. The bus conductors will tell you where to get off, you can take air conditioned or normal red or white buses.
Travel by Tuk –tuk or taxi is very easy but do be aware that if you take a tuk or taxi the foundation are obliged to pay drivers a commission.
Veddhas or Veddas also called the forest people of Sri Lanka can be found in the Eastern province close to Batticaloa and in the North Central province close to Anuradhapura. Robert Knox the famous British traveller who was captured by the King of Kandy in 1659 and spent years in captivity until his daring escape, took a special interest in the Veddas and called them the wild men of Sri Lanka. Apparently some were less wild than others and so could be tamed, they served in the armed forces, whilst the others roamed the jungles.
Today, the Veddah culture still lives on, but their way of life which is that of living in one with nature, is slowly being eroded as more of them give in to the trappings of modern life. Now many of the younger Veddah’s have been seduced by mobile phones and are taking a keen interest in modern life. The Veddah traditions remain valid, their herbal cures including one that fights cancer still live on but their traditional daily life is definitely changing. It is still an interesting experience to add to your tour of Sri Lanka, a visit to their villages, to eat their food cooked in bamboo canes and share their knowledge of the environment is definitely a unique experience.
Sri Lanka is possibly the most outlandish side in cricket World Cups, they were the first side to win a World Cup after having been an associate nation previously. Sri Lanka were nothing for 4 World Cups, then in 1996 they won and since then they have been the second most consistent team at the World Cup. Following a cricket tour can be a fun experience.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
FILM STUDIOS TISSAMAHARAMA
Tissamaharama or Tissa as it is known is also home to one of the oldest stupas (temples) in Sri Lanka and home to Yala national park so it gets included in many tour itineraries. However, if you love the movies then add the Tele-Cinema village Ranmihitenna in Tissamaharama to your Sri Lanka tour, it’s not something well known but it is interesting to have a walk around. In 2013/14 they turned the village into the streets of Bombay to film the Bollywood smash – Bombay Velvet.
The best option is by car. There is no train service to Tissamaharam. Buses run hourly from Colombo, it takes approx 8 hours. From Matara 4 hours, ask the driver where to get off. From the Central Highlands take a bus from Badulla or Ella to Panigamo Junction.
Film Set from Bombay Velvet
Sri Lanka has a total of 8 UNESCO world heritage sites, 6 cultural world heritage sites and 2 natural land/wildlife world heritage sites to include in a tour of Sri Lanka. The old city of Galle within the fort walls and Kandy city are both listed as world heritage sites. Both Galle and Kandy are free to enter and walk around so both are good to add to your tour of Sri Lanka. The bad news is they are a long way from one another and you would need 1 day to travel between them. Both Kandy and Galle are very easy to get to, travel around and to use as a backpacking base for more Lanka travels.
ANCIENT CITY OF POLUNNARUWA
This ancient city is located in the Northern Province and became a world heritage site in 1982. Polunnaruwa rose to fame hundreds of years ago in 993. This was the year Polunnaruwa witnessed the destruction of Anuradhapura the original capital city of Sri Lanka. Following the destruction of Anuradhapura, Polunnaruwa became the capital city. At the time of it’s construction Sri Lanka was part of the Cholas empire, a dynasty from southern India and it was the Cholas who built the Brahmanic (Hindu) monuments that now form part of the ruined city.
In addition to the statutes and ruins of the city Polunnaruwa also has the ruins of what was once a beautiful garden city created by the philanthropic Sri Lankan King Parakramabahu I in the 12th century. He was an important king in Sri Lanka and managed to unite their 3 divided kingdoms, he built beautiful gardens, irrigation systems and monuments. He is most famous for the saying “not even a little water that comes from the rain must flow into the ocean without being made useful to man.”
Polunnaruwa is an interesting site to include in your tour of Sri Lanka as it gives a good in-site into just how advanced civilization was, particularly in respect of cleanliness and sanitation. Numerous remains of wells that provided clean drinking water have been found as well as stone baths. In Polunnaruwa it was discovered that pipes of stone and terracotta ran under the earth linking water from tanks to the baths, there were also stone hatches to remove soiled water when needed.
Entrance cost is around 3500lkr, to make the most of it get prepared and consider hiring bikes to get yourself around.
FARE DODGING AT POLUNNARUWA
This is a site that tourists like to try and view from a distance to avoid paying the entrance fee, some even sneak in through the bushes close to the Lilly pond, others pay tuk-tuk drivers $10 USD to take them around without paying. However, quite often the tuk-tuk drivers take you to the least important sites and you certainly wont be able to get into the museum this way.
• Go early morning before the sun warms up the sand and stones.
• Dress code – Cover up! Knees and shoulders for women, no vest tops for men.
• Wear socks. The sand gets hot and entrance to most exhibits demands no shoes. Sri Lanka is a very hot country and the stones will seriously burn your feet.
• The site stretches around 5km, this was a city after all! Hire a tuk –tuk or bike to get between monuments/exhibits. Rent a bike or guide from outside the museum.
• Take your own water as shops/eating places are virtually non existent.
• Polunnaruwa is only 2hours from the East coast so you can add on a beach resort to your backpacking itinerary and include both cultural and beach resorts in your Lanka travels.
• Watch out for the many souvenir sellers! If you are not interested be firm. Don’t smile and engage in conversation say “Nah” and walk on.
Bus 41 runs frequently from Kandy. From Anaradhapura take a Government bus to the “old town” get off by the Seylan Bank.
Nearest Train /Bus Stations are Kaluwewa or Polunnaruwa train stations. From Kaluwewa take a bus and get off at the post office. Buses are crowded so it can be difficult getting back to the train/bus station, consider a tuk-tuk instead.
Deciding between Anaradhapura and Polunnaruwa
Polunnaruwa seems to be the preferred choice of travellers as it has more interesting ruins and attractions.
Top Pollonuruwa Attractions
Archaeological museum, Ancient lotus pond, Dimbulagala Monastery, The Kings Palace –ancient ruins known as Weljantha Ruins, Hall of Pillars –Medirigiriya Vatadage, Pollonaruwa, Lankathilaka Image House
ANCIENT CITY OF SIGIRIYA
The ancient city of Sigiriya sits on the top of a giant granite outcrop which stands 180m high towering above the surrounding jungle. It’s known as the Lions Rock because the giant brick built lion entrance that guards the access to the rock city.
A series of rickety stairs wind up the side of the giant rock to the mouth of the lion which is the entrance to the ancient city. At the top you will find magnificent views across the surrounding countryside and remnants of walls that provide the outline of the ancient city.
Many tour guides push for clients to go early in the day claiming it is too hot to climb the stairs in the afternoon, however, this has more to do with their convenience than yours and you can climb quite comfortably in the late afternoon.
Sigiriya was made a world heritage site in 1982 because of it’s architectural value.
At 4000lkr It is quite expensive to get in and it can get very busy especially early morning time. If you don’t want the hassle but do want a nice view there is a smaller rock – called Little Sigiriya that you can climb for free.
Sigiriya is best accessed by car or tuk-tuk
Train. Habarana station then bus or Tuk tuk.
Bus. Frequent buses from Kandy to Habarana, number 86 from Kandy.
SACRED CITY OF ANURADHAPURA
Many people like to include Anuradhapura in their Sri Lanka tour itinerary as a religious pilgrimage or simply because of the marvelous example of ancient ruins, that made it a world heritage site in 1982. It lies within the cultural triangle and is a big favourite to include in a tour of Sri Lanka. Complicated drainage systems, toilets, freshwater supplies, baths have all been found at Anuradhapura showing just how advanced the city was.
Monuments, palaces and monasteries are strewn over a large area of land in Anuradhapura, so it’s best to hire bikes or go in a tuk-tuk to get around the sites.
For 1300 years Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka. From the 4th to the 11th Century BC, Anaradhapura was a thriving capital until destroyed in 993 following an invasion. The Buddhists link the city to Buddha, whilst Hindus believe it to be linked to King Ravana from the Ramayana, both revere it as a sacred city.
Buddhists believe that the city developed around a cutting from the sacred “Tree of Enlightenment” also known as the Buddha’s fig tree which is said to have been brought from India by Sanghamitta, who also set up an order of Buddhist nuns at this time. Because of it’s religious connection it is included in many pilgrimage tours of Sri Lanka.
Quickest way to travel to Anuradhapura – Air taxi 1hour 50 mins $230
Easy way to travel to Anuradhapura – car /tuk-tuk
Travel by Bus & Train to Anuradhapura.
1st class train travel. You can travel by 1st class train on the Colombo – Jaffna route to Anuradhapura. Trains are infrequent and are mostly 3rd class local trains.
Thebus.lk operates a bus from Colombo to Jaffna which passes through Anuradhapura at around 12.45am. Ordinary non air conditioned government red buses and white buses run frequently from Puttalam and Kandy, take 42 non a/c or 43 a/c from Kandy. Take 15 or 57 (via Ella) from Colombo
GOLDEN TEMPLE OF DAMBULLA
The Golden Temple of Dambulla is in fact a monastery with 5 temples within caves that sit at the top of a very high hill. Each cave has been intricately painted with various murals and colourful decorative designs that span an area of 2100 square meters. It’s one of the more interesting temples to include in your tour of Sri Lanka. The caves house 157 Buddha statues including a giant sleeping Buddha. The temple has been an important pilgrimage site for 22 centuries and was made a World Heritage Site in 1991.
The complex is reached by climbing a winding staircase that meanders along the hillside and which is flanked by a line of Monk statues. If you don’t wish to make the climb there is a back entrance/exit reached by car or tuk-tuk which has a shorter climb. Traders selling gems, jewellery, books with secret compartments and antiques gather here, so haggle if you want to buy something. A small museum is included in the ticket price it’s full of statues of Buddha that have been donated by different countries, plus a model representation of the Kandy Perahera), the model is nothing spectacular but it does give you an idea of the parade formation. Dambulla cave Temple is part of the cultural triangle which is a very popular Sri Lanka tour programme.
Dambulla is best accessed by car or tuk-tuk
Train. Habarana station then bus or tuk tuk, they are mostly 3rd class local trains.
Bus. Bus 41 runs from Kandy, there are both air-conditioned and government non air-conditioned buses. Bus 15 from Colombo.
SACRED CITY OF KANDY
The sacred city of Kandy is right in the middle of the Cultural triangle. Kandy is steeped in history and was the last city to host a King of Sri Lanka who by all accounts was somewhat crazy. The 2500 year reign of the kings ended in 1815 when the British took over the city and the country, adding attractive colonial buildings and connecting it by road and rail to Colombo and the Hill Country. Kandy is an ideal place to include in your tour of Sri Lanka. The city is now the centre of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and a major pilgrimage site. It was made a world heritage site in 1988. Many of its Old Colonial buildings are still in use but in need of an upgrade as very little has changed since the British left and Sri Lanka gained independence.
As a religious city one of it’s main attractions is the [+ Temple of the Tooth+] and the supporting 4 temples (Devales) that bare a striking similarity to Hindu temples. Each temple houses a different God all of whom are charged with protecting the city. 3 of the temples are easily reached from the Temple of the Tooth, Pattini Devale with it’s beautiful Bo tree, Natha Devale built in the 15thC and possibly the oldest building in Kandy with its very Indian looking dome and Vishnu Devale which has good views over the Temple of the Tooth. The 4th temple is located at Kotugodella Vidiya in the city centre.
The old name for Kandy was Senkadagalapura, this name has now been replaced with the new name of Nuwara which is sometimes used by the locals.
Kandy enjoys a cooler climate to that of the coastal towns and cities. It is not so noticeable during the day when temperatures still soar to 30° with humidity up to 98%, however, evenings are much cooler which makes it much more comfortable to sit outside and also to sleep.
Frequent A/C buses go to/from Colombo and non a/c buses to/from Negombo. There are number of trains to & from Colombo each day including 2 with reserved 1st class seating available.
(Galle fort, photo credit Giovanni Boccardi)
GALLE OLD TOWN & ITS FORT
Built in the 16th Century by the Dutch The Old fort occupies 36 Hectares and is extremely well preserved. It is currently the best example of a fort city that was built by Europeans in South/South East Asia. Galle fort is separate from Galle town, it is built on a large rock outcrop at the waters edge.
It was the Portuguese who first began the fort in 1589, they named it Santa Cruz and it’s function was to protect the port from falling into the hands of the cunning Kandyan King. However, the Portuguese were out whited as the Kandyan King did a deal with the Dutch who came in and defeated the Portuguese, destroying most of the fort that had been built and then replacing it with their own. The Kandyan King tired of the Dutch did a deal with the British who promptly kicked out the Dutch in the 18th Century. The British then made enhancements to the fortifications and in 1873 the British built the main gate designed to allow more traffic into the city. Galle Fort is really worth adding to your Lanka travels as it is unlike anything else in Sri Lanka and is well worth adding to your tour itinerary.
There is no admission charge into the fort and no opening or closing time, the entrance into the fort is open 24/7.
Galle is easily reached by train from Colombo Fort including 1st class and overnight sleeper trains. Most trains on this line are commuter trains with 3rd class only, commuter trains are not recommended especially not for female travellers.
Luxury highway buses from Colombo (Maharagama) to Galle number ex001 are quick and go every 20 minutes during the day and use the highway.
Tuk-tuks must use the coast road which takes around 4hours but it is interesting backpacking through the beach resorts. Taxi/car is also a very good option for travel to Galle.
The Peak Wilderness Protected Area which includes Adams Peak, Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest is found in the Central Highlands. Adams Peak the Knuckles and Hortons Plains are all easily accessed from Kandy and are good to include in a tour itinerary.
In the central highlands the land rises to over 2500 metres above sea-level. The high altitude together with the cooler wetter climate create a bio-diverse haven that gives rise to a multitude of flora and fauna and is home to some very rare animals like the “Horton Plains Slender Loris”, the “Western-purple-faced Langur” and the Sri Lankan leopard. It’s a sleepy leisurely experience good to include in your tour of Sri Lanka if you have a hectic life.
Horton Plains is mostly famous for it’s stunning views and beautiful plants. Horton plains is also a national park and an entrance fee is payable, it’s $25 USD for adults and $12 USD for children. Horton plains is somewhat unique in that 91% of the amphibian population and 89% of the reptile population are endemic to Sri Lanka.
The Knuckles mountain range is free, although guided walks and hikes are becoming very popular in this region. 64% of the amphibian population and 51% of the reptile population in the Knuckles are endemic to Sri Lanka. If you like a little bit of adventure when backpacking, add the Knuckles to your Lanka travels.
Adams Peak is an extremely popular pilgrimage destination, it has a strong connection to Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Around 2 million visitors climb Adams peak each year, this number seems set to increase as tourism in Sri Lanka increases. It is included in most tours of Sri Lanka especially by adventure travellers who love the climb and the views.
The Highlands are the tea growing epicentre of Sri Lanka and it’s here you find vast areas of tea plantations and a multitude of tea factories. One of the more popular ones is the Mackwood’s plantation, it’s a pleasant stop on your Lanka travels as you get the chance of a lovely cup of tea in a picturesque tea room, you can also buy quality teas and visit the tea museum.
Places to visit in the Central Highlands include Ella, Horton Plains, Worlds end, Adams Peak.
If you are short on time there’s no need to include all of the Hill Country stops in your Lanka travels, as it’s essentially the same countryside. Instead decide on an experience such as climbing Adams Peak or taking in the views from Worlds End that you would like to add to your backpacking experience to make your tour of Sri Lanka more memorable.
Remember to take a torch and during the rainy season pack a lighter for removing leeches and a light weight shower coat or plastic rain cape.
Trains to the Central Highlands
The Colombo – Badulla line runs through most of the highlands where you can stop off for Adams Peak, Nuwara Elliya and Hortons Plains.
There are daily trains through the Hill country, including daily 1st class carriages that allow online booking. Trains originate from Colombo and Kandy.
Buses are non-a/c normal buses number 57 from Colombo passes through the Central Highlands.
Kandy is an excellent base to use for adventure travel and to go backpacking across the central highlands. From Kandy you can make day trips to Adams Peak, Badulla, Ella, Hortons Plains and Worlds End.
SINHARAJA RAIN FOREST
Essentially Sinharaja is Sri Lanka’s last tropical rain forest, full of rare trees and wildlife. It’s a unique place to include in your Lanka travels and truly an experience for real adventure travellers. But it is difficult to backpack to as it’s not on a transport route. Located in the south-west wet zone of Sri Lanka, it spreads across 8,864 ha and ranges in altitude from 300 – 1,170 meters. Over 50% of Sri Lanka’s natural wildlife lives in the rain forest. It was made a UNESCO world heritage site of Sri Lanka in 1988 in an effort to protect the endemic species (found only in Sri Lanka). The rain forest is an interesting place to add to your Sri Lanka tour as it has a little bit of everything, insects beautiful butterflies, 100’s of reptiles and rare amphibians and of course a multitude of birds. The rain forest is crisscrossed by a network of streams that run between a series of ridges and valleys and finally drain into the Gin River which borders the southern perimeter and Kalu River via the Napola Dola, Koskulana Ganga and Kudawa Ganga on the northern perimeter.
Threatened /Endangered species to be found within the reserve as recorded by UNESCO: “leopard, Indian elephant, endemic purple-faced Langur, Sri Lanka wood pigeon, green-billed Coucal, Sri Lanka white-headed starling, Sri Lanka blue magpie, ashy-headed babbler and Sri Lanka broad-billed roller. Sinharaja is a remnant of tropical evergreen forest that is hot, humid and mostly undisturbed by humans.
UNESCO believe it’s flora can be linked to Gondwanaland an ancient supercontinent that broke apart 180 million years ago, scientists now believe they can gather important information on the continental drift and gain more knowledge on the process of biological evolution and rock formation. The supercontinent includes the current countries of South America, Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, India, Australia, and Antarctica.
The best way to get to the Sinharaja Rain forest is by car. It will take around 5 hours from Colombo via Ratnapura-Kalawana-Kudawa. From South of the country- Galle or Matara --> Deniyaya --> Morning Side Estate
Travel by Bus is a tiring backpacking experience, take 67 from Colombo or 69 from kandy to Ratnapura. From Ratnapura – kalawana. Then kalawa to Kudawa. From Kudawa there is approx 1k hike to the entrance.
If travelling from the south you can go from Galle or Matara to Ratnapura.
Sinharaja tropical rain forest brings you back to nature and is a very calming place to include in your Sri Lanka Tour itinerary.
For it’s size Sri Lanka has many national parks but deciding which ones you should add to your Sri Lanka tour can be difficult. In terms of wildlife Sri Lanka’s biggest attractions are the elephants, leopards, sloth bears, deer, turtles and the rare endemic birds such as the blue kingfisher.
Not all parks are good for seeing the larger mammals, for instance Horton Plains and Haragolla are areas protected for their natural beauty flora and fauna, they are not areas you are likely to see herds of elephants roaming around in, so consider carefully what to include in your tour of Sri Lanka.
The more popular parks of Yala, Minneriya , Horton Plains, Wilpattu, Udawalawe do get very busy and if you are unlucky there’s likely to be as many cars as there are elephants or other animals.
There are a couple of lesser known alternatives to the major parks, they are Lunugamvehera National Park, which borders Yala and Kaudulla which is on the elephant migration route from Minneriya the famous elephant gathering site.
Some parks have accommodation on site for overnight or up to 3 day stays. The accommodation varies from site to site, it can be chalets for 2 -10 people or larger dormitories.
DORMITARY – Found at Wananiwahana (for ten People)
BUNGALOWS – Found at Thalgahadigana and Weheragala (for ten People)
CAMP GROUNDS/large dormitary – Found at Udawalawa, Horton Plains, Yala, Wilpattu
Charges are from 2000lkr per night.
Fees can be found here
Bookings can be made online with a debit card that is either visa or master card. You can book in the current month or 1 month in advance but no further. The maximum stay is 3 days and if you want the bungalow to yourselves you have to book it and pay for maximum occupancy which is normally 10 guests. Bookings are made by selecting E services on the above website.
If you would love to include a stay in a national park as part of your Sri Lanka tour itinerary then view before you book. It’s possible to get a glimpse of the terrain and the bungalows by visiting the above government website.
There is a lot of confusion over the price of entrance into parks and museums and national attractions. This is largely as a result of tuk-tuk/ taxi drivers/tour operators marking up the ticket prices. The more popular national parks of Yala, Udawalawe, Wilpattu, Minneriya and Horton Plains are the most expensive. Check below for the entrance fees, prices are in dollars payable in the equivalent rupee amount.
Minneriya , foreign adults $25USD or lkr equivalent. Foreign children aged 6-12 years, $12 or lkr equivalent, 2 visits in the same day permitted.
Horton Plains, foreign adults $25USD or lkr equivalent. Foreign children aged 6-12 years, $12 or lkr equivalent, 2 visits in the same day permitted
Wilpattu, foreign adults $30USD or lkr equivalent. Foreign children aged 6-12 years, $16 or lkr equivalent. An overnight stay is permitted.
Udawalawe foreign adults $15USD or lkr equivalent. Foreign children aged 6-12 years, $8USD or lkr equivalent 1 day visit permitted
Yala, foreign adults $15USD or lkr equivalent. Foreign children aged 6-12 years, $8USD or lkr equivalent 1 day visit permitted.
ALL OTHER NATIONAL PARKS
Foreign adults $10USD or lkr equivalent. Foreign children aged 6-12 years, $5USD or lkr equivalent
Foreign adults $20USD or lkr equivalent. Foreign children aged 6-12 years, $10USD or lkr equivalent .
The most visited national parks are also the most expensive in terms of entrance fees. Yala, Udawalawe, Wilpattu, Minneriya, Horton Plains are the most expensive sites, but there are alternatives that you can include in your Lanka Tour.
Overnight stays for up to 3 nights in bungalows that sleep up to 10 or dormitories are available at the following sites; Yala, Wasgamuwa Wilpattu, Udawalawa, Horton Plains, Lunugamvehera Kaudulla, Maduru Oya. To check the prices for camping overnight visit the government park website
YALA NATIONAL PARK (Overnight accommodation available)
Yala is situated in the south east of the country and is one of the most popular parks for wildlife safaris. It’s located in Tissamaharama also known as Tissa and is quite difficult to get to without a car/tuk-tuk. The actual reserve covers over 979km but only 141km is open to the public. The reserve covers beach, jungle, lakes and rivers. You will have a good chance of seeing Elephants here and you may also spot an elusive Leopard as there are many in the vicinity.
On my last visit we were charged by 2 bull elephants after a bit of sport. I really didn’t know we could reverse so fast and luckily no other cars were behind us. However, Sri Lanka’s increasing tourist population now means that there are more and more cars in the parks and there have been a number of cars that have been charged and damaged by elephants. There is no regulation of drivers and vehicles and as a result elephant paths/movements are being blocked and the elephants are getting angry and attacking the vehicles.
[* Opens daily 06.00 -18.00. It’s closed from early September – to early October, due to drought. Exact dates change yearly. *]
Tissamaharama -> Yodakandiya -> Kirinda –>Nimalawa –> Palatupana
Tissamaharama –> Yodakandiya –> Situlpahuwa –> Bambuwa -> Palatupana
Non A/c Buses go regularly from Colombo bus 32 to Tissa or 3 to Hambantota or go from Matara, bus 334-1, Galle bus 27, Kandy bus 10 to Tissamaharama.
There is no train service.
UDAWALAWA NATIONAL PARK (Overnight camping available).
An excellent park to include in your Sri Lanka Tour that is famous for it’s resident herd of elephants. About 400 elephants have a permanent home at Udawalawa, lucky backpackers can watch whole herds enjoying themselves in the water. The best time to visit for the elephants is May to September.
Udawalawa is 115kms from Colombo in central Sri Lanka and best accessed by car or tuk-tuk
Take the Ebilipity road to Rathnapura Pelmadulla. At Thimbolketiya go left at Udawalawa junction on the ThanamalWila road, approx 11kms down the road you will find the park entrance.
Colombo non a/c buses 98 & 3 go direct to Uduwalawa and 61 from Galle. Non a/c buses run to Ratnapura then local buses or tuk tuk from there to Udawalawa. Take buses to Rathnapura from Badulla, Colombo (bus 69 or 122), Galle (bus 32-3), Matara (bus 11).
There are no trains to this area.
(photo credit dwc)
HORTON PLAINS NATIONAL PARK (Overnight camping available)
Horton Plains which is also known as Maha-Eliya is situated in the Hill Country and is reached via Nuwara Eliya in the Central Highlands.
If you prefer a cooler climate with a nice breeze then you will enjoy Horton Plains.
The name Horton Plains was given to the area in 1834 by the British Governor Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton who named it after his wife Lady Anne Horton. The park is over 2000m above sea level which means the average temperature of 16° is much cooler than the coastal areas. Don’t expect a huge array of wild animals here. This park is all about the romantic and stunning scenery created by the rivers and the waterfalls. It’s home to Worlds End another area of outstanding natural beauty.
Directions. Via Nuwara Eliya, Ambewela and Pattipola (32km) Via Haputaleor Welimada, Boralanda, Ohiya (38km) Nuwara Eliya, Hakgala, Rendapola, Ambewela, pattipola (38km)
By Train – take the Colombo – Badulla line (1st class available) exit at Pattipola.
Taking the train is a great way to get to the Hill country and far better than bus. Buses go from Kandy but are local non a/c variety and don’t run into the night.
MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK
Minneriya National Park. Home to the world famous Elephant Gathering. The elephant gathering is a top rated must see wildlife event where 100’s of elephants make the annual migration to feed on the lush grasses around the giant reservoir tanks.
Minneriya park is located in the Polunnaruwa district in the north east of the country, it covers over 8889.411 hectares. If you love Elephants then this is definitely one park to add to your tour of Sri Lanka.
By Car/bike from Colombo head north towards Polonnaruwa via Habarana. The main entrance to the Park is situated at Ambagaswewa, 8.8km from Habarana on the Colombo Polonnaruwa road.
Not so easy by train or bus. Habarana is the closest station to the park. Bus 52 from Kandy goes into Minneriya.
Tickets must be purchased from the Ambagaswewa wild life conservation office before you can enter the park.
WILPATTU NATIONAL PARK (Overnight camping available)
Wilpattu National Park is situated in the Northern province just 180km from Colombo and only 30km from Anaradhapura.
During the war this area was a no-go zone as it formed a border between the Sri Lankan controlled territory and the northern territory around Jaffna held by the Tamil Tigers.
The park has a number of water basins and rivers crossing through it. There are elephants and leopards but it’s not so easy to see them. However, if your backpacking tour is designed to see birds then this park and the neighbouring area around Mannar are excellent choices for bird watchers to include in their tour itinerary as many migrating birds flock to the wet land area.
Free Entrance. We didn’t pay to go through the outskirts of the park as a there is dirt road through it that links Puttalam to Mannar, which is used by the government red buses. We stumbled into the park by accident on our way to Mannar, we saw a few birds and reptiles and evidence of elephants, however, as it was midday and extremely hot they were probably all sleeping!
If travelling from Colombo you have to follow the Chillaw/Puttalam road then onto Puttalam/Anuradhapura road to the village of Thimbiriwewa. Exit at the 28th mile post towards Hunuwilagama after approx 8km you will find the park office for a permit and a guide.
Travel by Train and Bus
Regular buses from Negombo and Colombo run regularly to Puttalam, most are non air conditioned. Trains are commuter trains and provide 3rd class carriages only. From Puttalam take a tuk tuk or taxi to the park.
BUNDALA NATIONAL PARK
Bundala is on the south east coast approx 15km from Hambantota. This national park is a bird watchers paradise as the coastal wet lands provide the ideal habitate for native and migrating birds like the flamingoes. In addition to the many beautiful birds you also get to see Giant crocs and the rare giant squirrels, a multitude of turtles and free roaming elephants.
It’s difficult to backpack to this park, travel by car/bike is best. There are no train links to this side of the country.
Non a/c buses go regularly from Matara to Hambantota, ask the driver where to get off then get a tuk-tuk/taxi to the park.
This national park is close to Nuwara Eliya situated approx 1.5km from the town. It has a number of walkways through the woodland area where deer and birds can be seen. It’s a national park principally for the flora and fauna and not for the wildlife. So if you do catch a glimpse of birds and deer you are lucky. Otherwise it’s best enjoyed as a nice walk through the countryside.
Train travel is an excellent way to get to Galwaysland. Reserve a 1st class seat from Kandy or Colombo and exit at Nanu Oya, which is the nearest station to Nuwara Eliya then take a tuk-tuk or taxi to the park.
GAL OYA NATIONAL PARK
Gal Oya national Park is in the southeast of the country close to Ampara, it’s a combination of evergreen forest and savanna type scrub land centred around 2 reservoir catchment areas. This park has a good variety of wildlife including leopards, bears, monkeys, elephants, wild boar and deer. What makes this park a little bit different is the boat safari’s and the swimming elephants. The boat tour takes you around the reservoir islands which are home to a host of native and visiting birds, one the islands is known locally as “Kurulu Dupatha” or bird island. You can make a stop here and walk up the hillside through the forest to getter a better look at the multitude of birds. As for the elephants – well they can be seen swimming between the islands and generally playing and having fun in the water.
Haragolla is close to Colombo it’s just 46km from Colombo on the way to Kandy. It’s been preserved for it’s very rare bio diverse nature and small forest that is located in the wet zone of Sri Lanka.
Travel to Haragolla: Take the Colombo to Kandy road, at Nittambuwa take the Veyangoda road towards Pinnagolla up to Horagolla.
Travel by bus
Take the Kandy – Colombo bus, it runs frequently during the day both a/c and non a/c, ask the conductor where to get off then get a tuk tuk.
HIKKADUWA CORAL REEF
The Hikkaduwa Coral Reef was made a national park in order to protect the abundance of marine life found in and around it, including 8 species of Butterfly fish.
Hikkaduwa reef is teaming with marine life including turtles which in certain places come up onto the beach and can be fed by hand (ask the local beach side hotels for the exact places), small coral islands can be seen here and there in the shallow waters which are great for diving and snorkeling. Visibility is severely affected during the northwest monsoon particularly from mid April to mid June and the from mid September through to November during the northeast monsoon.
It’s free to visit and as Hikkaduwa is a well established resort there’s plenty of hotels, shops and restaurants.
Trains and buses to Hikkaduwa are frequent and easy to get from Colombo. Most trains are commuter, these should be avoided if you are female or if extremely packed. Buses are both s/c and government buses they travel the coast road and take hours. As an alternative take the Colombo to Galle a/c highway express and then a tuk-tuk/taxi or bus from Galle.
HIYARE RAINFOREST PARK
Hiyare Rainforest Park lies approx 25 km outside of Galle on the south coast on the road to Udugama. Hiyare Rainforest is a small but scenic location with a large picturesque lake, it’s another good location for bird watching backpackers to include in their Sri Lanka tour as it’s a magnet for many bird species not to mention the very rare Hog Deer.
Best accessed by car/tuk-tuk from Galle
Kottawa Rainforest and Arboretum can be found on the Udugama Road approximately 15km outside of Galle. Here in this compact little rainforest you will find an enjoyable shaded walking trail of approximately 1km. In amongst the leafy branches you will spy the purple faced Langur monkey, a multitude of native birds and if you are lucky rare giant squirrels, check in the bushes to find Sambur and Muntjac deer.
If your tour of Sri lanka includes the south west coast around Galle then it’s easy to add this to your tour itinerary.
Best reached by car/bike Tuk-tuk. Bus 122 from Colombo passes through Kottawa.
KUMANA NATIONAL PARK
Kumana National Park – a must for backpacking bird watchers. With over 200 species of birds and a natural swamp land this is a great eco tourist destination definitely to be included in your Sri Lanka tour itinerary during the
months of April to July when 1000’s of birds migrate to the area. Kumana National Park is located on the east coast 7km south of Arugam Bay. Leopards, deer, sloth bear and elephants can also be found here. Best to go early to catch them as they tend to disappear in the heat of the day.
Best accessed by taxi or tuk-tuk from Arugum Bay.
Directions from Colombo: Colombo > udawalawa > thanamalwila > Wallawaya> Monaragala > Siyambalanduwa>Lahugala > Pottuwil >panama > okanda ->kumana
KALAMATIYA BIRD AND MARINE LIFE SANCTUARY
Kalamatiya Bird and Marine life Sanctuary is a privately owned bird and marine life sanctuary 20km north of Tangalle on the Ranna-Kalamatiya Road with coastal mangrove lagoons. The best time to visit is from November to March when you will see the most number of visiting birds. You can take a boat ride around the lagoon – entrance fee – negotiable.
It’s a relaxing and leisurely ride as you are punted around the lagoon. They do not use motor boats as they don’t want to damage the eco system.
If traveling by taxi/tuk-tuk/with a guide then to avoid being ripped off over ticket and boat prices it’s best to contact the owners directly to arrange entrance/tour prices before you go. Tel: 94716789932
Travel to Kalamatiya
Best accessed by car/tuk-tuk. Buses run from Colombo (bus 32-4) and Matara (bus 32-9) to Tangalle. From Tangalle it’s local buses or tuk-tuk.
There are no trains to this area.
KAUDULLA NATIONAL PARK
Kaudulla If you love elephants this is definitely a park for you. The park is one of SrI Lanka’s newest parks and is centered around a giant water tank on which you can enjoy a leisurely boat ride. The best time to visit is August/September as the elephants begin their migration from Minneriya National Park to Kadulla. The park has 23 species of fish in the reservoir and 435 species of bird have been spotted on the reserve.
There are 2 main entrances to the park.
Entrance via Habarana, Hatharaskotuwa and Galoya Junction (197km)
Entrance via Habarana, 45th km post along Habarana Polonnaruwa road Rotawewa
The park is situated in the north central province and is a little tricky to get to unless you are in a car or tuk-tuk as it’s approx 30km away from Polonarruwa District.
The nearest train station is Galoya junction, from there it’s easiest to go by tuk-tuk or taxi.
LUNUGAMVEHERA NATIONAL PARK (Overnight Camping available).
Lunugamvehera National Park actually borders the very popular Yala national park. It’s a little greener than Yala and also gives you the opportunity to see just as many animals- elephants, leopards, deer, wild boar and sloth bears. It’s also excellent for bird watching as 184 birds have been recorded within it.
The Lunugamvehera park is located towards the south east of the country and is difficult to backpack to.
It can be reached Via Rathnapura> Uda walawe >Thanamalwila > Lunugamvehera (approximately 231km)
Or via Hambantota >tissamaharama, thanamalwila >Lunugamvehera (approximately 265km).
It’s a long and difficult journey! From Colombo or Matara take a non a/c or government red bus to Rathnapura, change for a local bus to Lungamvehra, then take a taxi or tuk-tuk to the park.
There are no trains to this region.
LAHUGALA KITHULANA NATIONAL PARK
Lahugala Kithulana National Park is another park centered around water tanks. There are 3 tanks/reservoirs on the park which are frequented by elephants who like to eat the young tender grass that grows on the banks of the reservoir. Approximately 150 elephants can be seen around the tanks throughout July & August. The park is also good for spotting birds.
It is located just 16km from Pottuvil on the east coast (close to Arugam Bay)
By car/taxi from Colombo choose from the following routes;
Colombo - Nuwara eliya - Badulla -Monaragala - Lahugala
Colombo - Galle - Matara- Hambantota - Wellawaya -Monaragala - Lahugala
Take an a/c or non a/c bus from Columbo to Pottuvil and then take a tuk-tuk or another local bus towards Arugam Bay.
MADURU OYA (Overnight camping available).
Maduru Oya is one of Sri Lanka’s newly formed parks that takes in 5 huge reservoirs and an 8km rocky mountain formation to the south west of the park. The park is situated in the dry zone of Sri Lanka so it has a much drier tropical climate and is home to a number of threatened varieties of mammals as well as numerous reptiles and fish. The large rocky outcrops are interspersed with areas of evergreen forest which is home to an exceptionally rare Vatica Obscura tree.
Directions: It’s another difficult park to get to and is approximately 265km outside of Colombo heading north towards Polonuruwa. It’s easiest to go in a car/tuk tuk. The Best route from Colombo is via Kurunegala, Dambulla, Habarana, Polonnaruwa and Manamitiya.
If you plan on backpacking around the cultural triangle then it could be worth including this park in your tour of Sri Lanka.
Pigeon Island is situated in the north of Sri Lanka close to Trincomalee just off Nilaveli beach. The small island has a coral reef that is home to a multitude of marine life including sharks. Pigeon island has a small zoned area in which you can snorkel and dive amongst the coral reef and marine life. However, there is no regulation on Pigeon island as to the number of tourists that can go there at any one time. As a result it can get exceptionally busy resulting in there being little space to snorkel or dive, fewer fish and of course damage being caused to the Pigeon Island coral reef. There are alternative snorkeling and dive sites further up the coast towards Trincomalee around the area where the river joins the sea. You can take boat rides from the beach or river you can go fishing, dolphin and whale watching or diving and snorkeling.
If you are backpacking to Trincomalee then Pigeon Island is an easy add on to your tour of Sri Lanka.
Pigeon island is easily reached by car . It’s a very long journey by tuk –tuk from Colombo so think twice about this method of transport. Trains from Colombo go once a day as do air-conditioned buses.
WASGAMUWA (Overnight Camping available)
Wasgamuwa national park is near to Kandy. Unlike many other parks Wasgamuwa actually has a full set of predators. Elephants, leopards and sloth bears can all be found here. The name Wasgamuwa is derived from an ancient Singhalese name meaning gathering of bears, it is believed that Wasgamuwa has the highest density of sloth bears than anywhere else in the country. Wasgamuwa is also home to a number of interesting ancient sites. The park covers almost 37,062.9 hectares, most of it is untouched wilderness. If you want to see bears then this has to be one of the best parks to include in your tour of Sri Lanka. It’s also within striking distance of the Cultural triangle which makes it easy to add on other attractions to your tour itinerary.
Wasgamuwa is 225kms outside of Colombo access is via Kandy.Turnoff at Hasalaka on the Kandy-Mahiuyanganga Road and head towards Wasgamuwa via Laggala.
Travel by Bus & Train
There is no direct train, the closest may be Pollonaruwa. Likewise bus travel is also difficult. From Colombo travel on a non a/c red bus to Bandarawela which is a 7 hour journey change and take the bus to Wasgamuwa national park which is a 2 hour journey.
Sri Lanka is a small island that lies in the warm Indian Ocean just off the southern tip of India, it has many beautiful beaches, golden beaches or bright white sands and waters that are always warm.
The most well known beach resorts lie on the west coast, Mount Lavinia, Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Unawatuna they are popular from mid November to March when the sea is calmer and more people can enjoy watersports.
It’s extremely easy to backpack the west coast and to hop between beach resorts, so it’s possible to include a couple of destinations in your tour of Sri Lanka.
Many beach resorts on the west coast have a rubbish removal system in place so at least the beaches get cleaned a little, however, where there is a high number of locals visiting the beach or on a weekend or a Poya day unfortunately, there will also be a large amount of rubbish, plastic bags, bottles etc. that will be left behind, making it impossible to go into the sea without getting wrapped in rubbish.
Negombo is the closest beach to the airport, it’s not the prettiest beach resort but it is a good start or end to your tour of Sri Lanka.
On the East coast Trincomalee/Nilavelli beach resorts in the north east are increasing in popularity, Trincomalee actually has one of the cleanest beaches I have seen in Sri Lanka.
Further down the east coast there is Arugam bay (famous for surfing). The east coast is popular from April to October.
Lanka Travel Tip
When picking your beach resort first decide what you want to be doing at the resort, if you want to go diving surfing, snorkeling etc. then the monsoons will affect your decision as to which coast and beach resort you travel to. If you just want to lie in the sun or splash in a pool for a few days then either coast is okay.
Jaffna is situated on the northern tip of Sri Lanka and has only recently opened its doors to the outside world. Since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka there has been an influx of tourists to the northern region wanting to discover the mysteries of the former Tamil Tigers strong hold.
Further down on the north West coast you will find Puttalam, Kalpitiya, Mannar, all 3 are likely to become more popular as tourist destinations in the future.
Backpacking this part of the coastline is challenging as luxury/a/c buses and 1st class train travel is hard to come by, buses are mostly non a/c government buses and trains are commuter trains with 3rd class carriages only.
Puttalam, Mannar, Jaffna
The North western coast from Puttalam to Jaffna has just begun to open up to tourists. The landscape in the northern provinces is completely different to that of the south and the hill country. Wide open spaces, herds of goats, cows and wild donkeys roam freely as do the wild dogs all of which are a real pain for traffic. The beaches are long and sandy but in many places along the coast of Mannar and Jaffna the waters can be too shallow for swimming but they are stunning.
During the war the area north of Puttalam stretching up to Jaffna was largely controlled by the Tamil Tigers, it was during this time that the roads into the north were destroyed and the railway track removed. Since the end of the war some roads have now been reinstated. However, many roads remain exceptionally difficult to travel on, one minute you can be driving on a tarmac road (or carpet road as they are known here) and the next minute there’s a huge great big hole in the road.
If you plan to tour Sri Lanka by car make sure you do not go on the B roads suggested by the GPS, stick to the “A” roads especially after dark, otherwise you could end up causing major damage to the car and getting stuck without any help in the middle of nowhere and without phone coverage.
Puttalam Beach Resort is a finger of land that juts out into the sea to create what appears to be a large saltwater lake, it provides a picturesque setting and is the ideal location for Kite surfing which can be done from Kalpitiya.
Diving and snorkeling.
A 1 hour boat ride from Kalpitiya will take you to the Bar Reef this is Sri Lanka’s largest and least known coral reef. You wont find swarms of tourists, unlike Pigeon Island in Trincomalee, so you can swim and snorkel easily. The disadvantage is the visibility is less clearer than Trincomalee and the seas are rougher so diving is not always possible especially between April to Decmber.
Hotels in Puttalam
Puttalam is not yet geared up to the tourist trade so most of the hotels and guest houses have been designed and developed for the local tourist market in mind, there are many under development.
Most guest houses offer the usual dirty rooms that are normally rented out to the locals for sex by the hour.
There’s definitely no night life and there is nowhere to go to eat outside of your hotel other than the local roadside stalls or food huts.
Best way is by car/taxi or Tuk-tuk.
Buses & Trains to Puttalam
Take the A/C bus from Colombo or Negombo to Chilaw, change to non a/c bus.
Trains are 3rd class commuter trains from Colombo or Negombo.
Mannar Beach Resort
Mannar is a small island joined to the mainland by a causeway. Mannar is a beautiful area with long white sandy beaches, very shallow seas, sand dunes and beautiful trees.
A string of small islands run between the beach and the southern tip of India, they are known as Adams Bridge. During the war Tamils would swim from Island to Island and into India, from there they would purchase supplies such as Kerosene oil or whatever they needed and swim back again to Sri Lanka, the goods would then be hidden in the sand dunes.
Roads around this area were severely destroyed in the war, they are slowly being improved but driving is still difficult in many places.
If you want to include places off the beaten track in your tour of Sri Lanka then include the north/north west coast of Sri Lanka.
Hotels in Mannar
Hotels in Mannar are virtually non-existent currently there are only a few. We found the Sea Coast close to Mannar, nice place difficult to get to and requires travel across a make shift track through the sand dunes (picture shows the good part of the track), nice accommodation with a very limited local menu.
There is nothing!
Easy way to travel to Mannar– Taxi/car or Air taxi to Jaffna –taxi/tuk-tuk to Mannar.
Travel by bus to Mannar A/C bus Colombo-Jaffna and then tuk-tuk taxi bus to Mannar or bus from Colombo or Negombo to Mannar via Puttlam – hard uncomfortable backpacking of 10 hours or more!
Travel by train to Mannar- 3rd class long distance train from Colombo fort at 8.50am daily, arrives Mannar 16.59, returns 19.15 to Colombo .
On the 18th May 2009, the Sri Lankan civil war between the Singhalese and the Tamils ended. Jaffna and the surrounding area including Mannar were part of the Tamil stronghold and are where the final battles took place. It was an exceptionally bloody end and many civilian Tamils were killed in the process.
Allegations of murder, rape and torture were made against the Singhalese Government and a series of Channel 4 and BBC documentaries relating to the Killing Fields in Jaffna were made depicting these crimes. A United Nations investigation into the deaths of the thousands of civilians who were killed in the bombings and gun fire at the end of the war also confirmed that there was evidence of War Crimes.
Jaffna remained largely inaccessible immediately after the war, there were no direct buses to Colombo, no train service and very bad roads. Hotels existed but were of poor quality and low standard, restaurants and cafés were non- existent. However, this has now changed and Jaffna has really begun to open up to tourists, it is now a completely different place and even has a shopping centre with a small food court. Jaffna is increasing in popularity and being added to more tours of Sri Lanka.
The countryside in the north has a different landscape, vast spaces of low lying planes that are used for goat/sheep grazing or agricultural purposes.
The coast line is extensive and beautiful but strewn with rubbish, the waves are gentle but in most places the sea is extremely shallow and not suitable for swimming.
The most famous beach is Chatty Beach. At the present time Chatty Beach is really not worth adding to your Sri Lanka tour itinerary. It is dirty and littered with bottles, plastic bags etc. The beach doesn’t get cleaned and as there is a high volume of seaweed in the region the rubbish just hangs around on the beach or floating in the water.
What is interesting about Jaffna is the people and their stories. The population is predominantly Tamil and everyone in Jaffna has a story of loss. Jaffna folk are different to the mainland Sri Lankans, they are less intrusive. As a female you can go backpacking without being harassed, without being sexually assaulted or abused, the hotel staff don’t bother you, harassing you for sex or knocking on your door at night offering extra towels and sexual services and you don’t get asked for money every 2 seconds by kids or adults alike.
All in all there is less harassment of tourists in Jaffna. The Tamil people are different, they recount stories of streets piled high with dead bodies, so many bodies that they couldn’t even move them. The houses on the roads to Jaffna are riddled with bullet holes, empty and abandoned a testament to the savage war that raged for decades.
Jaffna is a different experience to the rest of Sri Lanka so for this reason it is worth including in your Sri Lanka Tour.
Quickest way to travel to Jaffna – Air taxi/car. If you can include an air-taxi in your Lanka travels then this may be a good journey to include in your tour of Sri Lanka .
Go 1st class by train or take a 1st class sleeper berth on the night train – both can be booked online.
Travel by luxury bus to Jaffna is becoming more popular and there are now a number of private bus providers. Take a luxury air conditioned bus from Colombo city Buses go once a day from Colombo and online reservation is possible making it easier to plan your tour of Sri Lanka.
Travel by ordinary bus
Bus 87 from Colombo or 43-3 from Kandy (return to Colombo from Jaffna is normally after 6pm).
The most difficult way to backpack to Jaffna is by Tuk-tuk, it’s a very long way in a tuk-tuk!
If you are thinking of backpacking the North East then you should head for Trincomalee and Nilavelli Beach Resorts.
The beaches in and around Trincomalee are really quite stunning. Long stretches of white sands, clear shallow seas that often appear turquoise with lots of marine life to be seen, turtles, flying fish, dolphins and whales.
The main beach and accommodation area prior to the end of the war was Nilavelli and the only good hotel was the Nilavelli Beach Resort. There were a couple of basic guest houses but nothing really compared to Nilavelli Beach resort. However, Trincomalee beach has now really developed and many new hotels and a few more restaurants have sprung up. Hotels such as the Cinamon Blu or Anantana offer excellent beachside accommodation at a price. If you want nice beaches then include Trincomalee & Nilavelli beach resort in your Lanka travels.
Excellent location to enjoy;
• Fishing trips
• Whale/dolphin watching
• Diving & Snorkelling
• The HOT SPRINGS. The hot springs are approximately 8km out of Trincomalee and are a great experience, hot pools claim to have health healing properties.
Easiest way to travel to Trincomalee – Air taxi/car
Travel by bus or train to Trincomalee
Air conditioned buses from Colombo city run daily or you can take a 1st class train from Colombo fort.
Arugam bay is the place to go if you want to learn how to surf or body board on your tour of Sri Lanka, it’s one of the top places for surfing beginners. Locals and tour guides will tell you it’s ranked as one of the world’s top 10 surf spots, sadly that’s not the case, it was however ranked 46 by CNN.
New starters should hit the surf outside Stardust hotel whilst more advanced surfers should head out of town to Crocodile Rock, Point Break and Potuvil Point, all can be reached by tuk-tuk and are approximately 30 minutes away from the Stardust hotel.
There are plenty of shops, restaurants and bars in Arugam Bay and a short distance from the town will take you through open countryside where you get to see working elephants and many birds.
If you are a serious bird watcher then it’s best to plan your Sri Lanka Tour of Arugam Bay in November and December as this is the time when migrating birds can be found in the area.
The best place to see birds is at Kumana (Yala East) National Park There is also an ancient Buddhist hermitage site close by called the Kutmbigala Aranya Senasanaya hermitage which has a very unusual stupa (temple) it is a replica of the Dharmachakra Dhammika which is a stupa in India. To see elephants head off to Lahugala Kithulana National Park where around 150 elephants gather during the months of July/August.
Wind surfing – January, February, March.
Body surfing- May – October.
Bird watching – November/December migrating birds, January, February, March for indigenous species.
The best and easiest way is by car/taxi
Both are difficult. There is a direct bus from Colombo Pettah (Red non a/c bus) number 98 that goes daily and leaves at 7pm arriving 3.30am cost approx 450lkr.
At 10.15pm there is a white bus –non a/c that leaves from the Central bus stand opposite the Pettah – this arrives at 6.00am and costs approx 600lkr.
Or you can take an a/c bus from opposite Maradana Train station Colombo to Puttovil and from Puttovil to Arugam bay by tuk tuk.
• 9 PM, a private AC Bus leaves in front of Sampath Bank to Colombo – drop off at CTB Bus Station and at Maradana Train Station.
• 7.45 PM, Non AC private (white colour) leaves in front of Sampath Bank – drop off at CTB Bus Station.
• 5.30 PM, a government bus Non AC (red colour) from Pottuvil Bus Station – drop off at CTB Bus Station.
Normal (Non AC) local buses leave Pottuvil towards Monaragala at 6.30 AM, 7.30 AM and 8.AM. In Monaragala there are plenty of buses going south, north and westbound.
There is no direct train to Arugam Bay so why not extend your Sri Lanka tour and backpack from Colombo to Batticaloa by luxury air conditioned train or bus then follow the coast down to Arugam Bay.
Watch out for beach boys and fights around surfing. Local men seem to think all female tourists are theirs and don’t like foreign men stomping on their turf. Expect hot tempers and fight outbreaks over women and surf!
Batticaloa is the last train stop on the East coast, until the end of the civil war Batticaloa, Passekudah, kalkudah were just fishing villages. Batticaloa was famous for the legendary singing fish who are most active on a full moon during the months of April to September.
Passekudah and Kalkudah beach resorts are now being developed big time, with hotels springing up everywhere along the beach side. The beaches are beautiful white sand with shallow seas, they are very popular with locals especially at weekends, unfortunately there is also a lot of rubbish that is left behind by the locals.
More tour providers are moving in to the area so you can now take glass bottom boat trips, go whale or dolphin watching, snorkeling/diving or take taxi/tuk-tuk tours. Polunnaruwa is only a couple of hours away and an easy add on to your tour of Sri Lanka.
Car/taxi motor bike are best. It is a long journey from Colombo and can take up to 7 hours by car
Trains & Buses to Baticaloa and Passekudah beach resort.
There are daily trains from Colombo to Batticaloa 1 train has a first class carriage and the night train has 1st class sleeper berths.
A Luxury A/C bus goes daily from Colombo to Batticaloa.
Bus 48-1 (ordinary) goes daily from Colombo.
From Batticaloa to Passekudah and Kalkudah, tuk-tuk or taxi are best options. Local government buses are available.
Negombo is the closest beach resort to Bandaranike International airport . Negombo is in fact closer to the airport than Colombo. Before the new highway linking the airport with Colombo city, Negombo was often used as a stop over point by many Sri Lanka tour operators as it was close to Colombo airport and as such it is a well developed tourist city.
There is everything you need, restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, money change and transport options. It’s famous for it’s fish market, the Dutch Canal and it’s churches. Boat tours along the canal, on the lagoon or out to sea to visit a coral reef and wreck are also popular. One of the best experiences is a boat trip on a wooden Catamaran, this is good fun and worth including in your Lanka travels.
Unfortunately Negombo like many other places in Sri Lanka is now being taken over by bad elements, so whilst Negombo remains a good place to start or end your Sri Lanka tour and to have some decent food. You should be aware that there are some risks and take the appropriate precautions.
The beach can look fantastic on a good day, it’s wide with golden sand. The sea is dangerous in this region so watch for the flags posted at the beachside hotels like Jetwing Beach. If it’s RED do not go in.
Unfortunately the beach can get disgusting and full of rubbish left by the locals so it’s best to stay around the Jetwing beach hotel and Jetwing sea hotel, areas as it tends to get cleaned there.
On weekends, holidays and Poya days the beach gets packed with locals, they literally come in bus and truck loads to party at Negombo Beach Park. It gets noisy and very dirty and you get constantly hassled. Locals trying to sell you things like beads, shells, clothes, drugs, tours or asking for sweets, money and sex.
The Bars get busy especially Rodeo and Serendip however, there are often fights breaking out mostly over women. These fights are very nasty and tourists have been caught in them and injured. 2015 was a particularly bad year, there was a blood bath at Serendip with people being cut up with Machetes and 7 or 8 men being arrested. Rodeo also had problems with guests having to leave food and run for cover as glasses were smashed up and a large scale fighting took place.
Choose restaurants that don’t have a lot of locals drinking and eating inside.
If sunbathing on the beach stay close to the big 4*hotels
If there are any problems with tuk–tuk, taxi, being scammed, hassled etc. report it to the local tourist police.
Negombo has a large bus depot offering A/C buses to Matara, Colombo, Chillaw, Kegalla and non A/C buses to many destinations including Kandy and Jaffna. There is also a train station where you can catch trains south to Colombo or North to Puttalam.
There are many Tuk-tuk providers in Negombo, they operate what amounts to a tuk–tuk mafia and they can get very aggressive with fares. The drivers often belong to groups, some wear green shirts others white shirts and black trousers, competition between them is fierce and can get dirty, just as in other beach resorts and sadly around Kandy city.
There are a number of hotels springing up along the coast between Negombo and Colombo in places like Pamunugama and Thalahena. They are undeveloped areas in fishing villages, there is absolutely no night life, no restaurants and no shops in theses areas. The sea in this area is the same as Negombo and can be very dangerous.
Hotels are springing up all along this coastal route, if you choose a hotel along this stretch be aware you have nowhere else nearby to visit. A limited bus service operates on the coastal road and runs past the hotels, all are government buses with no A/C.
The capital city of Colombo sits on the west coast, until the end of the civil war it was heavily fortified around the beach area and the only hotel on the beach was the elegant colonial Galle Face hotel.
The beach, a lovely golden sandy beach was not a swimming beach as the tides were too strong and in any event most of the beach was fenced off by the military. Today the beach front is under going a transformation and an artificial beach with wave breaks is under construction. Until the construction is completed then the closest beach to Colombo remains Mount Lavinia.
The south west coast line from Mount Lavinia to Hikkaduwa has been a tourist destination since the 60’s. It grew in popularity with backpacking hippies in the 70’s who fell in love with Hikkaduwa for the sun surf and sand and quite possibly the abundance of freshly grown marajuana.
German tourists loved the area around Koggala as it was here that numerous spice gardens growing herbs for herbal and ayurvedic treatments sprung up. The all year round sunshine attracted many visitors from Europe and so it was that tourism began to develop.
Along the west coast you will spot the famous stilt fisherman. This is not a fishing technique that originated in Sri Lanka. It’s a technique introduced by the Chinese who visited the island when Sri Lanka was a drop off point on the Silk Route.
MOUNT LAVINIA BEACH RESORT
Mount Lavinia is easy to reach from Colombo. It has a nice white sand beach with a number of good restaurants and bars. Its very popular with the locals who like to come and exercise as well as party.
The Mount Lavinia hotel is the most famous hotel in the area. It was the former home of a British Governor who caused a scandal when he fell in love with a local lady. He wanted to see her daily and so had a special tunnel entrance constructed so that she could visit him secretly. After his departure from the island his house was converted into a hotel. The hotel remains popular for weddings and honeymooners.
The railway line runs close to the beach and many of the hotels back onto the hotel so if you book a hotel close to the beach do check whether the train line is next to it as it can be very noisy.
Ironically although Mount Lavinia is known for romance the railway track is also a place chosen by many broken hearted lovers to commit suicide!
Mount Lavinia is a great place to springboard from and explore Colombo.
Trains run frequently from Colombo as do non A/C buses.
BENTOTA BEACH RESORT
Bentota is best known for the abundance of water sports, jet ski, diving, banana rides etc. can all be found at Bentota including luxury Catamaran tours. Unlike Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Unawatunna there is not a lot of night life/restaurants cafes to visit outside of the hotel.
Bentota is midway between Colombo and Galle it is often included in many Sri Lanka tours because of the water sports, it’s close access to the river safari tours, turtle farms and day trips to other beach resorts. From Bentota you can enjoy a on a modern catamaran that operates November–April where wine, good food, paddle boarding and swimming in the ocean are all on offer.
HIKKADUWA BEACH RESORT
Hikkaduwa Beach resort first became popular in the 1970’s when backpacking hippies and surfers made it their home. Hotels, guest houses and restaurants sprung up to cater for them. It hasn’t really improved much over the years and has now been overtaken in popularity by other beach resorts such as Mirissa and Unawatunna. It still remains a popular backpacking destination for adventure travellers who love surfing, diving and snorkeling.
Hikkaduwa offers white sandy beaches, a coral reef, turtles, exotic fish, dive wrecks, underwater limestone caves and waves between 4-11 feet during the surfing season. The North Jetty surf point is very popular as it can have a big swell and surfers can catch a long left over a reef, it’s suitable for intermediates to advanced. The Hikkaduwa Coral Reef is listed as a national park.
Hikkaduwa has a well developed tourist industry with plenty of hotels and guest houses of varying standards from luxury to basic and dirty and disgusting. There are a number of good restaurants in Hikkaduwa where you can get everything from excellent sea food to delicious fresh pasta.
From Hikkaduwa it’s very easy to go backpacking along the coast to other destinations such as Galle or Colombo. Turtle Farms are close by as well as The Hiyare rainforest and Kottawa rainforest.
Surfing – Hikkaduwa is a favourite with surfers as it offers beach breaks and reef breaks, you can try the North Jetty, the Main reef, the Rivermouth and Benny’s.
Diving- Mid November to Mid March
Government & private non air conditioned buses and trains from the Pettah Colombo run frequently. From Colombo Fort railway, Rajadhani Express provides a first class carriage once a day which can be booked online.
UNAWANATUNNA & MIRISSA BEACH RESORTS
A quick glance at an old lonely planet will show you just how much these 2 beach resorts have changed. Mirissa and Unawatunna were once a backpackers paradise offering secluded beaches with no tourists in site just the occasional adventure traveller. Now they have overtaken Hikkaduwa in popularity. White sand beaches, restaurants, bars and an assortment of hotels make them the more popular destinations, add to this whale watching, diving, snorkeling and other watersports and it’s not hard to see why they are attracting more visitors.
Unawattuna has now been renamed by many tourists, they like to call it “Little Russia” owing to the number of Russian tourists visiting there. Not all locals like the Russian tourists as they believe they get too drunk, cause too many fights and run off without paying the bills, as a result there are a number of guest houses that will only take adventure travellers from a specified list of countries.
The benefits for other nationalities is tuk- tuk drivers will now negotiate prices and Unawattuna now has happy hours!
Both Unawatunna and Mirissa beach resorts are ideal for adventure travellers who want to learn water sports such as diving or if you are keen to try your hand at fishing.
Unawatunna and Mirissa also make excellent bases for exploring the Ancient City of Galle, the old Galle Fort town is easy to get to by bus, train, tuk-tuk or taxi. You can get to Colombo and back within a day or take in a bit of nature and visit the Hiyare rainforest or the Kottawa Rainforest and Arboretum.
LESSER KNOWN BEACH RESORTS
Koggala beach resort is approximately 12km further on from Unawatunna. There is little going on in this area and it really doesn’t have a tourist feel! What it does have is the stunning Fortress hotel that sits on a rock outcrop looking out to sea. It’s an excellent place to stop and have a meal overlooking the ocean and enjoy a lovely chilled beverage. Koggala is a good place for lake fishing, boat tours and also home to a number of spice and herbal gardens.
For culture head into town to visit the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Art Museum. Martin is Sri Lanka’s most famous author, he began his writing career at age 13 and stopped at 86. The museum houses an interesting collection of art, masks and puppets.
Weligama beach resort. Weligama is a sleepy town further down the coast, it’s a place for surfers or ‘wanna be’ surfers to include in their tour of Sri Lanka. Weligama has a Long stretch of sandy beach with a shallow sea. Here you can learn how to surf and dive, go on fishing trips or go whale & dolphin watching. There are many small guest houses and hotels in Weligama and also a few restaurants. It’s most famous attraction is Taprobane the small island close to the beach where the Count de Mauney of France built his dream home in the 1930’s. The name Taprobane is the ancient Greek word for Ceylon, which was the name for Sri Lanka before their independence. The Hexagonal villa that occupies the 2.5 acre island is now available for rent for $1750 USD per night.
Fights over surfing! Tempers rise when it comes to surfing. It’s still a bit like the wild west in Hikkaduwa, but as a tourist stay calm wait your turn and if the locals push in front of you let them go! Fights have broken out in Hikkaduwa between the locals and tourists. Just remember you are 1 they are many and there is no such thing as a fair fight. Fights don’t end at the beach as locals always know where you are staying and it’s easy for them to take their gang and beat you up later.
Beach boys are really BAD NEWS! THEY ARE SEXUAL PREDATORS of the worst kind. Beach boys seek out females and males for sex and money. Stay away or engage with extreme caution. Yes they can be very charming but they DO NOT LOVE YOU they want sex money and a visa out of Sri Lanka.
Beach resorts on the South East coast around Dickwella have beautiful sandy beaches with very few tourists around, traditionally the beach resorts outside of Matara in the south were difficult to get to due to a lack of infra structure. The buses that ran were all without air-conditioning and the coastal road was a long and difficult journey. The rail network does not extend into this region and ends at Matara, which is still a long way from the beach resorts in the south east. Once in the hotel there was really no leaving it as there were no other restaurants/bars or attractions around. This is now changing with the improved road network, however, the south east has a very bad reputation!
One of the main destinations in the south East is Tangalle, however, this is not an area that I can recommend as there have been a number of instances where the restaurant/ hotel staff have given female tourists the date rape drug. Nothing has been done to stop this even though people have continually posted on sites like Trip adviser about the dangerous behavior. The 2011 vicious and vile murder of a British tourist and the horrific gang rape of his girlfriend only highlighted how unprotected and unsupported tourists are in this area.
Female Backpackers to the area have also reported being hassled by locals whilst sitting on deserted beaches, they have been harassed by local men sitting right next to them on an otherwise deserted beach then staring at their bodies whilst openly masturbating or taking photos. There are problems like this throughout Sri Lanka, the difference is you are closer to other tourists and the tourist police in more developed areas.
On Christmas Eve 2011 British Red Cross worker Khuram Shaikh was brutally murdered and his beautiful girlfriend 24 year old Victoria Alexandrovna, was viciously gang raped, she was dragged to the beach and violated in the most horrific manner, then left for dead on the beach with severe head wounds. Incredibly she survived the incident and was found the next morning slowly bleeding to death from the massive head trauma. Her boyfriend had made the mistake of coming to the aid of a local restaurant owner who was being attacked by the local politician and his supporters. For his trouble he was shot, his throat was slit and his body beaten to a pulp, they then dragged Victoria to the beach where they gang raped her and beat her so severely they thought she was dead. The local police did nothing and tried to sweep the murder under the table. It was only after a huge media campaign and Embassy intervention that arrests were made. The case did not go smoothly as every effort was made to delay it including taking 18 months to verify DNA. Eventually on July 18th 2014 the Colombo Telegraph reported that “The Colombo High Court sentenced UPFA strongman and former Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, Sampath Chandrapushpa Vidanapathirana and three individuals to 20 years rigorous imprisonment for the murder of British national Khuram Shaikh and for raping his girlfriend in December 2014.
Backpacking your way through rubbish dumped by locals on beaches is unpleasant. Unfortunately there is a growing rubbish problem in Sri Lanka beach resorts and areas of natural beauty.
Where there are no top beachside hotels to clean up the beach, the sand and sea are polluted with plastic bottles, plastic bags, old flip flops and more. So not only do you not want to sit on the beach you also don’t want to go in the sea as you will definitely have to share your space with the floating rubbish.
Dealing with Dogs
Sri Lanka has a huge number of stray/wild dogs. There are a number of good charity organizations like Dogstar and the Hope foundation who are helping to reduce the problem. However, you will see many dogs on your tour of Sri Lanka at the beach resorts and out on the roads. Generally they love tourists, tourists are kind, feed them and don’t beat them like the locals. Don’t be afraid of them they are truly more scared of you.
Sri Lanka is not a dog loving nation!
The heart of the country steeped in history and being re-developed at a rapid pace. It’s a city of contrasts historic temples and churches and modern hotels. Enjoy a stroll along the Galle Face beach side and eat at the local food stalls or dine at some of the excellent restaurants that the city has to offer. Spend an evening at the casinos or the Old Dutch Hospital and enjoy a beer or a cocktail and some live music. Go shopping and pick up a bargain at Odel’s department store. Stop for a coffee or glass of wine and enjoy the peaceful artistic surroundings of café’s like the Barefoot garden café or the Gallery garden café. There’s a lot you can do in Colombo and it’s a great place to include in your Sri Lanka tour.
Since the end of the civil war the capital Colombo has been extensively re-developed and is now worth seeing when you travel Sri Lanka. Traffic can be a problem but if you schedule your Lanka travels around Colombo on a Sunday or possibly a Saturday it will be much easier to travel around and to view the buildings. The majority of the old colonial buildings are found in the heart of the city in the business district, which is only a short distance from the central BUS/TRAIN station and close to the coast at Galle Face.
The city has many beautiful buildings built by the Dutch and the British, many were taken over by the Government and used for ministry purposes such as the Ministry of External Affairs. They remain beautiful but dirty and neglected. The interior of these buildings show glimpses of their past glory. Parquet flooring that would once have been polished to a beautiful high shine is now dirty and unpolished and broken, where wooden bricks have lifted they have been left without repair and holes have been allowed to develop. Such a shame as the buildings remain functional, beautiful, well designed and a testament to a city that was once great.
The former Ceylon and it’s capital Colombo was once the envy of Singapore and regarded as a model city because of it’s beauty and functionality. Some of these historic old buildings have been restored a little such as the Race Course and Old Dutch Hospital opposite the World Trade Centre. The Race course is a pleasant building with clean white lines interesting boutique shops and surrounded by the greenery of the former race course. Close by at Independence Square a new boutique mall has just opened and that includes a small cinema.
Inside the restored Dutch hospital you will find a handful of shops and a nice selection of restaurants. The place comes alive at weekends during the evening as restaurants/bars ramp up the atmosphere with live bands and entertainment.
The beach and park area on the coast is named after the famous Galle Face Hotel on evenings and weekends this large stretch of park land becomes the meeting place for locals, whether it be the keep fit enthusiasts, lovers, or families it is always full of activity as people walk along the sea front stopping at the little food shacks along the way. Adding a sunset stop at the Galle Face makes an interesting addition to a tour of Sri Lanka.
The Galle Face hotel is on the sea front and is a wonderful place to stop for a cocktail and watch the sun set, its one of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka. In the 1960’s the great science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke spent his afternoons in the Galle Face hotel writing the famous 2001: A Space Odyssey, that was published in 1968.
It is now possible to take a red bus tour around the city which stops at most of the major tourist destinations. For a much cheaper alternative the 138 public bus goes through some of the more attractive areas of the city, it stops close to Odel Department Store, the National Museum, the newly converted shopping centre at the old race course and passes through the tree lined avenues around the old colonial Government buildings.
Colombo is also home to some of the bigger chains of worldwide hotels, such as the Hilton and the Taj, they will shortly be joined by the likes of the Shangri La and the Hyatt. The hotels offer a warm welcome to non residents and are great places to go and dine, enjoy a coffee and a cake, you will also find that night life in the hotels can be interesting in some of the clubs.
There is a local chain of Cinnamon hotels, these are 5* hotels and are well worth a visit. If you love food then check out the Sunday brunch at the Cinnamon Grand, here you will find amazing food at an incredible price. The all you can eat buffet runs from 11.30am till 3 and is accompanied by free flow sparkling wine or beer. You will find mouth watering food on offer from fresh oysters, sushi, succulent roasts and hot dishes to a delicious chocolate fountain. The Cinnamon Grand is part of a chain of high end, quality hotels that offer some of the best dining experiences in the city. It’s sister hotel the Cinnamon Lakeside offers tranquil lakeside dining to while away an evening. Take a seat in one of the excellent bars/restaurants and watch the large paddle boat as it meanders across the lake.
If you love history and culture then here are a few temples and churches for you to discover on your tour of Colombo.
Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple has a weird little museum full of strange objects and antiques donated by it’s members.
Sri Subramania Hindu Temple, it’s big and colourful
Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque –large candy striped mosque in the busy Pettah market area
Wolvendaal Kerk church, wolfendahl street, begun in 1749 by the Dutch in the Doric style of architecture. Quaint crystal lamps, an old Dutch bible, a tombstone floor and a very old carved wooden font and walls 1.5mtrs thick, make this church very different to all the others.
St Anthony’s RC church, sea street, is one of the busiest and most revered churches in Sri Lanka and Tuesday is the night to attend. Famed for the number of miracles that happen at the church, people flock from all over and from every religion in search of their own little miracle.
Galle city is in itself unremarkable and not worth visiting, however, Galle Fort is a completely different story. Many properties within the Old Dutch Fort were bought up by British and other expats who do what they do best and lovingly restored the properties. Now, the Galle Fort is a lovely little place to visit, narrow streets, boutique shops, wonderful little coffee shops and restaurants and of course fantastic views from the fort walls. Well worth including in your tour of Sri Lanka!
If you are a cricket fan then Galle is definitely a place to add to your Sri Lanka tour itinerary as the grounds are right outside the fort.
The beaches around Galle are not normally a huge tourist attraction, however, this is changing slightly as more and more surfers take to the seas close to Galle. The surf point at Closenberg, which is close to Dewata Station is giving surfers a thrill surfing a beach break of 100 meters with waves between 2-4ft. However, there is a pollution risk as dirty water from drains etc. floods towards the area in periods of heavy rain.
Easiest – Car.
This is by far the easiest way to Backpack to Galle, from the airport take the highway to Colombo city, at Colombo join the Galle Highway and exit onto the coastal road to Galle.
Air-conditioned Bus to Colombo bus no 187e. Change at Colombo (Maharagama) and take an air-conditioned bus ex001 to Galle, much quicker than the non a/c buses that travel on the coastal road.
Trains from the airport to Colombo are commuter trains, they are frequently jammed full of people and have 3rd class carriages only, they are not recommended. Trains from Colombo to Galle run frequently but most are commuter trains. Rajadhani Express run a 1st class carriage daily from Colombo Fort, it can be booked online and is the best train travel experience.
Kandy is the cultural city of Sri Lanka as well as a UNESCO World Heritage city which is why so many people like to include it in their tour of Sri Lanka. It has a wealth of history and is now the epicentre of Buddhism in Lanka.
In Kandy you will find the famous Temple of the Tooth (Golden Temple), which is said to house Buddha’s tooth. The Tooth is locked away from view, possibly because the British famously declared it to be of non-human origin and probably from an alligator
The most interesting time to visit the Temple of the Tooth is also the most crowded as it’s during a Puja, at this time the Kandy temple musicians will be in the temple playing. The musicians enjoy drinking Toddy and Kassipu and can often be seen performing with red eyes and wobbling unsteadily on their feet, as they drum frantically to catch the demons inside their drums.
Puja timings(prayer sessions) 5.30am-6.30am, 9.30am-10.30am and 6.30-7.30pm
Wherever your Sri Lanka tour takes you at some stage you are likely to bump into a performing group of Kandy dancers and musicians, they are popular at all events and especially big for weddings, so watch out for them on your Lanka travels.
Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s more picturesque cities that’s nestled amongst the hills and built around lakes. Nothing much has changed in Kandy since the Colonial days when the British ruled Sri Lanka. Kandy is a little different from the other towns and cities you will see on your Sri Lanka tour as the old Colonial buildings make a change from the general slum like buildings found in most towns you will pass through.
Don’t expect any nightlife, Kandy shuts down just after 7pm when the lights go off. Try something out of the ordinary and include a visit to Helgas Folly hotel in your Sri Lanka tour, organic food, crazy hotel and excellent views make this an unusual stop.
Kandy is located in the cultural triangle and is a good stop over place on any tour of Sri Lanka. From Kandy you can easily go backpacking to Dambulla Caves, Sigiriya Rock, Horton Plains and the Knuckles mountain range.
There are lots of things to do in and around Kandy. A working Tea Factory, the Botanical Gardens, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, the Elephant foundation and spice gardens are all easy travelling distance and can be reached easily by bus, tuk- tuk, taxi or even train, just hop on any bus heading out of the city on the Colombo Road.
A tuk-tuk tour around the city will lead you to gem factories, woodwork shops and interesting antique shops on the Perideniya road that were once visited by British Royalty. Tuk-tuk drivers can get nasty if you don’t agree their price! Be prepared for traffic jams as Kandy was never built to cope with the current volume of traffic.
During the Kandy Esala Perahera (Kandy festival which takes place late July/ August) there is a prohibition on the sale of alcohol within the city, this includes all hotels & bars.The city also becomes grid locked with traffic during the Perahera and at 4pm many streets get blocked off as they prepare for the nightly parade. It becomes impossible to get seats on trains/buses into or out of the city and hotel charges sky rocket even for complete total dumps making it difficult to backpack around.
Kandy is well connected by air conditioned buses and trains from Colombo. Travel by tuk-tuk is also fun around the city.
Kandy, Anuradhapura, Polunnaruwa, Dambulla, Sigiriya are all included in the cultural triangle and are home to the most important temples, monuments and heritage sites.
If you want to include all of the Cultural Triangle in your Lanka travels then the easiest way is by motorbike/car or tuk-tuk .
The cheapest is by bus and train. The train is great for traveling to Kandy, Auradhapura and Polunnaruwa. However there are very few trains to Polunnaruwa which is on the Colombo-Baticaloa line.
Dambulla and Sigiriya do not have direct train links and are best accessed via Habarana.
Travel to Dambulla Golden Temple and Sigiriya Lion Rock can be challenging by bus or train. Most adventure travellers take a stop over at Kandy and then head out by bus/train or tuk-tuk to Dambulla. From Dambulla they travel on to Sigiriya spend the night and then climb the rock the following morning. You can do both in one day if you push it.
Habarana which is on the Colombo – Batticaloa/trincomolaee route is one of the closest stations for trains. You can pre book 1st class seats on this route, otherwise most are 2nd/3rd class commuters.
There are frequent buses from Colombo to Dambulla and Sigiriya. Government red buses and private white buses with blue stripe go regularly from the Pettah bus stand near Colombo Fort it’s a hell of a journey but the price is low –approximately 140lkr.
There are regular buses that go from Kandy city to Dambulla caves both air conditioned (a/c) and non a/c buses are available. The a/c buses are the smaller transit van types and cost around 190lkr. A/c buses drop you at the entrance.
Dambulla to Sigiriya (25km) Non a/c buses run from Dambulla to Sigiriya approximately every 30 minutes from 6.30am to 6.00pm and cost around 40lkr. A tuk-tuk will cost between 700 to 1000lkr
Colombo to Anuradhapura 15 & 57
Colombo to Dambulla 8 (a/c)
Colombo to Pollunnuruwa 48
Kandy to Anuradhapura 42 & 43(a/c)
Kandy to Dambulla 45
Kandy to Pollunnuruwa 41
• Bee Attacks at Sigiriya Rock.
The last staircase is home to a number of wild bees, when upset by loud behaviour they swarm and attack. Run for the cages near to the stairway and stay there.
Take drinks with you to stay hydrated at both Sigiriya and Dambulla as there is really nowhere to stop on the way up to buy drinks.
Tickets – Dambulla Cave Temple- buy the tickets from a kiosk at the bottom of the stairs before you start the climb. Entrance fee is 1500lkr
• Cultural Triangle tickets
The tickets only cover entrance to Dambulla museum and not to the cave temple.
• Tuk-tuk Mafias
Kandy tuk-tuk drivers can be aggressive over fares and will gang up on you to make you pay the tourist price.
• Kandy Temple
Guides will try and hassle you outside the temple to take you on a tour.
Badulla, Ella, Horton Plains, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Hatton are all in the Hill country not far from Kandy. There are definitely some great places to include in your tour of Sri Lanka.
The hilly, mountainous area inland around Kandy offers a completely different landscape to the coastal areas, it includes the popular destinations of Adams Peak, Nuwara Elliya, Baddulla, Horton Plains, here you will find stunning scenery, giant waterfalls, lakes and endless tea plantations. Adventure travellers love the hill country because of the serenity of the countryside and the cooler climate.
One of the most famous attractions in the Hill Country is Adams Peak, this stunning mountain offers fantastic views across the countryside and out to sea but more importantly it is a world renowned pilgrimage site. This famous pilgrimage site boasts links with 4 major religions , Hindu, Catholic, Islam, Buddhist all of which have claimed that the giant footstep on it’s peak belongs to their Icon. As Buddhism is now the major religion in Sri Lanka the giant footstep is now mostly associated with Buddha. On a good day the view is spectacular, otherwise enjoy the climb and the cool magical mist! Discover more about Adams Peak .
When to Go
The climbing season for Adams Peak is December to May, during this time you can expect better weather giving clearer visibility and a more pleasant climb. Throughout the climbing season of Adam’s Peak – all buildings and shops are open so you can grab water and snacks on the way up and down, however, the number of tourists visiting Adams Peak is growing tremendously so it can get very crowded. Even in season good weather and clear visibility is not 100% guaranteed.
Climbing Adams Peak Out of Season
There are 4 main hazards climbing Adams Peak out of season;
• The Weather, when it rains, it rains hard, you can’t see too far ahead and the steps become very slippery.
• Leeches, they are a real problem especially in the cooler wetter weather – you don’t feel them attach! You can find them beneath your clothing, they get everywhere – don’t ask me how! But if you find one check yourself everywhere –yes even under your top and inside your shorts/trousers!
• Animals. Stray Dogs and wild boars do pose a problem. For the most part the stray dogs in Sri Lanka are more afraid of you than you are of them, as dogs get savagely beaten and abused by the locals. However, as with all pack dogs if they smell your fear they can be aggressive. If you are afraid of dogs then best to avoid the summit where they like to congregate along with the wild boar.
• No Lights, during the off season there is no lighting, so late night or early morning climbs are very difficult and hazardous.
Easiest way Taxi/car /motorbike or Tuk –Tuk from Kandy.
Train is great, you can travel 1st class by train from Kandy or Colombo to Hatton. Exit at Hatton and take a Tuk-Tuk or taxi to Adams Peak.
Bus travel to Adams Peak is more difficult You can take the 718 a/c bus and non a/c bus from Kandy to Hatton and then the 702/2 non A/C bus from Hatton to Adams Peak
ELLA & BADULLA
This is a Great place for backpacking nature lovers. Enjoy a climb up Little Adams Peak or Ella rock, hike around a nature trail or go bath in a waterfall, after all the exercise take a massage at an Ayurveda spa. Visit a tea factory or a spice garden where you can view a local cookery class.
Badulla offers more spectacular scenery and endless tea plantations surrounded by swirling mists and awesome waterfalls. Enjoy the spectacular Dunhinda waterfalls at Badulla and soak in the history of Bagoda Bridge and the Dhowa Rock Temple.
Nightlife is non existent in the hill country strictly lights out at 7pm and bed by 9pm. There are only a handful of restaurants.
Quickest way is by Taxi/Car, interesting is by Tuk –tuk, easy travel to Ella and Badulla is by train.
Trains to Ella & Badulla go daily and you can book 1st class reserved seating. The journey from Kandy to Ella & Badulla takes you through tranquil green countryside full of plantations, tea factories, waterfalls and breathtaking views.
Buses to Ella/Badulla are difficult, the non a/c bus 57 from Colombo passes through Ella.
Worlds End Horton Plains
The beautiful landscape of Horton Plains nature Reserve includes the infamous Worlds End which many believe is a good place to die!
Worlds End looks out across tea plantations and lush green hills, there is a deadly 4000ft drop from the cliff edge at Worlds End which has NO BARRIER. The result is many people end up accidentally or purposefully falling over the edge. Take care if you add this attraction to your Lanka travel itinerary watch out!
The Danger of Selfies
In August 2014 a Polish couple fell to their death whilst trying to take a family selfie photo, their children watched on in horror as they plummeted down the cliff. In February 2015 a Dutchman and his new wife were taking selfies when he fell over the edge. The Dutchman made history in Sri Lanka as he became the first person to survive a fall from Worlds End. Lucky for him his fall was broken by a tree about 130ft down. The Sri Lankan military was called out to save him.
In short Worlds End offers spectacular views for adventure travellers who like backpacking the countryside but for many it is literally Worlds End!
Travel to Hortons Plains
Easiest way Taxi/car/motorbike or Tuk –Tuk
Take the Colombo- Badulla line and exit at Pattipola station, take a tuk –tuk from there.
Nuwara Ellya or Little England, as it’s known with quaint red phone boxes and lush green countryside of rolling tea plantations is a lovely place to visit. If you love golf there is an 18 hole golf course with spectacular views. If you enjoy nature and prefer a slightly cooler climate then Nuwara Eliya is a great place to include in your Sri Lanka tour. You will see an abundance of stunning waterfalls, tea plantations and tea factories whilst touring Nuwara Eliya. From Nuwara Eliya you can also get to Galways land nature reserve.
Nuwara Eliya is approx. 6km from Nanu oya train station, at Nanu Oya there are a couple of things to add to your Lanka travels. The Nanu Oya waterfall & Blackpool tea estates, the station is considered important in Sri Lankan history being 1600m above sea level and the second largest station on the Hill Country line.
Car/taxi/motorbike are easiest
Train travel is reasonable and you can book 1st class reserved seating, exit at NANU OYA train station for nuwara Eliya. Tuk-tuks are available close to the post office or Cargills supermarket.
Buses to Nuwara Eliya not the easiest way to travel Lanka hill country but definitely scenic, take the non a/c bus 10 or 47 from Kandy. In the Hill Country buses do not run late into the evening so leave before 6pm
Colombo Airport is not in Colombo!
The airport is called Colombo/ Bandaranike International airport which is very confusing for travelers as it is not in fact in Colombo, it is in Katunayake in the Western province of Gampaha
Katunayake is MUCH closer to Negombo city and beach resort (approximately13km or 20minutes away) than it is to Colombo which is 31km (1-1.30hours away on a good day).
The quickest modes of travel to Colombo from the airport are air conditioned bus and taxi’s which can both go via the new highway. Trishaws are not allowed on the highway and have to go via the old road which gets heavily congested and takes a lot longer. Non air conditioned buses also follow the old route and take hours.
Before deciding which mode of transport you’re going to pick for your tour of Sri Lanka here’s a few things for you to consider.
• Where are you going to?
Not all destinations are easy to get to by bus or train especially not from the airport. Air-conditioned buses that run to destinations like Jaffna, Arugam Bay, Trincomalee generally start there journey from Colombo City and not the airport. The city of Negombo is close by and runs government non-air conditioned buses to most destinations and air conditioned buses to Colombo, Galle and Kurungala. The train runs a very limited service into Colombo and up north towards Puttalam and Chilaw these are commuter trains and are 3rd class only.
• How much time do you have?
Lanka travel can be frustrating. The train and bus are cheap but both can take a long time. Non-air conditioned buses can take forever, for example, instead of taking 20 minutes in a tuk-tuk or taxi to get to Negombo you could end up spending an hour and still have to get a tuk- tuk from Negombo bus stand!
• How much luggage do you have?
If you’re doing a tour of Sri Lanka then ditch the luggage. Big backpacks or lots of luggage on a super crowded bus or packed commuter train is a seriously bad idea for adventure travel.
• What time will you arrive at the airport?
If you’re arriving in the early hours there may not be a bus or train available, so you may have to take a taxi or a tuk-tuk. Lanka travel is not always available 24/7!
• Are you an experienced Backpacker/Adventure Traveller?
If you are a seasoned Backpacker experienced in adventure travel and can cope with touring in the heat in very basic hot crowded trains and non–air conditioned buses, then the local buses and trains won’t deter you. Spending 50 minutes waiting for the bus at the side of the road in the dust and heat and another 4 hours on a hot sweaty bus running between Negombo and Kandy with your luggage on your lap and knees around your ears wont be too much of a hardship for you, if and only if you are an experienced backpacker/adventure traveller. However, if you are new to independent adventure travel planning your first Sri Lanka Tour you may not be ready for such a long and hot journey, so although the journey from the airport to Kandy by bus may seem like a bargain and great adventure it could really put you off the rest of your tour of Sri Lanka.
• How big is your Budget?
If you have money to spend consider an air taxi.Taking an air taxi is not only quick but it also gives you a chance to see cultural highlights like Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Polonnuruwa, Anuradhapura and Adams Peak from the air giving you a spectacular view and travel experience.
Hire cars/motor cycles
Tuk tuk (trishaw)
Internal flights on water planes.
The Train station is over a kilometer away and operates a limited service so it’s not the best option for getting you to Colombo or anywhere else.
• Change money, ask for smaller notes under 1000rupees and keep your receipt to change currency when you leave.
• Buy a Mobitel sim, they are cheap but most importantly you can use it to buy train/bus tickets for your Sri Lanka tour. The best advice for anyone backpacking Sri Lanka is to buy advance train tickets.
If you want to incorporate a bit of luxury into your Sri Lanka tour or upgrade your backpacking adventure, consider adding a Sri Lankan air taxi to your travel experience. A 6-hour journey can be reduced to a mere 25 minutes. Air taxis are a great way to get a unique view of the heritage sites and the Hill Country. Prices start at $172 USD per person for scheduled flights.
The service is operated by Cinnamon air, which runs flights to -
Battiacaloa for east coast beach resorts of Passekudah, Kalludah and Arugum Bay
Bentota for west coast beach resorts of Bentota and Hikkaduwa.
Dickwella for south coast beach resorts.
Kandy for the cultural and Hill Country experience.
Koggala for south west coast beach resorts down to Galle.
Sigiriya for the UNESCO World heritage site of Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Rock caves
Trincomalee for North east coast beach resorts of Nilaveli, Trincomalee and Pigeon Island Coral Reef.
FARES FOR CINNAMON AIR
It is now possible to hire cars at the airport. The Hire car stall is clearly marked, however, you can ask at the other stalls offering taxis, tour or hotel services as they may also be able to fix you up with a hire car. For bikes you will need to travel into Negombo. Bikes can be hired easily at many hire or tour shops in Negombo, check out shops on the beach side in Lewis place.
Some tourists have hired cars online expecting them to be ready at the airport only to be told that they don’t have the right licence or insurance etc. when they get to the airport. They are then offered a guided tour instead. This is often a deliberate scam to get you to take the tour. If you are determined to hire a car and one is not available at the airport then head into Negombo just head to the beachside where you will find many providers in Lewis Place and along the coast.
If you opt to hire your own car or motor bike to tour Sri Lanka then here are a few tips for you.
• TAKE DATED PHOTO’S
Take dated photo’s of the car/bike before you drive it away, noting all damage, otherwise you will be charged for any earlier damage.
• CHECK THE VEHICLE.
Servicing and safety checks in respect of vehicles are considered by many Sri Lankans to be optional and/or to be covered by a daily prayer ritual. Check everything thoroughly before driving it away and exchange if necessary.
• STAY ON ‘A’ ROADS
Follow the A roads and stay off B roads. A tour of Sri Lanka driving on B roads especially in the north of the country can be difficult and dangerous due to the disrepair of the roads. What starts off as a tarmac (called a Carpet road) could very quickly turn into a dirt road with major pot holes. UNLESS you have a jeep or 4×4 your hire car is likely to get damaged very easily.
Watch out for open drains at the sides of the roads, you can’t see them at night in unlit areas and it’s easy to drive into them.
• TAKE OUT INSURANCE
Just because the hire company shows you an insurance certificate for the vehicle doesn’t make it real. Buy travel insurance that covers you for a driving tour of Sri Lanka and for any damage/injury to you or others.
Accidents are always your fault. Do not pay out any money at the scene of an accident for damage caused unless your life is being threatened – in which case pay and run.
If you get stopped by police who want to issue you with a ticket, pay the bribe, otherwise you will have to go to the police station and surrender your documents, wait for a court date etc. etc. How much you have to pay depends on the officer, minimum is 500lkr. Do Not Call it a Bribe – It’s a contribution to the Police Charity Fund or on the spot fine!
• ROAD HAZARDS
Watch out for elephants, dogs, cows (donkeys around Mannar) they are a real problem especially at night. They do not move out of the way and will quite often run out in front of you.
Driving through the Hill Country can be very difficult. It gets dark between 6.30pm -7pm, there is very little street lighting and drops off the edge are lethal. During heavy rain the roads become very dangerous and flooding and landsides happen frequently. Try to plan your tour of Sri Lanka to avoid the rainy season in the highlands
A tour of Sri Lanka without a guide can be tricky as Sri Lanka roads are not always fit to be driven on, there are tarmac roads that have unmarked large holes in the middle of them, this is a major hazard and really dangerous as the holes cannot be seen at night or in the day time for that matter. Also not all roads have been included in GPS programs.
The GPS does not take account of elephant stomping grounds, war damaged roads or herds of animals! Lanka travel can be frustrating, difficult and dangerous but it can also be big fun and the holiday of a lifetime.
Just remember you cannot rely 100% on the GPS it does not always send you on the best route, the google map is getting better and their camera car has been out and about mapping the country, but it is not perfect . If you stop for directions you will always be told you are on the right road and need to go another 2 km in the same direction. This information is usually wrong! Sri Lankans don’t like to admit they don’t have a clue so they just send you on in the same direction!
The Pros of hire vehicles
• Freedom to travel where you like.
• Could work out cheaper than an organized tour or tour with a guide
• High adrenaline fun.
The cons of hire vehicles
• Dangerous Hidden Elephants
• Bad roads, difficult driving conditions
• Unreliable maps and gps
; When you arrive at Colombo airport (Bandaranike International Airport) you will find a number of taxi booking stands inside the arrival hall. Here you can book a complete tour of Sri Lanka by taxi or just book them to your hotel or destination. The price is agreed in advance and you do not have to pay extra. You will be given a slip with the car number on it and taken outside the arrivals hall where you will be met by the taxi driver.
After the end of the civil war the taxi service industry went through huge change, traditionally anyone with a car could operate as a taxi and organized taxis companies did not exist. After the war taxi companies began to spring up in Colombo and other big cities. They provided a reliable metered taxis service at a fair price of 45rupees per km.
Most of the companies provide nano cars, they are uncomfortable over long journeys and they have no luggage space but in many cases it can be cheaper to do a tour of Sri Lanka by taxi rather than tuk-tuk!
Prices vary from city to city and can depend on whether it’s high or low season. In some areas prices have increased from the 45lkr and in some cases the meters have been rigged to charge you higher tourist prices. Lanka travel is unregulated – if you get into a dispute ask to go to the tourist police or local police to sort out problems.
Some of the Colombo airport taxi drivers will drive you around for ages claiming to be lost or that the journey is longer than they had agreed to, they will then ask you to pay extra even though the price has been pre-agreed. Don’t fall for this!
If you are staying in a small guest house/airbnb take the taxi offered by the host. This will save you time and hassle; you will arrive safely and comfortably within a short period of time. The fare may be a few dollars extra as taxi’s that go inside the airport have to pay Airport taxes, parking, entrance fee and sign board fee. Yes, the airport charges everybody 300lkr to go inside the Arrivals hall to meet and greet people.
When you leave the Arrivals Hall at Colombo airport (Bandaranike International Airport) you may find other taxi providers like the nano cabs or kangaroo cabs driving around, they are not allowed to park and wait outside so you just have to wave them down. You will be approached by taxi drivers, they may offer you what sounds like a good price and if they are on a return journey it could be a good deal but be aware some offer a low price to get your business and then demand extra before you get to your destination, so make it clear that if you book the taxi you will not be paying extra.
When booking an Airport taxi always show them the address first, if they seem unsure take another taxi service.
The Pros of Airport Taxis Travel
• Always available
• Clean and comfortable
• Air conditioned
• Some metered taxis available (normally driving around outside the arrival terminal –KANGAROO & BUDGET)
• Prices for popular destinations are displayed at the taxi booking stands inside the airport.
• Sometimes possible to share taxis.
The Cons of Airport Taxis Travel
• The smaller budget taxis don’t have enough room for your luggage.
• Unless it’s a well known hotel many don’t know where they are going.
• Don’t use maps or follow instructions.
• Scam: Pretending your guest house is in a dangerous location or they can’t find it so they can take you to their uncles hotel.
• Scam: Driving you around and around then asking for more money.
You will find 2 tuk-tuk stands outside the airport.
Exit left from the arrivals hall and head towards the gates and you will find a tuk-tuk parking stand. The drivers at this stand are regulars and they work on a turn-by-turn basis, this isn’t always a good thing as it often means they will gang together and fix prices.
Exit right from the arrivals and head towards the giant Buddha statute close to the departures and you will find more tuk-tuks, this is a drop off zone so you are more likely to be able to haggle here with someone doing a return trip.
Many tourists work on 50lkr per km this is more than enough! You can get a small nano cab for this price! There is no fixed fee so just haggle.
If it’s raining or a busy time be prepared to pay more or walk! t’s also worth noting that the rough fare calculation does not take into account the fact that they may not be able to get any return fares, so they will increase the fare to take account of that. Prices will also increase depending on the time of day, whether it’s raining or a holiday.
Cost to Colombo City – Starting from 2000lkr
Cost to Negombo City/Beach area – 650lkr to Maximum 1500lkr
The Pros of Tuk-tuk travel in Sri Lanka
• Always available outside the airport.
• Fun to travel in.
• Possible to negotiate fares.
The Cons of Tuk-tuk Travel in Sri Lanka
• Limited space for luggage.
• Not fun in the rain!
• Can be dangerous as drivers take a lot of risks dodging in and out of the traffic.
• Rip off prices and meters can be rigged.
• Unless it’s a well known hotel many drivers don’t know where they are going.
• Drivers don’t use maps and can’t follow instructions.
• Scam: Pretending your guest house is in a dangerous location or they cant find it so they can take you to their uncles hotel.
• Scam: Driving you around and around then asking for more money.
Although you can calculate a rough fare by using 50 rupee for the first km and 4O rupees per km after that. the truth is unmetered tuk-tuks can charge what they like. You can choose to try and negotiate or walk away.
Tuk-tuks in areas like Negombo and Kandy operate like a mafia and gang up on you to try and force you to pay more. In many areas tuk-tuk’s will have set parking zones where they work on a turn by turn basis, it’s challenging to negotiate with these guys.
Tuk-tuk drivers at parking zones often refuse to take you to your destination unless you pay them the fee they want, if you refuse then the other tuk-tuk drivers close ranks and also refuse to take you.
You can try to stop someone in the road, however, if it is near to the tuk-tuk stand they will be threatened by the other drivers and sent away. This may be fine during the daytime in a busy area where you may be able to walk further away from the parking zones and flag another tuk-tuk, but at night or when there are no other options then you may just have to pay up.
Buses are both government owned and privately owned. Privately owned buses are air-conditioned (a/c) luxury buses and non air-conditioned basic buses that are white in colour with blue stripes.
The government buses (Sri Lankan Transport Board) are mostly old single decker red buses, the red buses are cheaper than the white buses. The white buses run the same routes as the government buses, but as they are privately owned they are less reliable and if it’s bad weather they will pack up and go home!
At the airport you will find luxury air conditioned buses that run to Colombo Pettah bus depot. This is in the centre of Colombo in the market area, it is within walking distance from the Fort Railway station and also convenient for tuk-tuks. If you are backpacking Sri Lanka it’s a good place to start your travels from. As an independent traveller it’s a cheap way to start your Sri Lanka tour, however, remember there is often a luggage problem when traveling on buses.
Luxury air-conditioned SLTB (Government) buses run from the airport to Colombo. They go directly to Colombo on the highway and take approximately 1 to 1.30 hours depending on traffic. Expect to pay around 110lkr.
Directions to Bus Stand
Exit from the Arrivals Hall turn left and head towards the car park. There you will find the air-conditioned buses to Colombo, other destinations are being added so it’s worth checking just in case there is one that suits your backpacking itinerary.
First bus 5.30am
Last bus 7.30pm
Runs every 40 minutes
Turn left out of arrivals and head to the gates, turn left, cross the road and head towards the police station. The buses stop outside the police station. Most are non-a/c buses and take the long route to Colombo, these buses are cheap but they take hours and stop everywhere. If you have plenty of time to kill whilst backpacking Sri Lanka or you want to include a ride on these buses in your Sri Lanka tour just for the experience then go ahead and hop on board but be prepared.
All buses are driven fast and furious with constant horn blowing, often accompanied by extremely loud Sri Lankan music blasting out of the huge loud speakers and playing music videos, all of which is fun for 30minutes but not for longer.
Rather than drive responsibly Sri Lankans prefer to rely on their God to protect them from any road accidents. To ensure a safe journey limes are placed under each wheel on the first journey of the day, the limes are crushed as the bus moves off, absorbing any negative energy and ensuring a safe journey. The driver will also perform a ritual over the steering wheel before he sets off on each journey.
Government buses cover the whole of the country. There are some night buses but most start early morning around 5.30am.
Safety ritual, limes under the wheel
Privately owned air conditioned (a/c) buses come in all shapes and sizes from mini vans to new luxury coaches, they are more expensive than the government buses, the a/c buses get you to your destination faster and in relative comfort.
If you are planning a Sri Lanka tour or you are backpacking then you should definitely use the air-conditioned buses for longer journeys.
Private and government buses operate mostly on the same routes and stop at the same stands, with just a few exceptions, the air-conditioned buses are generally full on departure and only stop to drop off, there is very little chance of getting on them further along the route unless you have an online reservation.
The private buses run on the more popular long haul routes that are found in many Sri Lanka tour itineraries such as Negombo –Colombo –Galle, they can and do make use of the highways, which really cuts down on travel times. Some private operators running from Trincomalee/Jaffna to Colombo do have websites and you can book tickets over the phone.
The popular Arugam Bay remains one of the most difficult places to access by bus and train as there are still no direct a/c buses to this popular destination.
Safety is always a key issue and something to factor into deciding how you are going to Backpack Sri Lanka. Adding a bus journey to your Sri Lanka tour is fun, but try and stay away from long haul in a white or red bus, quite often drivers have to keep themselves awake (high) chewing beetle – the stuff that makes your mouth and gums red and that is spat out of the window.
• Cheap to travel in with low fares from 10lkr.
• Fun to travel in over short distances.
• Great way to experience local life.
• Extremely uncomfortable ride.
• Buses have small plastic seats that make you sweat and if you’re western size it is really hard to fit on a small seat with a backpack on your lap.
• Have no air conditioning and get really hot. If you are sitting on the sunny side of a bus for a long time you get burnt and dehydrated.
• Buses are difficult and dangerous to get on and off.
• Long Journey times due to many stops.
• Are driven fast and furious and are involved in many accidents.
• Have no luggage space. If you are lucky they will put your things in the trunk otherwise if there are seats available ask to buy another seat for your luggage. If it’s standing room only it’s a nightmare.
• Women get sexually harassed.
As each bus is privately owned the condition and type of the bus varies quite a lot, from luxury coaches to old mini buses. They are available on a limited number of routes.
Newer traditional buses and coaches have appeared in the last few years providing luxury seating, some with slightly reclining seats and some even have luggage space, all in all providing a much better travel experience.
The smaller mini vans make full use of all available space and have an extra seat that flips out and fills the aisle. These seats are uncomfortable and really hurt your back on long journeys so avoid them, other seats over the wheel arches and at the front immediately next to and behind the driver have no leg room at all. When I say no leg room I mean NO LEG ROOM you have to sit with your legs up and knees under your chin. Avoid them unless you have no other option.
Extra very uncomfortable aisle seats
• Air conditioned.
• Larger coaches/buses have luxury seats, some recline.
• Have limited stops so journey time is much quicker.
• Good value from 100lkr.
• Your backpacks/luggage are much safer and you are less likely to have things stolen.
• Buses get fully booked at peak commuter times, so you may have to wait a long time to get one.
• Seats over the wheel arches or some by the driver have no leg room at all on smaller buses and should be avoided.
• Smaller buses have no luggage space so you need to buy an extra seat.
Negombo – Colombo bus 240 runs frequently every 20mins from 5.30am to around 10pm
Negombo –Kerungala bus 34 runs frequently from 6am – check timings
Negombo – Matara Bus goes once per day at around 11 am
Negombo –Chilaw 907 runs frequently every 20 minutes from 6am to around 9pm
Colombo – Batticaloa 48-1
Colombo (Maharagama) – Galle ex001
Colombo – Jaffna 87
Colombo – Kandy Bus 01 from bus station close to fort railway
Colombo – Trincomalee 49
• Stair trap
Getting on and off non A/C buses can be difficult if you’re not agile and fit or if you are travelling with young children or heavy backpacks. The step is quite high off the ground. The front entrance stairs are narrow and twist sharply to the right, it’s really difficult to climb into and out of the bus with your luggage and it also gives thieves easy access to your belongings. When the bus is full you have to squeeze past the people on the front seat and those standing in order to get on or off the bus. It creates a bottle neck and makes it easy for thieves to push you and unbalance you. As you struggle to stay upright they seize the opportunity to put their hands in your bags, pockets and take what they can.
I have had a number of items stolen when traveling on non-air conditioned buses, which is why I avoid them whenever possible opting instead for a tuk- tuk or taxi as it works out cheaper in the long run!
• Pushing you out onto the road Technique
As you move forwards to the stairs they push you down onto the staircase as you struggle to stay on the bus and not go headfirst out of the open doors into the traffic they help themselves to your possessions.
• The crowded bus technique
As you move forward with your bags someone squashes and pins you against a seat, as you try to free yourself someone else takes advantage of the diversion and steals your wallet, camera, phone or anything they can get their hands on.
On the crowded city buses there is a huge risk of theft from your belongings. Pick pockets may take the whole bag if it’s left at the front.
Do not leave your bag unattended at the front of the bus and go sit elsewhere, just because the bus crew are friendly does not mean you should leave your stuff as they cannot control what other people on the bus do and if they want to take your bag they will!
Private bus operators provide luxury or semi luxury air-conditioned buses that operate on express routes and save you time and hassle for a reasonable price. By using private air-conditioned buses you are less likely to have items stolen .
Thinakaran operates a luxury bus service between Colombo and Jaffna.
Departs daily @ 21.30
from 358 Galle road, Wellawatta, Colombo (near to A.R.B Audio and video) OR 22.00pm at LAKE HOUSE COLOMBO.
Return from Jaffna is 19.30pm from outside the lake house.
If you want to use this operator it is probably better to book a ticket from one of the shops on the Galle road and get them to reserve your seat as booking by phone is impossible unless you speak Singhalese .
Reservations by phone
+94 (0)112429673 (only if you speak Singhalese)
The Bus Lk offers daily services to Jaffna, Anuradhadapura (Jaffna bus), Trincomalee, Baticaloa and other cities, they pick up from a number of locations in Colombo.
Reservation can be made online http://www.thebus.lk/providerbus.php
Phone +94 117420 240 .
NON A/C Government red buses and private white buses go daily from Colombo to the same destinations
BUS 43 Colombo-ANURADHAPURA
BUS 48-1 Colombo – BATTICALOA
BUS 88 Colombo – JAFFNA
BUS 49 Colombo-TRINCOMALEE
Do not bother!
The train station is over a kilometer away from the airport.
It operates on the Puttalam-Colombo line which is a coastal route running from Puttalam on the north west coast and ending at Colombo Fort Railway station.
Trains on this route are mostly commuter trains that are the older trains with 3rd class compartments, this means open doors/windows, very little seating, no air-conditioning, and no toilets. They may be almost empty at the airport but they will be overflowing the closer they get to the city.
The reality is commuter trains take a very long time to get to Colombo as they stop at so many stations or have to make unexpected stops for people or things on the track and they are absolutely packed full of people, there is definitely no 1st class or second for that matter, no toilets and often no standing room! It can also get unbearably hot if you are squashed in with the other commuters and you happen to be on the sunny side of the train. There is a serious risk of dehydration and heat stroke, 2 things YOU SHOULD watch out for when you tour Sri Lanka on commuter trains.
Foreign females are often groped and sexually touched up in these trains, as are good-looking men who get “hit on” by other gay guys.
AVOID commuter trains, it is grossly unpleasant. Men and women touching you, pinching you and worse still if a man gets the opportunity to rub up against you he will and you will end up with a wet patch on your clothing from where he has ejaculated over you! It’s disgusting, white foreign women are viewed as prostitutes available for easy sex and to be treated accordingly. This warning also applies to non/ac commuter buses.
There is no space for you and no space for your backpack or luggage; if you are lucky will you arrive with all of your belongings! Pick pockets operate on these packed trains and there is a risk of theft when you TOUR Sri Lanka on crowded trains.
Commuter trains are really not a pleasant experience to start or end your Sri Lanka tour on! Frankly there is no reason to get the train to or from Colombo airport as there is a very good air-conditioned bus service that is cheap, much quicker and less risky.
Katunayake (Airport) – Colombo
Colombo – Katunayake (Airport)
1st class 120lkr
2nd class 60lkr
3rd class 30lkr
If you are thinking of backpacking Sri Lanka by train or including train travel in your Sri Lanka tour itinerary then there are a few things you need to know.
The Government is the only train provider in Sri Lanka, most of the trains are fairly old and have only 2nd/3rd class carriages with no onboard facilities.
New stock is being added and 2 new trains have been purchased. The 2 new blue trains were made in China and are called Podi Menike and Udanta Menike, they have 1st class air conditioned carriages, comfortable seats and toilets. These trains are great if you are doing a tour of Sri Lanka on a budget as tickets are very cheap.
EXPORAIL & RAJADHANI EXPRESS
Fortunately two private companies Exporail and Rajadhani Express have purchased carriages that are either brand new or have been refurbished to provide luxury 1st class rail travel around Sri Lanka. The carriages are attached to the Government trains operating on the major train routes, they run daily and serve the major tourist destinations like Galle, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Jaffna. They offer all facilities snacks, toilets, air conditioning, comfy seats, wi-fi, fully functioning doors! All of which really improve the Sri Lanka tour experience.
1st Class seating means a comfortable padded seat which has a reserved seat number. The Observation cart is a reserved 1st class carriage without air conditioning. It can be found on a few trains operating on the major tourist routes between [_ Colombo -Kandy. Colombo –Batticola. Colombo –Nanu Oya. _] There is a difference between 1st class provided by the government and 1st class provided by Exporail or Rajadhani Express.
Rajadhani and Exporail provide far more luxurious 1st class compartments which make your Sri Lankan tour much more enjoyable.
2nd class travel photo credit
2nd CLASS SEATING
2nd Class Seating means semi comfortable seating or standing room. Getting a 2nd class ticket does not guarantee you a seat, you may end up standing for the whole of your journey. You must ask if seating is reserved, if it’s unreserved then you have to go fight for a seat along with everyone else.
3RD CLASS SEATING
3rd Class means basic plastic seats if available or just standing room.
The majority of trains do not have 1st class seating, some trains have only 3rd class which is mostly standing room only, others have 2nd and 3rd class carriages, these trains are very basic and often run on the more popular commuter routes. Commuter trains like the one below are best avoided.
A journey in the Observation carriage has traditionally been very popular with tourists. However, it became popular because it was the best carriage you could travel in and there were no alternatives. This is no longer the case. Rajadhani or Exporail provide you with a much better ride, more comfort and the same view.
You only get a full view in the Observation carriage if you sit in the last row of seats where you have a full clear window to take in the views, however, it does have disadvantages;
• You will be travelling backwards as the Observation carriage is always the last carriage.
• The train ride is extremely bouncy and very uncomfortable, it’s like going on a very bad rollercoaster ride that throws you everywhere.
• There is no air-conditioning.
This first class carriage offers reserved seating for 500lkr which is much cheaper than the seats provided by Exporail and Rajadhani express
Night mail trains operate on all major routes.The best known Sleeper train operates on the Colombo to Badulla route and departs from Colombo Fort at 8pm daily. This train has 1st class sleepers (2-berth compartments) all reserved. 2nd/3rd class reserved sleeperettes (reclining seats).
2nd/ 3rd unreserved seats and a buffet car.
It’s definitely NOT the Orient Express, so don’t expect luxury it is old but serviceable and that’s about all.
The train network in Sri Lanka runs as it did when the British ruled Sri Lanka, not much has changed. It’s not extensive and it does not cover the whole of Sri Lanka, although efforts are being made to improve it.
When planning your Sri Lanka travels keep in mind that the tourist resorts like Galle, Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, on the South West coast are the easiest to backpack via train, as is Kandy on the [_ Colombo- Badulla line _]. Taking the train from Colombo to Kandy is actually quicker than taking the air-conditioned bus, however, as it’s a single-track line the number of trains running on this popular backpacking route is limited.
Backpacking destinations in the North and on the South east coast are much more difficult to travel to. Batticaloa and Trincomalee are the only destinations connected on the east side of the island and trains run less often to them. Jaffna in the north has only recently been connected.
Colombo – Mannar
When planning your train travel it’s worth remembering that you are dealing with a very old fashioned system and there are a number of difficulties you will encounter.
• NO TECHNOLOGY!
The photo is an inside shot of the Negombo railway station. A high tech computer system enabling reservations and generating an up to date timetable are on the wish list for some time in the future. In the interim ADVENTURE TRAVEL in Sri Lanka requires patience and persistence!
• UNHELPFUL STAFF
Unhelpful/untrained staff make planning a tour of Sri Lanka very difficult. Having the phone put down on you or better still being asked
“have you checked on Google” are to be expected. To avoid this plan your tour of Sri Lanka carefully and try to book as many seats as you can online or via mobitel.
• Check Your Travel Dates.
If you want to travel Lanka by 1st class travel with Rajadhani or Exporail then check your travel dates carefully as these 1st class carriages do not run every day on certain routes, for instance on the Colombo – Badulla route the Rajhadani express does not run on a Wednesday and from Badulla –Colombo it does not run on a Thursday. The journey from Colombo to Badulla takes almost 10 hours, experienced backpackers may be okay with 3rd class but really it’s worth double-checking the train schedule to ensure your tour of Sri Lanka is comfortable.
• Book seats in Advance.
Book 1st class Rajadhani or Exporail seating online. You must do this more than 24 hours before you wish to travel. You can use Mobitel to book intercity express seats on the Kandy- Colombo routes and some Rajhadani seats in advance of your Sri Lanka tour dates. The 1st class seating gets booked up quickly which may mean you have to go cattle class and spend 10 hours roasting in the baking hot carriages.
• 2nd/3rd Class travel.
The popular coastal route of Colombo to Galle runs only 1 train per day with a first class carriage; all other trains are 2nd/3rd class. These commuter trains get very over crowded with the hundreds of commuters. They have NO air conditioning and are very hot. Think twice about traveling on them. They take a long time, have no facilities and there is a risk of theft and being sexually groped, not the sort of thing you want to experience on your holiday.
Exporail and Rajadhani Express tickets
These tickets can be reserved online or purchased using a Mobitel prepaid sim or at Mobitel offices.
You cannot book Exporail or Rajadhani at any train station, it must be a station at which the train stops. Colombo Fort has a booth to reserve tickets.
All other tickets must be purchased at the station of departure.
You can buy 1st class and 2nd class reserved seats up to 45 days before you start your Sri Lanka tour. To do this you must go to the train station from where you want to depart and buy your ticket.
for train enquiries only– you cannot book tickets on this site.
THE PROS & CONS OF FIRST CLASS RAIL TRAVEL
• Fully functioning doors/windows
• Comfortable seating
• All facilities including Wi-Fi, buffet, toilets
• Can be booked online
• Can be booked using a mobitel pre paid sim card
• Good value for money with prices from 900lkr
• Only available on a few trains a day
• Limited number of seats, which get booked very quickly
• Online tickets need to be booked more than 24 hours in advance
• On the Colombo – Badulla route there is no Rajhadani express on a Wednesday from Colombo and no Rajadhani express on Thursday from Badulla –Colombo
The following stations are great for including in your tour of Sri Lanka, the Colombo Badulla line takes you through the hill country with spectacular scenery. The cooler climate is perfect for adventure travellers who enjoy a break from the heat.
Exit at Rambukanna – adventure travellers can backpack to the Elephant Orphanage to see the herd or Elephant Foundation for a one on one experience
Exit at Perideniya Junction – to transfer to Badulla line or to include the Botanical gardens in your tour of Sri Lanka
Exit at Kandy city- home of the Tooth Temple and buses to cultural sites
Exit at Hatton for backpacking up Adams Peak and Castlereagh Reservoir
Exit at Nanu-Oya for Nuwara Eliya tea trails golf and waterfalls.
Exit at Pattipola – Exit here if you want to include Horton Plains in your Lanka travel – it’s just 10km away.
Exit at Ella – adventure travellers can explore little Adams Peak, Ella Rock and the tea trails
Exit at Badulla for Dunhinda waterfalls at Badulla and soak in the history of Bagoda Bridge and the Dhowa Rock Temple.
The Colombo – Batticaloa line takes you across country to the East coast. Batticaloa is the only stop on the east coast. The line passes through part of the Cultural Triangle and also gives you options to switch lines and travel north.
Exit at Batticaloa for Passekudah & Kakudah beach resorts and to backpack to Arugam bay Beach resort.
Exit at Polunnaruwa to travel to the Sacred city of Polunnaruwa
Exit at Minneriya for the Elephant gathering
Exit at Habarana for Dambulla Cave Temple and Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Exit at Galoya to switch lines and travel to Trincomalee or for Kaudulla national park.
Exit at Kalawewa for the Sacred city of Anuradhapura
Exit at Maho to switch lines and backpack to Jaffna and Mannar
Exit at Trincomalee for Trincomalee beach resort, Pigeon island and hot baths and for Nilavelli Beach resort.
Exit at Habarana for Dambulla Cave Temple and Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Exit at Galoya to switch lines and travel to Batticaloa or for Kaudulla national Park
Exit at Kalawewa for the Sacred city of Anuradhapura
Exit at Maho to switch lines and backpack to Jaffna and Mannar
Exit at Maho to switch lines to Trincomalee Batticaloa/Mannar
Exit at Anuradhapura for the ancient city ruins
Exit at Minthale to view the historic pilgrimage site on the top of the mountain, climb the rock site, view the giant Buddha and Stupa
Exit at Madawachchi for trains to Trincomalee, Batticaloa/Mannar
Exit at Murukandi Temple for a blessing at the historic Hindu shrine frequented by travellers.
Exit at Elephant pass to view the war memorial and monument dedicated to all those who lost their lives in the civil war including the hero of the Sri Lankan forces Hasalaka Gamini who gave his life in defeating the Tamil tigers and preventing them from gaining the camp and winning the war.
Exit at Jaffna for Jaffna city, fort, library and access to beaches.
• Exit at Mount Lavinia for Mount Lavinia Beach resort.
Shallow sea, sandy beach and a number of very good beachside restaurants and a dive school. Mount Lavinia shot to fame following the notorious love affair between the British Governor and a local lady for whom he built a secret tunnel to his residence so that she could visit him daily. He lived in what is now the Mount Lavinia Hotel, a hotel that is still very popular for weddings and honeymoons. At Mount Lavinia you will also find a small turtle farm where you can release turtles onto the beach for a small donation. Mount Lavinia also has easy access into Colombo city.
• Exit at Bentota for Bentota beach Resort.
Good beaches an enjoyable boat safari along the river and through a mango cave. Splash out and enjoy a cruise on a luxury catamaran with great food and drinks. Also handy for one of the many Turtle farms
• Exit at Ambalangoda for Ambalangoda Beach resort.
Home of the Sri Lankan Mask makers, there is a small Mask museum at Ambalangoda, which shows you the full spectrum of colourful masks. Nice beaches and not a lot more.
• Exit at Hikkaduwa for Hikkaduwa beach resort.
Sandy beach, wild turtles to feed on the beach. Good restaurants delicious seafood, close to turtle farms and Galle Fort. Hikkaduwa also has excellent surf points and a coral reef that is a national park.
• Exit at Galle town for Galle Old Town and Fort.
A must do for any tour of Sri Lanka. Head directly for the Old Dutch Fort and enjoy a day walking around the historic fort with its bijou restaurants and shops. Don’t bother with the city itself – there’s nothing special there. Add the Hiyare rain forest or the Moonstone Mines to your adventure travel itinerary.
• Exit at Unawatuna for Unawatunna beach resort.
Lots of beachside restaurants and lively holiday atmosphere. From here you can make the short journey to the more secluded Jungle beach or go for a day trip to Galle fort.
• Exit at Koggala for Koggala beach resort.
For the sleepy small beach resort of Koggala, include it in your tour of Sri Lanka if you like to see more of the real Lanka. Great for lake fishing and boat tours, spice and herbal gardens and the Wickransinghe museum.
• Exit at Welligama for Welligama beach resort.
More of a sleepy beach resort with a long stretch of sandy beach and shallow sea. A good beach resort to learn how to surf and dive. It’s most famous attraction is the small island close to the beach where the Count De Mauney of France built his dream home.
• Exit at Mirissa for Mirissa beach Resort
Once famous for it’s beautiful secluded beach it’s now a popular beach resort. Plenty of water sports, whale and dolphin watching and easy travel to Galle.
Exit at Matara for Matara city and beach.
Giant Buddha’s and onward bus transport to the south east. Unimpressive city. Not a good beach resort for tourists. Unsafe swimming and too much sexual harassment.
The following train schedules detail the major trains to the most popular backpacking destinations. They are correct as at 02.02.2016 but they are always subject to change.
There is no Rajadhani on Wednesday
09.45 Colombo Fort
11.20 Rambukanna (exit here for elephant orphanage & foundation)
12.21 Perideniya (exit here for Kandy)
15.51 Nanu Oya (exit here for Nuwara Elliya)
BADULLA – COLOMBO
13.46 Nanu Oya (exit here for Nuwara Elliya)
17.40 Perideniya (exit here for Kandy)
19.09 Rambukanna (exit here for elephant orphanage & foundation)
20.47 Colombo Fort
07.00 departs Colombo
08.45 departs Colombo
15.35 departs Colombo
06.15 departs Kandy
15.00 departs Kandy
18.05 departs Kandy
COLOMBO-MATARA COASTAL ROUTE
MATARA-COLOMBO COASTAL ROUTE
FROM COLOMBO TO MATARA
06.55 Colombo Fort
07.15 Mount Lavinia
08.06 Kalutara South
FROM MATARA TO COLOMBO
17.02 Kalutara South
17.47 Mount Lavinia
18.10 Colombo Fort
Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it or found anything helpful, please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer, it really does make a difference and it will really help get my book out to others.
Thanks! Gail Leach
Gail Leach was fortunate to be born in the UK, which gave her a British passport and with it the freedom to travel around the globe. She has lived in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka and has travelled extensively, collecting a lifetime of interesting experiences both good and bad on her way.
Gail first began travelling to Sri Lanka in 2000, a time when the country was deeply divided by civil war and when travel in the North was almost impossible. She fell in love with the country and moved there to live in 2012. Not all of her experiences have been good. Life in Sri Lanka is not a fairy story and like the famous Robert Knox and many other foreigners who have visited Sri Lanka before her, she has also been cursed, conned and betrayed. Despite all of the drama she still believes Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and would love others to get the best possible experience.
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The essential guide for the independent adventure traveller planning their own tour of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a paradise island that has recently emerged from a bloody civil war and has now exploded onto the tourist market. This guide provides insider travel tips and up to date information on transport options around Sri Lanka, including tuk-tuks, planes, taxis, trains and buses. It's a must have guide for backpackers and adventure travellers with many top tips on the best method of transport for your tour of Sri Lanka tour, including tips on how to travel safely and avoid the scams. It includes a comprehensive listing of National Parks in Sri Lanka, UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Best Beaches in Sri Lanka, Top Attractions plus train and bus schedules. From Arrival at Colombo airport, money change, food and drink to your departure this guide has it all.