Cost and Other Useful Information – Sri Lanka

Getting Around: The public transport system in Sri Lanka is great, busses and trains are super cheap and run regularly. There isn’t always a fixed schedule for the busses so ask the day before at the bus terminal if you can.

Accommodation: We were in Sri Lanka for 25 nights and spent an average of £21.55/night staying in basic B&B’s. I booked everything on Hotels.com. We could have done it much cheaper if we stayed in roomies without A/C.

Food: Can be really expensive or absolute pennies depending on where you eat. Stick to western food and it will quickly add up, local dishes are as low as £1.

When to visit: We visited during wet season, (July). It was absolutely fine, we did have a few days of rain in Galle but nothing too bad. It is as really easy to get a room and most of the beaches where deserted.

Visa: If your traveling from UK (see website for full list of who will require visas) then you will need to buy an electronic visa (ETA) for Sri Lanka. They cost $35/pp and are valid for 30 days. It only takes 5 minutes to apply online and your guaranteed a response within 24 hours, although it only took 15 minutes for our approvals to come through. Apply online at www.eta.gov.lk.

Vaccinations: At the time of writing (July 2017) there are no vaccinations required.

Money: The currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee. ATM’s were easy to find everywhere we went. Exchange rates in June 2017 below:

£1 (GBP) = ₨198.48 (LKR)

$1 (USD) = ₨152.79 (LKR)

€1 (EUR) = ₨170.74 (LKR)

Summary: Sri Lanka is one of the cheapest places we’ve ever traveled, for 25 nights we spent a grand total of £1,465, that’s just £59 per day. We could’ve saved much more but we still wanted a little bit luxury along the way.

Kandy in one day – Sri Lanka

Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second biggest city after Colombo, but has a completely different feel to Colombo. It’s prettier, quieter and has a much more relaxed atmosphere. One day in Kandy is enough to see all the main sights. 

There were so many more tourists in Kandy than we saw anywhere else in Sri Lanka, because of this, the tuk-tuk drivers would not haggle one little bit and were asking for ridiculous prices. They were obviously used to foreigners paying whatever they asked for. We refused to be ripped off and walked everywhere instead. 

We spent the morning walking around the lake and counting water monitors and visiting Kandy’s main attraction, the temple of the tooth. Entry is free for locals and Rs1,500 for foreigners, which is irritating but common in Sri Lanka. 

According to legend, the tooth of the Buddha is kept inside the temple, although you don’t actually see it it, so who knows for sure. It’s still nice to chose to believe the legends are true and the temple itself is very beautiful. Knees and shoulders must be covered and they are very strict, you will be turned away if you are not dressed properly. 

For lunch we went to the Kandy City Centre Shopping Mall, mainly to hide from the sun and feel the A/C for half an hour. 

We saw lots of interesting architecture as we headed out of town towards the Royal Botanic Gardens. We walked there and back although there was a bus that passed at least once every 2 minutes along the main road. 

Again the price for locals was only Rs100/pp but foreigners had to pay Rs1,500/pp, which seemed like a lot to walk around a garden. But we really enjoyed our few hours there. A family of monkeys were passing through and entertaining guests, they weren’t part of the park, just an added bonus. 

We actually spent two days in Kandy but we spent our whole second day visiting Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, click HERE to read our separate post. 

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the Riverdale Breeze Guest House, it’s about a 30 minute walk outside of Kandy but I booked it based on price. All the hotels close to the lake were really expensive. I would recommend the Riverdale Breeze to anybody, it was our favourite hotel in all of Sri Lanka. Rooms were absolutely spotless and service was fantastic. 

Getting There:

We took the train from Ella, click HERE to read our post all about the train journey. 

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (Day trip from Kandy)

Elephant orphanage at Pinnawala can easily be done as a day trip from Kandy, it can be quite confusing working out which bus/train to take, we asked at the tourist information stand in Kandy and the guy just tried to rip us off by telling us the only way we could get there was to pay his brother $50 for a taxi, I didn't believe him one little bit so then I tried the information stand inside Kandy train station, they were much more helpful. 

The train to Rambukkana leaves a few times per day, see HERE for the time table. There are only 2nd and 3rd class seats available and you can't pre-book. A second class ticket costs Rs70/pp each way. 

Once you get to Rambukkana there will be a line of tuk-tuk's all offering Rs100 to the elephant orphanage or you can walk (45 minutes). 

The orphanage costs Rs700 for locals and Rs2,500 for foreigners. Each day the elephants are taken down to the river for bath time, their schedule can be found HERE. It's really strange to see 30 elephants walking down the street, in between souvenir shops and cafes for their bath. 

The Ayubowan Hotel offers great views over the river, but it's expensive as you would imagine. 

I had mixed feelings about the orphanage, a few of the elephants had chains on and were kept separate from the other elephants, the reason why wasn't clear, but I didn't like that part of it. 

However the majority of the elephants were chain free and looked like they were having a great time playing in the water. The orphanage has saved an awful lot of injured and abandoned elephants who probably would have died if they hadn't been brought to Pinnawala. 

During the walk back to the train station we stopped at Glenloch Tea Factory, it was completely free to visit and you were given a guided tour of the factory before being allowed as many free tastes as you like. We tipped our guide before we left. 

Ella to Kandy – Train Journey

I'd been looking forward to the train journey from Ella to Kandy, I'd once read that it was the most scenic train journey in the world and it's almost a tourist attraction in itself. 

I bought tickets at Ella station 3 days in advance and 1st class seats had already sold out, I ended up buying second class tickets for the 06:40 train to Kandy. There are 3 trains per day, our 2nd class ticket cost Rs600/pp. you can just show up on the day and buy tickets for the United-reserved section of the train, there were plenty of seats empty but we did visit during low season. 

Second class was perfectly fine, the seats were comfortable with plenty of leg room and even though there was no A/C, the Windows all opened which was enough, the higher into hill country you get the cooler it gets. 

You will need to bring plenty of water with you, the journey is about 7 hours. As for food,there are plenty of vendors who jump on the train at each station selling all sorts of snacks and treats, some don't even get onboard but will pass goods through the open windows. (Windows don't open in 1st class because they have A/C.) 

Toilets onboard were OK, and not quite as traumatic as I read in one blog post. 

Ella – Sri Lanka

Ella is a small town in the Sri Lankan hill country, very popular with tourists, ever during low season. There is one main road that runs through the town which is completely tourist orientated, there are bars and restaurants lining each side selling everything from rice and curry to Italian and Mexican. 

Things to do in Ella:

Little Adam's Peak – this is the main reason people visit Ella, the hike to the top and back takes about 2 hours, there are some steps but it's a fairly easy hike. The view from the top is better on a clear day. This was my favourite thing to do in Ella. 

9 Arch Bridge – a super easy walk along the train tracks,it's completely flat and only takes about 1 hour 30 minutes round trip. Check the train time table to see what time the train will be passing over the bridge (about 5 minutes before it's due to arrive at Ella. We missed it by about 1 minute!!!!) for the best photos. 

Ella Gap – stay on the main road and head down hill, there are a few good lookout points for photos etc. You only need about 30 minuted but the walk back can be tough in midday heat. 

Ravana Falls (or Rawana Falls, Google maps shows both spellings!) – you will pass this on the bus from Tissa, if your coming from Ella, you could walk there but probably take the bus backup hill. The water is better during rainy season and we saw people swimming in the pool below. 

Newburgh's Green Tea Factory – We visited on a Sunday which is a non-production day so we didn't get to see the factory in operation, although it would have usually cost Rs500/pp for a guided tour. We still had plenty of free samples in the gift shop though. :) 

After all that walking, there are plenty of places on the Main Street where you can get a foot massage.

I wish we had a few extra days in Ella, there is still so much we didn't get a chance to see. 

Where To Eat:

We had about 4 different Roti's from about 4 different places, there were all great. For a proper meal, the chill out cafe was perfect, try the 10 curries in a banana leaf. On a Saturday night the top floor also turns into a nightclub. 

Getting There:

We took the 06:30 bus direct from Tissa bus station, we asked as the information stand the day before, and apparently it's the only direct bus to Ella, it runs every day and gets busy. Travel time is about 3 hours and costs Rs160/pp, the scenery provides entertainment throughout the trip.

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the Rowana Holiday Resort, the first floor has been renovated and the rooms are really nice, the second floor is still very basic, budget accommodation. The view of Ella Gap from the top floor shared balcony is incredible. 

Tissamaharama (Tissa) and Yala National Park – Sri Lanka

Tissamaharama (Tissa)

Most people who visit Sri Lanka will visit Yala National Park, but not many will spend time in the nearby town of Tissamaharama (or Tissa for short), which is a shame because it's a really nice place to spend a night or two. So rather than rushing through and only seeing the bus station, why don't you spend a night or two to take in the sights and recover from that 4:30am Safari trip. 

The town itself is small, there aren't many places for dinner so we ate at the hotel, more on that below. There are however plenty of small bakery's along the Main Street, our favourite was Hambantota, we stocked up on Gull buns for our safari trip and then the 3 hour bus to Ella the next day. 

Tissa has its fair share of Buddhist temples just like any other town in Sri Lanka, the best one is Yatala Wehera, if you keep walking a few minutes along Tissamaharama road you will come to Galkanumandiya, I don't really know how to describe this place other than "ruins", it's absolutely incredible and kind of similar to Stonehenge in the UK. 

The countryside surrounding Tissa is mostly rice farms and wilderness. We were woken up on our second morning by approximately 30 monkeys crossing over our hotel roof, it was such good fun, the best type of wake up alarm ever. 

Yala National Park

Tissa is the perfect base for anybody visiting the Yala National Park, it's only a 30 minute drive (the closest town to Yala) and there are dozens of different tour companies based in Tissa. Your hotel will help you arrange your tour, we paid $44/pp for a 5 hour private tour, there is also the option to share your vehicle with another couple and the price drops to $31/pp. 

We were lucky enough to see a small family of elephants in the park, as well as lots and lots of other creatures, including crocodiles, wild pigs, buffalo etc. 

Where To Stay:

The Nature Resort was absolutely perfect, the rooms were clean and the hotel manager was very helpful. The food was fantastic but the restaurant is very small so you will need to place your order at least a few hours in advance to give the chef time to go and buy all the ingredients etc. The traditional Sri Lankan dinner was beautiful (and cheap). 

Getting There:

It's really easy to get there from  Matara by bus, there are frequent direct buses every day. If you have a driver, ask them to stop at the blow hole at Tangalle, it costs Rs250/pp to enter, and it's. it in a very nice area so a passing visit is more than enough.


Mirissa/Weligama – Sri Lanka 

I'm including Mirissa and Weligama in one post because they are within walking distance to one another. We stayed in the middle and spent 2 days in each town. 

Mirissa:

The beach here is a small crescent that is absolutely picture perfect, there's a small island on one end that you can walk to (you will get wet) which has a seat on the top, a perfect place to watch the sunset, and the other end of the beach is capped with a green cliff face which would look great on any post card. 

There are a few cafes built right onto the sand (like Unawatuna but not as overly developed), and the whole place has a laid back vibe. 

The harbour in Mirissa is colourful and busy, certainly worth a quick detour. 

Mirissa is famous for its whale watching tours, but we visited during low season and were told that there would be no tours during July and August because the sea was too rough. 

Weligama:

A surfers paradise, the beach here goes on forever. We walked about 25 minutes before seeing another human being, there was nothing on the beach other than the odd fishing boat and a few surfboard rental huts. 

Once you leave the Beach and cross the road, Weligama is a bit more developed that Mrissa, with more selection of restaurants and a supermarket. 

There is a small but impressive statue in Weligama, it's alleged to be over 1,500 years old. It's called the Kushtarajagala statue and is just after the railways tracks on Matara road. 

Overall Weligama was our favourite out of the two, the beach was less crowded and we had our best curry in Sri Lanka at Akila Kitchen, it's number 1 position on TripAdvisor is truly deserved. 

Where To Stay: 

We stayed at the Latheena Resort, Weligama was about a 20 minute walk west and Mirissa was about 30 minutes east. The hotel backed onto the beach. 

Breakfast was good and was included in the price. The family who ran the hotel were great and their kids were adorable. We got laundry done for Rs50/item, smaller items were free. 

I would certainly stay here again. 

How To Get There: 

If coming from Galle or Unawatuna, take any bus headed for Matara, and if coming from Matara, take the bus to Galle. A tuk-tuk will cost around Rs1,200. The train services are infrequent. 

Unawatuna – Sri Lanka

Located on the south west coast of Sri Lanka, close to Galle, Unawatuna was once voted the best beach in the world. Naturally we had to go and see what all the fuss is about.

It's quite a built up area and very "touristy", though still beautiful.

Things to do in Unawatuna:

The Beaches:

The main beach in Unawatuna is a crescent of golden sand, with cafes and bars built right onto the sand. Most rent sun beds for free as long as you buy something. We went during low season and it was peaceful with just a few other tourists, but it gets really busy during high season.

To escape the masses for a while, take a short hike (about 45 minutes) to the hidden jungle beach, also named the secret beach although not much of a secret anymore. If you don't fancy the walk then you can take a tuk-tuk the majority of the way there. Even though you can no longer guarantee the beach to yourself, it's still incredibly peaceful and the sea is a lot calmer.

Dalawella beach has the Instagram famous rope swing, and not much else, it's about 20 minutes walk from Unawatuna and another perfect getaway from the crowd. If your lucky you might even see a few of Sri Lanka's famous stilt fishermen. Sadly the sea was to rough for them on the day that we visited.

Buddhist Temples:

The Japanese peace pagoda is the perfect detour on the jungle beach walk, they do ask that you have shoulders and knees covered at this one, and like all the others, you will need to remove shoes. It's free to visit but there are donation boxes scattered around.

The Unawatuna Devol Devalaya is right at the tip of Unawatuna beach. You don't need to be too covered up but swimming costumes are a no no. You will likely be shown around by a local who is happy to take photos for you and will expect a small tip for his time.

Visit Galle:

Less than a 20 minute drive away, Galle is the perfect day trip, either take a tuk-tuk or one of the many busses heading that way from the main road. See my post on Galle by clicking here.

Night Life and Dining:

Being a more developed tourist destination means more choices when eating out, our favourites were:

Bedspace Kitchen, number 1 on TripAdvisor for good reason!

Coconut Style, for traditional rice and curry at really low prices.

Marcos, hidden down a narrow side street and authentic Italian food (the owner is from Italy)

There is also quite a good nightlife (more so in high season) in the many bars along the beachfront. Alcohol is quite expensive in Sri Lanka, about the same as you would pay in the UK.

Look After Yourself:

The gym was only Rs300/day, and we both got massages from the many different spas on the main street, we also spent a lot of our time on the balcony with a book.

Yoga was advised in a few different places every morning from 7am, but I never got out of bed on time 🙂

Where To Stay:

Sadly for the second time in Sri Lanka (and luckily the last) the hotel was not worth recommending.

How To Get There:

Unawatuna has its own train station but service isn't very regular, you may need to go to Galle first then take a bus (headed toward Matara) or tuk-tuk to Unawatuna. From Galle is less than 20 minutes.

Galle Fort – Sri Lanka

Galle is located on the south coast of Sri Lanka and is about 2 hours from Colombo (see 'Getting There'). Perfectly located for trade routes to Europe, Galle was previously occupied by the Portuguese before the Dutch and the English had a go, the old town is built within European style walls complete with a lighthouse and only one gate in and out. The new town has since expanded outside the walls but most people come to visit the old town and the walls themselves. 

Inside the walls the streets are incredibly clean and cater fully to tourists, there are plenty if boutique hotels, quirky cafes and handmade gift shops.

About a 30 minute walk from the fort is the Sea Turtle Hatchery, it costs Rs500/pp and you only need about 30 minutes there. As well as hatching babies they also take in injured turtles and the staff do a really good job explaining all the different species etc.

There are other hatcheries in Sri Lanka who let tourists release babies into these a but you can't do that here. A baby released during the day on its own has an almost 100% death rate, it's an unethical practice and the staff in Galle Hatchery really seem to care about the welfare of the animals. 

We chose to stay overnight but if you're short on time, Galle can certainly be done as a day trip from Unawatuna. There were lots of direct busses from the Main Street in Unawatuna, travel time is approx 30 minutes. 

Where to Say: 

The hotels inside the fort were quite expensive, we stayed about 25 minutes walk away at the hotel Hasara. It was a great budget option, basic but had A/C and a free breakfast. Worth noting that it was up a very dark path with no street lights, either take a torch with you (we just used my phone) or take a tuk-tuk for Rs200. 

Getting There:

From Colombo there are a few trains per day, we visited the tourist information stall in Colombo the day before who told us that we couldn't pre-book tickets for this train and that tickets were Rs80/pp and the journey was about 2.5 hours. When you get to Galle station you can take a tuk-tuk for around Rs100. 

We had abit of a disaster in Colombo and Sean got serious food poisoning, we didn't know what the bathroom situation would be onboard and it didn't seem fair to have him sitting vomiting into a bag the whole trip. We asked the receptionist to book us a private driver which cost Rs9,000, which is completely over the average, but we were desperate and in no position to negotiate. The drive took 2 hours.