After a phone call from one of my cousins asking me to be one of her bridesmaids in Sri Lanka, the planning for our trip to Sri Lanka began (Sri Lankan wedding are so much fun, so I obviously couldn't say no). Consequently, some of the first thoughts that went through my head were FOOD, ELEPHANTS and BEACH! Aaron and I decided that we would leave Toronto on October 15th, land in Colombo on October 17th (8 hr flight to Frankfurt, 4 hr layover, 10hr flight from Frankfurt to Colombo) and stay in Sri Lanka till November 1st (a total of 15 days). Our flight from Toronto to Colombo cost around $1200 CDN and our hotels + transportation for 2 weeks cost around $1400 CDN each ($100 CDN a day for 3-4 star hotels with breakfast and dinner + driver was definitely worth it for us.). We also had to be in Colombo between Oct 20-24 for wedding prep, so the road trip was divided into 2 separate trips.
ROAD TRIP 1: CENTRAL
Oct 18 – Hiked in the Sinharaja rainforest in the morning (lots of cool reptiles and plants, but lacks larger animals) and headed to Udwalawe for the night (Hotel: Elephas Hotel Habarana). The main hike itself was pretty easy, but you can spend more time in Sinharaja and hike longer/more difficult trails.
Oct 19 – Morning safari at Udawalwe National Park (lots of elephants, birds of prey, songbirds, crocodiles and beautiful scenery) and headed to Nuwara Eliya for the night. On the way we passed through Ella Pass and a good number of waterfalls, making it quite the scenic drive. Another park to consider visiting is Yala National Park, which has the highest density of leopards in the world. I believe that in September the park closes to the public, so that they can clean up/fix up trails.
Oct 20 – Explored Nuwara Eliya which is famous for Ceylon tea, checked out a tea factory (you can learn the difference between the processing for black, green and white tea, as well as purchase quality tea), and finally headed back to Colombo for the night to party.
Oct 20-24 – visiting friends and relatives, Amanda and Trishan’s wedding prep, homecoming prep in Colombo/ Mount Lavinia. Personally Colombo isn't my favourite part of the country. I find that the traffic is pretty bad and it can be quite crowded. However, there are lots of wonderful restaurants in Colombo so any traveling foodie has a lot on their plate to check out. If food is always on your mind one of my favourite restaurants we ate at was Parkway Mews in Colombo, because they had some very tasty alternatives to rice and curry dishes which you will find in abundance all over Sri Lanka. Some other seafood restaurant recommendations that were made to us were Seafood cove in Mount Lavinia, the Lagoon in Colombo and Mr. Crab also in Colombo. We stayed at the Berjaya hotel while in the area which is right on the beach and the staff was always friendly, but there was also a train track near the hotel which was a little loud at times. Amanda and Trishan's wedding was on October 22 at the Hilton and their homecoming was on October 24 at the Water's Edge. Both events were so beautiful and once again, the food was soooooo good.
ROAD TRIP 2: CENTRAL + EAST COAST
Oct 25 – Visited the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (you can see elephant calves being bottle fed, you can purchase fruits to feed elephants, watch elephants swim, check out how elephant dung paper is made, etc), lunch in Nuwara and visited the world famous Temple of the Tooth aka Sri Dalada Maligawa. Then headed to Habbarana for the night.
Oct 26 – Climbed Sigiriya aka Lion Rock. This is something that I consider a must of any traveler that visits Sri Lanka. You can find frescoes paintings here as well as ancient palace remains, which is why it's considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you make it all the way to the top of the rock, the view is also pretty amazing. It was definitely a highlight for us.
Oct 27, 28 – Headed to Trincomalee for the beaches (Hotel: Trinco Blu). Unfortunately it rained a good portion of the time but we still made the most out of the times that it wasn’t raining. Also the hotel we stayed at had some of the best food we ate in Sri Lanka.
Oct 29, 30 – Stayed in Passikudah (Hotel: Marina Passikudah) for more beach fun. We found that this area was much more secluded than Trincomalee and it felt a lot more peaceful. Definitely a huge fan of this area. When the season is nicer, this is also a fun spot for water sports.
TRAVEL TIPS (also check out the Southeast Asia travel tips blog post for more general travel tips).
1. Sri Lanka is a lot nicer when you can afford to spend a bit of money. This island has a very different vibe from, let's say Thailand, which is very much backpacker tourist driven. There are a lot of foreign families and honeymooners that visit here and almost no backpackers (at least none that I have seen, but you do occasionally run into some surfers here and there). Since I was limited to only a few weeks of travel, I had to plan the trip a little bit more thoroughly and pick only my favourite spots to visit. It's safe to say that Aaron left all the planning for me, especially seeing as how I grew up here.
2. Consider booking your hotels + transportation with a travel company. My parents got me in touch with Explore Tours, who were very helpful in booking nice hotels for us in the places that we wanted to stay, as well as providing us with a car + driver (you definitely don't want to try driving here...). One of the biggest benefits I saw in using a tour company (instead of doing everything by ourselves like in the Southeast Asia trip) was that when we booked hotels with the company, we were able to get room+ half boat (breakfast + dinner) for the same price, if not less than trying to book it ourselves through other websites. Since the breakfast and dinner buffets at hotels in Sri Lanka are actually amazing (as Aaron would say it "it makes my mouth so happy"), we felt like we made the right decision here. Some people also get around by train and bus, but we wanted to cut down on travel time while in the country.
3. Just like many other Asian countries, foreigners pay more for tickets than locals. For example my ticket to Sigiriya cost 50 Rs (50 cents) and it cost Aaron 4100 Rs ($30). So if you are Sri Lankan Canadian and don’t have your dual citizenship, I would even suggest that if one your family members or drivers were traveling with you, then have them buy your ticket. Hopefully you speak Sinhalese or Tamil in case the ticket counters try to verify that you are a local.
4. Always pack rain gear. This goes hand in hand with trying to figure out when the best time to visit is. Unfortunately October is not the best time to visit many parts of Sri Lanka because the monsoon season is about to start. Instead I would advice between January and February. If you are into diving, I would check on the PADI website for which areas are best to dive at and when. Another important factor to keep in mind is that even though Sri Lanka is a very small island, the climate changes quite a bit from one part to another. So if you are thinking of checking out Horton Plains or Nuwara Eliya, than I would pack a warm sweater or 2.
5. You must try all the different types of fruits and seafood (lots of crab dishes here), as well as pastries, different curries and egg hoppers. However, the most important dish you have to try is Kothu roti, which is hands down my favourite Sri Lankan dish. I would also consider working out a little harder before this trip, because you will for sure gain weight from all the amazing food that you will constantly be consuming…. ;)
6. When applying for VISA, it only takes about 24 hours for them to confirm it online, but just to be safe, do it at least 1 week in advance.
7. Please tip the bellhops and waiters. I know lots of Europeans don’t but tipping is pretty big in Sri Lanka. I would say that 150-200 Rs ($1.50-2) is decent for a bellhop and about 250 Rs ($2.50) is good for a meal.
8. You can potentially cover all of Sri Lanka in a few weeks. If you are considering this as an option I would suggest that you definitely rent a car + driver. I have attached a map that I found online below so that you can cater your trip to which items interests you the most.