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HOW TO TRAVEL SRI LANKA ON A BUDGET

I have traveled to Sri Lanka as the last stop of my big adventure in the summer of 2019. This country has surprised me in so many ways – I did not expect that at all. After 2 months of staying in Bali and Malaysia I felt like I needed some change. That is the reason why I flew to Colombo and started my little two-week adventure in Sri Lanka. If this is your first time traveling to Sri Lanka it may be challenging to organize your travel plans. Once you have arrived you’ll see that this country is a little bit chaotic and so is traveling there. That’s the reason why I want to share my experiences and tips for visiting Sri Lanka with you in this blogpost.

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Why you should travel to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a small island in South-Asia located in the Indian Ocean. After traveling through South-East Asia for 2 months I was looking for a new country to visit, since I wanted to see something different. Sri Lanka has never really crossed my mind until I started researching. It was just the perfect match for what I were looking for. So here are some reasons why you must visit this country:

  • Sri Lanka is very cheap to travel to. (I get into the details later, but you can easily travel with 300€ for 2 weeks) So, it is perfect for students like me, who are on a tight budget.
  • It is not as touristy as other destinations in Asia, like for example Bali, Thailand, etc. Sri Lanka has a lot of quiet places to explore. That was one thing I really enjoyed about this country. If you have been to Bali already, you know how draining it can be when everywhere you go there are hundreds of people.
  • Sri Lanka has both: beautiful mountainsides and beaches. From absolutely stunning mountain views and hiking options in Ella to palm-tree-covered beaches in Mirissa, this country has a lot to offer for everybody.
  • If you like surfing, Sri Lanka is your place to be. There are so many incredible surfing spots around the coast. From beginner level waves to professional conditions, Sri Lanka has it all.
  • The locals are so ready to help, hospitably and nice. I was sick for almost a week when I was in Ella and everyone I met offered me help. The hosts from my Airbnb always made me hot water and food. I was really surprised by how kind the people are.

And these are only a few things Sri Lanka has to offer. You’ll find out more about the beauty of this country when you are actually there.

Sri Lanka travel route

I have been to Sri Lanka for a total of two weeks, which is long enough if you want to see the main parts of the country. Three weeks would have been a more relaxed option, but in my opinion, you don’t need more time than that.

  1. Colombo: I landed at the airport near Colombo and drove to my hostel in Colombo by Tuktuk. In Colombo, I spent two nights to organize my trip. (3 days)
  2. Sigiriya: Afterwards, I drove to Sigiriya by train to see the famous Lions Rock. (2 days)
  3. Kandy: Then I stopped in Kandy to go on the most scenic train ride of the world to Ella. (2 days)
  4. Ella: In Ella I stayed pretty long because I loved it so much and also because I was sick. Under normal conditions 3 to 4 days should be enough. (5 days)
  5. Arugam Bay: It’s the paradise for all surfers. (3 days)
  6. Mirissa: From Arugam Bay I drove to Mirissa. Mirissa and the nearby Weligama are also perfect for surfing and some relaxing beach time. (4 days)
  7. Airport: From Mirissa I decided to go straight to the airport since I did not really like Colombo that much.

That was only a short summary of my travel route. We will do a separate blogpost about a detailed travel itinerary soon.

Must see in Sri Lanka

These are the spots you can’t miss, if you are on an adventure in Sri Lanka.

  • Lions Rock: Lions Rock is a giant rock in the middle of the Sri Lankan jungle. Somehow, this rock has a real magical vibe to itself. Most travelers just come to Sigiriya to see it, which makes it a very special experience.
    • Tip: Don’t hike up the Lions Rock itself, because it is very expensive (30€). The better option is to hike up the Pidurangala Rock on the opposite side. From there you have an incredible view over the Lions Rock and the whole area. Furthermore, it is much cheaper, you just have to pay a small fee of 500 RS (2,50€). The best time to go is for sunrise.
    • PLEASE: Don’t go to common elephant “sanctuaries” or ride on elephants! The animals are not treated right in these kinds of institutions in Sri Lanka. If you want to see elephants do your research first.
  • Train ride from Kandy to Ella: This 6-hour train ride is called to be the most scenic in the world. It is a long journey and the train is not very comfortable, but the views are breathtaking. It is a very unique experience. You’ll be driving through tea plantations, mountainsides and jungle. Meanwhile you can hang out the door and enjoy the breeze. Even though I had bad weather this was a very memorable day to me. You definitely can not miss this when you travel to Sri Lanka.
    • Tip #1: Don’t enter the train directly in Kandy, since the train is overcrowded most of the time. Rather take a tuk-tuk to the nearby Peradeniya Station and enter the train there. Fewer people are on the train at this point and you can get a seat more easily as most of the people exit the train in Kandy.
    • Tip #2: Make sure to provide yourself with enough drinks and food from a bakery in Kandy (Roti is always a good idea)
  • Ella: This town in the mountains of Sri Lanka has such an incredible vibe. It is more touristy than some other places in this country, but you will understand why the moment you arrive there. The famous Nine-Arch-Bridge is THE place to visit in Ella.
    • Tip: Visit the bridge to the exact time trains are crossing the bridge. You can ask the locals there to get the times when the train is arriving.
    • Get an Airbnb a little bit out of Ella to enjoy having a bedroom with a beautiful view over the mountains.
  • Mirissa: Beach, surfing and palm trees are what Mirissa has to offer. You can spend your time lying on the beach, surfing, going to nice little cafes and just relax before you leave for your journey home.
    • Tip: If you are looking for a sunset spot with a good view, go to the Palmtreehill. It can get a little bit crowded but it is still a beautiful place.

How expensive/ cheap is Sri Lanka?

Living and traveling Sri Lanka in general is very cheap. For two weeks without flights I spent 450€ . However, I must say that you can also travel for around 350€ or less, if you are on a lower budget. I also spoilt myself sometimes with some nice food or a private driver. So it’s up to you! The classic Sri Lankan food is around 2-3€ per meal and the accommodations start at 5-10€ per night. Traveling around with public transportation is not very comfortable but also very cheap with around 2-3€ per distance.

How to get around?

Since Sri Lanka is still a developing country, the infrastructure is not the best. The cheapest way to get around is by using public transportation. (2-3€) However, these are very crowded and uncomfortable, plus they take very long to get you from A to B. The second option is the private busses which have an AC and are smaller. These cost about 4-6€ and are more comfortable. Furthermore, in Sri Lanka, you have the opportunity to go by train to most places. These are about the same price as the public busses and are also very slow. The most comfortable option is taking a private driver if you can afford it. With the website https://srilankataxishare.com you can find other travelers to share a taxi. Depending on the distance this costs about 30-80€ per car/minibus. You can also find fellow backpackers in the Facebook Group “Sri Lanka Backpackers”.

Tips we wish we knew earlier

As with any country you travel to, there are always things that don’t go according to plan. And so it was in Sri Lanka. It is actually not that easy to travel around, since the tourism in this country is not that big yet. (Which is also good for the impression) Anyways, this can cause some issues in transportation.

  • Don’t use the public busses. I went by bus on our first trip from Colombo to Sigiriya. 6 hours on a bus with open windows, super loud music and a lot of people and dust is not comfortable at all. It definitely was an experience, but I would not recommend doing that to anyone else. Get a private bus or a driver at least for long journeys. It is way easier and relaxed. Oftentimes you can share a taxi with other travelers. Just look for a shared taxi on this website: https://srilankataxishare.com or on Facebook.
  • You don’t need to necessarily visit Colombo. Colombo has not very much to offer and is very dirty and grey. If you can skip it, I would recommend going straight to your first destination or to Negombo.
  • Be aware of scammers in Colombo who reach out to you randomly and impersonate themself as staff members of high-class hotels. Those are scammers, try to avoid them and don’t follow them.
  • Always wear a scarf or anything else in front of your mouth to protect yourself from the dust. There is so much bacteria in the air, that could make you sick if you breathe in the dirty air. Especially if you go by public transportation.
  • Always bargain about prices anywhere. You are most likely to get a cheaper price for almost everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s the private driver, the surfboard hire or the market. Especially if you are on a budget this can save you a lot of money.

Instagram spots

Since you probably want to take some nice pictures to share on social media or just show your friends when you travel to Sri Lanka, here are some places you can go:

Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, Colombo

Pidurangala Rock, Sigiriya

Nine-Arch-Bridge, Ella

Arugam Bay

Palmtreehill, Mirissa

I hope I could help you with some of my tips to make your trip to Sri Lanka an unforgettable experience. If you have further questions just let me know in the comment section below!

Safe travels, guys! <3

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