Looking for highlights and tips for traveling Sri Lanka? Read on…

After spending a few weeks traveling in Sri Lanka, I predict that Sri Lanka is going to blow up as the next hot travel destination in very near future. Sri Lanka is one of my favorite travel ‘discoveries’ this year (along with Northern Spain) .

The food, the deserted beaches, and the pristine countryside of Sri Lanka left me utterly impressed by this tiny island off the coast of India. Not to mention the Sri Lankans themselves who gave me many memories of warm encounters (and one awkward one).

Highlights of Sri Lanka:

  • Sri Lanka Hill Country – Taking a local train through tea plantations, climbing Adam’s Peak, the town of Ella, Lipton’s Seat.
  • Being the only foreigner at Beruwala fish market
  • Visiting Sigiriya
  • Watching wild Asian elephants on a safari at Kaudulla National Park
Sigiriya from across a lake

Sigiriya from across a lake

View from top of Sigiriya rock

View from the top of Sigiriya rock

sri lankan tuk tuk driver and his son on their way to school

Already things in Sri Lanka are changing…
Ella was surprisingly (for me – coming from quiet Haputale) westernized with its Main Street lined with cafes and guesthouses. I have a feeling soon it will be indistinguishable from any other backpacker-overrun towns. While in Galle, the stilt fishermen have discovered that they can earn more money from tips than from fishing.

Come visit Sri Lanka soon before things change too much. When you do, keep in mind the following tips for visiting Sri Lanka.

Tips for traveling Sri Lanka

DON’T underestimate the distance between places in Sri Lanka

View of Sri Lanka's hill country

View of Sri Lanka’s hill country

Climbing Sigiriya rock - a hot and sweaty affair

Climbing Sigiriya rock – a hot and sweaty affair

When I first looked at Sri Lanka, I thought, “Man, this island is TINY. I should be able just zip around this place real quick.’ – oh boy. Big mistake.

For example, according to Google Map the trip from Dalhousie (Adam’s Peak) to Colombo airport should take roughly 2 hrs. In reality it took me close 5 hrs to cover the 135 km distance. And that was using a private taxi!

DO take the train through Sri Lanka’s hill country

Everybody loves a selfie

Everybody loves a selfie

tea picker in Sri Lanka's hill country

Tea picker in Sri Lanka’s hill country

Lipton's Seat in Haputale

Lipton’s Seat in Haputale

Sri Lanka’s hill country is no doubt my favorite region of the country. With miles of hiking trails and endless tea plantations covered hills, it’s one of the most scenic parts of the country and a must visit for trekkers and hikers.

Don’t be surprised if it takes you 2 hours to go 20 miles. The trains in Sri Lanka is a great way to see the hill country, but it’s also very, very slow. Bullet trains these are not. Thank goodness there are always people selling tea and snacks on these trains. And the view wasn’t bad either.

Don’t be afraid try to take 2nd and 3rd class trains- not only is it many times cheaper, it’s also a great way to meet locals who are always curious about you and if you’re into photography, opportunities are abound for some great photo ops.

Tip: if you aren’t able to make a reservation for trains leaving Fort Colombo, be ready to elbow your way in to secure a seat. It was rough.

DO know the average prices in Sri Lanka

Tambili - king coconut in Sri Lanka

Tambili – king coconut in Sri Lanka

Tuk tuks in Sri Lanka cost about 35-45 rupees per kilometer. Unless in Ella and other more touristy places when they’d charge you twice the normal price. In Colombo, there are metered tuk tuks that are often than not, the cheapest way to get around.

How much do things cost in Sri Lanka?

Tambili (King coconut): 40 rupees
Samosas (and other short eats or snacks): 35-45 rupees
Small short eats: 5-10 rupees
Rice and curry:110-150 (about twice in touristy restaurants)
Buses: on average buses cost 40 rupees per hour journey
A room in a guesthouse: 800-2000 rupees (always negotiable)

DO eat rice and curry. So cheap and delicious!

Milk rice and curry, a typical Sri Lankan meal

Milk rice and curry, a typical Sri Lankan meal

Egg hopper, one of Sri Lanka's breakfast dishes.

Egg hopper, one of Sri Lanka’s breakfast dishes.

Egg hopper with curries

Egg hopper with curries

When I read that Sri Lanka’s national dish is called ‘rice and curry’, I got super excited. They are 2 of my favorite things to eat! Needless to say I ate so much while I was in Sri Lanka. While others complained that it was getting monotonous, I had rice and curry 3 times a day. I loved, LOVED Sri Lankan food. It packs a lot of spices with just the right amount of heat.

Rice and curry is also the cheapest meal option in Sri Lanka: street eateries would have signs advertising buffets and for 110 – 250 rupees ($1-$2) you can eat as much rice and curry as you want. They usually serve different types of curry. Most are vegetarians and you have to pay a little more for the meat options.

DO get a local SIM card

3G coverage is everywhere. I use Mobitel. For 700 rupees ($6) you get 4.5 GB of data. It’s mind boggling that I’m standing in the middle of a jungle in Sri Lanka and tweeting while there are spots in San Francisco where I’ll get no signal (are you listening TMobile?)

Most guesthouses in Sri Lanka have wifi but I found that it was more reliable and faster to tether off my phone than relying on these free wifis.

DO try the ‘short eats’

And know that places selling them are called ‘hotels’.

Short eats are fried snacks sold on trains and little street shops in Sri Lanka. They are almost always fried and range from chinese egg rolls type of thing, to prawn cakes, and corn fritters.

Eateries selling snacks and pastries in Sri Lanka are often confusingly called ‘hotels’. In small villages when looking for a place to stay it’s better to use the term ‘guesthouse’. Otherwise, like happened to me twice, you’d be directed to the nearest snack shop.

Not the kind of hotel you think of

Not the kind of hotel you think of

DON’T ride the elephants

Elephant riding isn’t humane. It’s bad for their back, and abuse is often involved in “taming” the elephants. I strongly discourage elephant riding. Using wild animals for entertainment is never a good idea.

Want to see elephants in Sri Lanka? Why not see them in the wild? Seeing wild elephants in Kaudulla National Park was one of the highlights of my trip to Sri Lanka. You can see up to 200 elephants around watering holes. We’re talking a whole family-tree of elephants. It felt like SUCH a privilege to see such a sight.

A lone elephant near a watering hole in Kaudulla National Park

A lone elephant near a watering hole in Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park during the gathering

If you haven’t been to Sri Lanka, I hope you’ll have a chance soon. I don’t think you’ll regret it. It’s one of my favorite countries in Asia. Have you been to Sri Lanka?