After our rather successful Andaman Tour, we had waded through yet another Covid-19 pandemic wave in India and spent most of our time inside our home, devoting time for our work, which pays our bills and our travel. But the itchiness to go back to travel, is very hard to ignore or do away with. So, once the pandemic again came to a halt and cases died down, country was opened up, we were again, scouting for our next adventure. And we were thinking "where will it be, this time??".
As the pandemic 2nd wave died down in India, we were aiming big, and wanted to plan our first international tour. But, yet the uncertainty of booking flights and applying/waiting for visa, was really a hard thing to take into account, while planning the trip as the situation was very fluid. So, we had to drop the plan of a Europe Trip & Africa Trip as it costs a fortune, if you had to cancel the trip and had to choose, whether its going to be Bali/Indonesia trip or our own neighbor Sri Lanka. As we looked at the landscape of Sri Lanka and the things that it has to offer to the travelers, with a variety of Beaches / Central highlands famous for plantations & short treks / the rich heritage of culture and history and the close ties with our own Indian heritage and food, Sri Lanka was a clear winner here and we were thrilled to have finally got our "First International Destination".
Brief Intro to Sri Lanka:
With Sri Lanka, you need a minimum of everything. Minimum planning, minimum budget, minimum waiting period for the visa or eta to be issued and a minimum flight duration from India, especially if you are travelling from Southern India.
Sri Lanka is jewel shaped Island nation, which is located in the South Asia on the Indian ocean just below India. The population of Sri Lanka is approximately 2.2 crores (22 million). The main ethnic groups of Sri Lanka are Sinhalese who are spread across Central / Western / Eastern and Southern part of Sri Lanka and the other group is Tamils who are mainly dominating the Northern Sri Lanka especially the Jaffna area.
Being a Island Nation, Sri Lanka is very famous for its pristine beaches and colonial era forts and heritage. But, Sri Lanka is not limited just to that, It has a rich bio-diversity in terms of wild animals (Flora & Fauna), in its countless National Parks spread across the island.
The central highlands of Sri Lanka are world famous for its tea/coffee/pepper plantations, as the central highlands are much elevated compared to the coastal regions of Sri Lanka. The central highlands offer, a great opportunity for the nature lovers as there are numerous mountains and green trails, for trekking and adventure activities.
The national parks of Sri Lanka, such as Minneriya, Kaudulla, Yala, Uduwalee, Habarana and Horton plains national parks, which are spread across Sri Lanka making the country more bio-diverse despite being a small sized island nation.
The island nation is also a promising destination for the heritage and culture & history lovers, with the world renowned sites such as Sigiriya & Polonnaruwa in the Central Sri Lanka and also the archeologically important sites of Anuradhapura in the Northern Sri Lanka. The coastal city of Galle is dipped in colonial era history and arguably the most visited region of Sri Lanka with its Dutch forts, city streets and beaches teeming with tourists from all over the world. The surfing capital of Sri Lanka is located here in the southern shores of Sri Lanka such as Unawatuna/Matara region.
The Northern most region and the Eastern region of Sri Lanka are also seeing a lot of interest in the travelers circuit in recent years, as previously this region was far less open due to the turmoil after the bloodiest civil war ended in the 1st decade of 21st Century. The places such as Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticoloa, Pottuvil (famous for one of the best beach of Sri Lanka, the Arugam Bay are being visited frequently by the ardent travelers who like to explore the unexplored.
Planning about weather in Sri Lanka, there is basically a summer season and a rainy season (monsoon) and only in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, you would witness a winter season.
There are mainly 2 monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka.
Yala / South Western monsoon (May - August)
Maha / South Eastern monsoon (October - January)
In the recent years, the central highlands are receiving fair amount of rainfall in both the monsoon seasons making it the wettest region of Sri Lanka.
Our Sri Lanka Itinerary in brief:
Day #1: Arrive in Colombo from Bengaluru - INDIA | Colombo Sight-seeing
Day #2 & #3: Colombo to Sigiriya | Safari ride at Habarana / Explore Sigiriya UNESCO Heritage Site.
Day #4 & #5: Sigiriya to Ella | Explore Ella / Trek to Little Adam's Peak & Nine Arch's Bridge
Day #6: Ella to Mirissa | Visit Secret Beach Mirissa / Visit Coconut Tree Hill / Mirissa Beach stay
Day #7 & #8: Mirissa to Galle / Explore Unawatuna - Galle Fort / Visit Infinity pool - Thalpe Beach
Day #9: Return from Galle to Bandaranaike Intl. Airport / Return Flight to Bengaluru - INDIA
The Planning and Information Bundle for our Trip:
ETA / Visa / Immigration Process:
The visa process for Sri Lanka is very easy for most countries, including Indian visitors. The easiest way to is o obtain an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) online and once entering Sri Lanka (Preferably at Bandaranaike International Airport CMB, Colombo), convert this ETA into a on-arrival visa entry in the Immigration Counter at the airport.
Apply for ETA online https://eta.gov.lk/slvisa/ by filling up applicant details. (ensure to enter the passport# correctly and have the round trip ticket details handy)
Pay the ETA fees (20 USD / 1480 INR approx.) online, after filling up ETA Application.
You will receive an email for your ETA Application Acknowledgement
Within 48hours - 3 working days, you will receive your ETA Confirmation on email. (without ETA Confirmation email you cannot travel to Sri Lanka)
Print the ETA or carry the soft copy of ETA, along with passport while entering Sri Lanka and get the visa stamped on your passport upon entry in Sri Lanka at the Immigration Counter at the Airport (Katunayake or Bandaranaike).
The above details are well documented, in the below official site of Govt. of Sri Lanka for Immigration and Visa.
The travel advisory of Sri Lanka is very well communicated in the below Sri Lanka Travel website of Sri Lanka Tourism official page/website. Follow this page/website for the most up to date and official news or travel advisory while visiting Sri Lanka.
Currency Conversion (INR -> USD -> LKR):
While on the travel, you always need to do transactions and also need to have a proper connectivity to plan your trip as well, to stay connected to your family/loved ones or to your travel partner, here is the brief information about both of these.
The legal currency of Sri Lanka is Sri Lankan Rupees or known LKR / Lankan Rupees which is (1LKR = 0.37 INR / 0.0049 USD) or vice versa (1 INR = 2.74 LKR / 1 USD = 202 LKR ).
Exchange rates - Commercial Bank Sri Lanka:
Exchange rates - Sampath Bank Sri Lanka:
For those travelling from India to Sri Lanka, since we are not supposed to carry INR to a foreign country, its advised to convert INR to USD (US Dollors) and carry the USD into Sri Lanka. Once in Sri Lanka, we can convert the portion of USD into LKR (Sri Lankan Rupees), preferably at the Bandaranaike Airport counters which are in the lobby section of the Airport Arrival gates (after the Immigration counter and before the Arrival Taxi holding area).
We can choose from Bank of Ceylon (BOC) / Sampath Bank / Commercial Bank of Ceylon counters available at the airport, to exchange the USD into LKR at the current market rate along with a small conversion fee. For the best conversion rates, you can also, choose to exchange the currency in Colombo at York Street vendors.
For a week long trip from India to Sri Lanka, we would need approximately between 800 - 1000 USD (for 2 persons), considering the high inflation in Sri Lankan economy in last few years.
Note: Always carry the Exchange receipt as you might be asked to present it show as the proof of exchange later during your return journey.
Mobile Connectivity / SIM Card in Sri Lanka:
There are numerous options available with Mobile Network Service providers for travelers/tourists coming into Sri Lanka on a short visit. The most well known are Dialog, Mobitel, Airtel, Etisalat etc.
But we found the Dialog network plan for the tourists, to be attractive and good fit.
With 1299 LKR plan (Approx. USD 8 / 475 INR), we get 10 GB of Data Pack / 600 LKR worth of International Calls / 350 LKR worth Local calls which is more than enough for 1week - 2 week Sri Lanka trip. Plan details are as below.
Dialog - Tourist Plan:
The network connectivity and data speeds were fairly good across Sri Lanka, the places where we travelled and we observed a hassle free usage details tracking with Dialog mobile app once installed on your phone from Playstore or Appstore.
This sim card can be picked up and installed/activated on your Mobile phone within 5-10 mins at the Dialog counter at the lobby of Arrival gate of Bandaranaike Airport (after the Immigration counter and before the Arrival Taxi holding area). You just need a 3G/4G enabled cell phone and your passport for the documentation and activation.
Detailed Itinerary of our Sri Lanka Tour:
We travelled to Sri Lanka on October 29th and returned back to India on November 06th 2021 which was our First International Travel and was for 9 days of travelling across Sri Lanka.
Day #01: Arrive in Colombo | Explore Colombo
Morning Go-Air flight from Bengaluru to Colombo and reached Bandaranaike International Airport.
Covid RTPCR Report & Vaccination certificate verification at Airport Arrival gate.
At immigration counter ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) verification and VISA stamped on our passports.
Currency exchange at Commercial Bank counter, at the last counter of Arrival gate and converted the Dollors (USD) into Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR).
Purchase a Sri Lankan mobile SIM card at Dialog counter (Mobitel/AirTel are the other popular service providers)
We flew from Bengaluru -> Colombo on a Go-Air morning flight and reached Bandaranaike International Airport, just outside of Colombo. Once, we finished the covid related verifications, we also showed our ETA and got the visa stamped on our passport at Immigration counter.
Post that, we exchanged the USD to LKR (Sri Lankan Rupees) at the Commercial Bank counter at the Arrival gate and then also purchased a Dialog Sim card with the tourist plan at the same Arrival gate.
We took a PickMe taxi from the Airport to our Hotel in Colombo for 1400 LKR (for a Mini) which was cheaper than the usual Taxi Service rates at the Airport. The Canada Friendship Highway from Airport to Colombo, was amazing and we were in Colombo in no time. Once we checked into our Hotel room and freshened up, we left out to explore Colombo city on our own.
For lunch, we went to Ports of Call, Taj Samudra, Colombo at Galle Face and the food was average. After lunch, we spent some time at the Galle Face Sea Front Boulevard with the nice evening breeze from the Sri Lankan coast on our face. We then hailed an Auto (Tuk-Tuk) and head towards Seema Malakaya (A Buddhist temple) on the Beira Lake. We were amazed to see, such a quiet atmosphere to be existing right at the heart of a bustling city. There was an entry fee of LKR.50 for Foreign Visitors and your footwear must be removed/kept outside before entering, which is a usual norm in Indian as well as Sri Lankan tradition as a show of respect.
After spending around an hour at the temple, we then proceeded for our dinner, but on the way we visited another temple, which is Gangaramaya Temple which was just a 5mins walk from Seema Malakaya temple. The temple premises was large and we could a see a large Buddha Statue similar to what we usually see in a Tibetan Monasteries across India. The temple was under renovation, so we did not explore much and decided to walk 1.5 km further to our Restaurant where we planned to have dinner.
We had a traditional Sri Lankan dinner at Upali's by Nawaloka and tried their famous Kottu Roti with Vegetables and instantly it was our favourite Sri Lankan food.
Stay for the night at Cinnamon Lakeside, Colombo
Day #02 & #03: Travel to Sigiriya | Safari at Habarana | Explore Sigiriya
After our early morning breakfast, we took a taxi ride from Colombo to Habarana (Kaudulla National Park) for Jeep Safari to see the majestic Sri Lankan Elephants.
On the way stop at Kurunegala for lunch at Sathkaara Dehena Restaurant, where we had traditional Sri Lankan veg meals.
After a ride of 190kms (4hrs), We reached Habarana for Safari. The Safari was a scam to be honest, where they took around 50USD per person (4200INR) for a Jeep Safari and did not even take us to actual Kaudulla National Park, where we could have spotted herds of Elephants near the watering hole for their evening walk. They took us in another direction towards Hurulu Eco Safari by telling Kaudulla area is waterlogged.
After the Safari, we continued towards Sigiriya (another 30mins/20kms) and reached our homestay in the evening around 6pm.
For dinner we were roaming at night, trying to find a restaurant but all were closed as this Island nation was yet to be fully opened up for tourists due to covid restrictions. We found a small restaurant and they offered us food even though it was late night.
This was our first night in Sigiriya which was sobering experience right at beginning of our tour.
For Day-3, We started early and we were pampered by our homestay, with a nice buffet breakfast which had, fresh fruits, fruit juice, nice coffee and Sri Lankan dosa with Sambhol and many more items.
Visit to world famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress. It was walkable distance from our homestay. The experience was wonderful. Though I skipped last part of climbing of stairs on a open sided cliff, my wife went all the way top and reported that it was a 360 degree view from the top.
We had our Lunch at Ahinsa Restaurant, the same one where we had late night dinner the previous day. But this day it was well organized and a nice service.
We came to know later, that on this day, the Sri Lankan Govt opened up all of their districts for interstate travelling or for tourism, hence we could see good number tourists in Sigiriya.
Stay for the 2-nights at Sigiriya Rockside Homestay, Sigiriya.
Day #4 & #5: Travel from Sigiriya to Ella | Explore Ella
Due to the Covid-19 travel advisory, there were very few transport options, hence we chose to take Taxi Pickup from our Ella Hotel, so that they can assist pick us up from Sigiriya and drop to Ella as a one-way drop.
We reached Ella for a rainy afternoon and we chose to sit out and enjoy a sumptuous lunch at our Hotel.
In the evening we head out as the rains stopped, and we could only visit Nine Arche's Bridge, Ella which was a short trek from our hotel and we got back by the evening to our Hotel and enjoyed their food and hospitality.
On Day #5: morning we were all set to do some hiking and we hiked all the way up to Adam's peak and it was a breathtaking 180 degree view from the top of Ella and was a satisfying experience as we wanted to try this hike since the day we planned Sri Lanka tour.
After Adam's peak, we quickly charted a short cut walking path to Nine Arch's Bridge (thanks to Google Maps) and we got down all the way to the train tracks in wait to the train just like others and clicked those customary pictures for our memories. We could not do this the previous evening as we ran out of day light to reach all the way to down to train tracks.
After these 2 short hikes, we called it a day at Ella and filled our tummy's with nice evening dinner and enjoyed the cozy hospitality at Ella Heritage Hotel room.
Stay for the 2-nights at Ella Heritage Hotel, Ella
Day #6: Travel from Ella to Mirissa | Explore Mirissa
After a hearty breakfast at Ella Heritage (Pol Rotti & Sambhol accompanied by fresh fruits & tea), we took a Cab ride provided by Hotel for our one way drop from Ella to Southernmost part of Sri Lanka called as Mirissa.
On the way we stopped for a breathtaking visit for Ravana Falls, the multilayer waterfalls was majestic and it was on side of the road. This is where it was believed that, Sita was kept by Lankan King Ravana for few days and she used to take bath in this waterfalls as per mythological beliefs.
After an uneventful taxi ride we reached our destination Mirissa Beach, the southern tip of Sri Lanka and checked into our resort.
Afternoon we explored the hidden beach Secret Beach Mirissa, for which we had to ask for directions and had to trek through some small mangrove forest to get to this beach. The beach was deserted (maybe due to covid it was closed and yet to open for public), but the beach was serene and clean and a must visit for a quiet outing.
Then we walked all the way to Coconut Tree Hill, a small hilltop dotted with Coconut Trees overlooking the Mirissa Coast and it was a great place to be if you love to watch the sea from up and above and under the shade of tree cover.
We spent the whole evening at Mirissa Beach watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean and enjoyed the feeling of being at the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka.
Stay for the night at Randiya Sea View Hotel, Mirissa Beach.
Day #7 & #8: Travel from Mirissa to Galle | Explore Unawatuna & Galle
After the beach experience at Mirissa previous evening, we were excited to visit another famous Sri Lankan beach destination on our next stop.
After our morning breakfast, we took a local taxi from Mirissa to Unawatuna which was our next destination on our Southern Sri Lanka tour.
We arrived to our grand hotel - Nooit Gedacht Heritage Hotel in Unawatuna, which was also a Dutch Colonial Building hosting the then Governor of Southern Sri Lanka, the property which is now converted as a Heritage Hotel for Tourists.
After freshen up we explored the Unawatuna Beach, but since it was early afternoon, it was not a ideal time to visit, so we head towards Galle, another famous port & fort city at the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka, which is famous for being a Dutch Fort during the colonial past.
On the way to Galle, we paid a quick visit to a Hidden Jungle Beach near Japanese Peace Garden near Rumassala, Unawatuna. Though the beach was not white sand, but it was serene and quiet due to its secluded location and we did find many foreign tourists there enjoying the quiet beach time.
After reaching Galle Fort, We had a nice brunch at Indian Hut Restaurant, Galle Fort, tasting Indian food almost after a week is always a pleasure to our taste buds and tummies.
We spent the rest of the evening exploring the Galle Fort and exploring the nooks and corners of this entire fort city by walking this heritage colony.
Also, during Sunset we climbed on top of the Galle Fort to get a glimpse of the famous Galle Cricket Stadium and ended our day watching the sun set over Galle Sea, another Southern Sri Lankan coastal city.
Before calling it a day, we had a nice evening food at a Mexican Restaurant called The Hideout, Unawatuna and we were surprised by the taste of the mexican cuisine and the ambience of the place was very good. The street walk from the Restaurant to our Hotel in Unawatuna was a nice one and a good ending to our eventful day at Unawatuna/Galle outing.
For our 2nd day at Unawatuna/Galle (Day #08 of our trip), we planned to head east towards another exciting beach called as Thalpe beach, which we heard has good Infinity pools on the beach area and a good place for day outing and fishing.
We took a local auto rickshaw from our Hotel in Unawatuna, and reached closer to the Thalpe beach area, but we had to walk a lot on the beach to find the exact spot of Thalpe beach to get to the famous Infinity Pools and we were in such a joy to find the place and hardly any crowd was there.
We enjoyed the natural pool (a small hole in the old coral reef, creating a pool like structure where you can sit inside to get the best view of waves crashing on top you) and at this place of Thalpe Beach, there were many such holes/pools, hence the name Infinity Pools.
After a few hours of enjoying this natural beauty, we head back to Unawatuna and visited the same Mexican Restaurant from previous night - The Hideout, Unawatuna for some crispy mexican Tacos and Burrito Bowls with a Lion Beer (Sri Lankan Brewed).
In the evening, we again head towards Galle Fort, for another Sunset views from the top of the fort as it was the best thing to do in the evening in Galle, a must visit really.
Before crashing on our beds, we had a hearty late night dinner at our Nooit Gedacht Heritage Hotel and the dinner was delicious and our last one in Sri Lanka, and it was memorable.
Stay for 2-nights at Nooit Gedacht Heritage Hotel, Unawatuna.
Day #9: Return from Galle to Colombo | Return flight to Bengaluru
This was our last day of the Trip and we took a good morning rest in our Heritage Hotel and enjoyed their hospitality and a nice breakfast spread.
We opted for a Pick Me taxi booking for our 2hr (150kms) Journey from Galle to Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport.
Reached the airport very early to our flight and had a nice Sri Lankan packed meal at the Airport Pantry counter and it was delicious and we felt like we are in Southern India enjoying a fresh South Indian meal.
After the Immigration formalities, we boarded our flight back to Bengaluru and reached our home late evening, safe and sound with loads of memories and travel experience of Sri Lanka, which will always be our memorable trip and a first International destination.
Alternate Itinerary (Other places to Visit):
Though we explored Sri Lanka for over a week, but for this small Island nation, teaming with endless beaches/hills/national parks and rich cultural diversity, a mere week of travel is not at all enough to cover the exciting places and experience it has to offer.
This was just a Phase-1 of our Sri Lanka travel and hopefully we will be back for many more to cover the rest of the Sri Lanka in detail.
Here are a few other exciting destinations or experiences in Sri Lanka which can be clubbed with our Itinerary or planned separately in future.
Anuradhapura - A heritage Buddhist era city in Northern Sri Lanka, famous for its ancient Buddhist temples & pagodas.
Minneriya & Kaudulla National Park - The most best place place for sighting the Sri Lankan Elephants during the safari.
Nuwara Eliya - Tea country hills of Central Sri Lanka, a much sought after destination during summer and teeming with lakes and Tea Estates.
Tangalle - South Sri Lanka Coastal town known for amazing beaches and surfing destination.
Weligama - Another South Sri Lanka coastal town known for Surfing beaches.
Polonnaruwa, The Ancient City - Central Sri Lanka known for its Ancient Sri Lankan history and kingdoms with archeological significance.
Horton Plains National Park, Central High Lands, Sri Lanka - Known for its hiking trails and panoramic view mountains.
Arugam Bay, East Coast of Sri Lanka - Busy recreational beach with big waves for surfers, home to an international surfing competition.
Jaffna, The Dutch Colonial city and Northernmost region of Sri Lanka - Known for its traditional fishing villages and Dutch heritage.
Negombo - A bustling and upcoming beach city destination of West Coast of Sri Lanka - Known for its Serene and quiet beaches filled with High Class Beach Resorts offering All kinds of traditional Ayurveda treatments.
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