We traveled to Sri Lanka in May 2019. The country was reeling from the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, and the resulting retaliation against Muslims. On the whole we experienced no terrorist issues, but we did see the results of the attacks in the country. The military was fully deployed, in Colombo and Negombo there were soldiers on seemingly every street corner. There were checkpoints along the road all over the country. We were searched at every major tourist attraction, and leaving thru the airport we passed thru six! separate inspection checkpoints. It was only a little intimidating, and the Sri Lankan Soldiers and Police always treated us with respect and got us on our way quickly.
The country as a whole was beautiful, peaceful, and an adventure. The food was delicious, the tea divine. If you are considering a trip, we encourage you to go. I think the government has the situation well in hand, and as a result prices are the best they’ve been in years.
- Useful items for travel
- Day 1: Colombo
- Day 2: Sigiriya
- Day 3: Kandy town
- Days 4-5: Nuwara Eliya
- Days 6-8: Ella
- Days 9-10: Yala
- Day 11: Negombo
Getting there and back
We flew from Okinawa thru Singapore to Sri Lanka. The Singapore airport is always a joy to transit through. We scheduled a driver thru our hotel from the airport to Colombo. This was both good and bad, good because if you’re foreign you will be immediately accosted by drivers and others trying to offer services as soon as you pass the secured area of customs. It was bad as the guy gave us bad advice on cell service. We had researched and decided Mobitel was the best, but he suggested we go with Hutch. This was a very bad choice, we constantly had no service but if you looked at network selection Mobitel and Dialog were usually there. I think this is a general rule in Sri Lanka, if you don’t know some one, they are probably trying to route you to their buddy for money.
Useful Items for Travel to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a great country, but as a poorer country it doesn’t have easy access to everything you might have in a large first world area like Shanghai or Tokyo. In our 11 days we didn’t see any Wal-Mart equivalent store, or even something as big as a big city super market. Every where we went the water looked clear, but we used a GRAYL Water Filter (Amazon Link) for all our drinking needs. This filter was nice as we could refill PET bottles in the morning for our hikes and drives, I would guess we ran about 50 presses of water thru it (each pressing being about 400ml). Neither of us had a repeat of the intestinal distress that Chris experienced in the Philippines, so I would call it a success. Bottled water was readily available even in the small towns, but this uses less plastic, it was good for a river fill in Horton’s Plains and overall was easy and made us feel safe.
It’s pretty hot and humid, we wore mostly athletic wear or shorts & t-shirts. We brought a normal assortment of drugs like ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal, and anti-histamine. Those three will get you thru most of you common problems world wide. We also brought salt and band-aids for leeches, but even though we walked thru some decent brush on Ella Rock, we never saw any.
Colombo – Do you want a Tuk-Tuk
Colombo is a mid-sized city on the ocean, as we were in the financial district on a holiday and after the Easter Sunday attacks it was quite empty. You would think this would be nice for walking around, but we were aggressively pursued by hucksters. I don’t think we could go 10 meters without getting asked if we wanted a tuk-tuk. Most drivers left when we said no, but a few got out of their tuk tuks and approached us offering tours and the like. I didn’t particularly feel in danger from them, but I didn’t like the whole vibe. I think a lot of this had to do with their limited income due to the crash in tourism. On the whole I think you could skip Colombo, we certainly felt like we saw enough in 18 hours (including sleep). The Buddhist temple in town is very nice, and we did enjoy a walk along the sea wall. We did enjoy t’s lounge twice. They have Dilmah tea and quite a variety of special tea drinks.
Sigiriya – Two Big Rocks and an Ancient City
In Sigiriya we climbed Sigiriya Rock (an ancient fortress ruins are on top!) and Pidurangala. If you only have time to do one, do Sigiriya Rock, but they were both a good climb and had good views.
Kandy Town – Buddha’s Tooth and good Indian Food
We probably had some of the best food of our trip in Kandy town. There were two vegetarian Indian restaurants on the same block! We also went to the Buddha’s Tooth temple. There is a tooth here that has a good claim to actually be a tooth of Buddha. Kandy town was mostly a transit town for us, we stayed overnight before boarding the most scenic train ride in the world to Nuwara Eliya. We stayed right in town which made it easy to get to the temple and restaurants.
Nuwara Eliya – Little England with High Tea
Nuwara Eliya was probably my overall favorite place in Sri Lanka. There were English gardens, high tea, and a bit cooler temperature. Much less touristy than Ella, the town section had some decent shopping and services. The Grand Hotel used to be the British Governors house and was as classy as any old European hotel. The high tea there came with unlimited tea and a wondrous 3 tier stand.
Yala – Sri Lanka Safari
Yala is very dry in terms of rain, but still humid 🙂 We stayed in a nicer resort here, and we got upgraded due to the current situation so it was quite nice. The big thing to do here is a “safari” in the national park. In the park you have the chance to see leopards, sloth bears, elephants, and more! You will almost certainly see water buffalo, deer, various birds that were exotic to us, and some pretty scenery. We paid US$120 for a private safari, although I think it would have been no problem to share our pickup bed with others. We saw a Leopard and a sloth bear, as well as all the common animals.
Flying from Yala to Colombo
The drive from Yala to Colombo Airport area is 6-9 hours, and we decided that we would rather fly if we could. This was a bit of an adventure in and of itself. Cinnamon Air flies small (8 seater) prop planes around Sri Lanka. They switched our airport to an Air Force Base. I’m not sure if this was because of the troubles, or because it was more convenient . The plane landed about a half hour before our scheduled time, picked us up (there were 3 already on board, and we were the only folks there) and took back off about fifteen minutes before our scheduled time. The whole thing was very smooth, although our bags were extremely thoroughly searched getting on the base. There was no X-ray machine, so I guess they needed to do a proper hand search.
On the plane we sat directly behind the pilot and co-pilot. It was really enjoyable to look out the front window of a plane! If your time is a little tight, or you have no desire to go thru the beach towns on the southwest coast, then this flight is for you!
Negombo – Nice beaches and the Airport
Negombo was nice to stop over the day before our flight. The current travel advisors said to allow four hours at the airport, so we got there at 8:30am for 12:30 flight. I think two hours would have been tight, as there were a lot of security checkpoints and extra searches. Three hours would have been a relaxing no-stress pace, four hours meant we had time for coffee and a long brunch. Negombo itself has a long busy beach area, and a “strip” of tourist restaurants and shops. These were significantly more expensive than the countryside, but still very reasonable by western standards.
Sri Lanka was a great place to visit. Be prepared to be a great negotiator or get a little ripped off as a foreigner, but the rip-off prices weren’t bad compared to western countries. I would recommend spending little time in the cities and more time out in Tea country. As we live on a sub-tropcial island beaches aren’t that big a deal to us, but the beaches along the south west coast looked spectacular.