I visited Sri Lanka back in January 2016, the year I turned 30 and added a solo adventure to my bucket list. This beautiful island country located in the Indian Ocean attracts many tourists for its unspoiled greenery scenery, tropical beaches, exotic wildlife and rich cultural heritage. Despite the increase of visitors, Sri Lanka remains a relatively off the beaten path destination. This country of contrasts awaken my wanderlust and completely stole my heart. From the lush green tea fields of the hill country through to the tropical beaches of the south, I found wonderful people who thought me to smile, observe more and worry less.
The island has its ancient history roots in the Sinhalese people, who arrived in the 6th century BC and implemented Buddhism. Due to its great strategic importance of the ancient Silk Road, the country suffered the occupation of several European countries, being partially occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the Dutch in the 17th and the British at the end of the 18th. The island became an English colony until its independency in 1948, when it changed its name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. After years of politics instability and a 25-year long civil war, in May 2009 the government military forces defeated the Tamil Tigers’ separatist movement.
The beautiful island is home to many cultures, languages and ethnicities; being most of the population Buddhist with minorities of Hindu, Muslims and converted Christians. I loved the sense of community and the welcoming smiles of its people.
When to go:
Sri Lanka is a tropical country with two major rainy seasons: The North-East monsoon from October to January affecting the east coast; and the South-West monsoon from May to July, which predominantly affects the west & south coast. The temperature is lower in the highlands of the island, with averages of 5-20 degrees throughout the year.
Western countries can obtain a visa on arrival valid for 3 months and 2 entries, by filling in the electronic travel authorization (ETA). It costs 30 USD, find more info via the link:
How to move around:
You need to mentally prepare yourself as public transport and infrastructure in Sri Lanka are still developing and journeys can be long and frustrating. Just remember, traveling is not about reaching the destination, but enjoying the ride.
Local buses are the cheapest way to travel around the country, however, there is a lack of online information about timetables and itineraries. These crowded buses lack of air con and can be unreliable as most of them only leave when they get full.
Travelling by train is a great way to admire Sri Lanka´s beauty. My personal favorite was the scenery route between Kandy and Ella. For schedule and online bookings use firstname.lastname@example.org or the website https://www.seat61.com/SriLanka.htm Its possible to book in advance a comfortable reclining seat in Exporail or Rajdhani cabins for 6€ -7€, and there are cheaper options in second or third class. The journey from Kandy to Ella was about 6 hours, while the way from Ella to Colombo was nearly 10.
Hiring and driving your own Tuk-Tuk is the most authentic way to experience Sri Lanka. I have friends who strike a deal directly with local owners for the use of their vehicle and read about the company Tuk Tuk Rental https://tuktukrental.com/ which is safer in terms of insurance.
My 10 days itinerary:
Colombo – Unawatuna (3 days) – Sigiriya (3 days) – Kandy – Ella (3 days) – Colo¡mbo
Highlights of my Sri Lankan adventure:
Unawatuna Jungle Beach
Jungle Beach is a small sheltered bay lost in the jungle, about 3 km from Unawatuna. This is the best place in the area for snorkeling for its calm currents and clear water. You can either get there by boat, tuk-tuk or following the path to the Japanese Peace Pagoda, continuing along the track towards the sea. I walked there twice, and it takes no longer than 40 min from Unawatuna.
Sigiriya is a village in the Central Province of Sri Lanka famous for its 200-meter-high rock. The complex, including a citadel, gardens and ponds, was built on the 5th century as a palace for King Kasyapa and, after his death, was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. It contains gardens, ponds and caves with colorful frescoes. This UNESCO listed World Heritage Site is also known as Lion Rock for its gateway in the form of an enormous lion.
Train from Kandy to Ella
With rolling green tea fields, colder temperatures and mountains in the clouds, the central highlands are a complete contradiction to the rest of Sri Lanka. The train journey has become one of the must do things while in Sri Lanka. This scenic route allows you to admire the tea plantations, hill towns and lush mountains of the tea country.