I wrote this immediately after my trip to Sri Lanka in September of 2017 as a way for me to archive my experiences and maybe help out some Internet-savvy traveller.
For reasons unknown (read: procrastination) I didn’t publish it sooner.
I visited Sri Lanka between the 21st and 26th September 2017 with 3 other friends from work. We are all Indian nationals living and working in India.
This was a short trip, and we only visited Colombo and Peradeniya.
To my knowledge, there are flights to Colombo from all major cities in India. I heard that flights from Chennai are substantially cheaper, and that appeared to be true.
We used Ixigo.com to compare rates, and ended up booking separate flights for the four legs of the journey to get the best possible rates (Pune-Chennai-Colombo-Chennai-Pune)
💡 We further recouped about ₹3500 each by strategically booking our tickets and taking full advantage of a sign-up offers. We could have travelled to Chennai by train, but flying is quicker.
Sri Lanka has visa-on-arrival for many countries, but we chose to pre-apply for our visas from http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/. The process was quick and painless. I 100% recommend this over standing in line after a long day of travel.
⚠️ We had to book an AirBNB in Colombo to provide an address of residence while applying for the visa.
We booked two AirBNBs; one in Colombo and the other in a town just outside of Kandy, called Peradeniya. The relatively high upfront costs were offset because we were splitting most costs 4-ways.
Sunset View Villa, Colombo 🔗
While the cottage is technically a sea-front property, the beach is a fully rocky one. We enjoyed sunsets and beach winds, but could not go into the water for a swim. This was a bit of a bummer for me.
The closest sand beach was Wellawatte at Colombo 06, a 15km/1hour Uber drive away.
💡 We might have been better off booking a hotel closer to Colombo 06 because this is where all the restaurants, clubs etc. are. According to a very friendly taxi driver, we might have gotten better prices too!
Lotus Villa, Peradeniya 🔗
Our AirBNB in Peradeniya was really something special- the views, accommodation and hospitality were all first class. The property had a tea garden, swimming pool, four large doggos, and a cat within its walls.
Being in a remote location outside of what is essentially a college town, there were no restaurants anywhere around the property. We barely managed to find a shop that sells packaged snacks. Our house had a basic kitchenette, but nothing that would allow us to prepare meals for ourselves.
We relied on our hostess to cater to our meals (at around LKR 700 per person per meal). Since I was travelling with two vegetarians and an eggitarian, our meals were all vegetarian. And excellent.
⚠️ We were lucky to get a train ticket toward Colombo, as express trains to Peradeniya can come in fully booked. I would book tickets in advance if I ever return.
Places we visited
We used Uber to move around in Colombo. It was reliable, not too expensive and had some really friendly drivers. A local alternative for Uber is Pick Me.
Colombo main is divided into 15 numbered areas, from 01-15 (I think)
Colombo 01/02/03 reminded me of South Bombay—really nice British-era buildings, landmarks and a sea front. Colombo 03 in particular was a great place to amble around. The Indian, American embassies and the Presidential houses were located here. The pier was a nice enough place to chill.
💡 We tried to move out early—especially if we were visiting Colombo 03/04. The traffic combined with the heat were really exhausting. A lot of places close relatively early in the evening.
One Up and Amirthaa
One Up served us some really high quality (and really expensive) breakfast. They are the type of restaurant that I really like- born out of passion, with an identity and purpose that is clear. Zomato warned us about their price range, but I think they were worth the one time visit.
I also recommend going to Amirthaa for a local dining experience. It’s one of those family-owned places that has been around forever and made its name by consistently serving great food.
The National Zoological Gardens were well kept and deceptively large. We spent the better part of a day wandering around. I cried a little for the chained elephants, but the ethics of running a zoo is a story for another day.
The zoo was worth the visit for me, especially since I hadn’t been to a decent zoo before.
We rushed to the Wellawatta beach to see the sun set. It was a beautiful sight and even being a Friday, the crowd was spread out. Wellawatte was a great beach—clean, open all day (and night) and a lot of hotels in close proximity.
The Royal Botanic Gardens
We visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya. We paid 1500 LKR for entry—no SAARC special treatment here. The option to rent a caddy+driver was available for 1000 LKR, as also the services of a tour guide. We went in on our own—a good decision in hindsight, as it allowed us explore the Garden at our own pace.
The Garden was large and well kept. I really missed owning a good portrait lens on my camera. A fisheye might have also been interesting.
There were honestly not a lot of flowers, exotic plants or attention-grabbing gimmicky stuff on display; what was present was an abundance of greenery. It was a beautiful place to be, especially since I am partial to leisurely walks in nature.
We didn’t see anyone having a picnic—I suspect picnicking is against the rules. There were a couple of restaurants in the middle of the Garden that served food & drink.
Places I wanted to visit
Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha National Museum and surrounding area. We wanted to make this happened during our trip, but the museum closes 5:30pm 😕
Before leaving, we converted all of our Indian currency to the almighty US dollar. On getting to Colombo, we converted the USD to Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR). Overall, we only lost about 5% to conversion. This seems like the most efficient way to do things.
In our experience, INR was not widely accepted. USD is accepted, but with a ~2x markup.
Taking into account the following expenses plus food, a little shopping, Uber + train tickets, we ended up spending about ₹35,000 for a 6D/5N vacation. Not too bad.
|Pune-Chennai||₹2722 -₹500 (cash back)|
|Chennai-Colombo||₹5245 -₹1250 (cash back)|
|Colombo-Chennai||₹6792 -₹1250 (cash back)|
|Chennai-Pune||₹3535 -₹500 (cash back)|
|AirBNB Colombo 3D/3N||₹2821 (per person)|
|AirBNB Peradeniya 2D/2N||₹3447 (per person)|
| TOTAL||₹25905 -₹3500 = ₹22,405|
At the airport
We purchased local SIM cards from the kiosks in the airport at Colombo. There were a few options to choose from; we hedged out bets and went for SIMs from the two most popular carriers—Dialog (1300 LKR) and MobiTel (1600 LKR). Both performed well throughout our trip.
⚠️ We should have used the Duty Free immediately after immigration to pick up some alcohol and smokes. Alcohol is taboo and thus hard to find, and cigarettes are highly taxed. A notice suggested that each adult (21+) could have legally carried 1.5 liters of hard liquor or 1 bottle of wine or 4/6 bottles/cans of beer into the country.
💡 We didn’t bother using airport transport or taxies/tuk-tuks just outside the airport for transport because they were overcharging us by a factor of 2-3. We just Uber-ed to our destination. (Note to self: change Uber’s payment method to “Cash” or it’ll keep throwing up a “booking error” without explanation)
According to one of our Uber drivers, the weather in Colombo is pretty much the same throughout the year—slightly humid, with the temperature between 22 and 33 ºC. It rained quite heavily for a few minutes around noon the day we arrived, but the streets were dry when we stepped out at 2:30pm.
Temperature in Peradeniya got relatively low, especially after a few showers of rain. Nothing below 20 degrees though.
Food and Going Out
Vegetarians were hard pressed for options. McDonalds had only one vegetarian burger on the menu 😂
Eating out, in general, was quite expensive (a beef Big Mac costs 710 LKR) Bars and restaurants are permitted to be open till 3am, but are subject to a 100% “luxury tax” on all alcohol after 12am. There were a few bars & nightclubs south of Wellawatta.
Bottled water was a bit expensive. We carried our own bottles and refilled at restaurants.
The local languages are Sinhala and Tamil.
Most of the locals in Colombo and Peradinye speak, or understand, English. In either case, they made an effort to be helpful and communicative. English was sufficient to get basic things done.
Everyone, especially those in the “touristy” areas and Uber drivers, were friendly.
Plastics/polythenes are banned across the country.
The plug situation is bonkers. Even the locals seemed to be roaming around with converters.
Roads in Colombo were even, well marked and wide. Traffic was generally ordered–at least by Indian standards. We got yelled at for jaywalking 😅
Smoking and drinking are quite a taboo in Sri Lankan society. Both are legal, but not exactly widely available. Smoking/drinking in public is a punishable offence—offenders can end up in jail and/or fined if caught.
We saw a lot of Priuses and a other hybrid cars, though a majority of vehicles are petrol-powered. The government levies a ~300% tax on petrol vehicles, with a smaller tax on hybrids and no tax on electric vehicles. There were relatively few two-wheelers on the road.
💡 We used Splitwise to track all our expenses.
Sri Lanka is recovering from a civil war that lasted ~25 years and ended in 2009 (The locals had some great stories) The places we visited had no signs of tension.
The biggest controversy while we were there was the privatisation of university education. As of writing, it seems like private degrees are still unregulated.
I wrote I love travel but hate traveling while waiting for our flight home in the Colombo international airport.