(If you haven’t read part 1, you can access it by clicking here)
Before I traveled to Sri Lanka, I spoke to several people who had been prior, read blogs and researched websites to find out all I could. I went with a wealth of information and still was unprepared. I hope my thoughts, tips and suggestions will help someone going to visit after me.
Sri Lanka is an island located South-East of India. Below is a picture of its’ location on a map. It is relatively cheap and easy to get to from the Middle East, just a short 5 1/2 flight from Qatar. It is a Buddhist country, but is home to many cultures, ethnicities and languages. It is famous for its production of cinnamon, rubber and tea. It is a developing country.
Once you arrive
You must obtain a visa to visit Sri Lanka. If you are not from a SAARC country, the fee to obtain a visa prior to arrival is $35 USD. You can apply here. You can also obtain a visa on arrival. Before going to the Immigration window and standing in that long line for nothing (like I did), look for a small window that says visa, go there. Show your passport and pay $40 or 15800 Sri Lankan Rupees (SLR) That’s what they charged us even though online it says $35 for a tourist visa. Note that you are required to pay in USD. The following countries and categories are exempt from the visa requirement:
|The Republic of Singapore.|
|The Republic of Maldives.|
|The Republic of Seychelles|
|Crew members of flight / ship|
|Children under 12 years of age|
After you get your visa and proceed through immigration (the agents are not very nice btw, sort of like the government workers in the USA), it’s probably a good idea to purchase a sim card. They are pretty reasonably priced in the airport and they will set it up for you. Mine worked very well, the entire time I was in Sri Lanka and I had great wifi.
The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) is its’ official currency. One LKR is approximately 0.005 USD and 0.020 QR. USD can go very far there. Some places accept USD but many do not. We exchanged some QR for LKR before we went but found out very fast how very fast the money goes. To help you better understand let’s go back to the visa price above. In LKR, one visa was 15800. (In the picture above, my husband is holding 10300 LKR) Now double that for two visas, and that’s quite a lot of money to carry around and that is just for one transaction. You would have to carry around quite a lot of paper if you intend on using cash for everything. Of course, you could use credit/debit cards. We used our debit card quite a lot at the ATM and accumulated too many withdrawal fees. Every time we took money out, we were charged between 200-400 LKR or $4-$8 USD. This is a pretty big chunk and remember you can only withdrawal so much each time.
- Pay for what you can in advance, before even going, eg… hotels, drivers, excursions. This way you decrease the amount of cash you have to carry.
- Find a bank/ATM that you can withdraw large portions of LKR with a minimal ATM fee. Halfway through our vacation we found Hatton bank that allowed us to withdraw double the amount that Commercial bank did and with half the ATM fees.
- Use credit/debit card rather than cash in as many places as possible but check your bank for international transaction fees first.
- Carry USD to use when possible and to exchange while there because you will get more bang for your buck.
I DO NOT recommend driving in Sri Lanka. It’s crazy. I think I only saw 3 traffic lights in the entire 9 days that we were there and we moved around quite a lot. A few times I thought, ‘this is it’, because we were almost run off the road. They also drive on the opposite side of the street of Qatar and the U.S. One day we were in Ella, Ella is very mountainous, and it rained so hard, we had to dodge mudslides.
We had a driver. His name is Rifaan. Here is his contact information: Coconuttaxitours.com, instagram: coconut_taxi_tours, #+94716285486. He was an excellent driver. He stuck with us for the entire trip, offering suggestions of places to go, where to eat and translating . He even invited us to his home to meet his family whom cooked us a wonderful Sri Lankan dinner. He booked all of our rooms, which is better as natives get better rates, and made purchases for us. I felt completely safe with him. Call him for anything Sri Lanka related. Thank me later.
There is many things to see and do in Sri Lanka and several things to consider. When packing keep in mind that you must be modest when entering Temples. You can not wear a head covering of any type and your shoulders and knees should be covered. When visiting mosques, your head must be covered as well as your knees and shoulders. Long comfortable pants and a scarf should be your staple. In most places, people remove their shoes.
You will have to pay a fee when visiting most sites, the prices ranged from 600 to 5500 LKR. The fees for locals are way less. The Fee to climb Lion Rock is $30. The fee to climb Piturangala was only $3. That is one of the reasons we chose to climb Piturangala instead. Both offer great views but I can only speak about the climb to Piturangala. (You can read about it by clicking here) Maybe one day I’ll go back and climb the other and make comparisons. Better yet, if you’ve climbed both or either, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comments area.
If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka and climbing one of the famous sites, be sure to pack hiking boots or good old sneakers. If you plan on hiking in the early or late hours to catch a sunrise or sunset, take a flash light with you. The paths were generally dark even though there were lightbulbs, none were on and we couldn’t see our way. Thank God for cell phones. Take some extra water too. I love to watch new days begin and end, so I like to hike during those times. It has been my experience that hiking before sunset is usually less crowded.
If you plan to see the 9 Arch Bridge try to time your visit when the train comes. Then stay after the train passes, when most tourist start to leave. After the train passed, I left and then halfway away from the Bridge, I noticed that most people had left as well and I could have taken better pictures had I waited them out.
The train ride to Ella is a must do. From what I’ve heard, it is very difficult to get tickets, easier if you know a local that can get them for you off the black market. We were in 3rd class and we lucked up because you can sit at tables with windows in 3rd class or choose to hang out the door but you’ll still have a seat. Second class was over crowded and we met a family who was in 2nd class that had to stand for 4 hours. I can’t speak for first class. Third class also comes with friends, roaches. Right after we ate our food, they started appearing everywhere. It grossed me out, thank goodness we didn’t have far to go and our driver had our luggage in his car. Other than the roaches, it was a very delightful ride.
I highly suggest researching accommodations on several booking websites before actually booking rooms. Pictures can be deceiving. We stayed in a variety of places, from a couple of homestays to a shitty room, to 4 star resorts. Our driver booked our rooms and for the most part they were okay but if I go again, I will be sure to pick my own, take his thoughts into consideration, and have the final say.
The rooms in homestays are pretty big in Sri Lanka but the homes themselves lack tlc. Of course, some are better than others. But if you are on a tight budget, homestays are the way to go. Some cost as little as $10 a night and most include breakfast. Also don’t be fooled by a number of stars. I’ve learned through traveling that 5 stars around the world have different standards than the U.S.
If you stay in Sigiriya, I recommend, Hotel Sigiriya for a mid range budget. The rooms are adequate with good A.C., hot water, comfy beds and nice bathrooms. They have a good breakfast buffet, a great view of Lion Rock, a beautiful pool and is in the perfect location. You may even see an elephant walking around. You are sure to see monkeys but watch your food around the pool.
For a wonderful time in Mirissa, stay at Imagine Villa Resort for a mid range budget. The rooms are large with good A.C., hot water, comfy beds, nice bathrooms, sitting area and balcony. The grounds offer a big pool, beach and pretty good cooks too.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. If you travel around, you can see rainforest, jungle, tea plantations, the beach and mountains. On the other hand, you will also see people dumping or burning their trash on the side of the road. You may see men urinating in the streets. You will see animals living very close to people, some free and roaming, others in chains. There is A LOT of bugs, from ants, small to giant roaches, to spiders and some other things that I didn’t recognize. The weather was great when I visited in late December with a fair amount of rain. The people seem genuinely nice but manners are different than what I’m used to. They do stare unapologetically. There are so many things to do and see in Sri Lanka. After 9 days, we were Templed out though; they are everywhere. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check a few out though, they are beautiful. If you are considering a trip to Sri Lanka, definitely go. If you’ve already been, I’d love to hear your thoughts.