Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean

27th Jul 2018
Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

The popularity of Sri Lankan travel is only a recent phenomenon. Although the island country has been famous mostly for Cricket and Beaches, there is just so much that no one really knows about.

It's a small country, located just south of India in the Indian Ocean above a little well over the equator. It's hot and humid, with dramatic climate difference in the island nation along with diverse terrain.

The currency is Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR) and the local languages used are Sinhala, Tamil, and English

Here is my 6-day itinerary for Sri Lanka :

Day 1: Colombo

Day 2: Galle

Day 3: Pinnawala and Kandy

Day 4: Nuwara Eliya

Day 5: Sigiriya and Dambulla

Day 6: Anuradhapura

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean 1/1 by Snigdha Jaiswal

There is no best time to see Sri Lanka honestly, since, between South-West and North-East coasts, one of it will be rainy and the other dry. However, I would suggest Oct – Feb season since it gets hot in the Indian sub-continent in summers and the southwest coasts are well known as tourist destinations.

To reach Sri Lanka, you can take a flight to Colombo, which is the capital city and travel through road and rail inside the island. The airport is average in the facility. There is also a left luggage counter at the airport if you want to leave your baggage in any case. I would suggest do not buy a sim card from inside the airport since you will get them at much cheaper rates outside. Uber is comfortably available in Colombo. The local taxi app is Pick me which you can use in other parts of the country, but not very reliable.

You can pre-book hotels or Airbnb in Sri Lanka. We found some lovely ones here. I did not hang around much in Colombo, but you can visit the Gangaramaya Temple, National Museum of Colombo, The Independence Memorial Hall and Beira Lake in the city. You can also soak in some nightlife of this modern metropolis with buildings in fabulous English architecture. Some people also prefer to take a day trip from Colombo to all other places, but I will suggest against it.

From Colombo, Galle is around 2 hours. You can take a train which runs along the coast with a great view or a bus which is very comfortable and is quicker. The Bus and train station is walking distance from the fort. You can look at the train schedule from this site

Tickets can be bought on the counter. For 1st class you can get guaranteed seats, 2nd and 3rd class will not. You can take the bus to Galle from Maradana bus stop which is a little far from central Colombo. The bus is comfortable and quick.

Day 2

Shops at Galle Fort

Photo of Galle, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

Galle is a small town in the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. This is my favorite place in all of it and that's because this place is simply gorgeous. This town has a huge fort which practically has a town inside it bustling with shops, restaurants, and hotels. If you can, live here! I lived at a hotel at the farthest tip of the fort. The beauty of it is you can see both sunrise and sunset from it which means you are practically standing on the near most southern tip of Indian sub-continent.

Beach point at Galle where sunset and sunrise both could be seen

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

Stroll away your day in this town. Food may be little on the higher side inside the fort but there are some absolutely gorgeous places to eat. The fort was made in 17th century by the Dutch which was then taken over by Englishmen. The buildings are still very well preserved and very Dutch! Additionally, a lot of places have added décor to add a modern touch to it. The result is fabulous.

Décor at shops at Galle Fort

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

Apart from the fort you can hire a two-wheeler and take a drive to the nearby beaches. The closest beaches are Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna. The drive is along the coast and is really fun. Half hour from Galle is Mirissa which is known for Whale watching. The season for this is from October-May and costs from 1500LKR-6000LKR depending upon the comfort. This starts at 6.00am in the morning for about 2 hours. But if you have time and you are visiting at the right time, have a go at it

We struck a conversation with a local and he told us all about the town’s past from years back. It’s always a great experience to talk to locals and maybe even share a meal. Also, Sri Lanka is very rich in gemstones and exports world quality sapphires, topaz and amethysts. If you are interested visit a local jewelry shop and understand the details of the craft.

Interiors at Galle Fort

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

My next destination was Pinnawala elephant orphanage. You can take a train from Colombo to Rambukkhana and then a tuk-tuk or an auto ride to the Orphanage. Pinnawala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. Many of them have been rescued from brutal treatment from human captivity or serious health issues. It was initially established to feed, nurse and house young elephants abandoned by their mothers.

Day 3

Scrubbing elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Photo of Pinnawala, Rambukkana, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

The entrance to the orphanage costs 2500LKR per person. They will let you ride the elephant for a short span of time if you like, let you feed them and take photographs in the most touristy fashion. A guide will take you through the history of the orphanage and explain about the life cycle of elephants. The most fun experience is when they let you bathe them. You can totally scrub them off and they won’t budge! Back from Rambukkhana, you can continue the journey to Kandy.

Rambukkhana Railway station

Photo of Rambukkana Railway Station, Rambukkana-Katupitiya Road, Rambukkana, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

It takes less than an hour from Rambukhana to Kandy. Kandy is one of the most important cities of Sri Lanka, located in the central province. It has been the capital of Sri Lanka before Colombo during the reign of local kings. It’s a town set in the middle of green lush hills around their central lake and is very rich in culture and spirituality. It’s the seat of Temple of the tooth which is the relic of Buddha's tooth and is considered as one of the most sacred places in southeast Asia.

Buddha Tooth Relic temple

Photo of Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Sri Dalada Veediya, Kandy, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

Take a stroll along the lake and take in the beauty of colonial architecture in this city. If you get a chance, attend the cultural dance performances in the evening which starts about 4 pm. You can book these online as well. Kandy is the gateway to central highlands, so you take a train or a bus to your next station. Ours was Nuwara Eliya.

Morning walk in Kandy

Photo of Kandy, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

Colonial architecture in Kandy

Photo of Kandy, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

Nuwara Eliya is about 3 hours from Kandy. The train ride to Nuwara Eliya and then to Ella is considered as one of the most scenic routes in the whole of Asia. Most of the infrastructure is survives of the British past. Nuwara Eliya is where most of the tea gardens of Sri Lanka is located and is thus famous for ‘Ceylon Tea’, Ceylon being the archaic name for Sri Lanka. The climate is cool and gets chilly at night. This was a popular stop for Englishmen while they rule, and the culture is still very prevalent in the county.

Day 4

Lakeside view in Nuwara Eliya

Photo of Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

One of the coolest places to stay here is in an RV. You can book one online named as an outdoor caravan park, but you cannot drive it around but is located next to the lake. Quite amazing

Living in RV at Nuwara Eliya

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

If you are interested in Indian Mythology and would like to see where Sita was kept captive after Ravana kidnapped her, head to Ashok Vatika at Sita Eliya. You can borrow or rent a two-wheeler and drive to the small village nearby.

Ashok Vatika at Sita Eliya

Photo of Sita Eliya Kandara, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

Other places to see you be the racecourse, a botanical garden, and the beautiful Gregory lake. You can also take a hike to Lover’s Leap waterfall and a stroll in Victoria Park. There is a lot to do there and the climate is very romantic.

Lake Gregory at Nuwara Eliya

Photo of Gregory Lake, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

If you are a tea lover like me, take a tour of the tea factory which shows you the step-by-step process of how tea is made and then will give you some to taste as well. You can buy some at their store. There are Green tea, white tea, milk tea, Black flavored tea in blueberry, strawberry, cherry, pineapple and many more.

Tea gardens in Nuwara Eliya

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

If you plan to stay longer take a train ride to Ella. The grand rustic old railways make it a memorable ride. It’s one of the most popular places at higher altitude in Sri Lanka where you can enjoy some outdoor activities as well.

Our next stop was Dambulla and Sigiriya. To reach them we need to come back to Kandy. The most popular place to visit in Dambulla is the cave temples. The entry charges are 1500LKR and you must take a private vehicle to reach to the inside of the caves.

Day 5

Dambulla Cave temples

Photo of Dambulla, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

This area is known to be inhabited from 1st century B.C much before the influence of Indian kings on the nation. The caves gave refuge to King Valagamba in his 14-year exile from the Anuradhapura Kingdom. Buddhist monks meditating in the caves meditating at that point of time provided protection to the king from his enemies. When the king reclaimed the throne at Anuradhapura, he got the magnificent caves made in gratitude to the monks, and they are magnificent!

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

Sigiriya or the Lion rock has a rich history. At first sight, it looks like a monolithic hill out of nowhere in the middle of vast forest area. But there is so much more to it. Again, you must take a private vehicle to reach this place which is quite remote. We took a cab from candy to Anuradhapura via Dambulla and Sigiriya in 7000LKR which was very convenient. The entry charges to Sigiriya is $30 for foreign nationals and $15 for SAARC citizens. Apart from this, I would highly suggest you hire a guide for another 2000LKR. It’s not mandatory but it’s worth it. They will bring the whole place to life telling you stories of the distant past and architectural genius of this place which is not visible to common eyes.

Sigiriya Lion Rock

Photo of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

The climb to the rock is more than 1200 steps but the journey is the most fun part of it. If you hire the guide, he will tell you about the secret defense mechanisms of the fortress, about the invisible fountain systems, about the king and his 200 wives and lovers, the nuances of the court system, the details of the palace built on top of the rock and a lot more. In the middle of the climb, there is a complete wall which was polished to such craftsmanship that it became a mirror. There are several murals as well. If you can plan it, reach just before sunset but check the closing time for entrance. It's a lovely view from there.

View from top of Sigiriya Lion rock

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

Ruins of Lion Gate at Sigiriya

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

From Sigiriya, Anuradhapura is another hour’s drive. Anuradhapura is a place which you may not find in most people’s itinerary to Sri Lanka. If you are not very enthusiastic about history and culture perhaps you can skip this and head to a wildlife reserve for there are many in Sri Lanka.

Anuradhapura the seat of the Sinhalese Kings of Sri Lanka and thus the capital who ruled for about 2300 years starting 543BCE. Anuradhapura had been built intricately with complex irrigation systems, monasteries, public baths, residential quarters, parks, hospitals, and Schools.

Day 6

Buddhist Monasteries in Anuradhapura

Photo of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by Snigdha Jaiswal

Only ghost of the city’s vibrant past is left. There are many monasteries in the shape of huge stupas built around the city. Honestly, after a couple of them, all looked the same to me. You can book a tuk-tuk or cab from your hotel for half a day and they can take you around the whole town which will really save up a lot of hassle.

Public baths in Anuradhapura

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

The best time to see the outdoor places would be earlier in the morning or after 4 when the sun is not so scorching. You can plan up on the indoor museums during the afternoon time. You can take a train thereafter to get back to Colombo.

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

Food: Sri Lankan food is probably a little of the extreme version of South Indian food maybe. Chicken and seafood is very easily available throughout the country. Beef, pork, and lamb can also be found in many restaurants. Most of the gravy is made in coconut base with stark spices. These are usually paired with rice or kiribath, rice made in coconut milk. All food is usually paired with a popular dish called sambal which is grated coconut with onions and dry chili flakes. It adds a lot of flavor to the food. Parippu or dhal curry or semi-dry lentils are also had in the traditional food plate.

Crab curry in traditional style

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

For breakfast, you can look forward to appam, dosa, idli or vada which is also very close to south Indian cuisine. Wood apple or elephant apple is a fruit very easily available here and can find ready-made drinks in regular confectionery stores. Alcohol is not very popular in the culture and you may find it restricted to a few restaurants or have to buy it from over-the-counter liquor shops.

Local beer in Sri Lanka

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

Facts about Sri Lanka :

1. Sri Lanka has come out of a 25-year old civil war in 2009. The war left around 70,000-80,000 dead and there are still trials going on over crimes of war.

2. Sri Lanka has been colonized thrice. First by the Portuguese who gave the name ‘Ceilao’, then by the Dutch and finally by Englishmen who changed the name to ‘Ceylon’ post which they gained their independence in 1948 and became Sri Lanka.

Colonial Style railway stations

Photo of Sri Lanka, Pearl of the Indian Ocean by Snigdha Jaiswal

3. The most widespread religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism. You should be very careful around the Buddha statues where facing the statue with your backs, taking selfies or having a Buddha tattoo may get you from getting frown upon to even getting deported

4. Sri Lanka had the first elected female prime minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike in the world on July 1960 who governed the country for three terms.

5. The oldest tree planted by humans is said to be in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It’s a sacred fig tree as old as 2,300 years known as Sri Maha bodhiya where its mother tree is said to be the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya where lord Buddha achieved enlightenment while he was meditating.

Sri Lanka, although has just opened doors to the world for tourism and is a great country to visit. There is a lot of natural rustic beauty to it. Have a go at the this Paradise Island. It's not very crowded.

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