What I want you to know about your trip to Sri Lanka

18 Mar

Sri Lanka is a little country packed with so much to see and do, warm and friendly locals, and fantastic food. They’ve got excellent infrastructure for tourism going on as well, with good roads, signs in English, and information centres in high-tourist areas. As a traveler from the Philippines, there were so many bits I found familiar and comfortable, and there were also so many things I found strange and exotic.

Since my trip, I’ve been getting lots of questions from friends and people online about where to stay, what to do, and if this place or that attraction was worth it. Part of the joy of traveling is planning something, only to discover something completely unexpected. (I’ve already told you about the one most awesome experience I had in Sri Lanka!) So, instead of boring you with a blow by blow account of everything else I saw and did, I’ll leave you with a set of considerations that might be helpful as you plan your adventure.

Have fun!!


What we found so charming about Sri Lanka was was that many of the locals open up their houses as bed & breakfasts with only 3 or 4 rooms. These kinds of places range from basic to luxury, all of them run by the families that live there and their (most likely) large army of household help. Many of them include breakfast with the price.

Trip Advisor seems to be the place to find them. ALL the places we stayed at requested for a review on TA after our stay. It must be a Sri Lankan thing. The guesthouses are also likely to have their own website, or at least an email address to coordinate with them directly, sometimes no reservation downpayment is required. Find someplace with a good location, as tuktuk drivers are hard to haggle with (especially while it’s raining), and they are hard to come by late at night. The more you can walk to places, the better.

Here’s what our guesthouses looked like:

Getting around

While you’re there, you might be hopping from one town to the next. If you’re pressed for time with a packed itinerary (like us!), hiring a car might be a good option — for the entire duration of your trip, or at least one leg of it. Though it will cost more than commuting, it’s not overly expensive, especially if you can divvy up between a number of people. Many of the guesthouses will have a room for the driver to sleep at for free, or with meals for an additional charge. Check out your travel route as well, in case there are any notable places along the way that you can stop at (waterfalls, temples, museums, restaurants, tea factories, etc.) so you can get out and stretch.

What we saw driving along the way:

Taking the bus or train is also a good & cheap way to go. Sri Lankans generally speak good English, so asking for directions and where to jump off won’t be too hard. You can purchase 1st and 2nd class train tickets in advance at the station, or else show up early for the 3rd class car. I also heard you can purchase train tickets online, but I haven’t tried it.

Note that provincial buses are generally non-AC unless specified. If the idea of an 8H ride on dusty roads breathing in toxic fumes in sweltering midday heat fills you with dread… vie for a window seat near the front and knock yourself out with dramamine. Might be a good practice to check out the bus or train station when you settle in at a new city to see what your options are for getting to your next stop, or ask for tips at the guesthouse.

Changing money

Colombo is pretty cosmopolitan and will accept plastic most anywhere. If you’re in a town outside Colombo, it should be fairly easy to find a money changer (US$ seemed to be the easiest currency to exchange) or an ATM; and bigger (i.e. Western-type) restaurants and bars will accept Visa with no problems. Your guesthouse and driver, however, may not be set up for it. Cash is still king, if you’re going off the tourist track.

Internet access

All the guesthouses we had stayed at offered free WiFi, and many of the bigger restaurants, bars, cafes had it too. You can most likely ask to use the family computer at the guesthouse you’re staying with, if you’re traveling without your mobile devices. I was impressed by how fast their Internet was, even in places far from Colombo, but I get impressed easily — I’m from the Philippines, where the Internet is shitty. Colombo seems to have an active foursquare community too. Check for local hotspots in case you’re drawing blanks.

What to wear

This one’s for the ladies. While I noticed that lots of places in SL are really used to tourists from all parts of the world and what they wear, you should remember that it’s still generally a conservative country. It’s worth covering up shoulders and knees while walking around, especially if you’re hitting the temples. It was funny though, we went to a couple of churches, and most of the women were all covered up in their traditional saris, but back cleavage seemed to be what they would be competing to reveal!

Ladies in Kandy

Ladies in Kandy

The more popular beach towns are a lot more forgiving — they’re used to seeing people sunbathing in their itsy bitsies (I’m also talking about large European men and their love for very small Speedos). But maybe it’s best to bring a cover-up, or a shirt & shorts, for walking on the roads or riding in a tuktuk.


Eating in SL was one of the things I loved most! We kept a budget of R 1,000 each for food per day (roughly $8) and it was easy to stay within it at roadside roti or curry houses outside Colombo. There are also lots of vendors selling yummy things as you stroll — tropical fruits with chili salt (mmmmm), corn on the cob, pastries, cashew nuts, or veggie samosas. However, we also found it just as easy to blow our $8-a-day budget on a single meal at more upscale restaurants, cafes, and bars, especially if we wanted alcohol. Still not too bad overall, but these places are likely to accept plastic, in case you’re worried.

Also, Sri Lankans like to overfeed. Portions are always more than generous, especially at the guesthouses we stayed at. We never finished the food on our plates. Ever. In the Philippines, it’s only polite to finish every last morsel on the table. This was impossible in Sri Lanka, as every time we would get close to it, someone would notice and rush to serve us more! We were told that it’s in their tradition to keep a full table when guests are present, lest the hosts be thought of as stingy. This means that restaurants who say their dishes are only good for one person, probably really mean that it’s good for 2 starving girls.

A very happy breakfast (this was only half of it) at Sevana Guesthouse, Kandy

A very happy breakfast (this was only half of it) at Sevana Guesthouse, Kandy

Anything else I missed? Feel free to hit me up with more questions!


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