Are you planning to travel to Sri Lanka in 2022? I had Sri Lanka on my travel list for years, a trip there was so worth it! It’s a beautiful country full of surprises!
This detailed guide will help you to not make as many mistakes as I did so make sure to read it all the way through! It’s full of information on diving, weather, transport, accommodation, food, religion, and culture.
The weather in Sri Lanka is quite unusual. There are two monsoon seasons;
- Yala Monsoon; this means rain in the west, southwest, and inland from the end of April to September.
- Maha Monsoon; this means rain on the east coast from October to March.
Are you planning to travel to the west and south coasts or inland? You have the highest chance of pleasant weather from December to March.
Planning to go to the east and north coasts? The best chance of good weather is from April/May to September.
I chose to go to the east coast and the inland, as I traveled in August. Travelling to Kandy in August also meant that I was there for the Kandy Esala Perahera or The Festival of the Tooth which I will talk more about later.
On my trip, I arrived at Colombo Bandaranaike Airport in the late evening, and decided to get a taxi to my accommodation, this experience was a little nerve-wracking. As a solo female traveller, you experience a lot of kindness from taxi drivers but confidence is key. If you look lost and helpless, several taxi drivers will bombard you with questions. And more often than not they will charge you a lot more than what it should cost.
I downloaded the Pick Me app (Sri Lankan version of Uber) and I hailed a cab from the airport to my hostel.
The only downside to doing this is that you have to walk out to the main road to meet your taxi driver. There seemed to be a ban on the Pick Me drivers from driving up to the door directly and this is probably for the taxi drivers to make the premium on Airport Services. So I suggest using the Pick Me app if you’re traveling on a budget.
Train travel in Sri Lanka is a must! The trains are so cheap and the country is so beautiful, it’s a great way to see more of the country. You can use this website to research train times and you can book your train tickets on arrival at the station.
My first train journey in Sri Lanka was from Colombo to Trincomalee. An 8-hour train that cost €2, (crazy, right?). The train departed at 6.05 am and arrived in Trincomalee at 13.40.
On this train journey, things didn’t go to plan… I didn’t realize that you had to change trains half-way! So to not make the same mistake I did, make sure that you don’t stay on the train until the stage where your blue dot on Google Maps is 100km from where you need to be. I had no internet connection at the time, so I hopped off the train at a very rural station and zoomed into the map to see where the nearest resort was.
Then I hopped in a tuk-tuk and asked him to bring me to the Maalu Maalu Resort & Spa. Maalu Maalu is a beautiful resort. Fortunately, I ordered lunch, connected to WiFi, and more importantly, googled how to actually get to where I needed to be. These pictures below may look like a chilled time but I was frantically trying to organize and fix my mishap. This then brings me to my next mode of transport… Private Drivers
Originally on arrival in Sri Lanka, I thought wouldn’t need the services of a private driver but oh, how I was wrong. Due to my train mishap, I ended up needing a private driver to take me from Maalu Maalu Resort to my resort Trinco Blu in Trincomalee. In addition to this, I also needed the driver to come urgently so it cost 8000 /KLR, which is about €38, $42, or £34. The journey was 113km and should’ve taken 2 hours.
Unfortunately, the driver got lost and also got stopped by the police several times so the journey took 5 and a half hours. It was not ideal but I don’t blame the Driver Service. I would suggest if you would like to use the services of a private driver, do your research!
Tuk Tuk Rental
This is something that has recently become very popular. Personally, I didn’t do this as I was travelling alone and I also don’t have my driver’s license (I’m aware that I should, it’s not easy when you live abroad all the time).
Tuk-tuk rental might not be everyone’s cup of tea but if you want to be in full control of your trip around Sri Lanka this is a great option. The most popular website to book tuk-tuks is tuktukrental.com.
This company sources their tuk-tuks from local drivers to help them earn extra income. In Sri Lanka, over 70% of tuk-tuks are owned by people on low incomes – renting with them means more income for their families!
Resorts in Sri Lanka are not just reserved for super-rich families and honeymooners. I stayed in a resort in Trincomalee and although it would not be on budget for a backpacker, it was a great treat. All of the staff were incredible and the breakfast spread was worth the money alone! The resort I stayed in was called Trinco Blu by Cinnamon.
As I mentioned I was doing my diving course, the days were super intense, so it was so nice to come back to the resort after a long day of diving and just relax.
Boutique Hotels in Asia can sometimes get a bad wrap, as the term “boutique hotel” can mean anything from a seedy motel to a nice, family-run B&B. I stayed in a boutique hotel in Kandy. It was a little bit far out from the main town but it was gorgeous. It was run by a very nice man, who made me breakfast in the morning and organised anything I needed. It was called The Grand Hills. The view from the bedroom was lush and green and it was such a nice change from the beach.
Hostels are not as widespread in Sri Lanka, as the country doesn’t have the same backpacker culture as some Southeast Asian countries do. I stayed in a capsule hotel which is basically a boujee hostel.
When I went to Japan, I tried a capsule hostel for the first time, and honestly, they make you feel as you should never step foot in a regular hostel again. The place I stayed in Colombo was called Star Anise Boutique Capsules.
The good thing about this capsule hotel was the fact it had double bed capsules, perfect for couples. Or perfect for a solo traveler who loves to starfish! The location was right in central Colombo so it was perfect for exploring.
Sri Lankan food is definitely a cuisine that is slept on. And that’s mostly because people are not aware of how amazing the cuisine is! The cuisine has its similarities to neighboring Indian cuisine but mostly to the southern Indian cuisines of Goa and Kerala, due to the common use of coconut and rice.
My favourite things about Sri Lankan food were;
- Pol Sambol, which is also called fresh coconut relish. It’s a blend of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chilies (or chili powder), lime juice, and salt. It’s a garnish or a side dish but I would literally put it on ANYTHING and it would taste good!
- Fish ambul thiyal (Sour fish curry) is one of the most beloved varieties of the many different fish curries available in Sri Lanka.The fish is usually something firm, such as tuna, is cooked with a blend of spices including black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, pandan leaves, and curry leaves. The most important ingredient is dried goraka, a small fruit responsible for giving the fish a sour flavor. Which sounds a little weird, but believe me it works!
- Appam, or “hoppers” in English, are cup-shaped rice-flour pancakes. The batter is made from ground rice, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and yeast or toddy (fermented coconut water). This is left to ferment overnight. The perfect appam is light and fluffy in the middle and crispy at the edges.
Religion and Culture
Over 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist. The remaining population follows Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity. You should never touch or pat the top of the head of a Buddhist monk, including young children at temples. As they are religious leaders of the community, they must be respected.
There are many Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. Please do not turn your back to a statue of Buddha that is nearby. If you are unsure of what is right and wrong, look at the behavior of the locals around you. This includes posing for photos; it’s okay to take a photo of a statue, but anyone in the photo should be facing Buddha, not standing beside or with their back to the statue.
As I mentioned previously, I was in Kandy during the Kandy Esala Perahera, also known as The Festival of the Tooth. This is a historical procession that pays homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. Year-round, this tooth is housed in the Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
The spectacle goes on for ten days. Troops of dancers, drummers, musicians, fire-breathers, and beautifully decorated elephants parade the ancient streets. The tooth relic is placed in a casket inside the ransivige and it is attached to one elephant’s head.
I arrived a few hours before the festival began, and I grabbed a turmeric latte in a café and people were already lining the streets 5 hours before. So then I decided I would find somewhere to sit, which was with a very kind Sri Lankan family. I ate snacks and chatted to locals while I waited for the procession to begin.
Public displays of affection (PDA), such as kissing, hugging, and general affection may be frowned upon. In Sri Lanka, PDA is considered to be private behavior but is generally acceptable at nightclubs or beach parties.
LGBTQ travelers should be aware that same-sex relations are still illegal in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, this is still commonplace in many countries, this is something just to bare in mind.
Security checkpoints are common. You must carry a form of official photographic identification on you at all times. I visited a few months after the Easter bombings. So security was definitely on high alert, your bag was searched everywhere you went.
As I mentioned previously, I got my diving license in Sri Lanka (yes I know I have a diving license but not a driving license?). When researching where to get my PADI Open Water License, Sri Lanka was one of the cheapest countries to get it. Scuba diving is an expensive hobby so saving money whilst not compromising on quality is a must!
After researching diving centres in the Trincomalee area I settled on Trincomalee Diving Centre. I was so happy with the centre, I was being a little b***h one of the days, after nearly getting hit by a speed boat and dying, I wanted to give up, but my diving instructor was great, he told me to basically cut the bull and suck it up!
Honestly, it’s exactly the type of attitude I needed because he could have allowed me to let fear take over my mind, and I wouldn’t have completed the course. It’s an intense 3 Day course which includes
- Day 1: AM – Theory (watching videos and answering knowledge development questions) PM – Confined water session in our pool shallow water to practice some skills
- Day 2: AM – Two dives in the ocean (maximum 12 meters)
- Day 3: AM – Two dives in the ocean (maximum 18 meters)
You will also need to complete a final exam (50 multiple choice questions), which can be done whenever it suits you, usually in the afternoon on Day 2 or 3.
The course costs $375 dollars which includes the use of all the equipment, all studying materials, a professional PADI instructor, 4 dives, and your certification fee.