14th May 2019
Wanting an Asian holiday but hoping to skip out on the tourist crowds in Thailand and Indonesia? Well, look no further than Sri Lanka.
Jump on a flight via Singapore to find yourself in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, in just over 14 hours. From here you can venture out in any direction (except the west, because you might drown) to experience Sri Lanka's melting pot of culture, incredible cuisine and relatively untouched landscapes. The best bit? It's cheap as chips.
Incredible views in Ella, Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Basics
The two official languages in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and Tamil. You will find many locals will speak some English as well, especially in tourist towns.
The currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LRK). Just like the dollar, one rupee equates to 100 cents. You'll find the following denominations:
Notes - Rp2000, 1000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10
Coins - Rp10, 5, 2, 1 and 50, 25, 10, 5, 2, 1 cents.
While card facilities are available, Sri Lanka is still a predominately cash-based society. You will find ATM's in major cities like Colombo, Galle, Kandy and Mirissa, though you need to be careful as ATM scams are not uncommon.
As a rule of thumb, $22NZD is about 2500LKR, which will get you 6 beers or 8 serves of curry.. Make sure you declare if you're arriving or leaving with more than $15 000USD or foreign currency equivalent.
Tipping for good service is expected in Sri Lanka as their wages are quite low. Tips between Rp300 and Rp800 are standard based on the nature and quality of the service you received.
Traditional stilt fisherman.
While your daily budget will vary depending on your preferred style of travel (backpackers vs. 5-star hotels), you can budget the following for your everyday costs*:
Meal at a local restaurant: $2.40
Domestic beer: $3.10
Bottle of water: $0.50
One-way public transport ticket: $0.30
As you can see, Sri Lanka is cheap, cheap, cheap! With that in mind, if you account for food, activities and accommodation, we would recommend budgeting the following per day per person.
Budget - cheap eats, one activity, hostel/ homestay accommodation
Mid-range - cheap eats, two activities, 3-star hotel accommodation
Luxury - restaurant meals, safari tour, 4 to 5-star hotel accommodation
Be mindful the local monkeys don't steal your belongings!
Must Do Sri Lanka
There is something to tickle everyone's fancy in Sri Lanka. Whether you are an active traveller, are seeking cultural experiences, wanting to kick back and enjoy the scenery or want to hit maxo-relaxo status, Sri Lanka meets everyone's needs.
Before we break it down, here are some must-sees for every traveller:
Colombo - You'll more than likely fly into Colombo. Give yourself a night or two to tantalise your tastebuds at some of the countries best restaurants and overload your senses at the Pettah market.
Kandy - Find the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the 'Temple of the Tooth' in Kandy. Can confirm that it is not the tooth fairies palace. Also, ironic that a town called Kandy has a 'Temple of the Tooth', despite candy being awful for your teeth? Anyway.
Kandy is a bustling town where ancient customers, arts, crafts, rituals and ways of life have been captured and preserved. Prepare yourself for beeping scooters, exotic smells and beautiful handicrafts.
Ella - Tea time! Ella is an incredibly beautiful, small town surrounded by tea plantations. The scenery is breathtaking, so prepare your camera for some seriously FOMO-inducing snaps.
Yala - Leopards and elephants, need I say more? Seriously though, if you're keen to see some epic native wildlife then book a safari in Yala National Park as it boasts the worlds largest density of leopards. #budgetAfrica
Negombo - Just gotta go, Negombo! A short trip from Colombo, Negombo is the oldest and best-known fishing village. Seafood anyone?
Marissa - If you love the beach, don't miss-a Mirissa! Brimming with beautiful beaches, excellent surf and vibing bars and restaurants, it is a must add to your travel itinerary.
See where should you go in Sri Lanka based on your travel style.
Three words - hiking and surfing.
Sri Lanka is characterised by beautiful rolling scenery and over 1600km of beautiful beaches. So, strap on your Fitbit and get cracking on your steps as you hike your way through Sri Lanka. Must see's include Ella Rock and Adam's Peak, both boasting stunning views that are well worth the effort.
If water is more your thing, or you want a break from Sri Lanka's sticky humidity, grab a board, shout Cowabunga and surf on any of their pristine beaches. Surf hotspots include Hikkaduwa, Midigana and Arugam Bay. If you're tired of paddling, you can also have a crack at windsurfing, waterskiing, diving and yachting. If you're diving, Hikkaduwa and Bentota are known for substantial underwater cave and shipwreck dive locations.
There is no shortage of opportunities for you to get a glimpse into the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka. Each town will have opportunities for you to meet locals, try cuisine and witness tradition.
Don't forget to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Cave Temples. The Rock is often referenced as the 'Either Wonder of the World’, and its peak is 370m above sea level. While the view from the top is incredible, visitors are drawn to the fortress complex that holds the remains of a ruined palace. You will find ancient frescoes, unique sculptures and vast gardens.
A short drive will lead you to Dambulla Cave Temples tucked behind a rock outcrop. The cave's themselves shelter religious murals and beautiful statues.
If Instagram is anything to go by, it seems everyone is a scenic traveller, capturing gorgeous stills from the train ride between Kandy and Ella or Nuwara Eliya. The blue train journey will have you weaving through Sri Lanka's renowned tea plantations and stunning landscapes. We recommend booking your tickets a day or two in advance to ensure your spot. While you will have more room on the observation deck, travellers are known to enjoy the 2nd and 3rd class as well, especially in shoulder season when it is less busy.
Blue train en route to Ella.
Finally, if you're done with stressed of life and want to kick back with a good book and a cocktail on the beach, be sure to visit any of the seaside towns of Bentota, Galle, Mirissa or Unawatuna. Unawatuna claims to be one of the top 15 beaches in the world, and the Galle Fort has some incredible snorkelling opportunities.
You'll find beachside resorts in these locations where you can be pampered and relax as you please.
Regardless of where you are you will find some bloody delicious curries and cuisines. You'll find every curry under the sun: Dahl, jack fruit curry, chicken curry, sour fish curry, hot curry… the list goes on. Long story short, get a curry or three in your gob.
In between the curries, make sure you dig into an 'egg hopper'. It's essentially a crepe-like bowl made from egg coconut milk and rice. They are then filled with your sweet or savoury filling of choice. Delish.
Spice up your life with sambal as a side to your dishes, or get the coconut alternative if Sri Lanka is already hot enough for you.
Tree House in Tissa, Sri Lanka
Final tips for first-time travellers to Sri Lanka
- Dress appropriately: in bigger cities and temples you will need to cover your shoulders and thighs. This way you will avoid being disrespectful and being heckled by local males.
- Sri Lanka is still a developing country. Prepare for the occasional cold shower or monkey scratching at your window… It's all part of the experience.
- If travelling in a group of 2 or more, you can hire a driver to take you between spots. It's relatively cheap (maybe $200 per person for two weeks). It makes it more comfortable as you avoid public transport and don't have to worry about carting bags everywhere. It is also much quicker than catching public transport so you can spend more time in each location.
- Stay in a treehouse - they are fantastic, quirky accommodation options
- Be conscious of the street food you are eating in certain places. Your best bet is to look for areas with longer lines of locals as they are more likely to be legit.
Sold on a trip to Sri Lanka, or are simply after some more travel tips and tricks? Be sure to visit the experts at Travel Money NZ. With over 150 stores across Australia and New Zealand, they are ready to load you up with facts and LKR!
This blog is provided for information only and does not take into consideration your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the information and suggestions contained in any blog entry are appropriate for you, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. While we take reasonable care in providing the blog, we give no warranties or representations that it is complete or accurate, or is appropriate for you. We are not liable for any loss caused, whether due to negligence or otherwise, arising from the use of, or reliance on, the information and/or suggestions contained in this blog.