The Best of Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Guide

“I’m going to Sri Lanka, for 3 weeks.”  I remember uttering those words and having people look at me with puzzled faces as to why we’d choose that location over other Southeast Asia hotspots, like Bali or Thailand.

Reactions to our destination of choice included words like: “random”, “why”, and “OoOoh interesting”. Picture the emoji with the hand on chin, eyebrows curled, looking upward in contemplation.

There are certain countries that are new to the tourism thing and when you are traveling in them you can tell that they are on the verge of a tourist eruption. Places like Myanmar, Borneo, Montenegro, that really haven’t been discovered by a ton of tourists, especially Americans, are exploding with people booking trips left and right. If I were a gambling woman, I’d bet all of my Rupees that Sri Lanka, is on the edge of an absolute tourist apocalypse. AKA…book your tickets there….NOW… before it’s filled with selfie stick predators & fanny pack wearers. IMG_8249

In all seriousness, Sri Lanka, “the Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, should be at the top of your “I gotta see this before I die” list. If you read my last blog post, you already know that your five senses will go bazerk, you’ll see oodles of elephants and meet some of the happiest people on the planet.

What more could you ask for in a country you’ve never seen before?

When it comes down to it, traveling requires a lot of planning and, for many people, can generate feelings of stress, frustration, and overwhelming thoughts.

How can you see everything in an allotted amount of days, save up for it (newsflash: blog post coming SOON about this) and trust that where Google tells you to go (in this case, Sri Lanka) is best for you and your travel desires?

Yeah, it’s stressful, right?!

Well I wanted to outline how I would build out an itinerary for this country, with some advice from our own experiences and funny stories along the way.

IMG_2456 IMG_5325 2IMG_2838Things to do before you leave for Sri Lanka:

 

-Get your e-visa online within 1 month of departure. For two people, this will cost you $70 and is good for 30 days of travel in the country.

-Buy some good bug-spray. You will need it. There was one point in Ella where I went to bed with Andy, and another little guy…this mosquito bit me, NO JOKE, 7 times throughout the course of the night. After that night I’d rub on my extra powerful deet, as unsafe and gross as that was to sleep in. Worth it.

-Pack your temple gear. Men, your shorts need to go below the knee, so unless you like sag like it’s the 90s, bring some lightweight pants. Girls, no cute tanks or Levi denim shorts for you while seeing those historic temples! Pack a lightweight scarf for the shoulders and a sarong or harem pants. I bought a few sarongs while in Sri Lanka so leave room in your suitcase. Almost opted for a sari (link photo)… so sad I didn’t go through with it.

-Hire a driver or guide to bring you through the country. These are usually set up through travel agencies and some Trip Advisor forums have guides information too. Or ask me for Bakir’s information!

-Go to Currency Exchange beforehand and get some Sri Lankan Rupees so you have them right when you land.

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Best Places to See in Sri Lanka:

-Habarana (Sigiriya area): This is where you can do Minneriya National Park and see loads of ellies!! You can also climb up to Pidurangala Rock.

-Kandy: make sure to stay in the hills and take a gander in the Botanical Gardens.

-Take the scenic train down to Ella but make sure to stop in Nuwara Eliya. Side note: on the train, make sure to post up in one of the open doors so you can hang out of it. Unlike America, there are zero rules on this train. Your arms, legs, hands, entire bodies can be leaning a whole 45 degrees outside of the moving train. You just have to make sure to keep an eye out because there are low hanging branches and tunnels that could ruin your trip, catch my drift?IMG_6887

-Nuwara Eliya: this is a must stop. It’s a British built city (also known as Little England) filled with tea country hills that are so green it will be your new favorite color! Make sure to go to World’s End in Horton Plains for sunrise. Skip the Botanical Garden, it’ll take 2 minutes to get through it, save your 100 rupees for the famous Ceylon tea instead.

-Ella: when Andy and I got here we looked at each other and said, so THIS is where all the cute restaurants are! This street reminded me of Seminyak in Bali. Little boutiques, massage whole in the walls and rustic coffee shops. Get lunch on the rooftop at Cafe Chill. This is beanbag, no shoes, type atmosphere.  Grab an iced tea or a refreshing lime soda!!! Make sure to hike up to Little Adam’s Peak.

       – Where to stay in Ella: (queue funny story) Like I said, Andy and I fell in love with Ella at first sight. Maybe it was the tiny taste of America we felt it gave us. Needless to say, we were PISSED when Bakir started driving further and further away from the tiny downtown into the winding hills. As the roads got narrower and the minutes started hitting 10, 20, 30 minutes outside Ella, I had to say something to Bakir and tell him we didn’t want to stay this far away. A combination of language barrier problems and confusion happened, and all we wanted was to turn around and  head back down to Cafe Chill. The Hideaway Ella where we finally arrived, was GORGEOUS. It was a small hotel sitting atop lush rolling hills with a view to die for. We looked at each other after we just asked to cancel our reservation and were both like “oh shit, this is worth the drive”. Next,  the OWNER of the hotel knocks on the door. Her words were, “you do not like my hotel?”. Hearts sank and we decided that the 30 minute drive was worth the luxury and serene escape on the hill. It ended up being our favorite hotel. Whoops!

-Udawalawe: we opted for this National Park versus Yala National Park because ALL of the reviews said how Yala was overrun with way too many jeep tours happening at once that you often had to wait in a long line to see any animal. We felt like we had the whole park to ourselves in Udawalawe, animals were always front in center to our jeep, no lines, no tourists.IMG_9799

-Mirissa: beach town with hippie vibes. This is a must stop. Eat at Little Tuna for some great sushi. Find Secret Beach. You’ll have to walk uphill mostly through a neighborhood and then will stumble upon a small bar perched next to a small cove where you can catch an epic sunset. Do some morning Kundalini yoga with Mirissa Yoga. Climb up to Rock Island around 5PM at Mirissa Beach to get a good seat for sunset.

-Unawatuna: we opted for some luxury here and stayed at Cantaloupe Aqua Hotel. Take a tuk tuk to Dalawella Beach and have them stop at the Dream Cabana so you get pay your 500 rupees for the palm swing that takes you flying over the ocean.

-Galle: day trip from Unawatuna. I was a little underwhelmed but the walled city downtown area was pretty cute. It was about 95 degrees the day we went and at high noon. Not great planning on our part so make sure to go early in the AM or at about 5PM before sunset for some cooler temps.

-Colombo: we spent 1 day here and thought it was plenty. We went to The Gallery Cafe for lunch, chic little spot. Other recommendations that were sent to us by a friend who is Sri Lankan but didn’t get a chance to try were: Botanik, Attic, Sky Lounge at Kingsbury Hotel and Love Bar.

The ‘teardrop of India’ is something truly special that I hope everyone I know gets to experience (before the tourist apocalypse, of course). The language barrier is tough and there are tons of mosquitoes but every awkward, unproductive conversation and itchy bite is totally worth the scratch.

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