This Christmas vacation to the erstwhile British colony of #Ceylon was planned well ahead of time. From pristine beaches, turtle hatcheries, elephant orphanages, Buddhist relics, to Central highlands, tea plantations and some stunning national parks – there’s so much this island nation has to offer.
Planning a vacation to #srilanka is pretty easy and smooth.
Getting a visa is a matter of minutes, the application process is online and you will receive the Visa within minutes of your application.
If you’re traveling from one of the Asian countries, the flights are relatively inexpensive if booked well in advance. Do not forget to use the Skyscanner app for the best air prices. This is what I do to make sure I get a good deal on my International flights.
Besides, I will be sharing certain other tips on how you could choose to make this trip either a luxury or a budget vacation. Yes, you can splurge if you wish to, but there are numerous ways to cut corners without compromising on your travel goals!
When you think of an island city, it’s hard to look beyond beaches and corals, but this is one country where there’s much more than just beaches- the central highlands of #NuwaraEliya, #Yala National Park, the ancient archeological marvel- #sigiriya- to name a few. Besides, it’s so comforting to cool off at a cosy tea garden after a couple of beach days at Bentota or Galle.
And before I move on to elaborations, here’s a quick list of pointers you may want to pocket, just in case Sri Lanka is on your list.
Quick Travel Tips:
* Taxi vs Train
Travelling in a taxi may shoot up your budget a bit, hence train travel may be a good idea if you wish you save some bucks and spent them elsewhere. Booking train tickets, however, is only possible at the station ticket counters, there’s no online booking system available. It’s advisable to travel in a first class if the tropical heat is a botheration for you. Most trains tickets from Colombo can be booked on the same day.
If at all you wish to hire a taxi like we did, make sure you take a ball park figure and then take few more quotes from different travel agents. We found the ‘Broom Broom taxi’ services extremely professional and comfortable (very competitive rates as well).
There’s so much to shop in this tiny country! From handcrafted wooden masks, batik prints and handloom sarees to some exotic Ceylon tea and Noritaki dineware, you can simply shop till you drop! I first spotted masks at the Bentota market, but after a bit of haggling I decided to explore a bit more. You can buy the best of handicrafts at Laksala outlets in Colombo- the only State owned Gifts and Souvenir shop. (take google’s help to find the nearest one!)
* How and where to save bucks:
When choosing a place to stay on the south west coast, it’s best to pick a budget hotel/resort close to Galle-Unawatuna-Hikkaduwa. The ones close to Bentota are mostly five star properties. Moreover, Galle is strategically located somewhere in between Bentota and Mirissa, hence you would be at a hour an half distance from both of these exotic destinations. None of these beaches are private to any of the resorts but the ones down south towards Galle are more scenic, quieter.
* Pick off season dates
Road Traffic in Sri Lanka can be unpredictable during peak seasons like Christmas and the new year. The temperatures are fairly same round the year. Avoid monsoons, but make sure you travel off peak (mid December or early January is good time).
We chose to travel around Christmas and took an hour more than the usual time taken to reach Kandy from Bentota. If you wish to steer clear of traffic woes, pick a date slightly off the peak days.
Besides, you can save on flights and hotels as well in case you travel off the peak dates
The flight from Bengaluru to Colombo was a relatively short one, and after landing in Colombo late evening, we spent the night at a budget hotel called Oreeka- a ten minute drive from the airport. I would recommend this property if you are looking at an accommodation close to the airport. Very spacious and well kept rooms and a decent basic breakfast.
Next morning, post breakfast, we headed to the Bentota beach- Taj Bentota, to be precise. The beach at Bentota is a public beach, regardless of the property you stay at. Unless you really prefer a super luxurious stay, there are quite a few decent budget accommodations available when you drive down slightly further down towards Galle or Hikkaduwa. Interestingly, the beaches are cleaner, quieter and much more scenic than Bentota.
The South western coastline just keeps getting more beautiful, exotic and pristine as it unfolds itself while you drive down along the coast from Bentota. Hikkaduwa is the first stop when you drive down about an hour from Bentota. A bustling town with a host of eating joints, clubs and a few batik shops for the shopaholics, the beach here is good for snorkelling and watching corals.
The Galle fort and lighthouse are a picturesque site and a good one hour stop. If you wish to take a walk around the fort, you need at least two hours in hand.
The Japanese Peace Pagoda at Unawatuna is a complete not to miss. Besides the tranquils and majestic Buddha figurines, the top offers some breaktaking views of Galle and Unawatuna.
The most convenient way to travel along the coastline is Taxi or Tuktuk. Besides, there are quite a few tour operators running day tours as well, in case you wish to opt for a day tour.
Turtle hatchery visit
Our visit to this turtle hatchery was indeed the highlight of our trip. The coast has a host of turtle hatcheries home to a variety of turtles. It is indeed cute to hold the baby turtles! I would highly recommend a visit to one of these turtle farms, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Some stark contrasts here- just when you would have started to complain about the sun tans and temparate heat, the hills and tea gardens await your presence to cool you off! The city of Kandy speaks volumes about the cultural ethos of the country. A visit to the Temple of the tooth, Kandy lake and the tea gardens of Nuwara Eliya for a pure Ceylon tea experience are a complete not to miss.
You could choose you make Kandy as you’re base and then do a day trip to Eliya or stay at Nuwara Eliya itself for a day or two. In case you choose to stay back at Eliya, do not miss to visit Horton’s National Park- a two hour ride from Eliya.
Ceylon tea experience: Just as you drive into Nuwara you would start to notice a host of tea gardens nestled all along. Besides, quite a few of these tea gardens have their own tea cafes perched on the scenic cliffs. You could choose to stop by and enjoy a cup of tea amidst the greens or shop for some Ceylon tea to take home.
Weather in Sri Lanka can be quite unpredictable and choppy, so make the most of the beach while the sun is out and shining.
Just in case you wish to add a bit of adventure to your trip, here are a few destinations you could include in your itinerary:
Horton plains- A two hour road journey from Nuwara brings you here. #Hortonplains are the headwaters for the three major Srilanka rivers. The two major tourist attractions here are the World’s End and Baker falls. Their sheer precipice is a magnet for most tourists.
Sigiriya or the lion rock is a rock fortress in the Central highlands and a site of historical and archeological marvel. It can take up to four hours to reach this place from Colombo via road transport.