Lots of planning and asking questions on CouchSurfing forums went into putting our itinerary together. We managed to pull it off and here it is, our “Taste of Sri Lanka in 10 days” itinerary.
We went on the trip at the end of March 2013 and it worked out really well. We tried to have a bit of a relaxing time on the beach, to see the hill country, tea plantations and local life. And that’s pretty much what we experienced in those 10 days. So I decided to share our itinerary. It comes with lots of photos, the prices we paid and the map. If you have any questions please ask.
Day 1 – Colombo to Galle
It’s 2.30am, what should we do? – A couple of airlines that we considered for our flight to Sri Lanka land around 2am. There are no buses or trains at this time, it’s dark and if you’re on a budget then private transport or taxi may not be an option. We decided to wait until 4.30am and then take a taxi to Pettah (bus station near Colombo Fort) since A/C buses to Galle start running at 5-5.30am. Waiting at the airport wasn’t fun. A big hall full of sleeping and snoring people and 80s hits in karaoke version from the speakers. I’m surprised we managed to wait 2 hours. Taxi cost: 2640 LKR = 22 AUD. Time to Pettah: just under 1 hour.
A/C bus? – air-conditioned buses are a bit more expensive, but they don’t stop as often as the regular ones. When we arrived in Pettah (it was still dark at 5.20am) and started to ask people where we can find “air-conditioned bus” they had no idea what we were talking about. Then we learnt the trick – ask for “AC bus to Galle” and suddenly everyone is able to help. Our first encounter with Sri Lankan style of driving, taking over and honking all the time was scary, that must have been the craziest ride in our lives. Bus cost: 300 LKR per person = 2.5 AUD. Time to Galle: 2.5 hours.
Can I sleep now? A short walk from Galle bus station to our hotel (Deco on 44) in the Fort and we found ourselves trying to check in at 8.30am. To my surprise, the staff was very accommodating and it wasn’t a problem to give us the room that early. What was even better – there was no extra charge for it. Quick breakfast, shower, few hours of beauty sleep and we were ready to explore. Bring it on Sri Lanka!
What’s going on Galle? I was quickly charmed by the tiny streets of the Galle Fort but it was the spectacular sunset that made this place so special. It lasted for over an hour, starting with a little bit of orange and gold colours to pinks and purples at the end. We had a great spot to watch it from a rooftop bar tasting our first Lion beers. Then we noticed something else – What’s going on here, why are those people carrying black and yellow flags? we asked our waiter. – There will be a Big Match tomorrow. Cricket match. But they party already. And can you see that blonde girl? That’s actually a guy! – and he giggled. – Who are you going to cheer for tomorrow? – we asked having no idea who’s playing. – Mahinda! Richmond is cool, but Mahinda is cooler! And the next day when we were walking around Galle there was so much excitement in the air. People were gathering around, wearing blue colours for Richmond College and yellow or black for Mahinda College. If we weren’t leaving that day for Tangalle, we would certainly go to see the Lovers’ Quarrel even though we know nothing about cricket.
Day 2 – Galle to Tangalle
You want me to jump in? We went to the bus station to catch a bus to Tangalle (number 32). After having a look at all buses at the station and asking people where we can find the right one, the best answer we got was pointing (literally) to the street. When we went back to the street we noticed some buses just go slower in this area instead of stopping at the station. There is always a person in Sri Lankan bus that sells tickets and shouts city names. So we asked one of them if they go to Tangalle, he said yes and pointed at back door… Now imagine the bus moving slowly and two tourists with huge backpacks, carrying smaller backpacks in their hands, trying to jump in. For the first time ever. That must have been in our blood, because we made it without any problems. Bus cost: 150 LKR per person (as we later found out on the tickets, we were riding in “semi-luxury”) = 1.25 AUD. Time to Tangalle: 2 hours.
22 km in a tuk-tuk, why not? – Do you know Turtle Bay hotel? – Yes Kalamatiya. 22 kilometers, 1500 rupees. We were a bit surprised it’s that far, but we didn’t check the distance before. – Are you sure? – we needed some confirmation, before taking that crazy tuk tuk ride. – Yes, yes, 14 kilometers main road, 8 kilometers south road. – where the “south road” turned out to be 8 kilometres of potholes horror. Tuk tuk cost: 1500 LKR = 12.5 AUD.
Day 3 – relax in Turtle Bay
The worst and the best? It started to be a rocky road for me, getting sick – runny nose, cough and feeling feverish and topping this with a painful period, wasn’t the best way to spend holidays. But being prepared with my supersize first aid kit helped a lot. I felt like staying in bed for the next few days, but on the other hand, I wanted to see as much as possible. So I played strong and somehow managed to survive the worst. Fortunately for me, we had 2 days in a very remote location, with a long beach strip for walks and a surprise waiting for us a couple hundred meters from the hotel… The most amazing thing we did in Sri Lanka was fishing with locals and doing it in a very traditional way.
Day 4 – Tangalle-Kalamatiya to Nuwara Eliya
Up and down – I couldn’t imagine myself being so sick and going for such a long ride by several buses. So we let ourselves for a bit of comfort this time and took a hotel car to Nuwara Eliya. What can I say, the trip was awful. Going up and down, turning left and right for 4 hours was making us nauseous. Can you imagine being on a roller coaster for 4 hours? A headache was the least we could get from that. Gorgeous views, waterfalls and enormous wild monkeys were a nice addition, but we felt too sick to even think about taking any photos. Hotel car cost: 15000 LKR = 123 AUD. Time to Nuwara Eliya: 4 hours.
Baby, it’s cold outside! While in Turtle Bay it was steaming hot 30C, Nuwara Eliya welcomed us with grey skies, rain and 12C. During the day it was getting up to 20C but still, I was happy we packed our warm hoodies. Despite such different weather conditions, it was beautiful and reminded us a bit of the views in Poland, when you’re getting closer to Tatras. Magnificent.
Day 5 – Nuwara Eliya
Tea time – One of the reasons for staying in Nuwara Eliya was a visit to a tea plantation. I wanted to see a factory and learn more about the process, but more than that I wanted to see the lush green fields. Pedro Tea Estate was the closest one and we found pretty good opinions about it on the Internet. Monday morning is not the best time to visit the factory as it’s not operational. We had an exclusive tour around, as there were just the two of us and then we spent hours walking around the fields, looking for the “Tea ladies” – Tea ladies are in the field, but I don’t know where exactly. If you want to see them, you’ll have to look – was the only instruction from the estate staff. But we were lucky and managed to find them (read more ). Factory tour: 200 LKR per person = 1.65 AUD. Tuk-tuk from Nuwara Eliya centre, one way: 300 LKR = 2.5 AUD.
What else (NOT) to do while there? – Victoria Park is one of the “attractions”. It was green, with some flowers blooming and nice for a short walk, but it was nothing special and not worth the time in my opinion. The other thing this region is famous for are strawberries. Adma Agro was recommended to us as a go-to strawberry place. We tried a pancake and milkshakes, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as the place looked quite dodgy and again wasn’t worth the time and money. After that, we wanted to take a lovely walk by the lake. There is a path alongside the lake, you can rent a swan-boat or bikes and it seemed to be a good idea until we reached the end of the pathway… The exit was closed, not only with a chain and padlock but also with barbed wire all around it. We had to walk back, to the middle exit thinking for the first time why would you do this Sri Lanka, why? Victoria Park entrance ticket: tourist price 300 LKR per person = 2.5 AUD. Lake walk: 200 LKR per person = 1.65 AUD.
Where for a dinner? We enjoyed our meals on both evenings at Grand Indian. Really nice atmosphere and flavoursome food.
Day 6 – Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
Can I have 2 first class tickets, please? – We rushed to the Nanu Oya station early in the morning, just to discover the 1st class tickets to Kandy are sold out and the best we can get is 2nd class. Hey, it’s an adventure, right? And not sure how bad it’s going to be (everyone heard stories about those Indian and Sri Lankan trains) we bought them. To our surprise, the cars were modern and really comfortable. We found seats quickly and were able to enjoy our 3.5h journey through the hills. Tuk-tuk from Nuwara Eliya to Nanu Oya station: 600 LKR (the road is very bad, sir) = 4.95 AUD. 2nd class ticket from Nanu Oya to Kandy: 160 LKR per person = 1.30 AUD. Tuk-tuk from Kandy Station to Thilanka hotel: 300 LKR = 2.5 AUD.
Day 7 – Kandy
Beware of monkeys. Keep all doors locked – A sticker on our balcony doors warned us. Are you kidding me? I can’t wait to see those monkeys! And I didn’t have to wait long. At one moment there were at least 10 of them, all very keen to break into our room and steal my red-capped can of mosquito repellent. They had their eyes set on it all the time and I had my chance to take some close up pictures. What a great cooperation.
What’s the local price? A big part of our shopping in Sri Lanka was done on the Kandy Market. A very friendly local man showed us where to buy the best and cheapest scarf, pants and spices. At first, we were suspecting he’s not doing it just from the kindness of his heart, but to our surprise he was. He guided us through the market, showed the spices stand and made the owner let us buy a bunch of vanilla pods for a local price (which was 5 times lower than the “tourist price”). It was less than 10 Australian cents per pod. What a bargain.
Day 8 – Kandy to Colombo
ExpoRail – luxury travel? No, thank you – would be my answer now, after I took that ride. It wasn’t worth it. Snacks, movie, WiFi, air condition and the “luxurious” car itself were laughable. The paint was chipping off, air condition was leaking, only one TV at the front worked, windows were scratched and dirty so weren’t able to see anything. Fail-Rail. [As of September 2017 ExpoRail is no longer operational]
Tuk-tuk from Thilanka hotel to Kandy Rail: 300 LKR = 2.5 AUD. Kandy – Colombo ExpoRail ticket: 1300 LKR per person = 10.75 AUD. Tuk-tuk to Casa Colombo from Colombo Fort: 400 LKR = 3.3 AUD.
Day 9 – Colombo
Are you telling me everything is being renovated? – There is a lovely park, and according to Lonely Planet everything in it should be blooming now, let’s go there. – we weren’t lucky, it was one big construction site, with all paths removed and lots of sand around. – Ok, so let’s see the Old Town Hall – nope, no luck, guess what? It’s being renovated. We went back to the hotel and started looking on the internet what else can we do in Colombo – Let’s try National Museum. – no, we didn’t go. Why? the day before staircase in the museum collapsed. Colombo didn’t want to show us anything.
Day 10 – Colombo and homebound in the evening
As the previous day proved, there was nothing interesting for us. So we did some shopping (Paradise Road – foodie props heaven), a spa treatment in the hotel and we even went to a cinema and called it a day of relaxing, before the long flight to Australia.
View 10 days in Sri Lanka in a larger map
The only thing I would change in the itinerary after doing the whole trip would be adding 1 day in Ella before Nuwara Eliya (and then the train ride to NE) and reducing Colombo time to just 1 day.