Of the countries I have visited, Sri Lanka – also known as ancient Ceylon – holds a special place in my heart, it is a home away from home, outside my country and my European continent.
Sri Lanka, a pearl in the Indian Ocean: at the time, in 2019 (in 2020 there were no trips pour moi-même, as you can imagine from the pandemic of cinematic proportions!), I traveled alone, for almost 2 weeks, and had the privilege of visiting several cities in Sri Lanka.
Despite this, I have met many couples and families, so I imagine this must be a great destination for a honeymoon or family vacation.
Where is Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka, made up of this main island, as well as several adjacent smaller islands, is separated from peninsular India by the Strait of Palk and lies in the Indian Ocean.
The national languages are Sinhala and Tamil, but it is easy to communicate in English (mimicry can also save in some situations!). The currency is Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) and during my stay, I used the VISA card several times without major incidents; there is almost always an ATM or ATM to hand and some hotels can exchange dollars and euros.
The main religions in Sri Lanka are Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, but Buddhism and Hinduism are, at least in my experience, the most striking (I once found myself landing in what seemed like an Islamic ceremony, dressed in beach clothes, it wasn’t my best moment!).
In Sri Lanka, the climate is humid tropical, with monsoons between May and September and with average temperatures between 23º and 30ºC. It’s true that the temperature in the mountains can be lower, but that’s not always a bad thing.
How much does a flight to Sri Lanka cost?
I traveled in August, so I adapted my route to the weather at that time, that is, I left Colombo, went through the interior of the island, and headed for the southeast coast of Sri Lanka, where I enjoyed some wonderful sunny days!
If you are thinking of traveling between October and April, I suggest you set out to discover the southwest of this paradise island.
The prices? It depends on your pockets and your stamina, there are cheaper trips, with prices around 600 or 700€, but with almost 30 hours of transit (I did something like that when I went to Bali and swore I would never do it again!). The fastest (14 to 17 hours) can be between €800 and €1,000, but pay attention to the time of stopovers and make sure that connecting planes wait for you in case of delays.
I traveled with Qatar Airways and they were awesome – on the stop I took in Doha, there was a very friendly and cheerful employee at 6:30 am (no one can be cheerful at this early hour!) to guide us (me and other passengers with the same destination) to the other plane that was already waiting for us.
What does it take to travel to Sri Lanka?
Needless to say, the rules have changed in the last year and will continue to change within the pace of the pandemic evolution. To avoid inconveniences (such as buying a trip and then not being allowed to board), my advice is to get as much information as possible with the official entities, which will publish some information online, as well as with other travelers, who keep sharing their experiences.
At the website https://www.srilanka.travel/, you’ll find the official information that Sri Lanka Tourism makes available (All the rules in force are applicable to foreigners, including those already vaccinated).
Portuguese citizens cannot board without an e-visa (visa) issued online before the trip, you can request yours here: http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/. The tourist visa is for 30 days, counting from the date of arrival in the country (with a passport valid for more than 6 months after the date of entry into the country), and can be extended for a maximum period of 6 months.
In the Portal das Comunidades Portuguesas, do Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros de Portugal, you may have access to a lot of useful information (not necessarily up-to-date, particularly in these times of uncertainty).
What vaccines do I need?
The one that everyone talks about will perhaps be an advantage in many ways. Anyway, it will be better to go to a traveler’s appointment, this way they can clarify all health doubts and can give you have access to all vaccines that may be considered necessary. In my case, I would always be staying close to civilization, so the Hepatitis A vaccine was enough.
If you’re thinking about digging into the jungle for I don’t know how long, you should consider Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, and Rabies (but this is me shooting up in the air, no one can replace the medical advice, ie, the opinion of those who know very well what they are saying!)
Can you drink unbottled water? I would say no. Doctors and specialists strongly advise against it! The health network is not like in Europe and our bodies are used to other bacterias and to this very different life. I suggest that you avoid unbottled water, drinks with ice (which can be made from non-potable water), and raw foods that may not be washed with bottled water.
Ah, I took out travel insurance for this trip. In Sri Lanka, the health system is limited and, for the modest amount of around €50, I had access to insurance, just in case. Is it necessary? Maybe not, but it doesn’t cost that much and it may prevent any bad luck during the trip.
Even so, the Portuguese Communities Portal lists 2 hospitals in case of need:
National Hospital Colombo
Regente Street, Colombo 010 | Tel.: (+ 94) 112 69 11 11
Deshamanyah K. Dharmadasa Mawatha, Colombo 2 | Tel.: (+ 94) 112 32 50 20
Is it a safe country?
I read a lot before deciding to travel alone to Sri Linka, I spoke with friends who had already visited the island and in general, I thought it would be safe so I decided without much hesitation. I bought the trip a week before the April 2019 attacks.
We cannot predict catastrophes, attacks, or pandemics. But these things happen as much in Sri Lanka as in any city in Europe (as it has happened more times than I can count).
What I can say is that the Sri Lankans reacted with increased policing and enforcement. There were police checkpoints on the roads, my passport was seen more than a Stephen King novel, and I was searched so many times that I lost count (always with an apology and a smile that asked for my understanding).
Aside from one or two occasional situations (which could have happened in any country where there is chauvinism, that is, in any country in the world!), I always felt safe and calm. I never let my personal belongings out of sight, such as passport, money, cell phone (that may be a lie! I lost my phone on the first night, left it forgotten on the bed), but these precautions must always be taken, wherever you go.
Is it a cheap or expensive destination?
Depends on your point of view. In reality, the country has a price for locals and a price for tourists, even in terms of access to monuments and temples.
In practice, I paid as much for a beer as if I were in Portugal, being a tourist. But the accommodations I stayed in were reasonably priced and immaculately clean. And for those who think Europe is better at everything: I’ve paid more in Europe for MUCH worse. Even in the most modest hotels, cleanliness always got top marks.
Where to stay?
Well, I’ve planned a route and made my reservations on Booking (even the taxi, which took me from Colombo to Kandy, which is about 3 hours away).
For traveling between destinations within a country, GetTransfer can also be an excellent option and you can find it in many countries!
In a 10-day trip, I improvised, unchecking some things and checking others.
I left Colombo airport straight to Kandy, passed Ella, and headed to Arugam Bay. I had planned to go to Udawalawe, but I was so delighted with Arugam Bay beach that I ended up staying a few more days. From here I went to Colombo (a very painful eight hours trip!), where I stayed until I boarded back to Portugal.
Dumbara Peak Residence, Kandy (double room, 55€/2 nights)
I arrived in the last days of the Festival of the Tooth (Esala Perahera Festival), one of the largest religious festivals in the country, in honor of the sacred tooth of the Buddha, which is in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
Club Villa, Ella (quarto duplo, 23€/1 night)
From Kandy, I took the train to Ella, on what is said to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. It’s a 7 hours train journey and I wouldn’t do it again!
I spent the first 3 or 4 hours standing, squashed against a wall, and at each stop, there were always more people coming in than leaving.
In the last few hours, the train was getting emptier and I managed to take a moment to sit at the train door enjoying the view, many mountains and tea fields as far as the eye can see.
I was supposed to go straight to Arugam Bay, but I was so tired that I had to change my plans and spend the night in Ella. At Club Villa I did a Sri Lankan food workshop. The food is spicy, it’s true!, but it’s also delicious.
The next day I finally left for Arugam Bay, but I got the feeling that there was a lot to discover in this charming little corner.
East Surf Cabanas, Arugam Bay (Family Room with Garden View, 148€/3 nights)
Beach Cab Resort, Arugam Bay (Double Room with Garden View, 55€/2 nights)
I was going to stay 3 nights and ended up staying 5, deciding not to go to Udawalawe. I changed my hotel only because there were no more free rooms and ended up staying at the Beach Cab Resort for the last 2 nights.
In these days I enjoyed the beach, the tranquility, the good food (crows can steal your food, keep your eyes wide open!). I went on a safari in one of the adjacent jungles: The Jungle BBQ, I saw elephants, crocodiles and other wild animals in their natural habitat, where they belong!, walked through the small village and practiced the sweet art of doing nothing.
CityRest Fort, Colombo (Double Room, 40€/1 night)
I left Arugam Bay but part of me stayed there, lying on the sand, surrounded by stray dogs and crows.
The trip to Colombo was tough, 8 hours by car on badly treated roads, between trucks, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, people, dogs, and, every now and then, an elephant.
I confess that I got a bit depressed after returning to the city. Maybe it’s not very impartial, because I came from a paradisiacal environment, but I found Colombo to be a colorless city. Next time I return to Sri Lanka, Colombo will be a transit point and not a stopover.
Why travel to Sri Lanka?
I have many destinations on my list (this is an endless list!), but the return to Sri Lanka in inevitable.
People are friendly, the landscapes are beautiful and there is a vibrant and positive energy in the air that makes us take a deep breath and want to leave behind all the worries of the world.
If you prefer other destinations, take a peek here!