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I recently come back from a long independent journey to Sri Lanka. Still, I wasn’t in the mood of writing about it right away because I was surprised by this amazing country from several points of view, and I needed to digest everything and give my emotions and thoughts some time to get a correct interpretation.

The truth is that I’m not yet finished with this phase, but in the meantime, also to meet the demands of some faithful readers who need to organize their departure, I will tell you about my trip to Sri Lanka from a practical point of view.

Silvia's Trips a Sigiriya

The visa

I’ve been away 30 days, those allowed by the tourist visa issued upon arrival at the Colombo airport or, as I did, applying online on the Eta-Sri Lanka website.  In both cases, you must fill out the immigration form and pay $ 30. The visa online is released within 48 hours and allows you to skip the chaotic queue at the counter.

N.B. As always, the passport must be valid for another 6 months after the date of your flight back!

The flight

Several economic airlines link Milan and Rome to Colombo, Turkish, Air Qatar, and others. I picked Emirates even though it costed slightly more, € 420 for the roundtrip flight. I chose it because even the economy class is comfortable, the food is always good, the bathrooms are cleaned several times during the flight, the personal screen offers audio-video for every taste and age and also because I finally decided to visit Dubai, a city where I did stop plenty 0f times without wanting to see it.

The flight from Milan to Dubai lasts six hours, while that from Dubai to Colombo four. The temperature onboard rises quite a lot from one to another to get prepared for the external one. I would advise you to wear several layers of clothes… Traveling during winter as I do, boarding is at about 0 ° and landing at more than 30 °.

Ah, at the airport in Colombo, you will have to cross a rather special Duty-Free! More than forty appliance stores on both sides of the exit corridor selling washing machines and freezers on super sale. In case you want to ship a full container home … 😉

My independent travel to Sri Lanka: the itinerary

I more or less respected what I planned before the departure. Prices are quoted per person regarding buses, trains, and tickets to museums and tourist sites, while the accommodation rates are for a double room.


I slept here one night, the first. It is a small urban area that stretches along the beach at 15 minutes drive from Colombo airport. A succession of huts, shacks, luxury resorts, sidewalks, seafood markets, tourist restaurants, open dumps, and crows. Crows everywhere, but this seems to be something very trivial in Sri Lanka.


Where to sleep: we stayed at the Villa Taprobane ($ 35, including breakfast), a small cottage about 1 km from the beach. Large room with private bathroom and above all helpful and welcoming owners. The cleanliness is really not what we are used to according to western standards, but it’s the same thing all over Sri Lanka and no matter which kind of accommodation/restaurant you pick.

Where to eat: choose among the many restaurants on the beach. Keep in mind that the average price for a bowl of rice & curry is Rs 700 and more or less Rs 1400 for shellfish.

* The taxi from the airport costs 1500 rupees.


From Negombo to Anuradhapura: following the advice of our hosts, Ale and I decided to take the bus to Anuradhapura, which stops a few meters from the guesthouse. It passes every 15 minutes, so if the first one is jam-packed, let it go and take the following one. A little waiting creates less discomfort than four shaky hours standing in the corridor! The ticket costs Rs 185, and you pay for it on board, from two minutes to two hours after the departure… very calm attendants in this country 🙂

Where to sleep: once at the bus station, we took a tuk-tuk to the first guesthouse I pre-selected before the departure, the Shalini (4500 Rs, breakfast, and bike rental included). The building is not that bad, but the lack of cleanliness is quite impressive… just to let you have an idea: Ale has nicknamed the guy at the front desk, also in charge of the housekeeping, breakfast, and who knows what else. “Skunk.” More details in my following post dedicated to the ancient towns!

Where to eat:  actual restaurants are practically non-existent or highly discouraging, so I recommend two 5 stars hotels’  restaurants: the first one is The Sanctuary, the beautiful ancient residence of the Dutch governor now transformed into a luxury resort… simply fantastic. The second is the Nurowowewe, where you can also enjoy the pool at Rs 500 per day. In both cases, the food is excellent, the venue is clean, and the average bill for the main course, a dessert, and soda is about Rs 1000.


Sightseeing: we took our time and not only during this stage, but if you are in a hurry you can visit Minithale in the afternoon and the next day the ancient city of Anuradhapura. You can reach Minithale in about 45 minutes by bus from New Station (Rs 50) or negotiate with a tuk-tuk driver. We agreed to a roundtrip and a three-hour visit for 1700 Rs. The entrance fee to the site costs 500 Rs.

Visiting Anuradhapura by bike takes more or less the whole day. The combined ticket can be purchased at the museum and costs Rs 3250.


From Anuradhapura to Sigiriya: minibusses leave every half hour or so (the time needed to fill it). The trip lasts 2h30, and the ticket costs 540 Rs. Some buses leave from the same station and take about three hours and costs Rs 120, but we wanted to try a minibus… well it’s even less comfortable than the regular bus, but makes no stops on the way.

Where to sleep and eat:  I recommend the Melrose Villa, with its small bungalows in the jungle with a view of the legendary rock. Simple but very clean, it costs $ 40 per night, breakfast included. The kitchen of Ganesh – yes, the cook has the name of a God – is really a good standard, although the meals here are more expensive than elsewhere in Sri Lanka…

Sightseeing: we stayed four nights, but if you have less time, with two days you can see everything deserving a visit, and I recommend you arrange as follows:

  • Polonnaruwa during the morning (3250 Rs), Sigiriya (3900 Rs), and a visit to a traditional hamlet (2500 Rs) in the afternoon
  • Ritigale Ruins (donation required) and Pidurangala Rock in the morning and Dambulla (1500 Rs) in the afternoon. You could also leave your luggage at the temple entrance and get it back after the visit to take a bus to the next stage right away.

We negotiate a Rs 8000 flat rate with a tuk-tuk driver who lives a few hundred meters from Melrose Villa for the four-day visits. The resort can introduce you to him.


From Sigiriya to Kandy: even buses follow one another… the one to Kandy depart from Dambulla, which is nothing but a sad conurbation built right on the two sides of the road. The ticket costs Rs 100, and it takes about three hours. Upon arrival, you can step off once at the lake or wait till the last stop at the bus station, where tuk-tuks are slightly more expensive.

Viaggio attraverso lo Sri Lanka in pratica

Where to eat: to enjoy the landscape and get away from the chaotic and quite smelly city, we opted for a guesthouse in the hills, the Blue Heaven ($ 35, including breakfast). Even here the cleanliness and order are two concepts that do not exist, but the pool is cool and the silence.

Where to eat:  I truly recommend the Tea Fortress a few steps from the lake. It is a tea shop with a room for snacks and tastings on the upper floor. We went back twice, and everything was absolutely delicious. The venue is very cozy and clean, as are the bathrooms!

We have also been at the White House, a few house numbers below, and Asian dishes are delicious and cheap. The restaurant also offers pastries and Italian coffee, but I didn’t try it.

Finally, I do not recommend The Pub, which Lonely Planet instead recommends. The prices are very high and the quality really poor. The bar is also filthy…

* If your hotel has a poor wifi connection, keep in mind that the one at the Pizza Hut downtown is almost as good as a DSL.

Sightseeing: the city and its surroundings can be visited in a day and a half with no problems. If I were you I would do as follows:

  • the Temple of the Tooth (Rs 1000), the Museum of Buddhism (Rs 500), a tour of the lake at sunset while the speakers spread the choir of monks in prayer (do watch out at pigeons, crows, and alas huge bats… meaning carry hygienic wipes!) and traditional Kandy dance show (2000 Rs) on the first day
  • the fantastic Tea Museum (Rs 650 + 100 Rs for the tuk-tuk), the central market with its colors and smells … and other temples in the city the next morning

Nuwara Eliya

From Kandy to Nuwara Eliya: five hours by train to Nanu Oya and then half an hour by taxi (1000 Rs) to destination. Train tickets can be purchased ten days in advance, but they are actually penciled by tour operators & Co. and released the last morning at the opening of the ticket office. Therefore, it is normal to be told that all trains are fully booked in all classes when asking in the previous days. Still, if you show up at the box office the morning of departure at 7:30, you will get them… we bought a first-class ticket, costing Rs 1000 regardless of your destination. The place is reserved, so no rush when stepping on the train. Halfway the landscape changes and is amazing!

Where to sleep and eat:  with no response to my emails, just before leaving from Kandy, I booked three nights at the Green Stars ($ 135 total, including breakfast)on Booking, because according to the reviews, it seemed the cleanest one and indeed the room was clean, the staff very young and nice, but sooooo disorganized. Prices in Nuwara Eliya are quite high, as in the whole “Hill County,” because it’s a prized touristic destination for the locals.

During this stage, we walked a lot, and in the evening we had the strength barely to go down to have dinner on the ground floor … the food is good and freshly cooked, but disorganization is impressive and therefore also the waiting time.

Viaggio attraverso lo Sri Lanka in pratica

Sightseeing: I recommend you take a walk downtown and around the lake, even simply to admire the pure British style cottages that dot the countryside (!), plantations arriving almost in the city, and a landscape that recalls Switzerland more than Asia. Victoria Park is a tiny corner of England, well-kept and flowery. The entry for foreigners is Rs 300 per person and Rs 100 for children who also have access to a merry and shady playground (and here the shadow is essential!).

There are many plantations nearby, but if you are in a hurry and have to pick one, I recommend the Mackwoods Tea Estate, a free tour of the factory, and a tasting saloon. The tea shop is fantastic, but if you stop in Haputale, I recommend you wait to be there to shop!

Then the beautiful day of hiking in the Park of Hortons Plans (2500 Rs per person + Rs 1900 for the jeep and Rs 5000 for the driver), with picnic between the peaks. Breathtaking.


From Nanu Oya to Haputale: Take the train! This is definitely the most scenic and exciting stage. To change we bought a ticket in second class (Rs 600).

Where to sleep and eat:  we spent the night at the Green Valley Cottage ($ 30, including breakfast). A resort with bungalows of all shapes and sizes. I do not know if they are all like that, but one of the walls of our room was rocky and the view from the balcony really special. Great curry at dinner and delicious tea with wild strawberries! The owner also runs a tea shop next to the station, WebsiteLink internet, and tea center, and if, like me, you are a tea-aholic, you’ll love it! I’ve bought enough tea to open my own shop …

Sightseeing: I loved the Adishom Monastery, but it only opens during weekends.  The most amazing, though, is the view from Lipton’s Seat and the winding road leading there! The two visits count about 1500 Rs for the tuk-tuk.

Viaggio attraverso lo Sri Lanka in pratica


From Haputale to Ella: a fun but exhausting trip because we had no room to take off our backpacks. An hour and a half holding ourselves to the door, but what a thrill! The third class is worth at least once and costs nothing, or better cost Rs 12.5 and offers zero living space, cobwebs, foul smells, and many knowing looks with anyone other than the Sinhalese on board. I’ll tell you everything in my post on Hills County!

Where to sleep:  we stayed two nights at the Ambiente Place to Stay ($ 44, including breakfast), but extending the stay in Ella is something natural. It is an ideal place to relax and let time flow. The view from the hotel is breathtaking, the rooms clean and the food excellent, with the staff, would be more trustful, not trying to sell you unneeded services.

Where to eat: here you’ll have plenty of choices. The town is a succession of restaurants and pubs, all very inviting. The best dish of the trip was the Deviled Fish at the Chill Out Café (about Rs 700). To have cocktails and chat with other backpackers, I recommend the Elle Meny, immediately below the station.

Sightseeing: if you love hiking, there are virtually no limits to it in the area. I really liked the hike up to Ella Rock. You’ll need no guide! Walk along the railway in the direction of Haputale and take the path on your left at the votive temple to Buddha. You can not miss it.

Viaggio attraverso lo Sri Lanka in pratica

Another visit that I recommend is the one at The Village, a small Ayurveda center close to the station. The owners are lovely, the place out of time, the herbal sauna top and massage really beneficial. For one hour massage and the sauna, I paid 4000 Rs. There are many other spas, but they didn’t inspire me because in big hotels or more similar to our beauty centers than to traditional places …


From Ella to Ratnapura: the bus (Rs 118) runs every half hour, stopping at three km from Ella (Rs 300 by tuk-tuk), and from there, it takes three hours downhill through the plantations’ winding roads! I would say a very crazy-special experience.

Where to sleep:  we slept at the Ratna Gems Guesthouse, on the hills (Rs 150 by tuk-tuk). Very simple, but quiet and with an amazing view.

Where to eat: we went to the Pizza Hut downtown ’cause we couldn’t stand the poor wifi connection at the guesthouse… what to say, not my ideal pizza and freezing venue, but we missed the wifi so much… 😉

Sightseeing: the only reason for our stop here was to visit the gemstone mines. Useful experience for many reasons, but Ale will tell you everything about it in a future post.

Yala National Park

From Ratnapura to Tissa: three buses and four hours trip, without waiting a minute between them and spending only Rs 430.

Where to sleep and eat: we stayed two nights in a treehouse!!! The Yala Tree House (Rs 5000, breakfast included) and I definitely recommend it! A childhood dream coming true.

Jungle Safari: the entrance fee to the National Park is Rs 5000 per person + more or less Rs 13ooo the jeep for the whole day. It’s really worth it, and actually, I liked it even more than the one I did in Kenya several years ago. Ask Amila, the Yala Tree House’s owner, to arrange everything for you. Anyway, I can’t wait to write about it!

Viaggio attraverso lo Sri Lanka in pratica

Beaches in Sri Lanka

We stopped in two different towns:

  • Tangalle – three hours by bus from Tissa (Rs 115) and definitely the seaside destination we liked the most. A beach of pristine dunes dotted with palm trees and a few wooden resorts camouflaged by plants. A true paradise. We stayed at the Turtle Bay ($ 60, including breakfast) and really enjoyed it, even if the nearby but fully booked Mangrove Beach Cabanas inspired me even more…

Sri Lanka arrivo!

  • Unawatuna – two hours by bus from Tangalle (Rs 120). The tsunami in 2004 and then the tide’s changes took away most of the beach, leaving only a perfect white crescent. Very touristic, much more than Tangalle and certainly less pleasant, but ideally situated for visits along the coast. We stayed at the Tartaruga Resort ($ 50, including breakfast), almost on the water. For meals, I also recommend the Calamander and the Kingfisher on the beach (daily free sunbeds if you drink/it here). From Unawatuna, you can visit Galle and Mirissa (I didn’t like it), embark on a fishing boat to whale watching (Rs 5000), spend a few hours at the Jungle Beach and also visit a Turtle Farm (more or less Rs 500), but honestly, I do not recommend it. I will explain why in a dedicated post.

* For the tuk-tuk, count 100 Rs per kilometer and always negotiate the price!


From Unawatuna to Colombo: our last stage by train (Rs 180). Another two hours journey clinging to the door from Galle to the capital, but this time the railway ran a few meters away from the sea!

Where to sleep:  to top it off, we granted the Kingsbury ($ 111), a sumptuous five-star hotel by the sea (the disorganization and cleaning level do not vary much from one category to another!).

Where to eat: in one of the restaurants/pubs opened in the newly restored Dutch Hospital, two minutes walking from the hotel.

Sightseeing: apart from the Dutch Museum (Rs 500), interesting, but decadent and ultra dusty, I recommend you take a walk downtown, in the area that goes from the train station to the hotel you’ll see lots of Victorian mansions, and in a moment you feel in Oxford Street, but without lights and shops’ windows…

Viaggio attraverso lo Sri Lanka in pratica

Tips and tricks

  • pack a silk sleeping back to feel comfortable and sleep well even when the venue doesn’t look clean. I’m using this one, and it’s perfect after several years and lots of trips: Stretch Silk Liner
  • pack soap and toilet paper as you won’t find them everywhere
  • always carry a sarong and extra socks to visit holy venues
  • for women: Sri Lankan society is not at all feminine, and if by the sea and in Colombo shorts and summer dresses do not create problems, you risk to get people staring at you elsewhere… the same thing for bare shoulders
  • don’t approach monkey while eating/drinking! They might attack and bite you to steal food from your hands. Actually, we attended to this kind of scene several times
  • pick a backpack and not a trolley, in particular, if you plan train journeys (and I do hope you’ll plan them!)
  • pack clothes for a week to have light luggage to carry around. Laundry shops are everywhere and are quite cheap

Would you need more information, do not hesitate to write me!

I will, however, write more in detail about this country that surprised me so much and left me wondering …

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.