Wanderlist: A Guide to Sri Lanka

Ayubowan! Hello from Sri Lanka. It's hard to believe that I was in Atlanta a few days ago and now I am on the other side of the world. I am always amazed by how easy it is to travel the world these days. If you are hoping to make a trip to "Lanka" yourself, then I hope that this post will help you during the planning stages, as I know how hard it can be to plan a trip like this on your own. When I told my family and friends that I will be visiting Sri Lanka, the majority of them had the same response, "Why Sri Lanka?" I feel like this is a country that has been flying under the tourist radar, but was so worth the long flights and numerous layovers. We spent a total of 7 days in Sri Lanka, starting our journey in Colombo and visiting Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Adam's Peak, Haputale and finally Unwatatuna and Galle. Here are a few tips I have picked up along the journey and wish I had know before hand...

Taking the train in Sri Lanka is definitely an experience like no other. There is no max. capacity for the train and you will find that they are usually packed, with no A/C or doors and it's quiet common for people to hang outside of the train because there are way too many people inside. If you are okay with standing and being pushed around for hours, then the train will be the cheapest way to get around, tickets are usually around $2 per person. Based on other travel blogs, it seems that first class was really the best way to travel via train, however, upon arriving to the train station we were told that no first class tickets were available (this happened at two different stations), so second class was our only option. Another options is taking the bus, which takes longer and is slightly more expensive, but the chances of finding a seat are also better. And finally, there are many drivers available that will take you anywhere you want to go for a negotiable price. Usually an excursion that takes 6-8 hours would cost $80-$140 depending on the car, A/C, distance traveled, etc. We used many drivers during our stay and had the concierge at our hotel arrange it for us. Something else to keep in mind, is that it takes much longer to travel in Sri Lanka vs. the US for example. If a point of interest is 40 miles away, it may take 2-3 hours driviving due to the many windy roads. This was something I definitely did not take into account when planning our excursions, and ended up having to make some last minute changes to our itinerary. For shorter distances tuk tuk is the way to go, they are quiet fast and also very affordable.

Sri Lanka is truly a beautiful country. There are many amazing things to see, from beautiful temples, hill sides, tea plantations, and the list goes on. Don't try to pack your schedule with too many things in one day, because it does take a while to get from one place to the other and you will not only be exhausted from the sightseeing but also from the crazy driving which can make you quiet nauseous and dizzy. 

1. My favorite was our visit to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. This was our first excursion upon arriving in Sri Lanka, and it was hard to top the experience thereafter. Seeing the elephants in the wild during their morning bath at the river was an experience I will always cherish. We also got the chance to briefly touch the elephants and feed them bananas.  

2. Tea Pantations
There are many plantations to choose from, or you can just ask your driver to make a quick stop when passing through the tea fields, it a great photo op. If you are lucky you may even run into some tea pickers on your way, they will be happy to pose for a picture for a small donation. :) Whatever you do, don't forget to try Sri Lankan tea straight from the source.

3. Unawatuna Beach
Our last stop was at Unawatuna Beach. We stayed at the Cantaloupe Aqua hotel which was a bit remote from the touristy area, and I was honestly very happy about that. The hotel is right on the beach, and you will pretty much have the entire beach to yourself, it's amazing. The water is very warm and clear, but do watch out for the waves and wear tons of sunscreen, the sun is very strong. In the evenings we took a tuk tuk to the tourist area, where you have many restaurants and bars to choose from and it's also a great spot to buy souvenirs. 

Before we arrived in Sri Lanka, I decided that I wanted to climb Sri Pada, also know as Adam's Peak. Believers of many faiths consider the top of Adam's Peak to be a sacred place and travel from all over the world to pay pilgrimage the Peak which is 2,243 meters tall. We started our ascent at 1 a.m. and make it to the top just in time for sunrise. I am not even going to lie, it was a tough hike for me, and although we did take several short breaks on our way, nothing prepared me for the 5,500 steps to the top. Was the climb worth it? Absolutely. The views are magnificent, something truly out of a dream and you get to meet so many great people along the way, including monks who are on their way to the sunrise ceremony. They say that you must be crazy not to climb Adam's Peak once, and even crazier to climb it twice. One word of advice, bring water, cash so that you can buy more water along the way, a jacket for when you reach the top (it's really cold), a backpack so you can place your shoes in it once you reach the temple, your camera of course, a flashlight if you are hiking at night and I would also suggest bringing some toilet paper (just in case).

We stayed at three really amazing hotels in Sri Lanka. I would recommend all of them for their friendly and very helpful staff which always had a smile on their face and went above and beyond to make our stay unforgettable. Big shout out to all of them and thanks for taking care of all of our requests. These hotels had great food, breathtaking views and great amenities.
1. Sky Pavillion - Kandy
2. Melheim Resort - Haputale
3. Cantaloupe Aqua - Unawatuna

Final Advice
Be flexible and easy going. Try sticking to a schedule but know that things will go wrong and that everything will turn out to be okay in the end. Don't forget to enjoy yourself, even in the unforseen situations that make you quesitons why you set out to do something this crazy. Wear lots of sunscreen, I swear the sun is just way closer in Sri Lanka. Bring enough cash and convert your currency at the airport, most ATMs in Sri Lanka don't take foreign cards. And last but not least have the time of your life.

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