Practical Travel Tips: Sri Lanka.

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We went to Sri Lanka for the first time this past May and it’s definitely worth the visit. We wished we had more time to explore more of the country versus our quick 4 day stay.

Varud of Bicoastal Cooks, who last wrote about Israel, Cairo, Florence, Lisbon, Machu Picchu, Medellin, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Lofoten Islands, Norway, Ushuaia, Argentina, and Patagonia, Argentina is back with his practical travel tips for Israel

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A visit to Sri Lanka wasn’t on many people’s radar until recent years—this country emerged from a 26-year civil war in 2009 and has made outstanding strides to become an emerging tourism hub. Filled with fantastic beaches, an exciting cuisine, plenty of nature, and the duality of luxury meeting laid-back, it is a not-to-be-missed destination.

Beaches of Bentota, Sri Lanka - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Beaches of Bentota, Sri Lanka – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Costs and Practicalities

Conversion $1 = 146 Sri Lankan Rupees

  • Negotiate in Sri Lanka as you would in India, around 20-30% of the cost
  • A trip to Sri Lanka can be either a budget travel or a luxurious indulgence, hostels and homestays range from 700-2000 Rupees, while hotels and upscale property prices (like the beautiful Owl and Pussy Cat) will rival the prices of other international hotspots
  • The same applies to the food, some of the best meals we had were at the roadside spots (e.g. Kottu and Egg Parantha) which was in the 100-300 range, but for some of the restaurants, especially those that offer the infamous crab curry, you are looking at around 2000+ a plate
  • Transportation costs will depend on how thrill-seeking you are; while there are public transportation options (buses and trains), we found it most convenient to use a cab or hired transport (again, negotiate this!) for the long distances out of Colombo airport and then a three-wheeler (also known as tuk-tuk or auto or chooch) for movement around the city. Also, negotiating prices with your three-wheeler during the ride for other services such as future transport or activities is a great way to get better prices, rather than through tour operators (Editor’s note: Uber is in Colombo, but wait times can be longer)
  • While it is a small island, it takes quite sometime to get around, especially due to traffic—getting to Colombo from the airport (approx. 2000) might take around 2 hours itself
  • The other main costs will be entry fees into some of the parks, for instance Sigiriya is $30 for foreigners, massages (outside of hotels!) for around 2,500 rupees, or a cooking class which is about 3000 rupees
  • Wi-Fi is not something that is readily available outside of your accommodation, at the airport there are some fairly cheap SIM card options if it is something you might need during your travels (Editor’s Note: Google’s Project Fi worked for us without any issues in Colombo after a support call)
  • Most people will speak English here, although it’s best to keep in mind that it won’t be many people’s first language
  • Drink bottled water, even if someone tells you that the other water is okay
  • Lastly, you can get a visa for Sri Lanka through their online portal
Fresh coconut juice - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Fresh coconut juice – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

To Do and See:

Sigiriya –  This part of the island focuses on a heritage site and park area filled with rock formations and an ancient heritage. Although it is pricey to enter for foreigners, the main highlights are the Pidurangala Rock hike or the climb up to the citadel—both with fantastic panoramic views.

Galle – The Galle fort is a great area to wander about, do some window shopping, and grab a bite either in hole-in-the-walls or trendy restaurants. But, it is outside the fort where dhabas or roadside stands have some of the more authentic local cuisine.

Bentota – This is where you get your beach relaxing or water sports out of your system. With great sand and water temperature, Bentota has become one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beaches. Shacks line the beachfront with lots of options to grab a bite and drink in the evening.

Yala National Park – Head over to this beautiful park and keep your eyes open to catch a sighting of leopards, birds, elephants and other wildlife. This park comes highly recommended.

Jaffna – This was a region of Sri Lanka that has seen a lot of conflict, especially during the recent Civil War/Tamil Tigers rebellion. The stark contrast between the buildings and development area is a good starting place for anyone looking to learn more about Sri Lanka’s past.

And this is really just touching the surface, with a lot more such as Udawalawe National Park (elephants), plenty of other beach spots, Ella (tea plantations), Kandy (“cultural capital”), and Polonnaruwa (art and architecture).

The diversity of seafood, fruits, and vegetables work together to create an amazing cuisine - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

The diversity of seafood, fruits, and vegetables work together to create an amazing cuisine – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Culture & Safety :

Compared to travels in other similar countries or even India, at no point did I feel the slightest worry about safety. Sri Lankans were warm and inviting. We had no problems, whether it was walking around Galle fort at night or roaming the streets looking for a three-wheeler. My only recommendation to avoid conflict would be to negotiate and confirm all prices before you accept any type of service—whether this is transport or a tour guide.

Sri Lanka’s past has many exciting stories and I would highly recommend exploring a few periods before your journey. Some highlights:

  • Before the island officially adopted its current name, there was very influential period in which the island received the name Ceylon during British, and other colonial powers, occupancy. The influence of this period is still visible in the architecture and cuisine—especially in the prominence and production of tea on this island.
  • In Indian Mythology and Hindu Literature, there is a story of Ram, an exiled prince, who travels across India with his wife and brother. In Indian literature, it is told that Ravana, the king of Lanka, kidnapped Ram’s wife Sita in a ruse and took her to this Island filled with demons. In recent years, some evidence of this myth has risen, such as a possible land passage that connected India to Sri Lanka, but it is really important to remember that there are usually two sides to a story (as my mother embarrassingly forgot). In Sri Lanka, the story goes that Ravana, who is a part of their history and once king, didn’t kidnap Sita. Instead Sita actually decides to elope with Ravana. And after visiting this island, it would be easy to see that the people here are far from demons.
This island brings together many different faiths and cultures - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

This island brings together many different faiths and cultures – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

All that history, coupled with the variety of faiths, cultures, and activities make this island seem much larger than you would initially think.

 About The Author:

Varud’s life is food–eating, reading, exploring, and creating. Voted Forbes 30 Under 30 for ‘Most Clueless Individuals’, he jumped ship from his management consultant lifestyle in October 2015 and embarked on a culinary journey to learn about cuisines around the world. His first book documented an experiment in Recipe Development (how to create and gain inspiration for original recipes) while his most recent novel narrates the journey of leaving the US to travel to Argentina and learn about Asado, or Argentine BBQ. Follow him on his blog, Bicoastal Cooks, instagram or Twitter.

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