There are many surprises I discovered about Sri Lanka during our well-planned vacation.
I was aware that this small island was noted as being one of the most beautiful places on earth but still; this didn’t prepare me for so many breathtaking experiences.
Taking the best train journey in Sri Lanka, seeing Elephants up close and climbing Adam’s Peak – trekking along the sides of temperate rain forests (this was one of the many things to do in Ella that I never actually thought I’d do!)
But these things aside, there were other things about this unique travel destination, Sri Lanka that surprised me.
Things that I could never have found in a Sri Lanka visitors guide and that no travel blog would ever have told me about.
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Take for instance the saga of worrying about how much money to take to Sri Lanka; once there, I discovered that things were incredibly cheap and that I’d worried myself for nothing. Your dollar goes a long way in Sri Lanka!
Sri Lanka Travel Blog. Everything You Need To Know
My family and I spent 25 days travelling around Sri Lanka and we spent a pittance, regardless of the fact that we ate out and took a fancy train into the countryside to visit the stunning town of Ella.
If money is your main concern and you are trying to do things on a budget then you can see exactly how much we spent in Sri Lanka here.
Flying To Sri Lanka From America
It’s incredibly easy to fly to Sri Lanka from the United States. Especially if you know a few cheeky airport hacks like us!
We flew directly from JFK using Kuwait Airlines.
It was a long flight -17 hours, but a pleasant one – then again, I was wearing my comfiest travelling pants ever!
If you are flying from the UK, then your flight will be about 12 hours. India, a short hop of just an hour.
For some reason, I thought that being an island, Sri Lanka would be more difficult to get to – but I was wrong. It’s easy.
I am currently travelling around the world with my two kids, so I’m used to having things sprung on me.
Before I give you the 25 surprising things that you won’t find in any other Sri Lanka travel blogs, let me share with you my first 3 hours in the country.
Sri Lanka Travel Blog. The First 24 Hours. What to Expect
Arriving at Colombo Airport
Regardless of the fact that we arrived at Colombo airport at 3 am it was a hive of activity.
Even in the wee hours of the morning, Colombo airport operates at full speed. Don’t assume that because you are arriving in the middle of the night you will be left twiddling your thumbs waiting for things to open.
Things To Buy In Sri Lanka Airport (Colombo).
A Sri Lanka Sim Card
The first thing we did was to buy a sim card and some data. This was super cheap and easy to do. When you come out into the arrivals at Colombo, there are kiosks selling mobile phone top-up data sim cards etc.
Go to the one on the far left. It has the best deals. I think it was about $12 for 5Gigs of daytime data and 5Gigs of nighttime data with 120 minutes of calls.
A sim card proved extremely useful and paid for itself within the first half an hour of landing in Sri Lanka. Take a look here at a Sri Lanka sim card deal.
Need Lots Of Data While In Sri Lanka? Think About A Portable Wifi Router
We bought 5Gigs of data at the airport but because the iPhones were constantly backing up photos and stuff to the cloud, we were clean out of our data allowance within 5 days.
Know that some shops in Sri Lanka (especially in the small towns) only sell up to 1Gig data cards. Just be aware of that before you take yourself off into the countryside!
If you will be relying on the internet for work while you are in Sri Lanka – if you are a digital nomad – or, like us, are travelling with two wifi junkies, then you could think about investing in a mobile wifi router.
Once you have the device you can connect up to 5 devices to it. It costs around $8 a day, and for that, you get unlimited data. I also like the idea that you can use it to get a wifi hotspot in 122 countries around the world.
Currency Exchange In Colombo Airport
I had spent the entire flight over from NYC worrying about the fact that we didn’t have a Sri Lankan rupee to our name, it proved difficult to buy Sri Lankan currency over the counter at any bank in the US so we only had USD.
Not to worry. The airport was littered with money exchange booths and they were all open – even in the middle of the night. The exchange kiosks will take any form of currency and give you Rupees in exchange.
Don’t panic that you haven’t got any Sri Lankan Rupees. As long as you have some foreign currency or a visa card you’ll be able to get cash on arrival in Colombo.
Things To Buy At Colombo Airport – Chocolate and Liquor.
I wish we had planned ahead and bought some liquor. I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to obtain alcohol, but more on that later in the post. If you fancy a bar of chocolate or want to buy a bottle of rum or wine, this is your place.
Or Perhaps A Fridge or a Washing Machine?!
Ok, so you aren’t probably planning on stocking up on kitchen appliances when you first arrive in Sri Lanka, but in case you do, there are lots of duty-free shops that can give you a deal.
So, with the kids fed, a pocket full of cash and a hot sticky data package clinging to the phone we stepped out of the airport doors and into the moisture-laden air. I was both wary and excited. But mostly wary.
This trip was the first time to Asia and with two teenagers, one who is 13, blonde and beautiful and attracts the attention of any man in a sarong.
The other who is 16 and doesn’t look where he is going when he crosses the road as he’s too busy waving his phone in the air looking for a mobile signal.
For Pinterest ⇓
Late Night Transport From Sri Lanka Airport.
The Uber In Sri Lanka
Uber is available in Colombo. They saved us a fortune while travelling in Sri Lanka and India but just make sure that if you want to go somewhere in advance, book it. We found that it was quite sporadic in Columbo. Using the Uber app is a good way to give you an idea of what the price should be.
We tried to book an Uber, but there was a 30-minute wait. Probably because it was 3 am. So, we decided to take a couple of tuk-tuks instead. With four of us – plus our rucksacks, we needed two. We had all intentions of travelling around the world lightly but when you are travelling with teenagers you need quite a lot of stuff.
We found a tuk-tuk to take us to our hotel. For a 20km ride, the cost was 1000 Sri Lankan rupees which is about $7.
Without bags, you can squeeze four people into one tuk-tuk but once you add luggage to that, you will need two.
Leaving Colombo Airport and Stepping Out into Sri Lanka
Ok. I won’t lie. I was slightly scared.
I imagined that we would step out of the airport and be immediately bombarded and hustled by tuk-tuk drivers and hotel touts all trying to scam me and rob me of my worldly belongings. Which, at that moment consisted of my miniature coco mademoiselle perfume (that I think has gone off anyway,) my iPhone, and the knickers that I got for Christmas.
The ones I’m saving for best.
Sitting in the back of the tuk-tuk, oohing and ahhing at the stray dogs and the tooting of the many bikes, we were naive and oblivious to the what lay ahead of us.
When booking your accommodation in Sri Lanka look for guest houses or villas. Avoid anything with ‘resort’ in the title unless you are paying top prices at an all-inclusive, in which case you have probably used a travel agent. This was a handy tip from a local. Unfortunately, the advice came a little too late for us.
Be Careful Who You Use To Book Your Accommodation!
When we turned up at our ‘Resort Hotel’, it was nothing like the picture on Wotif. It certainly wasn’t anything like ‘resort’.
My advice to you if you are thinking of using Wotif for booking a place in Sri Lanka? Don’t. The place was boarded up and the only resident appeared to be a scowling, manky looking cat with no tail.
We had to think quickly and book another room. Remember, it was 4 am.
Thank god for the sim card. Thank God that there was a signal. Thank God I am a super calm woman. Mostly.
I used Agoda, they are extremely user-friendly. They are one of the two sites that we use for when we travel in Asia. Either them, or booking.com both are excellent hotel search engines.
The thing I like about Agoda though is that you can easily phone them if there is a problem. Their customer service is excellent. The thing I like about Booking.com is you can cancel free of charge right up until a couple of days before you are due to check-in.
Perfect for people like me who can never make up their minds.
We booked the new guest house and were immediately sent a confirmation email with the telephone number of the owner. If you need somewhere to stay when you first arrive in Colombo, Sri Lanka, this place is just the ticket. Clean, friendly and cheap. Plus, the owner won’t mind if you turn up at four o’clock in the morning. Check out the prices for Oscars Guest House here.
Always ring ahead to the guest house or hotel where you are staying in Sri Lanka. This seems to be the norm. That way you know they are expecting you and you won’t get any surprises once you turn up. The owners will more often than not come and collect you from wherever you are.
Accommodation Around Colombo
Ok. So, you get the picture – I hope this Sri Lanka trip blog is giving you the idea.
Our first hour in Sri Lanka was not pleasant.
Hot, sweaty, jet-lagged and slightly, ever so slightly, manic.
From there on in though I have been continuously surprised by the beautiful country that calls itself Sri Lanka. This is a country that is, in my opinion, totally underrated and unique.
But rather than write an essay on every single thing that has delighted me about Sri Lanka, this is the list that I made.
Things To Know About Sri Lanka – 25 Surprises!
#1: I didn’t expect the owner of our guest house to (a) answer his phone at four o’clock in the morning and (b) say he would meet us at his gates in twenty minutes. He didn’t even sound tired. Do people not sleep in Sri Lanka?
#2: Or that two hours later I would hear the tinkling of the Beethovens tune Fur Elise floating through the air into my jet-lagged ears – being broadcast from the back of the local bakery tuk-tuk who drives up and down the streets selling delicious freshly baked goods. A soothing, familiar sound that is present from 6 am every morning throughout the country.
#3: I didn’t expect the wife of the guest house to make us a huge, delicious Sri Lankan breakfast for just $3 per person the next morning. Sri Lanka is a bargain!
#4: But be warned, not one of the Guest Houses that we stayed in ever supplied towels. Bring your own travel towel. We use these ones and they are brilliant.
#5: Like any country, Sri Lanka has its own smell. The air is heavy and damp and laden with the smells of curry leaves and cinnamon mingled with the smoke from burning leaves rising from the ever-present small fires, each scent competing for airspace.
#6: But it is illegal for women to buy alcohol. Boo Hoo.
#7: So I was surprised that the owner of the guest house took my husband on the back of his motorbike down to the local shops to buy a bottle of costly imported French wine to drink with our evening meal. (Because after the ordeal of the night before we needed it.)
#8: Had I known that wine is non-existent in the local restaurants and supermarkets throughout Sri Lanka, I would have savoured that bottle of wine a little more. Heads up, wine is pricey and none of the restaurants seems to offer it. (Not the budget ones anyway).
#9: But then again, I didn’t expect to acquire a taste for beer so quickly. (I’m not fussy) The local brew is Lion beer, and it’s very smooth and tasty. After a long hot day on the beach, a large cold beer is just the ticket.
#10: I didn’t expect the tuk-tuk drivers to just drive away when I said no thank you to their enquiry of the ever-present question ‘Where you going?” They are all very lovely and not at all hassely. Not like the tuk-tuk drivers in India.
#11: And I didn’t expect it to be so easy to book the train journey from Colombo to Mirissa. We absolutely LOVED the trains in Sri Lanka.
You can read about our favourite train trip in Sri Lanka here. We used 12Go Asia for all of our transport bookings and I highly recommend you do the same. Wherever you want to travel to in Sri Lanka, these guys are who to use. If you don’t fancy getting the train you can hire a taxi. (But you’ll miss out on a great experience!) Check here to see private taxi prices from Colombo Airport to Mirissa. Job done. Or…
#12: That the men on the station were not, in fact, conspiring to rob and ravish my daughter and me. They were, in fact, more interested in asking us why New Zealand is 2nd in cricket, whether or not my son plays for the All Blacks Damn it. Maybe next time. Joking aside, you will feel very safe if you are a woman travelling in Sri Lanka.
#13: I didn’t expect that although you pay for 2nd class tickets for the train, there isn’t always a seat to be had. Just a heads up. Don’t go thinking that just because you paid for a seat you’ll get one. You will probably be on the floor like me. You’ll love it. It’s a fantastic opportunity to people watch and meet local people. Speaking of which…
#14: I never knew that families hung their washing to dry at the side of the railway tracks. In fact, they all seem to hang out there for a chinwag.
#15: Or that all the school girls – regardless of which part of Sri Lanka they are from – wear beautiful white dresses, white socks, black shoes and red ribbons in their hair. They look so lovely.
#16: That sunscreen is really expensive. Bring your own. And lot’s of it. It’s hot. We use this one. Its the only one that takes less than five seconds to rub in. If you do forget to buy sunscreen and find yourself with scorched skin, use this apple cider vinegar sunburn hack — it works a treat.
#17: I didn’t expect the man on the train from Colombo to Matara to give up his doorway to me saying that “This is the best side, you can see the sea.” What a gentleman.
#18: Or that you can buy a cold can of Coke, water or Fanta from the vendor who walks up and down the train. Perfect for the open doorway experience.
#19: That people carry umbrellas with them to protect themselves from the sun. Probably because they refuse to pay for extortionate sunscreen.
#20: Or that you can’t get tooth floss in Sri Lanka for love nor money. Bring some.
#21: That the beautiful Marissa beach has two segments. To the right is where all the European drinkers are, to the left are all the yoga hippies. The left side is a lot nicer.
#22: That you can experience Colombo by tuk-tuk with a private guide for less than $40! Click the link to see how easy it is to book a guide in Colombo.
#23: That you are supposed to have a license to fly a drone. We travel with a Spark Drone and only got told off by the police once in Kandy. Be careful when flying your drone in Sri Lanka.
#24: You will find the best fruit smoothies and the largest pot of green tea at the cafe on Marissa Beach. It’s called ‘Our World Wifi Cafe’. Don’t be put off by the name. Yes, they have wifi but they also have amazing food and drinks.
#25: That when you get on a local bus in Sri Lanka (and you must!) There is a guy who acts as the conductor. He hangs out of the open door of the bus as it approaches you – waiting at the bus stop. Just shout out to him where you are headed and he will tell you if the bus is going that way. Someone gave me bad advice about Sri Lankan buses. I’m glad that I ignored them.
#26: That the internet is just awful. Writing a travel blog in Sri Lanka is very challenging! But that’s okay because…
#27: I didn’t expect the air to be so warm and fragrant or for the swaying palm trees to be heavy with fruits.
#28: And lastly, I didn’t expect things to be so incredibly easy. The buses, the trains, the tuk-tuks, the accommodation. Everything. Really easy.
Do you love to travel but struggle to make it happen more? Join me!
Things That You Will Struggle To Buy In Sri Lanka.
If you are going on vacation in Sri Lanka there are a few things that you will struggle to find when you get there – especially if you are planning on exploring the country. A few Sri Lanka travel tips for you!
You will need to take towels with you. The guesthouses don’t provide them – not for showers and certainly not for the beach. If I was going for a two week holiday I would indulge in these utterly gorgeous cotton beach towels
This isn’t a big deal but if you are as fussy as I am with my teeth you need to know. Ignorantly, I assumed that you would be able to get this little essential in Sri Lanka and so didn’t take any. YOU CAN’T BUY FLOSS IN SRI LANKA! I looked everywhere. I’m pretty fussy and next time I will remember to take a stack. Talking of teeth, check out our post on the best toothbrush to travel with!
A Decent Insect Repellent That Works
You can find insect repellant in Colombo and around major tourist places but be warned!
It was expensive and I found it wasn’t strong enough.
I’m all for trying to keep things natural, so have checked out loads of insect sprays. After a lot of trial and error, I found that this natural bug spray is the only one that truly works
Enjoying This Post? Some Related Posts That You May Enjoy!
Is this the most beautiful train ride in Sri Lanka?
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Mirissa beach in Sri Lanka. 10 things you should know
8 Travel tips you can safely ignore. ‘Cause they’re rubbish.
Arrive feeling gorgeous. 10 essentials for the plane
25 Awesome Gift Ideas For Kids That Travel. All For Under $20
How to make 2020 all about you
I have so much more to tell you about our time in Sri Lanka.
From the train journey, we went on to spend the night couch surfing with a local family. It was probably the best and the worst overnight experience for me – and certainly for my two teenagers – that we have ever encountered. You can read about our Couchsurfing experience here.
I will also tell you how we are living like kings for less than $25 per person per day and how you can too.
How we are staying in a beautiful guest house backing onto jungle, with a couple, who insist on feeding us every thirty minutes. If you haven’t already booked your accommodation in Sri Lanka, go to Mirissa. It’s stunning and friendly with loads of great restaurants.
Take a look at Little Mount Guest House if you need somewhere to stay. Although it may look a little more expensive than other places, it pays for itself ten times over just by the fact that you get a HUGE breakfast and the lady insists on packing you loads of food to take to the beach with you! For Sri Lanka, it’s also super clean too.
I’m afraid I can’t stay and chat any longer. I have to head off down to the Indian Ocean for a swim. Before ordering a pot of green tea and sitting under palm trees watching my kids body surf the waves.
Booking Transport in Sri Lanka:
Remember, if you want to make your trip easier stick with one company when booking your transport, flights, trains, coaches etc. 12GoAsia is the best there is for Sri Lanka, they will do your entire itinerary for you saving you a heap of trouble.
Sri Lanka Travel Insurance
Don’t even think about going to Sri Lanka without insurance – really; if you can’t afford excellent Sri Lanka travel insurance then don’t go.
Many years ago, when I was young (er) and foolish, I used to travel WITHOUT insurance because I believed that it was both a) a rip-off and b) expensive.
And then a few things happened to me overseas when I wasn’t covered.
My mistake. Serves me right. But I would never make that mistake again and I would hate for any other traveller to do so.
Whatever you do, before you travel anywhere make sure that the insurance you buy is the best there is.
As I said, we have spent the last 12 months travelling the world and so my husband did a stack of research about which was the best travel cover. This is the company that we use every time.
They are the best value, they are the easiest company to deal with, and they know their market. they only deal with travellers.
I AM an affiliate for World Nomads which is just as well because my family and I have made 3 claims in the past year and every time they have been faultless and saved us $$$’s in emergency dental fees and Ireland car hire excess.
Because of this, I tell everyone I meet about how fantastic they are.
I will only ever recommend World Nomads for Sri Lanka travel insurance but whichever one you choose, make sure you are covered for everything.
Use the quote widget below ⇓ to instantly find out how brilliant World Nomads are or click here for more details.
My Last Few Words On This Sri Travel Blog…
You are going to love Sri Lanka. It is paradise on earth. It is one of the few destinations in the world where everything seems…perfect.
The food, the weather, the people. Everything. It is simply fabulous.
I hope this Sri Lanka travel blog 2020 has been of some use to you. Often, you just have to get out there and discover things for yourself. And Sri Lanka is the best place to do that because it’s so easy! And don’t forget! Before you travel to Sri Lanka, use our checklist! That way, when you get to your destination all you have to do is relax and listen to Fur Elise!
Do you love to travel but wonder how it’s possible when you have so many responsibilities? Come and be my friend and I’ll let you in on a few truths. Don’t worry. I won’t spam you. The only spam I know about is the stuff in the tin.
Think this will be our holiday destination next year!
Your mum is right, this is a very good post. And rather cunning. It will do well for you on Pinterest and make you rich, famous and adored by fans who wait on your every word. In other news, you spelled Marissa wrong and we also got stranded on arrival in Colombo because Chef booked our hotel for the wrong night. Go read that post, I think you’ll find it listed under arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport ( keyword ! ) You will go far.
Thank you Alysun… Save me a seat next to you in the pedicure salon. I’ll be there in two years x
Wonderful post loved the pictures and video. You write your posts in a superb way they are very informative and entertaining at the same time. Keep travelling and sharing. Would like to add a few fast facts about Sri Lanka.
Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is the administrative capital of Sri Lanka and Colombo is the commercial capital. Anuradhapura was the capital of ancient Sri Lanka.
In 1960, Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first female prime minister of Sri Lanka. She was the first female to become a prime minister of a country in the world.
The National sport of Sri Lanka is volleyball but the most followed and popular sport is cricket.
There are many waterfalls in Sri Lanka and most of its electricity is produced by hydro energy.
Literacy rate in Sri Lanka is 92% which puts it on the top spot in South Asia.
Thank you for the article!
I generally avoid ATM because of the fees and the unfavourable rate at the exchange offices.
Just discovered a new mobile app for my next trip Fairswap. It allows to exchange cash currency in real-time by meeting with each other at a pre-agreed location.
Widely, you can post your need in foreign currency and if there is someone nearby facing the reverse need, then he can contact you and you will meet him and make the swap.
Could be a good way to change before travelling or get rid of some leftover after holidays
What a great tip! Thank you!
Very well written! (I vouch for the accuracy as a local ? ) I’m going to recommend this as a guide to my friends who come down here! ?
Thank you, Mani! I’m glad it was accurate 🙂
Thank you very much for the article, its very helpful for who is planning to travel Sri in Lanka. If you like to know more thing to do in sri lanka, train ride to Ella, water rafting , wild safari, whales watching, ant historical tours.
Sri lanka is the best destination to your next holiday calender.
Very informative article with amazing photos. Thanks for sharing.
Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
It’s nice to hear from you about my country. And I like to help your amazing visitors with my knowledge of My country Sri Lanka.
Thank you Liz!
I really enjoyed the way you’re writing , giggled a few times 🙂
and obviously thanks for useful information you provided here!!!
Im heading to Sri Lanka in 2 weeks so will be a liitle more prepared now:)
Thank you Gia! I’m glad it was of some help to you! Have a fabulous time in Sri Lanka x
You sound so ignorant; your writing tone reminds me of a white middle-class grandmother who thinks cruises are for the rich and privilege. Please do the world a favour and stop writing shit.
why don’t you just do yourself a favour and not read it?
Such a wonderful post! . I feel interesting to read…Well said…
It seems you guys have lots of fun at Columbia Airport! Great to visit Cool Images.
Great article! We are booked to go in 2 weeks! Any tips on where to stay in Colombo so we are on the right track to head to Kandy the next day?
What an experience you are giving your kids.
Hey Really Impressive! I am following you:) you are absolutely perfect in blogging. Nice to visit.
Hi there, thanks for sharing some useful details. I am planning to visit Sri Lanka next month and hope these suggestions will be more useful. Thanks again for the great piece of work.
Thanks for sharing Liz! We share your love for Sri Lanka too, beautiful place and was planning to visit there again this year, pity about the April attacks.
From what we understand, the first order impacts have abated with life resuming as per normal. However, the second and third order impacts (social and political tensions) are the real risks and unpredictable. For anyone travelling, do take note and wishing everyone a great trip in Sri Lanka! 🙂
Thanks David, I appreciate the update 🙂
Hello Liz Deacle! You shared a great blog about Sri Lanka travel. Before reading this article I don’t have any idea to visit Sri Lanka. But now I will plan a trip to Sri Lanka. I hope your suggestions will be more useful for my trip. Thank you for sharing this blog.
I am planning to go there with my family. Thanks for sharing this amazing post about Sri Lanka. I really wonder about the sim card. but now I’m clear. I hope we’ll also enjoy our trip to Sri Lanka and have a happy time there.
Thank you Theodore 🙂
Thanks for your very interesting & informative travel blog. Your tips will come in handy for our forthcoming visit.
Thank you Afzal, and thank you for taking the time to let me know! Enjoy Sri Lanka!
Lovely post about Sri Lanka vacation, including all the details! I want to make a travel there in coming month and your post gives lot of insight about the travel destination of the country with many things that needs to be consider. This post is really helpful.
This is an amazing article, and it was so helpful! Looking forward to more great content.