Sri Lanka is the perfect destination for a few weeks of backpacking. Because the country is about as large as The Netherlands and Belgium together, you can see a lot of its highlights in a relative short period of time. In this travel-report you can read about our two weeks in Sri Lanka in October. It is filled with information, photos and a bunch of insider-tips.
Day 1: Arrival (Bandaranaike – Colombo)
When you fly to Sri Lanka from Europe, you will most likely arrive on the airport with the name Bandaranaike. This airport is about 32km away from the capital Colombo. This sounds like a short distance but this is the first lesson you learn in Sri Lanka: Travelling costs time! The trip from Bandaranaike to Colombo took us about 2 hours. During the day you can take the public busses, but when you arrive after 20.30 (like we did), you have to take a smaller private bus. These will cost about 250 Rupee per person (1,75€). Do not accept the offers of threewheelers (TukTuks), they cost a lot more and are not that much faster.
Day 2: The train in Sri Lanka
One of my favourite attractions in Sri Lanka was travelling by train. This might sound silly but the trains in Sri Lanka drive through the most beautiful sceneries. Just a few meters from the beach, straight through the forest or on top of a mountain: It is all possible. It is just perfect because you reach your next destination and see the beauty of Sri Lanka at the same time. Our train-ride from Colombo to Bentota took about 2 hours. If you have the chance to choose I would advice travelling by express-train because it does not stop at every station. Furthermore there are three different classes but all of them are more comfortable then the bus. The train in Sri Lanka is also super-cheap: A few hours travelling costs about 1 Euro.
Day 3: Bentota
Bentota is a beach-village about 80km south of Colombo. A lot of backpackers directly move south from Colombo because it is the quickest way to a nice beach and a cocktail in your hand. Because of that, there are many large hotel-resorts in most cities in this area. I would advice staying in a smaller place like the cabanas we stayed in (20€ a night). Every monday you can visit a pretty cool market in Bentota and because the Bentota Ganga flows through the city you can do great boat-tours here. We saw snakes, monitor lizards (see photo), monkeys and a bunch of crocodiles. The boat-tour costs about 10€ and takes about 2 hours.
Visiting Sri Lanka in October
If you check out the climate of Sri Lanka, you can see that visiting Sri Lanka in October is a bit risky. The country has a combination of different tropical climates and in October the north-eastern monsoon starts. This basically means that the weather might surprise you. It might be sunny all day but then all of a sudden it can rain for half an hour. Most of the time this happens in the end of the afternoon and the east and north of Sri Lanka are relatively safe in October (with regards to the weather). We have been travelling Sri Lanka the first two weeks of October and the weather has not had a negative influence on our trip whatsoever.
Besides that there are a few big advantages of travelling to Sri Lanka in October:
We bought a ticket to Sri Lanka for only 450€ each. This is a very good price and only possible in October. In the other months of the year the prices go up and you might pay a few hundred Euro more.
At touristic places like Yala and Adams Peak it can get very crowded in the peak-season. For me it can really ruin a great location if too many tourists are walking around shooting photos and being “the typical tourist”. Therefore October can be a great month if you like to feel like a local once in a while.
Because there are less tourists, there are also more animals to be spotted in national parks. Besides that it is breeding season for some animals which means you can see some pretty unique things.
Day 4: Galle
Also on our way to Galle we used the train and enjoyed the great few. Galle is a city with a lot of dutch influences. We visited the “Groote Kerk” and “het Utrechtsche Plein”. The city is split up in the town with shops and a market on the one side and an historic fort on the other side. Besides that Galle has a beach and you can see a spectacular sunset here. I would recommend staying inside the fort because you have a lot of nice restaurants and bars there.
Day 5: Tissamaharama
There are three large national parks in the south of Sri Lanka. To reach these parks, you have to sleep in one of the surrounding cities. We chose Tissamaharama (or just Tissa). From this town you can reach Yala national park, Bundala and also Uda Walawe national park. Because of this you will be approached by touts directly after leaving the bus.
Below you can find some tips for when you are planning to visit a national park in Sri Lanka:
- Never pay more than 6000 Rupee (40€) for a morning trip (05.00 – 12.30)
- A morning-trip is more than enough if you ask me. Most animals are hiding from the sun from 10.00 till 16.00 anyway
- Make sure you get to see a photo of the jeep you book. There are lots of different qualities
- Find out what kind of driver you will have. We chose one who drove his own route so we were alone a lot of the time. But there are also drivers who just follow each other in the chase of specific animals. They race to a specific spot if one of their friends says he saw a leopard. But this means that you will be in line with 10 jeeps to see one animal. Not my kind of thing.
- Bargain about more than just the price. Touts will promise to take care of your luggage and drop you on the busstation for free after the trip
Day 6: Yala national park
First it was a bit tough when the alarm rang at 04.30. But it is a lot easier to get up for a beautiful national park in Sri Lanka than for your daily work. The sunrise is awesome and the Yala national park is really worth your time and money (especially in October). You will be able to spot leopards, elephants, monkeys, crocodiles and many other animals. The lunch-break at the beach (see photos at the end of the article) is also really nice.
Tip: Yala national park closes for one month each year. It re-opened one day before we arrived in Tissa (06.10.2015)
Yala Nationaal Park vs. Bundala vs. Uda Walawe
There are bunch of really nice national parks in Sri Lanka. Many people will ask the question: Should I visit Yala, Bundala or Uda Walawe? In my opinion the question is not so hard to answer. If you want to see a broad range of animals you should visit Yala. But if it is peak-season it will be very crowded here so this park is especially interesting if you visit Sri Lanka in October. Bundala national park has a lot of beautiful sceneries but less animals and Uda Walawe is especially interesting if you like elephants: You will see about a hundred of them there.
Day 7: Our longest trip in Sri Lanka
After the national park we were dropped off at the train station and wanted to go to Arugam Bay. The way from Tissamaharama to Aragum Bay is about 150km and it took us about 7 hours. You have to switch buses at Welawaya and Monaragala. The busses in Sri Lanka are not bad at all, especially compared to Ghana. Still it is not very comfortable, especially because the people in Sri Lanka drive like they are trying to impress Michael Schumacher. The bus is very cheap as well: For this whole trip we paid 4 Euro each.
Day 8+9: Arugam Bay
When you backpacking in Sri Lanka in October, visiting the east-coast is a great idea. Here the chances of rain are very small. Arugam Bay is known as one of the best surfing spots in Sri Lanka. From the first moment you arrive here you realize this town is different from all others: Everybody is laid back, nobody seems to care about the time and all you see is surfer-dudes and girls in very small bikinis. Every hostel offers a hammock, cold beers and you are even able to watch the champions league.
Day 10: Ella Rock without a guide
Ella is a small little town in the mountains of central Sri Lanka. When you are staying in Ella you should visit Mini Adams Peak, some Tea Factories and the famous Ella Rock. This last one is a great trip: You start by following the railroad, pass some tea plantations and then reach the top of this mountain and have a great view. Within the next months I will write a full article about visiting Ella Rock without a Guide (including photos and a drawn map).
Day 11: Hortons Plains & Worlds End
Another highlight of central Sri Lanka is Horton Plains national Park and its Worlds End. You will get up around 05.00 and walk in the cool morning breeze through this national park. There is a impressive waterfall, the scenery is beautiful and When you are lucky you will see some animals. The highlight is of course Worlds End, which is a high point (870 meter) from which you can see plenty of kilometers of green forest and mountains.
Day 12: Adams Peak
On some websites people write that Adams Peak is closed in October. This is not true. The only difference is that the way up to this famous mountain is lit up during pilgrim-season (January-May). Even though it was outside the season, it was still a very impressive experience to climb this mountain. The sunrise is spectacular and because there were not so many people on top we could shoot some great images.
Important tip: The 5200 steps up the Adams Peak are a real challenge. I consider myself relatively fit (3x per week sport) but had a rough time getting up in 2,5 hours. It helps if you bring some good shoes and do not forget some warm clothes for the top, it is very cold there.
The people of Sri Lanka
Another thing which makes Sri Lanka a great travel-destination, are the local people. They smile at you, are willing to help and especially the kids look beautiful. Obviously many locals also want to sell you something but in my opinion this is never done in an annoying way. But to give you another tip: If you are looking for objective information it is always better to ask someone who is not dependant on your decision. For example: Ask someone who is waiting fort the bus and not the bus-driver.
Additional Tip: Spend one whole day with a TukTuk-driver. It costs about 2000 Rupee (13 Euro) to hire a driver for a day. These locals can often show you places no travel-guide writes about and can tell you a bit about the country. We were even allowed to drive the TukTuk.
Day 12 +13: Kandy
Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka. After the laidback Arugam Bay and some small cities in the center of Sri Lanka, we had a hard time adjusting to the amount of people here. Kandy is a real city with a lot of bars, restaurants and shops. Besides that it is also known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka: You can find plenty of temples, buddhas and other religious attractions here. Because some of them are a few kilometres away, we used a TukTuk (including driver) to bring us to the best places. We had to pay 2000 Rupee (16€) for this.
Day 14 + 15: Negombo
After two week backpacking in Sri Lanka it is great to have some relaxation before you go back home. Negombo is a town about 30km south of Colombo and very close to the airport Bandaranaike. Negombo has a great beach and also enough shops to spend your last Rupees before you go home. We made an afternoon-trip to Colombo on Friday and laid on the beach the whole Saturday. Then a TukTuk brought us to the airport for 800 Rupee (5€)in the middle of the night.
The costs of two weeks Sri Lanka
Since I have been back in Berlin, many people ask me: How much does 2 weeks Sri Lanka cost? Obviously you can spend as much as you want on any trip but we have spent about 1100€ a person for two weeks of backpacking. We chose the food we liked, had a cocktail when we wanted but travelled mainly with public transportation. Below I have listed a few things which are useful for people who want to visit Sri Lanka in October:
Accomodation (10 Euro p.p.)
A night in a normal accomadation in Sri Lanka with a warm shower will cost you about 1500 Rupee (10€). Some cities are a bit more expensive (Galle, Dalhousie), but in many other cities you can easily get it a bit cheaper as well. If you calculate 10€ a day for accommodation, you will still have enough places to choose from.
Breakfast (2-4 Euro)
There are plenty of hotels who offer breakfast inclusive in the price of a room. Personally I really liked these breakfast because hotels know what tourists like to eat. Most of the time we were offered coffee/tea, fruit, bread, marmalade and an egg. When you want to eat breakfast somewhere else, you will most of the time still end up in a hotel. Breakfast in Sri Lanka costs about 2-4 Euro.
Lunch and Dinner (3-5 Euro)
An average lunch or dinner in Sri Lanka can be bought for about 3-5 Euro. Most local restaurants serve a very simple curry for about 3 Euro and if you want something more touristic like pizza or a hamburger you will have to pay a bit more. Try to eat at as many local places as possible, this is where you can experience Sri Lanka.
As mentioned in this article already, I would definitely recommend travelling by train as much as possible. You normally pay about 1 Euro for several hours in the 2nd or 3rd class. The bus is a bit less comfortable and the prices depend a bit more on the clergy. Sometimes it was really cheap and other times we were not sure if we were paying a special “tourist fee”. In general the bus also costs about 1-2 Euro for pretty long rides.
Backpacking in Sri Lanka summarized
This article and especially the photos should actually speak for itself: Sri Lanka is an awesome country and I would definitely recommend backpacking here. In just two weeks you will be able to see a large amount of the main attractions mentioned in the top 20 of the Lonely Planet. Sri Lanka in October is a bit of a risk with the weather but if you are flexible you will still have a great time and enjoy plenty of sunshine.
If the photos above did not convince you already, here are few additional photos of Sri Lanka: