"But why would you go there?"

This was the question that most friends had asked me when I announced that I was going to Sri Lanka last year.

My then boyfriend, Hutch, and I had decided to book crazy cheap plane tickets from Airasia waay in advance. We were initially drawn by the stories of magnificent surf breaks and we couldn't help but wonder if the experience would be as splendid as the trip we made in India in 2011. But after booking the tickets and doing the research months prior to the trip, we were feeling hesitant.

These were some blog post excerpts from travel blogger friends:

"He was dismayed with constantly being ripped off, the abhoring pricey admission fees, and the uber spicy food which caused us tears (and an additional order on drinks) all the time." -Pinay Travel Junkie on Not-so-Refreshingly Sri Lanka

"That was the time the guy mentioned that it was the end of the tour, and they casually asked for an additional LKR 2,000 as tip, LKR 1,000 for both of them. There’s NO WAY I’m giving them 2 more grands! I told him we only have 500 left in our pocket and the 2,000 on top of the 6,000 is just ridiculous! There was a momentary awkward silence, until the other guy drew out a sharp dagger and started shaving off the elephant’s hoof-like toe nails while sinisterly looking at us." -Flip'n Travels on Money for Elephant

"Days into my trip, I was grabbed on the breast by a boy who looked all but 13, on the beach at Negombo, after naively agreeing to having a photo taken with him, and his two equally pre pubescent buddies. Since then being rubbed up against on the bus, by men definitely old enough to know better, has become a regular occurrence." Jhania Pearson on Solo Travel to Sri Lanka

You can imagine our disappointment upon reading these articles. Hardly anyone had anything nice to say about the place except a couple of acquaintances who were actually from there. 

Why indeed were we going to Sri Lanka?

But I'm happy to report we went even after all the warnings and advice. I could not have imagined that it was the same country everyone had spoken so negatively about. We went there with an open mind and a ready smile. And we had wonderful experiences to share about this country. 

Here are 10 Reasons Why You Should Visit Sri Lanka:

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# 10 Weather and Climate

We went to Sri Lanka in September 2012 and we enjoyed clear blue skies and sunshine the whole time we were there. It was a bit too warm, however, even for us Filipinos who are used to extremely hot summers. So if you decide to go to the beach around that time, make sure you bring sun block. Most Hill country regions had the perfect "cold tropics" weather. Cool and dry in the afternoons and a bit chilly in the evenings. 

As with many Southeast Asian destinations, the period from December to mid-April is considered the best season for overall weather. You just have to know which side of the island to focus on in any given month, especially when planning your beach destination. There's nothing worse than storms while you're on a surf holiday. Having said that, it's still best to check the weather forecast before planning your holidays to Sri Lanka.

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#9 Religion 

Theravada Buddhism is widely practiced in most parts of Sri Lanka. We had the privilege to visit some temples and observe the religion and culture in our short 20 day stay. And so I say this with some caution and from an outsiders' perspective: I felt people here were some of the kindest and most generous people I have met in my travels. And I attribute that to their religion.

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I've had a few conversations with some locals and they have told me their beliefs about giving alms, kindness to strangers and the inherent goodness of people. I just felt very much at peace here and saw how most people are just so nice. 

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#8 Speak English, No Problem

Most locals we've met spoke conversational, if not fluent, English. That definitely helped us when asking for directions and for getting around. It was also easy to communicate and connect with locals especially in Kandy and Arugam Bay- places that have more tourists. They were very open and friendly. 

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#7 Cheap Public Transportation

It was amazing how cheap it was to commute in Sri Lanka- even much cheaper than in the Philippines! We took a lot of bus rides and paid local prices- no tourist tax here! The only challenge was asking around and making sure we got on the right bus as well as asking if they would allow us to transport our surfboards.

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If you want to bring surfboards with you, make sure you bring a lot of rope or tie downs. Most buses don't have a compartment big enough to fit them. But they would let us attach the boards on the window of the back seat, provided we paid a small fee. It's also fairly easy to haggle these costs with the locals.

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#6 Photographer's Paradise

There are so many awesome places, people and animals to photograph in this country! The light was also amazing when we were there- it made images much more interesting! I loved how most locals would allow me to take pictures of them and with them. I just had challenges with a few shy school girls and one person who asked us for money after I snapped a photo. Other than that, make sure you bring a camera with you and document those beautiful moments from your trip!

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#5 Food

Cheap, delicious and deliriously spicy! This is how I would describe the food from Sri Lanka. I'm glad that I am a big fan of spicy food. This kind of food would make your cheeks and ears burn and make you sweat profusely. But wow, everything was bursting with flavor!

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We often ordered the staple of chicken or vegetable rice which came with 2 or 3 small viands, rice with dal bat (lentil soup) and some small sides of salad or sweet stuff. We always ordered yogurt after each meal. (Believe me, you will need it.) Eating the yogurt before or after eating spicy food also helps coat your stomach and allows it to adjust. 

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Don't forget to order some roti and coconut sambal. We thought at first this would be a sweet treat. But it's a great meal actually! You get some freshly baked flat bread and grated coconut sprinkled with tomatoes, onions and a red mixture of spices called sambal- so good!

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If you're on a tight budget, you might want to try street food. Or ask your homestay hosts to include you in their daily meals for a little extra. They would definitely enjoy sharing with you and you'll have a taste of authentic local food! We also went to the local market several times and realized that most of the eating places close by served the cheapest and freshest food. 

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#4 Shopping

I knew there were a lot of high end brands that were "Made in Sri Lanka" and was out to get them for cheap. I was definitely rewarded in Kandy. I got a white cotton shirt which I travel with all the time. Got my little niece a colorful handmade stuffed elephant souvenir and my sisters some pretty trinkets. Hutch found a handful of shirts and dresses for loved ones as well.

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If you're not willing to splurge on shopping, go to the market where a lot of export overruns are. And if you dare, there are some "ukay ukay" (second hand) stalls in most towns. I bought a lot of tank tops and beach cover ups this way. 

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#3 World Heritage Sites

We knew we were gonna have to pay some hefty fees for the World Heritage Sites that we planned to explore in Sri Lanka. We just thought of it as similar to paying door fees castles in Europe or National Museums America. And we were not disappointed. 

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We biked through the ruins of Polonaruwa, Sri Lanka's splendid medieval capital that was established as the first city of the land in the 11th Century, A.D. We had rented our bikes the day before, woke up early that morning to get our $25 worth. Some of the spots were hilly and we had to go through dirt roads. But we enjoyed going around temples, palaces, dry "ponds" and ancient sculpture.

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Make sure you pace yourself- you don't need to see everything. Just grab a map and mark the spots that interest you. Grab some fresh squeezed lime juice and snacks on the roadside stopovers.

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After Polonaruwa, we took a bus to Sirigaya or Lion's Rock. This massive solitary rock plateau rises 1,000 foot from the surrounding plains and was the 5th century seat of power of King Kassapa. I was pretty sweaty in the blazing Sri Lankan sun as I climbed staircase after staircase. But the pain in my thighs almost disappeared as soon we reached the Lion's Paws- each was the size of a bus! The view from the top gave us a heady feeling (as well as the exhaustion). But this was definitely a highlight in our trip! Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes, put on sunblock and bring a lot of water with you.

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The Sacred City of Kandy with its cool Baguio-like weather and ambiance was a wonderful last stop- almost luxurious even. We spent an indulgent 5 days here just strolling by the lake, sampling the food, shopping, visiting temples and watching some cultural shows. We even skipped the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic just because it didn't really interest us. I would recommend you visit Kandy and stay at a place with a lakeside view and preferably with local family. It would absolutely enrich your experience.

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Sadly, we only had enough time to visit 3 World Heritage Sites. Not only were they pricey, they were also spread out across the island. But I'm glad we only picked Ancient City of PolonnaruwaAncient City of Sigiriya and Sacred City of Kandy. I would much rather take my time and see a few interesting sights rather then do an "Amazing Race" across cities and just have a headache and a blur of memories- mostly of sitting in a night bus.

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#2 Surf

Surfing was a big part of our experience in Sri Lanka. We situated ourselves at Arugam Bay where most of the surf spots were. We had a lot of options to choose from. Beginner friendly Baby's Point was a short walk away and that's where we spent most of our surf time at. The waves would break left and a much longer right and it was easy enough to land on the shore and walk back to the lineup. 

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When we got more comfortable, we also tried the more intermediate Arugam Bay Point Break (walking distance from Baby's Point) where a lot of boards got broken, dinged or slashed when wave conditions are crazy big. You can also rent a tuktuk or the Sri Lankan tricycle and explored the more advanced Peanut Farm, Sangamankanda Point, Crocodile Rock and Whiskey Point.

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September is a good season for surf in the Arugam Bay/Pottuvil area where we went. But Sri Lanka has so many surf breaks to choose from including Galle, Weligama and Matara Beach. 

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#1 The People

My main reason for visiting Sri Lanka would definitely be the people. People who have ready smiles, curious gazes and always an air of authenticity. People who would go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and offer help when needed. These were some of the most genuine and generous locals I had met. I'm grateful that I made it out there to meet them in person and experience their hospitality first hand. 

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I would never forget the hospitable couple we stayed with in Kandy who took the time to give us a room upgrade when we told them we were backpackers traveling on a budget. They even made us special meals for free and gave us recommendations on places to visit in town.  

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I would never forget "Sexy Baldy" Shiri who manned the roadside resto in Arugam where we often had our morning roti. He told us countless stories from the last tsunami in 2004 that hit the western coast of Sri Lanka. He even told us how he had saved a "miracle baby" that he found in the rubble. We still exchange emails from time to time.

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I would never forget our tuktuk driver in Arugam Bay, Suresh who took us to a bunch of places and never expected anything more than his day's wage. The most interesting part is when he gave us a call (to the Philippines!) months after our trip to ask us if we were okay. He had heard of the floods in the Philippines while watching TV and decided to give us a call and check in on us. What a caring person!

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Have I given you enough reasons to start booking flights and searching for hotels in Sri Lanka? Now is the perfect time to go! Sri Lanka is touristy enough but so many places remain true and unspoiled by commercialism.

How to Make This Trip Happen*:

Visas: Sri Lanka Immigration introduced ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) system since 2012, which makes visa application process much easier. Nowadays, you do not need to go to the local embassy. Just fill in the application online.

When you fill in the application, please make sure all the passport information is exactly the same as on your passport, otherwise the ETA you get will not be valid. ETA is issued with 6 month validity and it is valid for 2 entries. For each entry, you can stay up to 30 days. For more information, you can read here.

You are not required to print out the ETA confirmation because it is linked to your passport electronically. When you show the passport they are able to find it in the system. When there is amistake on the application, (i.e. if the passport number, date of birth, or name is wrong) it will be invalid. But other information, such as address or email, those information will not affect the validity of the ETA and it is not required information as well.

Flights: Unfortunately, Airasia no longer flies to Colombo. The cheapest way to Colombo would most probably be via Kuala Lumpur through SriLankan Airlines.

Transportation: There are a lot of affordable car for hire services that come with a driver around Sri Lanka. We opted to do it the backpacker way and commuted our way around. From the airport, there is a free shuttle service to the bus terminal. Then you can take the buses to most destinations across the country- they're cheap and convenient!

Accommodations: Most places we went to like Arugam Bay, Polonaruwa, Sirigaya and Kandy had cheap accommodations options. We normally paid between $15-$30 USD for a private room with bath good for 2 people. The best options would always be the homestays because you get to interact with the local family and pay a fraction of the usual cost.

Currency: The currency being used in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee which is currently valued at 1 USD = 130.325 LKR.

*This information is updated as of June 28, 2013.

Have you been to Sri Lanka before? Did you love it or hate it? Please share your experiences by commenting below!

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Sentimental about Sri Lanka,
Sole Sister Lois

Lois has traveled extensively and has called the USA, Germany, Switzerland and the Philippines home in various stages of her life. When she's not having adventures around the globe, she can be found surfing, surfing someone's couch or giving talks, workshops and retreats. She is a certified Passion Test facilitator who believes that people can find what they love and make a living from their passions. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of wearesolesisters.com.


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5 Responses so far.

  1. Lovelle says:

    Nice write-up, Lois :) A friend is inviting me to go to Sri Lanka but I also heard bad reviews from friends who have already visited the country so I initially declined. Your article has totally changed my views on Sri Lanka and I am now excited to invite my friend this time. Thanks! :)

  2. Hey Thanks Lovelle! It's always good to be cautious and have your wits about you. But Sri Lanka will definitely reward you and your friends some authentic experiences and lots of interesting travel stories to last a lifetime! Happy travels!

  3. G says:

    As a Sri Lankan, it was nice to read this article. Thank you!

  4. Nice post and really impressive one to read this post. thanks for sharing this kind of informative post.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Awesome blog and very nice pictures. I was last year in Sri Lanka and it was beautiful. I've booked through tiket.com and got also a very cheap ticket from Asian Air.

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