Sri Lanka is the least expensive and most accessible foreign destination from Tamil Nadu, India. Flying from Trichy, it takes less than an hour to reach Colombo. The good news is that its climate, cuisine, and people are similar to those you can find in Tamil Nadu or Kerala. Strong cultural and linguistic ties exist between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, and not to forget the history.
Sri Lanka features stunning beaches, opportunities to improve your surfing, safaris, a variety of teas to try, and plenty of hiking trails. Do you have a vacation to Sri Lanka in mind? I didn't have high hopes for the journey. But it ended up being a fantastic experience. I adored everything about Sri Lanka: the lush surroundings, Spicy cuisine, landscapes, the diverse wildlife, and (particularly) the hospitable lankans who went above and above with their hospitality.
Things to Know before you Go
Visa (for Indian Passport holders): For holders of Indian passports travelling to Sri Lanka, you can get an On-arrival Visa. Indians should apply for the ETA online before departure to receive a Sri Lanka visa on arrival.
Currency: Sri Lanka's currency is Sri Lankan Rupees. 1 SLR ~ 0.4 INR
Best way to travel : On a budget, you can take the Train, Buses and local transportation to get you tot eh places. Tuk-tuks are used to travel inside the cities/towns. If you are doing an extensive road trip, you may have to rent a car.
Accommodation : Hotels range from cheap to luxurious, and depends on the place you stay. Going into the regional area, your options are limited, so need to get bookings up front.
Language : The two official languages of Sri Lanka are Sinhala and Tamil. Most cities, including Colombo, Kandy, and Galle, as well as government and tourism officials, speak English regularly. Don't anticipate everyone to be able to speak English fluently, while the majority of people in Colombo are able to do so. The majority of individuals in rural communities exclusively speak their native tongues. Tamil should get you through if you travel north.
Food: In addition to the insanely delicious food, prices are comparable to those in India. Each lunch of local food costs roughly 200 INR. You can choose from a range of dishes, such as Dosai, Kothu roti (parotta), biriyani (which is slightly changed with regional flavours but still tastes well), and numerous fish curries. You may expect to pay around 400 Indian rupees for a dinner at midrange restaurants with table service.
Water: Get bottled water to drink. If you are staying for a long time, do get a bottle with a purifier, it will help you cut down your bottle cost.
Wifi & Mobile data: It is better to get a sim card with a data plan going into the regional area, coverage is not guaranteed though. It is not expensive as well.
Credit Cards and ATMs: better to carry cash wherever you go. Most of the times, I paid cash
Safety: There are numerous thing you need to take into account. Most of the crimes are not violent, but there are scams which involves overcharging tourists. Happens in India as well. So be aware and do your maximum research before you plan your itinerary. Consider what you will do back home, when an incident like this happens?
Best time to Visit
Sri Lanka's weather is Tropical, meaning hot & Humid. You'll need to do a little pre-trip research to know what's "in season" because the island is punctuated by two distinct monsoons that affect various portions of the island at different times of the year. The good news is that during your journey, the weather will be pleasant in at least one area of the island!
The best time to visit Sri Lanka is from December to March if you want to see the amazing attractions in the south and centre.
Alternately, September is the best season to visit Sri Lanka if you want visit the North
The Total Length of the country can be covered in an overnight Drive. But if you want to explore in depth, it is advisable to chose a road route and follow it. There are plenty of scenic train and coastal areas which you want to explore, which are based in the east.
In Sri Lanka, where should you travel?
If you have the time, everywhere!
The southern region of the nation, with its hiking trails and coastal communities, attracts the majority of visitors.
The north has left a legacy of devastation after decades of conflict that is still present today. My friend who lived all his life in Colombo mentioned that he has never travelled up north because of the conflict. So Personally I would travel up North, next time to explore more of the past and how the war has dislocated millions of Tamils.
Apart from which you can also explore what's in the North of Sri Lanka, which remained a mystery for 3 decades
How to get to Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Air flies direct flights from Trichy, Madurai & Chennai to Colombo. Total Journey is less than an hour. This is the easiest and quickest options.
Air India & Indigo operates direct flights from Chennai International Airport
Sri Lanka is a reasonably priced destination. It's not that pricey, even when you overspend. In general, I believe you won't require more than INR 2400 to INR 3000 per day including Accommodation, Food and other local expenses .
The cost of living in the nation is relatively low, especially if you stick to delectable regional or Indian cuisine. I haven't checked on any Airbnb options, but it is better to stay in Hotels and you don't need to cook to cut cost.
Flights are the most cheapest part of the travel and the costs vary depending on the time of travel. Approx. economy return fares from Chennai/Trichy will be 12000~15000 INR per person
You can still spend on Luxury Accommodations if you are not on a budget.
Where to Stay
As I have mentioned before, Sri Lanka is not an expensive country, it is better to book accommodation in advance if you are multi day trips across the regional areas. I use booking.com frequently.
The couple of hotels I stayed were ok, but they were within my budget. If you are on a relaxing holiday, it is better to book the hotel with some more comfort. I spent around Indian rupees 1000 per night in Colombo, didn't include breakfast. There are plenty of Luxury/unique accommodations in the regional areas if you want to experience
How to Travel around Sri Lanka
Click on the Images to Zoom
The small size and variety of transportation choices in Sri Lanka make getting across the island simple, if a little time-consuming and uncomfortable.
Buses frequently travel from point A to point B much more quickly and for a significantly lower cost than tuk-tuks.
The train system in Sri Lanka, however, is the most scenic mode of transportation. Although the network is sluggish, complicated, and occasionally unreliable, it services all of the island's major areas and offers visitors rich cultural experiences that aren't as frequent in western nations.
Renting a car
With Driver: I personally went this option and I paid 5000 Indian Rupees for a 2 day Colombo Itinerary. I found this option comfortable and value for money. For your tours to the historical sites and natural reserves, some drivers and guides are government-licensed; others are exceptionally knowledgeable and multilingual with a focus on environment/natural history and historical and cultural understanding.
The majority of Colombo hotels have reception desks where you may reserve quality vehicles, or there are dedicated desks right next to them. They will offer rental automobiles with the hotel's logo on them that come with their own drivers. They work well for moving around the city or dropping off at airports. Before making a reservation, check the cost first.
Must See Places in Sri Lanka
I did spend some time touring Colombo's key locations. In all honesty, I wasn't impressed. I've read in blogs that people just stay in Colombo for a day before heading out to the countryside to explore the hidden beauties. Additionally, it's not a place where you can go out drinking all night long. Therefore, if you are flying out of Chennai or Trichy, I would advise going straight to the place where you meant to begin your journey.
Take an early train (if you are relying on the public transportation) to Galle along the beautiful Sri Lankan coastline from the Colombo Fort train station (around 2-3hrs). It's one of the many picturesque train trips in Sri Lanka. As always stick to the window eat to enjoy the views.
Apart from the coastlines & beaches, One of the must-see sights in Sri Lanka is Galle Fort . There is a big cricket stadium as well, watch a match if you could. It is an UNESCO World Heritage site that enchants and captivates visitors—narrow, busy lanes and plenty of history around this city. Not to miss the abundant coconut trees, a typical Tropical layout. You can also finish your day with the famous Galle Fort Lighthouse, enjoying the sunset & the beach. Suggest getting back to Colombo if you are heading to Sigiraya or Kandy, or heading south along the beaches , you can stay in Galle overnight
3. Sigiriya (the Lion Rock)
Sigiriya translates to Singa giri in Tamil. Once you've gotten used to everything, visit Sigiriya to explore Sri Lanka's cultural side. Lion Rock in the historic city of Sigiriya serves as the region's focal point. It's a jungly location, therefore it's typical to see free-ranging elephants strolling around the streets.
Admission: $30 USD
The UNESCO world heritage site Lion Rock is a source of pride for Sri Lankans, despite the eye-watering entrance cost.
The foundations of what people once thought to be the King's palace sit perched atop this monolith was abandoned after his death. Archaeologists today believe that it was actually a meditation area for a nearby temple. Whatever the real tale, Lion Rock is a majestic place.
Starting in the pristine gardens, you'll climb a number of stairs, passing beautiful cave paintings (pictures are unfortunately not permitted) and the mirrored wall before reaching the instantly recognisable lion's paws.
The top is only a few more steps away from there.
It's time to head to Kandy, which serves as the gateway to the Hill Country, after Sigiriya. The second largest city in Sri Lanka has a lot to offer as the weather starts to cool off. You should arrive in the middle of the morning driving from Colombo or via taxi. Head up to the Big Buddha which is the most famous place in Kandy (Bahirawakanda Vihara). Not to forget the Kataragama Kandhan temple (you might have heard this in the Tamil Movie "Thenali")
Tourists also enjoy the ethnic dances There are a few other clubs to select from, but Kandy Lake Club is the most popular. Along with some other spectacles like fire swallowers and individuals walking on hot coals, you'll witness a variety of unusual dances.
5. Nuwaru Eliya (from Kandy)
Since Nuwara Eliya is the highest town in Sri Lanka, you may need to wear a jacket or a jumper to stay warm there. The train ride is comparable to that of the Ooty Mountain Train.
You will pass mountains and endless tea farms as the train moves steadily forwards. The competition to sit on the floor and extend your legs out the door is so fierce because of this views. It is becoming much more popular with tourists, making it more difficult to find a good seat. Everyone visits "Little England" for the tea, which is the main draw. For some spectacular vistas, visit the Damro Tea Plantation. A cup of Ceylon tea and a piece of tea cake are the perfect accompaniments.
6. Beach towns - Any of your choice on the way from Galle till Tissamaharama
There are endless beaches and towns which are are beautiful one way or the other. The most famous ones are the Dikwella & Tamgalle. Plenty of National Parks, Elephant sanctuaries & Bird parks along the way. If you are not interested, then you can skip them.
7. The North Sri Lanka
As I have mentioned before, I'm more interested in travelling to North of Sri lanka, next time to visit the cities:
Jaffna (Yalppanam), Trincomalee (Tirukoṇamalai) & Talaimannar
Not many people have travelled over the past 30 years because of the civil war which ended in 2008. 15 years have passed and people say that slowly life is getting back to Normal. But Just want to check out myself when I get an opportunity
For those who are not aware of what the cicil war is about, a brief history about the country.
Sri Lanka is a divided island, with the south dominated by Buddhist Sinhalese and the north by Hindu Tamils. After the British left in 1948, the Sinhalese controlled the government and enacted a series of laws that limited Tamil participation in Sri Lankan society. Suppression and harassments led the Tamil Youth to eventually protests. Slowly the campaign gathered momentum and the emergence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Finally the civil war ended in 2009. So a person born in 1985 would have not see how the Northern Sri Lanka was and vie versa.
Conclusion & Our Recommendation
As I have mentioned in the start of the blog, As an Indian and if you are from the South, you will find Sri Lanka has similarities to Tamil Nadu & Kerala is almost all the cases. Will you be fascinated is the question to ask!
Yes, it gives you an opportunity to travel overseas for the first time at the lowest possible cost. No doubt about that. I would place my recommendation as optional, but if you are someone interested in history like me, Yes, do visit.
As far as the rest of the world or even people travelling from North of India, you will be fascinated by the country