Located right below and to the East of India in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a tropical island country close to the equator.
Mostly cash. Thankfully, it wasn't incredibly difficult to find a reliable ATM. Don't confuse the Sri Lankan rupee with the Indian rupee like I did initially. Set aside a generous amount of your budget for tips. The average 'nice' tip for guides on excursions and other services for me (recommended by the travel company I was with) was 1000 rupees, which is about $6.50. That added up quickly throughout the days because tipping opportunities are plentiful in everyday living there, and many Sri Lankans have high hopes for tips from tourists. Tourism is estimated to be about 70% of their economy.
Full Photography Gallery
Pick-up at 6:30 in Negombo
Kaudulla Elephant Safari
Drop-off at 23:30 in Negombo
Pick-up at 6:30 in Negombo
Temple of the Tooth Relic
Drop-off at 20:30 in Negombo
Pick-up at 6:30am
Scenic Drive Across the Beach Coast
Yala National Park Safari
Drop-off at Midnight
Pick-up at 12:00
Sri Kaileswaram & Gangaramaya Temples
Mount Lavinia Beach
Our Turtle Conservation Project Hatchery
Drop-off at Airport at 19:30 for 22:00 Flight
Many things! There is too much to do in Sri Lanka to stay for less than a week, which was my mistake. The top things to experience in Sri Lanka are very spread out throughout the country. Getting from Colombo to Kandy took me 4-5 hours, so I wish I wouldn’t have made it a day trip and kept my accommodations near Colombo the whole time because I ended up wasting a lot of my trip just driving around. If I could go back, I would have stayed in Kandy for a night and then taken the train to stay in Ella. The train rides are incredibly scenic, and Ella is a cute little city known by many as “Little England” which has wonderful hiking views. In addition, I wish I would’ve spent a day doing a pilgrimage up Adam’s Peak. Adam’s Peak has magnificent views and is believed by many religions to have a holy footprint on it.
Yala National Park. I saw a variety of animals, like peacocks and spotted deer, but I really wanted to see a leopard because it’s one of the few places in the world you can see them in the wild. I didn’t know that the morning is usually the only time people see them, and I went in the afternoon. It took a day out of my trip because it is on the far east side of the island and was expensive, so although I enjoyed it, I would only recommend it if you can go in the morning.
Since tourism is such a huge part of the Sri Lankan economy, there are a lot of affordable private tour companies available. The one that I picked was Blue Lanka Tours because it had excellent reviews online and because I wanted a bit of a safety net on my first trip as a solo female traveler. From my experience, Sri Lankan men were very forward with their infatuations that they had with me, so I do recommend requesting a female driver or simply staying aware of it.
This was by far one of the coolest travel opportunities and experiences that I've ever had. A man on the beach ended up leading me to his village. I was scared at one point because I had no control over the situation. Eventually, he explained to me that his village was taken out by a storm a few months ago, but he wouldn't take any money from me for donation. I ended up buying 20 days worth of food to feed all of the children. You can read the full post about this story HERE.
There were many other groups going at the same time slot as me. However, since I signed up alone, I was given my own tube and two teenage guides. We were light and fast, so when we flew ahead of the rest of the group, my guides would give me dares to jump out of the raft, among other things. Climbing up and jumping off the top of a (15 feet above) rock into the whitewater while rafting, and being the only one to do it, unsure of how safe it was, ending up being one of my favorite experiences!
If you're going to do anything in Sri Lanka, it must be Sigiriya. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is over 1600 years old, and you can still see murals of beautiful women painted on the rock with fruit. The trek up the unusually-shaped rock is 1200 steps, and the views are magnificent. What’s left of the old fortress after so long, along with the natural beauty of the park area, makes it quite a site. I'm not much of a history geek, but the information my tour guide shared was incredibly interesting.
Negombo is about 40km away from Colombo, which I didn’t realize when I booked it, but I really liked the area and was glad the taxi from the airport was only a few dollars. It had a suburban feel with many nice houses. My room was very spacious and elegant for the price I paid. Danesh, one of my hosts, used to be a chef in the UK, so the breakfast he made every morning (at whatever time I asked) was to die for. If you want to view these accommodations, here is the link.
Tropical Vacation Spot
A majority of Sri Lankan tourists are from Europe, and they don't see Americans very often. It is quite an underrated vacation spot, though. The tropical island country has it all: beautiful beaches, a rich history, amazing temples, safaris, mountains, forests, interesting wildlife, fresh air, delicious food, and so much more to learn about the country and culture. I wish I had more days to spend on the beach because they're beautiful, but there was just so much else to do around the country that I didn't have time!