Sri Lanka for First-Timers

Don’t pass Sri Lanka for a small country (Island) that doesn’t offer much to do. Especially among South Indians, there is a perception that Sri Lanka is similar to Tamil Nadu or has resemblance to Kerala. Well, there is some truth to it. The country is not entirely different from South India but if you believe that each state in India is unique in it’s own way, then so is Sri Lanka.


When I visited the country in 2011 winter, the visa requirements were pretty straight forward for Indian passport holders. You just show up at the airport with a ticket and  get stamped on arrival at the Colombo airport. But, there is a new requirement at the time this article is written. One should apply for Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) online two days prior to arrival at Sri Lanka.

IMPORTANT: Visa information on this site is for reference purpose only. Countries tend to change the requirements and it is imperative to check with the embassy’s website for latest info.


I completely skipped Colombo except for flying in/out of the country. There is no sight-seeing to do in this city and you are not missing anything by skipping. So, I drove straight to Kandy from the airport. I wasn’t really being conservative, spending-wise, on this trip. I paid a $50 to get a taxi to Kandy from the airport. But, it is entirely possible to take a bus or a train for much cheaper price. Plus, I flew in at night and was traveling alone. All the more reasons to take a cab instead of public transportation.

Kandy is a good launching pad location for Cultural triangle and to go to national parks and mountains.

I spent two days in Kandy and that was just right.

Things to do in Kandy: Botanical Garden, Elephant Orphanage, Tree Temple, Cultural Show, Tooth Relic


Sleep: Lakshmi Guesthouse, Kandy.

Mode of transportation: Tuk-tuk on a full-day rental for 1000 Rupees.

I am into taking public transportation and go at a slower pace. It is important to me that I don’t splurge on organized tours or hire cabs (if it can be replaced by public transportation or shared transportation with other travelers), because I travel a lot and financially I just can’t afford it.  And by taking public transportation, the experience gained about the place visited is as unique as the people you end up traveling with. However, with Sri Lanka I actually felt like I splurged a lot, for the number of days I stayed.


The down side to traveling by bus/trains and relying on public transportation is, one needs plenty of time and some planning ahead of time and ability to ask local people about bus/train schedules. In some places the language can be a huge barrier. But, that’s where the hostel employees come in handy. They can make phone calls, ask local people and translate the information for you. You just have to ask for help. Majority of the hostels also organize tours or tuk-tuk/buses/shared-cars.

I ended up meeting 3 other backpackers at the same hostel, who wanted to do the same itinerary as mine. Lakshmi guesthouse owner helped us hire a car with driver, at a fixed price. It included hostel stays for next two nights and sight-seeing for three days. Shared the cost, boarding, and amazing time with 3 other fellow travelers.

Places visited: Dambulla, a spice garden on the way, Anuradhapura (over night stay) , a random monastery near Anuradhapura museum, Polonaruwa (over night stay here), Sigiriya and back to Kandy – in that order.


It is entirely possible to take buses to each of these places and stay at hostels. And most of the backpackers do that. And the entrance fee to Indians is much cheaper as we are part of SAARC than other nationalities. So, be sure to take your passport with you.

Day 6 – I decided to be alone and wander around. So, I took a local bus to Nuwara Eliya for a day trip and came back to Kandy for overnight stay. I also made a quick visit to the famous Kandy Kadhirkamam Murugan temple late at night. This temple is very famous among Tamil Hindus.

The next day, I took 10:30AM train from Kandy to Negambo. Second class seats are very comfortable, you can only buy the ticket on the same day for 2nd class and 1st class gets sold out 2-3days ahead of time.


Day 8: Dutch canal boat ride and walked around in Negambo city. And flew out at 10:30PM

Money spent in the country – $400 excluding the international flight tickets.