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Sri Lanka

How much does it cost to travel in Sri Lanka?

traveling in sri lanka

I spent five weeks traveling around Sri Lanka just before the main tourist season started, still enjoying the bargain deals of the low season and seeing prices go up in the high season – this applies mainly to accommodation, however. I am breaking down all of my expenses in the country to give you an idea of what costs to expect when you budget for a trip to Sri Lanka.

Overall, it has been one of the cheapest countries I’ve been to and it is possible to travel the country on $20 – $30 per person a day (on a shoestring), or around $50 per person per day in nicer accommodations. Read on for the full breakdown of food, transportation, sightseeing, accommodation and other costs.Sri Lanka

Visa

A visa is required to enter Sri Lanka. Luckily it is easy to apply for a Sri Lankan visa online. The cost of a visa for Europeans, North Americans and Australians is US$35. The visa is valid for 30 days, if you’re planning to stay longer, you’ll have to get an extension in Colombo, which is LKR3,600 /US$25 (make sure to have a passport photo on you for that).sri lanka talpe beach

Accommodation

This will be your biggest expense, but the value for money is usually very good.

The cheapest rates for a private double room I found was LKR1,500 (US$10.40), and in some of the beach towns I paid around LKR3,000-3,500 (US$21-25) for a double room (split between two people). Remember that this was in the off-season though.

In other places (not along the coast) LKR1,500 seemed to be the going rate for a basic double room, breakfast often included, and usually with free wifi.

As for higher end accommodation, I found some nice hotels with swimming pool and breakfast for LKR5,000-6,000(US$35-41), and really nice hotels, like the Cinnamon Hotels around the island, often offer special rates starting at LKR7,000 (US$49) during the low season (expect this to double in the high season).hikkaduwa beach cinnamon infinity poolI didn’t sleep in dorms but a dorm bed was usually around LKR800 (US$5.50). It definitely pays off to check hotel booking websites like Booking.com for special deals in the places you’re planning to visit. Through Booking.com, I found a nice boutique hotel in Colombo for $50 a night (for two people), and a great deal for a gorgeous hotel in Polonnaruwa for $29 a night including breakfast. luxury hotel

Food & Drinks

Food can be dirt cheap, but it also can be pricey depending on if you’re willing to delve into the local cuisine or stick to western choices. A Sri Lankan dinner of kotthu, which is a favorite of the locals, costs around LKR165 – 200 (US$1.15 – 1.40), while a chicken curry in a beach town can cost you up to LKR900 (US$6.25). On average, expect to pay between LKR200 and 300 (US$1.40 – 2.10) for local food and LKR600 to 900 (US$4.15-6.25) for a dish in a tourist restaurant. Breakfast usually cost me LKR500 to 700 (US$3.45-4.85), including tea or coffee.

Speaking of coffee, if you are looking for good coffee, you’ll have to pay for it. The most expensive coffee I had was in Kandy at Natural Coffee, where I was charged LKR560 (US$3.90) for a cappuccino – more than I usually paid for an entire meal! There are some coffee shops in Colombo, and some cafes around the country that have a proper espresso machine, but they’re few and far between.

Generally, you can expect to pay around LKR270 (US$1.88) for an espresso and LKR350 – 400 (US$2.40-2.80) for a cafe latte or cappuccino. Of course there are also the cheap roadside coffee vendors or the guys that walk through the trains with a big thermos, selling a brown liquid for 10 rupees (US$0.07), but I wouldn’t call that coffee 😉Sri Lanka foodIf you prefer to stick to western food (why would you though, because Sri Lankan food is seriously addictive!), there are some western chains like Pizza Hut and KFC, and you can find sandwiches, burgers and pizza in the beach towns. Western meals are between LKR600 and 1000 (US$4.16 -7.00). You can splurge on fine dining in places – often, the nicer hotels have on-site restaurants, and there you pay upwards of LKR1,000 (US$7.00) for a dish. Snacks are super cheap – local chocolate is LKR50 – 100 ($US0.35-0.70), a bag of cashew nuts is LKR120 (US$0.85), peanuts are LKR50 (US$0.35), and little fried lentil balls or donuts are 10 rupees (US$0.07). A vegetarian roti (a dough triangle filled with vegetables – basically like a samosa, but not deep-fried) is 40 rupees (less than US$0.30) and big enough to serve as a full meal – cheapest lunch ever! A bottle of water (1.5 liters) is LKR60 – 70 (US$0.40-0.50), and since the tab water in Sri Lanka is not drinkable, you’ll have to budget for at least one bottle per day.jaffna fruit stallAlcohol

A 625ml bottle of local Lion beer can be as cheap as LKR250 (US$1.75), but can cost you up to LKR600 (US$4.15) in nicer establishments. I usually paid LKR300 (US$2.10). Cocktails are more expensive – about LKR400 to 500 (US$2.80 – 3.50) along the beaches and LKR800 to 1000 (US$5.50 – 7.00) in the nicer bars of Colombo.reefs edge hotel beach beers 

Transportation

Transportation is some of the cheapest I’ve ever taken anywhere in the world – I still can’t believe that a 7-hour train ride cost me a mere LKR230 ($1.60) in 2nd class! While I wouldn’t opt for 3rd class (those are the cheapest tickets but the carts are often overcrowded), I think 2nd class is perfectly fine and there’s no need to pay for 1st class, which is about 1000 rupees per ride and essentially the ‘tourist cars’. I will share more about that when I write about my Sri Lankan train adventures which deserve a post o their own. I usually paid LKR190 (US$1.30) for a train ticket, the cheapest one was the 1 hour ride from Ella to Badulla which cost me 40 rupees (just under 30 cents).train ride to badulla with nine arches bridge tunnelLong distance buses are a bit more expensive but still cheap by western standards – expect to pay around LKR80 (US$0.55) for a 1-hour ride. The most expensive ride was a 4-hour trip from Kandy to Polonnaruwa at 150 rupees ($1.05) Tuktuks range anywhere from 50 rupees to 600 rupees (or more, if you go really far in them), always negotiate before you get in.

The price they quote you is usually higher than what they’re supposed to charge you, so try to haggle. As a rule of thumb: anything up to 3 kilometers shouldn’t be more than 100 rupees, but the more touristy the area, the higher the prices the drivers charge.kandy tuktuks 

Sightseeing

Tourist attractions are the most expensive category: Sri Lanka offers its heritage sites and national parks at a steep price, unproportionally higher than anything else that’s sold at deflated tourist pieces. Tourists don’t pay double or tenfold what locals pay, they pay around 40 times the local price. An example: Sri Lankans pay LKR50 (US$0.35) to enter Yala National Park, foreigners pay more than 2000 rupees (US$14).Sri Lanka tours The ancient cities in the north are LKR3,250 (US$22.50) each, and a half day safari in a National Park comes to US$40 with the vehicle, park entrance and a guide, but you’ll most likely get quoted a higher price. For our jeep in Yala we paid LKR4,000 (US$27.70) between four people and admission was around LKR2,500 (US$17.30) (it gets cheaper the more people are in a group). You can rent bikes for the day to get around the ancient cities which cost LKR200 to 300 US$1.40-2.10). Prices for other fun activities: A whale watching tour will cost you around LKR6,000 (US$41.75), a dive is around US$30, surf lessons are around US$40, cooking classes start at LKR3,000 (US$21). mirissa surfer

Other expenses

Other expenses include things like laundry, toiletries and a local SIM card. Here are some examples so that you know what to expect:

  • Laundry: LKR250-350 (US$1.75-2.45) per kilo
  • Shampoo/ conditioner 100ml: LKR150 – 180 (US$1.05-1.25)
  • Face wash 100ml: LKR150 (US$1.05)
  • SIM card: LKR399 (US$2.75) for a 4GB data package

Sri Lanka 2014

Local SIM card

Make sure to grab your free local SIM card right when you make your way through immigration at the airport. Dialog, one of the fastest 3G networks in the country, offers free SIM card at immigration – just ask for one and they’ll give it to you. I personally used mobitel and paid 399 rupees for a 4GB data package. If you add another 100 rupees for call time credit, that should last you a while (if you only use your phone to call guest houses etc).Sri Lanka

Some notes on money and ATMs

There are ATMs everywhere, at least one in each town, no matter how small it is. And cash is king – it was rare that I was able to pay anything with a credit card, so prepare and make sure you’ll always have enough cash on you, especially when you visit national parks and UNESCO sites – the only place I was able to use my card at was Yala National Park. Seylan Bank has a maximum withdrawal of only 10,000 rupees, so if you pay fees for cash withdrawals abroad, make sure to avoid this one. Commercial Bank lets you take out at least up to 20,000 rupees, if not more. Sampath Bank lets you take out at least 30,000 rupees at once.Sri Lanka

Tipping

Most places automatically add a service charge to the bill, so double-check before you tip if they’re already including it.

Per day breakdown

As you can see, Sri Lanka is very affordable – not as cheap as India, but you can get by on an average $30 a day, if you stay in budget accommodation and don’t take expensive tours every day. A beach day with accommodation, two full meals, coffee, snacks and drinks at night in a beach town would cost me around $25, but on days when I visited one of the UNESCO sites, my daily expenses could easily add up to $50. Trail Wallet Sri Lanka Budget

As usual, I used the TrailWallet app to track my expenses.

 

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Where to stay in Thalpe Beach, Sri Lanka: Era Beach by Jetwing Hotels

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Imagine you have an infinity pool that looks out right at the ocean and you only have to share it with a handful of other people. You take your cocktail to the pool, listen to the clashing waves in front of you, and enjoy the peaceful bliss of the moment.era beach by jetwing pool and vaseAt Era Beach on Sri Lanka’s south coast, this is not a dream, but your daily reality. With only eight rooms, it is one of the most exclusive boutique hotels I’ve ever stayed at and it almost felt like I was in a private villa instead of a hotel. Even at full capacity, the hotel can never feel crowded, and you will have the pool or the sun loungers almost to yourself. If you are looking for an intimate, luxurious beach getaway in Sri Lanka, there is no better place than Era Beach by Jetwing Hotels, the country’s leading chain of small boutique hotels.Jetwing by Era BeachThe rooms are spacious and comfortable, equipped with dark wooden furniture that complement the overall feel of the elegant colonial villa. The bathrooms can only be described as huge, almost as big as the room itself, with a shower big enough for two (just sayin’ 😉 ). The rooms all have a tea and coffee maker, best enjoyed on the balcony outside the room which offers the best view over the dream pool and the gorgeous grounds. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this:era beach by jetwing pool viewBut you won’t be spending a lot of time in your room while you’re at Era Beach – the pool area, nestled in between two lounge areas, one of which has a well-stocked bar and the other one the breakfast / dining room, is where you would want to spend most of your time. The saltwater pool is one of the most beautiful swimming pools I have ever come across, and just like everything at the hotel, it was designed in an effort to catch your eye and is without a doubt the star of the property.Jetwing by Era BeachNo matter where you look, the decor at Era Beach has been selected thoughtfully to match the overall feel of the property – sophisticated, luxurious and exquisite. Giant flower vases that resemble the Dutch-colonial style meet contemporary art and sleek furniture in the outdoor areas – one thing I loved about the resort was that all the common spaces were designed in a way that they had an open feel to it – wide open colonial doors and windows, or fully open terraces.Jetwing by Era Beach gardensEra Beach is so exquisite that they even offer a butler service, but I found the staff to be extremely discrete, always on call, yet never intrusive, adding to the elitist feel of the boutique resort.Jetwing by Era BeachUnder a few coconut palm trees right by the beach, eight sun beds are lined up, allowing you to look out at the ocean while relaxing and working on your tan. Because that’s about all you should be doing here: relax, recharge your batteries, chill out, and get a nice tan.Jetwing by Era Beach beachThe only time you might want to get out of your chair would be after the generous breakfast, to walk it off, so that you can order some fresh seafood for lunch. You get down to the beach via a set of stairs and walk on the soft sand for at least a kilometer in either direction. You won’t come across many people, only a few local fishermen and a small number of tourists from other nearby resorts. Following the beach to the right (when facing the water) would bring you to Unawatuna, a small nearby beach town, only a short 15-minute tuktuk ride away.

In Unawatuna, you’ll find everything you need from funky beach bars to tourist souvenir shops and Ayurveda centers.Jetwing by Era Beach sri lankaThere’s not really any need to leave Era Beach, however: the food is absolutely divine and you can order lunch and dinner a la carte – the menu offers a mix of local cuisine and Western dishes – in addition to the breakfast which is included in the room rate and comes with fresh fruit and yogurt, fresh breads and pastries and a full hot breakfast on top of it. You’ll be dining outside, on the covered terrace on either side of the pool, enjoying the sunset and the absolute peace and tranquility around you.Jetwing by Era Beach breakfastIt is impossible not to relax at Era Beach – if you are looking for a romantic getaway, tranquility, solitude and five star service, you will love Era Beach.

Stand out features

What makes Era Beach unforgettable is the exclusive and private feel that the resort has. The beautifully designed property, something that all Jetwing Hotels are known for, the excellent quality of food and service, and the breathtaking pool are what make a stay at Era Beach an absolute exhilarating experience.Jetwing by Era Beach decor

Room for improvement

The Wi-Fi situation was not very satisfying for me. While a few of the other guests were able to connect to the Wi-Fi in some downstairs areas, I could only ever connect in the reception area, and that’s the last place you want to spend time in at this resort. Whenever I was online, the connection was still painfully slow. I hope this is something that can be improved, but I am saying that from a standpoint of someone who works while traveling. For people on vacation, it might actually be a nice break from the digital world and sometimes you need to be forced to let go. In an enchanting environment like Era Beach, you shouldn’t be anywhere else but right there in the moment.

The other thing I thought could use some improvement were the bathrooms which were very big, but lacked in character. But then maybe that’s part of the minimalistic design.Jetwing by Era Beach bathroom

Details

Amenities: Saltwater pool, complimentary breakfast, tea and coffee maker in the room, free wi-fi, butler service, bar and restaurant
Location:
834 Galle Road, Talpe, Galle, Unawatuna Beach, Unawatuna
Price:
Lobby rooms start at $80 per night (including breakfast), $104 per garden suite, $144 per sea view suite. Room rates vary depending on the season – please note that prices are considerably higher during high season (Dec – March). Half-board and full-board can be booked for an additional fee.
LGBT Friendly:
Yes

Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes

Website: www.jetwinghotels.com/erabeachJetwing by Era Beach

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Where to stay in Kandy, Sri Lanka: Theva Residency

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First of all, I have to admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Kandy. The Temple of the Tooth Relic, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sure is remarkable, and so is the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue that towers over the city on the Bahirawakanda hilltop, but the city itself didn’t impress me much. However, I think these are reasons enough to visit Kandy and it is also conveniently located to break up the journey from Colombo to either the cultural triangle or the tea country – for both of which you’ll have to pass through Kandy anyway.Sri Lanka KandyThe views from the Big Buddha show what Kandy is really about though: lush green mountains dotted with little houses along the mountainsides, valley views and a cool mountain breeze, which feels wonderfully refreshing after the scorching heat of Colombo and the south coast.kandy theva residency infinity poolSince it was all about these hills for me, I knew it would make sense to stay high up over the city, escaping the hectic streets of Kandy and enjoy the vistas over the town far below in the valley instead.kandy theva residency doorSo when I found Theva Residency, I didn’t have to think twice – this is where I would want to spend the night. Perched to the side of a mountain high above Kandy, the small boutique hotel comes with an infinity pool that allows you to lose yourself on the gorgeous views over the Hantana mountain range, an exquisite restaurant that allures with said views (at night, when everything is lit up, there is a completely different feel to it) to have dinner on the terrace, and cozy rooms that are also, you’ve guessed it, all about the views.Theva Residency RestaurantThe minivan that had picked me and my two fellow travelers up at the train station took us higher and higher up on the mountain, one slope after the other, aching under the weight of our luggage. After about 15 minutes uphill driving, I could see the large glass windows that make this modern, airy hotel what it is: a place that takes advantage of its spectacular setting and knows how to show off its vistas.

A few minutes later, we walked into the tastefully designed restaurant which comes with a large outdoor terrace, but doesn’t require you to sit outside to take in the valley from up here: top to bottom glass windows cover the indoor areas of the restaurant. After the typical Sri Lankan welcome ceremony with cold wet towels and a refreshing fruit juice, we settled into our room, designed in minimal chic style, also outfitted with large windows. Situated right above the infinity pool, I was tempted to jump into the dark blue water straight from here.kandy theva residency pool sri lankaAll rooms come with their own individual stylish design, local artists’ paintings on the wall and a bathroom that boasts a powerful rain shower. The penthouse suite and the superior rooms have a Jacuzzi, and the superior room’s in-room Jacuzzi right by the window had me think that this would be the perfect place for a romantic getaway, on a honeymoon tour of Sri Lanka for example.Theva Residency rooms

Speaking of a romantic getaway – I was lucky enough to peek inside the penthouse suite during my stay and was truly impressed. The living room, surrounded by panoramic top-to-bottom glass windows on three sides, offers spectacular views over the valley, and I could see how the jacuzzi, lit up by candles, would provide the perfect setting for the start to a romantic evening…Theva Residency Kandy SuiteNo matter if a superior balcony room or a standard deluxe room – what they all have in common is the attention to detail when it comes to decor, art and design. You can truly feel how much thought has put into furnishing and outfitting each and every room of Theva Residency.Theva Residency KandyEach room comes with tea and coffee making facilities, which allowed us to have a cup of tea straight from the neighboring tea country with the sweet treat that had been left to welcome us in our room. Sitting by the open window and looking out over the lush green hills while sipping on a cuppa and devouring the delicious home-made cookies made for a wonderful break before an afternoon of sightseeing.Theva Residency Kandy Sri Lanka1The hotel is small with only 15 rooms (1 penthouse, 3 3uites, 7 superior balcony rooms and 4 standard deluxe rooms) and feels intimate, and so did the dimly lit restaurant when we arrived there for dinner later that night. I was told that the chefs here are all masters of their art, and took great pride in presentation of the Asian and international dishes. And our dishes did not disappoint.

We started with a pumpkin cream soup served in a loaf of bread, followed by a lemongrass sorbet as a palate cleanser. My main dish, a vegetable lasagna, could have been straight out of Italy and the breaded eggplant right out of New York City. My fellow diners also enjoyed the fresh fish and chicken dishes they ordered.Theva Residency DinnerPassion fruit cheesecake and a chocolate mousse for dessert rounded our dining experience – in fact, we were still stuffed from this divine meal when we went down for breakfast the next morning but we couldn’t resist the scrumptious and generous breakfast.

Breakfast is presented just as tasteful as dinner the night before, and so much more than we could possibly finish: fresh fruit juice and a fruit plate, eggs made to order, a basket with fresh breads and pastries, served with jams, all served with tea or a plunger of coffee.Theva Residency BreakfastMy only regret is that I couldn’t stay another night – I didn’t have near enough time to simply relax by the pool, enjoy a glass of wine on the terrace or take advantage of the Jacuzzi in my room.Theva Residency room

Standout features

The location

For me, the location was one of the best features of the hotel. I loved being high up in the mountains and how well Theva Residency integrated its prime real estate into all rooms, designing the hotel in a way that allowed for sweeping views from everywhere, no matter where in the hotel you are. The terrace by the pool, the restaurant and its large terrace, the rooms – the views are outstanding from everywhere.

I also loved being far above the hustle and bustle of Kandy, which felt miles away, but still in reality, I could be in the town center in 15 minutes.Theva Residency

The restaurant

I am not sure if there is a comparable dining experience to be had anywhere else in Kandy, but the Theva restaurant, which can also be visited by non-guests, makes for a gorgeous, classy and elegant night out. Everything here is done just right, from aperitifs to digestives, starters to desserts, palate cleansers and wine selection – plus its wonderful setting in the mountains, with lights sparkling everywhere at night.

Room for improvement

To be honest, I have had a very hard time trying to think of something that could be improved. There was nothing during my short stay that I thought could use improvement, so I just suggest that Theva Residency keeps up the high quality service and maintenance of the rooms which should always be in a perfect condition, considering the steep price tag of the rooms.Theva Residency Sri Lanka

Details

Free wifi, pickup service from the train station, tea and coffee making facilities in the room, breakfast included in the room rate, infinity pool, superior rooms come with jacuzzi, restaurant with terrace and full bar.

Location: 11/B5/10-1, 6th Lane, Off Circular Road 2, Hantana, Kandy
Price: Starting at $126 per deluxe room per night, $157 per superior room, $253 per suite per night (prices vary depending on season)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes
Amenities: Free wifi, pickup service from the train station, tea and coffee making facilities in the room, breakfast included in the room rate, infinity pool, superior rooms come with jacuzzi, satellite TV, air con, restaurant with terrace and full bar.
Website: Theva.lk or you can follow Theva Residency on FacebookTheva Residency Kandy Sri Lanka

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Where to stay in Negombo, Sri Lanka: The Reefs Edge Hotel

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For my last couple of days in Sri Lanka, I had only one wish: relax and wind down, catch up on work, and be close to the airport.

The closest town to the airport is Negombo, a small fishing town known for its long sandy beaches and fish market.

While I was researching possible hotels to stay at I was told about the Reefs Edge Hotel, and while it was not exactly in Negombo (it’s about 20 minutes south of town), after a quick look at the website, I was sold. I wasn’t looking to be in the center of the party anyway, but I was looking to chill out after a hectic three-week tour traversing Sri Lanka from Yala in the southeast to Jaffna in the far northwest, and everywhere in between.Reefs Edge Hotel Sri Lanka beachMy pickup from the train station went smooth, and the typical Sri Lankan welcoming with cool towels and a refreshing drink in the hotel lobby was exactly what I needed after a long day of traveling. Checking in was quick and efficient (you might take this for granted but in some other hotels I stayed at it took over 20 minutes to get checked in!).Reefs Edge hotel sri lanka1The room was bigger than expected, and I loved the open air style bathtub in the open bathroom. No worries: there are blinds that can be lowered to induce a wall between bathroom and bedroom, but even when it is not lowered, toilet and shower are separately closed off from the main bathroom by glass doors.

All 23 rooms in the 2-storey hotel have an ocean view, a balcony, a desk (which got a lot of use in the evenings and during the late afternoon monsoon rain showers), tea and coffee making facilities and big bathroom with a glorious, spacious rain shower.Reefs Edge hotel roomWhile the rooms are perfectly fine, the Reefs Edge Hotel is designed in a way that makes you want to be outside all the time instead of inside the room.

Just off the golden sand beach, the hotel has a large grassy area on which sun chairs are spread out in front of the stunning infinity pool. Looking out onto the ocean from the pool was one of the most calming things I did during my entire time in Sri Lanka!Sri Lanka Reefs Edge HotelOn the opposite side of the grassy area, a two-level terrace leads into the restaurant and bar, both of which have top to bottom glass windows that boast the postcard-worthy views of palm trees, beach and the Indian Ocean.

The two-tiered terrace has a number of tables for outdoor dining on the upper level, and while there are some tables on the lower level as well, it is the comfy nests that catch your eye here. Filled with cushions, and a little roof to protect you from the sun, they are the perfect place to lounge in. I had my morning coffee here one day and it felt as if I was still in bed, only that I was enjoying the ocean breeze and the sound of the clashing waves.reefs edge hotel infinty pool1There are a couple more of these nests down on the beach, but while you can feel all beachy here, you can’t swim in the ocean itself. As the name implies, the hotel sits right on the edge of a reef, and the current here is crazy, due to the height of the reef that drops extremely steep into the water. While some people might be disappointed about not being able to dip into the ocean, I didn’t mind it at all, thanks to the wonderful infinity pool.

The beach does invite to take long walks, however: a long and wide deserted, palm-fringed golden sand beach that goes on for miles. If you walk south, you’ll have the Colombo skyline and harbor in your view the entire time, if you walk north, you’ll pass a few lone fishermen, but that’s about it. It feels like you have this beach all to yourself.

The walks are needed to make up for the generous servings of food that are included in the full board price, including a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner which both come with appetizer, soup, main course and dessert.Reefs Edge Hotel And BeachBecause of all the food, I really appreciated the fact that the hotel has a gym, equipped with a stepper, treadmill, bicycles, weights and some other toning equipment. I found the gym to be quite spacious in relation to the hotel’s size, which is something you don’t often get – most hotels that claim to have a gym only have a treadmill and some weights. Not so the Reefs Edge Hotel where I was able to fit in a full daily workout.

If you feel less active, you can just work your way through the comprehensive drinks menu at the bar, which I thought was very reasonable priced, especially compared to some of the ridiculously overpriced drink menus I’d seen in other hotels of the same standard. If you feel like getting pampered, also no problem: the hotel has a large beautiful spa where you can get any treatment you desire, or let the certified massage therapists work their magic to make sure you leave the hotel 100% relaxed.Reefs Edge Hotel SpaBreakfast seemed to cater to British guests (bacon, eggs, baked beans, sausages and grilled tomatoes) but I was pleased to see that local breakfast (string hoppers, dhal curry, potato curry, coconut sambal and meat) was available as well. In addition, there are fresh fruit and yogurt, breads, croissants and sweet pastries.Sri Lanka Reefs Edge Hotel BreakfastLunch and dinner both have several items to choose from for each course and I left the restaurant stuffed each time.

The staff was always helpful and attentive, everyone was doing their best to please the guests, although I found the language barrier difficult and the service slow at times. The pool attendant was the sweetest of them all, always making sure that my towels were tucked into the sun chair really well, and offering to take some photos of me inside the pool.dani reefs edge hotel

Stand-out features

For me, the absolute standout feature at the Edge Reef Hotel is the beautifully landscaped outside area that makes you want to do nothing but lounge, sunbathe and relax. As drinks were served right to the sunbed by the pool, I had no desire to even leave the property! I just wanted to enjoy the pool, relax and indulge in fruit plates all day long.

The thoughtful equipment of the rooms is another aspect that stood out: there are monsoon rains in Sri Lanka (mainly May to September in this part of the island), which doesn’t mean that it rains all day, but it will rain for a couple of hours. For these hours, the Reefs Edge makes sure you won’t get bored in your room: you can rent DVDs (a massive movie selection!) or you can take a bath in the elegant stand-alone bathtub, or just sit at the desk and upload your vacation photos to Facebook or do it the old-fashioned way and write postcards to your loved ones.Sri Lanka Reefs Edge Hotel1

Room for improvement

As mentioned above, I found the service to be lacking that extra bit of knowledge that you would expect in a hotel of this class, but considering that the hotel had only been open for eight months at the time of my visit and was just about to go in its first high season, I am confident that service will get better over time.

The other aspect I found left to be desired was the food. While I always left the restaurant with a full belly, I never returned to my room thinking ‘this was an amazing dinner‘. In fact, the vegetarian rice and curry dish was probably the one I liked the least in all of my time in Sri Lanka. The hot breakfast dishes were lukewarm, the pastries often didn’t seem fresh (defrosted?), and vegetarian dishes were not clearly marked – I ended up with fish in my chickpeas, which is horrifying for any vegetarian. Vegetarian dishes should be marked as such, and the quality of the breakfast buffet could use an upgrade to become top-notch.Reefs Edge Hotel Sri Lanka Restaurant

Overall

In my opinion, the Reefs Edge hotel is the perfect place to end a tour of Sri Lanka. It has everything you need to relax – a spa, a terrific infinity pool, a bar and restaurant with fair prices, an exquisite spa and staff that make you feel welcome at all times. And should you feel the urge to leave the property (which you probably won’t!), the hotel can arrange excursions to nearby attractions for you, such as the famous Negombo fish market or the nearby Muthujawarela Wetlands, for which I left my comfy spot by the pool one day, and while I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it, the amount of wildlife I saw on this cruise through the backwaters, canals and the Negombo lagoon, including kingfisher birds, water monitors and herons. As a wildlife lover, this was a fantastic way to end my time in Sri Lanka. The proximity to both Colombo and Negombo is also unbeatable, as is the short distance to the airport (less than 30 mins away).Backwaters Tour

Details

Location: No. 300, Old Colombo Road, 11328 Uswetakeiyawa, Sri Lanka
Price: Starting at $101 per standard double room per night, $114 for superior rooms, $127 for deluxe rooms. Breakfast, half-board and full-board packages can be booked.
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes
Amenities: Breakfast included in room rate, free wi-fi, infinity pool, spa, gym, beach access, mini bar, tea and coffee making facilities in each room, flatscreen TV with DVD player, free wi-fi, transfer service, bar and restaurant, airport transfer possible, tour desk, sun terraces, all rooms have ocean views
Website: www.reefsedge.lk or follow Reefs Edge Hotel on FacebookReefs Edge Hotel Sri Lanka

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Where to stay in Galle, Sri Lanka: Villa Templeberg

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I was sitting on the comfortable bright orange sofa right underneath the three terrace windows that were looking out into the lush green tropical gardens. Two dogs were lazing on the front lawn, and the only noise I could hear came from some lizards that were sunbathing on the stones by the pool and some monkeys further away. No tuktuks, no people, only the sounds of nature. Villa Templeberg was exactly what I needed  – the perfect place to get away from it all.villa templebergThirty minutes earlier, I had still been on the overcrowded train from Colombo to Galle, and now I felt like I was miles away from civilization. One of the villa’s staff had picked me up at the train and as we left the bustling train station area in Galle and headed out of town, I started to relax. I knew that the villa was sitting on a 5-acre coconut plantation, perched on top of a hill in the middle of the jungle, not much around it. This was exactly what I was craving after a few busy days in Sri Lanka’s capital, and I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to catch up on writing some articles and reflect on the TBCasia conference I had just attended.Villa templebergVilla Templeberg is a small B&B, even though not right on the beach, just a quick 10-minute tuktuk ride from Unawatuna and from Galle, both located on the south eastern coast of Sri Lanka. The property has only six rooms, four of them in the main building and two set in a smaller building behind the villa. The small size gives Templeberg an exquisite feel, and it is possible to rent out the entire villa, which sleeps up to 11 people. Sri Lanka Villa Templeberg near GalleI was staying in the Saffron Room, which used to be the dining room of the Dutch-colonial villa when it was still the estate of a working coconut plantation, as it used to be when it was built more than 200 years ago. Now, the spacious master suite comes with a king-size four-poster bed with a canopied mosquito net, a sofa and a small table, and a walk-in closet. Walking through the closet brings you to an even more spacious bathroom (seriously, I have stayed in hotel rooms that were smaller than the bathroom of the Saffron!), complete with a double sink and a big rainwater shower, all held in a simple yet stylish design.villa templeberg bathroom sinkI had two nights at Templeberg, but I immediately wanted to extend my stay. Right outside the room there was a small porch with another sitting area, and the main entrance to the villa which led to the other rooms, the dining area, a lounge and a study, another veranda with chairs and a table, and the backyard around which the villa is set. All of this was surrounded by hundreds of coconut palm trees.Villa Templeberg Sri LankaThe villa, which used to be the private estate of a German family until the late 2000s, was bought by Australian couple Brent and Chris and his mother Karen, and turned into a B&B in 2012. I loved that most of the antique Sri Lankan furniture and art have been retained, which contributes to the feeling of time standing still here – even though the villa has all modern amenities you could ask for, Templeberg has managed to keep the rustic character of the colonial estate alive that it used to be for so long.Sri Lanka Villa TemplebergThe next morning, I was in for another treat: the home-made breakfast. Local chef Trixie prepared a wonderful Sri Lankan breakfast with Sri Lankan egg hoppers (one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve had anywhere in the world), fresh tropical fruits and Sri Lankan tea, all of which filled me up for the entire day.Villa Templeberg Breakfast

I spent my days at Templeberg mainly sitting on the terrace, writing up my conference notes, drafting articles, or chatting with Karen, the on-site host, and Lucy, the writer-in-residence who was spending a month in the ‘Writer’s Bungalow’ in the back. Speaking of which: the Villa is the ideal place for a Writer’s Retreat, something I will keep in mind for the future considering renting the entire villa starts at only $300 per night, depending on the season and the length of the stay. But even just by myself I’d be happy to return for a longer period of time, using the tranquil setting to write undisturbed. With beaches and Galle so close, I would still be able to get my occasional beach day and the amenities of a city.villa templeberg sri lanka galle

Stand out features

The swimming pool

Even though I haven’t seen it yet – construction had only started during my stay at the Villa – I have to mention the swimming pool which is due to open soon. A 25 meter (82 feet) long swimming pool right in these lush green gardens – could there be a more perfect place to lounge by the pool in the scorching heat of Sri Lanka? I don’t think so, and I’ll have to visit Templeberg again the next time I’m in Sri Lanka, just to see that pool, and maybe take a dip.Sri Lanka Villa Templeberg GalleThe atmosphere at the villa

I simply loved the serene atmosphere at the villa which evoked the charm and romance of a bygone era and made it easy to shake off the strains of the stressful conference and whirlwind tour of Sri Lanka that I had just finished. I loved the tranquility and solitude, and that there was nothing to distract me from relaxing entirely and forget the world around me.Villa templeberg

Room for improvement

The bathrooms

I checked out a couple of the other rooms during my stay and noticed that the bathrooms were not nearly as nice as the bathroom in the Saffron Room in which I was staying – I would love to see them upgraded as well; but considering that the villa is improving constantly, I am sure that it is only a question of time until these bathrooms reach the same standard as the one in the Saffron Room.

Villa Templeberg bathroom and furniture
The fabulous new bathroom of the Saffron room

More information on the area

I was only told about the nearby Kuduruduwa Temple and some other attractions the afternoon before I left, which meant I didn’t have time left to visit them. I wish I would’ve been told about them earlier, or that a folder with information on what there is to do and see in the area would have been placed in each room. I have always appreciated these folders in B&Bs I stayed at, which usually contain information on good nearby restaurants and bars, attractions and other useful tips.Villa templeberg

Overall

Villa Templeberg is the perfect base if you are looking for an intimate, quiet getaway but still want to close to fabulous restaurants, beaches and the UNESCO site of Galle Fort as well as the beach town of Unawatuna. No matter if you are a solo traveler in need of a peaceful oasis in Sri Lanka, a couple looking for some privacy or girlfriends who are ready for a few days of doing nothing other than lounging by the pool with a good book and a glass of wine, get massages and completely unwind, Templeberg will not disappoint.Villa Templeberg Saffron Room

Details

Location: Babaragoda Road off Akuressa Road, Loressakanda, Wanchaawala, Kaduruduwa Southern Province, Galle, Sri Lanka, 80120
Price: Starting at $95 per double room per night, $300 – $500 per night for the entire villa (can accommodate up to 11 people)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
If wi-fi would be more reliable.
Amenities: Breakfast included in room rate, free wi-fi, swimming pool, tuktuk service, massage room, verandas and gardens with sun chairs, airport transfer possible, half-board possible, free laundry, tour guide bookable
Website: templeberg.com or you can follow Villa Templeberg on Facebookvilla templeberg sri lanka bungalow

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On the CINNAMON Trail in Sri Lanka: My suggested itinerary for Sri Lanka

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This is the tour I’d recommend to anyone visiting Sri Lanka – it includes the essence of Sri Lanka: the main UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cultural and historical highlights, wildlife, beaches and city life in the capital.Sri Lanka Cinnamon Hotels MapI was recently asked by two friends to help them plan their trip to Sri Lanka, which is why I decided to put this guide together. My first week in Sri Lanka was a rushed one, but it was also an absolutely amazing one. The itinerary for our whirlwind tour of the country’s main sights had been put together by the Cinnamon Hotel group, which means I got to stay at Cinnamon properties throughout the week, and I fell head over heels in love with the chain. You all know that I am a hotel geek, with countless hotel reviews here on the site, and getting to know several Cinnamon Hotels during my time in Sri Lanka definitely contributed to how much I enjoyed the trip. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I loved Cinnamon Hotels so much, considering that they were named the ‘best hotel chain in Sri Lanka’ by Lonely Planet!Sri LankaWhile I was doing this tour on a rushed schedule, I think these places should be on every traveler’s itinerary to Sri Lanka, followed by a week of beach relaxation. I have no hesitations in recommending the (almost) identical round trip that I took with Cinnamon, including stays at Cinnamon Hotels in each place. My friends who’re going to Sri Lanka shortly are both on a decent salary, and considering that the Cinnamon Hotels usually are between $100 and $180 for a double room (mostly around $130) – 85 to 150 Euros, most of the chain’s room rates are a steal for them, starting at just over 40 Euros per person. See below what you get for this money and you’ll know what I mean.Cinnamon Hotels

Kandy – The Sacred City

Arrange transportation straight to Kandy from the airport. Kandy is only 100 kilometers from the airport, but expect it to take several hours to get there – traffic can be heavy on this route.

Kandy was the last capital of the Sinhala kings and home to the stunning Temple of the Tooth Relic (a popular pilgrimage site because of Buddha’s sacred tooth) and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Allow a day to explore the city center and the Temple Of The Tooth Relic and make your way up to the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue on top of Bahirawakanda hill from where you’ll have fantastic views over Kandy.kandy temple of the tooth sri lankaWhere to stay: The Cinnamon Citadel Kandy

The Cinnamon Citadel Kandy is located a short drive from the city center, perched upon one of the hills surrounding Kandy. The hotel is home to a large outdoor pool with gorgeous river views – the perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing, and to recover from jet lag.

The beautiful hotel, designed all in white, was one of my favorite Cinnamon properties in Sri Lanka. The restaurant with its large terrace, also overlooking the river, offers terrific sunset views while dining, the excellent food options make for a divine dining experience in a sensational setting.

Price: Superior double rooms start at $120 for two people, including buffet breakfast.

Book this hotel

Number of recommended nights: 1 -2kandy citadel poolHow to get here quickly: If you’re severely time-strapped, you can fly to Kandy from Colombo’s International Airport – instead of a 4-hour drive, it’s a quick 25-minute flight. Cinnamon Air offers daily flights.

Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa & Minneriya National Park

Sigiriya is the next UNESCO site, and probably the UNESCO site in Sri Lanka in the most stunning location. It’s about 2.5 to 3 hours from Kandy and is part of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, being one of the ancient cities (the other two being Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura), but this one has one important feature that differentiates it from the other two: it sits on top of a giant monolith. The name Sigiriya means ‘Lion’s Rock’, given because of the gateway in the form of a giant lion built on a plateau halfway up the rock. Passersby would have no idea what treasure sits on top of the rock, and it takes a challenging climb up narrow stairs clung to the steep cliffs of the rock, to see the ruins on top of the plateau.

My recommendation would be to spend two nights in Habarana and visit the three nearby UNESCO sites (Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and the Dambulla Cave Temple) as well as Minneriya National Park. The best way to do this: leave Kandy in the morning, and head straight to Minnerya National Park when you get to Habarana. You won’t need more than half a day for your jeep safari. The amount of elephants I got to see on my safari was astounding – I was hoping for six or seven elephants, instead I got to see entire herds!Cultural TriangleThe next day, I’d get up early to climb Sigiriya (it gets really hot – so the earlier you climb, the better). It’s unlikely that you’ll spend more than half a day here, so you can either head straight to Dambulla to visit the Cave Temple, or relax back at the hotel and head to Dambulla later in the afternoon.

On your third day, pack up your bags and leave your luggage at reception, and have the hotel arrange transportation to Polonnaruwa for you. The ancient city is about 45 minutes away.

Where to stay: Chaaya Village Habarana

Habarana is a small town that is conveniently located to visit Sigiriya, the Dambulla Cave Temple and Kaudulla National Park. Cinnamon has two properties here: the upscale Cinnamon Lodge and the slightly cheaper Chaaya Village, where I was staying. I also visited the Cinnamon Lodge (the two hotels are basically next to each other), but I don’t think I’d pay more to stay there – I loved my time at Chaaya Village and it was my favorite Cinnamon Hotel for wildlife sightings.

The dining and bar area is wide open (with a roof though, to protect you from the frequent monsoon rains) and looks out to the large swimming pool, behind which there were monkey families hanging out on a regular basis. In addition to the monkeys, there were several curious squirrels and lots of bird life around the hotel, which made this animal lover very happy!sri lanka cinnamon habaranaAll rooms are located in little bungalows in a beautiful lush green setting.

Price: Superior double rooms start at $103, including breakfast. A superior double room at the Cinnamon Lodge Habanara starts at $169.

Book Chaaya Village                           Book Cinnamon Lodge Habanara

Number of recommended nights: 2

How to get here quickly: If you’re severely strapped for time, you can fly to Sigiriya from Colombo – instead of a 5-hour drive, it’s a quick 35 minute flight. Cinnamon Air offers daily flights.

The Northeast: Trincomalee

Note: I recommend including this stop if you have time and are looking for a good spot to snorkel and whale watch. If you don’t have a lot of time, head straight to the next stop instead, the tea country.

While I didn’t make it to the Northeastern part of Sri Lanka on this trip, I’ve heard fantastic things about Trincomalee and will definitely visit this coastal town on my next visit to Sri Lanka. The area is known for its exceptionally clear waters which make for great snorkeling (particularly Pigeon Island) and there are a couple of noteworthy beaches nearby. In March/April and September/October, Trincomalee is also a fantastic place to join a whale watching tour – blue whales and sperm whales can be seen here.sri lanka coastWhere to stay: Chaaya Blu Resort

Cinnamon has one property in Trincomalee, the luxury 4* Chaaya Blu Resort, located right on the beach, a beautiful resort with open dining areas, a large pool facing the ocean and several restaurants, including a crab restaurant. Rates start at only $60 per night per double room here, which is an absolute steal!

Book this hotel

Number of recommended nights: 2

How to get there quickly: Cinnamon Air offers flights to Trincomalee from Colombo and Sigiriya.

The Tea Country

I don’t think a visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to the tea country! In fact, my train rides through the tea plantations and green tea-covered hills are some of the fondest memories of my trip. I will write more about the tea country in a separate post, but if you have enough time, go back to Kandy and take the train to Nuwara Eliya or even all the way to Ella from here. There are some great hikes in this area including the trails in one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful areas, the uplands of World’s End and Horton Plains (close to Nuwara Eliya) but even if you’re not into hiking, just seeing the scenery from the train and visiting a tea plantation would make the trip worth it.

Where to stay: There are no Cinnamon Hotels in the tea country (yet!), but check out Booking.com for hotels in Ella or hotels in Nuwara Eliya.

Number of recommended nights: 2Tea country Sri Lanka

Yala National Park

Even though Yala National Park is quite far from the Cultural Triangle, if you’re a wildlife lover, you can’t miss a safari here! (Note: if you don’t care too much about leopards, monkeys, birds, elephants, crocodiles, deer and other wild animals, I’d skip Yala and head straight to the beaches).

My main recommendation for Yala: Fork out the money for two safaris – it’s worth it. My morning safari was very different from my evening safari, and you’re more likely to spot a leopard if you head out twice. Jeep safaris with Cinnamon Nature Trails guides can be arranged at the hotel.

Where to stay: Cinnamon Yala

The Cinnamon Hotel in Yala is probably the most beautiful Cinnamon Hotel, and I wish I could’ve stayed here. Just take a look at the pictures! My friend Steve who stayed here even saw an elephant right on the hotel grounds, and that’s not an uncommon occurrence. In fact: you’re not allowed to wander the grounds without a guard accompanying you at night, because there might be an elephant right outside your chalet. Chalets start at $170 per night in low season, breakfast included.

Book this hotel

Number of recommended nights: 2

How to get there quickly: If you don’t have much time, you can fly to Yala with Cinnamon Air from Colombo.yala

The South Coast

After exploring Sri Lanka’s wildlife and cultural heritage, it is time to hit the beach! I’d recommend staying on the south coast, preferably around Galle, so that you can also fit in a day trip to this charming Dutch-Portuguese colonial town (another UNESCO site), which can easily be explored in a few hours.

The most popular beaches here are Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Mirissa, and no matter which one you choose, you’ll find yourself at a pristine, palm-fringed tropical beach, perfect for relaxation and recharging your batteries.sri lanka south coastWhere to stay:

If you want to be right at the beach, check out Booking.com for hotels in Hikkaduwa, Mirissa and Unawatuna in all price categories. You can find everything from basic guesthouses to luxurious 5* hotels, albeit the majority of luxurious hotels sits outside of the towns along the coast.

If you’d like to stay away from it all and enjoy a tranquil part of the beach outside of town, I recommend the 5* Cinnamon Bey in Bentota (double rooms start at $119) or the Chaaya Tranz (double rooms from $109) in Hikkaduwa. Note that Bentota is still pretty far north though – perfect if you don’t want to travel too far to the airport, but Hikkaduwa would be better for you if you’re planning to visit Galle.

Book Cinnamon Bey                 Book Chaaya Tranz

Number of recommended nights: 5

Tip: If you have a full two weeks for your vacation, I’d recommend spending an entire week at the beach, or even split your time between two beaches.Cinnamon Hotels South Coast

Colombo

If you’d like to experience some city life in Colombo before you leave, a night in Colombo isn’t a bad idea – if you don’t care much about drinks on rooftop bars and some shopping, extend your stay at the beach instead and head straight to the airport from there.

I’d recommend checking out the historic fort area, dining in one of the new restaurants in or around the former Dutch hospital (beautiful restored), and heading the ‘Red, the rooftop bar of the Cinnamon Red Hotel, for sunset drinks. If you’d like to see some of Sri Lanka’s dodgier bars, check out the Dodgy Bar Tour which I went on and really enjoyed.colomboWhere to stay:

There are three Cinnamon Hotels in Colombo, all of which are fabulous. Cinnamon Grand is the most exquisite one, Cinnamon Lakeside is a popular congress hotel (however, I have to say I loved their swimming pool and lakeside location) and Cinnamon Red is the young and trendy one. I’d probably stay in the latter, which also happens to be the most inexpensive of the three, with rooms starting at $90 per night per double room!

To help you make a decision which one might be the right one for you: Cinnamon Grand feels like a glam Vegas-type hotel with several restaurants, shops and cafes inside the hotel, two swimming pools and a spa, with rates starting at $137 (add $10 for the scrumptious breakfast buffet); Cinnamon Lakeside has 9 different restaurants, a large swimming pool and a health club – rates start at ; Cinnamon Red has the best rooftop pool and bar in the city (at least in my humble opinion) and is decorated in a modern, chic design (can you guess which color is prevalent here?) and has rooms for less than $100 per night.

Book Cinnamon Grand     |     Book Cinnamon Lakeside    |    Book Cinnamon Red

cinnamon red rooftop pool
Watching a fiery sunset from the Cinnamon Red’s rooftop pool

Number of recommended nights: 1-2

So, these are my Sri Lanka highlights with a suggested itinerary. You can find a complete list of my favorite places in Sri Lanka here on Trover:

Sri Lanka Highlights – a photo list by GlobetrotterGirls

Have you been to Sri Lanka? Which places would you suggest visitors can’t miss?

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Introducing Sri Lanka : My first impressions and some fun facts

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I have lots of articles about Sri Lanka coming up, from the beautiful palm-fringed beaches to the cultural heritage sites; from the luscious green hills of the tea country to the charming Dutch-Portuguese colonial town of Galle, from wildlife and scrumptious Sri Lankan food to more practical information like how much it costs to travel in Sri Lanka and the best places to stay.sri lanka highlightsBut first, let me introduce you to the small ‘Pearl Of The Indian Ocean’ that swept me off my feet (completely unexpected!) a couple of months ago – here are some interesting facts and my first impressions of Sri Lanka:

The Pearl Of The Indian Ocean: Facts & Figures

I was surprised when I found out how many people didn’t know where exactly Sri Lanka was, which is why I’ll start with this handy map:

Sri Lanka Map
Can you even spot it? Sri Lanka sits just southeast of the Indian subcontinent.

Sri Lanka sits just southeast of India – at the narrowest point, only 65 kilometers divide the two countries. There used to be a ferry service between India and Sri Lanka, but at the moment, it isn’t running. The country of 21 million people is 25,332sq miles /65,610 sq km large, that compares to the size of West Virginia, or about the size of Ireland or Tasmania. Thanks to its pearl shape, the island is often called ‘Pearl Of The Indian Ocean’.

Ceylon

Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon until 1972. Why? Because Ceylon was the name the British gave the country when it was a British colony, and Sri Lanka – since 1948 not under British rule anymore – wanted to shed the last remainders of the colonial times. There are some organizations that still carry the name, and Ceylon Tea will always keep this name, since Sri Lankan tea is just too well known under this name.bank of ceylon colombo

The country of cinnamon

Sri Lanka is the world’s largest producer of cinnamon and its biggest exporter. I loved seeing how cinnamon is actually made by peeling the branch of the plant, and then carefully cutting the cinnamon of it slice by slice. The rolled up cinnamon sticks are then laid out to dry (pictured below). When you are in Sri Lanka you will smell the enticing scent of cinnamon in a lot of places.

cinnamon sri lanka1
No, this is not wood.. this is fresh cinnamon, laid out to dry!

Pristine beaches

Considering the country has over 830 miles / 1,300 kilometers of coastline, you’d expect there to be lots of beaches, but to honest – I didn’t expect there to be so many exceptionally beautiful beaches (maybe because none of the beaches in nearby India blew me away)! So if you’re into any sorts of water sports – surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, water-skiing – or just enjoy relaxing on a glorious sandy beach, you can do that in Sri Lanka. I could have spent much more time beach hopping around the country and am already looking forward to returning at some point to do exactly that.Sri Lanka Beaches

A world heritage mecca

Sri Lanka is a paradise for fans of UNESCO World Heritage sites: there are eight sites scattered across the country! And considering how small the country is, it is actually possible to visit them all on one trip to Sri Lanka, whereas in the U.S., this would be impossible. Sri Lanka’s UNESCO sites include: the Temple Of The Tooth in Kandy, the sacred ancient city of Anuradhapura, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the fortified city of Galle, Dambulla Cave Temple, the ancient rock city of Sigiriya, the Central Highlands and Sinhajara Forest.sri lanka unsesco sites

Sinhalese and Tamil

The country is divided into two major ethnic groups: Sinhalese Buddhists (74 per cent) and Tamil Hindu (18 per cent, the remaining 8 per cent is made of smaller ethnic groups). Sinhalese have a longstanding history in Sri Lanka, whereas Tamil workers were only brought to Sri Lanka under the British in the 19th century, when they were used to work in tea, coconut and back then also coffee plantations. There have always been tensions between the Tamil and Sinhalese, but they grew considerably as the Tamil were deprived of citizenship when a new Sinhalese government was formed after the British left. Eventually these tensions led to the civil war in Sri Lanka, which lasted from 1983 to 2009. The country is still recovering from the effects of the long-lasting war.

Sri Lanka is incredibly diverse

Beaches, mountains, the tea country, wide open green plains, tropical jungles, Sri Lanka has it all! For such a small island, Sri Lanka is incredibly diverse.Diverse Sri Lanka

Many similarities to southern India

I found myself reminded of southern India in a lot of places in Sri Lanka: the food was very similar with the hoppers, curries and coconut based dishes, and also eaten by hand, forgoing silverware. The men were wearing lungis (sarong-like skirts), the rivers in the south resembling the backwaters of Kerala, the fishermen using the same technique here like the ones I’ve witnessed in the far south of India. Considering the geographical proximity, this makes sense though.Indian-like Sri Lanka

A Buddhist country

Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist – 70 per cent of the population are Buddhists. Buddhism came to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC. Other religions that are prevalent in Sri Lanka – but to a much smaller extent – are: Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.Sri Lanka buddhism

It’s all about the tea

Sri Lanka is no coffee nation – it’s all about the tea here, and Ceylon Tea is famous around the globe. Sri Lanka wasn’t always a tea nation though: tea was only introduced in 1867. Before that, coffee was still grown in Sri Lanka. Today, the country is one of the four biggest tea producing nations in the world. It used to be the largest tea exporter in the world, but was surpassed by Kenya in 1995. Tea accounts for about 12 per cent of the country’s GDP and tea production employs (directly and indirectly) 1 million people in Sri Lanka. Visiting a tea factory was one of the most fascinating experiences in the country, and I can’t wait to share more about my visit to the beautiful tea country with you.Tea Sri Lanka

Sri Lankans love Arrack

Sri Lankans don’t only drink tea though – the most popular local alcohol is called Arrack, a liquor made from fermented sap of unopened coconut flowers. My favorite combination was Arrack with ginger beer. This version of Arrack is not the same as Israeli or Lebanese Arak, by the way.arrack colombo

Sri Lanka is wild!

Sri Lanka is home to 91 mammal species, including elephants, leopards, several kinds of monkeys, ant-eaters, wild boars, giant squirrels, spotted deer, foxes, whales and many more. On top of that, there are 233 resident bird species and 251 migratory species, which means during peak times, bird watchers can see over 400 species of birds. There are 171 species of reptiles (including crocodiles!), and if you’re a fan of wildlife, Sri Lanka is THE place for you. There are 14 National Parks, and you can take a safari in all of them. Yala National Park is said to have the highest leopard density in the world! I went on several safaris and bird watching trip during my five weeks in Sri Lanka, so expect a massive picture post of the wildlife in Sri Lanka.sri lanka wildlife

A cricket nation

Together with India, England, Pakistan, New Zealand and Australia, Sri Lanka is one of the world’s biggest cricket nations. Going to see a cricket game is as big for Sri Lankans as is going to a baseball or football game for Americans.

Fun fact: Even though cricket is wildly popular, the national sport of Sri Lanka is actually volleyball!

Sri Lankan food is divine

Just thinking about Sri Lankan food makes my mouth water – the food was one of the things I loved most about Sri Lanka. From fresh king coconuts and super sweet mangoes to the national dish of rice and curry, the food in Sri Lanka is always fresh and vegetarian-friendly. The day starts with a breakfast of string hoppers (rice noodles) and dhal (lentil curry), or egg hoppers (a thin rice crepe fried in a wok-shaped bowl, inside of which an egg is cracked and fried). Another favorite of mine was kottu, for which roti (an Indian flatbread) is cut into small slices and fried with vegetables (or meet for non-vegetarians). Even most of the street food snacks are vegetarian: lentil doughnuts, or rotti (dough triangles filled with vegetables). Similar to India, Sri Lanka also marks its non-vegetarian restaurants. A mouth-watering article on Sri Lankan food will follow shortly.Sri Lankan food

Sri Lanka is developing quickly

I feel like coming to Sri Lanka five years from now will show me quite a different country than from what I saw when I was there now. Particularly Colombo, the capital, is seeing a major transformation, with plenty of modern new-builds going up, fancy shopping malls being erected, international brands moving in. While this is certainly a good thing for the economy, I hope it won’t change the character of the country too much. I love the simplicity of life in the countryside where nobody is worrying about keeping up with the latest trends or where it’s all about work. Instead, family life plays the biggest role.colomboHave you been to Sri Lanka? Id’ love to hear which observations you made there – share in the comments below!

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Polaroid of the week: The boys of Jaffna

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polaroid of the week sri lanka jaffnaAfter stops in Sri Lanka’s ancient cities Becki and I finally arrived in Jaffna in Sri Lanka’s far North West last weekend. Jaffna used to be the seat of a Tamil kingdom before the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonized the city, and long before it became the stronghold of the Tamil Tigers, the extremist group that was fighting for the creation of an independent state for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil population during the civil war between 1983 and 2009. The war took over 100,000 lives in its 26-year duration, and more than 40,000 Tamils were massacred in the last few months of fighting alone, thousands of those in and around Jaffna.

Seeing that the war only ended five years ago, scars of the heavy fights are still visible throughout the city, in the form of bullet holes in walls, barricaded doors and windows, ruins of deserted houses, warnings of land mines.

The city is slowly recovering from the long-lasting, intense battles here, but there are signs of new beginnings: the railway line to Colombo has just been restored and opened again after more than 20 years in October 2014, including the reconstruction of the destroyed railway station. Buildings are being restored, families who fled during the war are slowly returning, temples are being rebuilt, roads connecting the Jaffna peninsula with the rest of Sri Lanka have been renovated and modernized. Despite these improvements and developments, the conflict is still tangible here, due to army checkpoints, and the Sri Lankan army being in control of pretty much everything and everyone going in and out of Jaffna, but going deeper into this complex topic would go beyond the scope of this quick snapshot of my last week in Sri Lanka, so this has to wait.

For now, I just wanted to emphasize that visiting this off-the-beaten-path destination, which is shunned by most Sri Lanka tourists in favor of the beaches in the south, turned out to be the highlight of the last seven days for me, and I am glad I made the way up to Jaffna to see the town for myself, allowing me to get a better perspective on the civil war and the post-war tensions.

No matter where in Jaffna and in the peninsula we went, we were greeted by curious looks, excited waves and ‘hello’ calls, and the more inquisitive people who were wondering what two white girls were doing up here by themselves would strike up conversations with us. As usual, most of the kids were exhilarated about us and our cameras, asking us to take their pictures and giggling when seeing themselves on our little digital screens.

I am glad I got to get a glimpse of the life here, and even though there’s still a long way to go to achieve a stable and sustained peaceful situation, I left Jaffna optimistic and hopeful for the future of the city.

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Polaroid of the week: The awe-inspiring Jetavanaramaya Stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

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polaroid of the week anuradhapura sri lankaThis past week was all about temple hopping, as my temporary fellow globetrottergirl Becki and I left the tea country and traveled north to Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. We had already spent a couple of days there as part of our pre- TBC Asia conference trip, climbing up the lone 660 feet (200 meters) tall rock of Sigiriya, on which the remnants of an ancient palace sit. This time, we would visit Polonnaruwa, the second royal capital of Sri Lanka, one thousand years old; and Anuradhapura, which was the first religious and cultural capital of the Sinhalese, which held this title for 1,300 years.

Founded in the 4th century BC, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. While most of the ancient stupas and structures are not inhabited anymore, they have been preserved over the centuries, and until today Anuradhapura remains an important sacred place for Buddhists. At present 5,000 monks are living in the monasteries around the city, and hundreds of Buddhists make a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura every day. With an area of over sixteen square miles ( 40 km²), it is one of the biggest archeological sites in the world.

The sheer size of the city makes it almost impossible to explore it in one day, but we were lucky enough to find a tuktuk driver who knew his way around the most majestic and remarkable sights. Jetavanaramaya, pictured, was one of the most impressive structures, and is not only one of the tallest stupas in Sri Lanka but in the entire world! In fact, the stupa is the 3rd largest structure in the ancient world – only the Great Pyramids of Giza are larger. 93.3 million baked bricks were used to build the 400 feet (120 meters) high stupa, making it the largest brick building that was ever built. The engineering behind this construction is a miracle to me, especially when you take into consideration that it was erected between 276 and 303 BC!

We spent all day marveling at bright white stupas, ancient bathing pools, a mystic temple built into a rock and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, or the Tree Of Life, which is the centerpiece around which Anuradhapura was built. It felt like we had planned our time in the cultural triangle the right way – starting with the small Sigiriya, followed by the more impressive (at least to me) Polonnaruwa, and culminating in the awe-inspiring Anuradhapura. All three sites were declared UNESCO World Heritage, a well-deserved honor.

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Polaroid of the week: Riding the rails in Sri Lanka

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polaroid of the week sri lanka train ride tea countryAfter a week of beach bumming around the south coast of Sri Lanka, it was time to make my way back north into the hillier regions of the country, the tea region to be precise. Sri Lanka’s tea country is known to be one of the prettiest regions of the country, and the best way to see it is to take the train. It was interesting to see how the scenery slowly changed from the palm-fringed coastline to the rice paddy-covered flat lands which finally turned into a hillier region.

The trains here in Sri Lanka usually have the doors open during the ride, which makes it easy to get good shots of the scenery. I love sitting in the open door, legs swinging outside of the train, looking out into the countryside we’re passing (and taking hundreds of photos!) The train ride from Kandy to the tiny village of Ella, where me and my travel buddies for the week, Becki and Travis, would get off for our first taste of the country, took nearly 7 hours, but with the stunning vistas and changing landscapes I never got bored. Coming from Germany, where high speed trains would allow me to traverse the entire country from north to south (and probably even beyond that), the pace of the trains here in Sri Lanka is quite different: you might think you’d cover a huge distance in 7 hours, but Kandy is actually only 100 miles (162 kilometers) from Ella. As the train line literally winds around hills and mountains, the trains don’t go faster than 15 to 20 miles per hour here.

While the start of our journey in the morning was sunny, the rains started moving in when we reached the mountains in the afternoon, making for a mystical atmosphere with low-hanging clouds and misty forests, which were finally replaced by tea covered hills towards the end of the trip. The best part of the train ride is yet to come though, the part between Ella and Badulla, where the train tracks ends. You can expect lots of photos of all my train rides in Sri Lanka soon!

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