We have wanted to visit Sri Lanka for quite awhile. We didn’t really know that much about the country, just every time we saw a photo of it, it looked beautiful. We had to go! We are very glad we did!
Below in our travel blog for Sri Lanka, you will find information about our itinerary, our destinations, where to travel in Sri Lanka, where we stayed, how we got to Sri Lanka, how to travel in Sri Lanka, our budget, what to pack, what Sri Lanka was like with kids and a million other details to help you decide if Sri Lanka is a great destination for you and to help you plan your adventure :)
We spent 3 weeks in Sri Lanka in April/May 2015.
Day 1 Colombo
We flew into Colombo from Kuala Lumpur after a night at the Tune Hotel KLIA2. We checked into Ocean Studios Apartments (check it out here) and had a rest before heading to Galle Face Green in the evening.
Day 2 Colombo
We caught the local train to the Colombo Fort area. We explored here and then Pettah before heading to Viharamahadevi Park.
You can read more about Colombo in our quick guide.
Day 3 Polonnaruwa
The day started with a 6.5 hour train ride to Polonnaruwa. We thought we would be in first class but this turned out not to exist! Still, second class was quite comfortable and we enjoyed the first few hours of the ride. The last couple were quite tedious as it grew hotter and stickier.
We found a guest house in the old town of Polonnaruwa called Manel Guest House (check latest prices here) and relaxed in our comfortable room.
Day 4 Polonnaruwa
We went for a walk along the lake in Polonnaruwa before going on a safari in Minneriya National Park in the afternoon.
Day 5 Polonnaruwa
We spent the morning exploring the ancient city of Polonnaruwa before relaxing/working in the afternoon. Read our full guide to Polonnaruwa.
Day 6 Kandy
In the morning, we caught a bus to Kandy. Z wasn’t well on the bus so we took it easy in our fabulous Renuka Inn (click here for more information) .
Day 7 Kandy
We started the day at the cool playground near Kandy Lake then Z and I retired back to our room so he could rest more and J and S explored Kandy. Read our full guide to Kandy.
Day 8 Nuwara Eliya
We took a 4 hour train to Nuwara Eliya. We stayed at the New Tour Inn (more information here). We started exploring Nuwara Eliya.
Day 9 Nuwara Eliya
We started the day learning how tea was manufactured at Pedro Tea Estate before enjoying more of Nuwara Eliya’s attractions. Read our guide to Nuwara Eliya.
Day 10 Kandy
We caught a 2.25 hour bus back to Kandy. In the evening, S and I walked around the lake and watched a traditional dance and drumming show. We stayed at the Three Three Five Guesthouse (click here for more details). Read our full guide to Kandy.
Day 11 Galle
It was an early start as we took the 6:15am train back to Colombo. From Colombo, we ended up waiting 2.5 hours for an onward train to Galle. All up, a 8.5 hour door to door journey with the train to Galle being by far our most painful journey as a family. A low key afternoon in beautiful Galle. We stayed at the Araliya Villa Fort (latest prices here).
Day 12 Galle
A fabulous day exploring and enjoying the Galle Fort area. Read our guide to Galle.
Day 13 Unawatuna
It was just a short rickshaw ride to this beach town where we could enjoy the beach and a pool for some very short R and R at the Wimals Resort (more details here).
Read our guide to Unawatuna.
Days 14 – 18 Weligama
We spent 5 nights in a great FlipKey home catching up on sleep and work. We also loved hanging out at Mirissa Beach and we went on a whale expedition. Read all the details here.
Days 19-20 Kalutara
It was time to relax and enjoy some comfort at The Sands – a great resort just outside of Colombo on a beautiful strip of sands.
Day 21 Colombo
We visited Sri Lanka with our kids aged 3 and 4. Although I would not say that Sri Lanka is particularly kid friendly, we found it an easy country to travel with kids.
Things are cheap and the locals are very welcoming of kids. Most attractions are outdoors and we found plenty of fun things to do in Sri Lanka with kids.
The transportation can be tiring – but the kids seemed to mostly find that fun and it was J and I who found that hard going rather than them.
Many guesthouses and budget hotels have triple and family rooms (usually meaning enough beds for 4), so it was easy to find good rooms on a budget that fit the four of us. A triple room was usually plenty big enough for us – the “double” bed was usually two decent sized singles pushed together so it was easy for us to share with Z or Z and S would top and tail.
Eating well was an issue. The vast majority of food is spicy. My kids can handle a bit of spice and have no problems with exotic food, but the Sri Lankans do not pussy foot around when adding spice to a meal! To complicate it further, asking if something was spicy was often useless as the answer was usually no, despite the fact that it usually was. They ended up eating too many sugary buns and plain noodles and rice (which were often quite oily).
In the coastal areas, it was easy to get more western style options, although this often meant fried food or sandwiches. We all ate far too many sandwiches in the last week. The food was the biggest negative on our Sri Lankan experience (more on this below).
Flights depart in and out of Sri Lanka from Colombo airport to many places in Asia and Europe. We flew from Kuala Lumpur which was very easy and cheap – we only paid about $50 per ticket between Kuala Lumpur and Colombo! The flight is about 3.5 hours.
There is a decent railway network in Sri Lanka as well as buses everywhere. We planned our itinerary to make as much use as possible of the trains as it is generally an easy way to travel. However, the local buses we caught were fine and more comfortable than our less desirable train journeys. On some routes, buses can be quicker so it is worth researching beforehand the best way to travel around Sri Lanka depending on your itinerary.
Train seats can only be reserved on some trains. There are no kid discounts on reserved seats. They were half price when travelling unreserved (our kids were 3 and 4). I loved that they would just pull a normal ticket in half for our kids. All options were very cheap, particularly unreserved. It was a big mark up to reserve a ticket (although they were still cheap).
If you have a much bigger budget, you can hire a car and driver easily. This can be very expensive though – far more expensive than you would think it would cost especially as public transportation is crazy cheap.
Once you are in your destination, rickshaws are everywhere and a good price – just make sure you bargain. Car taxis are unusual. The four of us would fit in a rickshaw – just! I think it would be hard if you had much luggage though. We were travelling carry on only.
Most trains have food and drink sellers walking around.
Below you will find in depth details for all the journeys we took.
We took the train between these two destinations. We bought first class tickets, but these turned out to be second class. There were lots of stops, and the train rocked a lot. It was quite comfortable in second class for the first few hours and we all enjoyed watching the view. The last couple of hours we seemed to spend a lot of time stopped at stations which made things extra hot and sticky and I was quite sore and tired by the end.
The kids were fine though. They enjoyed the first part, played on the iPads a bit and then had a nap. From that perspective, it was quite painless.
The journey cost 600 rupees per person.
I had been very worried about taking the bus in Sri Lanka as what I had read and heard from people made it sound like we would be packed in like sardines and reminded me of chicken buses in Central America. This was maybe a good thing as the reality was a million times better than the chicken buses in Guatemala – we had lots of space in comparison! People never stood for long and I sat on a row of three with the kids with plenty of room in front of us for all out luggage and my knees didn’t even touch the seat in front.
I found the 4 hour journey quite comfortable – more so than the train. We had more room on the train, but it was a lot hotter. There was better air flow on the bus and we never stopped for long, unlike the train. A (BIG) bonus was some random elephant sightings from the bus.
All in all, it was a successful journey (well apart from Z being sick and having a vomit – unrelated to the bus though!) and I (yet again) worried for nothing.
The journey cost about 160 rupees for adults, 80 for kids.
We took a train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. It takes about 4 hours and travels through beautiful scenery with hills, tea plantations and villages. It was particularly awesome watching locals working on the tea plantations.
We travelled in unreserved second class which was great. Its much cooler in the hill country so air conditioning is definitely not necessary. It was an easy and pleasant journey. You can read more details in our Nuwara Eliya guide.
It cost 540 rupees in total for 2 adults and 2 kids. The kids were half priced.
To mix it up, and because it was faster, we took the “luxury” bus from Nuwara Eliya back to Kandy. This was much faster but less comfortable and not good for people with motion sickness. I think the local buses would be more comfortable, but they are slower.
The scenery was also gorgeous although a bit different to the train journey. It was also far more obvious that we were descending down.
Tickets cost 219 pesos per seat. This means it was more than the train but it cost us less all up as the bus left from centre rather than from a different town like the train. Read more details in our Nuwara Eliya guide.
This 8.5 hour door to door journey was by far our hardest.
We had to catch two trains – one Kandy to Colombo, one Colombo to Galle. I had read there was a train that went right through and the Sri Lankan railway website made it look this way as well. However, the ticket office at the train station said this was not the case, so we prepared for a two train journey.
Kandy to Colombo
The first section, Kandy to Colombo, was pleasant and easy. We set off at 6:15am in a first class carriage. It was nicer than any we had been on but probably not worth the huge mark up at 800 rupees per seat. The space was about the same as the Polonnaruwa second class carriage, but the seats were nicer and there was air conditioning and big windows at the front (which is actually the back of the train).
We arrived in Colombo on time. No problems at all.
Colombo to Galle
From here, we had a 1.5 hour wait for the next train to Galle. We went and ate and came back. We bought second class unreserved tickets as this was the best available. At the time the train was due to depart, there was an announcement that the train was running an hour late – the first and last announcement I ever heard in English at a Sri Lankan railway station.
When the train came, it was not pretty. It was already full. We managed to get on, but there were no seats and plenty of people standing. The kids got very upset and then thankfully a man gave up his seat for me and Z. Unfortunately, S was left standing in the aisle. She sat on her trunki (it saves the day yet again!), but she struggled. She cried most of the first 1.5 hours until she managed to get a seat.
It was a horrible experience. There was not much room, it was hot and I had a big weight on me with Z. S crying next to me, and me unable to do anything, made me feel like the worst mother in the world. I was so glad when that train ride finished.
I had read this train journey is quite scenic. It was hard for me to see anything in the aisle seat. I only seemed to see water and trash. Unfortunately this coastal area is not as clean as the rest of the country.
It cost 540 rupees in total for 2 adults and 2 kids from Colombo to Galle so at least it was cheap!
There are trains between Galle and Weligama so this is an easy journey. It is a short rickshaw or bus ride to Unawatuna from Galle station or Mirissa from Weligama. It only takes about half an hour and is very cheap.
However, Z was quite ill so we decided to take a private transfer. This cost a whopping 3500 rupees but was quick and easy.
It is very easy to get from Weligama back up the coast. We caught a Colombo train in second class to head to our next destination in Kalutara. These trains do express through many stations so ensure you know when to get off.
It was quick and easy and plenty of seats when we hopped on although these were gone once we hit Galle with many people standing.
We hopped off at Kalutara then hopped on a local train to go two stations to Train Halt 1 (station name) for our stay at The Sands. This was easy to do and the trains connected perfectly. There was only third class carriages on this train but it was mostly empty. It took ten minutes.
Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact amount we paid but it was very cheap!
This was a straight forward easy local train back to the capital. It took about 1.25 hours and only had seats lining the walls. It cost basically nothing.
Most people reading this article are going to need a visa to visit Sri Lanka. The best part is that this is very easy to get and you do it all online.
You just need to visit this site and fill in the application and pay a fee. This site will also tell if you need one. I printed out the receipts, but they weren’t required and we just went through immigration on arrival the same as anywhere else.
We were on a tight budget but we are not happy unless we stay in a good standard of accommodation. This means that we put a lot of effort into finding some of the best hotels in Sri Lanka on a budget. They all worked out very well! Here’s our list of places we stayed at and personally recommend. Click on the links for more information and latest prices.
If there was one thing we struggled with in Sri Lanka, it was the food.
It was fine for the first few days then we realised everything tasted the same. There was a burning spice taste but no actual flavour. I love spicy food, the hotter the better, but I love good food far more. Spice should add to the flavour, not be the flavour. It probably didn’t help that we were coming from the “food paradise of Asia” in Penang, but I would not have been a fan of this food regardless.
This food really wore us down and we went from absolutely loving Sri Lanka to wishing we could leave sooner.
In the second half of the trip when we hit the coast, there were far more western style options. This helped. However, then we found we were eating sandwiches all the time which didn’t add to our enjoyment either.
What we had worried about before we went was that we would struggle to find food. The lonely planet and some blogs we had read had us thinking there were no restaurants and nowhere to eat. This couldn’t have been further from the truth and we never had problems finding food. In fact, the “short eats” in particular were everywhere and came in very handy when the kids wanted a snack – if only we could have given them something other than a hot dog or sugar bun!
On the upside, if you are vegetarian (like me) then this is one of the easiest places in the world to be. Food was generally vegetarian unless you specified otherwise and on that front, I have no complaints.
So you have a better food experience than us, I recommend you read this article about must try dishes and street food of Sri Lanka.
There are really no specialty items that I would recommend for Sri Lanka. We wore what we would normally wear in Malaysia – summer clothes and dresses. Except in Nuwara Eliya, where it was quite chilly and a lightweight jacket and trousers are a good idea.
We did not find toiletries or nappies a problem to purchase but they did not have the biggest size – the largest was 12-17kg. So if you have big toddlers or older kids in night nappies you are going to want to bring your own.
For power points, occasionally there was a UK socket in our room, but generally you need adapters like this. They are not that common and we purchased one at Pettah market for cheap. Although it look likes a European one, these will not work unless they have the long earth plug. It’s essential to have an adapter with all pointy parts (sorry, not sure what they are called!).
We travelled carry only in Sri Lanka which made things very easy. You can read our entire packing list here.
Sri Lanka is generally very cheap. One of the cheapest places we have been. We had an AUD$110 a day budget and it was not hard to keep to this. Transportation and food can be very cheap.
However, the more popular attractions can be relatively very expensive. Tourist prices are alive and well in Sri Lanka and the mark up can be huge.
Food was an issue for us. We would have loved to spend more on food to see if this upped the enjoyment. I am not convinced it would have though. We spent a lot more in coastal areas and it was still mostly just ok.
In the beginning, we loved Sri Lanka. It felt adventurous while still being easy and it was just so cheap.
However as time past, the food situation completely wore us down and we became exhausted.
Some of this is our fault. I planned the itinerary around the fact that I mostly wanted to keep to trains after a nightmare where we were in a bus crash! This meant that we had far too many 1-2 night stops. In a three week trip, we had 8 stops that were 1 or 2 nights. That is just absolutely stupid with kids and we ended up exhausted.
As mentioned several times in this article, we did not enjoy the food. Three weeks of the majority of meals just being to fill our tummies rather than for enjoyment is not something that worked well for us.
However, on the flip side, Sri Lanka is amazing!!!!! My favourite destinations tend to be ones that have a lot of variety in a small space and Sri Lanka definitely delivers this. No distance is great, but we were able to visit ancient cities, go on a safari, laze on beautiful beaches, visit an historic fort area, visit Buddha’s tooth, go to a tea plantation and many other things.
The attractions are basically fantastic. We loved just about everything we did. We had great accommodation for a good price. Sri Lanka has just about all the ingredients of a great place – if only we could have found affordable, good food and reserve tickets on all our trains, then I think we many have found one of our favourite countries.
For us, I think I would have still walked away just loving the whole experience without any real complaints if we had been there a week less. Three weeks was just too long and tiring for us, two weeks would have been perfect.
Anyway, don’t just listen to me! Head to Sri Lanka and try it for yourself. You won’t be sorry!
Below you will find all our Sri Lanka travel blogs…
(As of April 2015, AUD$1 = 103 rupees, USD$1 = 132 rupees)
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