At the end of 2022, we finally completed an important task and were able to fulfill my long-standing desire to go on a winter vacation to Asia. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and all the restrictions associated with it, we could not visit Asia for three years already. Previously, we did it almost every year, so it was not a dream, but rather a tradition. We especially missed Bali.
Our friends decided to join us on our trip to Asia. Since a vaccine was required for Bali and they didn’t have one, we chose Sri Lanka. I must admit that thanks to them, we saw and formed an impression of another new country, and of course, checked it off our list. Although our friends ultimately decided not to go anywhere, we were unable to alter our plans as we had already acquired the tickets by then.
But answering the question right away, “would we go again?” The answer would be “No.” Despite quite a few negative moments, although I didn’t expect anything special, there are also positives, which I will start with.
1. Cheap prices
Regarding Bali and Thailand, Sri Lanka seems to us a much more affordable country in financial terms: housing, car rentals, food. If you search well, and even better in advance, you can find cool housing options. For example, we stayed right on the ocean with a pool for $50 per day.
Recommendation: Villa Kusum 📍maps.google.com
Our first meal at a local caffe cost us only 9.5 eur for many curry options (chicken, squid, shrimp). The food was very spicy. The locals use banana leaves as a plates and eat the food with their hands, adding various curries to the rice, mixing and scooping up this mixture with their fingers before putting it in their mouth.
Of course, we ate with spoons and they looked at us a little strangely. However, perhaps they were studying how we perceive such spicy food, because it was really spicy, we just love spicy food.
Some prices for food in Sri Lanka restaurants:
- whole fish (catch of the day) — 8.3 euros
- half a liter of beer — 2 euros.
- seafood platter for two costs around 25-35 euros
- shrimp curry costs 5.7 euros
- prices for wine range from 3-5 euros per glass
- cocktails cost 6 euros.
- breakfast of plain omelet, rice with seafood, shrimp salad, and a bottle of water costs around 8 euros
- kilo of mango can be bought for 2 euros
Depending on the caffe and the beach, prices may vary. Christmas dinner at a 5-star hotel costs $75 per person, including unlimited grill seafood and 2 glasses of wine.
However, a vegan breakfast cost us 24 eur plus 2 black coffe — quite expensive. But it was very tasty.
Some recommendations of fancy caffes in Hikkaduwa:
SeaSaltSociety @seasaltsociety and they also have location on Weligama beach but in food court zone (not on the beach). Best dish: Tuna tataki. But everything is very tasty and cheap
Friends Indeed @friendsindeedsl — until 12 p.m. they have only breakfasts.
Salty Swamis Cafe @saltyswamis — more expansive than other cafes but very good coffee and nice food
Sunny Side Up Café @sunnysideup_hikkaduwa — only for vegans. Good for coffee and avocado toast
Restaurant in Cliff Resort Hikkaduwa @riffhikkaduwa— bit portions and everything is tasty
and some in Unawatuna and nearby
The Hideout Unawatuna (Mexican) — @thehideoutunawatuna
Society Unawatuna @societyunawatuna — fresh fish & interesting cocktails. But the main is how friendly and nice waiters they have
Kabala Sunset Cafe, 📍location — just nice place for a sunset cocktail
Wijaya Beach @wijayabeach — tasty wood-fired pizza, fresh oysters
I also want to recommend a place we stumbled upon while walking around Fort Galle.
Fort Galle is a captivating blend of old-world charm and modern-day allure. Located on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a testament to the island’s rich history and cultural diversity.
Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and later fortified by the Dutch, Fort Galle stands as a testament to the strategic importance of the region in the colonial era. Its impressive walls, bastions, and gates are a reminder of the battles that were fought here and the lives that were lost.
But beyond its historical significance, Fort Galle is a vibrant and colorful destination that captures the hearts of visitors from all over the world. Its cobblestone streets, quaint cafes, and boutique shops offer a unique blend of old-world charm and modern-day sophistication.
Strolling through the narrow alleys of the fort, visitors can experience the sights, sounds, and smells of Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage. From the bustling fish markets to the serene Buddhist temples, Fort Galle is a melting pot of cultures and traditions.
The Bungalow Galle Fort — Restaurant & Bar
When we stumbled upon this courtyard, I couldn’t resist going in and staying for an hour. And then, a couple of hours later, returning and staying for a few more. The entire courtyard was covered in bright pink sticks, I don’t know what else to call them. In the middle of the courtyard stood a huge tree that literally towered over the entire area. All of the tree’s branches were covered in bright purple flowers. The place was simply magical and felt like a true fairytale. Perhaps this was my strongest impression of Sri Lanka.
Of course, the tree doesn’t bloom for 12 months a year. But even without the blooming, I highly recommend this cafe, bar, and hotel. The interior is very beautiful, and the service is excellent.
You can also watch my reels www.instagram.com/reel/Cm5pBZPIt3I/
📍 Location by link
2. Lots of animals
I’m not talking about creepy creatures like centipedes or spiders, but about little or not 🤔 but cute animals.
For example, there are a lot of coconut squirrels here. Everyone I know says, “Oh, it’s a chipmunk!” But no, it’s a squirrel. And what’s more, let me tell you, remember the Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers cartoon?
- Ch-ch-ch-Chip 'n Dale’s Rescue Rangers!
- Ch-ch-ch-Chip 'n Dale’s, when there’s danger!
- No, no, it never fails,
- Once they’re involved somehow whatever’s wrong gets solved.
So these are not chipmunks at all, they’re coconut squirrels. Shocking content that just shattered my worldview.
There are a lot of them, they’re funny, incredibly busy, and amusing. They chase each other and make loud, screaming sounds, especially before it rains.
We also saw interesting bearded monkeys sitting on trees and chewing leaves. I was worried that they would climb onto our balcony, but they were indifferent to our belongings.
We saw many mongooses when we traveled to the center of the island. By the way, mongooses actually have antivenom for snakes, and we owe it to them that we now have antivenom for snakes too, specifically extracted from their enzymes.
You can also encounter elephants in the wild here, crossing the road, for example.
Or water buffaloes.
Many flying foxes, which fly out in packs in the evenings to hunt for delicious juicy fruits, not infants. Monitor lizards roam the beaches here. Peacocks are like crows in Russia. They sit on posts along the roads and walk around the fields. Hundreds of thousands of small crabs dig burrows on the beach and run in a funny way. And in the water, huge sea turtles swim and come right up to the beach, and kind locals walk with seaweed and help lure them closer for some symbolic coins. Excursions offer to see whales in the sea, or in one of the three national parks to see animals in their natural habitat, including predators.
3. Beautiful nature of Sri Lanka
The island is attractive with its beauty: long sandy beaches framed by tall palm trees and clear ocean for swimming. The variety of beaches is amazing: from big waves to calm waters, which are cut by a reef, creating comfortable conditions for swimming even for the smallest children.
In the center of the island, evergreen fields and mountains with snow-white peaks spread out, visible through the fluffy clouds, as well as valleys and waterfalls that attract attention with their beauty. The island is literally immersed in greenery, and the eye rejoices to see this beauty when it is not marred by garbage.
At least that’s how we felt. The locals were very friendly people.
5. Speak English
In general, there were no communication problems on the island as they speak English.
Surfing in Sri Lanka is becoming more and more popular, thanks to the island’s beautiful beaches and consistent waves. From beginner-friendly breaks to more challenging reef breaks, there are plenty of surf spots to choose from along the coast. Weligama, Arugam Bay, and Hikkaduwa are some of the most well-known spots for surfing in Sri Lanka. With warm water and a tropical climate, surfing in Sri Lanka can be enjoyed all year round. Additionally, there are plenty of surf schools and experienced instructors to help beginners learn the basics or to help more experienced surfers improve their skills. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or just starting out, surfing in Sri Lanka is an experience not to be missed.
Cons of travelling to Sri Lanka
All the pros seem cool until you face all the cons.
Let me tell you some background information: in 2019, there was a powerful terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, which clearly hit the tourism industry hard. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened. These two events have tremendously affected not only tourism, but also the income of the population, leading to a crisis, unemployment, and poverty. Moreover, in the summer of 2022, when the situation seemed to be improving and tourists were allowed back in Sri Lanka, a coup took place. There was a violent change of government, with the use of weapons and all that. It’s not just COVID-19 that has impacted the country, but also the actions of the government, which banned non-organic fertilizers in the spring of 2021. This has led to a catastrophic decline in the yields of tea and rice, to the point that rice had to be imported instead of exported.
Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka in 2019
In April 2019, Sri Lanka experienced terrorist attacks that occurred during the celebration of Easter. Several coordinated attacks took place in three cities of the country — Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa, targeting churches and hotels. Over 250 people were killed and more than 500 people were injured as a result of these horrific events.
1. Accommodation in Sri Lanka
When I was looking for accommodation a week before our arrival and a couple of weeks before the New Year holidays, I was sure that all the good options were already taken, so the remaining ones would either be too expensive or of unsatisfactory quality. But in reality, it wasn’t that bad. Although the choice of housing was very limited, we found decent options, albeit with some drawbacks.
However, overall, the level of housing maintenance, cleanliness, and cleaning left much to be desired. We encountered many cases where the accommodation looked better in the photos than in reality. Here are a few examples:
- Despite it being the NY season with inflated prices, no one cleaned our room for four days, even though we went to the beach and brought sand into the room. Moreover, the choice of accommodation was unsatisfactory, with many rundown options with unjustified prices and poor quality. We found a few acceptable options, but even those had their drawbacks.
- On the second night, the air conditioner stopped working. At first, the owners of the property claimed that we were using poor phone chargers, which caused overloads. Then they said it might be because of the fumigator, which they replaced. They also said it might have been caused by the neighbors. But in the end, they admitted they didn’t know what the problem was and couldn’t fix it. We would have been happy to open the balcony, but the mosquitoes were too bothersome.
- Cleaning was only done upon request, and even after several requests, the room was not cleaned. Additionally, there was no light on the balcony, and when we asked the owner to fix it, he came and tried to repair it, but nothing changed.
- Breakfast was delivered to our room in Colombo, but there was no table, so we had to move the writing desk and eat breakfast sitting on the bed from containers.
- There were no chairs or clothes drying rack on the balcony, which was strange for a beach hotel.
- The room looked attractive in the photos, but in reality, it was rundown and dirty, with a horribly stained toilet with stirrups for seating.
2. Road traffic in Sri Lanka
First of all, you need to get your driver’s license confirmed. It’s not difficult, but you have to do it at the Department of Transport in Colombo. It’s not too bad, except for the terrible paperwork where you have to go to 11 windows with one package of documents: get a stamp in one, a signature in another, get a receipt in the third, and so on. Overall, it takes half a day and a small amount of money.
Driving in Sri Lanka seems chaotic at first, then you understand its essence, but still can’t get used to it. You need to be extremely focused on the road. I don’t recommend inexperienced drivers to rent a car. We stopped using motorbikes long ago, but it’s up to you, of course. For us, safety is paramount.
The traffic is similar to Indian: chaotic, disorderly, a mix of bikes, tuk-tuks, cars, and crazy buses. Crazy buses are a separate issue. These are passenger buses that speed along these narrow streets, overtaking each other, even oncoming traffic, honking loudly and generally instilling fear in all road users. It seems like it doesn’t sound as terrifying as it is in reality. Buses overtake each other when a truck is coming in the opposite direction, causing bikers and tuk-tuks to frantically hide behind it — this is classic.
All I understood is that you not only have to be careful not to hit or injure anyone but also have to dodge those who plan to overtake you. For example, you are riding and someone overtakes you, and you can’t just keep going, you have to squeeze as far to the left side as possible (by the way, the traffic is left-hand drive). The cars available for rent are very narrow and small, such plastic Japanese cheap cars.
3. On the topic of roads: dogs and road conditions.
There is a highway — where the roads are fine, but when you drive into the center of the island, everything becomes bad. But that’s okay. Dogs are more annoying. They lie right on the road, gallantly folding their paws one on top of the other and stretching them forward directly under the wheels of your car. It’s okay when you’re driving at a speed of 20km, but at 60-80, it’s unbearable, considering that it’s dangerous to just move left or right, because why? That’s right, tuk-tuks, bikes, cars, and all that. The dogs all look very miserable, which makes your heart ache even more. But there are so many of them, a new dog or several lie every meter.
4. Lack of sidewalks.
There is almost no promenade as such. Let’s put it this way, it’s rare, it depends on the bay, but… well, you get the idea. And walking along the road without sidewalks is not pleasant, because why? That’s right, tuk-tuks, bikes, cars, and all that.
5. The promenade area is closed off by hotels and guesthouses
This is what it looks like: the sea, the beach, cafes and restaurants, and immediately behind them, a dense construction of hotels and guesthouses, a road, and the rest of the houses and hotels. In other words, if you live in the second part across the road, then to understand what is happening on the beach or to see what the cafe looks like, you need to go through someone else’s hotel territory. It’s inconvenient.
6. Limited selection of products in stores
It’s hard to imagine being able to do all your shopping in one store and finding everything you need. There are fish and vegetable markets, but it’s not a complete solution. We haven’t come across anything similar to 7-11 or Circle K here. Basic necessities are the cheapest products available and coconuts are all you can buy at a convenience store.
Getting alcohol in Sri Lanka is not so easy, but not so difficult either. There are wine stores near every major town, but they may not always have wine. Instead, they usually sell only liquor and beer. Wine is not available in all liquor stores, and not all cafes serve alcoholic beverages. So, the idea of having a beer or a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc with lunch may not work out.
The line at Wine stores is usually full of locals who are buying something in a hurry. The logic behind such restrictions is unclear, especially since many people chew on some sort of crap that apparently has a numbing effect. What’s even more horrifying is that besides the leaf and some sort of root, they use lime to activate the chewing gum’s receptors. This doesn’t sound very appealing, nor does the bright red coloring of teeth and tongue that makes a person look like a zombie.
The most interesting thing is that alcohol is not sold during the full moon. We frantically searched for the lunar calendar to prepare for this conspiracy, but it turns out that we were in the waxing phase, so we could breathe a sigh of relief. However, even during this time, we were not denied the sale of alcohol in restaurants.
Alcohol prices are high, but not critically high. The wine selection is decent, with a lot of imports from Europe. I was hoping for a selection of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but unfortunately, they only had wine from Europe, the US, and Australia. Prices for wine are 10-20 eur.
8. Blatant poverty that makes you uncomfortable.
Yes, we all know that the standard of living in Asia can be very low, and class discrimination can be very strong. But apparently, the recent events in Sri Lanka and world history in general have pushed the country into a terrible crisis. I haven’t seen in a hundred years people buying groceries on credit, especially when it comes to cigarettes sold individually. Street vendors are quite aggressive in their desire to sell you something. Naturally, all of this adds up to the overall impression and level of products and services offered. On the one hand, I really feel sorry for the Sri Lankans who grow rice and have to deal with geopolitics. On the other hand, many seem not to even try to do anything or make any changes. I noticed a lot of things that could be done to improve demand for their establishment, without any costs, but they don’t seem to come up with it, either due to lack of education or lack of thinking in that direction.