Sri Lanka is home to spectacular terraced tea plantations, pristine beaches, more than 20 wildlife parks, eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, picturesque little towns, legendary temples, culinary delights and warm locals. If the marvellous emerald island has not found its way to your travel bucket list this year, this could be just the impetus you need.
After all, the country has much to offer. From Sigiriya, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura that are well-known for ancient ruins, temples, monasteries, to Nuwara Eliya, Ella, Kandy — hilly towns blessed with tea plantations — there is an itinerary right there.
Beach lovers must check out Mirissa, Unawatuna, Bentota, that are not just for relaxed beach days but also whale watching tours, scuba diving, snorkeling and surfing. On the other hand, wildlife fanatics will be spoiled for choices with national parks such as Yalla, Bundala, Kaudulla, Minneriya and more. Sri Lanka is a complete package!
Moreover, compared to other global and Asian tourist destinations, Sri Lanka is extremely wallet-friendly. Accommodation, food, transportation, entry tickets to popular parks and temples are suitable for a budget vacation.
We recommend 3 cities in Sri Lanka besides some must-dos in other tourist destinations, for that perfect holiday of yours that won’t break the bank.
Kickstart your vacation visiting the popular attractions in the capital city. Choose a bus city sightseeing tour that takes you around landmarks such as the Independence Square, Galle Face Promenade, Colombo Lighthouse, National Museum, War Memorial and more. Depending on the choice of your tour the price ranges from $30 to $40 inclusive of attraction tickets.
After the city tour, it is time to give your taste buds a treat too! Try the spicy street food and pick a plate of rice and curry, cassava chips, exotic fruits or varieties of fish and prawns. You could also opt for personalized street food tours of Colombo to sample authentic Sri Lankan cuisine at just $22.
If street food doesn’t appeal to you then consider the popular Buba Beach restaurant. Here you can have a candle-light dinner among the coconut grooves on the beach with your feet in the sand and endless views of the sea. A meal will cost you anywhere from between S$6 to S$20.
Accommodation: You could pick the Ocean Edge Suites and Hotel Colombo, where a Panorama suite with ocean view, balcony, kitchenette and a king bed start at just S$80. Agoda offers you quite an affordable range of options as well.
Leaving the liveliness of Colombo behind, drive to the hill town of Kandy, and treat your senses to rising mountains, lush green tea plantations, gushing waterfalls and chilly breeze.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is primarily popular for Sri Dalada Maligawa, the golden roofed Temple of Sacred Tooth, believed to house the tooth of Lord Buddha. You can learn more about the hours, entry fee here.
Tea plantations: Sri Lanka is well-known for tea so a visit to tea plantations in and around Kandy is a must. You can visit the Geragama Tea Factory or the Ceylon Tea Museum to learn all about tea manufacturing. Sample different types of tea as you learn the tricks of becoming a tea connoisseur! Of course, don’t forget to buy tea, a perfect souvenir, for everyone back home.
What not to miss: There is no better way to appreciate the beauty of Sri Lanka than taking a train ride. If you have time, we highly recommend a train ride from Kandy to Ella or Nuwara Eliya. This is often touted as one of the most scenic rail trips in the world. First-class tickets sell out very fast but if you are game for some hustle and bustle, try the second-class reserved coaches.
Where to eat: Located near the Temple of Sacred Tooth, The Empire Café would be our top recommendation. The restaurant serves local cuisine such as fish curry with coconut rotis along with pancakes, porridges, smoothies, burgers and toasts. All items on the menu are under S$10.
Accommodation: You could explore the Elegant Hotel, where a mountain view deluxe room with a double bed, balcony/terrace for a night inclusive of breakfast starts at S$82.
Galle is a city to unwind, shop, eat and just let the time stand still. Home to UNESCO World Heritage site Galle Fort or Dutch Fort, Galle is approximately a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Colombo.
Guided walking tours or strolling along the narrow streets is the best way to explore this colonial town of churches, museums and historical buildings. If designer shops and boutiques are your ideal choices for shopping, then Galle is the place to be!
After all that walking, it is highly recommended to try the foot and leg massage at Galle Fort Spa to feel refreshed. Massages at this spa start at just S$20.
Unawatuna beach, close to Galle, is the perfect place to spend a relaxed evening and retire for the night. The semi-circular bay beach is popular for snorkeling, and if you get lucky, you might spot turtles laying eggs too!
Where to Eat: The eating scene in Galle is heavily influenced by its Dutch past. You will come across cafés and international restaurants in this small town that offer local favourites. A Minute by Tuk Tuk, Royal Dutch Café, Elita Restaurant are some of the popular and affordable places to grab a bite.
Accommodation: Check out Thaproban Pavilion Resort and Spa in Unawatuna. An ocean view room with one king bed and breakfast for two starts at S$76.
Other popular must dos in Sri Lanka
Camp overnight at Yalla National Park: If you prefer watching elephants in their natural habitat, then head to the Yalla National Park. The most popular wildlife park in the country, it also boasts of having the highest density of leopards than anywhere else on the planet. If you don’t want to limit yourself just to the Jeep Safari and are a wildlife enthusiast, then you could spend a night inside the park. The park offers bungalows starting at approximately S$50 for a night.
Whale watching in Mirissa: The coastline of Sri Lanka is gifted with pristine beaches. Beach hopping costs nothing. However, if you want to go snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving or whale-watching then the Mirissa beach should be on the top of your itinerary. Whale watching tours will not break the bank. Depending on the tour operator it ranges anywhere from S$12.69 to S$50.
A day with elephants: One of Sri Lanka’s most popular tourism hotspots, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, located halfway between Colombo and Kandy, gives you an opportunity to get up and close with over 90 elephants. You can feed and watch them bathe in a nearby river. And while you are there, you can shop for a fascinating souvenir — paper made from elephant dung. Yes, you read that right!
Hike Adam’s Peak, Sri Pada (sacred footsteps): Want to climb 5,000 to 6,000 concrete steps for free? While Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada is a pilgrimage site for some, for adventure-seekers it is a must-hike mountain peak. Whatever may be your reason, you will be rewarded with a stunning sunrise if you reach at the crack of dawn. Remember, depending on your fitness level the climb to the peak could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours.
Get Rewarded While You Holiday in Sri Lanka with these Travel Credit Cards:
Here are our top two credit card picks for your affordable vacation in Sri Lanka:
Citi PremierMiles Visa Card: You will earn miles on your select online travel bookings through Agoda (7 Citi Miles per S$1 spend), overseas spend in a foreign currency (2 Citi Miles per, S$1 pend) and local spends (1.2 Citi Miles per S$1 spend). Exclusive deals on travel, shopping and dining throughout the world are available. You can also get travel accident insurance up to S$1 million for cardmember and spouse and up to S$50,000 for children.
DBS Altitude Visa Signature Card: Get two free Priority Pass airport lounge visits per year. Earn 2 miles per S$1 spent overseas in foreign currency and 1.2 miles with every Singapore dollar spent on local transactions. You also enjoy exclusive deals and offers from participating hotels and travel merchants. Travel accident insurance protection is available for up to S$1 million.
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