According to the Lonely Plant, Sri Lanka has been named the top destination to visit in 2019.
My wife and I recently spent two weeks exploring Sri Lanka and were pretty let down, given the aforementioned hype. We like to think of ourselves as pretty open minded travellers who love to get off the beaten track, which is why Sri Lanka seemed so attractive.
However, in our eye's Sri Lanka is really trying too hard to simply funnel tourists through a set itinerary of overpriced attractions.
We like to explore and experience things to a more serendipitous degree. By that I mean, simply walking the streets, going hiking on our own, eating at places that catch our eye... But in Sri Lanka it was quite hard to get off the main tourist paths and nothing really stood out. The towns are busy, the shops are full of cheap plastic goods, the restaurants are fairly questionable, accommodation is pretty expensive given the quality, and private transport is a total rip off!
When you google Sri Lanka, you will likely see the beautiful photos of the train ride through the tea plantations or the glimpse of a leopard on a safari tour. We did all of that, and more, but I gotta say, it was a terrible let down.
Firstly, the train ride: It's not fun to be mushed against thousands of other sweaty bodies, standing up straight for five hours on a train. The one teeny tiny section of the trip that everyone actually wants to see lasts about 30 seconds. The rest is a hot mess.
As for the safari, well again, it's kinda depressing to be stuck behind 30 other jeep's with toxic exhaust fumes spluttering in your face and hundreds of cameras blocking the view. This is all while you wait for a single elephant to cross the path. The magic of seeing these beautiful creatures is ruined. It's hard not to feel cheated for spending so much money on such an over exploited experience.
Same goes for food and accommodation. As a tourist everything is well over-priced. For example, a local lunch time curry buffet at a Sri Lankan restaurant will cost about $2. The same meal at a restaurant targeted to tourists will cost around $10 - $15. Of course, it's kind of fun for me to go exploring and try local food - especially when you're the only white guy in the building and everyone is smiling, staring and fascinated by your presence.
I don't want this post to be all about the negatives, so I'll end with my favourite part of Sri Lanka:
- If you want a more chilled, laid back beach holiday then I highly recommend staying at Hiriketiya Beach, on the south east corner of Sri Lanka. This is an absolute gem of a beach, and the utter definition of paradise. I would rank this beach in my top 10 favourite beaches around the world 🌎
- Check out Ella for some nice hikes that are accessible directly from the town center. When I say town, I mean street, because this place is tiny. It's got a bit more of a hippie vibe, however that's changing pretty fast. It's quickly becoming a popular tourist destination.
- For a fun overnight experience, check of Galle Fort, on the south west side of Sri Lanka. Galle is a UNESCO protected old town which was once a former Dutch colony. The buildings and cobblestone streets are really beautiful and there are plenty of nice shops, cafes and bars.
- Public transport is dirt cheap. However, it's incredibly dirty, busy, hectic and unforgiving. The bus drivers are maniacs and there is a high likelihood the driver won't speak English. Trains are cheap, but slow and extremely packed. It's kinda gross and I wouldn't recommend it, unless you want to fork out the money for first class.
- Hire a car - trust me - you will save hundreds of dollars compared to taking private transport. For example, a one way trip from E to Kandy with Uber / private taxi will cost you around $50. A public bus will be about $2. Extrapolate that out over multiple destinations, with fares between $40 - $80 dollars each way, and things start to add up. A rental car will cost no more than $100 - $300 for the week. The roads are really well maintained, so don't worry too much about that.
All in all, Sri Lanka is still a beautiful country. It's got some fantastic beaches but it is quite hard to get far off the beaten track. I would probably come back for the surfing but I highly doubt that will happen any time soon.
If you've been to Sri Lanka, leave a comment below with your experience!