Travel Sri Lanka - 2019 - First Impressions.

I never thought I would visit Sri Lanka as it's not the standard tourist route, but wow, I'm glad I did. The country first came on my radar when the girl I was dating wanted to meet up somewhere for a few weeks in between our travels and wanted a place in Asia that had good surfing and wasn't Bali. At first I didn't think it existed as aside from Indonesia there isn't known surf spots, but I was wrong. It turns out that Sri Lanka is a hidden gem and one of the least traveled places in South East Asia even though it has a ton to offer from culture and food to beaches and safaris.

Best of all  the capital city, Colombo was only a cheap, direct flight from both Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and directionally was going towards Europe where I want to be for the summer so I wouldn't be backtracking. I flew on AirAsia for around $100 so check out the country for yourself if you want somewhere unique to visit or go during your next visa run or holiday. This is going to be my mega blog post summarizing 3 weeks of travel here in Sri Lanka with where to go, how to get there, where to stay, what to do, eat, see and what my favorite not to miss things were in each city. As a spoiler alert, I enjoyed Sri Lanka so much that I'm already planning to spend 2 months there in 2020.

Flights and Visas

From either Bangkok (BKK) or Kuala Lumpur (KUL) you can fly directly to Colombo (CMB) in 3 and a half hours. With the time zone changes it looks like the flights are only 1-2 hours but you'll notice the time when you're on a cheap AirAsia flight with nothing to do, so make sure you load up on downloaded movies on your phone and podcasts before you go. Lion Air flies direct from Bangkok's DMK airport and AirAsia flies direct from KL.

Arriving at CMB airport was actually pretty easy and straightforward. You can technically just get your visa on arrival, and when I went there were only a few people in line, but just do it online at beforehand just in case as there's no reason not to. It's $35 for a 30 day visa which can be extended in Colombo for 60 days giving you three months total, and what's really cool is that you can actually extend it a second time as well giving you half a year in the country. Here is more info on extending your Sri Lankan Visa. My plan in 2020 is to go straight from the airport to immigration the day I land to extend right away before heading down to the southern beaches.

The only annoyance is that you have to go to Colombo each time you want to extend, meaning if you wanted to come for 6 weeks, you can't just pay for more time online or when landing, which would have encouraged a lot of tourists like myself to stay for 6 weeks instead of 30 days or less. With the current rules you have to enter with 30 days, then either go straight away to the extension office, or backtrack all the way back to Colombo just to go to the extension office. I'd suggest going while you're still in Colombo the morning after you land as there's no reason to travel back this direction after. Or if you'd really like to save the trip, you can apply straight away for a 90 day Sri Lankan visa in your home country before you arrive. (I tried doing this and got the run around by the Sri Lankan Embassy) You can also just give your passport to an agent and have them go to Colombo for you to get the extension. (Worked!

The good news however is starting April 1st, 2019 Sri Lanka is supposedly issuing 6 month tourist visas upon arrival for passport holders from from, UK, EU, Australia, NZ, USA, Canada, Thailand South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia!

2020 Update: The 6 month visa on arrival hasn't happened yet. I hope it comes in the future. But for now, you can come for 30 days, then extend twice, to get 6 months in total. Only downside is currently the extension fees for Americans are an overpriced $137 per extension. I hope that changes in the future.

A map of Sri Lanka turned sideways

My Travel Plans

I put together a rough travel route map when I first arrived and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and what I wanted to see during my 3 week trip in Sri Lanka. The plan is to backpack around and just take it slow and easy, staying in places until I get bored, and not booking things too far in advance so I'd have the option of staying in places I liked for longer, then moving on. It's my once a year adventure time to get the travel bug out of my system and see a new country. Last year I spent 6 weeks traveling in Nepal and this year my plan was to do something similar but here in Sri Lanka instead. 

The plan is simple, go down to the beaches, take my time finding my favorite one, then spend 1-2 weeks there to chill out, learn to surf, and relax. From my research online it seems like Verse Collective in Dickwella is going to be the spot as it's the only one with a coworking space in the country outside of Colombo. But instead of rushing straight there, I'm going to check out some of the other beach towns along the way and sight see until I arrive so I don't miss out on anything cool and just in case Verse is overly hyped up like some of the spots in Canggu, Bali and I end up not liking it.

Then from there the plan is to visit the two national parks to go on safari and hopefully spot some big wild animals, then either go back through my favorite beach towns if I loved them, or make my way through Ella and Kandy on my way back to Colombo if I didn't. Lets see how it all turns out, I'm excited to be taking you along on my journey! If you haven't figured it out already, I'm updating this blog post daily during my travels so it's all fresh in my mind, so consider this a live blog with more being added as I travel. 

The bottom half of Sri Lanka where I'll be visiting

Data, Wifi and Cash

As with a lot of countries and airports, you can get a SIM card before immigration, but don't fall for that trap as it's usually more expensive, and you're wasting time as the immigration queue gets longer. There are a ton of stands selling SIM cards at the CMB airport when after you get your luggage and when you're walking out. My flight arrived late at night at 10:30pm and they were all still open. I bought a SIM card through one of the six random stands and ended up with Etisalat which I regret as the service is spotty and horrible outside of Colombo. I should have gotten Mobitel or Dialog instead as my friends with it had strong 4G when I was completely out of service here in the southern beaches. The good news however is that all packages are super cheap. I paid 1,000lkr ($5.57usd) for 9gb of data and have already used half of it tethering to my laptop since the wifi has been terrible at most places I've stayed so far so don't expect the wifi to be stable or fast in most hotels. Luckily the 4G is so cheap that for less than $10 a month you can have all the data you can use. 

I ended up throwing away my original SIM and bought a new one with Dialog instead as the other company stopped working when you got to Weligama. (Update, Dialog also has spotty reception along the beaches, so I ended up switching again this time to Mobitel, which I would recommend as my favorite)  If you're a digital nomad or upload a lot of photos like I do, make sure you get plenty of data, I got 17.5GB for 949lkr ($5.32) plus 100lkr for the SIM card itself. Also if you're a digital nomad and have your laptop with you, double check that you can use your personal hotspot when buying your SIM card. Mine wasn't set up which caused a bit of a freak out, but luckily, I once had the same problem in Bali, another country with terrible internet, and luckily remembered how to fix it. If your personal hotspot won't turn on or seems to be disabled, simply go to iPhone's Settings - Cellular - Cellular Data - then under "Personal Hotspot" put "internet" as the APN and leave the username and password blank. I know it seems like a simple, almost silly fix, but without these instructions, it'd be impossible to figure out on your own. 

Overall, with the WIFI and Data Hotspots combined I was always able to work during my month here in Sri Lanka without any issues. With 4G being so cheap, you can literally just use your hotspot everywhere and never spend more than $10 a month even uploading videos to Youtube or doing video calls. The other good thing about Mobitel is their "night time" data is from Midnight till 9am, which means if I wake up at 7am like I normally do, I have plenty of time each morning up upload or download large files or upload videos to my Youtube Channel/JohnnyFD without needing to use the hotel's WIFI as even today in 2021 is never unlimited and often runs out or is slow. 

As for cash, you can either withdraw money from the ATMs or if you're like me and have both Thai baht and Malaysian MYR left over, you can change it at the airport but not at a money changer in town as they only take major international currencies such as usd/euro/cny/gbp. Also make sure you grab enough cash at the airport for the first 2-3 days as most things are payable only in cash and unless you're on a major street there might not be a cash machine close by. 

Arriving at Sri Lanka's Colombo Airport

SIM Card Data Prices at a Local Shop in Sri Lanka

Airport to Colombo

This was actually a bit of a tricky heading as the closest places to stay near Colombo aren't actually in the capital which is an hour drive away. Instead, just stay in the nearby town of Negombo which is just a few minutes down the road and save Colombo, the shopping and craziness to the end of your trip just before heading home. If you want more of beach while still being in Colombo, stay in the Mount Lavinia area.

I stayed at a place called Trip N Chill Hostels in Negombo in a private room for $20 which was an okay value for a basic place that included breakfast. The only problem is that it's not within walking distance to anything so make sure you grab some food at the airport if you're hungry unless you feel like taking a taxi somewhere once you arrive. Speaking of taxi's the easiest way to get from CMB Airport to your hotel is to take an Uber or a PickMe, which is their local taxi app. To get from Colombo to the southern beaches you can either take a train or the highway bus, both are cheap and easy.

I paid 500lkr ($2.79ud) from the airport to my hostel, and it could have been even less if I chose the PickMe Tuk-Tuk option. But in general, Uber is cheap enough to take everywhere within and two and from Colombo so I usually just go with them. In the rest of the country however, you'll have to use PickMe. Unfortunately PickMe/Uber doesn't always have cars available as you get further from Colombo. I had great success with them all the way to Unawatuna, but had limited success from Weligama and Mirassa. It's still good however to use to estimate fares so you know what to pay, even though you'll most likely need to double whatever it says when flagging down a tuk-tuk on the side of the road.

My Original Travel Plans, TBD

Accommodations in Sri Lanka

Depending on how long you're staying in Sri Lanka there are a bunch of different options of finding a place to live. For those staying for 1 month or longer, you can find a monthly apartment by simply walking around and asking the guest houses locally, or posting in one of the facebook groups. There are a few options on Airbnb ($55 off for new accounts) but where I ended up booking is literally walking around the area I wanted to be in and asking. 

For 2020 since I already know the areas and neighborhoods, I booked a place on and even though there wasn't a monthly discount, it ended up being cheap enough anyways. I'm sure I could save a bit of money going another route but for $250 a month total it didn't want to waste time looking for better or cheaper options.

For Weligama where I spent 3 weeks in 2019 and will spend 2 months in 2020 I like staying near  or between The Hummus Bar and Deli Ceylon as it's where the surf board rentals are and a bunch of restaurants, cafes and things to do. For 2020 I'm staying a bit further up, a 10 minute walk to the beach where the blue star is as it was much cheaper, but last year I stayed at Kadupul Villa next to Day Long and Hungry Birds as they had nice rooms for about $20 a night. This year I'm paying 1/3 of that. I'll update this post when I get there to let you know how it was staying a bit further up.  

Where I stay in Weligama Beach

Hikkaduwa Beach

I decided to go straight from Negombo bypassing Colombo to the southern beaches instead of spending time in the big city. To me the vacation wouldn't really start until I saw the ocean and instead of slowly making my way down the west coast or stopping by Bentota which is known as the closest swimmable beach to Colombo, I decided to go straight down to the first beach town I actually wanted to see, which was Hikkaduwa.

For most people I would recomend taking the train from Colombo to Hikkaduwa as it's quick and super cheap. The bus I've heard is slow and super packed, but from the other backpackers I met who took the train, they enjoyed it even though they had to stand the entire two hours as there were no seats even booking 2nd class. I however, took an Uber the entire way, partially because I just wanted to get there door to door and didn't want to bother going to the train station, figuring out time tables then finding my way around, and also because I actually could. In most countries the idea of taking an Uber for 74 miles (141km) would be insane as it would cost hundreds of dollars, and most drivers wouldn't even take you. But here it was a flat fee of 5,000lkr which was only $27.93 in an air conditioned, super comfortable car!

Here in Hikkaduwa I stayed at the Hikka Train Hostel mainly because I wanted to meet other travelers and because I couldn't really find any other places to stay. For whatever reason Hostelworld only has four listings for the entire city, luckily I used which searched them all and ended up finding it on Booking. Here it felt like a proper homestay with a super nice Sri Lankan lady, and some cool guests. The rooms are super basic, wifi non-existent, bed sheets too short to actually do anything, and so I wouldn't recomend it to most people, but it did the trick. The town itself isn't super well known outside of Russian tourists for whatever reason, but it's worth visiting and was a perfect first stop.

Hikkaduwa beach itself is awesome, it's beautiful, and has some of the best off the beach snorkeling I've seen anywhere in the world. Also at the end of the beach just before Narigama is a spot called Turtle Beach which has giant sea turtles as regulars that come up into the shallows. The trick is to collect some seaweed off the shore and feed the turtles which keeps them coming back everyday for more. Another day trip nearby is the Hikkaduwa Lagoon Safari which is a great place to see water monitors, Iguanas, flying foxes and a ton of different birds, just make sure you book it ahead as they only take two private tours out per day.

Hanging out at Turtle Beach with some Seaweed

Unawatuna Beach

From Hikkaduwa I planned to take the train as my hostel was a short walk from the train station and my new hostel, the Cycling Hostel in Unawatuna was as well. However, it turns out that the trains only run at 9am, then again after 4pm, which means I'd either have to wake up early for no reason, or wait around all day for no reason. So instead, I took a PickMe for 1,100lkr which is only $6.17. It's so nice having the option to be able to take a comfortable, air conditioned taxi when the train schedule's don't match up. The other option would have been to take a local bus, but those are crapped, uncomfortable and the drivers are insane. I actually almost got run over by one earlier today and literally had to jump out of the way.

As for Unawatuna, the beach itself is nice, but there isn't anything special. I ended up getting a 1 hour massage and something really strange called a steam bath, which was more of hot coffin with my head sticking out than a steam room at The Sanctuary Spa. At 4,500 lkr ($25) it was worth the price and a nice treat, but aside from that and walking down the beach and exploring the nearby Jungle beach on the other side where there's a  bit of snorkeling and a sunset, there isn't much to do.

After the spa, I hung out at a few dive shops to scope out if it was worth diving there or not, and it sounds like the diving in Hikkaduwa actually would have been better, but either way, there isn't great diving in Sri Lanka as with most beachside development the sand ends up covering and killing the reefs causing the dives to be mediocre with decent fish life, okay visibility (10m) and worth doing if you're a beginner with less than 50 dives or are used to diving in worse conditions, but it's not a world class destination.

The massage at Sanctuary Spa

The Herbal Steam Bath/Torture Device

Thrilled to have a Sri Lankan Coconut after the Steam


Galle however was incredible! I took a PickMe taxi there from Unawatuna for 300lkr ($1.70) and asked to get dropped off at the Galle Fort Clock Tower which is a good starting point. I arrived around 9:30am and took my sweet time walking around the entire town over the next 3-4 hours, stopping for coffee at some quaint cafes, and even for ice cream at one point.  The landmarks at Galle are nice, but don't just do the loop around the coasts as the best parts are cute cafes and shops in the center. The history of Galle begins with the Portugese in first building it in 1588 then the Dutch coming in and fortifying it in 1649. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is beautiful.

Along with the forts and the landmarks, there are a ton of really beautiful old houses and buildings in the center which have now been turned into hotels, restaurants, and shops. It would be rude to stay that Colonialism was a good thing, but the European influence definitely made this town of Galle into something remarkably beautiful and cultured. Galle is by far the nicest place in Sri Lanka, but the prices also reflect as everything from hotels, food, and ice cream are double the price. Come to Galle to look around, but unless you want to spend 5-star money and bathe in the comforts that come with it, you can just do a day trip like I did. But either way, Galle is a not to be while visiting Sri Lanka.

From Galle or Unawatuna you can also visit the Handunugoda Tea Estate and have a tour of their plantation on how they produce 25 different varieties of tea. Best of all, it also includes a tasting and the entire tour is free! It's a 30 minute drive but is also only an 800lkr ($4) PickMe ride.

Weligama Beach 

After spending two uninspiring days in Unawatuna I packed my bags and hopped on my first Sri Lankan train ride to Weligama. The train was 30 minutes late, but the ride itself was magnificent. I don't know if I was lucky, but even with unreserved 2nd class seats the car war half empty giving us all a ton of room to move around, sit down, take photos and enjoy the ride. Every other train story I've heard prior has been about overcrowded cars with standing room only. But since I wasn't in a rush, the times matched up and since I wanted to expensive the train, I decided to give it a go and was glad I did. If you thought the 1,100lkr ($7) taxi rides were cheap, you'll laugh at the 60lkr (.34cent) train ride I took today, and 3rd class would have been even cheaper!

Right away I knew I liked Weligama. It's much more chill and has more of a laid back beach vibe to it filled with cafes and juice shops everywhere. I checked into Beach Break Surf Hostel for $6 a night and right away signed up for my first surf lesson. Growing up in California, traveled through Hawaii and Australia and having tried surfing in Bali a few times I've always wished I knew how to surf. But maybe if I had come to Weligama instead I'd be good by now, as it's by far the best place in the world to learn. Not only are lessons here only 2,500lkr ($14) which is less than half the price of Bali and a quarter of the price of other countries, but it's also much easier to learn here than anywhere else. Weligama has a soft sandy bottom with no rocks or coral and the waves don't dump down on you, making it very safe. The water is super warm so no wetsuit is needed, and unlike the dirty waters of Bali, Sri Lankan beaches and the water itself is surprisingly clean with the exception of when it rains and the days after. 

My original plan was to stay here for 2 nights then head over to Mirissa for a few days, before slowly making my way over to Dikwella, but I like Weligama so much that I extended my stay for a few more nights, moving across the street to the more sociable Mudra Hostel which is connected to Deli Ceylon Cafe which has really good coffee and smoothie bowls, then again for another week at a local homestay nearby. My go to places to work from have included a local restaurant called Day Long, The Hummus Bar, Hangten Roof Restaurant, Buds & Beans Café, Mirissa and the living room of my guest house. 

Closer to the bus station in Weligama there are a ton of local restaurants and shops which unlike more touristy towns sell things you might need like a new USB cable or phone charger. The food at the local restaurants are also ridiculously cheap with rice dishes starting at 100lkr (.56 cents) and roti's for even less. My favorite area to stay was near Beach Break Surf Hostel either on the main or beach road, and the area going towards the bus station too, as you'll walk there often to go to the stores, eat cheap food, take buses and buy liquor or groceries. 

On the Train from Unawatuna to Weligama

With my surf school, we all caught waves and stood!

Handunugoda Tea Estate

From Weligama I took a day trip to the Virgin White Tea Plantation in the hills of Ahangama which is 25 minutes away and halfway between Weligama and Unawatuna. We took a PickMe Taxi there and asked the driver to wait for us while we did the tour. The entire cost was 2,755lkr ($16) including the wait, as when he asked if he wanted us for him to wait, I had assumed he had ended the 1,100 lkr trip and would start a new one on the way down. But it was so cheap anyways and would have been impossible to find another taxi back down the hill as we were in the middle of nowhere.

The tour itself was really good, we walked around the plantation and saw how they grew and picked the different types of tea, cinnamon bark and how they harvested latex for rubber. Then we had a nice break where we had a full serving of really nice Jade Oolong Tea and Chocolate Cake, before seeing the second half of the tour. They showed us the machines involved in processing tea, then brought us in a shop where we could sample all 25 varieties. The only down side was unlike the full serving during the break, the samples at the end were all either lukewarm or cold and sampled with a spoon. At the shop you could also buy any of the teas for a reasonable price, that I think would make good gifts and souvenirs. There was no pressure to buy anything, and the tour itself was free!

But quite possibly the best part of the tour was when I went upstairs to the bathroom accidently walking through an English class for local kids. It turns out that the estate sponsors a free class for local kids and they were excited to have a native English speaker talk to the kids for a bit! The kids were so polite, a bit shy, but they were all really excited to be able to learn and practice speaking, unlike other kids who dread going to school. Overall the trip was well worth it and highly recommended, seeing the students was icing on the cake and a reminder that some of the money goes to some really great causes. Take a morning or afternoon to go, especially if you can time it to be there between 2pm-3:30pm on a Saturday and volunteer to chat with the kids.

Tea leaves in both it's dried and fresh forms.

I've never tried so many varieties of tea in my life.

Our English Class for the Day.

Mirissa Beach

Instead of staying on Mirassa, I decided instead to stay in Weligama and take trips there whenever I wanted instead, and I'm glad I did. For some, Mirissa is the place to be, it's a bit more built up, which means more places to eat, sleep, drink and more things to do. They still have a bit of surfing, but their beach is more relaxing as it's a place to sunbathe and swim. I went to Mirissa to meet up with Kevin Cook from the Youtube Channel Monkey Aboard to hang out and record a podcast. Take a listen to Episode 218 of Travel Like a Boss to hear us talk about Sri Lanka for travel, digital nomads, and what it's like to have a youtube channel with over 125,000 subscribers.

We met up at a really nice cafe called Wood Space that has some amazing protein bowls including the No. 1 which includes chickpeas, hummus, tuna, and salad. The cost was 1,000 lkr which is double the price of Sri Lankan food at most places, and 4x the price of restaurants for locals, but at $5.60 it was still a deal as it was one of the tastiest dishes I've had anywhere. I also had the rice and curry buffet at I&I for 400 lkr ($2.25) that was incredible and the best I've had so far in Sri Lanka. Mirassa is full of cool cafes, restaurants and places to hang out like the popular Doctor's House or at the beach side restaurant bars that take turns having a party almost every night.

The most popular thing to do in Mirissa is to go on a Whale Watching tour where you can see the Blue Whale, and have a possibility of seeing other marine life such as dolphins, turtles, or even Orca/Killer Whales. I ended up skipping it mainly because I've had the chance to swim with a pod of Dolphins in the Maldives recently and the thought of sitting on a boat chasing whales for 5 hours for a few second look at it's back and tail wasn't that appealing to me.

I ended up going to Mirassa a few times on day trips to hang out with Kevin, and really enjoyed it there. The beach is really nice for sunbathing and hanging out, and the scenery is better than Weligama as there are more palm trees and land features including the viewpoint rock and the instagram famous coconut tree hill.

One of the many beach side restaurants in Mirissa

No. 1 Protein Bowl at Wood Space Mirassa

Udawalawe Safari

One of the coolest things you can do in Sri Lanka is to do a wild animal safari in one of their national parks. In Africa, you would spend hundreds of dollars to go on a Jeep Safari, or even thousands sometimes, but in Sri Lanka, you can see a ton of wild animals and get a similar experience for 1/4 of the price. The biggest and most famous park is Yala, but I chose to skip it as I've heard it's super crowded and you'll be driving around with 40-50 other jeeps chasing down animals and overcrowding them. Instead I chose to go to the 2nd biggest park and what most insiders known as the better experience, Udawalawe. I'm glad I did as even though we saw a couple other jeeps there, for most of it we were either alone or with one or two others maximum. Udawalawe also has the most wild Elephants so seeing them is pretty much guaranteed. 

I've seen and walked with Elephants in Thailand and loved it, but seeing them in Sri Lanka was completely different as these guys are wild and free to roam around and live naturally in the giant 308 square km (119 square mile) national park.  We also saw a ton of exotic birds ranging from wild peacocks, eagles, kingfishers, cranes, storks and more that I can't identify but I'm sure birders would love. We also saw wild buffalo, boars, monkeys, and crocodiles. The biggest reason why many people go to Yala instead is that they have more Leopards, but they are still rare to see so you might as well enjoy the actual safari in Udawalawe as even though there are fewer, they also live here and are still often seen. 

Most people will do the tour from somewhere near Udawalawe or on their way to or from Ella as it's 2 hours away. However, I decided to go straight from Weligama and return on the same day which was an insane 9 hour drive not including the safari itself. To make it even crazier, I ended up doing it with a random guy I met online by public bus. We ended up each spending around 850lkr ($4.75) in bus fare, plus 2,000lkr ($11.20) each for the Jeep and 4,100lkr ($23) for the entrance which makes the entire trip super cheap at only around $39 including transportation both ways, but it was a long, long, day as I left Weligama at 9am to meet him in Mirissa and have a coffee at 10am then took a bus to Marta, went the longest way possible to get to Embilipitiya, then took another bus to Udawalawe. The easiest option would have been to take the direct bus from Marta to Udawalawe at 8:45am. 

Once in Udawalawe, we found a Jeep driver on the side of the road, (there are a ton of them near the entrance to the park) and and hired him on the spot for 4,000lkr, not including the entrance fees to the park. We chose to do the afternoon safari from 3pm-6pm and really enjoyed it, it wasn't crowded and we saw a ton of animals. The only problem was that some buses stopped running after 6pm so getting home was a bit complicated as there were no taxis or pick-me's and the direct bus stopped running, which meant we had take a bus to Nonagama junction, then transfer to a Colombo bus which thankfully dropped us off in Weligama at 11pm. It was a hot, cramped, uncomfortable 14 hour day, but it was well worth the trip. I would only suggest our crazy same day bus route if you've always wanted to be a contestant on the Amazing Race. Otherwise, I'd either get 4 people together and hire a private driver or spend the night. 

Got some great photos on the Safari.

Really cool bird life.

Amazing Elephants!

Our Safari driver and Spotter for the day.


After Udawalawe I actually spent another week back in Weligama surfing and hanging out with the staff from Deli Ceylon for a week. I could have went the Ella, Nuiya Ella, Kandy route back as originally planned, but I was more interested in getting in another week's of surfing than sightseeing. From Weligama I took the afternoon train to Colombo Fort to spend a night before flying to my next destination. 

The train left at 1:50pm and took about 3.5 hours to arrive but was an easy trip in 2nd class as everyone had a seat and the ride itself was decently scenic. My only regret was not taking an Uber/PickMe straight to Negombo to spend the night and be closer to the airport. I just felt like I should at least check out Colombo for a day but I can assure you, that aside from wanting to go to the market to buy fake polo shirts, there's no reason to even see the capital city. 

It wasn't terrible though as I got to eat some excellent egg hoppers and potato curry at a Jaffa restaurant called Palmyrah and see a bit of the city, but honestly I would have happily skipped it and wouldn't recomend anyone going there. It's a big city with lots of cars, buses, tuks and traffic. Worst of all, the taxi guys at the train station are extremely aggressive and won't leave you alone, leaving a bad taste for the locals. Everything is spread out so it's not very walkable, and even though it's on the sea, it's not a nice beach you'd want to hang out on. So if you're reading this, go ahead and either skip Colombo all together, or if you must stay overnight, just stay in Negombo by the airport instead. 

Overall though, I had a really amazing time in Sri Lanka and plan on coming back again next year. Although, now while sitting at the airport, I'm actually thinking that 3 weeks was long enough and I don't know if I'd want to stay much longer. However, here is a video with everything I did, ate, and saw during my 3 week trip here, check it out for yourself to see what Sri Lanka is like!

Digital Nomad Scene

I really love Sri Lanka as a place to travel, chill and even work a bit as a digital nomad. However after almost three weeks here, I can safely say that it won't be a digital nomad hotspot anytime soon. Even though it has warm weather, amazing beaches, friendly people, tons to do, and low costs of living, the infrastructure just isn't there yet. WIFI here is generally terrible, the power randomly cuts out a few times a week for an hour or more at a time, and there isn't an English speaking digital nomad community. There are quite a few coworking spaces in Colombo, but it's not a city you'd want to live in or even visit. That leaves Ella as it's surrounded by mountains, kind of like Chiang Mai and the beach towns. The first coworking space to open by the beach is Verse Collective in Dikwella, however as of March 2019, their website still says "Coming December 2017" and the only way to book a room is through Airbnb which causes their rooms to be expensive and overpriced. Like many other businesses in Sri Lanka, Verse is relying on word of mouth and just the natural beauty of their location more than optimizing and marketing. 

This sum ups the scene in Sri Lanka, it's a beautiful country but the infrastructure sucks and few people are doing anything about it. I was lucky to meet a few other entrepreneurs while I was there, but none of it was easy. I literally reached out cold to guys like Kevin Cook from Monkey Aboard on Youtube after seeing his travel video about Sri Lanka, and met up with existing friends that I already knew from Chiang Mai or other places. The only actual community I found was randomly in an expats facebook group for a Russian Coliving project called Smena Station which had a meetup that I attended and was the only digital nomad that wasn't part of their program. It turns out that there is a huge Russian expat, remote worker and digital nomad community here in Sri Lanka but unless you speak and read Russian, you'll never see it or be able to take part.

The WIFI, Internet Speeds and infrastructure in general is lacking and although you can get by using your SIM card to tether as data is so cheap, it's still not 100% reliable and not fast enough to upload large files. Sri Lanka reminds me a lot of Bali, just with less tourists and less Eat Pray Love and soul searching. The people that I've met in Sri Lanka have all been really down to Earth, as unlike Bali which is an Instagrammer's dream, Sri Lanka isn't that popularized and not everything is designed to just look nice in photos. Sri Lanka has better beaches, is much safer, has Uber, less annoying zero's in their currency, and is overall a better place. It just doesn't have the, "look at how cool I am living in Bali" hype attached to it and I hope it stays that way.

We'll see what happens with Sri Lanka in the next few years, especially if the free, instant 6 month tourist visa kicks in. I can see Sri Lanka being a great place for digital nomads who want to sur, be by amazing beaches, and explore less touristy places where locals actually live normal lives and don't just depend on tourism go for at least a few months a year. Let me know in the comments below if you've been to Sri Lanka or if you're thinking about going and for how long. 

Meetup at the Smena Station Sri Lankan Villa

Overall Thoughts 

I really love Sri Lanka and already plan on coming back for longer next year. I'm excited for the new 6 month tourist visa and think it's awesome that the Sri Lankan government is putting it in place as it'll definitely attract more visitors. The costs of living here are so low that it's almost unbelievable as long as you're living like a local. Bus rides and trains are as low as 11 cents sometimes, and I've had lunch for as little as 56 cents. A kilo (2.2lbs) of bananas can be had for 80lkr (45cents) and surf board rentals are 250lkr ($1.40) an hour and get even cheaper if you keep it longer. 

However, the local buses drive like madmen and make me fear for my life both while riding them, or even walking on the street when they pass as I've almost gotten hit by one more than once. It's inconvenient that once you're too far outside Colombo and Hikkaduwa that the ride sharing apps stop working and tuk-tuks start overcharging. It's super hot here, as in almost unbearable during the afternoons, way more than Thailand. It's little things that really start adding up to make it hard to live here long term or even get anything done. 

But all that being said, I still might come back next year from February till April or even May, 2020 as it really is an amazing country. My plan would be to get an apartment in Weligama near the beach and surf everyday and just enjoy life. It really is the best place in the world to learn to surf and it's so cheap and easy here that I'd feel silly not taking advantage of it now before the country gets more popular and overrun by tourists in a few years. Sri Lanka right now is what Bali was in 2010 before all of the Instagram hype and the 1.18 million Australian tourists started going there each year. Sri Lanka has all of the natural beauty of Bali, with cleaner beaches and oceans, lower prices, and way less tourism. 

I've been all over the world and think that Sri Lanka is a hidden gem. I have a feeling that in 5 years it'll become overdeveloped like a lot of places as they get popular, but at least for now, even though it's not a place for a new digital nomad to come connect with a community and build your first business, it's an amazing place for established nomads that already have a bit of passive income to come live, surf, and travel for a few months a year. I can see why Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka the 2019 Place to Visit, and fully agree that it's the spot to go before everyone else does.

See you later Sri Lanka! 

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

Been to Sri Lanka? Want to come? Leave a Comment! 

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  1. What are your thoughts about Sri Lanka? Have you been here or want to go?

  2. Really cool place. I just hung out in Colombo and loved it.

    1. I'm surprised you liked Colombo. If you did, you'd love the rest of the country! Check it out next time!

  3. Hey Johnny! wish we had known you were here. Would have loved to have shown you around. Next time you do plan on coming down please do let me know. I'd love to help setup something similar to the food4thought friday meetups in chiang mai. You'd be surprised by how many locals are in the freelancing industry in Colombo. Just matter of developing a hub for everyone to connect on the outskirts. Tapping into locals for tasks such as Online Assistants, coding, developing and Creatives is huge considering how cheap their services are in comparison to the Philipino's.

    Would love to connect and show you more of Sri lanka the next time you plan on coming down.

    1. Thanks for the offer! Maybe next year in March again! You can join the facebook group here to keep in touch:

  4. You write that srilanka supposedly will issue 6 months visas. This is not correct, it will issue free visas for a period of 6 months and this will start on May 1, supposedly.

    1. I think I read it wrong as it was confusing the wording. That's a shame as the $30 wasn't a bit deal to us, it was the annoyance of having to go to Colombo to extend for longer.

      "Multiple countries are to be granted visa free entry to Sri Lanka for six months from April 1st this year.

      The Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal presented by Minister of Tourism Development, Wild Life and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga to grant a 6-month free visa period from 1st April 2019 for selected countries."

  5. Hey Johnny... you should always, always, always report the availability or lack thereof, of good a/c in any place you stay. Other than internet, it is the FIRST thing I check. So reading that in your articles would help tremendously. ;-)

    Thanks for the good read. We're going to be in KL for a while next year, so this would be a good two week visit or so, while we're in KL.

    1. Hey Dan, I seldom sleep with A/C on as it's bad for you. I'm much happier sleeping with just a fan. If anything having bug screens on window would be the thing I'd value the most! =)

  6. Your post is very interesting, thank you

  7. Hey Johnny,

    I'm coming to Weligama next week as well to learn how to surf and (hopefully) get some work done. (by the way, I'm the Georgian guy who briefly spoke about Georgia at your Food4Though event last month :) ).

    I'm curious though - would you recommend staying there for more than a month (the limit for Visa on Arrival), or would you recommend 2 months? Or, to ask it differently: is it worth staying a day or two in Colombo to extend the visa in advance, since driving all the way up to Colombo seems like a huge drag.


    (P.S Hopefully I'll see you soon!)

  8. Hey Johnny
    Thanks for mentioning the Hummus Bar several times. We have actually closed down Weligama and Mirissa and are now based in Colombo. If you're ever around and want a tasty meal give us a shout.


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