Sri Lanka 7 days, 12 cities, under 500$ (Part 1 of 3)

Arghya Saha
8 min readDec 1, 2020
Sigiriya rock from Pidurangala rock top.

It all started with a flight booking on an exasperate after office weekday. I simply booked the round trip to Sri Lanka without even thinking about leave, budget, company, etc. The next day I was meeting an old colleague of mine, I casually mentioned him about the trip and asked whether he would join or not(with absolutely no hopes of he agreeing), but then in a week he calls me and says, lets do the trip.

Pre DAY 0:

We met after reading a lot of travel blogs and advices about Sri Lanka and finally jotted down a lot of bullet points and locations which we thought were must visit. Our task was all about sorting the locations into a perfect trip which would fit our schedule.

Our Travel board

We wrote all the places we wanted to visit on sticky notes, then we started to put them as per our preference, this gave us a hawk-eye view about the whole trip and easy restructuring as per our discussion.

We advance booked our visa online(to avoid airport rush), via the official website. And we pre-booked only our first hotel in the whole trip, that too because the visa process required a local address.

We calculated a rough amount for the trip and I converted that amount into Sri Lankan Rupees(biggest mistake). Never ever convert your currency to SriLankan currency, always carry USD and then after landing in Colombo, convert USD to the local currency.

DAY 0:

We took our flights from Bangalore to Colombo and reached in the evening. Before check-in to our hotel we had dinner at the floating market Pettah, not a fancy place for dinner but the definitely one can visit for evening snacks.

Floating Market Pettah, Colombo

DAY 1:

Caution: The itinerary we followed is definitely not for the weak hearted. We woke up at 4:30 am to catch the early morning and the only train from Colombo to Habarana. All trains in Sri Lanka are unreserved, so you have to get to the station early enough to get a seat(of course don’t expect any luxury seating arrangement)

Colombo Lotus Tower.

The journey from Colombo fort to Habarana is 6 hours, mostly through forest and cultivated fields.

Somewhere between Columbo and Habarana.

Once we reached Habarana, heavy rained welcomed us. Always cover your backpack with rain covers and keep your rain coats handy , the weather in Sri Lanka changes within 10 min.

We took the elephant safari to Hurulu Eco Park, Habarana. There isn’t any fixed price to it, so do bargain with the safari drivers as much as you can. They started asking for 15000 LKR, we finally brought it down to 9000 LKR for the eco park safari and drop to Sigiriya, combined.

Hurulu Eco Park, Habarana

Since it was raining we couldn’t see elephant herds, on a good sunny day, you can see atleast 100+ elephants together, we only saw a dozen or so.

After this we went to Sigiriya which is around 15km and took 1 hour in Tuk Tuk . We didn’t have any booking so we just went from one hotel/guesthouse to another, we always said half the price the hotel quoted and then moved to the next hotel, so in 30 min we checked around 4–5 hotels in the area to finalise the cheapest best possible one.
Finally we settled in the hotel and then checked around Sigiriya, there isn’t much you can do there, just few food places and the famous Sigiriya and Pidurangala rock.

DAY 2:

We had to wake up at 4 am so that we can do early morning trek to Pidurangala rock top to see the sun rise. Its best you book a tuk tuk the previous day, we didn’t do it and thought we can just walk down the road. After starting we realised it was around 4km from the place we stayed and then we had to do the trek of climbing stairs, boulders and trails. And also the road was quite dangerous, since it was dark and while returning back we came to know that crocodiles are common in that route.

At the entrance of the rock there is a ticket counter where you have to pay 500 LKR per person. For locals it is free, you can try your luck to avoid buying it since no one checked for the tickets.

5:15 am on our way up to the Pidurangala rock

Also carry water and torch since you have to reach the top before sunrise, the whole trail is going to be dark. You won’t find anything on the top, no water source or food. Few of the boulders are slippery and tough, so please avoid carrying anything apart from water, torch and some snacks. It roughly takes 30–45 min to reach to the top and you can come down in 15–20 min.

The view from the top is simply break taking.

Sigiriya rock from Pidurangala rock, morning 6:30 am.

Both climbing up and down requires some physical fitness, so do make sure you are having proper shoes which has good grip and you are prepared for the trek.

Thats how tricky some parts of the trek to Pidurangala rock is.

We didn’t go to Sigiriya rock after coming down, some people do the other rock also, for us it didn’t make sense since it was more costly and we had already planning to go to Pinnawala that day.

We took a cab from Sigiriya to Pinnawala. Again try to negotiate as much as possible, we paid 7000 LKR for the ride which was around 2 hours.

On reaching Pinnawala we had one of the finest authentic lunch in the country.

Lunch at Pinnawala.

Post lunch we visited the elephant orphanage, unfortunately the milk feeding session was not available that day, so we just visited the places and clicked few pics around.

The elephants first play in the mud and get dirty in the park.

Then these elephants are taken on the other side of the road to the river for shower.

There are few shops around the elephant orphanage which one can visit and also buy few souvenirs.
From Pinnawalla elephant orphanage we took a bus to Kandy. The bus ride was around 2 hours. And again on reaching Kandy, heavy rain welcomed us. Now we got into trouble, we didn’t have any booking and it was raining cats and dogs, so we were desperately looking for hotels. So an hour of running around with our bags in the rain we finally found a hotel.

I just can’t imagine people keeping their sh*t together after running with heavy bag packs on their back in the rain. We must have had walked 2 km in that state. Yet somehow both of us were able to put a smile on our face.

Inside Kandy temple, all drenched in rain

Soon after we checked in to the hotel we, had to run for the Kandy tooth temple, because it closes at 7 pm. So we had just 30 min to reach to the temple and visit it, since we were leaving Kandy the next morning, so it was either Kandy temple or get fresh and take rest, of course we chose the first option, we just kept our bags and then ran for the temple in rain. There is an entry fees of 1000LKR per person for foreigners, you can avoid it by pretending to be local since it is free for locals. How can you pretend to be local? Have confidence while you walk, don’t look around and admire the place, just behave like you see it everyday. And most important learn their local language fluently so that you can reply to them with confidence when they ask about your origin. Unfortunately we did everything right except the last part and ended up paying 2000LKR total.

You would like the place with a lot of ethnic vibe coming from music played and the Sandha Arti. The elephant tooth are humongous in length which are displayed throughout the temple.

Kandy tooth temple, Kandy

You don’t have much to do in the city apart from visiting the tooth temple. So we just went to a bar after visiting the temple to have a couple of drinks, tried few local drinks and called off the day.

So in 3 days we visited 5 cities

Colombo -> Habarana -> Sigiriya -> Pinnawalla -> Kandy

We woke up every day at 4:30 am

Here is the next part of my Sri Lanka experience, talking mostly about beaches, old forts and exotic animals found in Sri Lanka.

Here is the final part of trip which tells more about the lagoon safari and things you can do in Colombo.