The tiny island that offers so much. Sri Lanka is one of those destinations which went under the radar in recent times, probably due to the civil war. However, tourism is growing at speed all across this Indian Ocean island. The hill country in the centre, the south and west coast of the island, all have a well-established tourist scene. These locations are definitely the easiest to travel between. They are the areas I will concentrate on with this 3 week Sri Lanka route.
The 3 week Sri Lanka route below offers a variety of experiences to suit all tastes. The hill country offers some unique hikes and unbelievable views. Udawalawe National Park gives you the opportunity to spot herds of enormous wild elephants. The beaches are as picturesque and as beautiful as you get.
3 Week Sri Lanka RouteColombo
First, on the 3 week Sri Lanka route is Colombo. Sri Lanka’s capital city can be slightly hectic and if you’re not used to cities of this nature, you could well find it overwhelming at first. You should soon get used to it though. However, depending on where you’re coming from, heading to Colombo after a long flight and jet lag, is a sensible idea. Relax here for a couple of days. Also, there are things to do and see around the city that will keep you occupied and there’s plenty of transport options to reach your next destination.
2 nights in Colombo will be plenty, but may well be needed to overcome jet lag and enjoy the rest of your trip.
From Colombo, head to Kandy via the train from Colombo’s Fort Train Station. A 2nd class seat will cost Rs 280 ($1.90). Overall, the journey will take 2.5 hours.
In terms of things to do and see in the actual city of Kandy, there’s not a great deal. To me, the city itself has hints of tranquillity from the lake and temple but also had a miniature Colombo feel, in terms of the mass of cars which clog up the roads every day.
One day in the city to do everything should be enough. You have got the option to stay in Sigiriya for the night when you head there to climb Sigiriya Rock. We actually got the bus from Kandy to Dambulla, then to Sigiriya and did Sigiriya Rock on a day trip from Kandy. The day trip saved us staying the night in Sigiriya, where the guesthouse options look sparse, so it was a good decision in the end.
If you’re going to make a day trip to Sigiriya from Kandy 2-3 nights overall in Kandy, will be sufficient.
Dalhousie (Adam’s Peak)
Take the train from Kandy to Hatton. 2nd class unreserved costs Rs 110 ($0.75). From Hatton, jump on the bus to Maskeliya costing Rs 45 ($0.30). Change buses at Maskeliya to reach Dalhousie For Rs 40 ($0.27).
If you are struggling for time, one night in Dalhousie can be enough. On the other hand, if time is on your side, I would recommend two nights in the nearby village to Adam’s Peak. We reached Dalhousie at around 3 pm, after a long day of travelling. Checked into the guesthouse and relaxed for the night. We began our ascent up to Adam’s Peak at 2 am and got back to our hotel at around 8 am. As you can imagine, we were exhausted from the pre-dusk climb up the mountain.
2 am may sound like a ridiculous time to be climbing over 5000 steps to the peak of a mountain, but I would 100% recommend doing it at that early hour. The sunrise views from Adam’s Peak were out of this world. The sights around the mountain are what I’d expect heaven to be depicted as. Clouds scattered across the mountain tops, with the bright yellow sun gleaming through as it rises.
We went for 2 nights in Dalhousie. After a perfect nights sleep, we were fully refreshed the next day of travelling.
View From Adams Peak Summit
Nuwara Eliya (Horton Plains National Park)
We made the reverse journey from Dalhousie, back to Hatton. From Hatton, we caught the train to Nuwara Eliya in 2nd class unreserved costing Rs 60 ($0.40)
The moss green, mist covered hills of Horton Plains National Park are located 35km away from Nuwara Eliya. A day trip from Nuwara Eliya to Horton Plains is recommended. A tuk-tuk can be organised to take you to and back from Horton Plains National Park. After asking many tuk-tuk drivers around the town, the cheapest we managed to get one for was Rs 2500 ($17). At 5 am, we were picked by the driver from our guesthouse in Nuwara Eliya. We began the walk to Worlds End at 6:45 am and were back at our guest house by 9:30 am.
The walk began with us being greeted by a wall of white mist. The weather soon cleared up though and the expansive views from World’s End of the surrounding valley, hills and even sea in the distance, made the early, chilly start worth it.
1 night is enough in Nuwara Eliya. In my opinion, the town itself is quite dull. We took the train to Ella after the morning trip to Horton Plains.
The journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella on the train is known for having unbeatable views of the surrounding hills and tea plantations. Pray for good weather and you’ll see exactly why this journey has earned its well-deserved reputation.
Ella is a perfect location if you love a good hike into the rolling green, tea hills of Sri Lanka, with wonderful views of the surrounding valleys. A couple of these walks are the ones up Little Adams Peak and Ella’s Rock. However, you may well be lagging from all the previous hiking around the different areas in the Hill Country (I know I certainly felt the burn in my legs). A much easier and more relaxed walk I would recommend while you’re in Ella is the one to Nine Arches Bridge. If you’re looking for an Instagram-worthy picture, make sure you wait around for the train to cross the bridge.
Ella is a nice little town, the hikes are the main attraction here. 2 nights is enough to get your fill.
Nine Arches Bridge
Firstly, catch the bus from Ella to Wellawaya, I would recommend the early morning bus, as any others will be rammed and standing for an hour and a half on those buses isn’t the most enjoyable experience in the world. Then from Wellawaya, get on the bus which goes through to Udawalawe, the majority to Colombo do, but make sure you ask the driver.
Udawalawe National Park is the perfect area for spotting majestic herds of Elephants, old and young. Initially, the plan for our 3 week Sri Lanka route was to go to Yala National Park. After multiple warnings that Yala is a frenzy of Jeeps in search of Elephants. Also, with those people advising us that a Safari in Udawalawe has a much better chance of spotting Elephants. Our choice was one of the easiest we made. Udawalawe it is. A great decision. In our 3 hour safari, we must have seen over 30 Elephants. A lot of credit has to go to our vigilant guide.
1 night in Udawalawe is enough. After a morning safari, be on your way to Tangalle. There’s nothing else to do in the area, apart from visiting the national park.
Elephant at Udawalawe National Park
The bus you need to take from Udawalawe is to Empitiliya. This 30-minute bus will cost you Rs 40 ($0.20). Then once at Empitiliya, you can catch a direct bus to Tangalle. This bus takes 1.5 hours and costs Rs 67 ($0.45).
If you enjoy picture perfect, beyond beautiful, golden sanded beaches. Fresh seafood, with a multitude of delicious spices, served with a refreshing ice cold Lion Beer. Then Tangalle is truly the place for you. The combination of the charming beaches and peaceful beachside restaurants make this town one of the most relaxing I’ve had the pleasure to visit.
Easily my favourite beach location we visited on our 3 week Sri Lanka route. I’d definitely recommend 3 nights in Tangalle if you love relaxing on the beach, which went down perfectly after all those hikes in the hill country.
Medaketiya Beach, Tangalle
A direct bus from Tangalle can take you to Mirissa, where you can jump off on the main road (I use jump literally, as the buses barely stop).
While also being another relaxed Sri Lankan beach town, Mirissa has more of a bohemian vibe than its neighbours. The town has alleyways filled with creative artwork. Any major development is yet to take over the town. Hopefully, this doesn’t change too much. There’s a crescent-shaped beach, with rasta style bars, which have similar offerings to Tangalle – delicious fresh seafood and chilled Lion Beers. The main attraction in Mirissa is the whale watching. The season runs from November-April/May.
2 nights in Mirissa should be enough to explore the small town and take in the bohemian vibes while relaxing in one of the laid back beach bars and do some whale watching, if you’re there in season.
Mirissa Street Art
Unawatuna & Galle
Travel by bus to Unawatuna or Galle. There’s plenty of buses which pass through Mirissa, heading to Colombo, which then passes through Unawatuna and Galle.
Stay in either Unawatuna or Galle and take a day trip to the other destination you don’t stay in. There’s no point spending a couple of days in each location, as they’re both so close to each other. On our 3 week Sri Lanka route, we stayed in Unawatuna and took a day trip to Galle on one of the days, to explore the wall and guzzle coffee at one of the many quaint cafes. The buses which run between Unawatuna and Galle run frequently, at a cost of Rs 20 ($0.14) and taking 15 minutes.
The main beach in Unawatuna wasn’t the greatest in the world. However, the town was a cool place, with lots of small bars and restaurants where you can enjoy your night. If you’re looking for a half decent beach, get yourself down to Dalawella Beach. A tuk-tuk from Unawatuna to Dalawella Beach should cost around Rs 100 ($0.65).
2-3 nights in Unawatuna or Galle should be plenty of time. One of the days, heading to the place you’re not staying. One spent attempting to get that picture for Instagram on Dalawella Beach’s rope swing and another relaxing.
This is the change I’ve added to the 3 week Sri Lanka route we did. We actually went to the beach town of Hikkaduwa. Prior to spending a few nights in Hikkaduwa, I had really high expectations for the area. I was totally let down. In all honesty, it was one of the worst beach towns I’ve ever been to. Granted we were there in low season. However, I would recommend to skip Hikkaduwa and head straight to Bentota. A much nicer beach town, with a beach head and shoulders above Hikkaduwa’s.
1-2 nights in Bentota will be enough to top off your time exploring and tanning on Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches.
To round off the 3 week Sri Lanka route, head back to the nation’s capital. I’d advise spending the night in Colombo, before your flight back home or to your next destination. Enjoy some of the delicious food Colombo has to offer. Get your fill before you leave, because trust me, you will definitely miss the food once you fly off.
Vegetarian Curry Buffet With Dhal
The best thing about travelling in the shoulder or low season in Sri Lanka is that you never have to book your accommodation in advance. The main advantage of never having to book your accommodation in advance is that you can barter with the guesthouse owner. My top tip with accommodation in Sri Lanka is never paying full price. The owners will 9 times out of 10 mentions an increased price when you ask them the cost of a room per night. Every time I attempted to barter, I managed to get the price of the room down at least 25%, so it pays to ask for a lower price.
The accommodation throughout Sri Lanka varies significantly. The major tourist destinations have everything from huge resorts and boutique hotels to small family run guesthouses. The guesthouses are your best option when you’re on a tight budget. Hostels were hard to come by. Colombo was the only place I found hostels with dorms.
Your best bet for getting around Sri Lanka is by public transport. Trains are by far the comfiest mode of public transport (when you manage to get a seat). Unfortunately, trains do not operate everywhere on the island. They mainly operate in the hill country and the west coast, from south to north. Trains can be extremely cheap when you buy a ticket in unreserved 3rd class, which is nowhere near as bad it sounds, trust me.
Travelling Singapore on a Backpackers Budget in 2018
When you think budget travel, one of the last destinations which would pop into your head would be Singapore. The city has a reputation for being the most expensive in South East Asia and in fact, I read that the city is now the most expensive in the world to live in, however, if you eat, drink and go to the right places, Singapore can definitely be done on a backpackers budget.
Of course, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking you wouldn’t be able to do/see anything worth doing in this notoriously expensive city on a shoestring budget. Don’t get me wrong, you certainly won’t be able to go for a three-course meal at Marina Bay Sands, but you’ll still be able to explore and experience Singapore, from busy little India and Chinatown to the man-made beach at Sentosa.
How to get around on a budget
LRT & MRT Train
One thing everyone should definitely make use of in Singapore is the MRT/LRT, which is excellent to keep the costs down compared to taxis. Singapore’s MRT/LRT is definitely one of the best public transport systems I’ve used (it’s definitely the cleanest! All thanks to the no eating, drinking or chewing gum policy)
The best thing to do if you’re in Singapore for at least a full day is to purchase a tourist pass. The tourist pass grants you unlimited access on public buses and MRT and LRT trains. The pass be purchased to be used between 1-3 days (must be consecutive days) and the prices are as follows; *1 day pass – 10 SGD, *2 day pass – 16 SGD, *3 day pass – 20 SGD (all subjected to a refundable 10 SGD rental deposit) (*prices valid – April ’16).
Please note – If you’re not going to use public transport for at least 4-5 rides each day (you probably will for a full day exploring), then I would recommend topping up an EZ-Link card with 5-10 SGD of credit at a 7-Eleven.
OK, this one is a bit of a joke. The point I’m trying to make is to avoid taxis at all costs if you’re on a budget. This might sound obvious. Near enough everywhere in the world, taxis are more expensive than most forms of transport, especially public transport. However, don’t be tempted, not even after a long days walking!
Eating in Singapore on a Budget
You might think eating while you’re in Singapore costs an arm and a leg. Well, it does!! However, you can find bargains if you look in the right places. Not only that, the cheaper food in Singapore is some of the most delicious food you’ll come across.
Here are some recommendations…
A curry in Little India
If you’re anything like me, a curry in Little India in Singapore will be one of the highlights of your time in this country. That is no exaggeration!
A lot like other Little India’s in South East Asia, you will find streets with either curry houses or dodgy rip off shops, but it’s the restaurants which you should make a bee-line for.
There are many restaurants which serve top-notch curries in Little India, however, there was one which was definitely our favourite. We love it that much we made the journey here from the airport on a stopover in Singapore on the way to Bali.
Usman Restaurant PTE
If you want your socks blown off by one of the nicest curries in the world – yes you saw what I put… The world – then head to Usman Restaurant PTE. This little cafe might not look much, but the best places often don’t do they?
Take a pew on the plastic chairs and prepared to be amazed. My recommendation would be to go for the Mutton Masala, Daal, rice and a couple of naan bread, which between two people is plenty. All that for a total cost of 7 SGD, what more can you ask for? Seriously, you can ask for more…
Another restaurant which we visited in Little India is Azmi Chipati (170 Norris/Upper Serangoon Road, Singapore). Some of the items on the menu at this restaurant may suit the more adventurous when it comes to food, one of them was Goats Brain Curry. Not sure about you, but we decided to give that one a miss. I did go for a Mutton Masala… Again. The curry was the same price as Usman Restaurant – 4SD ($2.92).
The accompaniment to the curry is the restaurant’s main seller, which is their famous chapatis. The chapatis are freshly made to order and cost 1SD ($0.73) each. They could probably sell them for at least double the price, they are the perfect addition to any curry.
Chow down in Chinatown
This area is another part of Singapore which is popular with locals and tourists alike, the food is fantastic and it won’t burn a hole in your pockets. Try some of Singapore’s favourite local delicacies here; from beef noodles to fried oysters and even frog porridge if you fancy it.
It’s incredibly easy to get yourself to Chinatown, just jump on the MRT and jump off at the Chinatown station. The opening hours of the hawker centre on Smith Street is 11am-11pm daily.
Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre
One of the most popular hawker centres in the city, located in the heart of the financial district and an easy 5-minute walk from Raffles Place MRT station. There’s plenty of choices here, with a magnitude or dishes available under one roof. The average price for a dish is around 5SD ($3.60).
Whether you’re heading here for some breakfast, lunch or dinner, I’m sure you’ll find something to suit your taste.
Where to Stay on a Budget
This district in Singapore is not only great for cheap food, it’s also perfect for cheap accommodation. This is where you’ll find the majority of backpackers on a budget are resting their heads. Of course, as with most places where you find budget accommodation, there are some terrible hostels/guest houses and theirs some great finds.
We did stay in a hostel in Little India and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for somewhere to sleep in Singapore.
The hostel is called The Hive Hostel (624 Serangoon Road, Singapore). A bed in a 10-bed dorm will set you back 20SD ($14.50) per night and this includes breakfast. This may not sound so cheap, but compared to other accommodation in Singapore it definitely is and it is a very clean and modern hostel.
There are plenty of other choices around Little India, just make sure you scope out the best place to suit yourself, by reading reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor or Booking.com. It’s worth doing a little bit of research to avoid finding yourself staying in a grotty guest house.
Things to do on a Budget
Gardens By The Bay
Built in 2012 and costing an estimated $1billion, Gardens by the Bay was, according to the Prime Minister intended to be Singapore’s premier outdoor recreation space, and a national icon. The gardens span over 250 acres and they are definitely impressive (so you would expect for $1billion).
If you’re looking to spend absolutely nothing, you can walk around the base of the futuristic giant steel trees for completely free in a lot of the gardens. There’s a walkway which connects two of the trees. The walkway offers superb views of Singapore, however, there is a fee of 5SD ($3.60) to go up the walkway.
Gardens By The Bay
A 6-mile walkway, which connects a number of parks along the southern ridge of Singapore (hence the name Southern Ridges). Parts of the walkway suspend across some of Singapore’s jungle, which makes for excellent views during your walk. Parts of the walkway also offers brilliant panoramic views of the city, harbour and the Southern Island.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the botanic gardens are a 156-year-old garden and the only tropical garden to be granted UNESCO World Heritage status. Admission to the gardens is completely free and the opening times are 5am-12am daily.
The Observation Deck at Marina Bay Sands
Located 57 floors up, there really is no better way to catch a perfect view of Singapore. Entry to the observation deck is 23SD ($17) for an adult. I know on my list of things to do in Singapore, the rest of them are free, however, you won’t get better views of Singapore for less than 23SD.
Marina Bay Sands
Walk Around Marina Bay or Clark Quay
Both beautiful parts of the city. Both Marina Bay and Clark Quay are brilliant to have a wander. There’s always the option to stop off for a bite to eat or even for just a drink at one of the restaurants or bars. The restaurants can be quite expensive though. Having said that, it’s still well worth your time just strolling about taking the surroundings in, without spending a penny.
View From Marina Bay
Yes, Singapore is notoriously expensive, especially compared to the likes of Vietnam, Indonesia and other surrounding Southeast Asian countries. However, if you scope out the right places to eat and the things to do for free/cheap, then you can have an amazing time on a tight budget.
All I want to say is, don’t be put off by Singapore’s expensive reputation. This is an amazing country with so much to offer to the budget backpacker like me and you.