Temples, tea plantation, Elephant Safari… Ceylan is a good destination if you are looking for a mix of culture and nature. We will cover the cultural triangle in Sri Lanka but the country has many other things to offer. Prefer the South if you are looking for beach or surfing spots. Go North if you want to discover the less touristy Sri Lanka. Our suggested itinerary is: Dambulla – Sigirya – Polonnaruva – Anuradhapura – Kandy – Nuwara Eliya.

How accessible is it from Singapore?

The flight to get there is quite long and the points of interest can be quite distant so you will need some time. 4 days is the very minimum but you will probably need one full week or more to enjoy your time in Sri Lanka.

The total door to door journey is 8 hours 45 minutes from (your home/office in) Singapore to your room in Dambulla.

Singapore to Sri Lanka cultural triangle journey details

To explore the Cultural Triangle we recommend you to hire a driver as transfers can be quite tricky. Here are some contact details for a driver: Raja: +947 7532 3903 / nithy_raja@yahoo.com; Raja speaks English, have a nice & large car with AC, 4-day trip – USD 300 – SGD 370 all included ( including petrol).

How much is this going to cost us?

Note that Sri Lanka is not a cheap destination especially because of the entrance fees  (SGD 30 on average) you need to pay to enter the sites.

Transport from Singapore will cost you from  SGD 780 return for 2 with a direct flight.

Accommodation wise…the cost will really depend on the type of hotels you stay in. You will find a large range of options from cheap guesthouses to nice hotels in most areas. You could also rent a villa if you travel with a large groupe and prefer to be based in one location.

How remote and risky is it?

Sri Lanka is safe but medical infrastructures, when they exist, are basic. Roads are not in good condition everywhere so your trip could be a bit rough. Driving up and down the mountains in the center on small roads can be a bit stressful.

What about the kids?

You can go to Sri Lanka with young children but the long hours on the road may be an obstacle if you plan to visit different places. Also, given the limited medical infrastructure, you would want to be careful if you are traveling with a baby or child who has a medical condition. A baby carrier is probably your best option given the fact that a lot of sites are not really accessible with a stroller.

When should we go?

The best period to visit Cultural triangle and avoid the rain season are the months of January, February, March, June, July, August and September. Refer to the chart in the sidebar for details about the monthly average rain volumes and rainy days.

Connections from Sri Lanka

This trip can be a standalone destination from Singapore. Some people also combine it with a stay in the Maldives since you can find good flights between Colombo and Male.

Getting from Singapore to Colombo

Fly from Singapore Changi airport to Colombo Bandaranaike International airport (CMB)
Getting there: Tiger Airways Singapore to Colombo:  8:35 PM – 9.55PM (4h flight)
Coming back: Tiger Airways – Colombo to Singapore = 12.20AM- 7.05 PM
Return ticket from SGD 270

Get your ticket NOW to enjoy the best fares.

Colombo is the capital city of Sri Lanka. Its international airport offers some amenities but don’t expect too much. Money changers and restaurants are available at the airport.

Getting to the Cultural Triangle from Colombo airport

Unless you want to spend some time in Colombo (if you have time only as the city is not the most interesting place in Sri Lanka), the best is to have a driver waiting for you at the arrival and to start driving to your first stop.

Option: if you want to experience a train journey through Sri Lanka you can ask your driver to drop you in a station and pick you up at your arrival stop. Sri Lanka’s colonial rail network connects the main cities and towns in the Cultural Triangle. While train travel is slow and connections are time-consuming, it is still regarded as one of the most enjoyable and scenic methods of getting around the region. Check the Sri Lanka Railway 

Where to stay in the cultural triangle in Sri Lanka?

“Follow the guide”. Especially if you have a driver, he will show you some guesthouses – don’t hesitate to tell him that you don’t like the one he proposed – you should be able to find one you like in a few attempts. It’s better not to book in advance unless you were given specific recommendations – that gives you the choice to stay longer in one place or modify your itinerary as you wish. However, it can be wise to give a call to the hotel/guesthouse you plan to stay in to check if they have rooms available. You can do this the day before or ask your driver to give a few calls. Of course, by doing so, you take the risk that the places you want to stay at are fully booked. If you don’t want to take this risk and are pretty clear about your itinerary, you can book in advance to get better deals and peace of mind.

or, if you prefer, you can book with

To see & to do in the Cultural Triangle

If you are interested in the history and religious culture of Sri Lanka, then we suggest you focus on The Cultural Triangle. A 2 to 3 nights stay in this area will give you time to visit the Dambulla Cave Temples, Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Polonnaruwa City Ruins and the countries religious capital Kandy. If you are more into natural beauty, go for a Safari tour and look for Elephants. You can also visit tea plantations and their terraces.

Dambulla Cave Temples

If you plan to start by Dambulla, note that it’s a 3 to 4 hours drive by private car from Colombo airport.
The rock towers 160m, and shelters 5 major caves – you’ll discover nice statues of Buddha and paintings relating the Buddhist History. Visiting Dambulla Cave Temples can be a 1-day excursion from Kandy or a stop on the way to Sigiriya.
Open from 7AM. Entrance fee:  USD 10 – SGD 13/pax.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

You can climb up to the big Rock Fortress rising out from the jungle – there are about 1,200 steps to the top of the Rock. Ouch! When you start going up the rock, don’t look down if you have fear of heights! On the top of the rock you will discover some Apsara paintings, the palace ruins and a nice view over the surroundings. Expect to spend at least 2h on site.
Entrance fee LKR 3.750 –SGD 37 per pax.

Ancient ruins of Anuradhapura

The ruins consist of three classes of buildings, dagobas (bell-shaped), monastic buildings, and pokunas (water tanks) which are scattered everywhere through the jungle.
Entrance fee: USD 25 –SGD 30per pax

Polonnaruwa City Ruins

The best way to visit this place is to rent a bike and stroll around. Check if the tires are properly inflated, take bottle of water and bike to the Royal Palaces, the King Parakramabahu I Statue, Gal Vihara (Temple), etc. Ask your driver to take you to a bicycle rental.

Hurulu Eco Park

You can either chose early morning (sunrise – 5 am) or afternoon tour. A jeep will pick you up at your guesthouse nearby and will drive you in the park for about 1h30 – 2h. Elephants are playing hide and seek in their wildlife environment, you just need to open your eyes wisely. If you see big grey rocks moving (we assume you are sober), you’re probably looking at elephants! You should be able to see elephants from a few meters away. Ask around to know if the elephants are in this park or if it’s better to visit another one. Be sure you ask the question to someone you can take you to either park to avoid getting a biased answer…
Tour of 4 hours with a jeep and a guide for 3000 LKR – SGD 30.

Kandy

On the way to Kandy you may stop to visit Spices Garden – it takes approx 30 min. someone guides you and teaches all you want to know about the spices you like to use when you cook. You are also given a lesson on alternative medicine, the guide explains what properties each plant is supposed to have. So for example, cloves are supposedly good for tooth ache, ginger is good for travel sickness and black pepper seeds for constipation!

Kandy is a quiet and small city, not much to visit but you can easily wander in its streets, walk around the lake (be careful with the birds… or keep an extra T shirt with you), go to the view point surrounding the city… The city is convenient to travel around.

The Royal botanical garden is worth a visit, you can spend a couple of hours there. 5km from the city of Kandy. A peaceful and relaxing place where you can see Baobabs, an orchid garden, hundreds of bats who have made some high trees their home,etc.
Entrance fees SGD 10

Nuwara Eliya – Tea Plantations

Nuwara Eliya looks like a ghost city until you get to the Grand Hotel reception hall where you can enjoy a nice Western buffet and spend a evening in a colonial environment. You don’t need to stay at the hotel to enjoy the buffet.
The city is located at an altitude of 1800m, you’ll enjoy the freshness of the place. Talk a walk in the tea plantation hills and have a look at what your breakfast tea leaves really are. The tea bushes are well organised on terraces and offer a nice green panoramic view. It is worth stopping by a tea factory where you will the process of tea fabrication will be explained to you – the factory tour is free in most factories. You can buy tea at the factory shop.

More info to prepare your trip

Forget about Wifi connection in small guesthouses, you should however be able to find Wifi in big hotels.

What to pack for the Cultural Triangle

If you plan to visit the tea plantations and sleep in Nuwara Eliya, keep in mind that it is located at an altitude of 1800m and it is getting quite cold at night.

Your main bag

That’s the one you leave at the hotel. Ideally you want to avoid checking in your luggage when flying. So check the weight and dimensions for hand carry luggage with your airlines (some airlines will allow only 7kg, some will allow up to 10kg). From head to toes.

  • Short sleeves tops: your main outfit. Everybody will see them on all your pictures. You really want to take that old Mickey Mouse T-shirt? Be mindful that you will be in a different environment so it might be a good idea to adjust your wardrobe.
  • Long sleeves tops: to protect yourself from the sun (if you’ve stayed for 5 hours on a motorbike with short sleeves you know what I mean) or to enter religious buildings or to protect yourself from mosquitoes in the evening.
  • Pullover. Yes I know, you’re going to a country where the temperature never goes down below 25 degrees and you need to pack a pullover? You will thank us when you’re back. Remember that flight during which  you were freezing? Or this museum where the aircon is set to the “polar bear” temperature?
  • Short/skirt (you should be able to chose the appropriate one by yourself).
  • Trousers for the same reasons you need to take long sleeves tops. Jeans are usually not a good option. They are heavy and keep you too warm.
  • Underwear: well, you know. If you plan to walk or ride motorbikes for long hours, take something comfortable as the combination heat + friction can make you regret this sophisticated silk underwear. Cotton is good.
  • Shoes: one pair of flip flap and one pair of confortable shoes. Remember that you are going to spend most of the time on your feet. Forget about high heels and leave your Westons at home.
  • Swimsuit: even if you don’t plan to go to the beach, you never know. A nice river, a swimming pool, a heavy rain? Always have one with you.
  • Raincoat and protection for your bag. Even if you are visiting the country during the “best season”, you never know what the sky will be like.
  • Torch: take a pocket torch with you if you visit countries where the power is not reliable… Can come very handy when stuck in the dark in your room.
  • Toilet bag: Shampoo, soap, toothbrush & toothpath, deodorant, sun screen, tiger balm. Ideally, all these in miniature formats.
  • Sleeping bag liner (if you plan to stay in very cheap or dirty places, not required if you are staying in a 5-star hotel…)
  • Your IT stuff: iPad, eBook, laptop, chargers, memory card, batteries, etc.
  • Dryer sheets: they will help keep a fresh smell in your bag.

Your small bag

That’s the one you keep with you, all the time. Hence, a backpack is the best option.

  • Your passportcashcredit cards and other life saving items like your insurance card with emergency contact details. Not a bad idea to put them in a zip-lock bag  in case it rains. It will keep your documents dry.
  • Your driver’s licence if you plan to rent a car or a motorbike (some countries are quite particular about this so take it with you in case you are not sure, even for a motorbike rental).
  • Your emergency medical kit: painkillers, mosquitoes repellent, dressing/plaster, disinfectant, anti diarrhea, eyewash
  • Tissues and toilet paper (you will thank me later). Remember that in a lot of countries, you will not be provided napkins when having a meal.
  • Water – plastic bottles are a good option as they are lighter than a gourd/flask.
  • Biscuits (always buy some before you go when you are not sure what you will find. Always have “emergency” biscuit  and water in case you cannot find food around and need to recharge batteries)
  • Sunglasses: you’ll need them. Take them even if it’s raining. Weather can change very fast in the region.
  • Scarf (krama, or any kind of fabric that you can use to put around your neck, put on your head to protect it from the sun, cover your shoulders in temples, dry your sweat, etc). Can come very handy in some situation. It will not stay clean for long so it’s wise to pick a dark color…
  • Camera and its protection.

Sri-Lanka

SriLanka

  • Language: Sinhala, Tamil
  • Time zone: Colombo GMT +5:30 hours, 2:30h behind Singapore
  • Currency: Sri Lankan rupee (LKR)
  • Phone: + 94
  • Electricity: 220V 60 Hz

Immigration and airport taxes on arrival

With effect from 1st January 2012, all Holiday or Business travelers to Sri Lanka must have an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) for entering to Sri Lanka. You need to complete the online application before you actually fly to Sri Lanka. Visit the ETA website for more information.

National Public Holidays in Sri-Lanka

Date Week Day Holiday
January – 03 Saturday Milad-Un-Nabi (Holy Prophet’s Birthday)
January – 04 Sunday Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day
January – 15 Thursday Tamil Thai Pongal Day
February – 03 Tuesday Nawam Full Moon Poya Day
February – 04 Wednesday National Day
February – 17 Tuesday Mahasivarathri Day
March – 05 Thursday Medin Full Moon Poya Day
April – 03 Friday Good Friday
April – 03 Friday Bak Full Moon Poya Day
April – 12 Sunday Day Prior to Sinhala & Tamil New Year Day
April – 13 Monday Sinhala & Tamil New Year Day
May – 01 Friday May Day
May – 03 Sunday Wesak Full Moon Poya Day
May – 04 Monday Day following Wesak Full Moon Poya Day
June – 02 Tuesday Poson Full Moon Poya Day
July – 01 Wednesday Adhi-Esala Full Moon Poya Day
July – 18 Saturday Id-Ul-Fitr (Ramazan Festival Day)
July – 31 Friday Esala Full Moon Poya Day
August – 29 Saturday Nikini Full Moon Poya Day
September – 23 Wednesday Id-Ul-Alha (Hadji Festival Day)
September – 27 Sunday Binara Full Moon Poya Day
October – 27 Tuesday Vap Full Moon Poya Day
November – 11 Wednesday Deepavali Festival Day
November – 25 Wednesday Il Full Moon Poya Day
December – 24 Thursday Unduvap Full Moon Poya Day
December – 25 Friday Christmas Day

* check the exact date on this website as it varies from one year to another. When a Public Holiday falls on a Sunday, the following day will be Public Holiday.