Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sri Lanka Travel Tips: From India to Sri Lanka and Back

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

(Updated 24-08-14) If you are planning to travel to Sri Lanka to get a new Indian visa, or just for holidays, and you wonder where to stay in Colombo, where to eat in Colombo or which is the best beach to visit in Sri Lanka during your Indian visa run then I'm sure you'll find this Sri Lanka travel guide helpful.

I stayed in Sri Lanka only for ten days because I really wanted to continue practicing ashtanga yoga in Mysore, India, but although I spend such a short time in Sri Lanka I must say that I really liked it and for sure I will return in the future. It's a beautiful country and the people are very friendly and polite. Even the guy at immigration was very friendly. While he was putting the stamp on my passport he had a small chat with me and he asked me the typical questions "are you married?", "will you find a girl in Sri Lanka?"

Colombo looks very clean, organized and more developed compared to most places that I've seen in India. I was very surprised when during my first day walking around Colombo a tuk tuk (three-wheeler) driver stopped just before me to let me cross the street. That has never happened to me in India or in Nepal.

How to apply for the Sri Lankan tourist visa

Before entering Sri Lanka you need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). You will need to fill an online form and make the payment by credit card.

After a few hours, you'll receive an email confirming the approval to entry Sri Lanka. You'll need to print the mail and present it at immigration on your arrival to get the stamp on your passport.

That's all, it's a pretty straightforward process.

In my last two or three visits to Sri Lanka, they have not asked for any printed document, so I don't bother to print it out anymore, but I always have the email on my iPhone at hand.

For any other information regarding the Sri Lanka visa, you can check their website:

Be careful, sometimes you can find many different websites that offer the Sri Lankan e-visa.  Use only the link above and you'll be safe.  That's the website I always use.

How to get to Colombo city center from the airport

The cheapest option to get to Colombo city center from the airport is to take the local bus.

Usually, you will find a large AC bus waiting at the parking lot, just as you come out of the airport.

Another option is to get a small local bus.  After you come out of the arrivals gate, walk towards the left side, cross the main road, then again walk towards the left side and on the first bus stop wait for bus 187. It's an AC and charges about 300 rupees.

The ride is about one hour drive or more and the bus will stop at Colombo Fort, near the train station.

You could also use the PickMe app to order a taxi from the airport directly to your hotel in Colombo.  You'll need a local phone number but don't worry, you can get a local sim inside the airport.

Just go for the Dialog booth and you can get a sim card activated in no time.

Where to stay in Colombo

I stayed at Clock Inn based on a recommendation from a couple of friends. If you are on a budget this might be your best option. It's probably the cheapest hotel in Colombo but at the same time completely new, very clean and centrally located.

It was new in 2013 when I first published this article.  Now it's a bit run down and the bathrooms are not very pleasant.  

I still stay there every time I visit Colombo just because it is convenient but I would suggest instead to try Airbnb.  If you use my referral link you might get a 25% discount.

They offer four-bed dormitories with lockers in the rooms for each bed and with very clean shared bathrooms. There is free wifi in each room. And if your intention is to apply for an Indian Visa then another plus is that the hotel is walking distance from the Indian Visa Service Center.

To get to Clock Inn from Colombo Fort station I just took a tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk driver charged me 500 rupees with a meter but later I realized that somehow he charged me twice the price.

The hotel manager told me that I should pay only 250 so since then I decided to agree on the price in advance and paid only 250 to get to the bus stop and back which I had to do a few more times.

Clock Inn Contact Information:

Address: 457 Galle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 112 500 588
Fax: +94 112 577 795

Clock Inn is a very popular budget hotel so it is recommended to book in advance otherwise you might not find a room when you get there. My friend Raphaela had to sleep in the sofa on her second visit. To book you can email them or book via

Where to eat and where to shop in Colombo

All these restaurants/shops are walking distance from Clock Inn, but Crescat Boulevard and Galle Face Hotel are about 35 min walk. You could easily take Tuc-Tuc for a 5 min ride.

Barefoot Garden Cafe

Almost opposite of Clock Inn. It's a bookstore, shop and cafe restaurant. The cafe is really nice and cozy. Great place for solo travelers or to hang out with friends. The food is pretty good and they have free wifi.

Address: Barefoot, 706 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka.

Gallery Cafe

An Art Gallery, a shop and a cafe which is actually a top-end restaurant with a very complete menu. The food is absolutely the best, international fusion cuisine and some local dishes. You could easily spend around 2,000 (one person) Sri Lankan Rupees.

Address: 2 Alfred House Rd, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka.

Crescat Boulevard Mall

A small shopping mall but with high quality branded products and designer clothes. There is a nice food court on the lowest floor which opens till 10pm. Good for a quick and cheap meal.

Address: Crescat Boulevard, Galle Rd, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka

Galle Face Hotel

I was looking for the best breakfast buffet in Colombo and I found it thanks to Even if you are on a budget I think it's nice to once in a while give yourself a nice treat, and the breakfast buffet at Galle Face Hotel is absolutely delicious. The breakfast buffet was about 1,800 rupees/11 Euros, cheaper than the breakfast buffet at the Hilton Colon. It's 5 minutes walking from Crescat Boulevard Mall.

Breakfast Buffet at Galle Face Hotel in Colombo

Breakfast Buffet in Colombo

Address: Galle Face Hotel, 2 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka.

Majestic City

Majestic City, next to Unity Plaza is another shopping mall in Colombo. The food court is not as nice as the one in Crescat Boulevard but the mall is much bigger with a lot more shops, although not necessarily better quality. There is also a cinema hall.

Address: 10, Station Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo 04, Sri Lanka

How to get to the Indian Visa Service Center

When you walk out of Clock Inn (building behind you) turn left and walk next to the Galle Road until you reach the first traffic light. On the traffic light turn left and keep walking all the way till you feel that you are reaching the end of that road where you will see a roundabout.

Then on your right side, you'll find a laundromat. Turn right, around the laundromat corner, and you'll find the Indian Visa Service Center on your left side. It's about a 15 minutes walk.

View IVS Application Center Colombo in a larger map

Indian Visa Application Process

To know everything about Indian visa application process then you can read:

Unawatuna: paradise beach near Colombo

Beautiful Unawatuna Beach Sri Lanka
Unawatuna Beach, Sri Lanka
While I waited for my Indian Visa I decided to find a paradise beach not so far away from Colombo where I could relax, continue with my own yoga practice and eat well. After reading "A Guide to Sri Lanka’s Southern Beaches" by WanderingOn.Com and getting some advice from them I chose Unawatuna beach.

"Moving east along the highway, passing some incredible, totally undeveloped beaches, you come to the sands of Unawatuna. A more laid back vibe is in the air here [compared to Hikkaduwa], with a crowd consisting primarily of gap year travelers and young couples. Winding down a small street through some nice cafes and restaurants the sound of the busy road becomes something of a distant memory. Along the beach front are a number of restaurants and sections of the beach have sun loungers for visitors to bake in the hot Sri Lankan sun." WanderingOn.Com

Unawatuna Beach is definitely a little paradise although not necessarily a backpacker paradise. I was shocked when I saw a jet ski at the beach pulling an inflatable tube, not my kind of fun at the beach, but the beach is so beautiful that it didn't bother me that much and the Buddhist temple on the top of the hill by the north end of the beach gives it a very special touch.

If you are traveling with your wife and kids or with your partner then you'll certainly love this place. There are plenty of very comfortable guesthouses and restaurants with good food all around Unawatuna.

My favorite bar/restaurant was Nautilus. The staff was super friendly and the food delicious. And the other restaurant that I liked was Flamingo, excellent food! Both places offered the best value for your money. They are located almost next to each other close to the south end of the beach.

From Unawatuna, you can rent a scooter or get a tuk-tuk and visit other nearby beaches. A must visit place is the Galle Fort. The views from the fort are just amazing and the whole area has a very nice atmosphere. You might even consider staying there for a few nights.

Galle Fort View Sri Lanka
Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

How to Get to Unawatuna Beach From Colombo

There are many options to travel from Colombo to Unawatuna. You can take a train that takes about two hours and half, a local bus that takes about three hours and a half or the Express Bus that goes through the highway. The express bus takes about one hour but you need to get another bus first to Maharagama (or something like that), so the whole ride might take around one hour and half.

The train might be the nicest option because of the view but there are not many trains available during the day so if you like this option you might need to wait several hours for a train. The buses are available probably every 15 minutes.

Arugam Bay, Surf Beach Paradise in Sri Lanka

Surfing in Sri Lanka

Another beach that I can definitely recommend in Sri Lanka is Arugam Bay. Arugam Bay it's a very popular surf destination on the west coast of Sri Lanka, a perfect place to learn how to surf. There are plenty of guesthouses and restaurants for all kinds of budgets. It's an ideal location if you are traveling by yourself, in a group or with your family. The season goes from May till October.

You can find all the information that you might need about Arugam Bay in:

Other Places to Visit in Sri Lanka

There is a lot to explore around Sri Lanka and I got many recommendations from several friends but since I wanted to return to India soon I decided to visit just one place, in this case, Unawatuna, however I would like to share with you my friend Dennis Kopp's recommendations from his travel blog "See The World in My Eyes."

Negombo Beach
Negombo by James Gordon, CC BY-NC
Another friend, Matias from Argentina, recommended me to go to Negombo. It's a beach destination very close to Colombo, but I decided to go a little further south to Unawatuna instead, Negombo sounded to close to Colombo for me, but if you don't have the time to venture far away from Colombo then this might be the ideal beach for you. There is actually a direct bus from the airport straight to Negombo.

Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda in Sri Lanka

Ashtanga Lanka
Yoga: Whenever I would mention to anybody in Mysore that I was going to Sri Lanka they would immediately suggest going to Ashtanga Lanka. This is a yoga center located on the southern tip of Sri Lanka near the town of Tangalle specially dedicated to ashtanga yoga practice. Although it's quite expensive I had decided to practice ashtanga yoga there because of the many recommendations that I received from different friends but unfortunately, the yoga season had not started during the time that I was in Sri Lanka.

Yoga retreats: If you are interested in yoga retreats you can visit 7 Unique Yoga Retreats in Sri Lanka for Every Budget.  This is my personal wishlist of some of the best top-rated yoga retreats in Sri Lanka.  At least 4.5 stars!

Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Center
Meditation: If you are interested in meditation then you might like the Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Center. My friend Federico, from Argentina, recommended it to me. He said that the daily schedule is flexible, the rules are not very strict and the food is delicious. Unfortunately, this place was also closed during my stay in Sri Lanka but it will probably be my first destination next time that I visit Sri Lanka. Judging by the pics this place looks amazing.

Ayurveda: Ute, a lovely german girl that I met at Clock Inn recommended me two places for Ayurveda: Kingdom Resort, located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, and Greystones-Villa, on the highlands, but this one is apparently all in german.

Ask the Tourist Office

If you want more information about Sri Lanka then make sure you stop by the tourist information office at the airport on your arrival. This is the best tourist office ever, I've never got so much information and with so much clarity and patience by anybody in any other place that I've visited before. You might not be attended by the same person that I talked with but I guess that regardless of whoever is on duty you will get the same kind of service.

Important! Get an outbound flight before traveling from Sri Lanka to India

If you are planning to travel to India after applying for an Indian Visa in Sri Lanka then make sure to get an outbound flight for your expected departure date from India. If you don't have a ticket out of India then you might not be able to pass the check-in and continue to board your flight. Don't ask me why cause I don't understand this either, it's just the way it works when flying out of Colombo.

My friend Raphaela had advised me about this but because I had lots of trouble when booking my flight tickets back to India I forgot about it so while I was doing the check-in at Colombo's airport they asked me for the flight ticket out of India.

It didn't matter what I would say they just wouldn't let me check-in, so I had to go out of the airport buy an expensive ticket and pass again two security checks to get back to the counter. If you don't want to have that same experience then I recommend you to get an outbound flight from India in advance.

How to Extend Your Sri Lanka Tourist Visa

If you want to prolong your stay in Sri Lanka you can apply for a visa extension at the Immigration and Emigration Office in 41 Ananda Rajakaruna Mw, Colombo 10, in Punchi Borella.  Update.  The new office is the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Suhurupaya, Subuthi Dr, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka.

It's possible to extend your visa up to two times. The first extension is for a maximum of two months and the second extension for three months, so in total, you can spend a maximum of six months in one visit to Sri Lanka. The cost of the visa extension varies according to your nationality.

The building opens around 5 am so if you arrive very early in the morning you can wait inside since that time. At 6am the main office inside opens but the working hours of the visa extension office, which is on the third floor, starts around 8 am. You can still enter that floor and wait inside since 6 am.

I extended my Sri Lankan visa twice during my second visit to Sri Lanka and without any inconvenience. I took the AC night bus from Arugam Bay to Colombo leaving at 9pm arriving at 4am. I went straight to the immigration office and waited on the stairs until they opened the building around 5 am.

The entrance is actually not through the main door that you'll see at the top end of the stairs but on the right-hand side before climbing the stairs. After getting the visa (around 9:30 am) I went straight back to the PETA bus station to book a seat on the local bus leaving at 7pm from Colombo to Pottuvil/Arugam Bay. There are actually three-night buses leaving from Colombo to Pottuvil (7pm, 8:30 pm, and 9:30pm). The last bus is an AC bus.

I hope you'll find these Sri Lanka Travel Tips useful and if you have any other travel tips for Sri Lanka please don't hesitate to share them in the comment section below.


  1. Great blog, I really appropriate the writer’s way of narration which is simple and beautiful. I have been to Sri Lanka as a Kid and I must agree that it is a wonderful places to live. We stayed at a cottage with beautiful ambience, I still remember every bit of that experience. Impressive piece of writing keep posting.

  2. thanks for providing all this information. very clear and helpful!!

  3. so just to confirm applying for a six month indian visa must to be in colombo? my indian e't visa 30day visa just expired and i would like to return to india. i cannot apply for full 6months tourist visa at any of the other 3 places?

  4. Great info about how to get essentially a "6 Month Tourist Visa for Sri Lanka". No where else on the entire world of the internet could I find this info - thanks for sending the link, brother! Also really appreciate all the other helpful info found here that didnt realise were going questions i was going to have until I read them! I.e. - about surfing locations and how to get an Indian visa

    1. Thanks to you bro. I'm happy you've found all this information useful. Good luck with everything ;-)