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My travel experience in Sri Lanka

CareElite - Plastic-free living

Since a few days I am on Sri Lanka, look at the plastic waste problem directly on site and go on a three-week nature vacation. Sri Lanka is one of the twenty countries from which 80% of the world's plastic waste ends up in the sea every year. Alarming? Sure. But why does so much plastic waste enter the sea in Sri Lanka? The answer to this question and tips & tricks for your Sri Lanka vacation you get accurate in this article 🙂

Basic tips & tricks for your trip to Sri Lanka

Based on my further experiences on Sri Lanka, I present you here my most important tips for your vacation on Sri Lanka.

  • Negotiate prices: No matter where you are on vacation, prices can always be negotiated. Especially with your TukTuk rides you can save a lot! 1€ is the equivalent of about 160 rupees. It is best if you know the approximate distance to your destination in Sri Lanka beforehand, then you can estimate the prices wonderfully. I paid just under 50 rupees per kilometer, but if you are persistent, it may be even cheaper.
  • Use the rides as a little city tour: The TukTuk drivers can usually speak very good English and know their way around, which is why you can get rid of many questions here. If you are friendly, you will get nice and detailed answers.
  • Approach people with an open mind: Actually a matter of course. Since it is not always so in Germany, according to experience, I like to write it but to the travel tips for Sri Lanka to. The people in Sri Lanka are very open and are happy about everyone who is also open to them. So you will quickly get into conversation and find support for questions.
  • The food: Barata, Rotti, Kottu, Rice & Curry. Try the classic dishes from Sri Lanka. The food is super delicious and I would be very happy if Kottu was also available in Berlin. Barata and Rotti are basically exotic concoctions in a pastry shell. You can get all kinds of combinations with e.g. coconut, banana, dal etc. put together. Kottu is prepared and chopped right in front of you in many restaurants. For example, a chicken kottu consists of minced chicken and lots of vegetables.
  • Questions, questions, questions: The people in Sri Lanka are super helpful. Even if many TukTuk drivers, guesthouses or restaurants are of course profit-minded, the people usually help you. Example: My bus from Arugam Bay to Colombo was about an hour late. Three locals waited with me until the bus came and helped me to wave it on.
  • Bus stop: The buses in Sri Lanka take some getting used to. Not everywhere there is a sign pointing to a bus stop, the buses do not come as punctually as in Germany and you should really stand conspicuously at the side of the road so that the bus driver notices you. To be on the safe side, always ask others if you are standing in the right place to catch the bus. It is best to take the earliest bus. If the bus driver does not see you, you can simply take the next bus a little later. The buses are super cheap and if there is a bus line to your next destination, you should use it. A 2 hour bus ride in Sri Lanka costs the equivalent of less than one euro!

Before you travel next time, you can check out these Travel checklist view and download to check off.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 1 - Arrival in Colombo

After I landed last night with the plane in Colombo, I got my luggage very quickly and the legal entry also went smoothly. Because I had already gotten the visa online a few weeks before. As a German citizen, however, you no longer need a visa. (As of 18.03.2019 - for India I then later applied for my ETA visa online here) My apartment for the first 3 nights I have About AirBnb* (here you get directly 35€ AirBnb credit) and am super happy about my great host, who even picked me up at a late hour from the airport in Colombo. This is not a given since the apartment is about 35 minutes from the airport. If you have an average host who doesn't pick you up, one of the many TukTuk's is also very cheap and gets you to your destination quickly. On my first day, the first thing I did was change money. Do not change your money directly at a bank, but use pure exchange offices. You will get off much better. My nice TukTuk driver drove me for 320 Rupees (about 2€) through half of Colombo, showed me his parents house and introduced me to his family. Just be open and nice to people, then they will be nice to you.

The first very simple rule. In the supermarket next to my apartment I got everything I needed. Even a little too much, because I did not want the many plastic bags. Unfortunately, it was necessary for the checkout. A first sign for the answer to our initial question about plastic waste on Sri Lanka. In the further course of my travel diary I will tell you more about it. In the afternoon, we took another TukTuk to Mount Laviniya Beach in the southern part of the main city of Colombo. Little tourism (at least on this day) and relatively little Plastic. Even though I could get upset about every bottle that washes up there. After a few conversations in the adjacent bars and restaurants was clear that on this beach every day masses of plastic waste are washed up.

Each host makes sure that his section of the beach is clean every day. Even if not all of the washed-up plastic disappears, this is still a good deed. But one of the main reasons for the plastic waste on Sri Lanka has already become clear to me today after some stories. It is the personal attitude of each individual. Most people on Sri Lanka are not interested in the consequences of the Plastic waste in the environment and simply throw the plastic bottle directly into the sea. Sad but was. After a few nice conversations, I went back to my apartment and later to a nice restaurant. Overall, you can expect to get through the day cheaply. But make sure that you don't get talked into anything. It is unfortunately so that you are seen with white skin on Sri Lanka directly as a tourist and here is possibly more money to get. Just do what you really want to do. The second simple rule 🙂 In the next few days I'll continue with my travel report from Sri Lanka.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 2 - Another day in Colombo

Sri Lanka travel experience - Between plastic waste and tourism
An ironwood tree in the park in Colombo

Now also the second day of my trip on Sri Lanka comes to an end. Today it went by TukTuk to all the sights of the city. For the equivalent of 6€ (2 hours ride) you can do that already. But I want to report more about the natural sides of Sri Lanka in this travelogue, which is why I prefer to tell you about my visit to Colombo Park. After I met a German traveler in the city, I went to the Viharamahadevi Park, which is very centrally located. There were a lot of families there, who came together for the New Year (13.04 & 14.04) . All people in Sri Lanka are very open and happy to talk. So an openness I wish me also in Germany 🙂 Overall, a really nice second day of my trip on Sri Lanka. Basically, however, I think that one day in Colombo should be enough. Because in addition to the great people here, Sri Lanka has even less touristy and purer spots to offer.

Travel experiences on Sri Lanka - plastic waste and tourism in Colombo
Despite city cleaning, plastic waste in Colombo is just everywhere

The plastic waste is everywhere and that, although the city cleaning is active every day. Today I realized that the plastic waste in Colombo is definitely due to the lack of trash cans in the city, as well as the deposit-free bottles in the supermarket. Stricter laws and fees, as well as an urgent investment by the government in the waste disposal system, are needed to reduce plastic waste in the environment here. At this point, in addition to Sri Lanka itself, but also the wealthy countries are in the duty. Because in the end we all bear the consequences of the plastic waste in the sea together. Tomorrow we will travel together by train further south to Hikkaduwa. There, great beaches, many animals and unique nature await us.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 3 - Drive and Arrival in Hikkaduwa

Beach bar Hikkaduwa on Sri Lanka
Relaxation in a beach bar in Hikkaduwa

After two days in Colombo, my Sri Lanka trip continued together with Jael, whom I met in Colombo, towards Hikkaduwa, a fantastic beach town in the south-west of Sri Lanka. To reach Hikkaduwa, we took the train from Colombo, which also serves the cities of Galle and Mirissa, for example. From the fort in Colombo you can reach Hikkaduwa in a short time. The ride costs 160 rupees (equivalent to 1€) and takes about 2 hours. During the ride we observe a lot of plastic garbage on the edges of the rails, which is regularly just thrown out of the window and not picked up. I had booked an accommodation in Hikkaduwa on the lecture via AirBnb.

From the train station in Hikkaduwa it was only 5 minutes by TukTuk until we reached the accommodation. There Kinchana, our nice hostess, welcomed us. She introduced us to her family who were visiting to celebrate the Buddhist New Year. After we arrived, we went to the beautiful Narigama Beach, which was only a few meters away from our accommodation. The beach is very clean, only a little bit of plastic garbage was lying around. We ended the evening in a beach bar while we made plans for tomorrow.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 4 - Andahalena Waterfall

Waterfall Sri Lanka - Travel Experiences
The Andahalena waterfall near Hikkaduwa

Today we went by TukTuk to the waterfall Andahalena. It is located about 35 km away from Hikkaduwa and is not so touristy because of the distance and the long ride by TukTuk. On the way we passed a cricket game. By the way, cricket is the biggest popular sport in Sri Lanka. At some point the road to the waterfall in Hikkaduwa became so steep that we could not continue with the TukTuk. From here on we continued on foot through a jungle section with many small rivers. After about 15 minutes we had reached the waterfall. (Pictures will follow as soon as my internet is better again 🙂 ) At the waterfall we met many locals who stopped by here regularly.

We were the only tourists here and, as always on the trip, we easily got into conversation. Next to the waterfall a small staircase leads further up. After about 100 meters we reached a natural pool where you can swim. The cool water is the ideal refreshment at the temperatures around 32° G. A great nature experience. The Andahalena waterfall is beautiful and highly recommended. After we got back to our accommodation, we learned of a tragedy in Colombo that brings the plastic waste problem in Sri Lanka to a head. In Kolonnawa, on the outskirts of Colombo, a 90 meter high mountain of garbage started sliding due to the heavy rain and buried 40 houses. Six people died. The open landfill is growing by 800 million tons of garbage a day. A self-created danger that now threatens the further development of the Recycling-system in Sri Lanka at a faster pace.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 5+6 - Arrival Mirissa

Sri Lanka vacation in surfer paradise Marissa
The beach paradise in Mirissa (taken with my drone)

Today we continued by bus to Mirissa, the next surfer's paradise on the south coast of Sri Lanka. Because in the bay near Mirissa the waves are particularly big. The place itself is about two hours by bus from Hikkaduwa. The trip cost 200 rupees (about 1,20€). For all those who have not done it yet: Here you can make wonderful whale watching 🙂 This time I have booked before no accommodation, but asked directly on site in several guesthouses. Here you can, depending on the season, still act wonderfully. Now in April is not the high season here, which is why the guest houses are far from being at capacity. Our hostess is incredibly friendly, in keeping with previous experiences. One night costs the equivalent of about 8€.

So after we had a suitable accommodation, we went to the beach. Today we could watch turtles hatching, a great nature experience, which was unfortunately made by the mass of tourists to the nullity. One turtle made its way into the water all by itself at the beginning, the others did not have this chance, because the tourists took this task in the truest sense of the word, into their own hands. In the morning of the 6th day I was on the beach with my drone.

Plastic waste in Sri Lanka - Travel experiences
Plastic waste directly behind a beach bar in Mirissa (Sri Lanka)

One of the pictures you see above, the other shots including travel video I provide you shortly after the completion of the trip to Sri Lanka. The same morning I cleaned the beach from its plastic waste, although this beach itself is still relatively clean. Right behind a beach bar I came across the mountain of plastic garbage that you can see here on the adjacent picture. The plastic waste lies here not only since yesterday and therefore underlines the plastic waste problem on Sri Lanka.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 7 + 8 + 9 - Mirissa Surf School + Beach CleanUp

Sri Lanka travel experience report - plastic waste in Sri Lanka
My Beach CleanUp in Weligama!

I decided to stay in Mirissa for two more days. My good reasons: First - Place, people and nature are simply unique and second - The plastic waste I discovered on the morning of the 7th day, was just too much of a good thing. Actually, I wanted to travel on to the next place on Sri Lanka, but I had also set in my head to make a surf course. That's why I decided to stay one more night in Mirissa (which ended up being 3 nights). So in the morning I went to Weligama, the perfect place to learn surfing. The waves are flat and long, ideal conditions. But before I went to one of the many surf schools in Weligama, I discovered a disproportionate amount of plastic waste on this beach, which I wanted to address later.

The first thing was the surf course. For 2000 rupees (the equivalent of about 12€, it's even cheaper - you can negotiate wonderfully, because right next door is the next surf school) you get a personal 1 1/2 hour course from a surf instructor. Together with the flat, long waves in Weligama, these are ideal conditions for a sense of achievement on the surfboard. Standing on the board worked wonderfully and I really felt like continuing after the course. After I had dedicated myself to the plastic garbage afterwards, I decided to stay two more days to continue learning to surf better and to collect the plastic garbage on the beach. In the evening, I organized some help for the CleanUp the next day. Do something good and take some time on vacation to make the world a little better. All you need is a few garbage bags and preferably some friends to help you. Everything else about the CleanUp in Sri Lanka, you can see in this video (follows!!).

Sri Lanka Travel Experience Report - Secret Beach Mirissa
The Secret Beach in Mirissa

After the trash was disposed of, we rewarded ourselves with another surf lesson. This time I only borrowed the board because I got the basic technique down. Depending on your size and weight you should start with a different surfboard. On the last day in Mirissa I had another look at the beach in Weligama after our CleanUp. A few new plastic bottles (thrown off the boat after fishing) were lying on an otherwise plastic-free stretch of beach. Only politics and industry can fundamentally influence this plastic problem on Sri Lanka. Bottle deposit and simply more garbage garbage cans on the beaches (so far I see none!!) can already fundamentally fix the problem. After a short check of the beach, we went surfing again and then to the Secret Beach in Mirissa.

Even if the beach is not as "secret" as the name suggests, it is a fantastic and calming place. The next day we went with two other travelers by bus to Tissa to the Yala National Park.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 10 + 11 - Yala National Park

Sri Lanka Yala National Park - Travel Experiences
To see a leopard, you need some luck!

With the best recommendations of our host in Mirissa, we were received after a two-hour bus ride by our new host in Tissamehara, from where I would like to visit Yala National Park. With Sanjeewa I met one of the best hosts. The apartment is right in the rice fields and has everything you need. The town of Tissamehara is worth seeing. When you are there, ask around so you don't miss a breathtaking experience at the big lake. Ask the locals about the bats and don't make any plans for 7pm. It will be an unusual but fascinating experience. Early in the morning of the second day in "Tissa" we went directly by jeep to Yala National Park. We saw bears, elephants, crocodiles, water buffalo, white-tailed eagles and also leopards. Plan at least half a day for Yala National Park. It is worth it. But be prepared to get up very early (around 5am). Then you have the best chance to see the wild animals in their natural environment. After visiting the town afterwards, we had a fantastic meal with our host. The plans for the next day were also in place.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 12 + 13 - Ella

Sri Lanka Travel Experience Report - Ella Rock
In Ella you experience pure nature! (Little Adam's Peak)

In the morning, the further route brought us to Ella, which is the first time I am no longer directly on the coast. After a pleasant bus ride (it is not self-evident that you get a seat), we arrived in the pleasantly cool highlands (about 27 °) of Ella. Arrived at a really nice hotel near the main road, we went straight on. If you are in Ella, you should definitely go to Little Adam's Peak as well as Ellas Rock. You can easily do Little Adam's Peak on the day you arrive if you are in Ella by lunchtime. It takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the top, depending on your power. For Ella Rock you should start early in the morning (7am at the latest), because the whole trip takes about four hours.

You hike over the track bed, while the climb is still quite pleasant. Only in the last 20 minutes the mountain becomes steeper. Plan on about 1 hour to get up the mountain. We didn't have a guide, although many locals will tell you not to go up without local knowledge. Just read through an extensive blog post on climbing Ellas Rock.

There you will find the complete directions. You can also, and this is really no joke, join a stray dog. The dogs accompany Traveller from Bottom to Top because they hope to get something to eat. Just use the Dog-Guide and ask locals or Travellers you meet on the way from time to time. As I only have three weeks in Sri Lanka in total and wanted to continue to work on the plastic problem, this was my last day in Ella for the time being. Tomorrow morning I will continue my journey to Arugam Bay, the absolute surfer's paradise of Sri Lanka. For Ella, however, I would like to recommend a visit to a tea plantation and you should also visit the many waterfalls.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 14 - 20 - Arugam Bay

Sri Lanka Travel Experience Report - Plastic Waste Sri Lanka
Hey Buddy! Thanks for the Coconut 🙂

After a short farewell breakfast from my previous acquaintances of my trip on Sri Lanka, it went from Ella then finally back to the beach. To the surfer's paradise of Arugam Bay, in the east of Sri Lanka. Since the bus ride from Ella to Arugam Bay is a bit tedious, I teamed up with two other travelers at the bus stop in Ella, so we took the cab for the equivalent of 6€. Alone it would be too expensive. After not even three hours I was already in Arugam Bay. With 34 ° much warmer than in the highlands, I signed up directly for a surf course the next day, which takes place about 8 km south of Arugam Bay. At the beach of Arugam Bay in these days (end of April) really only professionals should surf. Because now the high time starts on the east coast, while the surf schools in the south of Sri Lanka usually close for about 2 months. The waves are very high and dangerous. Only in some places surfing is still suitable for beginners. On the photo you can see little Benito, who was so nice and introduced me to his family and knew exactly how to take a good selfie 🙂 .
I walked the beach about 3 km on my first day and once again discovered a lot of plastic trash.

Tomorrow I will therefore start another CleanUp. More than in any other place in Sri Lanka, the locals blame the garbage problem on the tourists. To 100% the fault is to be looked for however beside the tourists also with the inhabitants. Besides the many fishing boats on the beach of Arugam Bay, you can find the usual plastic bottles, which are simply thrown on the sand after fishing. But it is still good to hear that surfers and locals regularly start a cleanup here. Otherwise we might have conditions here like on the beach of Weligama. On the second day I went with a few people to surf at the Peanut Farm, 8 km away. The rental for the board (1 1/2 hours) costs about 500 rupees (about 3€) at all surf schools in Arugam Bay. Just negotiate a little bit and it will be cheaper. The expensive thing is the ride with the TukTuk to Peanut Farm or Elephant Rock. Here are the perfect conditions to learn surfing. Of course the locals know this and charge 1000 rupees for the ride there and back. There is little room for negotiation here, because the surf schools have agreed. In the morning at 9 o'clock I first made a surf course for 2500 rupees (about 15€ for 1 1/2 hours). In the waves at Peanut Farm and with a really good instructor, I found surfing easy. After these experiences and even if the waves here are really big, I can only recommend you to learn surfing in Arugam Bay. I could surf better here than in Weligama.

In the morning of the third day I did another plastic waste cleanup (video follows) and then helped the fishermen with their work. It took about half an hour and the strength of 20 people until we had pulled the net, which was tied between two boats for fishing, out of the water. A real back-breaking job that awaits the fishermen here every day. By the way, there was a lot of plastic garbage in the net besides the fish. The midday I have kept free for my blog post, because you can not stand it at these high temperatures (around 35 degrees) in the midday sun. In the evening (from 4 pm) is the ideal time to surf. I went again by TukTuk to the Peanut Farm. Unfortunately, this evening was a real disappointment as far as surfing is concerned. In the one hour I rented the board, not a single suitable wave came. All surfers sat on their boards and chatted. Since board and TukTuk cost about 1500 rupees (just under 9€) this is hard, but a day without waves can just happen. With a few more CleanUps and relaxed evenings in the guesthouse I have ended my trip.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 21 - Return to the airport

Getting from Arugam Bay to the airport in Colombo is fortunately very uncomplicated. In the morning and evening there are 2-3 direct buses to the capital. I chose the cheap option for 750 rupees (just under 5€ for about 8 hours bus ride) and traveled at night to Colombo. The ride was okay, but depending on your flight time, I would still recommend a bus that runs during the day. Because sleeping is hardly possible with the road conditions and the driving. Arrived in Colombo, it was then with a heavy heart again in the direction of Berlin. The airport in Colombo is really clear and uncomplicated.

I hope that my travel experiences have brought you a little closer to Sri Lanka. In my 3 weeks I have unfortunately not seen everything of this wonderful country. I did manage to see the south. If you really want to see everything and travel all the way north to Jaffna, then you should plan on about 5 weeks so you can enjoy your time in Sri Lanka enough. Apart from the massive garbage problem, Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited so far. I would like to go into more detail about the garbage problem.
Continue to the ultimate travel packing list or read more..

Why Sri Lanka has such a big plastic waste problem

Plastic waste recycling in Sri Lanka - Plastic waste in the sea
Plastic waste recycling in Sri Lanka

Several environmentalists in Sri Lanka have told me that the country's large amount of plastic waste is due to disposal options. Sri Lanka would urgently need a transparent strategy to generate less plastic waste. It lacks the right recycling technologies and the space to store plastic waste for further processing. The above-average consumption of plastic is largely due to the high consumption of plastic bags in retail, so politics alone could make a big step here with higher fees or a ban on plastic bags. Unfortunately, it is necessary to artificially create greater motivation for more environmentally conscious behavior. CEA (The Central Environment Authority) Executive Director Prof. Lal Dharmasiri says that the process to reduce plastic waste in Sri Lanka can only be done in small steps. First the plastic bags, then the plastic bottles, etc... In his opinion, it is particularly important to promote the environmental awareness of the people already in the schools.

Reduce, reuse and recycle plastic must become a matter of course in Sri Lanka. Only in this way can Sri Lanka achieve a recycling rate of 80%. This is the government's stated goal, although the recycling rate to date is only 40%.
As far as plastic bags in Sri Lanka are concerned, the fight is to be declared against polyethylene in particular. But this is proving more difficult in Sri Lanka than it should be. The polyethylene content of plastic bags is only being reduced in small steps. However, many small companies produce their own plastic bags. This is difficult to control and ensures that polyethylene bags cannot be prevented overnight.

The fight against plastic waste in Sri Lanka is declared

But there is also good news about plastic waste in Sri Lanka. Sarath Kumara Bandula (CEA, Director Waste Collection Division) has had recycling centers built in the island's largest cities to collect and recycle plastic waste. But as we saw with the disaster in Colombo, this is only a step in the right direction. Nothing more, nothing less. I have the feeling that people don't even know where to take the garbage. On the one hand, there are almost no possibilities to dispose of garbage directly at the beaches - more big garbage garbage cans (trash boxes) are needed, which are emptied regularly! Then less plastic waste ends up on the beaches and in the sea.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka lacks the knowledge or the possibility to properly dispose of entire garbage bags. When I asked a few residents after the CleanUps where I could take the garbage, they often could not give me an answer, to my dismay. (This was not a language problem, but an information problem!).
But I also see that the restaurant owners on the beaches make an effort to clear the beach of plastic in the morning. But this is not a permanent solution.

With large trash cans on the beaches, the garbage would already be automatically collected by beachgoers. Because besides personal attitude, the lack of disposal facilities is to blame for the plastic waste problem. So two basic things need to be changed to make an important big step towards a clean Sri Lanka. An appeal to companies and politicians.

Best regards,

Living plastic-free - Less plastic waste in the environment

Coffee box Suggestions for improvement

* Links with asterisks are so-called affiliate links. If you click on it and buy something, you automatically and actively support my work with, because I get a small share of the sales revenue - and of course the product price does not change. Thank you for your support and best regards, Christoph!

Christoph Schulz

Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

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