Skip to content
CareElite - Plastic-free living

My travel experience in Sri Lanka

Since a few days I am on Sri LankaI take a 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 plastic waste enters the sea every year. Frightening? Sure. But why does so much plastic waste end up in the sea in Sri Lanka? You can find the answer to this question and tips & tricks for your Sri Lanka vacation in this article 🙂

Basic tips & tricks for your trip to Sri Lanka

Based on my extensive experience in Sri Lanka, here are my top tips for your vacation in Sri Lanka.

  • Negotiate prices: No matter where you are on vacation, prices can always be negotiated. You can save a lot, especially on your TukTuk rides! 1€ is the equivalent of around 160 rupees. It's best if you know the approximate distance to your destination in Sri Lanka beforehand, then you can estimate the prices perfectly. I paid just under 50 rupees per kilometer, but if you are persistent, it might 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 ask a lot of questions here. If you are friendly, you will also get nice and detailed answers.
  • Approach people with an open mind: Actually a matter of course. As experience has shown that this is not always the case in Germany, I am happy to add it to the travel tips for Sri Lanka. The people in Sri Lanka are very open and are happy to meet anyone who is open to them. You'll quickly strike up a conversation and find support if you have any questions.
  • The food: Barata, Rotti, Kottu, Rice & Curry. Try the classic dishes from Sri Lanka. The food is delicious and I would be delighted if Kottu were also available in Berlin. Barata and roti are basically exotic combinations in a batter. You can have all kinds of combinations put together with coconut, banana, dal, etc., for example. Kottu is prepared and chopped right in front of you in many restaurants. For example, a chicken kottu consists of shredded chicken and lots of vegetables.
  • Questions, questions, questions: People in Sri Lanka are super helpful. Even though many tuk-tuk drivers, guesthouses and restaurants are of course motivated by profit, people will usually help you. Example: My bus from Arugam Bay to Colombo arrived about an hour late. Three locals waited with me until the bus arrived and helped me wave it on.
  • Bus stop: The buses in Sri Lanka take a bit of getting used to. Not everywhere there is a sign indicating a bus stop, the buses don't arrive as punctually as they do here 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 doesn't see you, you can simply take the next bus a little later. The buses are super cheap and if there is a bus route 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 take a look at these Travel checklist view and download to check off.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 1 - Arrival in Colombo

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

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

Every host makes sure that their stretch of beach is clean every day. Even if not all the plastic washed up on the beach disappears, this is still a good deed. But one of the main reasons for the plastic waste in Sri Lanka has already become clear to me today after a few stories. It is the personal attitude of each individual. Most people in Sri Lanka are not interested in the consequences of plastic waste. Plastic waste in the environment and simply throw the plastic bottle straight into the sea. Sad but true. After a few nice conversations, I went back to my apartment and later to a nice restaurant. All in all, you can expect to get through the day cheaply. But make sure that you don't get talked into anything. Unfortunately, if you have white skin in Sri Lanka, you are immediately seen as a tourist and there may be more money to be made here. Just do what you really want to do. The second simple rule 🙂 My travel report from Sri Lanka will continue in the next few days.

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

The second day of my trip to Sri Lanka has now come to an end. Today I took a tuk-tuk to all the sights in the city. You can do this for the equivalent of €6 (a 2-hour ride). In this travel report, however, I would like to tell you more about the natural side of Sri Lanka, which is why I would rather tell you about my visit to Colombo Park. After meeting a German traveler in the city, I went to Viharamahadevi Park, which is very centrally located. There were a lot of families there celebrating the New Year (13.04 & 14.04). Everyone in Sri Lanka is very open and happy to chat. I would like to see this kind of openness in Germany too 🙂 All in all, it was a really nice second day of my trip to Sri Lanka. Basically, however, I think that one day in Colombo should be enough. Because in addition to the great people here, Sri Lanka also has less touristy and cleaner spots to offer.

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

The plastic waste is everywhere, even though the city cleaners are active every day. Today I realized that the plastic waste in Colombo is definitely due to the lack of garbage cans in the city and the deposit-free bottles in supermarkets. Stricter laws and fees, as well as an urgently needed investment by the state in the waste disposal system, are needed to reduce plastic waste in the environment here. At this point, not only Sri Lanka itself, but also the wealthy countries have a duty. Because in the end, we all bear the consequences of plastic waste in the sea together. Tomorrow we will travel south by train to Hikkaduwa. Great beaches, lots of animals and unique nature await us there.

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 goes to Galle and Mirissa, for example. From the fort in Colombo, you can reach Hikkaduwa in a short time. The journey costs 160 rupees (equivalent to €1) and takes around 2 hours. During the journey, we observe a lot of plastic waste on the edges of the tracks, which is regularly simply thrown out of the window and not collected. I had booked accommodation in Hikkaduwa via AirBnb at the lecture.

It was only 5 minutes by tuk-tuk from the train station in Hikkaduwa to our accommodation. Kinchana, our lovely hostess, greeted us there. 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, with just the odd piece of plastic garbage 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 took a TukTuk to the Andahalena waterfall. It is about 35 km away from Hikkaduwa and is not so touristy due to the distance and the long journey by TukTuk. On the way, we passed a cricket match. Incidentally, cricket is the biggest popular sport in Sri Lanka. At some point, the path to the waterfall in Hikkaduwa became so steep that we could no longer continue by TukTuk. From here, we continued on foot through a section of jungle with many small rivers. After about 15 minutes we reached the waterfall. (Pictures will follow as soon as my internet is better again 🙂 ) At the waterfall we met many locals who came here regularly.

We were the only tourists here and, as always on the trip, we easily struck up a 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 in temperatures of around 32° G. A great nature experience. The Andahalena waterfall is beautiful and highly recommended. After we got back to our accommodation, we heard about a tragedy in Colombo that is taking the plastic waste problem in Sri Lanka to the extreme. In Kolonnawa, on the outskirts of Colombo, a 90-metre-high mountain of garbage started to slide due to the heavy rain and buried 40 houses underneath it. Six people died. The open landfill is growing by 800 million tons of garbage every 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 took the bus to Mirissa, the next surfer's paradise on the south coast of Sri Lanka. The waves are particularly big in the bay near Mirissa. The town itself is about two hours by bus from Hikkaduwa. The journey costs 200 rupees (the equivalent of around €1.20). For those who haven't done it yet: You can go whale watching here 🙂 This time I didn't book any accommodation beforehand, but checked directly with several guesthouses on site. Depending on the season, you can still bargain wonderfully here. April is not the high season here, which is why the guesthouses are far from being fully booked. In keeping with our previous experiences, our hostess is incredibly friendly. One night costs the equivalent of around €8.

Once we had found suitable accommodation, we went to the beach. Today we were able to watch turtles hatching, a great nature experience that was unfortunately ruined by the masses of tourists. One turtle made it into the water all by itself at the beginning, the others didn't have this chance as the tourists literally took this task into their own hands. On the morning of the 6th day, I was out and about on the beach with my drone.

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

You can see one of the pictures above, the other pictures including a travel video will be available shortly after the end of my trip to Sri Lanka. On the same morning, I cleared the beach of its plastic waste, although this beach itself is still relatively clean. Directly behind a beach bar, I came across the mountain of plastic waste that you can see in the picture opposite. The plastic waste has not just been lying here since yesterday and therefore underlines the plastic waste problem in 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: Firstly - the place, people and nature are simply unique and secondly - the plastic waste I discovered on the morning of the 7th day was just too much of a good thing. I actually wanted to travel on to the next place in Sri Lanka, but I had also made up my mind to do a surfing course. That's why I decided to stay one more night (which ended up being 3 nights) in Mirissa. In the morning I went to Weligama, the perfect place to learn to surf. The waves are flat and long, so the conditions are ideal. 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 deal with later.

First up was the surf course. For 2000 rupees (the equivalent of around €12, you can negotiate even cheaper - you can negotiate wonderfully because the nearest surf school is right next door) 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 successful surfboard experience. Standing up on the board worked wonderfully and I really wanted to continue after the course. After tackling the plastic waste afterwards, I decided to stay for two more days to continue learning to surf better and collect the plastic waste on the beach. In the evening, I organized some help for the CleanUp the next day. Do something good and take some time on your vacation to make the world a better place. All you need is a few garbage bags and preferably a few friends to help you. You can see everything else about the CleanUp in Sri Lanka in this video (coming soon!!).

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

Once the garbage had been disposed of, we rewarded ourselves with another surf lesson. This time I only borrowed the board as I had mastered the basic technique. Depending on your size and weight, you should start with a different surfboard. On my last day in Mirissa, I visited the beach in Weligama one day after our clean-up. There were a few new plastic bottles (which are thrown off the boat after fishing) on an otherwise plastic-free stretch of beach. Only politics and industry can fundamentally influence this plastic problem in Sri Lanka. A deposit on plastic bottles and simply more garbage cans on the beaches (so far I haven't seen a single one!!) can fundamentally solve the problem. After a quick check of the beach, we went surfing again and then to Secret Beach in Mirissa.

Even though the beach is no longer as "secret" as the name suggests, it is a fantastic and calming place. The next day we took the bus with two other travelers to Tissa and Yala National Park.

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

Sri Lanka Yala National Park - Travel Experiences
You need a bit of luck to see a leopard!

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

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 rest of the route took us to Ella, which was the first time I was no longer directly on the coast. After a pleasant bus ride (it's not a given that you get a seat), we arrived in the pleasantly cool highlands (approx. 27°) of Ella. Arriving 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 and Ellas Rock. You can easily manage Little Adam's Peak on the day you arrive if you are in Ella by lunchtime. Depending on your strength, it will take around 30 - 45 minutes to reach the top. For Ella Rock, you should start early in the morning (7 a.m. at the latest), as the entire trip takes around four hours.

You walk over the track bed, while the ascent is still quite pleasant. The mountain only becomes steeper in the last 20 minutes. Allow about 1 hour to get up the mountain. We didn't have a guide, although many locals will tell you that you shouldn't go up without someone who knows the area. Just read a detailed blog post about the ascent of Ellas Rock.

You'll find the complete route description there. You can also, and this really isn't a joke, join a stray dog. The dogs accompany travelers from Botton to Top because they hope to get something to eat. Just use the dog guide and ask locals or travelers you meet along the way from time to time.  As I'm only in Sri Lanka for three weeks in total and wanted to continue tackling the plastic problem, this was my last day in Ella for the time being. Tomorrow morning, I'm off to Arugam Bay, the absolute surfer's paradise of Sri Lanka. For Ella, however, I would still recommend a visit to a tea plantation and you should also pay a visit to 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 quick farewell breakfast from my previous acquaintances on my trip to Sri Lanka, I finally headed back to the beach from Ella. To the surfer's paradise of Arugam Bay, in the east of Sri Lanka. As the bus ride from Ella to Arugam Bay is a bit of a hassle, I teamed up with two other travelers at the bus stop in Ella so that we could take a cab for the equivalent of €6. It would have been too expensive on my own. After less than three hours, I was already in Arugam Bay. At 34°, it was much warmer than in the highlands, so I immediately signed up for a surf course the next day, which took place about 8 km south of Arugam Bay. These days (end of April) only professionals should surf at Arugam Bay beach. This is the start of the high season 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. There are only a few places where surfing is still suitable for beginners. In 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 about 3 km along the beach on my first day and once again discovered a lot of plastic waste.

That's why I'm starting another CleanUp tomorrow. More than in any other place in Sri Lanka, the locals blame the garbage problem on the tourists. However, in addition to the tourists, the locals are also to blame for 100%. In addition to the many fishing boats on the beach at Arugam Bay, you will find the usual plastic bottles that are simply thrown onto the sand after fishing. However, it is good to hear that surfers and locals regularly start a clean-up here. Otherwise we might have conditions here like on Weligama beach. On the second day, I went surfing with a few people at Peanut Farm, 8 km away. Renting a board (1 1/2 hours) costs around 500 rupees (about €3) at all the surf schools in Arugam Bay. Just negotiate a little, then it will be even cheaper. The most expensive part is the TukTuk ride to Peanut Farm or Elephant Rock. The conditions here are perfect for learning to surf. Of course, the locals know this too and charge 1000 rupees for the return trip. There is very little room for negotiation here, as the surf schools have come to an agreement. In the morning at 9 a.m. I took a surfing course for 2500 rupees (about 15€ for 1 1/2 hours). In the waves at Peanut Farm and with a really good instructor, surfing was easy for me. After these experiences and even though the waves here are really big, I can only recommend that you learn to surf in Arugam Bay. I was able to surf better here than in Weligama.

On the morning of the third day, I did another plastic waste clean-up (video to follow) and then helped the fishermen with their work. It took about half an hour and the effort of 20 people to pull 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. As well as the fish, there was also a lot of plastic waste in the net. I kept lunchtime free for my blog post, as you can't stand the midday sun in these high temperatures (around 35 degrees). The evening (from 4 pm) is the ideal time for surfing. I took the TukTuk to Peanut Farm again. Unfortunately, this evening was a real disappointment as far as surfing was concerned. In the one hour I rented the board, there wasn't a single suitable wave. All the surfers were sitting on their boards and chatting. As the board and TukTuk cost around 1500 rupees (just under €9), it's tough, but a day without waves can happen. I rounded off my trip with a few more clean-ups and relaxed evenings at the guesthouse.

Travel Experience Sri Lanka Day 21 - Return to the airport

Getting from Arugam Bay to the airport in Colombo is fortunately very straightforward. There are 2-3 direct buses to the capital in the mornings and evenings. I chose the cheap option for 750 rupees (just under €5 for an 8-hour bus ride) and traveled to Colombo at night. The journey was okay, but depending on your flight time, I would still recommend a bus that runs during the day. Sleeping is hardly possible with the road conditions and driving style. Once we arrived in Colombo, we headed back to Berlin with a heavy heart. By the way, the airport in Colombo is really easy to navigate and uncomplicated.

I hope that my travel experiences have brought you a little closer to Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, I didn't see everything of this wonderful country in my 3 weeks. I did manage to see the south. If you really want to see everything and travel as far north as Jaffna, then you should plan about 5 weeks so that you can enjoy your time in Sri Lanka sufficiently. Apart from the massive garbage problem, Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries I have traveled to so far. I would now 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 plastic waste is due to the way it is disposed of. Sri Lanka urgently needs a transparent strategy to produce 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 politicians alone could take 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. The CEO of the CEA (The Central Environment Authority) Prof. Lal Dharmasiri says that the process of reducing 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 people's environmental awareness in schools.

Reducing, reusing and recycling plastic must become a matter of course in Sri Lanka. This is the only way Sri Lanka can achieve a recycling rate of 80%. This is the government's stated goal, although the recycling rate is currently only 40%.
As far as plastic bags in Sri Lanka are concerned, the fight against polyethylene in particular should be declared. However, 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 eliminated overnight.

The fight against plastic waste in Sri Lanka is being declared

But there is also good news about plastic waste in Sri Lanka. Sarath Kumara Bandula (CEA, Director Waste Collection Division) has set up recycling centers in the island's largest cities to collect and recycle plastic waste. But as we saw during the disaster in Colombo, this is only a step in the right direction. No more and no less. I have the feeling that people don't even know where to take the garbage. On the one hand, there are almost no options for disposing of garbage directly on the beaches - more large garbage cans (trash boxes) that are emptied regularly are needed! Then less plastic waste will end up on the beaches and in the sea.

On the other hand, Sri Lankans lack the knowledge or the ability to dispose of whole bags of garbage properly. When I asked a few local residents after the clean-ups where I could take the garbage, to my horror they were often unable to give me an answer. (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 that is not a permanent solution.

With large garbage cans on the beaches, the waste would already be collected automatically by the beach visitors. In addition to personal attitudes, the lack of disposal options is to blame for the plastic waste problem. Two fundamental things therefore need to be changed in order to take a major 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 Newsletter

* Links with asterisks are so-called Affiliate linksIf you click on it and buy something, you automatically and actively support my work with, as I receive a small share of the proceeds - and of course nothing changes in the product price. Many thanks 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *