Visiting Angkor Wat And Other Amazing Things To Do In Siem Reap

Visiting Angkor Wat And Other Amazing Things To Do In Siem Reap

There are many incredible things to do in Siem Reap, and visiting Angkor Wat is just one of them.

Visiting Angkor Wat is definitely among the top things to do in Siem Reap and one of the best things to do in Cambodia. To many it is the cherry on the cake of a trip to South East Asia. 

I spent 4 days in Siem Reap. It may not seem like a long time, and since there are so many things to do in Siem Reap and it has a great vibe I would have gladly stayed longer – but it was 40 degrees Celsius with high humidity levels when I visited, and despite my best efforts to stay cool, I eventually got worn out and decided to leave for the much milder Koh Chang, in Thailand.

Read more about Koh Chang on my post “Why Koh Chang is one of the best islands in Thailand.”

In this post, I highlight all the best things to do in Siem Reap, starting with visiting Angkor Wat and sharing plenty of tips to make the most of your time there.

Siem Reap attractions

No doubt about it: visiting Angkor Wat is one of the best things to do in Siem Reap

7 Fabulous Things To Do In Siem Reap

Visiting Angkor Wat complex

Visiting Angkor Wat is the most obvious of the many things to do in Siem Reap, yet simply unmissable. Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually one of the top things to do in Cambodia. Yet, a site so spread out can be a bit overwhelming to visit, so it is better to go prepared and knowing what to expect. Here’s a few tips for visiting Angkor Wat.

Tips for visiting Angkor Wat

Entrance fees

There are one-day, three-days and seven-days passes for visiting Angkor Wat. The one-day pass costs $37 USD, the three-days one costs $67 and can be used in the course of a week; the seven-day pass costs $72 and can be used in the course of a month. Even if tight on time, I really recommend to plan at least two days for visiting Angkor Wat, as it is one of the top things to do in Siem Reap. It is totally worth investing the time and money to explore it properly.

things to do in Siem Reap

Majestic and impressing: visiting Angkor Wat is one of the unmissable things to do in Cambodia

Getting a guide

Believe it or not, I have heard some people say that one day is enough for visiting Angkor Wat and that after a while they got bored. What?! To me it was a fantastic experience! The problem is that a lot of travelers – usually backpackers – are so obsessed with the idea of traveling independently, on a very tight budget, getting off the beaten path and to experience things “as a local,” that they hardly end up experiencing anything at all.

That’s why I recommend taking a guided tour of Angkor Wat as one of the best things to do in Siem Reap. These are some of the best tours of Angkor Wat:

There even are guided photo tours of Angkor Wat.

Make sure to invest some of your budget to get a certified guide and book a 2 day guided tour that takes you around the complex of Angkor. Certified guides can charge anything between $30 and $50 USD per day, which is a reasonable price considering that the tour lasts 8 full hours or more. If you can share the costs with friends or other travelers, it doesn’t turn out so expensive.

Hotels and hostels are usually happy to help with putting together a group. 

Chang, the guide I hired was incredibly kind and he knew the sites so well, as well as the habits of most visitors, so that he dodged the crowds fantastically. I was expecting to find people everywhere when visiting Angkor Wat, and of having to fight for some personal space and for a good photo, and it never happened. Thanks to Chang, I never felt overwhelmed by the crowds. In fact, he knew all the right spots to take the best pictures. 

Siem Reap attractions

Viewing the sunset from Phnom Bakheng is one of the things to do in Siem Reap

Itineraries for visiting Angkor Wat

Among the best things to do in Siem Reap before actually visiting Angkor Wat, there’s getting an idea of an itinerary to follow – so as not to waste precious time moving from one place to another, to make the most of the incredible site and to avoid the crowds. Guidebooks, travel blogs, hotels and hostels all suggest various itineraries, which usually go from the strict highlights of Angkor Wat to the further away sites.

This was my itinerary:

DAY ONE

On the first day, I visited the magnificent Angkor Wat – the world largest religious building; Angkor Thom – with the Buddhist temple of Bayon and its huge faces, as well as the intricate bas-reliefs; the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King; Victory Gate; Ta Phrom – nicknamed the Tomb Raider temple, and testimony of the power of the jungle – with Preah Khan, a temple dedicated to Buddha, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu; and Banteay Kdei.

I concluded my first day visiting Angkor Wat seeing the sunset from Phnom Bakheng. My advice is to go there no later than 4:00 pm, as only 300 people at a time can enter the temple and the security guards allow someone in only when someone gets out. Going later than 4:00 pm means standing in line for up to one hour in order to climb to the top and possibly missing the sunset.

In any case, seeing the sunset from Phnom Bakheng is not one of the top things to do in Siem Reap – it is pretty, but not as spectacular as seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat for sure! Also beware that there usually is an extra charge for tours that end after sunset.

This tour lasted 10 full hours, including the lunch break and the sunset.

DAY TWO

On my second day, the tour started with visiting Angkor Wat for the sunrise (again, there is an extra charge for this).

We then moved to Preah Khan (which isn’t the same temple right by Angkor, but one much further away), exquisitely quiet and peaceful; Preah Neak Poan, a Buddhist temple where a large square pool is surrounded by 4 smaller pools with a circular “island” in the middle; Ta Som – a smaller temple north-east of Angkor Thom and also invaded by the jungle.

We then went to East Mebon, a 10th century Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva where guardian elephant statues are located at the four cardinal points; Pre Rup, where according to Cambodian belief funerals took place; and Sra Srang, which is a baray or reservoir and whose function is still unclear and probably a combination of agricultural and religious functions.

This tour lasted about 8 hours, including the sunrise and breakfast.

things to do in Siem Reap

No doubt at all that one of Siem Reap attractions is sunrise at Angkor Wat

Dress code and etiquette for visiting Angkor Wat

The heat in Siem Reap is so strong that it is very tempting to walk around in shorts, tank tops and flip flops. Yet, you have to pay respect to the sites and the monks in them. It is better to wear long pants or a long skirt, closed-toes shoes and a shirt that covers the shoulders as the security guards don’t allow visitors who are not dressed appropriately to enter the temples which are still used by the monks. All in all, it is so hot that what you wear makes little difference anyways.

Once in the temples, respect the religious sites. Don’t scream, and don’t leave any garbage around.

There are also various cats roaming around – the monks take care of them. You can pet them, but leave them alone if they are sleeping.

Finally, there are lots of monkeys around Angkor Wat. Don’t feed them – monkeys would eat anything, but that is not good for them!

things to do in Siem Reap

Things to do in Siem Reap: respect the monks

Eating and drinking at Angkor Wat

One of the most important things to do in Siem Reap is staying hydrated. The heat is so bad, and the humidity so strong, that water is a necessity. Make sure to carry some water, and buy some more from the small shops that can be found outside the temples. Carrying a water filter is a better option to use less plastic and leave less footprints. There are also lots of places around the sites, that sell anything from simple snacks to cheap local eateries and fancier ones.

Getting to Angkor Wat and around

Some say that one of the coolest things to do in Siem Reap is renting a bike to visit the Angkor Wat complex. But it is so hot that you really have to think about this carefully. It is probably better to hire a tuk tuk (or remorque, how they are called in Cambodia). This costs around $15 to $18 for the whole day and can carry up to 4 persons, so it doesn’t end up being that expensive.

Siem Reap attractions

The best way of visiting Angkor Wat is by tuk tuk. And drivers know how to keep busy between the stops!

Seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat

There is no doubt that one of the best things to do in Siem Reap is seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat. You will have to wake up at 4:00 am for that but I promise you it is worth it. If you hire a good guide, you can also rest assured that you won’t feel the place so crowded. 

You can book a sunrise guided tour and the guide will know exactly where to go and the exact timings for taking the best pictures.

TIP: Make sure to stay on the right side in front of the temples first. Most people go straight to the right, so that side gets crowded. Once the sun starts coming out, move to the other side for more photos. You will see the reflection on the moat and that is a lovely photo to take.

things to do in Siem Reap

Seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat is one of the best things to do in Cambodia

Doing the Flight of the Gibbon

If you like zip lining, make sure you try Flight of the Gibbon – it has some fun zip lines in Angkor Park. Flight of the Gibbon runs a very good conservation program, reintroducing gibbons in the area.

Great news! You can now book your zip line tour online here.

Read more about my zip-lining experience in Argentina on my post “Great things to do in Argentina.”

Siem Reap attractions

My sister and I are ready to fly: one of the top things to do in Cambodia is zip-lining with Flight of the Gibbon

Zip-lining with Flight of the Gibbon is an amazing experience. You will get picked up from your hotel at 8:00 am and taken to Angkor Park. The base is completely immersed in the jungle. As soon as you arrive, you are welcomed by the staff, who helps you wearing the protective gear. Safety is certainly one of the things that makes the Flight of the Gibbon special.

You will then be taken to the beginning of the trail and trained about the safety measures, on how to fly and how to stop. Guides speak perfect English, they are incredibly friendly and extremely professional. 

There are ten zip-lines, and 4 sky bridges. At each stop, you will be given information on the length of the flight, on the hight and – most importantly – you will be all tied properly for safety. You will also get insights on the jungle surrounding you, on the wildlife and plants you see. 

When you will finally make your way to the base camp, you may be able to spot one of the gibbons that live in the area.

Before being driven back to town, you will be taken for lunch at a lovely restaurant and get to try some of the local dishes. Lunch is included in the experience.

Things to do in Cambodia

Flying! How can this not be one of the most fun things to do in Siem Reap?

Enjoying Siem Reap bustling night life

The center of town is one of Siem Reap attractions and can’t be bypassed. It is a series of bars, restaurants (lots of them western style) and pubs, all blasting very loud music and offering happy hour deals.

Pub Street – that’s the name, which says a lot about the place – is packed with a younger crowd looking for cheap booze which can be found on the many “booze carts” selling alcoholic drinks in the street. It is fun to watch for a while. 

things to do in Siem Reap

Nightlife is one of Siem Reap attractions

Getting a massage (and supporting a good cause)

The center of town is the best place to get a cheap massage – excellent way to relax after having spent the whole day visiting Angkor Wat. Lots of places offer a foot rub for just $1 USD, back rubs, and all sorts of other massages, and even the fish massage where fish eat the dead skin off the feet.

If privacy isn’t an issue (customers are all sitting right next to each other in the open, passers-by curiously staring), this is one of the most fun and cheap things to do in Siem Reap. Just make sure that the people doing the massage are actually adults – I have seen lots of masseurs who looked way too young to be working till late, and I’d hate to contribute to child exploitation.

There also are various spas where the masseurs are blind people and where the profits go to support their training, employment and integration (but beware as there also are places that exploit the blinds for profits). Sure enough, one of the best things to do in Cambodia is supporting a good cause, where by paying for a service such as a biking tour, a meal or even a massage, money goes to support the local community with education, employment, integration and environmental protection programs.

Shopping!

The Night Market in Siem Reap is packed with small stalls of local artists that sell hand made jewels, clothes and bags, some of it made from recycled material too. It’s a perfect place to shop for souvenirs.

More important things to do in Siem Reap

The heat in Cambodia is unprecedented. One of the most important things to do in Cambodia is to keep hydrated, drinking lots of water.

Make sure to always protect against the sun, which is really strong at this latitude. Wearing a high SPF is necessary not to get sunburnt and in fact, make sure to get proper sun lotion as it is known that in this part of the world lots don’t actually do what they promise.

Finally – Siem Reap and the rest of the country (and of South East Asia, in fact) are invaded with mosquitos. The chances of getting malaria are slim, especially during the dry season. However, make sure to apply mosquito repellent, possibly with DEET too. Wear long pants and shoes so that the areas where you need to apply it are minimal.

What Not To Do In Siem Reap

This isn’t meant to be a post on responsible travel (you can read one here). Yet, I feel compelled to comment on what I saw when visiting Angkor Wat, because I was seriously bothered. One of the things not to do in Siem Reap (in fact, one of the things not to do anywhere in the world) is riding elephants. Yet, I saw quite a few elephants walking around the sites, and lots of them carrying tourists.

What NOT to do in Siem Reap

Riding elephants? A horrible thing that should never be done – definitely not among the things to do when visiting Angkor Wat

I am frankly shocked that there still are people that ride elephants in an era when information on how these animals are tortured, how their body structure isn’t apt for carrying weights, and what the consequences are is so easily available. In fact, we don’t even have to look for this kind of information, as it is provided to anybody who basically browses the web and has a Facebook account.

News such as that of the elephant that died in the 40 degrees heat after having been ridden by tourists are all over the web. The Mail Online was the first to report it.

If you are traveling to South East Asia make sure to stay away from activities such as elephant riding and the likes.

Practical Information For Visiting Siem Reap

Where to stay and where to eat in Siem Reap

As one of the top places to visit in Cambodia, Siem Reap is geared to accommodate travelers on any budget. The choice of accommodation should only be based on location. Most people opt to stay in the centre, not far from the mayhem of Pub Street.

These are some of the best places to stay in Siem Reap:

Of these, Rose Royal Boutique Hotel, tucked away in a small street right behind the centre, is my favorite. I particularly like the pool, perfect to refresh at the end of a hot day.

Food is never an issue in Siem Reap. Chanrey Tree is lovely: delicious food in a cozy environment and great service, all for around $15 USD per person which – granted – is a lot of money in Asia.

Siem Reap attractions

One of the things to do in Siem Reap: eating street food!

Another place to try is The Hidden Home. It is a family run restaurant tucked away in a quiet street, where the host is super nice and the food delicious. A meal which included an order of vegetables with tofu, chicken with pumpkin, two sides of rice, a beer and a mango smoothy and a courtesy plate of fruit turned out to be $8 USD.

Finally, one of the best things to do in Siem Reap is trying the street food (the best place for that is after Pub Street, on the way to the river). Stir fried noodles, fruit smoothies, fruit bars, rice cakes made with rice flour and coconut milk, filled with fruit or pumpkin, pancakes and what not. It was delicious and oh so cheap – not to mention a lot of fun. There even is a place that allegedly makes fried ice cream (which isn’t fried at all, actually – but fun to see how it is made nevertheless).

How to get to Siem Reap and away

Siem Reap is well connected to the rest of the country by bus, with connections to Phnom Penh, Battambang, and even Bangkok. Buses can even be booked online.

For bus rides from Bangkok, click here.

For bus rides from Phnom Penh, click here.

The airport is located at about 20 minutes drive from the city (no more than $10 USD by tuk tuk) and connects it with various destinations in South East Asia, including Bangkok. Entry to Cambodia requires a visa that can either be obtained on arrival (but scams are very frequent – they even tried to scam me at the border) or via trusted online agencies such as iVisa.

Further readings about South East Asia

Make sure to read my other posts about South East Asia:

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13 Incredibly Cool Things To Do In Colombo

13 Incredibly Cool Things To Do In Colombo

Although often overlooked, there are actually more things to do in Colombo than you’d imagine and if you are visiting Sri Lanka, you should consider spending a day or two exploring its largest city.

Usually referred to as Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo actually is just its judicial and executive center – the capital is indeed Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, of which most foreigners (including myself, I must admit) never even heard about. Most people would tell you that you should skip Colombo during your trip to Sri Lanka: there’s lots of traffic and – supposedly – not much to see.

I dissent! I spent a day in Colombo during my last trip to Sri Lanka and I was actually positively surprised by all that it has to offer, and although I did find it intense (traffic, pollution and lots of construction work going on), I think it is very interesting and that it deserves a visit.

In this post, I highlight some of the things to do in Colombo that you should not miss, and share a few useful trip that will help you plan your visit.

Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam

The Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam is one of the most iconic places to visit in Colombo

13 Things To Do In Colombo That You Shouldn’t Miss

Visit Gangaramaya

Located on 61 Sri Jinarathana Rd, this is Colombo’s most important Buddhist temple. It’s actually a pretty large temple, with several buildings which include a pagoda, a library, a small museum with a pretty random exhibit, a display of donations and gifts from devotees, and – apparently – even a relic of Buddha’s hair. There even is a stuffed elephant on display – a bit out of place to be honest, and you kind of feel sad for the poor animal being there on display!

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can get in for just 300 Rupees, which is about $3 USD. The temple is open from 5:30 am to 10:00 pm.

Admire the colors of the Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam

Located on 11/15, Captain’s Garden Kovil Street, this is honestly the most impressive temple you will see in Colombo. It’s a Hindu temple, with very detailed and incredibly colorful artwork, both inside and outside.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can get inside this temple for free, but beware of the opening hours, which are from 6:00 to 10:30 am and from 4:30 to 6:00 or 7:00 pm.

Walk around the Fort

The Fort area is overall one of the most interesting places to visit in Colombo. Most of the old buildings there belong to the Dutch and British colonial times – when this part of town really was a fort. Next to them, you’ll find some very modern buildings – so the overall feeling you get is that of a very eclectic place.

Places of interest inside the Fort include Old Galle Buck Lighthouse, which was built in 1954 and from where you can enjoy nice views of the ocean and the harbor; the Clock Tower, which actually used to be a lighthouse and was built in 1857; Central Point, which dates back to 1914, is the biggest building in the area and has been beautifully renovated; and Lloyd’s Building, which dates back to 1908.

Enjoy some down time at the Old Dutch Hospital 

Inside the Fort area, you will also find the Old Dutch Hospital. It dates back to the early 17th century and it is thought to be the oldest building in the area. It has been beautifully restored and now is a lovely place to sit for a drink or to shop – needless to say, it is not a hospital anymore!

Beira Lake

Beira Lake is a famous attraction in Colombo

Walk around Beira Lake

Close to Gangaramaya Temple, this large lake is of a bright green color – I assume it is because it is very polluted. In the middle the lake there is a small island with the Simamalaka Shrine. It’s a nice place to chill for a bit. You can rent one of the pedal boats to go around a bit.

Climb up Lotus Tower

This is one of the most famous landmarks in Colombo – the kind of thing you can see from a distance. I didn’t have the chance to go up when I visited, but the views from there must be impressive.

things to do in Colombo

Independence Memorial Hall – one of the most important landmarks in Colombo

Hang out at Independence Memorial Hall

This is probably one of my favorite things to do in Colombo. It’s a nice place, airy, spacious, where locals hang out and from where the views are beautiful. It is perfect for photos thanks to the beautiful light and its architecture.

The building commemorates Sri Lanka independence from Great Britain, which occurred on 4 February 1948. It is surrounded by a nice garden and there is a status of Sri Lanka’s first president, Stephen Senanayake, right in front of it.

Go to Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

This is by far one of the best places to visit in Colombo. It’s a gorgeous building that dates back to 1909, and it looks like candy.

TIP: Beware of touts hanging outside the mosque. You’re likely to find people demanding money to take photos of the mosque, but they are by no means staff members!

Shop at Pettah Markets

One of the nicest things to do in Colombo is exploring Pettah Markets. There actually are several – including a floating one.

The fruit and vegetable markets is likely to be your favorite. It’s packed with color, and with the smell of delicious fresh fruit – if you have a chance, definitely try the pineapples (they taste nothing like they do in Europe or the US!) and mangoes. There are several kinds of mangos – this is one thing I learned in Sri Lanka, actually. The best one is Alphonso, with Karutha Colomban a close second.

Visit Colombo National Museum

Among the unmissable things to do in Colombo there’s visiting the National Museum. This is the largest museum in the country, and dates back to 1876, when Sri Lanka was still under British rule. It has an interesting exhibit of art and crafts that will help you get a better understanding of Sri Lanka’s history and culture.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is located in Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha. The entrance fee is 350 Rupees (around $2 USD) and the museum is open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Explore Viharamahadevi Park

Formerly known as Victoria Park, it is located near the National Museum and it’s a nice place to go for a walk. There is a giant golden Buddha Statue and some nice water fountains.

places to visit in Colombo

Galle Face Green is a favorite locals’ hangout

Chill at Galle Face Green 

Hanging out at this waterfront really is one of the nicest things to do in Colombo. This is where the locals go for a walk, to swim in the ocean at the end of a hot day at work, and to enjoy local snacks and street food. It’s a really pleasant place to walk around, and you’ll have plenty of excellent photo opportunities.

Now – don’t picture a wide beach and clear turquoise waters. You can see from my photo that the beach is very narrow: you have go do down the stairs to get there. And the water is anything but clear. It’s the ocean after all. But it still a nice place to spend an hour or so.

Enjoy local street food

When you are in Galle Face Green, you will be tempted to try some of the local specialties. I say, go for it! You’ll see many small stalls, some selling pop corn, potato or manioc chips and other international goodies. Opt for the more local ones and make sure to try parippu wade – it’s a sort of deep fried lentils topped with fried shrimps. It’s not exactly light, but it is oh so tasty.

food in Sri Lanka

Galle Face Green is a nice place to try local street food

Practical Information To Organize Your Trip To Colombo

Guided tours of Colombo

If you want to make the most of Colombo without having to worry about getting around, you may want to do a guided city tour. Here are some good options:

Where to stay in Colombo

There are a few excellent hotels in Colombo, and as it usually happens in Sri Lanka, all of them have at good on-site restaurants.

This is a selection of of good accommodation options in Colombo:

Guided tours of Sri Lanka that also go to Colombo

Sri Lanka can be easily visited independently, but if don’t have time to plan, don’t like it, or just  want to leave the job to the experts, you can count on some good guided trips. G Adventures Sri Lanka encompassed tour goes to all the most popular places to visit in Sri Lanka, including Colombo.

Lotus Tower Colombo

The Lotus Tower can be spotted from many places in Colombo

How to get to Colombo

In Sri Lanka, Colombo is the best connected city and you can easily reach it from pretty much anywhere via the excellent public transportation system.

Colombo is at about 30 to 45 minutes drive from the airport (which is actually closer to Negombo), depending on traffic. The best way to get there is a private transfer, which you can book here for just $5 USD.

How to move around Colombo

Traffic in Sri Lanka can be hectic, and it is actually insane in Colombo. You have several options to move around town.

By bus

The good news is that public transportation works well in Sri Lanka, even within the city. Buses very budget friendly; and you’ll have plenty of buses to move around. The bad news is that buses are usually very crowded, and in the terrible traffic they move really slowly.

By tuk tuk

Tuk tuks are everywhere in Sri Lanka; they are an efficient way to go around Colombo and chances are that if you walk around they will spot you from a distance and ask if you need a ride. All you have to do is hail a tuk tuk, check if it has a meter and – if it doesn’t – haggle the price. There even are some apps that allow you to book tuk tuk rides!

By taxi or Uber

The main advantage of going around by taxi or Uber in Colombo is that you are likely to find an air conditioned car – which comes in handy in a city that suffers with terrible heat. Taxis and Ubers are generally inexpensive. You use Uber as you’d do anywhere else; you can hail taxis in the street.

what to do in Colombo

Local women hanging out at the Independence Memorial Hall

When to visit Colombo, Sri Lanka

All in all, it is always a good time to go to Colombo. Keep in mind that Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons that hit different parts of the country at different times, and even though you may do your best to avoid them, you may still get some rain when visiting.

However, it is said that December to March is a good time, with drier days. I went at the end of October and found dry weather – but it was definitely overcast and ready to rain.

How long to stay in Colombo

Despite being the largest city in Sri Lanka, Colombo can be visited in just a day. There are probably enough things to keep you busy if you wish to stay longer, but I honestly recommend heading out to explore the rest of the country, which is actually way prettier.

See my recommendations below for further readings on places to visit in Sri Lanka.

Safety in Colombo

Despite many media channels and governments warnings against travel to Sri Lanka, both times I visited I found the country to be incredibly welcoming and safe. Safety measures in Sri Lanka have been heavily increased since the Easter bombings of April 2019, with regular checks in hotels and places of interest.

In general, I find Sri Lanka one of the most welcoming countries I have visited, with lovely, friendly people. My advice is to use your good judgement when it comes to these warnings, but keep in mind that terrorist attacks can occur anywhere, anytime, and that tourism is a much needed source of revenue for the country.

Other useful information 

Make sure to check out whether you need a visa to get into Sri Lanka. Nationals of many countries – including the United States, Canada and all EU countries – can now benefit of a visa waiver and can get into the country for free. You will still have to apply for the visa, because you will be asked for confirmation at customs. Should you have to pay for your visa, you can easily apply for your visa online here.

I also recommend getting a good travel insurance. Get yours here.

Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”

For further readings about Colombo, you can check one of these books:

Make sure to also read my other posts about Sri Lanka:

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau during my trip to Sri Lanka, and I wish to thank them for the incredible trip and all the useful insights. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain mine. 

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Discover the things to do in Colombo Sri Lanka - via @clautavani

Read about the things to see and do in Colombo, Sri Lanka - via @clautavani

 

 

13 Fantastic Day Trips From Milan

13 Fantastic Day Trips From Milan

There are many fantastic day trips from Milan – it’s just a matter of picking the one that better suits one’s needs and interests.

Milan is one of the most interesting places to visit in Italy, and in recent years it has been getting more and more attention from travelers who enjoy its fantastic museums; its fun nightlife; the infinite shopping opportunities and the incredible vibe. However, fast paced as it is, it can get a bit overwhelming at times. The good news is that this vibrant city is very well connected to the rest of Northern and Central Italy, so it is extremely easy to get out, even just for a day. The choice of day trips from Milan is incredible!

This post highlights the nicest day trips from Milan, with a few tips to make the most of them. For the sake of clarity, I will divide my selection of Milan day trips by larger topics – lakes and lake regions; the gorgeous Cinque Terre; wine tours and cities.

day trips from Milan

Lake Como is the perfect place for day trips from Milan

13 Fantastic Day Trips From Milan

The Lakes

The region of Lombardia, of which Milan is the capital, is known for the many beautiful lakes. Needless to say, among the best day trips from Milan, there has to be one to the lakes and the beautiful, quaint villages that surround them.

Lake Como

Lake Como and the city that gives it its name are an easy 30-minute train ride north of Milan. The lake, which is of glacial origins, is the third biggest lake in Italy and, with a depth of up to 400 meters, one of the deepest lakes in Europe. It is gorgeous, making it a perfect place to enjoy some good day trips from Milan.

The lake has been a popular retreat for wealthy aristocrats since Roman times. With the many beautiful villages (Bellagio, Brunate and Varenna to name just a few), villas (the most famous ones are Villa Carlotta, Villa d’Este and Villa Serbelloni) and palaces (some of them property of famous actors) that are scattered in the area, it obviously is a fantastic tourist destination, ideal for day trips from Milan.

Lake Como itself is fantastic for kitesurfing, windsurfing and sailing. There are several farms in the surrounding area, producing goods such as honey, cheese, milk, and even olive oil. They are pleasant places to visit, even during Milan day trips.

Here are some more great options for day tours to or in Lake Como:

day trips from Milan

Lake Maggiore is a good place for day trips from Milan

Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy. Located in the southern side of the Alps, the lake and its shoreline are divided between the Italian regions of Lombardia and Piemonte, and the Swiss Canton Ticino. It’s a lovely place to go to on day trips from Milan, as it benefits from mild weather throughout the year.

Among the most beautiful small towns on Lake Maggiore there are Stresa, Laverno and Locarno. During day trips from Milan to Lake Maggiore it is possible to cruise around the lake to explore its lovely Borromean Islands such as Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori, all the while admiring the Alps in the distance.

Here are some more great options for day tours to or in Lake Maggiore:

day trips from Milan

Lake Garda is a good choice for day trips from Milan

Lake Garda

Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, located about half way between Milan and Venice, and on the edge of the Dolomites. It is a very popular holiday destination and, needless to say, it makes for one of the best day trips from Milan, for it offers interesting activities such as boat rides, sailing, kitesurfing and windsurfing.

Scattered across the lake there’s several small islands, that are really nice to visit even during day tours from Milan. The largest one is Isola del Garda, famous for being the place where Francesco d’Assisi founded a monastery in 1220 – though in its place now there is a 19th century gothic style building.

The most popular small town on the lake is the romantic Sirmione, which is packed with interesting tourist sites and good cafés, restaurants and bars. Desenzano del Garda is another lovely village that is pleasant to visit on day trips from Milan. It is a popular bathing resort, but there’s also plenty of cultural sites.

Here are some more great options for day tours to or in Lake Garda:

Milan day trips

Cinque Terre can actually be seen on day trips from Milan

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre probably deserves more than a day, but when time is limited, day trips from Milan to Cinque Terre (or even day trips from Florence to Cinque Terre) are a good way to get at least a feel for it, and prepare to go again.

This part of the coast of Liguria has beautiful, dramatic sceneries. It is so unique that it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Surrounding the beautiful, colorful coastal villages there are some fabulous vineyards (the wine in this region is excellent) and olive and lemon groves. There are many nice, small beaches – swimming here is a must even during Milan day trips.

Four of the five villages of Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Monterosso and Manarola, which is the oldest of them – are right on the coast and have direct access to the sea. Corniglia is higher up on the hills and it is landlocked. There is an old railway that connects all the villages, making it possible to visit them all during day trips from Milan.

When time is limited, the best way to appreciate Cinque Terre, especially during day trips from Milan, is on a guided tour. A guide will be able to guide visitors through the 5 different small towns scattered along the coast, taking care of all the logistics while tourists can just enjoy the extraordinary views.

An excellent company for day trips from Milan to Cinque Terre is Ciao Florence – which as the name may suggests mostly leads tours from Florence to Cinque Terre. A typical tour includes a boat ride along the coast, which is especially appreciated by lovers of photography as there are fantastic views of the towns from the sea.

For some day tours from Milan to Cinque Terre, try these:

day trips from Milan

The Wine Region

Franciacorta

There are many wine regions in Italy, and even those who travel to Milan will be pleased to know that there’s one really close by and that can be visited on day trips from Milan. Franciacorta is less than one hour from Milan, the area is very picturesque and – needless to say – the wines are delicious.

Franciacorta wines are sparkling wines, thought to be one of the Italian answers to French Champagne. The region is very pretty, extending all the way to lake Iseo and packed with vintage wineries that are fantastic to visit even during Milan day trips.

The best way to make the most of day tours from Milan to Franciacorta is by pairing wine tasting with good food. Given the fact that this is in Italy, one of the best food destinations in the world, this isn’t going to be difficult at all!

Here are some great options for tours to Franciacorta:

day trips from Milan

The gorgeous Bergamo Alta is a great place for day trips from Milan

The Cities

There are many cities to visit in Italy that can be easily reached from Milan either by car, train or bus, and make up for some excellent day trips from Milan. Here, I report the times of the trains I suggest catching in order to enjoy a full day out. Do make sure to check out the updated timetable on the website of Trenitalia.

Bergamo

Bergamo is at a stone’s throw from Milan (around 45 minutes by train) and it is little by little becoming a tourist destination in and of itself. It is really worth to visit Bergamo, even if only on day trips from Milan. The old city, known as Bergamo Alta, is a maze of narrow alleys, gorgeous buildings and viewpoints from where to take in the magnificent views.

The surroundings of Bergamo are just as interesting to visit on Milan day trips. One of my favorite places is Crespi d’Adda, a fantastic example of industrial architecture dating back to the late 19th century and now a UNESCO site. It’s actually right half way between Milan and Bergamo.

Other places to visit on day trips from Milan that are closer to Bergamo are San Pellegrino Terme (QC Terme is the ultimate place to relax) and Scanzo, where it is possible to go on tours to taste the fantastic Moscato di Scanzo wine.

Here are some great options for tours to Bergamo:

Milan day trips

Venice can be seen on day trips from Milan

Venice

Venice hardly needs any introduction. Capital of the region of Veneto, this is one of the most incredible places to visit in Italy, if not in the world. Many travelers complain that it is too packed with tourists or too expensive. I can easily overlook these issues, because Venice is simply, impossibly beautiful. The city does deserve a visit for sure. Though I’d recommending spending a few days there to soak in the atmosphere, if time and budget are limited, going there on day trips from Milan is a good idea.

The train from Milan to Venice takes little over two hours. It’s not the closest place to reach, buti f organized properly it can be done, and it can be a pleasant way to explore another city. If going on Milan day trips to Venice, I recommend to plan to leave nice and early. The first direct train leaves from Milan at 6:45 and gets into Venice at 8:58 am, leaving plenty of time throughout the day to explore La Serenissima (that’s one of the nicknames of Venice).

The city has plenty of interesting places to explore, and it is small enough that it’s easy to see them even on day trips from Milan. Among the unmissable places, there are: Rialto Bridge and the Gran Canale, San Marco Square and the Campanile, Doge’s Palace, San Marco Basilica. I also recommend walking around the Ghetto degli Ebrei, it is quieter than the rest of the city and very pleasant. Last but not least, after a short boat ride it is possible to explore the nearby island of Burano and Murano.

Here are some great options for tours to/in Venice:

Make sure to read my post Seventeen Incredible Things To Do In Venice.”

Milan day trips

It is possible to see Florence on day trips from Milan

Florence

One of the most famous places to visit in Italy is Florence, the capital of Tuscany – and for a good reason. The city is stunning, to say the least. The best thing would be to actually spend a few days exploring. Yet, it is well connected so it makes sense to even go there on day trips from Milan. The train takes less than 2 hours, indeed.

The 7:20 train from Milano Central Station takes little over one and a half hours and gets in Florence at 8:59 am, leaving plenty of time to explore the city, even when on day trips from Milan.

As there are many things to do and places to visit in Florence, I suggest that those going there on day trips from Milan keep it simple. The must sees in Florence are: the Cathedral, Santa Croce church, Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio and Galleria degli Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio. It is also ok to stretch it all the way to the beautiful Boboli Gardens.

Here are some great options for tours to/in Florence:

Milan day trips

Bologna is the ideal destination for day trips from Milan

Bologna

Bologna, capital of Emilia Romagna, is the food capital of the country, and one of the nicest places to visit in Italy. It is so close to Milan that I’d make the effort to jump on the train and go there even just for lunch. As it takes only one hour by train, it’s a fantastic place to go to on day trips from Milan.

There’s plenty of direct trains going to Bologna, and since the trip is rather short, even those going there on day trips from Milan don’t have to wake up so early. However, if keen on visiting the city, I recommend hopping on the 8:30 train, that gets there at 9:32 am, leaving plenty of time to enjoy all that the city has to offer (and all the food).

Among the places to visit in Bologna that can be enjoyed even on day tours from Milan, there are Piazza Maggiore and Basilica di San Petronio, the Cathedral, the Palazzo del Podestà and the Pinacoteca. Foodies have ample selection of local delicacies to pick from and can easily spend the day eating (in fact, doing a food tour may be a good idea!) or even taking a cooking class.

Here are some of Bologna’s must eats: tortellacci; mortadella; tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese (by the way, please note that in Italy we don’t eat “spaghetti bolognaise”!); lasagne (we call them lasagne, not lasagna). These are the most traditional dishes, so watch out for some alternatives – the city is packed with fantastic restaurants. Those planning to visit on day trips from Milan should make sure to book in advance. Here’s a selection of the best restaurants in Bologna.

Here are some great options for tours to/in Bologna:

day trips from Milan

The lovely Pavia isn’t so touristy yet and is a great place for day trips from Milan

Pavia

Pavia is a mere 30 minutes drive from Milan and as little as 23 minutes by train, if direct (there is a direct trains every 2 hours, at 10 minutes past the hour). It is still quite unknown to foreign tourism, but a wonderful city to explore, especially with its surroundings. Thus, it is an excellent choice for day trips from Milan.

The city is an architectural gem. There are over 100 towers, and a university which was founded in 1361 and is a great place to visit. Other places to visit in the city include the many medieval and early Renaissance buildings, churches and squares, the Ponte Coperto, che Church of San Michele, the duomo and the Castello Visconteo. It seems a lot, but the city is small and these can all be seen on day trips from Milan.

One of the most important places to visit is the Certosa di Pavia (Chartreuse), which actually is one of the greatest places to visit in Italy. This is a monastery, a sanctuary and beautiful gardens that were founded in the 15th century. It is located at around 8 km from Pavia. Last but not least, on day trips from Milan to Pavia it is also possible to go on a wine tour in the Oltrepo Pavese region.

Here are some great options for tours to/in Pavia:

Verona

For some reasons, to people outside of Italy Verona is often off the beaten path – yet to Italians this is one of the nicest places to visit in the North. What’s best is that it can be easily reached from Milan by train.

This splendid city may be more famous internationally for being home to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – you will have to visit Juliet’s home to see the famous balcony from where she called her Romeo. You will also find a gorgeous Roman amphitheater which was built in the first century AD. Piazza Mercato is another must see. 

These are some great guided tours and tickets that will help you explore Verona:

Turin

Turin is a lovely place for a day trip

Turin

Did you know that Turin is Italy’s first capital? More than that, it is an extremely pleasant place to visit, with great museums, churches and much more. And what’s best is that Turin is a very easy train ride from Milan, so perfect for a day trip.

Turin is famous for being home to the shroud depicting the face of Jesus. The Cathedral of San Lorenzo is a must see – a beautiful baroque church. The Mole Antonelliana will provide impressive views of the city. And at the Egyptian Museum you will find one of the finest collections of Egyptian art and archeology outside of Egypt. 

TIP: Make sure to try Gianduiotti – Turin’s famous chocolate pralines. 

Looking for tours and tickets for Torino? These are the best ones:

Genoa

This is a truly lovely city – unfortunately hit by a major accident in the summer of 2018, when Morandi Bridge suddenly collapsed. 

Genoa is home to the largest port in Italy, so many transit by it on their way to explore the country. Yet, the city offers many interesting sights – the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also a great starting point to explore smaller villages such as the best known Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino. 

Genoa is home to a fantastic aquarium that strives to promote the respect of marine life. You can purchase entry tickets here. 

As it is lesser visited compared to many other place, Genoa is a very pleasant place to explore. You can get a guided tour of the city here.

FOODIE TIP: Make sure to try the famous local focaccia and the pesto – a basil base sauce especially used on pasta. 

5 Tips To Make The Most Of Your Day Trips From Milan

Join a guided tour

My best advice to make the most of your Milan day trips is to join a guided tour. Keep in mind that these have been carefully designed and planned by experts to make them completely efficient and running smooth. You’ll have a driver and a guide taking care of you and you’ll only have to worry about relaxing and making the most of your day.

Pick your transportation wisely

If you really aren’t a fan of guided tours and would move around independently, you should consider your transportation options very carefully. Depending on what you plan to do and where you decide to go, you can travel by train or by car.

By train

If the day trips from Milan you are considering are to another city, you may want to travel by train. This will save you the hassle of having to look for a parking spot and having to worry about speed limits and limited traffic areas (ZTL). Train stations in Italy are usually right in the heart of the city, so you’ll be right in the historic center, ready to explore.

You can consult the train timetable for all of Italy and buy train tickets here.

By car

If you enjoy taking road trips, renting a car may be a good idea. Watch out for the speed limits, and remember that Italian laws about drinking and driving are pretty strict.  You can check out the prices of car rental here.

Use Google Maps to get around

Regardless of where you are going, make sure to have a phone with a data plan that allows you to surf the web if necessary, so that you can check Google Maps and look for information. Another thing you can do instead is to download maps on your smartphone, so that you can also use them offline. As soon as you arrive in Italy you will see that it is incredibly easy to get lost in the cities, or to take a wrong turn when driving outside!

Bring a guide book with you

This is especially relevant if your are moving around independently. A good guide book will provide you some relevant background information on the places you are going to visit.

These are some good guide books you may want to bring along:

Get travel insurance

Make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip to Italy. If you aren’t convinced you need one, head over to my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.” Otherwise, you can get a good travel insurance here.

Have you ever visited Milan? What are your favorite day trips from Milan?

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A Very Useful Guide To Ella Sri Lanka

A Very Useful Guide To Ella Sri Lanka

There are many wonderful things to do in Ella Sri Lanka. 

Ella, which literally means ‘waterfall’, is definitely one of the nicest towns you can visit in Sri Lanka. It is small and cosy; surrounded by beautiful mountains, green plantations of tea and an incredible amount of waterfalls. It really is one of the best places any person who enjoys the outdoors could hope to visit.

The town has been growing a lot recently thanks to its popularity especially among backpackers, so it’s easy to find bars and restaurants (which is quite nice in a country where they aren’t that common!); as well as guesthouses. The other side of the coin though is that Ella gets quite busy during high season.

Anyway, if you avoid sleeping on the main streets, it’s still a peaceful place to regenerate your body and soul.

I’ve spent only a few days in Ella but, if I could have, I would have stayed longer in order to enjoy all the amazing activities from hiking to tasting many a cups of tea.

In this post I highlight all the things to do in Ella in order to enjoy its beauty. I also add some useful information to plan your visit.

Ella Sri Lanka

The stunning view from Little Adam’s Peak

15 Wonderful Things To Do And Places To Visit In Ella Sri Lanka

Have a walk around town

I recommend you start discovering Ella Sri Lanka with a walk on the main street where there are bars, restaurants, small guest houses and souvenir shops.

On the way to town you will find Ella Spice Garden, that is a private garden with many types of spices. There even is a shop where to buy the spices you like, a restaurant and a school where you can attend cooking class – more about this later.

Every Wednesday morning there is a typical street market where you can buy spices, fruits, vegetables and clothes.

Climb up Little Adam’s Peak

One of the nicest things to do in Ella Sri Lanka is hiking Little Adam’s Peak. As the name suggests, Little Adam’s Peak is a mini version of the more famous pilgrimage hike. In fact this is a nice walk, easy enough for inexperienced hikers.

The trail to Little Adam’s Peak starts from the entrance of 98 Acres Hotel. You have to follow the road down to the spa, and you will get to the main gate where tuk tuks are parked.

There are two ways to reach the top of Little Adam’s Peak: the first is the longer and beautiful trail among the tea plantations and the second is a series of steps all the way to the top. As I was there during the rainy season and there were leeches on the grass, I had no choice but to take the stairs.

The hike should take around one hour to go and come back if you want to take it easy and take some pictures. The stairway takes even less time. On your way you’ll encounter many lovely dogs that are perfectly confident with the trail and are used to reach the top for a quiet sleep.

Once you reach the top you’ll find two viewpoints. The landscape is absolutely stunning. You’ll be able to see the valley, Ella Rock, Ella Gap, Newburg Tea Factory and Rawana falls among the hills.

You can keep going following the pathway for another kilometer until you reach a second peak. Needless to say, the view from there is amazing.

After hiking, you can reward yourself with a delicious cup of tea and a sandwich at 98 Acres Cafè and Restaurant. The view from there is also really beautiful.

PRACTICAL TIPS: The best time to hike Little Adam’s Peak is early in the morning or before the sunset. I recommend checking the weather condition before starting the climb to be sure it won’t be foggy (it got really foggy soon after I got to the top – I literally just had enough time to take photos before the view got covered!). There is no entrance fee.

If you have little time to arrange all the transportation from one place to the other, you may want to go on a guided tour that takes you to Little Adam’s Peak and other attractions too. These are the best ones:

Go zip-lining 

If you have never experienced a zip-line before, I recommend trying the Ravana zip-line. It’s the first Sri Lankan zip-line, it stretches for more than half a kilometer at the speed of 80 km per hour and you’ll feel like a bird flying over the valley. It will last less than a minute but I promise you that after that you will get addicted to that adrenaline rush under your skin.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Ravana zip-line costs $20 USD, I personally think that it’s a bit too expensive for just one zip-line. Anyway it’s just on the way to Little Adam’s Peak so you can have a look and think about it while hiking.

things to do in Ella

Nine Arch Bridge – one of the pretties sights in Ella

Admire Nine Arch Bridge

If you are in Ella Sri Lanka you simply have to go to Nine Arch Bridge. This is definitely one of the things you must do in Sri Lanka. Located just outside of town on a green valley and surrounded by tea plantations, it was completed in 1921. The bridge is entirely made of brick, cement and stones and it has nine arches for a total length of 91 meters.

The famous train from Kandy to Bandarawela (via Ella) runs several times a day but rarely on time so check the train timetable but then be patient for the train to pass it over the bridge; it is well worth the wait. In the meantime, you can enjoy the view and the tea plantations, walk on the tracks to reach the other side of the bridge. A whistle will announce the train is arriving.

PRO TIP: There is a small coconut shop with tables and the best view of the bridge. For a real steal you can have one of the most delicious coconuts you can imagine while waiting for the train to come.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The easiest way to get to Nine Arch Bridge is to take a tuk tuk from Ella for around 600 LKR (Sri Lanka Rupees) (round trip); otherwise from Sri Kanaser Temple on Passara road follow the signs. It’s a 30 minute walk through the jungle and tea fields but during rainy season avoid the walk unless you have hiking shoes because the trail is infested with leeches.

CROWD BEATING TIP: You can skip the crowds by going to the bridge in time for sunrise. Then, you’ll have the chance to see the train twice from a different point of view because two trains run in half an hour.

If you want to go on a tour of Ella that also include Nine Arch Bridge, these are a few options:

train to Ella

The train to Ella offers stunning views

Jump on the train

Once you’ve seen the train passing on Nine Arch Bridge, it’s time to get on board.!You can start your six-hour journey from Ella to Kandy taking the most famous and scenic train in Sri Lanka. The route goes through stunning mountains, splendid tea fields, beautiful valleys and colorful towns.

TIP: You need to buy first-class ticket for $25 USD in advance if you want to be sure to find a window seat. But if you don’t mind standing and traveling like a local you can get a third-class ticket for a real steal. You can buy your ticket here.

Cool down at Diyaluma Falls

Diyaluma Falls is the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka and it is a marvelous sight. Water comes down from a height of 220 meters over a smooth rock side to the valley below and it’s simply amazing.

Getting there is a bit of a way, so you may want to plan it as a day trip from Ella – but it’s well worth the effort.

When you reach the top you won’t find any safety barriers so you really need to stay away from the cliffs! At the top, there are a series of natural pools where you can swim – though make sure not to do so during the rain season as the current will be too strong.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: From Ella you first need to reach Wellawaya by bus and then take the bus headed to Beragala/Haputale or a tuk tuk to Poonagala (it is between 3500 and 4500 LKR). There are two ways to get to the top. You can hike from the bottom, on a circular trail that starts right off the main road and takes an overall 2 to 3 hours. As the trail is not really well marked you may want to invest in a guide for around 2000 LKR. Alternatively, you can start the hike at Poonagala village – it is shorter, less popular and not so strenuous.

Ella waterfalls

There are many beautiful waterfalls near Ella

Enjoy the view of Ravana Falls

On the way to Ella, make sure to look for the magnificent Ravana Falls. It’s roughly a 15 to 20 minute drive. You can hire a tuk tuk for around 600 LKR or take any bus heading to Wellawaya. This really is one of the nicest places to visit near Ella!

The falls are 90 meters high and are multi-tiered. When I was there I met several monkeys looking for something to eat, so pay attention to your backpack and by all means, do not feed them!

The waterfall can get extremely powerful during the rainy season, so avoid going beyond the balustrade as the rocks may get very slippery and the chances to fall are high! During the dry season local people usually cool down in the flowing water but, please, don’t follow them even if the temperature gets very high. There are signs everywhere that warns you not to swim in the falls – and for a good reason!

TIP: If you want to reach the top, exclusively during the dry season, ask a local guide to come with you and show you the way. The view from the top is breathtaking and well worth the hike.

Visit Ravana Cave

Near the falls, at the top of 600 steps carved in the rock, you can visit Ravana Cave, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka. Although it’s a small cave located at 1370 meters above sea level, it has an important legendary and historical value: in fact according to legend it was in this cave that King Ravana hid Princess Sita hoping she’d fall in love with him.

The cave was inhabited 25000 years ago.

To get there From Ella take the road to Wellawaya and after 2 km on your right there’s a trail going up the mountain until you can reach the cave. It’s easier to take a tuk tuk and ask the driver to be left at the beginning of the trail.

On the way to the cave you’ll find a small stall that sells tea and drinks. I recommend carrying a torch or headlamp to walk inside the cave.

Elle Wala waterfall

The lovely Elle Wala is truly a hidden gem

Swim at Elle Wala Waterfall

One of the nicest things to do in Ella is visiting Elle Wala Waterfall. This is a small waterfall hidden in the jungle with a lovely natural pool where you can swim.

Once you have seen the Ravana Falls, you can ask your tuk tuk driver to continue driving on the same road (A23) for another 18 km until you see the Rathmal Wehera Buddist Temple. Once there, take the opposite direction to the temple to get to the waterfall.

You can hire a local guide to show you the way or walk on your own to the falls following the trail. It only takes a few minutes by foot to reach it, and you are bound to love it as it is not nearly as crowded as Ravana Falls. Take your time to enjoy the place, to cool down in the water and relax. Be aware that during rainy season the level of the water rises dramatically.

Hike Ella Rock

If you like hiking and if don’t mind waking up early in the morning, hiking up to the top of Ella Rock is one of the nicest things to do in Ella. If you are lazy but fit and if you like sleeping late in the morning, for once change your mind and hike up to the top of Ella Rock. In other words, you have to do it!

Hiking Ella Rock is truly worth it! Going early in the morning means you will avoid the heat; there are less people and the sun rising from the top of Ella Rock is something you won’t forget.

TIP: Before starting the hike make sure to check the weather forecast, particularly in rainy season, to be sure it won’t be too foggy. I was there in October and I managed to reach the top just in time, a minute later it got completely misty.

From Ella it takes approximately 3 to 4 hours to climb up and come down. This hike is not as easy as that to Little Adam’s Peak so take your time to reach the top: stop for pictures, drink some water, bite a snack and last but not least enjoy the stunning view.

You’ll walk through some tea plantations, on rail tracks and go on steep ascent. Once you reach the top, the view is simply breathtaking!

The 8 km trail is not very well marked and touts along the trail may even point you in the wrong direction. You may want to hire a guide for around 1500 to 2000 LKR – check with your hotel or local people or, during the busiest time, follow other groups with a guide! Alternatively, you can book a guided hike online.

These are the best options:

Spoil yourself with a herbal oil massage

What do you deserve after an early wake up and a long hike if not a herbal oil massage? You can spoil yourself with a full body massage at 98 Acres spa (make sure to book it in advance) to relaxed those worked up muscles. Alternatively, stop at Hela Osu Suwapiyasa Centre in town.

Tea plantations in Ella

A lovely walk through the tea plantations

Take tea plantation tour

You have the opportunity to walk through a tea plantation almost everywhere around Ella: tea fields are on the way to Little Adam’s Peak and in the valley next to Nine Arch Bridge. But if you want to have more information about how tea is grown and the refining process, you should take a tour of a tea factory.

I think it’s one of the best things to do in Ella – after all, Sri Lanka is the fourth largest producer of tea in the world and tea in Uva district is so good and famous thanks to the altitude at which it’s grown.

There are many tea factories around Ella. The following are just a couple.

Dambatenne Tea Factory

Located near Haputale and close to the famous Lipton Seat (guess why?), was built in 1890 by Thomas Lipton. Lipton tea is cultivated in Sri Lanka and is exported all over the world. You can rent a tuk tuk or take a local bus to Dambatenne and then walk from there to reach the tea factory.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Tours are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm for 250 LKR and show the whole tea production process from the picking, drying, fermenting, sieving and grading of the tea.

Halpewatte Tea Factory

Dating back to 1940, this is one of the largest factories in the Uva region. It’s located 6 km outside of Ella. Mornings, except Mondays or any days after holidays, are the best time to visit the factory, when all activities are running at full capacity.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:  A tuk- uk to go, wait for you and come back costs about 1500 LKR. Guided tours start at 8:00 am and run until 4:00 pm Monday to Saturday. They last about 45 minutes, cost around 450 LKR and include a detailed explanation of all the steps of tea making, a tasting of different kinds of tea, a stop by the shop where you can buy many varieties of tea powder and, last but not least, have a walk through the plantations.

Visit Dhowa Temple

Dhowa Rock Temple is a protected site located at about 10 km from Ella on the main road to Bandarawela.

This small temple is famous for its 12 metter unfinished Buddha statue, carved in the granite rock, the ornamental gate and the Sri Lankan style Buddhist murals on the walls of the cave shrine. The temple dates back over 2000 years and is thought to be done by King Walagamba when he found refuge in this area after the Indian invasion. Unfortunately the Buddha statue is not very well preserved.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: All the buses to Bandarawela pass right by the temple, tell the driver that your destination is the Temple because it’s well hidden in the jungle. A stupa is the only signal of the temple on the main road. A free donation is asked to visit the temple.

Enjoy the stunning view from Lipton’s Seat

Lipton’s Seat owes its name to Sir Thomas Lipton, the owner of acres of tea plantations throughout Ella who used to supervise his tea empire from here.

This is definitely one of the most incredible viewpoints in Sri Lanka, almost 360° over tea estates up to Udawalawe National Park and beyond to Hambantota Port.

The best time to enjoy it is early in the morning, mainly because fog covers up the view later in the day and you won’t be able to see past your nose. At the top there is a statue of Sir Lipton and a small café where you can have a delicious cup of tea (what else?) while admiring one of the most breathaking scenery you’ll ever see.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: From Ella take the train to Kandy and get off at Haputale, then hire a tuk tuk to the Dambatenne Tea Factory (around 2500 LKR for the whole trip), where the trail begins, or directly to Lipton’s Seat. The hike lasts a couple of hours and costs 100 LKR per person. On your way back you can visit Dambatenne Tea Factory.

cooking class in Ella

Learning how to cook is a fun thing to do in Ella

Attend a cooking class

If you enjoy food in Sri Lanka, don’t miss the opportunity to learn how to prepare it. Chances are that during a cooking class you’ll be making rice and curry, the most popular dish of the country, and other 3 or 4 dishes.

Many family-run restaurants and guest houses in Ella offer cooking classes. They usually last 2 to 3 hours and costs around 2500 LKR. The very best comes at the end when you get to eat what you’ve cooked! I recommend to book it in advance as this is one of the most popular things to do in Ella and classes fill up quickly.

These are the best places for a cooking class:

Lanka cooking – you’ll learn 5 different recipes using the traditional terracotta vases over a wood fire. Lanka’s way of cooking remains really close to tradition. There is one class per day in the evening.

Ella Spice Garden – classes start with a tour of the spice garden where you get lots of information about how to use the different spices and end with a recipe book. There is one class in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Grand 39 – the teacher and chef will show you how to cook a complete meal: five different types of vegan rice and curry, a second course with chicken or fish and a dessert.

View from Little Adam's Peak

Another beautiful view from Little Adam’s Peak

Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Ella Sri Lanka

How to get to Ella

Ella is very well connected to the Hill Country of Sri Lanka by train, with direct trains to Kandy and Nanu Oya, right outside Nuwara Eliya. You should book the train in advance, especially if you want a first class ticket. You can book it here

Buses from Colombo’s Pettah bus station are also available every day. Tickets are cheap but I won’t recommend the bus for such a long distance due to the traffic jams and the bumpy roads.

When to visit Ella

Ella is located in Uva Province, south of Kandy, and thanks to its altitude, about 1000 meters above sea level, the temperatures are usually not nearly as warm as they are in the rest of the country.

I recommend visiting Ella from January till April and from June till September to skip the rainy season and leeches that infest any greenery with that.

When I was there, at the end of October, I was lucky enough to wear trainers otherwise, with flip flops or other open shoes, on the grass and mud I would have ‘met’ these little creatures – as happened to my guide and to a family I met when I visited Nine Arch Bridge.

Where to sleep and eat in Ella

Ella has some excellent accommodation options. Much like in the rest of the country, you can eat your meals at the hotel or guest house. These are the best places to stay in Ella:

Guided tours of Sri Lanka that also go to Ella

If you want all the fun but none of the worries of planning a trip to Sri Lanka, you may want to consider a guided tour and leave the planning bits to the experts. G Adventures has several ones that also go to Ella. These are a few of them:

Other useful information 

Make sure to check if you need a visa before your trip to Sri Lanka. At the moment, citizens of many countries – including the United States, Canada and all EU countries – benefit from a visa waiver. You still have to apply for the visa before you go, but don’t have to pay for it. Should you need to get a regular visa, you can easily apply for your visa online here.

Make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip. Get yours here.

Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”

For further readings Sri Lanka, you can check one of these books:

Further readings about Sri Lanka

If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, make sure to read my other posts:

This post was written by My Adventures Across The World contributor Elisabetta Tavani.

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau during my trip to Sri Lanka, and I wish to thank them for the incredible trip and all the useful insights. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain mine. 

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How To Get The Visa For Cuba In 8 Easy Steps (Also For Americans)

How To Get The Visa For Cuba In 8 Easy Steps (Also For Americans)

All travelers need a visa for Cuba. Some can get it online, others can’t.

The Cuba Tourist Card or – in Spanish – Tarjeta de Viaje, is commonly referred to as the Cuban visa (though the actual visa is a different thing, as I will explain below). This is fairly easy to get. What you need to keep in mind when applying for one is your nationality. Travelers coming from North America (Canada and Mexico), New Zealand, countries of the European Union or the United Kingdom and other countries in the world need to get a green card.

Are you eligible for a green card for your trip to Cuba? Click here to get yours!

The Cuba visa for people flying from the United States is different: indeed, people flying directly from the US need a pink card.

Are you traveling to Cuba directly from the US? Get your Cuba visa (pink card) here!

PLEASE NOTE: The color of your Cuban visa is not based on your nationality. What matters if which country you are traveling from. So, if you are a British national but you are flying from or through the US (ie London-Miami-Havana), you will need a pink card. If you are a US national and are flying from Canada (ie Denver-Toronto-Havana), you will need a green card.

Let me clarify one thing here: even Americans can actually travel to Cuba; and though for them it is a bit more complicated than for EU nationals, it is actually doable.

To get the visa for Cuba, all you have to do is filling in the application for the Cuba visa online on this site and paying the online fee well in advance, as the Cuba tourist card will be sent to you by mail. You have to make sure you give it enough time so that even in those places where mail is slow (ie where I live!), you do get the card before your departure date.

In this post, I will explain all the steps you have to follow to get your visa for Cuba. Before I do so, let me clarify who needs a Cuban visa (and who actually doesn’t) and what you need to know about it. I will also explain the steps to get a Cuban visa for Americans.

Ask Easy Tourist Card to arrange your visa for Cuba for just $35 USD!

Do you need a visa for Cuba

Cuba is a wonderful place to visit – but you need a visa to enter

Do You Need A Visa For Cuba?

Chances are that you need a visa for Cuba – only nationals from a handful of countries don’t need to have one when traveling to Cuba.

The nationalities that don’t need a Cuban visa are: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belarus, Benin, Bosnia, China, Dominica, Grenada, Macedonia, Malaysia, Montenegro, Mongolia, Namibia, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Serbia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

These, on the other hand, are the countries whose nationals can apply for a Cuba visa online: Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican City.

Nationals of countries that aren’t mentioned above need a Cuba tourist card, but can’t get in online – they will have to get it at the nearest Cuban embassy or consulate.

Cuba Tourist Card

You need to find out whether you need the Green Card or the Pink Card

What Documents Do You Need To Get Your Cuban Visa?

In order to enter Cuba, you will need to have the following documents:

  • A passport with at least six months of validity after the arrival date in Cuba.
  • A round trip air ticket.
  • Proof of sufficient funds for your trip.
  • A good travel insurance valid for the duration of your time in Cuba.
  • Accommodation reservation.

To get your Cuban visa, click here.

What You Need To Know About The Visa For Cuba

Once you get your visa for Cuba, you are allowed one single entry in the country for 30 days from the date you get there.

PLEASE NOTE: the Cuba Tourist Card allows Canadians to stay in the country for up to 90 days from the day of arrival.

The Cuban visa is valid for 180 from the day of purchase – which means you have six months from the day you buy it to actually get to the country.

You can extend your Cuba tourist card at a local immigration office for an extra 30 days while you are in Cuba (Canadians can extend for 90 days). In order to do so, you will be asked to show your passport with at least six months validity from the date of your arrival in the country; your current Cuban visa; a receipt of payment from the casa particular or hotel where you are staying; the credit or debit card used to purchase travel insurance; a valid travel insurance for the extended duration of your stay; and stamps to pay for the extended visa.

Your Cuban visa will be stamped on arrival in the country.

Get your visa for Cuba here!

Tarjeta de Viaje

Getting a Cuba Tourist Card is fairly easy

Step By Step Instructions To Get Your Visa For Cuba

You can get your visa for Cuba in seven very easy steps.

Buy your flights

As you will be required proof of arrival to and departure date from Cuba, make sure to buy your flights in order to get your Cuba Tourist Card. This is a standard requirements for all travelers to Cuba.

GOOD TO KNOW: As of June 2019, cruise ships departing from the US can no longer go to Cuba.

Buy your travel insurance

This is a standard requirement for anybody traveling to Cuba. Your insurance has to cover for medical evacuation by air, repatriation and any medical emergency.

Make sure to read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”

Book your accommodation

In order to get your visa for Cuba, you need to show hotel bookings or, even better, private accommodation bookings. If you prefer to stay in private accommodation (casas particulares) make sure to always get licensed ones which can be recognized by the blue logo usually placed on their front door or right by it.

You can book your hotel in Cuba here.

You can book your casa particular in Cuba here.

Select which card you need

The first thing you need to do is going on Easy Tourist Card here and select whether you need a green card or a pink card.

As I have said before, the color of your Cuba Tourist Card is solely based on where you are flying from and not on your nationality.

If you are flying from the US, you need a pink card.

If you are flying from anywhere outside the US, you need a green card.

Fill in the form

You will be prompted to fill in the form with all the information needed to process your Cuban visa:

  • number of visas required
  • First and last name of the applicant(s)
  • Shipping address

Pay

You can pay for your Cuba Tourist Card with your credit card or via Paypal. Once payment is received, it takes a business day to process the visa, so 95% of the visas are delivered within a week from the date of applications.

Delivery

Easy Tourist Card only uses tracked-shipping providers to make sure your Cuban visa is delivered anywhere in the world within 3 business days. You can check the status of your application on Easy Tourist Card contact page here.

The flat fee delivery rate is $23.26 USD USD for delivery of green cards, and $40.70 for delivery of pink cards, within 1 to 3 business days.

Fill in your visa

As soon as you get your visa for Cuba, make sure to fill it out completely and write legibly.

Remember that you need to keep your Cuba Tourist Card with you at all times.

You can get your visa for Cuba here!

Cuban visa for Americans

Yes, Americans can travel to Cuba!

Important Information About The Cuban Visa For Americans

If you are an American traveling to Cuba, the procedure to get your visa may be slightly different. Here are the steps you need to follow.

Determine which kind of visa you need

If you are going to Cuba for strictly tourist purposes, and you are flying directly from the United States, you may qualify for the pink card.

If you are flying from outside the US, you will need to apply for a green card.

If you are going to Cuba to visit family or friends, for business purposes or for a course, you will probably need a full visa. You can check the website of the Cuban Embassy for more information on what kind of visas are available.

Remember that your nationality has nothing to do with which kind of visa for Cuba you need. What matters is the location your are flying from.

Are you a traveling to Cuba from the US? Get your Cuba visa (pink card) here!

Buy your Cuban Tourist Card

If you are traveling from the US, you can buy your visa for Cuba in three different ways.

From an official site

This is the easiest way to obtain your Cuban visa, especially if you like planning everything in advance. You can get your pink card from sites such as Easy Tourist Card and have it delivered to your address via DHL.

From the airline (at the airport or online)

Airlines flying from the US to Cuba normally offer services to their passengers in need of a visa. You should be able to get your visa from the airline either on the plane or at the airport, but sometimes this is not the case: different airlines have different rules, and you’ll have to check with them to see what they are.

Keep in mind that if you don’t have a Cuba Tourist Card and the airline is unable to sell you one, you may be not allowed to board.You may want to save yourself the hassle and get your pink card online.

This is a list of all airlines that fly to Cuba from the United States. Please double check with them to make sure that their policies haven’t changed and to make sure what their prices are for the visa.

From any Cuban embassy in the United States

You can contact the Cuban embassy nearer to you and get your Cuban visa directly from them.

Cuba visa

Getting a Cuba Tourist Card is actually very easy

Frequently Asked Questions About The Cuban Visa

What is the cost of a visa for Cuba?

All Green Cards cost $40.70. To this, you will have to add a flat delivery rate of $23.26 USD for delivery within 3 business days.

Pink Cards, which is for people traveling from a US airport, cost $103.50 USD and have a flat rate for shipping of $40.70 USD, for delivery within 3 business days.

How long does it take to receive the tourist card?

Cuba tourist cards are sent by DHL. You should get yours within a week of purchasing.

Will I have to print information on the visa?

Yes, but we will tell you how to do so.

We are traveling in a group. Do we have to order the visa for Cuba separately?

You can make just one order, so that you’ll only pay one shipping charge. The tourist cards will be delivered to the address used to place the order.

Do minor children need separate visas? 

Yes, regardless of the fact that they may be registered on their parents’ passports.

How long does the processing take? 

Easy Tourist Card normally takes one business day to process the Cuban visa. Your visa is usually delivered within a week.

How long is the visa for Cuba valid for?

Your Cuba visa is valid for one entry and for no more than 30 days from the date of arrival in Cuba. For Canadian citizens, the limit is 90 days from the date of arrival.

Is the visa for a single entry or multiple entries?

The Cuban visa is a single-entry visa.

I am traveling from the USA. Which card do I need?

If you are flying to Cuba directly from the USA, you will have to get the pink card. If you have a layover in another country, you will have to get the green card.

Are the Cuban Visa and the Cuba Tourist Card the same thing? 

No. Only nationals of some African and Middle Eastern countries need a Cuban visa. If you are coming from North America, New Zealand or Europe, you will need a Cuba Tourist Card.

Keep in mind that the Cuba Tourist Card is often referred to as Cuban visa. 

What kind of things can you do if you travel on a Cuban Tourist Card? 

You can only visit the country for tourism purposes.

How long in advance should I apply for a Cuba Tourist Card?

You visa for Cuba will be valid for 180 days from the time of purchase. This means that you should travel to Cuba within 6 months of buying it.

How many times can I apply for the Cuba Tourist Card?

As often as you want. Each visa allows you to stay for up to 30 days.

Can I extend my stay beyond the 30 days limit?

You can extend your stay for another 30 days (90 days for Canadian citizens). You can’t stay for more than 2 months (Canadians can’t stay for more than 6 months).- The maximum stay is 2 months, except for Canadian passport holders that can stay for 6 months.

Further information

You can see a detailed map of which countries require a tourist card or a Cuban visa, and for how long the visa-free countries citizens can stay in Cuba here.

Further readings about Cuba

Make sure to read my other posts about Cuba:

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Discover how to get the visa for Cuba - via @clautavani