SRI LANKA – full itinerary
My route: Colombo – Hikkaduwa – Galle – Unawatuna – Mirissa – Arugam Bay – Ella – Kandy – Dambulla – Tincomalee – Kalpitiya – Wilpattu National Park – Trincomalee – Colombo
Before you leave
Make sure you obtain the Electronic Visa (costs around 30USD) and are up-to-date on vaccines. Definitely pack a lot of mosquito repellent and waterproof sunscreen.
Bandaranaike International Airport is about 22 km north of the capital Colombo. When you exit arrivals, go left for the local busses. Those are super easy and cheap to go anywhere. To Colombo it takes about 40 min and costs something between 100 and 150 LKR (150 LKR = 1 euro). You can also take a tuktuk or taxi, which is not too expensive either. You can skip Negombo, it’s boring and the beach is not so nice.
There are three ways to travel around Sri Lanka: by bus, train or private van. Depending on your budget and where you have to go you can pick your type of transportation. Of course there are tuktuks as well which are perfect (and cheap) for short distances.
Bus – There are two types of busses: government busses (red) and private busses (blue/white). You can travel with both of them. There are also AC coaches running from Colombo to for instance Arugam Bay or Trincomalee. These are super nice and drive straight to your destination. The local busses stop a lot and can get very crowded. We, however, were just laughing about it because it was so cheap. It’s a cool local experience and the easiest way to travel around the island. The busses run very frequently, just hold them when you stand next to the road. There is someone in the bus who comes to collect the money, so you don’t pay the driver but wait for him to come. Sometimes they want you to pay for your luggage as well.
Train – I have never had so many nice train rides. The scenery, wow! The railway network in Sri Lanka is really good. I recommend to take second-class tickets (still cheap and a lot of locals take this as well, third-class is not so nice and first-class is not necessary). Make sure you take the train from Ella in the direction of Kandy. Most beautiful train ride ever.
Private van – This is heaven after travelling around with the local busses. My parents came over for a week so I got to experience this as well. The vans are expensive compared to the bus. But very, very convenient. If you’re not on a budget, travelling with a child or in a group, I would recommend this.
Big city, would not recommend it. There is not much to do. I slept at Galle Face Hostel which is brand new, very tidy, clean and centrally located. If you want to meet other travellers go to BED hostel. The only nice thing I did in Colombo was going to the casino. You can eat and drink there for free. We just played some rounds of roulette. The casino even pays your taxi back to the hostel. Awesome experience.
Two hours with the train from Colombo. Stay around Mambo’s (we stayed at sunny’s beach ocean view rooms). Our budget was 2000 LKR (about 14 euros) per night for a double room. We always got an okay place for this budget (didn’t book anything up front, just walked in and asked for the price and checked the rooms). For other places walk a bit further down the road. There are nice parties on Saturdays at Mambo’s. Definitely eat at Southern Cool Spot & Chinese Restaurant (No. 100, Galle Road – take a tuktuk). The food is so good and very cheap! Do a day tour with a tuktuk that takes you to a buddha, turtle farm, spice garden, moonstone mine, boat safari, tsunami museum etc. If you need a nice driver call this guy (0779156933), he told us so much about the Tsunami and the war and took us to impressive places.
30 min with the tuktuk from Hikkaduwa. Galle is such a nice place, don’t skip it! Very cosy and great atmosphere (reminded me of Hoi An in Vietnam). It is a bit more expensive to stay in the old fort, but definitely worth it. We managed to find a place that accepted our budget (Old Dutch House). A must: eat at the Indian Hut!
10 min with the tuktuk from Galle. Nice guesthouse is Thilak (Delawa Road). Good rooms (we paid 1.500 LKR per night) and you’re right at the beach. If you want something a bit more luxurious go to the Villa Hotel (you can get the price down to 4.500 LKR for a room with AC). If you like to be active, go for an early morning run/hike past the Buddha up to Jungle beach.
1 hour with the bus from Unawatuna. The beach is so pretty, much smaller and has something sweet. We slept for 1.000 LKR at a Family Guest House. From Mirissa they organise whale watching. You get the cheapest prices if you book it at Puppy’s (they also have cheap rooms). Don’t go whale watching when there are high waves, you get sick. Surfing is also good in Mirissa.
This is the most touristy place of Sri Lanka. A lot of people go there to surf. Whisky Point is the best spot, a tuktuk brings you and your surfboards for 1.000 LKR back and forth. On the way back look around you because you see wild elephants walking in the far distance. You can also do a boat safari with a fisher man, who brings you up to the elephants. We really liked it until we saw two VERY big crocodiles. Kind of dangerous to float around then.. Sleep at Beach Cap (brand new cottages, very sweet owner) or at Beach Hut, which is a bit more of a party place. Make sure you are there on a Saturday evening because then is the Mambo Beach Party!
Wowie, Ella is awesome! At first we didn’t really like it because everyone’s enthusiasm lowered our expectations. But walk up to Ella Rock. Don’t take the railway as everyone does (yes, you read it well: everyone walks on the railway), but walk through the nature on the small roads. If you get lost, lots of local farmers want to show you the way for a small tip. It is so beautiful and I highly recommend you to do that. Check out the waterfall and climb down next to it. Walk up to the rock and on the way back you can just walk on the railway as well (you’re probably a bit tired by then). There are also two tea factories around Ella. You can walk to little Adam’s peak, which is not that special but the Green Tea factory is next to it so you can combine it.
Train ride from Ella!!! In the direction of Kandy. You can also just take the train for a couple of stops and back if you’re heading somewhere else after Ella.
Kandy one of the larger cities of Sri Lanka. You can go to the temple (Temple of the Holy Tooth), which is not that special or visit the Botanical Gardens. Everyone tries to sell you tickets for a special performance but it’s a rip-off. Kandy is nice to walk around and check out the little shops, that’s it. There are a lot of hotels and cheap guesthouses on Saranankara Road (cheaper onces at the top of the road).
We stayed over at Takeshi Inn (1.500 LKR), where we had a nice room and a big garden (great to do your laundry). Dambulla is boring, you can’t do anything except go to Sigiriya, where you can easily go to with the bus or tuktuk. It is 30 dollar (!) to walk up the rock. I heard there is another rock close by you can go on for 5 dollars but you have to ask around a bit. Climb the Sigiriya rock very early or with sunset since it’s too hot during the day. Even though we were on a budget, we did it and really liked it. The view is amazing. Oh and, skip the museum.
This place stole my heart. Or well, Uppavelli Beach actually (that is where everyone stays). Aqua Hotel is great, they have rooms for all budgets – even backpacker caves.. We spent a lot of time at Trinco and noticed that everyone moves to this hotel after a few nights. They even have ‘backpacker caves’ for 800 LKR. You will probably spend all your nights at Fernando’s Bar but there are also a lot of other nice restaurants on the beach. Go snorkelling at Pigeon Island. Interesting: Trinco is full of wild deers who came into the city during the war and never went away. From Trinco you can take the night AC bus straight to Colombo (leaves every night around 10 and 11 pm).
I don’t think you will go here, I wouldn’t go there unless you want to do some kitesurfing. The ocean is really rough here. It is off the usual route but nice to see another area. The locals that live here are different than the rest of Sri Lanka. All their places look nice and well well-maintained. If you go, stay at Rosaane Beach Resort (expensive though).
Wilpattu National Park
Don’t go there. The park is not so well-maintained. Better go to another park. If you go, however, stay at Winsome Nature Resort.
Places I did not visit in Sri Lanka which I regret:
- Udawalawe National Park – there are so many elephants there and everyone is super positive about this park. Much more positive than about Yala National Park.
- Horton Plains National Park – Walk to the end of the world! Go here if the weather is nice. Nuwara Eliya is an old English village surrounded by tea plantations and it’s fun to stay there if you want to visit this national park.
- Adam’s Peak – Climb Adam’s Peak when you’re in Sri Lanka during the pilgrimage season (Dec-May). You can also do it off season, but it’s often too clouded and rainy. The whole way up the peak is full of lights and it’s suppose to be magical.