The following is our Sri Lanka itinerary based on our travel. We have added our suggestions what we would do differently looking back. Itinerary is written in chapters by nights at a destination. Feel free to modify suggested timings or destinations to your liking and time.
- Buy a sim card with mobile data from Dialog counter in Colombo airport after Immigration and baggage claim. For around 6-8€ you get 8GB data and 30 minutes of calls.
- Tuk tuk drivers will always quote 2-3 time higher prices than normal. Look at Google maps to check distance to destination and multiply it by 50 LKR/km.
- At the bus/train stations and other tourist places you will be swarmed by Tuk Tuk drivers. Walk a few meters away from the station and hail a Tuk Tuk there for a better price. Also never take their restaurant/hotel recomendations.
- Bus travel is fast and frequent with rides that don’t take more than 3 hours between any destination. Don’t use AC busses as they are 3-4 times more expensive than regular buses, and not much faster as a regular bus. As a bonus expect to be charged for your backpack. Remember there is no experience like driving with a regular bus in Lanka (you will see) ?.
- Use Google maps to search for guest houses and don’t book anything in advance (there is plenty of accomodation avilable). We found a place to sleep on the go always for our budget. Maximum 2.000 LKR (10€) without breakfast or 2.500 LKR (13€) with breakfast for two no AC (not needed in January).
- Maps.me app is you best friend for findg trail paths in Asia.
Colombo (1 night)
If you are limited with time you can skip Colombo and rather enjoy a night somewhere else. To get downtown you can take a taxi or bus number 187. If you come on a morning flight, then catch the next available train to Anuradhapura from Fort station. Check the schedule online and travel on trains during daylight hours.
Start your sightseeing at Gangaramaya Temple. The entrance fee will also give you admission to Seema Malaka temple on Gangaramaya Park/lake. After that find a Tuk tuk driver that is willing to drive you around all the little attractions around the city centre as the city is too big and to hoot to explore on foot. Make sure you negotiate a price in advance for 2 persons. Ask the driver to drop you of for sunset at the Galle face beach. Locals gather at the beach after work to play games, fly kites, eat and watch sunset.
EAT: For lunch stop at little diner on Pettah floating market when you get off at Forth bus station. When you get of the bus take wooden bridge to the market and turn left. For dinner at Galle face beach pick a local stall. We tried Nana fast food (black sign not red) and eat your first Kottu.
Diary/picture gallery from Colombo.
Anuradhapura (1 night)
Train ride and temples
Anuradhapura is a town/village that along with Polonnaruwa and Kandy form the so-called cultural triangle. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are known for one thing: temples and a lot of them. For us we had a pagoda overload just from staying in Anuradhapura. ?
For leaving Colombo the best train departure time is at 6.35 as travel time is shorter then later trains. The ride still takes 4 hours so you will have plenty of time to observe the landscape. There are two train station in the town so choose ahead were to get off. Anuradhapura is the purest “town” we visited on the island as it’s not overly touristic. After finding the accommodation you should rent a bike (guest houses) and go Temple seeing.
When visiting Buddhist temples/pagodas always remember that you have to take your shoes off, cover your knees, shoulders and don’t take a picture showing your back to Buddha.
EAT: As much delicious fruits as you can, you will never look at bananas and pineapples the same back home.
Sigiriya (1 night)
Cave temple in Dambulla
When you decide that you have seen enough temples catch bus no 15 towards Dambulla. Once there take a Tuk tuk to the famous Dambulla Royal Cave Temple. Arange for a driver to wait for you in the parking and leave your backpack with him. On the walk up you will notice the diversity of the country as the landscape starts changing. The diversity on such small distances is why Sri Lanka is so special. Don’t skip Dambulla temple as it’s completely different from the ones in Anuradhapura and it was by far our favorite.
From the cave temple go back to the bus station and catch a local red bus to Sigiriya. Make sure that you get off at the correct point as Sigiriya doesn’t have a clear village centre/station. After getting to the accommodation rent a bike for 24 hours and start exploring the area. The famous Lions rock has many good viewpoints all around so go and cycle the who circle road around it – defenetly worth it even if you are not a bike fan 😉
SLEEP: Lion Lodge – Great breakfast, can be ready early in the morning so you can hike with full belly, friendly owner away from main road.
EAT: Chooty Hotel Restaurant, 5-minute walk from Lions lodge.
Pictures from Dambula and Sigiriya.
We recommend not to climb the Lions rock itself and save 25€ entrance fee. Specially as Pidurangala rock will give you a great view of Lions rock with only handful of tourist. Bike to the start of your climb early in the morning. The hike up will take around 30 minutes.
Make your way back to Dambulla on bus. From there take any bus that will get you to the old capital Kandy. The ride will take a few hours as you are heading for the hilly part of the country.
We decided to go straight from the bus station to the Buddha statue – Bahiravokanda Vihara that overlooks the city. We almost ran out of daylight as we took a while enjoying cycling in Sigiriya and arrived late to Kandy. That’s why we couldn’t go visit Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya which is 5km out of Kandy. Instead we found our accommodation for the night and walked back to the centre along the lake shore for dinner.
SLEEP: there are numerous of accommodation 1km out of centre on a Saranankara road. Our fist choice was fully booked so we settled for a basic stay at the top of the road.
Picture gallery of the day.
Nallatanniya (1 night)
It’s time for the first leg of one of the most beautiful train rides in the world Kandy to Ella. Reserved train seats are sold out in the season for a month in advance but not to worry. Go to the train station at 7.00 when it opens. And book a ticket for the 08:42 train on unreserved seats to Hatton. There is a limited number of tickets so be there punctually and ready for the queue. Make sure to be the last getting on the train to seat between the doors so you can enjoy the view. In Hatton catch the dedicated direct bus for Adams peak/Nallatanniya in front of the train station.
Watterfalls of Nallatanniya
We’ve read there is not much to do in Nallatanniya while waiting for the early morning hike to Adams peak. How wrong were they… Ask the Tuk tuk driver to take you to the big waterfalls (Moray Falls). Then make your ways on foot across the tea fields to see the 3 waterfalls. This excursion was the biggest surprise to us as the nature was astonishing and there was not a single tourist there. Remember to take a towel and swimming suit for a refreshing dip in the lake. ? But bewere this is a total jungle treck!!
Watch out for the leaches. We only encountered them here as we were in Sri Lanka during the dry season. The ones we seen were black with yellow spots.
We woke up just before 2 to catch the sunrise on top of Adams peak becouse we read that you need at least 3 hours to reach the top. Actually it took us 1.50 hours and we stopped only once for 3 minutes. Do have enough warm clothes for the wait at the top sweater, windstoper – it is freezing up there!! Altitude and no sun means the nights are cold at this height. The path is almoast all stairs and has shops all the way up. Sunrise views and avoiding the heat is worth the brutaly early alarm clock.
Note that it is a major attraction both for locals – as it has a buddha foot in the pagoda so you will need to take off your shoes at the top and tourists so be prepared and don’t be too late otherwise you won’t ever get to the top… too much crowds.
EAT: Galle Cafe & Bakery, good food at good price. Try out different rotties.
Haputale (2 nights)
Hatton to Happutale senic train ride
After breakfast and a nice shower its’ time for the bus back to the train station on Kandy-Ella service. There is a train at 11.14 which will be hard to catch so a better option is 13.28 train. Ask the locals when and where to get on the buss as all the busses don’t go to the train station but terminate at the bus station in Hatton. Remember you really want to be on the right side of the train.
We decided that we will visit the far less touristic and known tea plantations around Hatton rather than Nuwara Eliya. The train ride to there was truly the prettiest we have ever seen. As you climb further up the weather and temperature will drop, fog rolls in and chance of rain doubles. The daylight will probably be gone quickly so you can take a walk next to the train tracks or around and enjoy the lack of tourists.
The day before make arrangements for pic up by Tuc tuc driver at 4.50AM to Lipton Seat. Don’t forget some warm clothes for a cold ride up with Tuk Tuk. The cost shouldn’t be larger than 1.500LKR including a return from Lipton factory. When you reach the guard post pay the entrance fee for yourself and continue walking the last 1-2km. The goal is not the top but the corner that you see on the left picture. That was one of the most magical sunrises we have seen and the view is much better than at the top.
After the sunrise continue the stroll throe the foggy tea plantations to the top and then back down again. Aim to be at the tee plantation village around 7.30 when they go to work for some great pictures. You will also see a lot of children going to school and asking for money 😀 Follow the path down for 5km to the Lipton factory for a guided tour with tea sampling which is a must. If you wish to purchase the tea it’s available back at the village for half price of the factory. Hatton with lack of tourism is the cheapest stop on the route so go ahead and have a cheap massage. ?
At this point we went on the train to Ella which we regretted the second we arrived there, we had high expectations for Ella bu later we found out that the best hikes were made in Haputalle… Stay an extra night in Haputale, sleep in and take a small break. For a second day activity rent a scooter and go to Diyaluma Falls.
SLEEP: Bawa guest house, nice rooms with warm blankets (you will need them), have scooters to rent, nice view. For bonus the mother of owner made our favourite Milk-tee which we are addicted to. ?
Pictures of perfect sunrise on Lipton seat.
Ella (1-2 nights)
Nine arch bridge and Little Adams peak
Ella was the first very touristic and more expensive stops on the trip. The prices are still very cheap for western standards. Definitely rent a scooter for the duration of your stay and go explore the surroundings. The must does are Nine arch bridge, Ellas rock , Little Adam’s peak – only 20-minute walking this time to the peak. 🙂 At the Nine arch bridge walk up on the hill for a delicious cup of tea with a great view of approaching train. If you still have time visit the Ravana falls as well.
Picture gallery from our scooter explorations.
The next morning is time for yet another sunrise hike, destination Ella’s rock. The hikes first hour is spent on the train tracks back in direction that you arrived in Ella. After that it will take you almost another hour to the top.
The locals have made a business of confusing tourists on how to get there. They will try to get you lost and then for a fee get you back on path. When you walk on the track you must first pass the Kital Ella station. Then continue a few more 200m until a porely visible left turn. The coordinates of the turn are here. If you pass the river on the small stone bridge a minute after turning off the track you are on a correct path. After the bridge take hard left up and stick to the trail. You will pass Ella café rock in 10 or so minutes from there you are on a clear trail to the top.
EAT: We have made arrangement on the first day for lunch on our arrival from Ella at Green View Holiday Resort for the best Curry on our trip. They also have nice room.
SLEEP: Elegant Home Stay Ella which is 10 minute walk from the station, or above mentioned Green View for a bit more money.
Pictures from Ellas rock.
Udawale (1 night)
Udawale national park
As everyone we were deciding between Udawalawe national park and Yale national park. We decided that we would skip Yale since it’s more touristy. Don’t anticipate that you will be alone in Udawale either.
From Ella you will have to take 2 buses to get to Udawalle village. The village itself is uninteresting so there is no rush to be there before afternoon. We have made arrangements to see the safari via our guest house. We paid 4.500LKR per person for half day tour (4-5hours). The price depends on number of persons in the jeep and the entrance fee which is often changing. The wake up will be around 5. The park entrance opens at 6.00 and the adventure beings.
SLEEP: We made arrangements in Bawa guest house for a better deal with his friend in Udawale and can recommend it: Pokuna Safari Eco Lodge. Nice, clean rooms with best shower we seen on the trip.
EAT: Local restaurant (red signage) just a few meters south of bus stop 96 Junction on the opposite side of the road. Best devilled chicken we had.
Animal kingdom pictures.
Tangalle (2-3 nights)
Relaxing on the beach
Tangale is the least touristic costal town we visited. If you need to chill for an extra day on the trip this is the place. We fell in love with it and along with the trip exhaustion we stayed for 3 nights.
You need to rent a scooter as beaches are kilometres long and far apart. At night go for a walk towards Rekawa lagoon and observe the night shore which will be full of small crabs. During the day besides swimming and tanning go to the Hummanaya Blow Hole. Observe the sea if its gentle the blowhole doesn’t work. Not far away on the same road is Kudawella Harbor, the most multicolour port you will see. In the opposite side of the Tangalle there is even less people on the beach than in Tangalle itself on a classical kilometre’s long beaches with no people. Just follow the navigation to the Sen wellness sanctuary to find the closest one.
SLEEP: Sarath guest house. Quiet on beach property were the breakfast is served almost in the sea, rooms are basic but the location is worth it. Our favorite in Sri Lanka.
EAT: The Trees Restaurant, best food we had, great atmosphere and a kind family. Again best in Sri Lanka.
Mirrisa (1 night)
Mirrisa is also known as a Russian town. The prices of everything go up at this point. After you get your accommodation take a stroll down the beach heading towards east. First sight will be the big rock that is part of the shore depending on the tide. If you continue onwards you will find the sticks for old traditional fishing, and also fishermen if you are lucky. Otherwise continue up the hill to find the instagram famous palm dome.
Tickets for whale watching are sold all over Mirissa. we bought them on a stall that is located on the main beach for 4.000LKR each. All tour boats are basically the same, so the only difference is in the price. In the morning Tuk Tuk will pick you up and take you to the port. You get breakfast when you board and then the slow and rocky sail towards wales begin. In all we were at sea for around 5 hours and saw, dolphins, turtles and as promised a big blue whale.
EAT: Dewmini Roti Shop
Hikkaduwa (2 nights)
Turtles of Hikkaduwa
Our last stop in beautiful Sri Lanka. As you arrive in the afternoon getting a cheap guest house takes some time. Once again, we recommend renting a scooter. First head for the sunset spot which also has pet turtles in the sea. They are feed every day behind HikkaTranz by Cinnamon hotel.
The next morning its again turtles and snorkelling time. The reef that was once there is gone. What is left is colourless sharp rock with variety of fishes. Locals that are selling the fishing boats say that there is still some behind the rock were the turtles are so you could check that out but due to the currants and sharp reef is advisable not to swim there.
Dalawella Beach and Galle
We found out that we don’t need to spend a full day in Galle as it’s perfect for a day trip. A nice scooter ride away past Galle is Dalawella beach. Famous for its swing that can be found all over the internet. In the afternoon had back north to Galle and visit the Dutch fort. Start at the Forth Clock Tower and then walk onwards until Pedlar’s Inn Cafe where you can get a great milkshake in a trendy place. Afterwards you can walk towards Galle Lighthouse. Don’t forget to explore the centre on foot or even easier, scooter. The forth centre is completely different than any part of Sri Lanka. To us it had that Havana feel.
SLEEP: Jupiter guest house and beach restaurant, nice, quiet basic accomodation right on the beach. On google maps the actual position is 6.126207, 80.107025.
EAT: The rotty shop, no584 Galle road.
Pictures from the one day trip.
Surf and train to Colombo
No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a surf session. The higher north you go, waves become milder. That makes Hikkaduwa a good spot for you first surf lesion. We unfortunately had some minor injuries and couldn’t surf so we opted instead to see Turtle sanctuary which is small but nice. They even let you play with the baby turtles. On the way back we didn’t use the main road but took first left and got lost in the jungle which was fun and picturesque.
We had a flight at 20.20 so we went with 11.15 train from Hihhaduwa to Colombo and of course it was another gorgeous train journey filled with palms and see breeze. After meeting a friend in Colombo we went to the airport by bus. We departed the bus station at 16.00 and had to jump on a tuk tuk to catch the flight due to insane rush hour traffic so be very careful. This is the only instance we recommend the AC bus that goes on the highway and avoids the rush hour.
Going home galery.
Hope this guide was helpful! If you have any questions please let us now in the comment secttion 🙂