Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Length of Trip: 1 month

Sri Lanka is an adventurers dream. Through mountains, beaches, safaris, surfing and more, you can find so much to do in such a beautiful country. The food is phenomenal, the people are amazing and I don’t think I can put into words just how stunning every place was that we visited. We spent one month in Sri Lanka and did as much as we could in such a short time. Sri Lanka is one of those places that you could spend months seeing something new every day.

Click on the tabs below to read about each destination:

ColomboKandyAdam's PeakHattonHatton to EllaEllaUdawalawe National ParkTangalleColombo

Colombo

We landed in Colombo to surprisingly easy immigration, but a difficult journey to our hostel. We landed at night and left the airport to catch the local bus into the city by around 8:30 pm. Usually, the local bus is supposed to be still transporting visitors from the airport to the Colombo Train Station but unfortunately, the local bus wasn’t transporting anymore and 10 of us were stuck wondering how we were going to get to our hotels. Luckily, we had some locals talk to a bus driver to get us all to Fort Train Station for 4000 rupees split between us (around 300 rupees each). You can take a taxi if you would like but the drive is around 45 minutes so a shared bus is the cheapest option. Once we got to the train station a tuk-tuk got us the rest of the way to our hostel. If you are flying in at night, be wary of this not so consistent bus schedule and have other options under your sleeve if needed.

We often find cities are easily done in a couple of days and didn’t need more time than that to see Colombo. After a good night’s sleep we started our day at the Fort Railway Station, made our way to the Pettah market, went and saw the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque, leisurely walked around the Fort and Dutch Area, took a tuk-tuk to the Galle Face beach, then walked towards the Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil but found two other Temples along the way.

As much as Colombo is a cool city to walk around in, the tourist attractions weren’t really for us. So, despite being there for a couple of days, we really were able to do Colombo in one.

Accommodation: Backpack Lanka + breakfast included.
Highlights: The Pettah Market and the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque (although quick visits) were probably the highlights of Colombo for us.
Good Eats: We didn’t really eat much because it was a little too touristy. So we ate fast food.

Kandy

The train to Kandy was really simple. Seats were large and comfortable, and no A/C was perfectly fine for us at this time of the year. It took us about 2.5 hours to get there. As we were getting off the train, a local man was using his phone to book a taxi. We found out that in Kandy you could use an App called Pick-Me (like Uber). It feels strange using an App to order a taxi while here but the process is much easier. No hassling with taxi drivers and being way overcharged for short distances. Especially in Kandy, where accommodations were tricky to find. We got a PickMe to our accommodation which hadn’t been put on the maps properly yet. So, another thing to be wary of is that in most areas around Kandy, maps haven’t caught up and there is a chance that your accommodation is on top of a really steep hill. Make sure to read accommodation reviews thoroughly if that situation isn’t good for you.

Kandy has a town bustling with locals and tourists. Although not as touristy as we were expecting. There you will find some modern restaurants, lots of bakeries, and local shops. With the town being on the smaller side, walking around is the best way to see everything you need. There is the Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple which has the Buddhas Tooth inside, central market and the lake. To be honest, we didn’t go into the temple because it was very busy and the Central market wasn’t really the greatest market to walk through. Instead, we opted to see the Degaldoruwa Raja Maha Viharaya Temple and simply walk around the town.

Accommodation outside of town is what I would recommend. Mainly because of the beautiful scenery. We found a cool apartment that was very peaceful and had great views of the green hills. After a few days in Bangalore, India and a few days in Colombo, spending some time winding down here was perfect for us.

Accommodation
Kandy Apartment: we spent a lot of our time here.
Highlights
Getting a juice at Mihiri Foods was so much fun and the staff were so friendly. Monkeys waking us up in the morning after they were playing all over ours and the next-door neighbour’s roofs.
Good Eats
Any bakery that looks cool!
Cafe Divine Street: nasi goreng and the veggie noodles
Mihiri Foods (Juices): soursop, wood apple and papaya

The journey to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak)

Our friend was adamant that I tried out the trek up Adam’s Peak so from Kandy we took a taxi to Dollhousie (4,300 rupees) so that we could stay there until 1:00 am and start our adventure. The drive in is a little scary but really beautiful. The road was so small that I asked the driver if it was a one-way street! In true Sri Lankan form though, he was fine and as confident as ever. The road is lined with tea plantations and views over mountain cliffs are breathtaking. If you get road sickness, bring some ginger along to sniff, it helps with nausea.

We stayed at the Ayos Hill Adam’s Peak, which was 4km away from the entry point of Adam’s Peak. We ate at the restaurant at the hotel which was surprisingly good. Our night before was a little interesting though. There was a wedding happening behind the hotel, so loud music played until 8:00 pm. On any other night we would have thought nothing of it, but when waking up at 1:00 am, we were wondering if we were going to get any sleep. On the contrary, once the music stopped, we slept fine. We woke up at 1:15 am, had a good amount of breakfast (that we brought ourselves), drank A LOT of water and got our free tuk-tuk over to the beginning of the hike. (check with hotels if they offer a free ride to the base).

Sri Pada, also known as Adam’s Peak, is a 2,243m (7,359ft) tall and holy mountain. The unique thing about this mountain is that it is a sacred site for all religions. It has been “identified by Buddhists as the Buddha’s footprint, by Hindus as that of Shiva, and by Muslims as Adam’s (Peak). Later the Portuguese attributed it to St. Thomas the Apostle.” Despite the differences in belief, this holy site is welcomed by all.

The walk up is hard and can take travellers anywhere from two to five hours to get up. For the locals, many leave the night before and spend most of the night trekking up. Tourists are told to start the climb at 2:00 am to give ample time to get up for the sunrise. We started our journey at 2:40 am and got to the top around 4:40 am. In saying that, we work out nearly every day and are pretty fit. We used this as a workout and wanted to get to the top as quickly as we could. This walk is extra difficult because you are walking in the darkness with nothing to distract you from the never-ending staircase. By the end, when the handrails were continuous, I was pulling myself up so that I didn’t have to use my legs anymore! If we could go back and do it again, we probably would have left at 3:30 am to get up by 5:30 am (but I don’t see us doing it again haha).

Once you get to the top, there is a line up to see the Buddhas foot. Be ready for it to be crowded and extremely cold. Many who have made it to the top before the sunrise lay in swarms, sleeping and trying to stay as warm as possible. We sat down on the stairs on the left side of the temple (the left side facing the temple as you first walk in). Not realizing, despite how cold it was, that we were sitting out of the wind. Once the sunrise began, we realized there was no way to see it apart from heading back down the stairs we came upon. Halfway through the sunset, the stairs became very cramped, and we decided to make our descent. I would actually recommend this if your trip isn’t solely based on the religious aspect of this mountain. Some of the views on the way down are spectacular, and we got some great pictures. The journey down, although distracting in a good way because you can see more than just stairs, is still pretty difficult. Your legs will be 100% start shaking. We got down by 8:00 am and took our tuk-tuk (around 200 Rupees I think) back to our hotel. All up, the entire hike from the hotel and back was 6.5 hours.

Our hotel offered us breakfast when we got back from our journey and helped us hail down the bus to get us to Hatton.

We journeyed on to Hatton, so that the next day we could take the famous train to Ella. A local bus only costing 64 Rupees each and takes you on the hour journey through the hills into Hatton. We read a review that someone thought the bus was way too crazy. Not entirely true but this also isn’t some fancy bus that takes slow turns. This route is taken every day and the bus driver and passengers aren’t afraid of a little jerk on their bus trip. Its almost expected.

Adams Peak tips:

  1. Bring water.
  2. Bring your own food to refuel at the top. Not just muesli bars make sure you have enough food to replenish yourself.
  3. Cut your toenails.
  4. Bring lots of warm clothes for the top. The combination of the wind and sweaty clothes makes it even colder then you’d expect.
  5. If you can’t get a good seat for the sunset, head towards the stairs. You will get some great views from there.

Accommodation
Ayos Hill Adamspeak: Free tuk-tuk to the mountain in the morning, make your own way back. The restaurant in the hotel was much better than expected. Be ready for roaches in the room as it is very damp and warm inside.
Highlights
Coming down the mountain with its spectacular views, seeing parents carrying their young kids up the mountain and seeing the elderly being nearly carried up by their family to see this incredibly religious site.
Good Eats
We only ate at our hotel, but the food was actually really good. The fried noodle and the fried rice were as usual, but the kothu was incredible and I ordered the onion omelette, which it was really great.

Hatton

Hatton is a small but interesting looking place. The area looks very European and you could walk around the town centre. Our one-night stay was short though, and we decided to eat at the number one restaurant on TripAdvisor, the Railway Lodge. If you go to Hatton, chances are you’ll stop in this place. It’s very beautiful, clean, modern and was actually a Bank that had been renovated. Our meal was a little messy though, with orders not coming out or being WAY too spicy for me, but the service was incredible. On our way out, the manager asked if we wanted to see the hotel rooms they had. As we walked back to our small and kind of uncomfortable room, we wished we hadn’t because the rooms were beautiful! Especially the king size bed! If you wanted to splurge for a night, this would be a nice spot to do it.

Accommodation
Heladiva Rest

Hatton to Ella

What was supposed to be the most spectacular train ride, turned out to be an incredibly difficult journey for us. Why the Sri Lankan railway hasn’t come up with solely tourist trains and charged double or even triple is beyond me. I didn’t even know so many people could fit onto a train. We spent the first half of the trip frustrated because we were constantly having to move around and be pushed and shoved for people and vendors to walk through. The fact that we both are very tall and were tired made the views not as significant as we hoped. After Nura Eliya (one of the train stops) though we were able to share a seat each with other couples, turning the two-seaters into three-seaters. Is it an amazing journey with spectacular views? Yes! But it being overcrowded, cramped and almost claustrophobic that really put a damper on what is supposed to be such a magnificent ride.

Note: 1st class is optimal but we were told that they were sold out a month in advance. 2nd class is what we took, but some other tourists said they took the 3rd class which wasn’t crowded and they were able to sit and really take in all the views.

Ella

I had multiple people tell me how much they loved Ella, but I think our homestay was the highlight of our time there. After a tiring few days of travelling and climbing a giant mountain, we got to our little guesthouse and just crashed.

Little Adam’s Peak

This hike should really be called teeny weeny tiny Adam’s Peak because the 45-minute walk up is nothing compared to the real Adam’s Peak. It is still extremely beautiful though. You walk through the tea leave fields and up the mountain with Ella rock on your right. Unlike Adam’s Peak, Little Adam’s Peak has plenty of space to sit down and really take in the views and even enough space to walk across and see different views. You should take the early morning, or the late afternoon times to steer clear of the midday sun. Wear plenty of sunscreen just in case.

Nine Arches Bridge

You wouldn’t think seeing a bridge is that big of a deal, but it is actually a lot more beautiful than you’d expect. The bridge pops out of a mountain filled with luscious greenery. You can either take a seat up top and soak in the views or get in and amongst it by heading down and hanging out on the track. Either way, if you have some time I would check it out. Bonus point – it’s free. When you head up the dirt path and take a sharp turn left, you’ll hit a fork in the road. A local man will try and take you for a fee, but you can get yourself there easily. Take the road on the left which will then curl around to the right. There was a new and really fancy restaurant being built on the left side of the path when we were there that you won’t miss. Keep following the path, the signage can take you the rest of the way!

The town of Ella is easy with backpackers wants and needs. It was a place where you could find good restaurants, a supermarket, great free attractions like Little Adam’s Peak and lots of fellow travellers. So, all in all an easy place to stay. We spent 5 nights here, mainly because our homestay was incredible. We got huge breakfasts, a room with a view of the forest and lots of animals like monkeys, giant squirrels and hundreds of white butterflies.

Accommodation
KHA Homestay: We were treated better than family here. Huge breakfast was included, tea was offered all day, amazing hosts, hot water, and great Wifi. The bed wasn’t the greatest, but it was worth being taken care of so well. Maybe more of an older peoples place to stay.
Highlights
Little Adam’s Peak was beautiful in the morning. Our homestay was really incredible and definitely a highlight.
Good Eats
Matey Hut:┬áRated really highly on TripAdvisor, so a popular spot with not enough seating. You may go and need to wait a little bit. The food wasn’t as good as we were expecting (seasoning was a little off for us), but a really cool and random spot to eat at with some big portions.
Cafe C: We got the kothu and the veggie curries. The presentation was cool as the waiter explained all the curries to me. Really great meal and excellent service.

Udawalawe National Park

We got on the bus and headed towards the National Park. I did a lot of research before picking which one we would want to go to. Udawalawe is great because animals are in their natural habitat, there is no feeding, petting or driving off the course to see the animals and tourists stay in the vehicle. On the other hand, the number of jeeps inside the park is a little crazy. Our jeep only had us two in it, and we even saw a jeep with only one person in it. They should most definitely come up with a new system to limit jeeps going into the park. The other part that made us a little uncomfortable was after we had visited the park. We headed to the bus station and came across two big elephants at the fence (which was right on the main road) looking for food. A local man was feeding them bananas (which should not be happening at all). If this situation happens to you, please don’t feed or touch the elephants and pick up all the rubbish around so they don’t eat it.

In the park, we saw around 10 elephants, monkeys, lots of peacocks and other amazing birds, a mongoose and deer! We then realized that all the elephants were on the other side of the park which is why we saw them close to the road. It is really hit or miss whether or not you see them, but our guide (although a little slow on the driving part) was really great and nice. The food at our accommodation was great too!

Accommodation
Elephants Fence Guest & Safari. We found this was the cheapest Safari ride at 3500 for the Jeep and driver. You then have to pay 3500 each entry fee at the park.
Highlights
I’d saying seeing elephants is pretty freaking cool, haha!
Good Eats
At the accommodation: Fried rice and breakfast included (eggs and toast). Far more then you can eat!

Tangalle

Beach time is much needed after so much activity in the mountains. Exhausted from travelling around, we wanted a quiet place that was easy for us to relax at. At first, we stayed near Silent Beach at Ranith Villa, an okay accommodation with great breakfast and exceptional dinner, but in an area which didn’t suit us at all. Silent Beach is a magnificent beach and one you should definitely visit, but no one is on it because there is literally no breeze, making it unbearable to be on. So we moved up to Tangalle beach, stayed at the amazing Conch Villa and extended our stay to 10 days because it was perfect for us.

The Tangalle area was easily accessible, and our villa was between the beach and town so we were able to get groceries easily. The beach is so beautiful, but has a lot of big waves hitting it. What they have done is placed a rock wall along certain sections of the beach. This allows for the waves to not hit the beach so hard, so travellers could go swimming much more easily. Restaurants line the beach with beach chairs accessible if you eat at the restaurant or stay in their own accommodation. We often chose to sit at the Watergate Bay Seafood Restaurant which had amazing lunch options.

Accommodation
Conch Villa: The nicest accommodation we had this whole trip. Beautifully themed, warm water, big bed, TV and outside kitchen.
Highlights
Silent Beach
Good Eats
Lime Cafe: One of our favourite spots. Staff is amazing and they cook out of a little kitchen. Food is really great. We tried fish, being a fisherman’s town, and it ended up being the best fish we’d had in a long time.
Green Garden Family Restaurant: Very attentive staff, maybe pushing the borderline of overly attentive (he had wanted you to taste the food before he left the table). but really great food. Try the luffa plant with egg.
Watergate Bay Seafood Restaurant: A great spot to sit on the beach and a really delicious lunch option. We would get the veggie curries and an omelette.

Colombo

We were flying out of Colombo so decided to get there a couple of days earlier. A big tip for fellow travellers. Being early cuts down the stress of nearly missing flights immensely. We ended up meeting a family on the train who were travelling on the same day. We don’t even know if they made their flight, but they were very very close to missing it. We took the train from Matara and headed North. A great point to start as the train is empty and you will 100% get a seat. For fellow motion sickness people, the train flips halfway through. So you’ll go backward at some point of the train ride. If I would go back now, I’d sit back first and forwards last!

Accommodation
House of Essanya: A really great stay before you leave Colombo (and it is near the airport). Wonderful staff, yummy breakfast and perfect location for a quick tuk-tuk or cab ride to the airport.

Sri Lanka is hands down one of the most beautifully scenic countries I have ever seen. It is a great adventure vacation because there is so much to do and see. If you are going to be in Sri Lanka for under a month, be ready to be on the move most of the time. This trip was definitely our most adventurous which makes it hard for me to pick one favourite spot. That means your going to have to just see it yourself!

Kristina
@kristinasofia_

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