We spent three weeks in Sri Lanka and soon fell in love with this gorgeous country: very backpacker friendly, it’s amazing to travel by train and local bus to get to know their culture.
Two major disasters have hit Sri Lanka recently: the civil war between the Tamil rebels and the government forces, especially in the north of the country, ended in 2009; and the devastating tsunami of 2004 that destroyed many villages on the eastern and southern coasts. Sri Lanka has risen again since then, making tourism its n.1 income. As of today, it is still relatively untouched in some areas, but is becoming quickly a top destination for tourists. Go soon until it’s still wild!
ANTI CLOCK WISE ITINERARY FROM COLOMBO TO…COLOMBO!
When we landed in Colombo, we weren’t sure of our detailed itinerary yet, we were up for some beaches and wilderness rather than cities, so we decided to skip the capital and leave it for the end of our trip just in case. Eventually we missed it, but you could stay for a couple of days if you have time!
Going southbound, the coastline is studded with beautiful villages and unspoiled beaches. Our recommendation is to absolutely go by train down to Galle, the best way to dive straight into local daily life. Read our post about Galle to know how to reach the best beaches, Unawatuna Beach is only minutes away!
On the south coast, Mirissa is the place we loved the most. You will immediately fall in love with Mirissa palm beach, check out some photos we captured.
Want to spot the famous stilt fishermen? Look no further, Weligama is a sure hit! But be careful to recognize the real fishermen from the fake ones, the latter will pretend to be fishing and ask you money to take pictures of them!
Tissa is the closest centre to stunning Yala National Park, so come here for a chance to see Yala’s symbol, the leopard! Some seasons are better than others to spot leopards, know more in our article about Yala’s safari.
Leaving the south coast, the adventure continues uphill and inland. Ella is a gem that you really can’t miss. If you want to know why, here’s our guide to what to do & see around Ella. Don’t miss the chance for the marvelous Ella-Kandy train ride!
Kandy is the second most important city of Sri Lanka, known as its cultural capital. It is a bit crowded though, but you may want to stop and see the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, where no less than Buddha’s Tooth is kept.
You could choose relaxing Dambulla as your base to Sigiriya, instead of messy Kandy. Also, want to escape the thousands of tourists at Sigiriya Fortress, but still get a unique view of it? Pidurangala Rock is the place for you, learn about it here.
This area is also the ideal starting point for elephant safaris, there are 3 national parks nearby where hundreds of pachyderms live freely.
On the east coast Trinco is the main centre, with Nilaveli and Uppuveli being the most famous long beaches. You will find your isolated spot on these never ending sand strips!
Back on the west coast, if you want to enjoy some more seaside rather than staying in Colombo, Negombo is only 30 minutes away and has a decent beach, not as good as in the south though. Its proximity to the Internationl Airport is a plus.
Following under, a list of good-to-know things about Sri Lanka:
HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN SRI LANKA?
You can pre book all of your accomodation in Sri Lanka with free cancellation here.
For an amazing view on Ella’s Nine Arch Bridge, have a look at this perfect accommodation.
Nilaveli Beach Resort is ideal for a totally relaxing stay straight on the beach.
Check out our favourite place in Negombo: a nice villa not far from the beach, with a gorgeous swimming pool!
WEATHER – WHEN TO GO TO SRI LANKA?
Obviously you can follow this way or the other way round, there are no big differences. You may want to consider the two monsoons that affect Sri Lanka yearly: one monsoon brings rain to the south-west of Sri Lanka between May and September, the other to the north-east between October and January.
DO I NEED A TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Yes you do. Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.
VISA – HOW TO GET A VISA TO SRI LANKA?
You must request your visa in advance online: check here to get your visa to Sri Lanka.
FLIGHTS – WHERE TO START YOUR SRI LANKAN TRIP?
Sri Lanka’s only international airport is Colombo Bandaranaike, so you’ll most likely start and finish your journey here. There are economic flights from India, Dubai, and Malaysia too. Look for good fares to Sri Lanka here.
TRAIN, BUS, FERRY – HOW TO BOOK TICKETS IN SRI LANKA?
Normally showing up at the station to buy tickets the morning you plan to leave by train is your best option, because buying them in advance isn’t possible there. However, if you visit Sri Lanka during high season, you may need to contact a travel agency or pre-book online to be sure to find available seats in your preferred class. (3rd class tickets never go sold out, they will keep on selling them and people will end up standing up in the aisles).
This is our suggested itinerary of the main highlights for an average 15-20 days journey. Clearly having more time you could see other places as Arugam Bay and Batticaloa on the east coast, or Jaffna in the north which is surely less touristy.
Some places we loved more, some less. If you need more tips, just leave a comment below!
HAVE FUN IN SRI LANKA!