Three weeks ago we arrived back in Berlin after two weeks of travelling through Sri Lanka. And even though my boyfriend might say something else, to me it was one of the best trips we ever took. Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries, the people are very kind, and you get to see a lot when you travel around. We had only two weeks and saw only a fraction of everything this country has to offer. The island doesn’t look that big, but it has so much to offer, you won’t be able to see everything during two weeks or even four weeks. BUT it is possible to see a lot, and what’s more, it is possible to see every kind of landscape Sri Lanka has to offer. In the following I’ll tell you a little bit more about what to do in Sri Lanka, I will tell you more about the places we travelled to and which one I like best and, of course, I will give you some recommendations regarding restaurants and hotels. Here comes my Sri Lanka Travel Guide:
Travel around, don’t stay at one place only
First of all, you need to know, that you shouldn’t stay at one place only when in Sri Lanka. Of course, Sri Lanka has many beautiful places, but it gets boring quite fast. What’s more, you really don’t want to stay in one place and miss all the other places the country has to offer. So you better travel around Sri Lanka, if you want to make the best of your trip!
The day before our flight to Sri Lanka I shared our travel planning here on the blog. That’s where you can see our route and the places we visited. But I’ll give you a brief overview once again: we started in Colombo, where we spent the first night. Our private driver picked us up at 10 am the next day, and we have begun our three-day-trip through the heart of the country. The first stop was Kandy, the next day we continued to Ella, and on our last day, our driver dropped us at our hotel in Tissamaharama. We stayed there for two nights before it was time to continue to the coast of Sri Lanka. A taxi driver picked us up around noon in Tissamaharama and drove us (it took about four hours) to Ahangama. Here we stayed for your nights. After those four nights, it was already time the final destination: a place nearby Bentota.
My favourite places in Sri Lanka and places you don’t need to see
We saw a lot of places during our Sri Lanka trip, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting all of them. I will now tell you a little bit more about the places and towns in my Sri Lanka Travel Guide. First of all, Colombo actually isn’t worth a visit. I would just recommend spending here the night after your arrival before starting the trip through the country. It takes 30 to 60 minutes to get from the airport to the city. Another option is to stay in Negombo, which is supposed to be nicer than Colombo. Additionally, it’s a little bit closer to the airport. We first wanted remain in Negombo, but since we were very late with our bookings, we couldn’t find a hotel there and had to stay one night in Colombo.
Next up is Kandy. Kandy is a city you should put on your list. It’s not only home to the famous Sri Dalada Maligawa (better known as Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic), but also such a lovely town. I would recommend staying there for one or two days, but no longer. Have a stroll around the artificial lake, visit the temple and walk through the streets of the town.
The next place we visited was Ella. Ella itself is very touristy and dominated by backpackers. The town itself isn’t unique, but the landscape around is amazing! That’s why Ella is a must when travelling through Sri Lanka. You have to stay in Ella when you want to hike Littel Adam’s Peak or even Adam’s Peak, AND it’s the start or end point of the most beautiful railroad track. We took the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, because it’s in the middle of Kandy and Ella and two and a half hours on a train were enough for us 😉
We visited so many places during our three-day-tour with the private driver, but unfortunately, I can’t remember the names. Most of the places aren’t worth a visit, but the landscape we got to see and all the tea plantations are so beautiful. So driving from Colombo to Kandy and from Kandy to Ella is something you should do. And you can either do it by train or drive by car with a private driver, but I think you get to see a little bit more when you’re driving by car.
Tissamaharama was the next town we stayed at. I have to confess, that we didn’t see much of the city and what we saw, didn’t look like it’s something you have to see. But if you want to do a safari at Yala National Park, Tissamaharama is one of the towns the safari tours start at. And we found a very nice hotel there where we had a great time during our two days.
Tissamaharama was the last town in the heart of Sri Lanka because afterwards we finally headed to the coast. First stop was Ahangama, a city next to Weligama. We had a lot of trouble deciding where to stay in this area, on our list where Mirissa, Weligama, Unawatuna and Galle. In the end, we made this decision depending on the hotels. I haven’t seen Mirissa, but it’s supposed to be very touristy, filled with lots of backpackers partying all day. So if that’s what you’re looking for, Mirissa might be the right choice. Weligama was more interesting for us because it’s the town with the best surf beach for beginners in this area. But unfortunately, we couldn’t find a hotel in Weligama. The hotel we found is located in the town next to Weligama (called Ahangama), only a ten minutes drive by Tuk Tuk or
scooter. Ahangama itself isn’t worth a visit, it’s just a small town, but we really enjoyed our time in Weligama. And I wish we had stayed there longer. The atmosphere is fantastic; you can go surfing or just relax at the beach. We also spend some time in Unawatuna, which is quite nice as well, but you can’t go surfing at Unawatuna beach. By the way, if you want to know where the palm tree swing is everybody is taking pictures at, you don’t have to go to Unawatuna Beach (most people tag the pictures there), you actually have to go to Dalawella Beach. Summarising I can recommend staying in Weligama, Ahangama or Unawatuna in this are. I can’t say anything about Mirissa or Galle even though we wanted to visit both towns as well.
After four days in Ahangama, we continued our trip in the direction of Colombo. I really had no idea where to stay, and since Bentota is one of the bigger towns, I opted for this one. We couldn’t find a hotel in Bentota, but one about 30 minutes away in Balapitiya. There’s not much to see in Balabitiya, but the beach is quite nice. It’s everything but crowded, and you have it almost all to yourself. But as you already know, the hotel we stayed at was horrible, so we changed the location for the last day and stayed next to Bentota Beach, and this is a place I absolutely would recommend to stay at. We stayed south of Bentota Beach, not at Bentota Beach directly. It’s so beautiful there; the beach was almost empty, white sand, the ocean all to yourself, the railway tracks between the beach hotels and the beach, small restaurants with delicious food and so much more. I honestly can recommend the area (especially the south) around Bentota Beach in my travel guide for Sri Lanka.
Book a private driver: Ananda
Now that you know which towns we visited and which ones I can recommend I want to tell you how to get around Sri Lanka. There are many ways to get around, but the most comfortable one is by booking a private driver. We booked a tour and driver via Evaneos, the service was great, and they helped us planning everything. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t recommend booking a tour with them, because it’s super expensive. We paid around 100 Euro per person a day, and the hotels were horrible, definitely not worth the money! Our driver was great, and I can definitely recommend him, but I would recommend to contact him without any agency. He speaks English and will also help you plan everything, the tour and hotels. What’s more, he’s not as expensive as when you book via Evaneos, because this agency gets most of the money you pay. So in case you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka and want to book a private driver, here is the contact information for our driver: Ananda, contact numbers are (+94) 0779289550 and (+94) 0722759266. The easiest way to contact him is via E-Mail herathge.tours(at)gmail.com.
Take the train
I probably would never travel by train only to get from A to B in Sri Lanka, but it is an option, and a lot of people do it. Unfortunately, the train system is developed all over the island. You can only travel the south-west area and some inner parts by train. It’s not very easy to plan the train rides in advance; you best just go to the train station when you want to leave and buy your ticket there. You probably won’t be able to get a first class ticket (they’re sold out very fast and usually days in advance), but a second class ticket isn’t bad either. It’s just not guaranteed that you get a seat and the trains can get very crowded, so be prepared for a long and sweaty train ride.
If you don’t want to travel through Sri Lanka by train, I would at least recommend driving from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. The landscape is amazing, and it’s one of the most beautiful railroad lines in Sri Lanka. Believe me; you don’t want to miss it! Don’t be afraid of sitting at the open doors, because this is where you get to enjoy the view and the train ride to the fullest.
Activities are part of my Sri Lanka Travel Guide as well. First I would recommend going surfing. The last and first time I was surfing were in Australia in 2015. I always wanted to travel somewhere where I can do it again because it was so much fun in Australia, but we didn’t manage to go to a place where you can surf in the second half of 2015 and 2016. When we planned our January vacation for 2017, only places where you can surf were shortlisted! Surfing is so much fun; you have to try it yourself when you have the chance to. And in Sri Lanka, you definitely get the chance. We were surfing in Weligama, where a lot of surf schools are based. The waves are not that high, the current isn’t too strong, and it’s perfect for beginners. You can easily rent a board for around LKR 300 per hour (and believe me, an hour is enough) or join one of the surf lessons. Since we didn’t take one of the lessons, I don’t know the price, but I’m sure it’s not that expensive.
Do a safari at Yala National Park
I always wanted to do a safari, and when I saw one could do it in Sri Lanka, I just had to book one! We decided to do a safari at Yala National Park because that’s the one where you have to see leopards. Of course, they’re very seldom, and you need a lot of luck. Spotter are driving around the national park all day to find the leopards, and whenever they find one, they contact the guides, so they can drive to the spot where the leopard was just spotted. When we were at Yala National Park, a leopard was sleeping in a tree at least 300 meters from us. I have to confess; I couldn’t see it without binoculars and even with it was quite difficult to spot it. But at least I know it was there 😉
In addition to the leopards, you get to see a lot of elephants, buffalos, lots of different birds, crocodiles and many more animals. I can’t even remember how many animal species we saw when we were at Yala National Park. So even when you’re not lucky enough to see a leopard, the national park is still worth a visit. You can choose different tours, most common are a morning tour, a full day tour and an evening tour. We did the afternoon tour that started at 2.30 pm, and even though some people said they wouldn’t recommend it, I think it was the best decision. We were at the national park when the sun set and that just looked amazing! If I could do the safari again, I would definitely choose the afternoon tour again.
Hike (Little) Adam’s Peak
From coast over national parks to mountains. The mountain landscape was the one I was most impressed with. I could have to spend a couple of more days there even though I was looking forward to the coastline as well. I would recommend driving as much as possible through the mountains (as long you don’t get sick). When you’re in Ella hike the Little Adam’s Peak. I first planned to do the Adam’s Peak hike, but you have to start at 2 am, and I couldn’t convince my boyfriend to do it 😉 And when I saw the pictures with all the people doing the hike, I was happy we didn’t do it. It’s super crowded and exhausting, once you’re up, you probably don’t have the time to enjoy it to the fullest. I would recommend hiking Little Adam’s Peak instead because it’s not only a shorter hike but also not as crowded as Adam’s Peak. You can hike it all day long; we did it in the evening to see the sunset from above. The hike was one of the best things we did in Sri Lanka, so it has to be a part of my Sri Lanka travel guide. The view not only on your way up but especially when you’re on top is fantastic, it’s so beautiful! I could have spent hours up there, just staring into the distance and enjoying the beautiful view.
Handy tips: bookings, tip, currency, sim card, …
In the following, I told you everything about the towns we visited, and I told you which activities you have to do when in Sri Lanka. Now it’s time to share some handy tips as part of this Sri Lanka travel guide. First of all, I want to talk about money. Almost everything in Sri Lanka is cheap compared to Europe, but you need cash everywhere. Not even every hotel accepts credit cards, so be prepared. Whenever you’re with a private guide or taking a tuk-tuk, ask for a bank where you can withdrawal money, because you can’t do it on every ATM. In some towns they do not have banks that accept VISA credit cards at all, so make sure you always have enough cash with you when travelling to another town. You never know, if you’ll be able to get some there. And speaking of money, I want to talk about tips as well. Most restaurants and hotels add a 10 percent service charge, but you always should put 5 percent on top as an extra trip, if you were satisfied with the service. Room cleaners, porters and service personnel at a hotel as well as Hotel waiters and bar staff get 50 or 100 Sri Lankan Rupees. If you book a private driver, he expects 1000 rupees per day, but of course, you can give more or less depending on how satisfied you are.
Next up: SIM cards. Wifi doesn’t work everywhere, so make sure to buy a SIM card at the airport. It’s everything but expensive, we paid around 15 USD for 12 GB of LTE and also had some free minutes for domestic calls and some free messages. When you arrive in Sri Lanka you have two or three different providers, I think they’re all very similar to each other, and the people will help you set everything up. It’s super quick and easy. The only thing is that you have to show your passport (they’ll copy it) and you can’t pay by card, so you need to exchange money first.
When you want to book an activity, do it locally and don’t ask your hotel to do it. The hotels charge much more (usually up to 40 percent more) and don’t have such a wide offer range as the internet. I googled everything and contacted the people via email myself. They usually answer within a day, and you often can book very spontaneous (we often did it the day before). We also booked our taxis for longer drives online and didn’t ask the hotel to call a taxi. They probably won’t give you their usual price as well, but it’s still cheaper than the bookings via a hotel.
The food in Sri Lanka and some restaurant tipps
The food in Sri Lanka is super spicy, and I had a lot of problems finding something that’s not spicy. They often told me it’s not spicy at all, but for a “German potatoe” as I am, it still was spicy, sometimes even too spicy to eat it. But I have to confess, that I’m very sensitive when it comes to spices. Even though I wanted to try their traditional curries, I had to pass and choose something else. Sometimes it was quite a challenge to find something, but I never had to leave a restaurant hungry 😉 We often ate at the hotels, which usually was very good. In Weligama, we used to eat at Fish Point, a restaurant by the beach where you first choose the fish you want to eat, and afterwards you sit down and choose some side dishes. The food was always excellent, and we didn’t have any problems! I also can recommend the Wijaya Beach Restaurant at Dalawella Beach. It’s a little bit more expensive than most restaurants, but the pizza is worth the price. I also tried a drink called Arrak attack, which was pretty good. Arrak is a coconut liqueur, and just because it’s coconut, I wanted to try it.
Hotels we stayed at I can recommend and those I wouldn’t recommend
What would a Sri Lanka travel guide be without some hotel recommendations? Of course, it would be incomplete. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend every hotel we stayed at. The ones Evaneos booked for us (I don’t even remember the names of the hotels) are inadvisable. But the one we stayed at in Colombo was quite nice; it’s called Fair View Hotel Colombo. I can’t tell you that much about it because we spent there only one night, but the rooms were very nice, the personal very kind and helpful and the breakfast was quite good as well.
The next hotel I would like to recommend is the Thaulle Resort we stayed at in Tissamaharama. We had a Superior Double including breakfast and dinner. The room was very spacious with a beautiful interior and comfortable bed. The breakfast, as well as the dinner buffet, offered a wide range of different foods, so I always found enough I could eat. We spent most of the time at the hotel, laying by the pool or relaxing on our balcony and just left it to do the safari.
In Ahangama we stayed at the W15 Escape, which was the best hotel we stayed at in Sri Lanka. It’s a little bit more expensive but worth the money. I absolutely loved the white interior and the outdoor bathroom. It has a nice pool are, delicious food and it’s only a ten minutes drive to Weligama or fifteen minutes to Unawatuna. We rented a scooter at the hotel, which costs us LKR 1200 for three days. It was the best decision to rent a scooter because there is no direct beach access and you always have to take a tuk-tuk if you want to go somewhere. A tuk-tuk drive from the hotel to Weligama costs LKR
500, so you pay at least LKR 1000 a day if you don’t want to spend all day at the hotel. But if you’re not afraid of driving a scooter in Sri Lanka and if you need a calm place, then the W15 Escape is the best choice.
Last but not least I would like to recommend the hotel we booked for the last night nearby Bentota Beach: Paradise Road The Villa Bentota. I think I liked this one even better than the W15 Escape, but it also was more expensive. We stayed in a Superior Suite because they had no other room available. The Suite was amazing. We had a lot of space, a huge terrace and the whole hotel complex was fantastic. It’s close to the beach (a short walk), has a nice pool area, the restaurant is very good even though it’s a little bit expensive. You can easily spend all day at the hotel and the area around, and you won’t miss a thing.
What you shouldn’t do and places you shouldn’t visit in Sri Lanka
Last but not least, I have to say one thing again: please don’t visit one of the Elephant orphanages in Sri Lanka! You can read my post about the Pinnawalla Elephant Orphanage here if you want to know why.
So, that’s my Sri Lanka travel guide. I hope it will help you when you’re planning a trip to this beautiful island. If there’s anything I can assist you with or if you have a question, please don’t hesitate to contact me or simply leave me a comment and I would love to help you out. xx