Sri Lanka has always been somewhere on my bucket list after I’d met a couple in the Maldives, and they’d said, if you love it here, but also like to tie in a bit of adventure and some culture then Sri Lanka is just the ticket. Moments after, it was pencilled in to that ever-growing destination wish list.
The truth is, we hadn’t planned on going quite so soon, my travel “bucket list” is as long as my arm, but it has been a crazy year, wedding planning, moving house, and a messy home sale, we were in serious need of some R&R. So we started to look where we could get some Vitamin D but would also allow Matt, my fiancé, to go surfing. Sri Lanka was the perfect option! It turns out you can go any time of year for guaranteed sunshine as it’s so close to the equator, but depending on the season you’ll need to visit different coastlines.
The best time to visit the west and south coasts and hill country is from December to March, whilst the best weather on the east coast is from April/May to September. That said, we started our journey on the South West coast in November (this is meant to be when it’s getting warmer but before the crowds hit) and we had great weather, as it was still warm, even when we hit the hill country.
Here’s our itinerary from start to finish (12 nights in total), and I’ve also put any additional items we would’ve loved to have done with a little more time, or things you could build in to the itinerary if you cut-down on the beach time.
Hikkaduwa – 6 nights
We spent a large majority of our trip here, mainly because of where it is in relation to good surf spots, but I’d highly recommend it as a great beach destination, and a place to base yourselves to visit Galle. You can reach Galle by Tuk Tuk too for just a few pounds in only half an hour (and a tuk tuk is something you have to experience if you haven’t already)!
In Hikkaduwa, we stayed at the Coral Rock Bansei (Deluxe Sea View is a must) and the breakfast and views were amazing, plus it was next to a beachside restaurant called Mama’s, which did a very yummy local curry, and I’d definitely recommend that.
Here we hired a moped for 5 days and it cost us the equivalent of £16, and we used it to explore all of the beaches and surf breaks that Hikkaduwa and the south coast of Sri Lanka had to offer. If you’re confident on a moped then this is one of the greatest ways to explore the country at your own peril.
We even went as far as Mirissa on two occasions and whilst it was a two and a half hour round trip it was so worth it! That said, you could easily visit Hikkaduwa for a couple of nights, then Galle for a night or two, and then head on to Mirissa for a few nights, which would still break up the trip from the airport but allows you to see all of these places without a moped.
If you want to chill out near Coral Rock Bansei, the beach is lovely, but you can also see the after effects of the Tsunami, meet lovely locals and see Sea Turtles in the clear waters – a magical experience.
If you want to sunbathe in Hikkaduwa, my favourite beach and lunch spot (and great for dinner too) was the Drunken Monkey, the bar and restaurants reminded Matt of Thailand, a lovely, chilled vibe, and the fresh calamari at lunch was the best I have ever had! This would also be a great place to stay if you were on more of a budget.
Another restaurant I’d recommend is Home Grown Curry and Restaurant – a real local take on a curry, on a road off the main strip. YUM!
Whilst in Hikkaduwa, we visited the following beaches and I really would recommend stopping at them all for a number of reasons, but I have to say Mirissa and it’s secret beach will always be my favourite!
Unawatuna – rated as one of the most beautiful beaches on the island so it’s a must go (Mirissa was still my fave!)
Ahangama – to see the Sri Lankan Stilt Fishermen
Welingama – this has the cutest little island off of it and it is very picturesque
Mirissa – this was my favourite by a country mile, there was a beach bar with swings that were quite possibly the best swings in the world, a sea view and you could sleep on it (see picture)! They were very dreamy!
If you turn off the main Galle Road for Mirissa Beach and keep going, just before the fisherman’s port, there’s a dirt track, go along it, just passed a couple of houses, and then follow the track you’ll reach the “Secret Beach” and it’s nothing short of incredible.
There will be a few other people there, a few sun beds, more yummy food, and strings of shells dangling from the trees. Plus, because of the rock formation the shallow sea in one part is almost more of a rock pool, super relaxing!
Galle Fort (one night, although we visited from Hikkaduwa a couple of nights for dinner)
I loved it here. It’s full of cobbled streets, lovely boutiques, colonial buildings, yummy restaurants, with a couple of chic places to stay all inside an old Fort. For more detail on the place we stayed, the beautiful Fort Bazaar, click here.
This is simply a great place to wander around and check out the beautiful shops (for clothes and interior decor), but a couple of places I’d recommend to eat are below:
- Church Street Social (a part of Fort Bazaar)
- The Galle Fort Hotel
- Pedlars Inn Cafe
Do, however, wander off the beaten track, the doors and “back garden” style restaurants make it worthwhile. Lastly, but my no means least, check out sunset from near the lighthouse – it’s really pretty!
Next stop: Yala National Park (two nights)
From Galle, this took us about 3 hours but the scenery and abundance of palms always made it a pleasure.
We’d read that this was more touristy than other national parks in Sri Lanka, which would have normally put us off, but it is also home to the largest leopard colony in the world, and that was the last of the big five that we hadn’t seen so we couldn’t miss the chance, and we were very lucky, whilst it was fleeting – our dreams came true!!
We also saw monkeys, wild peacocks, elephants, crocodiles and rare birds.
My one piece of advice here is choose your accommodation wisely, we stayed at the Jetwing Hotel and whilst the accommodations were lovely, you are tied to eating your meals there, it’s buffet only, and if you’re not one to eat a lot they will charge a fixed price per night and that was the one time I felt the cost for something was unjust in Sri Lanka.
If Safari is your main reason for going then I’d also strongly consider South Africa (another blog will follow on this in the next few weeks) – it is my favourite place in the world!
Ella (two nights)
In Ella, we stayed in a Home Stay and it was lovely – we experienced food cooked by local people in their home, were out in the jungle with outstanding views and all on budget – the home stay was ran by Good Neighbours and comes with a strong recommendation. Plus, you’re giving back to the community and they do appreciate it. Sri-Lankan people are amongst the loveliest I have ever met!
From Ella you can visit Tea Plantations – I’d highly recommend Halpe Tea – the guide is so passionate and you learn so much!
You can also visit:
– Little Adam’s Peak – the views from up here are to die for (as per the above photos!)
– Ella’s Rock – another great viewing point but more of a two and a half hour hike versus the 45 minute hike of Little Adam’s Peak.
-Rawanda Falls – a must – we were lucky to visit on a National Holiday and it was amazing!!
There is also a really cute restaurant and bar on the main street called Cafe Chill – the House Mojito is delicious!
If you can I’d try and limit your stay to only one or two nights here only as it’s quite snoozy otherwise, unless of course you’re staying in the 98 acre resort and spa (this looks truly beautiful) and then I’m sure you could while away a little more time.
Whilst here, if you’re heading to Nuwara Eliya, or Kandy, I’d highly recommend the train, the views of tea plantations lined with ladies in their Saris picking tea are unparalleled!!
Colombo (one night)
There’s not much to see in Colombo, other than a damn good restaurant and a beautiful sunset (the locals gather everyday on Galle Face Green to watch it), and it’s a stop that breaks up the journey to or from the Airport.
The restaurant that you have to visit is The Ministry of Crab and it is rated as one of the Top 50 restaurants in Asia, but you must book in advance, even by a day or so!
In Colombo, we stayed in a hotel called OZO and it is a great place to base yourself for a night or two, with a rooftop pool overlooking the ocean and the sunset.
Additional places to visit
Nuwara Eliya: This is meant to be very English, another great place to visit with nearby tea plantations, and fascinating to see as it still, very much like Galle, reflects the time when Sri Lanka was a British Colony.
It was founded by Samuel Baker, the same guy who discovered the source of the Nile and Lake Albert.
Back in the day, many Englishmen came here to hunt or play cricket and polo and to date there is still a lot of beautiful colonial architecture to see. From there you can also see the peak of the highest mountain of Sri Lanka, the Pidurutalagala. We’re going to have to go back to visit I think!! Any excuse…
Kandy: Kandy and its surroundings, known as ‘Hill Country’, have a lot to offer. It is a place with great heritage and history as it used to be the former capital of the country and where the royal family of Sri Lanka last resided.
You can also visit Adam’s Peak from here, as well as see the temple of the tooth, the Royal Botanical Gardens, walk around Kandy Lake, visit an Elephant Orphanage and visit tea plantations from here too!
Hatton: This is a great place to base yourself if you want to hike up Adam’s Peak – the big version, not the little one. There is a pilgrimage in December, which means the whole mountain looks as if it has been lit by street lights, although it was too early in the year for us to experience the pilgrimage and it’s a trek through the night for sunrise and we hadn’t gone prepared (our only torch was on our iPhones so we stayed an extra night in Ella instead).
I believe most pilgrims stay the night in Hatton, then begin the climb at 2am to reach the peak at sunrise. The climb will take around 3-4 hours, depending on how fit you are!
Sigiriya: A giant rock in the middle of the hill country and It’s home to a World Heritage-listed ancient city, and yes, you can climb to the top! The views up there are sensational.
The Cultural Triangle: This encompasses both Kandy and Sigiriya, and has numerous impressive UNESCO world heritage sites to visit.
Items of consideration
- Do you travel clockwise or anti clockwise? We travelled anti clockwise, as I mentioned the R&R piece first was important, but depending on the time of the year, and the weather, you may want to consider travelling clockwise.
- Be careful with what you eat – avoid ice, super spicy food, beef or chicken – it’s not worth the risk!
- Be mindful of transport times between locations – public transport is one hell of an experience, and definitely worth doing, but it can take time unless you get a private driver. The train from Ella to Colombo, for example, takes nine hours!! The views are out of this world, but nine hours will test anyone’s patience!
- Do take hand sanitizer as in places it is a little dirty, it’s a developing country after all.
– Locals will walk you to places but there is normally a fixed agenda, for example a guy led us to a spice shop insisting that we would love it, but it turned out he earned a commission for any sales through the spice shop and it really wasn’t worth the 20 minute walk, even though we did give him the benefit of the doubt.
- Do watch as many sunsets and sunrises as you can squeeze in – they’re super beautiful.
If you’re considering Sri Lanka as your next trip, don’t hesitate with the booking, it really is a trip of a lifetime! Matt said it reminds him of Thailand and Bali before they become commercialised so get there before it happens to this beautiful isle in the Indian Ocean! Plus there are palm trees in abundance making every journey / road trip / moped adventure super beautiful – I love a palm tree!!