• Ebbie Love

So, you're thinking about going to Sri Lanka?

Crocodiles, cobras, elephants, dense jungles, cultural temples and pristine beaches...Sri Lanka often gives you the feeling that it has been lost in time. When deciding where to spend my next adventure overseas I was drawn to Sri Lanka, a country with history and culture and some of the best surf spots in the world. Here is my 4-week itinerary, on all the must-sees and top things to do in Sri Lanka.


From the lush green jungles and tea plantations to the cities and beaches I very quickly fell in love with Sri Lanka, and with so much to do and see it's not hard to see why. I have proposed a 4-week itinerary to explore this beautiful island, but to tell you the truth I spent 2 months here, with 1-month surfing on the East coast in Arugam Bay. The first month of travel I was travelling with my friend from University and the 2nd month I was based in A-bay and made new friends. The only place I ended up not going to was Jaffna, up north. I had been told by a few other travellers Jaffna was much less touristy and had much more of an Indian feel and culture to it. I was recommended not to go alone and since I couldn't find anyone to go with decided to give a miss, as it was nearing my last few days in Sri Lanka and I didn't want to spend the end of my trip feeling uncomfortable in a country that had only shown me kindness. In hindsight, I wish I had gone up to Jaffna even if I was by myself. Understandably people will stare at you, you are a foreigner in their home. As long as you keep your wits about you and check with hostel owners/ locals for directions you will be fine, and if you truly want to see the whole island I would recommend putting Jaffna on your list and heading up north for at least a few nights.


 

Quick Facts


Currency: Sri Lankan rupee. As of August 2019 approximately 200 rupee = £1. Closed currency, can only buy/ exchange when you land in Sri Lanka.


Language: Sinhalese and Tamil are the two official languages, however almost everyone speaks English.


Travel Vaccines: Recommended that you have rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid & Hepatitis A. For any up to date information make sure to speak to your GP or check your countries heath bureau.


Religion: There are a variety of religions in Sri Lanka. The main ones are Buddhists (70%), Hindu (12%), Muslim (7%) and Christian (6%).


ATMs: There are various ATMs all over the country. The Bank of Ceylon and People's Bank do not charge for withdrawals, some others charge a small fee of up to 400 rupee.


Safety: Sri Lanka is a remarkably safe and very friendly country. Since the 2019 bombings in April tourism in Sri Lanka has been affected massively, dropping 50-60%. All over the country if you speak to locals they will tell you they are moving to Colombo to find a new job since they are not making any money in tourism. I can honestly say there was never a moment I felt unsafe in this country, Sri Lankan people only ever showed kindness towards me and they were always more than happy to help without expecting anything in return. If you are thinking about going to Sri Lanka but the attacks put you off, get that flight booked and I promise you won't regret it. Regardless, you should always have your wits about you and take all the same precautions you would travelling anywhere, like not going out late on your own, watch out for pickpockets and do not drink tap water.


 

Entry Requirements for Sri Lanka


All countries, (except Maldives, Seychelles or Singapore) require a visa for visiting Sri Lanka. This process is simple and can be easily done online via the online application process as its an electronic visa.


It costs 35 USD for all countries, except for SAARC countries, where it costs 20 USD. **As of August 1st 2019 British nationals who require a visa for up to 30 days can get a visa on arrival free of charge**. However, if you require a visa for more than 30 days this can be obtained via the link here.


 

Getting Around Sri Lanka


Getting around Sri Lanka is pretty simple and straight-forward. Since it is a relatively small country you can easily travel on public transport with a 2/ 3/4-week itinerary.


Bus


This is by the far the easiest way to travel around the country and there are a tourist and local bus options. There are lots of local bus routes, which is how most Sri Lankan people travel around the country and what I would recommend. Exact bus timings are hard to come by, however, you will be able to ask at hostels or locals at bus stations are more than happy to help. Local buses are long, cramped and hot but cheap and an insight into local ways of life.

Top Tip: Watch out for some bus conductors trying to charge extra for luggage, they should not charge for this so make sure to call them out if they are charging a lot more than usual...buses should never cost more than 200 rupees.


Trains


Travelling by train is another cheap and easy way to get around the country, as most places are well connected by railroad. You don't need to book tickets in advance as most of the time they do not fill up. You can choose 1st, 2nd or 3rd class. Be aware if you decide to travel 1st class you will not be able to sit by the door, where you can relax with a breeze.

The famous train from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful train rides I have ever been on. It is worth noting in peak season in summer months this train can fill up, it is worth booking your ticket in advance to save disappointment. I would recommend sitting on the left-hand side of the train as this is where the most amazing views are. It is also common for trains to be on strike in Sri Lanka, so I would recommend the bus over trains for the most part.


Taxis/ Share Taxis


If you would rather save time and be slightly more comfortable, there is always an option of booking a taxi or share taxi which cost slightly more, however you can haggle for a reasonable price, particularly if there is a group of you travelling. This is also the most convenient way to get around if you have a surfboard with you.


You can make use of Uber and PickMe, Sri Lanka's version of Uber, in Colombo and Ella where you can get a ride for a reasonable price.


Tuk-Tuk

This is by far the easiest way to get around in cities from different locations and to get to surf spots in Arugam Bay.


Another option, which is what a few people who I met had done, is to hire your own tuk-tuk and drive around the country. It costs around $18 a day and there are a variety of drop off locations around the country. Have a look here for more information.


 

THE ROUTE


Colombo (1) > Wilpattu National Park (2) > Anuradhapura (3) > Trincomalee (4) > Sigiriya (5) > Kandy (6) > Adam's Peak (7) > Nuwara Eliya (8) > Ella (9) > Arugam Bay (10) > Tangalle (11) > Mirissa (12) > Unawatuna (13) > Galle (14)

COLOMBO (1 Night)


Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and 1 night is more than enough to get out and explore and pick up any items you might need before heading to other remote places. It is a hot, busy city, however, if you do decide to stop off here I would recommend heading to Colombo city centre mall for any supplies and there is a lovely rooftop overlooking the city and lake.


Gangarama Temple is also worth a visit. This temple is 300 rupee and is a working Buddhist temple. It was a wonderful welcome into Sri Lankan Buddhist culture.



Park Street Mews, is a short walk from the temple and is a beautiful street and perfect for some drinks and food, with tapas, Italian, Indian, Sri Lankan and French options.



Where to Stay: Groove house hostel. Cheap and friendly staff.


WILPATTU NATIONAL PARK (1 Night)


From Colombo, we jumped on the bus from Fort Bus station to Anuradhapura and asked if we could get off near Wilpattu national park, then took a short tuk-tuk ride to our accommodation. There are many national parks all around Sri Lanka however, Wilpattu is most famous for seeing leopards. We arrived at the accommodation around 2 pm and having done some research before hoped we would be able to join the evening safari which is usually from 2.30 pm to 6.00 pm (when the gates close).



The whole safari experience was great, me and my friend, Heather, had a private safari with our own tour guide (truthfully due to the lack of tourists, not because we had paid extra). We saw an elephant, sloth bears, deer, monkeys, mongoose, crocodiles, wild bore, water buffalo and even a leopard from across the lake. The elephant did, however, get slightly close for comfort and stamped towards our jeep...it does make you think and remember this is there home and these animals are wild, it is good to always keep a safe distance.



  • Entrance Fee: 4050 rupee

  • Safari Jeep tour/ nights accommodation/ traditional Sri Lankan dinner: 5000 rupee


Where to Stay: Wilpattu Dolosmahe, cheap backpacker option located right next to the park entrance. If you would rather spend a little more money I would recommend Big Game Camp for a traditional safari experience sleeping in a luxury tent and dinning under the stars.


ANURADHAPURA (2 Nights)



Anuradhapura is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka and is full of crumbling temples, stupas and historical monuments which are an important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists. We hired a tuk-tuk for the morning and explored all the old temples and to tell you the truth they are beautiful but after a morning exploring you will feel like you've seen it all and 2 nights is more than enough to explore this ancient city.



The Anuradhapura ruins are open from 7 am to 5.30 pm every day and it is worth heading out early since the climate is extremely hot. Tickets cost 25 USD or 4550 rupees. It is worth noting we were recommended to take a picture of our tickets and unique code as sometimes people can be scammed by tuk-tuk drivers or guides and once leaving make sure to take your ticket away with you.




Make sure you are covered up, wearing light clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. There were a few signs which stated you needed to be in light/ white clothing to enter particular areas, however, no security guard stopped us and we were wearing colour. There are also a few areas where you need to remove your shoes, it is a good idea to bring socks as the concrete floor can get extremely hot and you do not want to blister your feet.



Make sure to check out Mihintale for sunset. Mihintale is a sacred Buddhist mountain peak very close to the city, which you can reach by the local bus. Head to the twin ponds first for a beautiful peaceful view and then up the peak. It is a wonderful and relaxing temple, with a huge stupa, buddha statue and amazing views over the countryside.





Where to Stay: Fig and Gecko Hostel, a beautiful old colonial house, with an option to sleep outside under the stars.


TRINCOMALEE (3 Nights)


There are 2 buses from Anuradhapura to Trincomalee a day, one at 07:50am and the other at 11:50am.



Trincomalee was our first stop on the coast and after the heat, in Anuradhapura, we were ready to relax and be by the sea for a few nights. It is beautiful here and with lots of restaurants and Fernando's Beach Bar you could easily spend more than 3 nights.


If you are interested in diving here is the spot to be, with great dive schools and amazing dive spots it is perfect. It is also good for whale watching (Season March-August). I would highly recommend heading to Pigeon Island (4000 rupee booked directly through my hostel), a small island about 30 minutes from the coast and wonderful reef. You can snorkel with reef sharks, turtles and wonderful colourful fish.


Where to Stay: The Social Shack, in Uppavelli, very social hostel (hence the name), owners very friendly and helpful.


SIGIRIYA (1 Night)



From Trincomalee take the local bus to Dambulla. If you are staying close to Sigyara rock, which is where most people opt to stay ask if you can jump off the bus at Innamaluwa junction Sigiriya then you can take a tuk-tuk to your accommodation. This should cost around 200-300 rupee, which is a lot cheaper than a tuk-tuk from Dambulla back to Sigyara.



Sigiriya is most famous for Lion Rock, a world heritage site and there are also some beautiful lakes in the surrounding areas that you can visit as well. Since we were on a budget we opted to climb the side by, cheaper, Pidurangala rock. This rock is 500 rupee which is a vast difference to 4500 rupees to climb Lion's Rock. There was a group of us so we arranged a jeep to leave at 4.30 am so we could climb up in time for sunrise. The walk is easy, about 20 minutes climbing, but does require some scrambling and make sure to bring a torch (phone torch is perfect) as it is not well lit. If you do still want to climb Lion's rock you can do both rocks in one day.



Where to Stay: Roy's Villa Hostel, probably the best hostel I have ever stayed in, wonderful family run hostel, family dinner is delicious and Roy's wife showed us how to cook traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry.


KANDY (1 Night)


Now you are heading towards the hill country and the city of Kandy itself is on a variety of different levels and very green. There are a few things to do in Kandy, such as visiting the botanical gardens and a few temples however, this was the only place in Sri Lanka I didn't enjoy. It is very busy and chaotic with traffic and dust everywhere, however, the dense jungle and hills around you are beautiful.


Where to Stay: Jay's Bunks, very cheap and perfect for one night.


ADAM'S PEAK - Sri Pada (1 Night)



Trek: Easy-moderate, mix of incline trekking and stone steps

Duration: 5-7 hours

Distance: Gain 1000m while climbing, 5000-6000 crumbling stone steps

Height: 2, 243m at peak

Cost: Free, donation based only


Climbing Adam's Peak, also known as Sri Pada, was one of my favourite parts of Sri Lanka and is the most sacred mountain in the country. Located in the central mountain region of Sri Lanka it is extremely popular with locals and tourists. The climb is often started in the middle of the night at 2.00 am/2.30 am to reach the summit to watch the sunrise.



For Sri Lankans, Sri Pada, is an important pilgrimage site, as it is significant for many religions. It is worth noting peak pilgrimage season is full moon in December to full moon in April, these months will be very crowded and you may have to wait 5-10 hours in a line to reach the peak. Days near the full moon and week of Sri Lankan new year, mid-April, will also be crowded with pilgrims and Sri Lankan families.

  • Buddhists: claim the footprint-shaped mark at the summit, is the left foot of Buddha

  • Hindus: claim the footprint belongs to Lord Shiva

  • Muslims & Christians: claim the footprint belongs to Adam, and it was his first step after being exiled from the Garden of Eden


We arrived at Adam's Peak from Kandy and there are a few options to get from Kandy to Adam's Peak. We were hoping to get the train to Hatton, however, the trains were on strike so we jumped on the local bus instead. The bus cost 117 rupees and was beautiful. From Hatton you can take the bus to Dalhousie, it takes 1.5 hours and costs 75 rupees (note in the off-season you will need to take 2 buses and this can take 5 hours). Another option is to take a tuk-tuk directly from Hatton to Dalhousie which takes 1 hour and costs 1000-1500 rupee.


Since this was off-season the trail is not lit and there can be a high chance of rain, and cloud. However, if you are looking for an adventure I would highly recommend the climb. We started the walk at 2.30 am and reached the summit by 4.45 am. The top is very cold, make sure to have extra layers with you. You can buy tea and coffee at the top for 100 rupees to heat you. The temple at the top opens at 6.00 am, sometimes this is not opened in the offseason. Sunrise was not the most beautiful however, there is something very special about being at the top of the most sacred mountain in Sri Lanka waiting for the sun to come up regardless of how beautiful the sunrise actually is and the walk down shows off the beautiful surrounding landscape.


What to Pack:

  • Rain-jacket

  • Down jacket

  • Water-bottle

  • Long trousers

  • A warm, dry t-shirt (to wear at the top)

  • Camera

Where to Stay: Mountain Villa Adam's Peak, great cheap accommodation at the foot of Adam's Peak, breakfast included.


NUWARA ELIYA (2 Nights)


From Adam's Peak, a few of us shared a taxi back to Hatton then got the train from Hatton straight to Nanu Oya (the closest station to Nuwara Eliya).Nuwara Eliya is also known as 'Little England' due to the colder temperatures and green landscape. There are lots to do in Nuwara Eliya, including waterfalls and tea plantations. If you are looking for another walk you can also trek Little worlds end at Hortons National Park, we opted to miss this trek out as it is around a $30 entrance fee, however, we did hear great things about the trek and the hostel can arrange return transport should you wish to go.



Where to Stay: The Laughing Leopard, great atmosphere.


ELLA (3 Nights)


Ella is usually most backpackers favourite place in Sri Lanka. The landscape is amazing with beautiful hills and mountains to climb. There are also great restaurants and bars here and you could easily spend more than 3 nights relaxing surrounded by greenery.




There are wonder-full waterfalls in Ella, I would recommend Ramada falls, a short bus ride from Ella and Diyaluma Falls, slightly further from Ella, but the 2nd highest waterfall in Sri Lanka and with different rock pools you can jump into it makes a great day out. It is a good idea to hire scooters and explore the surrounding area.



The famous 9-arch bridge is also located here in Ella. You can take a short tuk-tuk ride to the bridge, or the way I would recommend is heading up to Ella train station, turning right and walking along the train tracks for around 30 minutes. You will reach a tunnel, go through the tunnel and the bridge will be directly in front of you. I would recommend heading to the bridge at around 4ish then from the bridge heading further to Little Adam's Peak for sunset (about another 20-minute walk from the bridge to the bottom). Little Adam's Peak is a walk in the park compared to Adam's Peak but the views are equally as outstanding and a great spot to watch the sunset.



If you are feeling another early morning hike Ella rock is another great hike with wonderful views.



Where to Stay: Hangover Hostels, can book up quickly in summer months.


ARUGAM BAY (A-BAY) (7 Nights)



Where do I even start with Arugam Bay...when deciding what country I wanted to go to next I was drawn to the jungle, the culture of Sri Lanka, but I was mostly drawn to the coast, the sea and the surf. I learnt to surf 5 years ago in Australia, but it has only been over the last 2 years I have picked it back up and been surfing as much as I can. In this 4 week itinerary I've proposed 7 nights in A-bay, which is enough to relax, surf, party and meet other travellers, but to tell you the truth I spent 1 month here surfing and enjoying living by the coast.




On season for the East coast of Sri Lanka, and the best time to surf A-bay is May to September. A-bay can be described as Bali 20 years ago, a surf hub with the main street lined with roti stands, trendy cafes, guest houses and hostels and cocktail bars. Mostly all the surf breaks in and around A-bay are right-hand point breaks (sorry you goofy footers).



Main point is the main break in town within walking distance, and baby point is also within walking distance and a perfect place to learn, but on a good day, main point runs all the way through to baby. There are multiple different surf spots just outside of A-bay and tuk-tuks are the best way to get to and from surf-spots and you will grow accustomed to seeing tourists and locals strapping boards to customised tuk-tuks.


The best time to surf is early in the morning from 5.00 am (sunrise is usually at 5.30ish), this is when the breaks are quieter and there is no wind. The wind tends to pick up at around 11 am/11.30 am


Surf Points:

  • Whiskey Point - intermediate wave, good cafe, walking distance from Pottuvil point.

  • Pottuvil Point- small waves when I surfed here but can be fun at the 2nd point.


  • Elephant Rock- beginner wave, good for sunset, but watch out for crocodiles in the lagoon.

  • Okanda Point- powerful wave when it's working, usually empty with 3 main surf breaks, 1.5 hours from A-bay and much more local vibe.

  • Lighthouse- 15km north of A-bay this spot is more of a secret, quieter spot, but not always consistent make sure to check report before heading.

  • Panama- much quieter spot, good early in the morning, wave perfect for long-boarders.

  • Peanut Farm- without a doubt my favourite surf spot, it was the most consistent wave when I was in A-bay, cafe, good beach to relax and 2 surf breaks, on a good day the wave continues through.




A-bay is good at throwing a party, from Wednesday to Saturday something is going on. Wednesday (techno party at one of the bars), Thursday (pool party, 1000 rupee entry and free beer or arrack shot on arrival), Friday (party at whiskey point,

free transport from main road, good music and bonfire), Saturday (party at mambos, in A-bay at the beach, always busy). I would recommend heading to the blue van, near 'Tesco', for vegetable roti and pumpkin roti, Bites cafe for good coffee and Siam view bar for some chill drinks and live music. Hideaway Cafe and bar was one of my favourite parts of A-bay. The staff are super friendly and the atmosphere is relaxing with great music. The cafe has the best coffee in A-bay and the bar has happy hour from 6 pm-8 pm every-night...yes you can get 2 gin/ rum/ cocktails for 550-600 rupee.


Where to Stay: The Long Hostel, the busiest hostel in A-bay, great atmosphere and the perfect mix of party and surfing.


TANGALLE (1 Night)


There are a few ways to get from A-bay to the south. If you choose to take the local bus, it departs from Pottuvil early in the morning around 5.45 am and is a straight bus to the south, however, it can take up to 7 hours. Share taxi is another option, there are lots of shops in A-bay that will arrange this for you.



Tangalle is a calm and secluded town on the south coast of Sri Lanka. 1 night here is perfect to explore the surrounding area, relax and swim in the sea. The south coast is in season from December to March, however, I would still recommend a trip to the south even if you are visiting in offseason, it is a lot quieter and sometimes it is nice to get away from the crowds.



Make sure to check out Goyambokka Beach, a beautiful secluded beach lined with tall palm trees, it even has a rope swing. Hummanaya blowhole is around 15 minutes away from Tangalle and is worth a visit, it is the only known blowhole in Sri Lanka and considered to be the second largest blowhole in the world. Hiriketiya Beach, 20 minutes from Tangalle, is also very popular for surfing.



Where to Stay: Lucky Beach Tangalle, perfect location directly on the beach and great, friendly staff.


MIRISSA (3 Nights)



Mirissa is great to relax, try surfing (good beginner waves) and party. The beaches are beautiful and the cocktails are as cheap as 300 rupees. If you are in Mirissa over the weekend head to Tiki bar in Weligama on Friday evening and The Doctors House, near Matara, on Saturday for live music.



Mirissa is most famous for secret beach, a secluded beach and clear water and coconut hill, perfect for sunset.


Where to Stay: Hangover hostels, chain of hostels, 10% off stay in you book directly with the hostel.


UNAWATUNA (2 Nights)


Unawatuna brings together the jungle and beautiful sandy beaches. Since I was here in the off-season a lot of cafe spots were closed and there wasn't much nightlife, however, I can imagine in on-season not only Unawatuna, but the whole of the south coast is amazing. The perfect place if you love surfing, relaxing and having a sociable drink.




This was a perfect place to relax and take in your surroundings. I would recommend heading to Dalawella beach if you're lucky there might even be turtles catching some rays. Unawatuna main beach is also lovely, with lots of restaurants and shops around. Jungle beach is a short tuk-tuk ride away and lined with palm trees. Overlooking the beach is the Japenese peace pagoda, which is nestled in the middle of the jungle. Unawatuna is also a great place to see the famous Stilt Fisherman of the South, the traditional method of fishing in Sri Lanka which involves balancing on a wooden rod in the ocean to get your catch.


Where to Stay: Unawatuna Hideaway Hostel, wonderful hostel owned by an English girl Jennie and her boyfriend Cartoon. Free breakfast and free tuk-tuk's to the beach. A perfect hostel in the jungle.


GALLE FORT (Day Trip)


From Unawatuna, I would recommend a day trip to visit Galle Fort. By tuk-tuk from Unawatuna, it costs around 300 rupees, or alternatively, take a local bus from Unawatuna junction, which should cost around 60 rupees.



Galle Fort is unmissable, the narrow, bustling streets, old colonial relics and the exotic feeling of being in Sri Lanka but feeling as though you have stepped back in time to colonial Europe. I would recommend walking around the exterior of the fort and visiting Galle lighthouse. Galle also has some of the best shopping in the whole of Sri Lanka with lots of small shops and boutiques it is perfect to pick up any souvenirs.



 


Overall Sri Lanka was one of the hardest countries to leave, the warmth of the people, the beauty of the culture, the different landscapes and the endless surf it's hard to compare it to anywhere else. It has an openness unlike any other country I've experienced and I already cannot wait to return. Thank you, Sri Lanka.


 

What to Pack


  • Day backpack

  • Comfortable trainers for hiking/ walking

  • Flip-flop/ sandels/ birkenstocks

  • Rain-coat

  • Down-mid-layer jacket

  • Long trousers

  • Jumper

  • Playsuits/ dresses/ shorts

  • Insect repellent

  • Suncream and aftersun (very expensive in Sri Lanka)

  • Camera

  • Swim-wear and sarong

  • Microfibre towel


Sri Lanka is pretty laid back, unlike India, and you do not have to be covered up at all times, you can walk around showing your knees and shoulders, but make sure to cover these in temples or religious places. If you are in A-bay or down south on the coast make sure not to wear your bikini in town or on the street, cover up with a sarong.

 

Top Tips for Sri Lanka

  • Try vegetable roti's and pumpkin roti's from street stands.

  • Try Kottu and Sri Lankan rice and curry.

  • Try to use some Sinhalese, the locals will love it. Thank you very much - “Bohoma Istuti” Bo-hoh-mah Iss-too-tee.

  • If you are unsure ask the locals for help, they are always super friendly and locals always know best.