After travelling to places around the world that I’ve heard people describe as paradise – Thailand, Bali, Cambodia – and being left a little disappointed by some (Thailand was a serious expectations v reality moment) I think I have finally found it. When people talk about paradise, I’m pretty sure the beaches of Sri Lanka are what they are talking about and imagining. I’ve just got back from our trip to the little island just off the coast of India and my mind has been blown by the gorgeous country. I’d heard big things – very, very big things – about how beautiful this place is, and how it’s became so many people’s favourite destinations. Plus, with it being almost halfway between me in London and Jimmy in Australia, it made it the perfect place for us to meet during his most recent hitch off work. It’s been on my travel bucket list for so long now, and I’m so glad I’ve made it happen and that I can share our itinerary and my tips in this two week travel guide to Sri Lanka. I cannot say enough how much this place really should be on your travel bucket list!
Important things to Know when Planning your itinerary
We spent two weeks in SL, and this whole blog post is designed to give you an idea of what you can do during that time. I know some people love to have a properly planned and thought-out itinerary, but I would honestly try keep some things flexible and not book or plan every day strictly. We decided to only book accommodation for the first week/first couple of locations of the trip in case we changed our mind – then booked the remainder of our accommodation last minute on booking.com or air b n b as we went along on our trip. And I am SO thankful we did! We had so much fun down the coast that we decided to extend our time down there to accommodate three nights in Mirissa, so that we could soak up the gorgeous palm-lined coast and get a little more surf practice in.
I would definitely recommend not creating a strict itinerary as half of the fun and adventure comes from making it up as you go along, and things might change whilst you’re travelling. You might not like a certain place and want to change how long you spend there, or you might find out that an area you planned on doing two nights at is better for just a day trip. We had initially planned two nights in both Udawalawe and Kandy, but I’m so grateful we could adjust our plans because the former required just a day trip, and we didn’t enjoy the latter enough to warrant staying any longer than a night there! Plus, some things tend to go wrong so it can give you a little leeway if you need it!
General Information on Sri Lanka
How to Get There
You can get direct flights from London to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, with Sri Lankan Airlines. There’s also options to fly indirect. Direct flights take 10 hours on the way out, and 11+ on the way back. The airline itself isn’t too bad, but Colombo airport is a bit of a nightmare when returning – staff are pretty rude, VERY slow, and things aren’t always clearly signposted. Expect 3 rounds of security in the airport so make sure you’ve made enough time on the way back!
I booked my flights around 4-5 weeks in advance for peak season and they cost me £630.
Sri Lankan Hospitality
Ok so I feel like I need to manage peoples expectations here: I was told that Sri Lankan’s are the friendliest people they have ever met, and whilst that may be true for their experiences, I sadly didn’t find that the case for my trip. It’s not to say my experience was bad and left a bad taste, but maybe the hype from everyone else made my expectations too high? By no means am I a princess, and I actually find over-friendliness and such extreme levels of service quite uncomfortable as I worked as a waitress for 7 years and it’s usually me willing to go above and beyond for other people – not me expecting people to do that for me. But I was left a little disappointed – It would be small things like service without a smile in hotels and restaurants, multiple taxi drivers watching me struggle carrying a huge 30kg and tut at me when I can’t lift it into the car by myself, when I can’t even remember the last time a London taxi driver hasn’t helped me with my case. General rudeness towards us.
As a woman I felt quite uncomfortable at points and wanted to stick close to my boyfriend and people didn’t really seem willing to help too often with advice. Few people were smiley and friendly like e v e r.y o n e told me they would be – I found myself smiling at people but being met with the kind of reaction you’d get for smiling at a Londoner on the tube… Perhaps it’s because tourism has boomed so much there – once they were more friendly but now not so much? I’m not sure, but I felt like they just saw us as annoying tourists and there was just a general coldness that I really was not expecting – but perhaps that’s the problem. Expectation?
I do think that when I arrived in Kandy, the lack of hospitality was because I hadn’t realised that I had to dress modestly in Sri Lanka – especially inland. Stupid I know. I should have researched before – especially as I have been to Marrakech and know the rules there! I’m aware of dressing modestly at religious sites and temples and had abided by that, but I wasn’t aware it’s still relatively frowned upon to go around with knees and shoulders uncovered until I got way too many dodgy looks on my first day not along the coast for wearing tanks and denim shorts/short skirts and did a quick google of what’s acceptable. I guess out of everyone I know who has been to Sri Lanka, all of the photos I’ve seen of people in typical western gal holiday stuff, I just hadn’t ever imagined it was an issue! And even people who have visited that I’ve mentioned this to since getting back said they dressed the same as me and were unaware. But I definitely think it may have had something to do with how I was dressed on the first day in mainland. So this leads me on to…
What to wear in Sri Lanka
Down by the beaches I had no problem with what I wore. There were plenty of tourists in shorts and vests or crop tops! It was only inland I felt a more modest form of dress became a real necessity, unless you don’t mind people making comments at you in the streets. Cue my midi skirts and floaty linen shirts. Definitely pack some cool trousers and loose tees. I’d recommend taking a hat as well as it gets hot and sunny – and nobody wants sunstroke – as well as a pair of trainers for doing hikes and walks!
SIM CARDS + CONNECTIVITY
It’s the same vibe as what I said in my Bali post: I used my UK 3 Mobile pay as you go sim card that I use for travelling. I topped it up with £20 credit and converted it to the go-roam data package to give me 12gb of data credit that you can use at the same rate as you would in the UK – no additional charges. Jimmy bought a local sim at the airport which is easy to do, and had to top it up once whilst there in a random local little shop. Despite my phone saying I had 3G for a lot of the trip, my connection was quite temperamental, whereas Jimmy’s seemed far more reliable and only cost around £10 so I’d recommend picking up a sim at the airport!
By most standards, Sri Lanka is a small island and relatively easy to get around. Whilst there is traffic, it’s nothing compared to places like Bali which has too many standstill areas.
Uber and PickMe
There is Uber in Colombo – I would recommend using this and getting one from the airport to avoid paying over the odds for an airport taxi like I did!
Sri Lanka has its own Uber-like app too, called Pick Me. You can book rides in other places outside of Sri Lanka as well as tuktuks. It’s really affordable, but availability may be limited.
Private taxis are available too but can be pricey! But worth it if you want to travel in comfort.
Looking for a super authentic experience, we *tried* to get the train from Colombo Fort to Hikkaduwa. We bought third class tickets that were cheap as. My dad had warned me there was a rush to get on the train but it hasn’t prepared me for what we experienced. There was no way we were getting on the train with our luggage with people hanging off the sides like THIS!
Trains are a great way to get around but I would recommend if you’re travelling with luggage, pay a bit more and go in first class. It’s still very cheap compared to taxis!
There are LOADS of buses in Sri Lanka. We wanted to get them because a lot had flashing lights and they kind of looked fun (in a dirty, sweaty, cramped kind of way) but ended up avoiding it just because the journey times were showing up to be almost double of taxis and trains.
Tuktuks are a cheap way to get around but will cost you different amounts depending on the area. It’s likely in many places you will be hounded by men asking “You want tuktuk?!” – so it’s quite easy. You may have to haggle on the price though. You can also rent a tuktuk to drive yourself if you want but usually you have to pick it up in Colombo and drop it back there so if you’re planning any train rides, it’s not ideal.
Whilst we used tuktuks at points, we hate paying people/ haggling prices and having to rely on someone else taking us places when we could just do it ourselves. Exploring the area by yourself and having the freedom to move around is important to us, so once again we rented scooters. Down the coast, we found most places unwilling to rent for less than 5 days. A lot of online sources and forums say you can rent for as little as LKR500 (approx £2.50) a day but we couldn’t find anyone willing to go lower than LKR1000 (approx £5). Also, a lot of rental places we hired from required you to leave your passport as a deposit, but other places asked us to pay a very high cash deposit – one place asked for USD$500 – which is an insane amount of money to pay as a deposit for the two days we asked to hire the scooter for. We had heard bad things about this online and how they don’t give your money back or will deduct a lot from your deposit for damage you didn’t even do, claiming that it was your fault. So avoid doing this at all costs!
A serious word of warning about renting a scooter in Sri Lanka: it is most certainly not as easy as driving in Bali. Whilst the roads in so many places are less congested, there are far less scooters and way more cars, tuktuks, and mostly buses to share the roads with. And buses are LETHAL. They drive so fast with 0 care for who is around. I’m not saying don’t rent a scooter, because I still think it’s the best method of transport there, I would just say only do it if you feel very experienced on one.
Forgive me if I keep comparing SL to Bali, I know they are different, BUT it’s the closest kind of place I have to make a comparison to – and we all know how much I LOVE Bali. In fact, everywhere that I’ve travelled to in Asia, I’ve always found that accommodation is insanely cheap compared to the US/Europe. For £150 in most places, you can get three nights in a 4* or even a 5* resort/hotel. Sri Lanka, on the other hand? I was pretty shocked at the level of places to stay. That same budget gets you a hostel, a guesthouse, or a homestay in a very dated building/room – nothing like the luxury you’d get in other places for that price! When you’ve experienced the affordable luxury of Bali, once again it sort of sets your expectations high and perhaps, misleads them…
I’ll admit that when it comes to travelling, I like to stay in places that feel comfortable. It’s why I’ve never really done hostels before. So when booking this trip I thought I was going to really have to manage my expectations – or seriously up my budget. So I just thought I’d pre-warn you that if you’re used to your money getting you farrrrrr in certain places in Asia, then don’t expect it to go quite as far in Sri Lanka!
Eating in Sri Lanka
I’ll dive into deeper detail of the best places to eat in each location we went to, but as an overview, Sri Lankan food does indeed live up to the hype. It is fantastic. Apart from traditional curries and dhal, the two over need-to-know and must-try dishes are roti and kottu. Roti is a round flatbread that’s usually grilled fresh in front of you, and you can choose fillings such as cheese, chicken, avocado, and more (as well as sweet fillings like chocolate and banana!) Kottu is roti and vegetables and often chicken chopped up and cooked on a grill and seasoned to perfection.
As a rule of thumb, we found that the places that looked the most likely to give you food poisoning often turned out to be the best places that we ate during the whole trip, and that the traditional Sri Lankan food far outweighed the standards of western food over there. There’s a lot of places popping in SL that try and have that western/fusion Bali-cafe vibe, with buddha bowls and tacos and avo on toast – you know the kind of places I mean – but we found that whilst most of those kind of restos in Bali were delicious, the ones in SL really failed to hit the mark.
Because what goes in must come out, right? I don’t usually talk about poo on here (I save that convo mostly for my Instagram stories…) but I think it’s worth talking about getting unwell on trips in Asia as it’s something that happens to a lot of westerners. Bali Belly is notoriously known – a bug which makes most people who get it very sick out of both ends. And just over the ocean from Sri Lanka is India, where I know many people to have got Dehli Belly when travelling there. Whilst I’ve never got Bali Belly before, I admit during most of my trips I would usually have diarrhea for two thirds of the trip. It just became normal. I do tend to have a bit of a sensitive stomach, even over in the UK, so I fully expected to have the same toilet troubles during my trip to SL. But I didn’t have diarrhea once the whole time I was there, nor did Jimmy – which is VERY unusual. I have no idea why – we didn’t do anything different. We drink bottled water in both places, but perhaps it comes down more to general sanitation? I was also drinking dairy milk during my trip to SL due to there rarely being soy milk available, so I’m VERY surprised I didn’t get sick with that in mind as I thought after almost entirely cutting out dairy, I would have become a bit sensitive to lactose.
Anyway, enough about shit…
OUR TWO WEEK SRI LANKA ITINERARY
It’s not perfect, but let me share with you what we did on our days in Sri Lanka!
DAY 1: Colombo
As we flew into Colombo, we decided to spend our first day there. It’s definitely worth doing this just to get broken in to the culture and it’s a pretty vibrant city – plus, the hotels are relatively affordable. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know all to well that Jimmy is plagued with plane disasters and has rarely managed to make a successful trip to see me without something going wrong. This time, his Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed 5 hours, meaning he missed his connecting flight in Singapore, and wouldn’t arrive until the following morning so it kind of messed with our initial plan. So I spent the day alone in Colombo.
As a lone female and having grown up under very overprotective parents, I felt a little nervous about leaving the hotel and exploring by myself, so I decided to have a chilled hotel day where I was staying at the Cinnamon Red hotel – the pool has incredible city views and the sun loungers are great for collapsing and reading a book on, whilst the rooftop bar is a perfect set up for a laptop to do some work until the sun sets and it gets pretty vibey.
Day 2-5: HIKKADUWA (+ Day Trips to Galle, Unawatuna, Dalawella)
After a night in Colombo doing not very much by myself, Jimmy showed up and we started travelling down to our first main destination Hikkaduwa. Our first port of call on the trip was soaking up the sun on the palm-lined coast, down in the Southern Province. There are SO many spots that you can stay that it seemed almost impossible to pick where to stay in Sri Lanka’s south coast of beaches. I narrowed it down to four places, then had to pick two. The lucky thing is that some are relatively close, so if you pick one, another popular destination is likely to be only a 30 minute drive so you can still daytrip there. I was stuck between Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna – the latter being arguably more popular with tourists. There’s plenty of pros and cons listed online to both, but I’m happy with our choice of Hikkaduwa – for being more chilled, and the accommodation seemed like it gave you more for your money. One of the criticisms of Hikka is that there is a main road behind the beach – but honestly, this did not bother us one bit. It wasn’t loud, nor disturbing.
We TRIED and failed to get the train from Colombo Fort station, as mentioned before in the section on trains. We then tried to get a taxi and was quoted around 10-12000LKR for the trip (around £50-60) and then eventually, we somehow got hustled into getting a tuktuk all the way there for 5000LKR (£25) which I can 100% not recommend – it took almost 3 hours and you get a lot of fumes up in your grill. Not ideal. If you do this, I’d suggest trying to use the Pick Me app and book a taxi that way!
Another reason we picked Hikkaduwa as we had read it was a great spot for surfing – but sadly the waves were not that great (especially for a beginner like myself) so we didn’t manage to catch many waves whilst here.
The general vibe was super chilled and family-friendly, although the vibe apparently picks up more in the evening (although it certainly didn’t seem there was much of a night life here!) But what I loved most
Things to do and Places to Eat/ Drink in Hikkaduwa
The Roti Stop Restaurant
Contrary to the reviews on google AND what the name suggest, we would 100% be willing to put our lives on the line to say that “No 1 Roti Restaurant” is in fact not the number one Roti Restaurant in Hikkaduwa. We went there, and found it was kind of average. The best best roti in Hikkaduwa (and the whole trip actually) was at The Roti Stop Restaurant. You can find it on the main road and recognise it by the man making fresh roti and kottu in this window-kind of thing. It doesn’t look that special – but that’s something we found throughout the whole trip. The places that look the dodgiest and the most likely to give you food poisoning are often the best places to eat. Get the garlic and cheese roti for pure heaven.
Salty Swamis Cafe & Surf Shop
This is one of the more western/Bali-esque cafes that got a lot of hype before I went. It’s a pretty decent place, but the western food wasn’t amazing. I would definitely suggest trying to stick more to Sri Lankan stuff. The smoothie bowls, however, were delicious, and it was one of the best places for coffee in Hikka.
The Nordic House Luxury Burgers
If you want a tasty western burger fix, this place is where you need to go. The meat was super fresh and it really didn’t disappoint.
Sea Salt Society
If you’re looking for a nice little spot to get a cocktail and watch the surf schools latest intakes, position yourself here. The food is really delicious and they have daybeds with a minimum spend. I sadly lost all of my photos as my phone had decided to break! Yay…
Take a walk/ ride down by the railway line
I know the safety police are going to get all up in my grill about these photos because… well, everyone loves to police everything these days… but taking a trip down the railway track/ alongside it is a nice little walk or scooter/bike ride. The locals all walk along and the children play on it, so it actually is relatively safe, but keep your eyes and ears out for trains (although I promise you, you will know when a train is coming!) We were actually too afraid to go on the track at first (despite how many locals were walking down it) until a man told us the trains come every 30 minutes and the next one wasn’t for another 20. Then we shot these photos with the help of some friendly local kids who helped get us into frame properly!
See the Turtles
It’s possible to see and even swim with turtles – the best place is near the Cinnamon hotel on the beach, just a little into the sea. We head there around 5pm, but found ourselves getting a bit angry at how much people swarmed around the large turtles and how one man even kept trying to touch and stroke it. One of the locals (I’m not sure if he worked to look after them) proceeded to tell him off – thank god. Operate a look but don’t touch policy! This leads me onto…
Do not go to a turtle hatchery!!
I’ve been told by a few friends that going to a turtle hatchery, and getting to help release a baby turtle, was one of the best experiences they had had in Sri Lanka. So I had in mind that these hatcheries were almost like, baby turtle rescues and everyone helped release them into the sea. Cute and animal-friendly, right?
Well, wrong, apparently. After a bit of research it seemed that all of the hatcheries have a dark, seedy and unkind nature. Most of them are made up of concrete tanks where baby turtles live, and many seem to live anxiously. The entrance fee supposedly goes to their welfare and conservation, but it all seems quite cruel and just a way to make money. The guides will tell you it’s safer for the turtles, and that they will be let out when they are old and strong enough.
What put me off even more was how they get hold of the eggs – apparently fishermen collect the eggs and sell them to hatcheries for a profit. The hatcheries then take them, keep them in the concrete tanks, and charge you 1000LKR to come in and see them.
And the real nail in the coffin? You can pay to release them. A lot of the places allow you to do this at any time of the day – despite the fact that baby turtles will usually hatch and head to the sea when it’s dark to avoid predators, and people… Turtles will usually swim for 2 days to get used to the waves and grow stronger. Hatcheries seem to hinder all chances of survival by going against this. Releasing one that was hatched in captivity seems like a death sentence.
Day Trip to Galle and Unawatuna/ Dalawella beach
Now this is the great thing about Sri Lanka – the southern coastline is just pure gorgeous beach, and unlike places I’ve been to before, a lot of them are super quiet – a lot of tourist spots are close together so you don’t have to travel too far to find a new spot. We got up super early one morning to head to Dalawella beach and Unawatuna – it was about 35 minutes on a scooter!
Wijaya Rock – Wijaya/ Dalawella Beach
I’ll be honest, I don’t entirely know the difference between Dalawella and Wijaya beach – I hear one just kind of flows onto the other. So I’m lumping them together. This stretch of coast lies a few minutes just south of Unawatuna. Our main reason for going was to climb this very Lion King-esque rock, known as Wijaya Rock. The beach itself is gorgeous, with those long, arching palm trees stretching far across the sand towards the waves. We got here for sunrise – the water was calm and warm, partly protected by a reef, which made it perfect for a little swim in.
Climbing this rock is NOT easy and this felt like the most dangerous thing we did during the whole trip! If you’re used to this kind of thing, you will be fine, but as a city girl… I struggled and got very scared – I definitely needed Jimmy’s help! Wijaya rock is a lot thinner than you might think so you don’t have a lot of footspace to deal with so please proceed with caution.
We didn’t spend long here – only a couple of hours in the morning, but boy it felt a lot more built-up and touristy than Hikka – which is the main reason we decided not to stay there and only do a day visit. I would HIGHLY recommend eating at Skinny Tom’s Deli – it offered both western and Sri Lankan dishes, we had a bit of a fusion breakfast, and it was by far the best western-inspired meal we had whilst in Sri Lanka. We had shakshuka hoppers which were incredible – the coffee was real good there too!
We didn’t stay in Galle for long, just enough to scoot around and check out the vibe and take some photos. We wish we spent longer here – it’s a super cute area and it feels so weird stepping in to it. It was built and developed mostly by the Portugese in the 16th Century, then heavily fortified by the Dutch in the 17th Century. You can see the influences in the buildings – it’s like stepping out of Asia and walking down a European street in the summer. There’s plenty of cute cafes too – we went to
Where we stayed in Hikkaduwa
We stayed at the Banana Leaf apartments that Jimmy found on Air bnb. It’s a few minutes drive from the main strip of Hikka, located in lush fields of palm trees. There wasn’t any air con (something J hadn’t noticed) but it was still a lovely place to stay. The hosts were super accommodating too and really helpful in suggestions of where to go and what to do!
Day 5-8 – Hiriketiya Beach and Dikwella
Things to Do in Hiriketiya Beach and Dickwella Beach
Surfing at Hiriketiya
There are loads of places to rent boards, and plenty of surf schools to take lessons. Our criticism, however, would be that it felt a little bit overcrowded in the sea. Each break had anything from 5-10 learners-intermediate surfers riding in on it. The waves weren’t great whilst we were there – and for me, a beginner, I found the amount of people a little too stressful so didn’t end up surfing whilst I was there.
This was one of my favourite spots we went to during our stay. It’s a cafe/ co-working space with hostel rooms to rent too, as well as featuring a skate ramp and a shop. We stayed here for hours just chilling out in the sunshine, and it’s right next to the beach so you can stumble over there for a swim after breakfast or lunch!
The Bus Cafe
I actually have no idea what this place is really called but it’s a bright orange Sri Lankan bus that has been gutted and turned into a little cafe – they have seats and tables just on the seafront and the food was super delicious. Definitely try their kottu, samosas and grilled squid!
If you go here for anything, make it the red velvet cake. It literally melts in your mouth. Their coffee is also quite decent too and the seating is super chilled, being entirely outdoors (like most place in Hiri!)
This place gets a lot of hype, but I’d say it’s a not super worth it. It’s worth checking out, and the smoothies are real good!
If you want a good espresso martini, this is where you need to go!
Hellooooo curry. This is where we had our first Sri Lankan curry buffet. It was so so delicious
These guys do delicious poke bowls and smoothie bowls
Parava Duwa Temple in Matara
We went by this originally on our taxi ride down from Hikka, and new we would have to come back early to check it out. Keep something close to cover up though – we packed sarongs in our backpacks so we could dress respectfully. This long bridge goes all of the way out to this little island temple. It’s definitely worth a trip if you want to explore more of a busier area.
Day Trip to Mirissa
We did actually head on over to Mirissa for the day, but really liked the vibe of it so decided to book our next three nights there! More on that below.
Where we stayed in Hiriketiya
I booked three nights for us to stay at the gorgeous Haven. It’s a very small place – there are only four rooms and they all overlook the stunning bay. It was definitely one of the pricier places that we stayed, but the view was second-to-none and there was the sweetest little puppy on site called Brown who we wanted to adopt!
Day 8-11 Mirissa (+ Day Trips to Weligama, Koggala, Hedigama)
Now this is where our trip began to go rogue. We hadn’t planned to do Mirissa, but after our day trip there after visiting the Parava Duwa temple, we were pulled in by the beautiful beach, bustling streets and multitude of seemingly Bali-esque cafes that dotted the main road and back streets. Mirissa was going back on ourselves up the coast, so had we planned this into our itinerary it would have gone Hikkaduwa > Mirissa > Hiriketiya.
If you’re only planning on doing two beach destinations during your trip, I would probably say choose Mirissa as one of them as there is more to do there compared to Hikka and Hiri, with its proximity to the popular Weligama being another huge positive. That said, because it’s so popular here, it is far far busier with tourists. The main road is crazy busy and a bit stressful. However, if you want a more buzzy vibe, it’ll be perfect for you! Looking back in our vlog, I forgot how disruptive the main road really was. It was super loud and very polluted, so cafes alongside the road were really not enjoyable. If you’re looking for a quieter slice of paradise I’d recommend avoiding Mirissa.
Things to Do In Mirissa
Coconut Tree Hill
Hahahaha. I am laughing because I found this whole experience very funny.We swung by one day just to check out it’s exact location – it’s off the busy main road going through Mirissa. It was super busy so thought, hey let’s get there for after sunrise tomorrow when it’ll be quiet. We were so very wrong.
We arrived just before 7am and it was heaving. There was even people with studio lights and lightboxes – I was like, ok wow. This place is BUSY. And yes, it’s one of those beautiful places that big crowds sadly really do detract attention away from. So my recommendation would be this: if you really want to go here and see it for it’s full natural beauty (and get the insta shot without loads of people) get there before sun rises. You can watch the sun rise over the ocean and it’s so very beautiful, and get your shots totally undisturbed. We arrived 30 minutes before sunrise though, and there were already four people there. It’s definitely still worth a visit in my eyes.
Explore the beaches
Off the main stretch of road in Mirissa, there is a whole bunch of little cafes that have more of that Bali-vibe about it. We really liked Milky Wave’s coffee and ice cream. It’s perfect for a little sweet treat after dinner and the staff are super friendly.
This place gets B U S Y. It’s arguably the most popular place to have breakfast. It’s pretty good – the smoothies and coffee and nice. And the food is okay, but not mind-blowing. Once again it was that issue of western food not hitting the mark but traditional food being exceptional. So maybe just try getting used to eating curry for breakfast each day! It’s got a great set up and it’s still definitely worth a visit.
BBQ Seafood on the Beach
On the beach front, there’s loads of restaurants that do fresh bbq’s each night with the fish that have been caught that day on display. Rumba was a pretty good one, although honestly if you walk all along the beach front there, you are sure to find somewhere great. There is one place called Zephyr, which is all the way to the right down the end of the beach which is highly reviewed and often HEAVING. But we left after having our drinks as the staff didn’t even pay us any attention or take our food order despite us having been sat there for 25 minutes. There just seems to be better options to have bbq seafood from.
Where we stayed in Mirissa
Our £150 for three nights budget went out of the window with Mirissa. It was definitely more expensive, with it being such a tourist hotspot. And after our stay in the gorgeous Haven in Hiriketiya, and breaking my phone, I wanted to stay somewhere that felt super comfortable. So instead, we booked the Lantern Boutique Hotel – a double ocean-view suite. It cost us £400 for 3 nights (lol yeah, bye bye budget) but was honestly the best place we stayed. Staff were amazing, sorting our scooter out for us on arrival, and the breakfast that was included was really delicious!
Day trips to Weligama / Midigama / Koggala
About 15-20 minutes up the road from Mirissa is Weligama – another hugely popular spot. Here’s some places that we ate at/ visited when there.
These guys do INCREDIBLE coffee. It was a super chilled spot and I’d highly recommend it.
Hang Ten rooftop
I really loved this place – it’s part of a collective of a hostel, yoga studio, all of that jazz… and then on the rooftop is a really cool cafe overlooking the ocean. The food was super delicious – we had the jackfruit burger.
The fruit stand on the way to Weligama
There are tonnes of fresh fruit stands on this strip. This one, however, was HUGE and the fruit was all so beautiful. I haven’t a clue what it’s called, so you will have to spot it from the photos. The staff are super friendly and generous – offering you loads of pieces to try before you buy.
Koggala – Stilt Fishermen
I’d heard of traditional stilt fishing for a long time – and I think for many, Sri Lanka conjures images of this old-time practice. However, after doing a tiny google, I discovered that no this isn’t actually how they really catch fish anymore, but all of the stilt fisherman locations down this stretch of coast are basically just for tourists to come and see and pay to take photos. I won’t pretend like it’s real – you park up and some men emerge from the shadows dressed in more traditional attire, and ask if you want to take photos. We still thought why not go and see it – and we paid 1000LKR to take these photos.
That said, one of the guys did genuinely catch a fish whilst we were there soooo… it’s not 100% bullshit.
We stopped here after the stilt fishermen to catch some waves and relax at a quieter beach. The waves were a bit better up this way, and if you’re looking for a beach that isn’t next to a crazily loud road, this could be your spot. There are plenty of sunloungers to collapse and read a book on that cost very little LKR.
Day 11 Udawalawe safari and one night in Ella
Now this is another example of where our tip went a little bit rogue. We had initially thought “let’s spent a couple of nights in either Yala or Udawalawe for all our safari needs!” – both places are national parks with safaris in. But after a little research and falling in love with the coast, we realised we didn’t need two nights there and could easily do it on a day trip. A lot of people say get to the parks early to see the most amount of wildlife, but IDK… you know I love an early morning to make the most of the trip… but we got there for around 2pm and still saw LOADS of wildlife. Elephants galore!
We picked Udawalawe over Yala because it’s said to be a little less touristy, and new plan was to do the safari en-route to Ella. We were planning on travelling up there anyway, so a few hour stop off to do the safari made perfect sense.
The whole thing was organised by Lahiru – I found his details on Trip Advisor. He’s a safari tour guide and he arranged our whole transport up from Mirissa to Udawalawe, the safari itself, and then transport from Udawalawe to our hotel in Ella. The whole thing cost around £165 for two people which is actually pretty good considering we had a three hour safari trip! If you’re interested in booking with him, drop him a whatsapp on +94 (76)2726799
My biggest regret of the whole trip is probably only spending one night in Ella. It probably felt the most vibey and seemed to have the best nightlife we had spotted throughout the whole trip. Sadly we arrived at night when it was dark, so couldn’t even really see its full beauty.
Eat Curry at Matey Hut
The one thing we did make sure to do was to have a traditional meal at this tiny little restaurant. We queued for around 15 minutes to sit down but it was well worth it. The portions are HUGE so arrive hungry. I’m absolutely starving just thinking of it…
Where we stayed in Ella
We booked the Tina Nature Village because of its proximity to Nine Arches Bridge. Our train from Ella to Kandy was booked for 8:03am the next morning, so we knew if we wanted to get the iconic shots at the bridge, we would have to be there for the crack of dawn. We didn’t fancy navigating too hard in the dark of the morning, so we booked this place. It was actually really lovely even though we only spent a few hours there, and our room had a view of the bridge itself.
Day 12 – Nine Arches Bridge and the train from Ella to Kandy
Okay, I feel VERY sad thinking back to this day simply because I wish we had longer here. I want to go back to Sri Lanka just for this and to do it all again. It was by far my favourite day of the trip.. so here’s the main points you need to know.
Nine Arches Bridge
This place is iconic AF. And for good reason. The architecture is mind-blowing. And the way the bridge breaks out into the valley is breath-taking. But, because of this, it gets completely and utterly heaving. We were limited in the time we had to be there anyway, as our train to Kandy was at 8:03am, so we left our hotel at 5:45am and got to the bridge at 6am. I implore you to watch my vlog at this bit as it’s just the most amazing amazing place. There was nobody else there when we arrived, so we shotgun the best spot on the bridge to take our photos, much to the dismay of the two couples that arrived around 10 minutes after us.
We managed to shoot two trains that came through – one that passed through at around 6:20am which was the not-so-iconic dark reddy brown train. But then after setting up our tripod, the iconic aquamarine blue train came through at around 6:45am.
Before people get up in my grill, I am VERY aware that this is a working railway line. Obvs. But that said, the trains pass through here incredibly slowly for safety reasons, and for people to shoot their iconic photos. The photos we took here were between 6:20am and 6:45am, so the bridge was really quiet. However, if you go later in the day, or simply check the location tag on instagram (especially the stories) you will see how throughout the day it is heaving with tourists climbing, walking, sitting and posing at all places on the edge of the bridge wall, even as the trains come through. Plus, where we sat in these photos, the drop wasn’t even very high.It was a jumpable distance – you can see it better in the vlog, it’s just these photos were shot on Iphone’s wide angle lens so that we look way further out that we were. So don’t get all judgy of how safe/unsafe this is before you’ve been there – and you will see plenty of others doing much worse than this whilst you visit it for that I AM sure.
That said – don’t be a dumbass. It is a working railway line so keep your ears out for the train blowing its horn. It comes through so slow you will be fine but as with many travel experiences, you have to make it as safe as you can for yourself.
The whole area is beautiful so I would recommend going down and spending a few hours there, shooting from different locations and having some chai at the local cafes. However, we had to leave at 7am to go and get our things together for our train to Peradeniya – more on to that now!
The train from Ella to Kandy (or Peradeniya in our case…)
I’m going to do a longer, more feature length blog post on this train journey and how to book your tickets etc/ what route to take. But to summarise it quickly, we were unable to book the Ella to Kandy train as all of the second class reserved seats were sold out. And as it is a long journey, Jimmy was very apprehensive about travelling in third class – which were the only tickets available on trains on the day we wanted to travel. For Princess Jimmy, only first or second class would do. Because all other options but third were sold out, the agent at the bookings office at our local train station suggested getting the train from Ella to Peradeniya – which is a 7km tuktuk ride from Kandy. I asked if it was the same iconic route and blue train as the Ella to Kandy train, and he said it was. Turns out it wasn’t the exact same route as I believe the Ella-Kandy route is meant to go over the Nine Arches Bridge whereas ours didn’t… plus our train, whilst blue, was not that iconic aqua blue.
Anyway, Princess Jimmy made us book first class and as all of the blog posts I had read online had suggested, this was indeed a mistake. Please do not book these unless you REALLY have to. It’s so boring and bland and it is basically the same as getting a train from London to Manchester Picadilly. The other classes were not even that busy, but I think it’s because it’s a slightly different route.
We did still go through all of the incredible tea fields and mountains, seeing waterfalls and so many local villages along the way. And whilst the first class carriage may be sealed up at the windows and have aircon, you can walk through to the other class carriages and the doors are all open so you can still soak it up.
It did just feel that there was a level of separation from us and what we were experiencing. That said, it was still so beautiful, I would 100% recommend that everyone does it!
Day 12-13: Kandy
We were both so tired from the day that we ended up not having any dinner and just falling asleep. We checked out the Hela Bojun market – it’s a female run and lead food market which is all about empowering women. I’m pretty sure everything is vegan there! So if you do find yourself in Kandy, definitely check it out.
Day 13-14 Sigiriya – Lion Rock and Pidurangala Rock
Escaping Kandy as quickly as we could, we used the Pick Me app to book a taxi to Sigiriya. We had planned to do the hike up Lion Rock the next morning. The town itself was pretty quiet and empty, so there is not a lot to do here apart from climb the main tourist attraction. Where we stayed really isn’t worth even talking about as it really was not great at all… but anyway,
Lion rock is definitely the more iconic of the two in Sigirya – and the main reason most people visit. It’s a rock fortress and a UNESCO world heritage site. The plateau part-way up features giant lion paws as a gateway to the final set of steps leading up to the very top. Originally at its conception, it was a palace for a king, then it was used as a monastery for Buddhist monks up until the 14th Century.
We arrived at 7:30am – we would have gone sooner, knowing us, but it didn’t open until that time. And there were already queues for tickets. Which were very expensive for what they are. Instead, I would suggest just doing…
Honestly though, if you only fancy doing one big hike during your time here, I would recommend going to the neighbouring rock, Pidurangala, instead. It’s a more challenging hike – there arent steps all of the way up and you will be climbing parts of it – but for me, it made it way more fun. It was also so much less busier! And the view itself… well… it speaks for itself. You can see all of Lion Rock from up there, whereas if you climb lion rock it’s just super busy and you don’t really see anything more than you would see up Pidurangala. It’s also 9 times cheaper than Lion Rock… sooooo….
You do have to walk through a temple on the way up there, so have to remove your shoes and borrow a sarong to cover your knees and shoulders, but this can be removed once passing the temple to make climbing easier.
Day 14-15: Home
After climbing the rock, getting back to our hotel, showering and checking out, we got a 4 hour taxi ride back to Colombo and crashed out back in the Cinnamon Red hotel, before flying home the next day.
Final Thoughts on Our Itinerary and Our Trip to Sri Lanka
I hope you found this blog post helpful! Please please do check out my vlog – it doesn’t follow the exact same order as we lost a lot of footage but it gives you an even better idea of these places. This itinerary definitely isn’t perfect. The last few days of the trip were super exhausting as we were moving around so much, so that’s the only thing I would change – most likely by creating extra time by cutting out our first night in Colombo and heading straight to Hikkaduwa (I couldn’t really avoid this as Jimmy’s flight delays meant he arrived the following day) and not spending a night in Kandy, in order to spend two nights in Ella instead. But I hope you find it useful in some way with booking your trip!