We spent a month traveling through Sri Lanka in November & December 2018 and loved ever second of it. Since we’ve left, I’ve gotten a lot of messages from friends asking for our recommendations on where to go and what to do while in Sri Lanka.
Now I’ll start with just length of time in the country. For us, 4 weeks was just slightly too long of a time. Because of the time of year (November – December) there were some areas of the country that were all but shut down due to low season. We would have loved to go to Arugam Bay but there wasn’t much happening over there because of cyclone season. So based on this, we would recommend between 2 – 3 weeks of travel, depending on the time of year.
That said, you may get to the South Coast of Sri Lanka, and decide you never want to leave 😉
The Basics of Traveling in Sri Lanka
Tourist Visa in Sri Lanka – You need to apply for a tourist visa online before you enter the country. Only costs about $35 USD and takes a couple minutes online.
Port of Entry – You will most likely fly into Colombo. We didn’t rate Colombo highly, as we had already spent a lot of time in Indian cities, and that was the kind of vibe we got from the city. You can easily get Ubers from the airport to your final destination.
Phone – We got a SIM card at the airport from the Mobitel kiosk. It may be more expensive from the airport, but it was much faster and easier to just get it done right as we landed. Mobitel had decent coverage across the country. It was about $15 USD for 8GB for 30 days.
Transport – There are LOADS of public busses & trains you can take for mega cheap. We used private drivers, tuk tuks and Ubers for the most part. Our fave driver was Eranda, who is such a sweet man. He took us around all over the South Coast and was able to organize longer drives as well. Feel free to message me to get his number. When we were on the South Coast & up in Ella, we hired motorbikes to get around. Many motorbike rentals will ask to see your license, and some will only rent out to tourists who have motorbike licenses.
Our Month Itinerary in Sri Lanka
Colombo (1 night)
We flew in late at night and went straight to our accommodation for a quick sleep, before waking up early to drive down the South Coast. We stayed at a lovely hostel/guesthouse called Clock Inn. We also finished our stay in Sri Lanka in Colombo for just 1 day, staying at Ceilao Villas in Colombo town.
Unawatuna (3 days)
Great for diving, lounging on the beach, enjoying a cocktail at sunset. It’s a good jumping off point to get to Galle for the day as well. We loved diving with Pearl Divers. They were more than reasonably priced ($65USD/dive), and often times it was just Sam and I with a dive master. We liked eating at Riddims (get the garlic prawns!), Black & White for traditional Sri Lankan curry and Love Gelato for delicious, natural gelato. We loved sunset drinks at Kabala Sunset as well.
Kabalana (2 days)
Kaba was one of our favorite spots in Sri Lanka. It was super laidback, way less crowded than Unawatuna & Mirissa and had some amazing surf breaks. We stayed at Kabalana Hotel by Ceilao Villas, and loved our stay there (read the review here). Our FAVORITE place to eat in all of SL is Spice Lane – a Sri-Lankan fusion menu with the most mouth-watering dishes. I think we ate their for breakfast, lunch & dinner one day! Get the coconut roti shrimp tacos. You won’t regret it.
We also loved hanging out at a hotel called Timeless. It has an awesome pool & deck area, overlooking the ocean. The food at the restaurant is pretty good, and the surf is right at your footsteps. It’s also only a 10 min drive to Midigama where the infamous “Lazy Left” break lives.
Weligama (4 days)
Weligama is a backpacker’s paradise. Loads of laid-back travelers stroll through here, and tend to stay for a quite a while. Weligama is situated between some of the best breaks in the area, and offers consistent beginner waves at their local beach. So it’s a very popular place for surf lessons to take place.
We stayed at Spindrift Hostel, and we HIGHLY recommend staying here. Such a fun community vibe, with epic events on each day & night. The owners, Charlotte & Josh, spend every spare minute they have with the guests and really make the stay so special. We did beach clean ups, yoga classes, open mic nights and more.
In terms of food, definitely hit up Ceylon Sliders, Hangtime, High Tide (pizza) & Zam Zam’s (local cheap curry). For drinks, we went to Hangtime for Open Mic night, Tiki Bar for Tiki Fridays, & drove all the way down to Doctor’s House for Saturday Night market & live music. Doctor’s House is a must! Great spots for sunset are at Gurubebila Beach & Jungle Beach.
Mirissa (3 days)
Mirissa is only a 5 min drive from Weligama. It is definitely more touristy and crowded, but offered a few beautiful beaches and lots of food options. We ate at No.1 Roti Dewmini (famous Roti shop), Shady Lane (classic Aussie avo toasts & smoothie bowls), Kama (beach restaurant) & Squeeze Me for juice. I loved shopping at Kooks Surf Shop as well. We stayed at a little Bed & Breakfast close to the beach, called Wavelength. I probably would have tried to stay closer to Doctor’s House or Hikiretiya instead of Mirissa if I could do it all over again.
Yala (2 days)
We then head to Yala to go on a safari in search of the leopards. We stayed at Yaye Homestay with host Shanta. The homestay is based in Tissamaharama, which is a super sleepy village on the outskirts of the national park. We spent the afternoon & night playing cards under a single light, and eating delicious homemade food by Shanta.
In the morning we went on a safari, which was in all honestly a human zoo. There were more Jeeps racing each other & cutting each other off to see the coveted leopard that there was traffic jams everywhere we went. It was more stressful than anything else, and we felt super bad for the animals. After the safari, we took a nap, and then Shanta took us for a walk on the beach, through rice paddies & then to his neighbors house to try his local coconut honey. We loved our stay in Yala, despite not enjoying the national park.
Udawalawe (1 day)
We were planning to spend 2 nights in Udawalawe, but we quickly realized there wasn’t much in the area aside from the national park. We ended up cancelling our 2nd night, and booking in an extra night in Ella. Instead of the morning safari, we actually did the sunset safari the same day we arrived from Yala. This was the perfect decision, and we had a great time and saw LOADS of elephants. Our homestay, Peacock Villa Resort, was the cutest family-run guesthouse. You could see elephants from across the road! They cooked us the biggest spread of traditional Sri Lankan food, and we talked for hours.
Ella (4 days)
Ella was one of our highlights of the month we spent in Sri Lanka. It definitely seems more touristy than other areas, but there’s a good community of travelers there, who all seem to be interested in hiking & exploring. It’s a different vibe to that of the South Coast, and we welcomed the cold weather with open arms.
We did Little Adam’s Peak, Nine Arches Bridge, Ella Rock, Ravana Waterfall, and rode around on motorbikes for a day exploring the tea plantations. Places to eat – Cafe Chill & Re Incarnation. We stayed at The View Ella as a splurge for our 5 year anniversary. It had a great view of the valley and a beautiful roof top pool.
Kandy (2 days)
We took the famous train from Ella to Kandy, and we were not disappointed. Although all tickets were nearly sold out 5 days out, we managed to squeeze onto a 3rd class reserved ticket. Even without air-conditioned and a crowded train, it wasn’t too uncomfortable, and the views definitely made up for it.
I would just recommend trying to book your tickets in advance if possible. We were told you couldn’t reserve early by other travelers so that’s why we waited, but you definitely could. Just go to any train station in the country when you arrive and ask them to book you in. 2nd & 3rd Class you can open up the windows, which is a cool experience. 1st Class you can’t, but you have air conditioning. So it’s a matter of personal preference.
As for Kandy itself, we did not enjoy the town at all and we just holed up in our beautiful hotel, Theva Residency, for the 2 days we were there. If it weren’t for Theva, we wouldn’t have stayed 2 nights.
Dambulla (1 day)
It seemed the farther north we went, the less we liked the country. What can we say, we’re beach people. But we went all the way up to Dambulla to see Sigiriya Rock, the ruins of a 5th-century city, anchored by a towering rock fortress accessible by steep stairs, and to hike Pidurangala. Unfortunately, it was monsoon season and you couldn’t see 5 feet in front of you, let alone hike up a mountain for a view.
The town itself was not that nice, and we were itching to get back to the beach. If we were to do it again, we would have stayed at a nice resort near Sigiriya (Dambulla was a 30 min drive away from the UNESCO Work Heritage Site). We cancelled our second night, and hitched a 5-hr ride down south.
Unawatuna (3 days)
We stayed a couple more days in Unawatuna, where we started the trip. We stayed at Srimalis Residences, which was super quaint and nice, right near the beach & had the nicest family as owners. We took day trips to Kabalana & Weligama to see friends.
Hikkaduwa (3 days)
This is one of those situations where you can’t always listen to other people’s opinions. We had heard from a couple friends that Hikka was a great little spot with good eats & surf. This was 3 years ago, and when we booked the tail end of our trip to be in Hikka, we got mixed reviews from current travelers. The main criticism was that it was over run by Russian tourists. Sam and I had been to plenty of cities through Asia that had more Russian language on menus & signs than English, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into, but we weren’t sure if we should cancel.
Long story short, we went to Hikka anways, and while it was definitely one of the most touristy spots on the island, it didn’t disappoint. We went surfing everyday. I took 2 lessons to improve my surfing with a local instructor, Susa. There were some really great food options, our fave being Salty Swamis & Hello Burger. We played pool on the beach, had sunset beers with friends and chilled out. We’re happy to have gone and experienced it.
We stayed at a B&B that was lovely, but super close to the train tracks, to the point where you felt like the train would run through your room. This happened several times a day & night. For this reason, I don’t recommend where we stayed, Araliya Suite Inn. Although it should be said, that a lot of the more affordable guesthouses are near the train tracks.
All in all, we loved Sri Lanka so much. It was the highlight of our 7 month trip, and we’d go back there in a heart beat. If you want anymore in-depth advice, feel free to reach out!