Duration : 2 weeks in November 2017, with my boyfriend.
We traveled mainly by bus and took the train a couple of times (the journey between Kandy and Ella is unmissable). A lot of people consider taking a driver to save time. We stayed mainly in guesthouses with local families, but we also enjoyed a few nights in more “luxurious” accommodations.
I want to give a special mention to justglobetrotting blog. I used their recommendations for the planning of this trip.
- We requested a visa authorisation before leaving – super easy via their online visa application. It made it easier when we arrived (completely jet-lagged) there.
- It is good to have local money before you arrive (so you don’t have to queue to the one “free” ATM at the airport).
- We LOVED sunrises. Up by 5.30am, you then have the feeling that you have the day for yourself. Plus, it gets very hot between 10am and 2pm so you will be glad to enjoy the fresh morning hours!
- Arrived at Colombo airport.
- We booked our first night in Negombo. Negombo is closer to the airport than Colombo, so it is an obvious choice if your next destination is in the north/central region. Arrange tuk-tuk with the hotel beforehand – we took a taxi from the airport and it was too expensive.
- Stayed in Sugar Villa, owned by a really nice Chinese lady.
- We ate at Mr Burger (Opposite King Coconut Hotel). It is a simple local restaurant near the beach making delicious Hoppers and Paratas. It was recommended by justglobetrotting and for the first night, it was PERFECT!
- Reach Sigiriya. It is a long route by bus: take a bus from Negombo to Kibune. Then change for a bus to Dambulla. Then change for a bus to Sigiriya. It is FINE, it is not super complicated, but it takes 6 hours. You could also get a train to Kandy and then reach Sigiriya by bus.
- On the way to Sigiriya, you can stop in Dambulla to visit the caves if you have the energy to carry your bags with you (we didn’t)
- We stayed at Sigiri Lion Lodge, little paradise nest with sweet owners
- It was already late afternoon but we just had time to climb the Lion Rock (it is a really touristic place, and might be a bit tough if you have altitude sickness but this was the first time we saw monkeys in Sri Lanka!
- Dinner at Nirwana restaurant,with probably one of the best curries I had in Sri Lanka
- Up early next morning to visit the magnificent Polonuwarra (1 1/2 hours bus). You will need to take a bus to Inamaluwa and then change there to Polonnaruwa.
- Rent a bike and spend the whole day going around the temples. Lankatilaka and Gal Vihare were my favourites.
- Ate at Ahinsa restaurant.
- Leave early morning with water and breakfast and walk on the top of Pidurangala. You can see the Lion Rock from the top of the mountain – and it is less touristy!
- [if you have an additional day, you can do Anuradhapura]
- Take the bus to Kandy
- Night in Kandy at Aronka Homestay . Jam the owner was a really cool 30-something guy, we spent a few hours talking about the Sri Lankan culture and his life in Sri Lanka.
- Spent the day in Kandy. Your guide book will recommend going to the Spice Garden or the Tea factories but we didn’t do any of that..
- Walked around the Botanic Garden. I absolutely loved this place. No tourists but a lot of local young lovers kissing on benches under massive sequoia 🙂
- Jam recommended to have dinner at Garden cafe – it is a local restaurant away from the city center, near the lake.
- Walking along the lake was relaxing, until you trip on a monitor lezard…
- Have a drink at Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar (Bamboo Garden) – Nice rooftop restaurant for a sunset beer.
- Head to Udawattekelle forest for a long walk. Take a picnic with you and discover new paths, get lost and find the way to the German monk.
- The rest of a day was a complete adventure. Even though this walk is mentioned in the Lonely Planet, we didn’t meet any tourists… we only met A LOT of local smiles. Take a bus to Embekka (1hour from Kandy), jump off the bus and walk to Embekka Devale. Then walk through villages and rice fields to Lankatilake Temple. Use Maps.me for direction!
- Get up for your morning train to Ella which will take you along one of the most scenic train routes in the world (6hours). We arrived at the train station at 7.30 for the 8.45 train. We booked 2 tickets for 3rd class. We ended up in this carriage with a group of 50 years-old tourists… We quickly deserted our seats to sit on the floor, our legs on the train steps and the panoramic view was ours!
- We followed the advices of justglobetrotting :
- Keep your ticket coupon until you exit the station, they will ask for it when you get off the train
- Sit on the right side of the train from Kandy – Ella.
- Sit on the left side of the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella.
- Pack snacks & water.
- Booked 3 nights at Serenite Ella. We requested the top room when booking and we had a balcony with an amazing view on Ella Rock. The dinner there is great (and probably better than most places you find in the city).
- Dinner at Matey Hut. It was nice, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. It is now only frequented by tourists and they have 3 tables only – also, you need to arrive early or they are sold out really quickly!
- Walk to Ella’s Rock. It is a tough walk, the last 200 meters are really steep but the view is rewarding. Leave early in the morning (we were gone by 8, so it is not too hot when you arrive). The way to the Rock is not straightforward and we followed the step-by-step guide on Google (but even managed to get lost a few times). At the top, you will see a lot of people taking pictures – walk a bit further and you will have the same view for yourself!
- Went by local buses to Rawana Ella falls (bring your swimsuit!)
- Did a cooking class atMatey Hut (I didn’t really enjoy it. It was a group of 15 people, so we were watching more than doing ourselves. But to be fair, you get to eat the food afterwards and there are massive portions – and you leave with some precious Sri Lanka recipes (post coming soon!).
- Had dinner at the guesthouse.
- Ok, this was again an adventure, but again a worthy one. We went to Buduruwagala to see the gigantic standing carved Buddha and carved figures. Take a local bus from Ella to Wellawaya (1h, 100rp), then take a local bus for a few stops in Wellawaya main road and stop to walk 4 km to reach Buduruwagala. 3 great things: it is away from the beaten path (0 tourists), the walk from the main road to the site itself is really nice (spot the animals!), and the site itself is worth it!
- And we didn’t end there. We then climbed little Adam’s peak – even though we didn’t stay on a tea plantation in Kandy, we walked through teas plantations!
- Bus to Tissamaharama (we had to change 3 times, from Ella to Wellawaya and then to Pannegamuwal and then for Tissa)
- Arrived in V cabanas, probably my favorite guesthouse in SL. The family was so nice and the breakfast was the best breakfast we had in Sri Lanka.
- We organised a safari to Bundala National Park through the family (Yala is also an option nearby, but we wanted to avoid the crowd and the “jeeps pursuit” as much as possible). I LOVED it. it is mainly birds (no, you won’t see the leopards of Yala) but it was so peaceful and we also spotted elephants.
- Dinner at the guesthouse
- Woke up before sunrise to the the sunrise on Tissamaharama lake (actually the lake is oriented north, so it was a big miss! But it didn’t matter, the early bike ride through the fields was relaxing)
- Bus to Tangalle. Reached Asha Beach hotel, overlooking the lagoons and the beaches. The place looks amazing, between a lagoon and the beach, the beach is 30 seconds away, but the hotel was perhaps a bit too expensive for what you get – see my tripadvisor review.
- Afternoon at the beach. The furthest you go (on the East side), the more beautiful it becomes! Coconut trees and golden sand, like on a postcard ! The waves are quite rough but there are a few places where it is quieter.
- Day at the beach in Tangalle. Read this cool article from justglobetrotting : Tangalle by Scooter.
- If it is the season, see turtles hatching at Rekawa.
- Dinner at the Trees, super nice family restaurant. Another good restaurant (a bit more touristic but also owned by a local family) is Mango Shade.
- Bus to Mirissa (1 hour) and we stayed at Hill House rest, in a gorgeous house owned by a local family. The kids are so cute ! And they also organise a whale watching trip (I cannot recommend as we used another agency, see below).
- Visited the historic fort town of Galle in the afternoon – perhaps worth going for a full day as it is a really nice city. Do not miss the ice cream shop !
- Woke up early to go Whale watching with Raja & the Whales. We loved this agency as they were really respectful with the animals and you get a MASSIVE breakfast – take some travel sickness pill before going if the sea is rough.
- Beach time in Mirissa and dinner at Ambrosia Roti Shop
Made our (long) way back from Mirissa to Colombo airport. We took a tuk-tuk to Matara (15mins) and then took the express train to Colombo (5 hours). In Colombo, we left our bags in the clock room in the train station to do some shopping. Then express bus (colombo central bus station) to the airport.