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Traveling in Sri Lanka: Top Sights, Itinerary & Things To Know

At the beginning of our Southeast Asia backpacking trip, Sri Lanka was just as unforeseen as India. Nevertheless, we were especially interested in exploring Sri Lanka’s nature, which turned out to be extremely beautiful and diverse.

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Gorgeous beaches

First, our route took us along the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. After we had not spent a single day on the beach in India, the first jump into the sea on our South-East Asia trip felt really good.

Hiriketiya Beach in Sri Lanka
Hiriketiya Beach in Sri Lanka

At the coast in the southwest, the beaches line up one after the other. Sometimes they have almost white and sometimes yellow-golden sand. We have always found the most beautiful spots at the unknown parts of the coast.

Travel couple on a beach swing in Sri Lanka
Beach near Unakuruwa

Especially the beaches at Mirissa and Unakuruwa (Todo Bien Amanwella Beach) remain in our memory. Both of them we discovered only by chance.

Turtles and dangerous currents

In general, the sea was unfortunately not suitable for extensive swimming and snorkeling, as the currents were often too strong. But an occasional cooling-off was always possible and we discovered a few turtles in the shallow water!

The Udawalawe National Park

After we drove along the south coast from Galle via Unawatuna, Mirissa and Dikwella, the many attractions lured us inland into the mountains.

The safari tour in the Udawalawe National Park gave us a great insight into the diverse wildlife in Sri Lanka… peacocks, eagles and some other bird species (whose names we couldn’t remember), monkeys, iguanas, water buffalos and of course the grey, thick-skinned island giants. We found about 30 elephants on our trip, even with offspring!

Male elephant in the Udawalawa National Park in Sri Lanka
Elephant in the Udawalawe National Park

Our hotel tip at the Udawalawe National Park: Die Nildiya Mankada Safari Lodge

The Safari Tours

However, one has to add that it has a somewhat strange touch when you drive into the park in a convoy of 40 jeeps shortly after six in the morning – and that in the off-season!

We deliberately decided against the Yala National Park, probably the most famous of all parks in Sri Lanka.

Crested Hawk-eagle in the Udawalawa National Park
Crested eagle in the Udawalawe National Park on Sri Lanka

On the one hand, you can find elephants in different parks. Depending on the season and according to the information on the internet, the Udawalawe and the Kaudulla Park were especially suitable for our days. On the other hand, we imagined how crowded the Yala Park must be, which is the figurehead of the country and is praised at every corner.

So it was probably the right decision. It would probably not have been a relaxed wildlife safari, if there were even more tourists competing at the same time for the best photo, with the elephants surrounded by jeeps.

Ella – An idyllic tourist village

We continued by bus up the serpentines to Ella – in spite of all the tourists this small town has kept its charm. Numerous bars and restaurants are lined up along the road and the atmosphere is relaxed among all the backpackers.

The town is the perfect starting point for many attractions such as the Adams Peak, the Little Adams Peak and the famous Nine Arches Bridge.

Our accommodation tips for Ella: The Little Heaven Homestay (unbeatable price-value rate, nice host and delicious local breakfast) and the Ella Walkers Nest (also very good price-value rate and nice hosts)

The Adams Peak

Ella’s best known for the Adams Peak, which can be best enjoyed from its “little brother“, the Little Adams Peak.

Little Adams Peak sunrise
Little Adams Peak

In order to avoid the migration of peoples, we started at a quarter to five in the moonlight and reached the summit after about 30 minutes just in time for sunrise. But we were not the only ones with this idea and so we enjoyed the view with about 20 other early birds.

The Nine-Arches Bridge

On our way to the Nine Arches Bridge we discovered a small platform with a beautiful view over the valley.

After having balanced over the tracks, we searched for the perfect photo spot. Defying the leeches, we found it in the tea plantations in the valley of the bridge.

View on the Nine Arches Bridge in Sri Lanka
The Nine Arches Bridge in Sri Lanka

A visit to the Nine Arches Bridge is a must on any Sri Lanka trip!

Ohiya

The next stop on our route was Ohiya, or the so-called “World’s End” – a cliff that is supposed to remind you of the end of the world. Arriving by train, we set off on foot in the rain to our accommodation.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dark, damp concrete bunker in which Timo felt like a giant in an uncomfortable hobbit house. Due to the lack of alternatives we decided to skip the World’s End and instead spend another night in Ella.

The famous train ride of Sri Lanka

The next day the probably most famous train ride of Sri Lanka was on the agenda: from Ella to Kandy. Innumerable photos are taken here when people lean out of the open doors. Luckily the sun was shining at this time and ensured a wonderful journey through the mountain landscape.

Couple leaning out of a train in Sri Lanka
Train Riding in Sri Lanka

The Sigiriya Rock

Shortly before Anni’s sister had to return to Australia, we took the long way north to Sigiriya Rock.

Travel couple at the Pidurangala Rock with view on the Sigiriya Rock
Us on the Pidurangala Rock with the Sigiriya Rock in the background

In retrospect, the excursion was really worth it. After half an hour of ascent, one has a perfect view from Pidurangala Rock of Sigiriya Rock and the lush green landscape.

Our hotel tip for Sigiriya: The Elephant Trio Sigiriya

Kalpitiya

For the two of us, the journey continued – this time to the north, more precisely to Kalpitiya. Kalpitiya is a narrow headland off the west coast of Sri Lanka, which is mainly known among kite and windsurfers. Because there was still no main season, we had a whole bungalow complex and the beach pretty much to ourselves.

Kalpitiya Beach with palm trees and wind turbines
Kalpitiya Beach

Our hotel tip for Kalpitiya: The Sandy Edge (nice bungalows with a delicious breakfast)

General travel information for Sri Lanka

How beautiful is Sri Lanka?

From a scenic point of view, we found Sri Lanka to be as beautiful as the south of India – which is logical since the two are close together. Nevertheless, besides the breathtaking jungle and the fantastic mountain scenery, there was another decisive difference for us: The many beautiful sandy beaches!

The best time to visit Sri Lanka

The best time to travel to Sri Lanka is during the Northwest Monsoon and during the changing times. Most sights are located in the south, west and center of the island (affected by both monsoon seasons).

The Monsoon Times of Sri Lanka

Southeast Monsoon: January to September Northwest Monsoon: October to February

The southwest of the island is characterized by the rainy southwest monsoon. As a result, it is more scenically and economically productive than the north-east of the country. Although the monsoon times change and the wind blows from the north-east, this region is noticeably drier.

The tourism on Sri Lanka

Tourism has adapted to the conditions, which means that the south-west is very crowded during the dry season, while the north and north-east are not yet as crowded from a tourist point of view. This is also due to the fact that parts of the north have only recently become accessible for tourists because of the years of civil war (Jaffna).

Wewrukannala Buduraja Maha Viharaya Buddhist temple near Dikwella
Wewrukannala Buduraja Maha Viharaya Buddha Temple near Dikwella

Travel problems in Sri Lanka

In general, it is always difficult to write about local people. However, one can say that the locals in Sri Lanka were very friendly and helpful. Except the Tuktuk- and partly the bus drivers on Sri Lanka.

Often, we were deliberately given false information. Or we were deliberately thrown off the bus in the middle of nowhere and not at the bus stop. So we had to take back an overpriced tuk-tuk, which was of course in contact with the bus driver and probably not quite by chance ready for us.

tuk tuk, asia, sri lanka
Tuk-Tuk on Sri Lanka

Nevertheless, it worked out very well most of the time to use public transport only. You just have to find the “right” people.

Food in Sri Lanka

After the fantastic Indian food, we were a little bit disappointed regarding the culinary aspect. One should think that the cuisine is similar to the Indian, but everything is simply too touristy.

Now and then we got our beloved Appam for breakfast, but not with delicious curry but with butter and jam.

In restaurants, the food was often hardly spiced. But at the street stands, one got the usual Indian spiciness from time to time.

The national dish is Kottu a thin flatbread (Rotti) with vegetables and chicken, all fried and chopped on a hot plate.

Although we always ordered vegetarian food, once we were served Kottu with chicken – not very recommendable. For this, a chicken is simply chopped completely with bone and cartilage and mixed with the other ingredients. The vegetarian option, however, is highly recommendable.

Our last day in Colombo…

Just before our flight to Bangkok, we had a late dinner in Colombo in an Indian restaurant with a super nice owner. Unfortunately, we realized that we got unfiltered tap water during our second refill…

Fortunately, nothing happened and we arrived at the airport of Colombo with great excitement for Thailand. We took the plane, which was only half full and for Timo we even got two seats at the emergency exit.

More articles about Sri Lanka on our blog:

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1 thought on “Traveling in Sri Lanka: Top Sights, Itinerary & Things To Know”

  1. Pingback: Backpacking in Sri Lanka: Travel-Tips & Experiences - Anni and Timo

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