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Backpacking in Sri Lanka: Travel-Tips & Experiences

On our trip to South East Asia, we made a stopover in Sri Lanka. For 3 weeks we traveled all over the island and herewith we briefly and concisely summarize our travel route, experiences and tips!

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The places are listed in chronological order according to our itinerary.

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Mount Lavinia

Mount Lavinia is located directly south of the capital Colombo and is a good starting point to travel further south by train.

  • Our hostel tip for Colombo/Mount Lavinia: Island Hostels Mount Lavinia
  • Breakfast tip for Mount Lavinia: At our accommodation, we had a delicious local breakfast buffet made in big clay pots.
  • Our highlight in Mount Lavinia: The roof terrace with pool (view of the skyline of Colombo at night), sunset.
  • Our flop: The journey through Colombo at rush hour (3 hours from the airport to the hostel)

Travel time from Mount Lavinia to Galle: about 3-4h

Galle

Galle is a fort on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka with a vibrant city inside.

Silhouette of a backpacker in Galle during sunrise
Sunrise at Galle
  • Our hostel tip for Galle: The Curry Leaf Hostel
  • Restaurant-Tip for Galle: Those who are traveling on a budget should not eat inside the fort. Everything there is a little bit more expensive.
  • Our highlight in Galle: The sunrise walk through Galle Fort!
  • Our Flop: Timos Smartphone was stolen on the way from Colombo to Galle!
  • Travel tip for traveling by train in Sri Lanka (learned on the way to Galle): Don’t keep your valuables in your pockets in Sri Lanka, danger of theft!

Travel time from Galle to Unawatuna: about 20 min

Unawatuna

Unawatuna is known for its reefs, palm trees, surf spots and beautiful beaches.

Surfer in the Indian Ocean
Timo surfing in Unawatuna
  • Our hotel tip for Unawatuna: The Hansa Villa (not directly at the beach, but very cheap and very nice owner)
  • Restaurant tip for Unawatuna: The Mati Gedara, local food, all-you-can-eat for 3$, a bit of an atmosphere that takes getting used to.
  • Our highlight: The beautiful beach of Unawatuna!
  • Our Flop: We also went to the other side to Jungle Beach, but unfortunately it was crowded and dirty!
  • Travel tip for Unawatuna: If you want to have an accommodation by the water, you should simply walk along the beach of Unawatuna and decide on the spot.

Travel time from Unawatuna to Weligama: about 1h

Weligama

Weligama is already developing into a small tourist center in the south of Sri Lanka. A large sandy beach with surf even for beginners makes the village so popular.

Sunset at the Weligama Beach in Sri Lanka
Sunset at Weligama Beach
  • Our hotel tip for Weligama: Das Ceylon Surf Guest and Restaurant has a great sea view and good value for money
  • Restaurant tip for Weligama: The Hangtime Hostel on the roof terrace (slightly more expensive international food, but in a pleasant atmosphere)
  • Our highlight: The cheap surfboard rental combined with good swell!
  • Travel tip for Weligama: The next beach to the east (Mirissa) has a fantastic surf spot. Either you walk 5km along the beach of Weligama and take the last part over the main road or simply take a tuk-tuk.

Travel time from Weligama to Dikwella: about 2h

Dikwella

Dikwella is a small fishing village in the south of Sri Lanka. It has one of the most beautiful beaches of the country at the Indian Ocean.

Stilt of a fisherman in the shore of Sri Lanka
The typical stilts of the fishermen in Sri Lanka
  • Hotel tip for Dikwella/Hiriketiya: The Serene Villa (slightly more expensive) and the Emma Sea View
  • Restaurant-Tip for Dikwella: The Salt House (also a bit more expensive, but delicious international cuisine)
  • Our highlight: The Emma Sea View, a cheap place with sea view (as the name suggests)!
  • Our flop: One day the dirty and clogged river was connected to the sea with a ditch, it took a few hours until the current washed the dirty water out of the bay.
  • Travel tip for Dikwella: On the way from Weligama to Dickwella stop at the “Casa Colombo Collection” and spend a day at the beach/pool. In return for having lunch, we were allowed to use the sunbeds and the pool (watch out for the currents which make swimming there dangerous!).

Travel time from Dikwella to Tuk-Tuk-Bay: about 1h

Tuk-Tuk-Bay

Tuk-Tuk Bay is still a rather unknown pblace with less beautiful accommodations, ut just east of it lies our absolute favourite beach of Sri Lanka.

Amanwella beach aka Silent Beach in the South of Sri Lanka
Our favorite beach in Sri Lanka
  • Our hotel tip for the Tuk-Tuk Bay/Tangalle: The Amour Surf and definitely ask for the uppermost room, from there you have a beautiful view over the whole bay
  • Restaurant tip for Tuk-Tuk Bay: The Aga Surf (a bit more upscale but delicious).
  • The highlight of Tuk-Tuk Bay: The bay east of Tuk-Tuk Bay has a beautiful beach that is deserted in the low season. According to GoogleMaps its called “Todo Bien Amanwella Beach” and is located directly in front of the 5-star hotel “Amanwella” (at the eastern end the current was weaker and we could swim there).
  • Our flop: The Tuk-Tuk-Bay itself consists of some run-down “hotels” on a very small beach filled with fishing boats.
  • Travel tip for the Amanwella Beach: Watch out for the strong currents!
Couple leaning out of a train in Sri Lanka
The train journey to Ella

Travel time from Tuk-Tuk Bay to Udawalawe National Park: about 4-5h

The Udawalawe National Park

After Tuk-Tuk Bay we stopped for two nights at the Udawalawe National Park to go on a safari.

Male elephant in the Udawalawa National Park in Sri Lanka
One of the many elephants on this day in Udawalawe National Park
  • Our hotel tip for the Udawalawe National Park: The Nildiya Mankada Safari Lodge
  • Restaurant tip for Udawalawe National Park: The Nildiya Mankada Safari Lodge!
  • The highlight in Udawalawe National Park: Our absolute highlight was the great amount of elephants we found on our tour. We would never have expected so many of them.
  • Our flop: The Jeep convoy. We don’t even want to think about what it must look like in high season there.
  • Travel tip for the Udawalawe National Park: It is essential to do this in the low season and inform in advance about the elephant routes.

Travel time from the Udawalawe National Park to Ella: about 3h

Ella

We went further inland to Ella. The village between tea plantations is the perfect starting point for some of the most beautiful attractions in Sri Lanka.

Little Adams Peak sunrise
Little Adams Peak at sunrise
  • Cheap hotel tips for Ella: The Little Heaven Homestay (unbeatable value for money, nice host and super local breakfast) and the Ella Walkers Nest (also cheap and good value for money).
  • Our restaurant and bar tips for Ella: The 360° and the Chill Café.
  • The highlights of Ella: Little Adams Peak at sunrise and the Nine Arches Bridge!
  • Our flop: The trip to Ohiya and/or to the “Worlds End”, either you accept that you live in a rat hole or you prefer to start from the next bigger place Nuwara Eliya. In our case there was no more train to Nuwara Eliya (best you check before the last train leaves!), so we went back to Ella.
  • Our travel tip for Ella: Do the “Worlds End” either from Ella or from Nuwara Eliya (don’t sleep at Ohiya). We haven’t seen it ourselves, but it should be very beautiful!
View on the Nine Arches Bridge in Sri Lanka
The Nine Arches Bridge in Sri Lanka

Travel time from Ella to Sigiriya: approx. 6-7h

Sigiriya

The Sigiriya Rock is probably one of the most famous spots in Sri Lanka. Right next to it is the Pidurangala Rock from where you have the most beautiful view.

View of the Sigiriya Rock from the Pidurangala Rock
The Sigiriya Rock
  • Our hotel tip for Sigiriya: The Elephant Trio Sigiriya
  • Restaurant tip for Sigiriya: The Elephant Trio serves delicious local food.
  • The highlight of Sigiriya: The 360° panorama view from Pidurangala Rock of the Sigiriya Rock!
  • Our flop: The snake in our room!
  • Travel tip for Sigiriya ROck: Don’t walk up Sigiriya Rock itself (5000 rupees entrance fee), but Pidurangala Rock for 500 rupees!

Travel time from Sigiriya to Colombo: approx. 5-6h

Colombo

Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Big and noisy, we were more interested in the nature of the island and so we didn’t see much of the city.

colombo, sri lanka, beach
Colombo in Sri Lanka
  • Our hostel tip for Colombo: The Island Hostels Colombo (ask for room with window)
  • Restaurant tip for Colombo: In our hostel there was a restaurant with delicious Poké Bowls
  • Our highlight: The lounge and WLAN (we spent 2 full days in the hostel only and did some work on the laptop because Timo was sick)!
  • Our Flop: The laundry of our clothes would have cost more than 15€ in the city, therefore we have let them washed in the hostel. Unfortunately, the laundry stunk more afterwards than before!
  • Backpacking tip (learned in Colombo): If washing is not possible, place your clothes in the blazing sun and eliminate the worst smell until the next wash! The express bus from Colombo to the airport takes ages, make sure you plan enough time!

Travel time from Colombo to Kalpitiya: about 6-7h

Kalpitiya

Kalpitiya is a small village on a headland in the north-east of Sri Lanka. It is known for a wide beach and a lot of wind, therefore especially popular among kite- and windsurfers.

Kalpitiya Beach with palm trees and wind turbines
Kalpitiya Beach
  • Our hotel tip for Kalpitiya: The Sandy Edge (nice bungalow complex with good breakfast)
  • Restaurant tip for Kalpitiya: The Sandy Edge has delicious food at fair prices.
  • Our highlight: Our bamboo hut with an outdoor bathroom!
  • Our flop: The weather was rainy from this day on for the next three days.
  • Travel tip for Sri Lanka (learned in Kalpitiya): Be ready before you arrive at the bus station and just get off, no matter what the bus driver says! We were driven on for three kilometers in the night and were let out in the middle of nowhere until a friend of the bus driver came along with his tuktuk and we had no other choice than to take this one tuktuk to our hotel (unless we had walked back 3 km at night on a highway).

Travel time from Kalpitiya to Trincomalee: approx. 6-7h

Trincomalee

Unfortunately, due to bad weather, we did not see much of the port town of Trincomalee in the northwest of Sri Lanka.

Rainbow in Sri Lanka
The only nice thing about the rainy days were the rainbows
  • Not recommended for overnight stays: The Secret Garden (our bathroom smelled like shit because a small animal climbed through a hole in our bathroom at night to do its business, but the owners of the hotel didn’t care and didn’t want to remove it, on request they were allowed to use the bathroom of the next room, which also smelled bad).
  • Our accommodation tip for Trincomalee: The Wanderers Hostel
  • Not recommended for eating: The Secret Garden (we got a really loveless breakfast, for dinner there seemed to be nothing nearby, so we had to be happy with cookies and bananas).
  • Our highlight: A small herd of cows has run through the gate, which our tuk-tuk driver left open, into the garden. Since our host was on-site at that time, we had to chase the cows out of the garden again in the pouring rain.
  • Travel tip for Trincomalee: We have traveled on directly, but the beaches at Nilaveli, Uppuveli and Passikuda are supposed to be beautiful! Unfortunately, we could not explore them ourselves…

Travel time from Trincomalee to Arugam Bay: approx. 6-7h

Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay is a fishing village and at the same time the center for surfers in Sri Lanka. In our opinion definitely worth a visit.

Travel couple on the beach of Aurgam Bay during sunrise
We on the beach at Arugam Bay
  • Our hotel tip for Arugam Bay: The Surf N Sun (a bit shady, but very nice and well-kept cabanas for a fair price, if you like it a bit nicer you can also rent one of the new villas).
  • Restaurant-Tip for Arugam Bay: The Gecko (directly opposite the Surf and Sun, cozy and affectionate restaurant run by an American woman, with tables right on the shore)
  • Our highlight: The morning walk on the beach and watching the fishermen!
  • Our flop: Unfortunately we could not go swimming, because it was too rocky and the current was too strong
  • Safety tip for Arugam Bay: In the Arugam Lagoon there are supposed to be alligators! We knew nothing about it and went for a walk there, also directly at the waterside…

Travel time from Arugam Bay to Matara: about 7-8h

Matara

Matara is the southernmost city of Sri Lanka and also attracts visitors with beautiful bays.

A Whistling lizard aka Sri Lanka Agama on a tree
The nature of Sri Lanka was the thing that fascinated us most
  • Our hotel tip for Matara: The Hansagira Guest House (convenient and super location to a beautiful beach)
  • Not recommended for eating: The Hansagira Guest House (breakfast consisted of toast and the usual artificial jam)
  • Our highlight: The beautiful beach at the hotel!
  • Our flop: The bus ride from Arugam to Matara took 8 hours – without toilet break on a very crowded bus.
  • Travel tip for the route between Arugam Bay and Matara: If you have the time, you should divide the journey between Arugam Bay and Matara in 2 parts.

Travel time from Matara to Habaraduwa: approx. 2h

Habaraduwa

Habaraduwa is a small village between Galle and Weligama with beautiful beach sections.

Acorbatic partner hand stand on the Dalawella Beach in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has some beautiful hidden beach sections
  • Our hotel tip for Habaraduwa: The Caribbean Gate (cheap, large room with a large garden and chill area)
  • Not recommended for eating: The Caribbean Gate (we waited about an hour for our dinner, which unfortunately didn’t taste very good)
  • Our highlight: By walking along the beach in eastern direction for approximately 10 minutes, you will be rewarded with a relatively wide, non-touristic beach section. Additionally, you could have a relaxing bath in crystal clear water, as the sea is very shallow and at our time the current was not strong.
  • Our flop: In the street stall next to the Caribbean Gate Hotel you can have cheap All-You-Can-Eat, but unfortunately we caught both the eggplants containing dried fish – NEVER AGAIN!
  • Travel tip for Habaraduwa: Provide yourself with local food!

Travel time from Habaraduwa to Colombo: approx. 4h

More articles about Sri Lanka on our blog:

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