Sri Lanka quickly became a must on our travel list. As soon as I started researching this place, I was amazed at the diversity it had to offer. Beautiful tea hills in the mountains, real-deal safaris in the centre, and perfect surf beaches down south – Sri Lanka really had something for everyone.
We planned out a route that we hoped would capture all the magic Sri Lanka had to offer over the period of a month without rushing around tooooo much.
COLOMBO – 1 NIGHT
We flew into Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. For us, this was a ‘get in get out’ kinda place – a big crazy city which didn’t match our cruisy island hearts, so we left as soon as poss! From here we caught the train slightly north to get to a place called Sigiriya.
SIGIRIYA – 1 NIGHT
To get Sigiriya we took the train from Colombo to Dambulla, and then another train from Dambulla to Habarana. From Habarana you’ll have to get a tuk-tuk into Sigirya. They definitely overcharge you even when you haggle them down, but the journey is about 20+ mins so we weren’t too fussed this time.
Most people head to Sigiriya to climb Lion Rock, a beautiful natural formation standing alone against its backdrop. There are the remains of an ancient palace at the top where civilisations once lived upon the flat surface.
My top tip here though would be.. don’t do it.
Let me explain. Lion Rock has become ‘the tourist thing to do’ and will cost you a huge $30 US to go up (to climb a rock!). Instead, opposite Lion Rock lies Pidurangala Rock. It is equally as beautiful, (apparently a more interesting climb although I never climbed Lion Rock so can’t compare) and will only cost you around $3 US dollars. Not only is it 10 x cheaper, but it also has a better view as you are able to look out to Lion Rock. I always say (inspired by Karl Pilkington 😂) its better to be in the ‘crap’ place looking out at the nice thing, than in the nice thing and looking out at the crap thing. Haha. But there was nothing crap about Pidurangala Rock. It was a really enjoyable and fairly quick climb (maybe 20 minutes?) and we cycled to the base from town which made it extra beautiful.
KANDY – 2 NIGHTS
To get to Kandy, we took a bus from Sigiriya town to Dambulla and then hopped straight onto another bus to Kandy. The process was actually super easy however the buses are local buses, which means they are CRAMMED, hot, and drive crazily fast. So maybe keep that in mind when deciding if that’s the best way for you to get around. It’s a great local experience though.
To be honest, I found Kandy quite a disappointment and would only recommend it as a base to start the ‘Kandy to Ella’ train ride. We mainly used our time here to catch up on sleep as we’d had a lot of early starts since landing in Sri Lanka and were still dealing with a touch of jet lag.
I don’t really have any major tips for Kandy as we didn’t really dig our time there – to us it was just another busy polluted city. But if you’re into temples, there’s the Temple of the Tooth here. Personally, I’ve seen much more impressive (and free!) temples around other parts of Asia and felt this was just more of an expensive tourist trap. But each to their own!
ADAM’S PEAK – 1 NIGHT
From Kandy, we headed to Adam’s Peak (the big one!) Adam’s Peak is 2243m high, starts 7km from Dalhousie and is 5000 steps to the top. GULP. 😂 At the top lies a huge ‘footprint’ like dip that is said to belong to Buddha.
To get here we took the train from Kandy to Hatton and then caught a bus to a little tea mountain village called Dalhousie.
Top tip: Try and get a window seat on the right-hand side of the bus as this bus ride is beautiful!
We didn’t pre-book any accommodation here but there were lots of little guest houses to choose from. Nothing fancy and very basic, but most people spend the majority of the night climbing the peak so its not really a problem for most.
I wasn’t feeling my tip-top best, so left Eron and our new Indian friend Pramod to climb the peak by themselves. They said it was challenging, but in the best way, and the sunrise from the top was incredible! The sun rises creating a perfect triangle shadow of the peak – magical!
Eron’s top tip: Take an extra warm top with you so you can change at the top. The one you wear on the way up will get sweaty and wet, so while you wait for the sun to rise at the top you’ll get really cold!
There are heaps of tea vendors on the way up so you can have a cheeky warm cuppa and a snack.
If you’re planning to climb Adam’s Peak, make sure it doesn’t clash with the local people doing their religious pilgrimage. A lot of Sri Lankans make their way to climb Adam’s Peak every year. Try to avoid full moons and any days close to it, as well as weekends as this is the most popular time. We heard that it can get so busy you can’t even make it to the top.
NUWARA ELIYA – 2 NIGHTS / 3 DAYS
Next, we headed to Nuwara Eliya, aka TEA COUNTRY. This place was up in the mountains where the weather was much cooler, but the views were much more beautiful.
To get here we started the main famous ‘Kandy to Ella’ train ride. From Hatton onwards it really gets beautiful. Normally the actual travelling part of getting from A to B is the least enjoyable part about travelling, but this was one of our favourite things we’ve ever done! The windows and doors are open air to the views and the countryside on the route is absolutely stunning. Each train journey on this route flew by as we were having so much fun hanging out of the train doors and windows and taking photos! SO much fun! (But be careful pls)
Once in Nuwara Eliya, we explored all the tea plantations. This was actually one of my most favourite places in Sri Lanka. All 3 of us shared a tuk-tuk for the day. First, we went to Blue Field plantation and had a brief tour to learn how all the different tea was made. The tour is free, but a tip is expected afterwards. We then tested our own cuppa tea.
Afterwards, we headed to Damro Tea plantation for the views (previously named Mackwood). We walked through all of the tea and watched how the ladies picked the leaves, it was so fascinating. It really was so interesting to learn and see first hand where the tea I drink comes from, and to communicate with the ladies in person. I heard that how much they are paid is dependant on the weight of tea they collect and that for a huge 18-kilo bag (just think how much tea you’d need to pluck to get 18 kilos!) most ladies are only paid the equivalent of something like £2.50 PER DAY. (Around $3.50) It really makes you appreciate every sip that little bit more! I think its so important to take the time to think about and appreciate all the people involved in getting your food/drink to your table.
If you want to take any photos of the workers, this is totally okay. But be prepared to tip them. I normally don’t pay for photos and find it kind of annoying when people ask me for money after inviting me to take a photo of them, but in this case, seeing how hard the ladies worked and knowing how little they get paid, I was happy to help a girl out.
ELLA – 4 DAYS THAT TURNED INTO 10000000
To get to Ella, we hopped back on the famous train for the last part of the route. Still just amazing and beautiful as the first rides we had!
We originally planned to spend around 4 days in Ella to just relax a little and explore the area. But unfortunately, Eron came down with mega flu the night we arrived and it kept him in bed for almost 10 days!!! Now, Ella is a cute town with some nice things to do, but 10 days is waaaayyy tooo long 😂 I have to admit I went a little crazy in the end.
As Eron was sick, any exploring I did was pretty much solo. I checked out some temples – which were really dull and I wouldn’t recommend sussing them out as there really wasn’t anything to see.
However, something I really enjoyed was going to see the Nine Arch Bridge which has become pretty well known on social media. You can see why though. Its really impressive and is situated in a beautiful jungle setting. I’ve also never actually just walked along train tracks like that so casually before so I found that pretty cool!
Definitely time your visit when a train is scheduled to come by as it puts the whole thing into perspective.
I recommend getting a tuk-tuk as far as you can (only a tuk-tuk can fit down the last roads) and then hike down through the jungle for about 10 mins. When I went it had rained the night before so it was super muddy and slippery with a few leaches lurking about so trainers would have been better than flip flops I reckon. But on a dry day, I’m sure flippers are fine. If you look up ‘Nine Arch Lodge’ on the Maps.Me app that’s where the trail starts.
(Maps.me is honestly the best maps app for travellers! Not sponsored to mention this AT ALL, we just recommend it to everyone because it has saved our butts so many times! Download a country and use maps without any wifi or data – amazing).
Another thing I did in Ella that I really enjoyed was hiking up Little Adam’s Peak. Not quite the same adventure as the big one, but still so beautiful and enjoyable. I reckon anyone with an average amount of fitness could do this hike. Not really that strenuous but enough to feel a little challenged. It actually felt so good to do something solo, and it reminded me of my year of travelling the world on my own before Eron and I got together. Although I love travelling with Eron now and wouldn’t have it any other way, there really is something so special about travelling alone. Or even just doing solo challenges. Its a whole different vibe and really allows you to be with yourself.
UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK – 1 NIGHT 2 DAYS
When Eron was finally well enough to leave Ella, we headed to Udawalawe National Park for a safari. To get there we got another 2 buses. There’s a few stops you can change at half way to go onwards to the national park. I can’t remember the name of this one 🙈 it was something followed by ‘junction’. There is so much tourist help in Ella though someone will be able to explain. These bus rides were pretty hectic though, and were probably our least enjoyable in Sri Lanka. I don’t know if we were just unlucky, but our bus was mega rammed and hot and the driver was going sooo fast down these windy roads I thought I was going to vom. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have just paid out to go by a private taxi or something. But it wasn’t the longest journey in the world so if you’re feeling adventurous and want to save money, go for it! Fingers crossed it won’t be so crazy for you guys!
We chose Udawalawe National Park over Yala for a few reasons. Firstly, Yala is way more popular and touristy and we’d read reviews that said to avoid it as the amount of jeeps surrounding and gawping at 1 poor animal was ridiculous. I’d also seen really off putting videos on youtube that backed this up. This wasn’t the safari experience we wanted to support or experience. I wanted to see the wild animals in an undisturbed manner.
Another reason we chose Udawalawe was because of the Elephants! Udawalawe is a much smaller park, but with a much higher count of Elephants, which means your chances of seeing them are upped 10 fold.
Neither of us had ever had a Safari experience before so we really wanted to go for it and do it properly! We stayed in a luxury tent at a place called Kottawotta Village which had a gorgeous outdoor shower en suite! It was soo nice and still not particularly expensive for what you get! I think we paid around £30 or £40 for a night in high season!! Such a good shout if you’re a backpacker wanting a break from cheap stays without breaking the bank. Or just a really good overall bargain! If you book through our link, we’ll receive a small commision which helps us to keep growing our online community and provide you all with as much value as possible! You’ll pay the same price as you would going to the site directly. Thank you so much for your support! Click Here (Not sponsored! Just really rated this place – except the huge spider we encountered!)
We arranged our Safari through the hotel. You pay for the jeep and guide but the entrance fee is paid at the park separately. If you are a group obviously this is cheaper as you can split the price of the jeep. You can still do this if you’re not in a group though, and just tell the hotel that you want to share with other guests.
We really wanted our own private jeep and guide though so we could be picky about where we went and for how long we stayed at each spot so we could get the shots we wanted and really enjoy the experience.
We opted for a full day safari which is more expensive but I think definitely worth it. I can’t remember the price but i’m pretty sure you wouldn’t get a safari that cheap anywhere else in the world.
We set off on our jeep at 5:30am to ensure that you’re in the park before sunrise as this is when the animals are most active before the hot sun hits. It felt so adventurous on this open top jeep riding through the dark. We saw so many Elephants (including babies!) Buffalo, Crocodiles, Deer, Foxes, Eagles, giant Lizzards and so many more beautiful creatures I can’t remember the names of! We didn’t see any Cheetahs, but their footprints were next to us as we ate lunch, so they’re definitely in there! It was such a magical experience I pretty much lost my sh*t with the excitement of seeing these beauties in the WILD!!!!
There were a few incidences where the other jeeps got hold that there was a group of Elephants at a certain location (I think the drivers communicate with one another) and suddenly it felt like a circus with what seemed like a bizzilion jeeps all around. Our driver was pretty good at leaving when this happened though and giving the animals some space. The elephants didn’t really seem to care that much though and just walked right next to the jeeps without a care. Not sure if this is a good or a bad thing though, to be honest. I always have mixed emotions when it comes to animal tourism, but the fact that they were wild and could come and go as they wanted gave me a better feeling about it all.
MIDIGAMA – 2 NIGHTS
After the national park, we headed down to the beaches! Midigama was a great surf spot for Eron, and for me, it was nice to just get some ocean time. To get here we got a tuk-tuk alllllll the way from Udawalawe to the coast. This was a loooong journey for a tuk-tuk haha. About 2-3 hours or something. The price was pretty cheap but definitely had a sore bum at the end of it. At this point though we were just over the whole bus situation so a tuk-tuk was a good choice for us.
From Midigama we hired a scooter and explored down to Weligama Beach and around. The beaches in Sri Lanka are beautiful but don’t expect crystal clear blue water along the south coast. They are surf beaches, which means wind and waves and disturbed water. The weather is always kinda hazy too, but they’re their own kind of beautiful.
AHANGAMA – 4 NIGHTS
We spent a few nights further along the coast mainly to do some surfing and hang out on the beaches. It was a really good vibe actually and we met some awesome people which always makes travelling extra fun and memorable.
We spent the rest of our time in the country along the south coast beaches, just chilling out, exploring, surfing, and working on a few collaborations. Its a really nice way to finish your time in Sri Lanka after all of the adventures had!
Overall, Sri Lanka has so much to offer! And you can definitely fit all of the things we did into a shorter space of time. It has so many beautiful places, its safe, the locals are genuinely really friendly and helpful plus its a really cheap destination if you’re on a budget (but with luxury available too!) A good all-rounder for everyone I reckon. Get ya’self there!
I hope you found this post somewhat helpful or interesting 😂 I don’t normally tend to do such detailed destination posts but I’m hoping to make this more of a thing as I personally find them so helpful when I’m planning my own trips.
If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka and have any questions at all, just send me a message on insta or by email and I’ll happily answer it for you!