Ultimate Guide to Sri Lanka – Travel Blog
My Sri Lanka Travel Blog has increased so much with new and updated content this year. This ultimate guide includes all the essential resources and secrets places I suggest for your stay. You will discover:
- How to get into the island and around it
- How many days you need to visit Sri Lanka
- The best areas to stay based on your type of trip
- A small selection of beautiful Hotels & Airbnb
- The best beaches
- What to do, see and experience in Sri Lanka
- The best itineraries for up to 3 weeks and more in Sri Lanka
- Where to eat the best food
But, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Sri Lanka Travel Blog – In a nutshell
Arriving In Sri Lanka
There are busses taking you to the city of Colombo, however, if you are travelling in two or three of you, it is more convenient and quicker to take a taxi.
You can also pre-organise your transportation to the city to make your life easier.
This will cost as a taxi ride and there will be someone waiting for you with your name at the exit (so handy).
I have always organised my phone SIM card at the airport.
Every carrier has the own special Traveller SIM card.
They provide a certain amount of data (5 Gigabyte or above) that last from 1 week to a month.
The cost depends on your length of stay and the data you plan to use.
I found that asking to the provider will give you a better deal than just looking online.
They seem to have always special deals below the advertised price (or maybe I have been just lucky).
My tip here is to spend 10-15 minutes hunting for the best price, which is anyway very low by western standard.
Mobitel tends to be consistently the fastest carrier, with a better coverage, but usually also the most expensive one.
Getting around Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a big island, over 65,000 square kilometres of land cover.
And it is not just that, the winding roads and the traffic make any trip longer that you may expect.
You have essentially 3 possibilities to move around.
The easiest way is to take a private transportation.
It is the most expensive option of course, but you can save a ton of time, especially if you decide to explore Arugam Bay and the east coast, where a bus trip takes a much longer time to get there.
You can organise it at any of the local travel agency, or even better on the 12Go website, where you can see the price and the actual duration of the trip, something that is always tricky to understand in a local agency.
The second possibility is to catch the public bus that connects most of destinations on the island.
I must admit that the expected travelling time is always somehow exceeded, so do not count on a punctual schedule.
You can buy your ticket and check the timetable at the bus terminal.
The last possibility is to catch the train.
The Sri Lankan train system is actually quite good, besides being also very picturesque, but it may be not as quick.
You can check the train network as well as the timetable directly on the Sri Lanka Railways website.
How Many days in Sri Lanka
The easiest answer: the longer the better.
A week is a short amount of time for a trip to Sri Lanka.
As a result, I recommend skipping Colombo and heading straight to your first destination.
You can now choose to go south to Hikkaduwa, centre to Kandy, or north to Anuradhapura depending on the type of trip you are taking (beaches/surfing, relaxed or active).
In my post on 7 days in Sri Lanka, you can read all you need to maximise your time with such a short stay.
In 10 days, you won’t be able to see all of Sri Lanka, you would need at least three weeks for that.
However, plan ahead and you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you can actually experience.
Getting around the island by train or bus is a great idea, but keep in mind that private transportation will save you time, especially if you are travelling to or from Arugam Bay.
In my post on 10 days in Sri Lanka, I have suggested a few possibilities based on the type of trip you have in mind, relaxing or action, with kids or only the partner.
If you stay two weeks, you will be able to explore the north, the gem of Sri Lanka that is yet to be discovered by tourists.
On the other hand, if you are looking for great beaches, you can explore the east coast.
The journey is long, but well worth it.
In my guide on 2 weeks in Sri Lanka, I have organised a plan for 3 types of holidays (beaches, active or relaxing). Really all you need to know.
You won’t believe the variety of choices you will have in Sri Lanka with 3 weeks.
Personally, I would suggest spending two or three days exploring and/or trekking the Tea Plantations area, right in the heart of Sri Lanka.
A train ride to Jaffna in the north will immerse you in the history of the British Empire.
Visit Galle in the south and enjoy a day of whale watching.
The choices are endless!
Check out my 2 plans for 3 weeks, either relaxed or very active.
Where to stay in Sri Lanka – Best Areas
The great thing about Sri Lanka is that you can find areas, towns and beaches for any kind of holiday.
Are you after the best beaches?
Hikkaduwa on the south coast, Arugam Bay and Pasikudah on the east coast are probably your best bets.
Are you travelling with your partner and you are looking for a romantic stay?
Galle and Jaffna work great
Are you after some trekking?
I could keep listing any kind of holiday, this may be a lux/budget one or a surfing trip or one to visit ancient sites.
I wrote a full guide on where to stay in Sri Lanka, with a much deeper description of the best areas based on your type of holiday and I included also a few suggested hotels/AirBnb, local restaurants and activities you could think to do once there.
Best Hotels & Airbnb in Sri Lanka
Here below I short listed a few suggested accommodations in Sri Lanka:
- Colombo: Mövenpick Hotel (probably the best infinity pool in Colombo with a view on the rooftop, love it), Jetwing Seven (another amazing rooftop area with lovely designed rooms, see my review here)
- Hikkaduwa: Cozy Sea view Inn (spacious room with of course a balcony with a view), Villa Vidisa (private bungalow in a lovely garden with pool)
- Galle: Le Jardin Du Fort (lovely B&B with lots of natural light in the old town), Amari Galle (I still remember, like yesterday, the beautiful view)
- Arugam Bay: Danish Villa (one of the best value accommodations in Sri Lanka)
- Pasikudah: Amaya Beach Pasikudah (luxury at an affordable price), Anantaya Resort (great pool facing the beach)
- Jaffna: Jetwing Jaffna (opened recently, with a rooftop cocktail area and rooms decorated with a local interior design)
- Anuradhapura: Heaven Upon Rice Fields (best value accommodation in Anuradhapura, and Sri Lanka)
- Sigiriya: Water Garden Resort (unique, in a water lagoon), Jetwing Lake (rooms to die for, with an outstanding view to the lake, great experience)
- Kandy: SWP Eco Lodge (in the centre, with view to the lake, at a bargain price), Mahaweli Reach Hotel (a real peaceful heaven, 10 mins from the city)
- Nuwara Eliya: Heritance Tea Factory Hotel (a special place), Araliya Green City (great location, awesome facilities)
- Negombo: Negombo Waterland Hotel (a tropical oasis between coconut trees, a canal and a river, read my full hotel review with photos), Terrace Green Hotel (with best day spa in town, read my full hotel review with photos)
Best Beaches in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has many amazing beaches and surfing spots. I have visited a few of them, but I definitely do not feel an expert on the subject.
You would need years of travelling, to discover and experience the hundreds of beaches along the 1,340km long coastline.
And it’s not just the quantity but also the variety of them.
This is my top 5 list:
- Pasikudah Beach: on the east coast, Pasikudah is the jewel of the island. It’s a beautiful bay, protected by an outer reef and therefore with calm water. I could stay in the water for hours, also because it is so warm. You can find a few hotels facing the bay but the area is not overbuilt, far from it. You can also visit a few other beaches and attractions nearby. I dedicated a post to Pasikudah and things to do once there.
- Hikkaduwa Beach: only 2 hours south of Colombo Airport, this chilled out beach is great for both families and surfers alike. It’s a long beach with a section with calm water and another side with easy going waves, great for learners too.
- Arugam Bay: this is the main surfing destination for Sri Lanka. There is a cool vibe both at the beach and in the village. Stay local for some easy surfing, perfect for beginners. Go to Elephant Rock if you are a pro.
- Mirissa Beach: on the south coast, it’s a beautiful tropical beach, with fine sand and palm trees. There is a section with calm water and a surfing area too, which is great. The town of Mirissa is also well known as the starting point for a whales watching trip (December to April)
- Hiriketiya Beach: also on the south coast, this is more of a boutique place, in a beautiful little bay. It’s a little one, but it delivers big time. It’s enough shallow to have fun but not too much to walk 5 minutes to get in (you know what I mean). Also in this case, part of the bay has calm water, great for families with kids, and the other side has beginner waves, perfect to start surfing.
- Nilaveli Beach: yes, I know I said only five beaches, and here I am with the sixth jewel. This is on the north-east coast, half an hour from Trincomalee. This is another lovely tropical beach where only a few travellers venture. Don’t go there during the monsoon season.
What to do, see & experience in Sri Lanka
There are so many things to experience in Sri Lanka, mainly because of its big size.
We talked above about the beaches, try to visit at least two of them.
Sri Lanka is, of course, famous for the Sigiriya Fortress, on top of a huge rock reachable by a 1-hour hike.
Once in the area, plan an early trekking to the Pidurangala peak, for one of the best views in the country.
Another thing I definitely suggest is an elephant safari.
Another experience you should not miss is Anuradhapura and the ancient Sinhala Civilization.
I wrote a dedicated post to all the things to do and experience in Sri Lanka. It’s a great resource that you can use to build your own must-visit list.
Best Itineraries in Sri Lanka
The length of your stay will drive the type of itineraries you will be able to do.
If you only have 7 days, Sigiriya, Kandy and perhaps Anuradhapura are all worth exploring or you may prefer the beaches in the south and south-east coast.
A 10-day itinerary can include 4-5 major destinations.
In 2 weeks, You can either focus on the north or the south of the country. Even though it is possible to plan a trip from north to south in 14 days, it may be too rushed.
Three weeks or more will allow you to explore a great deal of the country and you will promise yourself to go back to explore even more
I wrote a dedicated post to possible itineraries in Sri Lanka that is the best starting point to build your own plan
Best restaurants and bars in Sri Lanka
There is such an amazing choice in Sri Lanka that it’s hard to give any particular suggestion.
In saying that, I have built my own list which I would like to share with you.
It’s not an exhaustive one, of course. It’s actually a list I tend to update on a regular basis, so come back to this post for the latest findings
- Colombo: Caramel Pumpkin (perfect for lunch or a late breakfast, with good coffee and a selection of pasta and sandwiches), Sugar Bistro & Wine Bar (great for both lunch and dinner, they offer local and international dishes, including burgers. Lovely coffee too), The Bayleaf (mostly Italian inspired food. Probably not the most authentic pizza, however, the pasta dishes are to die for), Black Cat Cafe (great cafe for brunch or lunch, they have a small, however, exquisite menu including eggs cooked in a few styles, pasta and sandwiches. One of the best coffee in Colombo), the Dutch Hospital (a shopping mall with bars, pubs and restaurant open till late, providing a great choice at any price), Vista Bar @ Mövenpick Hotel Rooftop (my favourite spot, located on a rooftop with spectacular view and amazing food)
- Hikkaduwa: Cafe de Paris (the food makes up for the location, 200m from the beach. Well priced), Y Hut (lovely family-run restaurant straight on the beach, it can’t get better than that)
- Galle: Pedlar’s Inn Cafe (a great colonial interior design that takes you back in time. They serve a mix of international cuisine. You should focus more on the local dishes, spicy and amazing), Crepeology (nice ambience as well as a good menu of sweet and savoury crepes. The coffee is also up to scratch), Elita Restaurant (specialised in fresh seafood, only catch of the day)
- Arugam Bay: Karma Gardens (healthy breakfast) or the tiny Why Not Restaurant (fabulous roti)
- Pasikudah: most of the resorts have a restaurant, usually straight on the beach, which is great. An other option is Rupsy’s, a seafood restaurant at a very affordable price
- Jaffna: the restaurant at the Jetwing Hotel has some amazing Tamil food. The Ammachi Unavakam food court, basically few tables shared by few ladies cooking on the side of the street, is a great and cheap option for lunch.
- Sigiriya: I stayed in two resorts and I had dinner there. In both cases I had good experience (the Water Garden Resort was really spectacular). Usually the resorts and hotels are far from any restaurants, so the option is pretty limited
- Kandy: for the best street food, head next to this big parking area. The Cafe 1886 is also another great place which has been running for 100 years, an institution in Kandy.
- Negombo: Prego (delicious Italian food), Polos Negombo (offers exquisite local food as well as a few Asian fusion dishes. Well priced and great service), Rodeo Pub (best place to be for pub food and nightlife)