The first question that came to mind when I was thinking of going to Sri Lanka was “when is the best time to go?”. Generally from May it is monsoon season in Asia and I thought that I had to postpone my trip to Sri Lanka but here you go! Sri Lanka climate is very interesting. Sri Lanka weather is dictated by two monsoons:
- May to September: brings rain to the Southwest coast
- October to February: brings rain to the Northern region and East coast
- Rest of the year: dry and sunny
Bearing that in mind, I started planning and drafting the itinerary and the places I wanted to visit. I disregarded the North, not because it didn’t appeal to me, but of the logistics and time, however I kind of regret not giving it a go. When I was in Sri Lanka I met lots of travelers that were heading to Jaffna in the North and I felt that I was going to miss an important part of the country. Anyway, now it is too late, perhaps next time!
In the end, my 4 weeks itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Anuradhapura
Day 2-4: Sigiriya
Day 5-6: Kandy
Day 7-10: Haputale
Day 11-19: Arugam Bay
Day 20-25: Uppuveli
Day 26: Negombo
Is it the best itinerary ever? Honestly, NO. However, my trip was a trip to discover and be able to recommend what I liked the most and advice about what I liked the least in case you guys don’t have that much time. Not everybody can take a 4 weeks trip!
And… what I guess you were looking for! My conclusions about the above Sri Lanka itinerary:
Colombo vs Negombo: which one should you choose upon arrival/ before departure?
That’s a tricky question.
Upon arrival, I based my decision on my next destination which was Anuradhapura. I chose to stay at Colombo.
There is a train departing from Colombo Fort at 5.45am that reaches Anuradhapura at 9.10am, perfect to make the most of your day.
For information about train timelines click here.
About Colombo, I can’t tell you more. I just stay there for a couple of hours, mainly to have a shower and a couple of hours of sleep before really starting my trip, but my impressions were that it is a busy and chaotic city and, after talking with other travellers, my suspicions were confirmed: there isn’t much to do in there.
How to get to Colombo from the airport?
There is a bus stop outside the airport. Go to exit 1 and you will find the bus stop just straight after the rows of taxis and tuk-tuk drivers. They are going to try to convince you to use their services or even say that there is no bus to Colombo. Yes, there is. I took the bus 187/100 for 120 LKR and it took me 50 minutes to get into Colombo.
Where to stay?
As I had to get the first train at 5.45am from Colombo Fort, I chose to stay at the following hostel Star Anise Boutique Capsules in a dorm that it’s located at about 10 minute walk from/ to the Colombo Fort train station, very convenient. Huge and comfy beds ( the most comfy in Sri Lanka I would say), A/C, spotless clean and friendly staff were the top characteristics of this place. I definitely recommend it!
Because it was my first night and arrived tired and quite late, I decided to book it in advance via Agoda. At this specific instance, Agoda offered a better price than Booking.com. I use to compare both websites before booking accommodation and it is very interesting what I have found out. As a rule of thumbs, when travelling around Asia, Agoda offers better prices than Booking.com, however when comparing Sri Lanka’s accommodation prices, I realised that this rule doesn’t apply to Sri Lanka, prices really vary a lot. So if you are a “booking ahead” type of traveller, compare both sites, however it is with “showing up and taking a room on the spot” when you are definitely going to get the best prices. The better your bargain skills are, the better the price. And I know that I mentioned in a previous post but let me say it again: skin and hair colour as well as gender will have an impact on prices as well. The darker your skin, eyes and hair is, the better for you. Also, better prices are offered is the person bargaining is a male. Conclusion: I have to find a boyfriend with dark hair, eyes and skin because my green/ hazel eyes, extremely white skin and ginger girl makes me look wealthy in Asia.
Before departure, instead of Colombo I chose Negombo which is closer to the airport. Negombo is also more chilled than Colombo. It is still a fairly big town but more charming and quiet than the busy and crowded Colombo.
How to get to Negombo from the airport?
As I said, Negombo is closer to the airport but there is no direct bus as the buses from Negombo are not reaching the airport. You have two options: get a tuk-tuk straight to/from Negombo or do half of the way by bus and the other half by tuk-tuk.
For convenience and because my flight was very early in the morning I decided to go straight by tuk-tuk which cost me 700 LKR and took me less than 30 minutes from Negombo to reach the airport.
Where to stay?
There are loads of guesthouses. I recommend you to look around Lewis Place. I stayed at A&B Resort Negombo. Good value for money, spotless clean and fairly big room, close to the beach and restaurants. The owner Bianca is very nice, she will help you with everything you need.
To choose between Colombo and Negombo was more a matter of convenience for me based on my itinerary, but i f you ask me which one I prefer, I definitely say Negombo.
Cultural Triangle: UNESCO heritage sites, are they worth the money?
It is well-known that the UNESCO heritage sites located in the Cultural Triangle are very expensive. All the locals are going to tell you the same: “It is so expensive for foreigners. Are you sure you want to go there?”. Of course I wanted, they are part of the UNESCO.
So my initial plan was to visit Anuradhapura and its dagodas, Mihintale – not because it’s part of the UNESCO but because it is the place were Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, Sigiriya for its fortress known as the Lion Rock, Dambulla for its cave temple and Polonnaruwa for its ruins.
However, due to a couple of mishaps, I ended up giving up on Mihintale and Polonnaruwa. Why? The reason why I gave up Mihintale was the weather: it was pouring down with water so heavily and there is nothing more to do around, not even great places to eat, so decided to change location. About Polonnaruwa, there were two reasons why I gave up: first I had a stomach bug so I had to stay at my guesthouse for one day and the second one (spoiler alert) I was so disappointed with Anuradhapura and left with a bitter after taste. After reading that these two places were similar on a way, I was not motivated enough for another disappointment. I kind of regret it but it is what I felt at that point. Maybe next time.
So, what was left? What I did visit was Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Dambulla.
It is a NO-NO. As I anticipated, Anuradhapura left me with a bitter after taste, I wouldn’t go again so I don’t recommend you to go. In a nutshell, if you don’t want to pay for the ticket to go around and see the different dagodas, there is nothing you can do there. I was willing to pay. I rented a bike to cycle around and visit the different places but at some point I took the wrong street and got lost so badly. I have to say that I have a very good sense of orientation and also have a GPS and internet connection on my mobile but still, and not sure why, I was cycle around with no clear direction and didn’t manage to find the tickets office after cycling for more than 1 hour trying to find the place. I decided to stop to check where I was when I met another girl who was also travelling solo and she told me that it was not worth the money, that it was not that impressive, and because I started to feel really hungry I decided to give up, return the bike and have lunch. I could go to Mihintale in the afternoon (which as I said couldn’t do because it was pouring with raining). I asked at my accommodation for recommendations about where to eat and they told me there weren’t many places but I could go to the bus station where there were a couple of places. Not what I was expecting for lunch during my first day in Sri Lanka.
For more details about my experience in Anuradhapura check Anuradhapura: a Sri Lankan bitter aftertaste.
Sigiriya and Dambulla
After Anuradhapura I headed to Dambulla and Sigiriya (they are very close to each other) and decided to make it my base to visit them and Polonnaruwa. As I said I gave up on visiting Polonnaruwa so I’m just going to write about Sigiriya and Dambulla.
These two are a YES YES!
Sigiriya has its own magic, I really liked the quiet atmosphere in the town and both Sigiriya Lion Rock and Pidurangala Rock are impressive and even more the views from the top.
Sigiriya Lion Rock: 4,620 LKR
Pidurangala Rock: 500 LKR
If you don’t feel like paying 4,620 LKR to visit the Lion Rock, Pidurangala is your best shot. If you want to do both, they can be done in one day and both are really worth the effort and the money.
Dambulla is busier and dirtier that Sigiriya, I didn’t find that much charm in the town but its Cave temples are worth a visit. I couldn’t stop looking at the murals on the walls and ceilings and the feeling of being surrounded by history is amazing.
Dambulla Cave temple + access to the Golden temple: 1,500 LKR
For more information about Dambulla Cave Temple, check Dambulla Cave Temple: the reason why you should do a pit stop in Dambulla.
Where to stay?
Even though I prefer the atmosphere of Sigiriya, Dambulla is a more convenient location as it covers a wide range of bus routes. If you decide to stay at Sigiriya, you will have to head to Dambulla to get a bus to another location (ie. Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Kandy…). These two cities, Sigiriya and Dambulla are very close to each other but it is still a 30 minutes bus ride and there is a bus connecting them every 30 minutes.
If you ask me, I prefer the charm of Sigiriya but as I said Dambulla is more convenient.
What I did: I didn’t stay at Sigiriya neither Dambulla. Funny isn’t it? I found a remote guesthouse in Kimbissa that is located in between them both but closer to Sigiriya. The less convenient of all I have to say. However, it was there where I ate the most delicious Sri Lankan homemade food ever. The place is called Heaven Homestay. I recommend this place if you want proper and so yummy Sri Lankan food and a quiet and very authentic place, full immersion. There is literally nothing around. They guys managing this guesthouse are so friendly and helpful. It was one of my favourite places!
The Hill Country: tea plantations and hikes, for nature lovers
Heaven in earth. This is my definition of the Hill Country. Lush and green as I never thought it would be, wherever you decide to go is absolutely beautiful. You are never going to be wrong with your choices. It is a must go! Going to Sri Lanka and missing the Hill Country would be a big mistake.
Kandy is the perfect starting point to head to the Hill Country. Kandy itself is not special and there isn’t much to do in there but if you want to be part of the most scenic train ride you have to go there. Stay one night to get the first train of the day. If you are staying there and want to kill your time you can visit the Temple of the Tooth (1,500 LKR).
Where to stay (or not to)?
In this case it is a not to stay: Green Woods. It looked promising: quite location, surrounded by nature, close to town and monkeys show in the morning. However, I’m just one to say two words: beg bugs. Perhaps I was not lucky but if you are running this type of business I believe that you have to really pay attention and take care of your facilities. It could have spotted by them. I stayed two nights, the first night I couldn’t sleep at all and the next day I was offered an upgrade and because I was tired and had to sleep I accepted the offer (after checking every single corner of the room) and spent the most part of the day sleeping. I know, I wasted a day! That’s the reason why I can’t recommend this place.
Haputale is a good base if you want to explore the Hill Country but other alternatives are Nuwara Eliya and Ella. Nuwara Eliya is the first stop of the three locations (not the first stop of the train ride) and perhaps it is not very convenient if you want to visit also Ella and Haputale. Another option would be to stay a couple of days in Nuwara Eliya (train stop is called Nanu Oya and then get a bus or tuk-tuk to Nuwara Eliya). The next one is Haputale and the latest is Ella. Ella is the most famous of the tree, meaning far more touristic and far more expensive than Haputale, so for me Haputale is a win-win. Small town with a great atmosphere and most of the guesthouses are uphill providing outstanding views of the tea plantations and Hill Country typical scenery. Peaceful, relax and calm is what you are going to find there as well as loads of things to do, but mainly hiking. Haputale was my favourite place in all Sri Lanka.
Where to stay?
There are quite a few guesthouses or homestays with nice views. If you go there, choose a place with views. I stayed at Bel View guesthouse (click here for location). There is a main building where the family lives. If you are lucky to get a room there you are going to be luckier than me which I was accommodated in a room in an appendix outside, however if you are a wi-fi freak note that the wi-fi only works in the main building. The room smelled of damp but I easily got used to. It was clean but not super clean but it was cheap enough to not care too much about it. The views from there are great.
Bear in mind: if you are thinking of going to the Hill country I would recommend you to bring your own bed sheets: around there guesthouses and homestays use to provide blankets but not bed sheets, and they don’t really clean the blankets every time a visitor leaves. To buy sleeping bag liners, Decathlon offer 3 models with different qualities: https://www.decathlon.co.uk/Buy/sleeping+bag+liner
East coast: beaches and enjoying the life
During my trips I have a habit: when possible I really like to spend the last days chilling on the beach doing nothing but enjoying the life. As it was monsoon time in the Southwest coast famous for its beaches, an alternative for those who are craving for beach time is to go to the East coast or to Jaffna in the North. As I mentioned, I disregarded Jaffna due to the logistics to get there so let’s focus on the East coast.
Mainly, you have three options on the East coast: Arugam Bay (known as ABay), Passekudah or Kalkudah (Batticaloa known as Batti) and Uppuveli or Nilaveli (Trincomalee, known as Trinco). Each one has its own personality so it is up to you to choose the one(s) that suit you the most.
Cool and hippie small town well-known for its waves and parties, making this little village a surfing spot. If you are not into surfing, the beaches around are not beautiful and not really suitable for swimming, however this town has something special, something that gets you there. I felt so good that I ended up staying there 9 days rather than the 3 I initially thought I was going to spend there and I’m not a surfer. I tried tho but it is so difficult! There are also lots of restaurants! Beach, eat, sleep, what else can you ask for? So it is a YES YES.
Go to Mambo’s (click here for location) as it is suitable for swimming and you can use their hammocks for free the whole day.
For party animals:
Monday to Friday: close to Stardust Hotel at the very beginning of the town (North side – click here for location) there is a place that organise drink every day – I’m not sure about the name but I think it was Oceansky. Anyway, you will know it as you will find a guy on the beach of the town giving flyers during late afternoon. Another option is the Siam View rooftop bar (click here for location), it is easy to spot because there is the typical red English telephone box in front of the place.
Friday: the party is at Whisky Point (click here for location). You need transport to go there but there are free tuk-tuks from Surf ‘N’ Sun (if I’m not wrong, I thought I took a picture of the sign but there is no picture…). But no worries, ask at Mambo’s for more information.
Saturday: party at Mambo’s. The same place I recommended for swimming hosts the Saturday party. If you are staying at the town, you can easily go there by foot. It can be quite dark so a torch or a headlamp is recommended if you want to see where you are treading.
Where to stay?
Accommodation is not a problem in Abay, it is full of homestays, guesthouses, hostels and hotels to accommodate every single pocket. I stayed at Tropicana home stay which offers basic but clean rooms at a really good value for money. They have 6 rooms and two cabanas but one of the cabanas is (or at least was when I was there) being used by one of the employees, a nice lady in charge of the everyday tasks.
For more information about ABay click here.
Passekudah or Kalkudah
Let me start telling you that I disregarded this option after discussing with other travellers. This area is still in development, but currently it is mainly full of resorts, something that I didn’t want to pay for, as well as a poor offer in terms of restaurants and shops. However, I was told that the beaches were the most beautiful in all Sri Lanka and because it is not very popular, you can have the beach for yourself.
Uppuveli or Nilaveli
Long white sand beaches, not crowded, is what you are going to find up there. Yet not amazing but you can swim and relax. Uppuveli is more for backpackers than Nilaveli so I chose Uppuveli. The atmosphere there is even more chilled than Arugam Bay and even though there is still a good range of restaurants, it’s not the same. The reunion spot is Fernando’s beach bar (click here for location), where you can use the hammocks for free and during the afternoon joining a group of people who spontaneously start playing volleyball. Also it is the perfect place for a drink but not the food, which is poor.
Would I go back to Uppuveli? That’s another tricky question. The place is not that amazing but the people is the nicest, friendliest and kindest I found around Sri Lanka. I made quite a few connections there and if it wasn’t for that I would never go back again. During my trip around Sri Lanka I always had the feeling that you never know who you can trust, feeling that I didn’t have in Uppuveli. So it is a YES for the people.
Where to stay?
I stayed at Alass Ga Rooms, a nice homestay managed by a guy called Prashanth and his mother and you can really feel that they care a lot about their business and they put their heart and soul on it. They do their best and more to make you feel like at home. The rooms are spotless clean, it is very close to the beach, restaurants and shops. Don’t be scared if you check the prices on Booking.com or Agoda, they are far more expensive than if you show up and bargain with them.
Whatever you do, the most important is to enjoy and have fun, but as a summary my list of must-do are:
Sigiriya & Dambulla
The Hill country
Visiting the above places I assure you that you are going to go back home with a feeling that you have done a great job.
Note: please note that I had to skip a safari because it was very expensive for a solo traveller. If you are thinking of a safari, go to Yala National park. Tissamaharama (also known as Tissa) is the perfect base for a day trip or half a day trip to the park. Also note that hiking Adam’s Peak (not Little Adam’s peak in Ella) was in my to-do list as well but unfortunately it was rainy season and couldn’t do the hike. The best time to go is during the pilgrimage season (from the Duruthu Poya in December/January to the Vesak Poya in May). Dalhousie is the perfect base to start this hike.
Have fun and see you around witties!
Pst pst! If you want to know how much Sri Lanka costs, don’t forget to check this out: Sri Lanka: how much does it cost?
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