Flying in to Colombo might set you off a little because honestly, it is not a pretty city. We took a tuktuk to the train station right away (always walk a little out of the airport for cheaper fares) and bought a ticket to Galle. This was an adventure itself already. There were some kind of timetables but it was hard to read them, which is why we just asked around until we got sent to the right ticket counter. It was early morning when the train departed and we got a first-class ticket to have more space for our backpacks. They usually sell first class ticket to the tourists, as the other classes are packed with locals The train ride to Galle took us 3 hours and it was the bumpiest ride I have ever experienced. Simultaneously, it was one of the coolest rides because we were riding along the coast line. The trains are super cheap and I recommend taking them whenever possible and you’ve got time on your hand. It is well worth it.
Influence by the Portuguese and later by the Dutch, this port town has quite a lot of historical sights to offer. The main attraction must be the fort which is a world heritage site. I recommend watching the sunset and enjoying a stroll along the fort.
We stayed at Lahiru Villa and loved it! It’s not the cheapest option but we decided to treat ourselves after the long journey and almost no sleep. The accommodation is run by the sweetest family and we enjoyed the ocean view while having breakfast from our patio.
A short tuktuk ride further south brought us to Unawatuna, a super cute coastal town that has a lot to offer. Most tourists choose to spend their vacation in the south mainly because the south offers long beautiful beaches. A short walk and you find yourself a Japanese Peace Pagoda, right on the beach. Another well known sight (thanks to Instagram) is the swing close to Wijaya Beach. Head there for golden hour for the best picture. Tucked away from the main beach of Unawatuna is Jungle Beach. It’s a 15-20 min tuktuk ride away from the main town and a lot quieter.
Yet another thing to do is visiting the turtle hatchery or going for a surf. Trust me when I say that you won’t get bored in Unawatuna.
Not as touristy, but well worth mentioning is the Dog Care Clinic. It’s an amazing project that mostly treats dogs that need neutering, vaccination or got injured You can visit the Clinic and get a tour! It’s amazing to see and hear about their projects! Also every tuktuk driver will know how to take you there. If you can’t make it, please consider a donation! I don’t have much money, but I donate 10$ every month. A little can go a long way.
We stayed at a hostel, but I don’t want to recommend it to you as we didn’t have a great experience. There are lots of nice guesthouses and hotels and next time, I’d rather spend some more money on accommodation.
Weligama & Mirissa
There are tons of cute beach towns between Unawatuna and Weligama and I highly recommend checking them out. Our next main stop was Weligama. We stayed at the Jagabay Resort and had it almost to ourselves! The best thing was, that we were right on the beach and the waves were great for beginner surfing. You can rent surfboards and find surf instructors all over town, but again, we all had it in front of our resort.
Mirissa was more crowded and it seemed as if all the party people were there at the time. Beach bars and resorts were blasting music and people had way too many drinks in the burning sun. Other than that, it’s beautiful and we saw many amazing sunsets there. Here are a few of my favorite picks from our stay in Mirissa:
- Parrot Rock (on Mirissa Beach. Not easy to get on it, as you have to climb a little, but a nice view point)
- The Doctors House (great food and live music in a chilled vibe location)
- Secret Beach Mirissa (this one is actually secret and not easy to reach, but well worth it. Search “Secret Beach bar” on Google Maps and ask the tuktuk driver to take you there. You’ll have to walk down a steep way at the end)
- Dondra Lighthouse (a short tuktuk ride away, you’ll find a beautiful lighthouse with lots of palm trees around)
- Whale watching (if you do it, choose the right company to do it with! Lots of them do not respect these gentle giants! We found that the people from Jagabay did the best job on giving the whales space)
We booked ourselves a pretty luxurious accommodation for this stop. Talalla Retreat is a place where it’s all about yoga, sustainable living and good vibes. We loved our open room where we could here the geckos and peacocks and it’s one of the best (and most expensive) places we stayed at during our Sri Lanka trip. It wasn’t easy to find as it is tucked away in the jungle, right next to the beach. It was a real treat!
One of the most beautiful beach towns for me is Tangalle. There is not much to do than laying on the beach, reading, sun bathing and enjoying great sunsets. A great place to do so is Ganesh Garden Beach Cabanas. We stayed for 3 nights before we went on safari.
Yala National Park
We booked transport and the safari with our hotel in Tangalle. A private driver took us to the Yala National Park, where we changed into a Jeep for our safari. The early morning air was clear and chilly, and we were so excited to see Elephants in the wild! The ride through the park was very bumpy and dusty, but also the best experience ever! The Elephants came so close and we even got to see a baby! There are also many birds and reptiles in the park and we seriously had the best time with our driver, who spotted even the tiniest animals along the way.
The most scenic train ride ever must be the one from Ella to Kandy. Winding and steep roads are leading up to this hidden gem in the mountains. You will see lots of cars and tuktuks struggeling getting up there, it really is that steep. You’ll feel a change of temperature and get to see how diverse Sri Lanka really is. Things to do in Ella:
- Little Adam’s Peak (amazing views)
- Nine Arch Bridge (check the train schedule to make sure you’ll see the blue train driving by)
- Ravana Waterfall (right next to the main road)
- Diyaluma Falls (take a swim by the 2nd largest waterfall)
- Ella Rock (looking for a challenge? 2hrs hike from bottom to top)
On the way from Ella to Kandy is Nuwara Eliya. It has the lushes green tea plantations I’ve ever seen! Due to much cooler temperatures, it’s the perfect climate for growing tea. There are many tours you can book for only 7$.
A scenic 7 hours train ride away from Ella is Kandy. You can also reach it from Colombo which is a 3 hours car ride. Things to do in Kandy:
- Temple of the Tooth (a Buddhist temple)
- Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue (biggest Budda statue in Sri Lanka)
- Kandy Lake (take a stroll along this iconic place)
Climb the famous Lion’s Rock in Sigiriya – it’s one of the UNESCO world heritage sights. But don’t be a fool and underestimate 1200+ steps! Your butt and legs will kill you afterwards because it’s a real workout! It’s one of the places that already got caught up on tourist prices and tickets are pretty expensive (about 30$!). Make sure you go early morning to avoid the heat and crowds. Another tip is to stay away from the monkey and the bees – they are an issue there.