Two months I have been on a Sri Lanka trip. I went around the country and I have seen a lot! From beautiful, endless beaches, good surfspots and partys, jungles, mountains, unexplored regions…to fun scooter trips, interesting cultural sites… to friendly Sri Lankans and so on! This country really surprised me a lot and my fear in the beginning, that two months could be too long for such a small island, vanished after a while. There are still many things I would like to see or to repeat.
So check out my best photos, infos and recommendations from my Sri Lanka trip – and plan your own. Have fun!
Everybody who is travelling Sri Lanka will be in Colombo at least for arrival and departure, because there is the only international airport, in Negombo, about 1 hour from the centre of Colombo. Colombo is the most important intersection in Sri Lanka as well, so you have the best possibilities to start your journey from here.
For an Asian city, Colombo is quite clean, silent, clearly arranged. Every budget will find a stay, a meal and a shopping. Shopping is the main thing in Colombo. You have some markets, food markets, walks, big city feeling – but don’t stay here too long, the rest of Sri Lanka is just too beautiful.
Taking a tuk tuk in Colombo, you should make sure that there is a working taximeter in the vehicle. Nowhere else in Sri Lanka you have this facilitative option, that a machine makes a fair price for both. Use Google Maps or maps.me to navigate through the city. Don’t trust the driver, if they say they know where something is.
- Train to Kandy
- Express Bus to Galle, Matara, Tangalle (only highway bus in Sri Lanka)
Many tourists and also travellers spend most of their time on the south coast. The infrastructure on the whole south coast is flawless. The main road runs parallel to the sea and goes through every place there, which all basically have got antouristic set up, some less, some more and some much more.
The biggest tourist agglomeration is Mirissa, the place that is famous for wale watching. The whole set up is made for Western tourists – also the prices. After eating numerous curries, you might be happy to find a proper pizza, pasta or burger here. You also find many excellent fish restaurants along the beach. After dinner, the bars on the beach change their appearance and the party starts – every evening!
Weligama is the perfect place to learn surfing. It is only a 15 minutes ride from Mirissa. There are also plenty of hostels and restaurants. Surfing is better here, Mirissa is much more beautiful though.
Hikkaduwa is the next big tourist fort. It is cheaper than Mirissa and not less beautiful. Surfing is better than in Mirissa, you also have many western restaurants and cheap and good hostels and party almost every evening. Snorkeling and diving is very big in Hikkaduwa – and certainly worth to do it. It is not unlikely to meet a turtle – on the beach or in the water.
Beach discovery near Tangalle! (l) Longtime exposure in the evening. No ND filter used. (r)
It gets a bit less touristy around Tangalle. In this region you can find lonely, „secret“ beaches. The party energy is less here, more couples and silence seekers are to be found here.
Lust-4-life Tip: My advise for indecisive people is to check out the whole south coast in one ore two days. Just hop on a bus and you will drive through all the places and hop off to give it a closer look. The even better option is however to rent a scooter, which is very cheap and you can check out whatever you want, whenever you want. The traffic is okay, the streets quite good. So no worries here!
Speaking about „Galle“ or „Galle Fort“, basically only the fortress, and the place inside the walls are meant. 1505 some Portuguese sailors bore away and landed in Galle, where they stopped for some time; one day they heard a rooster, so they called the place „Galle“ – from port. „Galo“ – „rooster“. „Gala“ however also means „rock“ in Singhalese. So we don’t have an agreement here so far, so Lust-4-Life takes this opportunity to bring both theories together, hence we have a rooster on a rock, which showed the way to the lost Portuguese by his beatiful voice.
The fort that you can visit today was built by the Dutch, who came after the Portuguese and destroyed almost all their legacy.
Harder than the stones that they have used to build the fort are only the tourists that walk the wall in the midday sun (me). (l) 1755 finished: “Groote Kerk”, which means “big church” in Dutch. So great, that it made it onto the UNESCO list. (r)
Galle fascinates with an interesting historical frame and a modern interieur. There is architecture from other centuries and letterings that remind of old times. But you’ll also find yourself in fancy veggie burger restaurants or hipster everything shops.
A visitor of Galle always strolls in between history and modernity.
As the second most important big city in Sri Lanka, Kandy is smaller, greener, cooler and more beautiful than Colombo. Being at about 500 m of altitude, the sweaty traveller is about to find a cool down in Kandy, maybe even some rain (author is pluviophile). To get big city feeling, you are at the wrong adress. But the high amount of emerald, juicy nature make Kandy to a very special place to feel cosy. For an Asian city, there is a lot of interesting, colourful architecture, temples of any kind and all together a „nice“ city. I think, in the travel guides the beauty of Kandy is a bit overrated, so don’t expect too much, if you follow one of these withewashing books. Still Kandy is worth to see.
The artificial lake in the city is worth to walk around. The last ruler of the Kingdom of Kandy established this face-giving lake in almost the middle of the city.
Near the lake, there is a house with a golden roof. You will have heard about it, before arriving in Kandy for sure, but in this house there is a wooden box. And in this box, there is the most important Buddhist relic of Sri Lanka: a tooth of Buddha. Isn’t that great? You cannot see it, of course, since the tooth is in a wooden box. And it is not even sure if this is the real tooth, because very likely the original one (if there is one anyway, has been cause for a lot of trouble) is hidden somewhere else.
But nevertheless I am so sure that Buddha is sitting somewhere in Nirvana, being so proud of all his followers. They do the right thing to make the world a better place: They travel to a house with a golden roof and pay a lot of money to stare at a wooden box. Religion rocks!
Up north the next Buddhist sanctuary is waiting for you: the Cave Temples of Dambulla. Set on a little hill, the curious traveller can explore five smaller or bigger caves, stuffed with statues and frescoes of Buddha. You can find 150 of them (just like pokémon), whose first pioneers have arisen about 2000 years ago. Different rulers have each added their statues and paintings in the following centuries, but still the whole temple complex seems to habe been created by one creator. Many walls in the caves are painted golden and thus this complex also has got the name „Ran Giri“, which means „Golden Rock“.
A little entrance price is expecting the visitor, a massive parking site, not a lot spiritual energy, but a lot of commercial doings. On the way up hill, some monkeys are waiting, like sellers, they want something from the tourists. In the temples you might have 150 Buddhas, but soon, if our nowaday rulers keep on adding donation boxes instead of adding more Buddhas, soon, every statue has got two donation boxes in front of it.
If you can blend this religous farce out, Dambulla is a unique, very impressive place!
Lust-4-Life Tip: Dambulla is very close to Sigiriya, where you find the next big attraction and where you will most probably go afterwards. Dambulla is the bigger intersection and the uglier city. So arriving in Dambulla, take a Tuk Tuk to the temples, leave your luggage in the Tuk Tuk, don’t pay him yet, promise him a good price to take you to Sigiriya after, visit the Cave Temples and then hit straight on to Sigiriya. The stay there and the surroundings are much nicer!
This rock in the middle of nowhere is used inflationary for Sri Lanka’s tourist commercials, so probably you might have seen it long before you have arrived to Sigiriya. The place around the rock is actually just named after the rock, „Lion Rock“, and just exists because of tourism. I love (really, honestly, strangely ) these places, whose single right to exist is only to feed and give accomodation to tourists. It’s a funny feeling there. So in Sigiriya you have one road and in between 500 meter you’ll find all the homestays and restaurants.
You actually have two big rocks here. The famous one is „Sigiryia“ – the „Lion Rock“, on whose top are ruins und the entrance gate has got the shape of lion claws. The entrance price is 35 $ and a big sham! So the other option is „Pidurangala Rock“, where you only pay an apple and an egg, where you have the best view to Sigiriya Rock and a spacious area to walk around and enjoy. There is enough place for everybody to find his own spot to look around from the top and inhale the tranquility.
Anuradhapura is well known for its complex of antique ruins. I was not interested in the ruins. I was only interested in the oldest, by human hands planted tree. It is a bodhi tree and originally from India, so an offshoot has been brought here around 2000 years ago. The bodhi tree is world famous, since Siddharta Gautama „Buddha“ has reached enlightenment sitting in the shadow of this tree.
So this holy tree has been taken care of and been caressed by the monks for 2000 years and he is in an awesome shape (#fittree), even though this fellow is a bit smaller than expected, but not less majestic.
The wall and the bars let the tree appear like a prisoner. It’s a bit sad that you cannot sit down next to it and try to follow in Buddha’s foot steps. But maybe this the only way to keep a celebrity like this holy bodhi tree alive and in this good condition for 2000 years.
The spiritual atmosphere here is great though, one can feel the big respect and honor that visitors bring along.
Jaffna was one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka. For a long time I have been staring at the map, considering whether it is worth it to go all the way up north. Finally my couriosity drove me there and I was rewarded by open-hearted, real, honest kind of people. All this tourism is new for them, since the civil war only ended in 2009 and you can still see how damaged the area was and still is, and thus they don’t know how much money you can make with naive western tourists and backpackers.
The topic „civil war“ is not very present in most parts of Sri Lanka. I had the feeling that many Sri Lankans are ashamed, like if they wonder how they could have participated in this shit. So nobody really talks about it. But Jaffna was hit fatally in the war and the plenty still destroyed buildings don’t let go of the memories.
Including Jaffna to my round trip in Sri Lanka was more than worth it. Since there is not so much tourism and so there is not the typical backpackers infrastucture and set up, a well experienced traveller will get the explorer feeling again – like on the first travels.
Lust-4-Life Tip: Rent a scooter and explore the peninsulas and island. The streets are more than okay, less traffic and fascinating landscapes to discover.
Explore this lonely Island on scooter! The trails along the coast are amazing. There is only nature, not much civilization! The ride with the little wooden ferry “Santa Maria” is worth the trip already! But be aware, this is one of the hottest places in Sri Lanka!
Most travellers get attracted by the renowned beaches „Uppuveli“ and „Nilaveli“. But there is more to see and to do in „Trinco“. There are some special temples of different religions, wild Bambis are strolling through the streets, there are fantastic restaurants (in the tourist area) and Pigeon Island – an awesome place to do snorkeling (season from April – november; sadly not the time that I have been there). The city itself is very hectical and chaotic, not so big though, there are a few local restaurants near the bus station, there is a lot of dirt, fish, fishermen. Do some trips to trinco, but stay close to the nice beaches „Uppuveli“ and „Nilaveli“, that’s where all the other backpackers are anyway.
I don’t run to every temple. But Kandasamy Kovil, set on a rock, is totally worth it! (l) The way to get there is already an adventure. (r)
There is an extraordinary temple, called „Kandasamy Kovil“, that is on the edge of a rock, „Swami Rock“. It is a very special place and after seeing tousands of temples as a traveller, this one finally is different and finally worth to see again. From April to November you can see blue wales from here. It is said to be one of the most beautiful wale watching spots in the world!
WTF! Bambi in Trincomalee! Everywhere…really…everywhere! (l) Also in the East you’ll find some colourful Hindu temples(r)
Where most people like to spend their time on the nice beaches, I like to grab my DSLR and go to the local beach, where all the fishermen and their boats, crows, fishes and random people are hanging out together. For me this beach has been special, because all day you have an insight in the all day doings of the fishermen. So the next time you eat fish, you have a picture in mind, how that has come to your plate.
Ella is the green option in the mountains, for all who grave for a cool alternative to beach and central land. The weather is very alternating, it gets a bit chilly in the night and it might be raining every now and then. But if the sun is shining in more than 1000 m high of altitude, you should protect yourself from this burning friend.
There are some possibilities for day treks, like Ella Rock or Little Adam`s Peak. These treks are very easy and doable for everybody. Even though there is not a big challenge to conquer these mountains, they are still very scenic and worth to climb. One will be rewarded with great views!
“Ella Rock” (l), photographed from “Little Adam’s Peak” (r), and the other way around. Got it?
Since I have been in Munnar in South India, only one year before, mountains with tea plantations count to my favourite type of landscapes. I love the softening that the tea plants give the rocky shape of the mountains. My whole Sri Lanka trip I was already looking forward to stroll around in the peaceful area of tea plantations. And Ella didn’t dissapoint me!
But there is more to do in Ella. Stay in the Tomorrow Land Hostel for a great party. Go to the diverse restaurants in Ella and enjoy delicious local and international food. Make trips to Haputale, the tea museum and and and…don’t forget to visit the plenty of waterfalls around Ella and get a cooling natural shower.
Water runs down a rock and humans are watching it. The biggest waterfall in Sri Lanka: Ravana Falls (l) Like it was to be expected, there are plenty of tea plantations in “Ceylon”. (r)
There he is: the real Adam’s Peak! Not this „Little Adam`s Peak“ in Ella, that I have described as a nice day trip before. Yes true, nice but in comparison with this nightly pilgrimage… to call another mountain „Adam’s Peak“ sounds like a bad joke and makes me shake my head.
Sunrise after walking 5000 steps is the well earned reward for tourist, who usually don’t walk up there out of religious reasons. Take place in the west tribune. It might get cosy! (l) And that’s why I watched the sunrise walking down. (r)
Well, this pilgrimage is a unique experience, a once in a lifetime experience for sure! Waking up in the middle of the night to go to a mountain, where 5000 steps are waiting to be climbed is not a normal trip. Also there are hundreds of other pilgrims, strong believers, who sing mantras and prayers. I could feel the intense spiritual energy there, that make old and sick people conquer this giant.
The path is illuminated by electric lights, that fail more often than they give light. Fun fact: the path is flanked for the majority of it’s length with trashy souvenir shops for kids.
To compare: Walking up in the darkness (l) and down in the light (r)
If all this is not enough to motivate you to „Do Adam’s Peak“, read this fully confirmed story: When Adam, yes the one from the bible, and his girl got the famous dismissal, they were very disappointed and sad but therefore very motivated to find a place as beautiful as the paradise. So they flew (not in a airplane of course, but on a cloud) to Sri Lanka (I don’t know who gave them the tip, travel blogs didn’t exist that time) and stepped off on the – back then – nameless mountain. This is how Adam’s foot print came to the peak and made it a holy mountain.