Sri Lanka is a backpackers paradise and a place to go no matter if you are traveling solo, with your significant other or friends. It has something for everyone! Here's how I spent my two weeks in Sri Lanka to the fullest! Including prices, transportation and some of the hostels I stayed at. Sri Lanka is one of the best adventures I've had so far and I absolutely love the country! The undiscovered gem also called Little India is beautiful in every way. Well not completely undiscovered, but it's still not touristy as many of the other countries I've visited. It's a backpackers paradise for both young and old and definitely worth your time to go to!
After a month in Australia I was ready for some change of scenery and Sri Lanka was exactly what I needed. I had been on my own for a month now and I knew I could handle myself now, however, I didn't have to here. The backpackers in Sri Lanka was outgoing and friendly and ready to take in a young Danish girl. I've met so many cool folks who made my trip even better than expected. Here's how I (with a little help from new friends) managed to see most of the attractions of Sri Lanka in two weeks - without stress & paying overprices on cabs.
Here are the places I went:
Sigiriya & Dambulla
The South & Southwest Coast
Kandy, Hill Country: Sri Lankan Culture
My first stop was Kandy. It's a 3 hour drive from Colombo and the airport. You can take a train from Colombo to Kandy, however, the airport isn't in Colombo and you'll have to take the bus to the train. For me it was a bit too much drama to start my journey and I decided to take a cab instead. It's a bit more expensive, however, you'll easy find someone going the same way as you if you ask around. I split the costs of af $60 cab with two others and paid $20 (130 DKK).
It's located in the heart of Sri Lanka and is called the old king city. It is the spiritual capital of Sri Lanka. Here you can really get a feeling of the busy Sri Lankan everyday life. It is full of people and noises - especially from traffic and the prayer summons.
The best place to go in Kandy is to walk around the lake. By the Lake you'll find the Kandy viewpoint, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and maybe some Sri Lankan wildlife. I met a two meter long monitor lizard, which was pretty cool as long as it stayed far away from me!
A bit outside of Kandy I recommend going to the Royal Botanical Gardens and if you're up for a bit of stair climbing: Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue. It is one of the biggest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka and also provides you with a pretty nice view.
Sigiriya & Dambulla: History
In Kandy I rented a tuk tuk for a day trip to go to Sigiriya and Dambulla. I recommend having your hostel make a sweet deal for you - they probably have a friend who'll be happy to make a few bucks by taking you. I did this and I got a whole day (8am - 6pm) for 5000 LKR ($28/185DKK). My chauffeur was super nice and showed my lots of things I hadn't planned on seeing. We stopped and looked at the famous Knuckles Mountains, rice fields and we ate rice and curry at a local restaurant.
In Dambulla I recommend seeing the Golden Temple and the Cave Temples. They are connected and you pay 1550 LKR ($9/60DKK) for both. Remember to bring something to cover your knees and shoulders.
Next stop was Sigiriya or the Lion Rock. It is a huge famous rock with the ruins of an ancient fortress on the top. It is on the UNESCO heritage list and on every Sri Lanka backpackers list. However, I actually recommend going to the sister rock, Pidurangala. It is much cheaper and the views are even better - because you can see Sigiriya from here.
Read more about a day trip to Kandy Hill Country here.
Adam's Peak: Views views views
From Kandy I took the famous scenic train to Ella. I didn't want to do the whole 7 hour train ride in one take so my first stop was after 3 hours: Adam's Peak.
The train actually stops in Hatton and from there I shared a cab with 6 other other backpackers who was going the same way, which saved us all a lot. They were super nice and we ended up climbing the mountain and traveling to Nuwara Eliya together!
Adam's Peak or Sri Prada was my favourite part of my Sri Lankan adventure! The climb was hard work from 2am until 6am, however, the time went fast. We had rotti (Sri Lankan pancakes) and tea breaks and at 6.30 at the top. Every drop of sweat was forgotten and the most breathtaking view hit us. The sunrise was beautiful over the mountains, however, the shadow of the mountain on the other side was even more mesmerising (pictured above).
Nuwara Eliya: Tea time
I wasn't actually planning on going here, but my new friends told me about it and I thought why not? In hindsight, that was definitely the right decision. Nuwara Eliya is an old English town, but a short drive away you'll find tea fields and strawberry fields every where you look. We had our driver take us to "Blue Fields" where we got the see how the tea was made for free (they do expect a small donation/tip afterwards). We were also allowed to walk in the tea fields, but if you're going to take pictures of the workers: Be prepared to pay.
Nuwara Eliya is also rich on waterfalls. The most famous one is called "Ramboda Falls". Bring your bathing suit and take a dip!
Ella: The famous scenic train
The last stop on the scenic train is Ella. I would say, that this is the most touristy town you'll find in Sri Lanka. If you've missed your western food then this is the time to grab the change. It is also the place for a massage and recharging after a few hard days.
If your legs are o.k. then Ella's Rock or Little Adam's Peak are options. Most people climb little Adam's Peak if they skipped Adam's Peak because it was a bit too challenging. My new friend and I chose to relax and climb it as well. However, it did not turn out to be a relaxing stroll. We chose the wrong path (don't do this) and we ended up climbing up the side of the mountain. At the top we realised that there was a nice relaxing path on the other side... The views, however, were still worth it and I would do it again!
On our way home, we took a different path and went to the famous Nine Arch Bridge! The train passes here and if I had timed it better, I would have stayed for the train to pass by. Instead we followed the train tracks home to Ella.
The South & Southwest: Beach hopping
From Ella I shared a cab with 7 others to Mirissa. It was a five hour drive but comfortable and with a stop at Udawalawe National Park. We could see the elephants without having to pay for the entrance which was kind of great.
The rest of my trip was mostly beaches. Mirissa Beach is nice for relaxing and swimming, but there's lots of other exotic beaches by the south! Read about my favourite beaches here.
I took a bus from Mirissa to Tangalle and from Tangalle to Unawatuna. It's pretty easy and the hostel owners will help you if you ask. I ended my beach hopping in Hikkaduwa in the Southwest. From here I took the bus to Colombo and changed to the bus to Negombo. I asked the bus driver which one to take, since Colombo is a mess!
To get ready for my flight home I spent a night in Negombo, which is the nearest town to the airport. Here I arranged with a tuk tuk driver to pick me up and take me to the airport.
I used the booking.com app to find hostels and homestays as I went. I hadn't planned my trip from home and I wanted the freedom to stay another day if I liked it or leave if I didn't. That why I used the app. At the airport I bought a cheap sim-card with data (like $10 or something) for this purpose. I tried booking a day or two in advance to find the cheapest places, however, it was pretty easy to find hostels that were available.
I chose to use the app because I was told that if you ask the locals about the best places to stay, they'll refer you to their own or a friend's place, which is probably neither the cheapest or the best.
Here's where I stayed and the costs:
Kandy: Impala City Hostel - $10 (65DKK)
Right in the centre of the city. Pretty safe I would say. They lock the front door at night and they have a rooftop bar upstairs. The showers and toilets are pretty decent - you can't always expect hot water but that's common in Kandy. I stayed at a female dorm room, which was nice and they had lockers for our backpacks.
Adam's Peak: Sithbrothers, Dalhousie - $18 (108DKK)
If you're going to climb Adam's Peak you'll need a base for the night. However, you're not really going to be there for very long since you'll only sleep until 2am. The locals know that it's a popular climb which is why they can charge more than most other places. The room was actually $32, however, I shared it with a friend and it could actually fit three people. The place was nice. They had mosquito net, free tea and was located right at the foot of the mountain.
Ella: Tree Cool Resort - $14 (92DKK)
Ella is famous tourist town, however, Tree Cool Resort is not very expensive for a private room. It's a pretty quiet homestay right next to the train station and only 500 m from Ella. It's a bit hidden, since you'll have to go across the train tracks from the station to get there. But the owners are nice, they serve free tea and they'll do your laundry for a few bucks.
Mirissa: MY Hostels - $9 (60DKK)
The owner was really nice and loves to talk! He and his crew are super helpful if you need anything. I stayed at a 8-bed dorm room, which was actually o.k. It wasn't noisy and people were respectful. The showers are good, they had mosquito nets, lockers and there's a fan in ceiling (that's important because the South is pretty hot).
Tangalle: Home Fell Homestay - $10 (65DKK)
A sweet family owns this homestay. I had a nice private room with hot shower and free breakfast, which was nice. They make a pretty good Sri Lankan breakfast!
Unawatuna: Singha Lounge - $10 (65DKK)
I shared the dorm with 4 other girls. The owner is a young Westerner and her Sri Lankan husband. They are really nice and helpful and loves to do social things with their guests. They ordered pizza for all of us one day. It's right in the centre of Unawatuna and the city has lots to offer. There's shops and food every where you go!
Hikkaduwa: Chami's Place - $13 (85DKK)
Chami's place is a really cool hostel. I shared a dorm with two other people, but the rooms were huge! The breakfast was included and you could choose between a Continental or a Sri Lankan breakfast. I recommend Sri Lankan. I LOVE the rotti and the dhal!
Negombo: King Fish Guesthouse - $10 (65DKK)
Negombo is a quiet town, but that makes it a bit cheaper to get a nice private room. This Guesthouse was nice and safe. They had locks on the doors and the only way to get into the building is if they open it for you.
Also read about traveling Sri Lanka on a budget here.
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