So our trip around Sri Lanka is done! What an amazing four weeks!
Before we left to explore the sunnier side of the world, I wrote a post (here) about what I’d like to see and do whilst in Sri Lanka but unfortunately like any traveller knows, plans can change at the very last minute for reasons outside of your control. A few changes along the way meant we didn’t quite get to do everything I had hoped to however I the route I had planned worked perfectly for the time we were there. So here it is, our 4-week route around Sri Lanka!
Day 1 – 3: Mount Lavinia/ Colombo
We arrived in Sri Lanka very early in the morning so staying in Mount Lavinia, a few kilometres south of the capital city Colombo made sense to us as we didn’t want to be thrown in at the deep end and head straight into the hustle and bustle of a major city so instead opted for the beachside town of Mount Lavinia. We arranged an airport transfer with our hotel which cost us USD$35/£27 which I understand is similar to the prices given by the taxi firms at the airport. There are also buses travelling from the airport to Colombo bus station which is how we returned to the airport at the end of the trip. An air conditioned mini bus which fits as many people as the driver deems possible (their idea of possibility being much greater than ours) cost us 200LKR/ £1 each on the way back to the airport. A much more traveller budget friendly option.
You can read about our time in Mount Lavinia and Colombo here!
Day 3 – 7: Dambulla
To get to Dambulla, we firstly had to get the train to Kandy. The trains in Sri Lanka are extremely cheap to ride and I would suggest using the railway system as much as you can. Although sometimes slower, the journey is much more comfortable than using the buses. Something we learnt very quickly! From Kandy you can get a bus to Dambulla. Now, the buses are not for the faint-hearted. They are cramped, noisy and they go very fast, over taking traffic on busy roads and blind corners. But, they are fun, you get to mix with the locals and they get you from A to B a lot quicker than the trains (see previous point about going very fast!)
Dambulla is a great hub for the sights within The Cultural Triangle. We spent 4 nights there as we bagged ourselves a hotel with a pool so had some downtime as well as visiting Sigiriya and Kadulla Conservation Park however depending on what you want to get out of your trip and how you want to go about it i.e. do all three ancient cities a day after each other, then you may need less time however if you’re like us and enjoy some chill time, 4 nights is ideal!
You can read about our hikes up Pidurangala and Sigiriya here!
Day 7 – 9: Kandy
Heading back to Kandy, we hopped back on the bus. As far as I’m aware, this is the only way to travel out of Dambulla using public transport as there is no train station.
Two days in Kandy is more than enough, there isn’t much to do in the city other than The Temple of The Tooth and The Botanical Gardens. We used it as a stop-over place, similar to many travellers, so that we could catch the train to Ella.
You can read about our time in Kandy here!
Day 9 – 14: Ella
The plan was to take the scenic route and travel to Ella via train to enjoy “one of the most beautiful train journey’s in the world”. Sri Lanka Railways had other ideas. An unplanned strike was announced on the day we were planning to head to Ella, with no word on when the strike may end, we decided that two bus journey’s were a better idea than staying in Kandy as we felt we’d maxed out the city in the two days we’d been there. I would not recommend getting the bus if the train is available. The journey was over six hours long, which is the same journey time as the train however, from what I’ve been told by people who were lucky enough to ride the train, that it is totally worth it. I can’t say the same for buses!
We spent 7 days in Ella which was perfect for us as we had plenty of time to travel around the rest of Sri Lanka however it can be done in a much shorter time with a trip to Newark Eliya which unfortunately we didn’t get around to doing! (tiny regret of the trip!).
See what we got up to in Ella here!
Day 14 – 18: Mirissa
After plenty of debate on whether to go and visit Arugam Bay or not, we decided against it due to the surfing season ending on the east coast. We instead headed south to Mirissa to start our seaside journey back up to Colombo. After our various bus journeys and the increasing temperature, we treated ourselves to a private taxi from Ella to Mirissa instead of attempting to endure another 6-hour bus ride. The taxi cost us 11,000LKR/~£50 which isn’t particularly travel budget friendly but we’d been good with our money and it was 100% worth it. The journey took around 3 hours, half of what it would have taken us on a bus. So if you’re willing to spend a little money for a bit of luxury, a private taxi is the best way to travel. There are plenty of drivers located along the main street of Ella, all offering the same fixed fee to the south coast so the chances of you being ripped off are low here.
Day 18 – 24: Unawatuna
Once at the south coast, it is very easy to get around. The road basically follows the sea. To get to Unawatuna, we got one of our beloved buses which took around 40 minutes. You can jump on any bus that is heading towards Galle but be sure to make the ticket man aware that Unawatuna is your destination as it’s not very clear when you arrive in a place in Sri Lanka!
Day 24 – 28: Hikkaduwa
Our final stop on our Sri Lankan adventure was Hikkaduwa, another seaside town but on the west coast and closer to Colombo. From Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa is around 40 minutes away in a tuk-tuk which is how we chose to travel however it is also possible to reach by a bus heading to Colombo.
You can read about what we got up to along the coast here!
Overall, Sri Lanka is a relatively easy country to travel around. It is small but the landscape differs greatly from the coast to the mountainous areas in the central provinces which means public transport can be quite slow. If able and willing, the best way to travel is by bus and train. It allows you to interact with the locals and see parts of Sri Lanka that holidaymakers may not (the best bits in my opinion!). We had so much fun travelling around Sri Lanka, meeting the people and experiencing the culture, I would recommend it to anyone who fancies going slightly off the beaten track when travelling to India or South East Asia.