Are you looking for a Sri Lanka itinerary? Here I show you the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. Resorts to tourist attractions this Sri Lanka guide will show you the best way to explore the country whether you’re in Sri Lanka for 10 days or 4 weeks I cover the top hotels in Sri Lanka. From boutique hotels to beach resorts, find your best way to explore Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka is currently experiencing a huge boom in tourism, with most of this a result of the ever-expanding app Instagram. With this comes a whole new generation of people seeking to experience the country and leave with not only great memories but the photos to match.
This Insta guide to Sri Lanka will let you follow the trail of my month-long journey through Sri Lanka. where I explored all the popular destinations as well as a few unknown ones.
If you’re looking to travel to Sri Lanka please make sure to offset the carbon released from your flight. Per person, the average person emits 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per return on a transatlantic flight. You can do this directly by clicking here.
For my particular journey I was in Sri Lanka from Mid March to Mid April and experienced their best weather season for travel, however, if you cannot travel during this period I would check here to find the best suitable time for you.
As it is with all international flights into the country, the majority of people start their journey through Sri Lanka at Bandaranaike International airport (CMB). What most people don’t know at first is that the airport is actually closer to Negombo and that’s where we can begin our journey.
Negombo, Sri Lanka
What to See In Negombo
Generally, we used Negombo mostly as a recovery spot, both before beginning our travels around the country and before we flew back home, just as a great place to catch up on work and well-needed rest.
One of the great things about the evenings in Negombo was the calm that instilled as the sun began to set. As the sky lights up with orange you can view the rustic Sri Lanka Fishing Boats either sailing the sea in the distant horizon or coming to dock for the night on the beach.
It’s a great area to have a beach break with the family, with the strip filled with large beach resorts, family-friendly restaurants and shops.
Where To Stay In Negombo
A Great little beachfront budget-friendly hotel located further down the Negombo Strip. The staff are friendly and provide a great service. The hotel has a small patio with a cool beach-shack type bar with a little pool, which extends out down to the beach. We even got a beachfront balcony view which was great! The only downside was during our visit they were still completing some renovation works.
More on the luxury end of the Jetwing properties located in Negombo. With Jetwing Blue you find yourself front and centre with where you want to be in Negombo, aside from the large buffet-style restaurant already present in the hotel, it is surrounded by shops, restaurants and cafes giving you the perfect choice of a variety of foods.
The rooms at Jetwing Blue are huge and with only two of us, it felt like we had our own little apartment. Not only was the interior decor on point with the blue tiles and white walls the hotel bodes a huge pool area which even includes pool swings.
As a major bonus, Jetwing Blue featured in my Environmental Conservation post, getting a mention regarding its sustainable use of water waste.
Although Uber and similar apps are legal in Sri Lanka, In areas likes Negombo local taxi drivers can be particularly aggressive if you are spotted ordering on or even getting into one, as we experienced. We had our Uber driver threatened while our bags were thrown out of our car.
As a precaution, I would recommend ensuring you have a local sim (if you are staying for an extended period of time) so your driver can converse with you over the phone. If asked by a local taxi driver if you need a ride or whom you are waiting for, say “a friend” is coming to pick you up.
This is the only area where the Uber/app service ran (outside of Colombo) where we had issues.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
What To See In Colombo
Rooftops and Skyline
The skyline was definitely a surprise factor when arriving in Colombo, it’s surprisingly diverse and had a Hong Kong vibe about it. The best ways to really make the most of your time in the city centre is to get yourself to a rooftop bar. The great thing about it is if you pick the right place to stay it’s pretty much right on your doorstep like we had at both the Movenpick and Jetwing Colombo Seven.
National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of natural history, definitely a mouthful to say and something I mixed up every time when trying to remember its name. It’s the largest museum in Sri Lanka and one thing you cannot forget about this place is its stunning beauty. The building has an old 18th-century charm about it and is the perfect spot to brush up on a little bit of natural history and grab a few amazing snaps.
One place I wanted to visit but missed the opportunity to go to was the Red Mosque (Red Masjid). It surprised me that I was unaware before travelling to Sri Lanka to learn that nearly 10% of their population was Muslim. I guess we should count ourselves lucky that they’re there as if not we would miss out on beautiful structures like the red mosque in Colombo.
Where To Stay In Colombo
Marketed as a business hotel the Movenpick Colombo is definitely selling itself short as it will appeal to business goers and vacationers alike. From entry into the hotel, your hospitality experience is nothing but the best with friendly staff wanting to make your stay and comfortable and enjoyable as possible with continuous smiles on their faces.
Their rooms are really spacious, with a room for two easily being able to support a family of 4. After a long journey travelling their comfy beds feel like clouds you never want to leave, although you don’t have to go too far to find more comforts in the room. Their large and powerful showers almost feel like a free daily massage 50-foot up in the air as you look out onto the city and ocean.
Outside of the room, the level of luxury does not end with a rooftop bar boasting the best selection of drinks, a jacuzzi and an infinity pool that is open till late, giving you the perfect opportunity for that sunset swim, followed by evening drinks.
Another great benefit is its ideal location right next to a shopping complex, giving you the opportunity to pick up any last minute items before your travels continue.
Located on a different side of Colombo the Jetwing Seven gives you a different experience of the city and as a hotel.
The interior decor of the hotel from the lobby to the rooms is filled with an intricate design of different materials forming sculptures representing different Sri Lankan elements. From waves to tropical trees, I found this to be a really nice touch making a large hotel feel more boutique.
Jetwing Colombo Seven boasts a twist on the classic structure of the hotel room. They really use light to their advantage with a large screened bathroom letting light flood in from the large bay windows offering 180-degree cityscape views.
There are a lot of similar elements seen with the hotels in Colombo with most hosting great rooftop pools and bars. Jetwing Colombo Seven is no exception to that rule with beautiful greenside city views and an indoor/outdoor bar which has A/C (unlike many others). Their square pool staircase works amazingly for the Instagram aesthetic.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
How To Get To Kandy
Getting to Kandy is both easy and difficult from Colombo by train. The easiest place to grab a train to Kandy from is Colombo Fort station, which is really easy to get to from the city with the availability of Uber and Taxis. Train tickets are easily picked up at the ticket counter, you just have to tell the attendant where you would like to travel too. Second Class tickets cost around 200 Sri Lankan Rupees (£1.50/$2) for a journey time of around 2.5 hours.
Now, this is the confusing bit. The trains never come on time, they are either really early or very late, alongside this, the platforms change constantly so you have to be really vigilant on what train is going where and on what platform. Unfortunately, at the time we did not know this so ended up missing our train, even though we were standing right in front of it completely unaware. A tip for this would be, aim to get morning trains, as if you miss them you still have the opportunity to grab the afternoon or evening train, rather then losing the whole day.
I use the website and App Rome2Rio as a great way to determine how to get between locations. The following is an example link which will show you the multiple ways you can get to Kandy from Colombo Fort station.
What To See In Kandy
Kandy, Sri Lanka is home to some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. The great thing is that you don’t even have to travel that far to see them all.
We started off in the Botanical Gardens then made our way into Kandy Town.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya
Around 5km away from Kandy Town, the botanical gardens are home to more than 4000 species of plants, including orchids, spices, medicinal plants and palm trees. Nearly 2 million people a year visit these beautiful gardens that span 147 acres.
The beautiful greenery from palm trees to surprisingly timid monkeys
The largest central city in Sri Lanka, Kandy was home to the ancient kings and is now filled with beautiful colonial architecture. Around the town, you can find amazing structures such as the Queens Hotel (seen above) to take photos of. Not only is it a great spot for photos but filled with various activities from boat rides along the river, exploring the temple of the golden tooth to shopping at their newly built centre with an amazing food
Temple Of The Golden Tooth
Sri Dalada Maligawa is a beautiful Buddhist temple in the centre of Kandy town. Located right next to the old royal complex it is said to house the relic that is the tooth of the Buddha. The temple is now a world heritage site and a location of annual pilgrimage for many Buddhists.
The temple is filled with beautiful paintings and ornate carvings throughout its grounds. Although paid entry is required it is well worth the visit.
Where To Stay In Kandy
Theva Residency, Kandy
Located in the foothills of Kandy, Theva Residency boasts a collection of loft and lodge style luxury rooms with an in-room jacuzzi.
The Staff at the hotel are super kind and really helpful, they are more than happy to help organise transportation for you which is key considering this hotel is so isolated, as are the majority of Kandy accommodations. As a key reason to visit and stay is to have a view of the amazing Kandy hills.
Another Key attraction to this hotel is its ‘Infinity’ style swimming pool overlooking the dense Kandy jungle. A perfect spot to get an Iconic Instagram snap of your travels through Sri Lanka.
One downside I found was is the hotel menu was in particular very pricey, understandably they are located in a slightly remote area, however, this makes it difficult for guests as they have to result to paying the highly marked up prices on the available dishes.
Ella, Sri Lanka
How To Get To Ella
The Kandy to Ella train journey is one of the most Iconic and well-known transport routes in Sri Lanka. The unfortunate case is due to this fact, a train ticket for this 7-hour train journey sellout months in advance, for 2nd and 1st class tickets. Although 3rd class standing tickets are available for purchase on the day, you are often left standing for the entirety of the journey and are rammed between dozens of travellers in similar positions. The worse thing about this scenario is you will be unable to see or capture the amazing Sri Lanka landscapes you will pass by on this journey.
A suggestion I would make is to use this website (click here) which showcases to you the timetables of the trains departing from most if not all Sri Lankan train stations. This website also allows you to purchase these tickets (at a marked up price) definitely worth it to secure your seats on this journey.
A far more expensive option (If travelling alone) is to take a Taxi from Kandy to Ella. The reason I suggest it is that in the right situation it can be a great deal! We hired a Taxi for the day as we travelled around Kandy for a small fee and this Taxi driver offered us a great price to drive us down to Ella. This now also gave us the option to stop whenever we wished, as we passed by the same amazing landscapes as seen by train. We even got the opportunity to visit Nuwara Eliya and the tea plantations located in the small town.
You can compare the routes here: Rome2Rio
What To See In Ella
Nine Arch Bridge
A major attraction in Ella is the Nine Arch Bridge,
Public access to the bridge is really easy, you can get Tuk-Tuk drivers to drop you off at the start of the bridge location, however, I would not recommend this. Rather than pay for transport, walk along the tracks to the bridge the earlier the better, this will give you an amazing view on the way to the famous spot and make a fun morning journey. I warn you to be careful as I mentioned earlier these are live train tracks, with some parts of the path leaving little room between you and the train.
Mini Adams Peak
Named after its big brother Adams Peak located in Sabaragamuwa, Mini Adams Peak is a smaller hike that bodes beautiful ‘Hawaii’ like views. Although a hike is involved to reach the peak, the majority of the route is paved or has stairs making its perfect for those novice and intermediate hikers.
Sri Lanka is not known for its waterfalls, so don’t go there expecting to see Bali-Like waterfalls. Saying this, however, there are a few that are worth a passing visit and one of those is Ravana Falls located just outside of Ella on the side of the main road.
Where To Stay In Ella
Whilst we were in Ella we stayed at a family run guest house, located not far from Ella town. I would recommend staying in a guest house (or a hostel) rather than a hotel in this area, as the prices for hotels are extremely marked up depending on the season and you will have a much better experience and save a bit of money staying in a guest house.
Udawalawe, Sri Lanka
How To Get To Udawalawe
Usually depending on what your schedule is like and how much time you have Udawalawe can be used as a passing visit, or a stop.
The best way I recommend getting to Udawalawe whether it is a passing visit or a long stay is via Taxi or organised car transport. The reasoning behind this as especially if you are travelling in a generally southward direction many ‘transport’ drivers will generally offer you a good deal with driving you all the way down from e.g. Ella to Kabalana. This will sometimes depend on how many days you plan on staying in Udawalawe, as drivers will stay nearby for a night to then continue driving you down to the south coast.
You can best establish your route here: Rome2Rio:
What To See In Udawalawe
Open since 1972 it is home to 225 Elephants along with Leopards, Water Buffalos, Boars and a large variety of bird species both native and migratory. There are also 100 to 215 flora species native to the park.
It is a popular site in Sri Lanka to see elephants in their natural habitat, a perfect way to get up and close to the animals living freely.
I even wrote further about my experience at the park here.
Where To Stay In Udawalawe
Mentioned previously in my Environmental and Animal Conservation in Sri Lanka Post, Master Campers Lanka is the perfect way to experience the Udawalawe National Park.
Located in the heart of the park and not far from the safari entrance gates Master Campers Lanka bodes an all-inclusive campsite with 7 luxury style tents, hosting 2-3 people per night.
Not only does the all-inclusive board setting provide you with gourmet meals, soft drinks and alcohol throughout the day Master Campers Lanka provides you with their own private jeep and personal guide trained to help you see the most animals on your safari.
The whole ambience of the campsite screams idyllic getaway, from waking up to the soft sunlight and the sound of chirping birds to the evening dinners by candlelight under the Milkyway. The campsite gives you the chance to escape from reality with no wifi and the opportunity to relax in natural surroundings.
While some tents do come with A/C that is not the case for all, during peak season temperatures in the national park can hit 33 degrees
Kabalana, Sri Lanka
How To Get To Kabalana
As mentioned earlier with how to get to Udawalawe, getting to Kabalana is dependent on your direction of travel. We were travelling southward from Ella so had organised a set of transport that took us from Ella to Udawalawe then from Udawalawe to Kabalana along the south coast of Sri Lanka.
Taxi or Car transport isn’t the cheapest but is by far the easiest mode of transport especially when there are large parties travelling long distances. A typical Taxi ride from Udawalawe to Kabalana can cost around 6,500 Rupees (£30/$40) which is split between 2+ people can get to an affordable range.
You can best establish your route here: Rome2Rio
Once in Kabalana, the best way to get around would be to hire a moped. If you are able to ride one they can come really cheap to rent and fuel prices are also very low in Sri Lanka. Mopeds will definitely come in hand for what will be best explained below.
What To See In Kabalana
Kabalana is one of the best locations to stay in along the south
The Mirissa and Weligama beach fronts are covered in restaurants, bars and surf shacks making them a great place to learn to surf, chill and have a night out! These two areas are particular hotspots for the younger generation of travellers. We chose to visit as we wanted to do a bit an of surfing. I had previously attempted surfing in Bali, however, I found my experience in Sri Lanka a lot easier and more successful.
Kabalana (1 min)
Definitely a costal hotbed for more advanced surfers, Kabalana bodes more natural beachfront unaffected by the surge of restaurants and bars. Apart from one local restaurant, the beach is filled with small wooden ‘decked’ areas which can be used a little hub for when you’re on the beach.
The waves at this particular beach are quite soft and gentle near the shallow shore but become much larger as you head out to sea.
Unawatuna (15 Mins)
One unmissable spot along the south coast is the Famous “Instagram” Swing of Unwatauna (actually located in Dalawella). Not easily accessible for the public as it’s actually located behind a small beach resort, the swing can be a bit of a walk. Also be prepared to pay, the tree is managed by the owners of the resort, I believe it cost around 500-700 rupees per person for a few swings on the tree.
A great spot to get your Insta-Gold shot…just be careful as rope burn and hand pain will follow.
Galle (30 Mins)
This Beautiful 16th-century Dutch fort is a beautiful part of Sri Lanka that makes you almost feel like you’ve walked into another time. The streets are filled with beautiful buildings that have stood the test of time. From the beautiful coastline and lighthouse to the cosy cafe’s and ice cream parlours Galle is an unmissable explosion of colour and blending culture in Sri Lanka.
Where To Stay In Kabalana
Located along the lesser known but more than beautiful Kabalana beachfront you can find the contemporary and minimalistic styles of the Kabalana Hotel by
Hidden away across the main road from the beachfront, down a small and easily accessible path you find the
A small collection of rooms surround the properties main attraction, it’s longline beautiful pool, which for some guests comes up right to their balcony to jump right in.
The rooms themselves are large and spacious, with floods of light that come in through the bay windows that spread across an entire wall. Another Impressive feature was the outdoor bathroom (semi roofed) which added a lovely additional touch to the rooms.
Guests are also invited to a complimentary free breakfast at the Spice Lane located next door to the hotel. Offering a wide range at breakfast and also serves a great variety of fusion dishes which makes for a great evening meal.
Located in the same complex and neighbouring the previous property, Kabalana Hotel. Lime and Co – Kaba, seems like a rustic escape that meets modern living.
You can choose to hire out either one or all of the rooms of this, beautiful classicly styled Sri Lankan Villa.
Fitted with your own private pool, comfy beds and kitchen it’s almost a home away from home.
The complex itself is located in an ideal location for travel along the south coast. Kabalana is located in between popular destinations of Unawatuna and Mirissa.
One downside of this property, however, is there is only a ceiling fan to keep you cool. During peak season the room can become like a Sauna which makes in unbearably uncomfortable to sleep in. So I would recommend only staying here during a shoulder season as well as recommending to the owners to install A/C in these rooms. As I find this to be a necessity with most rooms in Sri Lanka.
Koggola, Sri Lanka
How To Get To Koggola
I previously mentioned how the best way to get around the south coast was to rent a moped. This remains true in most cases, however, when attempting to get to Koggola this might prove more difficult for mopeds carrying more than one passenger because of the steep inclines and slopes involved with many of the roads.
When it comes to the best way to get to Koggola I would recommend (If you already have a moped) for you to hire a Tuk, getting them to drive your bags and any other passengers to your required accommodation and have your moped follow behind, as it will still remain useful for the remainder of your trip.
What To See In Koggola
Where To Stay In Koggola
An image commonly associated with Sri Lanka on Instagram and one of the most iconic Instagram spots of the south coast is actually located in a hotel!
Although just referring to Hotel Tri as the one with “That” pool really does it no justice at all.
Previously a dense cinnamon plantation, Hotel Tri was built on the edge of Koggolla Lake, with minimal landscaping it blends perfectly into its surroundings and is almost unnoticeable from the ground.
With a definite boutique vibe to the hotel, Hotel Tri proudly boasts its low carbon footprint something I find should be an essential amongst hotels and many can learn from the operational values of Hotel Tri.
Having only 11 rooms, with a max capacity of 30 guests you feel as though you’re truly away from the crowds in this idyllic green paradise on the lake. Their innovative use of surrounding nature has given Hotel Tri and unique look and the longest cantilever roof in Sri Lanka.
A great benefit of Hotel Tri’s design is it makes the perfect location to grab unique photos of the Sri Lankan Landscape not many others will get.
Their staff go above and beyond to ensure your experience at the hotel is a great one. Alongside a restaurant that served some of the best food I had in Sri Lanka, Hotel Tri offers a range of experiences from yoga, cooking classes and even a tour of the lake and journey to Cinnamon Island.
Hotel Tri used the slanting tropical landscape onto the lake to their benefit and features rooms built into the ground that almost feel as though you are floating above the water below you. Rooms although are made for 2 people could easily support 4 with their large levelled design. You even get a wide balcony that stretches across the room front giving you the perfect 180-degree views of the lake from sunrise to sunset. Some lucky guest will even get their own private pools attached!
Pottuvil, Sri Lanka
How To Get To Pottuvil
Pottuvil is not often a follow-on destination for those that generally spend time along the south coast, making transport routes from popular areas like Kabalana more difficult than from i.e. Kandy/Dambulla.
Although Pottuvil is accessible by Taxi, this option is not affordable
Where To Stay In Pottuvil
Located on the lesser touristic east coast of Sri Lanka, Pottuvil is a popular surf destination during some parts of the year. Laying name to this particular Jetwing.
Jetwing Surfs beach style cabanas make it stand out amongst the usual beach style properties found in Sri Lanka. Their round hut style rooms with outdoor bathrooms make you feel as though you’ve truly entered a real rustic beach escape.
There are however some downsides, although it is located on a beautiful beachfront, the waves are too intense for the ocean to be enjoyed. The rooms are only fan cooled and the property is prone to multiple short power outages.
Dambulla, Sri Lanka
How To Get To Dambulla
Getting to Dambulla from Pouttuvil is an easy task, as you are now located further up the east coast, the transport routes northward are much more easily accessible… although just as pricey than those going southward.
What To See In Dambulla
An ancient city built by the parricidal King Kassapa I (477–95) in the middle of the jungle, and now a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka, bringing in visitors from all over the world to visit the famous 180m high ‘Lion’s Rock’, which dominates the jungle from all sides.
Sigiriya represents timeless Sri Lankan innovation in the form of fortified moats and lush water gardens with advanced irrigation systems characteristic of their early kingdoms. Sigiriya is an unmissable sight and one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, you feel as though you’ve entered ‘the land before time’.
As beautiful and awe-inspiring Sigiriya ‘Lions Rock’ can be, it’s hard to really take in its full beauty from the ground or even during the climb. Pidurangala rock, located directly opposite Lion’s rock gives you breathtaking 360-degree views of the ancient city. Perfect for the dreamy Instagram shots (as seen above).
Where To Stay In Dambulla
Also mentioned previously in my Environmental and Animal Conservation in Sri Lanka Post. Jetwing Vil Unya bodes distant views of the famous Lions Rock, located only 30 mins away.
Built over barren land, Jetwing transformed the area into a thriving wetland – planting native trees and constructing waterways and lakes, converting the abandoned land into the first luxury wetland resort in Sri Lanka.
This beautiful large estate, hidden away in their jungle-like atmosphere is home to their many villa style properties. Decorated gorgeously with their blend of stone and wooden construction, Jetwing Vil Unya was unlike any other property I’d experienced before. Almost like an alternative Maldivian getaway in the Sri Lankan jungle.
Experiences within the hotel undoubtedly don’t fall short of their remote location. Their luxury rooftop restaurant, allows you to experience first-class dining while the sun sets on your views of the Sigiriya jungle valley. While in the afternoons you can enjoy afternoon tea along the lake front, or a swim in their infinity style pool looking out on the wetlands.
Well, I hope you guys found this article interesting and insightful! Let me know below if you have any thoughts or questions!
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