Sri Lanka is an incredible island, packed full of everything from paradise beaches to mountain tea plantations that stretch as far as the eye can see, fascinating Buddhist ceremonies to bustling, colourful cities, and of course – mouthwatering food!
Being an island, it’s easy to get around and see a good chunk of what the country has to offer in just two weeks, but it easily has enough things to see and do for a four week trip that leaves you planning your next visit. We’re lucky enough to be in Sri Lanka for four weeks and thought we’d share our itinerary and what we’ve discovered over a few blogs.
Stop 1 – Hikkaduwa
Spend – Having just completed six months of travelling, we were desperate for a week somewhere relaxing, so booked a week in Hikkaduwa. It was perfect for our needs, an easy first stop in Sri Lanka where we could both relax by the pool and get to know local life at the same time. We loved it, especially because of our lovely hotel (see more detail below). However, if you’re not getting to Sri Lanka frazzled and desperately in need of doing some laundry and spending more than one night in the same bed, we’d recommend just one or two nights. It doesn’t have the best beach and everything tended to be a little more expensive there.
Getting there – As part of our ‘We need to lie down by a pool before we fall down’ week, we booked a taxi through our hotel from Colombo Airport for about 10,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (£50). Having now spent some time in Sri Lanka, it’s clear that that was a rip off but it was worth it for the easy arrival. Sri Lanka has seen a huge influx of tourism lately and we’ve both been surprised by how much ‘tourist prices’ versus ‘local prices’ are inflated. We always expect to have to pay a little more, but often you’ll be quoted 5-8 times the local price! It’s something you can deal with better once you’ve spent a few days in the country getting to know the right price of things and we rarely feel like we’re being totally conned now. It should definitely not put you off, but do your research before you go so you have a good stand-point to negotiate from.
You can get a regular tourist bus from Colombo Airport or a train from Colombo City for just a couple of pounds if you’re up for throwing yourself right into Sri Lanka straight away. Or a good ‘tourist price’ for a pre-booked taxi from Colombo Airport should be more like 6,000-7,000 SLR.
Stay – We stayed at the Refresh Hotel, which was about 4,000 SLR a night (about £20) for a room bigger than our old flat in its entirety. They have really nice staff and are a two minute walk to the beach. They have a gorgeous pool on the roof and great air con, two essentials for a week of relaxing! The one disadvantage is that the train line goes right past the hotel and is incredibly noisy whenever there’s a train, but they’re only once every hour or so and quite fun to watch.
Eat – The Refresh restaurant (across the road from the hotel) sells some of the best Sri Lankan rice and curry you’ll find on the South Coast, although it’s pretty over priced.
Tree Tops Restaurant sold a really great breakfast for 690 SLR per person (about £3.45), including eggs however you like them, a fruit plate, toast and jam and coffee and tea. They’ll also happily make you a gorgeous lentil dhal and rice for about 300 SLR.
If you’ve been travelling for a while and are desperate for a great pizza or pasta dish, Sea View Pizza House were great. Really welcoming and their chef claims he was trained in Milan. I’m not sure how true that is but the food was delicious.
As Hikkaduwa is a very touristy stop, there weren’t many places offering traditional Sri Lankan breakfasts and street food, but don’t worry, there’s plenty coming up!
Do – We have to admit, we were pretty lazy and mainly spent our time by the pool, on the beach or eating! We avoided the Turtle Hatchery that many tuk tuk drivers touted. We heard too many bad stories about the way they keep the turtles and how they let tourists pick them up and play with the new babies! The Tsunami Museum is good and the Sunday market near the train station is meant to be a fun and rare glimpse into actual local life in Hikkaduwa.
Stop 2 – Galle
Spend – One night if you’re staying within the fort walls is enough. We got the train early from Hikkaduwa to Galle, spent the full day and the night, got up early for a final wander round and then got a tuk tuk mid-morning to Unawatuna.
Getting there – There’s an easy train from Hikkaduwa once an hour or so, you don’t need to buy tickets in advance just turn up half an hour early. It costs about 80 SLR each, 40p per person.
Stay – Thenu’s Rest is a really nice guesthouse within the fort, without costing a fortune. Our room was about 4,000 SLR for the night (£20) with air con and breakfast. Ask for the Sri Lankan breakfast and you will leave the guesthouse barely able to move as you’ve stuffed so much gorgeous food in your face!
Eat – Galle, again, is pretty pricey for food as it’s touristy (don’t worry, there are cheap places later in the itinerary!) However, there are plenty of nice roti shops if you know how to look for them. Roti is a kind of stuffed and folded flat bread that’s normally made right in front of your eyes, so you can see that it’s fresh. If you head down the side street by the mosque, you’ll find a lovely little shop that also sells chai. We got ours to takeaway and watched the sunset from the fort walls.
Rocket Burger was also good if you’ve been travelling for a while and want something that tastes like home. Or do as we did and go for their spicy veggie masala burger!
Do – The fort is Galle’s main attraction, built by the Dutch and then the English in colonial times. We did a kind of do-it-yourself walking tour of the main sights and then sat on the old fort wall to watch a local game of cricket and locals flying kites. This was without a doubt one of my favourite things we’ve done in Sri Lanka so far, so try and go to Galle at the weekend if you can when you’re more likely to see these activities.
Stop 3 – Unawatuna
Spend – We spent two nights here, which was a good amount of time to enjoy the beach and visit the local sights. Many people visit Unawatuna for a week or so’s holiday but we’d recommend Mirissa if that’s what you’re looking for.
Getting there -We took a twenty minute tuk tuk ride from our hotel in Galle to our hotel in Unawatuna. It cost 500 SLR (about £2.50), although we probably could have got it down to about 400 SLR.
Stay – We stayed at the Peacock Hotel for about 4,000 SLR a night (£20), including air con and breakfast. It was the cheapest on the main stretch of beach and we had a lovely room with a gorgeous sea view and the sounds of the waves to lull us to sleep. It felt like the hotel is under new management as they were so lovely and couldn’t do enough for us but if you scroll back on Trip Adviser by a couple of months, they used to get pretty bad reviews. We loved it there and think it’s a great budget option if you want to be on the beach. The food from the hotel restaurant wasn’t great but there are plenty of other options around.
Eat – In Unawatuna, we discovered the most magical thing… Sri Lankan all-you-can-eat vegetarian rice and curry buffets. It was such an awesome discovery that I honestly could have cried! We’ve seen them on pretty much every single stop since, so they’re definitely worth looking out for. For between 250 and 350 SLR per person (£1.25-1.75), you can help yourself to about 10 different curry and rice dishes from local clay pots with candles underneath keeping the food warm. Avoid the hotel versions, where they’ll charge you upwards of £8 a go for a boring array of curries that have been adjusted to Western palates. If the buffet isn’t in a tiny wooden hut or what looks like someone’s garden, you’re not getting the authentic experience! Our favourite so far has been Mati Gedara in Unawatuna.
Do – Hike through the jungle to Jungle Beach (if you ask your hotel, they’ll tell you to get a tuk tuk, but we walked there in about 45 minutes). You do need to be careful as you may encounter a snake, but the hike felt like part of the adventure. There are two beaches claiming to be ‘Jungle Beach’ right next door to each other. If you find the one full of hotel beach loungers and are disappointed, head to our favourite a few hundred metres down the coast. It was quiet and only had the one juice stall on the entire thing. Paradise!
Visit the Buddhist Pagoda near Jungle Beach and the temple at the end of Unawatuna Beach, both nice and peaceful and a bit of a contrast to the restaurants and bars in Unawatuna town.
Stop 4 – Mirissa
Spend – We spent 1 night in Mirissa but were very, very tempted to spend more. We loved it here and it was definitely our favourite beach of the trip so far. If you want to spend a few nights relaxing on a trip to Sri Lanka, this would be our recommendation. Gorgeous, unspoilt waters and beach, just the right number of bars along the seafront without it being too built up, and the waves were PERFECT.
Getting there – We got a tuk tuk from Unwatuna to Mirissa. It took about an hour and cost 1,200 SLR (£6). There are buses if you’re on a really tight budget but when you’ve got two of you travelling with big bags, the £6 was worth it.
Stay – We stayed at the Ever Green Guesthouse for £15 a night without air con but with a fan. It was down a slightly dodgy path filled with rubbish from the nearby roti shop but once you crossed the bridge over to the guesthouse and its gardens, it’s heaven! Their garden is filled with monitor lizards, all kinds of birds, turtles and MONKEYS! We could watch them swinging through the trees within a couple of metres of our window.
Eat – Just past the Hangover Hostel (actual name), you’ll find a great roti shop with a vegetarian buffet just behind it. Both great, cheap options. The buffet is 250 SLR (£1.25 each). All of the bars on the beach have pretty good happy hours from about 4pm to 9pm, with competition keeping prices down. Most drinks will be 300 SLR each (£1.50) during these times. If you’re looking for reeeally cheap drinks, Sri Lanka is not the right place. The government are trying to reduce the amount both locals and tourists drink by driving prices up. £1.50 for a cocktail or beer is definitely the cheapest we’ve seen so far.
Do – You can take surf lessons in nearby Weligama but we loved body boarding in Mirissa so much, we didn’t feel the need. All of the bars on the beach will hire a body board to you for 300 SLR an hour (£1.50) and the waves are some of the most fun we’ve ever seen. Definitely a highlight of our trip!
You can also take whale or dolphin watching cruises but unless it’s the right season these aren’t worth it and you’re unlikely to spot anything.
See all our photos from our first few days in Sri Lanka here: