It maybe small, but Sri Lanka has no limits as to what it has to offer. A country with a tumultuous history and rich heritage, Sri Lanka is a rewarding travel experience unlike anything else we have experienced in Asia.
Cameron and I had originally planned to spend one month travelling through Sri Lanka, budgeting our trip at around £1200 each including flights. We ended up cutting our trip down to two weeks as Sri Lanka proved to be more expensive than planned (but still incredibly cheap). Sri Lanka is no Thailand; sights and attractions cost similar to those in the UK and whilst accommodation and food was incredibly cheap, overall we just couldn’t sustain a month in Sri Lanka on our relatively small budget. Flights cost us £335 each, which we booked through Skyscanner, with the cheapest and most reliable option being Qatar Airways. We chose to go in July, which happens to be at the height of ‘low season’ when travel is cheap but the weather can be unreliable.
Below is our full itinerary including information on how we travelled between every stop.
Negombo – Colombo – Galle – Mirissa – Uda Walawe – Ella – Nuwara Eliya – Kandy – Colombo – Negombo
Day 1 – Colombo
We arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport in Negombo at around 10am. Bandaranaike Airport is incredibly small, especially considering that its the primary airport of Sri Lanka. When leaving the airport, Cameron and I noticed that ‘duty free’ shops selling alcohol and bars of toblerone are not a common feature here. In fact much to our amusement and confusion, rows and rows of white goods and electrical appliances were on display for purchase at the exit of the airport.
Negombo is a one hour minute drive away from Colombo, so we took one of the local buses that waits outside the front of the airport to get into Colombo City Centre. The bus cost 80 Sri Lankan Rupees (approx 40p) each, which makes it a far cheaper option than a taxi and useful if you are travelling on a budget. The bus takes you directly to a market in the middle of Colombo where it is easy to hail a tuk-tuk.
We decided to stay in Colombo for only one night. We personally found Colombo to be lacking in things to do and see, only using the city as a quick base to get some rest before travelling through the rest of the country.
Day 2/3 – Galle
From Colombo we headed straight to Galle, a small port town on the south coast of Sri Lanka. The town is famous for its Portuguese colonial style architecture and charming atmosphere. Most people only travel to Galle as a day trip from Colombo, but we were on route that way anyway so decided to make the most of it and spend a couple of nights there.
We travelled to Galle by train from Colombo. Train journeys are notoriously beautiful in Sri Lanka, especially within the hill country, and the train to Galle was no exception. The journey takes a little over three hours with the train running parallel to ocean throughout. We caught the train from Colombo Fort Station at around 6:30am, having prebooked a first class ticket the afternoon before just to guarantee a seat, but you can pay on the day. We paid 800 Rupees (just under £4.00) each for our tickets. Our train was actually due to leave the station at 6:55am but left 25 minutes early.
When arriving at Galle at around 10:00am, we was immediately greeted by a very enthusiastic tuk-tuk driver wanting to take us to our hotel. I had already mapped out the directions in my guidebook and so I let the driver know there would be no need as it was only a 15 minute walk away. He then proceeded to try and direct us in the wrong direction on purpose. Obviously this is no indication of what all tuk-tuk drivers are like but its still something to be wary of.
Day 4/5/6/7 – Mirissa
Mirissa, a small and laid-back little beach town just 25 miles south of Galle, was our next destination. To get to Mirissa we took a 50 minute train from Galle station at 9:35am. We paid for a 2nd class ticket which cost 80 Rupees (around 40p) each. After arriving at the train station in Mirissa, there is the option to either walk or catch a tuk-tuk into Mirissa town, as the station is 4 and a half kilometres away from the main stretch of Mirissa. We originally planned to walk but the weather proved too hot, so we paid 300 Rupees(£1.40) for a tuk-tuk instead.
We chose to spend four nights in Mirissa, and although Mirissa isn’t exactly a hub of activity, we found that relaxed nature of the little seaside town was well worth the four nights spent there. If beaches aren’t your thing, then shorten the stay or move on altogether and go straight to Uda Walawe National Park.
Day 8 – Uda Walawe
Uda Walawe is viewed by many (and Lonely Planet!), as one of the world’s best places to see elephants in the wild and is the third most visited wildlife park in Sri Lanka. One of the things I was most looking forward to when travelling through Sri Lanka was seeing wild elephants and so it seemed apt to add Uda Walawe into our itinerary. The safari only takes around 3 hours to complete, and other than for the safari, Uda Walawe is a fairly small village with no other sights to offer so we decided to stay just the one night.
Travelling through Sri Lanka had proven fairly straightforward up to now, with cheap trains being our main mode of transport. But Uda Walawe is a little more tough to get to, especially when travelling from Mirissa. Firstly we took a 30 minute bus ride from the main road on Mirissa to a bustling town called Matara, which cost us 50 rupees each. From Matara bus station we took a second bus to Embilipitiya. This particular part of the journey was not so pleasant, being very overcrowded and very hot for over two hours. This cost us 128 Rupees each. Interestingly enough this bus, like many other Sri Lankan buses, was kitted out with a very strange Captain America/Spiderman hybrid ceiling and chair design. I am not sure as to why the choice of design but it made the journey all the more fascinating.
From Embilipitiya we took our third and final bus to Uda Walawe, which cost 50 Rupees each. This bus dropped us off in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, forcing us to pay for an over priced tuk-tuk to our hotel.
Day 9/10/11 – Ella
From Uda Walawe we moved north to Ella, an incredibly beautiful and refreshingly cool village nestled high in the Sri Lankan hilltops. Whilst researching for our itinerary we read nothing but praise for this quaint little tourist town and it didn’t disappoint. We decided it best to stay in Ella for three nights, giving us enough time to explore and relax.
To get to Ella from Uda Walawe it takes three buses. We caught the first bus along the main stretch at Mirissa, just after a small bridge and just before the very recognisable Grand Hotel. This bus goes straight to a town called Tanamalwia and cost us 69 Rupees each. The journey was very overcrowded, and resulted in us being left to stand up for the majority of the 45 minute journey. The second bus we took was from Tanamalwia to Monaragala but we actually needed to get off at a town called Wellawaya about an hour into the journey. From here we took our final journey to Ella. This was wonderfully easy 45 minute journey through the lush green hills of the high country. Costing only 64 Rupees, this part of the trip was worth it just for the views alone.
Day 12 – Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is known by many as “Little England” due to its apparent uncanny resemblance to the English countryside, and credit to were all credit is due; it is cold in Nuwara Eliya. We were a little rushed at this point of the journey so we only stayed for one night but an extra night would have been ideal.
The journey to Nuwara Eliya was perhaps one of my highlights of Sri Lanka. To get there from Ella, there is a direct albeit slow train direct from Ella station. This particular train journey is viewed by many as “the most beautiful train journey in the world”. We paid around 250 Rupees each for 3rd class ticket (just over £1.00!), whilst the journey took around 3 hours .
Day 13/14/15 – Kandy
Our last destination in Sri Lanka before we headed back to Colombo for our flight to Thailand was the historical city of Kandy. Kandy is perhaps one of Sri Lanka’s most important cultural sites, home to the incredibly sacred tooth of Buddha. We stayed in Kandy for three nights, but if you have a larger budget it would be easy to spend more time there.
Getting to Kandy is an easy yet long journey of just under three hours from Nuwara Eliya and costing the equivalent of a couple of pounds for 2nd class. Just like the journey to Nuwara Eliya from Ella, the journey to Kandy is an extremely beautiful and scenic one.
Sri Lanka is an undeniably diverse and beautiful country .If given a larger budget and more time, myself and Cameron would have ideally liked to have visited Jaffna, Pollonaruwa, Sigiriya and Anuradhapura. What I would recommend to anyone who would love to go to Sri Lanka is to budget well and take your time to fully explore the wonderfully varied island as it really does have so much to offer. If you are on a backpacking budget plan wisely, it may require you to pick and choose between sites in order to keep costs low but on the plus side transport is cheap and easy, if not a little slow.