Are you looking for the best things to do in Sri Lanka? Maybe trying to organise a Sri Lanka itinerary or just looking for a Sri Lanka travel guide? When we were planning our trip, we wished we knew what we know now. So, we spent a lot of time writing notes throughout our Sri Lanka trip so we could bring you this blog post.
Bookmark this post now.
Basically, we’re bringing you the best Sri Lanka holidays guide you’ll find on the internet. Why is it so good? You’ll find absolutely everything you need to know about what to do in Sri Lanka – from what clothes to wear in Sri Lanka, to how much we actually spent and of course the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
We wanted a Sri Lanka holidays because we had only heard amazing things about it. We also wanted to visit Sri Lanka for the hikes, the tea plantations, the tropical landscape, the beaches, the food and of course the people were all highlights which had us excited about exploring this country.
I’m going to show you everything we learnt including the best things to do in Sri Lanka, what we wished we’d done and what we would have done differently.
I’ve also made note of how much we spent to give you an idea of pricing for someone on a budget trip. Sri Lanka accommodation ranged from mid to low end as well as home stays and also some places we wished we stayed in if we planned it a bit better.
Here’s a Sri Lanka map of everything we did which we talk about in more detail in this post.
There are multiple ways to find cheap flights to Sri Lanka. If you’re wondering where is Sri Lanka? It’s located near the South East tip of India.
Sydney to Maldives / Maldives to Sri Lanka
We spent AU$350 on a flight from Sydney to Male in Maldives so we could chill out for a couple of weeks. We actually island hopped around 5 locals islands in Maldives on a backpacker’s budget and it was amazing!
You can get really cheap flights from Maldives to Sri Lanka HERE and we paid around $150 for our flight from Male – Colombo. It’s also a short flight at around 1h30m so we found this route to be perfect.
If you’re not already aware tourism in Sri Lanka has completely exploded. Steve and I met in India and absolutely loved it, and somehow thought it would be similar but a bit more chilled out. You honestly couldn’t compare the two.
The main thing I noticed was there were all types of tourists everywhere, from your parents travelling on their own, or with friends, to teenagers off on their first adventure, to holiday makers on their two week break from work, couples and a few single travellers passing through.
The beach town of Mirissa seemed like all of the young Instagrammers had congregated there to take their best selfies or the Insta husbands to do the job. I think Steve then appreciated me for the odd photo I ask him to take every so often because this was on another level. If you live in Sydney, think of all of the bride & grooms which line the harbour for their photoshoots on a Saturday but put it on Mirissa beach and it would be about right. But if Instagram is your thing then check out this post.
Single Travellers in Sri Lanka
We didn’t see many single travellers because to be honest Sri Lanka was full of couples or friends.
There were a good few hostels dotted around, most notably the Hangover Hostel and plenty in the beach town of Mirissa in Sri Lanka.
That’s not to say single travellers won’t enjoy Sri Lanka, because Sri Lanka is popping up on all sorts of top places to travel lists and is currently being regarded as the new Thailand. It didn’t surprise me either.
The locals in Sri Lanka
We found all of the Sri Lankan locals in our guest houses to be amazing and most people speak good English. All were lovely, kind and helpful. Sri Lankans are friendly but in Tangalle and Hiriketiya, it honestly felt like we had gone to another country because their hospitality was exceptional. We couldn’t walk down the street without everyone saying hello to us in those two places.
Sri Lankan men
One weird thing I noticed was Sri Lankan men would only talk to Steve and not me. For example, when I was in hospital (after stepping on a sea urchin), the doctor kept saying to Steve ‘you’re discharged now’. We were like ‘whaaat? You’re discharged or I’m discharged?’ It was actually quite funny as it happened all the time and other tourists mentioned it to us as well. I’d love to know how single female travellers got on.
Poverty in Sri Lanka
There also didn’t seem to be a huge amount of poverty either from what we saw (we didn’t go to the North or West), and we weren’t asked for money by anyone expect by some five year olds in Mirissa.
No one hassled us to buy anything like you might see in some beach destinations around the world (like necklaces and random stuff etc).
Actually, no one was selling anything like that in Sri Lanka so it was nice to be able to walk down a street or beach without having to say no a million times.
Is Sri Lanka safe?
We were saddened to hear about the bombing attack in Colombo in 2019 but we have to say Sri Lanka in general is very safe.
We never felt threatened or had any worry whatsoever with the locals. We even had our big camera’s out most of the time and didn’t lock anything away in our rooms.
Why you should visit Sri Lanka
Drone shot of Silent Beach near Tangalle
Sri Lanka is a country which is perfect for the first time traveller, that first time you’re off to explore a new culture, a country that’s also perfect for the oldies who’ve probably seen The Secret Exotic Marigold Hotel and people off on a holiday from work. Here’s the reasons why:
It’ssuper easy to get around Sri Lanka. Trains and buses are cheap and easy to find unless you want to make it even easier and get your own driver (more on this later).
Sri Lanka has something for everyone – the culture, the hikes, the temples, the beaches, and of course the elephant safaris.
It’s achilled out country, you won’t get hassled a lot apart from the tuk tuk drivers but they leave you alone once you say no.
It’s pretty clean too, we only saw dirty areas along the beach from Mirissa to Unawatuna. The rest of the country we saw was clean. Also the air was very fresh and clean apart from the fumes from the vehicles on the streets, especially in Colombo.
The Sri Lankanfood is great and it will be rare to get any sort of tummy bug, but only drink bottled water even when brushing your teeth.
Sri Lankans are super punctual, if you arrange for a tuk tuk to pick you up at 4am, they will be there on time. We were super impressed with this!
It’s very cheap, expect to pay around AU$20-AU$30 a night for a decent room, AU$2 for a good local meal of rice & curry. If you go to a tourist restaurant, prices are around AU$10 for a meal. Read to the end of this guide to see how much we actually spent.
Sri Lanka Transport
Sri Lanka is pretty easy to get around in terms of getting trains and buses but although the country is small, it can take a lot longer to travel a short distance on both buses or trains. We got a combination of trains, buses, tuk tuks and private cars around the country.
Sri Lanka train stations aren’t huge so it’s not difficult to buy tickets and find the platforms. Best of all, the Sri Lanka trains are super cheap. It cost us 60R (AU80c) for a two hour journey from Colombo – Kandy. For a comparison, the tuk tuk then charged us 500R (AU$4) for a five minute journey up to our guest house.
Trains in Sri Lanka are in a class system. Don’t buy 1st class because you can’t open the windows and every single tourist wants to get that open window/door shot. Just make sure you buy the train ticket a day early for Colombo – Kandy because they have designated seats.
The reality of the train from Kandy-Ella
The other trains from Kandy – Ella was just horrendous for us. There weren’t any designated seats so the train guys were just selling loads of tickets to the long line of tourists. There wasn’t any structure or control so as you can imagine, it was chaos.
It’s known as one of the highlights visiting the country but for us standing squashed up next to a million other tourists for five hours was horrible. It was honestly one of the worst transport experiences I’ve ever had. I would recommend going in the opposite direction from Ella to Kandy. I noticed those trains weren’t busy at all. But someone on Instagram went on the train just a couple weeks after us and had no problem whatsoever in finding a seat and they said it wasn’t busy.
But I have a good tip when it comes to the trains – if the train is busy, move into the aisle of the seating area, don’t bother to stand around the doors because that’s where we went wrong. The door area is just jammed packed. You’re more likely to get a seat by standing in the aisle instead in the hope someone gets off before you do.
Sri Lanka Buses
I found buses actually better than trains. I know other tourists talked about how mental the bus drivers are and to be honest, when we were in tuk tuks or cars and we had buses flying towards us, it did seem scary but we had no problem in the bus ourselves. Best of all, the bus guy always gave us a seat so we never had to stand. Buses are also super cheap too. We paid 100R from Kandy – Dambulla which was 1.5 hour journey.
Sri Lanka Tuk Tuks
I found the tuk tuk drivers quite exhausting. You always have to negotiate the price because it’s like they just look at you and test to see how much you’ll pay. We constantly had to do the OK, fine, we’ll go to someone else, then start walking away until they came running after us to agree on the price.
You’ll also get asked the three standard questions on every single tuk tuk ride you take:
Where are you from?
How long are you in Sri Lanka / this town?
What are your plans, do you want a driver for tomorrow?
I also found tuk tuk drivers to be really nice in Tangalle and Hiriketiya but only in these places.
Tuk Tuk Tips
Also, it turned out that none of the tuk tuk drivers can read maps at all, so if you show them your google maps, and they look at you funny, it’s just because they can’t read it. Best thing to do is just direct them along the way. Mention landmarks or places that are near that they might have heard of, then direct them on how many metres away and whether left, right or straight on.
Hire a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka
Tuk tuk fun in Tangalle
I also found out during our time in Sri Lanka that you can actually rent your own tuk tuk and drive around Sri Lanka yourself. To me this sounded awesome but the reality looked a lot more scarier. People are a bit psycho on the roads and over take constantly, even if there is traffic coming the other way. See here for more information.
Hire a private driver in Sri Lanka
This is the one thing I would have done different in the trip was hire a private driver from Colombo until we got to Ella. Many people do this and we met one couple who hired a diver for a week and paid US$200. To me, that sounds pretty good. The only catch is, you might have to pay for their accommodation which is a lot less than your own at like $12 a night if the guest house or hotel doesn’t give them somewhere free to stay (many do this).
The perks of hiring a driver in Sri Lanka is many people have told me that they became friends with them, that the driver took them to some amazing off the beaten places that would be so unique to that person on their holiday. Sometimes I’m a bit sceptic about these oh the driver took me to an off the beaten place kind of story because I wonder if there was a random tourist shop that magically appeared at the place or some sort of scam involved but from what I was told, nope, they just got taken to some cool places.
You can hire a car at the airport or your guest house can organise one for you at any part of your trip. You don’t necessarily need to arrange a driver from Colombo.
Internet and mobile plans in Sri Lanka
When we came out of arrivals at Colombo airport, a random guy sent us to Mobitel to get our SIM cards. We also had a look at Dialog but Mobitel seemed to do the best deal for us as we had planned to be in the country for a month and wanted loads of data in case the wifi didn’t work in places. We learnt later on that Dialog is the best company to go with.
7GB day time
8GB night time
20 minutes of local calls
100 minutes of local calls
100 minutes of international calls
To be honest, wifi and mobile data was really good in Sri Lanka and it was much better than in Australia so we were more than happy with it.
Sri Lankan food
Amazing breakfast at Villa Eden Paradise, Ella
The food in Sri Lanka is great at first and it’s always huge! The fresh fruit, the rice & curry dishes, it’s all great but that’s pretty much it.
You’ll hear Beethoven’s Fur Elise blasting out on the streets everywhere and you’ll find yourself singing along. I initially thought it was an ice cream van as it has that similar sound but it’s actually a bakery van. Items range from samosas, loaves of bread and other Sri Lankan pastries which are super cheap (20R each) and delicious.The bakery vans will stop for you anywhere. The food is cheap and awesome!
You’ll also be able to buy food on the train which are a range of the pastries and are from what we found won’t give you any stomach problems. I was always weary of locals selling food on trains in other countries but have had no problems in Sri Lanka.Local food on the trains is absolutely fine and delicious too!
If you need to pop to a shop to buy anything to cook for yourself (if you’re lucky to have a kitchen) then go to Food City. It’s a westernised supermarket found in every city.
You’ll find many Western style restaurants in the tourist areas. The best western food was in Mirissa although you’re looking at between 1000R-1600R for a dish (around AU$15). We ate mainly at local places for like 200R (under AU$2) for a huge rice & curry and it was always much better than in the tourist restaurants and then splashed out more cash towards the end along the beaches.
Breakfast was included in most of the places we stayed in and a Sri Lankan breakfast is not only massive but really good. The best breakfast we had was at Villa Eden Paradise in Ella. You’ll get a big pot of tea, pancakes (I loved Sri Lankan pancakes!), roti and curry, egg any way you want, toast, fruit plate, and papaya juice.
Yoga Retreats in Sri Lanka
Yoga in Hiriketiya
We found a good few yoga places along the beach towns in Sri Lanka mostly offering up yoga twice a day at 8am and 4:30pm. We found one in Medaketiya (Tangalle), three in Hiriketiya (we went to one and loved it) and loads in Mirissa.
Sri Lanka Elephant safari
One of the highlights is going on a Sri Lanka safari. We actually didn’t go on one because we’ve already been on one in the Masai Mara in Kenya, we just thought it wouldn’t match up and we’d be spending the whole time comparing it. Obviously if I hadn’t seen elephants before in the wild, I would have 100% done it.
Here’s what I learnt:
Yala in Sri Lankais the most popular National Park to see them although the busiest too. We spoke to one couple who said that there were 50 trucks behind them all waiting to get into the park when it opened. They said it wasn’t too bad when they got in there and even saw 2 leopards as well.
Udadwale – this is another popular park to see the elephants and is usually done after people have visited Ella. I know this is a really busy park but I can’t provide any more info on it as we didn’t meet a lot of people who went there.
Minneriya (near Dambulla) – There’s another national park near Dambulla and we met a girl in Maldives who told us that she went there and it was amazing with hardly any other tourists because most go to the two above. We were going to go and it would have cost us only US$30 each for the entrance fee.
Pinnawala in Sri Lanka – Be careful of this park. Lonely Planet mentions how the elephants are mistreated here and I’ve read a few posts on it too. We even saw an elephant chained up at a bizarre elephant ride place next to Sigiyria Rock which was upsetting. I have no idea why tourists think it’s a good idea to go on elephant rides.
Elephant Freedom Project – If you want to get up close to the elephants and give them a bath whilst still be ethical and not going for an elephant ride then check out the Elephant Freedom Project. If I’d known about this place before, I would have probably checked it out.
To be honest, we only found two beaches in Sri Lanka that we really liked. The others we saw were either filled with litter, busy with tourists or not swimmable due to the waves. Living in Australia didn’t help as you can’t even compare the beaches. We loved Hiriketiya in Dikwella and Silent Beach in Tangalle the most.
Sri Lanka Beach Tips!
Mirissa was packed, and had at least 1,000 people on there when we went. Up the coast from Mirissa towards Unawatuna, the majority of beaches are right next to the busy main road so don’t think they will be secluded. Instagrammers have a habit at making beaches and places look much better than they really are. Speaking of, the famous rope swing is on Dalawella beach near Unawatuna and at the time of writing, there’s a fee of 1000R.
Well known Sri Lanka beaches include:
Sri Lanka beaches in the South
Tangalle – quiet beach
Silent Beach – our second favourite beach!
Dikwella and Hiriketiya – good for beginner surfers and our favourite beach
Mirissa – busy tourist beach
Weligama – good for beginner surfers
Unawatuna – mixed bag but better vibe than Mirissa
Hikkaduwa – where Sri Lanka’s top nightclubs are
Bentota – busiest beach near Colombo, I think it has more of a local vibe
Sri Lanka beaches in the West
Aragum Bay – backpacker beach for surfing but only go in season
Sri Lanka beaches in the North
Casuarina Beach in Jaffna
Things to do in Sri Lanka
If you’re wondering about things to do in Sri Lanka, fear not… we’ve written all about our experience in loads of smaller blog posts so you can get a good feel about each area to visit. There’s loads of things to do in Sri Lanka that you won’t be stuck for ideas. The tiny country packs a punch for the incredible Sri Lanka activities from tackling loads of hikes, waterfalls, tea plantations, safaris, beaches and more.
Here’s our 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary so you can understand how long we spent in each place and what we would have done differently.
Our 3 Week Sri Lanka itinerary
Check out our Sri Lanka tourist map below which includes where to go in Sri Lanka as well as the blog posts we’ve written about each area.
So, I’m going to share with you all of the things to do in Sri Lanka, what we would have done differently and other places we wished we went to.
Then you’ll find out how much we spent in three weeks in Sri Lanka.
We actually did the very much standard tourist route. There were loads of places we would have gone to if we were feeling it more and of course if the weather was better.
Day 1 – 2: One night in Colombo Sri Lanka
How we got there: 1 hour cab ride from the airport
Where did we stay: ACA B&B It’s a basic hotel but it’s located in the middle of Colombo and we had no problems what so ever with it. Book your stay here >
Most tourists stay in Negombo in Colombo which is a little tourist area just 15 minutes away from the airport. This is perfect place to stay in on the way out of Sri Lanka as by that point you won’t want to be stuck in traffic to catch your flight. It’s also a beach area but don’t be fooled, the beach was dirty and you wouldn’t want to sit on it no matter how much of a last bit of tanning you want to do.
How much is a taxi from Sri Lanka airport into Colombo?
We spent the first night in Colombo which is an hour from the airport. It cost us 3000R for a cab which is loads but I prepared for us to be ripped off when we first arrived.
Colombo is hectic and the air is polluted and hot. But we found the Galle Face Hotel and spent the afternoon admiring the history and beauty of it. I’m glad we stayed in Colombo because we were able to sort out our train tickets to Kandy for the next day.
Quick summary: We spent too long here, it’s only worth a night’s stay. It’s a beautiful city but we didn’t meet another traveller that liked it. To us, there was nothing exciting about this city although I loved visiting Helga’s Folly, an amazing hotel.
What we wished we did: Go to the botanic gardens as well.
Read our posts about Kandy in Sri Lanka
Want to do a Kandy tour?
Day 5 – 7: Dambulla in Sri LankaHow we got there: by bus from Kandy
Highlights: Sigiyria Rock, Pidurangala Rock, Dambulla Cave Temples
Quick Summary: We spent two nights at a resort which was a little haven for us and spent one morning climbing the Pidurangala Rock before going to see the cave temples which were amazing but over crowded. Go see the temples as soon as it opens in the morning to avoid the crowds.
What we wish we had done: spent 1 night there instead. I also wished we just went up to the very north from here to Jaffna which we should have put on our Sri Lanka itinerary. It’s one of those places I really wanted to see because it’s only been open to tourists in the last few years since the war ended. It still makes me wonder what it would have been like and I do regret it now.
How we got there: by bus to Kandy, then the dreaded train
Where did we stay: We loved Charlie’s Place as it was the first place we stayed in where we really felt like we could get to know the locals really well. We stayed with an older Sri Lankan lady and her grand daughter and it was brilliant.
Highlights: Known as Little England, tea plantations, waterfalls, Horton Plains National Park, hikes and afternoon tea
Quick Summary: Nuwara Eliya was the first town we visited which was cold and a sigh of relief seeing as we had been in the heat for a while. It’s 2000 metres above sea level and there’s loads of things to do in this Sri Lankan town. We loved going for afternoon tea, and although we didn’t get to see the waterfalls I wanted to, the tea plantations were beautiful.
What we wish we had done: I wish the weather was better (it rained a lot), got a better driver to take us to the waterfalls we actually wanted to visit and also went to Horton Plains.
We would have also stopped at Hatton before Nuwara Eliya to climb Adam’s Peak but the weather was bad and we heard from others that when they eventually climbed the 5,000 steps which took four hours to the top to reach sunrise, they couldn’t actually see anything but fog.
Highlights: Lots of hikes like Little Adam’s Peak, Ella Rock and visiting the Nine Arches Bridge
Quick Summary: When we got to Ella it was raining so we spent the first day in a Westernised restaurant. The next day we went on a loop hike from the town to Little Adam’s Peak (took 1 hour) then through some tea plantations and over to the famous Nine Arches Bridge (took another 20 minutes) before catching a pricey tuk tuk back.
What we wish we had done: I wish we had stayed longer and done more hikes in Ella in Sri Lanka. Ella is a really beautiful place and chilled out compared to the other towns we visited previously. There were also loads of waterfalls in Ella I wanted to visit but because our driver in Nuwara Eliya has shattered my heart, I felt defeated at attempting to see anymore.
I also wished we went and stayed at the Kumbuk River Eco Lodge as staying in a Troy like Elephant would have been incredible.
How did we get there: because we found the train rides so exhausting and a bit on the traumatic side, we paid a hefty 9,000R and hired out a private car to drive us 3 hours to the beach town of Tangalle.
Quick Summary: There’s a good mix of Sri Lankan culture and holiday vibes in the quieter Tangalle. One of the best beaches we saw in Sri Lanka was Silent Beach. It had the clearest water, barely any tourists (a rarity for the time of the year we visited) and it was stunning.
What we wish we had done: We would have also stayed in Mediketiya as it’s where the tourist area was but there wasn’t a lot of vibe going on. I am glad we went to Tangalle and put it on our Sri Lanka itinerary purely to find Silent Beach.
How did we get there: 20 minute tuk tuk ride east of Tangalle
Where did we stay: The only guesthouse I can’t remember the name of…
Highlights: Canoe trip around the lagoon and turtle hatching
Quick Summary: I couldn’t believe how different it felt to only go 20 minutes out of the city to stay in the Sri Lankan countryside in the peace and quiet, surrounded by secluded beaches. Unfortunately it went all a bit wrong for me there when I stepped on a sea urchin and had to go to hospital. We therefore didn’t get to do much but we did manage to see the turtle hatching.
What we wish we did: I honestly wish we didn’t bother wasting our time at this place and wish we just left Tangalle for Dikwella instead. The turtle hatching wasn’t as exciting as you think it would be and a friend said a turtle came right up to her restaurant on Mirissa beach to hatch there instead.
Highlights: Hiriketiya Beach, learning to surf, yoga, co-working space
Quick Summary: Dikwella and Hiriketiya beach are right next to each other and in walking distance.
We stayed on Dikwella beach for two nights and then after looking around, we found a lovely homestay for AU$20 a night right next to Hiriketiya beach.
For us, Hiriketiya had by far the best beach in Sri Lanka. It was a beautiful bay and we just fell in love with it immediately. We also checked out Talalla beach as well which reminded us of a big Aussie beach. It was lovely but not somewhere we would spend more than a day at.
What we wish we did: I wish we just spent most of our time in Sri Lanka at this beach because it was just gorgeous and I actually got upset when we had to leave.
Highlights:Whale watching, turtle hatching, baby turtles, more turtles, western food (and smoothie bowls!!), nightlife scene, stilt fishermen (although it seemed to look fake and just set up for tourists to take a photo)
Quick Summary: To be honest we were horrified when we arrived in Mirissa. The beach was absolutely packed full of at least 1,000 tourists all sat on sun loungers and we thought we’d been transported to Magaluf, Spain. It was full of the two week holiday makers and wasn’t our scene at all.
Although we embraced it, we actually enjoyed Mirissa in the end and glad we included it in our Sri Lanka itinerary. We found ourselves a great little local restaurant just off the beach and of course splashed out as well and had some great western food too.
We also loved the visit to the Blue Whales with Raja & The Whales (book your tour here). I also found an awesome Aussie/Sri Lankan cafe on Airbnb (as they also had rooms) serving up actual decent smoothie bowls. When you’re in the heat, you need something to cool you down and I was over eating ice cream, so this was a blessing.
What we wish we did: I would have spent one night in Mirissa purely to go there, get a smoothie bowl and some western food, then see the Blue Whales in the morning. We then would have stayed at Unawatuna instead.
I would have also visited Galle up there too as well as the famous rope swing on Dalawella beach. I also wish I went to Hikkaduwa to see the turtles on the beach too.
How did we get there: we got a tuk tuk from Mirissa to Weligama train station for 500R, then the train to Colombo Fort Station. We then paid a tuk tuk 3000R to take us on an hour and a half journey to Negombo.
Highlights: No highlights on this one as we were flying out.
Quick Summary: Negombo is a bit of a funny place. It’s like a little tourist haven from the craziness of Colombo even if it’s over an hour’s journey away. It’s a good spot to stay for your flight out of Sri Lanka. We stayed at a lovely new guest house too which was the best value for the standard of room we had ever seen in Sri Lanka AU$31.
What we wish we had done: We should have just got the train from Colombo Fort to Negombo but we couldn’t be bothered to wait an hour.
Want to do a tour?
How much did we spend in Sri Lanka?
If you’re wondering how much to budget for a three week trip to Sri Lanka, we ended up spending AU$1174 each for 24 days which worked out as AU$49 (approx £25) a day each.
We didn’t actually pay for any tours except for the whales and the driver to take us to the tea factory and waterfall.
Most of our money went on transport towards the second half of the trip. The train ride to Ella in Sri Lanka broke me and I now wish I didn’t spend so much on tuk tuks and just caught the bus along the coast.
You can easily get the daily rate down to about $30 a day if you got a room for $20 and just ate locally for about $10 a day. Hopefully this Sri Lanka itinerary has helped you in some way to plan your trip!
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