- Colombo, Sri Lanka
- Main mode of transport
- Aeroplane (Emirates)
- Cost per person
- Mid range
- We stayed in 14 different hotels over the 20 days that we were in Sri Lanka. We balanced budget stays with high end stays for some very unique and memorable experiences. The top 2 places we stayed at were the Sky Pavilion Villa and 98 Acres Resort.
It was my first time in Sri Lanka and I left with a great impression of the country and a desire to go back soon. The things I liked the most were:
- the kindness of the people,
- the diversity - it’s by far one of the most geographically and culturally diverse, small countries I’ve been to, offering beaches, jungle, archeology, amazing safaris etc,
- the range of activities is endless, with something for everyone,
- the food was excellent, and I’m not known for my love for curry
- the range of accommodation, from eco-lodges and tents to colonial palaces and boutique hotels
Specifically, here are a few of the standouts:
- 98 Acres in Ella: magical and exclusive hillside houses - I will definitely stay here on my next visit to Sri Lanka
- Sky Pavilion in Kandy
- Minneriya Park to see the elephant gathering
- Sarath, our driver (contact info below)
- Sigirya archeological site
The entire holiday was amazing and we never found ourselves commenting on how ‘bad’ anything was. Naturally not everything was perfect, but usually that adds to the experience:
- We weren’t able to spend as much time as we would have liked in our favourite hotels because they were very expensive.
- We were always on the go, but that was by design.
- It rained the morning we went hiking up Adam’s peak. We decided to do the gruelling hike, chancing that it would be clear by the time we reached the peak, but it wasn’t. It was a huge disappointment to have worked so hard for no reward!
We visited Sri Lanka in mid-July which is generally considered to be low-season, with peak season from December to mid-April. However, because the country is divided into 2 main monsoon areas: the southwest is one area while the north and eastern is the other, with each area experiencing their monsoon season at different times, Sri Lanka can be visited year-round. In July the monsoons are hitting the southwest part of the island which is where many of the colonial cities and beautiful beachside towns are, but we didn’t care because we wanted to focus on interior of the island, archeological sites and hill country. There are good beaches in the north as well which we visited, so we found July perfect to be able to do a bit of everything.
We still visited the south at the very beginning of the trip and it did in fact rain for 2 of the 4 days we were there. However, the rain didn’t spoil it at all. It even helped to have fewer tourists.
It could make sense to visit the Maldives while going to Sri Lanka because they’re so near and the Maldives is otherwise very expensive to get to from Europe. We didn’t go because it was monsoon season at this time of year.
For the kind of trip that we went on, which was to move from place to place, I would discourage you from getting around Sri Lanka by yourself. The best thing to do is hire a driver - it costs USD $60 / day and that includes the cost of his daily food and accommodation.
Our driver, Sarath, was a highlight of our trip - not only because he made our logistics stress free, but also because he was an absolute gentleman who was proud of his country and taught us many interesting things that we wouldn’t otherwise have known. He helped us to build our itinerary as well - we did all of our own hotel research and planned our trip with tips and recommendations from friends and then reviewed it with him so that he could help us to optimise travel time.
The driving itself would have been so hard without him because we rarely saw signs on the roads, the distance between destinations is long and the traffic isn’t predictable.
Sarath is Buddhist and believes in karma, so doing well for others and his gentle nature was a pleasure to be around, particularly given that we would be spending so much time together. He was also an expert on his own region of Kandy which was very interesting. He was with us for all of the itinerary except for the last 4 days at the beach resort. He picked us up from there to take us to the airport.
Driver: Sarath www.srilankantourguide.com
Historic sites, culture, trekking, national parks, beach. At a different time of year we would have gone whale watching or scuba diving.
Day 1 - Colombo - Ozo Colombo Hotel
We flew from Rome to Colombo with Emirates and spent one night at our hotel in order to start the next day fresh. Colombo is one of the ugliest cities I’ve been to and not on my list to get to know. Spend as much time as you can exploring the country, not the capital.
Day 2 - Bentota Beach - Vivanta by Taj Bentota Hotel
- The Vivanta is a big hotel and had a great location right on the beach. It wasn’t expensive, had an expansive continental breakfast and nice swimming pool. The weather wasn’t great so we didn’t care about being on the beach.
- From Bentota we drove south along the coast to see the colonial town of Galle Fort which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, the fisherman on the stick and the turtle hatcheries. This area along the coast was the region of Sri Lanka that took the brunt of the hit from the tsunami in 2004 and is still recovering.
Day 3 and 4 - Tangalle - Palm Paradise Cabanas
- Palm Paradise Cabanas were very, very budget and represented great value. You have your own small hut on the beach and ours was very clean. There were mosquitos but mosquito nets were provided so they weren’t an issue. Our stay was beautiful and simple. I would go back.
Day 5 - Sinharaja Forest Reserve - The Rainforest Ecolodge
- We began our journey inland with our first stop being another Unesco World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve - the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. It’s a small virgin rainforest that was protected from logging in 1988 and is home to many endemic species, the most exciting being the leopard, which is rarely seen. The rainforest was nice, but it’s not necessarily why I go to Sri Lanka. There is nice hiking from there but if were to go back to Sri Lanka I would skip visiting this stop.
- We stayed at The Rainforest Ecolodge which was very unique –each room is a shipping container with private decks placed on the hillsides in the middle of the forest. If you like that idea, it’s great. It’s comfortable but not luxurious, and it was a very long drive to get there.
Day 6 and 7 - Yala National Park - The Safari Hotel
- Yala National Park is the most famous park in Sri Lanka and also the most accessible one. If I were to do it again, I would skip Yala and just visit Minneriya National Park. In Yala you can see more animals, but there is always the possibility that you won’t see them either. We went to Minneriya Park specifically for the elephant festival which was magical. There are also fewer tourists at Minneriya.
- The ‘big’ animals you can see at Yala are antelope, crocodiles, elephants and leopard if you’re very lucky - we saw one from far away.
- We stayed at The Safari Hotel – the hotel is inexpensive and has a beautiful swimming pool right on the lake. It’s also not far from Yala park itself making it a convenient base.
- It is possible to sleep in Yala park but it costs a fortune (USD $500-600/day). If you don’t stay in the park you’re collected from your hotel in a 4x4 every day so that’s just fine. This isn’t a place where I would splurge to stay in the park.
Day 8 - Ella - 98 Acres Resort
- We came to Ella to experience the stunning views from the midst of Sri Lankan hill country, some culture and relaxation.
- We stayed at 98 Acres Resort which was spectacular, to die for. It’s situated on a hillside of the valley of this sleepy little town which most tourists visit for hiking. In the midst of tea plantations and with views of Little Adam’s Peak from our room, we were at the height of relaxation here. There are 12 exquisitely designed rooms in total, angled above the tree tops to offer stunning views from your private balcony making it an exclusive and very private getaway.
- You can easibly hike through tea plantations in the surrounding area, stopping in to visit a factory if you like, or up Little Adam’s Peak, and never tire of the amazing views.
- The resort had a beautiful pool and the food was very good. As an added bonus it only has 5 chalets in total so can only cater to a small number of guests at a time. It’s not how you would typically think of a resort.
- Our room was fairly expensive but worth it given that it was also very exclusive and luxurious. If I went back to Sri Lanka I would spend more time inland, with at least 3 days at 98 Acres to disconnect in this magical setting.
Day 9 - Dalhousie - Slightly Chilled Hotel
- Before driving to Dalhousie to get ready for Adam’s Peak, we did a day trip near 98 Acres to Nuwara Eliya, one of the most famous inland areas and most important regions for tea production. Our driver took us to a train station near Ella where we boarded a train for an excursion travelling through the plantations. There were amazing views and drops along the route and I would highly recommend it. Buy a first class ticket – those cars have a glass dome for viewing through the ceiling. It was very cheap but you need to reserve tickets well in advance because it books up fast. We booked 2 weeks in advance.
- We arrived in the evening to our hotel in Dalhousie, our next stop to hike the nearby Adam’s Peak. We stayed at Slightly Chilled which is a budget accommodation - we had to be out at 4am the next morning to begin the hike so it was an economical decision which worked out well.
Day 10 - Adam’s Peak Hike
- We were picked up at our hotel at 4am to head to the base of Adam’s Peak. The timing is orchestrated so that after the 2.5 hour climb up, you get to watch the sunrise. It’s about a 2 hours trek coming back down.
- Unfortunately it was raining that morning and if it’s raining you don’t get to see the sunrise. We decided to take our chances and hike up, hoping that the skies would clear but they didn’t and it was a massive letdown.
- I wouldn’t do it again if it’s raining at the start of the day: we were cold and wet, our legs were aching and the hike is physically challenging. Our legs hurt for the next couple of days!
- If it doesn’t rain and we get to experience the views and the sunrise, this experience would be amazing.
Day 10 - Kandy - Sky Pavillion
- After our gruelling and disappointing hike, Sarath, dutifully collected us and drove us to our next destination - Kandy.
- Kandy is the old capital of Sri Lanka with sites such as the Royal Palace, the Temple of the Tooth and the world renowned Royal Botanical Gardens which were beautiful. Sarah, our driver, was from Kandy and his knowledge of the area made us enjoy the city even more.
- that night we stayed at Sky Pavilion villa. It was WONDERFUL if you get the best room (I think there are only three rooms). Our room had floor to ceiling windows, gorgeous design features and a beautiful bath overlooking the forest. It was all very romantic. We paid around USD $200 for the room and it was worth it. Meals were served on the terrace above and the chef was incredible.
Day 11 - Madulkelle - Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge
- We continued our exploration of the Sri Lankan hill country and interior, driving about 30km north (but about 1h30min) of Kandy to the small town of Madulkelle. The attraction was more tea plantations, more spectacular views, this time of the Unesco World Heritage, Knuckles Mountain Range, and another unique accommodation experience. Madulkelle didn’t disappoint.
- We stayed at Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge which was very nice and relaxing. What made it unique was the fact that the rooms were individual luxurious “safari” tents overlooking the hills. The accommodation itself was fairly expensive (about USD $200 per night) but everything else, such as the food, was cheap.
Day 12 - Dambulla - Hotel Sigirya
- Dambulla is the home of my favourite archeological site, Sigirya, the massive rock fortress meaning “Lion Rock” with a fascinating history. Late in the 5th century, the King chose the dramatic rock to build his palace - on the top. Halfway up the 1200 steps to the top, the King built a gateway in the form of a lion. The site was a highlight from the trip and marked the beginning of our visit in the area known as the Cultural Triangle (from Sigirya to Anuradhapura) where many of the most beautiful archeological sites and ancient capitals are.
- We stayed at Hotel Sigiriya for a decent budget accommodation near Sigirya.
Day 13 - Polonnaruwa - The Lake Hotel
- Polonnaruwa is a must visit. The city is incredibly beautiful full of historical importance and beautiful architectural sites that have been very well maintained.
- We stayed at The Lake Hotel which was very inexpensive and great value for money. It was also the perfect location to explore Polonnaruwa from.
Day 14 - Habarana - Cinnamon Lodge
- Our next destination was Minneriya National Park which was on our list specifically for the elephant gathering. It is an incredible, natural experience that words just don’t do justice to. Hundreds of wild elephants gather to drink at the man made reservoir in this park and we just sat back and watched.
- We also saw crocodiles.
- 3 hours was enough time to watch the elephants gather.
- We stayed in Habarana at the Cinnamon Lodge which is about a 10 minute drive from Minneriya. It was a good accommodation and I recommend it, but it wasn’t as special as some of the other places we stayed. It catered to a large number of people, but the rooms were individual villas instead of a single, hotel-style, building which made it more enjoyable and fitting in the environment where it’s located. Breakfast and dinner were very good.
Day 15 - Anuradhapura - The Sanctuary at Tissawewa
- Of all the historical cities I would skip Anuradhapura, but it’s along the route in the cultural triangle so you might as well visit it.
- We stayed at The Sanctuary at Tissawewa - a famous prestigious hotel that was a colonial house before. I probably wouldn’t go back there but some people really like the colonial experience and design.
Days 16 to 20 - Kaliptiya - Bar Reef Resort
- We came to the Bar Reef Resort which is on the northwest coast for pure relaxation after a nonstop agenda. The Colombo International Airport is about a 3 hour drive south of here.
- The resort was beautiful and as it was the off-season, there were hardly any people there. It was far enough north that it seemed to be out of reach of the monsoons and we didn’t have a day of rain.
- The beach was nice but the water was rough so we spent most of the time in the swimming pool. The food here was also very good.
- I highly recommended a stay here. It cost about USD $70 / night.
Food and Drink Highlights
Because we were constantly on the go, we generally ate at the accommodation that we were staying at for the night. It was also convenient to do that because we often stayed in small villages or at isolated locations where dining out wasn’t an option.
Our best meals were at Sky Pavilion and probably 98 Acres.
Essential Packing for this Trip
This trip entailed traveling through a multitude of different climates. The essentials included beach clothes, hiking gear including hiking boots, hiking pants and a rain jacket. It got cool but not cold at night, so a top layer was good to have. It’s best to pack light because you’re in the car and changing locations a lot - you can wear the same things twice and don’t need “sophisticated” clothes for going out.
Pack your camera - I use a G7 Lumix which is very light and shoots 4K videos.
About The Traveller
Gender & Age Range
Male, 36 - 40
My favourite trip as of late
Plan everything in advance.
It’s a dealbreaker when
Having too many tourists around or traveling abroad just to arrive to my destination and find it full of people from my own country.
Continent I know the best
Europe and North America