Sri Lanka offers great nature and its truly one of the world’s most scenic countries. The best season to travel is December to mid-April during dry season. We traveled as a couple for a week in March and we loved every bit of it! For an inspiration, follow our trip on the map and my brief description. 

Our one week itinerary, get inspired

For the start we stayed inland in a small town called Dambulla where we hiked famous Sigiriya rock, from there we moved to former capital city Kandy, where we enjoyed traditional dances, temples and walks in royal gardens. Next on the list was to see a train ride from Kandy for several hours through Nuwara Eliya tea plantages till we reached Ella town. Unforgettable experience! By the end of the trip we still managed to go for safari tour to national park of Udawalawe and on the south, to see some of world-class beaches located along the entire coastlines. One of the highlights of this trip was definitely the food, full of coconut flavors, sambal, curry spices and variety of fruits…truly tasty and fresh. In most parts of the country is forest and we both love greenery. It is heartbreaking to hear about decreasing number of wildlife and deforestation which is happening on the large scale, for extraction of timber and agriculture. Here are some organizations that help protect Sri Lankas environment: WWCTSeacologyRainforest Protectors.

Keep in mind!

The tricky part when on vacation in Sri Lanka is commuting within the cities. If you are planning to see many places, count with spending few hours on the road. Roads are good and majority of hotels can help you arrange a driver if you need. We didn’t try bus, but tuck-tuck is ok for short distance and train ride is recommended when visiting highlands of Sri Lanka. One other piece of advice carry enough cash with you and do not rely on finding many ATMs in small towns. Do not worry about the language, Sri Lankans speak well English because of their history as former British colonial rule. Its home of several ethnic groups, each with its own cultural heritage. Sri Lankans are rather conservative and religious, so bare it in mind and respect that by not wearing revealing clothes. Sri Lankans like to talk about cricket. This is not a topic that would interest me, but my boyfriend is Pakistani and had some conversations with locals during our commutes.

There is one thing that I regret we haven’t experienced while in Sri Lanka. Have you ever heard of Ayurveda or ‘knowledge of life’? Some are saying that Ayurveda is the oldest healing methodology in the world. To restore the body and balance the mind.  As a form of traditional medicine, Ayurveda uses plant-based treatments to heal and boost physical and mental strength to prevent illness. For many locals in Sri Lanka, Ayurveda is a total way of life that incorporates diet, daily yoga practice and regular meditation. Don’t make the same mistake and get yourself some relaxing massage.  

School trip to Dambulla cave

When we landed at Negombo airport, first thing we did was that we bought ourselves one local SIM card. It came handy for getting in touch with hotel staff or drivers. We drove to our first destination, small town called Dambulla. Here is a good site if you want to arrange a shuttle before your arrival to Sri Lanka – GetTransfer. Dambulla is genuine Sri Lankan town with many tourist sights within reach. In a hotel they welcomed us with a drink called Arrack distilled from palm syrup. Quite strong and of similar taste as whisky. From our place we walked to Dambulla Rock temple. The Bodhi tree – sacred tree of Buddhists will be the first thing you see right when you enter. Temple is filled with magnificent Buddha rock paintings from 2nd century BC but in still lively colors. It is believed that Buddhist monks were dwelling in this cave once. Around the temple you see many monkeys, some sellers of clothes or souvenirs and some snacks like our favorite mangos with chili powder. 

Sigiriya lion rock fortress

Early morning, we headed to see the sunrise at Pidurangala rock, the ancient monastery. Before you decide to climb Pidurangala rock, you should know that it is more difficult than to climb Sigiriya rock,  because it has no clearly defined paths or stairs and it will take you around 40minutes to get to the top. Because it is considered a sacred place, shoulders need to be covered, but no worries you can get handwoven sarongs at the gate. It was around 4 o’clock so while climbing we used phone torchlights to help us see where we go. At some point during the climb you will be passing the Buddha’s statue. In the 1960s the head and torso were destroyed by treasure hunters but have been reconstructed. They say that Pidurangala area has been occupied by monks who used to live in the caves around the site for over 2500 years ago. Impressive, don’t you think? On the top you have a view on Sigiriya rock on surrounding national parks Angammedilla and Kaudulla from which you will hear all the wildlife in the nature waking up. After the spectacle of sunrise, hurry up to climb Lions rock.

It is better to climb it early morning because it is still not crazy warm. After 1200 steps up you can enjoy truly amazing scenery. On the picture with the claws we are almost at the top after much longer ascent. People are going both directions, so you need to be careful and patient. Lions rock used to carry royal palace and later in 14th century a Buddhist monastery. Spend some time in the gardens of the Sigiriya city as they are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. There are divided into three districts – water gardens, terraced gardens, cave and boulder gardens.

Ancient city of Polonnaruwa

If you still feel adventurous, go to visit nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site Polonnaruwa. It is the second ancient capital with many archeological monuments. Buses of pilgrims are visiting the stupas and monasteries, Buddhist sites, ruined palaces, courtyards, pleasure gardens, bathing tanks, dagabas. We paid around Rs.4540 for a ticket and we decided to borrow a bike. If you have time, then this is the best way to do the sightseeing there! Good thing is, that once you finish your tour, you can leave your bikes in the park and the rental company will pick them up from anywhere. 

Dambulla cave temple

After a great time in Dambulla we drove for around 2 hours to Kandy. On the way we stopped for a nice curry for lunch. Honestly, during our vacation, I couldn’t get enough of Sri Lankan food, all types of curries and coconut pitta breadkottu roti, coconut pol pani pancakeshoppers, pani puri snack, Imbul kiri bath – milk rice with coconut stuffing, dhal. The food of this country would deserve a special article in my blog, yummy!

Kandyan traditional dance

Kandy is a nice historical city, significant cultural and religious center. After our arrival we admired the greenery of Watapuluwa village where we were staying. It was on the hill few minutes tuck-tuck ride to the town. Honestly, I was thankful that we didn’t choose Kandy for a stay because at that time, there was ridiculous amount of ravens flying around making unbearable noise. When in Kandy, make sure you visit Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic an important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists. Before the entrance try to pick one of the local guides to get to know a lot of interesting legends and historical facts. The golden-roofed temple is supposedly home to a tooth of Buddha and during the puja, the time of offering and prayers, you will be able to inspect the gold casket in which it is guarded. 

From the Temple there is straight road towards Kandy Lake pleasant for an afternoon walk. Its island used to be the king’s helm for bathing and was connected to the palace by secret tunnel. During the walk, we bought tickets for the evening of Kandyan Traditional dance. Performance is organized in several places in Kandy, but we went for Kandyan Art Association and paid Rs. 1000. Before buying a ticket, guys were showing us the theatre and reserving the seats. 

On the way we stopped a tuck-tuck to take us to see Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue which is on the top of the hill and it gives you some stunning views on the whole city and its river. 

Royal Botanic gardens in Kandy

Because of its location outside the Kandy city, we were at first hesitant to visit Royal Botanic Gardens. At the end, I am glad we went there, and I can only recommend it. Gardens date as far back as 1747, they have 60 hectares and over 4000 plant species! The way in is through the steel bridge over the river, which can also be used as a way back. Don’t miss beautiful palm corridor, Spice Garden and Orchid house. Have a picnic near garden lake designed in the shape of Sri Lanka island and covered with water lilies. 

After the walk you may get hungry, I recommend a spot called Honey pot restaurant if you can, stay outside and enjoyed view on the river glittering from the sun. 

When you get to see all from Kandy head to the train station to catch a train to tea region. There are few trains stopping in Kandy from Colombo which are going to highlands. We left for the one leaving at 11. Remember the tickets are not with the seat reservation. We were travelling with many locals as well as the tourists. The station is small and very beautiful. The train was already quite full, with no place for bags but we were lucky to have a place for a luggage above the seats and after 3 hours tadaaaa we got lucky and got seats.

Tea plantations in Sri Lanka

During seven-hour ride we saw how the landscape changed, we passed by some beautiful tea plantages on the highlands. In case you get hungry there are sellers walking around with the hot, sugary milk tea and some samosas, jackpot!

Train ride views

If you do not choose to stay in Ella, pick one of the other nice towns like Haputale or Hatton which offer enchanting views and hikes overlooking tea terraces. We picked Ella because it was closest to our next destination. 

Little’s Adam peak

If staying in Ella, get up early to see sunrise from Little Adams Peak. Try to go early enough so you can hear the prayers melody coming from the temples, see women leave pickers and local farmers guiding buffalos to the fields. On the way back we headed through the woods to see old viaduct bridge Nine Arch bridge – instagrammer’s paradise.

There are other popular hikes which are much more challenging like Adams Peak hike to 2.243m or hike to World’s End Drop cliff of 1.219m.

Ravana Fall Sri Lanka

On the way from Ella to Udawalawe town we saw some beautiful rice fields, waterfalls like Ravana Fall, buffalos which crossed our way and nearly everywhere along the road in Sri Lanka were stalls with fresh coconuts and bananas.

We stayed at Hantara nice place with warm-hearted staff and beautiful simple bungalows with a lovely terraces. Pace of life there is unashamedly slow-moving, but I loved every bit of it! The hotel helped us arrange the guide through Udawalawe National Park safari. Entry to the parc is Rs. 4075 per person. The park is opened from 6am to 6pm. The best is to depart early morning when it is not warm yet, otherwise animals tend to hide in a shade.

Udawalawe national park

We were lucky to see few elephant families from close up, crocodiles, peafowl, deers and buffalos. You can also see some elephants near the road used to the tourists feeding them. Leopards are rare to spot same are some of tree species such as ebony, mahogany, satinwood and teak because they are being rapidly depleted.

Villas in Bentota beach

There are plenty of idyllic beaches across Sri Lanka. To name few of them: Arugam Bay, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Weligama beach all best for surfers, Rekawa beachknown for turtles watching, vast beach Tangalle, Marakolliya with tropical flowers and mangrove lagoons. In Koggala beach you can see and try traditional stilt fishing and in Mirissa you can do some whale-watching and the beach is perfect for kayaking and jet-skiing. We spent time on the south-west coast which is the most tourist-oriented with plenty of chic boutique hotels nestled amongst the palm trees. 

Mirissa Palm Villa street art

In Mirissa town you can rent a scooter and get around the coast in no time. If you are wondering from where you know Mirissa beach, it may be from all the Instagram pictures of the Secret Beach. 

Our first stay was in Kamburugamuwa region with the hotel located in a secluded minibay. We adored amazingly wide and clean beach just for ourselves, with old traditional fishing boats sticking out of palm trees. And yes, you can also find some swings anywhere in Sri Lanka.

Beautiful green Sri Lanka, Unawatuna region

In Unawatuna region you can find countless quirky village guesthouses, relaxed beachfront bungalows and cabanas. 

The place I found was real gem in the shade of toppling palm trees, with infinity pool, big gardens and outside game room. We experienced one night of tropical rain which was the time to take a swim in a pool. 

Walk in Galle

Galle will impress you right away, this charming colonial fortified town has a lot to offer. Walk on the ramparts along the shore overlooking the ocean. Admire old lighthouse, check out the old prison or watch the schoolkids during cricket practice. The architecture of the town reflects influences of Portuguese, Dutch and British. Walk along the vibrant streets, do some shopping in boutiques and tiny shops for local souvenirs and crafts. 

One of the best food I ever tasted was in Sri Lanka

Before going to the airport, stop for last authentic Sri Lankan meal in Water edge restaurantBecause of the opened kitchen you can observe how the food is being prepared. Every evening they organize a dance show which you can enjoy while eating. I guarantee you will leave with a full stomach and some good cultural experience.