Travelling Sri Lanka

Our Top Tips

WE TRAVELLED ACROSS SRI LANKA, FROM EAST TO WEST AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND DIVERSE COUNTIRES WE HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE OF VISITING. THE PEOPLE, THE CULTURE, THE FOOD, THE BEACHES AND THE MOUNTIAN VIEWS, WE LOVED IT ALL.

We wanted to write this blog for those looking to explore Sri Lanka for the first time, to help you navigate your way around this beautiful Island. Where to start, to travel east to west or west to east, to take the bus, train, tuk tuk or taxi. We have tried it all and hope that our journey can help you find your own adventure. 

So here it is… our top tips and travel lowdown on Sri Lanka. We’re sure there will be loads of little spots we didn’t make it to, and for sure if you’re reading this and think we missed something please let us know, we have another trip planned in November and are always on the look out for new things to see and do! But this is our trip and a little bit about what we learned along the way…

We started in Colombo and made our way down the west coast. As the west side of the Island is the closest to the airport, it is unsurprising that the west coast is busier and more touristy than much of the rest of Sri Lanka. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of amazing things to see and do, you just have to expect that a fair few other people will want to be seeing and doing them along with you. 

The first place we stopped was Hikkadua. A bustling surf spot famed for its perfect beach breaks. Hikkadua is a great place for surfers both beginner and advanced. It has plenty of restaurants and cafe’s to keep even the most adventurous foodie happy. Hikkadua does play host to some big tourist hotels, and is popular with the Russian crowd, but it also draws in a the boho shoeless surfer dude types. You can find cute cafes with wifi and vegan brownies, perfect placed to watch the stunning Sri Lankan sunsets. Salty Swamis is a popular spot for the remote working crowd with great wifi and even better coffee. If yoga is more your vibe, we highly recommend you check out Kialish Yoga, if you can’t find the studio just ask around for Lyndon, a well known local whose yoga classes are not to be missed.

Further down the coast you will find the Galle Fort, a stunning piece of Sri Lankan heritage and well worth a visit, we suggest visiting either early morning or early evening to avoid the crowds and the scorching mid-day heat. If you find yourself getting a bit toasty you can always take a Tuk Tuk down to Unawatuna beach for a quick dip. 

Travelling even more south, we arrived to Weligama. Famous for its beginner friendly surf breaks, Weligama is another very popular tourist stop. Initially we were not all that impressed as for the most part the bay is filled with big chain hotels. But if you explore a little further you can find some dreamy little spots, like the incredible, Green Peace Inn. These guys offer stunning rooms, vegan and veggie food, daily yoga classes and they can be found nestled at the quiet end of bay. If being more centrally located is for you then check out Hang Time hostel for a similar but more bustling vibe, they do great food in their rooftop bar and offer daily yoga classes too. 

Next stop, and one that is definitely not to be missed, is Hirikiteya, or Horse Shoe Bay. This place is still up and coming and has a real boho surf vibe. Lots of yoga, lots of chilling out, it feels like they really nailed the whole ‘Island living’ thing. Being further south there tends to be less package holiday tourists and more backpackers, which makes for a more chilled out feel. This place is the absolute perfect bay for any level of surfer, with sunsets to die for and some awesome little sleeping spots too. Our absolute favourite was just a little walk outside of the bay, Verse Collective. Set up by an Aussie couple last year, this place has everything you could want, food, coffee, wifi, a swing, a mini ramp, a cat, a beach front location and probably a million other things we can’t remember right now. But please do check it our if you’re down that way. It is awesome. If you fancy being more centrally located in the bay, then check out Salt or Dots Bay house. Both great home away from home vibes offering yoga and all the works. 

Once we finished with the West coast, we hopped in a taxi for the long, long drive east (about 5-6 hours including snack and wee break). You can do this journey by local bus which costs about a pound, but it all depends how adventurous your feeling and how much luggage / time you have. If you are like us, carting around surf boards, then public transport can be difficult as they often don’t have room your stuff. Out in Sri Lanka, private taxis for long journeys are cheap as chips and you can get shared private busses too that can be booked through any tour agent in most tourist areas. Tuk Tuk’s are great for getting around on shorter trips. You can even hire a motor bike and zip yourself around town, just watch out you don’t damage the bike (or yourself), as you can end up with hefty fines. The journey from West to East is quite a drive, and a private taxi with air con will set you back about $60 USD. For us it was worth it as we were short on time and wanted to make the most of our time over on the East coast.

Arugam Bay is the place we were headed for, but it is important to note that both sides of the Island are seasonal and so they have busy and quiet times. The West coast is the place to be between October and April, while the East is better from May – September. You can for sure visit either side at any time, but you may find yourself caught in a monsoon and there will be far less things open in the area during the off season times. We were travelling at the end of April, so we got the end of the west coast season and the start of the East coast. All in all we were quite lucky with the weather in both spots, but there were some places starting to close over on the West coast as many workers headed over to open up their East side businesses.

Arugam Bay offers some more adventurous surf breaks and more wild and rugged jungle terrain to be explored. We met up with local guide Jaia (pronounced ya-ya), he speaks little English, but has been surfing and exploring the area for his whole life, (he is about 60 and surfs like a pro). He always had a smile on his face and honestly made our trip. He bundled us into his Tuk Tuk and took us to the most incredible surf spots, and we even went on a Tuk Tuk safari, which was probably the most terrifying and exhilarating thing I have ever done, speeding through the jungle trying not to get trampled by elephants and eaten by crocodiles. We ate with his family and he showed us his home. It was perfect. But all jokes aside, this side of the Island is wild, and more dangerous, so please do use common sense and don’t go off into the jungle at night or without a guide.   Check out Hideaway for a perfect sleeping spot, complete with pool, yoga and jungle treehouse feel. For sunsets and co-working the cafe on the top of Bay Vista hotel is another fab little spot. 

From Arugam Bay we made our way over to Ella, we decided to take a Tuk Tuk despite this being a 3.5 hour journey, it was a questionable choice but made for a hilarious trip. We really felt like we were in the real Sri Lanka, whizzing through local villages and towns and winding our way up, up and up again into the beautiful central mountain region. Honestly, the views from Ella are some of the most incredible we have ever seen. Anywhere you stay here will be stunning but check out booking.com and look for somewhere a bit of the main town, it’s a short walk to the main village from most places and worth staying a little bit out of town to get the room with a view. Sipping your morning coffee while the sun rises over the green mountain peaks is an awesome way to start the day. We hired a motor bike and explored all that Ella had to offer, hikes, walks, waterfalls and so much more.

And next, the bit you’ve all read about in the tour guides, the train form Ella to Kandy. Yes we did it and yes it was as beautiful and worth it as everyone suggests. One key tip is to get yourself to the train station in Ella a few days before you want to travel and book your ticket, as this journey is rising popularity every month and the train can sell out at busy times. Get a ticket for a lower class cabin where you can open the window. It is more fun to sit with the locals anyway, and being able to stick your head out of the window to get that all important instagram pic is a must. The views are stunning, but the journey is long. So take a good book or download some good songs to keep you occupied. Or better still make some new friends like we did… hey Sam and Luca, we miss you guys!

Once we arrived to Kandy it was a bit of a shock to the system. From sleepy beach bays and mountain top towns you’re thrown into the city pace. Traffic jams, people in suits, big name brands etc etc… you know what we mean. While big cities are not normally our vibe, Kandy was a very beautiful one that’s for sure. And the people were just so lovely. We met our guide, Wassa, a local taxi driver, outside the train station. We hadn’t booked anything but just stumbled out with our bags and hopped into the first taxi we could find. Turns out it was our luck day. Wassa was great, he took us all over Kandy over the next few days, showing us the best spots in town (and further a-field). We visited the botanical gardens, a Sri Lankan tea factory and plantation and some of Kandy’s many temples. Wassa also took us to eat at some of his favourite local spots. He was fab.

And just like that it was time to leave. We couldn’t believe how quick the time went as we sat in the taxi with Wassa on the way to Colombo airport (you can get the train really easily form Kandy to Colombo, and then a bus to the airport, but we had an early flight to catch).  It was a short and easy journey, 2.5 hours drive and before we knew it we were sitting on the plane waving goodbye to this stunning country.
Thanks Sri Lanka for all of the amazing memories we can’t wait to come back again soon. If you’d like any more info on our journey then drop us a message info@mvmtretreats.com – we would love to help you plan your trip.

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