Sri Lanka Backpacking Trip 2016

Sri Lanka is an amazing place with amazing people. This island in the Indian Ocean has everything: beautiful beaches, national parks, the highest concentration of elephants in the world, jungle, cities and a rich cultural history.

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Exploring Sri Lanka was one of the most exciting trips I’ve done. And on this page you can find all my posts about Sri Lanka ordered chronologically and geographically.

Or if you prefer, jump to one of the following sections:

Colombo

Cultural Triangle

Hill Country

Beaches

Accommodation

Food and Drink

Sri Lanka Posts

And here you can easily find the post that interests you. Or if you just fancy an entertaining travel story, grab a cup of tea, put your feet up and read them one by one. Let me know if you have any questions or if you have your own Sri Lanka experience.

My First Impressions of Sri Lanka

first impressions of sri lankaI’m just sitting on a stunning beach in Sri Lanka sipping a surprisingly good cocktail and listening to the crashing waves. Toni is off playing in said crashing waves, which you’re not supposed to do because the current is strong, but I can hear him laughing manically as he gets drenched so he’s alright. So it’s just me, the beach and my cocktail. Seriously. The beaches in Sri Lanka are way under populated.

how i devised my sri lanka itinerary 01How I Devised My Sri Lanka Backpacking Itinerary

For me the hardest part of planning a backpacking trip around a country is the first part; the getting started part. The part where you know you want to see all the highlights but have done so little research that you don’t even know what the highlights are yet.

My Sri Lanka Itinerary

My Sri Lanka itineraryThis post is about my EXACT itinerary in Sri Lanka including costs. This is exactly where we went and what we did. Here I will note which places we visited, how long we stayed there, where we ate and how much things cost over the three weeks that we spent in Sri Lanka. All costs are for two people so if you’re planning a trip for just yourself you can half it for the food, transport and entrance fees.

colombo

What Happened in Colombo

In my opinion there’s only one reason to stay in Colombo and that’s because you need a place to rest your weary head after back to back long-haul flights before you set off the next day on your real Sri Lanka adventure. I had read in many places that Colombo has very little to offer and, taking the advice of many travellers before me, decided that we would spend only one night in the capital.

Colombo Airport

colombo airportWhat to do when you arrive at Colombo Airport. This is just a short, practical post about exactly what happens when you first land at Colombo Airport for people who are planning to visit Sri Lanka. Colombo Airport First of all, Colombo airport is small and modern. First of all, Colombo airport is small and modern. It is well-organised and everything is well-signposted so I don’t think you are going to have any trouble.

how to get from colombo to habarana

How to get from Colombo to Habarana

And How to get a Seat on that Damned 06:05 Colombo to Habarana Train! Back in Spain, before we even set off for Sri Lanka, I stressed myself out about how to get from Colombo to Habarana. I read so many conflicting reports about whether or not the 6:05am train from Colombo to Habarana did or did not exist and found a whole network of buses with no timetable.

Wild Elephants at Hurulu Eco Park, Sri Lanka

Wild Elephants at Hurulu Eco Park, Sri LankaI’m very pleased to announce that we did see wild elephants at Hurulu Eco Park in Sri Lanka! We had been in Sri Lanka for a grand total of twenty hours and so far we had: stayed with a local family in Colombo, conquered Colombo Fort Station, travelled on a train through the lush Sri Lankan countryside.

 

where to stay in habaranaWhere to Stay in Habarana

Before I left for Sri Lanka I did plenty of research about where to stay in Habarana and where to stay in Sri Lanka in general, because I knew that we would be booking accommodation as we went along rather than in advance.

Tuk Tuk Drivers in Sri Lanka

tuk tuk drivers in sri lanka

You’ve got to be a bit careful with the tuk tuk drivers in Sri Lanka. Well, you’ve got to be a bit careful with tuk tuk drivers anywhere, I suppose. In Sri Lanka though the tuk tuk drivers have earned themselves a reputation of being crooks and for swindling tourists. But as long as you’re a bit savvy you can easily avoid problems. All you have to do really is be very clear about where you are going and agree the price before you get in.

 

dewata vilaWhere to Eat in Habarana

Well this isn’t going to be a very long post! If you are looking for places to eat in Habarana then the chances are you are staying there for a few days while you visit Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle.

Tuk Tuk to Sigiriya Rock

tuk tuk to sigiriya rockMan it was hot when we stayed in Habarana. The day we went to Sigiriya Rock it seemed hotter than ever. To be fair, we’d only been in the country for about two and a half days, but it was definitely the hottest day yet. Well, apart from that first evening in Colombo. Our Habarana tuk tuk driver, Indika, had pestered us to allow him to take us to Sigiriya Rock.

 

sigiriya and pidurangalaSigiriya and Pidurangala

Sigiriya and Pidurangala are two rocks in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, and I had it very clear that I wanted to take on the challenge of conquering both on the same day… Most people that visit Sri Lanka have heard of Sigiriya: The Lion’s Rock.

Buses in Sri Lanka

Buses in sri lankaEvery terrifying thing you’ve heard about the buses in Sri Lanka is true. I originally drafted this post right after I’d got off a bus in Sri Lanka so I could share my experience before I got on the next bus the next day and risked my life again. The bus journey that prompted me to write this post was after we’d travelled from Ella to Rawana Falls – a journey of just 15 minutes. The longest 15 minutes of my life.

breakfast in sri lankaBreakfast in Sri Lanka

Breakfast in Sri Lanka is an elaborate affair and can consist of many filling dishes to set you off for the day. While western-style breakfasts with eggs, toast and those anaemic-looking chicken sausages are widely available, it is the true Sri Lankan-style breakfast that will get your tastebuds going.

Polonnaruwa’s Ancient Ruins by Bicycle

polonnaruwaPolonnaruwa is one of the must-visit sites in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. Steeped in history and legend, the vast well-kept ruins of Polonnaruwa are incredible to explore on a day out that takes you back through centuries gone by. The bike guy was really friendly and told us not to worry about getting back and to take our time. He said that if he wasn’t there and the shop was closed to just leave the bikes outside!

polonnaruwa gal viharaPolonnaruwa, Sri Lanka in Photos

Polonnaruwa is one of the must-visit monuments in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. The vast grounds and ruins that spread throughout the UNESCO protected historical park need a full day to visit and are best tackled by bicycle.

Why Stay in Habarana for Visiting Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle: Pros and Cons

why stay in habaranaWhen I was researching where to stay for visiting Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle I found it hard to decide between the towns of Dambulla, Sigiriya and Habarana as a place to use as a base. In the end I decided on Habarana as the place to base ourselves and here I’m going to tell you why I chose this town and why it was and wasn’t a good choice.

 

dambulla cave templesDambulla Caves Temples, Sri Lanka

The Dambulla Cave Temples were one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, yet they still managed to exceed my expectations. It is a network of cave temples dating back to the first century BC, converted into shrines used for over 22 centuries with magnificent statues and paintings inside the caves. I can’t recommend the Dambulla Cave Temples enough.

Dambulla Cave Toilets

toilets in dambullaI was very surprised to find that, even as a tourist, I was not expected to pay an exorbitant amount (or indeed any amount) to enter the Dambulla Cave Temples. Despite my research indicating that the entrance fee should have been around 1,500rs (10€), it was completely free. The toilets on the other hand: wow, what an experience! Read on, it’s not a disgusting toilet story, I promise.

dambulla to kandyFrom Dambulla To Kandy

Once I’d freed myself from the toilet at the Dambulla Cave Temples and committed a bit of vandalism in the process we collected our backpacks from the ticket office where, it seems, they no longer sell tickets – so the left-luggage office then – and left the temple complex.

Thought Street Food Didn’t Exist in Sri Lanka? Think Again

sri lanka street foodLet me introduce you to SHORT EATS: Sri Lanka’s answer to street food. For me, short eats in Sri Lanka were the most exciting of snacks and the closest thing to street food that the country had to offer. Short eats consist of snack-sized savory treats such as samosas or closed rotis with a filling. But you will come across all shapes and sizes of pastry with any number of filling.

theres more to life than kandyThere’s More to Life than Kandy!

I’m glad I went to Kandy because, well, everyone goes to Kandy and I’d feel like I’d missed out if I hadn’t. If I’m perfectly honest though, Kandy was a bit crap. I’m glad we only had one full day there.

Where to Stay in Kandy

where to stay in kandy 02The reason I decided to book our Kandy accommodation in advance was because it was the sacred Poya Day while we were there. As Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s most important spiritual centres, being home to the famous Temple of the Tooth, we figured it would be: A. busy in Kandy; and B. expensive, with accommodation in such demand.

 

where to eat in kandyWhere to Eat in Kandy (and where not to)

I was only in Kandy for a couple of days. But it was a couple of days so hot that Toni and I had to stop A LOT for refreshments. Meaning that we got to experience Kandy’s best and worst eateries. What I found for the best value and most authentic experience was to follow my usual rule when visiting new places: Stay local and avoid Lonely Planet like the plague.

Kandy Dances and Meeting the ‘Fire Eater’

kandy dancesDid we get got? Were we had? Was it a genuine moment? Was it a scam? Or will we never know? I had read about the Kandy dances when I was researching the trip to Sri Lanka and it seemed that watching them was simply the thing to do in Kandy. We had enjoyed the different local dance shows in other countries, such as the Bali dances in Ubud, the water puppet show in Vietnam and the Kabuki theatre in Tokyo.

black market train tickets sri lankaBlack Market Train Tickets in Sri Lanka

If you have been to Sri Lanka you will know that buying train tickets for reserved seats is quite complicated as they go like hotcakes. The only way you are going to manage to buy the type of train ticket you want, with reserved seating, is if you are super organised and know where and when you want to travel a good week in advance.

Sri Lankan Trains and Wadi Wadi

wadi wadi trainWe loved it in Sri Lanka when we were on the trains and the carriage door would open and the wadi wadi man would bustle through with a huge basket crying “wadi wadi“! Well, it always sounded like “wadi wadi“. It would depend on what he was selling. We never bothered eating before getting on the train in Sri Lanka because wadi wadi was always one of the journey’s highlights.

how to get from kandy to dalhousie 02How to get from Kandy to Dalhousie

It’s a tricky one that; how to get from Kandy to Dalhousie. And that’s for two reasons: There is another much bigger and more popular Dalhousie in India, which comes up in every internet search. Dalhousie in Sri Lanka is tiny and, despite being the gateway to Adam’s Peak, is little-known.

Dalhousie Photo-Walk – In The Rain

dalhousie photo walk in the rainWhen Toni and I arrived in Dalhousie, Sri Lanka we had two priorities: find somewhere to stay, then eat. We’d had an early start from Kandy and a terrifying bus journey through the hills from Hatton to Dalhousie and now we needed food. After that we thought we’d go for a walk to the lake and find the waterfall. But the moment our bellies were full and we decided to set off, the heavens opened…

magic of adams peakThe Magic of Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka

We were almost at the top. We’d walked a gruelling 4 hours. Our legs were shaking from the exertion of climbing 5,500 steps. We were shivering from our own sweat-soaked clothes that had turned freezing cold after we’d stopped at the Last Chance Cafe (so-called because it’s the last chance for pilgrims to get a cup of tea on the way up Adam’s Peak before reaching the top) where we’d waited to kill a bit of time.

Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka: To Climb or Not To Climb?

Adam's PeakWhen I was planning this trip to Sri Lanka I wasn’t sure about Adam’s Peak. I had read that it was HARD and frankly, I didn’t know if I could hack it. I discussed it with Toni and he suggested we give it a go. The great thing about this trip to Sri Lanka was that nothing would be set in stone. We could always change our minds if we needed to. This took the pressure off and so Adam’s Peak was added to our itinerary.

sri-lanka-accommodation-review-punsisi-rest-dalhousieSri Lanka Accommodation Review: Punsisi Rest, Dalhousie

There are plenty of places to stay in Dalhousie, where most visitors base themselves for hiking Adam’s Peak. None of them are particularly good value so I suppose that Punsisi Rest is just as good as any. Punsisi Rest was centrally located in Dalhousie and was reasonably comfortable for one night.

Leaving Adam’s Peak, Best Breakfast in Dalhousie & How to get to Hatton

leaving-adams-peak-best-breakfast-in-dalhousie-how-to-get-to-hattonOn our way down from Adam’s Peak we were seduced by aromas from the breakfast delights that the stalls and tea huts were cooking up. We didn’t want to stop and eat though, as we were desperate for a shower and now that it was well after sunrise, the day was getting hotter by the second. I ordered all manner of rotis, samosas and parathas to take back up to our balcony from where we could munch happily and watch the town come to life.

riding-the-trains-through-sri-lankas-hill-countryRiding The Trains Through Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

When we got down from Adam’s Peak, the next plan was to take the train from Hatton to Haputale, where we would stay for the next few days. After the fiasco with the black market train tickets in Kandy, we decided to just try our luck with buying the tickets on the same day for the ride between Hatton and Haputale. Not that we had much choice.

Sri Lanka Accommodation Review: Leisure Mount View, Haputale

sri-lanka-accommodation-review-leisure-mount-view-haputaleBy the time we got to Haputale we were ready to stay somewhere nice. Not that our previous accommodations in Sri Lanka hadn’t been nice. But Leisure Mount View in Haputale was really in another league. As usual, we hadn’t booked anywhere in advance, preferring to make it up as we went along. We did have a list of potential places to stay from the research I’d done before we left Spain. But honestly, I think we already had our hearts set on Leisure Mount View… If the price was right.

liptons seatTea with a View at Lipton’s Seat, Haputale [Photo Story]

Ever wondered where that little packet of dust we call a teabag comes from? We think of tea as very ENGLISH. But is it really? Lipton’s tea actually comes from Sri Lanka. And when I was in Sri Lanka I had the pleasure of visiting Sir Thomas Lipton’s Dambatenne Tea Factory as well as hiking in the amazing Sri Lankan tea country and discovering Lipton’s Seat.

Only in Sri Lanka: Hiking on the Train Tracks from Pattipola to Haputale

pattipola to haputaleDodging trains, shuffling through dank, dark tunnels, getting dragged into the track manager’s office and being ambushed by snarling dogs… These are only a few things that happened on our hike from Pattipola to Haputale in Sri Lanka’s hill country. Even so, this was one of my absolute favourite days in Sri Lanka.

 

Rice and Curry in Sri Lanka

Rice and curry in Sri Lanka is a completely unique experience compared to the food of other countries. The food in Sri Lanka in general is flavoursome and delicious but still one of the most simple foods I’ve had anywhere. Sri Lankan rice and curry is a perfect example of that.

Don’t Worry About Finding Accommodation in Ella; It’ll Find You!

Don't worry about finding accom in Ella it'll find youWhen the train finally got in to the station at Ella, we knew we now had to find somewhere to stay. We needn’t have worried about choices for accommodation though, as we were completely bombarded as we left the station. Touts, tuk tuk drivers and people offering rooms all wanted a piece of the action.

 

one day in ellaDon’t Miss a Great Day in Ella

This post is about my one full day in Ella, visiting Little Adam’s Peak, walking through the tea country, walking on the train tracks and to the spectacular Nine Arch Bridge. Followed by the ride from Hell on a public bus and cheeky monkeys at Ella Rawana Falls…

How to get from Ella to Tangalle by Bus

How to get from Ella to Tangalle by BusHow to get from Ella to Tangalle may seem straightforward, but I had the added challenge that in Sri Lanka I was travelling on a budget. This meant using public transport as much as possible. Anyone can go out onto the main street of Ella and find a taxi driver or a local with a car willing to drive you down to the coast right to the door of your accommodation. But that doesn’t sound like much of an adventure, does it?

Taste Sri Lanka: Taste Kottu Roti

This is one of my Sri Lanka foodie posts. And my mouth is totally watering just thinking about kottus and rotis in Sri Lanka. If you are going to Sri Lanka (lucky thing) you absolutely have to eat kottu and roti (spellings often vary wildly).

Where to Stay in Tangalla?

where to stay in tangallaWhen we arrived in Tangalla after a pretty long bus ride from Ella in the hill country we were ready to RELAX. Beer, beach, sunset… that sort of thing. We were perfectly happy to while away a few days doing nothing. And after such a hectic itinerary in Sri Lanka thus far, we didn’t feel guilty in the least. But how to choose a place to stay in Tangalla?

 

big buddha temple dikwelaExploring from Tangalle Part I: Big Buddha Temple

On the morning that we changed accommodation in Tangalle from the Lonely Beach Resort to the Coppenrath Guest House (find out here why we decided to change) our tuk tuk driver came to pick us up. I had called him the evening before to negotiate a price and to book him.

Exploring from Tangalle Part II: Dikwela Blowhole & Goyambokka Beach

dikwela blowhole goyambokka beachIn Part I, we had just finished visiting the Big Buddha Temple in Dikwela. Dilantha was waiting for us and we climbed into his tuk tuk to drive just out of town to the famous Dikwela Blowhole. From the Big Buddha Temple we were just a short tuk tuk ride away from the Dikwela Blowhole. Neither Toni nor I had ever seen a blowhole and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

where to eat in tangallaWhere to Eat in Tangalle

I ate so much in Tangalle that I consider myself quite the authority on the subject of where to eat! Whether you want a sit-down meal, a quick snack or breakfast pancakes, you’ll be spoilt for choice for places to eat in Tangalle.