Here’s a short list of why Sri Lanka should be one of your top travel priorities:
Stunning landscapes - the lush jungle landscapes are easy to experience by train or car, and the beaches are notorious for stellar surfing. The terrain is unique in topography; driving through rolling terraced central Sri Lanka is unlike any landscape we’ve ever seen.
Sri Lanka is one of the top destinations in Asia to see wild elephants!
If you love your tea time, central Sri Lanka is a main supplier for Lipton! Take a tea tour or two, the factories are a great way to learn about a quirky industry and enjoy a steaming array local flavors.
AMAZING FOOD. Curry, different curry, more curry, every kind of curry, samosas, the best bananas you’ll ever have (it’s not just hype), and coconut sambal. And lemon cookies! Notably, Sri Lanka is an awesome food heaven for vegetarians and vegans. They rarely use meat or dairy, so naturally there are a lot of options for the diet restricted.
Extremely friendly Sri Lankans always make time to introduce you to their culture and customs.
Our Travel Plan
Our story starts with a disappointed arrival to our train platform as the train pulled out of the station. Slightly frazzled because this never happens to us, we sulked to the tourist office in search of help. Luckily, a very nice Sri Lankan tourism officer took us in, sat us down, pulled out a map, and taught us the real way to see the country. We had done some previous research and definitely recommend you do too before seeking help from a local, but their knowledge is always more in-depth than the internet. Our friendly officer originally tried to convince us to hire a driver for the entire week, but we already planned for the famous Kandy-Ella train ride (see below).
Although it’s not obvious, car hire is actually a great way to see Sri Lanka, especially central Sri Lanka. While the train is beautiful, you’ll miss out on what’s happening in the valleys you pass if you stick to the rails the entire way. A car hire is US$50 per day, which is much more manageable when you split between friends. We opted for a mix of both, which was ideal for us. Here’s what we booked:
Accommodation pickup from airport to our hotel in Negundi the night we arrived.
Hour-long tuk-tuk through city traffic to get to the Colombo train station, which caused us to miss our train. Take a car instead and account for traffic.
Train from Colombo to Kandy.
Train from Kandy to Ella.
Care hire for three days:
Ella to Sigiriya
Around Sigiriya and its attractions
Sigiriya to Dambulla by car, to catch a bus onwards to Negundi
We booked all our transport at the tourism office at the Colombo train station. If you have a tighter budget, there are plenty of bus options all over Sri Lanka. They’re significantly cheaper than all other options, but they’re not always very direct or efficient.
Colombo International (CMB) is the main airport for Sri Lanka. The name is fairly misleading, as the airport is actually in Negundi, an hour north of the chaotic city of Colombo. In our opinion, Colombo is an easy skip for Sri Lanka. It’s largely a metropolitan city, which is probably not why you come to Sri Lanka in the first place.
Negundi is much closer, and we found it much more enjoyable to stay in. The beach town is far more busy during peak season (December to March), as it’s known for wonderful weather and international surfing. During off-season, the weather is chilly, grey, and wet. That being said, if you’re interested in picking up Sri Lankan souvenirs, there is no better place or time of the year to get them. Shops cut their prices in half just to move products. The shop owners are really nice and willing to negotiate with you. We both picked up leather duffle bags - high quality and under 50 bucks! Magnets and keychains are abundant too.
The Famous Train from Kandy to Ella
Duh. This is Sri Lanka 101 here. The journey is consistently ranked as one of the best train rides in the world. Do. Not. Miss.