2018 was a magical year, I was fortunate to visit 9 different countries across 3 continents, but Sri Lanka was by far my favourite! There’s something about the welcoming embrace, straight from the airport that made my trip very special and plays in the back of my mind every time I go to book an backpacking trip- will it be as good at Sri Lanka? Probably not, in all honesty.
There are thousands of travel blogs online, but Sri Lanka appears to be a rather neglected area, lots of avid bloggers write about their experience, but the traffic seems to reflect traditional backpacking routes like Vietnam, Thailand or South America as the more favourable options. Personally, I find this unfathomable, Sri Lanka is home to: 50p pints, instagram worthy shots of natural beauty and elephants: what more can you ask for? Especially for young students, Sri Lanka is the perfect place to relax and explore on a budget, but still have a good time!
I travelled to Sri Lanka in May 2018, staying for 13 nights before continuing to India, (this was largely due to extreme weather warnings in Delhi at the time, meaning we spent 3 days on the phone to tour operators and trying to find a way to continue on our travels, should our flight be inevitably cancelled). Our itinerary can be done within 10 days with plenty of free time and takes a non-traditional route through Central Sri Lanka.
To Do: Arrive in Colombo, explore the cities markets and take a walk along the coastline: you may even see some stray monkeys! Whilst there are plenty of day trips and places to explore in Colombo, if you just want to get a general idea of what the city is like 1-2 days is more than enough, (we found that the cities out in the countryside had a lot more to offer)!
To Stay: The two hotels we stayed in were Drop Inn Colombo and Hangover Hostels Colombo. Drop Inn is a lovely two bedroom homestay, the owner doesn’t live far away and was very happy to help with any questions and recommend places to eat. This location is ideal as the supermarket was situated at the end of the road and a few restaurants were just behind this. It’s possible to walk into the city centre from here too!
To Eat: Try the Milk & Honey Cafe, a fifteen minute drive away, but home to the most incredible vegan and vegetarian food and a quaint bookshop. Opposite the store is an art gallery, often showcasing local exhibitions, it’s only small but worth looking at while you’re there!
To Spend: Sticking to our $50 AUD or £25 GBP a day, we found Colombo to be reasonably priced. A restaurant meal doesn’t cost more than £7 and taxis are about £3 for a 15 minute ride (using Uber or Lyft). Accommodation in Sri Lanka is very inexpensive, if you book in advance at Drop Inn, expect to pay between £10 and £17, depending on the season.
To Do: Pinawalla is a small town, but home to an incredible Elephant Orphanage. I was worried about finding an ethical sanctuary and whilst the elephants here are photographed and fed by tourists, but they do not offer Elephant rides of any kind and the handlers were very respectful of the Elephants. From 2-4pm the elephant bathe in the river across the road.
Be sure to catch them trotting through the road on their way back to the sanctuary!
To Stay: The Elephant Bay Hotel is the perfect location: opposite the sanctuary and with a perfect view of the bathing pools- you literally wake up and eat breakfast with twenty odd nellies!
To Eat: The hotel offers food and drink from 8am-9pm, although we booked half board, we found that the hotel was fairly quiet so apart from the buffet breakfast, we were able to grab our food anytime.
To Spend: The hotel (half board) sits around £30/$65 AUD per night and the orphanage, £15 for a day pass, giving you unlimited trips in and out for the day.
To Do: Kandy is home of The Temple of The Tooth, Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic, both beautiful and historical and set right in the heart of the City Centre. If you look carefully, you’ll not only learn about the importance of the tooth itself, but spot plenty of monkeys and dogs in the grounds too!
To Stay: There are plenty of Guesthouses in Kandy, but I opted for Bunk Planet, a 20 person dorm hostel. With capsule-like bunkers, at Bunk Planet you still get privacy and the opportunity to make new friends! Be wary of the mosquitos, they may not make their way down to the dorm but the entrance seems to be a hotspot for them.
To Eat: Cafe Divine Street is your best bet for Western food, with luxury milkshakes and a variety of vegetarian and meat options, its popularity with the locals speaks for itself!
To Spend: By opting for a cheaper hostel ($ ), I found that Kandy was one of the cheaper places in Sri Lanka. You’ll pay around £8 / $15 to enter the Temple and £5 / $9 for a three course meal at Cafe Divine Street. Tuk Tuks here are inexpensive, particularly if you use the Lyft app, a ten minute journey is around £1.50 / $3.
To Do: Ella is a hive of community and a popular backpacker location for obvious locations. Travelling to Ella by train in itself is a magical experience, taking you through tea plantations until you’re literally travelling through the clouds. In Ella itself, there are plenty of hikes, including the Nine Arch Bridge (above)- taking you along the train tracks (at your own safety) to a stunning instal-worthy spot. Ella also offers a number of cooking classes, 50p pint bars and plantation visits that it is very possible to spend a full week here!
To Stay: I extended my stay in Ella and tried both Guest Houses and Hostels. The Lover’s Stay is set high up in the mountains (tuk-tuk required) and offers the most beautiful traditional breakfast! You wake up to a view of Adam’s Peak but have to do without aircon in the room and other amenities that are described on Hotels.com (not really an issue in Ella though as the evenings get very chilly).
Hangover Hostels is right in the heart of Ella and more conveniently located to get about and meet new people. Six bed dorms will seem like a luxury after sharing a room with 20!
To Eat: Take full advantage of The Lover’s Stay breakfast if you end up here overnight, but otherwise try Chill Bar and Restaurant, on the main street: 50p pints and a mixture of traditional Sri Lankan dishes to try. It’s set over three floors, complete with beanbags and candles on the rooftop, absolute bliss!
To Spend: It’s relatively cheap to do things in Ella as most of them involve its natural beauty, hence being free. The most expensive outgoing would be accommodation, but shouldn’t be more than £15-20 / max $35 per night. A tuk-tuk appears to stay around the £2 / $3mark wherever you travel and a meal can be bought for £5 / $9 including drinks!
Have you ever visited Sri Lanka? I would love to hear about how you found the trip, comment below or tweet me! 🌅