Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Nestled on the southern tip of India sits the beautiful island Sri Lanka. Formally known as Ceylon, the country lures travelers with its beautiful beaches, welcoming people, flavourful food, unforgettable train rides, lush-green tea plantations and national parks packed with wildlife.
Once admired by the 13th-century Venetian traveler Marco Polo as the ‘finest island of its size in the world’, the island holds a special place in our hearts. We visited Sri Lanka for the first time in 2017 as I had the honor of being one of the bridesmaids at my dear friend’s wedding. Busy with bridesmaid’s duties and getting to know my friend's lovely family, I did not have time to visit much of the countries stunning sites with Navvin.
The finest island of it's size in the world. Marco Polo
A year later, we came back to travel around the island. As we planned our week-long vacation, we quickly realized that we would not be able to visit the entire country in one go. So we focused on the South and swore that we would come back once again to visit the rest of the country.
In the meantime, here’s our guide to visiting the beautiful South of Sri Lanka!
Dive into the Hustle of Colombo
Colombo is a bustling little capital characterized by an eclectic mix of colonial buildings and modern skyscrapers. Stay in one of the city’s cozy boutique hotels and visit downtown Colombo to shop for crafts, textiles, spices, and beautiful jewelry decorated with precious gemstones.
Sri Lanka’s capital is also packed with a number of great restaurants as well as exciting bars and cafes to hang out. One dish that you must try, while you are there is Sri Lanka's world-famous and flavourful Crab Curry. Don't miss it!
Trying Sri Lankan Crab Curry in Colombo Is a Must
Here is a list of our favourite restaurants and bars in the city:
(Restaurant) Ministry of Crab, Old Dutch Hospital Complex, 04 Hospital St, Colombo 00100, Sri Lanka
(Restaurant) Upali by Nawaloka, 65 Dr C.W.W Kannangara Mawatha, Colombo 00700, Sri Lanka
(Rooftop Bar) Botanik Rooftop & Bistro Bar, 7 Hospital St, Colombo 00100, Sri Lanka
Enjoy Scenic Train Rides
After a day in Colombo, head over to the train station to embark on one of the most epic train rides in the world. Originally built by the British to transport tea and coffee from the hills to the capital, the trains are now a vital and affordable mode of transportations for locals across the country.
The train will rattle through stunning landscapes characterized by lush-green tea plantations, small villages as well as stunning waterfalls and mountain views. You will be greeted by hard-working Sri Lankans in the tea plantations and local kids walking along the train tracks to school. While enjoying the view, local vendors will walk through the train and offer local snacks and sweet tea.
The train ride from Colombo to Ella is one of the most scenic in the world.
Things You Need to Know About the Train Journey
Duration Colombo Fort to Ella: We took the train early in the morning from Colombo Fort and went all the way to Ella. The entire journey lasts about 8 hours 31 min. While we enjoyed every minute of it, sitting in a train for that long might be overwhelming for some. If you want to take a break, we suggest you stop for a while in the charming little town Kandy. The train ride from the capital to this city is about 3 hours long and are many temples to visit as well as street foods to sample.
Ticket Reservation: The trains are usually divided into 3 sections with the 1st and 2nd class offering the most comfort. If possible try to buy your tickets at the train station in advance to get a good seat.
Price: About USD17 for one ticket all the way to Ella
Ella is a small town tucked away in the highlands of Sri Lanka and offers numerous outdoor activities including countless hiking trails to hidden gems like Adam’s Peak, Ella's Rock, Diyaluma Falls, and the Demodara Nine Arch Bridge.
The latter is an impressive piece of architecture that you definitely need to visit. Just walk along the train tracks starting from Ella's train station and you will find the bridge easily.
To Note: Remember the bridge is part of an active train route with a train passing by every hour or so.
Ditch Your Private Driver for a Bus Ride
From Ella, many travelers hire a driver to continue their journey. We recommend you to ditch those plans and hop on one of the many buses that are connecting Ella to other amazing spots in the country.
Just like the train, it is an attraction by itself. Painted in loud colors, taking the bus is not only incredibly cheap, but you will also be able to enjoy the scenery, meet many friendly locals, and get introduced to Sri Lankan music. The buses drive quite fast, so you don't have to worry about losing precious time on the road before reaching your next destination.
Go on a Safari in Yala National Park
Yala is one of Sri Lanka's most famous national parks. Spreading across 130,000 hectares of land, the park consists of light forests, grasslands, and lagoons and is rich in wildlife. You will encounter herds of elephants roaming the park, crocodiles crossing your path, buffaloes enjoying a refreshing bath, colorful birds hiding in the trees, wild boars chasing each other, and monkeys jumping through the trees. Even leopards live in the park. With a bit of luck, you even get to see these majestic big cats hiding in the bushes. Unfortunately, we weren't that lucky.
It is important that you plan your trip carefully, as the main tracks and viewing points can be very crowded at times.
Enjoy the Beach in Mirissa
Mirissa is a sleepy little town at the Southern tip of the island. Famous for its incredible waves and chilled-out cafes along the coastline, Mirissa has become a popular destination for beach lovers and surfers. While you are there, also check out the hidden beach, Parrot Rock and the infamous coconut tree farm.