Sri Lanka is in the travel spotlight these days and we’re here to tell you that it’s totally and completely well-deserved. We visited this beautiful island country at the beginning of this year and were blown away by the people, the culture, the natural beauty, and how history and modern day have moulded together to form something completely unique.
Covering the 4 P’s (pillows, purity, plates, people), we’ve put together a guide to some of the best and most interesting people and places dotted across the country—some you’ll find mentioned in guidebooks time and time again, others are a bit more under the radar but equally, if not even more, fascinating.
In Part 2, we cover Ella, Gurupokuna, and Galle…but if you’re thinking about heading to Colombo, Kurunegala (Ulpotha), or Kandy, check out Part 1 of our Sri Lanka travel guide!
Kandy to Ella: 138 km
Ella to Gurupokuna: 137 km
Gurupokuna to Galle: 105 km
Total mileage for second half of the trip: 380 km
If you need a visual on where all of the below places are located, scroll to the end where we’ve included a handy map!
Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR)
Everyone, except those from the Maldives and Singapore, needs a visa (which is valid for thirty days). Apply for one online here.
Best Time To Go:
Sri Lanka has two monsoons that hit different parts of the country at different times of the year. If you want to visit the West and South Coasts or hill country, the best time to visit is December to March. If you’re aiming to hit the East Coast, plan your trip between April/May and September.
Sinhala, Tamil, English
Sri Lanka Tourism
Average Flight Time:
4.5 hours (Dubai to Colombo, nonstop, via Emirates)
Hire a driver and car if you can for ease and comfort. Massive thanks to AMW Group and Dubai’s Al-Futtaim Group for generously providing us with a lovely driver named Kalan and a 4WD Nissan so we could safely get around to all of our destinations on a packed schedule!
Had we not had the fortune of being hooked up with a driver and car, we would have gone with Red Dot Tours. They are professional, knowledgeable, and detailed, and can set you up with one of their standard tours or help you put together your own itinerary. Otherwise, you can rely on buses, trains, and tuktuks but just don’t expect to get anywhere quickly!
To get around locally, tuktuks are the way to go. For convenience, try the app PickMe, which is similar to Uber in that you can call for a ride (from tuktuk to van) on a GPS-tracked system. It’s easy to use and if you’re travelling solo (particularly as a woman), it can provide peace of mind.
Ella is Sri Lanka’s heartland of tea production—a beautiful area tucked within rolling hillsides and surrounded by cloud forests and filled with tea plantations. Prepare to be wowed by the landscape and feel like you’re in a completely different world. Although it’s a popular tourist destination (and for good reason), it still manages to keep a laid-back vibe without being overcrowded with people. There are tons of tea farms that you can visit to learn more about the farming and processing of the product, as well as an endless number of scenic spots for breathtaking views and stunning temples that will encourage you to be in the moment and forget about any stresses.
Nights spent here: 1
PILLOWS (WHERE TO STAY)
Amba Estate is a guesthouse and small organic working tea farm located near Ravana Falls (which we’ll tell you about in just a bit). Set in the most beautiful location, you can rent a room or the entire cottage (depending on who you’re travelling with) and experience the warm and welcoming hospitality of Simon, your host, and his adorable pup Baloo (who will inevitably steal your heart). The rooms are cosy and the meals are delicious, many of which you’ll share whilst sitting around a table with other Amba guests. It’s a great way to meet new people and swap traveller’s tales and tips!
Read more about Amba Estate here.
PLATES (FOOD AND DRINKS)
French Sri Lankan Cooking Class
If you love cooking and learning about other cultures and cuisines, see if you can book a super engaging cooking class over at Morning Mist Guest House. The owner Pat is a French Sri Lankan cook and she gave the most thorough demonstration on how to make some mouthwatering Tuna Moku. She was the sweetest woman who made sure to cover every detail so we’d know how to master the dish at home whenever we feel like reminiscing about our Sri Lanka travels.
PURITY (ARTS AND CULTURE)
This property is only accessible to guests of Amba Estate, so there’s more incentive for you to book a room at the guest house! A hike to Eagles Rock reveals some breathtaking views that are all the more special because it’s not your typical guidebook listing. If you’re lucky, Amba pooch Baloo and his friend Gus will accompany you and gleefully strike a few poses at the top of the cliff.
Amba Estate Tea Tour
Even if you decide not to stay at Amba Estate, you should definitely check out their tea farm, which produces artisan teas (including for the elite Fortnum & Mason), coffees, spices, and preserves. Go on the tea tour to see the grounds and learn about the complexities of tea. We also recommend that you indulge in a tasting, as well, to fully immerse yourself in their world. You’ll come out of Amba with a newfound appreciation for high-quality teas after hearing about (and seeing!) the amount of love and labour that goes into producing them.
One of the highest waterfalls in Sri Lanka, Ravana Falls is full of beauty and lore (the story is that King Ravana hid Princess Sita in a cave behind the falls after he kidnapped her). The falls are made up of three layers and at the top, you’ll see an old tea factory that, once fixed up, will soon become the new site of Amba’s tea production. Throw on a swimming costume under your clothes so you can take a refreshing dip in the cool, crisp water after your hike!
If you’re curious about the temples in the area, take about an hour’s drive over to Wellaya where you can visit Buduruwagala Temple. This magnificent structure has seven figures carved into a rock, with the largest one being a 15-metre high Buddha (said to be the tallest on the island). This ancient Buddhist temple dates back about 1,000 years and is worth the visit.
Traveller Tip: Remember to always face the Buddhas out of respect for the religion, even when walking out of a temple. Please don’t turn your back on them!
We’re running out of synonyms for “beautiful” and “breathtaking”…but World’s End in Horton Plains National Park is yet another place that deserves those descriptors. It’s definitely a tourist hotspot but don’t let that deter you—it’s still an incredible sight to see, with a dizzying drop of 870 metres. Word is that the area was once full of Sri Lankan dwarf elephants but they haven’t been seen since the 1940s…but there’s still plenty of other flora and fauna to appreciate.
Backpackers, hikers, and anyone looking to experience the natural beauty of Ella should take the hike up to Ella Rock. Follow the railroad tracks and then get ready for an ascent through the forests that will bring you up to the peak with lush, green views.
For the fit and adventurous, challenge yourself with this 2,243m mountain where the summit has a depression called Sri Pada, or Sacred Footprint. The original story is that it is the footprint of the Buddha himself but you’ll hear plenty of adaptations. Adams Peak is incredibly popular and gets crowded during the weekends and holidays so it’s best to do your research beforehand. Also, be prepared to start your climb at night in order to reach the peak by dawn.
Gurupokuna is a small village on the southern coast of the island, about 20 km east of Tangalle. This is the place you head to when you’ve had your fill of the bustling cities, honking cars, and running from one temple to another as you attempt to follow your jam-packed itinerary. Time slows down here and your only obligations are to throw on a bikini and kaftan and lounge around on the beach.
This is still a relatively undiscovered corner of Sri Lanka and that makes it all the better. As the country gains popularity as a tourist destination, it is an inevitable fact that commercialisation and construction will soon take over, plonking glittering properties down where the coconut trees currently stand and where the buffalo graze their way through the grass. In other words: get here now!
Nights spent here: 2
PILLOWS (WHERE TO STAY)
Mamboz Beach Cabanas is located in an area that is still a natural beauty, with rich greenery, swaying coconut trees, soft white sand, cerulean seas, and basically every other paradise cliché you can think of. In other words, think about that amazing beachfront property you wanted to stay at…until you realised it cost a small fortune so went for the regular hotel suite instead. Well, this is your dream come true—the beach (which is remote and practically feels like a private beach) is just metres away from your cabana, there are hammocks all around, the property itself is laid-back, as is the owner Matthew Gale, and you’ll experience utter bliss whilst staying here.
Read more about Mamboz Beach Cabanas here.
PURITY (ARTS AND CULTURE)
About an hour away from Mamboz is this ancient rock cave temple which can be found perched at the top of a mountain. Explore all seven of the caves and their own unique murals and Buddhas and you can capture some spectacular views i f you decide to climb the 553 steps to the top.
Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary
A wonderfully serene place to visit, this sanctuary has both marine and birdlife since the area is a mix of swamps, lagoons, jungles, and open grassy areas. There aren’t any on-site guides or facilities so this is for those who prefer to do their own thing at their own pace. Take a paddle boat onto the water and float around as you watch the wildlife or venture into the jungle areas for a bit of a trek. Entrance is free but there is a charge for taking boats.
Udawalawe National Park
This expansive park is about two hours away and a prime spot for getting your fill of Sri Lankan wildlife, including leopards, deer, wild boar, and buffalo. But the real stars are the majestic elephants which is what Udawalawe Park is particularly known for. You won’t be disappointed by the safaris here—many say they rival the ones in Africa!
Since you’re already staying at Mamboz Beach, take advantage of the fact that owner Matthew is also a highly skilled masseuse who specialises in Thai massage. During the off-season, you’ll find him globe-trotting as a very in-demand visiting masseuse. Reach a whole new level of relaxation as he works out all of the knots in your muscles, which have probably built up from hiking, backpacking, and hauling around your luggage as you’ve travelled from one end of the island to the other.
Finally, the last stop in our adventure. Galle is a city along the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This port city is a unique place to visit because it still retains a heavy colonial touch, particularly in the Fort, the fortified area first built by the Portuguese. The entire area is beautiful with the tropical setting and Dutch-colonial architecture taking you back in time.
Nights spent here: 1
PILLOWS (WHERE TO STAY)
We opted to stay about 20 km outside of Galle, at the beautiful Tri Lanka resort which is set on the placid Lake Koggala. This is a property that’s all about indulgence, both the venue and its surroundings, evident by everything from the fluffy towels and dreamy amenities that you’ll no doubt want to pop into your carry-on bag on the way home to the extraordinary views from every angle in every room and villa. It’s just pure, tranquil luxury here and an exquisite place to unwind and find your centre.
Read more about Tri Lanka here.
If you’d rather stay in Galle, we recommend the absolutely lovely Amangalla. Once the residence of the Dutch governor, the hotel has a rich history that dates back to 1684. It is luxurious with a colonial charm and you’ll be drawn in by the details like the teak floorboards, antiques, and shuttered verandah. It is a prime example of the gorgeous Dutch-colonial architecture that makes Galle Fort such a stunning place.
Fun fact: Amangalla is in a scene in Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” music video!
Another lovely option in Galle, Kikili House is a five-star boutique bed and breakfast, owned and run by Henri Tatham and Kokila Harindra. The rooms are sumptuously cosy and there’s a beautiful garden for relaxing and a verandah that’s perfect for yoga. You’ll also only be about 10 minutes from the sea but sister property Kikili Beach is nearby for those who’d like to stay right by the water.
Food For The Soul
If you remember from Part 1 of our Sri Lanka travel guide, we’re big fans of Pepper and their curated experiences. In Galle, they set us up with a culinary class called “Food For The Soul” that is in partnership with Village Rider. The food journey started with us meeting the chef at the Galle market where we learnt about the core ingredients of Sri Lankan cooking, like curry leaves and various spices. After selecting all of the ingredients, we took a tuk-tuk (you can also bike) to a nearby village where an open air mud hut surrounded by fields sat waiting for us. The chef whipped up several dishes, all of them fragrant and delicious, and the whole experience was just heightened by the gorgeous rural setting. Another unforgettable cooking class!
Take a time out and try the fabulous High Tea at Amangalla Hotel. You can nibble on finger sandwiches, cakes, tarts, and homemade jam as you sip on Ceylon tea and admire your surroundings.
PURITY (ARTS AND CULTURE)
Jo Eden Mimimango
This boutique is one of the many gorgeous places where you can drop a pretty penny in Galle. Stock up on soft, flowing dresses that can go from beach to dinner, lots of lovely accessories, and even some men’s shirts while you’re at it.
Located at Kikili House, this boutique is stocked with bright men’s tropical shirts (designed by Tatham) alongside the most fabulous party supplies, from banners to bunting. Henri Tatham is also a fully authorised wedding celebrant so if you’re looking to get hitched in Sri Lanka, she can help you put together a memorable and personalised ceremony that’s done up in style.
The utterly charming Galle Fort is full of beautiful Dutch-colonial buildings and walkable streets. In addition to the usual tourist spots like the Dutch Reformed Church and the Maritime Archaeology Museum, you’ll find plenty of places featuring locally made goods, jewellery shops, quaint cafés, and lovely boutiques (like Mimimango).
Located on Lake Koggala, Cinnamon Island is solely dedicated to the farming and production of the fragrant spice. It is an 8-acre estate owned by four brothers, which was handed down to them by their grandfather. The cinnamon trees take three years to reach maturity and because there’s no mechanised way to produce the spice, everything is done by hand. It was amazing to see how it starts as a tree and ends up in boxes on the shelves at Waitrose!
Curious about where to eat, sleep, and play in Colombo, Ulpotha, or Kandy? Take a look at Part 1 of our Sri Lanka guide!