The Ultimate Sri Lanka Roadtrip for Sustainable Travelers


The Ultimate Sri Lanka Roadtrip for Sustainable Travelers

Sri Lanka.
This little island in the Indian Ocean, the green jewel situated next to India, rich in history and culture. Known for Europeans and Russians as a holiday destination, this place has so much more to offer than pristine beaches and an epic train ride that will probably leave you more disappointed than impressed anyway. Do you want to connect with yourself, get face to face with different cultures, and try some of the best food you will ever get? Are you into unique landscapes that can change in minutes, some surf, and adventure? Then don't think twice and put Sri Lanka on the top of your post-Corona travel list!

Before we go into details about what makes this place so special, what's the story behind it, what vegan food to hunt for, safety rules as a female solo traveler, how to get around and the perfect route including all the places to stay - let's start with the very basics. How to get there and how's the visa situation?


Visa, SIM card & how to get there

Before the pandemic, Sri Lanka had a program running that gave certain citizens a free four-weeks visa. It came into place after the bombings during Easter 2019 that hit tourism hard and was established to attract tourists. Then it got extended again, but at the moment it's not sure how the situation will look like after COVID-19. You need a visa to get there and you can only apply for a four week one but it’s as easy as an E-Visa. Make sure to go via the official site, which is this one: Sri Lanka E-Visa. If you want to stay longer, you have to go to the office of immigration yourself, apply, and pay for it at the spot. It's easy but takes forever so make sure you don't have any plans for that day and are staying in Colombo the night before so you can be there as soon as it opens. Usually, you will spend around 5 h there, but if there is a system error - it can be up to 9 h. The price differs for every nationality and doesn't really make sense, you can find them on a board in the waiting room.

I highly recommend getting a local SIM card, they are cheap (around 10 USD for 40 GB) and work nearly everywhere. You can get them directly at the airport or at every store that has a provider sign outside; you can also just recharge it at every store. Dialogue and Mobitel both have a similar range, so just go with the one that has a shorter waiting line.

You can fly into Colombo from any major international airport, inland flights are expensive and not recommended as the public transport system works perfectly fine. If you had the idea to cross via India I have to disappoint you - due to difficulties between the two countries the ferry service got retired a few years ago and there is literally no other way to reach the island than via plane.

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History and Culture

Sri Lanka has a long, bloody history. The most important thing to know is the fact that there are Tamils and Sinhalese living on the island. They both speak a different language, and generally, you will find Tamils in the north, and Sinhalese more in the south. This separation has its origin in India where many Tamils came from hundreds of years ago. It has always been a center of harbors due to its location; it has been reigned by local kingdoms for over 2000 years until first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British came and colonized Sri Lanka by naming it Ceylon. These days it’s a multicultural society with different religions like Islam, Christianity, Hinduism but majorly Buddhism. There are temples and holy areas all over; there is a high level of spirituality that you can feel very clearly by just paying attention. After they regained independence in 1972, the name got changed from Ceylon to today's Sri Lanka, which can be translated as an honorable island. It has one of the biggest biodiversities on a very small scale: you can find elephants, leopards, and all kinds of lizards all around the island. Most recently the country suffered immensely: starting with the civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamil community from 1983 to 2009 which still affects people until today, the tsunami in 2004 that also hit it very hard with thousands of deaths and then the Easter attack in 2019 that made tourism collapse again.


Safety

Sri Lanka is an incredibly safe country.
People are extremely friendly and helpful. Of course, there are the occasional men who want to help you and then ask for money, but if you make sure what you want and don't want, you will rarely run into any problems. You can drive around in an open-sided TukTuk with your belongings inside and if you ask a local shop, where you buy something, to watch it, it is as safe as it would be in a car. Especially for female solo travelers, Sri Lanka is actually a really good place to start as you get a bit of the Asian craziness but it all comes in doses. Even as a woman on your own in public transport or in a restaurant, in the middle of nowhere or in a big city like Colombo or Kandy, I didn't feel unsafe for one second. It is a very religious place, so not running around in a bikini, shorts, or belly free should be obvious and is a basic sign of respect.



Vegan Food

As in most Asian countries, Sri Lanka is no exception when it comes to a wide variety of vegan dishes. Many are vegetarian and you can always ask for no egg, for example in Khottu. Most of the street food is vegan anyway, in poorer regions they don't use any butter but margarine for everything, even bread is vegan most of the time. If you fancy some more western dishes, especially in the touristic regions in the south there are quite a few hipster cafes that serve incredible plant-based food but more about them a bit later.



Transport

Due to the British, Sri Lanka has an excellent railroad system and buses basically go everywhere. For shorter distances, people use TukTuks which is also the usual way to get around for the common folk. While some do have cars, and especially expats or tourists use them, there are so many local and fun ways to get around that I highly encourage you to go for one of those! It’s also a lot cheaper and you will come in touch with the community in a way you would never have the chance to if you'd be sitting in a car with closed doors. You can rent a private driver with a car though if you really don't wanna go the local way.


Train

Many already know about this because of that Insta famous Ella-Kandy train ride. But actually, the system is so good that you can get to nearly everywhere by hopping on a train. There are three classes, the third one is mostly used by locals with bench-style seating and the second one has separated seats. You can buy safe seats in both; if you go 2nd make sure you know where to board, otherwise you paid more for absolutely nothing. If you're on a budget, third is completely fine even as a solo female traveler, but be prepared that it can get packed. Like REALLY packed, especially during peak times and you may have to stand or sit on the floor for part of the journey. 2nd is a bit better, but it still gets really full at times. 1st is a bit of missing out on the experience as you can't open the windows and is basically just for tourists. Taking the train is really cheap. You don't even have to buy your ticket in advance if you're not looking for 1st class; even for the popular routes there are always tickets available right at the counter at the train station. For food, in the lower classes people that sell things will walk through all the time or will wait at the stations to sell through the windows. But buying some snacks before boarding and bringing enough water (so you don't have to get plastic bottles) is always a good idea. People tend to throw their trash out of the window - please don't do that and take everything with you! You can also say no to the plastic bags they give you when buying street food and just use your own bags/containers - they may give you weird looks, but it works. Getting a train is really cheap, around 1-3 USD for a third-class ticket for a multiple hour journey maximum!


Bus

In places you can't go by train, there is a bus. It's still a mystery to me, but there always is one, no matter where and you never wait longer than 10-15 minutes! Show up at a bus station, ask around or read the signs and jump in. You pay when inside as someone will come by to collect the money. Again, buses are really cheap with 0.50-2 USD max for even pretty long drives. You will be able to sit most of the time, there are also the normal public buses or the minibusses with AC that are private, but actually don't cost a lot more. I actually prefer the big, public ones as it’s not as cramped as the small ones and you can again open the windows. You always hear about the crazy way of driving, and yes it's true, some bus drivers do go a bit nuts. Honestly? Just ignore and enjoy the experience. The traffic works like a waterfall, it all has its place and if you've driven in it yourself you will understand how it works, even though it does look pretty mad from the outside. So just trust your driver and don't think about it too much. The buses are very colourful and if you got any questions, the drivers can often help you to get to your next bus or show you where to go; don't feel shy and many actually do speak a pretty good level of English.

TukTuk

For shorter distances and in villages, cities, etc. the most common form of transport is via TukTuk. These three-wheelers are open on the back, can fit 3 people with small luggage or two passengers with bigger bags, but honestly there isn't really a limit as you will realize watching the locals. A short drive is around 1-2USD, local prices are lower but for tourists they do charge a bit more, especially in touristic regions. Make sure you know the common price and don't be afraid to hassle - you have to and they will try to overcharge you. Stick to your price and when you walk away, someone will run after you saying it's ok and then they will take you. If they say pay whatever you want, definitely decline and only go in when you got a set price, never board a TukTuk without agreeing beforehand.




Selfdrive - Rent a TukTuk!

If you really want to experience Sri Lanka, get close to its people, and do a once in a lifetime road trip - there is only one real way to do it: Rent a TukTuk with TukTuk Rental!
Yes you heard right, you can rent a three-wheeler and drive around the island at your own pace. As much as I love exploring places with public transport, my number 1 recommendation for Sri Lanka will always be to drive yourself.
You may think no way that it's possible to drive in that scary and dangerous traffic! And how do you even drive one of those things? First of all, the traffic in Sri Lanka is not as crazy as it may seem. They describe it as a waterfall and that's exactly how it works: once you`re in, it magically all fits together and is way easier than it seems from the outside. Driving the TukTuk is also not that difficult if you got the hang; TukTuk Rental will give you a driving lesson before you take off! But let`s summarise it to make it easier:

- the TukTuks are owned by local drivers and the rental company does pay them very fairly so they can feed their families when they can`t use it

- they also compensate for the CO2 of your drive, which is pretty awesome and makes it a bit more environmentally friendly!

- you can either get the license yourself or let the rental handle it as you need your international driver license converted into a local one

- you will get a driver license and instruction what to do if it breaks down before you hit the road

- they offer all kind of accessories, so no matter if you need a child seat, a surf rack or a speaker, you can just rent it on top

- you are fully insured with your TukTuk and don`t have to worry about anything during your journey

- unlimited kilometers, which means you can go as far as it takes you

- you can pick it up and drop it off wherever you want, and if you want to take the famous train ride, they offer a special service for that too!

- a TukTuk gives you the chance to stop wherever you want and explore rural villages and to interact with locals - a unique experience that even taking the train or bus could never give you


Route

All spots mentioned down below are marked on this map, so make sure to save it! It is perfect for 2-3 weeks with a TukTuk, but you can always shorten or extend it to fit your schedule.



Colombo

Colombo is Sri Lanka's capital and situated in the southwest of the country. The only international airport is around 40 minutes away in Negombo, a small town north of the city. TukTuks aren`t allowed at the airport, but you have multiple options to reach Colombo. While people may try to talk you into paying a lot of money for a taxi or a private driver, there is a public bus for 1 USD that leaves at least every half an hour, or every time it is full. Just turn left after you exited the big arrival hall and you will see some buses. Go there and ask which one is the one to Colombo and get in. Stay inside until the last stop at Colombo Fort and you can get a TukTuk to your accommodation from there.
There are two bus stations, the public and the private ones in the city. It's not very well organized so just ask a driver waiting in front of the bus and they can tell you where the bus to your destination departures. But don`t let someone take you as they often want money for that. If you get lost, just ask again and you will find the right one. The two `stations` are situated on the opposite side of each other and are close to the main train station - Colombo Fort.
The city itself doesn`t have much to offer. The main reason people stay here is to extend their visas, pick up friends, or because it’s the first/last night of a trip. It's actually quite different from the rest of the country, so if you got a day it's worth looking around but don`t plan an extra day just for sightseeing here.

Restaurants


There are some restaurants that cater to vegans, and as Sri Lanka’s kitchen is pretty vegan friendly you can get something to eat nearly everywhere.
If you are craving western food though, it is a bit more difficult, and that's where The VoV comes in. Situated in a nice neighborhood in the south of town, they have a few tables but also offer delivery via Uber Eats. They got everything you can wish for: burgers, pizza or pasta, and everything is freshly homemade, even the vegan cheese! The menu is creative with loads of options and you won`t be disappointed. It’s definitely the best western fast food you can get in the city - maybe even the whole island.




Accommodation 

It’s a big city, the biggest one in the country, and that means you got quite a few options to choose from in terms of where you`re staying. There are countless hostels for as cheap as 4 USD per night and most of them are actually fine. So just check the reviews if you want one of those for a night. If you`re looking for a room for yourself and a place to unwind - I got you covered:

This place is actually heaven on earth. Nestled away from the main road, it is an oasis that will allow you to relax after your travel journey or a long day at the immigration office. It is beautifully decorated and offers big rooms with spacious bathrooms, two pools, and a restaurant where you can have your breakfast or dinner. The house actually was the place the owners mother grew up and you can feel the love put into it. It is run as a family place with unique holiday homes all over the island. The restaurant doesn`t have any vegan dishes on the menu, but you can always ask to change something, and they are happy to help you with your request.

Rates start at 105 USD for a standard room.








If you`re in town and need a simple, clean place to stay for the night, the Port View City Hotel will fulfill all your needs. It’s nothing fancy and often used by locals, but it is good enough for a night or a business trip into town. They usually also have a bar on the top floor which is currently under renovation and a simple breakfast is included. Wi-Fi works really well, so if you need to do some work you`re all set here!

Rates start at 5000 SLR







An extraordinary lush green guesthouse, and maybe one of the most beautiful places in the capital. The moment you find your way to the back of the property where this gem is situated you will feel welcome and at home. Dark wood in combination with an endless amount of plants and decorated with so much love, it feels like you`re in a completely different city, far away from the bustling streets of Colombo. Even the smallest room is spacious and offers a beautiful bathroom with a rainfall shower. If you get the chance to try the food – it’s high class and they can cater to any diets if you tell them your needs beforehand! They also use Solar Energy and have a water filter available for your refill.






Adam’s Peak

Probably the most famous mountain on the island, Adam`s Peak attracts tourists and pilgrims from all religions. There is a 1.8m long footprint near the summit which is told to belong either Buddha, Shiva, Adam, or Thomas and so lead to the pilgrimage. There is a monastery on top and it takes around 3 - 4 hours to go up, it’s mostly stairs which makes it not as easy as it seems due to its popularity. There are other paths that go up, for example the one from the backside but it’s a lot longer even though not as many stairs. The path up is lighted up during the night as it is recommended to start at around 2am to be on top for sunrise.

Accommodation 

While most tourists stay in Dalhouise to approach the mountain from the north, there also is a path in the south. Less touristic, fewer stairs but longer with around 6-8h; it is the way to go if you like to flee the masses. The perfect place to start is the Omega Residence, nestled in the hill land as the only hotel in the area and it offers an epic view, big rooms, and a pool. The staff does their best to fulfill your needs and will help you with whatever is on your mind. They are also able to cook vegan if you request it - just make sure to state what you don`t eat. They try their best to support the local communities with activities available that are run by villagers, so by staying here you do the same. If you are considering an off-the-beaten-track approach to Adam`s Peak, this is the place to go and you will surely have a unique experience.




Activities 

There are many tea tours available, but none will take you to wild tea plantations except Forest Hill! A small local tea factory, a 10-minute drive from the Omega residence, offers tours that include a hike to wild tea trees where they get the leaves for their rare wild tea. This plantation has been abandoned hundreds of years ago, so the plants were not cut back and they grew into trees and are now handpicked by workers that have to hike up the hill to even get there. This means that the eco-system is preserved the way it is and is way more environmentally friendly than a classic tea production. It’s the only place in Sri Lanka where you can experience this. After the hike, you get a tour through the factory and a tasting of all the blendings they offer. If you`ve ever done a wine tasting - it's pretty similar but way healthier and you for sure leave without being intoxicated! You can even make your own tea and get it the next day. Forest Hill is the perfect example of sustainable tourism that supports the people who live there and provides a raw experience. 




Ella

The next stop is the famous town of Ella. It is mainly known for the Nine Arch Bridge, the famous train ride from Kandy to Ella, and the two hills Ella Rock and Little Adam`s Peak. While the train ride is really pretty (and you should definitely take a train once in Sri Lanka), driving this part with your TukTuk won`t be disappointing either. It's a stunning drive with epic views, and once in Ella you will suddenly realize that you`re back in a touristic area as it is literally flooded with people. You will find all kinds of guesthouses, smaller hotels for all budgets, homestays, and restaurants here. The main street is very touristic with loads of hipster shops and western-style cafes and bars. There is definitely a reason why it's so popular; it does have its charm and spending a day or two will be worth your time.


Restaurants


In the middle of the main road, one of the biggest restaurants is a place called Cafe Chill. While there are a few vegan options in town due to tourism, this has the biggest variety and a menu that will let your heart beat a bit faster. No matter if it’s the burger, zucchini pasta, or smoothies, the staff knows what veganism is and can tell you what dishes meet the criteria. They also have an incredibly beautiful top floor. Make sure to stop by here for a cocktail in the evening - they got some really exciting ones available and it’s the prettiest location in all of Ella to have a drink.





Accommodation 


This place is a bit outside of Ella, around 10 minutes via TukTuk, and lies on the side of the hill. It's not suited for anyone who can`t walk stairs as you have to go up a very steep stairway to reach the hotel, but you have an amazing view over both Ella Rock and Little Adam`s Peak once you made it! The rooms are simple but with huge windows. They also have a pool and offer breakfast. Wi-Fi is really fast, so perfect for all digital nomads, and it's run by locals.




Activities 

Ella Rock

There are two hills in the area that you can hike up, and one of them is Ella Rock. The path is a bit less known so make sure to have a map with you and check the directions before you go. It’s a 2h-hike and you will be rewarded with the most beautiful lookout point over the whole area. If you can, may consider taking a local guide as you can easily get lost. 

Little Adam`s Peak

If you got less time, Little Adam`s Peak may be the better option. It’s only a 30min-hike and easy for everyone. You can go a bit further if you want to and you can see Ella Rock on the other side from here. It is named after its big brother cause of a similar shape, but it is way easier to walk up.

Nine Arch Bridge

The famous bridge is just next to the starting point of Little Adam`s Peak and is always full of tourists trying to get that Instagram photo. It’s also where the train goes through, so if you decide to take the ride you will definitely go over it. 

Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay is the number 1 surfing spot on the island. Unlike the beaches in the south, it's not really beginner-friendly, but blessed with some of the world's top10 swells, so experienced surfers definitely get their kick here! While the south works from November to March, the east coast only does from April to October. That's also the reason why tourism shifts depending on the season and on the monsoon that appears in different parts of the island. During off-season, so in January / February, the area is nearly completely free of tourists, it's much more relaxed and you can only imagine how crazy it is here during the main season. Not all restaurants are open, but I would highly recommend stopping by here no matter what time of the year. If you`re coming from the south coast, this will be a welcome place to calm down.


Accommodation & Food


There are some places that just feel so right the moment you arrive and Stay Golden is one of those. I would go as far as saying that this is probably my favorite hotel in Sri Lanka, you won`t find something like this very often. Run by a German - Sri Lankan couple a bit outside of Arugam Bay, but directly by the sea and only a short walk from the center away. The love put into it can be felt wherever you go: every detail is placed with absolute perfection and the rooms are incredibly beautiful, no matter which one you choose. They got a Yoga Shala, surfboard rental, offer classes, and even a pool is provided! The best part? They have their own restaurant with a separate vegan menu; everything is prepared fresh and local by the staff. Chances are that you never leave for food as it's just too good, and there is so much to choose from!

Rates start at 35 USD






Batticaloa 

The east coast is less travelled than the south and the hill country, because most tourists don`t go further than Arugam Bay and that's actually a shame! Up here, you will find the real Sri Lanka and your journey takes you through small villages with people that rarely see any westerners passing through. There are quite a few police/military controls around here, so just have your papers ready if you do a self-drive tour, but most of the time they are just curious. Public transport is available to most places around here, but there aren`t that many options for accommodation as in popular areas. You can visit the beautiful lagoons, check out temples and mosques or have a stroll through one of the bigger towns like Batticaloa. It's the perfect opportunity to dive deep and stay a homestay!

Accommodation 


Tucked away in a field very close to the lake, the Yuhibuhi homestay is the perfect place for a stopover on your journey. You will have your own room with a fan on the family's property and they happily cook for your dinner or bring you tea if you wish so! It's simple but has everything you need and gives you the chance to experience the local life firsthand. The lagoon is very close-by and is a great place to go for a run in the evening when it has cooled down a bit.

Rates start at 10 USD





Trincomalee

The city upon the northeast has a heavy history and has been taken by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British in the past. It’s a port city and mainly inhabited by the Tamil community and has been hit hard by the Tsunami in 2004.

Activities

Seruvila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara

A short drive from Trincomalee and on the way from Batticaloa lies an impressive temple that is said to be the place where Buddha's forehead is buried. It's a great stop if you pass through anyway, as tourism is not big here you have the chance to experience a temple as local as possible. The atmosphere is stunning and you can feel the energy in this place, people are incredibly friendly and entry is free.

Accommodation 


Nilaveli beach is situated just above Trincomalee and offers some of the most beautiful, empty beaches in all of Sri Lanka. Bella Nilaveli Beach is right at the beach and offers beautiful rooms/hubs with an in-house restaurant. They have a pool, a yoga shala with daily lessons, and can organize tours up to your wishes. It is run by a lovely Italian - Sri Lankan couple and is a gorgeous place to wind down after the long journey to get here. It's definitely worth a visit and you will feel right at home. The rooms are decorated with loads of love and it’s another one of those places that have something special about it, you may end up staying longer than you thought!
The in-house restaurant can serve vegans upon request, so make sure to mention it when booking or ordering.

Rates start at 24 USD






Sigirya

For our route, the next stop is away from the coast in the middle of the island, and it’s a very famous one - the rock fortress of Sigirya.



Accommodation 


There are loads of places to stay at around Sigirya, but if you want to wind down, emerge into nature and yourself, there is no way around Mahagedara. This place lies hidden in the woods, where you enter a world of peace, consciousness, and the definition of a sustainable resort. The rooms are basic, but if you look closer you can find so many little hidden details that you may oversee at first. All the food is homegrown and absolutely excellent catering for all diets. In addition, you can take strolls through the garden, explore a treehouse, use the shala for a yoga session, or check out the absolute highlight - their own Bodhi tree! If you don`t know what a Bodhi is, it’s a tree that is said to have grown out of a branch of the tree Buddha got enlightened under. And the ones in Sri Lanka are all related to the one in Anuradhapura which is said to be a direct relative of the original Bodhi. If you ever encounter one, take your chance to meditate at it, even if you`re not that experienced with meditation. At the one at Mahagedara, the energy is absolutely crazy and it’s such an intense experience, that alone would be worth coming here. You can read about their concept on the website linked above, but if you find yourself in the area - do yourself a favor and plan a few days at Mahagedara.

Prices start at 108 USD







Activities

Sigirya Rock

 The name means Lion Rock and the place itself is a UNESCO World Heritage, it has been built around 1500 years ago but has been used as a monastery after its days as a fort. Sigirya is a historical, cultural, and religious center. You can easily spend a whole day exploring the gardens, walk up the mountain itself, and may also hike the nearby Pidurangala rock to have a spectacular view over the area. It’s the only attraction with a pretty high entrance fee; you have to decide for yourself if it's worth it, but you won`t see something like this twice in your life and the money is used to keep it all intact.





Activities

Sigirya Rock

 The name means Lion Rock and the place itself is a UNESCO World Heritage, it has been built around 1500 years ago but has been used as a monastery after its days as a fort. Sigirya is a historical, cultural, and religious center. You can easily spend a whole day exploring the gardens, walk up the mountain itself, and may also hike the nearby Pidurangala rock to have a spectacular view over the area. It’s the only attraction with a pretty high entrance fee; you have to decide for yourself if it's worth it, but you won`t see something like this twice in your life and the money is used to keep it all intact.


Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is the capital of the north and a UNESCO World Heritage as well. It’s one of the two ancient cities, with loads of temples to explore and the center of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Many pilgrims come here, where the island's original Bodhi tree can be found, and you can spend hours discovering all the different temples and ruins. Make sure to plan a bit more time, as it’s around 1-2 hours from Sigirya.

Dambulla Cave Temple

In Dambulla you can find Sri Lanka's biggest and best-preserved cave temple. It exists of five caves carved into the rock and holds a total of 153 Buddha statues. If you got the time, it's on the way from Sigirya to Kandy and is definitely worth a visit.

Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is a small city around half an hour east of Sigiriya and the other major ancient city with many different temples. There are several major Buddha statues carved in stone all around town and if you can`t make it to Anuradhapura, this is a great option to get the feel of these old cities.

Knuckles

Right in the center of the island, there is an impressive mountain range called the Knuckles. They are a UNESCO Nature World Heritage and known for their cloud forests, the highest mountain is 1906 m high and there are several endangered species living in this area. There are several beautiful hiking trails through the area, along with tea and rice plantations, through rural villages and lush green mountains. You can also visit tea factories, small monasteries, or local villages on the way. Make sure to plan enough time in this part of the island!



Accommodation 

Up in the mountains above Kandy, the Knuckles, lies a beautiful property owned by a British-Sri Lankan couple. It’s a retreat for everyone, no matter if you want to hike, do yoga, enjoy wellness or get creative. From Kandy, there is a bus that takes around an hour, and another 15-minute TukTuk ride to the Villa. If you drive yourself, there are small roads through villages from the north or the same route as the bus takes from Kandy. What makes it so extraordinary is the family feeling - as soon as you arrive you feel instantly at home. Cozy rooms, a big living room area, meals on the veranda, and a Shala with one of the best views you will ever get. That combined with local staff and a relaxed atmosphere will let you slow down instantly. I mentioned Welikande in detail in my Yoga guide that you can find here.

Rates start at 99 USD







Kandy

Kandy is a 3-4h train ride from Colombo and in the middle of the hill country. With over 125k residents, it’s one of the most populated areas on the island. It is a big city centered around a man-built lake in the middle. It has been a kingdom for hundreds of years and was the last one to fall when the British invaded Sri Lanka. Apart from being best known as a starting point for the famous train ride to Ella, it has a lot more to offer. Besides the lake, there is a botanical garden, the temple of the tooth and a big Buddha statue that watches over the city. You either hate or love this place - it’s busy, it’s a bit surreal, but not half as bad as people tend to say.

Accommodation 


The city itself is quite conservative, which means that there aren`t many bars or hostels in the area. Hipsters is an exception, and the place to be for dinner, drinks, or yoga. The property is beautifully done with wooden structures and hammocks everywhere, Wi-Fi works perfectly fine and they offer food all day long. They can easily adapt most meals for vegans, just ask and you actually got quite a big variety to choose from. Rooms are quite simple but with a private bathroom. They got several different ones to choose from and a dorm for backpackers on a budget.






Restaurants


Like the name already says, hidden in an alley in the middle of Kandy, this little café is the perfect oasis to stop by for lunch or a smoothie. They got several vegan marked items on the menu and if you ask the staff, they are well informed about veganism and can help you. Make sure to check out the small open area in the back and try the avocado sandwich, it’s definitely worth it! 

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya lies in between Kandy and Ella. It’s the center of tea production and one of the coldest places in Sri Lanka, that's where you will need your sweater and long pants! The first thing you`ll notice is the very British feel of the town: many colonial buildings are made of stone and represent castles; there even is a polo and a golf course. There are several national parks around and many waterfalls to explore. It often rains due to the mist, so you may need protection. Just adds to the English vibe I suppose!

Accommodation 


A bit outside of Nuwara Eliya lies this castle-like hotel. It is a bit older, but the rooms are clean, big and even have a balcony! The owner is really friendly and can arrange a TukTuk driver to take you into town; there also is enough parking space for a car or three-wheeler. The place seems a bit abandoned but has a huge restaurant where they serve a simple breakfast. It is a very unique location and the blankets they provide are some of the best you will ever have, as weird as it sounds. Wi-Fi works perfectly well.

Rates start at 35 USD




Activities

Ambuluwawa

This place is a white tower in a biodiversity reserve that gained fame due to all the Instagram photos of the white tower. You can walk to the top and it’s actually smaller in person than you imagine, but it’s a very unique landmark that you shouldn`t miss on your way from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.

Yala

B35

You have probably seen the famous photos of an elephant crossing the road. There is one route between Ella & Arugam Bay to Yala that has gained popularity due to its location - it goes directly through the Yala Nationalpark and gives you the unique opportunity to see wild elephants! While the chances that you will cross at least one or two on the way are high, it actually turned into a pretty sad story and these elephants have been fed by tourists. That's why you will always find them at the exact same spot, and even though it's advised to not feed them, there are always hundreds of banana peels on the street. So please, drive slowly but don`t stop near the elephants and definitely don`t feed them. It's a beautiful road nonetheless and worth taking it when taken with caution.




Accommodation 


Right at the end of the B35 you will find this beautiful lodge. It's run by the same family that owns the Colombo House and it used to be the father's favorite. It’s right at the border to Yala Nationalpark and in the morning you may will spot an elephant passing by! You will be served breakfast in the main house, while the rooms are surrounding the pool. It’s the perfect location to explore Yala and come down after an exhausting day. Like the one in Colombo it's decorated with a lot of love and feels like a home away from home.

Rates start at 60 USD




Hiriketiya

This little bay is heaven on earth, and this may end up being a love letter for Hiriketiya. Around an hour from the busy south with Weligama and Mirissa, a small road leads away from the main road and takes you through a rural village until you suddenly find yourself in a place that looks like mini Australia. Crystal clear, blue water in a bay, very hip cafes, and surfers wherever you look. While it actually is quite touristic, somehow it made something possible the surrounding areas couldn’t - it kept its spirit. There is just something about it that makes you wanna stay forever, it’s a bit like paradise. It’s the surf mekka, as the bay has waves on most days and you won`t be able to catch some for all levels that easily anywhere else. There are tons of board rental stalls along the beach, so no need to bring your own. Some hotels and guesthouses also have their own stock you can use if you`re staying there.


Accommodation 

There are quite a few incredible places to stay in Hiri, so I`m happy to show you some of my absolute favorites.


Salt is a five-minute walk from the beach, in the middle of the jungle. It has everything you can wish for: a restaurant with vegan options, a pool, a chillout area, a yoga shala with daily lessons and free surfboards to rent out if you`re staying here. The staff is some of the kindest you will ever come across; it's run by Australians and they are happy to give you tips for the area. The yoga lessons are also open for outside guests, the same goes for the restaurant and bar. It’s a beautiful place and perfect if you`re looking for a spacious, western-style accommodation or just wanna come by for dinner, yoga, or a drink.

Rates start at 75 USD









This beautiful house just opened a few weeks ago and offers three apartments with the best view in all of Hiriketiya. It's brand new and a five-minute walk down the hill from the bay, so perfect to explore the area, stay for a while, or for a surf trip. It's self-catering and has space for couples, solo travelers, or families. There is a cafe called Mond next door where you can pop by for breakfast and everything else is just a short walk away. The top apartment is absolutely stunning and offers a big outdoor bed - perfect to read a book or relax after a long day of surfing. You can book for shorter stays or long-term, so if you`re thinking about spending a bit more time here, this is the place to be.






Restaurants

Smoke & Bitters

This may be the island's very best restaurant to date. You may miss it if you don`t know where to look, but that would be the biggest mistake you could ever make! On the road from Hiriketiya to Dikwella, right before the beach appears again, you will spot an open-air restaurant with a porch lit pathway and a bar waiting for you. This is literally what dreams are made off. They even got a swing and everything is done with so much love for the detail that it will blow your mind. Make sure to make a reservation though, as it gets full very fast and there aren`t that many tables. And don`t miss the sunset as the sun will go down right in front of you, leaving the sky in a magical purple-pink light. As if the location and what they made out of it isn`t already enough, the food is the next level. You won`t find anything like this anywhere in the south, well, I guess even in Sri Lanka. The whole menu is filled with incredibly tasty, extraordinary combinations of local and western food, the cocktails are made of homemade ingredients and vegan options are well marked. This is an absolute must if you`re ever in the area, and even worth the trip from wherever you are just to eat here.

The Grove

Right at the beach and shaped like a cube, this place can hardly be overlooked. They offer delicious western food and are the only place that gets its ingredients from Colombo, which also explains the high prices. It has a very Australian vibe, the owners are originally from Byron Bay and also offer rooms you can rent. They have a small assortment of eco-toiletries if you ran out of something and can`t find anything organic in the local shops. Perfect for brunch or lunch!


Verse Collective

Not in Hiri but just a ten-minute walk right at Dickwella beach, you`ll find the Verse Collective. A very hip, modern place that holds a co-working space, a cafe, and rooms for rent. They got a whole vegan menu, including a jackfruit BBQ and a vegan chocolate cupcake that are to die for - so make sure to try them! It’s a bit expensive like most western places in the area, but a nice place to work and have a drink.

Malu Poke

Right at the beach you will find this poke bowl place that offers all kinds of fresh bowls, smoothie in the morning, and poke the rest of the day. Try out the frozen banana with peanuts - it’s better than any ice cream! They also got another store in Weligama, but more about that one a bit later.

Dots Bay House

If you`re staying in Hiri for a while, there is no way around Dots. It’s the place to party, to go for drinks, to meet friends or have a meal. They also have rooms they rent out, a yoga shala with daily lessons, and live acts playing.

Activities

While surfing is definitely a must here, there is more to do than just that. Dikwella beach is perfect for swimming as there are no waves at all while yoga is offered at Salt and Dots. If you fancy a treatment at a Spa but aren`t always sure which one is legit, I get the perfect fit for you.


Right at the main road in Dikwella with beach access on the other side, Amor Wellness will make you feel like a new-born baby.  All their products, except the nail polish, are organic and locally sourced. Whatever you`re looking for, you can get here: massages, peelings, manicures, and pedicures. The people working here are very professional and well trained, everything is cleaned and it’s owned by Australians. I would go as far and say that it's the best spa on the whole south coast. And what's better than a walk at the beach right after your treatment with a fresh coconut in your hand? Not much.





Mirissa 

Mirissa is the tourist hot spot in the south. If you`ve ever been to Spain, Italy, or any Mediterranean country during high season, Mirissa is the Sri Lankan version of it. Hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, and foreigners wherever you look. If this is your tune, go for it, if not, there are two spots to stop on your way through, but I would recommend staying further west either in Weligama or Midigama.

Activities

Coconut Hill

You have probably seen this location on Instagram a thousand times: it’s a hill full of palm trees. It gets really crowded, especially during sunset, so it makes sense to come here for sunrise or just pop by. It's a nice spot for a pick-nick or to have a beer.



Secret Beach

The secret beach in Mirissa is actually the opposite of secret, but it's less touristic than the main beach. There is a little stall that sells juices and snacks. And if you want to go for a swim on the way, it’s perfect for that here.

Weligama

Weligama is known for two things: Its perfect beginner surfing swell and that incredibly ugly Marriot Hotel right at the beach. If you`re looking for a bit of rural peace, you won`t get happy here, but if you fancy a nice hip surfer scene with loads of vegan restaurants, plan some days here.

Accommodation


I talked about this beautiful place in detail in my retreat guide.

If you're looking for a classical Yoga retreat, that is everything you connect with the term but actually so much more - Green Peace Inn is everything you can wish for. Situated in the touristic village of Weligama but still away from all the trouble with direct access to the beach, this place is an oasis of peace, spirituality and some of the best, westernized vegan food you can find in the south. Martina and Alex are the owners and the soul of Green Peace Inn, alongside their staff, they spent countless hours and thoughts into the construction of a beautifully balanced retreat that will make you leave as another person.






A simple hostel with a beautiful backyard and a swimming pool. It belongs to the Hummus Bar and offers hotel-, guesthouse style rooms, dorms, and a rooftop terrace where they hold yoga classes. The beach with several surfboard rental shops is just across the street, it’s the perfect place to stay for a few days if you`re into surfing or fancy a bit more action.

Rates start at 55 USD







Restaurants

Hummus Bar 

The Hummus Bar is an absolute must if you`re in Weligama! Authentic Lebanese kitchen with loads of vegan options, freshly prepared in a beautiful restaurant on the main road close to the beach. Make sure to try their sweet pita, it's an absolute game-changer, and the vegan bowl has everything you can wish for. Perfect for lunch or dinner.








Just opened a few months ago by a British-Italian couple, Rise already is one of the best restaurants in Weligama. They offer authentic Italian cuisine and are one of kind with what they are serving. Everything is locally sourced, the freshest ingredients, and right at the main road. The place itself is stunning: a big window front, and a very homey wooden, green interior. Their vegan options are absolutely amazing, they even make their own cashew cheese and the chocolate pizza with self-made vegan chocolate is unreal! They also have a guesthouse on top of the building if you want to stay in the center of Weligama. A must if you come through!






A completely vegan restaurant, newly opened in late 2019, and on the opposite side of the road where the private island is. They also have a rooftop terrace and a bar if you come by in the evening. The menu is mainly focused on middle eastern specialties like falafel and hummus but they also got smoothie bowls and several dishes with peanut butter. Everything tastes absolutely amazing, it's one of those great hipster places that serve high-quality food in a very western surrounding. Great for lunch!






The Native is a hostel and cafe/restaurant with some amazing vegan options. It’s nestled away from the main roads of Weligama and offers a warm atmosphere, owned and run by two ladies. It’s the perfect place to come for brunch or lunch, they also have a really cute garden right in front. Their vegan scrambled egg tastes amazing, the same goes for the ice-cream with waffles that they have on the menu. It’s also a hostel, so if you`
are looking for a place to stay, this may be something for you.






The second branch of Malu is just a bit outside of Weligama, on the road to Midigama. What's different? This place even has a pool free to use for customers! You can enjoy your poke bowl right next to the pool or at the restaurant, mix it together to your liking or opt for a smoothie bowl if you rather go for something sweet. They use an order system where you can choose your favourite ingredients on a sheet and they build your bowl just like you wish to. Beautiful space and newly opened, a nice change to all the fried Sri Lankan food.





Midigama

If you`re surfing skills require a bit more than clean beach breaks, you will find yourself in Midigama sooner or later. That's where all the magic happens and places like Lazy left, right or Plantation will soon be your favorite spots. It’s a lot calmer than Weligama, especially on the outskirts. And while you will find many holidaymakers in Unawatuna, Mirissa, and Galle, here its mainly surfers.

Restaurants / Accommodation


An absolutely stunning lodge in a little village a short walk from the ocean. It's run by a group of Scandinavians and if you do think they got a great taste for interior design, Jamu definitely proofs that. Everything is made out of dark wood paired with grey cement elements; besides the cafe and restaurant, they also offer rooms, a yoga shala, a rooftop area, and tips for surfers. The menu is full of vegan options, everything is vegetarian, and you don`t want to leave after you came here. This place is a must, no matter if you just pop by for a coffee, lunch, stay here or join a yoga lesson. All the major surfing spots are close-by and the famous Sri Lankan fishermen, which only exists for tourist reasons in most places, still do fish on their sticks right at the beach in front of Jamu.





Galle

Galle is famous for its fort and the port, its cute old town, and the paintings that you can buy everywhere in town. It is quite touristic, but great for a day tour to escape the beach life for a bit (if anyone needs that!). The city got hit pretty badly by the 2004 Tsunami and there is a monument that remembers the victims, as over 4000 people died in the area in the aftermath.

Accommodation


Around 20 minutes above Galle, hidden behind a big gate, the Zoysa Villa is a place that couldn't be better for a Yoga retreat. A spiritual place run by a local, who makes the house into something very special. The beach is close-by and is perfect for surfing, meditation or just a swim. The huge house is impressive as it is, and you can feel the history running through it. 
The rooms are big, bright, and beautiful; some even have a balcony and access to the terrace. It’s kept simple but very comforting - a place you want to stay longer than you thought.

If you wanna know more about Villa de Zoysa, check out my retreat guide where I got a bit more into detail here





+ Extra Kalpityia

If you got some spare time, there is one place you shouldn`t miss and that's the northwest. Not many tourists find their way up here, mainly kite surfers but it's so worth it! Empty sandy beaches, lagoons, and some of the most impressive establishments are placed up here.

Kite Surf Lanka

What makes this place so extraordinary in comparison to all the other kite surfing places around it? The owner was the first person to introduce kiting to the region and it was just the start of tourism development for the surrounding villages. You will rarely find a place that cares so much about the environment: food is locally sourced, plastic is recycled and used to build art or eco-bricks. The plants you see on the photos are mangroves, which are planted all over the area.

 If you want to know more about Kalpityia and KiteSurfLanka, check my retreat guide here.






If you made it all the way to the end, congratulations you`re ready for your Sri Lanka adventure! There is so much to explore here, so many beautiful places and people to meet along the way.

If you got any questions, leave me a comment and I`m happy to help!

Best,

Faye




Comments

  1. This is a wonderful well written blog thank you for sharing. I am a vegan that lives in Weligama and I am excited to try out some of your suggestions for food and accommodation as we will holiday in Sri Lanka this year (once we are allowed to travel)! If you are back in Weligama we would love to meet you, come and visit us at Freedom Surf School and stay at our Surf Villa. Love you've featured Rise & Bella 🥰 thanks again and stay safe!

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    1. Also to add Freedom is good market approved and we run weekly beach cleans every Friday at 10am...

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