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A backpackers guide to Sri Lanka: a one-month itinerary

The crowds head for its Cultural Triangle but Sri Lankas visions also include quieter national park, hiking trails and beaches. Explore it with our guide on what to see and where to stay

Hangover Hostel

Why proceed?

Few countries in Asia can offer such range in a relatively small area, or are as easily navigable by bus and qualify or even in your own tuk-tuk. Away from the main sights its easy to escape the crowds: instead of Mirissa, whale watch in quieter Kalpitiya a laid-back destination for kitesurfing and opt for Wilpattu national park over Yala national park for similar wildlife trips. In the hills, take the develop to Haputale, rather than Ella, for less-trodden routes to scenic mountain viewpoints.

Sri Lanka map .

One-month itinerary

In Colombo , stroll Galle Face Green, inspect the National Museum or weave through the Pettah Market district with a host from Colombo City Walks. Stay at hip Bunkyard Hostels( see below ). From here, head north to Kalpitiya ( 4 hours by bus ), an arid north-western peninsula with a chilled vibe, easy cycling through fishing hamlets and whale- and dolphin-watching journeys that are light on gang. Move onto Wilpattu national park ( 1 hours by road ), a immense stockpile that is home to leopards, sloth suffers and elephants.

Pettah Market, Colombo. Photo: Alamy

In the centre of the country, the Cultural Triangle brims with( expensive) world heritage sites, and guests, but there are ways to find less-busy smudges. Hike up Pidurangala for sentiments back over Sigiriyas rock fortress at a fraction of the cost, and instead of Dambullas cave tabernacles, visit Ritigala , an ancient forest monastery dating to the first century BC. Guests flock to Minneriya national park to realize the elephants, yet nearby Kaudulla is just as good and cheaper to visit.

En route to the Hill Country, stop in Kandy to inspected the sacred Temple of the Tooth. The mountains offer superb march trails, tea estates and veiled cascades, and a railway line that cuts through the most dramatically scenic parts( check in to the Clock Inn see below ). Most backpackers head for Ella , the Hill Countrys de facto low-budget hangout, with its hostels( try the Hangover Hostel see below ), coffeehouse, homestays and easy saunters. However, also on the mainline railway is Haputale , a town with panoramic views onto the southern plains, marches( a favourite is to Liptons Seat viewpoint) and tea plantations( Dambatenne is my pick ). While hostels havent quite reached Haputale, there are plenty of affordable guesthouses.

Temple of the Tooth, Kandy. Photograph: Getty Images

From the hills, proceed east by bus to Arugam Bay ( about three hours) for small island developing best surf or to inspect lesser-known locates such as Kumana national park and the ancient coastal temple locate of Muhudu Maha Viharaya, associated with the Ramayana tale. Move on to the south coast next, perhaps stopping for a nighttime in Wellawaya to realized the 7 10 th-century Buddhist rock reliefs at Buduruwagala( the tallest in Sri Lanka ), before reaching Hiriketiya ( 4 to five hours by bus ), a deep horseshoe-shaped channel-surf inlet with beach shacks and guesthouses. Dots Bay Houseon the bay has three chambers and an open-sided dorm with beds from 13. The bay extends to the quieter Dickwella Beach, a wide, sandy swathe. Mulkirigala rock temple a mini cross between Sigiriya and Dambulla cave tabernacles is accessible from here.

Continue west to Galle ( 1 hours by road ), for atmospheric strolls in its 17 th-century colonial-era fort, good keepsake shopping and steered bicycle trip-ups inland, through the towns and paddy fields. Before manager residence, stir your path inland to Sinharaja , either via Mederapitiya( near Deniyaya; about 3 hours) or Kudawa( 2 to three hours from Galle ), for hikes in pristine rainforest home to 95% of Sri Lankas endemic bird species and more than 60% of the islands endemic botanies, and to cool off in waterfall pools.

Getting around

Tuk-tuks in Galle. Photo: Getty Images

Buses are often overcrowded but inexpensive, and they go everywhere. Expect to pay about 30 p for an hour of travel. Develops are a agreement, too, and more scenic, particularly in the hills( the six-hour tea country extend between Kandy and Ella is a must-do ), though the cheapest cars get jam-packed. Its likewise possible to self-drive a tuk-tuk with, a social endeavour sourcing vehicles from local motorists. It helps secure licences, while rates include full insurance, a driving lesson and a useful kit of spares.


Although guesthouses are still the go-to option for inexpensive accommodation here, an increasing number of well-equipped hostels offering wallet-friendly tours, bicycles and on-the-ball staff are emerging in backpacking destinations such as Colombo, Dambulla, Ella, Mirissa, Weligama and Arugam Bay. Dorm bunks in a hostel average 8( rising to 16 ), while the cheapest guesthouse doubles go for about 12. Most hostels have doubles, too, and are generally more backpacker-orientated than guesthouses. Homestays are popular in most remote areas: Abode Tours Backpackers offers homestays in Mannar( western coast) and the Knuckles a biodiverse mountain range that is superb for hiking and residence to some of small island developing more remote villages. East N West On Board connects you with families in sedate Batticaloa, on the islands east coast.

Verse Collective, Dickwella


Digital nomads are drawn to this sea-facing cafe-hostel near Dickwella on the south coast for its bijou rooms that are open to the outdoors. As well as dorms it also has doubles and a co-working room. The coffeehouse and barrooms along surf-orientated Hiriketiya Beach are a 10 -minute stroll away.
Dorms from 19, en suite doublings from 45, on Facebook

Clock Inn, Kandy
This hostel is just 600 metres from the Tooth Temple and Kandys railway station, and close to the fruit market for cheap healthy snacks. It has bright, air-conditioned dorms, doubled and single chambers and a few tiny capsule husks, plus communal areas.
Dorm beds from 9.20, doubles from 38, capsule husks from 8.50,

Hangover Hostel, Ella


This hostel chain has a handful of properties in key spots across the island. Its Ella hostel is close to the railway station and dormitories( including the right for women) have air-con, spring mattresses, international sockets and keycard lockers big enough for bulky backpacks.
Dorm beds from 11.50,

Lals Homestay, Sigiriya
Less than 30 -minutes go from Sigiriya and Pidurangala, Lals has doubleds and two family rooms arranged around a quiet garden-variety. The helpful hosts give bicycles for get around and provide yummy home-cooked food.
Rooms from 7, +94 77 704 5386,

Bunkyard Hostels, Colombo


This hip hostel defined by its quirky sustainable decor has a fine location close to the National Museum. Expect dorms and chambers with thick mattresses, filling breakfasts, in-the-know management and shared daily shuttles to Kandy( 10 am, 9.50, 4+ hours) and Arugam Bay( 10.30 pm, 14, +9 hours ).
Dorms from 7, doubles from 42,


Game drives in Yala national park. Although leopard sightings are common, the uncontrolled number of jeeps entering the park has resulted in it becoming overcrowded. Ascertain leopards and sloth births at less-visited Wilpattu, on the north-east coast or, for elephants, Udawalawe, Minneriya and Kaudulla.


A A bus in Haputale on its way to Sri Lankas Hill Country. Photo: Alamy

Haputale, Bandarawela and Badulla. View-blessed Ella is teeming with backpackers yet other hill-country towns are just as scenic and offer similar walking routes and standpoints, and are accessible via the main railway line.

Need to know

Avoid taking photos with your back to a Buddha statue or image, and when you inspect a tabernacle or shrine make sure knees and shoulders are extended. In Hindu kovils, humen may be asked to remove their T-shirt/ shirt. Bikinis and beach attire are fine when on the sand but Sri Lanka is a republican country so dress modestly when out and about, and especially when using local transportation. Every full moon day is an alcohol-free public holiday.

For inspiration

Book Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. This book tells the sobering tale of two families, one Sinhala, one Tamil, on resisting sides of Sri Lankas civil conflict, and also weaves in detailed descriptions of the island.

Instagram @lostinceylon. Be inspired by imagery of mounds, mountains, waterfalls, beaches, surfing spots, yoga haunts and quirky accommodation tried out by close friends in search of adventure and fun across Sri Lanka.

Blog Red Dot Tours is an independent travelling corporation based in Colombo and run by Sri Lankans. Its blog has unbiased, interesting posts by neighbourhoods, from culture to whats on, where to stay and personal the recommendations issued by lesser-known dining spots.

If you eat or drink one thing

Ideal as a quick-witted, filling snack or a small meal, rotis stuffed flatbread parcels are a Sri Lankan staple that are able picked up for next to nothing in many places. Look for triangles piled up in the windows of glass-fronted kades. Some rotis are rolled up and fitted with meat and fish, too. For traditional( coconut roti) as well as non-traditional flavours, such as chocolate and banana, inspect No 1 Dewmini Roti Shop in Mirissa.

Daily budget

Providing you stick to neighbourhood meat joints, as little as 15 -2 0 a day. Visits to key attractions such as Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa( 23) and national parks( 12 pp entering, plus around 17 -2 4 per jeep) are significant budget-blowers.

Moving on

From Sri Lanka, fly north to India flights to Goa, Mumbai, Kerala and Chennai with Sri Lankan Airline are fairly inexpensive, and the network extends to Delhi, too. Indian-owned low-budget carrier Spicejet covers more field. You can also head east: Air Asia flies from Colombo to Kuala Lumpur a major hub for onward flights across south-east Asia.

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Read more: https :// travel/ 2018/ sep/ 12/ backpackers-guide-to-sri-lanka-one-month-itinerary-galle-colombo

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