Until recently Sri Lanka was not really on my radar, which now feels like a major oversight. The island is incredible. Pristine beaches, waterfalls, tea plantation highlands, ancient and colonial cities, temples, wildlife, safari…
Sri Lanka needs to be explored. And to do that, you need at least two weeks. While it’s not that big, it takes quite a long time to get from place to place. I previously posted What to do on a weekend in Sri Lanka, where it took us around 10 hours to drive from Negombo to Sigiriya and back down to Colombo.
If I had two weeks, I would try to do it all. I’ve mapped the route on google maps, taking approximately 23.5 hours by car. You can compare it to the tourist map below it, which highlights Sri Lanka’s main attractions. See what I mean by needing enough time?
Week 1: Colombo to Yala
- After flying into Colombo airport I’d spend a night at the Cinnamon Grand Colombo, arriving in time for dinner at its popular restaurant Nuga Gama.
- The next day after a big lunch at the Ministry of Crab, which is definitely worth going, I would hire a driver to take me down south and spend three days relaxing in a beach resort somewhere on the road to Galle.
- Depending on which hotel I chose, I’d either visit the old town and fort of Galle in a day trip, or stay overnight. The food in Galle is said to be among the best on the island.
- Next I’d get up early and go on safari in one of the wildlife parks, Udawalawe or Yala, in the southeast of the island and spend a night or two.
Week 2: The Cultural Triangle
- Time to head up north, where I’d either pick a home base or keep moving, and spend four days exploring the Cultural Triangle.
- One day for Sigiriya rock and Dambulla Cave Temples, which is a lot of uphill, just warning you. There is also another popular National Park in this region called Minneriya.
- One day in Kandy, checking out the town and the Tooth Temple.
- One day seeing the ancient city of Anuradhapura and Mihintale, where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka.
- And lastly one day visiting the ancient city of Polonnaruwa and its archaeological relic sites.
- I’d finish my trip with three nights at the Ceylon Tea Trails, a Relais & Chateaux hotel, to enjoy the views and hikes through the plantation hills and fine dining at night. Relais & Chateaux is a unique brand. I’ve experienced just two of their hotels, La Bamba de Areco in Argentina and Cobbler’s Cove in Barbados, both of which were an unforgettable experience.
Travel tips and getting around
Generally, January to April is the best time to go. But this can vary depending on where you plan to spend most of your time, and how hot you like it. I went mid-March and for me it was perfect: very hot with no rain.
Colombo Bandaranaike International Airportis misleadingly nearer (20 minutes) to neighbouring town Negombo than Colombo (50 minutes). If choosing between the two, Negombo generally wins in the Negombo vs Colombo debate. Unless you’re like me and you love capital cities of all shapes and sizes.
If you’re thinking of renting a car, think again. You’ll need an international driver’s permit, as well as a high tolerance for fear and adrenaline to navigate the island’s life-threatening traffic.
My advice is to hire a driver.The price is no different from hiring a big car, which you get with your driver anyway. We learned all this when we arrived at the airport car rental desk on a Friday night, a huge oversight on our part, and counted ourselves lucky to get a good deal on the spot. After all, this was a fortunate outcome as it let us sleep in the car and avoid participating in the game of chicken they call driving.
Bring cash! Last but not least, we were told at the airport that they accept cards at attractions such as Pinnawala, Sigiriya and Dambulla. This is not true. Only hotels and some restaurants accept card payments, while the tourist attractions do not. We withdrew ours from the airport and ATMs.
Visit the Sri Lanka Tourist Board website for information on visas, vaccinations, health and safety advice, events, hotels, sights and much more.
This article was written by Lara Olivia and originally appeared on MissPortmanteau.com. Follow her adventures on Instagram. Club Elsewhere brings you compelling stories for and by the world. Contribute an article of your own by sending a message to the editor.
Lara Olivia is a Norwegian and Portuguese writer sharing all she knows about the good life on her blog, MissPortmanteau.com. Follow her @miss.portmanteau on Instagram.