Negombo or Colombo for the first night?
Colombo Airport is actually closer to Negombo than the capital city Colombo. This makes it also a very convenient place to stay after you arrive after the long flight to Sri Lanka. Instead of arriving in a busy city with lots of traffic and polluting buses, Negombo is a bit more peaceful and offers some nice restaurants close to the beach.
The only disadvantage is that the trains from Negombo railway station don’t go straight to the southern locations like Galle, Unawatuna or Merissa, which are often one of the first destination travelers visit.
If you choose to travel south first, stay in Colombo for one night* and take the early morning train to the South the next day. At the end of your trip to Sri Lanka, you can spend your last night(s) in the more peaceful (resort) destination Negombo. The advantage is also that Negombo has connecting trains with Kandy.
*If you arrive in the morning or early afternoon, don’t even bother to stay in Colombo and take a train south as soon as you arrive.
When I arrived at Colombo Airport it was already midnight, so I decided to book a capsule hostel with a decent bed so I could recover from my long flight day. This hostel was only 10 minutes walk to the railway station. Perfect to buy my ticket in the early morning and come back later when the train would depart.
The best places to stay in the South
The Southcoast of Sri Lanka is where most travellers start their trip to Sri Lanka. Especially, Galle is one of the most popular places to visit on the first days.
Spending the first days in Galle (Day 1 & 2)
One of the reasons why most travelers start their holiday in Galle, is because it’s very easy to reach by train from Colombo and offers plenty of things to do in Galle.
Instead of staying in Galle, I recommend to stay on the train for 2 more stops and get off in Unawatuna. This beach town is only 10min by tuk-tuk from Galle. Perfect to relax and let the holiday vibes sink in while enjoying a fresh coconut from one of the local beach huts.
Mirissa, Wellingame or Ahangma (Day 3, 4 & 5)
After you had a little cultural experience in Galle and climatized at the beach in Unawatuna, it is time to experience Sri Lanka’s real beach vibes around Mirissa.
Before I describe the best places to stay (spoiler alert: Wellingama), I already share some places you can save in your google maps:
- Best brownies in Sri Lanka: Crust Pizza Ahangama (yes, it’s actually a pizza place)
- Tapas lunch at KIP, amazing food – must try when in Wellingama
- Docters House. Must go! Amazing pizzas and really nice vibe with live bands. Go on Saturday (best before 7pm) or Wednesday.
- Kima Surf Camp – the place to learn to surf, but also for intermediates – sometimes discounted rooms for +/-30 incl food, guiding and lots of extras.
The famous coconut hill tree of Mirissa is the one you find on every travel blog, and that probably also explains why this destination became so popular in the last years.
It offers plenty of restaurants in the nearby area and the famous Doctors House which is definitely a must go.
Best time to visit: October – March
Note that this area is only booming in the high season of the south coast, or better called the North-east monsoon season.
Wellingama for more chilled vibes
Mirissa can be quite busy though and that’s why I recommend staying in Wellingama instead.
Better vibes, nicer bars, perfect to learn to surf and great restaurants like Nomad Cafe.
Ahangama for best surf
If you are a more advanced surfer and came to Sri Lanka to catch the best waves, stay in Ahangama. There are plenty of surf breaks around here and yes, even on a shortboard you can have a lot of fun here.
Dickwella/Hiriketiya (Day 6, 7, 8)
Dickwella is a lot quieter than Wellingama an is an amazing destination for those who are looking for a relaxed vibe, a little away from the main road.
See here my tips:
– Best Smoothies/juices: Daily Coolspot Dickwella (ask the guy what is best, and he will make you one of the best smoothies you ever tried!)
– Dots house: Nice place to stay and the best fish taco’s
– The Lounge , Tangalle. Without any doubt my favourite restaurant in Sri Lanka The best tuna stakes I ever had (Tuna Sashimi). Also really nice fish, cocktails and a great atmosphere in general.
Which national park should I visit? (Day 9)
Yala – most popular and chance to see a leopard
Udawalawe National – Lots of Elephants, more nature (think I would prefer this one)
My big-time favourite: Arugam Bay (Day 10-15)
– Probably the best place, but don’t go here around December January. Most restaurants will be closed and it’s like a ghost town.
If you are visiting Sri Lanka between May and September you will likely have the best time here!
Exploring the countryside of Sri Lanka
Enjoy the magnificent views of Ella (Day 16, 17 & 18)
- Train ride from Ella to Nuwara Eliya: One of the highlights of Sri Lanka
- Tip: Rent a motorbike and visit Diyaluma Falls
Visiting the tea valleys in Nuware Eliya (Day 19 & 20)
Before you go here, you can also visit Haputale and visit World’s End. However, in my opinion a bit overpriced to pay $20 to check the view from a cliff.
Nuwara Eliya is a little English town with several waterfalls, tea factories and stunning landscapes. Worth to stay a few days before you continue to Ella!
The cultural hub in the midland of Sri Lanka (Day 21 & 22)
Okish stop. Nice city/town with good vibe, but nothing special in my opinion.
Tip: You can also do a day trip from here to Sigirya rock.
Lions Rock in Sigiriya (Day 23)
The famous Lions rock of Sri Lanka. Entree is $30, but you can also go to the smaller rock (almost free) with a stunning view on Lions rock. For the rest, not so much to do.
You could also go to Dambulla from here, but don’t expect to see much more than a few temples with pushy sellers that want to sell you “original hand-made art”, that you will see in every tourist shop you can find.
The less touristic path: Visiting the North of Sri Lanka
Some nice beaches in Trincomalee, but not my favourite.
Although some locals will be very friendly, some are less welcoming so be prepared for staring eyes. I feel kind of bad saying this on a public blog, but that’s what I would say to a friend too.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t travel here, but just don’t expect the same chilled vibes here which you find in the south of Sri Lanka and Arugam Bay.
If you accept this, I’m sure you can have a wonderful time here. See here the things to do during your visit to Jaffna.