Where to start your adventure in Colombia: Negombo or Colombo?
Colombo Airport is actually closer to Negombo than the capital city Colombo. This makes it a convenient destination 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 destinations travellers visit.
My take – f 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 the flight. This hostel was only 10-minute walk to the railway station, perfect to buy my ticket in the early morning and come back later when the train would depart.
Best places to stay in the South
The South coast of Sri Lanka is where most travellers start their trip to Sri Lanka. Especially Galle, one of the most popular places to visit in the first days.
The first days in Galle (Day 1 & 2)
One of the reasons why most travellers 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 staying on the train for 2 more stops and getting 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 will share some places you can save in Google Maps:
The Doctor’s House — A 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 has become so popular in the last few years.
It offers plenty of restaurants in the nearby area and the famous Doctor’s 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 Northeast monsoon season.
Wellingama for more chilled vibes
Mirissa can be quite busy, and that’s why I recommend staying in Wellingama instead.
Better vibes, nicer bars, perfect for learning 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, and an amazing destination for those who are looking for a relaxed vibe, a little away from the main road.
See here my tips:
Daily Coolspot Dickwella — For the best smoothies and juices (ask the guy what is best, and he will make you one of the best smoothies you ever tried!)
The Lounge — Without a doubt my favourite restaurant in Sri Lanka, The Lounge in Tangalle has the best tuna steak I ever had, the tuna sashimi. Also really nice fish, cocktails and a great atmosphere in general.
Which national park should I visit? (Day 9)
Yala is the most popular park with a chance of seeing a leopard. The Udawalawe National Park has lots of elephants, and more nature.
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!
Visit the tea valleys in Nuwara Eliya (Day 19 & 20)
Before you go here, you can also visit Haputale and visit World’s End. However, in my opinion, it is a bit overpriced, $20 to check the view from a cliff.
Nuwara Eliya has a British colonial past and is called Little England. It is a town with several waterfalls, tea factories and stunning landscapes. Worth staying a few days before you continue to Ella!
Kandy – the cultural hub in the midland of Sri Lanka (Day 21 & 22)
Kandy is nice city with a good vibe, but it isn’t a must-visit in my opinion.
Tip: You can also do a day trip from Kandy to the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya.
The Lion Rock in Sigiriya (Day 23)
To see the famous Lion Rock of Sri Lanka, you’ll have to pay an entrance ticket of $30. A cheaper alternative is to go to the smaller rock (almost free) with a stunning view of Lion Rock.
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 pass.
The less touristic path: Visiting the North of Sri Lanka
Jaffna and Trincomalee
There are some nice beaches in Trincomalee, but it isn’t 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 that you find in the south of Sri Lanka and Arugam Bay.