My Top Places to Visit in Sri lanka
So I spent 6 months in Sri Lanka total spending my time teaching yoga, surfing and travelling. During my time I really got to spend time in certain places and get to know the area and surroundings. Sri Lanka a beautiful and diverse country full of colour and really friendly people. Here are my top favourite places I would recommend to visit if you are taking a trip to Sri Lanka:
Mirissa lies on the south coast and is probably one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka. I stayed here teaching yoga for just over a month. Mirissa can be a bit touristy, but do not let that put you off. It has one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka where you can enjoy strolls on the beach and spectacular sunsets. Some parts of Sri Lanka can be very local, but with Mirissa being more a tourist spot, it has a good variety of amenities for your needs.
Where to stay
There are many different options of places to stay, whether you prefer a relaxing beach holiday or staying in a Sri Lankan local guest house, Mirissa has it all. I really enjoy staying with local families in their guest houses. There are many to choose from (some nicer than others) with A/C or without. If you are looking for a more unique experience (and on a budget) I would recommend this option.
During my months stay in Mirissa, I stayed at Malika's Guest House. Malika and her family made me feel very welcome and nothing was a bother for them. My room was basic and clean and they were happy to clean it when I asked which was every 5-6 days. I would sweep it myself otherwise. I was welcome to use the kitchen and they always offered me to have dinner with them.
Where to Eat
Mirissa has some great places to eat. Again with it being a spot for tourist you can find some really good western food here. Western food in Sri Lanka can be very hard to come by. My all time favorite place to go to for breakfast, brunch or lunch was Shady Lane. Shady Lane is probably also my favorite spot for Western food in the whole of Sri Lanka. They do the best smoothie bowls, avocado and eggs on sourdough toast and french toast. The coffee is also very good here.
Other places I would recommend for western food in Mirissa are: Aloha Coffee Gallery, The Slow, Vegan and Surfing Wombats Pizza. For local Sri Lankan food I would recommend No.1 Dewmini Roti Shop (a definite must, the best roti I've ever had!), Dhana's Curry Pot (great vegetarian sri lankan buffet for 400LKR- not spicy though) and Ceylon Curry House.
What to see and do
Mirissa is a lovely place to hang out, walk on the beach and watch the sunset. There is a small island which you can walk to with a little track of sand when the tide is low. The famous instagram spot ‘Coconut Hill’ is located here in Mirissa. It is a very popular spot for influences and tourists a like to go and have their photo taken with the palm trees. Try to avoid going on a weekend and it gets very crowded at sunset. Even though Coconut Hill is nice, I personally found it a bit underwhelming. I went the first time back in November 2021 when Sri Lanka was just opening back up from the Covid Pandemic and we were the only only two people there. I returned in March 2022 and it was a completely different vibe. Expect crowds of tourists waiting their turn to get the perfect shot in front of the trees. It is a beautiful place to watch the sunset however the ambience can be slightly ruined by crowds trying to get the perfect Instagram shot.
Mirissa has a couple of surf spots the main two being Mirissa Left and Mirissa right. Both are reef breaks. I have only surfed on the right, where you do have to be careful of the reef, especially getting in and out. Mirissa left is a bit of a paddle out. Both I would say are intermediate spots (I would class myself as an experienced beginner when it comes to surfing). If you are looking for beginner spots or to learn to surf while in Mirissa, Weligama beach is only a short Tuk Tuk or bus ride away. Here you will find many surf schools to rent boards or to get a lesson from if you are a beginner to surfing.
Mirissa was one of the places where I found I had a variety of choices of classes that I could attend for yoga. Many hostels and hotels run daily yoga sessions. Places I worked for and would recommend are: Jackie’s Guesthouse, JJ’s Hostel, Now Yoga Begins and Rukshan Yoga.
Other things nearby that you can do in Mirissa is visit the sea turtles at Turtle Point, book a day trip to the safari, go whale watching, snorkeling, take a day trip to Weligama, rent a scooter and check out other surf spots nearby (Plantation, Rams, Coconuts, Lazy left, Lazy right in Midigama) or take a trip to Madiha again for surfing or to hang out/party at The Doctors House.
I spent most of my time while in Unawatuna working and teaching yoga for Surf Spirit, however it is a place I would definitely recommend to go visit. Unawatuna is a great place in Sri Lanka to go for a couple of days to relax and enjoy the beach. Unawatuna town and beach is located down a ‘tourist street’ and is away from the busy road. There are a few shops, places to eat and spas here.
Where to Stay
When my parents came to visit, they rented a villa near the cliffs called Rumasalla Villas which was very peaceful and just a 15 minute walk through the jungle and down the hill to get back to the tourist street (going back up the hill took a little longer). But there are many hotels, villas, guest houses to stay very near the beach in Unawatuna. Surf Spirit is the only Surf and Yoga Retreat located in this area making it unique and away from the other surf schools with options to stay at their Beach Lodge or Jungle Villa.
Where to Eat
Most of my food was included at Surf Spirit during my stay in Unawatuna however on our days off the staff and I would go out to eat in Unawatuna. Our favourite spots are Koha Surf Lounge for healthy smoothies and western classics, La Boheme for authentic pizza, The Hideout for spicy Mexican and cold pressed juices and Skinny Toms for coffee and brunch. For traditional Sri Lankan food I would recommend Sea Waves Restaurant and Cooking Class or Wasantha's Sri Lanka Cuisine. If you are looking for great seafood and to sit on the beach, Black and White Restaurant is located on the beach front where you can choose your seafood to be barbequed.
What to See and Do
Unawatuna is a beautiful part in Sri Lanka to just enjoy Unawatuna Beach, get a coconut or book a massage (I would recommend Sanctuary Spa), but there is also plenty to do nearby. Two buddhist temples which are just a short tuk tuk drive away are the Japanese Peace Pagoda (also accessible by walking through the jungle and up the hill from Unawatuna main street) and Yatagala Raja Maha. I visited both these temples many times to enjoy the peacefulness and to take time to meditate.
While visiting the Japanese Peace Pagoda, a short walk down you will find Jungle Beach, a small beach with beautiful views of the sunset from the cliffs. If you are looking to do some surfing in this area, Dewata Beach is a beach break suitable for all abilities. Turtle beach is the spot of swim with turtles (even though I did not see one turtle swimming in the sea during my whole trip in Sri Lanka)
One thing I did with my mum in Unawatuna which is a must at some point during a trip to Sri Lanka is to take a traditional Cooking Class. We took ours at Sea Waves Restaurant. During the cooking class you will learn how to make traditional Sri Lankan Rice and Curry from scratch and it was the most delicious rice and curry I had in the whole of Sri Lanka! In the morning, tuk tuks are arranged to take the group to Galle Market where you will shown spices and decide which vegetables you want to make your curry dishes. Then a short trip to the fish market near the sea where you will be shown how to purchase fresh fish for the Sri Lankan fish curry. Going back to the kitchen, not only the process of how the curries will be explained, you will get to make coconut milk from scratch while preparing everything for your curry dishes. We made 5 curry dishes, plus a salad and poppadoms for a delicious lunch. It was one of the best and delicious things I did in Sri Lanka.
Again like in Mirissa other activities that can be arranged from here are snorkeling trips and a trip to Safari. Places also nearby are Galle, Kogala Lake and Kabalana beach.
Galle Fort was a place I visited for 2-3 nights after I finished working at Surf Spirit. I took time here to purely relax and before beginning some travelling around Sri Lanka. Located only 15 minutes away from Unawatuna, it is a nice place to go for a day trip if you are short on time while visiting Sri Lanka.
Galle Fort is a historic city and can be explored on foot with influences of Dutch and Portuguese architecture. It is a little slice of Europe in Sri Lanka. Enjoy wandering round the little streets passing stylish hotels, boutique stores and cafes owned by local or foreign artists, designers and creatives.
Where to Stay
There are many options to stay in Galle with some really lovely boutique hotels located in the renovated Dutch colonial buildings. If you are looking for a more budget friendly option, I stayed in a local guest house with a family in the centre on the Fort (just off Pedlar Street) called Nisala Guest House. My private double room with A/C and En-suite was simple and clean and in a great location to explore Galle on foot for a couple of days. The family were also very welcoming and friendly bringing me complimentary tea and local sri Lankan sweets and hoppers.
Prices for staying in Galle Fort are a bit more expensive than other places as the city is mostly a tourist attraction, however you can easily get a tuk-tuk there and back from Unawaturna if you wanted to spend the day and evening there. (If you are a female travelling alone at night, make sure you pre-book your tuk-tuk back with a driver you know for safety reasons). Otherwise book to stay a night or two and enjoy the full experience of visiting Galle Fort.
Where to Eat
There are some really great places to eat in Galle Fort. The city caters for tourists and has some nice western places to choose from . If you are looking for pizza, Aqua Fort is the place to go. Get pizza to take away and watch the sunset over the fort one evening. My favourite place to eat was a rice and curry buffet restaurant called Coconut Sambol. For a small price you could have a very authentic vegetarian sri lankan rice and curry meal. I really enjoyed the pineapple curry while visiting here. Other places in Galle Fort I have heard are good from other travellers and guest at Surf Spirit are Indian Hut for indian curry and naan and Lucky Fort for their 10 dish Rice and Curry to share.
One of the main things about visiting Galle Fort that the Staff from Surf spirit and I liked to was to go get gelato. Isle of Gelato was our go to gelaterie, but there are many to choose from. Finding luxury ice cream parlors in Sri Lanka is not so common, so while in Galle Fort take advantage of the many different flavours of gelato. My go to is coconut and pistachio.
What to See and Do
Galle is a pretty picturesque place, enjoy wandering round the streets checking out the boutique shops and galleries. Walk all the way round the fort and learn about the history of the place. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset and the lighthouse is a popular spot for photos.
If you are going to venture out of Galle Fort and into the city of Galle it is worth covering up to avoid be hassled. The city is pretty local and there isn’t much to see, but if you want to get an idea of local life in Sri lanka it might be worth a wander. If you also need to go buy something specific, there are more shops where you are more likely to find what you are looking for.
Ella is a popular place for travelers and tourists to visit inland in Sri Lanka to experience the nature and a great place to go hiking. The town is geared up well for tourists with many restaurants, cafes and small shops. I travelled to Ella with a friend from Kandy doing the Kandy to Ella Train. It is said to be one of the most beautiful train rides to do in the world, and it is stunning. If you love stunning scenery, hiking and connecting with nature visiting Ella is a must. Note that because Ella is inland it has a whole different climate to the South Coast. When I visited temperatures could go between 15-28 degrees Celsius during the day and it could drop to about 13-14 degrees in the evening.
Where to stay
I travelled to Ella with a friend where we stayed the majority of our stay at a private yoga retreat in a glamping tent called Ella Retreats. It was a very unique experience. Located in the middle of the countryside near a waterfall, we could really enjoy the scenery and see the train go across the hills in the distance. The local lady who ran the place was very kind and the owners of the retreat, who are located remotely kept in contact with us via whatsapp if we needed anything. We had daily private yoga sessions with a local yoga teacher on our terrace or we had the option to hike somewhere and have a yoga or meditation practice there.
Where to eat
Because we were quite remote where we stayed on our retreat we mostly ate at Ella Retreats for breakfast and dinner. This made it feel much more of a retreat and reset for us. However some places I would recommend to eat in Ella are Rainbow Cafe for brunch foods, smoothie bowls, the curry is also very good and Matey Hut for really delicious and cheap rice and curry. Other popular places to check out to eat are Cafe Chill, and Cafe UFO Ella,
What to See and Do
I would highly recommend when visiting or leaving Ella to take the Kandy-Ella Train. Stops on the way include Newara Eliya and Hatton (for Adam's peak). If you do the whole train journey, it can take 7-8 hours without delays (so possibly longer).
Book your tickets in advance by even going to a train station a week or two beforehand or online. Being one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka, tickets get booked out fast. Travel by 2nd or 3rd class if you want to be able to hang out the doors while taking in the scenery. 2nd Class is the most popular class to travel. We travelled unreserved 3rd Class as this was the only tickets we could get, however it was actually a lot quieter than 2nd class and was very easy for us to get seats. The views are stunning and if you haven't taken the train in Sri Lanka this is definitely one of the routes to take.
While in Ella there are many beautiful hikes and waterfalls you can go visit. We did the hike up to Ella Rock which was spectacular. Going with our yoga teacher at our Private Yoga Retreat, we hiked to the top and took time to meditate at the top. If you are unsure about any of the hikes or where you are going you can hire a guide. On another day we took a tuk tuk to go visit another popular spot, the Nine Arch Bridge. It is only about a 30 minute hike to the famous bridge and there are many tourists to follow. We did however get lost returning. Other hikes and things you can do are; Little Adam's Peak (nice at sunrise), Ravena Waterfalls, Zipline through the nature, take a daytrip to Lipton's Seat, walk along the train tracks, enjoy Ella Town and take a Sri Lankan Cooking Course.
I have mixed feelings about Kandy. If you have time on your trip I would definitely include it for a night or two if you are passing by. Kandy is a major city in the central part of Sri Lanka surrounded by beautiful hills and tea plantations, it is the home of the Temple of the Tooth a UNESCO World Heritage site and a sacred Buddhist place of worship.
The reason I have mixed feelings about Kandy is because there isn't actually too much to see and do in Kandy City Centre. Most of the top sights can be done in a day or two.
I actually spent almost 2 weeks in the area of Kandy, but this is because I did 2 Yoga Retreats out in the hills around Kandy. If you are looking at spending time in nature, reconnecting with yourself and yoga then I would recommend the two Yoga Retreats I went to in Kandy.
Where to stay
There are many options of places to stay in Kandy on booking.com. Airbnb, and Agoda. Some nice places to stay are up on the vistas of the hills where you get a good view of Kandy City from below.
While I was in Kandy, I did a 4 night Eco Yoga Retreat at Polywantha Eco Lodges. Located about 20km away from Kandy City Centre near a small town called Diganana, Polywantha Eco Lodges is hidden among the forest. Family run, Remon and the team are really welcoming and lovely. It is a great place to really immerse yourself in nature and be completely surrounded by the trees. Accommodation is natural and simple. The shala is a short 10 minute walk through the trees where you can enjoy the sounds and sights of nature completely undisturbed by civilization. Included in my package was 2 daily yoga classes, home cooked meals, a day hike to the local village to see how Kithul (a sweet syrup made from palm trees) is made as well as a stop off at the waterfall for swimming and forest bathing plus also a Sri Lankan Cooking class.
Another Yoga Retreat I went to in Kandy again located nearby in Digana is Rukgala Retreat. If you are looking for a more luxurious Yoga Retreat, Rukgala is the one to go for. Located in the hills near a lake Rukgala, it is a haven to get pampered and take time to reset. Hannah, the yoga teacher there at the time was very welcoming and Sanka our activities guide was amazing at guiding and arranging adventurous activities included in our 2 night package. The accommodation and decor of the whole retreat is lavish in a boho style. Included in our package was healthy 3 meals a day, 2 daily yoga classes, one massage, paddle boarding and the option to go for a hike to the viewpoint with a stop at the buddhist temple, or to go on a bike ride.
Where to eat
Again since most of our meals were provided by the accommodation we were staying in or at the retreats, we did not eat out very much in Kandy.
Compared to the South of Sri Lanka, the cuisine in Kandy is slightly more Indian influenced. When I did eat out 2 places I can recommend are; Sri Krishna Dosai where I had the best masala dosa, and Balaji Dosai just down the road again offering great dosas and local no frills sri lankan food.
What to see and do
The main attractions that most tourists do in Kandy City Centre are; The temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy Lake, The Botanical Garden and Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue. Apart from the Bahirabokanda Vihara Buddha Statue, we went to all of these attractions. If you look round the World Buddhism museum at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, you could be at this attraction for a longer time. Dress appropriately and there are certain days where more natives visit to pay their respects. Kandy lake is walk