Ultimate Sri Lanka Road Trip
Sri Lanka road trip should include several key components if it is to be a well-balanced experience;
1. The cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
2. A national park
4. Beaches of Sri Lanka
5. Galle Fortress / Southern Sri Lanka
6. Pinnawala elephant orphanage
7. Bit of adventure (whitewater rafting, rainforest trekking, rock climbing…)
Venturing on a Sri Lanka road trip is the best way to explore this fascinating tropical island. Sri Lanka is small in size but the country is big in holiday destination perspective. The country has stunning landscape, pristine beaches, fascinating culture, and century’s old archaeological sites. Nestled kissing the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is the southernmost inhabited piece of land on earth, it is difficult to think that someone easily overlooks the island in favour of other holiday destination in Asia, due to its popularity as a holiday destination.
Colonial History of Sri Lanka
The history of Sri Lanka goes back to many thousands of years and Sri Lanka was occupied even during the stone age. Stone age existed in the country in 2 phases pre-pottery and pottery. The stone age human being named homo sapiens Balangodensis lived in the area of Balangoda. Since then the island is inhabited by the human. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world, which was continuously inhabited by the human from stone age period. Archaeologists have discovered a large number of stone implements, parts of the animal, seeds of plants and trees and many other objects that were used by this ancient people.
The island was occupied by Portuguese, Dutch and British for more than 400 years. Nevertheless, the island was frequented by Arab traders as early as 15’s. The advent of Portuguese in 1505 marked the setting off of colonial administration that existed more than 450 years in the island.
The country has a large number of colonial reminiscents, especially along the coastal belt, palaces, churches, fortifications, and aqueducts are most common among them. Portuguese ruled the country from 1505 to 1656 and the Dutch ruled the country until 1796. Dutch administration was ceded to the British without any bloodshed. Being a country that belonged to the British Empire and part of British allies, Sri Lanka suffered heavy casualties during the Second World War. Japanese had heavily bombed many parts of the island due to its strategical importance.
You need a multi-day Sri Lanka road trip to explore the island for sure because there is a large number of important places scattered in the island. Sri Lanka boasts to have one of the best road networks in the region and travellers can reach any part of the island with ease during a road trip in Sri Lanka. There is a large number of options for travellers to get around the island such as Taxi, public buses, trains, taxis, self-driven vehicles, TUK TUK.
The most effective but expensive transport method is the taxi. If you have limited time and like to see and experience as much as possible during your Sri Lanka road trip, taxi is the best bet for your success. A private vehicle with local driver is the best way to embark on your road trip and it has a good ROI. Taxis fare is cheap in Sri Lanka compared to most other countries in the region. The cost of a taxi is 60 Rs per kilometre and there are some additional charges if you keep the vehicle in your possession for a few days.
If you not worried about time and considering to be sparse on expenses public transport such as Public buses and trains are the best options for you. It saves you a lot of money compared to what you need to pay for Taxi. Whereas other methods are concerned, TUK TUK is suitable only for short drives and not good for a multi-day Sri Lanka road trip. The self-driven vehicle can be obtained in the resort areas but strongly not recommended for foreigners due to unfamiliarity on the Sri Lanka roads and traffic. Therefore travelling by car with a local chauffeur is the best option in order to explore the island.
Usually, Anuradhapura is the first base of exploration for any travellers who start the journey from Colombo and choose to explore the island in historical angle. Anuradhapura is a true cultural and historical hub and you can spend months exploring the engineering and artistic feats of ancient people. Every corner of Anuradhapura is bestowed with numerous historical monuments and the several areas in the old city are declared as a world heritage site and boast to have staggering hundreds of temples, palaces, ponds, Buddha statues, hospitals built many centuries ago. As you step in Anuradhapura, you feel like being to an archaeological zoo, you see numerous historical constructions all around you. In order to admire the artistic and historical jewel, much-preferred transport mode is the cycle. As it allows you to move briskly while giving easy access to every piece of the monuments.
One of the wonderful things about Anuradhapura is that you can enjoy the priceless, historical monument at your own pace with freedom. Even though Anuradhapura attracts a large number of fans, due to the vastness of its area, you would miss much of the crowd, as they scattered over a vast area. The historical monuments in Anuradhapura are much older than the monuments in other historical places such as Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Some of the artefacts are more than 2 thousand years old.
It is Polonnaruwa in the itinerary, which showcases some of the medieval constructions and another architecturally rich town; it showcases a large number of artefacts dating back to the 13th century. Most historical constructions of this magnificent walled city belong to King Parakramabahu, Nissanka Malla and King Vijayabahu. The archaeological leftover found in Polonnaruwa is in very good condition and much much younger compared to the artefacts found in Anuradhapura.
Kandy is one of the essential parts of a Sri Lanka road trip because Kandy considered being the cultural centre of the island. Kandy was capital and ruling centre of the Kandyan kingdom until the Kandyan Kingdom was ceded to the British crown in 1796, and many of the old structures built by Kandy kings are still in very good shape. The historical part of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site and includes many prominent landmarks and buildings such as Buddhist temples, Hindu shrines, museums.
Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy mark the 3 corners of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka and full of architectural goodness. The cultural triangle is not only abundant of cultural sites but also many other important natural attractions such as national parks, mountains, forests. You can take a bullock cart ride, and do kayaking in a village tank, visit a farmland or even have a cooking class at a village house. Drop into a village school if you can find the time, visiting school children will be a highlight of the day, while children also enjoy seeing the visitors.
Golden cave temple Dambulla
A visit to the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka is incomplete if you miss Dambulla golden cave temple. This is one of most historical temples in the island and well as in the regions, dating back to 1st century B.C. The temple is comprised of 5 spacious granite caves that clinging to the southern slope of the mountain.
The upward trek to the temple strenuous but well rewarded, a large number of ancient paintings and statues can still be seen as you stroll through the caves of this UNESCO world heritage site. Ceiling paintings with intricate designs and natural colourings decorate the temple for many centuries. Hundreds of Buddha statues and god figures belong to different periods in the past resting here. The temple is under the supervision of Sri Lanka archaeological department and managed by the chief incumbent of the Dambulla temple. Entrance fee of 10 USD charged from every foreign visitor.
Experience wildlife on the Sri Lanka road trip
Wildlife is also abundant here with many national parks such as Minneriya, Yala national park. Making a safari in a wildlife park is the best way to experience the fascinating wildlife of this island during your Sri Lanka road trip. Minneriya, Kaudulla and eco-park are 3 prominent places for an interesting safari in the dry-zone. Due to the proximity of these national parks to the cultural sites, it can be easily added to a Sri Lanka road trip while visiting the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. Afterall having seen so much of cultural and historical places it is time to dip into a bit of nature.
Sigiriya rock fortress is another world heritage site in Sri Lanka, dating back to 5th century AD. Sigiriya is one of the oldest landscaped gardens in Asia.
Kandy is another landmark of the three corners of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka, Kandy is much younger historical site compared to its other 2 counterparts and has an extended colonial inheritance, while Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa hardly show any reminiscence of colonial influence. Kandy is one of the most important holiday destinations after Colombo, due to its interesting mountaineering landscape and much cooler climate compared low land of Sri Lanka. If you are fond of natural attractions such as cascading waterfalls, rivers, forests, mountains… Then Kandy should be given a prominent place in your itinerary. Don’t forget to visit the holy temple of the tooth relic or Dalada Maligwa. Kandy cultural show can be a nice surprise for you and it ha a very cultural atmosphere as many dancers and drummers performs for more than 1 hour.
Train ride through the mountains
Sri Lanka has a well-developed railway track and allows the commuter to reach many important cities on the island. But for leisure travellers who wish to experience the beautiful nature of Sri Lanka, it is the upcountry railway track between Kandy and Ella, the most suitable. You can enjoy breathtaking scenery in the lush green verdant hills. Starting from Kandy the train moves slowly into the high altitude areas through the tea plantations, vegetable fields, tunnels, patches of forests, over the bridges and beautiful countryside, providing no excuses to omit this 4 hours spectacle.
Most probably, Nuwara Eliya is the next station on your Sri Lanka road trip; you will see a great number of beautiful scenery as drive uphill through the mountains and tea plantations. The city lies in a valley well above 1800 meters from sea level and well known for its healing climate, alluring countryside, due to the very reason Nuwara Eliya is the most popular hill station in the island. Nuwa Eliya is a popular holiday destination for many centuries, started during the British administration in the early 1800’s. Even today Nuwara Eliya considered being the destination with the best healing climate.
You need to detour off the main road in Nuwara Eliya if you wish to get adventurous along the way. As you pass Nuwara Eliya take the first turn to the right and you are well on your way to Kitulgala, which is the main adventure sports centre on the island. There are many hiking trails, adventure routes, nature trails, caving paths, waterfalls, rivers and rainforest for your disposal.
Exploring southern Sri Lanka
As you go downhill from Nuwara Eliya it is Yala where you encounter several national parks such as Yala, Udawalwe and Bundala, where you could easily be lost with wildlife. Kataragama temple is the most important religious hub in the southern Sri Lanka, where people of all three religions gather for religious activities.
Yala national park is situated at the southern tip of Sri Lanka. It is one of the best places to see leopards in the world with the highest concentration of leopards in a given land area. Apart from Leopards, elephants, bear, deer, crocodile, wild buffaloes, monkeys, jackal, and many species bird can be seen here. Usually, the Yala national park and southern Sri Lanka includes in Sri Lanka road trips that last more than seven days due to its remoteness from Colombo. If the trip does not include southern Sri Lanka one can opt for Minneriya or any other national park in the central province.
You may have lost at least five days of your trip so far since you started your Sri Lanka road trip from Colombo but have a wander around Galle, be sure to head to the Galle Fort, which is a world heritage site and one of the best-preserved fortification of Dutch in the region. Star bastion that lies overlooking the ocean is a gorgeous viewpoint to make beautiful pictures of the sunset. Galle fort is an architectural melting point where you witness a large number of houses, religious places, hotels, museum and galleries in various styles. But most prominent is the Dutch architecture with a large collection of building inherited from the Dutch administration in Sri Lanka.
This magnificent fort is dating back to 15th century and one of the best-preserved forts in the region. It served as the main bastion of Dutch occupants in the island from 1656 to 1796. Ther are a large number of houses, churches, shops, restaurants, hotels, museum, galleries within this walled city. Today Galle fort is a UNESCO world heritage site and most popular tourist attraction in southern Sri Lanka.
Whale watching in Mirissa, Dewundara
Whale watching tours are offered in southern Sri Lanka off the Mirissa and Dewundara harbours. This is a highly seasonal activity and available only from November to April. The travellers are able to have a closer look blue whales at their doorstep.
If you have an overnight stay in southern Sri Lanka during your Sri Lanka road trip, you might have an opportunity to spot blue whales off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. You can buy a ticket for a whale watching trip from a tour operator and it cost $ 40.00 per person with breakfast served onboard. This is a highly seasonal trip available from November to April. The vessels set off either from Mirissa or Devundara fishing harbours in early hours (06.00 hrs) every day during the season. Many boat owners offer the whale watching trips but advance reservation of seats is highly recommended to guarantee a seat in a vessel.
Sri Lanka beaches
The entire belt along the ocean starting from Galle to Chilaw in north-west Sri Lanka is popular for tourism; fishing and toddy industries are the other noteworthy industries for the income of the people here. You can a beach holiday in this part of the country if you plan your Sri Lanka road trip during the six months starting from November. If you wish to have your Sri Lanka road trip from April to November; the ideal place for a beach holiday would be Eastern part of the country and beach resorts such as Nilaweli, Pasikudah, Kalkudah and Batticaloa are the best options with dry weather, calm and safe sea without underwater current. During this period the sea off west and southern Sri Lanka is not very suitable, it is very windy and waves are choppy and accompany monsoon rain very often.
Organized Sri Lanka trip cost
An 8-days Sri Lank trip cost $900-1200 USD. The travellers will stay in standard hotels (Daily breakfast, private bathroom with hot/cold water, nice/clean room with air-conditioning, tea/coffee making machine and most of the hotels have a swimming pool) and guests can have their own vehicle with a local driver/guide. Most Sri Lanka road trips follow the same route, hitting cultural triangle of Sri Lanka in the central province, up-country with tea plantations, southern Sri Lanka with safari and beaches towards the end of the trip. All Sri Lanka trips come with added paid add-ons throughout the tour and tourists are free to choose any combination of them.
But most of the time this Sri Lanka trip itinerary includes below ($ 900 per person, minimum 2 persons). You can get more information on below Sri Lanka trip itinerary or any other Sri Lanka tour package, please write us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Going on your own
Sri Lanka is a difficult country to do solo, however, I have written several articles on solo travel, please check these two articles, you might be able to get some information about your solo venture (Destinations for solo travel in Sri Lanka, Self-guided Sri Lank tour). There is only a handful of information about hotels and other facilities available for tourists. You might be able to gather some information at Sri Lank tourist board. Sri Lanka tourist board has a tourist information centre, which is very handy if you are on the first visit to the island. If you face any difficulty during your and you need a help, you should contact the tourist board in the first place, and they help you to find the solution to your problem.
TripAdvisor, lonely planet websites are also very helpful to get general information such as transportation, entrance fees but they do provide very limited information. Due to the lack of information for tourists, it will be difficult to figure out the prices for accommodation, transportation, entrance etc.
There are many online portals providing the possibility to book accommodation, transport, sightseeing tours online but they do charge as much as 15%-25% commission from the travellers. Therefore, the best way to book the accommodation you need is through local tour operators, because they do get a special discounted rate from the local accommodation provider, these discounted rates are not published on the internet. Usually, the discounted rates are applied when you buy a package tour.
As far as transportation is concerned, it is a daunting task to go to the most interesting places using public transport and travellers are required to use the service of taxis. But travelling solo in Sri Lanka is totally allowed – though very few people are doing so. If you have experience being a solo traveller life is much easier.
Sri Lank tourist board contacts
DIAL 1912 from any phone within Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Tourism Head Office +94 112426900, +94 112 440001 / 2426984
No. 80, Galle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka.
Consider these stuff in order to be healthy until you finish your Sri Lanka road trip
Drinking water in Sri Lanka:
Avoid pipe born water and Stick to mineral water for drinking water in Sri Lanka: a bottle of mineral water (1 litre) cost about 50 cents USD, but price varies depending on the brand. Most hotels provide 2 bottles of mineral water per room per day without any extra charge and it is placed in the room by the room boy or girl. Running water can be used for the purpose of cleaning purposes, you can even wash your mouth with it. Drinking tap water is safe for local people but not for foreigners. The water may contain microorganism that your body is not familiar with, and can cause you to have some trouble.
Taking enough of fluid: taking plenty of fluid is very important during your Sri Lanka trip to avoid dehydration. Sri Lanka is a tropical country therefore warm and humid one need to take at least 1 litre of water per day. Add some minerals to your water because it is sweating here a lot.
Drinking king coconut: If you like to drink something refreshing and delicious other than water try king coconut. They can be bought in every corner of the country. A coconut contains about 1 litre of fluid and includes a lot of mineral and vitamin. 1 coconut cost around 50 cents USD. Make sure the coconut is opened in front of you.
Food: Avoid peeled fruits and salads as much as possible, if you have a meal outside the hotel. Avoid food sold in wayside meal carts, especially the peeled fruits and salads. They can cause you to have diarrhoea and other abdominal problems, which is most common among foreign travellers. Because the hygienic standard of local food is questionable.
Rice and Curry: One exception is eating rice and curry (if possible), it won’t cause you any problem because curry is prepared with a lot of spices such as cumin seeds, pepper, chilli, cinnamon, saffron etc and inherit germ-killing power.
Eating local food: is one of the most exciting things for travellers in a foreign country. But if it poses a threat and can cause you to be sick avoiding such food is very essential. Even in Sri Lanka, one can enjoy local food as long as they are prepared to hygienic standards and stored properly. The food sold in tourist board registered restaurants or tourist hotels can be consumed without any fear, but we are talking about the food sold by street vendors, that are open to the dusty wind and vehicle smoke.
Mosquitoes: Sri Lanka is a tropical country and mosquito is occurring in all parts of the country, especially in the low-country area such as Beach area, Colombo, cultural triangle. Mosquitos are mostly occurring in the late evening and night. If you stay outside the hotel in the evening use mosquito repellent to avoid mosquito bites.
If you see mosquitoes inside the room one can ask for a mosquito net from the housekeeping department. Keeping the air-conditioner running or keeping the ceiling fan working throughout the night is another 2 effective ways to keep mosquitoes away from you.