Louise Burton

Discover Sri Lanka: Where to Stay, Places to Visit & Things to Do

Sandra Gouveia

“Sri Lanka is an island that everyone loves at some level inside themselves. A very special island that travellers, from Sinbad to Marco Polo, dreamed about. A place where the contours of the land itself forms a kind of sinewy poetry.” ~ Romesh Gunesekera

A tear of joy drops from the Indian Peninsula and forms an alluring, historic and paradisiac island: Sri Lanka. Palm-fringed beaches of white sand, legendary colonial sites, scattered ancient-old temples, extensive rice paddies and traditional villages are only some of the things that make this island country in the Indian Ocean a bucket-list must-do for those travelling across Southern Asia. In this article, we’ll take you across its different regions and present you with the best places to visit so you can plan and then enjoy your trip to the fullest.

Key-Areas in Sri Lanka

Jebi Jonathan

Colombo and the West Coast

Most travellers will first greet Sri Lanka in Colombo, its modern capital city, and a nice starting place to attune to the culture and ways of this small yet diverse island-country. Rooftop bars, great restaurants, lively nightlife, beautiful hotels, cool shopping malls, and luxurious mansions along with busy roads, street markets, and decaying slums all coexist in this colonial city.

 

To the north is the popular beach stretches of Negombo (just 7km away from the airport), the Kalpitiya Peninsula (a fantastic place for dolphin watching) and the largest park in Sri Lanka – the Wilpattu National Park. Heading south you’ll find coastal life at its peak with several paradisiac beach resorts in Kalutara, Betonta and Hikkaduwa.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Colombo and the West Coast

Kollupitiya is the best area in Colombo to stay in, a multi-cultural and coastal district with excellent hotels such as Shangri-La Hotel Colombo, Marino Beach Colombo, Mövenpick Hotel Colombo, Galle Face Hotel and Cinnamon Red Colombo.

 

In Negombo, we recommend staying at Waterland, Heritance Negombo or the colourful Dickman Resort “The Boutique Hotel”.

 

The Rascals Kite Resort, Dolphin Beach Resort, Horizon Kitesurfing Beach Resort, Bar Reef Resort in Kalpitiya have a more low-key and relaxing vibe, perfect for water sports and yoga lovers.

 

For the best hotels south of Colombo we suggest Anantara Kalutara Resort in Kalutara, The Blue Water in Wadduwa, Paradise Road The Villa Bentota and Saman Villas in Bentota, Villa 46 and KAI Hikkaduwa in Hikkaduwa.

Oliver Sjostrom

Kandy and the Hill County

While Sri Lanka’s beaches hue the country golden and turquoise, the Hill Country colours it green with a large tapestry of tea plantations, scenic misty mountains and gracious waterfalls.

 

Kandy, home to the last standing kingdom in Sri Lanka, is the major city in the northern part of the Hill Country, nestled in a plateau surrounded by verdant hills. The Temple of The Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy Lake, Peradeniya Botanic Garden and Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage are some of the greatest places to visit around.

 

In the tea-growing south region is Nuwara Eliya, also known as “Little England”. This former British hill station is the common base to hike along the Horton Plains to World’s End, a steep cliff with some jaw-dropping views (when not engulfed with an obscuring mist).

 

East of the Horton Plains, picturesque Sri Lankan villages can be found and among them is Ella, a hilltop gem surrounded by endless tea plantations and stunning waterfalls. From climbing up Ella Rock or little Adam’s peak, cooling down at Ravana Fall or Diyaluma Falls, enjoying the views from Lipton’s Seat or watching the train pass by in the Nine Arch Bridge, if it’s an adventure you’re looking for, then Ella can cater to you just that.

 

On the southwest of Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura guides visitors to the nearby Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the iconic Adam’s Peak. Further south, in Udawalawe National Park, join a wildlife safari tour for plenty of elephant sightings.

 

Where to Stay

Hotels in Kandy and the Hill County

If you’re planning to stay around Kandy then the best hotel options are the five-starred Santani Resort & Spa, The Golden Crown Hotel, The Elephant Stables or the 4-starred Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge.

 

In Nuwara Eliya, we recommend La Grande Villa, and more to the southeast in Haputale, the old-world elegant Thotalagala or the upscale Royal Majesty Bungalow in Hatton to the southwest.

 

Close to the Diyaluma Falls in God’s Forest, the rustic and remote Living Heritage Koslanda is sure to charm you with its comfort and serene atmosphere.

Sander Don

The Cultural Triangle

The Cultural Triangle is an area in the heart of Sri Lanka where arid plains and mountain outcrops replace the lush green landscapes of the south.

 

Ancient monuments, historical ruins and impressive temples are found dispersed across the triangle composed by Sri Lanka’s old Sinhalese and Kandian capitals: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Other traces of this grandiose ancestry are also found in the stunning Sigiriya Rock Citadel or Lion Rock (you’ve got to check the amazing frescos and breathtaking hilltop view), the Golden Cave Temple of Dambulla, the Buddhist Centre of Mihintale, Ritigala’s Forest Monastery and the less visited Aluvihare Rock Temple.

 

Nature lovers were surely not forgotten and will be happy to find hordes of giant elephants in the Minneriya National Park.

Where to Stay

Hotels in The Cultural Triangle

There are several luxurious and grand hotels in this golden triangle area. Right across the Lion’s Rock is the Aliya Resort and Spa, Water Garden Sigiriya and the also not-so-distant Jetwing Vil Uyana.

 

Ulagalla by Uga Escapes near Anuradhapura, Ekho Lake House Resort in Polonnaruwa, Kalundewa Retreat and Jetwing Lake, close to Dambulla are also some very interesting options.

Nawartha Nirmal

Jaffna and the North

Jaffna is the centre of the north, seized by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, the LTTE (the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and even the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force). The closest Sri Lankan region to India is an arid place heavily occupied by the Tamil immigrants. One of its biggest appeals is a distinct culture, cuisine, and unique heritage that has only recently become accessible to travellers.

 

The most vibrant place in the region is the capital, but the more off-beaten Jaffna Peninsula, remote Vanni region (where Kilinochchi, the LTTE war capital is located), the salt pans in Vanni and the western islands (Punkudutivu and Nainativu i.e.) have a promising appeal that may prove itself in years to come.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Jaffna and the North

Planning to explore the off-the-beaten North of Sri Lanka? Then let us suggest staying in Jetwing Jaffna and North Gate by Jetwing in Jaffna.

Tomas Malik

East Coast

Those looking for a more unspoilt and traditional place to visit in Sri Lanka are advised to head east. After overcoming a past troubled by the inner conflicts which hindered its development, tourism has started embracing this region. Reachable by car + public transportation, and matching the highlights of the west such as forts, temples, markets, fishing villages and an amazing coastline, the Eastern Region is yet to unleash its full potential.

 

Trincomalee is the colonial capital lying southeast while further down the coast, the surf haven Arugam Bay dominates the area. The latter is a very strategic place to explore Kumana (also called Yala East), Lahugala and Kudimbigala National Parks. Midway is the pristine Passikudah and Kalkudah Beaches and Kattankudy (one of the most densely Muslim dominated regions in Sri Lanka). A stone’s throw from Trincomalee are the resort towns of Uppuveli, Nilavelu and the nearby off coast Pigeon Island Marine Park – some of the most popular beach destinations in Eastern Sri Lanka.

 

Where to Stay

Hotels in East Coast

The hotel options we’re about to suggest are dangerously appealing and sure to make you daydream about your next relaxing resort holidays in Sri Lanka:

 

The Wild Coast Tented Lodge – All Inclusive is definitely one of them, along with Jetwing Yala, and Chena Huts by Uga Escapes – All Inclusive in Yala.

 

The Amaranthe Bay Resort & Spa in Trincomalee, Jungle Beach by Uga Escapes in Nilavel, and Karpaha Sands in Passikudah are additional world-class places to stay in.

Daniel Klein

Southern Ceylon

Visitors often start exploring the south of Sri Lanka from Galle, one of the most well-preserved colonial cities in the country, famous for the Galle Fort (a seafront walled city built by the Portuguese and extended by the Dutch).

 

Heading southeastwards from Galle, one finds several idyllic beaches, beautiful resorts and quaint little towns – such as Mirissa, Unawatuna and Tangalla – before reaching Tissamaharama, a great starting point to explore the pilgrimage town of Kataragama, Yala National Park (the country’s prime wildlife park) and Bundala National Park (a bird lover’s paradise).

Where to Stay

Hotels in Southern Ceylon

20 Middle Street, The Galle Fort Hotel, and Fort Bazaar are some of the best hotels in Galle Fort.

 

Close to Unuwatana is the Hotel Why House while right by Habaraduwa beach are the top-notch KK Beach and Habaraduwa House.

 

Continuing south some of the best hotel options include Kahanda KandaTri by Lake Koggala, Cape Weligama in Weligama (Matara), ANI Private Resorts Sri Lanka in Dikwella (Matara) and Last House in Nakulugamuwa (Tangalle).

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