This past summer, I spent a month with my partner, Connor, traveling all around the Island of Sri Lanka. Of course, as digital nomads, we were working the entire trip. Even still, we made so much time for adventure and culture during our one month trip around Sri Lanka.
Have you been?
We were looking forward to magical beaches, safari adventures, and new cafes to post up our laptops.
While we found all of those things, it wasn’t without a bit of challenge. We visited Sri Lanka in June 2019, just a couple months after the devastating terrorist attacks. Tourism was at a very, very low point and we saw few travelers on our adventure.
We don’t mind being the solo tourists in a city. It’s a lot of fun! However, we found that a number of places were closed for the off season and it made things a bit more challenging to judge fairly.
There was also a problem with wifi. As we are digital nomads, this made things rather inconvenient and running my business while in Sri Lanka was much more challenging that other blogs had described.
I still loved it! It’s one of the best-priced adventures I’ve ever had – spending about $800 per person over the entire month. No joke!
Week One – South West Coast
We didn’t spend as much time on the West Coast, as it was raining season on that side of the country.
As the capital city, Colombo was a busy place, full of amazing cafes and local attractions. We stayed in the popular neighborhood of Cinnamon Gardens, which was a beautiful place to be. It’s surrounded by municipality buildings and the best co-working cafes.
We were using our first stop in Colombo to bust out a ton of work and minimal tourist exploration.
What we didn’t plan for? Our neighborhood streets being on lock down for the arrival on India’s Prime Minister. We also didn’t plan on Connor getting violently ill upon arrival. Needless to say, we did less adventuring than planned.
Here are some of my only photos of Colombo:
At the end of our time in Colombo, we head to the train station to be crowded in to a local train on our way to Galle.
I have to admit, Galle was a beautiful little place to be for a few days. We stayed down in the fort area, which felt more like a European port town than what I’ve traditionally seen in Southern Asia.
We enjoyed “colonized luxuries,” such as high tea at one of the many luxury hotels. The roads are packed full of shopping boutiques selling quality gemstones, fine clothing, and leather goods. We enjoyed picking up gelato on our way to walk along the fort walls at sunset.
It was a great spot to enjoy a slower pace. The neighborhood comes out to fly kites in the afternoon and it was super quiet during our visit.
We spent one night in Tangalle, which is usually a spot for people looking for surfing lessons and small yoga retreats. We were there for one reason – to visit one of the Turtle Conservation projects that run out of Sri Lanka.
Remember when I mentioned tourist season meant a lot of places were placed? We walked for quite a long time in the rain to find restaurants open while we were in Tangalle. Other than that, we didn’t see anything but turtles.
We also picked the “perfect” night to visit the conversation project. As tourist season was low, the local university was visiting the sanctuary, with about 100 eager students. This made for an interesting experience. We did get to learn a lot about the turtles and saw a few laying eggs.
Week Two – Southern Sri Lanka
This was my favorite part of the trip as we got into more adventure and a lot less work.
Kataragama was a very small town, but I adored our visit here for many reasons.
Our accommodations were amazing! We stayed at Gem River Edge and I can’t say enough nice things about this location. The couple who own the eco-lodge are friendly, helpful, and passionate about the conservation work they’re trying to do.
They gave us bikes to enjoy a nice ride along one of the local lakes and organized a safari in Yala National Park. Yala was great! We saw colorful birds, a variety of deer, water buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys, and giant lizards.
Our highlights? Connor was beside himself after we saw two gorgeous leopards (they moved way too fast for a picture). And I forced our driver to stop and let me watch elephants for nearly twenty minutes. I’m obsessed.
Kataragama was also cool because it’s one of the only places where people of different religions celebrate with each other. In the main block of the city, you’ll find a Buddhist temple, a Muslim mosque, and a Hindu temple right next to each other. We were there on the full moon and the celebrations were very blended.
Ella was beautiful! This is one of the best places in Sri Lanka if you’re into hiking and waterfalls and all the outdoor adventures.
You can find amazing hotels with mountain views for $10 USD a night and the town has most places within walking distance. Ella is also known for it’s tea plantations and tea tastings, which you can find all over town.
This was also one of the only towns where we found decent wifi at the cafes. If we hadn’t already booked our house in Kandy, I may have stayed much longer. It was beautiful.
Week Three – Central Sri Lanka
Be ready for epic adventures and all the excitement you can handle!
Just kidding… we actually have a rather dull week three. It started when we missed out on our train ride from Ella to Kandy (which is supposed to tbe the prettiest train ride in the world). The train workers were on strike the week we were in Ella, so we missed out on this ride.
We spent the entire week in Kandy, renting a giant house that was way too big for us. We splurged a bit… a whopping $200 USD, for a giant house with a garden and room for 12 people. (That was the cost for the WEEK, not for a night.)
We booked the place for work purposes actually. So, no excitement here. Sorry, friends.
I needed a venue to film all my lessons, yoga classes, and tools for the new confidence, self discovery, and anxiety toolkits that I launched at the end of the summer.
Outside of filming, we did little else other than shop a local market and buy a bunch of vegetables we had never heard of before. Some of the veggies were amazing in our curries. Others, well… let us know if you know how to cook bitter squash.
Week Four – Northeast Sri Lanka
In our final week, we opted again for more adventure and less work. Heading over to the Northeast gave us much better weather than the stormy South in the summer months.
Dambulla and Sigiriya
Have you ever seen a photo of a giant rock with a city on top of it that looks like it got dropped onto earth out of nowhere? Hang on, I’ll find you a picture:
That one! That was our reason for stopping in Dambulla – to make our way to the magical rocks of Sigiriya. Turns out, there are two big rocks – the famous one, which housed a city on the top of it, and the one we decided to hike (for a 10th of the price).
We didn’t get to see the ancient structures, but as we’ve seen a lot of that, we were happy with the epic views from the second rock.
We made our last visit to Tricomalee, a port city in the Northeast known for it’s fort and colorful temples.
I spent a little time exploring the area of Tricomalee and had my mind exploded by some of the interesting designs within their temples. Connor spent the day scuba diving off the coast, although he explained that a lot of the dive was spent removing fishing lines off the reef.
There was a morning we got up early to go watch dolphins dance around our boat, which was amazing!
We spent more of our time along the beaches of Nilaveli and Uppuveli. While it was nice to have beach days with soft sand and clear waters, I’ll admit that it was harder to enjoy ourselves when we witnessed so much garbage along the beaches.
While it was nice to have beach days with soft sand and clear waters, I’ll admit that it was harder to enjoy ourselves when we witnessed so much garbage along the beaches.
One morning, we went snorkeling around pigeon island, a popular tourist destination. While there’s still plenty of magical marine life when you swim further out, it’s crushing to see the amount of bleached, dead coral from the excessive use of sunscreen in the area. We also witnessed some mass fishing lines being pulled in, which often grab all forms of marine life, killing turtles, dolphins, etc.
While our trip was memorable and amazing, it also reminded us of how much the world is suffering. The oceans are dying under the weight of pollution and over fishing. There is fear and separation due to the violence of radical individuals. We also saw the lack of education access and more.
But, I left with much more hope than fear.
The Sri Lankan people were so kind to us, offering free tea and smiles throughout our journey. I felt hopeful when people of different religions were celebrating together in their town square. And I feel gratitude for the organizations, like our eco lodge and the turtle reserve, that are doing their best to make a difference.
Also, Sri Lankan curry is amazing! I really enjoyed eating with my hands during our visit.
It’s a good reminder that as tourists, we get to decide how we invest our time in the countries we visit. Support local conversation efforts, learn more about the cultural history, and do your best to travel green.
Have you been to Sri Lanka? What did you enjoy? Drop me a comment!