South East Asia

Our honest opinion of Sri Lanka (& what we did here)

Top things to do in Sri Lanka blog. Listing 10 of our favorite things to do in Sri Lanka!

We spent two weeks in Sri Lanka en-route to Europe. And, while we did like Sri Lanka we didn’t love it. Let me explain why – there’s been some serious hype surrounding Sri Lanka, on Instagram all you have to do is search #SriLanka and you’ll be inundated with images of yellow sand beaches, turquoise oceans and colorful cities. Update: since the terror attacks in Colombo on Easter 2019, tourism to the country has taken a massive hit.

Every travel influencer and their mother seems to have visited Sri Lanka of late, and so as a result the world wide web is chocka-block with articles waxing lyrical about Sri Lanka. The truth is we believed the hype, were overly excited by it, and so expected too much from Sri Lanka and were left feeling a little underwhelmed.

Would we visit Sri Lanka again?

Yes, we probably would but we would do it a little differently. For us, Sri Lanka is one of those countries that you will really enjoy if you have  money, and we were on a tight budget considering we still had two months of travel ahead of us. Honestly, it was a lot more expensive than we expected. There’s some gorgeous hotels on the island but they are pricey, expect to pay up to about $100 a night for a nice hotel. As you may have heard, we didn’t have much luck with Sri Lanka’s famous train journeys. So, if we were to return, we would be inclined to pay for private transfers the majority of the time. An exception to this rule is the Kandy to Ella journey, which truly is gorgeous.

Anyways, despite our mixed view on Sri Lanka I urge you to go and see it for yourself – it is beautifully colorful with epic beaches and friendly locals. And who knows it may turn out to be one of your favorite places in the world.

Without further ado, here are our top suggestions of things to do in Sri Lanka.

The famous train journey from Kandy to Ella

This trip for us didn’t go quite as we planned it. We booked a first class ticket after our sweaty/ packed like sardines experience on a second class carriage from Colombo to Kandy a few days before. We showed up to the train station bright and early and took our comfy seats in the air-con carriage. When, 30 minutes after we were scheduled to depart there was still no sign of movement I got up to see what the delay was. Turns out the engine was broken. Queue lots of panicked workers running back and forth trying to fix it. Alas, after two hours it was determined it couldn’t be fixed and so we had to wait on an incoming train from Colombo to take its engine. We eventually departed about four hours late.

Oh well, the journey to Ella was as gorgeous as predicted and we took lots of photos. However, be warned one silly girl dropped her phone while hanging out the doorway to take photos and we were told by a local that a couple of people have fallen out trying to take the perfect photo. They were unhurt thankfully.

Relax on Rekawa beach

Instead of choosing the crowded beaches of Tangalle or Mirissa we suggest spending your lazy days on Rekawa beach. Particularly, the gorgeous Seven Turtles Resort – the beach here is pretty much deserted save for a few local fishermen and through the months of October to April you may be lucky enough to witness baby turtles hatch.

There are so many gorgeous beaches in Sri Lanka, you could easily spend a month or more exploring them all.

rekawa beach, sri lanka

Visit the Halpewatte tea factory in Ella

This was unsurprisingly Paul’s favourite activity of the trip, being an englishman he LOVES his tea. It was fascinating to see tea processing up close, plus we got a behind-the-scenes look at the factory at work. We got to try all different types of teas and the tasting room has epic views of the valley. We could have sat there all day sipping our tea (fruit tea only for me) and admiring the view. You can find more information here

See Sri Lankan elephants in the wild

Udawalawe National Park was my number one reason for visiting Sri Lanka . I’m beyond obsessed with elephants and I’ve never seen one in the wild, that was until Udawalawe, where we saw not one but 30 elephants and even a teeny-tiny baby that was just one month old.  Udawalawe is home to over 250 Sri Lankan elephants and is the third most visted national park in Sri Lanka behind Yala National Park and Minneriya.

Udawalawe absolutely lived up to its hype, seeing these gorgeous animals in their natural habitat was one of the best moments of my life to date. You can read more about Udawalawe here

Get lost in the cute & colourful streets of Galle

Galle is a fortified city built by the Portuguese  and many of its buildings show the influence of Portuguese architectural style on Sri Lankan traditions. It is certainly a unique place and so inherently different to other cities in Sri Lanka. Galle is a UNESCO heritage site and if you’re to add any city in Sri Lanka to your itinerary it must be Galle.

galle, unesco heritage site, sri lanka

Walk along the famous Nine Arches bridge in Ella

Surrounded by lush green jungle, the famed Nine Arches bridge is truly a sight for sore eyes and well worth the uneven, sometimes steep hike there. There was a swarm of deadly bees terrorising tourists on the tracks below so we didn’t quite make it all the way across the bridge for obvious reasons. Oh and Paul got bitten by a leech. Anyways, we got some great photos but missed the train coming across the bridge which would have made for an incredible snap.

Spot some ‘photogenic’ local fishermen

Sri Lanka is famed for its stilt fishermen (I’m sure you’ve seen the photos on Instagram/ Pinterest and the likes), unfortunately, we didn’t get to witness this on our trip but we did see these guys catching fish in the middle of Udawalawe National Park and this epic example of team work on Rekawa beach. Anyways, supposedly the stilt fishermen is a scam – read more here 

Photograph Galle’s gorgeous lighthouse

Not only is Galle famous for its gorgeous lighthouse, there are lots of things to keep you busy in Galle. Including golden sand beaches, shopping & excellent restaurants.

galle, lighthouse, sri lanka

Relax on your hotel balcony and watch the sunset

We spent the majority of our time in Negombo watching the sunset from our hotel balcony. And honestly, of our entire two-week trip we watched the sunset every night as they are so spectacular in Sri Lanka.

Best area’s to watch the sunset in Sri Lanka

  • Adam’s Peak in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
  • Arugam Bay on the east coast
  • Sigriya Rock – also known as Lion’s Rock
  • Galle Fort, Galle
sunset sri lanka

Do we regret visiting Sri Lanka?

No, not a single bit. It is a beautiful country I will give it that, but our one mistake was believing the instagram hype before we’d even stepped foot in the country. We sure won’t be doing that again. If you do visit Sri Lanka – take it for what it is, enjoy the madness and forget about getting that insta-perfect shot. Although we did get some pretty pictures eh?!

Tell me – what did you think of our things to do in Sri Lanka blog?

READ NEXT | the most photogenic places in Sri Lanka


Things to do in Sri Lanka blog - a detailed list of how best to spend your vacation in Sri Lanka. Including the best sunset spots & a fun train journey!

18 replies on “Our honest opinion of Sri Lanka (& what we did here)”

I do appreciate your honesty about how you felt about your trip to Sri Lanka. I’ve also heard before that it’s been quite overhyped and is much more expensive than expected. That’s why we’ve been holding back on booking a trip. Whilst a delay in the train trip, your Kandy to Ella trip looks and sounds amazing!

I have never taken an open-air train ride, so I would have enjoyed the view minus the 4-hour delay but traveling and transportation don’t always go as planned. I would have loved to play with the baby elephants (did you get to touch them or only see them from the jeep. Sorry, you were underwhelmed, (Don’t always believe the hype especially from IG, glad you experienced for yourself) I hope the rest of your travels you feel overwhelmed with the experience.

I was in Sir Lanka earlier this year, and this post brings back wonderful memories. Such a unique place and such a small island so easy to hop between towns and attractions. Great list!

Loved your honesty. That’s the kind of travel posts I love to read. True and unbiased. The railway track looks fabulous. Glad you were able to make the train journey when though a bit late. The elephants look amazing. I love them too.

I visited Sri Lanka a few years ago and it’s still one of my favourite places ever. I totally fell in love with it! I agree there’s a lot of hype on Instagram now, so perhaps we went at the perfect time while it was still relatively unknown! Udawalawe was incredible, and is absolutely the best thing to do in Sri Lanka. We travelled with some people who didn’t go and they regretted it!

Your pictures are like Instagram goals, and Ella is such a popular spot in Sri Lanka. Thank you for sharing all the pictures, moments and tips in visiting Sri Lanka, I am saving this post for future reference

I appreciate your honest review! And I’m sorry your train journey didn’t go exactly as planned. But I am glad the beautiful journey sounds like it was worth it and you were able to take lots of great photos!
I especially love the photo you got of the fisherman, and the lighthouses, and sunsets – all your photos are gorgeous!
I would love to see those elephants in person and go on the tea tour 🙂
Thanks for sharing all these great things to do!

I appreciate your down-to-earth review of Sri Lanka. It’s difficult to manage expectations when traveling once you’ve seen photoshopped or too-good-to-be-true pictures on Insta. However, despite you not trying to get the perfect shot, they all looked gorgeous anyway! I’d love to see that beautiful and lush green forest someday!

Awww a baby elephant would have made it all worthwhile for me too! I’ve definitely seen all the hype about Sri Lanka, but am kind of torn about visiting. It seems way more expensive and a lot more touristic than, say, Tamil Nadu in India, but still pretty similar in terms of things to see and do.

I love these good honest posts about disappointments when traveling. Disappointments are hard enough at home but when I dream of a place and it doesn’t meet my expeditions it’s particularly hard. I’m sorry it was rough but grateful for your suggestions for things to do in the country based on your experiences. I had expected to visit this year but my plans have gotten pushed back a bit. I’m bookmarking this post for when it happens.

I was there a long time ago and spent weeks backpacking around the island. The civil war broke out just as we left! I’m hoping to return and you’ve helped me calm my expectations. Sorry too to hear that it’s become so expensive!

I haven’t been to Sir Lanka and I so appreciate the honest review of your experience. I can totally see how that can happen, and I expect that will happen to more places as well. I would so love visiting the tea farm, and what a view it has! And, I’m a huge fan of uncrowded beaches so Rekawa Beach is for me!

Thanks for sharing and the list! I did all 10 things when I was in Sri Lanka 2 months ago and I enjoy the Lion’s Rock, the train journeying to Ella and Galle’s old town the most! Those are my top 3 🙂 @ knycx.journeying

What a bummer that visiting Sri Lanka didn’t live up to your expectations! However, I really appreciated your honesty in this post, and I hope travelers who come to Sri Lanka after you heed your advice. I can’t say Sri Lanka was high up on my travel wish list, but your post may have moved it up a few notches. I think it was seeing baby elephants in the wild that sold me! It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on Sri Lanka again if you were to return for another visit a few years from now. I wonder how it will change, especially since it is such a buzzed about destination these days.

I haven’t been to Sri Lanka, but all of these look like absolutely fabulous things to do. I want to go by train and visit the tea areas, looks amazing!

Ahh i’m So pleased somebody else feels the same as me – I wasn’t blown away by Sri Lanka either but so many people seem to LOVE it. Couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was – maybe like you say, if you’ve lots to splash on an amazing hotel it’s a bit of a different experience

I really want to visit Sri Lanka because it looks so beautiful and everyone is raving about it. Thanks for bringing up the other aspects or the possible negative sides to it.

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