From all the places we saw and things we did in Sri Lanka during our 15 days backpacking trip the best 5 things for us were:
1. Ella Rock (Day 11 – Ella Rock)
Hiking to Ella rock was a highlight of our trip. Unlike most people, we stayed in a hotel outside of Ella – the ‘Hideaway Hotel’ – so our hike from the hotel to Ella rock, then to Ella and back to the hotel turned out to be a full active day. The path (found on the OpenCycleMap) from our hotel to Ella took us through a wooded area to Ella Rock with great views, then we walked through the forest, tall grass, villages and railway track to get to Ella where we enjoyed a lovely lunch in one of the various ‘fancy’ eating places. Following that we carried on with more hiking mainly through railway tracks almost all the way back to our hotel to get there on time for a lovely dinner and a chat with one of the guests we met there. You can read more in here: Day 11- Ella Rock.
2. Cycling around Anuradhapura sites (Day 3 – Cycling around Anuradhapura)
This was a day filled with exercise, visiting ancient temples and meeting very friendly local people. I think that this combination of different things made it so special. We saw only a few white tourists, and so it felt a bit like we were the centre of attention for the curious locals. Most locals people we saw were smiling, waving to us and quite few of them (who could speak English at least a little bit) were chatting with us. One local guy even offered to cook for us dinner in his home! You can read more here: Day 3 – Cycling around Anuradhapura.
3. Beaches in the south (Day 12 – Ella to Tangalle; Day 13 – Tangalle and Unawatuna – beaches)
Unawatuna and Tangalle were the beaches in the south of Sri Lanka that we visited. We liked them both. The beach in Tangalle was a private beach right outside of our hotel - the Palm Paradise Cabanas hotel. It’s a small beach cove but very pretty and quiet with many crabs and rocks – ideal for relaxation. Unwatuna beach on the other hand is long, dotted with numerous bars and restaurants, much more lively – ideal for running, swimming and enjoying nightlife – or a romantic candle-lit dinner. You can read more here: Day 12 – Ella to Tangalle; Day 13 – Tangalle and Unawatuna – beaches.
4. Galle (Day 14 – One day trip to Galle)
Galle is the nicest city we have seen in Sri Lanka! It’s very pleasant to walk around through small streets lined with historical buildings. There is a huge choice of cafes and restaurants that we have not experienced anywhere else in Sri Lanka. There is also a beautiful view of the sea and a sea breeze which make it very pleasant for walking without getting too hot. This place can’t be missed when visiting Sri Lanka. You can read more here: Day 14 – One day trip to Galle.
5. Pidurangala rock in Sigiriya (Day 6 – Pidurangala rock in Sigiriya)
Pidurangala rock is an off-the-beaten-track attraction in Sigiriya. You can start hiking to the Pidurangala rock not far from the main entrance to the Sigiriya rock, and the ticket for the temple at the bottom, and the rock itself, cost us only 1000 LKR (~$8) per person compared to 3600 LKR for Sigiriya rock. There are a couple of attractions to see on the way. We also paid small change for a ‘guide’ after reading that the path might not be so clear. This was probably a good idea. From the top you can see the famous Sigiriya rock and beautiful surroundings – ideal for postcard pictures! You can read more here: Day 6 – Pidurangala rock in Sigiriya.