This is the second installment in our ‘Backpacking Sri Lanka’ series (see the first one here). In this post, we’re going to help you plan your Sri Lanka Backpacking Route and Itinerary.
Sri Lanka is a land with much to offer in the way of natural beauty, culture and experiences. But having so much choice can sometimes make it hard for you to decide what to do and see. This is why it makes sense to plan a route and prepare an itinerary before you arrive here. That way, you’ll make sure you tick off the things that are most important to you.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ backpacking route or an itinerary for Sri Lanka (or any other place for that matter). This is because there are a number of factors and variables that can change from individual to individual.
A person’s interests, how much time they have available and the time of year that they will be travelling, all play a part in determining where they can go and what they can see.
So in this post, rather than trying to prescribe a particular route or itinerary, we’ll provide you with the options and information you need to make your own, depending on your particular needs and circumstances.
So let’s get to it and let’s start with the weather.
Generally speaking, Sri Lanka has good weather throughout the year. But it does have rainy seasons. Even then, it’s still quite warm and you will have sunny intervals more or less every day.
But having said that, it’s best to be aware of the rainy seasons and at least prepare for them or avoid them altogether if possible.
The Rainy Seasons
Sri Lanka’s two rainy seasons are The Southwest Monsoon Season and The Northeast Monsoon Season.
The Southeast Monsoon Season runs from May until October and affects the beaches of the South and West of the country and also causes more rain inland, including the Hill Country at the centre of the Island.
The Northeastern Monsoon Season runs from October until May and affects the East Coast, the North and the ancient cities in the North Central part of the country.
So you will want to bear this in mind and plan your route according to the time of year during which you will be travelling.
The Best Times to Visit
The best times to visit Sri Lanka are:
December to March is the best time to visit Sri Lanka, especially the West Coast and the Hill Country in the centre (it’s also the high season in that part of the country and so, the busiest and most expensive);
April tends to be the hottest time of year (especially in the South and West) and is generally dry throughout the country.
April is also the time of the traditional New Year and the country tends to come to a standstill during that time.
May to October it rains in the South and West but the weather is good on the East Coast and it’s high season there.
You can enjoy lower prices and fewer crowds during the rest of the year, but just bear in mind that rain could sometimes dampen your plans.
The Attractions on Offer
In terms of attractions and their locations, the best beaches are in the Southwest (Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Mirissa, Tangalle, Weligama etc.) and in the East (Arugam Bay, Pasikudah Beach and Nilaveli Beach).
The ‘Hill Country’, including Kandy, Ella, Nuwara Eliya, World’s End and the Knuckles Range, etc., is located in the centre of Sri Lanka. This region offers mountains, waterfalls and lush green vegetation with cooler climates and epic scenery.
The ‘Cultural ~Triangle’, incorporating the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Pollonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sigiriya, is in the North Central part of the country and offers a well-preserved glimpse into its past.
The wildlife sanctuaries are spread out around the Island with Yala National Parl, Sinharaja Forest, Udawalawe National Park, and Kumana National Park all located towards the South and South East of the country; while Wilpattu National Park is in the North West (near Mannar); and Minneriya and Wasgamuawa National Parks are located in the North Central part of the country (near Sigiriya).
Last but not least, we have the North of the country, particularly the city of Jaffna, which is very much still recovering from the armed conflict that raged for several decades. Although off the beaten track and less touristy, this region and its people have a beauty and charm all their own and are very much worth visiting. Plus, you’re unlikely to bump into many tourists there.
The first sample route is Colombo, Hikkaduwa – Galle – Unawatuna – Weligama – Mirissa – Tissa Maharama – Arugam Bay – Ella – Kandy – Mount Lavinia (Colombo) and was covered over a period of one month.
This route comprises mainly of beach sites but also takes in Kandy and Ella, which is in the central Hill Country. But of course, this route misses out on the Cultural Triangle/ancient sites. They could have remedied this with a visit to Sigiriya from Kandy.
You can read a full post about this route on ‘Enjoy the Journey‘ (blog) here.
The second sample route is Negombo – Kandy – Sigiriya – back to Kandy – Nuwara Eliya – Ella – Arugam Bay – Yala National Park – Mirissa – Unawatuna – Colombo.
This is a more ‘mixed bag’ in terms of places and experiences and was completed in 21 days.
You can read more about this and some alternative routes in the ‘Salt in Our Hair‘ blog here.
The third and final route is Colombo – Jaffna – Anuradhapura – Sigiriya/Dambulla – Kandy – Nuwara Eliya –Tissamaharama (Tissa) – Galle – Colombo. This is by far the most extensive, in terms of coverage and was completed in just two weeks!
You can read about this route in Nomadic Matt’s blog here.
As you can see, some have taken a long time to see fewer places, while others have packed in the length and breadth of the country within two weeks.
So the possibilities here are limited only by your imagination (and stamina).
But, as a rule of thumb, you should expect to spend at least two weeks in Sri Lanka. This will allow you to get over your jet lag and experience at least two to three of the main attractions (i.e. Beach, Hill Country, etc.) at a manageable pace.
But if you really want to see the country (and discover the North, which you should), then allow at least three to four weeks at minimum.
Where to stay
There is no shortage of excellent places to stay in Sri Lanka and most locations offer a range of accommodations to suit every budget.
In terms of backpackers, many opt for hostels where available and for small, family-run homestays and guest houses, where hostels are not available.
Hangover Hostels are an award-winning chain of hostels situated in five convenient locations near the Colombo International Airport, Mirissa, Ella, Sigiriya and Arugam Bay. You can use our network of hostels to see and experience every part of Sri Lanka, save for the North.
The map below shows the attractions/places of interest in purple and Hangover Hostels locations in orange.
So that concludes our post on Planning Your Sri Lanka Backpacking Route and Itinerary. We hope you enjoyed it and that it was helpful to you.
You may also like these travel guides from our blog:
- Top Things to Do in Negombo
- Mirissa Beach and Beyond – Top Things to Do in Mirissa
- Sigiriya Rock and Beyond – Top Things to Do in Sigiriya
- Top Things to Do in Ella
- Top Things to Do in Arugam Bay
Stay tuned for the next post in the series.