Sri Lanka Guide: The best guesthouses, food & activities in Sri Lanka 2017

My recommendations for sleeping and eating in Sri Lanka on a mid-level budget.
10 Jul ’17 by Sara Travel

I may have had mixed feelings about my holidays in Sri Lanka, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have fantastic recommendations. I decided to jot down all of the great places that we visited and the trips that we took as Sri Lanka is becoming more and more popular by the minute, but it can be difficult to find high quality in an emerging destination.

Our Sri Lanka itinerary for 3 weeks in April 2017

We had booked our first stay in Beruwala on the West coast of Sri Lanka. From there on, we traveled via Galle to the South Coast, then took a bus up to the mountains to Ella. From here, we took the famous train to Kandy. After a two day detour to Dambulla and the Heritance Kandalama, we returned to Colombo for one night before we fled this horrible city. Our last few days were spent near Negombo, in a private estate merely 20 minutes away from the airport.

We missed the opportunity to see the East coast of Sri Lanka. We had beautiful weather in the South and didn’t want to risk running into the monsoon. But many people told us not to dwell on it, as the East seems to be interesting mostly to surfers.

My recommendation is to do the same roundtrip (3 weeks is plenty of time), but backwards – so instead of going down the West coast from the airport, go through the hill country and then to the South, working your way up again. This way, you get to save the beaches for the end.

Female solo travelers should not get on the public busses by themselves. We had many uncomfortable moments with touching and ogling pervs.

The best affordable guesthouses in Sri Lanka

These recommendations are all in a mid-range budget with a strong focus on sustainability, style and comfort. Because we were traveling during Easter, which is high season in Sri Lanka, we had to really dig deep to find great places. I recommend booking your stays beforehand lest you end up somewhere you won’t like.

AMUURA GUESTHOUSE, BERUWALA

Amuura is a wonderful guesthouse run by 3 German women (and a baby). The ladies have built their house from scratch in a sustainable and well-designed manner. They are running the guesthouse in order to support their cinnamon permaculture farm. These ladies lead run their shop with a tight reign and a little bit of German strictness, but the rooms are clean, the food is great and you’ve got an (almost) private beach all to yourself.

Amuura Guesthouse, 36 Maradana Road, Bandarawatta, Beruwala http://www.amuura.net/amuura-beach-house

SOBAYA BUNGALOW, NEGOMBO

Our absolute favorite stop in Sri Lanka: Sobaya Bungalow is a one woman show near the international airport. Suneetha’s estate is closer in style to a boutique hotel than to a guesthouse. The food is some of the best we had in the country, and the rooms are well decorated without the tacky modernism. Everything at Sobaya is spacious and beautiful. We spent 4 days lounging at the pool in complete privacy and urge everyone else to do the same.

Sobaya Bungalow, Negombo – https://www.airbnb.de/rooms/6946641

THE SPA VILLA, AHANGAMA

Australian host Philipp bought this formidable estate more than a decade ago to accommodate guests from all over the world. He can tell you plenty of stories about Sri Lanka and its people, but will give you the space you need if you’re so inclined. The rooms are spacious and the food can be ordered-in without a problem. The affordable spa (massage treatment) and the clean pool make this guesthouse perfect choice if you’re in the area – although the beaches at Ahangama are not really worth mentioning.

The Spa Ahangama, Kulawasa, Sri Visudharama Road, Ahangama – http://www.thespa.lk/

ROWING RICH COTTAGES, ELLA

The Rowing Rich cottages are brand new, clean and well-designed little bungalows on the hills of the mountain village Ella. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the city center, which was absolutely okay for us (if you’re not carrying a backpack, it might be tricky to get your luggage up). There’s plenty of room in the little suites (which all have a little terrace), but there are no common rooms. Breakfast is always ordered in.

Rowin Rich Cottages, Police Station Road, 90090 Ella, Sri Lanka – Rowin Rich Booking

THE BED & BREAKFAST, MIRISSA

I admit that the name sounds suspiciously generic, but this new guesthouse is not only sophisticated in style, it’s also closer to a real hotel experience with clean, smart rooms and plenty of space in the courtyard and the terraces to meet other people. It’s not exactly at the city center, but close to the beach, which is an essential factor in Mirissa. Traffic can be excruciatingly loud here, so being a little further away is a good thing. The breakfast is fantastic, but forget a stable Wi-Fi connection or dinner options.

Mirissa B&B – http://www.mirissabnb.com/

Where to eat in Sri Lanka

Truth be told, the best places to eat in Sri Lanka are NOT the seemingly “authentic” roadside eateries. The best places to eat a great curry are usually the guesthouses. You may be luckier with streetside rotis or hoppers (variations of pancakes), but do not ever eat curry or fish from the street. Sri Lanka is not Thailand – you will be disappointed and usually also ripped off.

Traditional breakfast at Fort Bazaar Hotel, Galle

Galle, the famous old colonial fort, is known for its various luxury hotels. One of them is the relatively new Fort Bazaar Hotel, recommended by many lifestyle Instagrammers and people who like to splurge in a boutique hotel. It’s a beautiful hotel with a superb menu, and I was especially fond of the traditional Sri Lankan breakfast: Egg Hoppers with cashew curry.

The Fort Bazaar, 26 Church Street, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan curry at Tallala Sunshine Beach, Tallala

If you want a really, really good coconut curry, you must absolutely visit Nisansala at her Tallala Sunshine Beach guesthouse. This little place is almost invisible among the big resorts, but this is without doubt the best curry you’ll eat while in Sri Lanka, and I mean much, much better than famous “Mama’s” or any other names in Galle or Colombo.  You don’t have to sleep here in order to eat, even though Sunshine Beach isn’t an official restaurant. We ate here three days in a row – lunch AND dinner. If you’re staying at Tallala Retreat next door, make sure you opt out of the half-board. You’ll save money and spare yourself the disappointment of a mediocre buffet.

Talalla Sunshine Beach, Palawatta, Talalla South, Gandara, Sri Lanka – http://www.talalla-sunshine-beach.com/

High Tea at Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

We had originally intended to have the traditional high tea in Galle, but never really made it. When we ended up in Colombo, we decided to give the colonial farce another shot at the legendary Galle Face Hotel. Although not a cheap indulgence, we ended up very much enjoying the view from the terrace and the little snacks. This was our only good experience in Colombo, though, so make what you will of it.

Galle Face Hotel, 2 CGHW Hwy, Colombo 0300, Sri Lanka – http://gallefacehotel.com/

Kottu Roti in Ella

Ella seems to be the only town in Sri Lanka with a street-food vibe. The little mountainside village is practically a base camp for hiking tourists, so the quality of the roadside eateries is a little better than in the coastal towns. The Roti are especially good when they’re served as shredded and fried pieces with vegetables, or as sweet version with banana and honey.

What to do in Sri Lanka

While we spent most of our 3 weeks reading books and eating curries, there’s plenty of stuff to see and do. We definitely made some wrong choices and had to skimp on a few excursions, but here are my favorite activities from our trip.

Visit the gardens of Geoffrey and Bevis Bawa

Geofrrey Bawa, known for his “tropical brutalism” architecture, was one of the most famous Sri Lankans. His heritage is on display throughout the whole country. Although he was mostly renowned for building concrete hotels in the middle of the jungle (the Kandalama Heritance hotel, which we also visited but isn’t worth a recommendation at all, is his most famous work), his private estate can also be visited.

The much smaller gardens of his brother Bevis may not be as impressive but are somehow more intriguing. Both brothers apparently had a knack for Singhalese boys and colonial style influenced modern architecture, so the whole trip is a vivid mix of art and exoticism.

Lunuganga Country Estate & Brief Garden, near Beruwala – Geoffrey Bawa Garden Tourhttp://gallefacehotel.com/

Take the train from Ella to Kandy

Sri Lanka is famous for its picturesque landscape in the mountain country. The painfully slow train ride from Ella to Kandy brings you very  close to a time traveling experience – old, industrial trains that hardly move faster than 30 km/h, rolling through tea plantages is the romantic way of seeing the country.

That said, do not make the same mistake as we did and book yourself a first class ticket in time. The trip to Kandy lasts 6 hours and there is no way you will get a seat if you don’t have a first class ticket. Nothing screams “I hate this vacation” as much as six hours of standing between other smelly tourists does.

Ella – Kandy Train, Seat tickets

Visit Pidurangala Rock near Sigirya

The steep climb to Pidurangala Rock can be tricky and challenging (my other half didn’t make it in her sundress), but it’s absolutely worth it. Not only is the view on Sigirya rock stunning, it’s also much less crowded and – bonus points – absolutely for free! We had to skip on Sigirya because we’re not particularly fond of temples and religious landmarks (I know it sounds ignorant, but I’ve traveled and seen so many temples and I am really not sure if I need to spend 30€ on another one), so we went to Pidurangala Rock instead.

Sigiriya Rd, Dambulla, Sri Lanka

Spend your lazy days at Tallala Beach

Beaches can be tricky in Sri Lanka. They are either overcrowded by bucket drinking tourists like in Mirissa (although nowhere near as bad as in Thailand) or kinda meh with a strong surf. Tallala, though, is perfectly beautiful and the kind of place you don’t want to leave anymore.

Tallala Beach, South Coast Sri Lanka

Hike up Little Adam’s Peak in Ella

Some of my friends have recommended hiking Adam’s Peak, but it was Easter while we visited the region around Ella – Adams Peak was full of people and it would take hours of standing in line to reach the ceremonial peak of the hill. Instead, we opted for the much easier walk to Little Adams Peak and circled the magnificent train Demodara Nine Arch bridge on our way back. These hikes become much easier if you have a valid Sri Lanka Sim Card to check your GPS coordinates, as there might be touts and scammers on the way trying to misguide you.

Little Adam’s Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka