I have been a solo traveler for many years. Solo traveling does so many things: improves self care, brings adventure, and even builds self-resilience. This 15 day Sri Lanka solo trip in 2020 was no different and I felt energized and renewed because of my experiences there.
I arrived at night so I organised a private car to my guesthouse. It was 3300 rupees and took about an hour. I paid extra for the driver to come into airport arrivals as it was late at night. My accommodations for the night were at Breeze of Paradise, owned by Suresh and his wife. I would definitely recommend his place. It is a bit south of Colombo but he was so welcoming, full of local stories and made me feel so welcome. I also stayed there for my last night when I came back to the city, because I loved it so much.
I wanted to get some great local fabrics and read that Pettah Market was the place for that. So I went straight there in the morning by tuk tuk. I didn’t find any fabric but I enjoyed a few hours walking around the crazy busy market. Men carrying a tonne of fruit on a trolley! Buses whizzing through the crowds and sellers shouting about their oranges and grapes! That’s when I felt like I was in Sri Lanka. For a solo trip in Sri Lanka, I felt safe in the market, there was no aggressive selling, and I was gifted an apple!
Remembering about the Cinnamon Grand Hotel and how it was bombed last year, I wanted to check it out. I got a tuk tuk because I still wasn’t aware of my surroundings. When he pulled up to the hotel just around the next corner, I realized he charged me way too much. I sat in the lobby and had a chocolate cake, but was quite disappointed actually.
Back at my hotel, I got some snacks and spent the evening in the room. I didn’t feel like venturing out at night in the neighbourhood for food, as it was all residential.
I had a lovely local breakfast from Suresh and decided to move on to Galle. This guesthouse was great and I could have spent another day there, but felt like there was nothing else I wanted to really see in Colombo.
I went to the train station in Mount Lavinia and bought a 2 class ticket. When the train arrived 30 minutes late, it was full. I mean ten people already hanging out the door. There was no way I was getting in there. So I sat in the platform and pondered what to do….my solution was a 3 hour, yes 3 hour tuk tuk ride!
Day 3 Ride to Galle
I’m glad I did it actually because I was taken along the coastal road and we saw a huge parade and the driver showed me all the buildings still standing from the tsunami. There was a museum of photos but I didn’t go in. I finally got to my accomodation, which is not recommended as I did not like the attitude of the owner, and then headed into Galle Fort. This is a gorgeous little town centre with a European street feel. There are amazing artisan shops and restaurants and it is home of Barefoot, my favourite home and fabric shop. I had dinner there and went home.
This day was reserved for Unawatuna. It is a beach town a short tuk tuk ride from Galle. It was a usual beach resort with trendy western cafes selling vegan this and that. Not my thing, but I wanted a beach day. The weird thing was they had no king coconuts!
From Galle I took the bus to Deniyaya. It was a bit of a mission as the tuk tuk drivers kept telling me that there were no more buses going that day and that the journey would be 6-7 hours with 3 changes. But in fact it was 4 hours with one change. From this little town I took a tuk tuk to the Sinharaja Rainforest, one of the last areas of rainforest left in Sri Lanka. I stayed at the Sinharaja Forest Edge and this was such a good choice. I chose it as a treat for New Year’s Eve. It is the closest resort to the entrance to the National Park so everything that they said you could see, I saw it sitting outside my room! The most amazing were the fireflies.
Day 6 through 10
This accommodation was so wonderful I ended up spending 4 nights here when I had only planned two. The staff were amazing, the resort was centred around a huge pond and they had left it wild to encourage wildlife. I spent the days doing short day trips with a tuk tuk driver called Shante that the accommodation recommended. He took me to the Lumbini Tea Factory (free entry and you can buy tea), the waterfall which was actually just a river, but very clean and beautiful, and the local market. I didn’t go on a rainforest trek as I wanted to see the elephants in Udawalawe.
This day, I made my way by bus to Udawalawe National Park. I chose this park over Yala as there is a bigger elephant population. My guesthouse was very basic, but ok for me. I would recommend Centauria Wild Hotel. The one thing you have to be careful of is that your hotel/guesthouse will expect you to do the safari with them. The owner at my guesthouse got angry when I said that I wanted to shop around. I have heard this is the same even in big hotels. I paid 6000 rupees for the safari.
Day twelve was all about enjoying the safari. We had an early start at 5am to beat all the other jeeps to the entrance. There were still loads and the diesel fumes were awful. Once inside everyone dispersed and we felt like we were on our own. Within 10 minutes we saw our first group of elephants. It was amazing and there were so many wild elephants with babies. We also saw monkeys, peacocks, jackals, crocodiles and many different birds. No leopards though.
In the afternoon, I went to the Elephant Transit Home. I chose this one because they do not let tourists get close to the elephants. You sit quite far away and watch them get milk from the carers. There was a guy prodding some of the older elephants but it was because they were fighting over milk or trying to stop the smaller ones getting any. I don’t know how else they could control them. That was 500 rupees to get in and it is on the same road as the Udawalawe National Park. They have set feeding times (12pm, 3pm, 6pm) and you are only allowed in for 30 minutes.
I travelled to Mirissa on the South Coast and stayed in Sanovin Hotel. It was really clean, modern and the brothers that ran it were friendly and helpful. They helped me arranged a snorkelling trip with them (1200 rupees) for one hour off the beach. I saw two big turtles and some coral fish. It is right next to the western supermarket so it is good for telling tuk tuk drivers where to stop, and for some nighttime snacks! There are some local eats along the Main Street. The Spice Roti Hut and Dilma Roti Shop in front of the Randiya Sea View Hotel were my favourites.
For my last full day in Mirissa, I spent it enjoying the beach, dipping in and out of the ocean.
I went back to Suresh’s place near Colombo for my last night before flying out the next morning.
Tips for Sri Lanka Solo Trip
- Most of the places I ate were local. Choose places that look like they have a high turnover of food, and the food is cooked fresh. I ate mostly curry and rice and roti and it was all vegetarian. They do offer chicken and fish dishes in most places too.
- Be sure to wander into local shops as they have such a random stock of things. I bought some fake nose rings, a jelly basket, a water filter that spins like a fan, some cups that had older son, son and younger brother written in Sri Lankan on them. If you are looking for fabrics, look out in each local town as they all seem to have at least one with decent local prices.
- Tuk tuks were such a rip off in Colombo and other tourist areas such as Galle. I didn’t want to use Uber but in the end I did as I was fed up with the scams. Buses are a great way to get around. As a woman on a solo trip, I recommend sitting at the front so the driver and conductor know you are there. Also get on at main stations as at small stops as you have to get on whilst the bus is still moving.
- Travel light as it is easier to get around on public transport.
- The locals tell me that the tap water is ok to drink and is filtered but I didn’t trust it. I will try a Life Straw next time as I met a lady who said she uses it in India and it’s fine.
- If you are staying in a town for a while, once you find a reliable tuk tuk driver get his number and try to use him on other trips.
- The official website for the visa is eta.gov.lk and this offers the free visa to many countries. However, when you type in eta. it will come up with the agent eta.org.lk which charges $59. I read the visa was free and when I persevered I realised the difference.
More itineraries from Sri Lanka
Want to build your own itinerary for Sri Lanka? Check out Robins two week itinerary or this 2 week trip with G Adventures. You can mix and match things to do and see from any of these posts. Be sure to read up on all the great souvenirs you can buy while you are there. If you are looking for expedited visa options try iVisa.com. We have used them before with great success.