Sri Lanka will always be a special destination for us. Five years ago to the date, my husband and I have ventured out here on our first holiday together. Needless to say, our return after half a decade was one of excitement & reminiscences.
Our Sri Lanka Route
This time around, being on a sabbatical, we were uncharacteristically generous with time. Our one month “grande aventure” in Sri Lanka was to start in Colombo’s Airport and lead us south toward the exploration of 3 main areas: Galle for its historical fort, Mirissa and Tangalle for their beautiful beaches.
If this is your first time in Sri Lanka, then it’s safe to say that you will set foot in Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport. Luckily for the residents of the capital city, the noisy airport is actually located 20 miles north of the city in a suburb of Negombo.
Our plan was to avoid the capital city all together. Given the late night arrival of our flight, we booked this AirBnb called Villa Paragon in Negombo strategically located near the Kurawata train station that is connected with Colombo’s main train stations that go to Galle and the south coast. It worked our perfectly because despite arriving around 11pm, we were tucked in bed before midnight.
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- For smoother immigration process and less queue time, apply for your e-visa prior your arrival. For more info go to the Sri Lanka Online Visa Application Website.
- If you arrive late in the evening like us, consider staying in Negombo the night of arrival as it is a short 15min by car from the airport as opposed to Colombo which would take 45min.
Taking the train to Galle
The following morning, we caught the 30 rupees train to Colombo’s Maradana station (instead of Colombo Fort) which is the start point for trains bound to Galle/Matarra. By doing so, we were hoping to increase our chances of securing a seat compared to Colombo Fort. Unfortunately, we picked the 2.15pm train on Friday, and we were not ready for what transpired when the train arrived at the platform. Within seconds, our fellow travellers were jumping over each other to enter the train through any hole possible – they knew that the seats on this 2.5hr journey with no air-con was worth the commotion.
Thus, our 150 rupees ($1 USD) 2nd class train tickets secured us a square foot of standing space. Having said this, the entire journey is along the beautiful sri lanka coast, literally meters away from the crashing waves of Indian ocean. It was mesmerizing, it was wild and it was hot!
- Research the train times in advance on the Sri Lanka Railways website. Sri Lankan Railways don’t offer online booking, so to buy tickets for a reserved car before you get to Sri Lanka you’ll need to use an agency.
- Train stations don’t have platform departure indicators nor do the trains themselves carry any destination boards. So always check which platform your train leaves from as you enter the station.
- If you dread the idea of standing on a train for 2.5 hours (it’s a gamble whether you’ll get a seat or not), consider other options such as bus or private car.
Arriving in Galle
The main attraction of Galle (which itself is a rather large and bustling city) is actually the Galle Fort. Without dwelling too much into Fort’s long and varied history, the Portuguese / Dutch built fort is located on a tiny peninsula, 5-7 min walk from the train station. With lots of luggage, we opted for the luxury of a tuk-tuk that should not cost more than 150 rupees ($1 USD) and would only take 3-5 min drive.
Tip: Always negotiate the price with the tuk-tuk drivers otherwise you will be over-charged.
Our two-day itinerary in Galle
Given small size of the fort, we planned to spend 2 full days in the area – 1st day to explore the fort and 2nd day to venture out towards the nearby beaches.
DAY 1 – OLD FORT
The overall feel is that of an old European enclave, with an abundance of old churches, historical buildings, museums, cafes, art galleries, shops and restaurants. Time goes slowly here.
See & Do
Strolling around the walled city is by far the most enjoyable activity. Wake up early, have breakfast and go on a photo taking walk around the old thick ramparts. Feel the scent of the ocean, admire the emerald waters and take time to pose for some stunning pictures.
Make sure to snap a few shots near the old Dutch Warehouse, the beautiful and tranquil Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk), the gorgeous 17th century Amangalla Hotel and the famous Galle Lighthouse.
Also, don’t miss golden hour! Best sunsets we saw were near the Lighthouse or on top of the fort wall.
For good and cheap breakfast, head to Pilgrims Hostel and Restaurant. Inside the azure structure, you will find friendly hosts offering a continental breakfast for a reasonable 550 rupees ($3.5 USD). Free WIFI is available here.
If you are feeling adventurous, and want to eat where the locals do, head out of the fort to a local breakfast joint on Havelock Road and Sri Pagngnasara Mawatha (this place is not on the map!). For 280 rupees ($1.75 USD) you will be served a plate of the most beautiful rice / curry dish as well as freshly made rotis.
For lunch, make the effort to find the Lucky Fort Restaurant serving a ubiquitous Sri Lankan rice & curry. Here, however, an eclectic set of 10 curries is served, including colourful and yummy beetroot, jackfruit and brinjal curries. This place is a great introduction to various dishes you will encounter throughout your journey around the island.
For a mid-afternoon pick me up, head to Isle of Gelato. They serve Italian style gelato and it’s seriously so good! We loved the Coffee flavor.
For dinner, we again ventured out of the fort to New Piriyani Hotel on Wakwella Road to sample the classic Kotu, made to your liking with eggs, vegetables and cheese. Delicious!
DAY 2 – BEACHES
Beyond the old wall of Fort Galle, is a stunning stretch of golden sand beaches. The most famous are undoubtedly the Unawatuna and Dalawella beaches.
After having a local breakfast, we headed to the central bus station located next to the Galle railway. The 350/2 bus to Habaraduwa took us on Matara road for about 10 minutes (and 25 rupees) towards Unawatuna. We jumped off the bus near the beach (by monitoring the Google Maps) and walked for about 5 minutes to Unawatuna beach.
The first sight of the golden sand and emerald waters was a delight. The beach is stunning. There are many beach facing hotels here with outside bars/restaurants and a row of beach beds. Conveniently, the beds are free and you’re only asked to buy a drink at the bar. We settled down at Lucky Tuna Resort, the drinks here were reasonable and delicious (try their mango juice!)
Dalawella (a.k.a the beach with the Insta-famous rope- swing)
After lounging for a respectable amount of time, we further walked to Dalawella beach (it took us around 15 minutes). The water here seems to be constantly at high tide breaking against the walls of the nearby properties, in a manner of Malibu mansions. Due to a peculiar formation of rocks further in-sea, a pool-like basin was created and is sheltered from the rough seas. An absolute delight of salt water pool kept us in the water for more than hour (we even spotted sea turtles!)
As an added bonus, look around for the quintessential beach ride of all – an awesome palm attached swing that can drop you into the water at the speed of light! However, be ready to hand out cheeky 200 rupees ($1.25 USD) to a local entrepreneur in charge of the attraction. But let’s be honest, the Instragram potential here is priceless.
To finish off your day at the beach, enjoy a wood-oven pizza and drinks at Wijaya Beach, a cool hangout with amazing views of the coastline – you can easily spend hours here. The prices here are a bit higher than other eateries in the area but their pizzas looked and smelled amazing so take note!
We spent about $40-$45 USD per day ($30 USD for a modest hotel room plus $10-$15 USD on food and transportation for two people).
Best time to visit Galle
The best time to visit the southwest of Sri Lanka is December-April and July-September.
Where to stay in Galle Fort
We used AirBnb to book the Musaha Guest House on Light House street. The physical location of your dwelling is almost irrelevant as any point within the fort can be reached within minutes walking. The room we stayed at was simple but did the trick. Rooms start at $31 USD/night. Read reviews and book this accommodation here.
Alternatively, click here to browse hotels under $60 USD/night inside Galle Fort via Hotels.com
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