Vegan Guide to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island that has something for everyone including historical sights, natural wonders, history and of course the abundance of great tasting vegan food.

Our Vegan Guide to Sri Lanka is based on a 2 month visit during November and December 2014.

First thing to note is that compared to the rest of South East Asia, Sri Lanka isn’t cheap – budget accommodation prices have rocketed over the past few years but standards havent really followed, meaning that when trying to travel on a budget, you don’t really get a lot of bang for your buck.

The tourist hotspots have gone a little crazy, charging prices that are way too high considering what you can still find in more local places.

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Come armed with cash, you’re gonna need it!

Secondly, be warned; a trip to Sri Lanka requires a sharp mind, some persistent haggling skills and a fair amount of patience to navigate each day.

Always ask and agree the price before doing anything.

Go armed with particularly low expectations regarding service in the South where you’re at risk of some of the worst service (and food) that you may have every experienced…

However, don’t let this put you off, with some good research and tips from fellow travellers there really are some ‘jewels in the crown’ that are not to be missed.

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We loved exploring Sri Lanka for 2 months..

Negombo

You may find yourself in Negombo as it’s close to the airport and a fairly good hub to get to other places in the country by local bus or private van.

Its not the prettiest of beach resorts but the beach is clean and there are a few reasonable restaurants too (although you’ll have to sift through all the overpriced, sub standard restaurants to find a decent meal).

Golden sand and blue sky on Negombo Beach

Golden sand and blue sky on Negombo Beach.

For a great budget option check out Summerside Residence, which is just next to Negombo canal, behind the beach road. It’s a short walk away from the top of the beach road but worth it for the peace and quiet and quality.

We stayed here twice, once on our own and once with our friends (including their 6 year old) and it proved to be a great place for families too as has a small pool.

Peaceful canal in Negombo.

Peaceful canal in Negombo.

Eat at Sahasara Restaurant where the vegan rice and curry is 600 RS per person and is nothing short of awesome. Plus the manager there is such a genuinely nice person, it’s worth a visit just to experience his joyfulness.

Delicious, healthy, vegan beetroot curry.

Delicious, healthy, vegan beetroot curry.

Enjoy a Lion Beer (or two) at Rodeo bar or Coco Beach…

Rodeo is a busy spot, packed with people with a lively atmosphere, it was actually the first place we sat down and bought a beer at during our first visit to Sri Lanka in 1999 (look closely and you can still see the scribbles on the walls from that era!) it’s expanded a bit but not really changed and makes for a fun night out.

Coco Beach is a newer addition but has the advantage of being right on the beach, It’s a lovely place to watch the sunset and meet with friends before heading out for dinner.

For luxury and the chance to eat an amazing cashew nut curry as well as some of the best hoppers we had in the whole of Sri Lanka (and we ate a lot) check in to Jetwing Beach.

It’s great value for the standard of luxury you get, plus there’s a nice pool and a wonderful eco-garden.

This was totally delicious! We absolutely loved it!!

Superb cashew nut curry at Jetwing Beach.

8km up the road is the beautiful Ging Oya Lodge where you can while away the hours next to the pool, go kayaking up the river and watch out for wildlife in this nature lovers hideaway.

We first visited in 1999 and it’s still as beautiful as ever and well worth spending a few days when you arrive in Sri Lanka.

Exploring the river at Ging Oya Lodge.

Exploring the river at Ging Oya Lodge.

Colombo

We went to see a cricket match (England v Sri Lanka) while we were in town and we highly recommend it.

Even if you aren’t a cricket fan, you’ll be blown away by the Sri Lankan love for this sport and the energy, atmosphere and general craziness is an experience not to be missed (note: buy snacks to take in as there’s no vegan food in the ground, although there is lots of beer).

Having fun with the locals at the cricket.

Having fun with the locals at the cricket.

We opted to stay in ‘Lean Luxury’ at Cinnamon Red; the rooftop pool and great breakfast buffet serving Sri Lankan favourites was definitely worth the stay.

Chill out at the

Chill out at the rooftop pool at Cinnamon Red.

We ate in a wonderful pizza place called Oro 1889.

They only make pizzas, meaning that they have perfected this art and the end product is nothing short of amazing, we’re talking authentic, wonderful creations here, cooked for only 90 seconds in a blistering 500 degrees wood fired oven.

You won’t be disappointed, you will be impressed.

The best pizza in Sri Lanka.

The best vegan pizza in Sri Lanka.

For local cheap eats go to the no frills Indo Ceylon Cafe (284 Galle Road). It’s all vegetarian and they serve all the usual Sri Lankan goodies like rotti kottu, dosai and dahl, string hoppers and kiri hodi, plus an abundance of short eats.

Dambulla

The town itself doesn’t have much going on but the cave temples at Dambulla are impressive and are definitely worth a visit with their beautiful painted ceilings and walls, and literally hundreds of different sized Buddha statues.

Dambulla and the many Buddha statues.

Dambulla and the many Buddha statues.

We found good, no frills, local food in the White House Hotel on the main street near the clock tower (explain clearly to them about being vegan) and we stayed in a little guesthouse behind the main street which was basic but cheap (no vegan food there so you’ll need to walk around into town to eat).

If you have an overnight in Dambulla check out this place.

If you have an overnight in Dambulla check out this simple local restaurant.

Tasty vegan bean curry.

Tasty vegan bean curry.

Sigirya

At $25 entry per person this isn’t a great budget sight seeing option but if you’re in Sri Lanka you really should go and climb this great rock, even in the crowds (and the rain) it’s impressive.

The impressive Sigiriya Rock Fortress.

The impressive Sigiriya Rock Fortress.

Ancient murals at Sigirya.

Ancient murals at Sigirya.

The 1200 steps aren’t as hard as you think they might be – we did it with a group of us including a 6 year old, 2 teenagers and a few averagely fit grown ups, in the rain and we all survived!

The view is spectacular and the sheer scale of it is seriously impressive.

We had to leave quick fast after this picture as a storm was on it's way...

We had to leave quick fast after this picture as a storm was on it’s way…

To recover from the steps in style, go luxury and stay at Heritance Kandalama or Jetwing Vil Uyana which both offer superb levels of luxury and some pretty damn tasty vegan food.

The signature pool at Heritance Kandalama with views of Sigiriya in the distance.

The signature pool at Heritance Kandalama with views of Sigiriya in the distance.

A selection of wonderful plant-based curries and a herbal coconut salad, served with steamed rice and papadums.

A selection of wonderful plant-based curries and a herbal coconut salad, served with steamed rice and papadums at Jetwing Vil Uyana.

Kandy

Kandy is a lovely place to wander around with its tranquil lake, bustling streets and hillside views.

Take a stroll around the peaceful lake at Kandy.

Take a stroll around the peaceful lake at Kandy.

For local vegan eats then head to Kandy Garden Cafe where you can fill up on string hoppers until your heart’s content (we did and our heart’s were indeed content)

A pile of delicious vegan hoppers in Trincomalee.

A pile of delicious string hoppers.

For drinks with a view the bar with two names – ‘Bamboo Garden’ or ‘Slightly Chilled’ has a great happy hour, tasty food and nice vibe.

But for super vegan treats head to The Soya Centre for vegan soft serve ice cream (yes, you read that right!) and other soy based snacks.

They’ve been serving vegan ice creams (in vegan cones) since 1989 and are lovely people to boot, these ice creams were so good we have to confess to going back for seconds, even though the portions were generous.

We just loved the Soya Food Centre.

We just loved the Soya Food Centre.

The ice creams were divine.

The ice creams were divine.

Trincomalee

Head to the East coast for some of Sri Lanka’s loveliest beaches at Upavelli and Nilavelli.

Its a great place to hire a scooter as the roads aren’t too busy (like in the South) but do be aware for goats jumping out at you or dogs laying in the road (still not sure why they do this).

You’ll see temples, local life galore and meet some of the friendliest folk in the country, and for a controversial bit of sight seeing, you can see wild elephants here too.

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The strange and humbling experience of watching wild elephants foraging for food at the local rubbish dump.

In Trinco’ we ate at Anna Poorani (a pure veg place next to the temple) filling up on cheap Sri Lankan eats while the locals looked on a little bemused, they also sell vegan orange flavoured oreos which were delicious and which we’ve never seen anywhere else again!

Up the road in Upavelli we ate at a few of the local restaurants along the main road, our favourite being the strangely named Arriabiata,  where they make a decent homemade rice and curry for 400 RS.

Take a bus ride (and your life in your own hands) to Nilavelli and indulge in some vegan luxury at Anilana Nilavelli.

Enjoy the wonderful beach at Anilana Nilaveli.

Enjoy the wonderful beach at Anilana Nilaveli.

Its worth it for the inspiraitonal yoga, the world class Thai / Balinese massage but most importantly to eat food created by our favourite Sri Lankan chef Joe.

Ask him to tell you about the medicinal benefits of some of the ingredients he uses, you might be surprised at how powerful plants can be!

Chef Joe…

The vegan food here was seriously amazng, drawing on Ayurvedic principles and the very best local ingredients and knowledge, Chef Joe and his team produce some stunning (and really healthy) vegan Sri Lankan food.

Superfood combination of avocado and katurumuranga leaves - a match made in heaven.

Superfood combination of avocado and katurumuranga leaves – a match made in heaven.

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Traditional Sri Lankan breakfast at Anilana Nilaveli.

Unawatuna

On our first visit, 15 years ago Unawatuna was a sleepy little backpackers beach; things have changed as Unawatuna is now a tourist hotspot for all sorts of travellers, the beach is lined with beds and umbrellas, the sand has shifted to one side of the once beautiful horseshoe bay, there’s lights and music and shops everywhere.

We had fun as we hung out with good friends and family but it will probably be our last visit to somewhere we once considered paradise…

Let's all buy matching sarongs?

Let’s all buy matching sarongs?

If you feel drawn to visiting though, the rice and curry at Coral Light on the beach is always vegan and great value for Unawattuna at 300 RS.

Jina’s Vegetarian Restaurant is worth a visit – the food is great and there are loads of vegan options, but the wait is long and we’re not exaggerating here – on average a meal there would take about 2 hours, but the falafels especially are worth the wait!

Not the greatest picture but trust us these are worth the wait.

Not the greatest picture but trust us these falafels are worth the wait.

Mirissa

The final stop on our 2 month tour was Mirissa, which similar to Unawatuna has changed beyond all recognition since we were last there in 1998.

Again, we were with friends & family so we had lots of fun, but to be honest it’s not for us anymore as was way too busy.

The wild & rugged Mirissa Beach.

The wild & rugged Mirissa Beach.

Generally the restaurants along the beach don’t care about the food they are serving, they just want to serve as many customers as possible. In fact when questioning the poor food and poor service (again) the owner of one restaurant when told “It seems like you just don’t care” answered “no, I don’t care”…

However with some perseverance, and determination to enjoy a decent meal, we found 2 gems that should certainly be on anyones list who visits Mirissa.

The first was a tiny family run restaurant called Dimali Inn on Galle Rd – superb home cooked vegan curries which we ordered in advance due to their being 9 of us. The family are lovely and they welcomed us with open arms and that typical Sri Lankan friendliness that is difficult to find in the tourist hell that is Mirissa.

1 of the 5 delicious vegan curries we enjoyed at

1 of the 5 delicious vegan curries we enjoyed at Dimali Inn.

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A rich and tasty vegan eggplant curry.

Our final meal was at Palm Villa which is an oasis away from the madness of Mirissa, we enjoyed a delicious Sri Lankan curry whilst watching the sunset on our final day in this wonderful country.

If we did go back this is where we would stay – we loved it!

Goodbye Sri Lanka x

Goodbye Sri Lanka x

For more information please read our Sri Lankan Vegan Food Guides below:

Vegan Breakfast in Sri Lanka

Vegan Short Eats in Sri Lanka

Vegan Rice and Curry in Sri Lanka

You can follow our vegan travel adventure as we ‘find, eat and write about the best vegan food in the world’ by signing up to our monthly newsletter and following us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Or why don’t you come and stay with us in our very own Vegan Villa in Siem Reap, Cambodia where we can treat you to the best of vegan hospitality and share with you our favourite vegan spots in Temple Town; check out our listing on Airbnb and come and stay if you’re in the area!

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4 thoughts on “Vegan Guide to Sri Lanka

  1. Sam

    Yum yum yum! Very useful, indeed! I love your vegan guides…and who would’ve thought you could get good vegan pizza and falafel in Sri Lanka?!

    Reply
    1. Caryl Post author

      thanks Sam, the pizza and the falafel were welcome changes to all the curry which although delicious, varied and vegan after 2 months we craved something different:)

      Reply

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