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, it’s 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). 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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). 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.
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. 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.
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. 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).
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 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.
Kandy is a lovely place to wander around with its tranquil lake, bustling streets and hillside views. 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). Drinks with a view? the bar with two names – ‘Bamboo Garden’ or ‘Slightly Chilled’ has a great happy hour, tasty food and nice vibe. 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.
Head to the East coast for some of Sri Lanka’s loveliest beaches at Upavelli and Nilavelli. It’s 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 read our post ‘Cheapest Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka.’
In Trincomalee 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. 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.
On our first visit in 1998 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… 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!
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. 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. 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!