The Best Backpacking Spots in Sri Lanka

Small, beautiful and easy to navigate, Sri Lanka feels like it was designed with backpackers in mind
Small, beautiful and easy to navigate, Sri Lanka feels like it was designed with backpackers in mind | © Cultura Creative / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Orana Velarde
Sri Lanka Hub Writer2 September 2021

Sri Lanka is well on the way to being a new favourite with the backpacker crowd. The fact that it’s quite easy to get around the island without private transport is a big plus. It might be slow and hot at times. but isn’t that part of the backpacker charm? Sri Lanka is full of great places to visit – from idyllic beaches to mountain temples, there’s something for everyone, including a variety of stays including hostels and hotels in Sri Lanka.

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Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and the arrival city for everyone coming to the country. Backpackers can spend a couple of days in the city before going off to explore the rest of the island. While in Colombo there are some classic places to visit, like the Viharamahadevi Park, Galle Face Green, the Fort and Salve Island. The capital is an easy place to walk in, but some hostels in Colombo have bikes for rent. Inexpensive places to stay and geared at backpackers in Colombo are Drift BnB, Bed and Bicycle, and Bed Hostels. For cheap local eats try Hotel de Pilawoos, Sen Saal or Green Cabin.
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Buddhist Temple, Shrine
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Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Central Province, Sri Lanka
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Kandy is a city in the central highlands; the weather is a little cooler than in the south, but the mountain views are lovely. It’s a great backpacker spot because there’s so much to do around the area that you can get to easily. There are tea plantations to discover, temples to visit, forests to get lost in and botanical gardens to hang out in. For some great coffee and snacks, try Natural Coffee and Empire Coffee. Both are next to the entrance of the Temple of the Tooth.

Dambulla – Sigiriya

Map View

Dambulla is a town in the northern plains, inside the Cultural Triangle. It’s a great place to use as a base when discovering not only the Cultural Triangle, but also the ancient cities of Anurhadapura and Polonnaruwa. The rocky outcrops of Sigiriya and Pidurangala are also at your doorstep waiting to be discovered. A good place to stay is Jungle Vista Backpackers, where you can hang out and meet other travellers on a regular basis. You can get to Dambulla by train from Colombo and then take a tuk-tuk to the hostel. There are buses that run between the important sights at the Cultural Triangle.

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  • Ella

    Restaurant, Sri Lankan, $$$
    Map View
    From Colombo, you can get to Ella by train or by bus. It’s one of the biggest backpacker hotspots because it’s relaxed, inexpensive, and has lots of hikes and trekking possibilities. Plus, the weather is usually gorgeous. A favourite hangout spot in Ella is the Chill Cafe; a great place to stay is one of the many hostels in the area. Ella’s growing in popularity with the backpacker crowd – its the place to go if you want to meet like-minded people.


    Map View
    Outdoor huts at Camp Kush
    Courtesy of Camp Kush / Expedia

    Unawatuna is a favourite with many backpackers and young families. The beach is nice, there are plenty of places to eat and stay, and the atmosphere is chilled-out. There are plenty of beachside hostels, but for a really unique experience, try Camp Kush. It’s a full-on backpackers’ paradise with huts to sleep in, gardens to play in, sofas to chill on and volleyball courts to play on.

    Pedlar's Inn

    Coffee Shop, Coffee
    Map View

    The old walled city of Galle Fort makes for a great day trip, or you can stay for a night or two. The Galle Fort is wonderful for walking around and taking in the sights. The ramparts and the fort are quite interesting as well. A great backpacker hostel in Galle Fort is the Pedlar’s Inn; elsewhere, you can get some great food at Galle Things Roti.


    Outdoor pool and dining area at Hikka Tranza by Cinnamon
    Courtesy of Hikka Tranza by Cinnamon / Expedia
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    Hikkaduwa is the party capital of Sri Lanka. And we mean “party”: expect trance music at the beach all the time. So, if you’re the party kind of backpacker, Hikkaduwa is for you. Try the Hikka train hostel at Surf Beach or, if you want to splurge a bit, go for the Hikka Tranza by Cinnamon.
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    These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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