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. Colombo is an easy place to walk in, but some hostels 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.
Kandy is a city in the central highlands, the weather is a little cooler and the mountain views are lovely. Kandy is a great backpacker spot because there is 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, botanical gardens to hang out in. For some great coffee and snacks in Kandy try Natural Coffee and Empire Coffee. Both are next to the entrance of the Temple of the Tooth.
Dambulla is a town in the northern plains, more specifically inside The Cultural Triangle. Dambulla is a great place to use as a base when discovering the Cultural Triangle and 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 travellers hang out and meet on a regular basis. You can get to Dambulla by train from Colombo and then just take a tuk-tuk to the hostel. There are buses that run between the important sights at the Cultural Triangle.
From Colombo you can get to Ella by train or by bus. Ella is one of the biggest backpacker hotspots because it is relaxed, inexpensive, has lots of hikes and trekking possibilities and the weather is generally nice. The favourite hangout spot in Ella is the Chill Cafe and a great place to stay is the Waterfall homestay or one of the many hostels in the area. Ella is growing in popularity with the backpacker crowd – its the place to go if you want to meet people.
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 on Unawatuna itself but for a really unique experience, try Camp Kush. A full on backpackers paradise with huts to sleep in, gardens to play in, sofas to chill on and volleyball courts to play on.
The old walled city of Galle Fort makes for a great day trip or even 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 and the vibe is really chilled. A great backpacker hostel in Galle Fort is the Pedlar’s Inn. You can get some great food at Galle Things Roti.
Hikkaduwa is the party capital of Sri Lanka. When we say party we mean full on trance music at the beach all the time. If you are 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.