Island of Dharma, Teardrop of India, Ceylon, Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka. Name it as you wish, or create your own – but do yourself a favor and write this destination in your bucket list. Sri Lanka has everything we could ever ask for: from endless beaches and exotic jungles to Buddhist as well as Hindu temples, tea plantations and sharp mountains. Not to mention the incredible food and super friendly locals. And sunsets. And animals. As if that’s not already great enough, we decided to take it one step further. We travelled around Sri Lanka in the most local and authentic way possible: we rented a tuktuk!
For that, we collaborated with TukTuk Rental, which is located in Colombo, just 15 minutes from the city center, and offers both great service and support. It´s no standard rental company though: they source tuktuks from locals and then rent them out. This way, they help the local community to earn extra money – thumbs up guys!
Anyway, back to the trip: in a week, we drove almost 700km, darting through city traffic, climbing up surreal roads overlooking tea plantations at 2100 m above sea level, and then reaching the seaside the next day, transporting surfboards on top of our tuktuk and listening to music along the road. And much, much more. So read on and discover how to explore Sri Lanka the best way, the tuktuk way!
Day 1 Colombo – Getting ready for the adventure
Our trip started on Monday – a great way to start the week! From our hotel, Shangri-La (which we highly recommend – read here our opinion), we headed to the TukTuk rentals HQ, Mount Lavinia, which is around 20 minutes by taxi. Once we got there, we were welcomed by Wietse who showed us around and started with the theoretical lesson. You heard right – there are lessons to be able to drive tuktuks! First off, we needed an international license, which they can get you in a couple of days if you let them know in advance. So once you arrive you get it right away – and so we did! Wietse taught us the ABC of Sri Lankan driving habits and tricks, before going through the Bible together (TukTuk Rentals Bible, which contains all the information and instruction needed). Then we began our driving class, which lasted around an hour – and it was a blast! Albeit its size, tuktuks can be tricky to drive, but in an hour tops you will manage to master this art. Mastering the traffic of Colombo is another story – which must be lived fully and carefully at the same time – you´ll get why when driving along the coastline, with cars honking left and rights, buses coming out from nowhere and the ocean on the left. It’s definitely something. We headed to our new hotel (Mövenpick, if you are interested read our review here), and, a bit scared, a bit excited, we parked our baby thinking about the next day with the adventure awaiting us.
Tuktuk tip of the day: Make sure you practise driving with your tuktuk in a quiet street before heading to the main road.
Day 2 – Colombo to Kandy – Nature is calling
After an energising breakfast, we were ready to dart through the crowded streets of Colombo (or at least so we thought). We left at around 9am and for the first two hours we fought to exit the traffic of the city. We started to realise that we were leaving the capital city when the streets got a little emptier, and the villages we drove through were smaller, local, but nevertheless as crowded. Where we were heading anyway? Our first stop-over was Kandy, a city located in the centre of the island surrounded by mountains, tea plantations and biodiverse rainforest. Google Maps said almost three hours by car – they ended up being almost seven by tuktuk. Of course, coconut, food and photo breaks included. One thing is for sure: you cannot and will not get bored of driving for two reasons: firstly, driving the tuktuk is so much fun that you always look forward to your turn and secondly, because the environment is simply amazing, with tiny villages, crazy yet reinvigorating traffic, jungle and food booths. We arrived at our hotel (Kandy Cabana, check it out!) in the afternoon, where we enjoyed the tranquillity of nature and some great Sri Lankan food. And a comfy bed.
Tuktuk tip of the day: Do go off the main rain to discover BUT do also drive carefully (otherwise you will end up almost dying like we did – you don’t want to know the details, trust us).
Day 3 – Kandy to Haputhale – Ain’t no mountain high enough
On day number three we really took our tuktuk driving skills to the next level when heading even deeper into the Sri Lankan highlands. And also here, our dear Abe (yes, we gave our took took a name) did not disappoint, as it took us all the way up to 2 100 meters. Looking back, the road between Kandy and Ella maybe was the most scenic of them all – think tea plantations as far as you can see and almost empty roads. After four hours we passed through Ella, also known as “Little England”, which is very famous with tourists. However, we decided against staying there, as we wanted a more local experience. That desire was answered in Haputhale, about 25 km and one hour drive from Ella, at White Monkey Dias Rest. This family-run hostel is situated in the midst of tea plantations at the edge of a cliff. It was as spectacular as it sounds (plus, the homemade curries and tea were amazing).
Tuktuk tip of the day: Appreciate the fact that you are completely independent with your tuktuk. So instead of eating in restaurants, do takeaway food and create your own little lunch spot in your tuktuk with the view of your choice (we opted for spectacular mountains).
Day 4 – Haputhale to Udawalawe – Elephants, finally
We were woken up by the sunrise, which was something out of this world, as our room was overlooking the entire plateau. Since we were surrounded by so much tea, we simply had to take an adventurous morning walk through the tea plantations (expert tip from Samuele: wear long pants or socks). After making a quick stop at the best tea shop in town (ask at the B&B for the details), we said goodbye to the mountains and drove about four hours to Udawalawe, home to a beautiful national park. Most people opt for morning visits, but given our schedule we decided for an afternoon safari, organised by our accomodation, the Private Organic House. Our hopes were high and not disappointed. We saw peacocks, many birds, water buffaloes and of course, the highlight: elephants. And so so many of them – they even walked directly past our jeep! Did you know that elephants spend about 20 hours of their day eating about 150kg of grass? Unnecessary knowledge, yes, but we just had to mention it.
Tuktuk tip of the day: On the drive between Haputhale and Udawalawe we almost ran out of petrol – so don’t be irresponsible like us but plan ahead with Google Maps on where to get petrol!
Day 5 – Udawalawe to Talalla – Let’s go to the beach (each, let’s go get away,)
After yet another delicious breakfast, we left the mountains and headed further south. Next stop: The seaside. Three hours and almost 100 km later we saw the first spec of glistening blue on the horizon. Once we hit the coastline at Tangalle, the drive become even more enjoyable and we always found our eyes wandering to the left – we couldn’t stop gazing at the sea! After a short stop in Dikwella for some food shopping and lunch (rotti, of course), we took on the last stretch with Abe to our final destination: Talalla Freedom Resort. This very basic, but “all you really need” family-run B&B is situated overlooking the quiet 2km long beach of Talalla, away from the crowds. The rest of the day we simply spent relaxing by the beach – reading, eating (naturally), swimming and becoming friends with the local fishermen.
Tuktuk tip of the day: Embrace Sri Lankan culture and listen to some Sri Lankan music whilst driving. Our favourite songs: Hanthane – Ashanti, DeLon, Neththara – Bathiya & Santhush.
Day 6 – Talalla and around – Catching some waves
No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without having a go surfing. And also here, our Abe turned out to be perfect: We headed to Hiriketiya to rent some boards, tied them on top of our tuktuk (the looks we got were priceless) and headed out to find some good hidden beaches to surf. If you are naturally gifted at surfing (like Samuele), have a go at surfing yourself. If you want some professional help, contact Badula Surfing School – we took some lessons with Bandula and can absolutely recommend his surfing school!
Aside with surfing, another essential topic for Sri Lanka: food. We were deeply in love (we still are!) with Sri Lankan food so we couldn’t leave Sri Lanka without learning the essentials – Nisansala at Talalla Sunshine Beach gave us a private and super authentic cooking lesson. And we have to say, we were deeply impressed with the result.
Tuktuk tip of the day: Once you figured out where to get surf boards just open Google Maps and try your luck with beaches – the best surf is waiting to be discovered by you!
Day 7 – Talalla to Bentota – the best sunsets
Saying goodbye to Talalla was not easy, as it also meant having to say goodbye to Abe and Sri Lanka soon. However, we decided to make the most of our last day and had a last delicious lunch at our second home, Talalla Freedom Resort – the dhal and rotti here were the best we had during our entire trip, hands down! Full and happy we headed off for our final stretch of road towards Bentota. It was the perfect last drive with the glistening of the ocean always to our left and the breeze of the sea constantly in our hair. Of course we had to stop for the obligatory coconut along the way. So after four hours we made it to our hotel in Bentota (read about the Vivanta by Taj Hotel here), which we picked as it’s a good stop for the last night, about two hours from Colombo. For our last evening in Sri Lanka we simply got some drinks, sat down on our terrace and watched the sunset over the ocean, appreciating all we had experienced during the last week with our Abe.
Tuktuk tip of the day: Show some team spirit and pick a team outfit to dress up for your tuktuk rides. Our outfit of choice: bananas all over.
Tuktuking around (Yes it´s officially a verb) in Sri Lanka started out as a crazy idea, one of those ideas you have out of the blue – and that, out of the blue, become a plan, against logic and common sense. But that´s the beauty of traveling, we believe, and going off the beaten path is sometimes the best way to really discover the country, its culture and its people. And ultimately, yourself.
About the authors
Hey! We are Fran and Sam, follow us on Instagram to check out what we are up to 😉