This is the story of how my friend Veronica and I ended up driving 1500km in a three wheeler around one of my favourite countries in the world. 1500km of laughter, break downs, friendly locals and most of all non-stop ADVENTURE in beautiful SRI LANKA.
As I had travelled to Sri Lanka many times before over the past few years, I really wanted to make this trip special. Rather than hiring a driver, or using public transport, I wanted to take things a little SLOWER, and create my own adventure and luckily for me, adventure came looking for me and resulted in one of the most memorable trips of my life.
Where to rent a Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka?
I heard of a company in Colombo called TuktukRental.com and knew straight away this was the adventure I had been searching for. The company would help you get a Sri Lankan drivers licence, give you a one hour tuk tuk driving lesson, brief you on everything there is to no about Tuk Tuk maintenance then off you go on your three wheel adventure.
Plus all Tuk Tuks are owned by local families so by renting one you are directly supporting a local.
To be honest the prospect of driving a Tuk Tuk in Colombo scared the living daylights out of me. And the traffic was so heavy and chaotic that my travel buddy Veronica was even scared of the driving lesson itself, and made me promise I would be all the driving as she was far too nervous.
Video: Renting a Tuk Tuk in Colombo
Driving from Colombo to Dambedendiya
I agreed, to start with, and off we set on our 2 week road trip with no defined plan of where we planned to visit in Sri Lanka. We set off from Colombo in the late afternoon, struggling with rush hour traffic, 1 nervous driver and 1 nervous passenger trying to navigate our way out of Colombo and north towards the ancient city of Dambedeniya.
We had been warned not to drive our Tuk after dark, so once the sun set we just rocked up to the nearest hotel we could find to spend the night.
We were so relieved we had survived our first day with no major problems, maybe bar stalling a few times and traffic having to swerve around us, ands we were excited to set off towards Kurunegala for day two of this epic trip.
Exploring Dambedinya and Kurunegala
Google maps in Sri Lanka doesn’t seem as accurate as other places so kept getting very lost and quite frustrated.
There were also no road signs pointing us to the ancient city of Dambedinya but after a few sick stops to chat to locals, but breaks fats in a small bakery of which there of THOUSANDS in Sri Lanka, we finally made it to Dambedeniya and hiked to the top of what was once and ambience and very important place for the old Kingdom of Sri Lanka.
The views were incredible and it was a. nice break from the stress of driving. We found a very cute art cafe in Dambedeniya town serving up home cooked organic Sri Lankan cuisine, which the owner showed us how to eat properly using our hands.
Onwards we drove to Kurunegala for a quick stop to see the famous Buddha statue that sites way up on a hill above the city. The road up was crazy winding and steep and we were worried Kermit (our tuk tuk) might not make to top the top!
Staying at The Pepper Cottage outside of Kandy
We then drove slightly south again, close to Kandy and we planned to spend the next 2 nights in The Pepper Cottage, located close to the knuckles mountain range in central Sri Lanka.
The Pepper Cottage was a blissful escape and we absolutely adored the 2 days that we spent here, getting to know the local village kids, and even going and walks and learning dances with them.
We met a fellow travelled that decided to settle in Sri Lanka for a few months and was teaching these local kids English and working on some local eco projects.
The Pepper Cottage was such a wonderful experience, and at just $20 a night on Airbnb, it’s a real steal to stay here. They also do home cooked meals and the food we ate here was some of the tastiest we had throughout our entire trip.
We also did an amazing hike at historic Bambaragala temple – which involves walking through the beautiful temple grounds the hiking up a very steep path for 45 minutes to one of the best view points in all of Sri Lanka.
Ambuluwawa Tower and Gallene Gala
The owners of The Pepper Cottage told us about a river resort they had come across recently which they thought we would really love, so our mission on day 4 was to end up there.
En route, however, we stopped off at the mind-boggling Ambuluwawa Tower in Gampola – climbing right to the top to take in dizzying views of the surrounding countryside. It’s such a unique place and while a little off the beaten path, well worth a visit.
After getting lost many times and ending up in the wrong village (where we befriended more friendly locals!) we finally found the river resort.
Can you believe we casually slept OUTSIDE in a bed, with the sound of small waterfalls and the rushing river lulling us to sleep. We awoke to quickly out on our swimsuits and dive into the river less than 10 meters away. By far one of the most unusual places to stay in Sri Lanka!
Day 5 we set off from Gallene Gala Nature Resort en router Nuwara Eliya, but we decided to make a few fun stops along the way.
It was also at this stage that I decided that there was no way I could do all the driving for the next 2 weeks, especially as I was also trying to document the trip with daily travel blogs. I parked the tuk tuk at the side of the road, jumped out and told Veronica she would be driving. While nervous at first she quickly found her confidence and from this day on we split most the driving 50:50!
Our first stop, with Veronica driving us, was at Aberdeen Falls which involved a longer than expected hike right down to the base of the falls. Here we hung out with some friendly locals, went for a swim and then braved the crazy steep hike back to the top.
Our next stop was in Hatton, as we were driving through endless tea plantations which looked like a gorgeous sea of green. We also made a quick stop as St Clairs’ Major Falls and some of the tea plantations just outside of Nuwara Eliya before finding a cute guest house to rest our heads for 2 nights.
We actually only had one full day in Nuwara Eliya but its was enough to drive to the stunning Bomburulella Waterfall – now one of my absolute favourites in Sri Lanka. The drive here was so beautiful and the waterfall itself just got more and more impressive the closer we hiked. W made some doggie friends and honestly spent most of the day just relaxing in those gorgeous place.
Later in the afternoon we visited the famous Pedro Tea Estate and took a walk around the town checking out the old historic post office, the park and local markets.
Nuwara Eliya is a such a unique place in Sri Lanka as it feels sort of like a Little England – complete with a family friendly lake park with swim boats! The climate is also much cooler and more enjoyable, especially more bearable that the humidity you’ll find on the cost.
As in most places we found a really homely guesthouse to stay in for the 2 nights for less than 5000 rupees a night.
Exploring beautiful Ella
On day 7, we set off towards Ella which actually ended up being one of the quickest drives of our trip, taking less than 2 hours to reach the hillside town now known as a backpacker paradise.
We found a lovely homestay overlooking the train tracks, walking distance from town, and had a pretty relaxing first day that involved delicious food, a short walk and then sunset at the Nine Arches Bridge.
We also signed up for a cooking course while in Ella which was great fun, and I loved learning how to cook all my favourite traditional Sri Lankan dishes including 6 different types of Sri Lankan curry!
Driving to Arugam Bay
Day 9 had us doing one of the longest drives of our trip, a 3 to 4 hour fairly boring drive from Ella all the way to Arugam Bay. We had been warned again and again that it was low season in Arugam Bay and that everything was closed and we should not go.
Turns out while it was pretty quiet, the beach was just as beautiful, accommodation was much cheaper, and while the food here wasn’t’ as good as other places, we still found lots of fun things to do.
The last thing we imagined we would do while in Arugam Bay was to do a self drive tuk yuk safari but that’s exactly what we did.
Turns our there’s a National Park just south of Arugam Bay, and a main road goes right through some it so normal people in their cars and tuk tuks can drive there.
It was actually one of the most amazing safaris I’ve ever done in Sri Lanka – we saw 4 wild elephants, endless peacocks, water buffalos, Jackals and many other wild animals.
Hitting up the South Coast in our Tuk Tuk
After 2 days of beaches and safaris, we continued south down the famous N 35 road, famous for being home to rogue elephants. Here we actually had to drive past 3 wild elephants blocking part of the road, an equally exciting and scary experience. We spent two nights at the gorgeous Cinnamon Wild Yala Hotel, one of my favourite hotels in Sri Lanka.
We woke up to the sound of wild animals outside our room and saw crocodiles and water buffalo bathing in the lake that sits on the property. We also did an early morning safari where we were insanely lucky to spot a leopard and two elephants!
Our stay here ended with the most incredible outdoor dining experience which included a private chef and butler, and outdoor BBQ and me and veronica sitting up inside the back of a jeep eating dinner under candlelight. Words cannot describe!!
Our last night was spent in the historic town of Galle, where we watched the sunset from the old fort walls, walked the entire way around the perimeter of the old town, checking our ancient museums, churches and beautiful architecture including Galle’s famous light house.