It’s no secret that Sri Lanka has an abundance of wildlife, and being animal lovers ourselves, this was one of the main draws in visiting this incredible island. We wanted to see it all; but we also like doing things our own way, at our own pace. So what better way to do this than by travelling like a local... in a tuktuk! Here we have curated the perfect itinerary for a wildlife adventure and having your very own tuktuk is essential in getting the most out of the following places.
So, most trips to Sri Lanka start in the capital of Colombo which is the perfect place to begin this epic road trip. Grab yourself some curry and rice from Curry Pot and head to the suburb of Mount Lavinia to meet the tuktuk rental team. Here, they'll give you all the necessary help and advice to help you along the way. This includes a driving lesson until you feel confident enough to go it alone, and all the technical information about the vehicle. It may seem a lot to take in, but you will be given a comprehensive manual with all the relevant information; and whats more you'll also be added to WhatsApp group to swap tips along the way, this was a major benefit to us throughout the trip and a good way to connect with other tuktukers, you may even find yourself riding in a convoy!
For us (we say us but really we mean Liam!), learning to drive a tuk tuk was relatively easy having driven a motorbike around Vietnam, so a couple of hours with the team and we were ready to set off on our bucket list adventure. But still, nothing can prepare you for setting off from this crazy, chaotic city but trust us, it gets easier from here...
On the first day, we recommend starting the trip with a visit to the infamous backpacker spots of Mirissa and Weligama. It's a fairly long but scenic drive along the coast (don't forget to turn off highways and tolls roads from Google Maps or Maps.me!), so break up the journey by stopping in Unawatuna for some lunch and a coffee at Skinny Tom's and take your tuk tuk for a little drive on the beach by taking the road opposite the liquor store. Once you arrive in the Mirissa area, you can choose to stay in either Mirissa or Weligama, as they are only 5km apart and it's easy to visit both in your tuk tuk. In Mirissa, you can leave your Tuktuk on land and head to the seas in search of whales and dolphins. There are multiple companies for your whale watching tour but most are pretty good so either shop around for the best price or ask at your guesthouse. After, head to Shady Lane for a coconut milk coffee and take some dreamy sunset shots on coconut tree hill. If you're looking to party, then head to The Doctors House on a Wednesday or Saturday but leave the tuktuk at home for this one!
Once you can tear yourself away from this backpacker haven, head a further 30km down the coast to find Hiriketiya which is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka and a great base for a couple of days. From here you can visit turtle beach and head down to the beach at night with the guys from the sanctuary. They will show you mother turtles laying their eggs and if you are visiting at the right time of year you can also catch the hatching baby turtles making their journey down to the sea.
From here, take the B35 road beside Yala National Park in your tuktuk to see wild elephants roaming in the road. This was the best part of our trip! We saw a total of 7 elephants during this 4 hour journey, it's a thrilling experience seeing them so close, but, of course, they are wild elephants and you do have to be careful. It's best not to drive too fast or too close to them as you might spook them. The best thing to do after spotting an elephant up ahead, is to stop and admire from a distance (take some photos) and wait for the locals to pass and follow them. You usually know an elephant is coming up as the passing cars will flash there headlights to warn you (this could also mean police ahead but not so much in this area). You can carry fruit with you to feed them and distract them as you drive by but we don't think this is necessary; we carried some bananas with us but Philippa threw them all to the first elephant thinking we wouldn't see anymore and it wasn't a problem. The elephants usually have plenty of food around them anyway from other people feeding them.
Once you arrive in Arugam bay, there’s not much wildlife on show but the surf is some of the best in the world and if you’re lucky you might even catch the famous surfing dog! Spend a few days here surfing, picking up a lesson for around 2,500Rs, and eating rice and curry from the street vendors near the beach road.
The drive to Ella by Tuktuk is incredible, the views over the tea trees alone is enough to make the journey. Be sure to factor in extra time for the uphill climb and for taking care on the windy roads. Give yourself and your Tuktuk a break by stopping for a tea at Harald tea centre. This place was made famous by an American producer and he is a super friendly guy with some of the most epic views over Ella.
There are a lot of things to do in and around the Ella area and having a tuktuk gives you the freedom to easily visit these. We recommend making the one hour journey to the second highest waterfalls in the country, Diyaluma falls, spotting snakes and monkeys along the way. Be sure to arrive early and beat the crowds to get the most incredible shot in the cascading pools with endless views. This way, you can also combine the trip with a visit to Lipton's seat where Mr Lipton himself planted the first tea trees in Sri Lanka. Of course, no trip to Ella is complete without a visit to the Nine Arch Bridge and if you do want to ride one of the most scenic train journeys in the world then be sure to contact tuktukrental.com who can sort out the transportation of your tuk tuk between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. After a couple of days relaxing in Ella, eating brunch in Chill and the best rice and curry at Matey Hut, take another scenic journey to the beaches in the north.
Known for having the most whitest sand in Sri Lanka, Trincomalee is a peaceful, laidback slice of paradise that you'll struggle to leave. Having a Tuktuk allows you to travel between the two main beaches of Uppeveli and Nilaveli; Nilaveli is quiet and less developed, we recommend a stay at That's Why cabanas with car parking for your tuktuk and an incredible breakfast, whereas Uppeveli has much more accommodation and restaurant choices, be sure to grab a cold beer from Fernandos! You can also make the short journey to Fort Frederick where you are sure to see hundreds of deer, we even saw a few in the road as we passed.
While staying in Trinco it’s also worth taking the boat tour to Pigeon island, which can be booked from any hotel or guesthouse for around 4000-5000Rs per person, where you can snorkel with sea turtles and reef sharks. Be sure to go early (8.30 or 9am) to avoid the major tour groups.
Having a Tuktuk means you can stay at the best places regardless of proximity to major attractions. A stay at Roy’s hostel was the highlight of Sigiriya but we also got the chance to see crocodiles when exploring in our Tuktuk around lions rock. While we were staying at Roy’s an elephant passed right through his land in the night. You can take a safari to see the elephant migration in Minneriya or Kaudulla national parks but we prefer sticking to our private Tuktuk safari. However, the safari we do recommend taking is Walipatu National Park as it’s difficult to see Leopards anywhere else. Factor in the early morning drive from Sigiriya to the national park before the long drive back to Colombo to drop off your trusty tuktuk, wipe the tears from your eyes and reflect on an epic road trip!