Sri Lanka holds a very special place in our hearts. This island off the southern coast of India is home to many amazing wildlife creatures, a few dreamy boutique retreat centers, and some of our favorite Roaming Yogi memories so far.
We've compiled yogi's guide to this tropical paradise, complete with where to practice, stay, eat, and adventure. If you are traveling to this beautiful country feel free to reach out with questions, happy to help where we can! And if not, enjoy this photoblog of our retreat!
A Yogi's Guide To Sri Lanka
First things first, let's talk about where to go. Sri Lanka is huge, and traveling to different parts of the island requires some time and research. All international flights arrive into Colombo, the buzzing capital and largest city. Colombo is known for good shopping and performing arts, and has all the classic features of a big city, including the highest crime rates in the country.
Many visitors will choose to go to central Sri Lanka, making their way to Kandy and Ella and the surrounding area. This part of the country is dotted with tea plantations, aesthetically pleasing temples and hikes, and some of the most scenic train routes in the world.
Some will also choose the Eastern part of the country- Arugam Bay in particular, home to arguably the best surf in Sri Lanka, but an area that is still experiencing many visible repercussions from the civil war that spanned from the 1980s to 2009.
A yogi's paradise, however, is the 80km stretch from Galle to Tangalle in the Southern Province. Here you'll find affordable retreat centers, delicious fresh food, empty beaches, and a fun loving mindful community made up of locals and long term visitors from all over the world.
Best Yoga Retreat Centers in Southern Sri Lanka
There are heaps of retreat centers dotting the Southern coastline, all complete with beautifully adorned yoga shalas and their own dining facilities focused on fresh, local ingredients. Many also have a full spectrum of Ayurveda treatments to choose from or their own surf camp. You can sleep, eat, practice and dwell comfortably either in healing solitude or intermingling with other likeminded guests. Here's our top choices.
Talalla Yoga & Surf
We chose to host our week long yoga & adventure retreat at Talalla Yoga & Surf and it was a truly magical experience. They run their own retreats each week, and they did a great job accommodating our private group as well. In addition to yoga, there's also a weekly surf camp happening at the property, which brings fun energy and people.
We reserved sea view rooms for our group of 11. The rooms are comfortable and have beautiful outdoor showers, and guests are given the choice to have AC or not. In late February / early March we were comfortable without it and just used fans.
We woke up each morning to the monkeys and peacocks saluting the day, and answered their call by watching the sun rise over the ocean. We took advantage of all three of the open-air yoga shalas on site, and enjoyed having the serene ocean and jungle as backdrops to our twice daily practice.
The food at Talalla is talked about along the entire Southern Province, and for good reason! Guests can choose how many meals to include in their experience (full or half board). Breakfast & dinner are buffet style (standard at the inclusive retreat centers) and consisted mostly of creative curry and salad dishes with fresh, local ingredients- think coconut, pumpkin, lentils, potatoes, fresh fish and vegetables, endless tropical fruits, and mouthwatering spice like cinnamon (indigenous to Sri Lanka), chili, curry leaves, tumeric, cardamom and lemongrass. They also have a great lunch menu, rich coffee, and plenty of little snacks and smoothies to stay satiated throughout the day.
Underneath the Mango Tree
Underneath the Mango Tree (locally known as UTMT) is a high end Ayurveda hotel and spa. They have a daily yoga schedule for guests staying at the property, but what they are known for is their highly regarded Ayurveda specialists.
Guests stay for anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks at a time, and most begin with a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor and then spend their time on a personalized wellness retreat. The staff at UTMT also organize excursions from the property an have movie nights on site.
All meals can be included, and they have tons of information in their dining hall about eating according to dosha type as discovered by the initial Ayurvedic consultation.
Pop Yoga is new on the scene in Southern Sri Lanka, and founded by one of our friends we met on our travels! Geda is a longtime yoga practitioner and teacher, world traveler, and all around good human with many stories and insights to share. Geda has lived in the area since 2016 and has cultivated a world class team of healers and teachers to bring his vision of Pop Yoga to life. Guests can choose from a wide range of yoga classes, Ayurvedic treatments and cultural excursions and the Ayurvedic dining program is second to none. Check out Pop Yoga here.
Adventures in Southern Sri Lanka
Udawalawe National Park
You weren't going to visit Sri Lanka and not go on a wildlife safari, were you? That would be a big mistake.
There are two main park areas to go on a day long safari in the Southern Province. Yala National Park is known for leopard sightings, but also known for heavy crowds and SuperJeep traffic jams.
We recommend checking out Udawalawe National Park. It's closer to the main areas for accommodation in the south, and you'll see elephants in their wild habitat, multiple species of birds, water buffalo, peacocks, mongooses, and deer. There's also the occasional leopard spotting, but it is more rare than at Yala.
A quick google search will return plenty of companies who hire Super Jeeps and a driver for the safari, and will take you to the entrance where you can buy your entry into the national park. A great way to spend a day out in nature!
Snorkeling at Polhena Beach
One of our favorite days was snorkeling with giant sea turtles in Polhena Beach near Matara. Matara is located in the center of the action of the Southern coast, and it's super easy to rent equipment. Take a tuk tuk to Polhena Beach, and you'll see several options right off the road as you pull up. Rental should cost around 2,000 Sri Lankan Rupees per person, so don't get tricked into paying more!
Surfing at Horsehoe Bay (Hiriketiya)
The best surf and the most fun beach in the area are one and the same. We could have easily spent a whole week (or two) at Horseshoe Bay in Hiriketiya. There's a rock point break for more experienced surfers and a gentle beach break for surfers of all levels to enjoy.
You can easily get a quick lesson from one of the locals if you'd like (expect to pay about $40 USD), or hire a board from the beach.
Pro tip: Go get a massage at Beach House after your surf sesh. You won't regret it.
Whale Watching in Mirissa
We didn't actually go whale watching in Mirissa, but many people recommended it and as such we thought to include it here. Blue whales feed off of the unusual amount of plankton near the small town of Mirissa Beach, and there are regular tours and sightings from November to April. Cost is around $60 US per person.
Cultural Experiences in Sri Lanka
Mulkirigala Rock Temple
During our retreat, we spent a morning at the Mulkirigala Rock Temple, and it was nice experience to have in our itinerary. It's a 500 step hike up a beautiful rock formation set amidst the jungle. Along the way you'll find temple rooms with many dedications to Buddha carved right into the rocks and painted in caves. At the top there's a beautiful view of the jungle, which makes for a perfect spot for a picnic and meditation. We also received blessings to live a long prosperous life, which was a cool touch. Ladies, it is a temple, so be sure to cover your shoulders and legs to show respect to the culture.
Virgin White Tea Plantation
Tea is an integral part of the culture in Sri Lanka and about an hour inland from the coast you'll find rolling hills of tea plantations. Take a trip to Virgin White Tea Plantation and learn about how the teas are grown and produced, and create a meditative tea tasting experience for yourself or your group.
As yogis, we're very passionate about what we are putting into our bodies, and getting a cooking demonstration was a highlight of the trip! We learned how to make dahl curry (a Sri Lankan staple), pumpkin curry, and radish curry, and learned all about the spices and ingredients used in other classic Sri Lankan dishes. Most retreat centers or hotels an organize something like this for you- 10/10 would recommend.
Eat, Drink, Shop & Be Merry
Honey Beach Inn
We loved this cute little guest house off the beaten path in Galle. It felt super private and was extremely affordable + they have a workspace and outdoor area right on the beach!
Salty Swamis Cafe & Surf Shop Hikkaduwa
Delicious coffee, surf rentals, and vegan + gluten free options. If you're in Hikkaduwa, don't miss out on this hip hangout! Open for breakfast and lunch (8am to 3pm).
Coconut Sambol Galle
Super local spot with delicious curries, salads and desserts. Come hungry! Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options available.
A taste of America right in Sri Lanka. If you're craving the comfort of home, come here for a wrap & superfood smoothie or juice.
Galle is the best place you'll find for souvenirs and clothes and jewelry shopping. I'd recommend buying your friends and family an array of spices, and pick up some moonstones (they are native to Sri Lanka!).
Walk around the area by the fort and lighthouse, and you'll find yourself easily wandering in and out of stores for a whole afternoon.
Hiriketiya Beach & Dikwella Town
I could write another whole blog post on how much I loved my time at Verse Collective. A five minute tuk tuk from the hotspot of Hiriketiya, Verse is a newly opened social aesthetic with a private accommodation, a co-working space, cafe and surf shop.
It's a converted old colonial house that sits right on the beach, nestled faraway from the hustle and bustle of the main street running through Dikwella town.
It's run by a South African couple (Penny & Jeremy) who are just lovely, and the whole staff is super personable. The food and coffee are delicious, and the space is buzzing with raw creative energy. Please do yourself a favor and stay here if you are looking for awesome affordable accommodation in the area!
Salt is a super chill hangout in Hiriketiya. Come for a cocktail and bite to eat (they have vegan and gluten free options) and be sure to check out the shop at the back- they sell the most amazing hand crafted kimonos and men's shirts.
Another great spot right around the corner. The lawn is a beautiful location to have a coffee and enjoy a slow morning, or come for dinner and stay awhile. They also have a small shop selling things like cacao and homemade bug repellent.
We did some of our best shopping at Dots in Hiriketiya- think cute local labels, a healthy cafe & delicious local spreads and snacks to take home. We caught a night of live music here. The venue is pretty big and the show was great!
Matara / Mirissa
The Doctor's House
There's not enough good things to say about Doctor's House. We went on the first Saturday of the month, which meant there was live music all afternoon. They have an awesome bar, great food menu, and the vibes just don't stop. We were devastated when we had to leave the party to go straight to the airport, but what a last day!
Nomad Cafe & Boutique
A great spot to have breakfast or lunch. Most of the menu is vegan, and they have cozy outdoor seating with shade trees.
Southern Sri Lanka was so good to us. A trip here provides a healthy dose of vitamin D and a chance to truly getaway from the world. There's also a really cool creative scene budding here that kept us inspired and stoked on life. We enjoyed getting to know the culture and easy going way of life here, and will welcome many more Roaming Yogi Island Adventures in the future!