Sri Lanka is a small island just south of India with an abundance of things to experience. Sri Lanka offers a little bit of everything: beautiful beaches, lots of wildlife, gorgeous hikes, serene countrysides, epic train rides, and tasty (spicy) food.
I recently spent 10 days in the beautiful island nation zipping around to experience as much as I could. It was a little hectic to be constantly moving, but I saw and did so much in the little time that I had.
This Sri Lanka 9-day itinerary is for those who are ambitious to see a big amount in a little time frame. It is not for those who like to relax and stay in one spot the whole time. I cut out one day off the suggested itinerary for a specific reason (which you will see below).
What NOT to do in Sri Lanka
I strongly urge you to skip Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I admit I was lured in by the dreamy pictures that some of my favorite Instagrammers posted from here. It sounded to perfect to wake up to elephants bathing in a river right from your hotel room. But it was everything but dreamy.
The straight up ABUSE that I saw was extremely disturbing. I saw them use these sharp spears to force the elephants to do whatever they wanted and some were chained around their necks. The elephants did not seemed “loved” at all. In fact, they seemed terrified at their “caretakers”. I teared up and left early because I could not stand there for another second and watch these poor loving creatures get abused any longer.
I must say that I am extremely disappointed at these huge “influencers” posting pictures from here glorifying it just to get a couple hundred liked on Instagram. It was sickening. Here is my Instagram post from there which you can scroll through to see the “real” pictures from this terrible “orphanage”.
My advice would be to please research a place thoroughly before you make a decision to go. Just because a place has the word “sanctuary” or “orphanage” doesn’t mean the animals are being treated kindly.
Kandy honestly did not impress me that much. It was hectic city with only a few things to see. I knew this going in, but I stayed here 2 nights for a reason. The first is because this is where you start (or end) the famous train ride through the tea plantations in the countryside. The other reason is because this is where you can take a day trip to Sigiriya Rock.
What to Do in Kandy
Temple of the Tooth-an important symbol of Sri Lanka. It is believed that whoever holds the tooth relic, holds the governance of the country.
Kandy Lake-a peaceful lake in the center of the busy city that’s a good way to escape the madness and noise.
Botanical Gardens (25 minutes outside of the city)-I didn’t have time for this but photos of this place looked lovely.
Where to Stay in Kandy
I had the please of being hosted by Theva Residency while in Kandy and it was incredible. This boutique hotel is set amongst the beautiful hillside in Kandy, overlooking the lush countryside.
The most alluring part of Theva Residency is the infinity pool plunging into the green Sri Lankan mountainside. The views were incredible and the ambiance was super relaxing. It was so refreshing to be able to get away from the crazy noise and crowds from Kandy and sleep in a quiet paradise.
The floor to ceiling windows in the onsite restaurant is another attractive feature of this hotel. What could be better than enjoying a great meal with a glass of wine with a 180 degree view of beautiful nature? I can’t think of anything. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating and the food was quite delicious.
The view don’t end at the infinity pool and restaurant. The executive rooms come with a walk out balcony with table and chairs and unobstructed views of the hillside.
Other unique features of the boutique hotel include a game room with a pool table, board games, DVDs, a sauna, and a steam room! If relaxation and peace and quiet is what you are looking for, Theva Residency is the perfect place to stay in Kandy.
Day Trip to Sigiriya Rock
High on my Sri Lanka list was hiking up Sigiriya Rock. I decided to squeeze it in my short trip by taking a day trip from Kandy. I took a private car from Kandy to Sigiriya for 8000 Sri Lankan Ruppes(SLR) ($50) for an all day trip. This also included a stop at the Dambulla Caves on the way back (which I ended up skipping due to heat exhaustion).
The journey takes 3 hours each way. My only mistake was not going early enough because it was deathly hot during the hike. I would recommend leaving around 6am to beat the heat (I left at 8:30).
The hike takes about 30-45 minutes to the top and it’s uncovered so make sure to wear sunscreen and a hat if you have one. There is no water or snacks inside so make sure to bring some of your own.
The remains on the top of Sigiriya Rock
The entrance fee was very steep at $30 USD, which was very surprising since overall Sri Lanka was on the cheap side.
Train from Kandy to Ella
This journey was voted one of the prettiest train rides in the world, and thus a very popular ride. As such, if you’re looking for first class seats, buy the tickets about 2 weeks in advance. But the fun part is sitting with the locals in 3rd class and hanging out of the opened doors, so I wouldn’t bother with trying for first class!
Keep in mind, the train ride is 7 HOURS long. The first 1.5 hours and last 1 hour were very busy with locals and we were packed in there like sardines. Not quite the idyllic train ride I was imagining. When it finally cleared up and I got a seat at the door, it was great!
You can buy 3rd class tickets on the day of the departure about 1 hour before. The tickets cost less than $2 USD. Try to get on the train while there is still daylight so you don’t miss the views!
TIP: If you’re going from Kandy to Ella, sit on the RIGHT side of the train til about Nuwara Eliya, then switch to the LEFT side for the best views. Trust me on this one.
Note: bring some food as its a long ride! There are some vendors coming through selling fruits and nuts, but nothing major.
Ella is a backpacker’s town set in the tropical countryside surrounding by nothing but greenery and tea plantations. In other words, its breathtaking! Most people come here to do the hikes they have on offer. The town of Ella itself is just one dirt road with a few restaurants and shops, so not much to do there. I would suggest staying near the Demodara 9 Arch Bridge so you can get the views of the train and the beautiful curved tracks from above. You can take a tuk tuk to get around for cheap so don’t worry about being away from the town.
What to To Do in Ella
Little Adam’s Peak-this is the easiest hike with breathtaking views. It’s only a 15 minute hike for the entrance (or 45mim-1hr from Ella town). It had just rained so it was very misty and foggy when I went, but still pretty. Go at sunset!
Ella Rock-this hike is a little more difficult at 2 hours each way, but affords amazing views at a higher elevation (I didn’t have time for this one unfortunately).
Demondora 9 Arch Bridge-possibly the most picturesque spot in Ella. Photograph this bridge from above and right down on the tracks. Ask your accommodation what time the trains come so you can get a glimpse of the red or blue train coming through. You can also walk on the tracks all the way back to town. The view below is from my Booking.com homestay!
Ravana Falls-these falls are less than a 15 minute drive form Ella. There are upper and lower falls and I went to the lower falls that can be accessed right from the road. You can also do a hike to the upper falls. The lower falls was a gorgeous cascading waterfall that was super impressive. Try to get to it on your way out of Ella on your way to Yala.
Where to Stay in Ella
I found this homestay on Airbnb with an incredible view of the 9 Arch Bridge from my bedroom and the balcony where we eat breakfast. The room was simple but the views made it 100% worth it.
The host was one of the kindest people I have ever been hosted by and he offered me discounted tuk tuk rides whenever I needed. I highly recommend this place! You can check out the listing here. And if you’re new to Booking.com, you can get $20 OFF your fist stay here.
Where to Eat in Ella
AK Ristoro–serves curry, pasta, and sushi. They even had gluten free pasta so I was in heaven. The restaurant has a nice atmosphere and is away from the busy main street.
Adam’s Breeze-a great local restaurant with a view. They serve traditional curries which were really good. They give you many different small dishes kinda like tapas style. It was very cheap at around $4.50 for my whole dinner (pictured below).
How to Get from Ella to Yala National Park
A private taxi from Ella to Tissamaharama (close to Yala National Park) costs 6000 SLR ($38) including a stop in Ravana falls. The journey takes 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Yala National Park
There are a few national parks in Sri Lanka but my goal was to see leopards, which is what Yala National Park is known for. I stayed in the town of Tissamaharama (aka Tissa) and took the “5-12 safari Leopard Safari” which meant a 7 hour safari from 5am-12pm. The cost was only $36 and included pickup and drop off from all hotels in Tissa. The pickup is at 4:15-4:30am so get some rest! The company I went with is called Janaka Safari Jeep tours. The drivers drive a little wild, but I noticed that most the drivers in the park were driving like that, so hold on tight!
While I wasn’t lucky enough to see a leopard, I did see a bunch of other animals including a bunch of elephants, crocodiles, buffalo, some colourful birds, mongoose, and warthogs. I had alton of fun and it was definitely worth it! My safari vehicle only had 4 seats so there was no overcrowding and trying to fight to get photos.
How to Get from Tissa to Mirissa
Take a private taxi from Tissa to Mirissa for 7000 SLR ($44) and it takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. The safari company I used above also had a taxi company, so I just used them for the journey (Janaka Taxi Service). The telephone # is +94 77 297 2639.
There is also a bus with 3 connections which takes about 3+ hours and costs a few dollars, but I was short on time so I just wanted to get there ASAP.
I heard Mirissa was touristy and was apprehensive about going, but I’m so glad I did. Mirissa was one of the prettiest places I saw in Sri Lanka. It’s the perfect place for relaxation, sunbathing, and surfing.
What to Do in Mirissa
Parrot rock-here you can see views of the twin beaches from above. Make sure to go at low tide so you can actually see both beaches separated by the sandbar.
Palm tree heaven-(not sure the actual name of it but that’s what it felt like to me). To get there, it’s about a 15 minute walk all the way to the left of Parrot Rock (keeping the beach on your right side). If you get lost, you can put in Sea Star Hotel in google maps and enter the beach through this hotel then turn left.
Surf-I’m not a surfer but this is a very popular thing to do in this area. It was fun to watch!
Mirissa Beach-take a walk along the coastline or lounge around and get a tan. Mirissa is very relaxing and pretty so take some time to enjoy it.
Where to Stay in Mirissa
Glamour Mirissa-this little boutique hotel was adorable and in a quiet area right across the street from the beaches. My room came with a lounge area with kitchen and washer. At $38, it was a great deal! You can check out the listing on booking.com here.
How to get from Mirissa to Galle
Train: There are 3 trains a day which takes 50 minutes and cost about $1.
Tuk tuk from Mirissa to Galle fort is 2000 SLR ($13) and takes 1 hour.
A private taxi costs around 4000 SLR ($25).
Galle was my favourite city I visited in Sri Lanka. Galle fort is an enclosed Dutch fort built in the 1500s and occupied by Portuguese, Dutch, and later the British. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site. It was such a cute little town with colonial architecture and adorable boutique shops.
Lighthouse-the most picturesque part of the city with a beach nearby where you can swim and/or sunbathe.
Shopping-Galle definitely had the best shopping in Sri Lanka with cute little boutique shops with unique clothes and souvenirs.
Jungle beach-an excursion 20 minutes from Galle. It requires less than a 10 minute hike to get down. Once you arrive, you’re greeted with beautiful green waters (it feels more like a bay as there aren’t much waves). There isn’t much there besides some fruit juice stands.
Unuwatuna Beach–From Jungle Beach, you can walk 25 minutes to Unuwatuna Beach, where they have an abundance of water sports, surfing, lounge chairs, and lots of beach side restaurants. There is also some cute shopping on the streets. A round trip tuk tuk ride from Galle should cost you 1000 SLR ($6).
Where to Stay in Galle
I stayed in the cutest little boutique hotel with the sweetest staff. It was right in the middle of the Galle Fort and walking distance to everything. The room was huge with a strong AC. Breakfast was served in the colorful courtyard pictured below. You can view the listing here.
Where to Eat in Galle
Chambers restaurant– If you get sick of curry (which I did after day 5), Chambers restaurant has good Moroccan tagine.
Poonie’s Kitchen -serves healthy foods like granola and yogurt bowls, salads, and juices. It had a cute and cozy little courtyard inside. Note: it’s closed on Sundays and closes all other days at 6pm/
How to Get from Galle to Colombo
The train from Galle to Colombo is 180 rupees ($1.15) 2nd class. The journey takes 2.5 hours. The last train leaves Galle at 3:35pm.
Sri Lanka Quick Tips:
I had trouble with getting money out of some ATMs as my card kept getting declined. But when I tried other ones, they seemed to work. So if you’re going to a remote area, I would suggest stocking up on cash beforehand. I did notice that HNB Bank worked the best for me.
Ask you accommodation host for a taxi ride to your next destination. I always got the best rates from them and they set up the whole thing which made it easy.
Train rides are very cheap in Sri Lanka, but tuk tuks and private cars arent that bad, especially if you are traveling with several people.
They drive a bit crazy in Sri Lanka (and on the left side), so make sure you’re prepared for that and have a lot of experience if you plan on renting a motorbike.
It’s pretty common for your taxi driver to randomly get pulled over by police (and then pay them off), so don’t let that alarm you. (note: the locals confirmed this and told me it’s a regular occurrence there).
ALWAYS negotiate beforehand before getting into a taxi.
Safety: I felt pretty safe as a solo female traveler in most places. I did feel a little uncomfortable walking the dark streets alone in Kandy at night (many cat calls from men). I never really felt unsafe though.
Disclaimer: Some links in this article may include affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission if you book through these links, at NO extra cost to you. It’s what keeps this site ad free (I hate ads!). Also, I was a guest at Theva Residency. However, all opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to leave positive feedback. I had an amazing time in the beautiful secluded property and I highly recommend staying here if in Kandy.
As another whirlwind travel year comes to an end, it’s about that time to reflect and reminisce on my crazy year and highlight my top moments/surprises. In 2017, I traveled to 13 new countries including, Ecuador, Finland, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Cyprus, Oman, and Jordan. I also revisited some of my favourite countries including Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Norway.
In 2017, I visited a total of 17 countries on 4 continents. WOW. I didn’t even notice it was that many until I typed it out. I guess I’m really living up to the name Crazy Travelista. 🙂
Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Travel Highlights & Surprises of 2017:
1. Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos is on many bucket lists and a dream destination for animal and sea lovers. But it costs a fortune, right? WRONG. I did one week for under $1K. Yep, I got skills like that haha. You can read about how I did it here and also free or cheap things to do in the Galapagos here.
It was just so fascinating to me walking around and seeing Sea Lions sitting on park benches, marine iguanas (that look like mini dinosaurs) wading next to me in the water, and stopping for a traffic jam of life size turtles in the wild. Oh, and seeing a sea horse up close in the wild was freakin incredible!
But my ultimate favourite memory was swimming with hammerhead sharks and sea lions at Kicker Rock. I’m not going to lie, I was scared shitless of jumping into the water above a shark, let alone a whole swarm of them. But it was a once in a lifetime experience and I wasn’t going to pass it up. If you do ONE thing in the Galapagos, take the tour to Kicker Rock on San Cristobal Island.
2. Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway
One of my top 5 bucket list items of all time was finally fulfilled in Tromsø, Norway this year. I miss the Northern Lights in Iceland the year before and was so bummed. But let me tell you, it was well worth the wait and just made it that much more special when I finally got my first glimpse.
Not only did I see the Northern Lights, but they really put on a dramatic dancing show of electric neon green in the sky that I cannot describe it with any other word besides MAGICAL.
God, I loved Lapland. I didn’t think i would enjoy it that much but it really surprised me. I’m not the biggest fan of freezing cold destinations, but Lapland has single handedly changed my mind!
What really captivated me was all the super unique winter activities that you can try that are specific to this region. My favourite activities were the Husky ride, snowmobiling on a lake to see the Northern Lights (unfortunately they didn’t come out that night), taking a photography tour of the arctic landscapes, and especially the sauna plus an arctic ice dip. I did end up seeing the Northern Lights in Levi the next day!
I also really enjoyed a reindeer ride and visiting an ice hotel. Oh, and you can also visited Santa Clause Village and cross the arctic circle! Where else in the world can you do these things?
The only thing I missed was sleeping in an glass igloo hotel, which I plan to return for one day!
My favourite destination of 2017 goes to Japan! Japan is like steeping into another world and I definitely experienced the most culture here than any other place in 2017. I’m not usually a big fan of huge capital cities, but Tokyo is certainly an exception.
My senses were constantly stimulated walking around the chaotic yet peaceful city, and I could have spent my entire time in Japan exploring Tokyo and been satisfied. My favourite part was experiencing an owl and cat cafe.
Other favourites included expiring Kyoto (dressing as a geisha is a must), climbing the Fushimi Inari shrine, taking a sushi making class, visiting the Bamboo forest, and walking part of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage route.
Japan is easily one of my top 5 favourite countries in the world and it’s somewhere I will 100% return to. Japan was the cleanest and most organized country I have ever been with the most respectful people I have ever encountered. If only the rest of the world would follow their lead.
Indonesia was near the top of my bucket list, especially Bali. And boy did it live up to my high expectations. I spent 2 weeks hopping around the islands, swimming with manta rays, snorkelling, surviving the craziest driving on a motorbike ever, chasing waterfalls, frolicking through rice fields, and slurping down smoothie bowls.
Bali is the perfect place to live it up in luxury, for next to nothing in cost. The people were amazing, the temples were grande, and the option for healthy food was endless. What’s not to love about Bali?
When I was younger, my family sponsored 2 Filippino girls who became like family (and lived with us for years). I always wanted to go see where they came from and I finally got the chance this year. With over 7000+ islands to choose from, it was hard to pick where to go. But since Palawan got rated the most beautiful island in the world, I knew I couldn’t miss it.
I spent a week between Coron and El Nido island hopping some of the most beautiful waters I have ever seen. I climbed the most dangerous hike I will ever do at Mt. Taraw and motorbiked around El Nido. I caught some epic sunsets at Las Cabanas and got daily massages.
I rented a kayak and paddled out to Bikal Beach on Cadlao Island through a gnarly storm that came out of nowhere (I’m glad I didn’t capsize and lived to tell about it hehe). Palawan was outstanding and gave me just the ideal amount of adventure and relaxation.
My second trip to South America this year brought me to the super dangerous country of Colombia (extreme sarcasm people). Colombia is such a colourful and vibrant country and I felt completely safe traveling there solo.
My favourite part of Colombia was visiting Tayrona National Park. It’s basically a national park filled with endless gorgeous beaches. You can even rent a hammock and stay the night there if you are into the camping (and spiders) thing. My only regret is that I only spent one day here.
Other highlights included climbing El Peñol for the EPIC views from above and visiting the most colourful city I’ve ever seen in Guatape. Oh, ad you can’t miss the beautiful and lively city of Cartagena. I basically spent all my days eating ceviche and photographing the dreamy colorful balkanise of the city. Colombia quickly became my favourite country in South America!
Another top 5 bucket list items was checked on my trip to Peru when I visited Machu Picchu. The long wait was more than worth it and it didn’t let me down one bit! What was even more special is that I miraculously almost had the whole place to myself. What a dream!
I spend 6 days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley constantly being awed of the next site. I attempted and completed the most exhausting hike of my life at Rainbow Mountain (above 17,000 feet altitude).
And to top it off, I enjoyed one of the most scenic train rides I’ve ever taken through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu.Oh, and I ate ceviche just about every day and didn’t feel guilty about it one bit. All in all, Peru was awesome!
Another “dangerous country” I visited myself this year (sarcasm again people). I want to start by saying that the hospitality I experienced in Jordan was some of the most heart felt i have ever experienced. I felt super welcome and super safe the entire time.
I spent 3 days in Petra and it blew my mind!!! Along with Japan, it was my favourite destination of 2017. I felt like Indiana Jones discovering the lost city of Petra and I had so much fun hiking around the city and doing some mini photo shoots.
The highlight for me was Petra by night which was pure MAGIC. If you go to Petra, definitely don’t miss it!
Most people I know have never heard of Oman and/or don’t know where it is on a map. And this is exactly why I wanted to visit! For the few people I knew who have visited, I have never heard a bad thing about the country.
The main attraction for me is all the Wadis in Oman. Think a desert oasis with a bright green body of water in the middle, lined with palm trees. It was like a mirage, but in real life. Oman was amazing and I had the best time renting a car and driving around to find new places. The Omani people were very kind and I felt right at home in this beautifully untouched Middle Eastern country. I highly recommend you visit soon before it becomes super touristy.
So What’s In Store for CrazyTravelista in 2018?
Well, let’s just say that 2018 is going to be the year of GROUP TRIPS and I’m super excited about it! I have 4 trips planned so far to Lofoten Islands (Norway), Croatia, Banff, and Iceland. The Norway trip is tentatively filled, but keep a look out very soon for details on Croatia, Banff, and Iceland. So excited to meet like-minded travellers!
In terms of solo travel, I have my eye on some places that I’m hoping to get to this year. But as always, who knows if I will actually make it to all these places.
CrzayTravelista’s 2018 Travel Wishlist
HaLong Bay, Vietnam
Rio de Janeiro
Back to Albania
Looks like I have lots of planning to do! Cheers to 2018!
Bali is a dream destination, partly because it’s so damn cheap! Oh yeah, and the other part because it’s so damn gorgeous! The great part about Bali is that you can ball it up in luxury, without the luxury price tags. So sit back and let yourself live like a queen (or king) while you’re there. You deserve it. ♥
On my recent trip to Bali, I was determined to find cute and comfy accommodation that wouldn’t burn a hole in my pockets. I ended up finding a few amazing places all with nice views, pools, and yummy food, for under $40! I used a combination of Airbnb, Booking.com, and Hotels.com and found the perfect places, which I highlighted below.
I included Lombok since that’s a popular nearby island that many add onto their Bali trip, although it’s not technically Bali. I also included 2 splurge resorts if you wanna go all out. But it’s still not that expensive as you’ll see ($103 for a 5-star resort. What??)
Oh, and before I begin, I may have a few coupons you can use! If you’re new to Airbnb, you can get $40 OFF your first rental. Airbnb is my accommodation of choice and I use them for 80% of my accommodations. If you’re new to Booking.com, you can get $20 OFF your first booking. Booking.com is great because they have the “pay later” option where you pay upon arrival.
Cute Places to Stay in Bali
♥D’mas Huts♥ | Cute Places to Stay in Bali | Nusa Lembongan
This family run place was absolutely fantastic. It’s composed of only 5 private huts and has spectacular views over Nusa Ceningan and the gorgeous blue water in between.
The owner Nyoman was the best host and catered to just about anything I needed. He always had a smile on his face and really made my stay more enjoyable.
They also have a nice restaurant which serves a big variety of foods at a super reasonable price. Plus the views over the pool and landscape below is fantastic! The food was super delicious as well!
I got a special deal on hotels.com and paid only $18/night. It was half off, but even at full price it’s super affordable. The value for money is incomparable and I cannot recommend this place enough!
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Another perk is onsite scooter rentals for 50k/day. Breakfast was not included in the price, but like I mentioned above, the prices were super reasonable.
The location was excellent to explore all 3 Nusas, about 15 minutes from Lembongen town and less than 10 minutes to Nusa Ceningan. The yellow bridge is also where you can catch the public boat to Nusa Penida!
*also make sure to check the listing on Booking.com as it’s listed there as well and they have the option to pay later!
♥The Inn Possible♥ | Cute Places to Stay in Bali | Uluwatu
Getting to this secluded paradise is no easy task, but it’s half the fun! It takes about a 15 minute walk down steep steps and passing through some houses. It sits on Bingin beach, one of the more secluded and beautiful beaches on the island. The hotel is literally right smack on the sand and it doesn’t get more secluded than this.
The pathway to the secluded Inn Possible
The views from the main hangout area/lobby are stunning. You can order food from their restaurant and eat it at the bar overlooking the ocean and it’s really incredible.
The vibe is super chill and laid back and the owner is super friendly and helpful with any info you need.
It takes about a 10-12 minute scooter ride to get to Uluwatu temple, perched high up on the plunging cliff side. While the temple itself is nothing spectacular, the dramatic setting makes up for it!
The rooms are huge and come with either an AC or fan (make sure to book the room with the AC because it’s very hot!)
As resources are limited in this secluded spot, there is no hot water. But you won’t even care, trust me! The Inn Possible is one of those places where you go to relax and enjoy the serenity. I didn’t ever wanna leave (also because of those evil stairs haha). Tip: I wouldn’t even think about taking a large suitcase down there!
How I booked: Booking.com and paid in cash at the resort (they don’t take credit cards).
♥Coconut Boutique Resort♥ | Cute Places to Stay in Bali | Senggigi, Lombok
This hotel was very visually stunning with private bungalows all with pool views. The pool had a swim-up bar and illuminated blue LED lights. The bungalows were huge with a comfy bed, cable TV, mini fridge, and a beautiful outdoor bathroom.
There was an onsite restaurant and room service available that I took advantage of several times. The food was great and the prices were reasonable.
My favorite part about the hotel was the onsite spa services out by the pool. You also had the choice of spa services in your room at no extra cost. I got 1-2 services each day, including a foot massage, shiatsu back massage, and a facial. The prices were really low, even at the inflated hotel prices, so that was an extra plus!
Onsite scooter rentals were 70k/day (~$5.25). Or it took about 10 minutes to get to Senggigi port, but I loved the peace and quiet of seclusion.
♥Airbnb Bungalow w/ Lush Pool♥ | Cute Places to Stay in Bali | (just North of Ubud)
This was the most secluded place I stayed and it’s exactly what I wanted! Comprised of only 5 private villas overlooking the lush pool area, this Airbnb was a total steal! Breakfast is included and can be served by the pool or on your patio.
A free shuttle service 4 times a day to Ubud was included. And if you stay 3 or more days, a free motorbike rental is included. It took about 10 minutes to get to the center, but the tranquility is exactly what I asked for.
The bungalow is equipped with a coffee maker, Cable TV, AC, a huge comfy bed, and multiple charging plugs. Even though I was solo, it’s a romantic place away from the busy and noisy center of Ubud. I even met a couple on their honeymoon staying right next door to me.
How I Booked: You can find the Airbnb listing here. Also, don’t forget the $40 OFF coupon if you’re new to Airbnb.
Where to Stay if you Want to “Splurge” a Little Bit in Ubud
♥Alaya Resort Ubud♥ | Cute Places to Stay in Bali | Ubud
Alaya Resort Ubud is a quiet oasis right in the middle of the city, literally. This elegantly designed 5-star resort is the perfect place to feel pampered and taken care of.
Alaya Resort Ubud has 2 pools, 2 restaurants, a fitness center, and a world class spa.
The rooms had a California king size bed with plush comforters and pillows. A little detail that I thought was awesome was the built-in outlet converters in the rooms so you don’t even need to bring any!
Turn down service was provided nightly with a robe and slippers. All rooms come with a patio and sitting area outside. You will either have a view of the pool or the rice fields. My room with the rice field view was incredible. There is something just so peaceful about the rice fields that you forget you’re right in the middle of the city where all the action is. But don’t worry, you’re tucked away from all the sound so you’ll get a good night’s rest.
The staff was incredibly helpful and kind and the breakfast was fresh and delicious. There were several choices on the menu and not your typical buffet style breakfast. I really appreciate when you actually have choices from a menu!
The location is great and just a few minutes from the famous Monkey Forest. It is also right next door to the popular Yoga Barn, where you can take a yoga class or eat at the cafe (which has amazing healthy juices and vegan/gluten free choices).
Fun fact: Alaya Resort Ubud was voted Eco-Hotel/Resort of the Year in 2016!
Pricing: prices are as low as $112 night (for a 5 stat hotel! Gotta love Bali).
How to Book: You can check the listing here on Booking.com
♥Alaya Jembawan♥ | Cute Places to Stay in Bali | Ubud
Fifteen minutes away from Alaya Ubud is their sister resort Alaya Jembawan, a boutique wellness center. It’s also in the center but a little more serene and secluded. Alaya Jembawan has 2 infinity pools overlooking lush tropical scenery. It is a bit smaller than Alaya Ubud, but also a bit cozier.
This location made you feel a little more like you were out in the jungle and completely distant from the city. Yet it was conveniently located and a great base to walk around the city and enjoy great nearby cafes.
Alaya Jembawan is more focused on wellness and healing and provides the perfect serene setting. In addition to the wellness spa offerings, there is an Ayurvedic doctor and yoga instructor on site to help encourage a more slow paced lifestyle.
Breakfast was served at the cutest little restaurant called Herb Library decorated in earthy pastels. They implement local seasonal and organic ingredients and serve raw or living food. They had many vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options on the menu and everything tasted so fresh.
I really appreciated that they adopt an eat anytime policy where you are not bound to time constraints and can have your breakfast literally whenever you want (starts from 7am). Why can’t they have this everywhere?
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Pricing: prices as low as $103 (how is that possible for a 5-star resort? It still baffles me).
How to Book: Check the listing here on Booking.com
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Disclaimer: Some links in this article may include affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission if you book through these links, at NO extra cost to you. It’s what keeps this site ad free (I hate ads!). Also, I was a guest at Alaya Ubud and Alaya Jembawan. However, all opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to leave positive feedback. I had an amazing time in the beautiful properties and I highly recommend staying at either one. Plus, they are super affordable for 5-star resorts!
Do You Have Any More Cute and Affordable Places You Recommend in Bali? Please Comment Below!
Palawan has been voted the most beautiful island in the world, and for good reason. With its plethora of crystal clear turquoise waters, stunning lagoons, and plunging cliff lines, its not hard to see why. Palawan is the epitome of the word paradise.
There’s a lot you can do and see on Palawan even with a limited timeframe. I spent a week in Palawan, split between El Nido and Coron and it was the perfect introduction to the Philippines.
To make it simple, it’s going to take a long time! There are no direct international flights to El Nido so you will have to fly to Manila first, and then either fly to Puerto Princesa and take a 6-8 hour van ride up to El Nido.
Or there is the more direct (and more expensive) option of flying nonstop to El Nido. I flew with Air Swift on a short flight from Manila and it cost me $130. To me the direct flight was worth it to get there quicker.
You’ll be greeted at El Nido airport with a serenade from the local Filipino women, a unique welcome to the Philippines! Air Swift passengers are also given free coffee, juice and snacks upon arrival.
To get to your accommodation, you’ll most likely have to take a tricycle, which reminds me of a mini tuk tuk. It costs 300 PHP to get to town (around $6) and takes around 15-20 minutes.
El Nido Tours
People flock to El Nido for the famous island hopping tours. There are 4 main tours leaving from El Nido: Tour A,B, C, and D. Creative, huh? They also offer combined tours if you’re super short on time (but some of the stops are cut out obviously).
Tour A & C are the most popular and most the pictures you’ve seen from El Nido are most likely from those tours. If you had to pick just one, hands down I would choose Tour A!
All the tours are a fixed price by the government so don’t bother trying to negotiate. There are dozens upon dozens of tour companies in town and they pretty much all offer the same tour with the same stops so no need to be extra picky on this one. I am one for good reviews so booking online beforehand wouldn’t be a bad option either.
Day 1: Nacpan Beach
Rent a motorbike for 300-500 PHP and drive 45 minutes North to Nacpan Beach. The last 20 minutes is super bumpy and rocky and it’s uncomfortable but not dangerous. There’s a little restaurant that serves fresh seafood and drinks on the beach.
Unfortunately, Twin Beach was closed due to a court case involving squatter activity until further notice so it’s impossible to get that infamous view of Twin Beach. This was the best I could do from the bottom of the hill. You can kinda see both beaches, but not so epically. Meh.
Sunset at Las Cabanas Beach
Take a tricycle to Las Cabanas. It will cost 150 PHP from town and takes less than 10 minutes.
Las Cabanas is a great place to relax and unwind from the day, and have a drink if you’d like. There are a few cafes right on the beach and it’s a very popular place to catch the sunset. Meremgmeg Beach Bar was really cool and had swings at the bar instead of seats.
Day 2: Tour A
Take Tour A, the post popular (and my favorite) of the tours. The tour will take you on 5 stops including: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Simizu Beach (lunch stop), Secret Lagoon, and 7 Commandos Beach.
Cost: 1400 PHP (~$27)
I will highlight my favorite spots below:
You can’t swim in this gorgeous lagoon. The boat takes you in and you just sit back and enjoy turquoise waters like you have never seen before.
You can rent a kayak (Depending on availability) or snorkel and explore the big lagoon, which was so much fun!
The Secret Lagoon was unreal in terms of beauty. We had to jump off the boat and swim here from a distance where we could explore the hidden lagoons and caves. This is exactly what I imagined the Philippines to be.
7 Commandos Beach
The last stop of the day is on this long white sand beach. They have a bar and souvenir shop, as well as comfort rooms (what they call restrooms in the Philippines). There is also a fun rope swing that you can play with!
Day 3: Tour C
I booked Tour C with Art Cafe. The buffet BBQ lunch they served was really good! The tour leaves at 9am and comes back around 5pm.
Cost: 1400 PHP plus 100 PHP to rent fins (snorkel masks are already included).
5 stops are included on this tour including: Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Starfish Beach, Miniloc Shrine, and Helicopter Beach.
I found absolute paradise in Hidden Beach. I kinda wanted them to leave me there “accidentally”.
The Miniloc Shrine had the best viewpoint over the islands (cost is 100 PHP to go here). There are very pointy rocks at the top so please be careful.
This is guaranteed to be one of the most risky hikes you will ever do. Do NOT attempt to do this hike without a guide, it’s quite dangerous (and I don’t say this often).
You’ll be stepping on jagged, pointy, super sharp rocks and at some points you will be climbing up a 90 degree angle! It’s honestly more like rock climbing than a hike. Except that you will have NO harness or protective ear. But the 180 degree panoramic view at the top is worth all the fright and agony getting up there, trust me!
You can go in a group or hire a private guide. The whole trip takes about 2.5 to 3hrs. It costs 500 PHP for one person and can be as low as 300 PHP if you get a few people to go.
Tips for Hiking Mt. Taraw:
Take a sweat rag. I was dripping sweat and was all slippery. Not cool when my guide reached for my arm to pull me up in some places.
Start as early in the morning as possible to beat the heat.
I really wish I had brought gloves because the rocks I had to pull myself up on were super sharp.
Make sure to bring sturdy shoes (they won’t even let you hike without closed-toe shoes), water, and snacks.
Don’t bring many items with you. You do not want a big backpack on your back when you’re doing this climb. My guide actually didn’t let me carry a bag and put my stuff in his backpack.
Make sure to grab the rocks with your hands before moving with your feet.
On the way down go backwards, it’s easier and safer.
Rent a Kayak
Rent a kayak for 400 PHP and paddle over to Bikal Beach on Cadlao Island. There is a small and secluded crescent shaped beach which takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to. You’ll most likely have the beach to yourself. Unless you go in the morning because I believe tour D makes its first stop here.
Wouldn’t you love to have a whole stunning beach to yourself?
Get a Massage
Get a massage to end your trip in El Nido. It costs about 500-600 PHP per hour for a full body massage and you can find these massage shops all over the city. I got a head and food massage to end my day and it was just perfect after all that hiking and kayaking I had done.
Best Way to Get between El Nido and Coron
There’s a newer fast boat option by Montenegro Lines that leaves daily from El Nido at 6am and from Coron at 12pm. The journey supposedly takes 3.5 hours (it took about 4 hours and 45 minutes) and is pretty comfortable in a clean and air conditioned boat. They play a movie on the flat screen during the trip. I booked my ticket online through Naturalis.
Make sure to arrive to the port 30 minutes early to check-in and pay your port fee (20 PHP) before you can board. You can pick your seat when you check in so if you’re prone to sea sickness, make sure to pick a seat in the back of the boat.
Cost: 1848 PHP + 20 PHP port fee (about $36 USD).
If you want to save a few dollars there is a slower ferry option on a freight ship that takes 7+ hours. I heard it’s extremely uncomfortable and the boats are older and less clean. Just google it if you want to make your decision easier. It’s literally less than a $10 difference so why put yourself through that hell? Take the fast boat!
Day 5-7: Coron, Palawan
Day 5: Ferry to Coron
There isn’t much to do in Coron town honestly. It was a stark contrast to the lively El Nido, so just take the afternoon to relax before the evening activities.
Head to Coffee Kong, for some good coffee. It’s a cute little coffee hangout and the only place I found with soy milk! They also serve breakfast and have really good Air Con.
Hike Mt. Tapyas before Sunset
You have to walk 700 steps to get to the top of Mt. Tapyas, but it’s well worth it. It will take you about 25-30 minutes to walk to the top. How it works is you hire a tricycle to take you there, they wait for you, and then they take you to Maquinit Springs (which is 20 minutes away). The entire ride only costs 300 PHP (~$5) and I was with my driver for about 4 hours.
iPhone pic from the top of Mt. Tapyas
End the Night at Maquinit Springs
Maquinit Springs is a huge natural saltwater hot spring surrounded by mangroves in the jungle. It’s a super unique setting and although it’s quite busy, it’s still very relaxing.
I must say these were the hottest hot springs I have ever experienced. Have you ever noticed that most hot springs are warm, but not very hot? Not this one! It’s super hot and exactly what your body needs after that hike up Mt. Tapyas.
Cost: 200 PHP for adults
Day 6: Island Escapade Tour
I booked with with JY Tours as it was recommended by my Airbnb host.
Cost: 1200 PHP (~$23).
Stops included: Malcapula Beach, CYC Beach, and Waling Waling Island.
A heavenly white sand beach and crystal blue waters. It’s one of the prettiest beaches I saw in the Philippines.
Hiked up the little hill for this secret view.
CYC is the only remaining public beach in Coron. Compared to all the other beauty I saw in the Philippines, this beach was pretty run down, crowded, and dirty. Our group was wondering why they even had this stop on the tour. No pictures here because there wasn’t much to see.
Waling Waling Island (aka “Mini Maldives”)
Locals refer to this beach as the mini Maldives due to the crystal waters. It was my favorite stop of the day!
During low tide, a sand bar appears and you can walk out onto it. It is breathtaking.
Completely unedited iPhone shot of the gorgeous Waling Waling island.
There was another stop on our itinerary but our guide chose to go here instead…which none of us were complaining about!
Accommodations in Palawan were more expensive than I imagined they would be in the Philippines. I spent about $30 per night. When I travel I usually spend on average $25 per night to rent a room (more if I rent out a whole apartment). But the value for the price in Palawan was not that good and the standards were a lot lower than I expected for that price.
That being said, go in knowing what to expect! I stayed in Airbnbs in both Coron and El Nido. While I cannot recommend the place I stayed in El Nido, the room I rented in Coron was very large, clean, and had good Air Con. The host is from California and was really laid back and helpful. It was in a convenient location and was pretty comfortable. You can check out the listing here.
If you’re new to Airbnb, you can use my $40 OFF Coupon. Or even if you are not, you can sign up with a different email and use the coupon as well! ♥
Travel Insurance for the Philippines
I would never travel without travel insurance anymore. I learned my lesson. Too many bad things can happen (and they have unfortunately). Travel insurance is especially important when traveling to islands, as you may need to be air-lifted to the mainland in the worst case scenario. Do you know how much air-lifting costs? Think at least 5 digits (I.e. Expensive AF!).
My favorite travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims so far and have been fully reimbursed for all 3 without any hassle. I highly recommend them.
*This post contains affiliate links.
Have You Been to Palawan? Is there Anywhere Else you Would Recommend to Visit that I Missed?
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The Nusas consist of 3 gorgeous islands off the coast of Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida.
All 3 islands have something special to offer so if you have time, I highly recommend checking out all three!
I based myself in Lembongan for 3 days and was able to visit all 3 islands during my time there.
You can see Ceningan in a half day as it is the smallest of the three. It is accessed by a bright yellow bridge from Lembongan.
Penida is the largest and most rugged of the 3. It is completely devoid of mass tourism and has so many awesome things to see!
*I want to especially thank Jackie from @getlostwithjackie for introducing me to Lembongan and Christina from @jetsetchristina for introducing me to Penida. These girls’ amazing Instagram photos really enticed/inspired me to visit these places that I had never heard of before! ♥
If you’re short on time and want to see all 3 islands in 3 days it’s totally doable.
This was my 3 day itinerary in the Nusa Islands (see below for all the details on each place):
Day 1:Nusa Lembongan (Mushroom Bay, Dream Beach, Devil’s Tear, The Deck)
Day 2: Nusa Penida full day
Day 3: Nusa Lembongan private tour to Manta Point + half day in Nusa Ceningan
What to Do on the Nusa Islands
What to Do and See in Nusa Lembongan
Dream beach– beautiful beach where Dream Beach Huts overlooks. The waves are huge and you can’t really swim in it as it’s dangerous. You can pay a small fee to use their pool and facilities if you want to spend the day there.
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Devil’s Tear-a 5-10 minute walk from dream beach (to the right if you’re looking at the water) will bring you to Devil’s Tear. Watch as the waves crash into the crescent shaped rocks leaving a huge cloud of mist behind. It’s a petty cool site! Be careful as the waves come up on the rocks so don’t try to be that person to get the perfect selfie on the edge.
Mushroom Bay-a gorgeous blue/green bay with cute little restaurants and some water activities nearby.
The Deck-a cute little spot overlooking Nusa Lembongan Beach and probably the best place to view the sunset on the island. It’s a bit more expensive than other places and serves a bunch of Western food. I didn’t even care as the view was well worth it. They have sunset sessions with a live DJ in the evenings as well, so it’ a great place to mingle.
Swim with Manta Rays-one of the main attractions of the Nusas is swimming with Manta Rays! You can take a group tour that will take you to Manta Point and a few other snorkelling spots. Or you can do what I did and get a private tour and make up your own schedule with the stops of your choice.
This obviously isn’t the cheapest option, but I liked the idea of a tailored tour! I negotiated a rate of 400k for 3 stops (about $30 USD), including swimming with manta rays, and snorkelling in Crystal Bay and Secret Beach. It was also great because I started early and was back by 11am, which gave me enough time to eat lunch and then head to Ceningan for the rest of the day to explore.
Note: you aren’t guaranteed to see manta rays, but I got lucky and saw a huge one! My captain told me to jump in, and honestly I was scared sh*tless when I saw the huge shadow of the creature on the surface. The only bad part about being alone on a tour. Another boat showed up and I waited until they jumped in to go in (I’m such a chicken). It swam within a foot of me! I scrambled to turn on my GoPro but it had already passed so i don’t have the best pictures to show for it. Manta rays are massive! Yet so angelic and graceful. It was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be up close and personal with these amazing creatures! Don’t miss out on this!
Nusa Penida was my favorite of the 3 islands as it was the most rugged and untouched. I only saw a handful of tourists the entire day. To explore, you need to take a tour or rent a scooter and do it on your own (which is what I did).
What to Do and See in Nusa Penida
Atuh Beach–This beach took a steep hike to get down, but was totally worth it. It’s absolutely breathtaking! The plunging cliffs are freakishly tall and provides a beautiful setting. It takes about an hour drive from the port of Penida, then about a 10-15 minute hike down onto super steep steps/rocks.
There are a few little shacks serving drinks and fried rice or noodles. It’s pretty secluded and a great place to relax.
There is no parking fee.
Kelingking T-Rex (aka the money shot)–This is probably the most popular beach in Penida and it’s shaped like a T-Rex! You can walk down the vey steep steps/rocks down to the beach, bit it may take you awhile. You must go very slow as it is very steep! I made it 1/3 way down and didn’t have time to go all the way as it took way longer than I imagined!
Parking is 5k (~$0.30).
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Angel’s Billabong (Gambar Untuk)–anatural infinity pool of blue and green hues that plunges into the ocean. You can swim in it, but be careful when the tide is high as the huge waves will come crashing down and could take you out to sea.
It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from Broken Beach (on the right). You’ll see the signs.
Broken beach (Pasih Uug)-the ride down to this place is the worst road conditions I’ve ever experienced on a motorbike. It’s extremely rocky and bumpy with many potholes so just go very slow! The epic view over the top of Broken Beach is spectacular. And the color of the water is stunning! Parking is 5k.
How to Get to Nusa Penida
By public ferry from Lembongan (near the yellow bridge).
The ferry goes at 7am. Be there at 6:30am to assure a spot. Costs for tourists is 50k (~$3.76).
To get back, you may need to hire a private transfer that costs 200k (~$15).
If you can find more people, you can split the cost. I had to wait about 10-15 minutes and 3 other people joined so it was only 50k each, the same as the public ferry!
It takes less than 15 minutes for the crossing.
There are also ferries from Bali(Sanur) that go to Penida.
The public boat will drop you in the port of Toyapakeh in Penida.
How to get around Nusa Penida
Rent a motorbike for around 50k (~$3.76). The vendors will start at 80k but make sure to negotiate. You can also rent a car, but I enjoyed the adventure on a motorbike.
Note: the roads are VERY bumpy and unfinished with many potholes, especially going to Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong. If you feel confident on a motorbike and have good balance, you should be fine! However, if you’ve never driven a motorbike before (or on the left side), this isn’t a good place to start! And remember, they drive on the LEFT side in Indonesia!
Nusa Ceningan is the smallest of the Nusas, but it thoroughly surprised me with its sheer beauty!
What to Do and See in Nusa Ceningan
Blue Lagoon-a natural cliffside lagoon with super vibrant turquoise waters that will leave you in awe.
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Secret Beach– a secluded beach overlooked by Villa Travally Resort. There were only a few people there and it was a great place to relax. You must buy something to stay.
Mahana point for cliff jumping- there is a place to go cliff jumping a few minutes from the Blue Lagoon(although they charge 25k per jump!)
Last Stop Bar and Cafe-cutest little spot on the water with bean bags and a super chill vibe. They also have a great selection of fruit drinks. You can go right in the water from the steps and cool off. I loved this place!
Ceningan cliffs-a restaurant/viewpoint overlooking Penida island. There are swings overlooking the viewpoint. It’s a little bumpy to get there, so if you don’t have time, it wouldn’t kill you to skip it.
Where to Stay in Nusa Lembongan
D’mas Huts-this family run place was absolutely fantastic. It’s composed of only 5 private huts and has a spectacular view over Nusa Ceningan and the gorgeous blue water in between. Oh, and it was only $18 per night!
The owner Nyoman was the best host and catered to just about anything I needed. He always had a smile on his face and really made my stay more enjoyable.
They also have a nice restaurant which serves a big varieties of foods at a super reasonable price. Plus the views over the pool and landscape below are fantastic! The food was super delicious as well!
I got a special deal on hotels.com and paid only $18/night. It was half off, but even at full price it’s super affordable. The value for money is incomparable and I cannot recommend this place enough! And no, it was NOT sponsored in any way!
They also have onsite scooter renewals for 50k/day. D’mas Huts was such a great find!
Have you Been to the Nusa Islands? Which one was Your Favorite?
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MY TOP 5 RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR FOR BALI:
1.Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless Camera: I made the switch from my huge DSLR and I wouldn’t go back. It’s light, compact, and takes amazing photos!
2. Sony 10-18mm Wide Angle Zoom Lens: this wide angle lens is the key to landscape shots. I use this lens more than the original and am super happy with it. It’s not cheap, but super worth it if you want to get those special nature shots. Honestly, I would purchase the Sony alpha 6000 camera body only and save up for this lens to go with it.
3. E Bags Packing Cubes: the biggest life changer to keep me packing light! This is my biggest travel gear obsession and I have NO idea how I traveled without them before.
4. LifeProof NUUD Waterproof Case (iPhone 6): this helps protect my phone from water, sand, dirt, and the numerous drops that incur while I travel. I love it!
5. GoPro Hero 5 Black: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! The Gopro cameras are the best for action and underwater shots, and of course for taking those selfies when you’re traveling solo. It’s super small, compact, and easy to travel with. Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a super small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I have used before on my own and that I truly love 🙂