Kandy Backpacking Travel Guide

Information on hostels, transportation, cheap food and drinks, sights to see, activities and more.

About Kandy


Kandy was the capital of the Kandyan Kingdom which existed from 1469–1815. The Kingdom of Kandy was the sole independent native polity on the island of Sri Lanka from the 1590’s onwards and did not succumb to colonial rule until 1818. Kandy sits within the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka for these reasons. But despite this history, it is not a city that most budget travellers spend too long in. This is primarily due to the very high price of entry to some of the sites around Kandy, a few of which are nothing but tourist traps. A better option is to head north to Dambulla, or south to Nuwara Eliya and Ella.

Hostels


The two hostels listed below are located across the road from each other, both are really good. Save some money by not making a booking and just turn up and ask for a bed. If one hostel is full, cross the road and try the other.

Kandy City Hostel

This hostel is one of the best in Sri Lanka. Very spacious interior with large dorms and lots of social areas to chill out in, including a roof top area. They offer a lot of great tours that explore the immediate surrounds of Kandy as well as destinations further away such as Nuwara Eliya, Dambulla and Kitulgala. The hostel is well run and kept very clean, just like it’s two sister hostels in Colombo and Dambulla. If you have stayed in either of the sister hostels, mention it on check-in to receive a discount. Book Kandy City Hostel here!

Kandy Hostel by Backpack Lanka

A nice small hostel with two dormitories and a couple of private rooms. Really friendly and helpful staff and a great atmosphere. Facilities offered include a large air-conditioned common space, free breakfast and a large rooftop area and swimming pool for socialising and relaxing. Book Kandy Hostel by Backpack Lanka here!

Sights and Highlights


Temple of the Tooth

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple in Kandy. It is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, which houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Since ancient times, the relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the right to govern the country. Kandy, the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, is a World Heritage Site mainly due to the existence of this temple. It is free to enter for Sri Lankans but costs 1000 LKR for tourists. It is questionable whether it is worth paying the money. A better option for a budget traveller may be to check out the exterior and gardens outside the temple for free.

Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage

I am including the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage here because it is undoubtedly a place that you will read about elsewhere anyway. You can read about the reasons that you should visit PEO on those other sites. Here I will include some reasons why you should not. For an in-depth analysis as to why tourists should be wary of visiting and supporting the orphanage please check out the following pages:

Royal Botanical Garden

Peradeniya Botanical Gardens is the best botanical garden in Sri Lanka and one of the best in the region. It dates back to the ancient kings of the country although the British changed the look of it. The British are said to have used the gardens to grow trees that could not be grown at Kew Gardens. The large banyan tree, the orchid house, the suspension bridge, and the bats are some of the main attractions. The entry cost of 1500 LKR makes this a questionable destination to visit if you are a budget traveller. There are plenty of other opportunities to engage with nature while in Sri Lanka that are free.

New Ranweli Spice Garden

I visited the spice garden as part of a combined tour offered by the hostel I was staying at in. Entrance into the spice garden is free. This is because the method used by the spice garden to make a profit is by hard-selling extremely overpriced herbal medicines. I didn’t experience the ‘hard sell’ that other tourists report when visiting the spice garden, maybe they could tell I just wasn’t interested. I actually quite enjoyed visiting the spice garden for this reason.

Ceylon Tea Museum/Factory

A functioning tea factory that is a really interesting place to visit. I was able to see the complete process used to turn freshly picked tea leaves into the various forms of Sri Lankan tea that are drunk around the world. Some of the machines used in the production process are brilliantly designed and seeing them in operation was great. At the end of the tour, I was given a free cup of tea and the opportunity to purchase some of the tea to take home, which I politely declined. I then put a small amount of money in the tips box as I left the fact factory. Good value.

Udawattakele Royal Forest Sanctuary

Udawattakele Royal Forest Sanctuary is a forest reserve located on a hill in the middle of Kandy. You can take a walk on well-maintained tracks through dense jungle. The large circular walk will take about an hour. You will come across plenty of monkeys and possibly deer and wild boar. Wear long trousers after rain, and take some mosquito repellent or salt as there are lots of leeches about when it is wet. The fee for foreigners is 570LKR. There are a few Buddhist monasteries in the forest, but these are private areas that should not be entered.

Kandy to Ella Train Journey

While this is not a place you can visit in Kandy, but rather a method of transportation to get from Kandy to Ella, I am including it here to make sure it is not glossed over. If you visit the interior of Sri Lanka, this train trip is not to be missed. It is often mentioned as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. It takes about 6 hours as the train winds back and forth through mountains, past tea plantations and through small villages. For more details check the transportation section below.

Kandy to Ella Train

For Food


For general information on popular Sri Lanka dishes, check out my article Sr Lankan Food on a Budget. In general, Kandy is quite touristy so it takes a little more effort to find the cheap local restaurants in Kandy then it is in some other destinations. The KFC, Burger King and Dominos found in Kandy should be proof of that. You can still find some small local eateries, but they are not as abundant as in other cities.

Midland Deli Restaurant

A great local option. They serve really good rice and curries as well as kottu roti and hoppers. Prices are a little higher than what you might expect in a local restaurant in a less touristy area, but this is Kandy, so the prices are about right.

To Drink


One of the crucial ways to save money in Sri Lanka is to quickly find the ‘wine store’ in each town you visit. Wine stores in Sri Lanka are liquor stores and are the only place that any kind of alcohol, even beer, is sold. On this front I have you covered. There is a wine store attached to the Cargills Food City found close to the north-west corner of the lake in the centre of town.

Victory Hotel

A good bar, downstairs is full of locals knocking back arrack. Maybe not the classiest pub in Kandy, but it is possibly the most authentic. The people drinking here are very friendly, you won’t have any problems making new friends. Upstairs is slightly less dingy as it serves food. Arrack starts at 700 LKR, beer 195 LKR and a cigarette from a waiter is 30 LKR.

Transportation


Local

Tuk-tuks are the best way to get around Kandy. Speak to the lovely staff at Kandy City Hostel or any hostel really to arrange a tuk-tuk. It is possible to hire a tuk-tuk and driver for an entire day of driving for a reasonable price when split between 3 persons. By far the most convenient way to see the sights of Kandy.

Getting In and Out

Dambulla

Dambulla is located 60km north of Kandy. Buses leave very regularly from the main bus station located just to the north of the train station. Just head there and ask for the Dambulla bus. There will always be one about to leave. Note that it is possible to get an A/C bus to Dambulla, head to Thebakersjourney.com for some great tips on how to do this.

Colombo

Getting to and from Colombo from Kandy is really easy with a train. Seat61.com has some useful information on train departure times and ticketing information.

Hatton – Nuwara EliyaElla

The train journey from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful in the world and one of the highlights of my trip to Sri Lanka. Don’t miss it. Even if it means doubling back to Kandy at some point, it’s a trip you should try to make. The link to Seat61 above has some information on ticketing and timetable. My recommendation is to buy an unseated 2nd class fare. Then, when boarding the train make sure you are one of the very last people to get on. Doing this will ensure that you are able to sit in the doorway of the train with your legs dangling outside. This gives you the best view of the scenery and in relative comfort. It may sound a little unsafe but the train travels relatively slowly and there are railings to hold on to.

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