Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with a lot to offer to visitors. While Sri Lanka is a relatively small country it boasts 8 UNESCO Heritage Sites, 26 National Parks, and a ton of beautiful coastline. As I talked about in my recent post on my Thoughts and Feelings about Sri Lanka my friends and I were surprised by how beautiful and unique Sri Lanka was and all want to make a return trip. This 10 day Itinerary is the perfect taste of some of the wonders Sri Lanka has to offer. If you can spend longer you totally should but a minimum of 10 days is the perfect start to see many of the country’s highlights and get some beach time in too!!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(click below to jump to a section!)
- DAY 1: COLOMBO
- DAY 2: COLOMBO TO KANDY
- DAY 3: SIGIRIYA AND DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLE
- DAY 4: KANDY TO ELLA
- DAY 5: ELLA
- DAY 6: ELLA TO YALA NATIONAL PARK
- DAY 7: YALA NATIONAL PARK & TRAVEL TO WELIGAMA
- DAY 8: WELIGAMA to UNAWATUNA
- DAY 9: GALLE AND UNAWATUNA
- DAY 10: GALLE TO COLOMBO
SRI LANKA BASICS
LOCATION: Sri Lanka; Official name -Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; Formerly known as Ceylon
COORDINATES:7.0000° N, 81.0000° E
TIME ZONE: UTC+05:30
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE(S): Sinhalese & Tamil
AREA: 65,610 sq km/ 25,332 sq mi
POPULATION: 20,277,597 (as of 2012 census)
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Temperature year round are quite steady as Sri Lanka is close to the equator but in regards to rain for this itinerary December to March is the best time.
EXCHANGE RATE AS OF SEPT 2017: $1 USD = 153.48 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupee)
You Also Might Like: The Essential Collection of Travel Tips
10 DAY SRI LANKA ITINERARY
DAY 1: COLOMBO
My personal experience in Colombo was super limited as I was there only breifly on both sides of my adventure. This guide from One Day Itinerary for what to do with One Day in Colombo is a perfect reference for more options of what to do! Other than taking a wander around which is my favorite thing to do in a new place (and something I wish I had time for in Colombo) my recommendations for some things to see are below!
Get a Tour of the City Via Tuk Tuk
Once you check in to your place you are staying you can hop in a Tuk Tuk (the 3 wheeled vehicles popular around Asia) and ask your driver for a tour of the sights of the city. You could also opt for a more organized tour but if you find a good Tuk Tuk driver your personal drive by tour can be just as good!
704 Galle Road | Colombo 00300, Sri Lanka
A lovely shop and Cafe that is popular with local expats and tourists alike. You can buy local made goods and textiles here at a reasonable price. It is also a great place to have a bite to eat and check out their art gallery.
Hospital St | Colombo 00100, Sri Lanka
This building is no longer a hospital but a shopping district in Colombo. The building is the oldest building in the Colombo fort area. The building was originally a Hospital (as it name would suggest) during the imperial times and has since been a police station and now shopping center. It is highly suggested to eat a meal at Ministry of Crab but make sure to book in advance or you will sadly be turned away (like we were).
Recommended Accommodation: Drift Bnb
646 Galle Road, 00300 Colombo, Sri Lanka
This is a hostel & private room accommodation in a central location in Colombo. While I only spent a very short amount of time at Drift Bnb I wish I could have spent more time there as it was incredibly clean and the staff was very helpful and kind. My friends and I stayed in a 4 person female dorm room and the room had a lovely shower and bathroom that was shared with only one other room. You can easily pick up a Tuk Tuk from this location to explore the city or walk to some closer places. They also have breakfast that you can opt for on the premise or walk down the street to a few small places for a bite to eat.
DAY 2: COLOMBO TO KANDY
Getting to Kandy
There are a few ways to get from Colombo to Kandy and the easiest way is the train. The only problem with the train is if there are mudslides it could be delayed or even canceled. My friends and I had already arranged a driver for a large portion of our trip and were glad we did as the train route was closed due to mud slides. That being said if you can take the train you should as it is supposed to be a beautiful ride, just make sure to book tickets in advance. As of writing the train is 1450 LKR which is about $9.50 USD and leaves Colombo at 7:00am with a 9:31am arrival in Kandy. You can book these tickets online so do so ahead of your trip!
A big attraction in Kandy is this sacred Buddhist Temple that supposedly houses a tooth of Buddha. This is one of the most scared places in Sri Lanka for Buddhists. The temple is housed near the former Royal Palace of the Kandyan Royalty. The hours to visit are limited and this was another unfortunate thing we could not see due weather and timing. Due note of course that you can not see the actual tooth just the container in which it is held.
These were originally the gardens for royalty and are supposed to be quite lovely. As with a lot of things on our trip the weather was not conducive to visiting these grounds but I would have loved to have seen them.
The performance is a good rest from a day of travel or walking around. While it is a show definitely for tourists but the performers and staff seem to enjoy it all and it was entertaining to watch. Come early for better seats and drink a Lion Beer while you wait. Do not that the venue is not in Kandy center so you will have to arrange transport to it (a Tuk Tuk should do!)
Recommended Accommodation Meili Lanka City Hotel
No 110/B, Yatinuwara Street Kandy | 20000 Kandy, Sri Lanka
While we did not stay here (where we stayed was close to nothing and a bit strange) after some recent research this hotel looks like a good combination of value, location, and cleanliness. It is also quite new which is an added plus!
DAY 3: SIGIRIYA AND DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLE
In Kandy you can arrange for a driver to take you for a day trip to both Sigiriya and the Dambulla Cave Temple. This is the best way to go as it gives you more flexibility and freedom with your schedule but there are other tours and such if that is the route you prefer to go. You should start with Sigiriya as it is further out and takes more time and then finish with Dambulla. Just make sure to get to the Temple before it closes at dusk.
Ancient City of Sigiriya
Sigiriya Rd | Dambulla, Sri Lanka
When you get to Sigiriya the Rock rises from the rather flat landscape around it in a very impressive manner. The main attraction here is the ruins on the top of the rock itself. Here is a quick bit of history from the UNESCO site
“The ruins of the capital built by the parricidal King Kassapa I (477–95) lie on the steep slopes and at the summit of a granite peak standing some 180m high (the ‘Lion’s Rock’, which dominates the jungle from all sides). A series of galleries and staircases emerging from the mouth of a gigantic lion constructed of bricks and plaster provide access to the site.”
The climb up while not incredibly strenuous as it is mostly stairs is still quite the endeavor. You walk up a bunch of stone stairs to some spiral stair cases, then make your way on an enclosed pathway along the rock to the front that is carved like a lion. To get to the top of the rock you then climb multiple staircases that are attached along side of the rock. If you don’t like heights you are going to want to skip out on going up to the top (like I did, I turned back after 2 flights, I had enough creepy stairs for one day). It was also stormy and raining our entire climb up so my height tolerance for the day was gone. My friends who went up top said the ruins were interesting and they stayed up for a bit to explore. The path down from the base of the Lion Rock was less steep than the way up which was a welcome change.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla, also referred to as the cave temple, is a beautiful place to visit. Make sure you purchase your entry ticket when you are at the parking lot ticket counter as you will make a long trek up and be denied entry with out the ticket. For the history lets once again just go straight from the UNESCO site again.
“A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery, with its five sanctuaries, is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist mural paintings (covering an area of 2,100 m2 ) are of particular importance, as are the 157 statues.”
Since the temple is up on top of the hill (mountain) in a cave you have to walk up to the Temple through a path through the forest that is very scenic with many spots to look out over the forest. Before entering the temple complex you do need to remove your shoes, there is a stand near the temple that will watch your shoes for a small fee or else you can ditch them somewhere else along the walk up and pay no fee. As we were there during bad weather we actually got lucky that the weather was only overcast and misting as it added to the mysterious importance of the temples. The temple it’s self has multiple rooms with different statues and dedicated to different things.
DAY 4: KANDY TO ELLA
There are a few ways to get to Ella from Kandy but the train is supposed to be the most scenic. You can also take a bus, taxi, or private car as Ella is only 135km, 83 mi away from Kandy. Full disclosure because of the weather I did not have the chance to make it to Ella but this is what we would have done if the roads were not closed off. This guide on Ella has a lot more information of other activities you can do in the area as well.
Halpewatte Tea Factory
Badulla Road | Hela-Halpe, Ella 90090, Sri Lanka
Recommended Accommodation: Aurora Holiday Bungalow
No 69, Bandarawela road | 90090 Ella, Sri Lanka
Based on my research the Aurora Holiday Bungalow looks like the perfect low key and quaint place to stay in Ella. It is centrally located and has all the basic amenities at a great price.
DAY 5: ELLA
As noted in day 4 my group and I were unfortunately not able to go to Ella due to mudslides we were not able to get to Ella but this is what we would have done if we could have made it over.
Sunrise at Little Adam’s Peak
We had been talking our whole trip if we were going to do the sunrise hike at Adam’s Peak (the bigger more intense mountain) or at Little Adam’s Peak and due to rain we did neither. Little Adam’s Peak is an easier trek that a lot of tourists do. Hiking up for sunrise would be a lovely way to start the day in the beauty of the region. Check out this guide for more details on this hike.
This Buddhist temple is an outdoor temple with large carvings of Buddha into the rock wall. Not much is known about the history of this site but the carvings are quite unique and awe inspiring.
DAY 6: ELLA TO YALA NATIONAL PARK
Getting to Yala National Park/ Kataragama
To getto your accommodation near Yala National park there are two ways. A taxi/ hired driver which of course is more expensive or the Bus. You have to take a bus to Tissa than either a taxi or another bus to Kataragama. If taking the bus the travel time is supposed to be 3-4 hours but be prepared for delays etc.
Kataragama + Arranging a Safari
If you happen to get to Kataragama with some time to spare you can explore some of the temples in this small town. There is not a ton to do but you should head to bed early for your early start on the safari in the morning. Your accommodation regardless of where you stay can help you book your safari. See Day 7 for more details about the actual safari.
Recommended Accommodation: Hotel Senora
121, Pussadewa Mw | 91400 Kataragama, Sri Lanka
Once again where we stayed near Yala I would not recommend as we were SO FAR from the park entrance though our actual hotel was quite lovely. Had we known better we would have stayed closer to the park entrance and booked in advance instead the day before. Hotel Senora looks like a great simple spot to stay near Yala and they will arrange your Safari for you as well which is a plus.
DAY 7: YALA NATIONAL PARK & TRAVEL TO WELIGAMA
As mentioned in Day 6 your accommodation near the park should be able to arrange for a safari for you. All safari’s start in the early morning when animals are most active but you have the option to do a full or half day. I highly suggest to only do the half day as we were already pretty beat from the bumpy roads. Your half day trip will come with a breakfast at the beach where sometimes if you are very lucky you will see elephants. Your breakfast will vary depending on your tour operator. Ours was a pretty low key situation of a variety of fruits and a few other items as well.
When visiting Yala National Park the animal everyone wants to see is the elusive Leopard. It is uncommon to see one and unfortunately we did not get to see one on our list. We did though get to see 2 different elephants which were amazing to see in person, in the wild.
Getting to Weligama
Now getting to Weligama from Yala National Park is a bit of a trek no matter what way you go about it. You could take buses but if you do that it could take an entire day. My suggestion is to hire a taxi or driver for the day and have them drive you to Weligama. This is not the cheapest method but will only take around 3 hours. If you are traveling with others you can split the cost and the money will be well worth the time it saves you. Also remember most of the transit costs only a few $USD so spending more for the time savings here is worth it.
While the nearby Mirissa is the more well known beach town Weligama is the chilled back cousin and is a lovely spot to rest for a day (or a few like we did). Weligama has a few places where you can take surf lessons or just rent a board and go out on your own. The water is rather shallow out to the breaks so it makes it a good place to beginners and experiences surfers. There are a few eateries along the main road and some beach bars as well.
If you are feeling like exploring even more you can take a Tuk Tuk to Mirissa to check out the more popular beach. There are more resorts and tourists in Mirissa but there are some cool rocks and other natural features that you do not have in Weligama. There are also some more bars and restaurants there too.
Recommended Accommodation Budget: Sakura Surf Lanka
No 600/08 Pelana | 81700 Weligama, Sri Lanka
We stayed here a few nights and the guys that run the place were the absolute best (they are guys featured in this NYE story). The accommodation is simple but has all the basics you need. You can rent surf boards and scooters from them and they will also make breakfast for you. Sakura Surf Lanka is located just across the street from the beach and in walking distance of everything you could need in Weligama.
Recommended Accommodation Mid Range: Weligama Ocean Breeze
487 New by Rd, Pelena | 81700 Weligama, Sri Lanka
We also stayed a night here as we had a moment of weakness and needed AC we were so hot and humid. The hotel has a view of the beach, a pool, and spotless facilities. Our beds were pretty comfy and the shower was amazing.
DAY 8: WELIGAMA to UNAWATUNA
Weligama to Unawatuna
Getting to Unawatuna from Weligama is a very easy Tuk Tuk ride that should take you less than an hour.
Unawatuna is another popular beach town with many shops and restaurants in the main part of town. The beach is lovely and has many restaurants and places to drink along it. You can spend your day browsing the shops or relaxing at the beach or both!
Recommended Accommodation: Green Villa Unawatuna
Yaddehimulla Road | 80600 Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Located in a great location near the beach and shops the Green Villa Unawatuna is perfect for your stay. The Villa has a cozy and relaxed atmosphere. The rooms are well equipped and have AC which is always a plus.
DAY 9: GALLE AND UNAWATUNA
Getting to Galle
For your day trip to Galle you are going to once again take a Tuk Tuk. It should take less than a half hour to get there. You will return home in the same manner.
59 Church St | Galle 80000, Sri Lanka
While Galle has many things you can do the main attraction is the old fort. This structure now houses everything from a park people play soccer and cricket at to a plethora of shops and restaurants. I highly suggest starting your tour of the fort by walking along the fort walls before wandering through the shops. You get an idea of the massive size of the structure and get a glimpse of how local life mixes with visiting tourists in this place. You can spend a few hours to a whole day at Galle Fort depending on how much you want to explore the fort and surrounding areas.
DAY 10: UNAWATUNA TO COLOMBO
The best way to get back to Colombo from Unawatuna is to once again take the train. These tickets need to be purchased at the station. When I went we bought them day of about 30-45 minutes before the train but you can always try the day before. At the time of writing a 2nd Class Ticket (no 1st Class are available on this route) are 190 LKR which is about $1.25 USD and is about a 3 hour train ride. Getting on at Unawatuna should ensure you get a seat as we got on further up the coast and had to stand the whole ride, which was not thrilling to say the least.
Spend your last day in Sri Lanka checking out the rest of the sites you missed from your first day in Sri Lanka. To finish the trip off right treat yourself to a drink on one of the many roof top bars while saying your farewells to this wonderful country.
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