Nicknamed ‘the pearl of the Indian Ocean,’ Sri Lanka is indeed an island of pure natural beauty. From north to south, it stretches a mere 435 km (270 miles), and, yet, there’s a myriad of cultures, landscapes, and food. In ten days you’ll travel from the dusty plains in the north to the lush tropical mountains in the center to pristine beaches in the south. You’ll learn about Sri Lanka’s fascinating history, stare in awe at its scenery, and devour some of the tastiest dishes in Asia. If you’re looking for the perfect island getaway, Sri Lanka is just that. It has everything for travelers, photographers, and adventurers alike.
So, I’ve put together a ten-day itinerary for Sri Lanka. It covers some well-known spots to help you get acquainted with the country as well as some hidden gems. There’s everything you need to guarantee an awesome trip!
Table of Contents
- Suggested Itinerary
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 1
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 2
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 3
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 4
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 5
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 6
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 7
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 8
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 9
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 10
- Tips for Visiting Sri Lanka
Below is my suggested ten-day itinerary for Sri Lanka. Each day contains activities to do as well as transportation from each city. (At the end of this guide you’ll find extra tips to help you get the most out of your time here.)
Colombo – Anuradhapura – Sigiriya – Kandy – Ella – Udawalawe – Mirissa – Colombo
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 1
Bus from Colombo to Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is located 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Colombo and is easily reached by bus or train. The fastest option is the bus, taking five to six hours. Buses leave from the Colombo Central Bus Terminal.
Mihintale is a Buddhist pilgrimage site 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of Anuradhapura. And it’s said this is where Buddhism began in Sri Lanka. As you climb the seemingly endless number of stairs, you’ll see locals praying as they make their spiritual ascent to the top. Once you arrive at the summit, you’ll have remarkable panoramic views over the forest below. There are also several important religious sites that are worth seeing such as Maha Stupa, Kantaka Cetiya Stupa, Aradhana Gala Rock, and, of course, the white Buddha.
Useful Tip: You will need to remove your shoes at the summit. Make sure to have an extra pair of socks to protect the bottom of your feet.
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 2
Explore the Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is one of the three sacred cities in what is known as the Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka. The city, itself, is a massive archaeological park that takes an entire day to visit. And while there are several sites to visit, my favorite was the Temple of the Sacred Tree. Here locals come to pay homage to what seems like a regular tree. But this tree, actually, originates from the same tree where Buddha achieved enlightenment. It’s something not to be missed.
While you can hire a tuk-tuk to tour the park, renting a bike will give you the freedom to explore at your own pace and visit some of the lesser-known corners. Admission is 7059 LKR (25 USD) and tickets are sold at the Archaeology Museum.
Bus from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya
To get to Sigiriya from Anuradhapura you’ll need to first take a bus to Dambulla. Then, from Dambulla to Sigiriya. Total travel time is three hours, not counting the wait time in Dambulla.
Useful Tip: The bus from Dambulla to Sigiriya is only 30 minutes. So, you can stay in either city.
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 3
Climb Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock, or ‘Lion Rock,’ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of a gigantic column of rock rising 200 meters from the forested jungle below. And at the top sits a massive fortress. You’ll start at the base and slowly make your way to the top, weaving in and out of its walls. After climbing a whopping 1,200 steps, you’ll arrive at the summit where you can tour the fortress and take in the magnificent 360-degree panoramic views. Admission is 8471 LKR (30 USD).
Useful Tip: The admission office opens at 8:00 am. Be sure to get there early to avoid the lines and the crowds.
Bus from Sigiriya to Kandy
First, take the from Sigiriya to the main bus station in Dambulla. From there, buses depart regularly to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s transportation hub. Total travel time is about three hours.
Useful Tip: In Dambulla, stand on the sidewalk next to the bus station and face Kandy. Buses will slow down, and someone will shout Kandy. Flag it down. This way you’ll be sure to have a seat.
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 4
Spend the afternoon wandering the bustling streets of Kandy. This once capital of kings is, now, one of the most significant cultural and religious centers in Sri Lanka. Not only is it home to the country’s most holy relic, Buddha’s tooth, but there’s an endless number of things to do.
Below is a list of must-see sites in Kandy:
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – Housed in a golden-roofed temple lies the infamous tooth of Buddha. From the moment you enter, you can feel the temple resonating with spirituality. And, even if you do not practice Buddhism, seeing the casket is a powerful experience. Admission is 1500 LKR (5 USD).
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue – This gigantic statue of Buddha is located on a hill, overlooking the city. After a steep one-hour climb, you’ll arrive at the top and be greeted with this impressive monument as well as splendid views over the city. Admission is 200 LKR (1 USD).
Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens – Here you’ll find an array of gardens radiating with every hue imaginable. And as you meander up and down the rows of plants admiring the sheer variety, the sweet smell of fresh flowers will tickle your nose. It’s a peaceful setting that’s a wonderful break from the busy city. The Royal Botanical Gardens are outside of the city, but it’s only a 30-minute bus ride. It’s definitely worth the trip! Admission is 1500 LKR (5 USD).
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 5
Take the Epic Train Journey from Kandy to Ella
One of the most beautiful train rides in the world is the journey from Kandy to Ella. This epic journey winds through misty forests and vibrant green tea plantations while passing gushing waterfalls and colorful towns. The most scenic part of the journey is from Nanu Oya to Ella, so be sure to have your camera ready! And try to get a window seat, if you can.
Useful Tip: Due to its popularity, you’ll need to book your train ticket at least two days in advance. And, even with a ticket, you may need to push your way on. Here is everything you need to know about train travel in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 6
Wander the Streets of Ella
Ella is tucked away in the misty Sri Lankan high country, hidden among lush green hills. It is, perhaps, one of the most picturesque destinations in the country. Meador down the streets, pop into local shops and devour some of the tastiest food in Sri Lanka. And, yes, Ella is a small town, but its quaintness makes it that much more fun to explore.
Hike to the Nine Arch Bridge
Once you’ve explored the beautiful Ella, hike to the iconic Nine Arch Bridge to watch the sunset. This 40-minute walk passes through a dense forest before coming to a clearing where you’ll have, your first view of this masterpiece. From here, you can continue to the train tracks, hike up to viewpoints, or walk to the bottom of the bridge to view it from below. Make sure to check the train schedule ahead of time if you want to see a train go by!
Useful Tip: Rather than take the same path back to Ella, follow the tracks back to the city center. This is the way locals take to get to and from the bridge.
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 7
Hike Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak is the little brother of the infamous Adam’s Peak. This two-hour uphill hike begins in the lush tea plantations before slowly climbing its way to the first set of viewpoints. From here, you’ll have 360-degree views of Ella Rock and Ella Gap. The return route follows the other side of the mountain, overlooking the incredible 98 Acres resort before returning to Ella.
Useful Tip: At the end, the path to the top is narrow and steep. Make sure to take your time and crawl on your hands and knees if needed.
Go Swimming at Diyaluma Falls
These are the second-highest falls in Sri Lanka, standing at a whopping 220 meters (720 ft). And, at the top, there are three pools of crystal-clear water where you can cool off and take a break from the heat. Then, if you’re feeling adventurous you can swim to the edge for a spectacular view of the falls from above. It’s a sight that you won’t want to miss!
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 8
Bus from Ella to Udawalawa
This will be your most challenging bus adventure, yet. From Ella, you’ll need to take a bus to Wellawaya, then to Thanamalwila. From Thanamalwila, you’ll take your final bus to Udawalawe. Or, you can take a bus from Ella to Embilipitiya, where you will find a direct bus to Udawalawe. Total travel time is three to five hours, depending on the wait times between buses.
Sunset Safari in Udawalawe National Park
Totaling 308 sq. kilometers (119 sq. miles), the Udawalawe National Park was built to provide a sanctuary for the wildlife in the area. Here you’ll find elephants, birds, reptiles as well as a variety of flora and fauna. It’s a small park, but it’s packed with things to see. Safaris can be done throughout the day, but the best times to visit are at sunrise and sunset. During these times, temperatures are cooler, so you have a higher chance of spotting wildlife. The tour takes about four hours and costs around 5650 LKR (20 USD).
Useful Tip: Organizing a tour with your local hotel is more practical, and, often cheaper. And ask your guide to take you to a water source. This is where you’ll have the highest probability of seeing elephants.
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 9
Bus from Udawalawe to Mirissa
There is a direct bus from Udawalawe to Mirissa. It leaves early in the morning around 7 am. Make sure to speak with your hostel, the bus stop is not at the bus station. Total travel time is about two hours.
Visit Coconut Tree Hill
This is without a doubt the most famous spot in Mirissa. Here you find a small hill that is full of coconut trees. It might sound simple and overrated, but the unencumbered views of the ocean are not. Coconut Tree Hill is located on the eastern end of Mirissa, past Parrot Rock. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the town center.
Relax on the Beach
With its golden sand, gentle waves, and salty air, Mirissa’s beach is the perfect place to destress. It’s a paradise within a paradise. Beach chairs are available at no cost, so you can sit and enjoy your time. Then, if you’re looking for absolute seclusion, make sure to head out to the Secret Beach. This remote beach requires some treasure hunting skills to find, but if you’re up for the adventure, you won’t be disappointed.
Try the Catch of the Day
At dusk, as the sky fills with hues of pink and orange, local fishermen line the shores to sell their catch of the day. From giant lobsters to octopuses, you’ll have your choice. And, once you’ve made your selection, one of the local beachside restaurants will prepare it to your liking. It’s an experience your tastebuds won’t regret!
Sri Lanka Itinerary – Day 10
Bus from Mirissa to Colombo
Direct buses and shuttles leave from Mirissa to Colombo on a regular basis. Total travel time is three to four hours, but it can be longer, depending on the traffic in Colombo.
Finally, if you have time, Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, beckons to be explored. It has a contagious energy that is different from the rest of the country, so get ready for some big city vibes. Plus, there’s a lot to do here. Some highlights include wandering down the streets of Colombo’s oldest district, Pettah, touring the oldest Hindu temple in Sri Lanka, Captain’s Garden Kovil, and visiting Viharamahadevi Park.
Tips for Visiting Sri Lanka
- Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Sri Lanka is from December to April. Temperatures range from 22 to 32 degrees Celsius (71 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit) with little to no rainfall.
- Transportation: Sri Lanka’s public transportation system is quite extensive. There are ample buses, trains, and shuttles that are available at a moment’s notice. In general, the best budget option is the bus. Trains are slightly cheaper, but they are very slow. You’ll end up losing so much time that it’s not worth the minimal savings.
- Bus Network: Bus timetables are listed on the National Transport Commission’s website, but it’s difficult to use and doesn’t always work. It’s easier to go to the station or ask your hotel.
- Water: The tap water in Sri Lanka is not safe to drink. And, given the heat and humidity, you’ll be consuming at least one to two liters per day. So, it’s best to bring a water bottle with a filter.
- Alcohol Consumption: Aside from Colombo, Ella, and the beach towns, alcohol is not consumed or promoted in Sri Lanka. And, in the north, it’s forbidden.
- Bring Extra Socks: When entering any sacred place, you’ll be asked to remove your shoes. So, make sure to bring an extra pair of socks or flip-flops. (In some places, flip-flops are even forbidden.)
- Visa Information: Most nationalities need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. You can apply for a visa online, here.
- Accommodation: Sri Lanka has a range of accommodation options for every budget. From luxury hotels to budget hostels, there are no shortages here. If you’re traveling during the high season (December-January), you will need to make reservations at least a few days in advance.
Sri Lanka is without a doubt a hidden gem. Its warm-hearted locals, tantalizing food, and spectacular landscapes are just a few reasons to visit. So, use this guide to prepare for your trip to this wonderful destination.
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