In November 2016 I spent about 20 days traveling through Sri Lanka. These 3 weeks gave me the opportunity to discover a country that surprised me from the very first moment I landed at Colombo’s International Airport. From the smells, flavors and colors, to the shared history with Portugal, my home country: everything in Sri Lanka has left me completely fascinated and certain that the decision to go there really was the best. In this article I’m sharing my travel itinerary in Sri Lanka as well as some useful tips that can help you plan your own trip in the best possible way.
I’m sure it’s not necessary to mention that trip itself always depends on the traveler. The chosen transportations, the amount of days to spend in each destination or even the choice of destinations, will always depend on your own preferences and travel time.
For additional practical information see also article:
Map of travel itinerary Sri Lanka
Detailed Travel Itinerary
| Day 1 and 2
Colombo | Negombo
The journey began, as it it could only be, in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. However, it was not here that I chose to stay on my first night, but in Negombo, a small coastal town about 20 minutes away (by motorbike or car) from the airport. There is always the possibility of traveling to Negombo by train, from the Colombo Fort Station station, on a trip of about 1h30.
What to see and visit: Negombo Beach (do not be expecting a dream beach…), Dutch Fort, Dutch Canal, Santa Maria Church, Fish Market
| Day 3 and 4
On the morning of the third day I left Negombo to Colombo by bus (a trip of about 40 minutes, with AC, for 120 rupees), from where I would leave shorty after on a train to Kandy, my next destination in Sri Lanka. The trip to Kandy took 3 hours. I recommend the advance purchase of the train ticket to ensure you have an assigned seat. Otherwise you’ll have to run like hell to get in the carriage before anyone else and manage to take a seat.
What to see and visit: Temple of the Sacred Tooth, Temple of the Great Buddha, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kandy Lake, tea factories, Spice Garden, watch the sunset at the Slighty Chilled Lounge by the lake.
| Day 5
After 2 nights in Kandy It was time to go to Dambulla, further north, which would serve as a base to also visit Sigiriya and Pollonaruwa, two of Sri Lanka’s most important historical points of interest. I left Kandy by bus (ticket bought on site), having taken about 2 hours to arrive at Dambulla.
What to see and visit: Golden Temple, Temple of Dambulla Cave, Buddhist Museum.
| Day 6
Dambulla-Sigiryia (Lion’s Rock)
The next day I left Dambulla on a tuk-tuk (booked through the Guesthouse) at 8 a.m. towards Sigiryia. Along the way the driver stopped at some places of interest. The ticket to climb to the top of Sigiryia (a 360mt high rock) costs USD 30, but I can assure you it’s worth the arduous climb: the view from the top is absolutely amazing and this is one of the most important historical sites in the country. It’s unquestionably a mandatory destination in a travel itinerary in Sri Lanka.
You have other ways to get to Sigiryia besides using a tuk tuk, but for me it was undoubtedly the best choice, for the flexibility and opportunity that it offered me to see places I would never have seen otherwise.
| Day 7
Dambulla – Pollonarwua
The next day I left again from Dambulla early in the morning, on a tuk Tuk, towards Pollonarwua, one of the other places of great historical relevance in Sri Lanka, which also had to be included in my travel itinerary in Sri Lanka. Once the second capital of the country, in Pollonarwua you have the chance to visit the ruins of the old garden City dating from the 12th century.
The ticket costs USD 25 and can be purchased at the on-site ticket office. If you’re not very keen on walking the 5kms of the ruins complex, you can always resort to renting a bike.
| Day 8
Dambulla – Ella
On the 8th day of travel I left early in the morning by bus (which I got on at the main road of Dambulla) back to Kandy, on an absolutely hallucinated trip (the driver clearly had ambitions to become a rally pilot) of around 2:30h, with a ticket of around LKR 95 (approximately €0.50). If you’re lucky you’ll have the opportunity to watch a magic show on the bus like I did, and this will keep you distracted from the driver’s crazy driving.
At 11am I got on one of the most incredible train journeys of my life towards Ella, in the center of Sri Lanka. I advise you to get the train tickets a few days in advance to ensure that you get a seat for the entire trip. The down side of buying a ticket in advance is that you end up traveling only with other tourists and not among the local people, something that would definitely enrich your experience. If I ever do it again, I’ll take a chance and choose a carriage without assigned seats. The train journey takes about 7 hours but it is definitely worth it.
| Day 9, 10 and 11
The three days I spent in Ella made me feel sure that this would become one of my favorite places in this country. It’s the perfect destination for those who like nature and hiking and a mandatory inclusion in a travel itinerary in Sri Lanka. The extensive tea plantations that fill up the landscapes, the imposing mountains surrounding the city and the green mantle that decorate them, make us feel like we are in a truly unique location. Despite being supposedly forbidden, many locals and tourists travel the paths around Ella along the train tracks.
What to visit: Little Adam’s Peak, Nine Arches Bridge, Ella Rock, Waterfall Ravana Waterfall, Diyaluma Waterfall, Ella Spice Garden
For more detailed travel tips see also:
Travel Chronicles in Sri Lanka
| Days 12 and 13
Udawalawe (Udawalawe Natural Park)
From Ella I took a bus towards Udawalawe, which had me changing to another bus in Thanamalvila in the middle of the trip. In total it took me about 2 hours to get to Udawalawe. Prepare yourself however to run the risk of standing throughout most of the bus ride, as I did, since these buses (especially the first one that leaves Ella) is usually packed.
Amongst the many natural parks that exist in Sri Lanka, the Udawalawe Park is the one that offers you the most tranquil experience, with fewer tourists and a larger probability of watching wildlife in its natural habitat. The Jeep Safari I took, started approximately at 6 a.m., and was booked at the guesthouse I stayed in, the Silent Bungalow (which I recommend!)
In Udawalawe you can also visit the Elephant Transit Center that hosts several orphan baby elephants until they are old enough to be released in the Natural Park.
What to visit: Udawalawe Natural Park, Elephant Transit Center
| Days 14 to 19
The last 5 days of this trip in Sri Lanka were spent on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, from Mirissa to Hikkaduwa. Mirissa Beach is truly photogenic and the village itself has several restaurants, bars and accommodation options. Ahangama is a perfect detsination for those looking for waves to surf, as well as Hikkaduwa, though the I found the latter too touristic which led me to depart to my next destination ahead of schedule. Still in Hikkaduwa I went on a day trip by bus to Galle, a charming city, full of traces of old Portuguese and Dutch colonial architecture. At the time I visited (in 2016) it was beginning to register a large number of trendy restaurants, shops and bars.
- Mirissa: Sooriya Sewana. For other options click here: Accommodation in Mirissa.
- Ahangama: Sakura House (Private house). For other options click here: Accommodation in Ahangama.
- Hikkaduwa: I confess that I do not remember the name of the place where I stayed, because it was not particularly memorable. But you can look for accommodation options here: Accommodation in Hikkaduwa
What to visit: in Mirissa, Ahangama and Hikaduwa, the options will be basically the beaches. In Galle I suggest: Fort of Galle, National Maritime Museum, Old Dutch market, go through the labyrinthic streets of the city and enjoy its fascinating atmosphere.
| Day 20
After the beaches I took the train to Colombo, where I had my return flight home waiting for me. Still with a few hours to spare, I decided to explore Sri Lanka’s capital. I mus admit I didn’t exactly became a fan. This city lacks the spontaneous smiles and hospitality I found almost everywhere in the rest of the country. Everything is chaotic, soulless and impersonal. But I always say that we should never ignore the capitals of the countries we visited and as such, I went for it.
What to visit: National Museum, old Dutch Hospital, Independence Memorial, Gangaramaya temple, Beira Lake
Useful notes on Sri Lanka
To end this travel itinerary in Sri Lanka, I’ll leave you some useful notes about the country:
1. The food is spicy, period. You can even beg for them not to put any spice on it, but be aware that you’ll still have your mouth on fire for a few minutes. So start getting your palate used to spicy food before you go there. Friendly advice.
2. Taking the public bus is the most practical way to move around in the country: it’s cheap and you can get off anywhere. But be prepared to see your life flashing before your eyes a few times. Sri Lankan bus drivers are completely insane and are convinced they are constantly on a rally competition.
3. An open smile takes you anywhere and Sri Lanka is a fine example of it. Here, smiles are easy and genuine. Even if you see someone with a serious face on, try greeting them with an open smile. That person’s expression changes completely almost immediately.
4. Roti Shops are a cheap and delicious local option for your meals. Chicken, fish, vegetable, cheese, simple, chocolate or banana roti… And so on. There are rotis for all tastes and they are all absolutely delicious.
5. Try to cover yourself with mosquito repellent wherever you go. The little winged beasts will make your life hell if you don’t.
6. Despite the comfort and practical side that a private car trip around the country offers, travelling by public transport (train, bus, tuk-tuk…) gives you a more pure and real view of the country, besides the fact that it is a way more cheap alternative.