Seven reasons you need to visit Sri Lanka now - a photo guide!
The Complete Sri Lanka Itinerary: Everything You Need to Know
Looking for a Sri Lanka Itinerary? Look no further! This blog post will outline everything you need to know about spending two to three weeks in Sri Lanka! When I first started my planning for my trip to Sri Lanka I found it to be a bit overwhelming. There seemed to be so many places to visit and only so much time! Now that I’ve just wrapped up a 16 day trip I couldn’t be happier with the places that I chose to visit. There are of course places that I had to skip, however this itinerary crams a lot of awesomeness into a relatively quick trip!
THINGS TO NOTE
Currency: Sri Lanka Rupee (Rs)
Exchange Rate: 1 USD = 156 Rs
Location: island in South Asia
One thing that we noticed quickly on our trip is that not only do the different parts of the country have very different climates, but the weather is also known to change very quickly! For this reason it is important to be prepared for a variety of climates!
You will also need to apply for a visa BEFORE arriving in Sri Lanka! You will receive your approval letter by email shortly after applying. For US citizens the current cost is $30 USD.
Train travel in Sri Lanka is incredibly cheap and so so scenic (aka do it as much as possible)! We truly looked forward to each and every one of our train adventures. If you want a guaranteed seat then I recommend heading to the train station at least a day or two before in order to secure tickets. We found, however, that the best option is to book a 2nd or 3rd class ticket (usually under 1USD for 2 tickets) and simply plant ourselves in the doorway of the train. Your butt might be a bit sore after the ride but this is definitely where you are going to get the best views (and best shots)! Don’t worry, the trains go extremely slow!
While considerably more expensive than train travel, tuk-tuks are a fun, relatively cheap option for getting from place to place a bit quicker! In fac, it is the most common form of transportation in most of the cities. In Colombo we found that a 20-30 minute ride was often no more than 300 Rs (2 USD), however in the South and in more touristic areas such as Ella these prices were often doubled.
Traveling by bus in Sri Lanka is definitely an experience! Ticket prices seemed quite arbitrary, ranging from 100 Rs-300 Rs for bus journeys of the same length. One thing to note is that the buses drive incredibly fast! Seriously, the driving is absolutely crazy! They also have a habit of packing in as many people as utterly possible!
SRI LANKA ITINERARY
COLOMBO (1-2 NIGHTS)
We started our trip to Sri Lanka in the same way that most travelers do – with a day in Colombo. Since we were not arriving at our hotel until the middle of the night, we decided to book two nights. Overall I was not impressed by the city and wouldn’t recommend spending more than a day or so, however there are definitely a few cool sights to see. An alternative to starting in Colombo would be to spend a night in Negombo, as it is actually closer to the airport.
This is a small, but super interesting, Buddhist temple right in the heart of the city. It offers an eclectic mix of religious relics. Located close to the water, this temple is a fun stop on a day in Colombo.
Red Mosque (Jami-Ul-Afar Mosque)
The mosque itself reminds me a bit of Candyland, as I felt as if I was walking inside of a giant candy cane. As this is an active mosque, I found it very fascinating to see the locals coming in to wash and pray.
These hectic market streets are great for buying everything from saris to lightbulbs! This is a great area to explore in order to get a good feel for the local culture and atmosphere of the city. You will find many local eateries were you can sample curry and rice dishes for as little as 120 Rs (less than 1USD).
Api Wenuwen Api Outlet
I stumbled upon this side of the road stand as my first meal in Sri Lanka and I was definitely pleasantly surprised! Prices are cheap, portions are large, and the food is very flavorful! Warning: they don’t have any silverware and I’ve learned the hard way that eating curry with your hands is surprisingly difficult!
We arrived at this upscale buffet by accident on our first night after trying to get a recommendation for a “cheap, local spot”. While this eatery doesn’t quite fit that criteria, for around 20 USD/person you will get a personal, unlimited buffet of food! The food was some of the best that we ate in Sri Lanka and was seriously never ending! I practically had to be rolled out of the restaurant when the meal finally ended!
KANDY (2 NIGHTS)
Getting from Colombo to Kandy is quite easy by train! The journey takes approximately 2.5 hours and is very scenic! From the Kandy train station you can either walk or tuk-tuk to your accommodation, however do note that a lot of hotels and guesthouses are located up the hill. We found that most tuk-tuk drivers charged 400-500 Rs to go up the hill. While this is steep by Sri Lankan standards, it is definitely worth it for the views up top!
This hotel was a dream come true! While it was definitely on the pricier end, we couldn’t have been happier. The staff was so accommodating and actually upgraded us to a beautiful suite as we were visiting during the low season! Large rooms, stunning jungle views, and an infinity pool overlooking it all! A delicious breakfast (with massive tea pots) is provided free of charge each morning. We also opted to eat a dinner in one night at the hotel restaurant and the food was way better than we expected. With entrees starting at 1,000 rupees ($6.50 USD) it is a bit pricier than your average Sri Lankan meal, however the taste surely makes up for that!
New Sinhala National Restaurant (58 Sri Dalada Veediya)
This restaurant is a perfect example of a delicious and cheap local eatery so it was only natural that it made it onto my Sri Lanka itinerary! We shared the vegetable rice and curry and were amazed by how flavorful everything was! Our server was incredibly attentive and continuously refilled out curry dishes. We actually loved it so much that we came back the following day for more! Just a few doors down at Ratnayake Bakers you’ll find a place selling fresh, deep-fried desserts (not sure if they are still considered fresh if they are deep-fried but whatever haha).
This a slightly hectic but fun local market located right in the heart of Kandy! Here is where you will find Sri Lankan teas and spices at local prices (aka very cheap).
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue
Another must on the Sri Lanka itinerary, this attraction was probably the highlight in Kandy for us! Located at the top of a hill, this massive Buddha is definitely a site to see! You have the option of either walking or taking a tuk-tuk to the base of the stairs.
Cost: 250 Rs entrance fee + small tip for watching shoes
Temple of the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha
Before arriving in Kandy I heard from many other travelers that this temple was an absolute must! So despite the steep entrance fee we decided to check it out. While it is definitely an interesting and beautiful temple, I just wasn’t that impressed. If you have the time and money then you can check it out and let me know what you think!
Cost: 1500 Rs entrance fee
Day Trip to Sigiriya
Sigiriya is easily accessible by bus from Kandy. You can catch the bus to Dambulla from the main bus station. The ride costs between 100 and 200 Rs, depending on the type of bus, and takes approximately 2.5 hours. From the Dambulla bus station you need to transfer to a second bus that takes 1 hour and typically runs every 30 minutes or so. Unfortunately when we arrived the buses were running quite infrequently as it was the off season, so we opted to take a tuk-tuk instead (800 Rs).
There are two rocks that can be climbed in Sigiriya – Lion’s Rock and Pidurangala Rock. The first, Lion’s Rock, is the more famous of the two – however it is definitely much pricier. A single ticket to climb the rock is 4,500 Rs (~ 30USD), which is definitely tough on a backpacker budget! That being said, it is a beautiful climb with some amazing views. The second rock, Pidurangala, actually offers an amazing view of Lion’s Rock, with far less tourists and for a fraction of the price! Our ticket into the Pidurangala Rock complex cost us only 450 Rs (3USD). Since we had the time we actually decided to hike both rocks! We started at Lion’s Rock and walked 20 minutes to Pidurangala to start the second climb. We loved both of them, however if you are tight on money or time then I would probably choose Pidurangala!
It is also possible to spend the evening in either Sigiriya or Dambulla which would allow you to catch sunrise/sunset, however we preferred to use Kandy as a base so that we wouldn’t have to switch hotels so frequently.
NALLATHANNIYA (1 NIGHT)
The next stop on my whirlwind itinerary is to a small town called Nallathanniya. While the town itself has little to offer, it is the perfect base for anyone interest in summiting Adam’s Peak! This is one of the most challenging hikes in Sri Lanka, with an early 2am start up almost 300 flights of stairs. That being said, it was definitely one of the highlights of my trip and definitely should NOT be missed!
For more information on the hike check out my full blog post for Hiking Adam’s Peak!
From Kandy you can take the train 2/3 hours to the Hatton station. At this point you can walk 10 minutes to the bus station where you will take two buses to reach Nallathanniya. As the weather was awful that afternoon, we opted to take a tuk-tuk for the hour and a half drive from Hatton to Nallathanniya for 1,500 Rs ($10 USD). Luckily the weather cleared up for us because there were some stunning view points along the way!
As most people finish the hike by 8:30 am, we decided to check out and move on that same day.
NUWARA ELIYA (2 NIGHTS)
Nuwara Eliya is accessible by both train or bus. If you took my advice and decided to attempt the Adam’s Peak then you will need to get back to Hatton. From here your easiest option is to simply take a 1 hour bus, as the train station is not situated directly in Nuwara Eliya.
One thing to note about Nuwara Eliya is that the temperatures are much cooler than the rest of the country! After sweating profusely the days before, it was definitely a change to have to pull out the jacket and turn on the heater in the evenings.
Wandering the tea plantations is such a magical experience! As I am a bit tea obsessed, I was also fascinated by everything that I learned in the factories about the tea making processes. We visited two plantations: Blue Fields and Labookellie. They both provided us with a free tour of the factory followed by a complimentary cup of tea. While we enjoyed both of the stops, we preferred our experience at Labookellie as we were able to take some time to wander through the plantations.
Gregory Green Food
After a few mediocre food experiences in Nuwara Eliya, this place really hit the spot! A vegetarian curry and rice buffet is set at 200 Rs ($1.33 USD) and the food is absolutely delicious! It is located right across from Gregory Park so you can check out the action there as well!
HAPUTALE (1 NIGHT)
This amazing town wasn’t originally on our itinerary, but after it was recommended to me by one of my Instagram followers we decided to check it out! Let me say, we were definitely not disappointed! With a similar climate to Nuwara Eliya, we found that it was a less touristic version of the city. We had so much fun simply exploring the tea plantations on our own and wandering along the train tracks.
Hotel Chettinaadu Indian Kitchen
Located right by the railroad station, this local spot serves some amazing Indian food! We chose two orders of the rice and curry at 150 Rs/person and the food was endless!
Throughout the town you will find numerous food stalls. We had so much fun picking and choosing various local delicacies!
Lipton Seat is open described as one of the most beautiful views in Sri Lanka! While the view at the top is indeed beautiful, it is the 7km walk down that made the experience so memorable for us! Your best bet is to arrive before sunrise, as the area often clouds over early, completely obstucting the view. We were picked up from our guesthouse in Haputale in 4:40 and arrived by 5:20 (800 Rs drop only). Often times the gate is closed this early in the morning, which means that you need to walk the last 1km. Walking back down after sunrise, you will get the chance to see the locals in action – children walking to school, ladies entering the fields for daily tea plucking. This is definitely not an experience to be missed! At the bottom of the hill you will come across a tea factory that offers tours. The cost of the tour is 250 Rs/person and super informative. It seemed the most authentic of the factories that we visited, not to mention the largest in Sri Lanka. Note that there is a 100 Rs/person fee for entering the park area.
Muthu View Guest House
The views from this place are simply incredible! This basic hotel on the hill offers the most incredible views of the tea plantations and trains from a homey guesthouse. The family is incredibly sweet and accommodating. Breakfast is included in the price of most rooms, with lunch and dinner available for purchase as well. Although not located directly in the town, a tuk tuk ride should set you back only 100 Rs.
ELLA (2 NIGHTS)
Little Adam’s Peak
Although not quite as impressive as it’s older brother, this hike is not nearly as difficult either! Located walking distance from Ella town, this is an easy, quick hike that still offers spectacular views. We actually did this hike twice as the first time the view was completely clouded over. For our second attempt we went up at sunrise which was absolutely magical!
Another easily accessible hike, Ella’s Rock should not be missed! Similar to most of the hike’s in Sri Lanka, especially during rainy season, your best bet is to get up there early! We left our guesthouse at 6:30am and ran into only one other couple heading up the hill. Although it is definitely possible to do this hike without a guide, since we were heading up before the hoard of tourists we decided to get one since signage isn’t great. A guide for approximately 5 hours costs 2,500 Rs. The views are absolutely incredible and getting up there early was definitely worth it, as we ran into so many tourists on their way up as we were heading down!
It’s so important to stay hydrated on these tough hikes! To save a little money and to be more eco-friendly, make sure to pack a reusable water bottle!
Nine Arches Bridge
This is one of those iconic Instagram places that is definitely worth a visit! It is truly an incredible experience to watch a train go by on this magnificent bridge. Although it is not located directly in Ella, it is definitely walkable. However, you can also take a tuk tuk from the town for around 1,000 Rs. It is located in the same direction as Adam’s Peak so the two can be combined into one adventure. You are able to sit on the bridge (when the train is not going by) which is both thrilling and absolutely terrifying – perhaps I am not afraid of heights that I thought.
Think hillside rooms, a refreshing pool, and sweeping views of Ella Rock and the distant mountains! This hotel was definitely named appropriately! The included breakfast is great, however the half-board dinner option is not worth it in my opinion.
Coconut Honey Roti
This dessert can be found in a number of restaurants in Ella Town and is not to be missed! A warm roti filled with shredded coconut and smothered in honey, what could be better?
TANGALLE (2 NIGHTS)
Tangalle was our first beach stop on our Southern Province itinerary! This area is much quieter than other beach areas, with emptier beaches. Unfortunately the current is extremely strong which made swimming quite dangerous. That being said, it is an incredible beach to veg out on for a couple of days.
This beachfront restaurant and bar is a must for anyone visiting Tangalle! The owners opened the place just 10 months ago and they are already killing it! They offer a great buy one get one 50% off happy hour from 5-7pm. And although they are not on the happy hour menu, the mango daquiris made with fresh mangos are just incredible! The restaurant allows you to pick a fresh fish which is priced according to weight, and then cooked up and marinated in the most delicious spices! If you’re not a seafood person then definitely try the curry chicken! These dishes were some of the best that we ate during our time in Sri Lanka.
This moderately priced hotel is the epitome of beachfront luxury. Spacious rooms with personal balconies, beachfront property, and an infinity pool – can’t ask for too much more! It is not super central, however tuk tuks are easy to hire. The included breakfast is very good! They have food and drinks on-site, however I would recommend venturing a bit outside of the resort for food.
MIRISSA/WELIGAMA (2 NIGHTS)
This beach area definitely caters to a more touristic crowd, however with that comes some great pros! These two towns are located right next to each other, so it is easiest to pick one and hop between the two. Weligama is a bit removed from the tourist center, typically offering cheaper rates for hotels and more local food options.
Palm Tree Dome
I had seen this palm tree dome on a number of Instagram accounts and I was determined to find it on my visit. We decided to simply walk all the way left until we came to the dome. There were definitely some tricky spots though as we climbed over rocks and through rushing waves – so taking the street route is probably a bit easier! I also recommend wearing proper shoes, as I found it very difficult to walk up the hill in my flip flops and the terrain is too rocky for bare feet.
Green Peace Inn
Unfortunately we only had one night at this incredible guesthouse, however we easily could have stayed a week. Having just opened this month, this place is the epitome of perfection! Located right on the beach in Weligama it offers daily rooftop yoga classes, simplistic, but beautifully styled rooms, and a full vegan menu! The atmosphere is extremely welcoming and friendly, making it very easy to meet other travelers – which is something that is not always so easy in Sri Lanka.
Beachfront Happy Hours
Walking down the beach in Mirissa it is impossible not to notice the endless beachfront restaurants offer daily happy hours. With some deals starting as early at 3:30pm, we definitely enjoyed some 300 Rs cocktails!
UNAWATUNA (2 NIGHTS)
It is possible to stay in either Unawatuna or Galle, as they are both only a 20 minute drive from one another. Rather than switching hotels, we decided to base ourselves in Unawatuna. Unawatuna is just an hour up the road from Mirissa, and can be reached by tuk-tuk or bus.
Green Hill Paradise Villa
Located in Unawatuna, this is the spot to stay! It is a bit pricier but well worth it for the views, service, and incredible breakfast! The staff here were incredibly helpful throughout our stay. It is located on a hill only 10 minutes from the beach.
The Instagram Swing
If you see Instagram posts of Sri Lanka then you are sure to come across photos of this swing. For 500 Rs it is definitely a fun experience – and it makes for an awesome shot! Head over to Dalawella Beach for your perfect shot!
Galle Fort is a lively area to walk around! There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and sights to see! Make sure to check out the lighthouse and hospital!
There are plenty of turtle hatcheries in this area! We actually stumbled upon some newborn turtles that were being kept safe until they were ready for the ocean release!
Happy Spice Restaurant
Prices in the beach towns tend to be a bit pricier. Head to Happy Spice for some delicious bang for your buck! At 600 Rs for a heaping portion of curry and rice, this spot is one of the better deals in town. It is also absolutely delicious! We actually loved it so much that we ordered a second round as dinner take away!
Still looking for a reason to visit Sri Lanka?
Check out my 7 Reasons to Visit Sri Lanka: a Photo Journal.
*Updated: since so many of you have asked, I have decided to add information on my travel camera. While traveling I shoot with a Sony a6000! It is a lightweight, mirrorless camera that is perfect for an Sri Lanka itinerary!
While there are so many more places that I could include in this Sri Lanka itinerary, this is a great itinerary for anyone with 2-3 weeks in the country!
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