Ancient Culture, Nature Diversity and Endless Ocean Views Our 15 Day Sri Lanka Itinerary
Interactive Sri Lanka Itinerary (Click on stop to know more)
It can be a challenge to plan the perfect Sri Lanka itinerary that gives you glimpse of everything this beautiful country has to offer during only 2 weeks. However, reflecting and focusing on what we really wanted to experience made it much easier. We planned our trip in a way that we could dive into the world of meditation and Buddhism, climb mountains, discover tea plantations, make wild encounters with elephants and finally have plenty of time to just relax.
Our planning started during another European winter blues – the rainy, cloudy and cold days were officially back – and once more we were desperate for some time to relax after hard months of work. Isn’t this a very common worldwide feeling? Well certainly not for people living close to amazing beaches and having good weather all year round, we thought! But everything started with the same old “first world dilemma”: Where could we go? Where is it not utterly commercial and crowded? Where is it not only warm but there is also more to do? Where…?
It was, of course, Sri Lanka: a country plenty of culture, groove, breathtaking landscapes, wildlife and with places almost untouched by man! It was a fairy tale journey that made us absolutely fell in love with this land and its people. Come and relive it with us by following this Sri Lanka itinerary.
Arriving in Colombo Sri Lanka Itinerary: Days 1-2 (1 Night)
As most of the people we chose Sri Lanka’s capital as our first destination since it is close to the main port of entry Bandaranaike International Airport. We made a super bargain with our flights from Europe to Colombo for just 391 Euros per Person with Etihad Airways. The planes and service could not have been more convenient. In addition, an 8 hour-layover in Abu Dhabi gave us the chance to visit the beautiful Grand Mosque. Arriving late, we took a driver from the airport to our hotel in the city center. Furthermore, there is also buses connecting the airport with the central bus station.
Colombo is a very vibrant and colorful unique city. As soon as you conquer the streets, you can already feel its pulse: sense the strong smells of local food and hear loud traditional music pumping out of speakers mixed with the noise of driving tuk-tuks! The capital has lots to see depending on your taste. Therefore, we decided to stay for one night and a full day. As a result we were able to fit several strolls around main and secret streets as well as to tick some of Colombo’s top temples and sights. We didn’t feel we missed anything. However, if you like to sit down in between and breathe more of the city’s atmosphere, you will not be bored when extending your stay for a day. Check out how we did in the bustling capital of Colombo.
Sigiriya Rock and Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka Itinerary: Days 2-4 (2 Nights)
In the afternoon we made our way from the central bus station of Colombo towards the city of Dambulla. There are two types of buses running on this 150km route: local ones that require 7-8 hours for the journey or express mini buses that take about 5 hours. We decided for the second option being more comfortable, equipped with AC and only a bit more expensive. This bus did not have a strict timetable and the driver waited for approximately 1 hour until there was enough people. We took a tuk-tuk to Sigiriya, the next stop of our Sri Lanka itinerary. The journey took just 20 minutes from Dambulla.
Sigiriya is a tiny village, which like many in Sri Lanka consists of just one single street. Locals businesses are located on both sides of the road and the villagers spread throughout the territory. Most of the people commute here only to reach the top of Sigiriya Rock or Pidurangala – read our story about climbing Sigiriya Rock. However, the place is strategically well located if you want to explore the temple region. Right in center between Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla, Sigiriya is great to stay overnight. It offers a mid range of local restaurants and small bars, where we could relax after a long day of sightseeing. Its pleasant atmosphere and budget rates make it a nicer place to stay for backpackers than the bigger towns around.
We climbed Sigiriya Rock early in the morning. At the exit we arranged a local tuk-tuk driver to take us to Polonnaruwa during the afternoon. The route crosses Mineriya National Park so that you get to see lots of wildlife on the way there. We even had to stop because of an Elephant blocking the road. The ruins and Buddhist temples of Polonnaruwa are definitely worth a visit to dive into Sri Lanka’s culture. Read our experience in the Journal entry about Polonnaruwa’s ancient royal city.
Dambulla, Kandy and Surroundings Sri Lanka Itinerary: Days 4-7 (3 Nights)
The previous day, we had asked our tuk-tuk driver to take us 90km from Sigiriya to Kandy. However, we could not miss a stopover in Dambulla to exprience the amazing Cave Temple and Golden Temple complex in the morning. Then, after a long tuk-tuk journey with constant rain splashing into the vehicle, streets with heavy congestion and air pollution lead the way into “The Holy City” of Kandy.
The place is famous for its religious temples and everybody interested in meditation and Buddhism will love it! Although there are numerous temples, we decided to stick to the famous 4 and an insider recommendation, which has become our Top Choice. You can check them all in our review of Sri Lanka’s temples. Most noteworthy, there is much more than this: we could immerse ourselves in the gasping green mountain landscapes, Kandy’s beautiful Botanical Gardens and learn the secrets about local tea production. Check out what we have done in Kandy!
Hill Country Train Ride and Ella Sri Lanka Itinerary: Days 7-8 (1 Night)
Much as we enjoyed Kandy, we were keen on continuing our adventure. For the next stop of the Sri Lanka itinerary, we hopped on Sri Lanka’s most scenic train ride through the tea fields of the highlands. We caught the train down the road of our hotel at Peradeniya station. Seems like we had no idea how truly wonderful it would be! It was a breathtaking ride through remote places and with an average speed 20 km/h you can easily let your feet hang out the door and breathe the fresh air. That is why we decided to called our travel report “a train ride through heaven”. Never a seven-hour journey passed so quickly bringing us to the village of Ella.
Ella is in our opinion the “coolest” place in Sri Lanka. Famous for its tea scenery and gasping landscapes it also brings together young people. From trendy wooden-made restaurants to hipster bars, in Ella you will encounter the most of backpackers counting on seconds to climb the highest mountain of Sri Lanka (Adams Peak) or dying for a walk and take a snapshot of the famous railway track. Ourselves, we enjoyed the most probably best food in Sri Lanka and an original Spa treatment. Read more about our experience in Ella.
Tree House Stay and Yala National Park Sri Lanka Itinerary: Days 8-9 (1 Night)
After enjoying a last rotti for lunch and taking advantage of the good coffee served in Ella, we jumped on the next bus towards Yala National Park. There are only few and irregular direct buses to Kataragama and Tissaharama. Consequently, we decided to take the main bus route towards Mirissa/ Galle and got off at Pannegamuwa junction. From there it was just a short tuk-tuk ride to where we were staying at Beddegama Ecopark. It was one unique experience to sleep in a tree house all made out of wood and palm leaves. First of all, there was this huge king size bed and a tempting living room area. But most noteworthy, we had a charming wooden bathroom where shower waters run from a piece of wood over your body.
Much as we loved to relax in our tree house, the purpose of our stay was Yala National park. Hence, we pre-booked a Safari via our accommodation, which turned out to be amazing. We were travelling exclusively and had a really savvy driver that made us see all kind of animals: elephants, alligators, monkeys, peacocks and even leopards (which seems to be a tough job). Read our detailed experience about Yala.
Tropical Paradise in Tangalle Sri Lanka Itinerary: Days 9-15 (6 Nights)
The Safari finished at lunch time. Therefore, we asked our driver to leave us at the central bus station of Kataragama. Buses from there towards Galle and Colombo along the South Coast run every 20-30 minutes. The bus directly dropped us in the center of Tangalle to commence the lush part of the journey.
Most of all, for the last 7 days of our adventure in Sri Lanka, we looked for and found heaven on earth, where beach, nature, ocean and peace are in perfect harmony. Most of all, this was what brought us to this island before we even landed! Seems like we were very lucky to find Palm Paradise Cabanas and Villas. It is a resort made of remote wooden beach cabanas facing the ocean with a touch of modern villas on top of the hill. Seems like this was just what we needed to refill our empty batteries.
Tangalle itself is relatively remote and quiet, probably with less backpackers and party crowds than Mirissa or Unawatuna. Hence, lots of calm and picturesque beaches make Tangalle coast line the perfect hide-away. If you want to know more, check out our experience at the beaches of Sri Lanka.
Day Trip to Galle and Unnawatuna Sri Lanka Itinerary: Day 12
While staying in Tangalle, we wanted to seize the opportunity to explore more of the South coast. Therefore, we took a direct bus to Galle stopping at the main street in front of our cabanas every few minutes. Leaving in the early morning, we arrived after two hours of typical Sri Lankan bus ride experience.
Being one of Sri Lanka’s biggest cities, Galle’s central bus station is nothing different from a normal western main station: Busy, dirty, bit dodgy. Yet Galle’s “crown jewel” is the old town inside its impressive fortress walls. Almost you feel like suddenly landing on another continent – a super clean and European-style village. Probably this gem makes Galle the most beautiful city in the country. Due to its buildings remembering of old Dutch colonialist architecture, it looks like every corner in every street has been kindly and designed in detail! Check for our report on Galle, the Europe at the Indian Ocean.
Some of the island’s most famous ocean spots are just a stone’s throw away from Galle. Therefore, we seized the opportunity to discover more of it’s surroundings. Taking a tuk-tuk to Jungle beach and exploring the forest around while walking to Unnawatuna was a great experience. Later we had dinner at the beach and enjoyed a great sunset before returning to Tangalle. Some tips about the area you can find in our journal about Sri Lankas beaches.
What we had done differently? Wrap-up Sri Lanka Itinerary
We loved our itinerary and between planning and re-planning bits and bobs it took us around 3 months. We hope that maybe our journey will make it easier for you to plan your own one. However, there is certain things that we would do differently when doing this trip again:
- Stay more days in Ella! It is a really pleasant village with plenty of breathtaking landscapes to discover and hike
- On the way between Kandy and Ella, we would probably stop in Nuwara Eliya to discover the tea fields
- Travel the South coast! We loved Tangalle and consider it the nicest beaches we saw. However, instead of making all the way up to Colombo on one day, we should have made a stop in between. Seems that Galle would have been a great option to also explore its western beaches such Hikkaduwa. The day trip we made turned out to be quite stressful.