Complete Travel Guide – 3 Weeks Across Sri Lanka
Set in the Indian Ocean on the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is a wonderful country, rich in traditions and history. It’s home to a wide range of landscapes, from dense rainforests to hills covered with tea plantations. There are 26 National Parks in Sri Lanka all blooming with diverse wildlife, including elephants and leopards. The long, white sand beaches attract many visitors. The people of Sri Lanka are friendly, open and incredibly kind. All this combined makes Sri Lanka a perfect destination for holidays: it doesn’t matter if you travel in search of adventure with a backpack, or look for relaxing time at the beach at high end resorts- this country has it all. Below in this complete guide you will find an example itinerary for a 3 weeks trip around Sri Lanka.
Arrive to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Meet with your taxi driver outside of the terminal and set out for a 4 hours drive to Sigiriya.
↬ Note : Make sure to get your visa before your trip to Sri Lanka: it can be done easily on the official website.
Day 2 – Sigiriya & Dambulla
Wake up early, hop on a scooter or grab a tuk-tuk and drive to Sigiriya Lion Rock. This absolutely incredible site is one of the country’s most famous spots and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Climb up the enormous 200m rock to the ancient citadel located on the top.
Hit the road again and drive to Dambulla to visit the Cave Temples. Dambulla is an important shrine in the Buddhist religion in Sri Lanka and has been inhabited by Buddhist monks since the 1st century BC.
In the late afternoon hike Pidurangala Rock. Witness the sunset over the jungle with views on Sigiriya Rock.
↬ Read : Hike Pidurangala Rock at Sunset
Day 3 – Polonnaruwa
Start your day by visiting the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Those ruins, dating back to the 11th century, are a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered one of the most important in Sri Lanka.
In the afternoon, arrange a safari in Kaudulla National Park or Minneriya National Park. Both of those parks are great places to spot wild elephants and variety of wildlife.
Day 4-5 – Explore Kandy
Take a morning bus from Dambulla to Kandy or arrange a taxi to drive you there.
Explore Kandy, the second biggest city of Sri Lanka. Visit the Temple of the Tooth, most important Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka and climb Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue to reach astonishing views over the city and surrounding hills.
You might be tempted to visit the Elephant Orphanage in Kandy. We kindly ask you NOT to visit this place. Why?
Day 6 – Take the Train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
Hop on the morning train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and enjoy the astonishing views of the tea plantations and the mountains.
Day 7 – Nuwara Eliya
Stop for a night or two in Nuwara Eliya. Explore the stunning tea plantations and hike the World’s End.
Day 8-11 – Ella
Take the world’s most beautiful train for the second part of the journey: from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. Visiting Ella should be part of your must-do list in Sri Lanka. Spend your days actively: hiking and visiting the beautiful Hill Country. Climb Little Adam’s Peak or Ella Rock, walk on 30m high Nine Arch Bridge and hike to the top of Diyaluma Falls– the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka.
Day 12 – Udawalawe
Take a bus or arrange a taxi to take you to Udawalawe National Park. In the afternoon do a jeep safari and look for beautiful animals like elephants, peacocks, crocodiles and deers in their natural habitat.
Day 13 – Udawalawe to Yala
Visit Elephant Transit Home at 9AM for the calves feeding and right after hop on a bus or taxi to Thanamalwila: the base city for Yala National Park. You’ll probably want to spend the night there to be able to go as early as possible to Yala National Park for more chances of spotting the elusive animals. ?
Day 14 – Yala
At 5 am leave for the morning safari. Keep your eyes wide open and look for Sri Lanka’s most precious animal: the leopard. Do not worry if you will have no luck spotting one: there are many other animals in Yala National Park like elephants, buffalos, mongoose or deers.
After the morning safari take a bus or a taxi to Rekawa Beach.
Rekawa beach is a quiet and relaxing part of South Coast of Sri Lanka and not highly visited. For an extra worry-free time enjoy the rest of the day at Seven Turtles Resort, an eco-friendly place hidden between green lush and white sand beach.
Day 15-17 – Mirissa
Take an hour bus ride to Mirissa, a fisherman village with unique, chill vibe. Enjoy the stunning beach, watch the sunset from Coconut Hill and go whale watching with the friendly & eco-conscious people of Raja and the Whales.
Day 18- 20 – Unawatuna & Galle Fort
Unawatuna is Sri Lanka’s most popular resort for a good reasons. This small beach town has calm waters to swim in all year long, great attractions and activities just a short scooter ride away and amazing beach restaurants serving fresh seafood & juices everyday.
↬ TIP : Spend an afternoon exploring Galle Fort: this 17th century Dutch Fort is a Unesco World Heritage Site and a great place to stroll around cafes and shops at the end of your trip. You can find out all there is to know about this beautiful colonial town in our Galle Fort guide.
Day 21 – Travel back to Colombo
Take a train from the Unawatuna Railway Station to Colombo Fort. From there take a taxi or a bus to the airport. We hope you enjoyed all of Sri Lankan highlights ?
Most nationalities must obtain a visa to enter Sri Lanka. Getting the visa is very easy. It can be done before the trip online.
You can apply for Sri Lankan visa here.
The cost of a 30 days tourist visa is 35 USD (paid by credit card on the website). You will receive an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) on your email a few days after submitting the form and payment online. It is advised to print the ETA and have it with you to present at the airport upon arrival.
↬ Note : Make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months!
We highly advise you to buy a SIM Card with internet plan upon arrival in Colombo. It will allow you to access internet everywhere and you won’t come back to a giant phone bill after your trip. Most of the hotels have wifi, but it’s useful to have internet during the day, especially to use google maps.
There are many cell phone company vendors right after exiting luggage hall at the Colombo airport. You can ask around which has the best option. We paid 8 EUR for a SIM Card with 2 GB of data included (it had also calls and texts in the plan but we never used those).
Traveling around Sri Lanka isn’t complicated even if there is not a lot of information about it on the web.
Most tourists choose to travel by taxi: it’s the quickest and most comfortable way of transportation, but also expensive.
To find a taxi in Sri Lanka look on Facebook Groups where drivers offer their services. You can post a question regarding a taxi (from where to where, what day, time and for how many people) and will receive replies from drivers with competitive prices. Choose the driver and the car that best fits your needs. Notify the driver of your exact travel details and he will meet you at the place you choose. You don’t need to pay in advance, but make sure to agree on the price BEFORE you confirm with the driver.
↬ TIP : If you travel from Colombo to Sigiriya/Habarana or around there, we highly recommend our driver Kosala, as he was the kindest and friendliest man we met in Sri Lanka. His Toyota was very comfortable and we got a great deal with him. He also helped us arrange a safari for the following day and brought for us the most delicious papaya- straight from his garden.
There are also other Facebook Pages with taxi shares. Here you can find posts from tourists that have already booked a taxi and look for travel companions to share the costs. If you travel to the same place, around the same time, it’s a great way to save some $$.
When traveling by train is possible, it’s a great option, even if it will take longer than by road. Trains are comfortable and very cheap (train ticket is usually 1-2 EUR even for 7h ride). Make sure to board a train from Kandy to Ella, get a window or a door sit and enjoy the most beautiful train ride in the world.
We discovered that traveling by bus is very easy, cheap and lots of fun. The bus drives very fast (maybe even too fast sometimes), tickets are usually less than 1 EUR and tourists are treated very kindly. We met many wonderful people on the bus and had fun adventures. We shared a sit with an older lady coming back from an entire night of praying in Dambulla Caves, who offered us sweets and genuine smiles on the way to Kandy, sat in the front of the bus (next to the driver) on the luggage, holding a 3 year old boy on our lap while driving to Udawalawe and laughed at the driver getting angry at the cow that just didn’t want to move from the middle of the road on the South Coast.
Sure. Buses are packed sometimes and fit way more people than they should. But the bus attendant (person collecting the money and making sure everybody is safe) always found space for us so we’d be comfortable.
There is no need to book in advance. Simply ask your hotel reception where you can find the bus to your next destination and how often does it depart.
Once we arrive to a place for a few days, we always rent a scooter to drive around to the nearby sites. We heard and read before, that in Sri Lanka tourists should not ride a motorbike as it’s dangerous. We rented scooters in the places we stayed for a few days (Sigiriya, Ella, Mirissa and Unawatuna) and never had any problems or felt unsafe. You have to always wear a helmet and don’t speed. Stay close to the outside of your lane when taking turns as Sri Lankan’s like to ‘cut’ them and just take general precautions.
Food in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan cuisine is similar to Indian. There is lots of curry choices. Typical breakfast contains meat/fish/vegetarian curry, hoppers (sort of an egg pancake) and rice. As we are not a big curry fans, we were very happy with classic omelet and fruits for breakfast.
We loved kottu and kottu roti: Stir-fried with meat, egg, vegetables, and spices served on a plate or rolled in a sort of tortilla.
All the food in Sri Lanka have one thing in common: everything is very spicy. I learned one sentence on the very first day and repeated it while ordering the food: ‘sera epa‘ which means ‘no spicy‘. And let me tell you that the ‘no spicy’ food was still very spicy.
Food in Sri Lanka is pretty cheap and on average we spent 8-12 EUR for dinner and a bit less for lunch for the both of us.
Alcohol is hard to get in some parts of Sri Lanka, because of the religion. It can also be pricey: beer costs 2 EUR and drinks 5-7 EUR.
There are many options for accommodations is Sri Lanka. You can choose between expensive luxurious and affordable places.
We usually save on accomodation on the first part the trip, to stay in nicer hotels at the end of our holidays. A room for 2 people in a small hotel costs 25-30 EUR a night, a 3 star 45-60 EUR and luxurious hotels around 100 EUR a night. You can find our hotel recommendation in all our guides of the different main spots to visit in Sri Lanka.
We hope this Complete Travel Guide of Sri Lanka will help you during your trip. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment down below if you have any questions or if we can help.
Enjoy your Sri Lankan travels!