How to see everything that you want to see in Sri Lanka in just 3 weeks- I did it!
*I left room on this itinerary to factor in travel to and from Sri Lanka.
Day 1- Negombo
Despite the name, Colombo airport isn’t actually in Colombo. The closest city is Negombo- which is actually a lot nicer than Colombo. Rest here once you arrive to get over your jet lag before you start your adventure around Sri Lanka.
Day 2- Kandy
Don’t waste any time and head straight for Kandy. Trust me, with only 2 weeks in this beautiful country you wanna get as far away from the airport as soon as possible. Kandy is part of the cultural triangle- but don’t get your hopes up too high. A lot of people were let down by this city but since it’s central it is at least a good place to stopover. That being said there were some people who did enjoy the city and here are some things that you can do to make the most of it.
Day 3- Dambulla
Dambulla is in the cultural triangle and is famous for it’s rock temples. These temples recently changed ownership and are now free to enter (not sure if it will stay this way). Yay for free things!
Day 4- Sigiriya
Lion’s Rock in Sigiriya is one of the main attractions in Sri Lanka and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are not many options for staying in Sigiriya but the rock is easily accessed by a short bus trip from Dambulla. Your best option is to leave Dambulla on the first bus at 6:30 a.m to beat the crowds and the heat. The price is quite a lot at about $30 so if you would like to avoid this high tourist price you can always climb the small rock instead while still getting a great view of Sigiriya rock.
Day 5- Kandy
Back to Kandy to break up a long journey. Either relax from your long day of climbing Lions rock or refer back to my list of things to do in Kandy. A great thing about stopping over in Kandy is if you stay at Monkey Hostel it’s only about $5 per night- the cheapest accommodation I found in Sri Lanka.
Day 6- Travel to Dalhousie (For Adam’s Peak)
To Reach Adam’s Peak you take the train for about 4 hours from Kandy to Hatton and then a 1.5 hour bus ride to Dalhousie. The bus ride is a bit crazy but it also is beautiful as you drive past tea plantations and a beautiful lake.
Once you arrive in Dalhousie it is a tiny town (and I mean tiny) where you can easily walk around to find accommodation- I heard Grand Adam’s Peak was a good place to stay. Also, Dalhousie is a great place to buy some souvenirs and bracelets as I was able to negotiate cheaper prices here than anywhere else.
Day 7- Climb Adam’s Peak
Don’t hit that snooze button! It’s 2 a.m and time to go hiking. In the middle of the night it might be hard to get yourself up to climb 5,200 steps to the top of a mountain- but trust me the moment that you see the beautiful sunrise all of your exhaustion will melt away. Find out more information by reading here about my experience completing this pilgrimage climb.
Since you will finish the climb around 9 a.m you still have the whole day ahead of you! Use this day to travel to Ella. Hop on the most beautiful train ride of your life as you let your limbs recover.
Day 8~10- Ella
Ahhh Ella. The love of my Sri Lankan life. To be honest half of the reason I was so in love with Ella was because of my amazing train journey there. I guess it’s true when they say it’s about the journey and not the destination…except the destination was pretty amazing too. Still not convinced? Read about what you can do in Ella and you will be sold.
Day 11- Tissamaharama (Yala National Park)
Tissamaharama is famous for it’s national park where you can go on a safari to see leopards and elephants. On the day that I went I saw a family of elephants and some crocodiles and a lot of peacocks. I wasn’t so lucky as to see a leopard but apparently six other jeeps that day did see them. It is an expensive trip at about $50 per person so it depends how high seeing leopards is on your bucket list.
The jungle trek starts when you get picked up at about 4:30 a.m and goes until about 11:30- so you can easily head to Tangalle after (about 1.5 hours away by bus). Even though I didn’t see leopards I still do not regret visiting Tissamaharama because this was honestly one of the most beautiful places that I saw in Sri Lanka- and I’m not even talking about the national park. Read here to find out the surprising place that blew me away- and will blow you away too.
Day 12- Tangalle
It was surprising to me that this beach was so close to Tissamaharama yet seemed so far. One moment you are in the jungle and an hour later you are sitting on the beach. This is a nice place to wind down after waking up early to explore the jungle. There are a lot of options for accommodation so no need to worry about booking ahead. The beach is walking distance from the bus station.
We found the ocean to be super rough when we went- which is why I would only recommend staying for the day. However, I’m sure that it depends on the day. If you walk farther along the beach eventually you can find calmer waters.
Day 13~14- Mirissa
Mirissa has calm and clean water that is great for swimming in. I used this destination as a place to relax after all the hiking and jungle trekking I had done over the last few days. There are a lot of beautiful restaurants lining the beach but if you are on a budget it’s best to avoid the beach area- you can find options for less than half of the price around town.
If you are anything like me and get restless after sitting on the beach for too long Mirissa is famous for whale watching. This is another early start at 6:30 a.m but after Adam’s Peak and the jungle safari it will seem like you’re sleeping in.
As well, you can rent bikes for about $3 for the day and ride past Weligama (next on the itinerary) and farther along until you reach a desired beach of your choice. The bike ride is fun and beautiful along the coast line and there are many places to stop for lunch or fresh fruit along the way.
Day 15~16- Welligama
Weligama is about 15 minutes by bus from Mirissa and less than $0.25 to get there. This beach is less desirable for swimming but is an awesome spot for learning to surf. Surf board rentals are about $2 an hour and you don’t have to feel intimidated surfing here because all of the real surfers are at other beaches with bigger waves.
Across the road from the beach is a cheap restaurant that everyone eats at (although the service isn’t the fastest so don’t show up to hungry). As well there is a hostel called Hangtime that is the coolest hostel that I have seen in Sri Lanka. You might enjoy hanging out there so much that you might not even visit the beach.
Day 17- Galle
When I arrived in the Galle Fort I almost felt like I had left Sri Lanka- except for the constant bombarding of tuk-tuk drivers asking me if I needed a ride. This fort was originally built by the Portuguese in 1588 but was later influenced strongly by the dutch. To this day the European influence is still strongly felt with the European style buildings and churches. As a lover of Europe I found this city both beautiful and romantic. If you are European, however, you may find it less interesting.
The fort is small and doesn’t require more than a day to wander around (and is within walking distance from the train and bus station). The one downfall is that it is more touristy and so prices inside the fort tend to be very high. I wandered outside of the fort and found some wonderful fruit vendors and so had a delicious, fresh pineapple for lunch that cost about $0.50.
Day 18- Hikkaduwa
I didn’t actually get the chance to visit Hikkaduwa, but as I drove past it in envy I wished that I had. It is supposed to be one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka and offers both surfing and snorkeling. The streets were lined with fun looking shops and relaxed looking restaurants. Sitting between Galle and the airport it is definitely worth taking the time to stop by to enjoy this beach town before taking the bus trip to Negombo.
Day 19- Negombo/Fly Home
Either head straight to the airport from Galle if you have a late flight. If you have an early morning flight spend the night before in Negombo.
Tip: Make sure that you leave Galle the next day about 6-7 hours before your flight departs to be on the safe side. And ALWAYS ask for the highway bus when you are traveling to the airport- it will save you a couple of hours.