This 10 day itinerary through Sri Lanka covers all of the highlights for a comprehensive and efficient trip through one of Asia’s most up-and-coming destinations.
Sri Lanka is one of our favorite places we’ve traveled. It’s easy to get around, it’s pretty laid back, there are incredible opportunities for observing wildlife in their natural environments, and the hiking opportunities are great. It’s also not yet so “discovered” by other travelers that you’ll have to share every place with a ton of other tourists – though Sri Lanka is justifiably becoming more and more popular!
Table of Contents
10 Day Sri Lanka Itinerary Day-by-Day
Self-Drive, Train, or Hire a Driver?
Sri Lanka is still fairly young with regards to its tourism infrastructure, but you still have several good options when it comes to getting around the country.
Hire a Driver
The easiest, but more expensive, option is to hire a driver for your trip. This is what we chose to do, since it gave us the flexibility of designing our own itinerary and length of stay in each place, while having the benefits of a local driver and guide who could help us make the most out of our trip. Our 10-day trip with Holiday Lanka Tours cost about $1000 US total for two of us, and included our transportation, driver/guide (with some English language proficiency), accomodations, and breakfasts. We paid for our meals and entry fees as we went along. Overall, we would recommend Holiday Lanka Tours and felt like this was a good option for us. That said, one of the draw backs is that your driver may be inclined to take you to the more touristy restaurants and souvenir shops. If, like us, that’s not your style, let your driver know. As soon as we told Vijay (our driver) that we wanted local food experiences, he did not let us down and introduced us to some of the best meals of our lives!
Rent a Car
If you want to travel by car but with more freedom and independence, plus the opportunity to spontaneously change your itinerary, self-driving with a rental car is a good option. You can pick up a rental car at the international airport in Colombo. The roads in Sri Lanka are decently maintained, and you won’t have issues driving around between the main cities. We opted not to self-drive, because we weren’t sure how chaotic (or not) the traffic would be. Compared to other countries like India and Vietnam, which are notorious for traffic chaos, we found Sri Lanka’s roads to be manageable and would have felt comfortable self-driving in hindsight.
Lastly, you can of course travel Sri Lanka by train and bus. Many people love this option, as Sri Lanka has one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. That said, your itinerary will be limited to places you can access on set routes, and you’ll have less flexibility with departure and arrival times at your destinations. It is by far the least expensive option, however.
Sri Lanka is a safe country to travel in for foreign tourists. We did not experience any harrassment or scams like we’ve seen in other countries (Spain, Morocco, and India to name a few!). While Sri Lanka did recently experience a civil war, you are unlikely to encounter any violence when traveling in Sri Lanka.
As a precaution, it is best not to drink the tap water in Sri Lanka. Buy water at stores or use tools like LifeStraw or water purifying tablets to obtain clean drinking water. Similarly, avoid eating raw vegetables that may have been washed in tap water. In general, only consume cooked food (with fruit like bananas or coconuts being an exception).
Talk to your doctor about your itinerary before you travel, because malaria is present in many places in Sri Lanka. You will likely want to consider anti-malarial medications for your trip.
As with any country with so-called animal tourism, do your research before making your plans to visit any particular establishment. Not all “sanctuaries” or “orphanages” are ethical or prioritize treatment of the animals over profits. One such place to avoid is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which is actually known for its mistreatment of these beautiful animals.
Your best option for viewing wildlife in Sri Lanka is by going on safaris in the national parks, where you can view animals in their natural habitat and with minimal, if any, human interference.
Day 1: Colombo and Negombo
Kick off your Sri Lanka journey in Colombo, the nation’s capital. This is a great place to get a quick glimpse into modern life and the nation’s history.
If you arrive early enough in the day, take some time to explore after checking into your hotel.
Colombo Things to See and Do:
- Independence Memorial Hall – This monument commemorates Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule on February 4, 1948.
- Gangaramaya Temple – This unique Buddhist temple amalgam of buildings and shrines within one complex. Each of the buildings houses various unique donations. There is a collection of watches, statues, various knickknacks, and even a glass case with Snoopy statues. It feels more like exploring a quirky antique shop than a Buddhist temple.
- National Museum of Colombo – This museum tells the story of Sri Lanka’s ancient history with interesting relics and artifacts.
- Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque – This is the most-photographed mosque in Colombo, thanks to its candy-cane red and white design.
Accommodation in Negombo
We stayed at Dion’s Guesthouse in Negombo, which was plenty comfortable for our purposes. Negombo is an hour away from Colombo. The advantage to spending the night here instead of Colombo is that it gets you out of the city and closer to the next day’s destinations.
Day 2: Drive to Sigiriya, visiting Dambulla Cave Temples along the way
The second day of your itinerary on this 10 day Sri Lanka journey is a busy one.
Start by driving north east from Colombo towards Dambulla. The caves here have held Buddha images for 2000 years. Over the centuries, kings have updated and added to the cave art.
After a 10-15 minutes walk via 364 stairs up to the caves and taking off your shoes (there’s a place to leave them before you enter the temples), visit the 5 cave temples. The spiritual and artistic power of the place is overwhelming. Walking freely through these ancient temples, you’re completely immersed by over 150 Buddha statues and paintings. This collection comprises some of Sri Lanka’s most important religious art.
Cost: Rs 1500
After visiting the caves, drive another half hour to Sigiriya, an ancient city that sits atop a rock of the same name, which means “Lion’s Rock”. Standing tall amid the jungle, the rock overlooks ancient boulder gardens and monastic ruins.
Make sure you get your ticket stamped when you enter the gardens, as another guard will ask for it midway up the rock.
Have fun exploring the boulder garden and grounds around Sigiriya, but save some energy for the main event. It’s 1200 steps to the top. Midway on your way up, notice the colorful 5th century fresco wall paintings. Near the top, two stone lion paws flank each side of the stairs the lead to the palace (or monastery – scholars disagree) above. Once at the summit, enjoy the view looking out over an ocean of green treetops all around you and explore the archeological ruins.
Cost: Rs 4500 or USD 30
Driving time Negombo to Sigiriya: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Accomodation in Sigiriya
We stayed at Sigiriya Cottage, where accommodation was basic but nice.
Day 3: Minneriya National Park Safari and Overnight in Kandy
Minneriya National Park
This morning, take an early safari in Minneriya National Park to see wild elephants.
Safari cost: USD 40 per person
After your safari, continue on to the cultural city of Kandy. If you have time and energy, visit the Kandy Temple of the Sacred Tooth. The main temple houses the country’s most important relic from Buddha – his tooth. Warning, the line to see the relic shrine is very long.
Driving time Sigiriya to Kandy: 2 hours and 40 minutes
Accomodation in Kandy
We stayed at Days Inn-Kandy (not the chain).
Day 4: Drive to Nuwara Eliya
On your fourth day of your 10 days itinerary in Sri Lanka, drive to Nuwara Eliya. If you didn’t visit the Kandy Temple yesterday afternoon, you have time to do that this morning before hitting the road.
Damro Tea Lounge
On the way into Nuwara Eliya, stop at Damro Tea Lounge (formerly Mackwoods Tea) for your first taste of fresh-from-the-field Ceylon tea. While there are more picturesque tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya, this one is on the way into town and offers a good tour of the actual tea-making process. Plus, you’ll get a pot of tea to enjoy after the tour.
Note that the climate is much cooler and wetter in this region, so pack accordingly.
Driving time Kandy to Nuwara Eliya: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Accommodation in Nuwara Eliya
After tea, check into your hotel. I recommend choosing something within the city center, as there are many bars and restaurants to enjoy in Sri Lanka’s “Little England”.
We stayed at House of Leisure, which was beautiful but very far from the city center.
Day 5: Full day in Nuwara Eliya and hiking in Horton Plains National Park
Horton Plains National Park
Wake up before sunrise to arrive early at Horton Plains National Park, an hour from Nuwara Eliya. Note that no single use plastics are allowed in the park (a great policy!).
A 9.5 km loop that passes by Baker’s Falls and two viewpoints named World’s End and Mini World’s End. Since it’s a loop, you can go in either direction.
The view from World’s End is considered the undisputed highlight of the hike, and the impetus for the early morning. World’s End looks out over a steep cliff with a drop of over 4000 feet. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean, but on any day, if you arrive after 9am, you’re likely to just see a wall of fog.
Park Entrance Cost: USD 15
Pedro Tea Estate and Lovers Leap Falls
This afternoon, reward yourself with a visit to the delightfully picturesque Pedro Tea Estate. If you’re lucky enough to snag a spot sitting outside, you’ll get to sip your tea while looking out over the rolling fields below.
The estate is also right next to the Lovers Leap waterfall, which is worth the short 30 minutes hike. Legend has it that a prince was hunting in the jungle when he met a young woman and fell in love. The king and queen opposed their love, and so the two lovers decided to jump off the waterfall to their deaths.
Overnight in Nuwara Eliya for one more night, or if you have more than 10 days available for your Sri Lanka itinerary, spend one more evening here to relax and enjoy the fresh air.
Day 6: Drive to Ella
With only 10 days in your itinerary to enjoy Sri Lanka, it’s time to leave Nuwara Eliya behind and make your way to Ella.
Ella is a backpacker’s favorite. It’s got a cute central street with tons of bars and restaurants, and it’s the destination of the iconic Sri Lanka train ride you’ve seen on Instagram.
Little Adam’s Peak
When you get to Ella, check into your accommodation and then head out to hike Little Adam’s Peak. It’s only 30 minutes to the top and the views of the surrounding hills are stunning.
Nine Arches Bridge
Afterwards, visit the Nine Arches Bridge at the Ella train station. Ask the tuk tuk driver to take you to the station or view point. Our driver dropped us off at a path that required walking through bushes, and I don’t think it’s the way you’re “meant” to get there because it was really confusing and there were no signs. If you ask to go directly to the train station itself, though, you’ll be right where you need to be! I just wish we’d known this!
If you have more than 10 days in Sri Lanka, definitely tag on another night in Ella to your itinerary. It’s a fun town, and there’s plenty to do.
Driving time Nuwara Eliya to Ella: about 2 hours
Accommodation in Ella
We spent the night at Rawana Holiday Resort. It was well-located at the end of the main street in town.
Day 7: Drive to Tissamaharama
Ravana Waterfall and Cave
On your way out of Ella towards Tissamaharama, stop at Ravana Waterfall and Ravana Cave. According to Hindu legend, the demon king Ravana kidnapped princess Sita and kept her in this cave near Ella. Some believe the story could be based on the real life of a king who ruled in Sri Lanka from 2554 to 2517 BCE. Who knows if the legend is true, but archeologists have uncovered a long history of human activity in the cave. They even found a human skull dating back to 20,000 BCE.
Buduruwagala is another worthwhile stop on your way out of town. On a large rock wall, seven carvings of deities stand side by side, with a tall Buddha carving in the middle. The carvings are at least 1,000 years old. Standing in front of them is a sure way to make you feel small, both in size and time.
Accommodation in Tissamaharama
Spend the night in Tissamaharama, near Yala National Park. We stayed at Yala Elephant Camp Guesthouse. Your guesthouse can help you arrange your safari in Yala for the next morning.
Day 8: Yala National Park Safari and Drive to Mirissa
Yala National Park Safari
Spend your morning on a safari drive in Yala National Park, where you have the chance to see elephants, freshwater crocodiles, civet cats, deer, boars, many roosters (the Sri Lanka national bird!), peacocks, water buffalo, monkeys, rabbits, mongooses, water monitor lizards, and an array of birds. Basically, this place is teaming with wildlife. Many people also see elusive leopards in Yala.
Safari cost: about USD 40 per person.
In the afternoon, make your way to the small coastal town of Mirissa. Make sure to spend some time on the beach, especially if you are able to catch a sunset.
Driving time Yala to Mirissa: 2.5 hours
Accommodations in Mirissa
We stayed the night at Jaga Bay and would generally recommend it.
Day 9: Drive to Galle
Today, make your way to Galle and spend some time walking around and exploring the European-style fortress, lighthouses, and clock towers.
Galle feels very European. The Portuguese actually built the Galle Fort in the 1500s. The Dutch then fortified it in the 1600s. Then, the British built Galle’s original lighthouse in the 1800s.
Sri Lanka is fully independent of England now, but the culture still has marks of European colonization. These spots are pretty to visit now, but we shouldn’t forget that colonization, in general, is a bad thing.
Driving time Mirissa to Galle: 1 hour
Accommodation in Galle
We stayed overnight at Happy Night, which is actually on the beach in Unawatuna, about 20 minutes from Galle.
Day 10: Return to Colombo
On day 10 of your Sri Lanka itinerary, head back to Colombo. Visit any other sites you didn’t see when you arrived, or just relax in prep for your departure.
Driving time Galle to Colombo: about 2 hours.
Accommodation in Colombo:
We stayed overnight at VJ City Hotel. It was okay and reasonably priced, but we did not love the location.
10 Day Sri Lanka Itinerary Summary
I hope this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary is useful for you in planning your own trip! We really enjoyed visiting Sri Lanka, and I would recommend staying longer than 10 days if you are able. I know we’ll be planning a trip back in the future!
If you have questions or comments about this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary, drop me a comment below, or contact me!