Dreaming of a tropical island paradise? One that also gives you lashings of culture, wildlife and safaris in abundance and mouth-watering food to satisfy even the largest appetite? Sounds like you are in desperate need of our 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary!
It’s become quite a fashionable destination of late but don’t let its trendiness deter you. The country is a feast for the eyes and the palate. So, other than booking your flight, the only thing remaining is to sort out your travel plans. And, to ensure you make the best of your trip to ‘Serendib’ (as it used to be known to Arab traders), we’ve got the perfect 10 day itinerary for your Sri Lanka trip.
This is the itinerary we spent weeks planning for our honeymoon, so it’s entirely tried and tested and stands out as one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.
Why go to Sri Lanka?
We imagine that you’ve arrived at this article because you’ve got your heart set on a trip to Sri Lanka, and if so, excellent choice. But just on the off chance you need a few more reasons to make Sri Lanka your next holiday destination, then here’s what to expect:
- As someone put it, Sri Lanka is ‘India Lite’ and having travelled in both countries we know exactly what they mean. If you’re drawn to iconic India but not sure you’re quite ready for everything that it will throw at you (trust us it’s an assault on the senses), then Sri Lanka is for you – it feels just that little bit easier to travel…
- There is so much history and culture to absorb in this small island nation, from the Buddhist traditions that have shaped the country through to the more recent colonial impressions that made Ceylon a household name.
- And then where do you start on the food? If you like spicy dishes, this is your place – we could eat egg hoppers and delicious curries every meal of every day if we could.
- But the best reason to visit has to be the nature and wildlife, whether you’re looking for a surfing paradise, beautiful empty beaches, hiking the hills and tea plantations or want to explore the wildlife (think elephants and leopards), there really is something for everyone.
Is Sri Lanka safe to travel?
After the Easter Monday terror attacks, many countries upped the warning on travel to Sri Lanka. However, things have largely returned to normal – the local Tourism Bureau has reports that tourism has gone to previous levels and most countries, including the UK, USA and Australia have relaxed their advisories.
We wouldn’t think twice about returning and can’t wait for our chance to return to Sri Lanka… our only questions will be where to return to, what new places to explore and how long will we be able to stay for!
The best 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary
If you are only in Sri Lanka for 10 days, we’re sure you’ll want to see as many of the stunning sights that this country has to offer, so although a bit of a whirlwind tour, here what we believe is the best 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary.
- Day 1 – Colombo to Balapitiya
- Day 2 – Balapitiya: Madu River & the Cinnamon Islands
- Day 3 – Balapitiya, Galle and Ella
- Day 4 – Ella
- Day 5 – Ella to Kandy
- Day 6 – Kandy
- Day 7 – Kandy to Sigiriya
- Day 8 – Sigiriya
- Day 9 – Sigiriya to Chilaw
- Day 10 – Colombo
Is 10 days in Sri Lanka enough?
To put it into perspective, Sri Lanka is about ¼ the size of the United Kingdom – so it’s not the largest country in the world but, in saying that, getting around can be on the slower side of things with roads and rail not the best in the world.
And there is also so much to explore in Sri Lanka that we’d suggest 10 days is a minimum period that we’d spend in the country. If you can only take a week then maybe look at a Colombo – Ella – Kandy – Sigiriya – Colombo route instead…
We know people who have stuck to our 10-day itinerary and found it the perfect balance of seeing as much as possible without travelling too much. Especially if this is your first trip to Sri Lanka it will allow you to get a really great feel for the place and you’ll definitely leave wanting to come back for more.
However, if you’re a fan of slower travel, this whistle-stop itinerary for your 10 day trip to Sri Lanka could also easily be extended to a two week Sri Lanka itinerary (and beyond!).
Related: 3 weeks in Thailand itinerary
Getting Around Sri Lanka
The one thing that really puzzled us before spending 10 days in Sri Lanka was how to get around, particularly considering our relatively busy itinerary.
And the answer? Well, we can’t recommend it highly enough: hire a driver.
They are not as expensive as you might think. And considering the quality of Sri Lankan roads, the lack of reliability from their train system and the sheer terror of driving in the country, you will be glad you dropped a few extra coins on a private driver for your Sri Lanka tour.
If you are using a travel agent for your trip, they are usually able to book your driver. Otherwise, head on over to Sri Lanka Car and Driver Hire, for a searchable directory.
As an FYI, the driver usually is accommodated in ‘driver rooms’ at most hotels, for a nominal fee or sometimes free of charge. Otherwise they will consider the cost of their accommodation in their quote to you. Also, it’s considered polite to leave them a tip at the end of your journey with them – about 500 Sri Lankan Rupees or LKR per day (2.60 USD/2.00 GBP).
Alternatively if you are comfortable enough, why not pick yourself a rental and drive yourself? Check out the latest deals with RentalCars.
Alternative transport options
If you do decide that you’d prefer to sort out your own transport instead of a driver – check out the latest routes and prices on Bookaway.
They generally have great cancellation policies on their routes, which is really handy given travel plans often change as well as offering 24 hour online support.
Overall, the trains can be a little slow, and the buses, especially the local buses, are a rollercoaster of an experience, flying around the roads at breakneck speed.
We actually wouldn’t recommend flying between our suggested locations, mainly as most of the suggested routes don’t have flights, however if you’re on a holiday that’s for less than 10 days, you may want to think about flying between the likes of Kandy and Colombo.
Sri Lanka Travel Insurance
Got your travel insurance booked? We promise to never push a brand or product we don’t personally use, and the travel cover from Safety Wing is a policy we don’t just use, but we highly recommend. They offer some of the most flexible policies, amazing customer service and are affordable too.
Day 1: Colombo – Balapitiya
You’ll inevitably land in Colombo at BIA Colombo International Airport. Our suggestion? Head straight out of Colombo to the town of Balapitiya.
Don’t worry – you’ll be back in Colombo at the end of the trip but, for now, it’s best to ease into the hectic pace and hit a quieter town to start your journey.
But in case you’re looking for some bonus things to do once you’ve landed into Colombo, we have a host of additional activities suggestions in our day 10 (when back in Colombo), so check those out.
Travel time: it’ll take you somewhere between 90 minutes and an hour 45 minutes to drive to Balapitiya, depending on traffic (and there is always traffic!).
Experience an Ayurveda massage
So, once you have settled into your accommodation, we’d highly suggest getting an Ayurveda massage in Balapitiya – we still dream of the massage we had there!
And what better way to start off your time in Sri Lanka than a healing massage?
If you’re staying at Roman Lake resort (see below on where to stay), they have fantastic massages available on site, otherwise we’ve also heard great reviews about the massages at the Amba Ayurveda Hotel.
Expect to pay around 4,000 LKR for an hour’s massage (20.80 USD/16.50 GBP). This may seem quite pricey for a massage in Asia but it is so worth it!
Where to stay in Balapitiya
The great news is that you’ll find really great hotel and guest house choices all over Sri Lanka – especially over the last couple of years the selection have really increased, so you’re able to find super options at all price ranges. Here are a few of our suggestions for Balapitiya:
Budget: Set on the edge of Randombe lake, the exceptional Kalapuwa Resort is our pick if you’re on a budget. Saying that, you get a great room with a view of the pool, good on-site restaurant and plenty of activities!
Mid-range: Maybe towards the higher end of the mid-range, but we had to include the beautiful River House by Asia Leisure. Set in seven acres of forest, this property comes with high end facilities and views over the lakes.
Luxury: And the pick for high-end, Roman Lake, which is where we stayed while in Balapitiya. Between Betota and Hikkaduwa, the property backs onto the UNESCO World Heritage site of Maduganga lake. What’s more, if you want more relaxation (than the previously mentioned massage), then they also have their own private beach that you can visit – although note that it is 30 minutes from the property!
Day 2: Balapitiya
Madu River and Cinnamon Islands
For the start of day 2 of your Sri Lanka itinerary 10 days, a trip along the Madu River (or Madu Ganga) to the Madu Ganga Lake is the ideal way to start. The lake and river offer a sanctuary of peace and quiet.
Head out on a boat tour on a day trip to explore this remote area; including about 35 breath-taking islands. You’ll see traditional fishermen out trawling, encounter orange juice stands stationed in the middle of the lake and spend the day lazing in the sun; it was one of our best things to do in Sri Lanka!
Ask your boat driver to hop off at the Cinnamon Islands to see peeled cinnamon and cinnamon oil made by local traders and make sure to stop off at the Buddhist Kothduwa temple, which is located on one of the lake’s isolated islands.
If you are keen to try out one of the touristy ‘fish pedicure’ stands, your driver will take you to the floating platforms. Although you can also tell your guide that you’re not interested if that’s not your thing.
There are a bunch of operators, which all offer pretty much the same service. We went with the folks at Captain’s Boat House who seem to have better reviews on Google… And most of the operators are near the bridge on Galle Road.
The cost for the tour, which will last at least a couple of hours will set you back 3,000 LKR (15.60 USD/12.50 GBP). But be ready to negotiate as they’ll try to hike that up for foreigners.
Open: 8.00am to 6.00pm daily
Relax on the beach
After some well-deserved lunch, we’d recommend that you spend some time in the afternoon relaxing on one of the beaches in Balapitiya.
You can head to either Ahungalla Beach or to, in our opinion, the slightly prettier Balapitya Beach. Both are what you’d imagine from stunning tropical Sri Lankan beaches: long sandy stretches with overhanging palm trees.
Location: Rajapaksha Mawatha, Ahungalla 80562
Bonus: if you’re interested in finding out more about the turtles in Sri Lanka, or even keen on volunteering, check out the Ahungalla Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Centre.
Day 3: Balapitiya – Galle – Weliyama – Ella
Catch an early breakfast and head out towards Galle Dutch Fort and the south coast. This is a fortified city built by the Europeans and stands as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll want to give yourself at least a couple of hours at Galle Fort to wander around.
On your way, stop in Ambalangoda, a town known for its traditional mask carving. Visit one of the mask museums and buy yourself a keepsake for your trip. Make sure to shop around though, since prices vary hugely from place to place.
In Galle, wind your way around the Green markets and the narrow streets of Galle. Collect street food from smiling vendors and eat some local cuisine. You’ll then be well-fed and happy to take a tour of the Galle Fort.
The Fort, located on the southwest of Sri Lanka, was originally constructed by the Portuguese in the late 1500s, before it was then captured and reinforced by the Dutch from the mid 1600s.
Travel time: The coastal road is about a 40km or approx. one hour drive from Balapitya to Galle, maybe a little faster if you head inland and take the Southern Expressway.
Location: Church Street, Galle 80000
Open: 5.30am to 10.00pm
If you’re still itching to explore more of Galle, you could head to the boutique shops around the Fort, or down to the natural harbour, the National Maritime Museum or St Mary’s Cathedral.
Top tip: If you’re a cricket fan, you may be in luck and find a match being played at the Galle International Cricket Stadium and the walls of the Fort provide a great viewing spot for the match.
See the Stilt Fishermen
After lunch, get onto the coastal route so that you can make a stop at Weligama, which translates as ‘sandy village’. Here you’re able to head to the beach to find the famous ‘stilt fishermen’ of Sri Lanka.
While no-one seems to know where or how this type of fishing started, it’s an old tradition that still stands today. The fishermen spend 2-4 hours sitting on a thin plank on stilts, hoping to catch a fish or two for dinner.
Do keep in mind that any photos you take of the fishermen means a ‘donation’ to them. Their handlers can get a little aggressive so make sure you agree a price upfront and bargain hard!
Travel time: The drive from Galle to Weligama will take you around an hour by the coastal road, or 45 minutes if you head inland and join the Southern Expressway.
Bonus stop: You can also drive from Weligama to Mirissa, and check out the whale watching! We explore that in more detail along with lots of other ideas below, in our bonus activities to add into your 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary.
Arrival into Ella Hill Station
Once you’re done in Weligama, you’ve got a bit of a drive to Ella, which you can explore tomorrow!
This is one of the longer road trips of your 10 day itinerary, but if you’re looking for an alternative to add into your plans, then we’d suggest heading to Yala National Park first as it’s not too much of a detour from Weligama to Ella. See more about Yala National Park in our bonus section.
Travel time: the 180km journey from Weligama to Ella will take you a minimum of 3 hours! So make sure you have some good road trip music and plenty of snacks!
Where to stay in Ella
The great news about Ella is that it is really well set up for travellers and tourists, and whether you want basic backpacker or mountainside luxury villa, there are brilliant options in this sleepy hill station. These are our top picks:
Budget: If you’re looking for the best accommodation on a budget, then check out Lavendra Paradise. Amazing rooms, mountain views in a great location in Ella.
Mid-range: Not too far outside the city centre, The One Ella is a beautiful appointed hotel if you are able to spend a little more.
Luxury: The must stay location (if you can get a room), is 98 Acres. Right next to Little Adam’s Peak this was the best resort we stayed in Sri Lanka. Rooms with views that you could never get bored of, swimming pools, amazing food and 5* luxury. Not surprisingly it has won numerous awards, including world’s best luxury mountain resort.
Day 4: Ella
Ask a Sri Lankan about Ella and they’ll tell you the town was ‘built for tourists’, and that’s definitely true. When you arrive, you’ll notice the queues of bright red and blue backpacks trekking up the streets of the hillside town.
That said, Ella is one of the most magnificent stops in Sri Lanka. And an absolute must visit place on any Sri Lanka itinerary.
Surrounded by towering mountains, you can just spy the ocean through a parting in the hills, known as the Ella Gap.
First for day 4, dust off those hiking shoes and take a walk up to the Lipton Seat, located at the top of the Poonagala Hill.
This unique viewpoint is quite literally where Scottish tea baron, Thomas Lipton, would sit and survey his tea plantations. You can also opt to drive most of the way, if you aren’t feeling that energetic.
Note: It’ll take around 90 minutes to get to Lipton Seat from Ella in a car, but well worth the trip and heading early… we’ve also heard that lots of people do this in tuk tuk and it’s quite the experience.
Location: Dambethenna Estate, Lipton Seat Rd, Haputale
Next, spend some time at the Dambetenna Tea Factory. Built in 1890 by Lipton himself, this is the place where the term ‘ceylon tea’ was coined and where Lipton Tea was founded.
Take a tour of the factory to learn how this special brew is made. You’ll experience everything from fermentation to rolling, drying, cutting, sieving and grading of tea. The tour ends with an authentic tea tasting. It will cost you around 250 LKR (1.30 USD/1.00 GBP).
Looking for a tour to Lipton Seat and the Dametenna Tea Factory, we’d recommend this one.
Location: Dametenna Tea Factory, Dambethenna, Haputale
Open: 9.00am to 5.00pm (closed on Sundays).
Demodara Nine Arches Bridge
And of course you can’t visit Ella without checking out one of the most Instagrammable places in Sri Lanka, the famous Nine Arch Bridge.
Also known as the Bridge in the Sky, this viaduct is of the most stunning photography backgrounds in the country and alongside being an amazing example of colonial railway construction, is an iconic landmark of Sri Lanka.
Location: Nine Arches Bridge
Day 5: Ella – Nuwara Eliya – Kandy
Morning hike up Little Adam’s Peak
For the morning of day 5 of your 10 days in Sri Lanka itinerary, get up early and hike up Little Adam’s Peak, for the sunrise. It takes about 35 to 40 minutes. You’ll be rewarded with more beautiful sweeping views across the valleys, tea plantations and waterfalls of Ella.
Location: Ella – Passara Rd, Ella 90090
Experience the Sri Lankan railways
Now it’s time to make your way to the train station, to undertake one of the world’s most spectacular train journeys.
As with train trips in India, there are numerous classes that you can take, which will really define your train experience. Looking for quiet luxury and air conditioning? Take first class. Want an authentic (slightly less comfortable) experience, take second class. Want a truly realistic, pretty uncomfortable trip? Take third.
In our opinion, second class is a happy medium and allows you to chat to other Sri Lankans (rather than just be surrounded by tourists in first class) and is our pick of the trip.
The train ride is spectacular, snaking through the plantations and hills of Sri Lanka. Don’t miss it. We’d suggest taking Ella to Nanuoya (rather than the Kandy train route), so you can stop off at Nuwara Eliya for a quick tour.
Book your train tickets with Bookaway for peace of mind, but note that you can only book your trains 31 days in advance!
Travel time: The train from Ella to Nuwara Eliya will take around 3 or 4 hours, depending on what service you get… if you want to take the train directly from Ella to Kandy that will take from 5 to 6 hours.
Nuwara Eliya is a really quaint hill town, built as a way to escape the Sri Lankan heat and a reminder of England – as a minimum try to check out the old Post Office, Victoria Park and the Grand Hotel.
If you have a bit more time and can add a stop over in Nuwara Eliya, there are a number of additional things to do, from hiking in Horton Plains National Parks, the Hakgala botanical gardens, visiting the beautiful Lover’s Leap and Bomburu Falls, to a boat ride on Gregory Lake.
Arrival into Kandy
Then, back onto the road to Kandy, heading to the largest city in Central Sri Lanka – vastly different from Colombo – which is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the most important Buddhist temples in the country.
Travel time: Although the distance from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy is only 80km, saying the roads are a little bendy is a touch of an understatement, and the journey will take you around 2 hours 30 minutes.
Where to stay in Kandy
Budget: There’s no doubt that Clock Inn is one of the best hostels in Kandy – sociable, great networking spaces, a fantastic all you can eat breakfast and great private rooms and dorms. But the crowning glory are the capsules! The hostel has 5 beautiful capsules, set outside on the balcony for you to just open the door and see the city laid before you. A very cool concept and perfect for the budget traveller!
Mid-range: We’d recommend one of the best mid-range options in Kandy – Elegant Hotel. With one four rooms, this is a small boutique hotel but it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s set slightly outside of Kandy but that’s part of the appeal, as you’ll find a laidback property with to-die-for views of the hills, with an incredible pool. Highly-rated!
Luxury: Best of the bunch is definitely Theva Residency, a luxurious resort with insane views, especially from the pool. This particularly Instagrammable hotel is also renowned for its cuisine – top notch, delicious food is on offer in the on-site restaurant.
Day 6: Kandy
Kandy is a historical site that was ruled by great kings until the British took over in 1815. In comparison to the towns that you’ve visited so far on this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary, it’s a lot more bustling and frenetic.
There are 3 must-do items on the itinerary here: the Temple of the Tooth, the city markets and a Traditional Kandyan dance.
Temple of the Tooth
First up for today, the Temple of the Tooth. This impressive structure houses one of the most significant relics of the Buddha – the sacred tooth relic.
It’s a must-visit but, you have been warned: It’s swarming with tourists and locals at all times of the day. Be prepared to be crammed into the temple and inch slowly around the various sights. If you are skipping the traditional dance (coming up as #3 to visit in Kandy), then we’d suggest visiting at night. This is when the candles are lit outside, and the entire estate has an almost ethereal atmosphere.
The cost for entry to the temple is 1000 LKR (5.20 USD/4.10 GBP).
Location: Sri Dalada Veediya, Kandy 20000
Open: Daily from 5.30am to 8.00pm
Note: Make sure you dress appropriately (covering knees and shoulders) when visiting any religious site, especially in Sri Lanka which is a pretty conservative country in general.
For the afternoon, it’s recommended to mosey around the city and markets – make sure you head to Kandy Market Hall and take a walk around Kandy Lake.
The markets aren’t for the weak of stomach (think raw meat on pavements) but does offer some delicious tropical fruit and a great insight into the daily life of the Kandy residents.
Location: Market Street, Kandy
Open: 7.00am to 9.00pm daily
Traditional Kandyan Dance
To round off the day, you can witness a traditional Kandyan dance. Rich in colour and agile in movement, you’ll see Sinhalese dancers, energetic drummers and fireproof firewalkers all in one spellbinding, almost hypnotic show.
The show was beautiful, and we’re really glad that we went, but fair warning, the theatre itself was not the cleanest…
Bonus activities in Kandy
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue
You’ll definitely notice this imposing Buddha statue at the Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya temple when in Kandy as it’s pretty visible from much of the city.
At nearly 27m tall it’s one of the tallest Buddhas in Sri Lanka and if you have time definitely worth a visit, especially in the evenings as it’s a great vantage point to take photos of Kandy.
Royal Botanical Garden
If you have the time to spare, its worth getting out of the city and heading just four kilometres away to Peradeniya, which houses the Royal Botanical Garden. Covering about 59 hectares, the gardens date back the ancient kings of Kandy and are absolutely beautiful. Definitely check out the orchid house when you’re there.
Day 7: Kandy – Sigiriya
After exploring the hustle of Kandy, it’s time to head off to a more peaceful corner of the country; the Cultural Triangle, as it’s known.
Today you’ll spend a bit of time in the car, but you should undoubtedly stop en-route to see the incredible Dambulla Cave temple.
Travel time: The drive from Kandy to Dambulla is around 70km and will take 2 hours.
Dambulla Cave Temple
The temple is a vast, isolated rock mass set about 150m above ground which includes a complex of five caves, boasting over 2000 square metres worth of painted walls, ceilings and statues. Think gigantic Buddhas carved out of rock or 150 life-size deities, scattered amongst the caves. There is also another lovely temple next door, if you are feeling energetic.
It’s another absolute must-visit location on your 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary – before we went we had never heard of the temple but it’s a brilliant place.
Cost to enter the Dambulla Cave Temple is 1500 LKR (7.80 USD/6.25 GBP).
Open: 7.00am to 7.00pm daily
Travel time: The drive from the Dambulla Cave temple to Sigiriya is around 45 minutes – with the journey only being around 20km.
You should hit your hotel in the early afternoon, giving you some time to relax, especially since you have an early start tomorrow and a couple of big activities!
Where to stay in Sigiriya
Budget: All the ten-star reviews can’t be wrong: Book a bed at Roy’s Villa Hotel. A homely hostel where everyone feels welcome, Roys is set outside the city but close to Lion Rock – a perfect location in nature where you’ll likely run into monkeys and birds each morning. You’ll be able to swim in their lake, walk through the rice fields or do a ‘family dinner’ with fellow travellers eating local cuisine. Roys is an institution!
Mid-range: Luxury on a budget is the theme at Kumbukgaha Villa, where you’ll find gorgeous bedrooms with exquisite open-air bathrooms – what better way to end a day in Sigiriya than a rain shower under the stars? This is a beautiful property with peacocks in the garden, a fantastic outdoor pool and a top-notch outdoor restaurant, all rolled into an eco-retreat.
Luxury: We can’t recommend this hotel enough – when you’re in Sigiriya do stay at the Aliya Resort. With the swimming pool set as the eye-catching central feature, this chic hotel is set on the beach in beautifully manicured grounds with lovely chalet type accommodation. What we particularly liked about Aliya though is the top-notch service… and the food! The on-site restaurant has great food and cocktails on offer, that we still dream of today.
Day 8: Sigiriya
Climb Sigiriya Rock
Another absolute must visit attraction on your 10 days in Sri Lanka itinerary is to visit Sigiriya Rock.
Proposed as the eighth wonder of the world, Sigiriya Rock Fortress (also known as Lion Rock) is an imposing rock, rising out of the jungle at 370 metres high. Set atop it is a beautiful monastic complex including caved temples, ponds and landscaped gardens, all built by King Kassapa between 477 and 495.
Head out early to beat the masses (ideally 7am or so), because this attraction can get incredibly crowded. It’s also not great for those with a fear of heights – the spiral staircase can get a bit packed and doesn’t have much in the way of railings, so can be stressful.
James suffers pretty badly from a fear of heights and he struggled a little bit to get all the way to the top, but if you persevere – you’ll be able to do it!
Cost for entrance to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress compound is 30 USD per person (24.00 GBP). So quite expensive for foreigners!
Location: Rock Front, Sigiriya 21120
Open: Daily from 7.00am to 4.00pm
Top tip: You can also head to another viewpoint of Sigiriya, called Pidurangala Rock, to get a gorgeous view across the terrain.
Location: Pidurangala Rock
Minneriya National Park
And for this afternoon’s activities, head to the Minneriya National Park.
On the banks of the Minneriya reservoir, the park boasts an event known as The Gathering. Essentially 250 elephants coming together at once every few days. Hire a jeep for a safari and you’ll not only encounter elephants on every turn, but also bird species like Grey heron and painted storks, as well as gorgeous little pink-faced monkeys.
The cost for a jeep safari with tour guide at the Minneriya for two will set you back 15,000 LKR (80 USD/64 GBP). That also includes your National Park entrance fee which is around $15 per person.
Note: If we’re honest here – the Minneriya safari wasn’t our favourite activity during our 10 days in Sri Lanka. But that said, having been on safari in Africa many times, perhaps we’re a little bit spoilt. In our opinion, Minneriya felt over-commercialised – heading to The Gathering, there were at least 30 other jeeps alongside us, racing towards the elephants. But if you haven’t had a chance to see elephants before – then it’s definitely worth it.
Location: Maradankadawala-Habarana-Thirukkondaiadimadu Highway, Rambawilla 50150
Open: Daily 6.00am to 6.30pm
Day 9: Sigiriya – Wilpattu – Chilaw
This morning you should leave Sigiriya and head to Anuradhapura.
Travel Time: The drive from Sigiriya to Anuradhapura will take you between 90 minutes and 2 hours, so make sure you head relatively early.
Seen as equal to the Pyramids of Giza in terms of architecture, this sacred city was the first Royal Kingdom and capital of Sri Lanka and is filled to the brim with history.
The most northernly point that you’ll reach on this Sri Lanka itinerary, Anuradhapura is another UNESCO World Heritage site,
Have a walk alongside pilgrims to see Buddha’s fig tree or take a stroll to see the enormous white Dagoba.
Stay in the area for lunch and then make your way to Wilpattu National Park
Travel time: The drive from Anuradhapura to Wilpattu National Park is only 40km and should take less than an hour (maybe 45 minutes on a good run). Although make sure that you head to the Safari Park entrance – see location details below, as the National Park is pretty large!
Wilpattu National Park
Now in comparison to Minneriya National Park, this was one that we adored. And if you have to choose just one to visit, then make sure that this one is on your Sri Lanka itinerary!
Far more authentic, the Wilpattu National Park (Land of Lakes), is one of the largest and oldest parks in Sri Lanka. If you’re lucky it’s also one of the best places to see the elusive leopard. Of course, we didn’t see one – a long-running joke considering how many safaris we have been on!
We loved Wilpattu – a more rustic jeep, bouncing around the winding dirt roads with dust in your nose and the wind in your ears. A good-natured, experienced guide. And teeming wildlife – elephants, sloths, leopards (apparently!), water buffalo, crocodiles and your standard list of birds, reptiles and insects.
A jeep safari with tour guide in the Wilpattu National Park will cost you around 78 USD per person based on two people (62.50 GBP).
Note: if you’re keen to spend the night at Wilpattu National Park and get a few more game drives in, then check out the option to camp there overnight. It is quite pricey, but looks very much like luxurious glamping…
Location: Wilpattu Safari Camp
Open: Daily from 6.00am to 6.00pm
Chilaw for the evening
As a way to complete the loop, and as a great place to rest up before heading on to Colombo is to break up the journey with a stop in Chilaw.
Travel time: The drive from Wilpattu National Park to Chilaw is around 2 hours, although you could feasibly push onto Colombo, which will take you around 4 hours – but that would make day 9 a very long one. We’d definitely punt for a more relaxing evening in Chilaw, and quick dip in the sea in the morning before heading on to Colombo!
Where to stay in Chilaw
There is only one real option in Chilaw: Anantara, which skirts the line between mid-range and luxury. If you can’t afford it, we’d suggest pushing on to stay towards Negombo, and have added some options there…
Budget: While it’s not a hostel, Breeze Residence, is a wonderful, cheap place to stay on the way Colombo (it’s in Negombo – somewhere we explore in our Bonus Stops section below). Highly rated for its service, Breeze have great (although basic) rooms with all the conveniences you need (including a private terrace!) and some lovely local cuisine on offer.
Mid-range: Set in 11 acres of amazing natural beauty, the Suriya Resort is a solid mid-range option, set near both the sea and also the Ging Oya River, which circles the property. This large hotel also offers five overwater villas if you’re that way inclined but, either way, the rooms are well-appointed, and service is great.
Luxury: As mentioned, there is only one real option in Chilaw – the Anantara Hotel Chilaw. Part of the famous Anantara chain this hotel on the beach has lovely rooms, great dining options and we really enjoyed the staff’s service.
Day 10: Colombo
It’s your final day in Sri Lanka, but you can’t end it without visiting the beating heart of the country: Colombo.
Travel time: Make sure you leave early from Chilaw in the morning as it’ll take around 2 hours to get to Colombo!
Visit the National Museum
As you’ve only got one day in Colombo, then we’d suggest you a lightning quick tour of the city and grab a tuk tuk to see the key sights.
First up the National Museum, is the largest museum of the country, dedicated to the ancient history of the country, and housing national treasures and artworks.
If you can, we’d suggest that you allow yourself at least a couple of hours to explore the 11 galleries of the Colombo National Museum.
Cost for entry to the National Museum is 1000 LKR (5.20 USD/4.10 GBP).
Location: Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 00700
Opening hours: 9.00am to 5.00pm daily
This Buddhist temple, next to Lake Beira, is a must visit location in Colombo. The Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most famous in the country and one of the most visited attractions in the capital.
Alongside the temple, make sure that you take the time to visit the temple museum, or you may well miss the world’s smallest Buddha statue.
Location: 61 Sri Jinarathana Rd, Colombo 00200
Open: 6.00am to 10.00pm
Explore the Fort Area
And for the final stop(s) of the day, head over to the colonial buildings of the Fort Area of Colombo to admire some of the beautiful buildings.
The Fort (much like the one in Galle) was initially developed by the Portuguese before falling into the hands of the Dutch. Buildings not to miss include the Post Office, Lighthouse, the Old Colombo Dutch Hospital and the churches.
Once you’re done, if you want to find somewhere for sunset, its worth heading to the Galle Face Green Promenade, an urban seaside park with great ocean views.
Location: Colombo Fort Area
Where to stay in Colombo
Budget: ‘More than just a bed’ is their tagline and Bunkyard Hostels is just that: a stylish, very sociable hostel that is easily the best in Colombo. A great place to find like-minded travellers, they also operate great, clean dorms and an affordable restaurant. This one is a must if you need wallet-friendly accommodation.
Mid-range: Right in the mid-range bracket is the OZO Colombo. With fantastic sea views from the rooms, a great fitness centre, wonderful food on-site and a lovely outdoor pool, this is a great option, if a little at the top of the mid-range. It’s also near the railway station, making it easy if travelling via train.
Luxury: It’s a bit of a no-brainer – when in Colombo and on a larger budget, choose the Shangri-La. Set on the Galle Face promenade, this incredible hotel has the signature Shangri-La service, beautiful views and – of course – well-appointed rooms.
Bonus activities in Colombo
Just in case you have a little more time or want to add some alternative options to your itinerary in Colombo, here are a few recommended bonus activities to consider.
The Red Mosque
The Jami Ul-alfar Mosque (unsurprisingly also called the Red Mosque – see the photo below), is an absolutely stunning building, so if you can get your tuk tuk driver to head to this one, it’s worth it just for the photo.
Although you’ll only be able to view the outside of the mosque as only worshippers are allowed to enter.
Location: 2nd Cross Street, Colombo
If you want to find out what life is like in Colombo, then you have to head to Pettah Market, also known as Manning Market.
This fresh air market offers everything from electronics and clothes to fresh food. And with that throngs of locals, sounds and smells that you’ll only find in street markets in Asia.
This chaotic corner of Colombo, located near to the Reed Mosque and the Colombo Fort Train Station is a great addition to any Colombo itinerary.
Location: Keyzer St, Colombo
Best places to eat in Colombo
And, when in Colombo, you must eat crab (it’s like a rite of passage).
Book ahead with Ministry of Crab but beware – if they don’t catch enough crabs, you could see your booking cancelled.
Location: Old Dutch Hospital Complex, 04 Hospital St, Colombo 00100
Open: Lunch from 12.00pm to 3.30pm, dinner from 5.00pm to 10.30pm. Closed on full moon days!
And, if that happens, our suggestion is the Gallery Café. Part of an upmarket complex called Paradise Road including arts and crafts and small retail stores. Eat the Black Pork Curry if you dare…
Location: 2 Alfred House Rd, Colombo 00300
Open: 10.00am to midnight
Related: Our perfect 10 day Vietnam itinerary
10 day Sri Lanka itinerary interactive map
Bonus activities to add to your 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary
If you’ve only got ten days in Sri Lanka, you have to make some difficult choices on your itinerary – even the one above doesn’t touch on all the wonderful places you could visit. So, with that in mind, we’ve listed a number of the other key cities and attractions that you could consider adding to your agenda.
Yala National Park
It’s the most famous (and popular) national park in Sri Lanka for good reason: Yala National Park is really a must if you can fit it into your Sri Lanka 10 day itinerary. This park, stretching over 1,200 square km of grasslands and lagoons, is situated down on the south eastern side of Sri Lanka, so usually paired as part of a trip between Galle/Mirissa to Arugam Bay or up to Ella.
Essentially the park is made up of five zones, two of which are open to the public and the rest used for research. This means that animals roam quite freely since they aren’t bothered by jeeps all over the park; making this a great wildlife-spotting experience. It can be slightly crowded with tourists (particularly in February) but usually you’ll be able to drive around with your guide in a safari jeep without feeling like you’re infringing too much on the natural habitat of all the animals here.
In terms of the wildlife you’re sure to spot, you’ll definitely encounter Sri Lankan spotted deer, water buffalo and a number of different birds including the beautiful crested eagle. Elephants are not as populous as the next park we cover (Uda Walawe) but you might still see a few. The main drawcard for Yala, though, is definitely the Sri Lankan leopard. If you want to see a leopard, this national park gives you the best chance in Sri Lanka – although of course, as with all game spotting, it just can’t be guaranteed.
There are lots of options for tours – full day, or the more popular 3 hour tours operated in the morning or evening (check those out here). But, if you really want an incredible, we suggest you check out this 2 day Yala National Park tour where you can stay overnight in the park in a luxury treehouse, swapping safari stories over a campfire! Bliss…
Uda Walawe National Park
Want to see the most wild elephants in the world? Then add Uda Walawe National Park (also spelled as Udawalawe National Park) to your list. It’s technically only one hour by road from Yala (by Sri Lankan standards that’s maybe 90 minutes), so you could pack both National Parks into your Sri Lanka itinerary!
Originally created as a reserve dedicated to the mammals dislocated when a large reservoir dam was built, Uda Walawe is now the third largest national park in Sri Lanka and a great game spotting location. You’ll find at least 250 elephants as permanent residents here (there are an estimated 5000 roaming about), and a world-class protection programme known as the ‘Elephant Transit Home’ for abandoned elephant calves. You’ll definitely spot lots of sambar deer, water buffalo and wild boars and if you’re particularly lucky, the elusive leopard or even sloth bear!
When we last checked, a safari is around 3500 LKR (18.20 USD/14.60 GBP) per adult. However, you can book it as a whole day out including hotel pickup, lunch and the safari – find a slot here.
There are two safari options: a morning safari between 6.00 – 9.00am or the 3.00 – 6.00pm afternoon slot.
It’s a hop, skip and a jump between Weligama and Mirissa (only 8km in fact!) so if you’re keen on spending more time down south near Galle and Weligama, then Mirissa is a great choice. This quiet seaside town is great for a bit of relaxation, perhaps a trip out to see those fishermen again but definitely positioned for lots of activities on the water.
From great beaches including Mirissa Beach and Secret Beach to some epic surfing (we’re told the surf camp with Elsewhere Surf is a good option), water babies will delight at their time in Mirissa. The town is also pretty famous for its whale watching tours where you’ll probably spot blue whales, sperm whales and dolphins.
Instagrammers will also be attracted to one particular spot in Mirissa: Coconut Tree Hill. It’s a short 15 minute walk from Mirissa Beach and showcases the sea along with a circle of palm trees, which makes for a postcard perfect shot for your IG feed!
Sticking in the south of Sri Lanka, we’ve got another seaside town you could potentially consider adding to your Sri Lanka tour: Tangalle. It’s even quieter than Mirissa, with even more beaches to sample. Here you can take your pick: the busier Goyambokka Beach complete with beachfront restaurants and sun loungers for hire or quieter, more secluded beaches like the aptly named Silent Beach, which we think is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka.
About 20 minutes from Tangalle you’ll also find a pretty unique attraction: a turtle hatchery! The town or Rekawa is where turtles come back each night to lay their eggs and you can book yourself in to see this amazing phenomenon up close and personal. It’s run by the local community and takes previous egg poachers and turns them into ‘protectors’ who patrol the beaches to look after the nests from human and animal predators. It’s a fascinating thing to watch, so possibly one to add to your list!
Moving up north is a great stop on your Sri Lanka itinerary, Polonnaruwa. Best paired with your stop in Sigiriya (just 60 km away), often visitors toss up between travelling to Polonnaruwa or Anuradhapura (of course we chose the latter in this itinerary).
They’re similar in that both are ancient cities and previous capitals but Polonnaruwa is slightly smaller and less visited, making it a more off the beaten track location. The history is that it was really the centre of Sri Lanka’s commercial activity from around the 10th century when the Chola dynasty took over Sri Lanka. They decreed the city as their capital (moving it from Anuradhapura) and built a large imperial city. Over time the city fell out of favour and when the capital moved to Colombo, most of the beautiful old buildings fell into disrepair.
That means its quite an atmospheric place to traipse about, as you walk through the ruins of the Royal Palace, check out the Sacred Quadrangle and check out the many dagabas (essentially a stupa) dotted around the city.
It’s so close to Colombo’s international airport, that many visitors don’t even know that Negombo is its own town, thinking it’s a suburb of Colombo. But Negombo is a great place to stay – especially when you’re leaving Sri Lanka – since its undoubtedly less hectic than bustling Colombo. While you’re there you can also add a few activities like going to their fish market to see the action each morning, visiting some of the key sights like the Dutch Fort, St Mary’s Church and the Angurukaramulla Temple, actually spending time on the lagoon fishing or a walk on the (not so picturesque if we’re honest), Negombo Beach.
On your way between Colombo and Balapitiya, you could instead decide to stop at the beautiful town of Bentota which – you guessed it – is known for its beaches. Known as Bentota Beach but also called Ventura Beach, this is one of the more beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka and offers heaps of activities like parasailing, windsurfing and jetskiing. The surrounding Bentota Aturuwella area is also great for hiking – you’ll traverse rice paddies, see old Dutch buildings like the Katukoliha temple and hopefully spot some migratory birds.
A keen climber? Then Adam’s Peak is a must. About 70km from Colombo is this conical mountain which soars around 2,000 metres into the air. Also known as Sri Pada (sacred footsteps), it’s believed Adam took his first steps on earth here, after being expelled from the Garden of Eden, while Buddhists believe that the footprint of Buddha is located here and the Hindu’s think its Shiva!). It also goes by the name butterfly mountain (Samanala Kanda) since there are thousands of butterflies flitting about at certain times of the year.
It’s not an incredibly difficult climb but does include about 6,000 slightly worn steps and some steep uphill parts, taking between two and four hours to the summit. And, like most things in life, getting up early will be worth your while, since Adam’s Peak is best done for sunrise.
Note: Don’t be confused at the terminology – Little Adam’s Peak is in Ella and is vastly different hiking to this Adam’s Peak!
It’s usually not at the top of the Sri Lanka bucket list but Jaffna, a city located at the northern tip of the country, has quite a bit to offer. From a huge fort to rival the one in Galle, renowned markets and some sacred Buddhist sites to visit, you could easily add a day or two in this historic town.
One of the main attractions are the two markets – the daily food market full of delicious cuisine to sample and where you can buy fresh fruit and veg, and their famous daily fish market which happens early each morning. Coupled with the ancient Jaffna Fort complex this, and the Hindu temple of Nallur Kandiswamy Kovil are what attracts most visitors to this small city.
Island hoppers will also tell you that Jaffna is the gateway to Neduntheevu Island, also known as Delft Island, which is a charming island which will transport you back in town with its quaint villages and, of course, palm trees on the beach!
Avid kite surfers will extoll the virtues of cool Kalitiya, formerly a fishing village now turned into beach haven with some incredible kite surfing conditions. The town, located on a peninsula on Sri Lanka’s west coast about 170km from Colombo, was originally envisioned as a huge tourist mecca but, when plans were shelved, only a few beach hotels had been built. That means Kalpitiya has gorgeous beaches to offer, without hordes of sun worshippers, making it a great destination for beach lovers looking to get off the usual track.
Kite surfers usually make their way there between May to September when the wind conditions are just right but for other travellers we’d suggest heading to Kalpitiya in November or December, for their acclaimed dolphin and whale watching season!
Last, but definitely not least, on this list of bonus stops on your Sri Lanka itinerary, is the awesome Arugam Bay. This one is for the traditional surfers, as this moon shaped beach break offers some of the best surfing in all of Sri Lanka and has even made its way into the top ten surf spots in the world!
This town is not much – a main street of shops, restaurants and places to rent surf gear – but that’s really part of the charm: a laidback, charming surfer’s mecca. The main three surf areas are Main Point (for the more experienced surfers), Whiskey Point (where most of the surf lessons take place), and Peanut Farm.
While the town is really geared towards surfing, you can also do a yoga class (or two), drive to nearby Kumana National Park or go to ‘Panama Tank’, also known as Crocodile Point, where you can spot lots of – you guessed it – crocodiles! You could also just chill out on one of the beaches, watching the surf or the fishermen bring in their daily haul…
When is the best time to go to Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is actually affected by two different monsoons, so the best time of year to visit depends on where you are going in the country.
Based on our suggested 10 days in Sri Lanka itinerary, which is predominantly in the south, central and west of the country then December to March are the months that will give you the best weather, although really from October onwards and you should get decent weather.
For the east coast and the north of Sri Lanka then you’re better off going between April and September.
What budget do you need for 10 days in Sri Lanka?
So the golden question: how much does 10 days in sri Lanka cost?
Excluding your flights, insurance and other holiday pre-purchases, a backpacking/hostel budget would be around 50 GBP per day (62.50 USD), if you’re looking for that mid-range towards a 4* comfort, maybe up that towards 80 to 100 GBP (100 – 125 USD) and if you’re wanting to go full on luxury, you could obviously spend significantly more!
We budgeted around 150 GBP (185 USD) per day on average including all activities, eating at great places, and staying towards high-end with a couple of luxury stays thrown in. It was part of our honeymoon after all!
I hope you enjoyed this 10 day Sri Lanka travel guide, and that you make your way to this beautiful country soon. And, if you’re looking to go for a bit longer than 10 days and even more Sri Lanka travel tips, we love this 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary, which includes destinations on the gorgeous east coast, perfect for a longer jaunt.
How do I stay connected while in Sri Lanka?
Whether you’re a die-hard digital nomad or just a tech-savvy tourist, having a stable internet connection while travelling is critical for most. Luckily, the data connections in Sri Lanka are pretty good, and data is affordable.
It’s best to purchase a Sri Lanka sim card in advance though, since it’s a better deal to get a prepaid sim that you can just pick up at the airport!
Have your own tips to add or have a question? Get in touch with us, and we’d be happy to help.
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
Want to save this for later? Why not pin it…