The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Sri Lanka: 3 Weeks of Adventure

With this Sri Lanka Itinerary, 3 weeks is enough to experience the best that the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” has to offer. From surfing & chilling on at the beach, to elephant and leopard filled Sri Lanka safaris, to scenic tuk tuk and train rides through the cool highlands of tea country and 2,000 year old ruins, this guide will help you experience all that Sri Lanka has to offer, adventurously, and cheaply.

The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Sri Lanka: 3 Weeks of Adventure

Most travelers and adventurous wanderers want a unique experience that overloads their senses and gives them a taste of the exotic – even if they only have 2 to 3 weeks to squeeze that adventure into.  This is precisely why a 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary is perfect for travelers – both new and adventurous.  The country’s landscapes and beauty are so varied within such a small island, from pristine beaches to Serengeti like plains and green, towering peaks, that everything you could want is within a few hours ride.

The kicker – all of these sites and adventures are conveniently accessible via easy to navigate public transportation and a low cost of travel.

All of this adds up to Sri Lanka being a nearly perfect destination not to be missed. 

Welcome to Sri Lanka.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

WHY VISIT SRI LANKA

With all of the great locales around the world, why should you, as an adventurous traveler with only a few weeks free and a tight budget, visit Sri Lanka?

The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Sri Lanka: 3 Weeks of Adventure

Here are my 5 favorite reasons to visit Sri Lanka:

  1. Sri Lanka is cheap to travel through, experience, and enjoy, for much less than $50 a day
  2. The varied landscapes, from pristine beaches to towering mountains and lush, green jungles and tea country make it an outdoorsy paradise
  3. Seeing epic animals…in the wild – elephants, leopards, buffalo, crocs, and so much more – is priceless.  No need for inhumane zoos and exploitative “sanctuaries”
  4. The adventures that abound in Sri Lanka – whether you want to surf, hike, drive a tuk-tuk, or anything else – are more than you could ask for in such a small destination
  5. The culture and history – from 2,000 year old ruins that rival Angkor wat, to mellow seafood curries, to the mild and welcoming elegance of the locals, the cultural experience in Sri Lanka is beyond rich.

Here are a few other factors that make a 3 Week Sri Lanka Itinerary the perfect use of your precious annual vacation and limited time.

  • An 8-hour drive takes you all of the way across Sri Lanka – passing any attraction you may want to see along the way
  • Public buses and trains will take you to anywhere in Sri Lanka, for less than $5 USD
  • Each National Park “specializes” in a type of animal, like elephants or leopards or critters that hang near the water
  • Sri Lanka is the best place to see elephants in Asia in the wild, humanely treated, respected, and living naturally.

What does all of this add up to? 

An adventure travel destination that offers the chance to experience nearly anything you could want within a comfortable 2-3 week period.  Few places on the planet pack as much fun, experience, and adventure into such a convenient package.

That is why Sri Lanka should be your next destination.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM SRI LANKA

BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE…

During my three weeks in Sri Lanka, I experienced more in a single trip, in a single country, in a single month, than I had in over 50 countries over a few years.

I scrapped my schedule completely and lounged on the beach, waiting for surf and laying in a hammock with a book and a coconut.

I rode through a national park filled with wild animals, solo, in my tuk-tuk, coming within arms reach of wild monkeys, boar, peacocks, and (my favorite) gentle and charismatic elephants.

I took a wrong turn and ended up in a monastery filled with 7 year old monks and helped them practice their English for 20 minutes before I gave them all of the cookies and chocolate I had in my tuk tuk (that monkeys hadn’t taken).

I hiked countless trails to jaggedly steep hills to views that seemed to extend hundreds of miles.

I wandered through religious holy sites, around towering stupas and through the ruins of ancient kingdoms.

I couldn’t have asked for more…and…

I highly recommend visiting Sri Lanka for yourself.


WHAT TO DO IN SRI LANKA | THE ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES

Now you know that Sri Lanka is an amazing destination because it offers so much, but it is incredibly easy to get overwhelmed as you research everything there is to do.

Though 2 to 3 weeks in Sri Lanka is enough to pack in a bit of everything, its far from enough to pack in everything that Sri Lanka has to offer.

To avoid that dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out) or burning yourself out and ruining a vacation by doing too much, I recommend planning your Sri Lanka trip by starting with just one of each of the essential Sri Lanka experiences (listed below).  This way, you capture the best of what to do in Sri Lanka at the start of your planning, without planning too much.  From here, add more of your fave types of travel experiences as icing that tropical travel cake.

Below are provided two perfect options for a great Sri Lanka itinerary of 3 weeks, and a few more for 1 week, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and an all Sri Lanka Surf itinerary, but I recommend adapting them for what you love. The list of “essential Sri Lanka experiences” that follows will help you keep your itinerary manageable without missing any “must-see sites” and “must do” experiences.

Pick one from each option and you’ll have the perfect itinerary for your tastes on your hands

If you trust me that much click here to jump to our Sri Lanka Itinerary for 3 Weeks


THE ESSENTIAL SRI LANKA EXPERIENCES

  1. [Beaches]
  2. [Surfing]
  3. [UNESCO World Heritage Sites]
  4. [Kandy – Ella Train Ride]
  5. [Safari in A National Park]
  6. [Hill and Tea Country]
  7. [History, Culture, and Archeology]

1. [Beaches] Visit a beautiful beach to lounge, hang in a hammock, and sunbathe

  • Best Options: Tangalle, Trincomalee, and Arugam Bay

2. [Surfing] Try to surf, then enjoy watching the experienced surfers shred

Arugam Bay’s Main Point (Photo Credit: @surfingsl )

3. [UNESCO Sites] Visit a 1000+ year old fortress, castle, or religious site

The Dambulla Cave Monastery: Carved into cliffs and adorned with frescos and statues of the Buddah

4. [Kandy Ella Train] Ride “the most beautiful train ride in the world” through lush, green, tea country

5. [Safari in a National Park] See exotic animals you thought you’d only see in Africa or a zoo

6. [Hill and Tea Country] Wander and hike through the lush green hills of tea country

7. [History, Culture, and Archeology] Wander through 1500+ year old cities and kingdoms with ruins that rival Angkor Wat and Bagan, Myanmar

MY #1 TIP FOR SRI LANKA:

RENT A TUK TUK AND DRIVE YOURSELF…HERE’S WHY…

The best travel experiences aren’t just enjoyable, comfortable, enlightening, and tasty, they’re the kinds of experiences that remain potent in memory and loved more as time passes – because the experiences are truly irreplaceable. 

Perhaps these kinds of experiences are potent because of the people we travel with, the exoticness of the destination, or the serendipitous course of events.  Whatever factors create these experiences they will likely be among our favorite travel memories because they are truly a one of a kind experiences. An experience that could be replicated few other places…if at all.

This is why renting a tuk tuk and driving yourself through Sri Lanka is the best way to take your Sri Lanka adventures to the next level.

Sri Lanka is a small island, packed with as much adventure and exotic experience as you can handle.  As you peel back the layers of what the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” has to offer, ideas will be sparked, your plans will change, and the real Sri Lanka adventure will kick into high gear.  With the freedom that comes from wandering on your own three wheels, you’ll be free to map your own adventure, changing on a whim, leaving as early as you’d like or at the last minute, picking up passengers along the way, and literally going down that unknown path at the fork in the road.

Not only will renting your own tuk tuk give the kind of freedom that lets adventures blossom naturally, but you’ll adventure down the backroads that few other tourists see.

You’ll stop at restaurants with only locals and stop for monkeys, elephants, and peacocks on the side of the road. 

You’ll have fun conversations with roadside vendors happy that a foreigner wandered into their village…when most tourists never deviate from the railways and bus lines.

Honestly, my experience of just wandering the back roads in a tuk tuk had a richness that made the “normal” tourist sites lackluster – not that they were bad by any means.  Simply, as I was standing in line listening to everyone else talk about the rock we were about to see, I was thinking of the elephant I handed a banana to, or the itty bitty monks I wash chatting with when I took a wrong turn.

It is nearly impossible not to have an irreplaceably unforgettable experience driving your own Tuk Tuk through Sri Lanka.

During my experience driving a tuk tuk through Sri Lanka solo, I took mine on my own (free) safari through Yala national park, feeding wild elephants by hand. I went off the beaten track and walked through 1500 year castles with no tourists in sight.  I stopped at random beaches to surf, nap in my tuk tuk, and keep going whenever I felt like it.  I completely threw away my own itinerary on day 4 and just wandered.  It was amazing.  That was my Sri Lanka experience…and it wouldn’t have happened without my Tuk Tuk.

Read more about my Tuk Tuk experience in Sri Lanka here

YOUR 3 WEEK SRI LANKA ITINERARY, ADJUSTED BY SEASON

THE 2 PERFECT OPTIONS

The two most common questions about Sri Lanka are “ how many days should I spend in Sri Lanka” and “where should I visit in Sri Lanka”.  I’ll give you straight answers to both questions here.

3 weeks in Sri Lanka makes for the perfect itinerary.  You won’t necessarily see everything, but you’ll see enough to feel satisfied and happy, and definitely not feel like you missed out.

As for where to visit in Sri Lanka, this heavily depends on when you plan to visit – specifically whether you’ll visit between the April to November period or the November to April period.  The Sri Lankan monsoon and weather patterns are the main reasons for this.

During each half of the year, the west and east halves of Sri Lanka flip-flop from being hot and dry to being drenched in monsoon rains.  As a result, the beaches and coastal waters go from being pristine, crystal clear, and perfect to surf, to choppy, murky, and not nearly as much fun, ruining the surfing, snorkeling, and diving opportunities. 

Most tourists and tourism providers know this, so “off-season” locations on the coast are not just less fun, but they turn into ghost towns with little to do, fewer people, and poorer conditions on the water.  For these reasons, plan according to this.

November to April: Stick to the west of the island when visiting the south and beaches (Weligama, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna)

April to November: Stick to the east of the island when visiting the south and beaches (Arugam Bay)

Now that you know the two seasons and where to head in Sri Lanka for each, let’s get into the two perfect options for a Sri Lanka Itinerary of 3 Weeks – one for November to April and the other for April to November.


THE PERFECT SRI LANKA ITINERARY (3 WEEKS) FOR NOVEMBER TO APRIL

INCLUDING MAP AND ROUTE

For most travelers, November to April is the ideal time for your 3 weeks in Sri Lanka as the southwest is sunny and happening. This puts all of the great, beachy destinations within two hours by bus, train, or car from Colombo, Negombo and the airport making for a much more convenient travel experience.

You’ll skip Arugam Bay, which will be in the off-season and filled with bad weather, rains, and choppy waters.  Skipping Arugam Bay makes your itinerary a natural and easy line south from Colombo toward Galle and Weligama for beaches, then a couple hours inland for a national park and Sri Lanka Safari, then up into the hill country of Ella and Nuwara Eliya, and the cultural and historic sites of Dambula and Aradahadapura.

This is the perfect itinerary for Sri Lanka, doable by railway, public bus, or tuk tuk, experiencing a taste of everything the country has to offer without feeling rushed or deprived along the way.


The Perfect Sri Lanka Itinerary for 3 Weeks | From November to April


Recommended uses for the option days

  1. Relax in your favorite beach town for an additional day
  2. Relax in Ella for an additional day
  3. Squeeze in one more national park safari
  4. Consider a walking tour of Colombo focusing on culture and history, followed by visits to major temples and mosques, the market, and some of Anthony Bourdain’s food spots

EXPANDED 3 WEEK SRI LANKA ITINERARY FOR NOVEMBER TO APRIL


DAY 1| NEGOMBO & COLOMBO

SETTLE IN, RELAX, AND PREP FOR 3 WEEKS OF ADVENTURE

Start your trip in Negombo instead of Colombo to stay comfortable and begin day 2 fresh and ready. 

Though Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and you fly into the “Colombo Airport” Negombo is much closer to the airport (15 minutes from the airport to Negombo vs. 45 minutes to Colombo), quieter and cleaner with more accommodation options for travelers, both budget and “comfy”.  Do yourself a favor and stay in Negombo while wandering through Colombo in your free time.


THINGS TO DO | COLOMBO

Visit the following spots in the evening if you’re up to explore.  All of the spots are easily accessible by train, bus, or Uber.

  • The Pettah Markets: Located near the Colombo Fort Railway Station, these local markets will give you a quick, robust taste of daily life in Colombo.  Drop by after buying your train ticket to your next destination
  • The Red Mosque (Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid): One of the oldest mosques in Colombo and quite a sight to see
  • Galle Face Green: A grassy spot on the ocean, perfect for sunset, local food, and a local feel.  This is where Anthony Bourdain dropped by for a local meal. Be like him and hit Nana’s Street Food for a beer and whatever looks good
  • The National Museum

NEGOMBO & COLOMBO| DETAILS

How to Get There: To get from the airport to Negombo take an Uber, your most reliable and cheapest bet.  Tuk tuks, taxis, and shuttles are standing by but are overpriced and nearly impossible to negotiate down.

Tips: Beware of the common scams in Colombo

Where to Eat:

Cheap Eats in Colombo |  Best Rated Restaurants in Colombo

DAY 2 | HIKKADUWA

SUN AND RELAX IN A LOW KEY SURF TOWN

Hikkaduwa: A low key surf and beach town with cheap yet comfortable hotels and bars on the beach that practically touch the water. 

Beyond surfing, lounging on the beach and feeding turtles are the main draws of Hikkaduwa – so if you’re not ready for a surf or beach day yet, I’d suggest saving a day by continuing straight on to Galle instead.


THINGS TO DO | HIKKADUWA

  • Surfing: Rent a board or a lesson at one of the many surf shops on Hikkaduwa’s main street
  • Sunning and Turtles: Hikkaduwa’s main beach is great for soaking up some sun, where turtles also swim up to eat seaweed right out of your hands

HIKKADUWA | DETAILS

TIPS FOR HIKKADUWA

Aim for a hotel right on the beach.  Rooms are cheap (~$20) and literally about 15 feet from the water with a bar & restaurant downstairs and a view of the surf scene.  I recommend Funky Hotel, located just above Funky da Bar.


WHERE TO EAT IN HIKKADUWA

Other Cheap Eats in Hikkaduwa | Trip Advisor Best Rated Restaurants in Hikkaduwa


WHERE TO SLEEP IN HIKKADUWA

Funky Hotel: I recommend Funky Hotel, cheap, modern, and right on the beach, situated above Funky da Bar (which is right on the beach too) but there are plenty of other great hotels in Hikkaduwa


GETTING TO HIKKADUWA

By Train from Colombo to Hikkaduwa will be the cheapest and most straight forward as you can go to the Colombo Fort railway station to purchase first-class tickets with reserved seating

By Bus from Colombo to Hikkaduwa is another quick, easy and cheap option, just ask the management at your accommodation where the nearest bus stop is.

Driving your own tuk tuk is the most fun option.  Simply plug your destination into Google Maps and follow the directions down the coast.  Know going in that the drive out of Colombo will be pure, unadulterated chaos, with honking drivers, smog, and monster trucks on your tail.  Don’t be discouraged though! This is the only part of Sri Lanka wherein driving is so chaotic, the rest will be peaceful, enjoyable, and adventurous.

2 hours, 30 minutes driving (Negombo to Hikkaduwa), 3 hours by train


OTHER HIKKADUWA RESOURCES

Check out the Hikkaduwa Surf Guide to get info on the breaks, board rental, lessons, and more

DAY 3 | GALLE

WALK ALONG THE WALLS OF A UNESCO HERITAGE FORT AND THROUGH LOCAL MARKETS BY THE SEA

The UNESCO World Heritage sites of Galle’s old town and fort are the main draws for Galle, and very much worthwhile.

The ramparts of Galle Fort (Photo Credit: victoria_sviatetska)

After walking around the town along the ramparts wander through the Old Town’s center and the local markets.


THINGS TO DO | GALLE

Galle Fort: Start at the clock tower and walk toward the fort’s front gate, walking along the ramparts, past the hospital, and past the church along the way. Take some time to wander within the fort past the boutique shops and eat at wherever catches your nose.  Hit the fort wall for sunset, like the locals do.


GALLE | DETAILS

WHERE TO EAT IN GALLE

Cheap Eats in Galle Fort | Best Rated Trip Advisor Restaurants in Galle

HOW TO GET TO GALLE

By train or bus are both cheap and easy.  Check the schedule at the local bus station or rail station, as they change frequently.

By tuk tuk follow Google Maps’ directions for an enjoyable 45-minute ride, much more peaceful than driving in Colombo

Drive time: 45 Minutes (Hikkaduwa to Galle) | Rail time: 45 minutes

Click to search availability for Hotels and Hostels in Galle

DAY 4 | WELIGAMA

WELIGAMA: SURF AND RELAX ON THE BEACHES OF WELIGAMA CAPE

The Cape of Weligama is another low key beach spot that offers year-round surf.  In season (November to April) waves pump and the ocean is like glass while parties happen across the street from the beach and in the surrounding cities of Mirissa and beyond.

A view of Weligama Cape from the Best Hostel in Town (Photo Credit: hangtimehostel )

In the offseason, waves still exist between light rain showers, and they’re surfable thanks to the protection offered by Weligama’s bay setup.  This makes Weligama a great stop year-round to break up longer rides from Colombo to Yala National Park or Arugam Bay.


SITES TO SEE | THINGS TO DO


OPTIONAL STOPS NEAR WELIGAMA

  • Unawatuna: Dalawella beach and Mihiripenna beach for beautiful beaches for lounging (or Instagramming), located next to Galle (10 minutes out of town) 35 minutes before Weligama
  • Midigama Beach: Another surf option with a known break when the season is on. Check out our Midigama Surf Guide for more info
  • Mirissa: A party spot for the locals, just south of Cape Weligama

WELIGAMA| DETAILS

RECOMMENDED EXPERIENCES & TOURS


WHERE TO EAT

  • Roti shacks and food shacks along the main road/beach will be your best bet, serving rotis, kotu rotis, seafood, and fried rice.  None of it is exquisite, so stick to the basic items to avoid being disappointed
  • The Hang Ten rooftop at the Hangtime hostel is your best option for good coffee and a western style breakfast / brunch

More Cheap Eats in Weligama | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants in Weligama


HOW TO GET WELIGAMA

By bus is the easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to get to Weligama from anywhere between Colombo and Weligama, as the bus takes the expressway the entire way.  To take the bus, just drop by the main bus terminal in your departure town and ask for Weligama.  Buses generally don’t have hard schedules so you’ll have to show up and see.

Driving by Tuk Tuk from Galle simply follow Google Maps.  The route is mellow and enjoyable with some scenic seaside views

Driving Time: 50 Minutes (Galle to Weligama)


WHERE TO STAY IN WELIGAMA

  • Bunkyard Hostel:  Dorms start at $8 per night; Private rooms for $40 per night
  • Hangtime Hostel: Dorms start at $10 per night; Private rooms for $30 per night

Both hostels are lux and modern, located (literally) across the street from the main surf break (very beginner-friendly) and plenty of surf shacks for renting decent boards.

DAY 5 | TANGALLE

ARGUABLY THE MOST PEACEFULLY BEAUTIFUL BEACHES IN SOUTHWEST SRI LANKA

If you’re craving true peace on a hidden gem of a beach, stop in Tangalle.  White sands, turquoise waters, and sunbeds without the crowds are what await you in the sleepy oceanside town of Tangalle.

(Photo Credit: coralieboisseau)

THINGS TO DO | TANGALLE

Lounge…just lounge…and maybe kayak in the lagoon


TANGALLE| DETAILS

WHERE TO EAT IN TANGALLE

Cheap Eats in Tangalle | Best Rated Restaurants in Tangalle

HOW TO GET TO TANGALLE

Traveling by bus is your best bet for getting to Tangalle uninterrupted from Weligama.  Just head to the main bus terminal and look for the Tangalle bus.  The bus takes the expressway, making for a much faster, comfortable trip than by train.

By Train fromWeligama will only get you as far as Matara, as that is where the train line ends. From Matara, you’ll need to hop the bus the rest of the way to Tangalle.

By private car, the ride from Weligama to Tangalle is roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes passing Mirissa (and Mirissa Beach)

By Tuk Tuk, if you’re on that adventure, just follow Google Maps’ route and you’ll have no trouble.  The driving is light and easy and the roads are great.

Drive Time: 1 Hour, 20 Minutes (Weligama to Tangalle)


WHERE TO STAY IN TANGALLE

I didn’t stay overnight in Tangalle (as I was anxious to get to Yala National Park), but other Tuk Tuk travelers highly recommended the Guesthouses Three Little Birds and Turtle Watch Cabana

Click here to see availability for all of the Hostels and Hotels in Tangalle

DAY 6 | TISSAMAHARAMA & YALA NATIONAL PARK

SPOT LEOPARDS AND ELEPHANTS ON A JEEP SAFARI

A Sri Lanka safari experience should be on every traveler’s list while wandering Asia, and of the safari options, Yala National Park was my favorite. 

The variety of animals and the chance to do your own tour (as long as you’re driving your own tuk tuk) make Yala National Park one of my highest recommend experiences in Sri Lanka.  Elephants, leopards, water buffalo, sloth bears, monkeys, peacocks, and so much more wander Yala waiting for you to spot them on your safari.

Keep in mind that Tissamaharama is the best place to stay while exploring Yala National Park.  Tissamaharama is the city adjacent to Yala National Park’s entrance and there isn’t any accommodation in Yala (other than camping) making Tissa the cheapest and most convenient option for sleeping before your Yala safari. 

Fair warning – don’t count on much to do in Tissa aside from Yala National Park.  The town is nearly dead after nightfall

Kataragama is an option for cities to stay in, but you’ll have to backtrack to the entrance of Yala, so staying in Tissa is the better option all around. 

THINGS TO DO | TISSA & YALA NATIONAL PARK

The main (and only worthwhile) attraction from Tissa is Yala National Park, but Yala can be experienced so many different ways (by day, by night, and while camping) that you’ll need to choose your preferred option ahead of time.

Main Yala National Park Experiences


The Yala National Park Safari Experience

Yala National Park Jeep Safari gave me the unexpected (and awesome) chance for an African Sahara style safari seeing elephants, leopards, water buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys, wild hogs, peacocks, and quite a bit more along the way.  If you’re unsure which of the Sri Lankan National Parks and Safaris to do, I highly recommend Yala.

Making the drive from Tangalle in the morning, you’ll make it in time for an evening safari, seeing the animals come to life again just before sunset for a busy night.  Additionally, you can squeeze in a morning safari the following day before leaving to Ella.  The evening Yala Jeep Safari tours start around 2pm, so keep that in mind.

For those who want to splurge on an irreplaceable experience consider luxury camping under the stars for a night before doing an early morning safari.


Self-Guided Yala National Park Safari: My Recommended (and Favorite) Approach

For those on the other end of the budget spectrum (as in, “not rich”), consider renting your own tuk tuk and doing a free “self-guided safari” through Yala National Park.

On a whim, I took my tuk tuk on this route (detailed below) through Yala National park and encountered plenty of wildlife…from a tuk tuk!  A pack of wild hogs, different clusters of monkeys, peacocks, deer, buffalo, and even elephants were some of the animals I stumbled upon

Here’s how to do your own free self-guided safari of Yala National park by driving your own tuk tuk:

  • Start in Tissamaharan and follow the Google Maps directions from Tissamaharan to drive to the Sithulpawwa Monastery (also spelled Situlpawwa) via “Kirinda-Situlpawwa Road”
  • Park in the parking lot at the Sittulpawa monastery and say hello to the wild pigs and elephants that hang out in the parking lot
  • Make the quick hike up to the Situlpawwa stupa (5-10 minutes) that gives amazing and expansive views of Yala National park
  • To leave Yala, take Situlpawwa to Kataragama route via “Kataragama – Situlpawwa Road” to exit via the other side of the national park
  • To continue your self-guided safari drive road B35 from Kataragama to Buttala.  The road will be dotted with elephants and other animals

ALSO CONSIDER THESE SRI LANKA SAFARIS

Uda Walawe National Park.  Filled with elephants and a mere 2 hours away from Tangalle, the park is perfect for a safari day trip alternative to Yala if you’re in the mood to see hundreds of elephants.  You will absolutely see elephants in Yala, just fewer and the varied wildlife that Yala offers.

Or view the entire list of the best Sri Lanka Safari options


TISSAMAHARAMA & YALA NATIONAL PARK | DETAILS

COSTS

Safari of Yala National Park Fee: ~$100 booked in advance, ~$40 booked locally

TIPS FOR YALA AND TISSA

  • For accommodation stay in Tissa, you will have to stay in either Tissamaharama or Kataragama as Yala is only the national park.  Of the two options, pick Tissamaharama as you can conveniently enter the park (on your solo tuk tuk safari), then exit toward Kataragama and drive north toward your next destination.
  • Consider renting your own Tuk Tuk and doing the self-guided safari of Yala National Park and using the saved money to do a jeep safari in a different Sri Lanka National Park
  • For self-guided tuk tuk safari-ers, do theride through Yala on your way out of town.  This way you’ll drive naturally onto route B35 (another rode filled with elephants) and on to either Ella or Arugam Bay

WHERE TO EAT

Honestly, food options are limited around Tissa, so don’t any food-tastic adventures outside of all-inclusive glamping.  These lists (linked below) are your best bets for a good meal.

Cheap Eats in Tissa | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants in Tissa


HOW TO GET TO TISSAMAHARAMA, KATARAGAMA, AND YALA

There are no train lines going into Tissamaharama but there are frequent local bus lines from across the country. 

By Bus, just head to the central bus station in your city of departure and ask around

By Tuk Tuk, just follow Google Maps’ directions.  The roads are well maintained and far from busy going into Tissa    , making it an enjoyable and adventurous ride.

Drive time: 1 Hour, 20 Minutes (Tangalle to Tissamaharan)

DAY 7 | TRAVEL TO ELLA

ENJOY A BEAUTIFUL ROAD TRIP AS YOU RIDE FROM BEACHES TO HILLY TEA COUNTRY

Count Day 7 as a travel day as you drive up to the cooler climate and highlands of tea country into Ella.  For hikers, trekkers, outdoorsy types, and those who prefer mountains over beaches, you’ll fall in love with Ella.


GETTING TO ELLA

From Tissa: Head to the main bus terminal in Tissamarahama and ask around for the line going to Ella.

For those driving their own tuk tuk, follow Google Maps for the best route from Tissa to Ella and simply enjoy the ride – including Route B35 to Buttala if you wanto to see more elephants. 

Plan on your Tuk Tuk losing power as you go higher in altitude.  Also, keep a rain jacket handy and know how to pull the rain flaps down on your Tuk Tuk as rains on the route are pretty common.  The drive is beautiful as you transition from the dry brush filled lands around Yala into the lush, green, mountains of tea country.

Drive time: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes – Kataragama to Ella // Buttala to Ella (1 Hour)


WHERE TO EAT

Ella is a town mainly built around tourism – meaning there are plenty of great places to eat that cater to tourists.  If you’ve been craving western food or a cocktail, Ella’s the place for it.  If you forget where this list is, just walk down the main street of Ella and you’ll see the clear cluster of western-style restaurants and rooftop bars. 

My Favorite Ella Restaurants

  • Café Chill: Hands down my favorite bar and rooftop in Ella.  Great food. Awesome cocktails.  Bean bags.  What else do you need in life?  Perfect for relaxing after an active day
  • Ceylon Tea Factory Restaurant: Swanky and tasty
  • Café One Love: Bean bags, hammocks, and a chill ambiance

More Cheap Eats in Ella | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants in Ella

DAY 8 | ELLA

HIKE TO LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK OR ELLA ROCK FOR VIEWS THROUGH MOUNTAINS TO PLAINS + THE 9 ARCH BRIDGE

Ella is a chill outdoor mecca and mountain town surrounded by the greenery of tea country highlands.

Though Ella is very much a tourist-centric city, that doesn’t kill the charm at all thanks to its beauty.  Use your first day in Ella to take one of its two most notorious and very beautiful hikes (either the hike to Little Adam’s Peak or the hike to Ella Rock).  Then, grab some amazing pictures by sunset at the 9 Arch Bridge.

After an active day outdoors, the main street, filled with mildly touristy western restaurants, cafes, and rooftop bars, will be a bit of welcomed respite from all curry meals and beer free cities you’ve been experiencing. Treat yourself to a rooftop drink and tasty meal to end the day. 

Start with Café Chill’s bean bag filled rooftop to get acquainted with Ella.

At night, you’ll find plenty of places to chill if you have the energy – so much so that you’ll likely end up stuck in Ella longer than planned like most travelers (including me).


THINGS TO DO | ELLA

This (awesome) itinerary includes a few days in Ella, as you’ll need the extra time to enjoy this place

  • Ella Rock Hike (Day 8)
  • Little Adam’s Peak Hike (Day 8)
  • 9 Arch Bridge viewpoint (Day 8)
  • Tuk tuk Ride to Lipton’s Seat – can be done from Haputale if you don’t have a Tuk Tuk (2,000-3,000 LKR) (Day 9)
  • UVA Halpewatte Tea Factory Tour in Ella (Day 9)
  • Train ride from Ella to Haputale (or Kandy) (Day 10)

THINGS TO DO | DAY 8 IN ELLA

  • Little Adam’s Peak Hike
  • Ella Rock Hike
  • 9 Arch Bridge

Little Adam’s Peak Hike (2 hrs)

One of the highlights of Ella, this quick hike is relatively easy and delivers some epic views in return.  The starting point is a 10 to 15-minute ride outside of town making it easily accessible and something you can knock out before or after lunch.

A 1.5 – 2 hour round trip hike crawls over a ridgeline ending with unimpeded views through hill country and into the flatlands of Sri Lanka. 

On the way hiking toward the peak, you’ll pass zip-lining options if you want a quick bit of adventure. 

Beware, there are a couple points walking along the steep mountainside which can be a little vertigo-inducing, but you can easily take the inside route (over the mountain) by walking through the blade grass.

The hike isn’t too tough and is easily doable by most, just keep it slow and easy.

To do the hike, just look for the start point in Maps.Me and follow the hiking route in Maps.Me.


Ella Rock Hike (4 hrs)

A view of Ella from Ella Rock (Photo Credit: lalindra_travel)

Another fantastic hike and a bit longer, this 4 hour round trip hike gives you more of the same – fresh, cool air and highland views.

To make the Ella rock hike, head to the Ella train station and walk south (along the tracks) past the bridge and towards the Kithaella train station.  From here, continue walking along the tracks following the Maps.Me route to Ella Rock.

Expect the hike to take 4 hours round trip.


Hike to the 9 Arch Bridge

The 9 Arch Bridge of Ella, Sri Lanka (PhotoCredit: kirabramley)

End the day by making a short hike to the 9 Arch bridge closer to sunset, allowing you to get amazing pictures of pretty epic view while the light is at its best.  A 15-minute ride out of town to the hike start point and a 10-minute hike to the 9 Arch Bridge. 

Grab a refreshing coconut from the shack at the viewpoint.

DAY 9 | ELLA

TAKE THE UVA HALPEWATTE TEA FACTORY TOUR + RIDE TO LIPTON’S SEAT (IF YOU HAVE A TUK TUK)

Continue experiencing Ella and the tea country by sampling the best tea Sri Lanka has to offer while touring the Uva Halpewatte tea factory and taking the scenic drive from Ella to Lipton’s Seat if you’ve rented your own tuk tuk.

The Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory Tour – A great experience that smells amaaaaaaaazing

THINGS TO DO ON | DAY 9 IN ELLA


Ella Tea Factory Tour at the Uva Haelwatte Tea Factory

Tea is quite a complex creation, despite how simple a cup of tea may seem, and you’ll realize that moreso after taking a tour of a tea factory.  The Uva Hapelwatte Tea Factory offers a great tour of their factory, walking you through the types of leaves, the steps in processing, and how to tell a great cup of tea.  I found it to be much more interesting than expected.

The post-tour cup of tea enjoyed on a high balcony overlooking tea country is an amazing perk too.

To take the tour of the Uva Halpewatte tour, simply show up anytime between 8 AM to 4 PM for the tours that run roughly every 30 minutes, proceed to the top floor (where the store is), pay your tour fee and hangout.

The tea country of the Sri Lanka highlands (Photo Credit: martina.formankova )


Take the Scenic Ride to Lipton’s Seat

After the tour, if you’re driving your own Tuk Tuk simply plug “Lipton’s Seat” into Google Maps as your destination and follow the direction.  The ride and scenery will be unreal, and you’ll be recommending the trip to everyone you find with their own tuk tuk.

If you don’t have a tuk tuk of your own, consider hopping on a tour to Lipton’s seat. Click here to check prices and availability for Lipton’s Seat tours

DAY 10 | ELLA

TAKE A BEAUTIFUL TRAIN RIDE TO HIPUTALE AND BACK OR ONE WAY TO NUWARA ELIYA

End your time in Ella with a portion of the legendarily scenic train ride on the route from Ella to Kandy, a train winding through the green jungle hills and tea country slowly enough that you can lean out of the doorway and take a selfie, with a feel from decades ago.

A view along the most beautiful train ride in Sri Lanka (Photo Credit: tompaulbyrnes )

For most travelers, end the day with arrival in Nuwara Eliya by taking the train one way to Nanu Oya and transferring via bus for a ~30-minute ride to Nuwara Eliya

If you have your own tuk tuk and are driving through the country, ride to Haputale then turn back to Ella to drive to Nuwara Eliya in the afternoon


DETAILS OF THE ELLA -> KANDY TRAIN RIDE

No matter which approach you take (the short trip or the long trip), be smart and book your Ella -> Kandy train ride tickets in advance online with 12Go to ensure you get a seat…otherwise you’ll end up sitting on the floor as I did.

Short Option: For Tuk Tuk Drivers: Short Option Ella to Hiputale, 3hrs round trip

Book tickets for the Ella Train ride in advance via 12Go to ride the train from Ella to Haputale, getting off, and taking the same train back to Ella.  This leg (though it seems short) will give you the amazing experience that travelers talk about.

About Ella – Kandy Train Ride FOMO: If you’re driving your own tuk tuk you may be wondering if you’re missing out by not riding the full Ella to Kandy train route. Absolutely feel comfortable that you’re not missing out.  The views from your tuk tuk, from the south on to Kandy, match what you would see on the train.

Long Option: Train Ride 1: Ella to Nanuoya, connect to Nuwara Eliya

For those travelers not driving their own tuk tuks, extend your railway adventure by taking the scenic train from Ella train station Nanuoya, and then transferring to bus to travel to Nuwara Eliya where you’ll spend the night.

I’ll repeat, book your tickets to Nuwara Eliya in advance because though tickets don’t sell out, seats sell out very quickly and you’ll end up sitting on the ground for a 4-hour long train ride

DAY 11 | NUWARA ELIYA

HIKE WORLD’S END IN HORTON’S PLAINS NATIONAL PARK

Nuwara Eliya is a charming little town that offers 3 things: cool weather, views that resemble England a lot, and some nice, long, scenic hikes.  On Day 11, you’ll knock out an epic hike with an epic view: the “World’s End” hike.

A view from the cliff of World’s End (Photo Credit: allearoundtheworld )

THINGS TO DO | DAY 11 NUWARA ELIYA

  • Hike to World’s End in Horton’s Plains National Park for views from a sheer 880-meter tall cliff
  • Visit the Grand View Hotel

Hike to World’s End in Horton’s Plains National Park (3 hrs, 9.5km)

World’s End is an aptly named viewpoint as it is a cliff face with a sheer 880-meter drop, making for one of the most dramatic views in Sri Lanka.

How to Get to World’s End

Keep in mind that it tends to be chilly and wet at times in Nuwara Eliya, and it will be more so in Horton’s Plains National Park and on the hike.  Come prepared with a rain jacket and something to stay warm, especially if you’re riding up in an open-air tuk tuk.

Leaving from Nuwara Eliya, the drive is 1-1.5 hours by tuk tuk (3,000 LKR / $20 USD) or private van (4500 LKR /$30 USD).  If you’re driving your own tuk tuk simply head to the park (using Google Maps), and after reaching the ticket station, then follow the signs another 15 minutes to the trailhead.

The entrance fee to the park will be roughly $25 per person

At the trailhead, start walking!

The entire hike forms a loop converging at a fork in the road ~10-15 minutes after you start walking.  Going to the left is the faster, more strenuous route.  Going to the right is the slower, easier route. Both trails connect back around the viewpoint.

On the way back, be sure to take the opposite route to vary your views on the walk home


Visit the Grand View Hotel and Coffee Bar

End the day by dropping into the Grand Hotel for a very British view and the best coffee in tea country at the Coffee Bar located right next door.  The hotel and its grounds are grand and beautiful and the coffee shop has the best coffee in Nuwara Eliya at a very reasonable price.

NUWARA ELIYA | DETAILS

RECOMMENDED TOURS

WHERE TO EAT

Cheap Eats in Nuwara Eliya | Trip Advisor’s Best RatedRestaurants in Nuwara Eliya

DAY 12 | NUWARA ELIYA

HIKE ADAM’S PEAK + WANDER “LITTLE ENGLAND” + DRIVE TO KANDY

Finish your visit to Nuwara Eliya with a big day, by waking up early to hike to the religiously significant Adam’s Peak, wandering around “New England”, and leaving for the city of Kandy, history, and Sinhalese culture experiences.

A view of the beautiful, green, Engalnd-esqe city of Nuwara Eliya and its tea plantations (Photo Credit: winter_wanders)

THINGS TO DO | DAY 12 IN NUWARA ELIYA

  • Hike to Adam’s Peak
  • Wander “Little England”

Adam’s Peak Hike | Sri Pada Mountain (7-8 hrs round trip)

Adam’s Peak is a religiously significant spot for Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, making it a point of pilgrimage for some 20,000 Sri Lankans each year.

Viewed from above, Adam’s Peak bears a crater shaped like a footprint.  Buddhists believe this crater is the footprint of the Buddha. Hindu’s believe the crater is the footstep of Shiva.  Christians and Muslims, however, believe this crater is the footprint of the first place Adam stepped after leaving the Garden of Eden – thus giving the mountain its name – Adam’s Peak.

The 7 kilometers and ~8-hour hike takes you up 5500 steps. Most hikers start at the trailhead in the town of Delhouse/Dalhousie (Nallathanniya on Google Maps) around 2:30 AM, aiming to reach the summit by sunrise. 

Getting to Adam’s Peak: Dalhousie is a 3 hour 20-minute ride from Kandy and a 2.5-hour ride from Nuwara Eliya, so plan accordingly.  If traveling to Adam’s Peak by train take the train 2 hours and 45 minutes to Hatton station, then hop a local bus or Tuk Tuk from there.  Train tickets are available online for the ride, so book in advance to ensure you have a seat.

When to Hike Adam’s Peak Hike | Sri Pada Mountain: December to March is the optimal time.  Outside of this window, expect bad weather in the form of cold, clouds, and rain.  Though some adventurers with rain jackets may feel froggy, more rain makes those 5,000 steps a lot more slippery and treacherous and makes those leaches a lot more mobile on the hike.  The tea and snack shops that normally provide warmth and respite also close down during this season.

Guides: Odds are people will try to sell you a tour or offer guiding service.  Don’t bother.  The route is simple with one way up and one way down with plenty of other hikers/pilgrims on the trail.


TIPS

  • Bring a headlamp to make hiking in the darkness easier
  • For the leeches, do a quick search on how to remove leeches properly (with something flat, like a credit card)
  • There are many routes you can take to the top of Adam’s Peak based on your starting point – check out the Ratnapura route, the Hatton route and the Kuruwita route as alternatives
  • Beware of leaches on the route as they’re everywhere

View England’s Footprint in Nuwara Eliya…and a few extra sites

After the hike, head into town for grub and wander through the Nuwara Eliya’s preserved architecture from the British colonialization.

For the quick tour, simply plug these landmarks into Google Maps or Maps.Me and walk between them.

The “historically British” points to include in your Nuwara Eliya tour:

  • Ceylon Bank
  • British Post Office located in front of the bus station
  • Victoria Golf Course
  • Grand Hotel and Coffee Bar

OTHER SITES IN NUWARA ELIYA

  • The Single Tree Viewpoint: Located next to the Single Tree Monastery, this spot gives a great view of Nuwara Eliya
  • Rumbada Waterfall, Nanu Oya Waterfall, Lover’s Leap Waterfall
  • Oak Ray Tea Factory: If you didn’t get to visit the Uva Hapelwatte tea factory
  • Seethe Amman Hindu Temple

MOVING ON

If you’re traveling by train continue the beautiful, scenic ride from Nanuoya to Kandy, and don’t forget to book your train tickets to Kandy in advance. 

To get from Nuwara Eliya to Nanuoya, take the bus at the bus station near “Black Pool” in Nuwara Eliya for a cheap ~30-minute ride to Nanuoya’s train station.

If you’re traveling by tuk tuk simply follow Google Maps for another beautiful ride to Kandy

DAY 13 | KANDY

SEE THE TEMPLE OF BUDDHA’S TOOTH AND THE CULTURAL DANCE SHOW

Don’t get your hopes up for Kandy as it likely won’t match the beauty, charm, and allure of the other places you’ve seen in Sri Lanka.  Just count on Kandy to be a stop between Nuwara Eliya and the cultural triangle that you should skip if you can – to give yourself one more day elsewhere.

THINGS TO DO | KANDY

If you do decide to stay in Kandy for the day and want to make the most of things, squeeze the following experiences into the day

DAY 14 | DAMBULLA (ENROUTE TO SIGIRIYA)

TRAVEL TO SIGIRIYA, STOP AT DAMBULLA ROYAL CAVES ON THE WAY

Continue on toward Sigiriya, but stop at the Dambulla Royal Caves on your way.  The Dambulla royal caves make up a monastic complex and UNESCO world heritage site adorned with over 150 shrines and paintings of the Buddha, some of which are more than 2000 years old.  After seeing the caves, stop off and see the gigantic golden Buddha near the caves


THINGS TO DO | DAMBULLA (BRIEF STOP)

  • Dambulla Royal Caves + Cave Monastery [UNESCO World Heritage Site]
  • Large Golden Buddha Statue

Dambulla Royal Caves

The largest and best-preserved cave temples in Sri Lanka, this UNESCO world heritage site is a living Buddhist site that has been used by forest-dwelling monks since the 3rd century BC. The walls of the caves are filled with amazingly well preserved Buddhist statues, shrines, and frescos that cover nearly all of the walls.  Over 150 statues and pictures adorn the space, some more than 2,000 years old.

After hiking the 160 meters up to the temple and down from the Cave Temple, feel free to check out the huge gold Buddha, just north, walking distance from the caves.

After the caves, continue on to Sigiriya.  If you have a few hours of daylight left, head straight for the Pidurangala cave monastery, jumping into the Day 15 itinerary


DAMBULLA CAVES| DETAILS

Hours: 7 AM to 7 PM Daily

Cost: 1,500 LKR (~$8.50 USD)

Getting to Dambulla: Stopon the way to/from Sigiriya/Kandy or take the bus, ~500 LKR for a bus with aircon

If you don’t have time to stop in Sigiriya on the way to Anuradhapura, you can easily take a day trip to Sigiriya, Pidurangala, and Dambulla from Anuradhapura cheaply and easily.  Click here to see Sigiriya and Dambulla day trip pictures, prices, and availability.

DAY 15 | SIGIRIYA

VISIT PIDURANGALA ROCK MONASTERY FOR A VIEW OF SIGIRIYA’S LION FORTRESS

In impressive geological feature towering above an otherwise flat landscape, home to a fortress built by a bastard prince after killing his father.  The Sigiriya rock, or “Lion Fortress” is an impressive view and structure with an equally impressive back story.

You must absolutely see this site, but, not the way most tourists do – read on for how to save yourself $30 and enjoy the same magnificent view


THINGS TO DO | SIGIRIYA

  • Sigiriya Rock | Lion Fortress | Sigiriya Museum
  • Pidurangala Cave Monastery and Viewpoint of Sigiriya

Sigiriya Rock | The Lion Fortress

Sigiriya, the UNESCO World Heritage site and fortress that sits atop a prominent rock is absolutely beautiful and significant in Sinhalese history.  However, paying $30 for the experience of walking to the top of the rock is a nearly unjustifiable tourist trap that can easily leave a bitter taste in your mouth, with the $30 USD entry fee and the 3-hour wait to get in.

Many travelers question whether the Sigiriya Fortress is worth the wait and price tag.  I’ll save you the struggle – it is absolutely not.  Because nearby Pidurangala rock gives the same vast views (at $3.50), and Anuradhapura (your next stop) is filled with even more impressive ruins, there is no real reason why Sigiriya rock is worth $30.

At the top of Sigiriya, there is a series of structures, somewhat similar to Macchu Picchu in much a scaled-down version and much more dilapidated.  Simply peruse Google briefly and you’ll have enough of an idea.

Skip the FOMO itinerary of Sigiriya and instead hike to the top of Pidurangala rock for a much more enjoyable experience.

Sigiriya Rock Info

  • Hours:
  • Cost: 4,500 LKR | $25 USD
  • Getting to Sigiriya: Take the local bus to Sigiriya from Kandy or Anuradhapura for $7

Tips for Sigiriya Rock

  • Go early (at first opening) to avoid crowds and have the site to yourself
  • Pair the experience of Sigiriya with a hike to the top of Pidurangala rock at sunset, for a sunset view of Sigiriya Rock

Pindurangala Rock (and a view of Sigiriya)

A mere mile from Sigiriya rock sits the Pidurangala monastery.

To enter, simply follows the directions on Google maps until you arrive at the parking lot for Pidurangala – on the road in you’ll see a handful of archeological sites to your left and right, similar to the grounds around Sigiriya rock (that you would have to pay to see) and freely open for you to wander through.

After parking, simply head into the small monastery (taking off your shoes and covering up accordingly), pay the $3.50 entrance fee, and start hiking!  The hike leads up around Pidurangala rock, passing by the remains of a large reclining Buddha and the remains of rooms where monks once lived.

The last 20 meters of the hike is “interesting” and fun as you’ll have to climb through a hole in the rock – but – on the other side you’re rewarded with expansive views of the landscape in all directions, and an exquisite view of the fortress at Sigiriya.

Tips for Sigiriya and Pidurangala

  • Wear soles with good shoes worthy of hiking
  • If you’re on a budget, skip Sigiriya and hike Pidurangala instead

PIDURANGALA| DETAILS

COSTS

  1. Sigiriya Entry Fee: $30 USD
  2. Pidurangala Entry Fee: $3.50 USD

TIPS

  • Skip the entry to Sigiriya if you’re on a budget and opt for just Pidurangala instead

WHERE TO EAT

Cheap Eats | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants in Sigiriya


GETTING TO PIDURANGALA

  • From Kandy, head to the main bus station and ask around for the appropriate bus as there is no train into Sigiriya
  • For those traveling by tuk tuk, follow the Google Maps directions and you’ll be just fine

DAY 16 | TRAVEL TO ANURHADAPURA

Make Day 16 an easy travel day by following Google maps to Anuradhapura and then taking it easy the remainder of the day

Anuradhapr (Photo Credit: little_chef_nilaksha )

ANURADHAPURA| DETAILS


WHERE TO EAT

Cheap Eats in Anuradhapura | Best Rated Restaurants in Anuradhapura


HOW TO GET TO ANURADHAPURA

Public bus, or luxury bus, is the best way to go – cheap, frequent, and efficient.  Head to the main bus terminal in Kandy and start hunting for the Anuradhapura bus.

For the Train from Kandy to Anuradhapura, take the train from Kandy station to Polgahawela Railway Station and transfer at the Polgahawela Railway Station to the train headed for Anuradhapura Station.  The route may not come up in 12Go so search Google Maps directions from Kandy to Anuradhapura with the public transportation feature or search Rome2Rio’s routes from Kandy to Anuradhapura specifically using the trains function.

For Tuk Tuk riders, trusty old Google Maps’ driving directions are all you need.  The road will be smooth and calm as you cruise through jungles, plains, and wetlands along the way.


WHERE TO STAY IN ANURADHAPURA

The Why Not Palace – clean, modern rooms with aircon at a great price

DAY 17 | ANURHADAPURA

WANDER THE 1500-YEAR-OLD RUINS OF THE SINHALESE KINGDOM

Tucked away in the north, in the cultural triangle is Anuradhapura – the former seat (and third) of the Sinhala Kingdom of Rajarata, from ~400 BC to ~1100 AD, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

One of the many magnificent stupas in Anuradhapra (Photo Credit: thais_trip)

Though Anuradhapura doesn’t get nearly the press and attention deserved outside of Sri Lanka, this city and vast complex is a must-see because of its well preserved ancient ruins from the Sinhala civilization covering over 16 square miles (41 km2) and a former center of political power and urban life in South Asia.

(Photo Credit: skykandianan_travels )

(For more background I highly recommend reading the Anuradhapura Wikipedia article)


SITES TO SEE | ANURHADAPURA

The common tour of Anuradhapura includes the “Eight Sacred Places” or “Atamasthana”, which are the eight places in Anuradhapura that Sri Lankans believe were visited by the Buddha on his three trips to Sri Lanka.  If this interests you, consider reading up on the “16 Sacred Places” in Sri Lanka visited by Buddha (Wikipedia Article)

Anuradhapura (Photo Credit: donchamantha )

Whether or not you’re Buddhist you’ll appreciate these sites.  Grand, magnificent structures built over 1000 years ago share the story of a vast, urban civilization long past that many haven’t even heard of.  A day of wandering in awe will add some learning to your trip and a new appreciation for Sinhalese history and culture.


The Eight Sacred Places in Anuradhapura:

  1. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (The Sacred Bodhi Tree) (click to see the Wikipedia article on this site)
  2. Lovamahapaya (Palace Ruins)
  3. Mirisaveti (Stupa)
  4. Ruwanwelisaya (Stupa)
  5. Jetavanaramaya (Stupa)
  6. Thuparamaya (Stupa)
  7. Lankaran (Stupa)
  8. Abhayagiri Dagaba (Ruins of Monastery)

For efficiency and enjoyment, I recommend visiting the following sites in the order listed below:

Full Itinerary of Anuradhapura Sites

  1. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (The Sacred Bodhi Tree) (click to see the Wikipedia article on this site)
  2. Lovamahapaya (Palace Ruins)
  3. Mirisaveti (Stupa)
  4. Ruwanwelisaya (Stupa)
  5. Jetavanaramaya (Stupa)
  6. Thuparamaya (Stupa)
  7. Lankarama (Stupa)
  8. Abhayagiri Dagaba (Ruins of Monastery)
  9. Samadhi Statue [of Buddha]
  10. Kuttam Pokuna (Bathing and Reflecting Pools)
  11. Isurumuniya (Buddhist Temple) (Link to Wikipedia Article)
  12. Sandakada Pahana (Moonstone)

For full background and history of these sites, I recommend reading the Wikipedia Excerpt on Atamasthana which provides descriptions and history of all the “8 Sacred Sites” of Anuradhapura, allowing you to do a robust tour solo.


HOW TO EXPERIENCE ANURADHAPURA: MAPS.ME AND CHART YOUR OWN PATH

Doing your own tour of Anuradhapura is very easy, as long as you’ve downloaded Maps.Me.  Simply save all of the following landmarks beforehand and follow the roads in between each site, stopping at anything that catches your eye along the way.


Getting a guide for Anuradhapura

With the Wikipedia articles available for the Anuradhapura sites, a guide isn’t totally necessary. However, if you would prefer to get a guide, I recommend booking this day tour of Anradhaprua’s Sacred Sites with hotel pickup and dropoff.

Click here to see pictures and check availability for the Anuradhapura Day Tour

If you’re pressed for time, consider a Day Trip to Anuradhapura Ruins from Colombo (click here to see pictures, prices, and availability)


Getting around Anuradhapura: Tuk Tuk, Bike, or Tuk Tuk

The ruins complex of Anuradhapura is so vast that seeing it all merely by foot is nearly impossible. 

To best experience the ruins, renting your own tuk tuk and driving yourself through Anuradhapura is by far the best option.  I wandered in my tuk tuk and not only saw the major sites but stopped at random forests and wandered through centuries-old castles that aren’t marked on the map.

The second best option is to hire a tuk tuk driver for the day as your personal driver. This offers the convenience of relaxing between sites without worrying about peddling around.  Plan on this costing 7,000 LKR/~$38 USD for the entire day if booked locally (just ask the management at your accommodation for suggested drivers for the best price and most reliable drivers). 

Also, consider the Anuradhapura Day Tour that visits the 8 sacred sites with hotel pick up and drop off, and is just as cheap (~$25). (Click here to see pictures and availability)

The last option is simply renting a bike and riding through Anuradhapura.  Cheap, simple, and adventurous, Anuradhapura by bike is a fun experience.  Pack plenty of water and plan on it costing ~1500 LKR / ~$8.50 to rent for the day.  Bike rental is best arranged through your hotel.

Be sure to pack water and snacks as the days are hot, the drive back to a mini-mart can be long and the kiosk vendors can overcharge foreigners at times


Entrance Fees to Anuradhapura

This is an interesting one, and one that you’ll find quite some debate on across the internet…not because of the fee, but because of what you’re charged…or not charged.

The fee to enter the Anuradhapura ruins complex is $25 per person – for foreigners.  Members of “SAARC” countries pay half that.  In my opinion, that is quite steep considering the “local price”, which isn’t even published for many places on the internet.  For the similar city of Polonnaruwa, the entry fee for foreigners is $25 as well…and locals are free. At Sigiriya, the cost for foreigners is $30 for entry…local entry is $1. 

I’m all for paying to preserve culture, but I get a bit irritated when there is a 3000% cost difference because of my passport, but there are still locals living in poverty just outside of these sites.

So, I’ll explain what I did, and the options available to you.

The complex of Anuradhapura is so vast that, if you’re in local transport (tuk tuk, private car) you can drive right in without paying…which is exactly what I did.  From there, I took the $25 I would have paid to the tourism arm of the government, and placed it in the donation boxes for the religious sites and purchased items from the local vendors – ensuring that the money went to a place I’m comfortable with considering the 3000% tax for being a foreigner.

Whether or not you pay the entrance fee is (at current) your choice and can be paid in the sum of $25 USD at the front entrance.

A note to starving backpackers and a personal opinion – if this $25 price tag is standing between you and entering the Anuradhapura complex, skip the fee and just go in.  The positive ripple effects achieved by your awareness of Sinhalese culture, learning their history, and traveling on to tell others does a service to the culture, their history, and the reputation of Sri Lanka that is worth more than $25.  So, if you cash strapped, I recommend just going.

Tips for Anuradhapura

  • Wear long pants and a long shirt to respect (and be allowed into) the beautiful religious sites or bring a sarong to cover-up

ANURADHAPURA vs. POLONNARUWA

When making travel plans, sometimes we ask, “is it worth it?” and rightly so.  Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are both listed on many itineraries, but being so similar, is it worth visiting both cities?

The simple answer:

Go to Anuradhapura, skip Polonnaruwa

Few travel writers had gone to both cities, so I decided to, just to see how they measure up.  There are 4 reasons I recommend Anuradhapura over Polonnaruwa.

  1. The ruins complex of Anuradhapura is much larger, religiously and culturally relevant, and beautiful
  2. Anuradhapura has many more hidden gems set back along hiking trails in forests, making it more fun to wander
  3. Broke travelers still interested in experiencing the culture and history can easily walk past the “$25 foreigner entrance fee” in Anuradhapura – if you do sneak in, try to pay it forward some other way down the road
  4. Anuradhapura is 2 hours closer to Colombo, making your eventual drive home much easier

Polonnaruwa is an impressive site within a smaller complex that can be bicycled easily but does not have enough to warrant visiting instead of Anuradhapura or in addition to Anuradhapura.  Some have chosen Polonnaruwa because it is slightly cooler with fewer mosquitoes, but for me this wasn’t significant enough for me to choose Polonnaruwa over Anuradhapura and the extra 2-hour drive.

The Bottom Line: Absolutely choose Anuradhapura.

Whichever destination you choose just know that you do not need to go to both.  Both experiences and sites are so similar that it is worth spending that extra elsewhere…unless you really love history and archeology.


ANURADHAPURA| DETAILS

Costs

  • “Entry Fee”: $25 or free (depending on your approach)
  • Tuk Tuk Hire for a Day: 7,000 LKR / ~$38 USD (not negotiated)
  • Bicycle Hire for a Day: 300 LKR / ~$1.75
  • Tour: $25 (Click to see availability)

Tips

  • Wear a long shirt and pants to respect the religious sites and be allowed access
  • Bring water – its pretty hot in Anuradhapura
  • Don’t count on walking between sites or it will be a very  long day
  • Wear socks if walking barefoot bothers you – you’ll need to remove your shoes at most sites

RECOMMENDED TOURS: Day trip to Anuradhapura from Colombo

WHERE TO EAT: Cheap Eats in Anuradhapura | Best Rated Restaurants in Anuradhapura

WHERE TO STAY IN ANURADHAPURA: The Why Not Palace

DAY 18 + DAY 19 | OPTION DAYS

This Sri Lanka itinerary is packed with places and experiences and you will absolutely fall in love with at least one.  Know that with these two open days in your itinerary, you have the leeway to stay in a place you love for a bit longer

I highly recommend using one day to lounge and rest in Ella and a second day to lounge in the beach town of your choice.


DAY 20 | BACK TO NEGOMBO

Start the end of your trip by making your way back to the capital and bedding down for the night in Negombo.  Treat yourself to a beer and pat yourself on the back for taking on such an adventurous location and travel experience.

Bed down for the night in Negombo (instead of Colombo) to place yourself conveniently near the airport.


 

DAY 21 | FLY OUT

Book your Uber to the airport early.  Catch up on Instagram on the way.  Start planning your next adventure

The Perfect Sri Lanka Itinerary (3 Weeks) + Map and Route for April to November

(For each leg, list the tuk tuk route, and the indie travel route (bus, train))

For the April to November travelers, Sri Lanka is just as great and the weather offers an interesting choice as monsoons descend on the southwest of Sri Lanka, around Colombo, Weligama, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, and many other beachy surf destinations.  Though you still can visit these destinations, the crowds will be thin and the water will be choppy and murky…but it will be peaceful and quiet (in terms of tourists) through the southwest if that’s what you’re after.  If water, surf, adventure, and parties are what you’re after, head straight to Arugam Bay.

The April to November itinerary skips most of the beach spots in the west and replaces them with bee-lining straight to Arugam Bay – a surf mecca with surf for all levels, wonderful beaches, a peaceful vibe, and nightly beach parties.  In a way, this is a gift, because instead of hopping from beach city to beach city you’re forced to just enjoy Arugam bay, which is easy to enjoy. 

If traveling by your own tuk tuk, consider leaving Colombo/Negombo and stopping at Galle (and the Dutch Fort), Tissaharama (and Yala National Park), and potentially Weligama (for small surf and quiet), or Tangalle if you really need a beach and sunbathing fix.  These spots will break up the drive perfectly.  I also recommend the same if you’re traveling by bus and train, as these are major stops along the way.

Here’s the full 3-week itinerary for Sri Lanka between April and November.


The Perfect Sri Lanka Itinerary for 3 Weeks | From April to November

  • Day 1: Arrive and stay in Negombo
  • Day 2: Galle: The Dutch Fort on the water and local markets
  • Day 3: Tangalle: Peacefully quiet beaches (or save the day for Arugam bay)
  • Day 4: Tissamaharama for animal Safari in Yala National Park
  • Day 5: Travel to Arugam Bay
  • Day 6: Arugam Bay: Sun, surfing, and parties in a remote and chill surf town
  • Day 7: Arugam Bay: Self-guided tour of the opposite side of Yala National Park by Tuk Tuk
  • Day 8: Travel from Arugam Bay to Ella
  • Day 8: Ella: Hike to Little Adam’s Peak or Ella Rock for views through mountains to plains
  • Day 9: Ella: Take theTea Factory Tour + Ride to Lipton’s Seat (if you have a tuk tuk)
  • Day 10: Ella: Take a beautiful train ride to Hiputale and back or one way to Nuwara Eliya
  • Day 11: Nuwara Eliya: Hike World’s End in Horton’s Plains National Park
  • Day 12: Nuwara Eliya: HikeAdam’s Peak + Wander “Little England” + Drive to Kandy
  • Day 13: Kandy: See the Temple of Buddha’s tooth and the cultural dance show
  • Day 14: Travel to Sigiriya, stop at Dambulla Royal Caves on the way
  • Day 15: Sigiriya: Visit Pidurangala Rock Monastery for a view of Sigiriya’s Lion Fortress
  • Day 16: Travel to Anuradhapura
  • Day 17: Anuradhapura: Wander the 1500-year-old ruins of the Sinhalese Kingdom
  • Day 18: Travel back to Negombo
  • Day 19: (Option day)
  • Day 20: (Option day)
  • Day 21: Fly out of Sri Lanka

Recommended use of the option days:

  1. Relax in Arugam Bay for an additional day
  2. Relax in Ella for an additional day
  3. Squeeze in one more Sri Lanka safari
  4. Consider a walking tour of Colombo focusing on culture and history, followed by visits to

DAY 1| NEGOMBO & COLOMBO

SETTLE IN, RELAX, AND PREP FOR 3 WEEKS OF ADVENTURE

Start your trip in Negombo instead of Colombo to stay comfortable and begin day 2 fresh and ready. 

Though Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and you fly into the “Colombo Airport” Negombo is much closer to the airport (15 minutes from the airport to Negombo vs. 45 minutes to Colombo), quieter and cleaner with more accommodation options.  Do yourself a favor and stay in Colombo while wandering through Colombo in your free time.


THINGS TO DO | COLOMBO

Do yourself a favor and visit the following spots around Colombo in the evening if you’re up to explore.  All of the spots are easily accessible by train.

  • The Pettah Markets: Located near the Colombo Fort Railway Station, these local markets will give you a quick, robust taste of daily life in Colombo.  Drop by after buying your train ticket to your next destination
  • The Red Mosque (Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid): One of the oldest mosques in Colombo and quite a sight to see
  • Galle Face Green: A grassy spot on the ocean, perfect for sunset, local food, and a local feel.  This is where Anthony Bourdain dropped by for a local meal. Be like him and hit Nana’s Street Food for a beer and whatever looks good
  • The National Museum

NEGOMBO & COLOMBO| DETAILS

How to Get There: To get from the airport to Negombo Uber is your most reliable and cheapest bet.  Tuk tuks, taxis, and shuttles are standing by but are overpriced.

Tips: Beware of the common scams in Colombo


WHERE TO EAT IN COLOMBO

DAY 2 | GALLE

WALK ALONG THE WALLS OF A UNESCO HERITAGE FORT AND THROUGH LOCAL MARKETS BY THE SEA

The UNESCO World Heritage sites of Galle’s old town and fort are the main draws for Galle, and very much worthwhile.

The ramparts of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Galle Fort (Photo Credit: victoria_sviatetska )

Galle’s fort is adjacent to the sea, and walking along its walls gives some amazing views by day and sunset.

After walking around the town along the ramparts wander through the Old Town’s center and the local markets.

THINGS TO DO | GALLE

Galle Fort: Start at the clock tower and walk toward the fort’s front gate, walking along the ramparts, past the hospital, and past the church along the way. Take some time to wander within the fort by the boutique shops and eat at wherever catches your nose.  Hit the fort wall for sunset.


GALLE | DETAILS

WHERE TO EAT IN GALLE

Cheap Eats in Galle Fort | Best Rated Trip Advisor Restaurants in Galle


HOW TO GET TO GALLE

By train or bus are both cheap and easy.  Check the schedule at the local bus station or rail station, as they change frequently.

By tuk tuk follow Google Maps’ directions for an enjoyable 45-minute ride, much more peaceful than driving in Colombo

Drive time: 45 Minutes (Hikkaduwa to Galle) | Rail time: 45 minutes

Click to search availability for Hotels and Hostels in Galle

DAY 3 | TANGALLE

ARGUABLY THE MOST PEACEFULLY BEAUTIFUL BEACHES IN SOUTHWEST SRI LANKA

If you’re craving true peace on a hidden gem of a beach, stop in Tangalle.  White sands, turquoise waters, and sunbeds without the crowds are what await you in the sleepy oceanside town of Tangalle

(Photo Credit: coralieboisseau )

THINGS TO DO | TANGALLE

Lounge…just lounge…and maybe kayak in the lagoon


TANGALLE| DETAILS


WHERE TO EAT IN TANGALLE

Cheap Eats in Tangalle | Best Rated Restaurants in Tangalle


HOW TO GET TO TANGALLE

Traveling by bus is your best bet for getting to Tangalle uninterrupted from Weligama.  Just head to the main bus terminal and look for the Tangalle bus.

By Train fromWeligama will only get you as far as Matara, as that is where the train line ends. From Matara, you’ll need to hop the bus the rest of the way to Tangalle.

By private car, the ride from Weligama to Tangalle is roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes passing Mirissa (and Mirissa Beach)

By Tuk Tuk, if you’re on that adventure, just follow Google Maps’ route and you’ll have no trouble.  The driving is light and easy and the roads are great.

Drive Time: 1 Hour, 20 Minutes (Weligama to Tangalle)


WHERE TO STAY IN TANGALLE

I didn’t stay overnight in Tangalle (as I was anxious to get to Yala National Park), but other Tuk Tuk travelers highly recommended the Guesthouses Three Little Birds and Turtle Watch Cabana

Click here to see availability for all of the Hostels and Hotels in Tangalle

DAY 4 | TISSAMAHARAMA & YALA NATIONAL PARK

LEOPARDS AND ELEPHANTS ON A JEEP SAFARI

A Sri Lanka safari experience should be on every traveler’s list while wandering Asia, and of the safari options, Yala National Park is my favorite. 

The variety of animals and the chance to do your own tour (as long as you’re driving your own tuk tuk) make Yala National Park one of my highest recommend experiences in Sri Lanka.  Elephants, leopards, water buffalo, sloth bears, monkeys, peacocks, and so much more wander Yala waiting for you to spot them on your safari

Keep in mind that Tissamaharama is the best place to stay while exploring Yala National Park.  Tissamaharama is the city adjacent to Yala National Park’s entrance and there isn’t any accommodation in Yala (other than camping) making Tissa the cheapest and most convenient option for sleeping before your Yala safari. 

Fair warning – don’t count on much to do in Tissa aside from Yala National Park.  The town is nearly dead after nightfall

Kataragama is an option for cities to stay in, but you’ll have to backtrack to the entrance of Yala, so staying in Tissa is the better option all around. 


THINGS TO DO | TISSA & YALA NATIONAL PARK

The main (and only worthwhile) attraction from Tissa is Yala National Park, but Yala can be experienced so many different ways (by day, by night, and while camping) that you’ll need to choose ahead of time

Main Yala National Park Experiences


The Yala National Park Safari Experience

Yala National Park Jeep Safari gave me the unexpected (and awesome) chance for an African Sahara style safari seeing elephants, leopards, water buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys, wild hogs, peacocks, and quite a bit more along the way.  If you’re unsure which of the Sri Lankan National Parks and Safaris to do, I highly recommend Yala.

Making the drive from Tangalle in the morning, you’ll make it in time for an evening safari, seeing the animals come to life again just before sunset for a busy night.  Additionally, you can squeeze in a morning safari the following day before leaving to Ella.  The evening Yala Jeep Safari tours start around 2 pm, so keep that in mind.

For those who want to splurge on an irreplaceable experience consider luxury camping under the stars for a night before doing an early morning safari.


Self-Guided Yala National Park Safari: My Recommended (and Favorite) Approach

For those on the other end of the budget spectrum (as in, “not rich”), consider renting your own tuk tuk and doing a free “self-guided safari” through Yala National Park.

On a whim, I took my tuk tuk on this route (detailed below) through Yala National park and encountered plenty of wildlife…from a tuk tuk!  A pack of wild hogs, different clusters of monkeys, peacocks, deer, buffalo, and even elephants were some of the animals I stumbled upon

Here’s how to do your own free self-guided safari of Yala National park by driving your own tuk tuk:

  • Start in Tissamaharan and follow the Google Maps directions from Tissamaharan to drive to the Sithulpawwa Monastery (also spelled Situlpawwa) via “Kirinda-Situlpawwa Road”
  • Park in the parking lot at the Sittulpawa monastery and say hello to the wild pigs and elephants that hang out in the parking lot
  • Make the quick hike up to the Situlpawwa stupa (5-10 minutes) that gives amazing and expansive views of Yala National park
  • To leave Yala, take Situlpawwa to Kataragama route via “Kataragama – Situlpawwa Road” to exit via the other side of the national park
  • To continue your self-guided safari drive road B35 from Kataragama to Buttala.  The road will be dotted with elephants and other animals

ALSO CONSIDER THESE SAFARIS

Udawalawa National Park.  Filled with elephants and a mere 2 hours away from Tangalle, the park is perfect for a safari day trip alternative to Yala if you’re in the mood to see hundreds of elephants instead of the fewer elephants and varied wildlife that Yala offers.

Or view the entire list of the best Sri Lanka Safari options


TISSAMAHARAMA & YALA NATIONAL PARK | DETAILS


COSTS

  • Safari of Yala National Park: ~$100 booked in advance, ~$40 booked locally

TIPS FOR YALA AND TISSA

  • For accommodation, you will have to stay in either Tissamaharama or Kataragama as Yala is only the national park.  Of the two, options, pick Tissamaharama as you can conveniently enter the park, then exit toward Kataragama and drive north toward your next destination.
  • Consider renting your own Tuk Tuk and doing the self-guided safari of Yala National Park and using the saved money to do a jeep safari in a different Sri Lanka National Park
  • For self-guided tuk tuk safari-ers, do the ride through Yala on your way out of town.  This way you’ll drive naturally onto route B35 (another rode filled with elephants) and on to either Ella or Arugam Bay

WHERE TO EAT IN TISSAMAHARAMA, KATARAGAMA AND YALA

Honestly, food options are limited around Tissa, so don’t any food-tastic adventures outside of all-inclusive glamping.  These lists (linked below) are your best bets for a good meal.

Cheap Eats in Tissa | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants in Tissa


HOW TO GET TO TISSAMAHARAMA, KATARAGAMA AND YALA

There are no train lines going into Tissamaharama but there are frequent local bus lines from across the country. 

By Bus, just head to the central bus station in your city of departure and ask around

By Tuk Tuk, just follow Google Maps’ directions.  The roads are well maintained and far from busy, making it an enjoyable and adventurous ride.

Drive time: 1 Hour, 20 Minutes (Tangalle to Tissamaharan)

DAY 5 | TRAVEL TO ARUGAM BAY


GETTING TO ARUGAM BAY

From Tissamaharama by bus, simply show up to the Tissamaharama bus terminal to find out when the next bus is leaving for Arugam Bay

If traveling by rented Tuk Tuk from Tissamaharama, be sure to do the self-guided safari through Yala National Park, riding from Tissa to Situlpawa and from Situlpawa to Kataragama.  From Kataragama, take the road B35 up to Buttala to see more amazing animals (like elephants) on the road.  From Butala, simply follow Google Maps’ directions on toward Arugam Bay.  *Pro Tip* take your bags with you in your tuk tuk so you don’t have to return to Tissa (to pick them up) before driving on to Arugam Bay.

Drive time: 3 Hours – Kataragama to Arugam Bay // Buttala to Arugam (2 Hours)


WHERE TO EAT IN ARUGAM BAY

Cheap Eats In Arugam Bay | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants


WHERE TO SLEEP IN ARUGAM BAY

  • Sea Shells Inn
  • Dusty’s Hostel
  • Surf and Turf

WHERE TO PARTY IN ARUGAM BAY

  • Whisky Point on Fridays
  • Mango Beach on Saturdays.  A shuttle to the party leaves from Surf and Turf routinely after 7pm

DAYS 6 & 7 | ARUGAM BAY

DAY 6: SUN, SURFING, AND PARTIES IN A REMOTE AND CHILL SURF TOWN
DAY 7: SELF GUIDED TOUR OF THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF YALA NATIONAL PARK BY TUK TUK

MAKE THE 3.5 HOUR DRIVE TO THE SURF MECCA OF ARUGAM BAY

Arugam Bay is a legendary surf mecca and arguably the surf capital of Sri Lanka, especially during the April to November. Make the most of your time here by surfing, learning to surf, or hanging in a hammock and enjoying the amazing beach views and surf village vibes. 

If you have energy by day, venture on a guided safari of the nearby National Park, or wander through the eastern part of Yala National Park solo if you have a tuk tuk.

If you have energy by night and no plans for early surf the next day, hit the beach of the night for a beachside or poolside party as late as you can hang.

After two nights, when its time to go, I guarantee you’ll have a hard time leaving.  Welcome to Arugam Bay


THINGS TO DO | ARUGAM BAY

  • For experienced surfers: Rent a board and hit main point or one of the many other Arugam Bay Surf Spots
  • For novice and aspiring surfers: Drop by any of the many surf shops on the main street and hire a lesson or rent a board – aim for Baby Point, the beginner’s surf point to start out, and work up from there
  • Consider a safari of Lahugala Kitulana National Park: I personally prefer to use my beach town time at the beach, but this is a convenient option for seeing animals around the water, like birds, water buffalo, and crocodiles
  • Take your own tuk tuk and wander the east side of Yala for free to see crocodiles and water buffalo
  • Rent your own tuk tuk and drive around Arugam Bay making it easier to hit the surf breaks, wander, and shuttle friends around.  Tuk tuks are easily available for rental in Arugam Bay, just ask your hotel/hostel management

THE SURF BREAKS OF ARUGAM BAY


COSTS

  • Surfboard rental: $4-$6 per board
  • Tuk tuk hire for the day (with driver): ~$20
  • Renting a tuk tuk (for you to drive): 3000 LKR / ~$20
  • Rent a Scooter: $6-$8

WHERE TO EAT IN ARUGAM BAY

Cheap Eats In Arugam Bay | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants


PRO TIP

Alcohol isn’t legally sold in most restaurants in Arugam Bay, and if it is then it is very costly…especially cocktails.  Be smart and bring a bottle of your own booze to save money and ensure have the island cocktail to suit your tastes

DAY 8 | TRAVEL TO ELLA

ENJOY A BEAUTIFUL ROAD TRIP AS YOU RIDE FROM BEACHES TO HILLY TEA COUNTRY

Count Day 7 as a travel day as you drive up to the cooler climate and highlands of tea country into Ella.  For hikers, trekkers, outdoorsy types, and those who prefer mountains over beaches, you’ll fall in love with Ella.


GETTING TO ELLA FROM ARUGAM BAY

From Arugam Bay: This is best arranged through your hotel as a private, air-conditioned shuttle will be much more convenient than the bus.  To find one, it is best to arrange the shuttle through your hotel management.

For those driving their own tuk tuk, follow Google Maps for the best route up and simply enjoy the ride.  Plan on your Tuk Tuk losing power as you go higher in altitude entering tea country.  Also, keep a rain jacket handy and know how to pull the rain flaps down on your Tuk Tuk as rains on the route are pretty common.  The drive is beautiful as you transition from the dry brush filled lands around Yala into the lush, green, mountains of tea country.

Drive time: 3 Hours – Arugam Bay to Ella


WHERE TO EAT

Ella is a town mainly built around tourism, meaning there are plenty of great places to eat that cater to tourists.  If you’ve been craving western food or a cocktail, Ella’s the place for it.  If you forget where this list is, just walk down the main street of Ella and you’ll see the clear cluster of western-style restaurants and rooftop bars. 

Of the many restaurants in Ella, these were my favorite:

  • Café Chill: Hands down my favorite bar and rooftop in Ella.  Great food. Awesome cocktails.  Bean bags.  What else do you need in life?  Perfect for relaxing after an active day
  • Ceylon Tea Factory Restaurant: Swanky and tasty
  • Café One Love: Bean bags, hammocks, and a chill ambiance

More Cheap Eats in Ella | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants in Ella

DAY 9 | ELLA

HIKE TO LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK OR ELLA ROCK FOR VIEWS THROUGH MOUNTAINS TO PLAINS + THE 9 ARCH BRIDGE

Ella is a chill outdoor mecca and mountain town surrounded by the greenery of tea country highlands.

Though Ella is very much a tourist-centric city, that doesn’t kill the charm at all thanks to its beauty.  Use your first day in Ella to take one of its most notorious and very beautiful hikes (either the hike to Little Adam’s Peak or the hike to Ella Rock).  Then, grab some amazing pictures by sunset at the 9 Arch Bridge.

After an active day outdoors, the main street, filled with mildly touristy western restaurants, cafes, and rooftop bars, will be a bit of welcomed respite from all curry meals and beer free cities you might have experienced before. Treat yourself to a rooftop drink and tasty meal to end the day.  Start with Café Chill to get acquainted with Ella.

At night, you’ll find plenty of places to chill if you have the energy – so much so that you’ll likely end up stuck in Ella longer than planned like most travelers (including me).


THINGS TO DO | ELLA

This (awesome) itinerary includes a few days in Ella, as you’ll need the extra time to enjoy this place

  • Ella Rock Hike (Day 8)
  • Little Adam’s Peak Hike (Day 8)
  • 9 Arch Bridge viewpoint (Day 8)
  • Tuk tuk Ride to Lipton’s Seat – can be done from Haputale if you don’t have a Tuk Tuk (2,000-3,000 LKR) (Day 9)
  • UVA Halpewatte Tea Factory Tour in Ella (Day 9)
  • Train ride from Ella to Haputale (or Kandy) (Day 10)

THINGS TO DO | DAY 8 IN ELLA

  • Little Adam’s Peak Hike
  • Ella Rock Hike
  • 9 Arch Bridge

Little Adam’s Peak Hike (2 hrs)

A highlight of Ella, this quick hike is relatively easy and delivers some epic views in return.  The starting point is a 10 to 15-minute ride outside of town making it all around very accessible and something you could knock out before or after lunch.

A 1.5 – 2 hour round trip hike that ends over a ridgeline with unimpeded views to the front past hill country and into the flatlands.  On the way hiking toward the peak, you’ll pass zip-lining options if you want a quick bit of adventure.  Beware, there are a couple points walking along the steep mountainside which can be a little vertigo-inducing, but you can easily take the inside route (over the mountain) by walking through blade grass.

The hike isn’t too tough and is easily doable by most, just keep it slow and easy.

To do the hike, just look for the start point in Maps.Me and follow the hiking route in Maps.Me.


Ella Rock Hike (4 hrs)

Another fantastic hike and a bit longer, this 4 hour round trip hike gives you more of the same.  Fresh, cool air and highland views.

Ella From a view from Ella Rock (Photo Credit: lalindra_travel )

To make the Ella rock hike, head to the Ella train station and walk south (along the tracks) past the bridge and towards the Kithaella train station.  From here, continue walking along the tracks following the Maps.Me route to Ella Rock.


Hike to the 9 Arch Bridge

End the day by making a short hike to the 9 Arch bridge closer to sunset, allowing you to get amazing pictures of pretty epic view while the light is at its best.  A 15-minute ride out of town to the hike start point and a 10-minute hike to the 9 Arch Bridge.

The 9 Arch Bridge (Photo Credit: kirabramley )

DAY 10 | ELLA

TAKE THE UVA HALPEWATTE TEA FACTORY TOUR + RIDE TO LIPTON’S SEAT (IF YOU HAVE A TUK TUK)

Continue experiencing Ella and the tea country by sampling the best tea Sri Lanka has to offer while touring the Uva Halpewatte tea factory and taking the scenic drive from Ella to Lipton’s Seat if you’ve rented your own tuk tuk.

Just outside of the factory is an amazing cafe (serving only tea) with amazing views of the Ella countryside

THINGS TO DO ON | DAY 9 IN ELLA


Ella Tea Factory Tour at the Uva Haelwatte Tea Factory

Tea is quite a complex creation, despite how simple a cup of tea may seem, and you’ll only realize that after taking a tour of a tea factory.  The Uva Hapelwatte Tea Factory offers a great tour of their factory, walking you through the types of leaves, the steps in processing, and how to tell a great cup of tea.  I found it to be much more interesting than expected.

The tea covered hills of the high country (Photo Credit: martina.formankova)

The post-tour cup of tea enjoyed on a high balcony overlooking tea country is an amazing perk too.

To take the tour of the Uva Halpewatte tour, simply show up anytime between 8 AM to 4 PM for the tours that run roughly every 30 minutes, proceed to the top floor (where the store is), pay your tour fee and hangout.


Take the Scenic Ride to Lipton’s Seat

After the tour, if you’re driving your own Tuk Tuk simply plug “Lipton’s Seat” into Google Maps as your destination and follow the direction.  The ride and scenery will be unreal, and you’ll be recommending the trip to everyone you find with their own tuk tuk.

If you don’t have a tuk tuk of your own, consider hopping on a tour to Lipton’s seat. Click here to check prices and availability for Lipton’s Seat tours


DAY 11 | ELLA

TAKE A BEAUTIFUL TRAIN RIDE TO HIPUTALE AND BACK OR ONE WAY TO NUWARA ELIYA

End your time in Ella with a portion of the legendarily scenic train ride on the route from Ella to Kandy, a train winding through the green jungle hills and tea country slowly enough that you can lean out of the doorway and take a selfie, with a feel from decades ago.

A mellow and beauutiful experience on the most beautiful train ride in Sri Lanka (Photo Credit: tompaulbyrnes )

For most travelers, end the day with an arrival in Nuwara Eliya by taking the train one way to Nanu Oya and transferring via bus for a ~30 minute ride to Nuwara Eliya

If you have your own tuk tuk and are driving through the country, ride to Haputale then turn back to Ella to drive to Nuwara Eliya in the afternoon


DETAILS | ELLA -> KANDY TRAIN RIDE

No matter which approach you take (the short trip or the long trip), be smart and book your Ella -> Kandy train ride tickets in advance online with 12Go to ensure you get a seat…otherwise you’ll end up sitting on the floor like I did.

Short Option: For Tuk Tuk Drivers: Short Option Ella to Hiputale, 3hrs round trip

Book tickets for the Ella Train ride in advance via 12Go to ride the train from Ella to Haputale, getting off, and taking the same train back to Ella.  This leg (though it seems short) will give you the amazing experience that travelers talk about.

About Ella – Kandy Train Ride FOMO: If you’re driving your own tuk tuk you may be wondering if you’re missing out by not riding the full Ella to Kandy train route. Absolutely feel comfortable that you’re not missing out.  The views from your tuk tuk, between the south all of the way to Kandy, match what you would see on the train.

Long Option: Train Ride 1: Ella to Nanuoya, connect to Nuwara Eliya

For those travelers not driving their own tuk tuks, extend your railway adventure by taking the scenic train from Ella train station Nanuoya, and then transferring to bus to travel to Nuwara Eliyah where you’ll spend the night.

I’ll repeat, book your tickets to Nuwara Eliya in advance because though tickets don’t sell out, seats sell out very quickly and you’ll end up sitting on the ground for a 4 hour long train ride


DAY 12 | NUWARA ELIYA

HIKE WORLD’S END IN HORTON’S PLAINS NATIONAL PARK

Nuwara Eliya is a charming little town that offers 3 things: cool weather, views that resemble England a lot, and some nice, long, scenic hikes.  On Day 11, you’ll knock out an epic hike with an epic view: the “World’s End” hike.

A common yet beautiful view in Nuwara Eliya (Photo Credit: bel.huston)

THINGS TO DO | NUWARA ELIYA DAY 11

  • Hike to World’s End in Horton’s Plains National Park for views from a sheer 880 meter tall cliff
  • Visit the Grand View Hotel

Hike to World’s End in Horton’s Plains National Park (3 hrs, 9.5km)

World’s End is an aptly named viewpoint as it is a cliff face with a sheer 880 meter drop, making for one of the most dramatic views in Sri Lanka.

A view from the World’s End (Photo Credit: allearoundtheworld)

How to Get to World’s End

Keep in mind that it tends to be chilly and wet at times in Nuwara Eliya, and it will be moreso in Horton’s Plains National Park and on the hike.  Come prepared with a rain jacket and something to stay warm, especially if you’re riding up in an open air tuk tuk.

Leaving from Nuwara Eliya, the drive is 1-1.5 hours by tuk tuk (3,000 LKR / $20 USD) or private van (4500 LKR /$30 USD).  If you’re driving your own tuk tuk simply head to the park (using Google Maps), and after reaching the ticket station, then follow the signs another 15 minutes to the trailhead.

The entrance fee to the park will be roughly $25 per person

At the trailhead, start walking!

The entire hike forms a loop converging at a fork in the road ~10-15 minutes after you start walking.  Going to the left is the faster, more strenuous route.  Going to the right is the slower, easier route. Both trails connect back around the viewpoint.

On the way back, be sure to take the opposite route to vary your views on the walk home


Visit the Grand View Hotel and Coffee Bar

End the day by dropping into the Grand Hotel for a very British view and the best coffee in tea country at the Coffee Bar located right next door.  The hotel and its grounds are grand and beautiful and the coffee shop has the best coffee in Nuwara Eliya at a very reasonable price.

 


NUWARA ELIYA | DETAILS

RECOMMENDED TOURS

WHERE TO EAT

Cheap Eats in Nuwara Eliya | Trip Advisor’s Best RatedRestaurants in Nuwara Eliya

DAY 13 | NUWARA ELIYA

HIKE ADAM’S PEAK + WANDER “LITTLE ENGLAND” + DRIVE TO KANDY

Finish your visit to Nuwara Eliya with a big day, by waking up early to hike to the religiously significant Adam’s Peak, wandering around “New England”, and leaving for the city of Kandy, history, and Sinhalese culture experiences.

A eauutiful view of the Nwara Eliya countryside (Photo Credit: winter_wanders)

THINGS TO DO | DAY 12 IN NUWARA ELIYA

  • Hike to Adam’s Peak
  • Wander “Little England”

Adam’s Peak Hike | Sri Pada Mountain (7-8 hrs round trip)

Adam’s Peak is a religiously significant spot for Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, making it a point of pilgrimage for some 20,000 Sri Lankans each year.

A view on the way up Adam’s Peak, dotted with pilgrims (Photo Credit: thenewjourney. )

Viewed from above, Adam’s Peak bears a crater shaped like a footprint.  Buddhists believe this crater is the footprint of the Buddah. Hindu’s believe the crater is the footstep of Shiva.  Christians and Muslims, however, believe this crater is the footprint of the first place Adam stepped after leaving the Garden of Eden – thus giving the mountain its name – Adam’s Peak.

The 7 kilometer and ~8 hour hike takes you up 5500 steps. Most hikers start at the trailhead in the town of Delhouse/Dalhousie (Nallathanniya on Google Maps) around 2:30AM, aiming to reach the summit by sunrise. 


Getting to Adam’s Peak: Delhouse is a 3 hour 20 minute ride from Kandy and a 2.5 hour ride from Nuwara Eliya, so plan accordingly.  If traveling to Adam’s Peak by train take the train 2 hours and 45 minutes to Hatton station, then hop a local bus or Tuk Tuk from there.  Train tickets are available online for the ride, so book in advance to ensure you have a seat.


When to Hike Adam’s Peak Hike | Sri Pada Mountain: December to March is the optimal time.  Outside of this window, expect bad weather in the form of cold, clouds, and rain.  Though some adventurers with rain jackets may feel froggy, more rain makes those 5,000 steps a lot more slippery and treacherous, and makes those leaches a lot more mobile on the hike.  The tea and snack shops that normally provide warmth and respite also close down during this season.

Guides: Odds are people will try to sell you a tour or offer guiding service.  Don’t bother.  The route is simple with one way up and one way down with plenty of other hikers/pilgrims on the trail.


Tips for Hiking Adam’s Peak

  • Bring a headlamp to make hiking in the darkness easier
  • For the leeches, do a quick search on how to remove leeches properly (with something flat, like a credit card)
  • There are many routes you can take to the top of Adam’s Peak based on your starting point – check out the Ratnapura route, the Hatton route and the Kuruwita route as alternatives
  • Beware of leaches on the route as they’re everywhere

View England’s Footprint in Nuwara Eliya…and a few extra sites

After the hike, head into town for grub and wander through the Nuwara Eliya’s preserved architecture from the British colonialization.

For the quick tour, simply plug these landmarks into Google Maps or Maps.Me and walk between them.

The “historically British” points to include in your Nuwara Eliya tour:

  • Ceylon Bank
  • British Post Office located in front of the bus station
  • Victoria Golf Course
  • Grand Hotel and Coffee Bar

Other sites in Nuwara Eliya

  • The Single Tree Viewpoint: Located next to the Single Tree Monastery, this spot gives a great view of Nuwara Eliya
  • Rumbada Waterfall, Nanu Oya Waterfall, Lover’s Leap Waterfall
  • Oak Ray Tea Factory: If you didn’t get to visit the Uva Hapelwatte tea factory
  • Seethe Amman Hindu Temple

MOVING ON FROM NUWARA ELIYA

If you’re traveling by train continue the beautiful, scenic ride from Nanuoya to Kandy, and don’t forget to book your train tickets to Kandy in advance. 

To get from Nuwara Eliya to Nanuoya, take the bus at the bus station near “Black Pool” in Nuwara Eliya for a cheap ~30 minute ride to Nanuoya’s train station.

If you’re traveling by tuk tuk simply follow Google Maps for another beautiful ride to Kandy


DAY 14 | KANDY

SEE THE TEMPLE OF BUDDHA’S TOOTH AND THE CULTURAL DANCE SHOW

Don’t get your hopes up for Kandy as it likely won’t match the beauty, charm, and allure of the other places you’ve seen in Sri Lanka.  Just count on Kandy to be a stop off between Nuwara Eliya and the cultural triangle that you should skip if you can – to give yourself one more day elsewhere.


THINGS TO DO | KANDY

If you do decide to stay in Kandy for the day and want to make the most of things, squeeze the following experiences into the day

DAY 15 | DAMBULA (ENROUTE TO SIGIRIYA)

TRAVEL TO SIGIRIYA, STOP AT DAMBULA ROYAL CAVES ON THE WAY

Continue on toward Sigiriya, but be sure stop at the Dambula Royal Caves on your way.  The Dambula royal caves make up a monastic complex and UNESCO world heritage site adorned with over 150 shrines and paintings of the Buddah, some of which are more than 2000 years old.  After seeing the caves, stop off and see the gigantic golden Buddah near the caves

THINGS TO DO | DAMBULA (BRIEF STOP)

  • Dambula Royal Caves + Cave Monastery [UNESCO World Heritage Site]
  • Large Golden Buddah Statue

Dambula Royal Caves

The largest and best preserved cave temples in Sri Lanka, this UNESCO world heritage site is a living Buddhist site that has been used by forest dwelling monks since the 3rd century BC. The inside of the caves are filled with amazingly well preserved Buddhist statues, shrines, and frescos that cover nearly all of the walls.  Over 150 statues and pictures adorn the space, some more than 2,000 years old.

After hiking the 160 meters up to the temple and down from the Cave Temple, feel free to check out the huge gold Buddah, just north, walking distance from the caves.

After the caves, continue on to Sigiriya.  If you have a few hours of daylight left, head straight for the Pidurangala cave monastery, jumping into the Day 15 itinerary


DAMBULA CAVES| DETAILS

Hours: 7AM to 7PM Daily

Cost: 1,500 LKR (~$8.50 USD)

Getting to Dambula: Stopon the way to/from Sigiriya/Kandy or take the bus, ~500 LKR for a bus with aircon

If you don’t have time to stop in Sigiriya on the way to Anuradhapura, you can easily take a day trip to Sigiriya, Pidurangala, and Dambula from Anuradhapura cheaply and easily.  Click here to see Sigiriya and Dambula day trip pictures, prices, and availability.

DAY 16 | SIGIRIYA

VISIT PIDURANGALA ROCK MONASTERY FOR A VIEW OF SIGIRIYA’S LION FORTRESS

In impressive geological feature towering above an otherwise flat landscape, home to a fortress built by a bastard prince after killing his father.  The Sigirya rock, or “Lion Fortress” is an impressive view and structure with an equally impressive back story.

You must absolutely see this site, but, not the way most tourists do – read on for how to save yourself $30 and enjoy the same magnificent view

THINGS TO DO | SIGIRIYA

  • Sigiriya Rock | Lion Fortress | Sigiriya Museum
  • Pidurangala Cave Monastery and Viewpoint of Sigiriya

 


Sigiriya Rock | The Lion Fortress

Sigiriya, the UNESCO World Heritage site and fortress that sits atop a prominent rock is absolutely beautiful and significant in Sinhalese history.  However, paying $30 for the experience of walking to the top of the rock is a nearly unjustifiable tourist trap that can easily leave a bitter taste in your mouth, with the $30 USD entry fee and the 3-hour wait to get in.

Many travelers question whether the Sigiriya Fortress is worth the wait and price tag.  I’ll save you the struggle – it is absolutely not.  Because nearby Pidurangala rock gives the same vast views (at $3.50), and Anuradhapura (your next stop) is filled with even more impressive ruins, there is no real reason why Sigiriya rock is worth $30.

At the top of Sigiriya there is a series of structures, somewhat similar to Macchu Picchu in much a scaled-down version and much more dilapidated.  Simply peruse Google briefly and you’ll have enough of an idea.

Skip the FOMO itinerary of Sigiriya and instead hike to the top of Pidurangala rock for a much more enjoyable experience.

Sigiriya Rock Info

  • Hours:
  • Cost: 4,500 LKR | $25 USD
  • Getting to Sigiriya: Take the local bus to Sigiriya from Kandy or Anuradhapura for $7

Tips for Sigiriya Rock

  • Go early (at first opening) to avoid crowds and have the site to yourself
  • Pair the experience of Sigiriya with a hike to the top of Pidurangala rock at sunset, for a sunset view of Sigiriya Rock

Pindurangala Rock (and a view of Sigiriya)

A mere mile from Sigiriya rock sits the Pidurangala monastery.

To enter, simply follows the directions on Google maps until you arrive at the parking lot for Pidurangala – on the road in you’ll see a handful of archeological sites to your left and right, similar to the grounds around Sigiriya rock (that you would have to pay to see) and freely open for you to wander through.

After parking, simply head into the small monastery (taking off your shoes and covering up accordingly), pay the $3.50 entrance fee, and start hiking!  The hike leads up around Pidurangala rock, passing by the remains of a large reclining Buddha and the remains of rooms where monks once lived.

The last 20 meters of the hike is “interesting” and fun as you’ll have to climb through a hole in the rock – but – on the other side you’re rewarded with expansive views of the landscape in all directions, and an exquisite view of the fortress at Sigiriya.

Tips for Sigiriya and Pidurangala

  • Wear soles with good shoes worthy of hiking
  • If you’re on a budget, skip Sigiriya and hike Pidurangala instead

 


SIGIRIYA| DETAILS

COSTS

  • Sigiriya Entry Fee: $30 USD
  • Pidurangala Entry Fee: $3.50 USD

TIPS

  • Skip the entry to Sigiriya if you’re on a budget and opt for just Pidurangala instead

WHERE TO EAT: Cheap Eats | Trip Advisor’s Best Rated Restaurants in Sigiriya

HOW TO GET THERE:

  • From Kandy, head to the main bus station and ask around for the appropriate bus as there is no train into Sigiriya
  • For those traveling by tuk tuk, follow the Google Maps directions and you’ll be just fine

DAY 17 | TRAVEL TO ANURHADAPURA

Make Day 17 an easy travel day by following Google maps to Anuradhapura and then taking it easy the remainder of the day

Anuradhapura by Dusk (Photo Credit: little_chef_nilaksha )

ANURADHAPURA | DETAILS


WHERE TO EAT

Cheap Eats in Anuradhapura | Best Rated Restaurants in Anuradhapura


HOW TO GET TO ANURADHAPURA

Public bus, or luxury bus, is the best way to go – cheap, frequent, and efficient.  Head to the main bus terminal in Kandy and start hunting for the Anuradhapura bus.

For the Train from Kandy to Anuradhapura, take the train from Kandy station to Polgahawela Railway Station and transfer at the Polgahawela Railway Station to the train headed for Anuradhapura Station.  The route may not come up in 12Go so search Google Maps directions from Kandy to Anuradhapura with the public transportation feature or search Rome2Rio’s routes from Kandy to Anuradhapura specifically using the trains function.

For Tuk Tuk riders, trusty old Google Maps’ driving directions are all you need.  The road will be smooth and calm as you cruise through jungles, plains, and wetlands along the way.


WHERE TO STAY IN ANURADHAPURA:

The Why Not Palace – clean, modern rooms with aircon at a great price

DAY 18 | ANURHADAPURA

WANDER THE 1500-YEAR-OLD RUINS OF THE SINHALESE KINGDOM

Tucked away in the north, in the cultural triangle is Anuradhapura – the former seat (and third) of the Sinhala Kingdom of Rajarata, from ~400 BC to ~1100 AD, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

One of the many enormous and magnificent stpas in Anuradhapra (Photo Credit: thais_trip )

Though Anuradhapura doesn’t get nearly the press and attention deserved outside of Sri Lanka, this city and vast complex is a must-see because of its well preserved ancient ruins from the Sinhala civilization covering over 16 square miles (41 km2) and a former center of political power and urban life in South Asia.

(Photo Credit: skykandianan_travels )

(For more background I highly recommend reading the Anuradhapura Wikipedia article)


SITES TO SEE | ANURHADAPURA

The common tour of Anuradhapura includes the “Eight Sacred Places” or “Atamasthana”, which are the eight places in Anuradhapura that Sri Lankans believe were visited by the Buddha on his three trips to Sri Lanka.  If this interests you, consider reading up on the “16 Sacred Places” in Sri Lanka visited by Buddha (Wikipedia Article)

Ancient baths from the rins of Anuradhapra (Photo Credit: donchamantha )

Whether or not you’re Buddhist you’ll appreciate these sites.  Grand, magnificent structures built over 1000 years ago share the story of a vast, urban civilization long past that many haven’t even heard of.  A day of wandering in awe will add some learning to your trip and a new appreciation for Sinhalese history and culture.


The Eight Sacred Places in Anuradhapura:

  1. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (The Sacred Bodhi Tree) (click to see the Wikipedia article on this site)
  2. Lovamahapaya (Palace Ruins)
  3. Mirisaveti (Stupa)
  4. Ruwanwelisaya (Stupa)
  5. Jetavanaramaya (Stupa)
  6. Thuparamaya (Stupa)
  7. Lankarama (Stupa)
  8. Abhayagiri Dagaba (Ruins of Monastery)

For efficiency and enjoyment, I recommend visiting the following sites in the order listed below:

Full Itinerary of Anuradhapura Sites

  1. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (The Sacred Bodhi Tree) (click to see the Wikipedia article on this site)
  2. Lovamahapaya (Palace Ruins)
  3. Mirisaveti (Stupa)
  4. Ruwanwelisaya (Stupa)
  5. Jetavanaramaya (Stupa)
  6. Thuparamaya (Stupa)
  7. Lankarama (Stupa)
  8. Abhayagiri Dagaba (Ruins of Monastery)
  9. Samadhi Statue [of Buddha]
  10. Kuttam Pokuna (Bathing and Reflecting Pools)
  11. Isurumuniya (Buddhist Temple) (Link to Wikipedia Article)
  12. Sandakada Pahana (Moonstone)

For full background and history of these sites, I recommend reading the Wikipedia Excerpt on Atamasthana which provides descriptions and history of all the “8 Sacred Sites” of Anuradhapura, allowing you to do a robust tour solo.


HOW TO EXPERIENCE ANURADHAPURA: MAPS.ME AND CHART YOUR OWN PATH

Doing your own tour of Anuradhapura is very easy, as long as you’ve downloaded Maps.Me.  Simply save all of the following landmarks beforehand and follow the roads in between each site, stopping at anything that catches your eye along the way.

Relics of the Sinhalese kingdom – both large and small (Photo Credit: bee_sarah_ )

Getting a guide for Anuradhapura

With the Wikipedia articles available for the Anuradhapura sites, a guide isn’t totally necessary. However, if you would prefer to get a guide, I recommend booking this day tour of Anradhaprua’s Sacred Sites with hotel pickup and dropoff.

Click here to see pictures and check availability for the Anuradhapura Day Tour

If you’re pressed for time, consider a Day Trip to Anuradhapura Ruins from Colombo (click here to see pictures, prices, and availability)

Getting around Anuradhapura: Tuk Tuk, Bike, or Tuk Tuk

The ruins complex of Anuradhapura is so vast that seeing it all merely by foot is nearly impossible. 

To best experience the ruins, renting your own tuk tuk and driving yourself through Anuradhapura is by far the best option.  I wandered in my tuk tuk and not only saw the major sites but stopped at random forests and wandered through centuries-old castles that aren’t marked on the map.

The second best option is to hire a tuk tuk driver for the day as your personal driver. This offers the convenience of relaxing between sites without worrying about peddling around.  Plan on this costing 7,000 LKR/~$38 USD for the entire day if booked locally (just ask the management at your accommodation for suggested drivers for the best price and most reliable drivers). 

Also, consider the Anuradhapura Day Tour that visits the 8 sacred sites with hotel pick up and drop off, and is just as cheap (~$25). (Click here to see pictures and availability )

The last option is simply renting a bike and riding through Anuradhapura.  Cheap, simple, and adventurous, Anuradhapura by bike is a fun experience.  Pack plenty of water and plan on it costing ~1500 LKR / ~$8.50 to rent for the day.  Bike rental is best arranged through your hotel.

Be sure to pack water and snacks as the days are hot, the drive back to a mini-mart can be long, and the kiosk vendors can overcharge foreigners at times


ENTRANCE FEES TO ANURADHAPURA

This is an interesting one, and one that you’ll find quite some debate on across the internet…not because of the fee, but because of what you’re charged…or not charged.

The fee to enter the Anuradhapura ruins complex is $25 per person – for foreigners.  Members of “SAARC” countries pay half that.  In my opinion, that is quite steep considering the “local price”, which isn’t even published for many places on the internet.  For the similar city of Polonnaruwa, the entry fee for foreigners is $25 as well…and locals are free. At Sigiriya, the cost for foreigners is $30 for entry…local entry is $1. 

I’m all for paying to preserve culture, but I get a bit irritated when there is a 3000% cost difference because of my passport, but there are still locals living in poverty just outside of these sites.

So, I’ll explain what I did, and the options available to you.

The complex of Anuradhapura is so vast that, if you’re in local transport (tuk tuk, private car) you can drive right in without paying…which is exactly what I did.  From there, I took the $25 I would have paid to the tourism arm of the government, and placed it in the donation boxes for the religious sites and purchased items from the local vendors – ensuring that the money went to a place I’m comfortable with considering the 3000% tax for being a foreigner.

Whether or not you pay the entrance fee is (at current) your choice and can be paid in the sum of $25 USD at the front entrance.

A note to starving backpackers and a personal opinion – if this $25 price tag is standing between you and entering the Anuradhapura complex, skip the fee and just go in.  The positive ripple effects achieved by your awareness of Sinhalese culture, learning their history, and traveling on to tell others does a service to the culture, their history, and the reputation of Sri Lanka that is worth more than $25.  So, if you cash strapped, I recommend just going.

TIPS FOR ANURADHAPURA

  • Wear long pants and a long shirt to respect (and be allowed into) the beautiful religious sites or bring a sarong to cover-up

ANURADHAPURA VS. POLONNARUWA

When making travel plans, sometimes we ask, “is it worth it?” and rightly so.  Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are both listed on many itineraries, but being so similar, is it worth visiting both cities?

The simple answer:

Go to Anuradhapura, skip Polonnaruwa

Few travel writers had gone to both cities, so I decided to, just to see how they measure up.  There are 4 reasons I recommend Anuradhapura over Polonnaruwa.

  • The ruins complex of Anuradhapura is much larger, religiously and culturally relevant, and beautiful
  • Anuradhapura has many more hidden gems set back along hiking trails in forests, making it more fun to wander
  • Broke travelers still interested in experiencing the culture and history can easily walk past the “$25 foreigner entrance fee” in Anuradhapura – if you do sneak in, try to pay it forward some other way down the road
  • Anuradhapura is 2 hours closer to Colombo, making your eventual drive home much easier

Polonnaruwa is an impressive site within a smaller complex that can be bicycled easily but does not have enough to warrant visiting instead of Anuradhapura or in addition to Anuradhapura.  Some have chosen Polonnaruwa because it is slightly cooler with fewer mosquitoes, but for me this wasn’t significant enough for me to choose Polonnaruwa over Anuradhapura and the extra 2-hour drive.

The Bottom Line: Absolutely choose Anuradhapura.

Whichever destination you choose just know that you do not need to go to both.  Both experiences and sites are so similar that it is worth spending that extra elsewhere…unless you really love history and archeology.


ANURADHAPURA| DETAILS


COSTS

  • “Entry Fee”: $25 or free (depending on your approach)
  • Tuk Tuk Hire for a Day: 7,000 LKR / ~$38 USD (not negotiated)
  • Bicycle Hire for a Day: 300 LKR / ~$1.75
  • Tour: $25 (Click to see availability)

Tips for Anuradhapura

  • Wear a long shirt and pants to respect the religious sites and be allowed access
  • Bring water – its pretty hot in Anuradhapura
  • Don’t count on walking between sites or it will be a very  long day
  • Wear socks if walking barefoot bothers you – you’ll need to remove your shoes at most sites

RECOMMENDED TOURS: Day trip to Anuradhapura from Colombo

WHERE TO EAT: Cheap Eats in Anuradhapura | Best Rated Restaurants in Anuradhapura

WHERE TO STAY IN ANURADHAPURA: The Why Not Palace


DAY 19 | OPTION DAY

This Sri Lanka itinerary is packed with places and experiences and you will absolutely fall in love with at least one.  Know that with these two open days in your itinerary, you have the leeway to stay in a place you love for a bit longer

I highly recommend using one day to lounge and rest in Ella and a second day to lounge in the beach town of your choice.


DAY 20 | BACK TO NEGOMBO

Start the end of your trip by making your way back to the capital and bedding down for the night in Negombo.  Treat yourself to a beer and pat yourself on the back for taking on such an adventurous location and travel experience.

Bed down for the night in Negombo (instead of Colombo) to place yourself conveniently near the airport.


DAY 21 | FLY OUT

Book your Uber to the airport early.  Catch up on Instagram on the way.  Start planning your next adventure

ALTERNATE ITINERARIES FOR SRI LANKA

Though a Sri Lanka Itinerary of 3 weeks is the perfect length to experience everything the country has to offer in an adventurous, memorable way…not everyone has three weeks…and the lucky ones have more.

Here are my recommendations for tweaking this itinerary for 1, 2, or 4 weeks, and also focusing your itinerary on just surfing and beaches.


SRI LANKA ITINERARY | 1 WEEK

If you’re limited to 1 week in Sri Lanka, go with the approach of “we can always come back later” focusing on a single region or activity.  The experience is so rich that a rushed, FOMO driven experience can spoil it.

For your 1 week Sri Lanka itinerary, simply pick either 1) the beach and coastal region, or 2) the tea country and highlands with a touch of the “cultural triangle”, or 3) focus on only the cultural triangle around Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Dambulla, and Sigirya, while adding Trincomalee for a beach experience, and Jaffna for history, culture, and food.


2 WEEKS IN SRI LANKA | ITINERARY

For a good 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary, you can experience it all, you’ll just have to move quickly and pick the right season. 

First, go between November and April, when the easily accessible beach towns of the southwest coast and weather are at their best.  Being so close to Colombo/Negombo makes for easy and cheap transport via public train and bus.  This will allow you to squeeze in more beach time, parties, and surfing with less travel, making great use of your time.

From here, take the rail up to the highlands, hit the hotspots of Ella (amazing) and Nuwara Eliya, then quickly move into the cultural triangleAvoid wasting time in Kandy.

Rent your own Tuk Tuk to make the most of the two weeks, allowing you to move when and where you please.

If you do choose to go by rail, reserve your train tickets well in advance via 12Go to ensure you get a comfortable seat, making the most beautiful train ride in the world much more enjoyable.


4 WEEKS IN SRI LANKA | ITINERARY

Four weeks in Sri Lanka can easily be burned while still feeling like you could use more time.

For the perfect four week Sri Lanka itinerary, simply take the 3 week itinerary and add more time in either Arugam Bay, Weligama/Unawatuna/Hikkaduwa, or Ella, and add a few extra hikes in Nuwara Eliya.

Also, consider doing an additional safari tour and making your way up to the northern capital of Jaffna for a more unique taste of culture and history along with uniquely delicious dishes (like Sri Lankan crab curry).


SURF ITINERARY

If surfing is what you aim for, then make the mega spot of the season your first stop after Colombo, Arugam Bay for April to November, and Hikkaduwa (to start) for November to April.  Surf to your heart’s contentment then make your way to Ella and a national park as you continue your adventure

Be sure to check out our surf guides on the following locations as they offer the best info available on surf breaks, conditions, and what to take with you

SRI LANKA | WHEN TO GO

The Short Answer: November to April is the best, most convenient time to travel, but Sri Lanka has something to offer year-round.

To ensure you’re using your time in Sri Lanka the best way possible, packing in a balance of enjoyment and adventure (and limiting stress) in every moment in Sri Lanka, when you go to Sri Lanka matters a lot.

For most travelers, I recommend visiting Sri Lanka between November and April – this is when the southwest portion of the island (and its surfing and beach towns) are sunny and dry.  This makes it easy to explore the beach region by rail or public bus, and planning little because the best beach destinations will be within three hours of Colombo/Negombo.

For very experienced surfers, I recommend visiting Sri Lanka between April to November – this is when the southeast portions of the island, and specifically Arugam Bay, are sunny and dry.  Arugam Bay is known for its epic point break that can give 300-500 meter long rides on less windy days and barrels overhead when full on. Unfortunately, Arugam Bay is an inconvenient 8-hour ride from Colombo and only reachable by a ~$100 private car one way or an inconvenient public bus, and the only significant beach town in the region.

For the non-surfer crowd, it’s unfortunate because the other beachy destinations are desolate during this period as everyone descends on Arugam Bay.  Honestly, if you’re not experienced enough surfing to appreciate a long point break, you’d be just as happy in Weligama, Hikkaduwa, and Unawatuna, all within a couple hours of Colombo and much more convenient, but rainy and empty during April to November

The southwest (Hikkaduwa, Weligama, Unawatuna) is best for travelers and backpacker.  The southeast (Arugam Bay) is best for surfers

For travelers that are skipping the beaches (for some unknown reason), and opting for tea country and the cultural triangle anytime of year is perfect for you.  Just bring a rain jacket.

OTHER SRI LANKA HIGHLIGHTS

For me, when I research a destination, knowing all of the options – all of the cities and adventures available and what they offer – is the best first step to planning my trip.  In that spirit, here are the highlights you should choose from when patching together your Sri Lanka itinerary.


THE MOST FAMOUS BEACHES IN SRI LANKA


THE BEST SURF TOWNS IN SRI LANKA

  • Arugam Bay: The place to head straight to between April and November, with a great vibe, low key parties, and a point break worthy of the professional surf tour, with plenty of other spots good for beginners
  • Hikkaduwa: A couple hours south of Colombo and accessible by train, Hikkaduwa is an awesome and low key surf focused beach town with nice yet cheap hotels right on the beach in front of each surf break.  Go between November and April for the best conditions
  • Weligama: A protected cape offers year-round surf, perfect for beginners.  Great accommodation is situated right across the street from the best breaks and surfboard rental spots.  Good year-round for beginners, best November to April for tourism and bigger waves.

TOP CULTURAL SPOTS IN SRI LANKA

  • Anuradhapura: A vast city with the remains of a 1600-year-old Sinhalese kingdom, with temples and structures that (in my opinion) rival Bagan and Angkor Wat was my favorite and an absolute must
  • Nuwara Eliya (Remnants of the Brits): A once British settlement in the high & cool tea country, now named “Little England” as it has preserved the British buildings, golf courses, and city layout
  • Jaffna: The “Northern Capital” exudes a different feel than the south with majority Tamil nad Muslim culture (vice Sinhalese) and exquisite foods (like crab curry)
  • Polonnaruwa: The second most ancient Sri Lankan kingdom, from the 10th century, filled with ancient ruins and riverfronts with roaming elephants

THE BEST SRI LANKA SAFARI NATIONAL PARKS

AND THE ANIMALS YOU’LL LIKELY SEE

Sri Lanka’s vast and varied landscapes are home to countless critters and amazing creatures (Photo Credit: lasitha)
  • Yala National Park (Leopards): My favorite park for a Sri Lanka Safari offers a very “African Sahara” feel, the opportunity to see Leopards, and the option to do a self-guided safari (with your own tuk tuk) make this park the best option for most. Yala gives the best opportunity to see leopards in the wild in Sri Lanka.  Easily accessible from Tangalle, Arugam Bay, or Ella (Check out the Yala day trip options from Mirissa or from Ella to save time, ~$35)
  • Udawalawe National Park (Elephants): If you love elephants, this is the park for you as you’ll see herds of hundreds, in the wild, completely wild.  This park is only accessible via jeep safari tour, so (Udawale tour options start at $30. Click here to check availability and prices)
  • Minneriya National Park (Elephants): A safari gives the chance to see elephants close up – easily done on a trip to Sigiriya or on the road to/from Polonnaruwa
  • Wilpattu National Park (Various Animals): Another great park with the chance to see varied wildlife, with leopards, elephants, and crocodiles being tops.  There are ~40 known leopards  in this park
  • Gal Oya National Park (Elephants, water animals, birds): Gal Oya is best for those animals that live close to the water and plenty of birds – easily accessible on the way to/from Arugam Bay
  • Kaudula National Park (Elephants): Easily accessible from Habarana/Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, one of the largest known gathering points for Asian elephants

EPIC HIKES IN SRI LANKA

One of the many captivating views in Sri Lanka’s high country, this view lies at the end of Ella Rock
  • Horton’s Plains and World’s End (3 hrs; 9.5km): An epic hike to an 880-meter high cliff dropoff and amazing views
  • Adam’s Peak(Nuwara Eliya; 7 hrs, 7 km): 5200 steps and 2000 meters in elevation game make this pilgrimage a great hike
  • Little Adam’s Peak(Ella; 2 hrs): A short but pleasant hike that leads to some great viewpoints
  • Ella Rock(Ella; 4 hrs): Another short but pleasant hike near Ella
  • Piduranagala Rock (Sigiriya; 20 minutes): A short hike through a monastery and to the top of a towering rock that offers great views of the lion fortress and surrounding without the $35 price tag of Sigiriya rock

EPIC RIDES IN SRI LANKA

Many of the most beautiful scenes you’ll see in Sri Lanka will be on the side of the road, between cities, at a viewpoint with no name (one more reason to rent a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka).  These roads were my favorite for scenic views.

  • Highway B35: The “bootleg safari”, a road dotted with elephants and wildlife
  • Ella to Lipton’s Seat: A cruise through amazingly beautiful tea country
  • Ella to Kandy (The First Half): Beautiful views from the roadside of waterfalls and through mountains across vast green plains will have you stopping for pictures every 15 minutes

MAJOR CITIES & PLACES TO VISIT IN SRI LANKA

Knowing the major cities (or at least knowing where to come back to in order to find them) and places to visit in Sri Lanka will help you build a FOMO proof itinerary without wasting time.  Use this list of cities, and the highlights they offer, to decide how you would like to fill your itinerary.

Central Province

  • Kandy: A large, busy city (similar to Colombo) near the cultural heart of Sri Lanka.  Kandy can be skipped without worry if your itinerary is cramped.
  • Nuwara Eliya: A former British settlement that maintains the British look and architecture, and even has weather similar to England.  Come here for the tea factory and a hike to the religiously significant Adam’s Peak

Northern Province

  • Jaffna: The northern capital and cultural center for Tamil and Muslim culture and uniquely Sri Lankan cuisine

North Central Province

  • Anuradhapura: Formerly the seat of the ancient Sinhalese kingdom and still filled with ruins that (in my opinion) rival Angkor Wat.  If deciding between Polonnaruwa and here, come to Anuradhapura
  • Polonnaruwa: Another former seat of the Sinhalese kingdom, very similar to Anuradhapura except it is costlier and harder to get to.  Feel free to skip this if you’ve visited Anuradhapura
  • Sigiriya: Home to the Lion’s Rock, something similar to a small Macchu Picchu.  The structure itself is interesting but I recommend skipping it (due to the $35 entrance price tag and 3-hour line) and climb Pidurangala for a similar view with fewer people for $3.50 – it’s a 5-minute drive away.
  • Dambulla: Home to the monastic caves adorned with hundreds of frescos of the Buddha.  I highly recommend visiting on your way to Anuradhapura

Eastern Province

  • Arugam Bay: The surf capital of Sri Lanka from April to November with something for everyone from beginner to advanced and a deserted surf town kind of vibe.
  • Trincomalee: A desolate beach destination with snorkeling, whale watching, and lounging when it’s in season – April to November

Southern Province

  • Galle: A charming former Dutch settlement notorious for a beautiful oceanside view with high ramparts that you can walk along.  A must see
  • Weligama: The only surf spot that is good for surfing year-round, thanks to its cape protecting the surf breaks from the open ocean.  Low key and a great stop anytime
  • Tangalle: A quiet, beachy area on the Southwest coast perfect for lounging on pristine beaches
  • Unawatuna: Surf and party in Unawatuna (when in season)
  • Yala (National Park): The best place in Sri Lanka to see Leopards and the only park where you can do a self-guided safari in your own tuk tuk

Western Province

  • Colombo: The capital of Sri Lanka.  Though you can learn a few things here, spend as little time as possible here, there are much better things to see.
  • Negombo: The best place to start and end your trip – comfortably close to the airport and filled with good accommodations

I love independent adventures spent wandering without an itinerary – but – if you’re on a tight timeline (and have only 2 weeks in your Sri Lanka itinerary or less) or are new to adventure travel then I highly recommend picking a few guided tours to get the most of your time in Sri Lanka

These “short tours” are potent experiences that I highly recommend. 


If you’re pressed for time or if planning out a good trip seems daunting then I recommend checking out the package country tours from Intrepid Travel’s Sri Lanka Tours as well as G Adventures for one to three weeks.  Both offer a great way to experience the best of Sri Lanka within a short amount of time, and without worrying about the logistics of getting from place to place or booking.  If you’re a partier or in the early 20’s crowd, then opt for Contiki Travels for a “lively” time.

The added bonus of traveling with a ready group of other travelers eager for experience and adventure adds a nice, social element to the travels.

11 ESSENTIAL SRI LANKA TRAVEL TIPS

To limit the stress and headache during your “Sinhalese adventures” be sure to apply these Sri Lanka travel tips during your planning and every step of the way.     

  1. Itineraries should be different for the April to November season vs. the November to April season due to the monsoons, as some “popular places” turn into ghost towns in the offseason.  Pick either the southwest coast or the southeast coast (especially Arugam Bay) to suit your season of travel (read more in the itineraries section)
  2. Go between November and April for the most convenient trip as all of the beach cities close to Colombo are in season during this time
  3. If going for merely a week, choose one portion of the country, the south circuit(beaches and parties) or the north circuit (mountains and culture), as you won’t have time to comfortably enjoy both
  4. Kandy is overhyped – spend more time in Ella instead for beauty or around Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, and Dumbula for culture
  5. Sigiriya’s Lion Fortress is overhyped, skip it in favor of the Pidurangala monastery hike for a similar view without the 3-hour wait and $30 price tag
  6. Take many of the popular travel recommendations from other blogs with a large grain of salt – as you may end up paying an unreasonable price or wasting valuable days trying to follow someone else’s recommendations to overrated spots (for cramped itineraries and small budgets). Keep in mind that most bloggers have paid private drivers for their entire itinerary and push the costliest accommodation which adds a lot of costs and is unnecessary – as train transport and bus transport is good enough for the adventure, but only if plan as if you’ll be riding the train.  Both of the recommended itineraries above follow a route you can take cheaply by bus or train without costly, guided tours. 
  7. For any railway trips, use 12Go to book tickets in advance, especially for the most talked-about experiences, like the Kandy to Ella train.  Your worry isn’t that tickets will sell out (they won’t).  The real risk is that the seats will sell out (they will) and you’ll literally be sitting on the floor with your feet dangling out the door of a moving train.  Granted, riding a train with your feet hanging out of the doorway is a fun experience – just not for 7 hours. (Click here to check out rail and bus options in Sri Lanka)
  8. Buy a bottle (or two) of booze in the airport at duty-free, as cocktails are pretty expensive, and alcohol isn’t sold legally in some places in Sri Lanka.  A bottle of rum near the beach is always an easy way to make friends or have a relaxing night in a hammock with a  friend.
  9. Consider going to the Maldives in addition to Sri Lanka as the flight is cheap…and you’re already in the area, right? Fly into Colombo, fly home from the Maldives(Click here to check the prices of flight from Colombo to the Maldives)
  10. Rent a Tuk Tuk to step up your experience – wandering down roads filled with elephants and changing your itinerary on a whim is more valuable than you think.
  11. Schedule two rest stops during your 3-week itinerary, even if it means sacrificing a destination or experience.  I recommend building in an extra day in during your time in Ella and leaving an extra day open for your favorite low key beach town

YOUR SRI LANKA BUDGET, AVERAGE PRICES, AND MONEY ISSUES

The cost of travel in Sri Lanka can be as high or low as you want it to be.  The destination is no doubt one of the cheapest in the world, considering the experiences it offers, and you can do it luxuriously or frugally depending on your tastes and budget.

For the budget and backpacking crowd, $20-$30 a day is plenty.  Use these tips to keep costs low in Sri Lanka

  • Stay in a shared dorm in a hostel
  • Eating local meals
  • Drink beers instead of cocktails (or no alcohol at all)
  • Take trains and buses instead of private cars, taxis, and hired tuk tuks
  • Opt for free/cheap site alternatives (like Pidurangala instead of Sigiriya and Anuradhapura instead of Polonnaruwa), and guiding yourself instead of taking tours

If you apply these tips, you will absolutely stay in the $20-$30 per day range.

For the middle of the road crowd, $50 per day is a good number. This will give you a private room with air-conditioning wherever you go, western food for 1-2 meals per day, your own tuk tuk to drive, and the essential tours that you can’t do on your own (such as jeep safaris in Udawalawe).  Still, watch the wine and cocktails as they’ll break the budget quickly

For the luxury travel crowd, $100 a day is a good number.  This will account for a private driver in most situations, higher-class accommodation, three western meals daily, tours, the glamping experience, and so on

ATMs in Sri Lanka

ATMs are in every major city and every city on this itinerary, so don’t feel obligated to walk around with a ton of cash

Currency Exchange: Exchange for USD before you leave Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Rupee is currently a closed currency, meaning if you leave Sri Lanka with Sri Lankan Rupees you either won’t be able to exchange it or you’ll take a massive hit to the pocket.  Save yourself that upset by converting to USD, Euros, the currency of your next destination, or your home country currency before you leave.


BREAKDOWN OF AVERAGE PRICES IN SRI LANKA

Food

  • Local Meal: $1-$3 USD – Generally rice and curry
  • Western Meal: $5-$10 – Depends on the meat of the dish

Beer (at a grocery store or restaurant)

  • Local Beer: ~$2
  • Imported Beer: ~$4-$5
  • Cocktail: $4-$8 depending on the location

Sri Lanka Accommodation Prices

  • Hostel Dorm Bed: $5-$10
  • Budget Hotel or Private Hostel Room: $15 to $25 per night, ~$5 more for Air-conditioning

Transport

  • Rail: Less than $1 for common class not available for advanced booking, but first class and second class can be booked via 12Go
  • Bus: Ranges between $2 and $7 for an air-conditioned bus
    • Colombo to Kandy Bus: ~$2 (350rps)
    • Colombo to Galle: ~$2 (335rps)
    • Colombo to Jaffna: ~$6 (1100 LKR)
    • Colombo to Kataragama: ~$3 (555rps – Semi Luxury Bus)
    • Colombo to Anuradhapura: ~$3.50 (610rps)
    • Colombo to Pothuwil/Arugam Bay: ~$4 (690 – Semi Luxury Bus)
  • Private Car: Varies by trip – ~$100 for Colombo to Arugam Bay
  • Car Rental: $50 per day
  • Tuk Tuk Rental: $15-$25 per day depending on rental length – Click here to get your tuk tuk rental quote
  • Scooter Rental: 800 – 1000 LKR per day / $4.50 – $5.50 USD per day             

Tours

  • Booked online – $50-$100
  • Booked locally during low season – $25-$50

THE SRI LANKA PACKING LIST & ESSENTIALS

Sri Lanka is an easy place to navigate and enjoy, but like many Asian countries, there are essential items that will make your travels much easier and aren’t readily available (or cheap) in Sri Lanka.

I recommend these essentials for any Sri Lanka packing list:

For more packing list tips and recommendations, please check out our universal packing list

“MUST TRY” SRI LANKAN FOOD

  • String Hoppers and curry (Breakfast)
  • Crab Curry
  • Chili Crab
  • Roti
  • Kotu Roti
  • Chutneys (ideally mango)
  • Sambal
  • Deviled chicken
  • Fried Chickpea balls (as a quick snack)
  • Local fruits from roadside stand

Interesting and “not quite local” things to try

  • Chicken Burgers

Drinks to Try

  • Arak (the local liquor)
  • Wood Apple Juice
  • Lion Beer (the local beer)
  • Elephant soda (the local ginger beer)

QUICK SRI LANKA HISTORY NOTES

Culture

The Sinhalese ethnic group makes up a majority 75% of the population, which is likely the product of Aryans (from North India) mixing with Sri Lankan locals to create the Sinhalese ethnic group around 6th century BC


History

  • 2500+ years of recorded history
  • Anuradhapura was the capital of the Sinhalese Kingdom from ~200 BC to ~1000 AD
  • Polonnaruwa  was the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom from ~1000 AD to ~1200 AD
  • Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century
  • Occupied by the Dutch in the 17th century
  • Occupied by the British in the 18th century and made a British colony ion 1812 and the name was changed to “Ceylon”
  • Sri Lanka became independent in 1948
  • In 1972 the name was changed from “Ceylon” to “Sri Lanka”

Languages

  • Sinhala: Spoken by the Sinhalese (official language)
  • Tamil: Spoken by the minority Tamil and Muslim groups (official language)

STAY ENTERTAINED AND EXPERIENCE SRI LANKA BEFORE YOU GO

Get inspired before the trip and enhance your Sri Lanka travel by “experiencing” the history and culture before you go.  Of my entire checklist, these are the pre-trip entertainment bits I highly recommend.


For a Free Pre-Sri Lanka travel show, check out this episode of Departures…

This episode of Departures is about these two backpackers’ time exploring Sri Lanka and is one of the tv shows that planted the dream of traveling to Sri Lanka in my head. Sit back and watch…for free!

GETTING TO SRI LANKA: TIPS FOR FLYING IN CHEAPLY

Flying to Sri Lanka will likely be the costliest part of the adventure to plan…but you’ll thank yourself for making the journey.  Trust me.

You’ll fly into Colombo, the capital city, to Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), Sri Lanka’s main airport.  Your biggest question though is likely, “what’s the cheapest option for flying to Sri Lanka?”

Best options for cheap flights to Sri Lanka

  • Travel hack a flight to Sri Lanka for free: (open a single credit card with a hefty award flights bonus)
  • Use these tips from Momondo’s Flight Analytics for flights to Sri Lanka to find the lowest fare:
    • Book tickets 60 days minimum before your flight for the cheapest airfare
    • Fly on Monday’s for the cheapest flights into Sri Lanka
    • February is the cheapest month to fly to Sri Lanka
  • For a cheaper flight, consider flying into a cheaper, major Southeast Asia destination and taking a shorter flight on a budget airline from there

GETTING FROM THE COLOMBO AIRPORT TO NEGOMBO AND COLOMBO

Within Sri Lanka, Uber is your “go-to” option for rides within the city and around Colombo, so download the Uber app and take a car…or tuk tuk…or scooter (all via Uber) to your destination.

Your next best option is a shuttle.  Expect to pay 2000-3000 Sri Lankan Rupees for a shuttle or taxi from the airport into main Colombo.

Tip for Picking Between Colombo and Negombo: Stay in Negombo

Though the airport is listed as being “in Colombo” it is actually situated about 45 minutes ride from Colombo.  Aside from this, Colombo is very much a big, busy city with no beaches. 

Negombo, however, is only a ~15-minute ride from the airport, has a slower pace and much nicer beaches.  Though I do recommend attending a walking tour in Colombo and seeing a few sites, stay in Negombo to make life easier.


OTHER SOLID SRI LANKA FLIGHT & TRAVEL TIPS

Add a “cheap” trip to the Maldives

If you’re globetrotting to as exotic a destination as Sri Lanka, why not (cheaply) add an epic each destination and another passport stamp?  The Maldives is the perfect option.

Maldives: Flights to Male, Maldives are available for ~$185 round trip, and the snorkeling and diving is epic

GETTING AROUND SRI LANKA

One of the most difficult parts of being a new traveler or traveling adventurously is figuring out how to get around.  Lucky for us, Sri Lanka’s infrastructure and options for getting around are convenient and cheap.  Whether you rent a Tuk Tuk (to drive yourself), ride the train, take the bus, or hire a private driver, getting to the best of Sri Lanka on a tight timeline without spending too much is very possible.


Sri Lanka By Tuk Tuk: My Transportation Mode of Choice

If you’re feeling adventurous and want the freedom to not plan your itinerary…then you need to rent a tuk tuk.  This is exactly what I did as I explored – and I f***ing loved it.  The Tuk Tuk cost ranges from $14 to $25 a day, including insurance, plus it’ll cost you $40 to get a Sri Lankan drivers license. 

It seems like it costs a bit more, but I was able to do more in less time and saved the cost of guides by literally doing my own safari and also wandering around Anuradhapura without a guide.

Click here for a quote on renting a tuk tuk and read about my experience renting from Tuk Tuk Rental in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka By Train:

The railway is one of the easiest, most adventurous, and most beautiful ways to get around Sri Lanka.  Thanks to a robust railway system you can from Colombo to pretty much anywhere in the country, besides Arugam Bay – as no rail is connected to Arugam Bay

If you would like to book any train in advance (which I highly recommend) you’ll have to book a first-class train, and I recommend checking out prices, schedules, and booking on 12Go. If you’re planning the Kandy to Ella train ride absolutely book online, as far in advance as possible.

(Click here to railway schedules and seat availability on 12Go)

To take the train anywhere without a reservation, simply head to the central train depot in the city you’re in, show up, and buy a ticket.  The city’s railway station will show up in Google Maps.  Railway schedules for non-reserved tickets aren’t published online as they change frequently, so head to your train station the day before travel and buy tickets, to be on the safe side.

To view lines and times, also visit the Sri Lanka Railways website.


SRI LANKA BY BUS

Bus travel is the cheapest and most comprehensive in Sri Lanka, as you’ll be able to get from anywhere to anywhere.  Again, book by showing up at the main bus station (which will show up in Google Maps) and ask around for the bus headed to your destination or the bus that will take you to your halfway point where you’ll transfer buses.

To book buses in Sri Lanka, use  BusSeat.lk and BusBooking.lk.

Colombo and Kandy are the two biggest and busiest cities in Sri Lanka.  If you need to get anywhere that doesn’t have a direct bus line, connect through Colombo or Kandy and then proceed to your destination


SRI LANKA BY PRIVATE CAR

For those traveling with surfboards or uncomfortable with public transportation, there is a private car option but prices will be similar to what you might pay back at home.

To book a private car across the country, your hotel or hostel in Colombo/Negombo will be able to arrange your driver easily and at a close to a fair price.  If you want to save money or book a driver for more than one day, I recommend joining a Sri Lanka travel Facebook Group, either the Sri Lanka surf Facebook group or the Sri Lanka backpackers Facebook group, and ask publicly for driver recommendations.  Both travelers and drivers will answer up, allowing you plan your transport in advance.

GETTING AROUND TOWN

Ridesharing apps are the best way to get around by car, tuk tuk, and mototaxi without getting ripped off.  Uber and “PickMe” are the two rideshare apps available in Sri Lanka.

SRI LANKA WEATHER

SEASONS OF SRI LANKA

  • Southwest Monsoon Season (May to July) causes monsoons/sporadic rain in the west and south coast (Hikkaduwa, Weligama, Unawatuna, Galle, and Surrounding)
  • Northeast Monsoon Season (October to January) affects the East coast (Arugam Bay and surrounding)

AVERAGE DAYTIME TEMPERATURES ACROSS SRI LANKA

  • Colombo/Negombo (Capital Region) (79° – 87° F / 25° – 30° C)
  • Unawatuna/Weligama (Southwest Beach Cities) (84° – °89° F, 29° C – 32° C)
  • Arugam Bay (Southeast Coast & Beach Cities) (83° – 93° F, 28° C – 34° C)
  • Ella (Tea Country and Hill Country) (76° – 84° F, °25° – 29° C)
  • Nuwara Eliya (Tea Country and Hill Country) (65° – 73° F, 19° – 23° C)
  • Anuradhapura & Polonnaruwa (Cultural Triangle) (86° – 95° F, 30° – 35° C)

PICKING THE RIGHT SRI LANKA SAFARI FOR YOUR TRIP

The Sri Lanka safari options and wildlife were possibly the most unexpectedly awesome part of my own Sri Lanka experience.  Elephants, leopards, water buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys, and many other animals associated with African safaris and the Sahara can be seen easily, cheaply, and in a situation where the animals are wild, respected, and treated humanely during a Sri Lanka safari.

Aside from renting a tuk tuk and creating your own safari like I did, joining a guided jeep safari through a national park is the best way to experience the country’s wildlife.  The biggest problem is that there are so many national parks in Sri Lanka, its hard to decide which national park is best for you based on your interest and time.  I recommend picking your national park and safari based on the animals you’re likely to see.  The two best Sri Lanka safari options to consider are Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park

If you want to see elephants by the hundreds, in the wild, go to Udawalawe National Park

If you want the chance to see a leopard or want to see a variety of animals, go to Yala National Park.

Visiting one national park is enough for one trip to Sri Lanka, so don’t feel like you need to see them all as you’ll see countless elephants, monkeys, peacocks, and water buffalo on the side of the road throughout your trip.  Every traveler I met, especially those driving their own tuk tuks, emphasized this point.

Here is a cheater list of the main national parks in Sri Lanka, why to go, and what you’ll likely see

  • Yala National Park (Leopards): My favorite park – a very “African Sahara” feel, the opportunity to see Leopards and the option to do a self-guided safari (with your own tuk tuk) make this park the best option for most. Yala gives the best opportunity to see leopards in the wild in Sri Lanka.;  Easily accessible from Tangalle, Arugam Bay, or Ella
  • Udawalawe National Park (Elephants): If you love elephants, this is the park for you as you’ll see herds of hundreds, in the wild, completely wild.  This is park is only accessible via jeep safari tour, so (click to check out your tour Udawalawe options)
  • Minneriya National Park (Elephants): A Minneriya safari gives the chance to see elephants close up – easily done on a trip to Sigiriya or to/from Polonnaruwa
  • Wilpattu National Park (Various Animals): Another great park with the chance to see varied wildlife, with leopards, elephants, and crocodiles being tops.  There are ~40 known leopards  in this park
  • Gal Oya National Park (Elephants, water animals, birds): Gal Oya is best for those animals close to the water and plenty of birds – easily accessible on the way to/from Arugam Bay
  • Kaudula National Park (Elephants): Easily accessible from Habarana/Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, one of the largest known gathering points for Asian elephants

SRI LANKA VISA INFO

You absolutely need a visa or Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) to visit Sri Lanka, but for most nationalities, it’s a zero-hassle situation, and available when you arrive at the airport for an additional $5 fee.

Sri Lanka’s Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system allows you to apply and get approved for a visa before arriving, to allow you to skip the lines. Find out more information at the official Sri Lank travel visa website

Travelers holding passports of the following countries are exempt from ETA visa fees:

1. Thailand

2. Iceland

3. United Kingdom

4. United States of America

5. Japan

6. Australia

7. South Korea

8. Canada

9. Singapore

10. New Zealand

11. Malaysia

12. Switzerland

13. Cambodia

14. China

15. India

16. Indonesia

17. Israel

18. Ukraine

19. Philippines

20. Russia

References:

Visa on Arrival

If you’re like me and lazy when it comes to visas, don’t worry.  A visa on arrival is available at the airport on arrival, for an additional $5 USD charge.

SAFETY IN SRI LANKA


Food and Water in Sri Lanka

As per the CDC, only drink water that is bottled or has been disinfected. In Sri Lanka, do not drink tap water, well water, or any juices or ice made from tap water.  For more info, see the “Eat and Drink Safely” section of the CDC Travel website.


This is a brief summary of the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) vaccination recommendations for Sri Lanka travel.  Please consult the CDC Travel website for Sri Lanka for full vaccination recommendations and guidelines.

CDC Recommended Vaccinations for Sri Lanka | All travelers

  • Measles
  • Routine vaccines: These vaccinations include the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.

CDC Recommended Vaccinations for Sri Lanka | Most travelers

  • Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A can be contracted through contaminated food or water in Sri Lanka, regardless of where you are eating or staying.  Be aware of this risk and get the Hep A vaccination prior to travel
  • Typhoid: The CDC recommends getting vaccinated for Typhoid if visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or traveling to adventurous destinations.

CDC Recommended Vaccinations for Sri Lanka | Some travelers

These vaccinations won’t be necessary for most travelers but you should ask your doctor if they’re necessary based on your medical background or travel plans.

  • Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B can be contracted through sexual contact, contaminated needles, and blood.  A Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended if you’ll be having sex with a new partner, getting a tattoo or piercing, or have any medical procedures.
  • Japanese Encephalitis: If you will spend more than one month in Sri Lanka or Asia ask your doctor if this vaccination is necessary for you.
  • Rabies: Can be contracted via dogs, bats, and other mammals in Sri Lanka.  The CDC recommends a rabies vaccination for travelers engaging in outdoor and adventure activities or any travelers that will potentially come in contact with animals.
  • Yellow Fever: Required if traveling from a country with risk of Yellow Fever virus transmission

CRIME AND SECURITY: NICE AND SAFE, VERY LITTLE CRIME

Despite recent events such as the Easter Bombings in Colombo, my travels through Sri Lanka were blissful with no major issues of safety or crime. 

Women traveling solo should exercise similar caution as they would traveling to India or traveling solo in general.

The most up to date and accurate source of safety and security info for Sri Lanka is the US State Department’s Sri Lanka travel page – which I highly recommend for new travelers.  Experienced travelers, take the safety and security warnings with a grain of salt…and just go!

For US travelers, I do recommend enrolling in the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and notate your Sri Lanka travel dates to keep the embassy apprised of your location in case of an emergency – it’s quick, free, and a good safety net.

TRAVEL INSURANCE IN SRI LANKA

For most wanderers, travel insurance in Sri Lanka is a must – and from experience, I recommend World Nomad’s

Absolutely get travel insurance, in case of accidents, sickness, or emergency.  I don’t always get travel insurance but Sri Lanka is so adventurous that I absolutely opted for it.  If you’re on the fence about spending the $100-$150 on travel insurance, read the article “Do You Need Travel Insurance? Maybe yes, maybe no…” to help decide whether or not it’s worth the expense.

Whenever I travel to an adventurous destination where I’m surfing, trekking, riding, or even eating adventurously, I always carry travel insurance that covers injuries, getting sick, and evacuation – read the article “Do You Need Travel Insurance” to understand why, or if it is even necessary for you.  Odds are, if you are traveling Sri Lanka the right way, you probably do need travel insurance.

SCAMS IN SRI LANKA

As fantastic as Sri Lanka is, the location is still a tourist destination and not free of scams.  Most of the scams involve tuk tuks or drivers – and can be easily solved by either 1) only riding in metered taxis and tuk tuks 2) agreeing on a fare before starting a ride or 3) using a rideshare app.

Tuk Tuk Ride Scams

Tuk Tuk ride scams generally target foreigners that don’t think to agree on the price of their ride ahead of time.

Generally, the Tuk Tuk driver will stop, offer a ride, get the rider to hop in, go to the destination, and demand an outrageous fare (10x the price) for a short ride.  After the ride has been taken, if you haven’t agreed on the fare beforehand, there’s not much you can do besides paying the fare.  Prevent this potential scam by

  1. Only using metered Tuk Tuks and taxis
  2. Agreeing on the price beforehand (use a rideshare apps ride estimate as a fair starting point for the price)
  3. Use rideshare apps that standardize fares.  The best rideshare apps in Colombo and Sri Lanka to use are Uber and Pickme.  Both work for taxis, tuk tuks, and moto-taxis

The “I don’t have change” scam

This is a very light scam that many taxi and tuk tuk drivers may try to pull.  The tourist pulls out a medium to large amount bill and the driver says they don’t have change – hoping the tourist will allow them to keep the change and claiming there is no other alternative: Solution: Simply tell the driver its on them, and suggest they drive to a mini-mart or restaurant so they can get change – don’t pay any extra for the additional ride required to get the change.

The “I’m a guide” or “Ride with me” scam

This scam uses a bystander who strikes up a conversation with a tourist and finds a reason to flag down a tuk tuk to stop, usually listing a set of sites that the tourist should see, and then shuffles the tourist into the taxi without negotiating the fare.  The end state is the tourist is stuck paying whatever the tuk tuk driver charges and the “bystander” takes a cut later.  Solution: Either politely decline riding in the tuk tuk or agree on the fare before the tuk tuk starts driving.  Don’t be afraid to walk away.

Police “Fines” (Bribery) for travelers driving Tuk Tuks

This scam only applies to those driving their own tuk tuks

Outside of Colombo, and between cities, police and military checkpoints are fairly common.  At the checkpoint, you’ll be asked for registration, insurance, and the appropriate Sri Lankan Driver’s license.  If you have these three items you’ll have an enjoyable, polite experience.  If you don’t have these documents then you will be fined (in some inconvenient way) or you can “pay on the spot” (pay a bribe).  Let’s be honest – if you don’t have the proper documents, the fail is on you, so decide if you want to pay a fine, or pay a cheaper bribe

In some rare cases, if your paperwork is good then a shady policeman may try to stick you with a made-up moving violation – usually speeding (faster than 40 kilometers per hour), passing in a no-passing zone, or passing in a pedestrian zone.  The punishment will be a citation and fine or paying on the spot.  If you’re in the right and have your paperwork, I recommend politely refusing and stating that you followed the laws.  If you do happen to pay the fine, get a picture of the policeman’s badge number and name to report to the local department.  Also, contact your tuk tuk rental agency about recourse, the best ones will help you out.

Solution: Rent a tuk tuk the right way from a good company.  I highly recommend the Tuk Tuk Rental Team as they offer great, consistent support via Whatsapp, all of their tuk tuks are insured with proper registration, and they can set you up with a Sri Lankan driver’s license before you even arrive.  Click here to read the write up on my experience Driving for Three Weeks on Three Wheels from Tuk Tuk Rental Sri Lanka

BEING A RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Just like many other locations in Southeast Asia, the plethora of beautiful animals can often create a lucrative tourist trap at the expense of the animals.  As a favor for creating this (hopefully) great and useful guide, I ask that you refrain from supporting these activities and instead do what it takes to see the animals in the wild, on a safari or on your own tuk tuk ride

I saw every one of the caged animals on the road, wild, and free…for free! 

Avoid the “Snake Charmers”, dancing monkeys, and elephant rides as supporting them perpetuates exploitation of the animals while forcing them to live in very crappy conditions…that I personally wouldn’t want to live in.

Notes on Elephant Tourism in Sri Lanka, Recognizing It and Avoiding It

If are considering an elephant ride or an elephant interaction, look at the elephant’s neck and legs – if there are shackles and chains, the conditions are likely inhumane. 

If the “guide” is carrying a spike or spear-like object (to poke the elephant when it gets “out of line”) the conditions of captivity are likely inhumane. 

Last, if you observe captive elephants doing a wagging motion with their heads, regardless of how cute this looks they’re actually suffering an emotional breakdown, so absolutely do nothing to support its captivity.

Elephant Tourism Alternatives in Sri Lanka: Udawalawe National Park, Yala National Park, Cruising a Tuk Tuk

Some of my favorite experiences in Sri Lanka were interacting with elephants, in the wild, free to roam.  In Sri Lanka, there is no need to seek out a tourist experience with captive elephants.

Visit Udawalawe National Park if you want to see hundreds of elephants roaming around your seafaring jeep, in the wild, and happy.  With Udawalawe tours range from $35 USD and up, the experience is rich, cheap, and friendly to these gentle giants. Book in advance if you’re on a tight schedule, and book at the location if you’re on a budget.

Visit Yala National Park if you want to experience elephants along with water buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys, cocky peacocks, and so much more.  I wandered in via my own tuk tuk and shared my lunch with a very friendly tusked bull elephant, feeding it by hand.  For plenty of reasons, we shouldn’t feed the elephants – but – I couldn’t resist, and that was a moment I’ll remember on my deathbed.  Kinda worth bending the rules.

Outside of organized tours, just driving a tuk tuk through Sri Lanka will take you past countless elephants on the road.  Solo, in herds, and super friendly.  This experience is far better than seeing them in captivity.

SRI LANKA FAQ

 


Is Sri Lanka Dangerous?

As a frequent traveler, I felt just as safe in Sri Lanka as I have in the Southeast Asian countries popular with backpackers – which generally means as safe or safer than at home in the US.  Petty crime is possible in the capital of Colombo, as in any big city, but in the countryside, there is a warm, welcoming, and safe feeling all around. Police and military presence is ample and they were all very friendly and happy to have foreigners experiencing their culture, in my experience.

Though the civil war, which ended 2009, and the Easter bombings of 2019 have left a stigma in the eyes of the media and foreigners that haven’t yet visited, you will quickly see that those events aren’t accurately representative of Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka of today is warm, welcoming, chaotic in places and quiet in others, but with preparation and common sense, will give you another, enjoyable and adventurous travel experience.


Is 3 weeks too long in Sri Lanka? How many days is enough to visit Sri Lanka?

  • 3 weeks in Sri Lanka is a perfect length of time to travel, giving you time to experience the beaches, safaris and national parks, hill and tea country, and the 1500+-year-old cultural and archeological sites at a comfortable pace.
  • Ultimately 21 to 24 days is the perfect length of time traveling Sri Lanka, giving you time for all of the unique things to see and experience in Sri Lanka without feeling rushed

How much money should I bring to Sri Lanka?

  • In Sri Lanka as a traveler, a budget of $50 per day is reasonable to cover food, a private room, transportation, and light fun.  Plan on tours and excursions each costing $50-$100 and alcohol to be much more expensive than in Southeast Asia, and slightly more expensive than western countries.

When should I visit Sri Lanka? When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?

  • For most travelers, November to April is the best time to visit Sri Lanka, as the easily accessible beach towns near Colombo & Negombo are experiencing their best weather, with January to February being the absolute best times.
  • For surf focused travelers, April to November is best as the tourist season shifts to Arugam Bay with its legendary point break that is arguably the best in Sri Lanka – at windless times offering ~400 meter long rides, and hollow, barreling waves at nearly double overhead height when full-on.

What to wear in Sri Lanka: “How should I dress in Sri Lanka?”

  • Dress for everything when traveling to Sri Lanka.  In the beachy south, the sun beats down hot and hard.  In the cool, highlands of tea country, the weather is frequently cloudy with cool nights in the 60s year-round in Ella (16-20 degrees Celsius) and in the 50s (11-14 degrees Celsius) in Nuwara Eliya, so bring a rain jacket and insulation layer. Bring long clothes that cover the arms and legs for the times you’ll enter religious sites.
  • For a good starting point, check out our Ultimate Packing Guide for Adventurous Travelers

OTHER GREAT SRI LANKA CONTENT


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