Sri Lanka Route Guide
This 3-week itinerary through Sri Lanka is a day-by-day Sri Lanka route. The island is easy to travel through and can be done by bus, tuk-tuk, motorbike, taxi, or private driver. One of the more popular options is to travel by traditional Sri Lankan train, gaining a wonderful insight into Sri Lankan culture as you fly through beautiful landscapes.
Use this 3-week route to cover the top things to do in Sri Lanka, and if you have more time, we’ve added some additional options.
Day 1 – 2: Relaxing in Negombo or Colombo
Start your trip in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital city. Here you’ll discover a unique mixture of modern and traditional, where towering skyscrapers and luxurious rooftop bars sit next to stunning mosques, traditional houses, and bustling street markets.
After a busy day of sightseeing, head to one of the beautiful parks to relax and see unique tropical plants, trees, and flowers. Alternatively, take a wander down to the city beach, where you can watch locals flying their kites in the coastal breeze or cheering as they score points playing cricket.
However, Colombo is not the closest city to the airport. For more convenience, head to Negombo, a laid-back town that’s right next to the airport.
Where to Stay in Negombo
Negombo is a great place to stay for cheaper accommodation with swimming pools where you can relax and unwind after the flight.
The beaches are also far more picturesque in this city, so if you’re looking to enjoy coastal relaxation, it’s a better choice to begin your trip.
Day 3: Sightseeing in Kandy
Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second-largest city and one of the most beautiful you’ll find in all of Sri Lanka. Discover the old colonial buildings that line the edges of a vast lake in the center, keeping an eye out for exciting wildlife and unique plants. Plus, the buzzing streets filled with coconut sellers and stalls are just a stone’s throw away from this fantastic nature.
Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, a fantastic tranquil wilderness in the city full of a diverse range of plants, trees, and flowers. As you look around, you’ll notice that the mountains and tropical rainforests are never far away! It’s this proximity that makes Kandy a great jumping-off point for day trips.
Where to Stay in Kandy
Kandy offers a good selection of affordable hostels and hotels to suit every kind of traveler.
We recommend staying in the city center to explore everything easily. Alternatively, choose to stay up in the hills for ultimate tranquility.
Day 4: Sigiriya
Lion Rock in Sigiriya is one of the country’s most famous landmarks. The enormous natural formation sticks out of the flat landscape, towering above forests and grasslands filled with elephants. On top of the 200-meter square-shaped rock, you’ll find the remains of an ancient palace and gardens and many rock drawings along the way. Additionally, Lion Rock is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka, which is another reason to add it to your Sri Lanka route!
Alternatively, visit Pidurangula Rock, Lion Rock’s nearby little sibling. This rock may be smaller, but it provides a better view as it looks directly onto Lion Rock. There’s also a cheaper entrance fee too!
If you have time to stay a few nights in Sigiriya, we recommend relaxing in one of the many beautiful hotels in nature, hiking the rocks, or going on an elephant safari in the flat valley. To get there, hire a driver or look for a shuttle bus (a 3-hour drive from Kandy).
Where to Stay in Sigiriya
Most of the accommodation in Sigiriya is a bit higher in price. However, it does allow you to enjoy and make the most of the incredible scenery in this area.
Tip: Some hotels even have direct views from the rooms of the rocks themselves!
Day 5: Kandy to Ella Train Ride
Head back to Kandy to catch the most beautiful train ride in Sri Lanka. This long train ride is one of the top things to do on any Sri Lanka route, taking you through stunning rolling hilltops, rainforest, and luscious green tea plantations. Hang out the door with the wind in your hair and feel the weather get cooler as you move higher up into the mist and the clouds of the Sri Lanka highlands. Get Kandy Train Tickets here.
Day 6 – 7: Nuwara Eliya
It’s especially well known as being home to the Lipton plantation, one of the world’s most famous tea growers and exporters! In fact, the history of colonization here by the English has even affected the architecture, with lots of English-style bungalows dotted through the fields, giving Nuwara Eliya the nickname ‘Little England’.
Day 8 – 10: Ella
Visit one of the most blissful and natural places in Sri Lanka: Ella. The small town has a laid-back hippy vibe, complemented by the great mountains and hills that tower over the town. Stay in a hilltop guesthouse with incredible views, and use it as a base to climb to Adams Peak, Ella Rock, or the mesmerizing Nine Arch Bridge. When you’re done hiking, head for one of the many picturesque waterfall pools for a refreshing dip.
Ella is one of the most beautiful places in the country and an absolute must-do in Sri Lanka!
Where to Stay in Ella
Ella is full of fantastic accommodation options, from budget guesthouses to luxury resorts with swimming pools and beautiful views.
It can be fun to stay in the hillside guesthouses outside of town, where you’ll have great views and easy access to hiking trails.
Day 11 – 13: Arugam Bay
Ready to catch some waves? Arugam Bay is the most famous surfing spot in Sri Lanka. It’s so popular that many surfers make this their home between April and October when the days are sunny and warm, and the waves are great. It’s easy to see why people spend so much time here, with the relaxed way of life, living in a wooden beach hut, surfing, and sunbathing by day, and enjoying all the fantastic bars and restaurants by night. This is where you’ll truly find hammock-swinging and coconut-sipping vibes!
Where to Stay in Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is all about the beach! As such, most of the accommodations are located along the coastline. Choose from charming beach huts, mid-range guesthouses, or upscale beach resorts.
Day 14: Go on Safari in Sri Lanka
From Arugam Bay, it’s super easy to take a day trip to Yala National Park for a safari amongst nature. You might even be lucky enough to spot the elusive leopard!
Join a tour, jump in a jeep, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. As you cross over bumpy dirt roads, around lakes, and through bushland, you’ll see vast groups of wild elephants and other animals. There are plenty of national parks to choose from in Sri Lanka, some of the most popular being Udawalawe National Park or Yala National Park.
Day 15 – 16: Mirissa
Head south to the paradise beach town of Mirissa. Take off your shoes and say goodbye to regular life as you slow down and feel the sand between your toes and the waves against your feet. Mirissa isn’t just about the beach, though; there are beautiful coconut tree forests to explore, fascinating tidal islands, and endless great restaurants.
Mirissa is also one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see Whales, which migrate here between November and March. You’ll find the most spectacular sunsets in this part of the country, a winning combination with a sunset whale-watching trip.
Where to Stay in Mirissa
Mirissa is relatively small, so most guesthouses and hotels will be within walking distance of the beach.
As with most areas in Sri Lanka, prices are low for accommodation, and you can find beautiful beachside hotels, with views of the ocean, for a lot less than you might expect!
Day 17 – 19: Unawatuna
The Unawatuna area has the most famous beaches in Sri Lanka, known for the white sand, great surfing, lively beach bars, and Instagram-famous palm-tree swings. The town is small, but it has excellent shopping, guesthouses, and trendy restaurants.
It’s also a great jumping-off point to local sights nearby, like Galle Fort, Koggala Lake, or even the bright lights of Colombo! You could quickly lose track of time in this beautiful little beach town, and it’s the perfect place to relax and unwind at the end of your Sri Lanka route.
Where to Stay in Unawatuna
Unawatuna is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations in the country. Because of this, expect to pay slightly higher prices for hotels and guesthouses.
Tip: Hotel Tri is a beautiful hideaway near Unawatuna around Kogalla Lake. The sunrise and sunsets here are one of a kind overlooking the lake and cinnamon plantations.
Day 20+21: Back to Colombo
Finish your trip and stay close to the airport in Colombo.
If you have a little extra time before your flight, visit Barefoot Handicraft and its fantastic restaurant or tick off some of the sights you may have missed at the beginning of your trip.
Sri Lanka is an absolute heart-stealer, and the likelihood is that you may want to stay for longer than three weeks. If you’re extending your route, there are many more amazing places to visit, especially in the northern part of Sri Lanka (where you’ll find some real hidden gems!). Some of the most popular places to visit on a Sri Lanka route are:
How to Visit Sri Lanka
International flights arrive at Colombo airport (actually closer to Negombo than Colombo).
From here, it’s straightforward to take public transport to your next destination or arrange for a driver to collect you.
Getting Around in Sri Lanka
Hiring a driver in Sri Lanka is a very popular choice as it’s so reasonably priced. To do so will usually cost about $50 per day, which allows you a lot more flexibility with your itinerary. It also helps you get to the more remote places, which otherwise might be quite tricky.
Contact our friend Indi on Whatsapp (+94777644144). Make sure to tell him you came via ‘Salt in our Hair’ so you’ll get the best price possible.
Buses are a very cheap option; it’s just a few dollars for a full day of traveling by bus! Be aware that buses are usually packed full of people, and you will have to stand. Don’t expect air conditioning, but you’ll have the perks of enjoying local TV with Sri Lankan music videos!
Taking the train is a must-do in Sri Lanka. The country is home to some of the most beautiful train rides globally and has become renowned worldwide for the experience of hanging out the train door as tea plantations and rolling hills fly by.
The price for a second-class cabin varies from $1.50 to $4. Sometimes they run out of seats, meaning you have to stand or sit on the floor. But do as the locals do and enjoy this beautiful experience!
Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a year-round destination. There isn’t a perfect period to visit because each side of the island has its own “best time to visit.” which means the sun will always be shining somewhere! ☀️
The dry seasons by month and destination are:
- North – May to September
- Center – January to April
- South – December – March
If you choose to visit these areas in the rainy season, you can still have a really enjoyable time. Prices will be lower, there will be fewer people, and nature will be particularly luscious. However, be aware that the rains can bring rough waves to the coast, causing the beaches to get pretty dirty and unusable at this time.
Sri Lanka Visa
You need a Sri Lanka visa to be allowed into the country. Luckily, arranging a visa isn’t difficult at all. All you need to do is make sure your passport is valid for at least six months. You can select several options for your visa for Sri Lanka, depending on how long you are planning to stay and for what reason you are visiting the country.
Online Visa, Sri Lanka
The first option is to apply for your Sri Lanka visa online. It’s wise to apply at least a few days before your arrival. Usually, the applications are approved within a few hours, and you will receive your ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation). The 30-day tourist visa will cost you $35.
Visa on Arrival
Even if you have not applied for ETA can get a Visa on Arrival on arrival for Sri Lanka. There is a counter at the airport in Colombo where you can go. However, you will pay $5 extra, and there are generally long queues. For this reason, we recommend applying for your visa online ahead of time.
How Much Does Sri Lanka Cost?
In Sri Lanka, payment is made in the Sri Lankan Rupee (not the same as the Indian Rupee). Currently, $1 is equal to 2 Sri Lanka Rupees. Generally, Sri Lanka is a cheap place to travel in, especially in the more remote locations like the North or the center.
A variety of accommodations is on offer, from budget guesthouses to the more luxurious beachside hotels. Plus, wherever you go, you can always find cheap and delicious food, either sold on the street or in small restaurants (a bowl of local rice and curry typically costs about $1-3 USD!).