I’m sure by now you know already that San and I spent about a month in Sri Lanka back in the beginning of this year. We fell in love with Sri Lanka and had some unique travel experiences that we will remember for life.
We started from west and gradually made our way to the east of the country. Our Sri Lanka itinerary had a little bit of everything – mountains, forests, beaches, history, culture and most importantly, adventure.
Sri Lanka Itinerary
This itinerary about Sri Lanka has a little bit of everything: history, temples, beaches forests and most importantly Sri Lanka’s hill country. No doubt Sri Lanka has an amazing coastline, thus spectacular beaches; but it is the middle part of this country that took our breath away.
- Arrive at Colombo Airport
- Negombo – Chill here for 2 days
- Sigiriya – Spend 5 – 7 Days here
- Kandy – Don’t Stay BUT Head to Nuwara Eliya from here
- Enjoy a Scenic Train Ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
- Nuwara Eliya – Spend 4 Days here
- Haputale – Spend 3 Days Here
- Ella – Spend 3 Days Here
- Arugam Bay – Spend 4 Days Here
- Mirissa – Spend 3 Days here
- Colombo – Spend 2 Days here
- Visa for Sri Lanka
- Final Thoughts
The middle part is hilly and colder than rest of Sri Lanka. The hills here are covered with tea plantation and a train ride through this part is breathtaking. Yes, this is a month long itinerary but it’s a flexible. It can be easily turned into 2 weeks or 2 months.
Arrive at Colombo Airport
Negombo – Chill here for 2 days
Colombo’s airport is actually closer to the main Negombo city than Colombo city. It’s funny but I thought Negeombo is a part of Colombo because it is so close to the airport.
Negombo is the perfect place where you can start your Sri Lanka trip because of a very long uninterrupted beach strip. The main town is very pretty and literally wherever you stay, you will be close to the main beach.
I don’t recommend you stay in Negombo for more than two days because that’s enough to explore this city at a leisurely pace before you hit your next destination. There is not much to do here than chill on the beach, get a massage or see Negombo’s pretty (but stinky) canals.
How to reach Negombo from Colombo Airport
It’s very easy to reach Negombo from Colombo Airport. You will easily find taxis or a tuk tuks. If you reach early enough, you can also take a train. You can also take a bus – but you will have to get out of the airport and walk to the bus station, which is right outside the airport.
The taxi and tuk tuk prices at the airport are definitely not cheap. When we arrived, we kind of got scammed because we were misinformed that there is no bus to Negombo.
Obviously we got a bit suspicious and did not take a pre paid tuk tuk from the airport. Instead, we went outside and hailed another tuk tuk that matched the price that we had seen online and was much cheaper – LKR 700. Sadly, ended up getting scammed and you can read about it in my post about travel tips for Sri Lanka.
Where to stay in Negombo
We stayed in hostel called Colombo Airport Monkey Hostel @ Negombo beach that was booked by San. This hostel has got to be one of the cleanest ones that I have seen. It is on Negombo’s main beach road and everything that you will need is easily accessible.
The beach is just a minute away; the bars and restaurants are all over and in plenty and so are the supermarkets. The dorm bed price also included breakfast, which was eggs, coffee, toast, banana and mangos – delicious.
Our beds were in a six-bedroom dorm that had its own private toilet. There were plug sockets near every bed and mosquito nets. The WiFi was free to use and was fast.
Overall, we had a good time here and made many friends. It seems that this is the most popular hostel in this area. We recommended this to our friends but they didn’t get a bed because it was full. If you’re visiting Negombo, you should probably book a bed here in advance. You can click here to find deals.
If you don’t have any budget constrains, then I highly recommend you check out Heritance Negombo which is a newly renovated hotel and they have an amazing pool bar and beach. I also recommend you check out Jetwing Blue, which is simply GORGEOUS. If these two are sold out, you can try Pledge Boutique Hotel. For mid range rooms, check out Golden Star Beach Hotel, Tranquil Negombo Boutique, Terrace Green Hotel, Dickman Resort, or Jetwing Lagoon.
If you’re specifically looking for a hostel, you can also try Flip flop Hostel, New Negombo Beach Hostel and Negombo Travelers Inn. For budget rooms, you should check out Mama Beach Villa, Lily Resort, Monkey Beach Hostel, Winston Dutch Canal Villa, or Bee Nest Bed and Breakfast for budget rooms in Negombo.
Sigiriya – Spend 5 – 7 Days here
I will be honest, I expected Sigiriya to be completely overrun by tourists because of the famous Sigiriya rock, but it wasn’t. What I enjoyed the most about this place was how most of it was covered in a forest. We even got to see a few elephants on the road!
If you’re visiting Sri Lanka for a short trip, I highly suggest you visit Sigiriya because there are a lot of bucket list worthy travel experiences that you can check off just in one place.
The most obvious thing to do here is to climb the famous Sigiriya rock and visit the nearby Dambula cave temples. However, we really enjoyed climbing on top of Pidurangala rock to see the sunrise because we could also see the top of Sigiriya rock. These two are next to each other.
Apart from this, you can also visit the nearby Kaudulla National Park or Minneriya National Park where you can see a lot of animals. Quick tip – ask your hotel about which one to visit because sometimes the elephants leave one area and go to another.
Please keep in mind that the National Parks in Sri Lanka are not cheap and if you add the cost of jeep safari, then the total can be around $60 – $100 per person. The entry cost of most of the national parks in Sri Lanka is same and is fixed.
San and I really enjoyed my time in Sigiriya because we got to explore a lot on our bicycles. Moreover, we even got to spend a few nights in a tree house in the middle of the forest!
How to reach Sigiriya from Negombo
It is very easy to reach Sigiriya from Negombo by a local bus. The bus journey is shorter than train but is obviously not as comfortable and fun. You can reach Negombo bus station and ask for a bus for Sigiriya or Dambulla. If you reach early in the morning, you will most likely get a direct bus to Dambulla and after that you can take another bus to Sigiriya. Dambulla is just 30 minutes away from Sigiriya. This journey can take 4 hours if you get a direct bus but can take 5 – 6 hours if you have to change the bus. Sri Lankan buses have smaller seats, so prepare to be uncomfortable during the course of your journey.
To reach Sigiriya by train, you first have to reach Negombo Train Station. From there, take the Colombo Commuter train to Colombo Fort that leaves hourly. From Colombo Fort train station, you can take either the Night Mail Train or Express train that goes to Batticaloa. You need to get off at Habarana train station. From Habarana, Sigiriya is just 17 KMs and you can take a tuk tuk (or a taxi) to reach your hotel. The train leaves at 6 am from Colombo and arrives in Habarana at around 5 pm.
Where to stay in Sigiriya
Believe it or not – we actually stayed in 5 different hotels in Sigiriya. Yes, we came here without a booking and had to check out literally every morning because of low availability.
If you ask me to pick the best out of these 5, it was Back of Beyond – Dehigaha Ela, where we stayed in a tree house. Actually, this isn’t inside Sigiriya but is in middle of the forest in Dehigaha Ela. This place is 20 minutes away from the main Sigiriya town but is a paradise in itself.
We had a tree house to ourselves while we were staying at Back of Beyond. We slept with the sounds of the jungle and woke up to the songs of birds. There is a lot that I that I want to tell you about this place and I even wrote a blog post about it. You can read more about this place on TripAdvisor or just click here to check the best deals and book a tree house for yourself.
Our tree house was 20 minutes away from Sigirya but if you want to be closer to the city, you can check out Back of Beyond – Pidurangala, which is as beautiful but is not in the middle of deep forest. It’s by the same hotel chain so you can expect the same quality of stay that San and I experienced.
Another place that I want to recommend is Nethmini Homestay (check deals on Booking.com for Nethmini Homestay), which is located in the main Sigiriya town. This place is just close to Sigiriya’s main attractions such as Sigiriya Fortess and Pidurangala Rock. While here, we rented bicycles and explored the most of Sigiriya on our own.
Kandy – Don’t Stay BUT Head to Nuwara Eliya from here
Yes, many travel guides will tell you to make a stop here but I think Kandy can be missed. No doubt Kandy has a few temples to see and an interesting culture, but it is a busy city. In my opinion, you can easily skip it and head to your next destination – Nuwara Eliya.The thing is, Kandy’s location and connectivity makes it a good stop if you want to enter Sri Lanka’s hill country. You can arrive here at night and catch the train for Nuwara Eliya the next morning. Or, if you’re an early riser then you can arrive her in the morning and catch a train on the same day from here. There are three trains that run from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya everyday – at 8:45 am, 11 am and at 5 pm.
The train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is considered to be Sri Lanka’s most scenic train route. The train ride from Kandy to Ella is spectacular and Nuwara Eliya is going to be your first destination on this route.
Please keep in mind that due to the popularity of this route, the first and second-class tickets are generally sold out a week in advance. However, you can still buy third class tickets.
If you have read my post about travel tips for Sri Lanka, you must know that we had a lot of fun traveling in the third class coach. It was clean, comfortable and very interesting. The best seat was the door seat because we had the entire view to ourselves.
We didn’t carry any snacks but it wasn’t a problem because a lot of food vendors frequently did rounds. Our train journey was one of the most fun things that we did in Sri Lanka.
How to reach Kandy from Sigiriya
There is just one direct bus from Sigiriya to Kandy and it leaves at 6:30 am. The bus journey takes only 2.5 hours. If you miss this bus, you can head to the nearby city Dambulla by tuk tuk and take a bus from there to Kandy. Please bear in mind that buses in Sri Lanka can sometimes get massively delayed. If your plans are not flexible, then please wake up early for the direct bus.
Where to stay in Kandy
We decided not to stay in Kandy but we had shortlisted Clove Villa (Clove Villa on Agoda), Amaara Sky Hotel, and St Bridget’s Guest House. These are based on the recommendations that were given to us by fellow travelers in Sri Lanka.
Enjoy a Scenic Train Ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya – Spend 4 Days here
Nuwara Eliya is one of the coldest places in Sri Lanka and is in the hill country of the Central Province. It is called “Little England” and it is usually raining here, so carry your raincoat.
This little toy town is surrounded by green hills that are covered with tea plantation and many little waterfalls. At the center of the town, there is Lake Gregory where you can hire a boat for a day.
When we arrived here, we were lucky that it was raining so much because the waterfalls were full. We visited at least three of them and the water was flowing at a very fierce speed.
There is a little post office in the middle of the city that looks like a toy building. We found a very interesting roadside food stall here where we could choose from a selection of Sri Lankan breakfast delicacies.
One of the most popular things to do in Nuwara Eliya is to visit the nearby Hortons Plains National park and walk till the World’s End to see an amazing view. You can also see the famous Baker Falls here but please keep in mind that it is expensive to reach here because you can only reach by taxi or tuk tuk.
Nuwara Eliya is very famous for it’s tea and you should try to visit a one of the many nearby Tea Estates. We visited Blue Field tea factory where they were running free tours at the time we visited. We did a 10-minute tea tour with a fresh cup of steaming hot tea at the end.
Read: 13 Amazing Things to do in Sri Lanka [in 2017]
How to reach Nuwara Eliya from Kandy
The travel time from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy is 4 hours by train. There are three trains that depart at 8:45 am, 11 am and 5 pm. Try taking one of the first two trains so that you can enjoy the views.
Please keep in mind that Nuwara Eliya train station is called Nanuoya. As mentioned before, there is no need to book your tickets in advance unless you’re traveling by first or second class with fixed seats. Third class seats are also comfortable and don’t require any advance reservation.
I met a few people who didn’t know this and were turned back at the station because the train staff did not tell them about the third class ticket.
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya
If you’re looking for a quaint and charming place to stay, check out Glendower Hotel where rooms are usually for $30 per night. This place has a colonial type of architecture with wooden floors, fireplaces and even bathtubs.
You can also check out Midky Hotel which has an amazing mountain view from the restaurant. The rooms here are for around $37 per night. If you want to stay in an old school English style cottage, you can check out Sherwood Cottage where a room is usually between $20 to $30 depending on the season.
Haputale – Spend 3 Days Here
Haputale is definitely the cutest town that we visited in Sri Lanka and ended up being our favorite destination. The funny thing is, we had no idea about Haputale’s existence but we spotted a valley with little houses and a small station, so we decided to jump off spontaneously.
It was raining when we had boarded the train in Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya train station), but by the time we arrived in Haputale, the sun was shining and we instantly fell in love. With no plan in mind, we picked up our luggage and arrived in Haputale.
As we stood at the train station wondering if we made the right decision, a local approached us and asked if we have a place to stay. Luckily, we found a nearby hotel driver who was there to pick up their guest but had an available room due to last minute cancellation – just our luck.
Being spontaneous paid us well because the hotel was on the higher side of the mountain at the edge of the hill with a table outside in the garden. The room was cozy and the tariff was only 1000 LKR a day. Yes, we know we hit a jackpot.
We fell in love with Hapulate as fast as we got there. As soon as we checked in, we left out luggage and got out to explore. Within minutes of walking, we had explored the entire Haputale and eventually found our way into the tea plantation.
We found some of the most amazing viewpoints where we sat at the edge of rocks and admired a panoramic view around us. This is that one thing I that I really wanted to do in Nuwara Eliya but couldn’t because it’s a big town.
Another reason why we really enjoyed Haputale was that the food here was not overpriced and the prices were same for foreigners. A normal meal in other places in Sri Lanka was at least LKR 200 – 250 per person but was for LKR 50 in Haputale.
If you like viewpoints, you will also enjoy visiting the nearby Lipton’s seat, which is perhaps one of the main reasons why people visit Haputale in the first place. You can also visit Adisham Monastery, which looks more like a house and less like a Monastery. Another popular thing to do here is to visit Dambatenne Tea Factory. We had already visited a tea factory in Nuwara Eliya, so we skipped it.
Where to stay in Haputale
I’m sure by now you know how much we loved our hotel in Haputale. The name of that hotel is Bellview Guest House and it has amazing views because it is on the edge of a hill. To make the most of your stay here, ask for a corner room so that you can admire the view all day while sipping Sri Lankan tea. You can read the reviews about Bellview on tripadvisor.
How to reach Haputale from Nuwara Eliya
The easiest and most fun way to reach Haputale from Nuwara Eliya is by train. This journey from Nuwara Eliya (Nanuoya train station) to Haputale is just less than 3 hours. The train departs Nanuoya station four times – at 9:30 am, 12:45 pm, 3 pm and 3:55 pm.
Ella – Spend 3 Days Here
Elle is to Sri Lanka was Thailand is to SE Asia – it’s a backpackers hub and has a lot of European style cafes. This little town is towards the end of this train route, right before Badulla.
Just like Haputale, even Ella is a small town in Sri Lanka’s Hil Country but unlike Haputale, you will see more travelers here than locals. There is not much to do the main town Ella but you can get out to hike but please be careful of leeches.
While here, you can hike up to Ella’s Rock, little Adam’s peak or just get lost in the tea plantation around. You can also visit the Ravana Ella waterfalls and swim if the weather permits.
How to reach Ella from Haputale
If you haven’t figured out by now, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Haputale and Ella – all of them are on Sri Lanka’s hill country train route. This train originates from Colombo and ends at Badulla and then runs back to Colombo again. It is very easy to travel to and from these four places by train. So if you want to travel from Haputale to Ella, the train departs Haputale station at 12:00 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:30 pm and 5:25 pm. This schedule can be changed anytime, so please check with the locals before you leave.
Where to stay in Ella
One of the most popular places to stay in Ella is Ella Rock House where you can find rooms for as low as $25 – $30 per night. If you like being closer to the view, try Ella Nature View, which is slightly more high end when compared to Ella Rock House. If you’re looking for a value for money deal, check out Aurora Bunglows. For high end places, you can consider Hotel Onrock or Ravana Heights.
Arugam Bay – Spend 4 Days Here
Arugam Bay is a beach town in Sri Lanka’s East Coast and is popular for surfing. The main surfing season begins here in March and ends in May. Although, most of the people visit Arugam Bay to surf but even non-surfers will enjoy their time here.
To arrive in Arugam Bay, we first had to reach the nearby town Pottuvil on bus and from there we hired a tuk tuk. We saw a herd of wild elephants right before reaching Pottuvil. From Pottuvil, the drive to Aurgam Bay takes just about 15 minutes and costs around LKR 150.
The main town of Arugam Bay lies just beyond a bridge that connects it with Pottuvil. It is just one straight road with the main beach on one side with beach huts and cabanas along the beach. As you head further inside Arugam Bay, the room and food prices start increasing.
If you go around 10 KMs further on Arugam Bay’s main road, there is a massive peanut farm along a private crescent shaped beach. I’m not sure if that is just the name or if it actually has a peanut plantation inside. I definitely did not see it there when I visited in January 2017 for a psychedelic music festival.
At the end of the beach on peanut farm, there are a few rocks that you can climb and there is a lagoon next to it. Although this lagoon is beautiful in its own way, it’s definitely not stunning. It is not advisable to swim in it because there are crocodiles in this area. I did see a crocodile in on my way to Pottuvil so I decided to take this warning seriously (unlike my trip to Hampi in India).
Oh and by the way – this peanut farm is just next to the military area so entry may be restricted at times so do ask the local residents before you decide to go.
Another fun thing to do in Arugam Bay is to explore the area around the bridge. There are multiple backwater streams here and the grassy patches around are beautiful to sit on. There is also a Buddist temple on the other side of the main stream that comes from the ocean.
Be careful when you’re here because the entire Sri Lanka is like one big national park and you never know what you find here. We saw a dead snake here but many told us that none of the snakes in this area are poisonous.
This place is good to meet locals. During rain, these streams get fuller and attract local fishermen. In fact, we spent a day with them and joined them in fishing. We even went to their beautiful houses and got to eat with them.
In case you missed Kaudulla or Minneriya National Parks near Sigiriya, you can go to the massive Yala National Park near Arugam Bay. If you have more time on your hands, you can also try the smaller and more beautiful Udawalawe National Park. If your next destination after Arugam Bay is Mirissa, then going to Udawalawe makes total sense because it is on the way.
Where to stay in Arugam Bay
Just like Sigiriya, we stayed in more than one place while we were in Arugam Bay. You can check out Fly Moon Hotel or Way of the Bay. In our experience, most of the rooms in Arugam Bay were similarly priced between $25 and $35 per day.
One of the most beautiful places to stay here is Kottukal Beach House by Jetwing and a room here is for around $120 – 150 per day.
How to reach Arugam Bay from Ella
The easiest way to reach Arugam Bay from Ella is by car and the cheapest is by bus. From Ella, you first have to catch the bus to Wellawaya and from there to Pottuvil. If you arrive early, you can find a direct bus from Wellawaya to Arugambay. From Pottuvil, Arugambay is just 10 minutes away on tuk tuk.
Be careful of tuk tuk mafia because they will misguide you and tell you that there is no direct bus to Arugambay. This is what the hotel guy told us but we still got scammed. The bus conductor told us that the bus doesn’t go to Arugam Bay and we had to hire a tuk tuk. However, after reaching our destination, we saw the same bus in Arugam Bay. The bus ride in total will cost you between 300 – 350 LKR and some of them even charge extra for luggage.
Mirissa – Spend 3 Days here
Mirissa is a small beach town in South of Sri Lanka. The beaches of South are busier but Mirissa has its low-key vibe. Just like Arugam Bay, even Mirissa is popular with surfers but the surfing season is different here.The reason why Mirissa is in this itinerary is because you can spot our planet’s biggest animal in the nearby waters. Yes, there are many whale spotting tours that you can find in Mirissa. Oh but just because you’re going for a whale spotting tour, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will see them.
Just like Arugam Bay, the nightlife in Mirissa is much better than the rest of Sri Lanka. If you occasionally like to have a drink after a long day and chill in a bar with music, you’re going to enjoy your time in Mirissa.
Where to stay in Mirissa
If you’re looking for a hostel or a similarly priced place, you can check out JJs Hostel Mirissa or Banana Garden Hotel. The most beautiful hotel in this town is Cape Weligama, which is slightly out of Mirissa but is located on top of a cliff with breathtaking views. If you stay here, you may not get out of your hotel at all because it is that gorgeous.
How to reach Mirissa from Arugam Bay
If you go to Mirissa from Arugam Bay by car, it will not take you more than 3.5 to 4 hours. A bus ride however can take up to 7 hours if you don’t find a direct bus, so please plan your day properly and start well in advance.
To reach Mirissa from Arugam bay, you first have to reach Pottuvil and catch a bus to Matara from there. If you arrive early (7 am), you can find a direct bus to Matara and from there you can reach Mirissa on a tuk tuk (or a connecting bus). The only direct bus leaves at 7 in the morning and the bus number is 35-1.
A smart thing to do here would be to split this bus trip into two and head to Udawalawe National Park in the middle because it is on the way.
Colombo – Spend 2 Days here
Colombo is last on this itinerary because this is where you will be before you get out of Sri Lanka. If you’re looking to relax on your last day, you can easily skip Colombo and head to Negombo instead because it is closer to the airport.Colombo is a busy town but if you’re up to it, you can get to see a few historical landmarks or cultural shows. There are three main museums in Colombo that you can visit – the National Museum of Colombo, the Natural History Museum and the Dutch Period Museum. You can also visit Colombo’s most famous Buddhist temple – Seema Malakaya or watch a cultural show at Cirque Lanka. For sunset, you can head to Galle Face Green Promenade.
Where to stay in Colombo
Surprisingly the hotel prices are not so high in Colombo and it is possible to get better rooms as compared to many other destinations.
If you’re looking for a hotel, then you can check out Star Anise Boutique Capsule Hostel where you can sleep in your own capsule for $15 – $30 per night. Another cool hostel is CityRest Fort where the prices are similar.
How to reach Colombo from Mirissa
The easiest way to reach Colombo from Mirissa is by train. You first have to reach Matara train station and take a train to Colombo Fort. The train ride will take around 3.5 to 4 hours. The trains leave at 6 am, 9:40 am, 1:35 pm and 2:10 pm. But please note that these timings can change anytime so ask the locals before you go. Alternatively, you can also do this journey by bus from Matara road.
Like our Sri Lanka itinerary? But wait, check your visa requirements before you go:
Visa for Sri Lanka
You can apply for an electronic visa for Sri Lanka by visiting this website.
Also, before you book your tickets, do read my post about 13 essential travel tips for visiting Sri Lanka – this post contains information about literally everything starting from eating to internal transport.
Our Sri Lanka itinerary post will help you plan your trip to Sri Lanka, but I highly recommend you keep your plans flexible to leave some room for spontaneity. Our flexibility helped us find some of the most amazing places. If you do, make sure you comment here or message us to tell us about those places.
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