In March 2020 I finally visited the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. Nestled in the Indian Ocean just below India in South East Asia is this absolutely amazing country and one that has made it to the top of my list! It was my mission to see as much as possible when we visited in the 10 days we had so we ventured into the central locations amongst the jungle, down to the South and back to the capital of Colombo. So here it is, my tried and tested 10 day route through the jungle to the beaches and via the worlds most beautiful train journey and an elephant safari thrown in for good measure.
Day 1 & Day 2; Arrival and Kandy
My favourite way to beat jet lag is to ensure my flight lands late in the day. We were fortunate that this worked out and we arrived in Colombo Airport mid afternoon and hopped in a pre booked car to drive us straight to Kandy and dropped us at our hotel, The Radh. I decided to start the journey in Kandy to save on time and this worked well. The drive took around 3 hours and was pretty scenic! Spend your first evening enjoying The Radh hotel, the views from your balcony and if you’re too tired to venture out, get some room service!
Up early and ready for your first day in Sri Lanka and a full day of exploring Kandy. I gave myself just the one day to venture around Kandy and I found this plenty of time! With the sun setting around 6:30pm, do try and get up early to make the most of your time. We found early mornings and early evenings worked great, a full day of walking and exploring and a lazy evening in the hotel after dark.
First hit up the Buddha Statue, formally known as Bahiravokanda Vihara. This is walking distance from The Radh, it took about 30 minutes. The initial walk is flat and easy and then you walk up the hill to reach the statue, it’s fine but with the heat do take it slow and have water!
Meander back from the statue, exploring the streets and the markets of Kandy.
For lunch, head to Cafe Secret Alley. We then opted to pop back to the hotel to freshen up as it’s so close. Next up, head to Kandy Lake which is only 5 minutes walk away. Take a stroll around part of the lake enjoying the shade and the cool breeze. The tooth relic is right next to the lake if you choose to venture here. We opted not to but there’s plenty of time if you wish.
Next up, hop in a tuk tuk and drive 20 minutes away to the Botanical Gardens. This is a lovely break from the bustling city and we thoroughly enjoyed this part. Find a bench and enjoy the peace. Tuk tuk back to the centre and head for dinner, we opted for Buono. Back to the hotel and ready for an early start the next day.
Day 3; Sigiriya & Pridirgungala Rock
Up early, pop on your walking shoes and head down for breakfast. Belly full, take a walk down to the bus station and aim to get there around 8am, the walk takes about 30 minutes. The bus will take you to Dambulla to visit Sigiriya. Check my full post on what to do from Dambulla.
Once you’re back in Kandy, head to the hotel to freshen up and switch out your walking shoes for your sandals and head for some food – you’ll be hungry! We went to Mulberry for pizza and salad and it’s only 2 minutes away from the hotel. Back by sunset and a relax on the balcony and pack your bags to move on tomorrow.
Day 4; The famous train to Ella
Packed and ready to roll, head to breakfast and ask for a taxi to the train station, you can walk but we had suitcases and the hotel organised us a taxi. A tip for you is to squish as much of your stuff in the bags as possible, if you’re travelling with a few bags, keep it to a minimum and only have out what you really need.
Once arrived in Ella, head towards the town and you’ll walk passed many places to eat. Find one that takes your fancy before heading to the hotel, once you’re at the hotel you won’t want to walk back down for food. Once eaten, grab a tuk tuk to Ella Mount View Guest Inn, it will be dark by this point so settle in for the night and prepare for the view you’ll get from your balcony in the morning!
Day 5; Exploring Ella
Similarly with Kandy, I gave myself one full day to see Ella and it worked perfectly. We woke up early and took in the view from our hotel before heading out for breakfast which is freshly cooked for you. We then wandered down to the town and got a tuk tuk to the Nine Arch Bridge. If you want to save yourself from the walk and the heat, do this. If you’re not worried and want to save money, follow the train tracks from the hotel to the right when looking at the tracks and within an hour you’ll arrive at the bridge. Enjoy all this has to offer, it’s beautiful but it will be crowded, no need to worry about it, you’ll enjoy it regardless!
Grab a fresh coconut to drink and take the tracks back to the town, the views here are unbelievable – don’t miss out on this by taking a tuk tuk back! You’ll reach the town before you reach the hotel, stop here and head in to wander the shops and get yourself some lunch. Cafe Chill is lovely and a great place to sit and eat.
Once finished in town, walk back up to the hotel and follow the tracks to the left and find the waterfall, a beautiful place to sit in the afternoon to enjoy the cool breeze the water gives and the beautiful blue kingfishers.
Back to the hotel to freshen and into town for dinner at Cafe UFO. If you want you can take this opportunity to do a sunset hike then head out for Little Adams Peak.
Day 6; Ella to Udawalawe for elephant safari and down to the South
From Ella town, we found a stall offering the Ella to Udawalawe and down to Weligama route. They picked us up from our hotel at 6am and off we went down to Udawalawe. The car journey was scenic and smooth and once we arrived, we hopped out and onto the safari. We were finished by midday and hopped back in the taxi to head to Weligama. We made it there within a few hours and checked into Ceylon Sliders, a beautiful Air B&B on the beach.
Once checked in, freshened up and ready for food, we headed out and walked along the beach to Nomad – get the fresh fish tacos, soooo good! Once full and ready, we took a slow stroll back along the beach and to the hotel. For dinner, head up to the rooftop for food and drinks, if you’re not too hungry, their bread and humous platter is delicious.
Day 7; Secret beach and exploring the coast
Wake up and head to your balcony, you cannot beat that view across to the beach! Once you’ve taken all that in, head downstairs and have one of the best breakfasts you’ll ever have. At Ceylon, breakfast is included and my gosh, is it good! Enjoy every last bit and then head out, we’re starting furthest away and working our way back to the hotel so grab a tuk tuk and ask to be dropped at Coconut Tree Hill.
This is based in Mirissa and takes about 15 minutes to get there. Enjoy this location, the earlier you go the quieter it is but it wasn’t off putting that many people were around, it just means you can’t get that photo with no one in the background but it takes nothing away from the views and the location. Find a quiet spot and just sit down for a moment, watching the surf in the shade of the palm trees. When you’re ready head back to Mirissa and wander along the streets, enjoying the shops as you go. When you’re ready, grab a tuk tuk and ask to go to Secret Beach, you can walk but it’s a steap hill so we hopped in and headed there. You still get dropped off at the top and have to walk down as it’s a tricky one to get to but worth it. Follow the signs, get to the beach, whip off your cover up and enjoy the beautiful beach, clear waters and the rockpools.
When you’ve had enough, walk back to Mirissa, it’s an easy walk back as it’s down hill so no need for a tuk tuk. If you’re hungry, there’s some great places to eat lunch in Mirissa or you can find a tuk tuk and head back to Weligama, which is what we did as we wanted to change out of our swimwear. Once dry and freshened up, ask to take out the bikes from Ceylon which are free to use to staying guests. Cycle out to Deli Ceylon, a gorgeous little café tucked in a side street for lunch and enjoy. When ready enjoy cycling around the streets (watch out for the buses!) and when ready stop at the beach, find a shady spot and grab an ice cream from Cruising Smoothly – do not miss this!
Day 8; Moving to The Kip, Galle, Unawatuna and Turtles!
We have a busy day ahead! Check out of Ceylon Sliders early, make sure to have their delicious breakfast and grab a tuk tuk from outside. Hop in and head 15 minutes down the road to The Kip and check in and leave your luggage there. Wander 20 minutes up the road and find the train station, jump on and head to Galle. Spend the morning exploring Galle and grab lunch at Poonies. Enjoy the boutique shops and the lighthouse.
Head back to the train station and head back down the coast and jump off at Unawatuna. Unawatuna was my favourite place in the South, so beautiful. Enjoy the streets and the huge stretch of beach. Take a dip and wander back having food at The Hideout – delicious tacos and burritos! When you’re ready, take either the 30 minute walk following the road along the coast or hop in a tuk tuk and get off at Dalawella beach. Enjoy the water, take your snorkels to find turtles and watch the sunset behind the palm trees. Carefully walk back to the train station and head back to Ahangama for your first night at The Kip.
Day 9; Exploring more of the coastline and heading to Hikkaduwa
Wake up slowly in the beautiful Kip and head out for breakfast. The breakfast here is spectacular, something worth taking your time with! Once you’re ready, head out and wander up to the train station hopping on and heading to Hikkaduwa. Once you’ve arrived, take in the area and the beaches. When you’re hungry again, head to Salty Swamis for lunch or a drink and once suitably finished taking in the beautiful town, head back to the train station and back to Ahangama.
When back, head back to The Kip and freshen up. Grab your towel and sandals and wander 5 minutes down the road to the private beachfront and sit and relax as the sun starts to set. When ready, head back to The Kip and enjoy the fresh pasta dinner in the garden, under fairy lights – bliss!
Day 10; Checking out of The Kip and heading to Colombo
On this day the main goal is to get to Colombo and make it as interesting as possible. Enjoy the morning at The Kip, the delicious breakfast and take in the last moments in the garden of tranquillity!
Sort out your check out process and leave your luggage safely there whilst you take a stroll up the town to Dreamsea. Dreamsea is a gorgeous surf hotel which has a lovely café, pool and access to a beautiful spot on Ahangama beach. We wandered in, ordered a delicious juice and chilled out. Around 1pm we headed back to The Kip to collect our stuff, use their tuk tuk driver to drop you at the Ahangama train station and grab a bottle of water and snacks from the shop. Aim to get a train around 2pm, aiming to arrive in Colombo just before the sunsets and before the owners at the next hotel leave. A top tip at this point is to grab some food from a supermarket or aim to do so when you reach Colombo. The room in Colombo is above a café which will be closed when you arrive and there’s not too much around the area that you’d be happy to walk to in the dark. We didn’t know this and wandered about 10 minutes to a local taco bell (don’t judge, we didn’t know what else to do!) so if you have food with you, you can check in and just relax.
Grab a good seat on the train, sit back and enjoy the journey to Colombo. The train stayed pretty quiet until you get close to the city so we were able to get window seats with space for our luggage.
When you get off the train, the station is hectic so stay calm. Do note that you hand your ticket over as you leave, like a manual ticket barrier, so keep it someone with easy access. Grab a tuk tuk and get headed out to the hotel. The tuk tuks were much more reasonable than I thought, they were cheaper than down south. Check in to Srilax and enjoy a cool shower and a lazy evening.
Day 11; Last day and exploring Colombo
The last day, boo hoo! Today is all about enjoying everything Colombo has to offer. A city of contrasts and one that is highly debated on whether it’s worth seeing. I would absolutely encourage you to have a day here, especially on your first visit to the island. Nearby the hotel I’ve given you, it’s modern, clean and very Westernised. The embassys are around here so there’s a lot of big buildings, a lot of security and many chains you’ll recognise. The Pettah district of the city is completely different; it’s lively, full of colourful markets, smells and is a lot more traditional.
Wake up slowly and head downstairs for breakfast. The breakfast isn’t included but you do get 10% discount (there’s a 10% service charge anyway so you essentially just pay the price on the menu) they also have a lovely little gift shop here which is well worth a look through, some of my favourite pieces are by Original Source and Supply and they can be found here. Head out to the roadside and a tuk tuk will soon arrive, ask them to take you to the Jami Ul Alfar mosque which is in the heart of the Pettah district. Take it all in, have a good walk around the area. It is busy, it is a smash in the face for the senses but enjoy it! Once you’ve had enough and need a moment of chill, grab another tuk tuk and ask them to drop you to the Independence Square. This is a very relaxed area near your hotel and you can wander through the trees and calm down. You’re about a 15 minute walk to the hotel so if needs be, head back in to freshen up and grab a drink from the café. Next up, head out to the coast; this isn’t a beach fronted coast but it’s definitely cooler near the water. We opted to walk which took about 40 minutes but by all means take a tuk tuk if the heat is too much. We headed to Barefoot for lunch which is also an amazing shop full of books, artisan goods and crafts. The café courtyard is very tranquil and is a nice space to relax for a while. Once you’re done, follow the water up towards Galle Face until you’re ready to head back to the hotel. We soon headed back as we had an evening flight and wanted to shower and pack before our car but if your flight is the next day, Galle Face is a great place to enjoy an evening meal and cocktail by the water, I would recommend eating at King of the Mambo.
So there you have it, the perfect 10 day itinerary to exploring Sri Lanka! Of course, there’s so much more to see but I find 10 days works well, giving you a day either side for travel and the likelihood that a lot of people, like myself, will only have the two weeks off work! This guide ensures you see as many locations as possible with a good relax whilst taking it all in. If you have any questions on the above or for travelling Sri Lanka at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!