A Sri Lanka itinerary isn’t usually a destination high on people’s bucket lists. But with it’s magnificent landscapes, elegant wildlife and heavenly food, it really should be! Spend 10 days in Sri Lanka and discover how to see this enchanting country.
Previously known as Ceylon, and situated just south of India, Sri Lanka is often overlooked as a holiday location. Spanning only 65,000 km² (compared to the United Kingdom’s 240,000 km²!), you’d be forgiven for thinking that you might be stuck for things to do on the island.
However, you can spend more than a week here and have a completely full Sri Lanka itinerary. Start in Colombo, and make your way round so that you can truly experience the diverse and captivating Sri Lankan culture!
We spent 10 days in Sri Lanka, and although we didn’t explore the whole country, we felt that we saw plenty! We’ve included some recommendations for places to stay too, as well as the best companies to book your tours and trips with.
Our trip began and ended in Colombo. We lived on a budget of around 12,000 Sri Lankan rupees per day between two of us (not including accommodation). Travelling in around Sri Lanka was relatively easy – the train systems are good and cheap,and local tuk-tuks are usually plentiful in the cities. A train ride between two large cities can cost as little as $3.50 – you’ll get a seat and stunning views for that price!
When Should You Take This Sri Lanka Itinerary?
You can visit the island all year round, but remember that there are changing seasons and they all affect the various cities differently!
There’s usually rain in the southwest and west of the country from April to September. From October to March, the north and eastern parts experience their monsoon season. The temperatures tend to stick around 26 – 30 degrees pretty much all year round, however if you decide to hike up a mountain or two then the heat will disappear! The higher you go, the colder it will get, especially at night time. Just don’t forget your pyjamas!
What To Pack For 10 Days In Sri Lanka
You might find it difficult to pack light for your Sri Lanka trip as there are varying weather types across the island. If you’re following this itinerary then you’ll want to bring beach wear, hiking gear AND safari clothes, let alone all of the usual everyday items you need.
On the beaches, be prepared for hot sunny days and incredible sunsets!
For a comprehensive breakdown of this list go to our budget savvy packing list guide.
Girls, a shawl, beach cover up or a lightweight scarfto protect you from any evening winds whilst watching the sun go down is always a good idea. You can also use it to cover up your top half if you visit any temples.
In the hills, however, it gets pretty chilly at night so a long-sleeved shirt will come handy. You’ll be glad you have it when the temperatures drop to below 10 degrees Celsius!
Bring a bottle or two of hand sanitiser. Train stations and public toilets anywhere in the world tend to be icky, so at least try to keep yourself germ-free! The little bottles that clip onto your bag are so handy – you don’t have to think about bringing something extra every time you leave your hotel and they smell nice too!
Decent hiking shoes are essential in Sri Lanka. You could just pack trainers but chances are you’ll climb a mountain or two and your brand new Converse just won’t cut it.
Choose boots that you can wear everyday if you wanted to (we even used to wear ours to work when we taught in China – nerds alert) but that can handle a lot of hardcore movement.
Day 1: Colombo
You’ll more than likely fly into Colombo International Airport (also known as Bandaranaike). There aren’t many places to visit in Colombo in one day, but it’s not the best place to reflect Sri Lanka’s beauty so don’t fret. The best time to visit Colombo is during the day, as the city is not yet built for foreign tourists at night.
If you’re interested in Sri Lanka’s history, take a visit to the National Museum where you can find all sorts of artefacts from coins to paintings, as well as information about the past.
There are a couple of other colonial buildings in the area – the ones worth a visit are St Peter’s Church (the oldest functioning church in the country), the Dutch hospital (transformed into a shopping precinct recently but still retaining the architecture from the 17th century) and the Clock Tower (which used to be a lighthouse).
If you have more time, consider taking a food tour that will teach you all about the best dishes to look out for on the rest of your trip!
Whether you’re travelling Colombo with kids or backpacking Sri Lanka solo, you can explore the city in a day and still have time to relax in your hotel for the evening!
Colombo airport is actually closer to Negombo, but as you take the early morning train to Kandy which leaves before 9am, it’s best to stay closer to Colombo town centre.
One of the best things to do in Colombo is actually to leave it … because you’ll be beginning the beautiful train journey that Sri Lanka has become famous for! It takes less than two hours to get from Colombo to Kandy on the train but it really is the start of some incredible landscapes. You might even see a monkey or two sat in a tree as you go past.
The Colombo to Kandy train timetable is available on the Sri Lanka railways website, but you can’t buy tickets online unless you go through an agency. We recommend getting to Colombo Fort station about an hour before your journey, so that you can choose the best seat ticket. Go to Counter 2 and keep hold of your ticket.
There are also often snack vendors who jump on the train at various stops throughout the journey so you can buy things like samosas and fresh fruit during the trip.
A second class ticket is actually better than a first class ticket on these trains. That’s because the 1st class coaches are air-conditioned and enclosed – which means you miss out on the true experience and views of the countryside! A 2nd class seat enables you to be comfortable, yet also gives you the opportunity to stick your head out of the window and truly get close to nature.
Accommodation in Colombo
There are plenty of apartments to rent in Colombo with beach resorts, boutique hotels and city hotels offering plenty of rooms too. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a family looking for a 5 star resort, you’ll be able to book your accommodation in Colombo in advance.
We’ve researched some of the best places to stay in Colombo so that you can easily pick your accommodation in the best area and for the best value for money too.
The Best Apartment To Rent In Colombo
There are lots of apartments in rent in Colombo where you can cook for yourself, do your own washing (great news if you end up in Sri Lanka during the monsoon season because you can wash and hang up your clothes in your own space, rather than paying for them to sit damp in a launderette!) and a living area for when you just want to chill out after a day of exploring. If you’re travelling in a group, then renting an apartment can work out a lot cheaper than even hostels because you’ll be splitting the whole price. It can be hard to find a budget hotel in Colombo if you want a private bathroom and your own space, so even if you’re travelling solo or as a couple, we recommend checking out the apartments available.
Try To Airbnb Colombo Instead
If you want to Airbnb Colombo instead of using a booking site, then you can get $40 off your first stay if you click this link! You can choose to book a whole place or just rent one room in a house, but either way, there are some amazing deals in Colombo. When searching for your place to stay in Colombo, you have the luxury of being able to only search homes with Super Hosts – there are plenty! These places all have lots of reviews to vouch for their owners too, so you can be sure of a comfortable stay.
The Best Boutique Hotel In Colombo
Accommodation needs differ for everybody, but there’s definitely a boutique hotel in Colombo for everyone. Whether you want to spend your afternoons searching the library for your next paper addiction, you’re travelling with a furry friend and they need somewhere to sleep or you want to wind down in a rare bath, you’ll find somewhere in Colombo to suit your needs.
Day 2 – 3: Kandy
If you’ve skipped Colombo completely and made your way straight from the airport to Kandy, you’ll have missed out some amazing views! However, if you’re short on time then it’s not a bad idea to visit Kandy first because there’s plenty to do here!
Famous for its historical Buddhist attractions, Kandy is the perfect place to learn about the local culture. The city itself is in the hills and is home to one of the most sacred places of worship for Buddhists in the world.
There are some amazing markets and stalls for shopping in Kandy. Put your haggling skills to the test at the Kandy Market Hall and grab a few bargains. You can expect to get 30 – 40% off the asking price for most gifts and souvenir type items.
Take a guided tour around the Ceylon Tea Museum, where you can learn about how the tea is picked to where it is sold. There’s a cafe at on the top floor – choose a tea and enjoy a free cup here. If you’re planning on doing any souvenir shopping in Kandy, this is a great place to buy tea and trinkets. You can do the same in the city centre but buying from an old tea museum just seems like a better story!
Another one of the smaller attractions in Kandy is a spice garden tour. It won’t take all day, but you can visit the garden and sample the variety of spices used in Sri Lankan cooking and medicine. Read TripAdvisor reviews before you choose one as there are a few out there who rush you round the garden and then pressure you into buying things you don’t actually want or need.
One of the best places to visit in Kandy is the lake. It’s in the centre of the city, yet it’s a peaceful place to relax and stroll around throughout the day. Once you’re here, take a moment to visit the Temple of The Sacred Tooth Relic. It’s said that when the Buddha died, one of his teeth was saved and it now lies in the temple in Kandy. The temple can get busy with both tourists and locals, so it’s a good idea to go early in the morning or in the evening.
If you want to rent a car in Kandy to explore the city on your own terms, many hotels/guesthouses offer a helpful service to assist you with that.
Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens for a serene afternoon. You don’t need more than a few hours here, but it is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Kandy so don’t miss it!
Finally, if you want great panoramic views of the city, take a tuk-tuk up to the Big Buddha statue. You can see it from the ground but making your way up to the statue is more impressive!
Rooms in Kandy
Guesthouses are common all across Sri Lanka, and Kandy is no exception. Many local families open up their homes to tourists, and give them an experience you just wouldn’t get in a hotel. A freshly made authentic Sri Lankan breakfast is usually included, and you can also often ask for dinner too if you’re not interested in looking around for restaurants every evening. Some will give you added thoughtful extras, like a map of Kandy, or a list of the best bars in Kandy! However, the cheaper guesthouses probably won’t have air conditioning (there’ll be a fan instead) so consider that when booking.
Day 4 – 5: Ella
Journeying on the train from from Kandy to Ella is meant to be one of the most gorgeous in the world! Depending on the time of year, you’ll encounter some unbelievable views.
Unfortunately, if your trip falls in the winter, the mist might ruin the scenery so think about that when you’re planning! At certain times of the year, the weather in Ella (Sri Lanka in general actually) can be terrible. If you want dry weather, the best time to visit Ella is June – August.
It takes around 6 and a half hours, and prices start from £3 for a second class seat. The train time table in Sri Lanka can be found on the government website here.
There are a few shops and restaurants in the centre, but be careful about travelling back to your hotel. Tuk-tuks don’t tend to run too late into the night – the restaurant owners had to give us a lift when we lost track of time!
A popular vegetable market runs on Sundays so have a wander round and buy some local produce!
There are some great things to do in Ella, despite it being a small town with not much tourism yet.
Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock are the most popular hikes in Ella. Enjoy an authentic Sri Lankan breakfast and then spend a morning climbing. If you’re hiking Little Adam’s Peak, you can hike this and then make your way back down to the famous Nine Arch Bridge. Take some awesome photos but be careful not to fall off!!!
Fancy a dip to cool off? There are some pretty waterfalls nearby for you to jump right into. Ravana Falls is close to Ella town centre so you can ask a tuk-tuk to drive you out for the afternoon.
One of our favourite things to do when travelling is to take a cooking class. There are a few highly rated ones in Ella so if you’re interested in doing one, go early and try and book for the next day.
Accommodation in Ella
Unlike a lot of places, Ella caters for backpackers quite well. There are a few hostels and bars dotted around the town for you to enjoy. The cheaper accommodation options might not be places to rave about but check reviews first to double check the cleanliness and location!
There are also a couple of higher-end hotels if you want to splurge, and they’ll offer incredible mountain views to justify the prices.
Day 6 – 8: Tissamaharama (Tissa)
We highly recommend visiting Yala Safari whilst in Sri Lanka. There are plenty of other parks, but this is the best place to see Sri Lankan leopards. Stay in Tissa as it’s the closest town to the park and your safari guide will pick you up.
You’ll probably arrive in the evening so relax and prepare for the long day and early start the next morning. Catch a bus from Ella or get a private car – share it with other travellers if you can. There are usually people waiting at the bus stop in Ella so if a driver offers to take you, you can split the cost.
Have you ever seen a wild leopard? We definitely hadn’t before we went to Sri Lanka, but we were incredibly lucky and saw THREE whilst on safari! Yala National Park has one of the highest leopard densities in the world, but you still usually have to look really hard to spot one.
Book a private tour – our advice would be to take a 12 hour safari. It sounds very long but the time just flies when you’re seeking out new animals every minute!
Be aware that there is really not much to do in the town of Tissamaharama. The few restaurants that do operate, close fairly early so it’s unlikely that you’ll be spoilt for dinner options. If your hotel offers meals, then I’d recommend eating there so that you’re not wandering around in the dark looking for food.
Book with Shehan Safari – we had a brilliant time and the lunch was incredible too! Our drive listened carefully to what we wanted to do and see, but at the same time managed to scour out the best spots for animal sightings!
Accommodation in Tissa
Your stay in Tissa will be short but you’ll still appreciate a good bed after a 12 hour safari! There aren’t a great deal of hotels in the town, but the locals are friendly and the hosts are welcoming.
Ask your guesthouse or hotel owners for a driver to take you to the bus station. It’s in the town centre but it will be handy to have someone who can point you to the right bus stop. You’ll have to leave early on day 8 as you’ll need to get two buses to reach Mirissa!
Day 8 – 9: Mirissa
The bus from Tissa to Mirissa stops in Matara, so jump off at the station and ask for directions for the right bus to continue on with your journey. The bus station can seem confusing, but people are quite helpful and Mirissa is a huge stop so plenty of others will be going there too. There are a few fun things to do in Mirissa but once you’ve arrived, put your bags down and head on straight down to the beach!
Sri Lanka has some very pretty beaches all over. Mirissa is more of a resort area where you can grab a coconut cocktail, sunbathe on loungers and eat the famous Sri Lankan curry. A couple of cool things to do in Mirissa on the beach include surfing and body boarding! You can also visit Secret Beach (not so secret as you can find the location on Google!) or even take an afternoon trip to Galle to look at the forts.
One of the best things to do on your Sri Lanka 10 day itinerary is to go whale watching in Mirissa! It’s best to pick the early morning slot, as the whales are the most active then. You’re likely to see huge blue whales, sperm whales and maybe even some playful dolphins.
Take a sea sickness pill or put on some motion sickness prevention bands an hour before your boat leaves – the sea does get quite rough! Be aware though – the tablets can make you very drowsy so you might need to return to your accommodation for a nap!
A cooking class is the perfect way to get involved with the local culture in the afternoon. We took a class at Dewmini Roti Shop, which is rated number 1 on Trip Advisor. The food was amazing but it wasn’t the best class we’ve ever been to. We did get to keep the recipe booklet and took away some god tips though.
Do your research but be aware that everyone has a personal preference of how a class runs. Think about if you want a private class, or somewhere a bit more social.
Mirissa nightlife isn’t exactly booming, but there are a few beach clubs and bars that offer a good vibe and a place to dance! Take a wander down the beach and sample the different cocktails at the regular Happy Hours! If Cosmopolitans and Strawberry Daiquiris aren’t your thing, you’ll easily be able to grab a large Lion beer to watch the gorgeous sunset with.
There is plenty of decent Mirissa accommodation but booking online in advance is recommended, as the town is becoming more and more popular with tourists. You’ll be able to find cool hostels, cute guesthouses and swanky hotels near the beach easily, and finding somewhere with breakfast included isn’t hard either. Try to get an air-conditioned room as a fan won’t often cut it in the warmer weather.
Day 10: Negombo
Take a train from Mirissa to Colombo, and then you’ll need to get a different train to Negombo. There are lots of taxis outside Colombo train station but they are priced incredibly highly and it’s not that much of a shorter journey.
Ask the station manager for a key if you need to use the toilets – weirdly, they’re often for foreigners only so they’re locked up to prevent everyone else from using them.
There aren’t many Negombo attractions but it’s a nice enough beach town to stay in before you fly home.
Rent a bicycle (usually for free) from your hotel and take a trip along the beach. Grab a few bottles from one of the many many beer shops around, and enjoy one the best sunsets you’ll ever experience on the sand.
There are a few sellers trying to make a living – they weren’t too pressing though and we actually bought a beautiful bowl from one guy!
If you’re staying in a resort, you could spend the day relaxing and getting a couple of spa treatments. You could also book a lagoon fishing tour and visit a local fish market, see how the fish is caught and enjoy a live cooking demonstration and lunch afterwards! Click here to book a tour!
Enjoy this Sri Lanka itinerary in January and enjoy sunny beaches, cool evenings and a higher chance of spotting a whale!
Our Sri Lanka itinerary didn’t cover everything but we certainly had a wonderful time. If you’re going to backpack Sri Lanka, give yourself at least 10 days to explore it. Fantastic food, friendly people and gorgeous animals – there are so many fun things to do in Sri Lanka that it’s the perfect destination for your next holiday! Spend 10 days in Sri Lanka and we guarantee that you’ll enjoy every minute!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Sri Lanka best known for?
Sri Lanka is famous for its tea, beautiful scenery and exciting safaris. If you only have a short amount of time in Sri Lanka, we recommend that you at least take the train through the hills and visit a tea plantation, and then take a safari. Yala National Park is famed for its leopards and Minneriya National Park is the best place to spot elephants. Click here to read our full guide on how to pick the best Sri Lankan safari.
How many days are sufficient for visiting Sri Lanka?
Spending 10 days in Sri Lanka is the perfect amount of time to explore the island, and not feel rushed. Sri Lanka isn’t the type of place that you only visit for 4 days or so because it’s not attached to the mainland. Two weeks gives you a little more flexibility to choose to stay somewhere a few extra days so a fortnight is a good amount of time to spend in the country.
Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
Generally, Sri Lanka is a safe place to visit. The locals tend to be friendly but obviously there are some risks, just like in any country. Don’t carry a lot of money on you at any one time, and don’t let people know where you’re staying. Don’t drink the tap water and if you can, keep an eye on the kitchens cooking your food.
Can you drink alcohol in Sri Lanka?
Yes, you can. There are a few bars in the more touristy places like Mirissa, and we saw a good amount of beer shops but Sri Lanka isn’t known for its crazy nightlife so don’t go expecting an equivalent of Khao San Road or a Full Moon Party!
Do you have any questions about this Sri Lanka itinerary? Email us or let us know in the comments below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!
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