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Sri Lanka: Travel tips and itineraries

Updated on 10.06.2018

Looking for a itinerary to visit Sri Lanka? As a family with children, couples or alone, find here several turnkey recommended itineraries that work to visit the major tourist sites according to the number of days you have. Itinerary Sri Lanka 10 days, 7 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 14 days, 3 weeks. We offer a selection of recommended hotels, advice and tips to optimize your day, good plans to rest.

Motorized vehicle in the shade of a tree in the city of Galle in Sri Lanka

Archaeological sites and temples at Kandy, Anudharapura, Sirigiya, Dambulla, Polanaruwa. The tea plantations, Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains, Ella. Hikes to Adam's Peak. Meet elephants in the Kandi region, Habarana or in national parks (Yala National Park). The south coast of Sri Lanka, including the colonial city of Galle.

Important: travelling in Sri Lanka (transport)

You will most likely arrive in Sri Lanka at the Colombo airport located about thirty kilometers north of the city, in the town of Negombo. As it is not advisable to travel long distances at night because of the quality of the road network, two options are recommended.

If you plan to travel by train the next day, take a taxi to your hotel near Central Station (Colombo Fort Railway station). You can easily take your train, and spend an hour or two in the small historic district near the station. (see the list of hotels near Colombo train station)

The second option, in case you have a driver booked for your stay, is to take a hotel near the airport, and there are some very nice hotels on the seaside (see our selection of hotels in Negombo).

If you arrive in the morning or during the day, you can go by taxi to the central station or start the circuit with your driver.

It takes 30 minutes by car to get to the central station from the airport thanks to the new highway. But crossing the Colombo agglomeration take long hours (to / from Kandy or Galle). So if your flight is in the morning, it is advisable to take your last hotel night on a beach of Negombo.

Commonly called tuk-tuk, these small motorized vehicles act as taxis in Sri Lanka, as here in a tea plantation near Nuwara Eliya. This means of transport is preferred over short distances as in the city of Colombo, Kandy

To go from one place to another, the train is a good option on long distances between major cities, because not too slow and cheap even first class (with reservation to have a seat guaranteed). The popular train journeys for tourists are Colombo-Kandy, Kandy-Badulla / Ella, Colombo-Anuradhapura, Colombo-Galle. On short distances, taking the train is complicated.

On the train from Colombo to Kandy, Sri Lanka ©Odyfolio

Traveling by bus is not practical at all because they do not serve the tourist sites well, they are not comfortable or even dangerous. To consider if you are an experienced backpacker with several weeks to visit Sri Lanka. That being said, a large number of tourists use this option and they are satisfied with the value for money. It is also a way of being closer to the people.

Renting a car is not recommended because the signage is difficult to understand, and the driving style is daring. For information, British colonial heritage requires, the steering wheel is on the right. Rent scooters is also prohibited in view of the distances to be traveled.

Buses are a common means of transport in Sri Lanka, as here in the middle of tea plantations, not far from Nuwara Eliya

To visit Sri Lanka, the best option is the private driver. To be booked in advance or to find in the early days. This is by far the recommended solution, because unlike other countries, combining trains with taxis, tuk-tuks, buses, and day tours does not work well in Sri Lanka. So apart from some trips you will want to do by train, plan a driver for your stay. For an order of magnitude count 40USD to 50USD per day (driver, gas, tolls, parking), which is quite reasonable if you are in a couple or family.

To find a driver an internet search will give you a lot of contacts, but the best is certainly to get someone's advice from friends who have been to Sri Lanka before. We ourselves used the services of BlackSon based in Kandy.

The price depends on the number of kilometers, the presence of toll motorways, the number of people, categories of hotels. The negotiated price must clearly state what is included and not included. You have to agree on the duration and the planned route. In general oil, parking fees and tolls are included in the price, as well as the accommodation and meals of the driver. Entry and activity prices are not included. Better to go to a travel agency rather than to individual improvising drivers.

Drivers charge commissions at some restaurants and attractions, but that does not change the final price you pay. So if you are a small group you may have a better price than an individual traveler, because the driver knows he will receive more commissions.

It is said here and there that a daily tip is highly appreciated. 1000LKR per day is a correct sum.

A good driver speaks English well and knows the country well. He will be good advice throughout the stay and will save you a lot of time. On the other hand his advices for the hotels are more based on his commissions than on the report quality price, so book on the Internet your hotels before leaving.

A driver in Sri Lanka, how much does it cost per day? Advertised prices are generally correct and do not necessarily require negotiation. Here are some examples (advertised prices include privatized vehicle up to 6 people, starters and meals not included). For a day in the Kandy area (Elephant Orphenage, Botanical Garden, Temple of the Tooth and possibly evening dance show) count 5000LKR. 7000LKR for one way Colombo-Kandy one way. 9000LKR for a day in Sigiriya and Dambulla from Kandy. 57000LKR for a 5 day trip from Kandy with Sigiriya, Polanaruwa, Nuwara Eliya, Yala Park, Galle. Basically count 10000LKR per day on average.

Now that we have posed the issue of Sri Lankan transport, let's prepare our itinerary.

Itinerary Sri Lanka Essential 5 days

Day 1: Morning departure from Colombo airport, or from a Negombo hotel with a driver booked in advance. On the way to the Elephant Orphanage (Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage). On the way (2h30), stop to admire the many points of view. Near the orphanage there are many sites to walk on elephant (discovery of 10 minutes in general). At the orphanage the bottle is given to elephants at 1.15 pm. Lunch along the river where elephants bathe. Then, take the road for Sigiriya (3 hours). In Habarana near Sigiriya, you can go on a 45-minute elephant ride. Privilege the beautiful hotels with pool and rock view to relax, such as Hotel Sigiriya or Aliya Resort and Spa.

Day 2: Visit Sigiriya early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat. Then take the road for Polonnaruwa (1h30) and have lunch there. Take a few hours of relaxation at your hotel (preferably overlooking the lake, such as the Lake Hotel) and in the late afternoon visit the sites.

Day 3: Take the road for Dambulla (2h) and visit the site. Lunch in the vicinity. Take the Kandy road and stop an hour at the Spice Garden (Ranweli Spice Garden for example) and make a photo stop at the Hindu temple of Matale. Arriving at Kandy and depending on the time, you can take a picture of the giant buddha, visit the temple of the tooth in Kandy (Temple of the tooth) and attend a dance show in the evening, or walk around the lake. Sleeping one night at Kandy, he hotels on the heights are quieter than in the city center.

Day 4: Visit the temple of the tooth (if it was not done the day before), then walk for two hours in the botanical garden located 30 minutes from the center, then take the road for Eliya Nuwara. Lunch on the way, for example at the Ramboda Falls (Ramboda Falls). On the way, visit a tea plantation (eg Mackwood Tea Plantation). When arriving in Nuwara, admire the colonial buildings. Dinner at the very classy Thai restaurant of the Grand Hotel.

Day 5: Return to Colombo airport through the beautiful scenery of Horton Plains. It is possible to get rid of his driver and return to Colombo Fort Station by train from Nuwara Eliya, and then take a taxi to the airport. In all cases it works if your flight takes off after 20 hours, or the next morning (sleep in Negombo in this case).

7 days itinerary (Essential + South coast)

Days 1 to 4: program identical to the 5-day essential itinerary described above.

Day 5: Take the road all morning for Yala National Park so get there for noon. The road goes through Ella and there are some photo stops (waterfalls and beautiful views of the mountains and plantations). 4 hours of travel. Check in at the hotel and have lunch there. At 2 pm, start safari at Yala National Park (Yala National Park Safari). Return to the hotel after 6pm.

There is not a great hotel offering near Yala Park and it is best to book in advance. If you're looking for comfortable 4-star amenities, go to the Kithala Resort. If you prefer a comfortable camping experience in the heart of the park, book the Big Game Camp Yala. If you are looking for a good value for money hotel, stay away from the park entrance and stay at the Shine Park.

Day 6: On the way to Galle (3 hours). From the road there are few opportunities to admire the ocean. Lunch in Galle facing the ramparts and take 2 hours to visit the city. Then join your seaside hotel that you choose on the road between Galle and Colombo, or Negombo.

If you are looking for a 5-star hotel near Galle on the Colombo road with beach access, why not consider the Jetwing Lighthouse Club and the Elysium.

Day 7: Enjoy the sea and the beach for a day or more before resuming your flight.

Depending on your budget we recommend three hotels with beach access: the Heritance Negombo, the Anicia Beach House and the Puetz Travels Beach Resort.

Anuradhapura Extension

The Anuradhapura site is vitally important from a historical perspective, but visually less impressive than Polonnawura. As it is located very north it will be necessary to think before integrating it in your course.

For your hotel in Anuradhapura we recommend the Cadjan Sacred Anuradhapura, which is the only hotel located in the heart of the archaeological site. Much cheaper, the Heaven Upon Rice Fields has the advantage of being close to the archaeological site, having a restaurant and great views of the rice fields.

Better to go to Anuradhapura on the first day of the tour, directly from Colombo Airport with a driver or train from Colombo Fort Station. Take a few hours to visit the site, then reach Sigiriya and pick up the instructions for the 5-day Essential tour. In this case, it will be necessary to plan the visit of the orphanage of the elephants the day 4 after the botanical garden, and imperatively to visit the temple of the tooth the day before.

Adam's Peak Extension (Adam's Peak)

The ascent of Adam Peak is relatively physical, due to the length of the hike (8 hours round trip). It can be done day or night. On previous circuits, place the extension just after the night in Nuwara Eliya. Take a hotel for one or two nights closer to the peak.

Ella extension

Ella is a peaceful mountain village with many hiking options, and there are many budget hotels to relax.

Depending on the planned activities, allow one or more nights after Nuwara Eliya. From Ella (and Badulla) it is possible to return by train to Colombo.

Paysages au Sud de Nuwara Eliya au Sri Lanka

Negombo extension

Before resuming his plane, just a stone's throw from the airport, the seaside resort of Negombo offers a very wide choice of hotels to rest at the edge of the beach at the end of its itinerary.

East Coast Extension

Depending on the weather, it may be better to choose your seaside resort on the East Coast.

Trincomalee, Uppuveli and Nilaveli will become part of your itinerary after Sigiriya or Anuradhapura.

Passikudah, Kalkudah and Batticaloa can be placed after Polonnaruwa.

Arugam Bay is a good option to complete the Essential tour 5 days after Nuwara Eliya, or after an extension to Ella.

Extension in the North and Jaffna

The North and the Jaffna region, which until recently were to be avoided due to the political climate of the recent war, are attracting more and more tourists despite the still limited infrastructure. The presence of government paramilitary forces is visible, and it is inadvisable to stay on the main roads and not to venture into nature and isolated places because there are still many mines and explosive devices.