As a first-time visitor to Sri Lanka, you’ll want to do more than just spend your 10 days on the beach. You’ll want to explore this beautiful country and all of the sites it has to offer, right?
But how do you know where to go? How long should each destination take? And how many places should you see in total during your trip? Well, that’s exactly what this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary is all about.
I’ll give you the complete rundown on how to plan your trip so that you can take in all of Sri Lanka’s best attractions.
PIN FOR LATER!
Full disclosure! See those links below? If you happen to click on one of these and purchase something I recommend, I’ll get a small commission (wohoo). Don’t worry, this is at no extra cost to you (in fact, often I’ll have some discounts you can enjoy!). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying sales. You can read my full disclaimer here.
Like many countries, it’s important to know your geography if you want to get around efficiently. While it may be tempting to choose a resort with a beautiful beach as the focal point of your trip, you’ll want to visit more than just one area during your ten days in Sri Lanka.
I’ve crafted this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary for first-timers that will allow you to truly experience this beautiful country and all it has to offer.
Note: You could spend so much longer travelling through Sri Lanka and seeing every inch of this beautiful island. This itinerary certainly doesn’t cover everything you can possibly do in Sri Lanka, but it definitely covers some of the best!
- Highlights of the trip
- An overview to your 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary
- Why visit Sri Lanka?
- Is Sri Lanka safe
- Best time to visit Sri Lanka
- How to get around Sri Lanka
- What you need to pack for Sri Lanka
- Need to know
- 10 day Sri Lanka Itinerary
Highlights of the trip
Some of the highlights to expect on this amazing itinerary include:
- Kandy, the site of Sri Lanka’s famous Temple of the Tooth
- A ride on the spectacular Kandy to Ella train
- Dambulla, a town where you can explore ancient Buddhist caves and caverns
- National parks with elephants in the wild and conservation projects where sea turtles hatch
- Sigiriya Rock Fortress and the surrounding area, a former royal residence that is certainly worth seeing for its incredible architecture and history
- The city of Colombo, where you’ll have time to shop for souvenirs and enjoy some typical Sri Lanka cuisine before ending your trip
With this amazing 10 day Sri Lankan itinerary, you’re sure to be able to see everything that this island nation has to offer.
An overview to your 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary
Day 1: Colombo to Dambulla
Day 2: Dambulla
Day 3: Kandy
Day 4: Nuwara Eliya
Day 5 – 6: Ella
Day 7: Udawalawe National Park
Day 8 – 9: Marissa
Day 10: Colombo
Why visit Sri Lanka?
You may be wondering why would one choose to head to Sri Lanka. With so much choice when it comes to beautiful countries, what makes this destination special?
First off, the sights are truly amazing, from ancient Buddhist temples to lush tea plantations to white-sanded beaches. There’s no way you won’t be impressed as you make your 10 day trip around this island.
The food is delicious and there are plenty of restaurants serving everything from authentic Sri Lankan dishes like rice and curry to international dishes that you’ll find in major cities as well as touristy areas.
If you’re up for picking up some souvenirs, the shopping is great and you can stock up on gemstones, tea and other local finds to take home with you.
And lastly, given it’s proximity to the equator, Sri Landa is a year round destination, making it an easy choice for visitors.
Is Sri Lanka safe
Yes, Sri Lanka is extremely safe for tourists. While the 2019 terrorist attacks may have tourists on edge still, Sri Lanka is no longer on high alert and tourists are not being advised to stay away.
You will find there is crime in the bigger cities, but you rarely hear of any crime against visitors and you can enjoy your trip with complete peace of mind.
Obviously, it goes without saying that you should always make sure to protect yourself by avoiding dangerous areas or situations and keeping your wits about you at all times.
Best time to visit Sri Lanka
Depending on where you plan to travel on the island, the best time of year to visit Sri Lanka will vary. Keep in mind that, like most countries near the equator, there aren’t huge variations in temperature between months, which makes Sri Lanka a year-round destination.
April through May is perfect for visiting places like Sigiriya but it may be too hot for other attractions that are located further inland. The hill country is pleasant during April and May, though you should prepare for the possibility of some rain.
May through October is ideal for visiting the east and north because days are nice but it isn’t yet too hot.
December through April is best to visit the southeast of the island as it’s before their monsoon season.
Most importantly, no matter when you visit the island, dress reasonably and bring along a hat or umbrella.
How to get around Sri Lanka
The best way to get around Sri Lanka is by train or bus. If you’re planning to do a lot of sightseeing, the train is definitely the better option because it allows you plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. In fact, Sri Lanka has some of the most beautiful train journeys in the world!
Buses are more frequent but can sometimes be tedious and slow so you’ll want to plan your itinerary carefully in order to maximise your time.
Riding by tuk tuk is a great way of getting around the cities and towns, and it’s fun! But it’s not recommended for long distances, especially if you plan to bring along suitcases or other luggage.
Taxis are cheap in Sri Lanka and are recommended for shorter distances if tuk-tuks aren’t feasible.
You can also book a driver for your entire 10 day stay in Sri Lanka. This will be more costly but you would have the added bonus of a local who knows the areas and could act as a tourguide!
What you need to pack for Sri Lanka
When headed to the central rural areas, such as the tea plantations, you will need to bring mosquito repellant and make sure you pack long pants to protect from bites. Sunscreen is also a must!
For temples, you will be required to take your shoes off so if you’re wearing flipflops/sandals and don’t love walking barefoot, bring a spare pair of socks with you to put on going into temples. Also be mindful you’ll need to cover your shoulders and legs going into temples so be sure to pack appropriate clothing for this activity.
A daypack is essential for when you’re out and about to carry your water, camera gear, layers in case you are entering a temple, etc.
Hiking boots for the many incredible hikes outlined in the itinerary below. There are endless hiking opportunities in Sri Lanka, no matter what your fitness level is.
Sri Lanka has some of the most beautiful beaches so be sure to pack your swimsuit and a coverup.
Even before the dreaded ‘C’ I always advised bringing hand sanitiser on any trip as there will always be viruses and germs, that you may not be immune, even if locals are.
Banks and ATMs are easily found in cities like Colombo, Kandy and Ella but if you’re visiting more rural areas or the hill country, bring some cash too. While most major cards will be accepted at restaurants and shops, there’s no guarantee that your card will work at certain places, and it’s always best to have a backup.
Need to know
- The current in Sri Lanka is 220 V and the plug is a three-pronged plug
- Sinhala and Tamil are the languages spoken in Sri Lanka, although many people speak English too
- Sri Lanka is in the time zone GMT +5:30 and daylight saving time starts in late March
- You’ll need to dress modestly when visiting temples and other religious sites in Sri Lanka. For women, this means covering shoulders and knees. For men, it’s long pants to the knees
- The currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee. Two hundred rupees is the equivalent of $1.
PIN FOR LATER!
10 day Sri Lanka Itinerary
Day 1: Colombo to Dambulla
Welcome to Sri Lanka! You’ll likely have flown into Colombo so you’ll want to head to Colombo Fort Station in the morning and catch the train to Maho Junction. The journey takes around two hours but it’s a scenic ride so well worth it. Then take a taxi to Dambulla, which is around an hour and a half drive.
Once you’ve checked into your accommodation, the first stop is Dambulla Cave Temple. This complex of caves is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses ancient statues that are more than 22 centuries old.
The best way to explore the cave temple is on foot so make sure you have your comfortable shoes on. You’ll need to climb up a few hundred steps to get to the entrance (364 in total!) but it’s well worth it for the amazing views over Dambulla and as far as Sigiriya Rock Fortress, some 19 kilometers away.
Inside the caves, you’ll find images of Buddha and other deities as well as murals covering an area of 2,100 square meters. The temple consists of five caves, all converted into shrine rooms.
Next up is Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Sigiriya is an ancient fortress and palace that was built in the 5th century. It was chosen by King Kashyapa to be his new capital after the forest that once stood in its place was devastated after a storm, leaving the hill that is now there.
The entrance to Sigiriya, otherwise known as ‘the Lion Rock’ is through a narrow passage and you’ll need to climb up a lot of stairs (there are over 1,200!) to get to the top. Once you’re there, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most amazing views over the surrounding countryside.
You can explore the ruins of the palace and marvel at the intricate carvings and paintings that still remain. There are also gardens and ponds that add to the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On your way back down, you’ll find some souvenir shops selling the usual types of souvenirs.
Where to stay in Dambulla
For a bit of luxury: Jetwing Lake
To save the pennies: Gamagedara Resort
Try something different: Dambulla Tree House
Day 2: Dambulla
Today you’ll head to Minneriya National Park, one of the most beautiful national parks in Sri Lanka.
The park is home to a large variety of animals including elephants, leopards, spotted deer, monkeys and wild buffalo. It’s also a great place to see birds such as the Sri Lankan junglefowl, Sri Lankan grey hornbill and black-crested bul bul.
One of the focal points in the park is the Minneriya Wewa Resevoir, built by King Mahasena during his ruling in 3rd century AD, which, during the dry season, can see up to 300 elephants hanging out, bathing and grazing!
The best way to see the animals is on a jeep safari and there are several companies that offer these tours.
This evening, head back to your hotel for some R&R by the hotel pool or take a walk or bike ride around the local area.
Day 3: Kandy
Day 3 of our 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary begins with an early start and a 2-hour drive to Kandy, also known as Sri Lanka’s cultural capital.
First, you’ll explore the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. The temple is set within the royal palace complex and overlooks Kandy Lake.
The temple, locally known as Sri Dalada Maligawa, houses one of Buddha’s teeth, taken from his remains after his cremation in India and brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century.
The temple is ornately decorated with carvings and paintings and it’s a great place to learn more about Buddhist culture.
Every year, during the Esala Perahera, a 10 day Kandy festival, the casket in which the tooth lies is paraded around the city on the back of an elephant (NB: I do not condone the use of animals for entertainment).
Depending on when you visit the temple, you may find pilgrims and worshippers coming to pay their respects. Everyone who visits the temple must take off their shoes and cover up their shoulders and legs before entering.
Next, take a walk in the tranquil Royal Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya. They’re located 10km from Kandy, making it easy to visit on your way back from visiting the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
The gardens were established by King George VI in 1877 and they cover an area of about 147 acres – that’s over 110 football fields put together! The gardens are home to over 4,000 species including many rare and endangered plants from all over the world.
Some of the absolute must-sees at the botanical gardens are the avenue of royal palms, the monstrous fig free, and the incredible orchid house, with over 300 species of orchids on show.
While the cafeteria is a little overpriced, you can always bring some picnic items and eat al fresco on the vast lawn. There are also several souvenir shops where you can pick up a variety of gifts for friends and family back home.
This evening, take a stroll around Kandy old town market stalls and get a feel for the ‘real Kandy’. If there’s one thing I love to do when I travel, it’s exploring local markets and take every opportunity to find one when I travel.
Where to stay in Kandy
For a bit of luxury: Galavilla Boutique Hotel & Spa
To save the pennies: Hanthana Jungle View Holiday Home
Try something different: Square Peg Industrial Loft
Day 4: Nuwara Eliya
This morning you’re taking one of the most scenic train journeys in the world! The Kandy to Ella train is Instagram famous for its spectacular views of tea plantations, winding mountainous tunnels and quaint villages, and it’s a great way to travel from one city to the next. You’ll go as far as Nuwara Eliya today, before continuing on to Ella on day 5.
The views out the window are simply breathtaking and you’ll be able to see a side of Sri Lanka that you wouldn’t otherwise experience. The train journey usually lasts around three hours and, while you could drive it in less than an hour and a half, travelling by train is an adventure all in itself.
You’ll hang out with the locals, admire the views and, if you’re lucky, catch some incredible shots out the window.
Top tip: be sure to sit on the left side of the train for the best views!
Sri Lanka is a country that’s full of natural beauty and hidden gems, Nurwara Eliya being one of them. This charming town is located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is known for its stunning tea plantations and misty climate. The town is referred to as Little England because of its colonial past.
Today, you’ll escape the hustle and bustle of city life, and Nurwara Eliya is the perfect place for this. With plenty of activities to keep you busy, such as hiking, biking or simply taking a walk through the tea plantations, you’ll be able to experience all that this beautiful town has to offer.
One of the best things about traveling to Nurwara Eliya is being able to admire the beautiful scenery. Whether you’re looking out over a misty valley from high up in the mountains or taking in an awe-inspiring view from above, it’s impossible not to be moved by Mother Nature’s beauty. The natural sites surrounding this town are some of the most stunning in Sri Lanka.
Once you get to Nurwara Eliya, take a taxi to Ramboda Falls Hotel. Nestled in the heart of a tea plantation, this hotel has the best view of one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Sri Lanka, Ramboda falls.
Some of the things you can do today at Nuwara Eliya are:
Gregory Lake – right in the middle of Nuwara Eliya where you can rent paddle boats or jet skis if you want to get on the water. Alternatively, you can just walk around the picturesque area, ride bikes or horses.
Nuwara Eliya Post Office – you might be wondering why I’d be directing you to visit a post office on this epic 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary but hear me out. The Nuwara Eliya Post Office is an impressive Tudor-style building with a clock spire, which was constructed in 1894, making it one of the oldest post offices in the country. Stop by the post office for some photo ops and get some postcards to send back home.
Pedro Tea Estate – one of the most popular things to do in Nuwara Eliya is to visit one of the many tea plantations, especially if you’re a tea lover. Sri Lanka is famous for its tea and at Pedro Tea Estate you’ll learn why. You can wander through the estate where you’ll meet tea pickers, who’ll teach you the correct way to pick the leaves. Then go for the guided factory tour where you’ll learn the entire production process.
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya
For a bit of luxury: Hilldale Retreat
To save the pennies: Cecilia Cottage
Try something different: Ramboda Falls Hotel
Day 5: Ella
On the morning of day 5, you’ll take the second leg of one of the most stunning train journeys in the world – Nuwara Eliya to Ella. If you thought the first leg of the journey was scenic, you’ll be blown away by what’s to come.
It’s difficult to say how long the train journey will take. It could be anything from 3-4 hours, but the trains in Sri Lanka tend to break down on a regular basis so be sure you’re not in a hurry when you take the journey.
If you are in a hurry, you can take a taxi and it will take you around an hour and a half.
As you won’t reach your accommodation until late afternoon / early evening today, I recommend taking an authentic Sri Lankan cooking class after checking into your accommodation. Sri Lankan cuisine is some of the best in the world and learning how to make a few dishes with a local family will be an unforgettable experience.
Where to stay in Ella
For a bit of luxury: EKHO Ella
To save the pennies: Pleasant Peak
Try something different: Ella Retreat Glamping Bell Tent
Day 6: Ella
We’ve hit the halfway mark of our 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary and today you’ll see some of the most popular and breathtaking sights in Ella.
Start off with an early morning hike to Little Adam’s Peak, which is every bit as impressive in terms of views as its big brother, Adam’s Peak, close to Nuwara Eliya.
The hike itself takes only around an hour and isn’t too difficult. People of all fitness levels can usually make the hike. Alternatively, you can get a tuk tuk most of the way up and just hike the last 20 minutes or so to the top.
The sunrise view is unbeatable and usually has fewer tourists so you can enjoy peace and tranquility over the breathtaking surroundings.
At the bottom of Little Adam’s Peak is Ravana Zipline. I absolutely LOVE a zipline or anything that gets my adrenaline going really. It’s not the most exciting zipline in the world (check out my post on riding the longest urban zipline in the world) but it is incredible to zip through the mountainous green landscape.
There’s also mountain biking, abseiling, and quad biking if you’re looking for more adrenaline-induced activities.
Next up is Nine Arch Bridge, which is arguably the most famous thing to see in Ella. There are many viewpoints you can stop by and it’s easy to cross over the train tracks, but be sure to ask your hotel for the best time to go, based on what times the trains go by, as you won’t want to miss that.
You can easily walk from the centre of Ella, but if you prefer not to you can also hop in a tuk-tuk.
Lipton Seat is next on our day 6 itinerary. So named after Thomas Lipton, founder of the famous Lipton Tea. Lipton Seat is a spectacular viewpoint just outside of Ella where you can catch beautiful sunrise or sunset views. Stroll around the tea plantation or join an organised factory tour to learn more.
Finally, head to Sri Lanka’s second-highest waterfall, Diyaluma Falls. You can either get a taxi or tuk-tuk to the bottom or the top of the waterfall. I suggest having your driver drop you off at the top and hiking down the side of the waterfall.
Then take a dip under the falls to cool off! Your driver can meet you at the bottom to take you back to Ella, which is around an hour’s drive.
Day 7: Udawalawe National Park
This morning you’ll have a two-hour drive to Udawalawe National Park, which is definitely one of Sri Lanka’s best national parks.
Udawalawe is most famous for its elephants and the park is home to around 500 Asian Elephants, the largest population of any national park in Sri Lanka. That means you’ll be pretty well guaranteed to see some on your safari!
Aside from elephants (did I mention you’ll see all the elephants??), you’ll see plenty of bird life in the park. From peacocks to egrets to heron. If you’re lucky, you may spot some crocodiles or even the stealthy leopard.
You can opt for a half-day jeep safari or a full-day jeep safari. You can also opt to do a morning safari and then a later one when it cools down again. The midday heat can become too much, including for the animals who may be hiding under shade during this time.
For the full safari experience, stay at one of the many safari camps in the national park rather than a nearby hotel.
Where to stay in Udawalawe National Park
For a bit of luxury: Kottawatta River Bank Resort
To save the pennies: Walawe Park View Hotel
Try something new: Kottawatta Tent Village
Day 8: Marissa
Today begins with a trip to nearby Elephant Transit Home, a rehabilitation centre for orphaned and sick elephants. It’s something everyone should do when visiting Sri Lanka, not only because of the incredible experience of seeing these beautiful elephants up close but also to learn more about what you can do to protect them.
Elephants are an incredibly important part of Sri Lankan culture and it is sad that they are very much under threat due to poaching and habitat loss as well as conflict with humans. The Elephant Transit Home (supported by the Born Free Foundation UK) helps baby elephants who have been found without their herd and attempts to minimise human contact so the elephants can be released back into the wild whenever possible
As mentioned previously, I don’t condone any form of animal cruelty and am especially wary of ‘elephant sanctuaries’ and the likes who often exploit elephants for money.
Elephant Transit Home is not a tourist attraction. You can’t go in and play with or bathe the elephants (they are well able to do that themselves!). You can, however, observe feeding time from behind a barrier and learn more about how we can protect these magnificent creatures.
After feeding time (every three hours from 6am to 6pm) is a car journey of around three and a half hours to Mirissa, one of the most popular beach destinations on the island. Check into your accommodation and head straight for Mirissa Beach for some R&R.
At Mirissa Beach, you’ll also find Parrot Rock, a huge red rock formation jutting out of the water just in front of Mirissa Beach. Nobody seems to know exactly why it’s called Parrot Rock so that will just have to remain a mystery for now!
Before heading out to the rock, you’ll need to check tide timings as you can only get to and from it during low tide. During monsoon season, it’s definitely not advised to swim out to Parrot Rock as it can become extremely dangerous.
On this point, please please please don’t travel without purchasing travel insurance first. I’ve seen many accidents and have myself ended up in hospital while travelling. It’s very important to have! Get a free quote from World Nomads here.
If Mirissa Beach seems a little crowded when you’re there, head over to ‘Secret Beach‘ instead. While it’s not so much of a secret beach anymore, it’s still less crowded than the main Mirissa beach so you’ll be able to relax a little more.
Finish your evening with some cocktails at one of the many beach bars in Mirissa.
Where to stay in Mirissa
For a bit of luxury: Sri Sharavi Beach Villas & Spa
To save the pennies: Lavender Mirissa
Try something new: Ubuntu Beach Villas by Reveal
Day 9: Mirissa
Today starts with an incredible whale watching boat tour off the coast of Mirissa.
Sri Lanka’s southern waters are home to fascinating aquatic life including blue whales, sperm whales, fin whales and various dolphin species as well as a spectacular coastal landscape.
Sri Lanka is a great place for whale watching. The island nation is located along the whale migration route, so it’s not unusual to see whales passing by. There are plenty of tour operators who offer whale watching tours, so you’ll have no trouble finding one.
The best time to go whale watching is from November to April when you’re most likely to see blue whales and sperm whales. However, if you’re lucky you may spot dolphins or other marine life all year round.
After lunch, head to Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery & Conservation Project and discover how volunteers keep sea turtles protected until they hatch. You might even see some hatchlings make their way into the ocean after they’ve been released.
You’ll also get to see how the volunteers look after disabled turtles and nurse them back to health.
Day 10: Colombo
It’s your final day on the island – or perhaps you’ve loved your Sri Lanka trip so much that you’ve decided to extend it and see more? If you’re flying out soon, your final day of sightseeing will be in Colombo.
Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka and the largest city in the country. It’s a bustling and vibrant city, with a lively street culture and a great range of shops, restaurants and nightlife. There’s also plenty to see and do in Colombo, from ancient temples and monuments to bustling markets and shopping malls. A visit to Colombo is the perfect way to round off your trip to Sri Lanka!
Start your day with a trip to the National Museum, Sri Lanka’s largest museum. The museum is a spectacular building set in a luscious green park. The museum shows the country’s history from ancient times right through to the present day.
Take a stroll around the Kelani River and Beira Lake, the most famous water landmarks in Colombo, and visit the Pettah Floating Market, situated on the lake. Here, you’ll find around 90 stalls selling Sri Lankan delights including fabrics, spices, local produce and handmade crafts.
Unfortunately, Beira Lake and Kelani River are quite polluted, as can be witnessed from the green coloured water but it’s still nice to take a break from sightseeing and sit in peace for a bit.
Next up is the Hindu Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil, once known as the ‘Captain’s Garden’. The temple is Colombo’s oldest of its kind. The interior of the temple has intricate lotus carvings in the main door and stunning murals on the roof, while the exterior consists of many ornate stone-carved sculptures.
In the evening, discover Galle Face Green, just next to Colombo’s promenade. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a few drinks watching the sunset. It’s also the perfect place to find some authentic Sri Lankan food.
Where to stay in Colombo
For a bit of luxury: Marino Beach Colombo
To save the pennies: Havelock Gardens BnB
Try something new: The Capsule Hotel
PIN FOR LATER!
If you’re looking for an amazing and unforgettable trip, look no further than Sri Lanka. With plenty of activities to keep you busy, gorgeous scenery to take in, and delicious food to enjoy, this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary is sure to leave you with some incredible memories.
I hope this guide helps you in planning your dream trip to the island nation. If you have any questions or need help, feel free to reach out and I’ll be happy to assist.
Are you ready to explore one of the most beautiful countries in the world? Head to my resources page for help planning your trip!