A perfect Sri Lanka itinerary with 11 spots you cannot miss. Use this itinerary to plan your way through Sigiriya, Ella, Adam's Peak, Arugam Bay and some other off the beaten path places in the country where you will have gorgeous beaches all to yourself! Tips on getting to each spot, accommodation and best things to do in each area included. Click to read now! #SriLanka
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Sri Lanka is an island paradise with incredible variety. After years of civil war, the riches of this island nation were left largely ignored by travelers, but in recent years, more and more people have come with inquisitive eyes to be enriched by the soft soul of the Sri Lankan people, enchanting landscapes, golden beaches and some of the most flavorful food in South Asia, if not the World!  

Sri Lanka is right up there for travelers looking for a slightly off the beaten path destination whilst still being easy to navigate, budget-friendly, and offering sensational scenes and sounds aplenty! To get a real feel for Sri Lanka, we would recommend spending at least two weeks exploring the island country. Here is an example itinerary encompassing some of our Sri Lanka’s best places to visit!

1. Sigiriya, Dambulla

Sigiriya rock Sri Lanka
For those with an eye for landscapes and topography, Sri Lanka is home to manicured leafy lawns that spread for as deep as the eye can penetrate the horizon, and there are not much better viewing points than that atop the relatively moderate, 45 minute climb up to the summit of Pidurangala Rock. While many climb the ever popular Sigiriya Rock for the ancient ruins at the top, Pidurangala Rock (opposite and a little less popular) offers sweeping panoramas of both the Sigiriya rock column and the tropical terrain that surrounds it.  

How to get there:

  • Taking the train – From Colombo Fort Station, take train number 6011 at 06:05am, arriving into Habarana Station at 11:16am. From Habarana Station, you can then easily take a tuk-tuk to Sigiriya or most homestays will offer a pickup service for an additional charge if you let them know your arrival time in advance. Depending on your preference of ticket class, you can expect to pay between $2 and $10 one way.

What to do:

  • Climb Pidurangala Rock for sensational sunrise or sunset views, and climb Sigiriya Rock for a peek into the past.
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  • Explore the surrounding rice terraces that sweep the circumference below Pidurangala Rock.
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  • Take a hot air balloon ride early morning and view the rock and surrounding greens of Dambulla from thousands of feet above.

Where to stay:

  • Green House Resort was one of the best guest houses we stayed at during our time in Sri Lanka, with affordable prices, great choice of food, fresh and spacious rooms and they even offer bespoke tours to match your needs for exploring Dambulla.
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2. Kandy and Ella

sri lanka train journey
Aside from checking out the stunning botanical gardens of Kandy, the real reason we were here was to catch the famous train ride between Kandy and Ella.

How to get there:

  • From Sigiriya, take a 20 minute tuktuk ride to the nearby town of Dambulla. From here you can catch a bus fairly easily to the town of Kandy from Dambulla Bus Terminal. The buses depart every 30 minutes and the journey takes around 3 and a half hours. Tickets for the bus cost around $1, however, during the evening the buses do get busy so we would recommend arriving in plenty of time or taking an early morning bus instead! The town of Kandy is very small, once you arrive, ask one of the friendly local tuk-tuk drivers to take you to the station in time for the next train departure to Ella.

Sticking to stunning Sri Lankan scenery, it honestly doesn’t come as thick, fast, and varied as the train journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya or Ella. Dubbed largely as “the most scenic train journey in the World” jump on a train from Kandy to the rolling tea valleys of Nuwara Eliya and you will be treated to some of the most scenic valleys and plantations in the World. The trip from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is around 4 hours, but if you just can’t get enough of the tea valleys, vistas and vivacious curves of the hills that the train ride offers, then choose to travel a further 2 and a half hours to the town of Ella.

What to do:

  • Make sure to snack on Sri Lankan delicacies such as vegetable samosas or coconut roti that are offered up by locals jumping on at each station. The perfect aroma to accompany your travels!
  • Sit in the open doorways of the carriages for the best seats in the house.
  • Board the less popular train at 3am from Kandy for sunrise views away from the crowds!

Where to stay:

  • To absolutely guarantee a ticket and board the 3am train for sunrise views and less crowds, stay at Joyspring Hills Guesthouse, who will arrange your early morning tuk-tuk transfer to the station if you need it!

3. Ella

nine arch bridge
Operational railway bridges do not get any more epic than that of Demodara Bridge in Ella, commonly referred to as ‘Nine Arch Bridge’ or “Bridge In The Sky’ due to its colonial-era, 9 stone structural arches that form its beauty. Situated within deeply forested terrain, train crossings are frequent, a sight to behold, and can be eyed from either the viewpoints at each end of the track or from below where you will find local ladies picking Ceylon tea from the rolling tea plantations.  It’s like a scene from the movies!

How to get there:

  • From the town of Ella, take a tuk-tuk to the Nine Arch Bridge. The chances are, the locals know exactly where you want to go before the words have even rolled off your tongue. We would recommend hiring a tuk-tuk driver for the day, who can also show you Little Adams Peak and some of the many waterfalls nearby!

What to do:

  • Ask a local for the next train crossing and wait and watch the elegance of the train passing through the valley.
  • Walk the tracks once the trail is clear of the train and peer over at the jungle surroundings.
  • Explore the tea plantations below and strike up a conversation with one of the tea ladies.

Where to stay:

  • Nine Arch View in Ella is both affordable and has some of the best balcony views of the bridge below. Perched atop on the hillside, awake to the sounds of the train crossing and view the bridge through the palm trees with no one else around to spoil the view.

4. Adam’s Peak and Little Adam’s Peak

adams peak.jpg.optimal - Sri Lanka’s Best Places To Visit: The Perfect Itinerary

No list of beautiful places is complete without a hike or a trek, but the views waiting at the top of Little Adam’s Peak could make the list all by itself! Located in Ella, the area is famed for its monumental mountain range and Ceylon aromas dissipating from the tea fields. Any local will point you in the right direction to the start of the trail from the flower garden in Ella. Winding through the valley with a slight incline the trek doesn’t take long, is relatively easy to navigate and offers sensational sunset or sunrise spots to view the peaks, ridges and craggy mountainscape with unparalleled 360 degree views.

What to do:

  • Take plenty of photos! There are so many spots to shoot the landscape you might want to plan to take more time than expected to hike the trail!
  • Unforgettable sunrises await those who can stand the early alarm clock.
  • Stock up on some local snacks including egg hoppers or vegetable roti and take a picnic to the peak. Eat and drink in the panoramas.

If you want to hike the real Adam’s Peak, prepare for a longer sunrise trek, but one that’s worth the effort. You’ll have to work in a couple of extra days to get there and back from Ella, but as anyone who has done it can tell you, it’s worth it if you have the time. You can read more about Adam’s Peak here.

4. Arugam Bay and Tricomalee

Sri Lanka East Coast

Sri Lanka’s East coast tends to get far fewer visitors than the south coast, but if you’re interested in surfing uncrowded waves and hanging in a little fishing village with more chances for local interaction, then consider heading to Arugam Bay. It might mean cutting out Mirissa if you’re on a tight schedule, but if it were me, I’d be just fine with that. For logistic’s sake, you’ll probably have to pick either this stop or stop #5 below, unless you have a bit more time and are willing to add in a bit more traveling, which is always an adventure in Sri Lanka! 

How to get there:

Take the bus from Ella to Monaragala. From there, you can take a direct bus to Panama which stops in Arugam Bay. 

What to do: 

  • Learn to surf in the waves. 
  • Take a trip to Tricomalee to check out Pigeon island. 

Where to stay: 

Hideaway Arugam Bay has the perfect vibe and lots of backpackers to hang with. 

Click here to read more about Sri Lanka’s East Coast. 

6. Udawalawe National Park:

koggala lake boat sri lanka
All good things are wild and free. Undoubtedly the best place to eye elephants in the WILD is in one of the National Parks, in which there are 15 of them in Sri Lanka! Unfortunately, there remains a desire to keep elephants captive to satisfy tourist desire, but this was one of the worst and saddest experiences in Sri Lanka, particularly in Pinnawala. No matter how much the locals try to convince you that all projects have been created with the elephants’ wellbeing at the forefront, we found this to be untrue. A sad elephant equals a sad experience.

However, in Udawalawe wild encounters are frequent and more so poignant. These magnificent mammals will leave you mesmerized with memories to last a lifetime. All the strength and power in such a gentle giant, maybe there’s something we could all learn here. Aside from elephants, the park is a deeply forested area with lakes, jungle-like flora and fauna and a jeep safari through the terrain in search of gentle giants, as well as rare bird species and other mammals such as water buffalo and golden jackal is a journey of a lifetime.

How to get there:

  • The quickest and easiest way to get from Ella to Udawalawe National Park is by taxi. The journey is around 110km and will cost you around $36. We would recommend using Taxi Sri Lanka for any journeys within Sri Lanka.

What to do:

  • Arrange an early morning or evening jeep safari for the best sitings.
  • Bring a pair of binoculars to get closer to the action.
  • AVOID unethical elephant sightings, especially any attractions in the Pinnawala area.

Where to stay:

7. Yala National Park

yala national park
Lining the Indian Ocean on the eastern shores of Sri Lanka, Yala National Park is a 978.8 km² forested area home to some of Sri Lanka’s most sought after wildlife sightings including elephants, crocodiles and the king of Yala, the leopard. Although Yala National Park is one of the most popular national parks in Sri Lanka, it is also one of the largest, meaning you could safari for hours without another jeep in sight. Opt for a whole day safari and you will enter the park as the sun peaks above the horizon for the best time of the day to spot the leopards and stop for lunch at the beach where the salty air will freshen you up before your afternoon jeep safari.

How to get there:

  • Again, we would recommend taking a taxi between Udawalawe and Yala National Parks for the quickest and easiest routes. The journey time is around 2 hours and you can expect to pay approximately $32.

What to do:

  • Keep your eyes peeled for the 3 main sightings the park has to offer, the sloth bear, an elephant herd and of course the leopard.
  • Opt for a safari that offers lunch on the beach. The stretch of beach is secluded and offers sweeping views across the east coast all the while still located within the national park.
  • For the best sightings of leopards, opt for a morning safari. The orange hues of sunlight is also a whole sighting in itself. Be prepared for a 4.30am wake-up call however!

Where to stay:

  • Accommodation can be found to suit all budgets, from hostels to tented camping, all of which can arrange safari tours to suit your requirements. For those looking to cool off in style after the day’s safari, Jetwing Yala provides the perfect luxury retreat.

8. Mirissa

Mirissa coconut palms
While Mirissa remains the most popular tourist beach across the south coast of Sri Lanka, nobody can deny how beautiful Coconut Tree Hill is. It’s a 15 minute bike ride from the main stretch of beach. Like all beautiful locations such as this, nothing is a secret forever, and the spot has gotten increasingly popular over the last two years. Still, it’s well worth a visit for the view. It’s almost as if the view has been painted as you view the shore through the leafy lush palms.

How to get there:

  • Take a tuktuk to the nearby town of Tissamaharama, this should take around 20 minutes. From the bus terminal here, buses depart to Mirissa every 30 minutes and take around 4 hours. These buses are local buses and most don’t have air con, so do as the locals do and try and grab yourself a window seat!

What to do:

  • Arrive for a spectacular sunrise to avoid the photo op queue! You will have the place to yourself for at least an hour or so to take in the view of the surfers catching waves through the palms. 
  • After sunrise, head to the local jaunt at the bottom of the hill to have breakfast in a cabana with the view of the shore and the sloping palms lining the façade. Try the local Kiribath (milk rice with banana) or coconut pancake.
  • Once you have roamed the hilltop for a while, keep walking around the hill to find a secluded stretch of beach to lap up the waves with not another person in sight.

Where to stay:

  • Hill House Mirissa is one of the most value for money guest houses we stayed at in Sri Lanka. A welcoming host awaits who will give you plenty of information for things to do in the area, including spots off the beaten path.

9. Weligama

Weligama bike ride
Weligama means sandy village, which is pretty apt in fact! Weligama has made the list as one of the best examples of a fishing town in Sri Lanka which remains relatively quiet in relation to its southern beach counterparts, all the while still offering visitors various activities to keep busy. Travelers come for the surf, with outlets offering surf lessons for novices with a sprawling view of the coastline to match. Weligama is becoming more popular while the word of its coves and coast spreads, so be sure to check it as soon as you can!

How to get there:

  • Just a short journey down the coast from Mirissa, there are so many ways to get between the two towns! Our favourite way of travel along the south coast is on a traditional fishermans bike, so strap your rucksack to your back and start peddling! If you don’t stop along the way at the many delicious food stalls, you can expect to arrive within 40 minutes!

What to do:

  • Rent traditional fishing bikes from the Spindrifters Hostel located in the main town and explore the town and sprawling stretch of sand the local way!
  • Hit the waves whether you’re a novice or a pro! The conditions on the south coast don’t come much better for it.
  • Try the local fish curry as you watch the sun go down!

Where to stay:

  • The Spindrift Hostel is only two years new and offers both bunks and private rooms depending on preference, located within walking distance to the beach and offers traditional fishing bikes to get around.

10. Ahangama

Ahangama fishing village
The beauty of Ahangama is the laid back approach to life away from the tourist towns! Located in the Southern Province and about 20 minutes from the popular town of Galle, Ahangama is a less visited stretch of coastline in the South offering a more local way to experience the shores. The sleepy town offers secluded beaches, local jaunts and the opportunity to view the uniqueness of traditional stilt fishing famed throughout Sri Lanka.

How to get there:

  • If you don’t fancy grabbing your pushbike, tuk-tuks are a great way of getting around and you can even be your own driver and rent an entire tuk-tuk to explore the south coast!

What to do:

  • Walk the shores of the town to view traditional stilt fishing.
  • Take a trip to Koggala Lake.
  • Rent a self-drive tuk-tuk and explore the beaches of the Southern Coast

Where to stay:

  • Freeze On Beach Hostel is located directly on the beach and although basic, who doesn’t want to wake up in a cozy cabin or tree house to the sights of sunrise and sounds of the waves kissing the shore!

11. Koggala Lake, South Coast:

koggala lake boat ride

While many visit the South Coast for its golden stretches of sand (and rightly so), be sure to make the short distance inland from the shore and experience the majesty and magnificence of Koggala Lake. Penetrated by misty jungle, the lagoon outflows to the Indian Ocean and is made up of eight ecologically rich islets, some of which can be best explored by boat such as the spice gardens of Cinnamon island.

How to get there:

  • We’re assuming after we’ve just told you that you can drive your own tuktuk that thats exactly what you’ve done, but if not, then hire a local to take you on the 20 minute journey.

What to do:

  • Arrange a boat ride around the lake and take in the sights and sounds of “fruitbat island” where a rhythmical clap of hands will whip the fruitbats into a sightseeing frenzy.
  • Take a journey through Sri Lankan spices on Cinnamon Island and have the opportunity to take a taste of Sri Lanka home with you from coriander, spice powder or aloe vera produce.
  • Visit Tri Lanka Resort during the day to sip in the views with a drink in hand in their open lounge or take a dip in the infinity pool with sweeping lake views.

Where to stay:

  • Sanford Guest House is located nearby in Ahangama and arranges boat tours and transfers to the lake, or for those with a deeper pocket, there is the opportunity to stay at Tri Lanka located at the heart of the lake.

Here’s a map with all of the spots mentioned above, plus the recommended accommodations to help you plan your trip:

While it’s a lot to take in, considering Sri Lanka is bigger than meets the eye, you can probably see that there’s no bad place to go and no wrong way to enjoy Sri Lanka. This itinerary has all of our favorites spread over 3 authors and 3 visits. We hope you enjoy Sri Lanka’s best places to visit. 

Traveling to Sri Lanka? Here are 11 things you must not miss! this perfect itinerary covers the most loved areas in the country, as well as some off the beaten path spots that see little tourists. Get tips on transportation, accommodation, and the best things to do in each area. Click to read now! #SriLanka
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About the Authors: Charlie and Charlotte are the wanderlusting couple behind The Wanderlovers. Three years ago they ditched their city jobs and have turned their passion for travel into a lifestyle documenting their adventures over on Instagram, hoping to inspire future travelers that anything is possible if you just buy that one way ticket … Go Live!

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