The best thing about Sri Lanka is just how diverse of a country it is. This stunning island can cater to any and every type of traveler. Whether you are the vacationer that likes to relax or a high-energy adventurer who needs to be on the move all the time, Sri Lanka is the perfect destination. With so much culture, wildlife, hiking, and coastline at your fingertips, it can even be overwhelming trying to narrow it down to just one week.
The following itineraries are fast-paced and hectic. However, thanks to Sri Lanka’s reliable and efficient public transportation system, they are doable. Getting from city to city is cheap and easy. Private taxis and shared shuttle buses are also an option for people with more flexible budgets. With how cheap Sri Lanka is, it might be worth shelling out more on having that guaranteed transportation, especially when there is so much to do and so little time.
I crafted the following itineraries based on my own Sri Lanka adventures, a 3-week rampage through a country that I could not get enough of. My first week gave me a taste of just how well-rounded Sri Lanka is. I cycled through ancient ruins, chased sunrises up mountains, and hung out amongst the elephants all in my first few days. Sri Lanka truly is a dream destination for everyone. These itineraries are perfect for hikers, history nerds, beach bums, wildlife enthusiasts, and more.
One Week Sri Lanka Itinerary For Hikers
Day 1: Kandy
Kandy is a great place to kick off your Sri Lanka adventures. From the airport, you can go directly to Kandy instead of Colombo. It is about three hours from the airport but it thrusts you immediately into Sri Lanka’s lush rolling hills. There aren’t too many hikes to do in Kandy itself but Udawattakele Forest Sanctuary is a good place to experience some of Sri Lanka’s nature. You can also hike up to the Buddha overlooking the city. For the most part, Kandy is just an important stop to get your feet set for the next few days.
Day 2: Hatton/Nallathanniya (Adam’s Peak)
Hopefully your legs are well rested because we’ll immediately be getting the toughest hike out of the way. Warranting a 2 AM start and 5,500 stairs to reach the top, Adam’s Peak might seem daunting. However, its rewards far exceed the struggle. The mountain stands at about 2,243 meters tall, or 7,359 feet, making it one of the tallest in all of Sri Lanka.
Standing at the base of the mountain, it can seem very intimidating but it also gives you an idea at why it has become one of the most revered sites in all of Sri Lanka. At the top of the mountain is believed by Buddhists to be the footprint of Buddha himself. This makes it a hugely popular site for pilgrims to visit, and you will see people of all ages and backgrounds attempting the hike.
Day 3: Nuwara Eliya
Tucked away in the mountains of central Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya is gaining more and more popularity. It is a good alternative for people seeking to escape from the increasingly touristy town of Ella. Waterfalls, tea plantations, botanical gardens, parks, and lakes are the highlights of Nuwara Eliya. There is no shortage of ways to stretch out your legs in this secluded town amidst the tea plantations.
Day 4: Haputale
About an hour short of Ella lies Haputale, another hidden gem in central Sri Lanka. Since it is right on the railway route from Kandy to Ella, it is also gaining popularity as an alternative to bustling Ella. From Haputale, you can take a sunrise hike up to Lipton’s Seat, a stunning walk taking you up high through tea plantations and giving you panoramic views of the endless Sri Lankan mountains.
At Horton Plains National Park you can hike the famous trail up to World’s End, a spot at the edge of a cliff face with a sheer drop that makes for an iconic photo. This popular spot gives you one of the best views you can get in Sri Lanka. Walking along the railway line is also a great way to relive some of the best views along the train ride here. Those mountains and valleys can be a crazy sight to behold, especially when the clouds are weaving mystically between the hills as they blanket the countryside.
Days 5 and 6: Ella
Like I mentioned a few times earlier, Ella is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous destinations. That distinction is undeniably well-deserved. There are an abundance of hikes you can do here, including Little Adam’s Peak, Ella Rock, and the more leisurely hike through the jungle to get to Nine Arches Bridge. Hiking Little Adam’s Peak for sunrise is one of the best things you can do in Ella. The trail up to Ella Rock also gives you a taste of the diversity Ella has to offer. It takes you through railroad tracks, waterfalls, tea plantations, and dense forests before you arrive at your epic final panoramic viewpoint overlooking the lush rolling hills of Ella.
Making a day trip over to Diyaluma Falls is also worth it. It is about an hour’s drive away from Ella but with plenty of opportunity to stretch your legs once you arrive. You can take a quick hike to upper Diyaluma, taking you to the top of the 600-feet-tall behemoth of a waterfall. It is a stunning view from up there. The natural pools and rivers at the top give you a very scenic opportunity to cool down.
Day 7: Transit Back To Colombo
You’ll quickly realize that seven days was far too short to take on such a stunning and diverse country as Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a journey from Ella back to Colombo. If you only have seven days, you likely won’t have time to make any detours or pit stops on the way back. By taxi, you can make it from Ella to the international airport in about six hours. The train ride from Kandy to Ella and vice versa takes about eight hours, and it will be another three hours from Kandy to the international airport.
One Week Sri Lanka Itinerary For History Geeks
Another highlight of Sri Lanka is just how much history has occurred on this little island. Traces of civilization have been found dating earlier than 500 BC. Unlike other bygone civilizations, many remnants still stand today. Monuments, temples, and archaeological complexes are littered all over the island. The variety of cultures in Sri Lanka makes it one of the most fascinating melting pots in the world. While Buddhism is the major religion, there is also sizable population of Muslims, Hindus, and Christians.
Day 1: Colombo
Although most people see Colombo as merely a stopping point, it does boast a fair share of history and culture. It is the largest and most developed city in Sri Lanka, so it holds most of the country’s national museums and galleries. Aside from the museums, there are loads of temples, mosques, and other religious sites to visit in Colombo. The architectural marvel of Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque and Gangaramaya Buddhist temple, nestled gently on the waters of Beira Lake, are both highlights of Colombo for history lovers.
The colonial architecture of the past can also still be seen in many of Colombo’s older structures. In the Old Town of Colombo are a number of colonial structures, including the Fort Railway Station. You’ll inevitably see this as you journey off to the other destinations of Sri Lanka.
Day 2: Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s most culturally, historically, and religiously significant city for Buddhists. It was the former Buddhist capital of Sri Lanka over a thousand years ago. Many structures and monuments from that time still stand, in various states of repair and disrepair. This will give you a glimpse into what feels like a completely different planet at times. Considering that many of these monuments date to before 300 BC, it might as well have been a different planet at the time.
Taking a bicycle and cruising through the archaeological complex is one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. Among other attractions, Anuradhapura boasts stupas that rivaled only the Pyramids of Egypt in size at the time they were built. Anuradhapura also stakes a claim on the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world, the sacred Bodhi tree.
For more on Anuradhapura, here’s a guide for everything you need to know about Anuradhapura.
Day 3-4: Dambulla/Sigiriya with a day trip to Polonnaruwa
Once you’ve gotten your fill of Anuradhapura’s majestic monuments, you can head an hour south to Dambulla or Sigiriya. There, you can visit one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic landmarks, Lion Rock. This ancient fortress situated on a unique mountain has been declared by UNESCO as the eighth wonder of the world.
From Sigiriya, you can take a day trip over to Polonnaruwa. Like Anuradhapura, it is an archaeological complex boasting some of the most beautiful, intricate, and complex architectural achievements of Sri Lanka’s past eras. The intricacy and extravagance of the monuments and ruins at times felt at par with world-renowned ruins like Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu. It is one of the most impressive sites I have ever visited.
For a glimpse at what Polonnaruwa has to offer, check out my complete guide on what to do and see in this incredible city.
Day 5: Kandy
Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest hubs for travelers and devotees alike. Kandy is home to Buddhism’s current most sacred temple, the Temple of the Tooth. This extravagant temple is home to what is believed to be the tooth of Buddha, a relic that has been a cause and catalyst for many of Sri Lanka’s most significant historical events. This temple is very much worth a visit, as are the museums and galleries also included in your ticket purchase.
Day 6-7: Galle via Colombo
About two hours south of Colombo is the historic city of Galle. To get here, you will have to backtrack from Kandy back to Colombo and then head south. Galle is an old colonial town that almost feels like it does not belong in Sri Lanka at all. First built by the Portuguese in 1588, Galle was taken over by the Dutch in 1649, who built most of the fortifications that still stand today.
Long before it was ever colonized, Galle itself was a bustling port city that traded with European and Arabian civilizations as early as 125 AD. Galle has been classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its cultural significance, making it a can’t-miss destination in Sri Lanka.
From Galle, it is a little more than two hours to the international airport. This makes it a good spot to end your trip as well. Private taxis and shared vans can take you to the airport for as little as 7,000 LKR ($40) per car. You can also take the train or a local bus for a more local experience, one that will only run you about $2-3 for the entire journey.
One Week Sri Lanka Itinerary For Beach Bums
One thing that I really did not expect from Sri Lanka was how stunning its beaches would be. With soft, golden sand and crystal clear turquoise waters, Sri Lanka belongs up there with the world’s best beach destinations.
And if you are the more adventurous type, the beaches offer more than just swimming and relaxing. Sri Lanka is a top-notch surf destination, for both beginners and seasoned surfers. Sri Lanka’s shores are also home to rich marine life for snorkelers and divers, with opportunities to see sea turtles, blue whales, and more. Beachside bars and restaurants round out Sri Lanka as more than just a quiet paradise getaway.
It is hard to narrow down which are the best beaches in Sri Lanka, but the southern provinces definitely make a strong case.
Day 1: Mount Lavinia (Colombo)
Straight from the airport, you can head down south to the outskirts of Colombo where you can find Mount Lavinia. About an hour and a half away from the airport, you can immediately find yourself on a stunning, secluded beach with golden sands and all the palm trees your heart desires.
Days 2-3: Galle/Unawatuna
From Colombo, you can start working your way down south, starting with Galle. Galle is a coastal town highlighted by its iconic fort and lighthouse. Lapping upon the fort’s stone walls is some crystal clear blue water that you’ll find is ubiquitous throughout Sri Lanka’s southern coast. While Galle makes for a trendy and developed home base, the best beaches are a short bus ride away from the city center. Dalawella Beach near Unawatuna is your best bet. It has a long strip of beach, stunning water, and palm trees galore (including the iconic one with a swing you’ve probably seen on Instagram a thousand times).
Hikkaduwa is also a quick trip away, known for its large sea turtle population. You have a good chance of just seeing them chilling on the beaches. In the right season, you might even get the chance to release baby sea turtles into the ocean. Galle makes for a good home base for the neighboring beach towns. However, if you want to dive right into the action, you’ll want to head further east.
Days 4-5: Mirissa or Weligama
Mirissa is Sri Lanka’s most famous beach town. The neighboring Weligama is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular surf havens. If you’re looking to surf, Weligama Bay is vast and the waves are unceasing. If you’re more into relaxation, Mirissa’s beautiful beachfront is some of the best in all of Sri Lanka. There are plenty of places to stay right next to the beach, ranging from surfer hostels to five-star resorts.
Some of the highlights of Mirissa include Coconut Hill, Parrot Rock, and Turtle Bay. Coconut Hill is exactly what it sounds like, a hill with a ton of palm trees right on the ocean. It makes for a great photo op. A short walk towards town is Turtle Bay where you can swim with sea turtles. A little further in is Parrot Rock, a little hill jutting into the ocean between two bays, making for a great view of the long strip of beaches that Mirissa has to offer.
In Weligama, it is all about surf. You can find all levels of surfers trying to catch waves on the long strip of beach in Weligama Bay. Alongside the beach, you can find tons of trendy restaurants, hotels, and cafes.
Weligama is also home to some of Sri Lanka’s best nightlife. Some nightclubs stay open well into the morning. This was a pleasant surprise since my first two weeks of in Sri Lanka had been devoid of any partying whatsoever. Considering my blog name, I had definitely not been living my best life until I got to Mirissa and Weligama.
Day 6: Talalla or Hiriketiya
The further east you go, the less crowded your beaches will be. Talalla is a quiet beach town with a long strip of golden beach that is perfect for seclusion and privacy. Twenty minutes east is Hiriketiya, one of the most beautiful places you could ever dream of surfing. It is a stunning bay with plenty of waves to go around. Renting a scooter and beach-hopping can be an excellent way to spend a day, as many of the best beaches in Sri Lanka are also among the hardest to get to.
Day 7: Mirissa
From Mirissa, you can head back to Colombo or go straight to the airport. It is only about two hours from Mirissa to get to the airport. Depending on when your flight is, you could milk a little more time out of Sri Lanka’s beaches. For an intercity Uber it will cost about 7000 LKR ($40) to get to the international airport. However, if you’ve got a little leeway in your schedule, Mirissa also has a railway station and buses run to and from Colombo all the time. Neither option should run you more than $3.
One Week Sri Lanka Wildlife Itinerary
Days 1 and 2: Dambulla (Minneriya National Park, Kadulla National Park)
If you want to immediately find yourself amongst the wildlife, you’ll want to get out of Colombo right away. Dambulla, a bustling city about two hours from the international airport, should be the first place to make your home base in Sri Lanka. Staying in Dambulla will put you in close proximity to Minneriya National Park and Kadulla National Park.
These two national parks are famous for the high likelihood of seeing herds of elephants. For a more comprehensive guide on doing a safari here, check out my complete guide to Minneriya National Park.
Day 3: Kandy
While Kandy itself does not have any national parks, its location in the Sri Lankan highlands make it a good home base for exploring the surrounding reserves, mountains, and forests. The most popular one of these is Udawwatekele Forest Sanctuary. It is only about a 20 minute walk for Kandy’s most popular attraction, the Temple of the Tooth.
While you won’t see any lumbering elephants or shy leopards, you might stumble into monkeys, deer, boars, porcupines, flying squirrels, the pangolin, and more. It is a popular spot to see a variety of birds, snakes, and other reptiles. It isn’t quite as much of an expedition as a several-hour-long game drive, so it is a good break in the middle of your trip.
Day 4: Haputale (Horton’s Plain National Park)
From Kandy, you can take the local train over to Nuwara Eliya or Haputale. The main highlights of Horton’s Plain National Park are actually the hikes to do here, specifically World’s End that I mentioned earlier in the hiking itinerary. However, like most national parks in Sri Lanka, it is blooming with diverse wildlife. Here, you can see leopards, sambar deer, and more.
Day 5: Yala National Park
Yala is Sri Lanka’s most popular national park for one reason: the elusive leopard. This large national park on the southeastern region of the country is home to several dozen wild leopards that roam freely. I only managed to see one during a four-hour game drive but that alone was worth the $70 for the safari. Other animals you can see at Yala National Park include elephants, crocodiles, water buffalo, wild boars, mongooses, and a lot of crazy colorful birds.
Day 6: Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s most visited national parks. The main draw are the large elephant herds that roam through the region. There are an estimated 250 wild elephants in Udawalawe National Park. If spotting an elephant is your goal, Udawalawe is your best bet.
Day 7: Hikkaduwa (Sea Turtles) or Mirissa (Whale Watching)
This will take you back towards the coast and closer to the airport so you don’t have to worry too much about transit back. Mirissa is one of Sri Lanka’s trendiest and most popular beach destinations. However, it is also the whale watching capital of Sri Lanka. Blue whales roam just off the coast of Mirissa, which is an incredible sight to behold. I’ve heard from a friend that you could also shell out something crazy like $300 to swim with them. Mirissa is also home to Turtle Bay, a small beach frequented by sea turtles. I only saw about three during my two hours there but it was a majestic experience nonetheless.
An alternative to Mirissa is Hikkaduwa a bit further west up the coast. It is home to sea turtles that you can find hanging out on the beach in the mornings. You can also release baby sea turtles into the ocean depending on the timing of your visit. Seriously, Sri Lanka has everything.
If you aren’t convinced by now that Sri Lanka is totally the best place ever, I don’t know what else to tell you. It has everything you could ask for. I came into the country with very little knowledge or expectations and walked away with unforgettable adventures.