Sri Lanka in 3 weeks: the perfect travel itinerary

by suitcasestoriesbe
Sri Lanka in 3 weeks: the ultimate travel itinerary

Friendly people, lovely food, wonderful beaches, impressive wildlife, great views, and smiles everywhere. If there’s any country in Asia that surprised us the most, it’s Sri Lanka. In this article, we share the ultimate 3-week travel itinerary for Sri Lanka with all the different locations we’ve visited, including recommendations on where to stay, the best things to do, the number of days we recommend staying at each location and how to get around. To help you visualize our route we’ve put it together on a map as well.

Read also: Travel budget for 3 weeks in Sri Lanka

Tip: if you are traveling solo or would like to join an organized trip, definitely check the tours of Tourradar here. They have really great adventure tours through Sri Lanka. Super cool!

Sri Lanka in 3 weeks – the ultimate travel itinerary

START Colombo | END Colombo 

DURATION 21 days

METHOD OF TRANSPORT Bus + train + tuk-tuk

BEST TIME OF YEAR December – April (West Coast) / June – September (East Coast)

WHEN DID WE GO April 2019

HIGHLIGHTS Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Weligama, Mirissa, Tangalle, Uduwalawe National Park, Yala National Park, Ella, Kandy, Sigiriya

Sri Lanka in 3 weeks travel route + tips

Sri Lanka itinerary: Hikkaduwa

Located about a hundred kilometers south of Colombo, Hikkaduwa is one of the most famous beach destinations in Sri Lanka. It has a nice surf vibe, a beautiful reef, and you can spot huge sea turtles just straight at the beach. Along the wide beach, there are many accommodations, plenty of restaurants and at night it’s nice to stroll around several souvenir shops. A lovely coastal town worth visiting!

Recommended stay

  • 2 – 3 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Get a snorkel and discover the beautiful coral reef (300 LKR to rent a snorkel for 1 hour)
  • Visit the Tsunami Education Centre and Museum
  • Visit the Hikkaduwa Turtle Hatchery, where baby turtles are nurtured and hatched in captivity before being released
  • Relax at the beach and spend some time with the giant sea turtles
  • Shop some souvenirs

Where to eat

How to get in Hikkaduwa

  • By local bus + train: from Colombo Airport you easily take bus 187 (Rs 300 per person, straight in front of the exit at the arrival hall, 20 min drive to train station) and then jump on the direct train to Hikkaduwa (Rs 160 per person in 2nd class, 2-hour drive)

Check here all schedules and prices for flights to Colombo

Sri Lanka itinerary: Galle

Galle is such a beautiful place you need to see. In Galle fort, which is the old part of Galle, you’ll have cute little streets, beautiful art galleries, a lot of souvenir shops and lovely restaurants. It feels like some magical colonial European city where you’ll love to stroll around every afternoon and night. In our opinion the perfect place to start your trip through Sri Lanka.

Recommended stay

  • 1 – 2 days or 1 full day visit

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Stroll around the narrow streets of Galle Fort
  • Go for an afternoon walk along the city cliff walls to watch endless ocean views and amazing sunsets
  • Hop in one of the cozy restaurants and bars and taste delicious local food
  • Join a bike tour to explore the beautiful countryside around Galle (prices starts from $20 per person)
  • Discover new flavors with an authentic cooking class

Where to eat

  • Fortaleza Restaurant (romantic setting by night, lovely various menu)
  • The Pasta Factory (hand-made pasta, best Italian in town)
  • Calorie Counter (wide vegan and vegetarian menu, juices & smoothies, salads and grilled dishes – a great place for lunch)
  • Lucky Fort Restaurant (a cute little local restaurant where you can taste 10 curries shared by 2 people for Rs 1800 – $10)
  • Secret Garden Fort (cozy bar to chill out)
  • Pedlar’s Inn Cafe (great music, wonderful setting, and yummy menu) + Pedlar’s Inn Gelateria (dairy-free ice cream scoops) + Pedlar’s Inn Corner Cafe (rooftop deck for sunset, happy hour 4-6 PM)
  • The Heritage (trendy, lovely setting)

How to get in Galle

  • By taxi or train (Rs 65 per person in 2nd class, 30-minute drive)

Check here prices and schedules for transport to Galle

Sri Lanka itinerary: Unawatuna

Unawatuna is a cute little town with a lot of great restaurants and bars next to the beach. It has some of the greatest beaches to watch the sunset. Our two favorite places were Wijaya Beach and Dalawella Beach, where you can do the famous swing. It’s not the perfect place to go surfing, but the cozy atmosphere makes this place a popular stop among a lot of backpackers.

Recommended stay

  • 2 – 3 days

Where to stay

Things to do

Where to eat

How to get in Unawatuna

  • By local bus, train or taxi. We booked a taxi via the app PickMe as our hotel was a little bit out of town and paid Rs 460 from Galle

Sri Lanka itinerary: Weligama

Weligama was one of our favorite beach stops in Sri Lanka. It’s budget-friendly, super relaxed, full of lovely locals, has great vegan restaurants, and is the perfect place to learn surf or tune-up your surf skills. The main beach is filled with surf school offering lessons and the waves are perfect for beginners. But nearby you’ll find also some bigger waves for the more advanced ones. And if you need a break from surfing, you can join one of the daily yoga classes.

Recommended stay

  • 2 – 3 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Surfing with the Freedom Surf School, these guys are amazing! ( prices range from 1000 to 3000 LKR per hour for a surf lesson, 250 LKR for a 1-hour board rental)
  • Join a yoga class (1000 LKR per class, daily 9 am and 4 pm at Hangtime Hostel)
  • Rent a scooter and explore the nearby beaches (1000 LKR for a full day)
  • Beach clean up (every Friday 10 am starting from Freedom Surf School)

Where to eat

  • Nomad Café & Boutique (best place for breakfast and lunch, beautiful and lovely spot with the most delicious vegetarian and vegan options in whole Sri Lanka,  organic and locally grown food, try the super green smoothie, tofu poke bowl, and zucchini noodles. Highly recommended place!)
  • Hangten Rooftop (great spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner, right in front of the beach and part of Hangtime Hostel, has a lovely rooftop deck with great sunset views, perfect spot to relax after surfing or yoga class, our favorite picks: Mexican fries, veggie burger, the falafel wrap, smoothie bowl, and green juice)
  • Aloha (Super cute breakfast spot in front of the beach, have great salads, avo toast en oat bowls)
  • BreakPoint (if you want to have a yummy wood-fire oven pizza, try this place, great setting in front of the beach)
  • Ceylon Sliders (favorite sunset spot, cozy and cute rooftop terrace with great ocean views, lot of veggie options like the yummy vegan burger and mezze platter)

How to get in Weligama

  • By tuk-tuk (Rs 1300 from Unawatuna, 30-minute drive)

Sri Lanka itinerary: Mirissa

One of the most famous beach destinations in Sri Lanka, and with a reason! Have a surf, visit beautiful Secret Beach, take the perfect picture at Palm Tree Hill and end up with a beer watching a wonderful sunset at the beach. We highly recommend staying at least 3 nights in Mirissa.

Recommended stay

  • 3 – 4 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Do some shooting at the idyllic Coconut Tree Hill
  • Go with sunset to Mirissa Beach and climb up Parrot Rock
  • Relax at Secret Beach
  • Learn to surf with Surf’s Up School (2500 LKR per person for 1,5-hour lesson or 250 LKR per hour to rent a board)
  • Go whale watching with Raja & the Whales (around $50 per person, 3-5 hours, the season starts in November and ends in April)
  • Snorkel with turtles around Parrot Rock

Where to eat

  • Rumba (beachside restaurant, lovely menu, happy hour 4-10 PM, try the avo spinach mango salad & vegans delight sandwich)
  • Central Beach Restaurant Inn (beachside restaurant, great spot to have lunch)
  • The Shack ( romantic, cozy setting with lovely details, a bit more expensive menu but a great and wide choice)

How to get in Mirissa

  • By local bus, train, or tuk-tuk. From Unawatuna, it’s a 40-minute drive to Mirissa, we went by tuk-tuk and paid Rs 1700

Sri Lanka itinerary: Tangalle

Our next stop from Mirissa was Tangalle, a calm and quiet beachside town along the South Coast. It’s also one the furthest beach spots before the National Park takes over. The sea is rough and the waves are gigantic but the water is crystal clear.  Very close to Tangalle you’ll find Rekawa Beach, where we stayed. Rekawa Beach is famous for sea turtle nesting. Every night you can witness the giant sea turtles nesting and laying their eggs on the beach. Unforgettable experience!

Recommended stay

  • 1 – 2 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Witness the giant sea turtles nesting at Rekawa Beach (turtles nest here all year round, but the main season is April to July, be sure to bring a red light with you and remember patience is key)
  • Relax at one of the quiet and secluded beaches

Where to eat

How to get in Tangalle

  • By local bus or tuk-tuk. From Mirissa, it’s a 1-hour drive. We went by tuk-tuk and paid Rs 2500

Sri Lanka itinerary: Udawalawe National Park

Do you love elephants and like to see hundreds of them in the wild? Go on a safari in Udawalawa National Park! It’s one of the most popular national parks in Sri Lanka and the chance of spotting herds of elephants is extremely high. The best way to visit Udawalawe National Park is by staying near the park and booking a private jeep/driver as you can’t enter the park on your own. (we did it via the accommodation we’ve stayed and can highly recommend the half day morning safari)

Recommended stay

  • 1 – 2 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Go on a half-day morning safari and book a private driver/jeep (we booked it at Kottawatta Village and paid Rs 4500 for the private driver/jeep + Rs 4000 pp entrance fee at the entrance of the park)

Where to eat

How to get in Udawalawe

  • By local bus or private driver (recommended!). From Tangalle, it’s a 1,5-hour drive. We booked a private driver for 3 days and paid Rs 7000/day.

Sri Lanka itinerary: Yala National Park

Yala National Park is the most popular and famous park in Sri Lanka. Why so popular? It offers the chance to see one of the most beautiful big cats in the world, the leopard. (it has even the world’s biggest concentration, cool right!?) We saw one super close but were too late with our cameras to take a good picture. But besides the leopards, it’s also a beautiful park with a high variety of wild animals such as elephants, crocodiles, buffaloes, and colorful birds.  And above all the scenery is incredible as well. Must see!

Recommended stay

  • 1 – 2 days (when you stay 1 night you can easily do a half-day safari the day after or same day of arrival)

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Go on a half-day morning safari and book a private driver/jeep (we booked it at Rice Rice Villas and paid Rs 6500 for the private driver/jeep + Rs 4050 pp entrance fee at the entrance of the park, count 3-4 hours for the whole trip)

Where to eat

  • We had dinner in the restaurant of our accommodation as there are no many restaurants in the surroundings (paid Rs 600 pp and got a plate with different vegetable homemade curries, for us even the best curry we had in Sri Lanka)

How to get to Yala National Park

  • By private driver (recommended!). From Udawalawe, it’s a 1,5-hour drive. We booked a private driver for 3 days (so the driver wait while we did the safaris in the different parks) and paid Rs 7000/day.

Sri Lanka itinerary: Ella

The moment you enter Ella, you’re entering a world of idyllic green hills, beautiful forest, tea plantations, and epic landscapes. The town itself is super cute, small and laidback although it gets quite busy in the late afternoon after everyone returns back from their daily hikes. We end up staying here 4 nights as there is so much to do. We stayed a bit out of the town but got rewarded every morning waking up with insane views and got a super friendly family taking care of us.

Recommended stay

  • 1 – 2 days (when you stay 1 night you can easily do a half-day safari the day after or same day of arrival)

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Hike up Little Adams Peak with sunrise or sunset (2-3 hour hike with an easy trail to follow, impressive views of Ella and the valleys below)
  • Visit a tea factory (heard great things about Newburgh Green Tea Factory, located near Little Adam’s Peak)
  • Hike along the train tracks to Nine Arch Bridge (we found a great organized half-day tour here)
  • Take some scenic shots at Nine Arch Bridge (go early, first trains passing at 6.33 am and 9.10 am)
  • Hike up Ella Rock with sunrise (3-4 hour hike with a more rugged and untouched trail comparing to Little Adams Peak, impressive views too)
  • Visit the Diyaluma Falls (the 2nd biggest waterfall in Sri Lanka) but count a full day for it (it rained the whole day when we were there so weren’t able to go to the top, unfortunately, but highly recommend doing it!)
  • Take the most scenic train ride from Ella to Kandy (read all our tips about this train ride here)

Where to eat

  • In Reincarnation
  • Chill Out (favorite lunch & dinner spot with a cozy rooftop deck to chill, has great vegan/vegetarian options, try the zucchini pasta with cashew cream sauce or the veggie burger! So yummy!! The green juices are good too.)
  • The Barn by Starbeans (great breakfast spot with tasty juices and good coffee)

How to get to Ella

  • By private driver (recommended!). From Yala National Park, it’s a 1,5-hour drive. We booked a private driver from Tangalle to Ella, stopped one night in Udawalawe, and one night in Yala NP and paid Rs 7000/day.

Ella to Kandy: most scenic train ride in the world

The train ride from Ella to Kandy, or the other way around, is said to be one of the most scenic, epic train rides in the world. And hell yeah, it was! The journey is about 7 hours, so quite long but you’ll love every single minute of it. Amazing misty mountain views, rice fields, and tea plantations as far as the eye can see. As it’s an extremely popular attraction in Sri Lanka, be sure you book your tickets at least one day in advance or via the online ticket search box from 12go.asia below.

Want to know more about the train ride? Read more everything about the different classes + extra useful tips here: Must do: taking the most scenic train ride from Ella to Kandy

Sri Lanka itinerary: Kandy

Kandy is the next biggest city in Sri Lanka, after the capital Colombo.  This cultural capital is famous for the Temple of Sacred Tooth which is one of the most important Buddhist relics in all of Sri Lanka. Stopping in Kandy for a night is a great idea when you’re heading afterward to Sigiriya. The journey is otherwise way too long.

Recommended stay

  • 1 day

Where to stay

Things to do

Where to eat

  • When we were there it was Sinhalese New Year (14 April), so everything was closed. But we heard good things about The Empire Cafe

How to get to Kandy

Sri Lanka itinerary: Sigiriya

Sigiriya, or also known as the Lion Rock, is an ancient rock fortress in central Sri Lanka located near the town of Dambulla. It’s a gigantic rock, 200 meters high and located in the middle of the jungle. From Sigiriya, you can go on an afternoon safari to Minneriya National Park, which is a beautiful park with huge boulders and famous for its large groups of elephants. The town itself is quiet and small, most people stop here for a quick lunch after climbing up the two rocks, Lion Rock and Pidurangala Rock. We stayed at Mahagedara Wellness Retreat, which was such a nice place tucked away in the jungle offering delicious organic food and yoga classes. Highly recommended!

Recommended stay

  • 1 – 2 days

Where to stay

Things to do

Where to eat

  • Chooti Restaurant (a local restaurant with a lookout terrace in the middle of the center, the roti’s are really good and cheap Rs 400)

How to get in Sigiriya

  • By local bus + tuk-tuk. First, take the A/C express bus to Dambulla (Rs 400 pp) and from there you take a tuk-tuk to Sigiriya (Rs 1000) You can take a tuk-tuk or taxi from Kandy direct which was about Rs 7000 via the app PickMe.

The best travel resources for your trip to Sri Lanka

As you know, we love to share all our best tips and favorite places with all of you. That’s why created all these online travel guides, which are completely free. If you found this post (or anything we do) useful, we’d be grateful if you buy something through one of our affiliate links in this article. We’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps us keep our travel blog alive.

Thank you so much for your support! x Valerie & Mik

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4 comments

bocaHickory.com May 3, 2020 - 8:04 pm

I do not know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering issues with
your website. It seems like some of the written text in your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let
me know if this is happening to them too? This
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Cheers

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suitcasestoriesbe May 4, 2020 - 11:26 am

Hi,
Thanks for your message. Everything seems to be fine on our browsers, can you tell us which browser and device you used to open our website?
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Mark October 8, 2019 - 9:54 am

Perfecte hulp! Dank jullie. Groetjes, Mark & Judith van Travelmonster.nl

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suitcasestoriesbe October 11, 2019 - 2:16 am

Oh gaan jullie naar Sri Lanka? Wat leuk! Fijn dat ons artikel jullie kan helpen…Geniet ervan en mochten jullie nog vragen hebben, feel free om ons een berichtje te sturen! Liefs, Valerie & Mik

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