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Sri Lanka is one of those countries that has it all: lovely people, delicious food, beautiful architecture, lots of national parks and a good climate. The country has so many different faces and truly has a unique culture. We enjoyed ourselves for three weeks straight and can’t wait to go back and see what’s more to discover.
To help you plan your trip to Sri Lanka we’ve made the ultimate 3-week itinerary for Sri Lanka which allows you to explore all the best the country has to offer.
Exploring Sri Lanka by tuktuk
One of the best recommendations we can give you for a trip to Sri Lanka is to rent your own tuktuk. By having your own transportation you have the freedom to explore a place however you like. It made our Sri Lanka trip so much more adventurous and exciting!
We rented our tuktuk from a man named Dayan. He has a tuktuk rental company called Ceylon Tuskers in Negombo and offers them for a fair price. You can WhatsApp Dayan at +94 77 668 5331 and explain your travel plans. He’ll set you up with a tuktuk and even arrange your Sri Lankan drivers license. You can pick the tuktuk up at his place in Negombo, where he will give you an extensive explanation of the vehicle and offers you an hour of guided driving for free. After that, you’ll definitely feel comfortable enough to hit the roads.
We do have to say that the traffic in Sri Lanka is more chaotic than, for example, European traffic. Still, we never experienced this as a problem by using four important guidelines. One: respect the traffic rules as you know them, but if things go otherwise, just go with the flow. Two: realize you’re in a relatively slow vehicle, so let motorcicles, cars and trucks always pass or go first. Three: honking is completely normal and accepted in Sri Lanka, so use it to let other drivers know you’re there. Four: always avoid driving after dark since it’s more dangerous.
The ultimate 3-week Sri Lanka itinerary
Day 1: Negombo
If you’re visiting Sri Lanka, you’ll probably arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport. This international airport is closest to Negombo, which makes it a perfect place to stay after your arrival. We spent one night at The Panorama Negombo which was fairly priced, looked really decent and had a swimmingpool. On top of that it’s right next to Dayan’s house, where you can pick up your tuktuk.
TIP: Are you going to Sri Lanka by plane? Then you can consider carbon offsetting the emissions you produce to make your trip more sustainable. You can read our in-depth blog about carbon offsetting here!
Day 2 – 4: Sigiriya
After getting a good night of sleep, it’s time to hit the road. Today you’ll be driving to Sigiriya, which takes around 5,5 hours. It’s a beautiful drive with lots of different landscapes. Make sure you head out early, so you won’t be driving after dark.
You’ll now spend three days in Sigiriya, which is exactly the right amount of time to explore the whole area. Make sure to check out Lion Rock, which is UNESCO World Heritage. However, going up Lion Rock is quite expensive (30 euros), so we suggest going up Pidurangala Rock (3 euros). It’s far less crowded and from here, you’ll have an incredible view over Lion Rock. And definitely stay for sunset!
Furthermore, we enjoyed an incredible 1-day jeepsafari in Minneriya and Kaudulla National Park. Something magical happens here every year between april and september: more than 300 elephants gather around in the national parks. The locals track the elephants, so they’ll know where to take you. The jeepdrivers don’t leave the tracks, so the elephants aren’t distracted by people. Another bonus: it’s far less crowded here than, for example, the more popular Yala National Park.
Finally, make sure to head out to Thalkote Wewa, which is a beautiful lake with both Lion Rock and Pidurangula Rock in the background. The lake is hardly visited by tourists. The same goes for the Golden Temple in Dambulla: this is a big temple with a large golden buddha statue. Dozens of monkeys are walking around freely.
We stayed at Fairview Dill Homestay which is a great place owned by a local couple. They only have one room available and cook breakfast, lunch and dinner on request. The homestay is cheap, clean and elephants roam free in the ‘backyard’!
Day 5 & 6: Nilaveli and Trincomalee
It’s time to head out to the east coast of Sri Lanka. It’s a 4 hour drive to Nilaveli, a little town that’s perfect if you’re looking for some beach relaxation. But don’t worry: there is plenty to see and do in neighbouring town Trincomalee. For instance, you can check out Fort Frederick (a big fort built by the Portugese and later owned by the Dutch and the Brittish), explore the Maritime & Naval History Museum or relax at Dutch Bay Beach and Manayaweli Bay. We definitely recommend eating kotthu (a local veggie dish) at Family Restaurant or Nilaa Restaurant.
Day 7: Batticaloa
Today you’ll drive down south to Batticaloa. It’s merely a stopover on your way to surfers paradise Arugam Bay, but the drive would be too long to complete in one day. Enjoy the morning in Nilaveli by going to the beach or doing a snorkelling trip, and head out to Batticaloa around noon. It’s a 150-kilometer drive, so it’ll take up around 4 to 5 hours. We stayed the night at the lovely Neem Garden Guesthouse, which is close to the beach.
Day 8 & 9: Arugam Bay
Rise up early and drive to Arugam Bay in around 4 hours. Pay close attention to your surroundings, because the roadside is filled with water buffaloes, elephants and even crocodiles!
Arugam Bay itself is filled with nice cafes and beachfront restaurants, such as Secret Alley Café for (vegan) smoothiebowls and Hideaway Restaurant for dinner. You’ll probably find these places packed with (local) surfers and good vibes to match.
Also, head out to see some of Arugam Bay’s majestic stupas and farstretching viewpoints. We really enjoyed Crocodile Rock, Elephant Rock and the Muhudu Maha Viharaya stupa. This stupa is close to Whiskey Point, which is a great beach to pick up a surfboard and enjoy some waves. In Arugam Bay, we stayed in Badolina Kingdom, which is a great hostel right at the beach.
Day 10 – 14: Ella
Ella is probably one of our favourite destinations in Sri Lanka, where we stayed in the amazing Serene Homestay. One of Ella’s best features is the Nine Arch Bridge. This is an English colonial-style bridge which the trains still use today. The bridge is surrounded by tea plantations, which really gives it a unique vibe. Have a drink at Akanta Café and watch the trains go by.
Two other great things to do are climbing Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak. It can be a tough hike up there (definitely when it gets hotter during the day), but your efforts will be rewarded at the top.
If you have some time on your hands and you’re looking for more incredible sights, make a halfday-trip to the Diyulama Falls. It’s a one hour drive from Ella and a 45 minute hike up, but you’ll find endless natural swimmingpools and waterfalls. It’s definitely worth your time!
Lastly, Ella is mostly famous for the trainride to Nuwara Eliya. It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful trainrides in the world, and we definitely agree. A bonus: the 3-hours trainride costs next to nothing. It’s best to do the trainride on your last day in Ella, so it’ll take you to your next destination: Nuwara Eliya. By the way: you can contact Dayan to arrange transportation to Nuwara Eliya for your tuktuk.
Day 15 & 16: Nuwara Eliya
When you arrive in Nuwara Eliya after the trainride, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different country. Nuwara Eliya is also called ‘Little England’, since both the architecture and climate resembles the United Kingdom. During your two days here, make sure to head out to the surrounding tea plantations, the spectacular Ramboda Falls and the typical English horse racetracks. If you’re up for a challange, hike to Adam’s Peak or World’s End viewpoint.
Day 17 & 18: Mirissa
It’s time to drive all the way down south. In the south of Sri Lanka you’ll find endless beaches, which makes it a great place to relax and unwind. It’s a long 8-hours drive from Nuwara Eliya to Mirissa, so leave early in the morning.
A must-do in Mirissa is watching the sunset at Coconut Hill. Endless palmtrees are lined up on this beachfront hill, with seaturtles swimming near the rocks. Beachclub Petti Petti is close to the hill and is perfect for a breakfast or lunch around the pool.
Also take a day to explore the area a bit more. Drive to the Dutch Matara fort, Secret Beach or Parrot Rock. End the day with a kotthu at the No. 1 Dewmini Roti Shop, probably the best place in the whole country to get yourself some kotthu!
Day 19 – 21: Unawatuna & Galle
This is your final destination in Sri Lanka. It’s only a 45-minutes drive to Unawatuna, so you’ll be there before you know it. The road takes you along the coast where you’ll encounter with lots of traditional fishermen working. We would advise you to spend the night in Unawatuna both days and make a daytrip to the colonial Galle fort. This ensures you don’t have to change accommodations too much in your final days.
In and around Unawatuna you can definitely enjoy a full day of exploring. Head out to the Japanese Peace Pagoda, have lunch at Kat’s Cafe and finish your day at Delawella Beach. This is probably the most photographed beach in Sri Lanka, because of the famous beach swing.
We also made a trip to the local dog care clinic. Locals and foreigners work together to save injured or malnourished street dogs and make sure they find a loving home. Note: this isn’t anything touristy at all, but we wanted to see what the volunteers were doing and make a donation to support their facility.
TIP: Unethical animal tourism is common practise in a lot of countries, including Sri Lanka. Read our guide to ethical animal tourism here, including key facts and information on how to distinguish unethical from ethical animal tourism.
Day 22: Negombo
It’s a 5 to 6 hour drive back to Negombo. Drop off the tuktuk at Dayan’s place and spend one final night at The Panorama Negombo. Now it’s time to either head home again or continue your travels!
If you have any questions regarding the 3-week Sri Lanka itinerary, please drop a comment in the comment section below!