Sri Lanka, historically known as Ceylon, is hands down quickly becoming an absolute favorite travel destination for many. Plus, for summer chasers like myself, Sri Lanka is a tropical island nestled in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean – what more could you ask for?

Although the country itself is pretty small, it's jam-packed with a variety of cool places and things to do.

Whether it's catching waves, enjoying incredible food, visiting one of many Unesco World Heritage sites, or even going on a safari (yes, you heard right, you can go on a safari in Sri Lanka), Sri Lanka offers many amazing experiences. It's truly a paradise for adventurers and beach lovers alike, with its laid-back surf towns, breathtaking mountain ranges, and stunning hiking trails.

During my visit, I completely fell in love with the country. So, to help you fall in love with it just as much as I did, I'll gladly share my ultimate Sri Lanka itinerary. Whether you have 2 or 3 weeks, I've got you covered!

Week 1 & 2 in South Sri Lanka

sri lanka itinerary - day 1 and 2

When you visit Sri Lanka, you'll find that most travelers end up in the southern part of the country.

It's where you'll discover super chill beach towns like Mirissa, have the opportunity to go on a safari at Yala National Park, and even hop on the famous train from Ella to Kandy.

For your first two weeks, we'll be exploring the amazing southern part of Sri Lanka.

Day 1-2: Colombo

sri lanka itinerary - colombo

Let's start your adventure in Colombo, the gateway to Sri Lanka as the international airport is located here. While some may choose to stay in Negombo for its proximity to the airport, you'll get plenty of opportunities to explore beach towns throughout Sri Lanka, so I recommend making Colombo City your first stop.

Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, offers a wonderful mix of tradition and modernity, giving you a chance to wander among colonial buildings, try some delicious traditional food and dive into Sri Lankan culture and history for the first time.

Like many capital cities in Asia, Colombo can be pretty hectic and chaotic but don't worry, just embrace the big city vibes. Everything will feel much more relaxed and laid-back afterward.

While you're in Colombo, make sure to check out the National Museum and Gangaramaya Temple for some sightseeing. And if you need any last-minute shopping, head over to the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct, where you can find everything from swimwear to sandals, just in case you forgot to pack any!

Colombo is by far the biggest city in Sri Lanka, so if you're wondering where to stay, check out my full guide on where to stay in Colombo.

Day 3-5: Mirissa

sri lanka itinerary - Mirissa

Your second stop on this awesome trip is going to be one of, or maybe even the most popular beach towns in the whole of Sri Lanka – Mirissa! 

Located on the south coast of the country, it's super easy to get there. Sri Lanka has a great network of trains and buses that most people usually use to get around. You can take the train from Colombo Fort to Weligama, which runs very frequently and takes just over 3 hours. Then, from Weligama, you can easily catch a bus or a tuk-tuk to Mirissa. Alternatively, you can also grab a taxi or an Uber, which will set you back around US$35.

Now that you're in Mirissa, it's the go-to spot for many people, including me, to improve their surfing skills. That's what Mirissa is known for! Join one of the surf camps or just take some lessons – it's super fun, affordable, and very beginner-friendly. Especially because the waves are pretty calm most of the time.

For all of you who might not be into surfing at all, of course, there is so much more to do in Mirissa.

There are plenty of incredible food spots all around town, such as Shady Lane Mirissa and Milky Wave.

It's also so much fun to rent a scooter and make your way to the neighboring beach towns. Weligama, Ahangama, Unawatuna, and Matara are all definitely worth checking out. And if you have more than 3 weeks in Sri Lanka, you can easily consider staying at one of those beach towns as well.

I almost forgot to mention! Mirissa is an incredible spot for whale watching, especially during the peak season between December and March.

Of course, I also have a guide on where to stay in Mirissa, check it out to find the best hostels and boutique hotels.

Day 6-8: Hiriketiya Beach

sri lanka itinerary - sri lanka itinerary - Hiriketiya Beach

On the morning of day six, it's time for you to head to the next beach town on the south coast, which is quite the opposite of Mirissa. While Mirissa is pretty busy with great nightlife, Hiriketiya Beach offers a more laid-back vibe, making it the perfect little escape for surfers and yogis.

To get to Hiriketiya Beach, you can easily catch a bus from Mirissa to the main bus terminal in Matara and then hop on another bus from there. It'll cost you around US$3. However, if you prefer a bit more comfort, you can also catch an Uber or a taxi for about US$20, which definitely makes sense, especially if you're traveling with someone else.

Hiriketiya Beach is an ideal spot for relaxation on the most beautiful beaches. There are plenty of fantastic yoga retreats, such as the Salty Pelican or Salt House, and some great surf schools like Kima Surf Camp. I absolutely loved hanging out here, as the place has a way of drawing you in. If you simply want to enjoy some surfing and yoga without the hustle and bustle of Mirissa, Hiriketiya is the place to be.

And let me tell you, there are some incredible food spots here too, like Mond and Bahia.

I loved Hiriketiya Beach so much that I actually wrote a comprehensive ultimate guide to this hidden gem. You can find out everything you need to know about it there!

Day 9: Yala National Park

sri lanka itinerary - Yala National Park

From Hiriketiya, it's super easy to reach your next destination. Just hop on another bus or grab a taxi to Yala National Park. If you're staying in Tissamaharama or one of the glamping camps in the park, just let the bus driver know you're headed to “Tissa” so you don't end up on the wrong bus.

Yala National Park is a nature lover's paradise with incredible wildlife such as leopards (yes really!), wild elephants, and crocodiles. This will definitely be the highlight of your trip as Yala is one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka.

You can arrange a safari tour from your accommodation or book in advance through the official Yala National Park website.

The tours usually go for 3-4 hours, and you can choose between a morning or afternoon safari. Group tours are around US$50, and private tours are about US$75 per person, including the park entrance.

I hope you get lucky and spot some of Yala's famous leopards, as they are stunning to watch in the wild! Overall, Yala National Park is the perfect stop on your way from the beach to the mountains and tea plantations.

Day 10-11: Ella

sri lanka itinerary - Ella

Ella is the gateway to Sri Lanka's breathtaking mountains and tea plantations, and it's seriously one of the most beautiful spots you'll find in Sri Lanka. The tiny hippie town of Ella is nestled within the jungle making for an awesome base to explore the region.

During my stay in Ella, I used it as a jumping-off point for some epic day hikes like Adam's Peak, Little Adam's Peak, and Ella Rock. The views from these hikes are absolutely mind-blowing, especially when you make it up there in time for sunrise!

But if hiking isn't your thing, Ella has definitely much more to offer. You can spend your time exploring the stunning waterfalls, tea plantations, and temples scattered around the area.

One cool sight you shouldn't miss out on is the Nine Arch Bridge. It's an iconic bridge built during the British colonial period and is a popular tourist spot for stunning photo opportunities. You can either hike to the bridge or catch a tuk-tuk from town.

Day 12: Ella to Kandy train + Nuwara Eliya

sri lanka itinerary - Nuwara Eliya

On day 12 of your Sri Lanka journey, you're technically in for a travel day, but it's going to be the coolest kind! You'll be hopping on the famous Kandy to Ella train (or in this case, the other way around from Ella to Kandy).

This blue train will take you through the stunning Sri Lankan jungle, offering incredible views that will make your jaw drop.

Here's a little tip: make sure to book your tickets slightly in advance, especially if you're aiming for first or second class, as they tend to fill up fast during high season.

And here's another one: when traveling from Ella to Kandy, try to grab a seat on the left-hand side for the best views!

Now, for those of you who have a bit more time on your hands, I highly recommend making a stop in Nuwara Eliya. It's a charming little village nestled right in the mountains, famous for its colonial-style architecture and tea plantations. If you're interested in learning more about tea, this is definitely the place to be.

Just a heads up, the real highlight of the train ride is between Nuwara Eliya and Kandy, so you can always catch a taxi or tuk-tuk from Ella to Nuwara Eliya without missing out on anything.

Day 13-14: Kandy

sri lanka itinerary - Kandy

Your next destination is the Sacred City of Kandy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's Sri Lanka's second-largest city but definitely doesn't feel as big as Colombo.

Kandy, along with Ella, is nestled in central Sri Lanka's hill country, making it a perfect spot for hiking and immersing yourself in the breathtaking nature that surrounds it.

For a truly unforgettable experience, I recommend staying at one of the eco-lodges outside of Kandy, right in the heart of the jungle. They're not only luxurious but also incredibly relaxing, and that's exactly what you need after a long train journey.

If you're interested, you can find more about the hotels and lodges on my guide to where to stay in Kandy.

Kandy itself is a ton of fun too, especially the Old Town and center of the city. You can easily take a leisurely stroll around the lake in the middle of town, try some of the great street food, or explore the crazy maze-like markets.

Week 3 in North Sri Lanka

sri lanka itinerary -north sri lanka

The third week of your Sri Lanka itinerary is going to take you up north, where you'll find fewer tourists and a more authentic experience. The north is a bit cheaper and less crowded, but keep in mind that there are also fewer hotels and hostels compared to the south. 

Your journey will start off with a visit to Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Ancient City, which you can also do as a day trip from Kandy if you're out of time and decide to head back to Colombo after exploring Kandy.

Day 15: Sigiriya

sri lanka itinerary - Sigiriya

When you're in Kandy, it's super easy to catch a bus or hire a driver to take you to Sigiriya. This ancient rock fortress is a must-visit spot in Sri Lanka. The views from the top are absolutely breathtaking, and you'll get to learn so much about the history and culture of this incredible place.

When you're catching the bus, just let your driver know that you're heading to Dambulla, the nearby town where you'll most likely be staying. The town itself isn't anything special, but the main reason to be here is to explore the famous rock fortress.

From Dambulla, hop on a tuk-tuk and you'll be on your way to Sigiriya Town in about 20 minutes. There are a few accommodation options here too which is closer especially if you want to catch a sunrise or sunset at the rock fortress. Now, let's talk about visiting Sigiriya, also called Lion Rock.

Some people have mixed opinions, mainly because of the high entrance fee of US$30. But I went up and I thought it was totally worth it. However, I totally get it if you're on a budget and not up for spending that much money to catch a view.

Many travelers choose the nearby and more affordable rock called Pidurangala, which offers just as amazing views of Sigiriya, especially at sunrise. It's totally up to you, but climbing up Pidurangala might honestly be the better and more budget-friendly option here.

Day 16-18: Trincomalee or Anuradhapura

sri lanka itinerary - Anuradhapura

Trincomalee and Anuradhapura are both in the north, but they offer very different experiences.

Trincomalee is an awesome little coastal town known for its stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters. If you're looking to relax, soak up the sun, and maybe do some snorkeling or diving, Trincomalee is where it's at!

It's super easy to get there from Dambulla by bus or taxi (about 2 hours), and the beaches are way bigger than the ones on the south coast. So, if you're feeling like you need a little R&R after all the hiking in central Sri Lanka, head on over to the East Coast.

If you've already had your fill of beach time in Mirissa and Hiriketiya Beach, and you're craving a deeper dive into Sri Lanka's history and culture, then Anuradhapura is the place for you. It's about an hour's drive from Dambulla.

The former ancient capital is packed with ruins and temples scattered all around, giving you a unique glimpse into the country's past. You can easily spend a day or two exploring the different sites and learning more about the rich history of this amazing country.

Ultimately, it's up to you. Either way, you'll be able to catch a bus or a ride from Trincomalee or Anuradhapura to Jaffna on the very top of Sri Lanka, which is your final destination on this Sri Lanka itinerary.

Day 19-21: Jaffna

sri lanka itinerary - Jaffna

The last stop of our amazing journey through Sri Lanka is something truly different, and I really mean it.

Jaffna, the former capital of the Tamil Kingdom, is located at the very northern tip of Sri Lanka and couldn't be any more different from the south. It's a place where the majority of people are Hindus, in contrast to the predominantly Buddhist south.

The city is filled with stunning temples and colorful houses which are very beautiful. Jaffna also has a very colonial influence, which you can see especially in the architecture and in the Jaffna Fort. It's absolutely worth a visit, even though it may not be as pretty as the famous Fort in Galle. The food here is also very different, almost like the food in South India.

While you're in Jaffna, don't miss the chance to visit the famous Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, one of the country's most significant Hindu temples. You can also take a trip to nearby islands like Delft Island (Neduntheevu), where you can spot wild horses and explore remote fishing villages, a little adventure that not a lot of people get to experience.

When it's time to head back to Colombo, you can hop on the train from Jaffna. The journey takes around 7 hours, so make sure to plan enough time to catch your flight back home.

Sri Lanka Pre-Travel Facts

🚆How to get to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has two international airports: Bandaranaike Airport in Colombo and Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota in the south.

Most international flights arrive at Bandaranaike, so that's where you'll most likely be arriving.

📅 Best time to visit Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a dry and rainy season, with the north and the south taking turns. So, if you want to explore both regions, you might experience a bit of rain.

But don't worry! The best time to visit Sri Lanka is from December to March, when the weather is great in the south and still pretty okay in the north. It's also the perfect time for surfing on the south coast and the peak season for whale watching.

📍How to get around in Sri Lanka

The most common and cheapest way to get around Sri Lanka is by taking the bus. They run frequently and, while they may not be the most comfortable mode of transport, they are definitely affordable. Just be prepared for some bumpy roads and if you choose the local option, you'll be likely on crowded buses.

If you're looking for a bit more comfort, especially on a hot day, you can consider one of the luxury VIP buses or sharing a taxi for shorter journeys, especially when you're traveling with 2-4 people. It makes it quite affordable and much more enjoyable. And for longer journeys, I highly recommend taking the train. It's also very cheap and pretty reliable, to be honest.

☀️ Sri Lanka Visa

When you're planning your visit to Sri Lanka, getting a visa is a breeze with the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system. Depending on your nationality, you can get either a 30-day or a 90-day visa. Just remember to check the requirements and eligibility before applying. The 30-day visa costs US$50, but if you're looking to extend your stay in Sri Lanka, you can easily do so online for an additional US$100, giving you another 60 days in Sri Lanka. 

Be cautious though, as there are various agencies and scam websites floating around. Make sure to use the official Sri Lankan visa website, which you can find right here.

☀️ Costs in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a very budget-friendly destination, with prices that vary depending on the region you're in. Accommodation and food are generally quite cheap, while transportation (especially taxis) can be a bit pricier. Keep in mind that entrance fees to popular tourist sites can add up, so it's a good idea to budget accordingly.

You can easily secure a bed in a hostel dorm for around US$6 and enjoy a hearty meal at a local restaurant for just US$3. So, if you're a budget traveler or backpacker, you can definitely explore Sri Lanka on a daily budget of US$25.

If you have a taste for luxury, you'll find several choices, such as 5-star hotels and fine dining. The south of the island is home to some stunning boutique hotels, luxury resorts, amazing cafes, and restaurants, so if you're up for a more luxurious trip, you can set your budget to around US$100-200+ a day.

The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR), and the exchange rate is approximately 320 LKR to 1 USD. Some places may also accept US dollars or Visa/Mastercard, but it's always best to have local currency on hand for convenience.

Sri Lanka itinerary – Final Words

Sri Lanka is definitely one of my all-time favorite countries. Even though it has been on many travelers' radars for years, it still doesn't feel too touristy or overcrowded.

The whole country is incredibly lush and green, with stunning beaches, coastal towns, and mouthwatering food, that offers a lot of vegetarian options as well. Oh, and also, the locals here are incredibly friendly!

I highly recommend visiting Sri Lanka. If you think India might be too chaotic and adventurous, a Sri Lanka trip could be a fantastic alternative. This was my personal Sri Lanka travel guide, and I hope that you'll love the country as much as I did. Feel free to swap places on this Sri Lanka itinerary around and make it your own unforgettable trip.

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