Our 10 days in Sri Lanka unearths ancient temples, golden beaches, misty hill-towns and tasty local flavours. Taking twisting trains, scary buses and great hikes, it’s a fantastic voyage of discovery.


Sri Lanka, perched just above the equator, is stunningly beautiful and culturally fascinating. Monkeys roam over the temples and palaces of jungle cloaked ancient capitals. Travellers soak up the sun and dine on fresh fish on golden beaches. Dolphins play and blue whales lurk in the surrounding oceans. Local Tamils pick mile after mile of tea in cool misty mountains. And elephants, looking for water, stroll across the central plains.

It’s not just the destinations that are fun, so is getting to them. Iconic trains twist and turn through hill towns, bus drivers speed precariously playing their own jingles, and crazy tuk-tuk drivers squeeze through narrow lanes.

It’s a quirky and interesting place, where the locals are friendly and the food fantastic. Since it all comes at a reasonable price there are not many better ways to spend time than 10 days in Sri Lanka.


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10-DAY SRI LANKA ITINERARY OVERVIEW

DAYS 1 – 3 | Exploring the ancient cities of the central plains

DAY 4 | Exploring the ancient cities of the central plains

DAY 5 -7 | Riding iconic trains through tea plantations to Ella

DAY 8 -9 | Whale watching and lounging on golden beaches in Mirissa

DAY 10 | Strolling the boutique streets of Colonial Galle


WHY GO TO SRI LANKA?

Alfresco dining on golden beaches

Glorious ancient cities with atmospheric ruins

Lush paddy fields and immaculate tea plantations

Temples alive with feverish religious rituals

Whales in the oceans and elephants on land

Cheap and delicious Sri Lankan curries

Friendly, smiley locals always willing to help

10-day Sri Lanka Itinerary: Tea plantations, iconic trains and golden beaches

DAY 1 / ARRIVING AND GETTING TO THE CENTRAL PLAINS

If your flight arrives early in the day, take the 3 hour, 30 minute taxi ride to the central plains that afternoon. However, if your flight lands in the afternoon or evening, book a night in Negombo before heading to the central plains the following day.

In the central pains we recommend staying at Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana. Habarana, is not the most fascinating town, but is excellently positioned with good transport links to the surrounding sites.

After arriving in Habarana, check in and book yourself a Thrimal Ayurvedic massage. Ayurvedic medicine began in India and is the oldest medical institution in the world. It’s a great way to wind down after your long journey.


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Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana
3 hour, 30-minute drive by private taxi, about SLR 13,000
Thrimal Ayurvedic massage

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Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

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3 hour, 30-minute drive by private taxi, about SLR 13,000

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Thrimal Ayurvedic massage

DAY 2 / SIGIRIYA ROCK, DAMBULLA TEMPLE AND ELEPHANT SAFARI

Rise early and take a taxi to Sigiriya Rock, one of the iconic images of Sri Lanka. A large rocky outcrop with near vertical walls rises out of the jungle and sitting on its flat top are the ruins of the ancient Kassapa kingdom. It’s a stunning climb through gardens, passed frescoes and up steps to get to the top. But the views alone make it worthwhile.

Next get a taxi to Dambulla. Explore the bustling morning produce market before heading up to the Dambulla Cave Temple. In these caves carved into the rock resides 150 remarkable Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes. The first statue was placed here about 2,000 years ago. Knees and shoulders must be covered, a sarong can be hired at the entrance. Exit by dropping down the hill and passing by the Golden Temple, a gaudy modern structure with a huge Buddha. Get your driver to drop you at the entrance to the Cave Temples (at the top of the hill) and pick you back up from outside the Golden Temple (at the bottom).

In the afternoon, organise an Elephant Safari to one of the three local National Parks. The elephants can be found in different parks at different times of the year. The guides will know which park to visit. We headed to Kaudulla National Park and saw herds of up to 30 – 40 elephants.


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Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana
1 hour 30-minute drive Habarana – Sigiriya – Dambulla – Habarana
Stunning views and frescoes from Sigiriya Rock Fortress

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Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

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1 hour Sigiriya drive Habarana – Sigiriya – Dambulla – Habarana

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Stunning views and frescoes from Sigiriya Rock Fortress

DAY 3 / CYCLING THE RUINS OF POLONNARUWA

On day 3 of your 10 days in Sri Lanka, catch the 1-hour local bus to Polonnaruwa (SLR 100) which departs just east of the main roundabout in Habarana. Local buses are a Sri Lankan institution, packed to the rafters, pumping with techno music and oozing local charm. Strike up a conversation, settle back and enjoy.

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa, deep in the central plains of Sri Lanka, was the playground of kings and the capital of the country. But time has taken its toll. What was once the centre of an empire is now a mix of ancient ruins, crumbling temples, and mischievous monkeys.

It’s the perfect site for cycling around its ancient treasures. Hop of the bus, hire a bike (SLR 400) and spent the next 4 hours uncovering the temples and monuments of this remarkable place. You can read about our full day cycling around Polonnaruwa here.


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Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana
1 hour bus ride each way between Habarana and Polonnaruwa
Eating tasty mango overlooking remarkable ruins

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Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

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1-hour bus ride each way between Habarana and Polonnaruwa

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Eating tasty mango overlooking remarkable ruins

DAY 4 / KANDY CULTURAL SHOW AND TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH

Get a taxi to Kandy, check in your bags and take a tuk-tuk up to the Ceylon Tea Museum. There is no working factory here and the tour is a little pricey, but it is very informative about different types of tea and how they are made.

Head back into town for lunch at the Olde Empire Hotel, washed down with one of their excellent smoothies. Spend the afternoon exploring, making sure you visit the market and stop by the station to pick up your train tickets for tomorrow. If you’re in need of a caffeine hit, the nearby Natural Coffee does the trick.

As evening approaches, go to the Kandy Cultural Show. Make no mistake, this drum banging, plate spinning, fire eating, crazy dancing spectacular is for tourists only. But sometimes a cheesy tourist attraction works its magic.

After the show head to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth for puja. Puja is a ceremony that occurs 3 times a day. During the ceremony you can walk past the tooth of the Buddha, the most sacred relic in Sri Lanka, secured in a gold box. The ceremony is a bewildering atmosphere of sounds, colours and smells and was one of our top moments on our 10-day Sri Lankan itinerary.


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Ozo Hotel, Kandy
2 hour, 30-minute drive from Habarana to Kandy
Fantastic Temple of the Sacred Tooth Ceremony

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Ozo Hotel, Kandy

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2 hour, 30-minute drive from Habarana to Kandy

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Fantastic Temple of the Sacred Tooth Ceremony

DAY 5  / ICONIC TRAIN JOURNEY FROM KANDY TO NUWARA ELIYA

Over the next two days of your 10 days in Sri Lanka take the slow train to Ella. This 6 hour, 30-minute train journey passes through manicured tea plantations, cool misty mountains and the local towns of Tamil tea pickers. It is a unique and essential Sri Lankan experience which you can read all about here.

Begin at Kandy station and hop on the train for the first part of the journey. After 4 hours of leg dangling, tea drinking, photo-taking magnificence leave the train at Nanuoya and take a taxi to Ramboda Falls. The hotel here is a bit average, but it is excellently positioned for superb views over the valley as waterfalls crash over the cliffs behind you. You can read more about our train journey here.


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Ramboda Falls Hotel, Ramboda
4 hours train; 1-hour taxi
Legs dangling from the train as magnificent scenery flies past

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Ramboda Falls Hotel, Ramboda

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4 hours train; 1-hour taxi

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Legs dangling from the train as magnificent scenery flies past

DAY 6  / TEA PLANTATIONS, WATERFALLS AND ELLA HILLTOWN

After breakfast, leave the cafeteria through the side door and explore the area. Enjoy the dappled morning light reflecting on the bright green leaves as Tamal tea pickers work in the spray of the falls

Next head up to the Blue Tea Factory and get a free tour of the operational factory (closed on Sundays). Meander their tea fields, explore their garden and grab a tea and surprisingly good cakes at their shop.

Time to make your way back to Nanuoya station for the second half of your journey to Ella. Hop in a taxi, stopping at Damro Labookellie Tea Factory for some of the best views of the valley, before arriving at the station and hopping back on the train. The second leg is even more picturesque than the first. Sit back, relax, grab your sweet tea, spicy peanuts and watch the world go by.

Ella is a small hill town, with spectacular views, and a  backpackers haven. It has a cool vibe and a slow pace. Spend the evening upstairs at Chill, a relaxing hangout with beanbags on the floor, good cold beer, excellent cocktails and even better curries.

Stay the night at Ella Mountain Relax Cottages. The standard rooms are functional but the views from the balconies are stunning and an attentive crew offer an excellent breakfast. Take a tuk-tuk from the station to avoid a tricky walk with baggage.


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Mount Relax Cottage, Ella
2 hours, 30 minute train; 1 hour taxi
Cool backpacker vibe in Ella’s Chill café

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Mount Relax Cottage, Ella

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2 hours, 30-minute train; 1-hour taxi

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Cool backpacker vibe in Ella’s Chill café

DAY 7 / HIKING LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK & DRIVE TO MIRISSA

Wake early and walk to Little Adams Peak (45 minutes). It’s a nice hike through the tea plantations and past a Tamil village, before rising to the summit and magnificent views over the southern plains.  Being there at sunrise is traditional but our bodies weren’t listening so we got there a little later and found ourselves almost completely alone.

Grab breakfast and a coffee and chill out in town before taking one of the many taxis lined up on the street to Mirissa. Get the driver to stop at Rawana Falls, a few minutes outside Ella, before the mist-shrouded hills give way to flat plains and paddy fields flanked by coconut trees.

Take an evening stroll along the sweeping golden beach of Mirissa before digging your feet into the sand at the candlelit tables at Salt Restaurant. Try ‘Today’s Fish’ which are on display on a board out front.


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Peacock Villa, Mirissa
4 hour taxi from Ella to Mirissa
Cool backpacker vibe in Ella’s Chill café

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Peacock Villa, Mirissa

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4-hour taxi from Ella to Mirissa

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Cool backpacker vibe in Ella’s Chill café

DAY 8 – 9 / WHALE WATCHING AND GOLDEN BEACHES OF MIRISSA

Time for rest and relaxation on your 10-day Sri Lanka itinerary.

Mirissa beach is neither a virgin beach nor a 5-star resort. While it is still busy it retains a local feel and vibe. The beach is a golden arc of sand backed by local restaurants and bars. Loungers are on offer to those that want more comfort than a towel. The sea is a beautiful blue-green.

The town itself does not display its charm too easily. The main street is a busy thoroughfare. The streets off the main road are often walled guesthouses or hotels. But with a bit of exploration, you’ll find some hidden gems.

Aloha Coffee Gallery and Shady Lane, are tucked off the main road and offer excellent breakfasts. The Spice Roti Hut serves great food from a tiny venue on the main road and Salt is the pick of the restaurants on the beach. All in all, Mirissa offers a more Sri Lankan experience than many other south coast resorts.

Make sure, if you are in season, to join a whale watching boat tour. Sri Lanka lies close to a continental shelf and has an unusual abundance of large marine life and is a fantastic place to spot blue whales, the largest animals on the planet. Prices are controlled by the government (6,000Rs each for 3 hours and can be booked from the beach).


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Peacock Villa, Mirissa
From lounger to water and back
Alfresco dining on fresh fish with feet in the sand

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Peacock Villa, Mirissa

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From lounger to water and back

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Alfresco dining on fresh fish with feet in the sand

DAY 10 / BOUTIQUE STORES IN CUTESY GALLE

This morning take a taxi to Galle. This charming old city, crammed inside the walls of a fort, was originally founded by the Portuguese, then expanded by the Dutch.

Walking the walls brings fine views of the lighthouse and coast, as the salty wind cools you in the heat. Meandering the insides is an intoxicating mix of old colonial past and modern Sri Lankan present.  It is crammed pack of charming boutique shops, cute laneways and cool cafes.

For lunch try Spoon’s Cafe. A tiny curry place serving up delicious well-prepared food. The Heritage Café offers a fine spot for coffee and dinner at Lucky Fort Restaurant is a delicious way to end your 10-day Sri Lanka itinerary.


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Fortaleza Lighthouse Street, Galle
1-hour drive, Mirissa to Galle
Boutique shops and cool cafes in the sea air of colonial Galle/div>

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Fortaleza Lighthouse Street, Galle

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1-hour drive, Mirissa to Galle

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Boutique shops and cool cafes in the sea air of colonial Galle

ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO HELP PLAN YOUR OWN INCREDIBLE 10-DAY SRI LANKA ITINERARY

We believe that a little pre-planning, research, and understanding what you are looking for in a destination, will help make your travels far more successful. Here’s some further information we think you might need to plan your own 10-day Sri Lanka itinerary.

GETTING AROUND SRI LANKA

International flights arrive and depart from Bandaranaike International Airport, just outside Colombo. Traffic into Colombo can be bad, so if you land late, spend the night in Negombo instead.

One of the joys of travelling to Sri Lanka is to use its magnificent range of transport, so don’t hire a car and take advantage of what’s on offer. The train journey from Kandy to Ella is magnificent, short bus journeys are fun (although awkward with large baggage), tuk-tuks are cheap and easy, and taxis can be hired everywhere. Our 10 days in Sri Lanka used a combination of all the above.

Buses are an adventure in themselves and you should take at least one on your trip. Luggage space is limited, making them hard work if you are moving between hotels. Buy your ticket on board.

Taxis are readily available on the street or from local travel agent. Both are much cheaper than booking through your hotel and we never had a problem even short notice. Some require haggling while others have set prices. Approximate costs are:

COLOMBO AIRPORT TO HABARANA / Rs 13,000; 3 hour, 30 minutes

HABARANA TO KANDY / Rs 7,000; 2hour, 30 minutes

ELLA TO MIRISSA / Rs 12,000; 4 hours/p>

MIRISSA TO GALLE / Rs 4,000; 1 hour

GALLE TO COLOMBO AIRPORT / Rs 11,600; 2 hour, 30 minutes

Private drivers over multiple days cost about SLR 11,000 ($60) a day, with possible extra charges for long journeys and for hotels that will not put the driver up for free. We decided it would be easier and cheaper to hire day taxis as we needed them.

BEST TIME TO GO TO SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka has two monsoons seasons, the Maha (October to January) occurs in the north and east of the country and the Yala (May to August) in the south and west. So the best time to go depends on your itinerary.

For our 10 days in Sri Lanka, the best time to go is December to March, trying to avoid the Christmas holidays. But if you go between May to August, miss Mirissa and the south coast and instead head Trincomalee on the east coast.

COSTS OF OUR 10-DAY SRI LANKA ITINERARY

The total cost of our 10-day Sri Lanka itinerary, for two people, was Rs 380,000 (Sri Lankan Rupees), excluding international flights. With Nov 2018 exchange rates of Rs 230 to the British Pound; SLR 180 to the US dollar; and SLR 205 to the Euro, this equates to:

4 day Cappadocia Itinerary
US $2,100
4 day Cappadocia Itinerary
GBP £1,650
4 day Cappadocia Itinerary
EUR €1,850

WHAT WE WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

We are still unsure whether it is better to stay in Habarana or Sigiriya while in the central plains. Habarana has better transport links making it easier to get to Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Kaudulla but Sigiriya has a better vibe.

We loved our 2-day train journey from Kandy to Ella, but if two days on the train and an hour each way taxi to Ramboda Falls, does not appeal, you could complete the 6 hour, 30-minute journey in one day. Another option is to take a taxi from Kandy to Nanuoya (2 hours, 45 minutes), stopping at Ramboda Falls and Nuwara Eliya, before boarding the afternoon train to Ella for the most scenic part of the journey. Both options would reduce this section of the trip from 2 days to 1.

If you have an extra day, stop at Uda Walawe National Park (between Ella and Mirissa). If you get to the National Park by early afternoon, you can take an evening safari drive, stay the night, then do a morning safari before completing the journey to Mirissa next day.

BOOKING AND TIPS FOR YOUR 10-DAY SRI LANKA ITINERARY

Reserve your seat on the Kandy to Ella Train well in advance. Over Christmas period it can book out months in advance. Don’t bother with first class, even though the tickets are only a tiny bit more, second class is altogether a better experience.

OPENING TIMES & DETAILS

Entrance to Sri Lanka’s best ancient sights is quite expensive, but the tea factory tours are free.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress / 7:00 – 17:00; Price: SLR 4,600

Dambulla Cave Temple / 7:30- 12:30; 13:00 – 18:00; Price: SLR 1,500

Polonnaruwa Ancient City & Museum / 9:00 – 18:00; Price: SLR 4,600

Kandy Cultural Show / 17:00 daily; Price: SLR 1,000

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic / 5:30 – 20:00; Ceremonies: 5:30 – 6:45; 9:30 – 11:00 & 18:30 – 20:00; Price: SLR 1,500 tickets available from machines by the entrance

Blue Field Tea Garden & Factory / Daily except Sunday; Price: Free tour, café on site charges to taste tea

Damro Labookellie Tea Lounge & Factory / Visit their Facebook page.

GUIDEBOOKS & READING

For our 10 days in Sri Lanka we used the Lonely Planet guidebook for Sri Lanka which contains helpful information about opening times, attractions and is generally good for restaurant recommendations.

Another great source for restaurants is Foursquare. Download the app before leaving.

MORE FROM THE BLOG

To discover more about our 10 days in Sri Lanka check out our experiences cycling in Polonnaruwa, climbing Sigiriya Rock Fortress or simply being a tourist in Kandy. For a truly essential experience, read about our train ride from Kandy to Ella.

If you love golden beaches and exciting culture consider spending 3 days in Bangkok and the beaches of Railay Bay.

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Our complete guide to spending 10 days in Sri Lanka / Sri Lanka 10 day itinerary / #srilanka

Our complete guide to spending 10 days in Sri Lanka / Sri Lanka 10 day itinerary / #srilanka

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