I was amazed how a small country like Sri Lanka could offer so much variety! Sri Lanka has beautiful beaches, green mountains, even greener tea plantations, ancient and impressive Buddhist temples, colorful and detailed Hindu temples and much more. And all that on an island 4 times smaller than the U.K.!
In our 1 month Sri Lanka trip we went city sightseeing in Colombo and Kandy, hiking in Ella and Haputale, temple hopping in Anuradhapura and diving in Weligama.
How to plan the perfect Sri Lanka trip
I have written several posts about our trip, together with this itinerary it should provide you with all the information you need to plan your trip to Sri Lanka! My other Sri Lanka posts can be found here:
• Sri Lanka budget breakdown ⇒ our average daily travel budget in Sri Lanka.
• Sri Lanka accommodation guide ⇒ where we stayed during our trip, pros and cons about those accommodations and prices per night.
• Sri Lankan food ⇒ typical and delicious food I ate in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka 1 month travel itinerary
In the map below you can find our 1 month Sri Lanka itinerary (including budget accommodation and all the Sri Lanka highlights we visited):
- Day 1: arriving at Bandaranaike International Airport in Negombo
- Day 2-3: sightseeing in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka
- Day 4-5: exploring Galle and around
- Day 6-8: diving, surfing and relaxing in Welligama
- Day 9: snorkeling in Talalla
- Day 10-11: safari at Udawalawe National Park
- Day 11-13: hiking in Ella
- Day 14-15: walking through tea fields in Haputale
- Day 16: explore Nuwara Eliya
- Day 17-18: discover cultural Kandy
- Day 19-20: visit iconic Sigiriya
- Day 21: wander around ancient Anuradhapura
- Day 22-23: travel north to colorful and quiet Jaffna
- Day 24-26: relax in laid back Kalpitiya
Sri Lanka travel itinerary: important facts and figures
• I traveled around Sri Lanka with my husband.
• Our 1 month trip started and ended at Bandaranaike International Airport (Negombo).
• We traveled from place to place by public transport. We took trains, tuktuks and a lot of colorful & loud buses☺. In this post I will provide as much detail as I can about how we got from from A to B.
Day 1: arriving at Bandaranaike International Airport in Negombo
We arrived at Negombo airport in the middle of the night. Luckily the owner of our accommodation, Erandi Holiday Home, picked us up with his tuktuk and quickly drove us to his place. We were exhausted and asleep as soon as our head hit the pillow.
How to get from Negombo to Colombo:
Day 2-3: sightseeing in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka
Colombo wasn’t my favorite place in Sri Lanka, but if you have one or two days to spare the city does have some nice places to visit. We did 2 days of sightseeing in Colombo:
• Hotel the Pilawoos ⇒ famous for its kottu, a typical Sri Lankan dish. We had it for breakfast and it was very tasty indeed!
• National Museum ⇒ I personally didn’t enjoy this museum very much, it was being renovated and a large part of the museum was inaccessible. Also, the collection on display was limited, probably also because of the renovation. Entrance fee was 600 rupees per person.
• Old Town Hall and Vihamaradevi park ⇒ lovely green park for a stroll.
• South Beira Lake ⇒ we walked around this lake on our way to Galle Face Green.
• Galle Face Green ⇒ a great spot to watch the sunset!
• Fort Old District ⇒ we explored the historical district Fort. I especially liked the Clock Tower and the beautifully renovated Dutch Hospital.
• The T Lounge by Dilmah ⇒ stylish cafe with delicious and refreshing tea!
Where to stay in Colombo:
How to get from Colombo to Galle:
Day 4-5: exploring Galle and around
We spent 2 days in Galle and I liked this city a lot more than Colombo. It’s quite small and easy to get around on foot.
• Galle Fort ⇒ We spent one day exploring the historic Galle Fort. While I cannot always be proud of Dutch history (like how we exploited our colonies) the Dutch Fort in Galle is a fine piece of architecture. Plus, it helped to protect (part of) Galle from the terrible tsunami in 2004…
• Around Galle ⇒ our second day in Galle we rented a scooter from the owner of our apartment and explored the area around Galle. We visited the Virgin White Tea estate (Handunugoda), drove through green fields and to the villages Hikaduwa and Unawatuna.
Where to stay in Galle:
How to get from Galle to Weligama:
Day 6-8: diving, surfing and relaxing in Welligama
I liked Weligama a lot, it’s a laid-back place with nice beaches and great for surfing.
Surf lesson ⇒ our first ever attempt at surfing! We took a one hour lesson at ‘My Brothers School’ but didn’t pick a very good day, there were almost no waves! We did get to practice standing up and even caught a couple of very shallow waves!
Relaxing at the beach ⇒ there are many small beaches around Weligama, we found a pretty private beach near Fishermans Bay and spent a lot of time there…
Diving ⇒ I love diving, it’s one of my favorite travel activities! We did 2 dives with Weligama Bay Dive Center (at Yala Rock and Patch Point). It was so good to be back in the water, I hadn’t dived since Cuba, but for Frank it had been almost 2 years since his last dive in Koh Tao.
Mirissa ⇒ I was glad we were staying in Weligama instead of Mirissa, there were so many loud bars in Mirissa (I know, I’m old and boring?). Nevertheless, it was a nice place to spent an afternoon. We found a beach bar with lounge chairs, perfect for a drink and to watch the sunset.
Where to stay in Weligama:
We stayed at Naomi River View Villa for 3 nights.
How to get from Weligama to Talalla:
I kept an eye on Google maps (offline, use GPS function) to check where to get off the bus for Talalla. The Wajirawansa Maawatha bus stop is a little past Talalla village, across the bus stop is a small road leading to the beach and several hotels.
Day 9: snorkeling in Talalla
Talalla ⇒ a lovely little village on the South coast of Sri Lanka. There isn’t much to do in Talalla, but there is a beautiful beach and it’s good for snorkeling. Unfortunately we didn’t see a turtle, but a fellow traveler at our hotel saw 2 turtles when he was snorkeling so you never know…
Where to stay in Talalla:
We stayed at Seaview Resort for 1 night.
How to get from Talalla to Udawalawe Junction:
Day 10-11: safari at Udawalawe National Park
Safari in Udawalawe National Park ⇒ on day 10 we traveled from Talalla to Udawalawe Junction and booked a safari for the next morning (day 11) at our hotel. I had never been on a safari before and it was amazing!
First we witnessed a beautiful sunrise and once the sun was up we saw lots of animals: elephants, buffaloes, deer, colorful bee-eaters (birds), peacocks, a big lizzard and… crocodiles! The safari was definitely one of the highlights of our Sri Lanka trip.
Note: bring a jacket, I found it quite chilly in the early morning (5.30am)! Also be sure to bring some water and food. Our safari took 4 hours and I was very happy we brought something to eat and drink.
Where to stay in Udawalawe Junction:
We stayed at A to Z Family Guest Udawalawe for 1 night and also booked our safari there (4500 rupees per person).
How to get from Udawalawe Junction to Ella:
Day 11-13: hiking in Ella
After the safari we traveled to Ella, a beautiful village in the mountains and my favorite place in Sri Lanka. We stayed in Ella for 3 days and did lots of hiking!
Little Adam’s Peak and Nine Arch Bridge ⇒ the views from the top of Little Adam’s Peak are phenomenal, on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean on the South coast. It wasn’t that clear the day we hiked up, but the views were still amazing. From Little Adam’s Peak we walked to Nine Arch Bridge and arrived just in time to see the 10.56 train drive over the bridge. The total loop took us around 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Ella Rock ⇒ this was another beautiful hike, but a bit longer and steeper than the hike to Little Adam’s Peak. However, it was definitely worth the effort, the views along the way and from the top are gorgeous! The return hike took us 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Where to stay in Ella:
How to get from Ella to Haputale:
The easiest way is to go directly from Ella to Haputale by train. However, we wanted to cross the Nine Arch Bridge by train… And in order to do that, you have to travel by train from Badulla. Therefore, we took a bus from Ella to Badulla (1 hour) and boarded the train there. Another hour later we crossed the beautiful bridge and arrived once again in Ella. Needless to say we stayed on the train until we reached Haputale?.
Day 14-15: walking through tea fields in Haputale
The trip to Haputale is an activity in itself, the train ride from Badulla to Haputale is one of the most beautiful ones in the world and it costs just 80 rupees (something like 50 cents in €/$)! Haputale itself is also very nice, the village is located on the ridge of a hill and there are amazing 360 views! We stayed in Haputale for 2 days and did some more hiking.
Adisham Monastery ⇒ unfortunately we couldn’t visit this lovely looking monastery (it’s closed on weekdays) and only take a peak through the trees. We hiked back to our guesthouse via the tea plantation.
Lipton’s Seat ⇒ from Haputale bus station we took a bus to the Dambatenne Tea Factory (30 rupees pp). From the factory it was a beautiful 7 km hike through the vivid green tea fields to reach Lipton’s Seat.
The views from Lipton’s Seat were not bad either…
Fun fact: it’s called Lipton’s Seat because Sir Thomas Lipton used to sit here and look out over his estates.
Where to stay in Haputale:
We stayed at Bawa Guesthouse for 2 nights.
How to get from Haputale to Nuwara Eliya:
As there is no train to Nuwara Eliya we had to change to a bus at Nanu Oya station. We got out at the T-junction at Gregory Lake and walked to our accommodation.
Day 16: rainy Nuwara Eliya
The Grand Cafe ⇒ I didn’t like Nuwara Eliya very much, but that was probably because it was grey and rainy… We spent most of our time indoors drinking cups of cute cat coffee.
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya:
We stayed at the Cottage for 1 night, but I wouldn’t recommend this place (more info in the accommodation guide).
How to get from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy:
Our original plan was to go to Dalhousie and hike Adam’s Peak, unfortunately the weather was terrible. It’s a lot less fun to hike in the rain so we went directly to Kandy instead.
Day 17-18: cultural Kandy
Walk around the lake and hike up to the viewpoint ⇒ we strolled around the Bogambara Lake and spotted many turtles and large lizards! A little uphill we found a nice viewpoint overlooking Kandi city center.
Sri Mahabodhi Maha Viharaya ⇒ instead of the famous Temple of the Tooth we visited this much quieter temple on a hill in Kandy.
Where to stay in Kandy:
We stayed at the the Travellers Home for 2 nights.
How to get from Kandy to Sigiriya:
Day 19-20: iconic Sigiriya
Walk around the famous Lion Rock ⇒ we arrived late in the afternoon and took a quiet stroll around the moat of the famous Lion Rock. We even saw a crocodile, very cool!
Climb Pidurangala Rock ⇒ for the best views of the Lion Rock we climbed up Pidurangala Rock (entrance fee is 500 rupees per person). It was very hot and sweaty but so worth it…
Read more about the famous rock formation of Sigiriya
Where to stay in Sigiriya:
We stayed at Pathum Homestay for 2 nights.
How to get from Sigiriya to Anuradhapura:
Day 21: ancient Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura temple tour ⇒ so many Buddhas and temples in Anuradhapura… We checked out 8 sites, including the famous Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree and beautiful white Ruwanwelisaya stupa. However, this colorful statue in the lesser known Isurumuni Viharaya temple was my favorite!
Where to stay in Anuradhapura:
We stayed at Hanoi Palace for 1 night but I wouldn’t recommend this place.
How to get from Anuradhapura to Jaffna:
Day 22-23: colorful and quiet Jaffna
Rent a scooter and explore! ⇒ not many travelers make it this far north but I am glad we did, Jaffna was one of the highlights of our 1 month Sri Lanka trip! We rented a scooter and drove around roads less traveled on the beautiful islands Velanai and Karainagar.
The roads are peaceful now, but this area suffered severely from the Sri Lankan civil war which ended only in May 2009…
Where to stay in Jaffna:
How to get from Jaffna to Kalpitiya:
Day 24-26: laid back Kalpitiya
More scooter exploring ⇒ our accommodation was out of town so we rented a scooter for 2 days to get around. And to do some more exploring of the Kalpitiya peninsula! On our last day we watched the most amazing sunset… A perfect way to say goodbye to beautiful Sri Lanka!
Where to stay in Kalpitiya:
We stayed at Nethu Villa for 3 nights.
How to get from Kalpitiya to Bandaranaike International Airport in Negombo:
We had a really great time in Sri Lanka, like I said at the start of this post: it’s a really varied country! We covered a lot of ground in 1 month, but there is still much more to see. We didn’t go to the East coast of Sri Lanka as it was monsoon season at the time of our visit (February 2017). Perhaps another time…
Anyway, below you can download a table with the transport information and a table with the activities listed in this itinerary. If you have less time available to explore Sri Lanka, also check out this 2-week itinerary by my friend Sarah!