If you ask me I’d say, you can never get enough of Sri Lanka. That’s because this coastal nation offers so much to do and experience. Although, the best of Sri Lanka is steeped, in the contrasting colours of its countryside. If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka for the first time then here’s a 15-day itinerary, that will be your guiding light to some of the best destinations of the country.
Day 1: Arrive in Colombo
You should plan your first day in Colombo depending upon the time of your flight. The fascinating city of Colombo, is not only, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka but also, a melting point where the East meets the West. Although it’s located nearly 50 Km from Sri Lanka’s only International Airport. Should you be arriving early morning, you can relax in your hotel for a few hours and explore a few sightseeing spots in the evening. If you are arriving at noon, then I suggest you take it easy on this day and chill around.
Day 2: Sightseeing in Colombo
On the second day, however, start early morning and end your sightseeing tour by late evening. That way you will get to cover at least 8-10 places worth visiting. Amongst attractions, you must take a look at the Buddhist Temple, Hindu Temple, Old Dutch Hospital, Town Hall, BMICH, Pettah Bazaar and the Red Mosque. Here, have a look at our recommended list of best landmarks in Colombo. Covered these in a day’s time!
Day 3: Travel from Colombo to Habarana
Habarana is situated at a distance of 180 km from Colombo and takes close to 3 hours to reach. En-route, you must stop by the Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya or as they call it, the Silver Temple. In the evening, visit the Khau Dulla or the Minneria National Park. At these national parks, you can spot the large herds, of Elephants, along with, jackals and water buffaloes.
Day 4: Habarana to Kandy
On day four, leave early morning from Habarana and head to Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Sigiriya Rock Fortress is about a 30-minute drive from Habarana. While you are here, take the opportunity, to climb this royal citadel for the remarkable history it holds. I’d say, keep aside a few hours for this activity as the climb alone, is 1200 steps, one way. When you climb down, get yourself some authentic Sri Lankan lunch from one of the nearby restaurants then head to Kandy. En-route Kandy, stop by, one of the Spice Gardens to get acquainted with the exotic Sri Lankan herbs and spices. You can also shop spices from these Ceylon Spice Gardens. Kandy is located about 100 Kms from Habarana and takes 3-hours to reach. However, with Sigiriya and Spice Garden tour, expect to reach Kandy by late afternoon. Check into your hotel and then attend the 1-hour Kandy cultural show. You can choose from two slots which are either 4.30 – 5.30 PM or 5.30 – 6.30 PM. This cultural show generates an elbow room for attendees to experience Sri Lanka’s rich tradition.
Day 5: Sightseeing in Kandy
On day five, you can wander around the enchanting town of Kandy and visit its lake and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This temple with a golden-roof houses Sri Lanka’s utmost important relic, which is a tooth of the Buddha. At the time of the worship, this heavily guarded room is opened, to the visitors. The Buddha’s tooth, however, is kept in a gold dagoba casket. It’s a series of 6 dagoba caskets of diminishing sizes. The campus of this temple also includes smaller temples, shrines and museums worth taking a look. After lunch, visit the famous Royal Botanic Gardens, renowned for its Orchid collection. Situated next to National Herbarium of Sri Lanka, the Royal Botanic Gardens blooms with more than 4000 species of plants and trees. If time permits then also, have a look at the Udawatta Kele; the historic, 104-hectares large, Udawattakele Forest Reserve. This reserve above the royal palace is famous for its extensive avifauna.
Day 6: Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
On day six, drive from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. Even though the distance between these two cities is merely 85 km, you will take close to 3 hours to reach Nuwara Eliya. Or more! This entire route is flourishing with the greenest of tea estates and plantations. Besides, Nuwara Eliya is perched, 6,183ft above sea-level, with the coolest and the crispiest weather as compared to elsewhere in Sri Lanka. This Little England of Sri Lanka is a serene retreat like a piece of the English Lake District. I visited the Damro Tea Estate and Plantation and spent 4-5 hours at the facility between touring the factory to tasting the finest blend of Ceylon Tea. You can book this tour online. Reach Nuwara Eliya by late afternoon, check into your hotel and walk around the city in the evening.
Day 7: Relax in Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is a stunning hill station thriving with untypical wonders, whether it be, waterfalls, birds, plants, or caves. No matter where you go, you will always be surrounded by imposing natural elements. To experience an unmatched thrill of leisure, you must also try golfing at Nuwara Eliya’s golf course, rated as one of the most picturesque in Asia. As for the second day of sightseeing, visit the market, the Lake Gregory, the Sita Amman Temple, the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity and the well-kept parks.
Day 8: Nuwara Eliya to Bandarawela
On Day 8, Drive from Nuwara Eliya to Nanu Oya Railway Station. It will take you about 30-minutes to reach this railway station. From Nanu Oya, book yourself a train ticket to Haputale, which is a small town in Badulla District of the Uva Province. This train ride, famed as Sri Lanka’s most scenic lives up to its reputation. Drifting upwards to an elevation of 1400+ metres, the train slithers through a dense forestation with a variety of flora and fauna blossoming on either side. After a few hours of a dream train ride, you will arrive at the misty hilltop of Haputale. From here, drive to Bandarawela which is 18 km from the Haputale Railway Station. On your way take a photo-stop at Adisham Bungalow, a country house that houses the Monastery of Saint Benedict. Here you can see the relic of St. Sylvester inside the chapel.
Day 9: Bandarawela Sightseeing
On this day, drive to the Lipton’s Seat. You can also choose to climb/walk the 7 km trail surrounded by lush green tea plantations dappled with occasional tea pluckers. To reach the hilltop, you can either take the Nayabedda estate or the Dambatenna estate route. Each route is marked with signboards leading to narrow paved roads. The climb takes close to three hours but is totally worth the phenomenal views. En-route you will come around original British Era stone constructions which are a delight to watch from a historical point of view. Stay in Bandarawela. In the evening, relax in your hotel or go window shopping in the Bandarawela market.
Day 10: Bandarawela to Galle
On the 10th day, drive to Galle. Start early morning from Bandarawela, as Galle, is located at a distance of 220 km and it takes about 4-hours to reach. Enjoy the coastal ride as the salty wind kisses your face. Arrive in Galle, relax, unwind and take a walk by the Galle Fort in the evening. If possible, try and watch the sunset here. It’s magnificent! I have prepared an extensive list of 10-best things you can do in Galle, in one day. You can check out our list here and plan your sightseeing as per your convenience. You can either do-it-all in one day or split it over two days. The choice is entirely yours.
Day 11: Galle Sightseeing
On the next day, set out to explore the Dutch origins of Galle. This fortified city is the best example of how well, European architectural styles blend with South Asian traditions. Built by Europeans in Southeast Asia, the Galle Fort is the largest remaining fortress in Asia. It’s a world heritage site. Here’s our list of recommended landmarks, you must visit while you are here.
Day 12: Drive to Bentota
On the twelfth day, drive to Bentota, another beach city that’s about 65 km away from Galle. It takes about an hour and a half to reach Bentota from Galle. En-route visit Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, a safe place for the extinct sea turtles. The volunteers at Kosgoda work towards conserving turtles reaching extinction. To do so, they protect the sea turtle eggs and release baby turtles into the sea, a week after they are born. Here’s our article that explains the process and the species in detail.
Day 13: Bentota River Safari
On this day, spend your day taking the Bentota River Safari to the mangroves. This river cruise of about 3-4 hours, shows you around the 3rd-largest river of Sri Lanka, including its Mangrove Lagoon. You also get to see water monitors and other animals residing here. Very rarely will you spot a crocodile though, but, river birds, are to be seen in abundance. This river cruise is delightfully relaxing, as it allows you to wallow in the magnificence of the riverine scenery. Post lunch, you can try water sports such as Banana Boat Ride and Jet Ski.
Day 14: Drive from Bentota to Colombo
On the second last day of your trip, you can either stay back in Bentota or arrive back to Colombo. Bentota is situated 100 km away from Colombo, a distance that can be covered in an hour and a half by car. If you’d like to see some more of Colombo then this will be the perfect day.
Day 15: Leave For Bandaranaike International Airport
On the 15th-day, leave for your origin country from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake. You will take two hours to reach the airport if you are driving from Bentota. If driving from Colombo, you will reach the airport in an hour, given you duck all the traffic.