If you ask me for my opinion, Sri Lanka is an underrated travel destination. I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations planning my itinerary in Sri Lanka, but it turned out to be one of my most treasured travel experiences. I loved every bit of it – the delicious food, the beautiful temples, the lush greenery, the beach culture, and of course, the welcoming locals.
My 10-day (pre-Covid) itinerary in Sri Lanka went without a hitch. The island can seem a little chaotic especially when you first arrive, but many people speak English so finding your way around isn’t too difficult. Here are a few places I would recommend you to visit, but you can add or take out days/places to make it work for you. Without further ado, here is a 10-day itinerary in Sri Lanka, as well as what you need to know travelling here in Covid-19 times.
Sri Lanka is open for tourism again as of April 2021. Apart from testing negative for Covid-19, travellers also need to stay at a certified hotel for the first 14 days. However, there is no restrictive quarantine, and visitors can still travel to different places of interest within a bio-bubble. Don’t worry – all of our suggested places to visit fall within this bio-bubble! After 14 days, travellers will be able to go out into the general public. Click here to read more.
We should add that many countries are asking their citizens not to travel unnecessarily at this time. We’re hoping that the Covid-19 situation will get better soon, and we encourage you to bookmark this page for when normal travel can resume.
Things to know before going to Sri Lanka
Prior to arriving in Sri Lanka, you will need an e-visa that you can easily apply online. Citizens of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles are exempt from this.
The best way to get around in Sri Lanka is by hiring a private driver (click here for a list of approved drivers). Travelling by bus or train is actually quite an experience in Sri Lanka, but using public transport is not encouraged at this time due to the pandemic.
Sri Lanka is a year-round destination, but the weather can be quite complicated. The Maha Monsoon brings rain to the north and east from December to February, while Yala Monsoon strikes between May to August in the south and west. This itinerary in Sri Lanka mainly focuses on destinations in the center and south.
Sri Lanka is also a conservative country, with the main religion being Buddhism. You should definitely cover up while you’re here, especially if you’re visiting a temple. Things are more relaxed at the southwest beach areas and hotel pools, so you can usually wear a swimsuit here. Outside of that, I encourage both men and women to dress conservatively.
One last thing to note – you will receive stares when you’re out and about. As an Asian, this was definitely very uncomfortable in the beginning! But I soon learnt that it doesn’t matter if you’re a unicorn, a westerner with blonde hair and blue eyes, or like me, a petite Asian girl. They will stare at anything and anyone that is different! After a while, you learn to tune it out and go about your way.
Sri Lanka itinerary
Day 1: Colombo
Most travellers will arrive in Bandaranaike International Airport, and your best bet is to head to Colombo which is about an hour away. This is where your Sri Lanka itinerary begins!
Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka. Right now, the only place within Sri Lanka’s bio-bubble in Colombo is the National Museum. If you arrive in the morning, you can spend the afternoon here viewing different types of art, carvings and statuary from Sri Lanka’s ancient past. There are also swords, guns and other paraphernalia from the colonial period! If you arrive in the late afternoon or evening, then I’d say stay in your hotel and rest up for the next day.
Day 2-3: Sigiriya
Get an early start because today you’ll be making the four-hour journey to Sigiriya. Otherwise known as Lion Rock, Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit on every itinerary in Sri Lanka. It is an ancient rock fortress that rises 200m up from the ground and perhaps the most dramatic sight in Sri Lanka.
I recommend doing the hike up the rock in the afternoon, and then staying for sunset. Alternatively, you can do a hike at Pidurangala Rock, another rock formation close to Sigiriya. This is a less touristy and much more adventurous hike, and the views it offers of Sigiriya is unrivalled.
Close by to Sigiriya is a famous national park where you can embark on a safari experience and see wild elephants. Kaudulla National Park is renowned for their number of elephants and wildlife such as crocodiles, deers and the Sri Lankan leopard. It is also a bird watcher’s paradise! Although it is not the largest national park in Sri Lanka, this means that it is one of the quieter ones, perfect for those who just want to encounter nature in peace.
Day 4: Polonnaruwa
A UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Polonnaruwa is an ancient city. As the second capital of Sri Lanka between the 11th and 13th century AD, there are heritage ruins, temples and shrines still standing here. Polonnaruwa also makes up part of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle along with Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Kandy and Dambulla.
Consisting of an inner city and an outer city, the monuments are concentrated in one area so it is fairly easy to see the main sights with a day trip.
Day 4-5: Kandy
Kandy is another major city in Sri Lanka, and it is also the last capital of the ancient kings’ era. Make sure to check out Temple of the Tooth Relic – one of the most iconic Buddhist temples in the world.
The Royal Botanic Garden west of Kandy is also a beautiful place to spend a leisurely afternoon. The stunning garden could only be accessed by Kandyan royalty once, but now us mere commonners can visit it too! Highlights include a large variety of orchids and many historically prominent trees.
And if you want to shop for some souvenirs and handicrafts, Laksala is a great place to get some shopping done.
Day 5-7: Yala National Park
Usually after Kandy, the next stop would be the hilly regions and tea plantations of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, Nuwara Eliya and Ella do not fall within the bio-bubble, so travellers can only visit these places after their 14-day “quarantine”. We’ll be skipping past these places, and going straight to Yala National Park for an overnight safari experience.
Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most popular national park. It is home to wildlife like leopards, sloth bears, elephants, crocodiles, and hundreds of bird species. There are also two important pilgrim sites, Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara, situated within the park. We suggest spending two nights here so you can really enjoy the park and go on several safaris!
Day 7-8: Mirissa
The small beach town of Mirissa is best known for its whale watching tours. The best time to do so is between November to April, when the whales migrate from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere.
Blue whales are the most common species you’ll see here. You may also encounter sperm whales, fin whales, Bryde’s whales, short finned whales and dolphins. If you’re really lucky, you may even see killer whales and whale sharks!
Day 8-9: Bentota
Unwind from your road travels by relaxing by the beach in Bentota! Apart from whale watching in Mirissa, we’re not able to suggest water sports since you have to stay within the bio-bubble. However, Sea Rock Villa in Bentota is a certified establishment with their own private beach area, so you can spend some time on the beach without leaving the villa’s grounds.
Day 9-10: Colombo/back home
From Bentota, you can make your way back to Colombo, spend a night before leaving for the airport to catch your flight back home. Alternatively, you can spend an extra night in Bentota, or at any of the other cities as long as it’s with a certified hotel, and you don’t leave the grounds unless it’s to a bio-bubble site, with a certified guide/driver.
These are weird times that we’re living in with many travel restrictions in place. We’re not encouraging travel at this time, but if you must, please do so responsibly, and respect the local rules and guidelines. We hope that things will improve soon. Stay safe everyone!