Ayubowan, traveler!

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Congratulations, that’s one of the best ideas ever!

Maybe now you need some help deciding what to visit on this small but exciting island, right? No worries, I’m here to help!

First of all, let me tell you this: even though Sri Lanka is an island, there is so much more to do there besides laying on the beach!

This 10-day itinerary in Sri Lanka covers the east and central part of the country, as you can see on the map below:

I really believe this itinerary HAS IT ALL: you will see elephants in the wild, visit ancient temples and city ruins, get to hike, see how the locals live and eat, take a scenic train ride, see tea plantations, try TONS of traditional food, and, last but not least, relax on the beach. It’s the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation!

While I was writing about my itinerary, I wanted to tell you about all my experiences and I soon realized there is no way to fit everything into one post! So I decided to divide it into two parts:

  • Part one (day 1-6) that includes Colombo, Trincomalee, Minneriya National Park and Sigiriya
  • Part two (Day 7-10) that includes Kandy, a ride on the famous blue train, Nuwaya Eliya and Negombo

sri lanka map

NOTE: You can easily extend this itinerary to 2 weeks if you want it to be more relaxed, but I wouldn’t advise making it shorter than 10 days if you really want to experience all this heart-warming country has to offer!

NOTE 2: You can learn all the practical information you need to know about traveling to Sri Lanka (visas, weather, insurance, prices, food to try and more) in Part 2 of my itinerary, check it out here!

I traveled with this itinerary myself and I can assure you that it includes as many landmarks as possible, so expect your days to be filled with adventure! Your trip will start in Colombo and end in Negombo, so you’ll be basically making a circle around the country. Expect to move your “base” every 2 days or so, as there’s no way you can explore Sri Lanka by staying in the same spot for the entire 10 days!

Okay, enough introductory talk, let’s make the most out of your time in Sri Lanka, what do you say?

Here is my proposed itinerary:

A few things to know before traveling to Sri Lanka

First, let’s talk about distances. And traffic.

Even if Sri Lanka is a relatively small island, it can take you quite a while to get from one city to another, mostly because of the infrastructure layout and the crazy traffic. So, you should take this into consideration when deciding on your itinerary!

It’s easy to overcrowd your travel itinerary with too many things to do and end up disappointed; that’s why it’s better to plan for fewer things while also having a list of extra attractions and activities to do in case you have more time.

Quick facts about Sri Lanka:

  • Sri Lanka is a small island-country in the Indian Ocean.
  • The local currency is the Sri Lanka rupee (do not confuse it with the Indian rupee, they’re not the same) – US $1 = 180.6 LKR. You can check the up-to-date rate here.
  • Language – Tamil and Sinhalese are the main spoken languages. No worries, most locals understand and speak basic conversational English!
  • Religion: around 70% of the country is Buddhist
  • Population: +/- 21,670,000 people
  • Area: 432 kilometers long, 224 kilometers wide
  • Yes, you will need a visa to enter the country
  • You can pay for most things with a credit card, but not everywhere, so it’s strongly advisable to have cash as well
  • The national flower is the lotus

Some useful things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure to have your knees and shoulders covered when visiting sacred places and temples;
  • You have to take off your shoes before entering any temple;
  • You cannot take any pictures with your back to the statues inside the temples.

READ MORE: Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka – 10 Days Itinerary (Part 2)

How to travel around Sri Lanka

After only one day in Sri Lanka I came to this conclusion: this is not a country where I would recommend anyone rent a car and drive by themselves!

Trust me, the traffic is hectic! I haven’t seen traffic like it anywhere else I have traveled! 

Okay, it can definitely be worse in India, for example, but compared to Europe or the USA, it’s definitely a whole other story. At times you’ll need to wait for elephants to cross the road (which I actually enjoyed, don’t get me wrong!) and there can even be monkeys jumping from the trees when you least expect it. I couldn’t even imagine driving a car in Colombo, for example, or racing with 3 unpredictable, crazy tuk-tuk drivers on the same strip of road. Plus, I think you also need a special drivers license to drive a car in Sri Lanka.

That being said, there are some doable options of traveling around the country. For example, you can choose the train. It’s affordable, but it will take you a lot longer to get from one city to another. Except for that, you’ll have to find other means of transportation (such as tuk-tuks, which are very good and affordable for short distances) to get around to the main landmarks and attractions in each of these cities.

You can also ask the staff at your accommodation to book transfers for you for your desired routes-I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you!

There are also buses, but don’t get me started on the way the bus drivers behave in traffic!

All these options, if you ask me, would be a real hassle and quite a waste of your precious vacation time.

My recommendation – tour with driver/guide

Pradeep, one of our guides, at Koneswaram Temple

In my humble opinion, the best choice would be to hire a driver/guide to take you around the country on your desired itinerary. This is also the most popular way of traveling around Sri Lanka, did you know that?

Choosing a private driver will not only leave you stress-free and able to totally enjoy your experience in Sri Lanka, but you’ll also have somebody telling you interesting facts about everything that you visit, someone that’s responsible for all the tiny details and ensures you are satisfied and happy at all times, and you’ll have someone that actually knows the local language and all the local tips and tricks that you would never know about on your own!

Tourism is a very important thing in Sri Lanka, so the authorized companies that do these country tours will do their best to create the most exciting, tailor-made itinerary for you (or you can use my recommended itinerary, of course!).

I, for example, discovered Sri Lanka using Jetwing Travel and I can definitely recommend them with all my heart! During this itinerary, we were a group of 7 people and we used two vans, each of them with its separate driver-guide (so two guides in total for all of us). Our driver-guides were Pradeep and Fernando and we really enjoyed their service, knowledge and friendliness!

You can find more details about my experience with them in Part Two of my itinerary.

HOW MUCH IT WILL COST: If you want to replicate my 10-day itinerary, here’s what you need to know: A mini coach (9 seats) will cost you about  US$720 for 10 days with a driver guide and gas included; you can divide this price to the number of travelers in your group. Accommodation will depend on your choice of hotels/budget (we stayed in 4 and 5-star hotels mostly, but you can even stay with US$20 per night). Most of the hotels have accommodation for your guides, if not, you will have to pay extra 10 euros per day for accommodation for them. To all this you have to add the entrance ticket for the safari and all the sites you’re going to visit. Plus the tips for the guide at the end (around US$30 per person).

In short, this exact 10-day itinerary was US$2,800 for two people, so US$1,400 per person, tips included, but it can half the price (US$700 per person) if you go for budget hotels.

Now that you know these basics, let’s get into it! Here is Part 1 of my complete 10-day itinerary for Sri Lanka:

Day 1-2: Explore the capital city of Sri Lanka – Colombo

OVERVIEW: The first two days are dedicated to exploring the crazy capital of Sri Lanka – Colombo. You’ll be walking around the city, going on a double decker tour bus, experiencing an Ayurveda massage, sipping on cocktails and admiring the architecture.

NOTE: Some people choose to skip Colombo during their Sri Lanka itinerary, but I would personally include it, at least for one day, and especially if you’ve never been to a similar country before (such as India, for example). Just walking around the streets of Colombo is a unique experience by itself that will offer you a taste of the hustle and bustle of city life in Sri Lanka. Afterwards, you can compare it to the more remote, traditional, nature-rich areas you are going to visit in the following days.

Colombo is a busy city, with a rich history and culture. It’s a bit chaotic at times and it’s full of crowds, tuk-tuks, shops, churches, restaurants, luxury hotels and interesting architecture. There are beautiful colonial buildings everywhere you look, with Portuguese, Dutch and British influences, and modern structures as well. If you want to know more about Colombo, I advise reading this article about Seeing Everything in Colombo in One Day!

What to do in Colombo

There are quite a lot of things to do and see in this crazy city and dividing your activities between two days is a good idea after a long flight, considering you might be tired on this first day.

Here are some of the best things that you can do in Colombo (you can find my recommended itinerary below):

  • Walk around the city – I recommend going on Malwaththa Road. It’s full of life and also shops with bags, clothes, shoes. Fort Area is another great choice to admire the colonial architecture. You can also take this walking tour if you don’t already have a guide.
  • Take an open deck bus tour or a tuk-tuk tour – we took the open double decker bus tour and, on our way, we saw the Second World War Memorial, the Lotus Tower (tallest self-supported structure in South Asia), the Old Parliament Building, the Independence Memorial Hall, and more.
  • Visit Gangaramaya Temple – located on Beira Lake, it is one of the most important temples in the city. Entry is 300 rupees (around US $4) per person and they also have a museum with a large collection of old artifacts
  • Admire the Red Mosque (Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque) – you can only see it from the outside, unfortunately (only Muslim people can go inside), but it’s truly gorgeous
  • Walk around Viharamahadevi Park – a very nice and calm park where you’ll also find a Golden Buddha
  • Go to Pettah Market – exploring a local market is a truly authentic experience in Sri Lanka, even if you don’t buy anything!
  • Go for an Ayurveda treatment – we went to Siddhalepa; you can read more about my experience below
  • Visit the Independence Memorial Hall – best seen in the evening, when the fountains are lit up
  • See Colombo National Museum – biggest museum in Sri Lanka; you can learn about ancient history (entry ticket is Rs. 250 / US $3.50)
  • Enjoy a cocktail near a rooftop pool – we went to Vistas Bar on Movenpick Hotel and enjoyed some Achcharu cocktails, their signature Sri Lanka-inspired cocktail (Rs. 990 / US $14)
  • Go up the Lotus Tower – the tallest man-made structure in southern Asia. It wasn’t open while I was there in August 2019, but it is announced it will open to the public in January 2020

Again, for a full list of things to do in Colombo, I recommend checking out this article – See Everything in Colombo in Just One Day.

Now that you know the best things to do in the city, you might be wondering what to choose for these two days, right?

Here is my suggested itinerary for Colombo:

FIRST DAY: Walk around the city and admire some of its landmarks (such as the Red Mosque, Malwaththa road, Fort train station, Khan Clock Tower). Finish the day with an Ayurveda massage experience.

SECOND DAY: Wake up early and enjoy breakfast at your hotel (more about my experience staying in Colombo below), then pay a visit to the Gangarama Temple. Enjoy lunch and cocktails near a rooftop pool. Finish the day with a double decker bus tour all around the city.

ALTERNATIVELY: If your flight arrives at a decent hour and you think you’ll be able to explore the city during the first day (it’s definitely doable), you can just spend one day in Colombo and leave for Trincomalee the next morning.

MY EXPERIENCE GOING TO AN AYURVEDA SPA FOR THE FIRST TIME:

First of all, maybe you are wondering what Ayurveda is, right? Ayurveda is a 3,000 year old holistic, alternative medicine (more like a complete lifestyle) developed in India whose followers believe in the balance between mind, spirit and body. Some ayurvedic practices include massage, yoga, diet, meditation and more.

As mentioned before, our guides organized an Ayurveda spa experience for us at Siddhalepa Ayurveda Spa. The first step of the process is to go for a consultation with their on-site Ayurveda doctor. They won’t do any treatments on you without this consultation and they’re very careful about this.

The idea is to tell your physical problems to the doctor (for example if you have back pains, knee pains, neck pains etc.) and they’re going to recommend personalized treatments for them. The treatment is 45 minutes-long. I received an upper body massage for my back problems, with a focus on my neck and a head massage as well (which I reaaaaaally loved). You can check the complete list of treatments they offer here.

Although I’m not a big believer in alternative medicine or spiritual things, I really loved the hospitality, presentation and, most of all, the massage I received there, so I definitely recommend doing this at the end of your first day in Colombo – it will give you a great start to this trip!

PRICE: A head massage is Rs. 2.000 (US $28), a full body massage is Rs. 3.200 (US $45) and the full-day package is Rs. 20.000 (US $280) which it includes 6 hours of treatments.

NOTE: This spa is a great place to buy some nice souvenirs to bring back home such as scrubbing soaps, essential oils and more. One interesting thing that you can buy is their Siddhalepa Ayurveda Balm (similar to Tiger balm). I bought one for my parents and they loved it!

PRO TIP: You can also go up on the rooftop to enjoy the view near their rooftop pool-it’s gorgeous!

How to get from the airport to Colombo

The airport – Bandaranaike International Airport – is actually located in Negombo, 35km away from Colombo. It takes around 45 minutes to get from the airport to the city by car.

In case you are not traveling around Sri Lanka with a tour guide (like we did and they picked us up from the airport when we arrived), here are your options to get from the airport to the city:

By taxi

You can use an Uber – this is basically your cheapest option, as it will cost you around Rs. 1,800 (US $10) for the entire trip.

There are also “normal” taxis that you can hail from the arrivals terminal. The price would be around Rs. 2,500 (US $14) fixed price, no bargaining.

By private transfer

Alternatively, if you want to have your transfer arranged beforehand, I recommend a private transfer from the airport to your hotel in Colombo. Although it’s not the cheapest option (it’s US $34 for two people), it’s the easiest for travelers, as the driver will wait for you at the airport and will drop you off at your desired hotel in the city.

By bus

There is a Highway Express bus that connects the airport to the city. The journey takes one hour and it costs Rs. 110 (US $0.60) one-way. You can buy a ticket from the driver directly. These buses run every half hour, from 5:30 AM to 8:30 PM. You can take them from Katunayake Airport Bus Station (get out of the airport, turn left, cross the road and you will see the bus station).

There is also a minibus (no. 178), but it takes longer – around 1 hour and a half to reach the city center. The price is Rs. 120 for the ticket (US $0.60) and around Rs. 100-200 (US $0.50 – $1.10) for your luggage; you can also buy a ticket from the driver. These minibuses run 24/7 but you might have to wait for up to one hour for one.

Where to stay in Colombo

MY EXPERIENCE: During my two nights spent in Colombo, I stayed at Cinnamon Lakeside, a gorgeous 5-star luxury hotel in the city and I absolutely loved it! The hotel is located on the banks of Lake Beira and has no less than 9 themed restaurants (one Thai, one Japanese, and more!), an on-site spa and a gorgeous outdoor pool where you can chill and unwind after a day of exploring the city!

One thing you’ll realize right from the start is that the hotel rooms in Sri Lanka are quite spacious, and my room at Cinnamon Lakeside was no exception. No, really, my room was almost as big as my apartment in Bucharest and I had (more than) all the space I wanted; plus, the staff was extremely friendly and answered all my questions!

One of the highlights of my stay was the buffet breakfast and dinner with TONS of options, from traditional Sri Lankan food like egg hoppers and countless types of curry to sushi, all types of fresh fruit and delicious desserts! I always tried something new during the 2 days I spent there and it was a great way of trying all types of authentic Sri Lankan food right after my arrival in the city.

All in all, I wholeheartedly recommend this hotel if you want to splurge and completely enjoy your stay in the capital of Sri Lanka!

Here are some other great options for staying in Colombo:

Luxury (US $120 and up):

If Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel is fully booked for your dates, no worries, I can recommend 2 other amazing luxury hotels in Colombo. Marino Beach Colombo is your go-to option if you want to relax in the gorgeous rooftop pool! Needless to say, all rooms at this hotel are super beautiful and the service is impeccable! Shangri-La Hotel Colombo is another cool 5-star hotel with 4 restaurants, a pool bar and even a co-working space!

Middle-priced (from US $50 to $120):

Fair View Hotel Colombo is a great 3-star hotel that boasts an on-site restaurant, free Wi-Fi, clean and stylish rooms and great service provided by the staff! Renuka City Hotel is a 4-star option that also has some rooms at a great price! You will definitely enjoy the 3 restaurants and bars that you can choose from, the very good room service and friendly staff!

Budget (up to US $50):

City Hotel Colombo 02 is a super budget option if you are looking for something that offers great value for your money! The hotel has free Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, a nice terrace and a super friendly staff! Another economy option would be Groove House Hostels – they have free bikes you can borrow to explore the city, a 24-hour front desk clerk, currency exchange and more!

Day 3: Road from Colombo to Trincomalee

DISTANCE: 280 km / 173 miles; around 6 hours

OVERVIEW: The third day of this itinerary will be spent mostly in the car, traveling from the capital to Trincomalee, on the east coast. But no worries, the ride will be far from boring! If you decide to visit Sri Lanka with a private driver, you’ll have plenty of stops on the road to try fresh fruit, see some temples and gold statues and more!

As I mentioned before, my trip around Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been the same without our amazing guide and driver. This day of driving might sound boring at first, but our driver made sure to stop along the way whenever and wherever we wanted to take a cool pic or to try some fresh fruit!

For example, we stopped at Udagammana Pineapple Village where I saw pineapple plants for the first time. We also got to try fresh pineapple right from the garden and I found out that Sri Lankan people eat them with chili and salt (they’re quite good!). We also tried freshly picked papaya, super sweet and delicious!

Our next stop was at Ridee Viharaya (or the Silver Temple), 120 km away from Colombo. It is a really beautiful Buddhist temple carved in a rock, dating from the 2nd century (I just couldn’t believe it’s 19 centuries old)! Our visit there was really nice; we were shown around by the main monk and we saw some beautiful, 1,000-year-old rock carvings and a 2,300-year-old gold statue. The monk was very hospitable as he explained to us the history of the temple to us and we were even served some traditional, all-natural Sri Lankan sweets. My experience there was even more special because, during our visit, there were no other tourists there, so I truly felt like we had this sacred place all to ourselves!

PRO TIP: This is literally the perfect place to go if you want a special “escape” from the city. In addition to the fact that the temple can be visited for free by tourists (inside and outside), you can also stay there overnight for free. They have a special “pilgrim rest” equipped with modern facilities near the Silver Temple. You just need to contact them to see if it’s available during your travel dates! So cool!

We also stopped a few times to try fresh king coconut – honestly, you just have to! There are people selling it on the sides of the road and they also cut them for you. First, you drink the coconut water (delicious!), then they break the coconut down into 2 halves and you can scoop the jelly-like interior and try it as well. We also tried thal/taal, a fruit similar to the coconut, but with a jelly consistency.

It’s the little things like these that made my Sri Lankan trip really authentic and unforgettable! 🙂

In the evening when we reached the city of Trincomalee, we checked in at the hotel (where we spent the next night as well), we enjoyed dinner and then we relaxed a bit on the beach.

Where to stay in Trincomalee

MY EXPERIENCE:

I stayed at Pigeon Island Beach Resort, a very nice hotel located right on Nilaveni Beach. Once again, I had a very nice, spacious room all to myself, with ocean-inspired décor. The name of the hotel comes from its proximity to Pigeon Island where you can take a boat tour to. Once on the island, you can snorkel or scuba dive. More information about this on Day 4 below.

The resort has direct access to the beach, which is a great advantage – there are lounge chairs that you can use for free. I really enjoyed spending my evening on the beach, watching the sunset! They also have a very cool pool and a cozy outside area where you can relax.

Their restaurant serves yummy food, although the variety is not as wide as with other hotels I stayed at in Sri Lanka. But I really enjoyed the barbecue area where chefs prepared fresh BBQ with all kinds of meat and seafood every night!

As a downside, there is one thing I didn’t enjoy at all, though: there was no Wi-Fi in my room. The hotel only has Wi-Fi in the lobby and restaurant area, which is kind of far away from most of the rooms. But this wasn’t a big problem because I had my SIM card with plenty of Internet. Plus, the bathroom was not as clean as I expected.

Do I recommend this hotel? If the part about the lack of Wi-Fi doesn’t bother you, then yes, overall, I really think this is a nice hotel!

Here are some other great accommodation options in Trincomalee, in case you choose not to stay at Pigeon Island Beach Resort:

Luxury (US $100 and up):

Trinco Blu by Cinnamon is a perfect choice if you want to splurge during your stay in Trincomalee! This 4-star hotel has some quite affordable rates and it offers amazing service, 3 restaurants and a pool. Did I mention it’s located on the beach as well? Nilaveli Beachfront Penthouse is a stunning luxury option! It’s an apartment that can host up to 6 people and it awaits you with an outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi, restaurant and even a fitness center!

Middle-priced (from US $50 to $100):

Trinco Relax Hut is a super nice guest house in Trincomalee that provides great service and quality. They have an on-site restaurant and even a shared kitchen as an alternative if you want to cook your own meals. Pearl Oceanic Resort is a gorgeous option with an outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi and even a restaurant that serves a delicious breakfast each morning.

Budget (up to US $50):

If you are looking for one of the cheapest accommodation options in Trincomalee, The Eastern Guest House is the way to go! The rooms are quite simple, painted with colorful details and they’re very clean. The 24-hour front desk is also a big advantage, as well as the bar and currency exchange office! Blue Wings Beach Hotel is another great option and one of its biggest advantages is that it has a private beach area and free Wi-Fi as well!

Day 4: Explore Trincomalee and its surroundings

OVERVIEW: Today is all about exploring Trincomalee and the area around the city. During this day we visited Koneswaram Temple and Kanniya Hot Wells, we experienced a local market and we ended our day with a boat tour.

Trincomalee is a charming city located on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. It is one of the most well-known destinations for relaxing and spending some quality time on the beach swimming, snorkeling and diving. But that’s not all! Trincomalee (or “Trinco”, as the locals call it) and its surroundings are full of amazing spots and experiences.

Below I will explain our itinerary for Day 4, step-by-step:

4.1. Koneswaram Temple

The first stop on our itinerary for today was Koneswaram Temple. It’s a Hindu temple located high up on a cliff; from there, you get a gorgeous view of the ocean and Trincomalee Bay. The temple itself is super colorful and it has a rich history – it was destroyed many times and then was rebuilt. One of the most beautiful things there is a huuuge statue of Shiva (the god of destruction).

PRO TIP: If you visit the temple from January to March or from September to November, you might even get lucky and see some blue whales from up there!

PRO TIP 2: The way up to the temple is full of small shops and vendors who sell many tiny goodies, from sweets to key rings, trinkets to toys, jewelry and more, so you can buy some cute souvenirs to bring back home. For example, I bought some sandalwood for my home; I just love its smell! Oh, and you’ll also see maaaany cute deer on the way up!

PRICE: There is no entrance fee, but you need to leave your shoes at the entrance, paying Rs. 20 per person (US $0.10) to store them.

4.2. Kanniya Hot Wells

Our second stop of the day was Kanniya Hot Wells – a tiny site with natural hot springs. There are seven hot wells there; the water has different temperatures, although it comes from the same source. The strange thing is that nobody knows exactly who built these hot springs or even how they were built, but there’s an interesting legend behind them: they say that King Ravana (the Great King of Lanka) created spring water when he hit the ground 7 times with his sword. Because of his hot temper, the water that came up from the ground was hot as well and that’s how he created the 7 hot wells! Interesting, right?

What can you do there? It’s simple: do what the locals do! You will see some metal buckets with holes in them. You just need to lower the bucket down the into well, fill it with water and then use it to water your feet with the hot water.

PRO TIP: You will have to take off your shoes before entering the area where the 7 wells are; make sure your shoes are easy to take off today.

PRICE: Entrance to the wells is Rs. 50 (US $0.30).

4.3. Local market in Trincomalee

Our next stop was the Public Shopping Complex of Trincomalee – a traditional market full of fresh, local fruits, veggies and spices. This is where locals come to buy their produce, so you’ll see the real deal!

I know I mentioned this before, but let me tell you again: exploring the local markets in Sri Lanka is an experience all by itself and it’s truly charming and authentic!

Even if you plan on buying something or nothing at all, I definitely recommend checking out one local market, regardless of if you choose to visit this one in Trinco or the ones in Colombo.

4.4. Take a boat tour to Pigeon Island

Unfortunately we didn’t do this activity during our trip. We did a bird watching boat tour in Kunchikumban Aru Lagoon instead, which I don’t really recommend because we were unlucky and we didn’t see many birds (we only saw some eagles and other not-that-exciting birds). Instead, I found this awesome alternative for you!

If you want to snorkel or dive while in Sri Lanka, this is a great option for you!

Pigeon Island is one of only 2 national marine parks in the entire country and it’s also one of the most famous snorkeling spots in Sri Lanka!

During my stay at Pigeon Island Beach Resort (the hotel where I stayed at in Trincomalee) I saw that they had an International Diving School as well, and its office is right on the beach. They are the ones who can organize boat tours to Pigeon Island, so I decided to go there and ask a couple of questions and find out some prices about this type of activity.

Here is everything you need to know about it:

  • The boat tours start at 8:30 AM, but you can go to their office and they’ll take you anytime you want to go
  •  The boats fit a maximum of 7 people
  • It takes 10 minutes to arrive from the resort to Pigeon Island
  • You can stay on the island around 2-3 hours during a tour
  • They have 2 different spots for snorkeling on the island
  • You can see many types of fish there, from blacktip reef sharks to more than 50 types of turtles
  • If you just want to walk around the island, you can cover the entire area in one hour
  • You can also dive there if you don’t have a certificate; they’ll take you to 12m maximum

PRICE: There is an entrance fee to Pigeon Island, you can check the prices per group of people here:

These are only the prices for the entrance fee to get on the island. If you decide to take a boat tour with equipment included, you have to pay Rs. 11,500 for 2 people (US $64) or Rs. 20,500 (US $113) for 5 people. If you also want to have a guide that will stay with you and show you around, you have to pay 3,000 rupees / US $17 (per group).

If you want to dive instead of snorkel, the price will be US $45 for one dive and US $75 for 2 dives (with a certificate), or US $90 for one dive without a certificate.

PRO TIP: These are the prices they told me on the spot, but don’t be afraid to negotiate, especially if you’re a bigger group! For example, they told me that diving without a certificate is US $90, but it’s negotiable to US $80.

PRO TIP 2: The best time to take this boat tour is from April to November, during the morning because it’s not that windy.

If you still have some time left, I recommend you spend it laying on the beach with a cocktail in your hand. That’s what we did and the sunset was simply gorgeous!

You will stay in the same hotel overnight.

Day 5: Take a village safari and see elephants in the wild at Minneriya National Park

DISTANCE: Trincomalee to Habarana = 85km / 52 miles; 1h 30min

OVERVIEW: On this day we headed from Trincomalee to Habarana. When we arrived, we took a village safari, enjoyed a 100% traditional lunch, and then did the much-anticipated elephant safari in Minneriya National Park.

Spoiler alert: This was definitely my favorite day of the entire itinerary!

Today is all about experiencing wildlife and seeing the way people live in Sri Lankan villages. Here’s what we did during this day, step-by-step:

5.1. Village safari

If you want to learn how Sri Lankan people live in the countryside and how food is cooked using the most basic utensils, then I definitely recommend you include a village safari in your itinerary.

NOTE: At the beginning of our tour, we had 2 options of getting to the village: one was by taking a bullock cart and the other one was by continuing with our tour van. Unfortunately, I chose the bullock cart option because I wanted to experience the authentic means of transport in Sri Lanka and I instantly regretted it.

Although they mention that the bulls are not hurt and they’re respected because they help villagers move around, I still felt very bad while I was in that cart because I could see that carrying our weight was a struggle for the animals. I’m trying to see the bright side of things, though – now I can recommend you do not take the bullock carts! 🙂 Even though it’s an authentic experience (the people in the countryside still use them), they’re reaaaally slow and the road is super bumpy.

Once we arrived in the village, we were told about the agriculture here, how they grow millet and veggies, about the treetop houses used to guard the crops and more. We also took a short boat tour where they showed us around.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a super traditional lunch made by a nice, local lady – this was honestly one of the highlights of my trip! We saw how she cooked the dishes using the most simple utensils such as rocks and how she scraped the coconuts using a hook (we were able to try the techniques ourselves as well!). We ate some delicious dishes with our hands (the Sri Lankan way!) such as curries (of course!), sambol, dhal, rice and more. It was extremely delicious!

PRICE: The village tour costs Rs. 2,500 (US $14); if you want the lunch experience as well, it’s Rs. 1,000 more (US $5.50).

5.2. Elephant safari at Minneriya National Park

This was the most anticipated activity in my itinerary for Sri Lanka – and with good reason! Seeing elephants in the wild is a unique experience and it filled my heart with happiness!

Minneriya National Park is one of the best places to see elephants in the wild in Sri Lanka.

I was afraid we wouldn’t see any elephants during our safari (I’m a bit pessimistic, I know!), but that wasn’t the case at all.

We saw A LOT of elephants and baby elephants as well! 

Some of them were eating, while others were crossing the road or just chilling in the fields. It was unforgettable!

Other than elephants, we also saw some peacocks, wild buffalos, and Sri Lankan macaques.

The elephant safari is done with a jeep and a guide that will tell you about the national park, and the animals that live there and they’ll spot tiny birds or animals for you along the way. The safari takes around 2 hours in total, but it can also be longer, depending on your guide.

By the way, admiring elephants in their natural habitat is, if you ask me, the only right way to see these majestic creatures! In other words, I don’t recommend riding elephants in Sri Lanka or any other activity that involves chained elephants or other animals.

NOTE: For those wondering if it’s safe to take a safari in the wild in an open-top jeep – the answer is yes! And by the way, our safari wasn’t nearly as exciting as Yulia’s safari in Tanzania!

PRICE: An elephant safari costs around US $40 per person, depending on how many people there are in your group. This price includes the entrance to Minneriya National Park (US $15 per person) and the jeep tour. Depending on the company you are using, you can also get a combo village safari + elephant safari; or your tour guide can organize everything for you.

PRO TIP: The best time for an elephant safari is from July to September. Also, it’s best to go early in the morning (6 AM to 10 AM) or in the afternoon (starting at 2 PM). Our elephant safari started at around 4 PM and we still saw maaany elephants.

Where to stay in Habarana

For this day and for the following day as well, you’ll want to spend the night in Habarana, as it’s perfectly located close to Minneriya National Park (10 km away) and to Sigiriya as well (17 km away).

We spent both nights at Sorowwa Resort and Spa, a gorgeous 4-star hotel with amazing rooms (honestly now, Sri Lanka definitely has the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in!).

I really liked my room which was, again, huge! It had big windows and a spacious terrace overlooking the lake – perfect to enjoy your morning coffee. Breakfast and dinner were delicious as well and the outdoor pool is the best treatment after such a full day! Did I have anything to complain about? Nope!

Here are some other great hotels in Habarana, all sorted by budget:

Luxury (US $100 and up):

Cinnamon Lodge Habarana is a stunning 5-star accommodation located in the middle of a lush green forest. They have a butterfly garden (yes, really!), an outdoor pool, 3 restaurants and other great facilities! Another equally gorgeous option is Sungreen Resort & Spa – an on-site spa, an outdoor pool, an on-site bar and more await you!

Middle-priced (from US $40 to $100):

Did you ever dream of having your own treetop house? If the answer is yes, you can do it in Habarana if you book one of these 2 accommodations: Mutu Village or Elephant Watch Hut. Both of them are gorgeous, with affordable prices and quality service.

Budget (up to US $40):

Green Garden Resort is a great 3-star resort that has incredibly affordable prices! The rooms, with a rustic decor, are cozy and clean and the accommodation also has a garden and a terrace! My second recommendation is Levona Garden Resort, a resort that offers great value for the money with air-conditioned rooms, a 24-hour front desk clerk and more!

Day 6: Climb Sigiriya

OVERVIEW: On this day we visited the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa (the Second Kingdom of Sri Lanka) and then we did one of the most famous hikes in the country: we climbed Sigiriya Rock!

NOTE: I’ll tell you right from the start – during my trip, I felt this day was a bit overcrowded and overwhelming as well, especially because it was extreeeemely hot during that day. I think seeing Polonnaruwa in the morning and then climbing Sigiriya in the evening is doable, but only if you make sure to manage your time well. I’ll also give you an alternative for this day’s itinerary below.

Without further ado, here’s what we did on this day:

6.1. Visit the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa was the second Kingdom of Sri Lanka and the capital city in the 10th century. It played an important role in the country’s history and the ancient city is now a World Heritage Site.

Before exploring the site I recommend checking out the museum as well, where you can learn about the history of Polonnaruwa. Our guide explained a lot of interesting information to us and we saw some artifacts as well; this helped us to better understand the ruins we saw afterwards.

Gal Viharaya is the last site you will see on your way around Polonnaruwa and, in my opinion, it’s also the most beautiful one! It has some gorgeous statues carved in granite that depict Buddha in different postures.

I’m not going to lie to you: Polonnaruwa is kind of big! The best way to visit this ancient site (and what we did as well) is to rent a bike. It’s 400 rupees for 4 hours (if you use it for more than 4 hours it’s no problem, but make sure to give an extra 100 rupees to the bike shop owner). Alternatively, it’s 800 rupees for the full day of using the bike. The bikes are kind of basic and a bit old, but they work for this easy ride. After you’re finished with it, you can take the bike to the main gate and the owner will come pick it up.

PRO TIP: You’ll have to take off your shoes when entering each of the sites in Polonnaruwa, so make sure you wear comfy, easy-to-take-off shoes.

PRICE: Entrance to the archaeological site is Rs. 4.425 (US $25) for tourists. If you want a guide as well, it’s Rs. 2,000 more (US $11).

NOTE: It will take you around 45 minutes to get from Polonnaruwa to Sigiriya (the next stop for this day).

6.2. Climb on top of the fortress of  Sigiriya Rock 

Sigiriya is a world-renowned UNESCO Heritage Site and the 8th Wonder of the World! No wonder climbing it is one of the most famous things to do in Sri Lanka!

What makes Sigiriya so special? – you might ask. Well, other than the fact that it’s simply impressive (and it looks quite impossible to access), this rock was first a Buddhist monastery, then a Royal Palace and then a Buddhist monastery again.

Sigiriya actually means “lion rock” and it was designed to look like a huge lion; its entrance looks like two giant lion paws. Once you reach the top, you’ll see the ruins of what once was the Royal Palace, plus a gorgeous view of the surrounding nature.

The climb is mostly made up of stairs, both stone and iron. It will take you around 1 hour to go up and 30 minutes to go down. If you want to find out more about climbing Sigiriya, I recommend checking out this article that explains everything you need to know!

I’ll be honest with you: climbing to the top is not a piece of cake (as I thought before departing to Sri Lanka, after watching a couple of videos on Youtube), but it’s definitely do-able, unless you’re afraid of heights, in which case it only depends on you and how brave you are. I recommend going there nonetheless, even if you don’t go all the way up!

One thing is certain: the feeling you get once you’re there is simply priceless – and the views as well! I was snapping pictures like crazy!

PRICE: Entrance to Sigiriya is Rs. 5,500 (US $30.50) per person for tourists

PRO TIP: Make sure to go there before 5PM since that’s the time when the ticket counter closes. The site closes at 7PM.

ALTERNATIVELY: As I mentioned above, you can either choose to do the same thing as us, visiting Polonnaruwa in the morning and Sigiriya in the evening or (and probably even better if you’re not excited about ruins), you can climb on Pidurangala Rock in the morning to see the sunrise and then go up on Sigiriya for the sunset.

Pidurangala rock seen from the top of Sigiriya

Pidurangala is a rock located right next to Sigiriya and if you climb it, you’ll have a great view OF Sigiriya. I didn’t do it, unfortunately, but some of the people in my group did and they told me it’s really beautiful! The climb is actually easy and it can take you from half an hour to one hour to go up.

If you do this, you can take it easy and add one more day to this itinerary. On your second day you can go to Polonnaruwa and then relax in the pool at Hotel Sigiriya with a few cocktails – it has one of the best views of Sigiriya rock, honestly!

Where to stay in Sigiriya

After climbing on top of Sigiriya, we went back to our hotel in Habarana where we had stayed the previous night as well. Alternatively, you can choose to stay in a hotel in Sigiriya for a change of pace (same if you decide to extend your itinerary, as I advised above).

Here are my recommendations:

View of Sigiriya rock from Hotel Sigiriya

Luxury (US $100 and up):

As mentioned before, if you want to lay in the pool and have the BEST view of Sigiriya at the same time, then Hotel Sigiriya is your perfect choice! I spent some hours there and enjoyed some lunch before our climb and the service and hospitality were flawless! Alternatively, you can book a room at Aliya Resort and Spa – they also have views over Sigiriya rock, a super nice pool, 4 restaurants, free Wi-Fi and more!

Middle-priced (from US $50 to $100):

The Nature Park Villa is a gorgeous 3-star accommodation that awaits, with an on-site restaurant, a swimming pool and a super nice garden where you can relax and unwind after your climb on the rock! Sigiriya Nieel Home Stay is another good option as well – it has great reviews, free Wi-Fi, an on-site restaurant, a 24-hour front desk clerk and more!

Budget (up to US $50):

Even though Sigiriya is such a popular destination, there are some affordable accommodation options there! For example, Sigiriya River Side Villa is a very cozy hotel that has a garden, a terrace, free Wi-Fi, private bathrooms and more! Alternatively, Sigiri Saman Home Stay is a clean and cozy place with a shared lounge, air-conditioned rooms, a nice dining area and great service!


Yay! This was the first part of my itinerary in Sri Lanka! If you want to continue reading, you can find part two here, where I tell you everything about days 7 to 10. During those days we explored Kandy, we took a scenic ride on the famous Sri Lankan blue train, we visited a tea factory in Nuwara Eliya and then we spent the last day in Negombo.

Disclaimer: I was invited to take this Sri Lankan itinerary by SO Sri Lanka, the country’s Tourism Board. I sincerely enjoyed every second I spent in this country and all opinions presented here in this article are, as always, my own. 🙂


Conclusion

I hope you have already understood by now that Sri Lanka is an amazing destination that you must visit at least once in your lifetime! My itinerary will help you explore some of the best sights in this gorgeous country.

In this article I have told you everything about the first 6 days of my Sri Lankan adventure, but there’s more! You can read Part Two here, where I tell you about the next 4 days full of adventure when we took a scenic ride with the blue train and visited a tea plantation as well! In that article I also give you much useful information about traveling to this country such as info about the visa required, when to visit, how long to stay, and more!

If you want to know even more, make sure to check all our articles on Sri Lanka!

I wish you a great time in Sri Lanka! If you have any questions or concerns, let me know in the comments below, I’m happy to answer!

Romina

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