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Three Week Sri Lanka Itinerary

Sri Lanka will catch you off guard and sweep you off your feet with wonder. We didn’t imagine in our wildest dreams that we would fall for this country so much. This small, yet incredibly diverse island nation offers a fantastic range of experiences for all types of travelers, many of which you will be able to unveil along a 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary.

Feel the warm hospitality of Sri Lankans, who will welcome you with open arms and treat you like family. Don’t hold back on trying every new food you come across, from the fantastic Sri Lankan breakfasts to dinner tables full of a delightful mix of spices, herbs, and fresh ingredients.

In this detailed Sri Lanka route we will guide along the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, the rolling hills of Ella, wave at elephants that roam free from your tuk tuk in Yala, swim on the crystal-clear beaches of Mirissa, explore the cultural heritage of Sigiriya, and so much more. Ready to visit Sri Lanka in 3 weeks? Let’s go!

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Chapters

3 Week Sri Lanka Itinerary

This is the ideal Sri Lanka itinerary for first-time visitors, as we will break down your route on a day-by-day basis, having in mind the accessibility of each location picked, and providing a balanced mix of the wonders this country has to offer. We experienced the country driving our own sri lanka tuk tuk, which we highly recommend! Nevertheless, transportation options are plentiful, you can explore the island by bus, car, train, or private driver. If you have more time available then turn this 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary into a longer adventure without hesitation! We would have easily stayed two months!

Bandaranaike International Airport, is the main airport in Sri Lanka, and is commonly known as Colombo Airport. Funny enough, it is not actually in Colombo, but in Negombo, which is almost 1 hour away. Have that in mind when booking your first night in Sri Lanka!

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Day 1 - Negombo

Your Sri Lanka trip has finally started! Have a slow day upon arrival, you are probably tired from a long flight! Walk down the golden sand Negombo beaches, see the fishermen waiting patiently for the catch of the day, admire the locals showing their best skills in a friendly cricket match, and wrap up your day in a nice restaurant enjoying the sun coming down, while indulging with some fresh seafood.

Villa Dominikku best budget hotel in Negombo
Villa Hundira best hotel in Negombo
Bolagala Agro Floating Resort best resort in Negombo

Day 2 & 3 - Sigiriya & Dambulla

Sigiriya is an area with some beautiful accommodations, surrounded by unbelievable lush green, and perfect to relax. But the reason why you want to visit is to climb Sigiriya Rock. This 200 meters high UNESCO World Heritage site will take your breath away, not only from the physical effort, but for its unbelievable panoramic views, gardens and ancient ruins (don’t skip the frescoes of Sigiriya, they are one of a kind). To climb Sigiriya Rock, wake up early to avoid the crowds and heat.

must visit Sigiriya lion's rock and surroundings from above
woman in the ruins of UNESCO world heritage site of sigiriya

In the afternoon head towards Dambulla to visit the Cave Temple & Golden Temple, with their 150 Buddha statues and series of rock temples. Dambulla to Sigiriya is not even a half an hour's drive, so zero excuses not to visit.

man in must visit dambulla golden temple

The next morning, fresh as a cucumber, it is time to climb again, but this time to Pidurangala Rock. From here you will get the best views of Sigiriya, at a very affordable price and plenty of space where to relax while admiring the landscape. As an alternative, come here for sunset, which is just as stunning.

couple in Pidurangala a mandatory stop in a Sri Lanka itinerary

WARNING!
In this area we saw a lot of animal exploitation taking place, mainly regarding elephants. Please do not participate in activities such as riding elephants.

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Day 4 - Kandy

In this 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary there will be two bustling cities, that are borderline chaotic😅, welcome to the first of them: Kandy. In the heart of Sri Lanka, a city once known as “Palace on Five Hills”, will take you back in time with its beautiful colonial buildings, and colorful buses. In our opinion 1 day in Kandy is enough to get a feel for it. While you don’t want to lose the chance to visit the second-largest city of Sri Lanka, Kandy can be a bit intense.

monk walking in front of white colonial building in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka

Start your one day in Kandy exploring the 150 acres of the Royal Botanical Gardens, just a 30 minute drive away from the city center. You will be amazed with the amount of exotic plants, and trees from all over the world. In the afternoon head towards the city center, to explore the local market with all its stalls, flowers and colorful fruit, some of which you might have never seen before.

If you never tried wood apple juice before, keep it in mind for when you get to Yala where they taste the best!

squirrel in a nest in the famous Botanical garden of Kandy, Sri Lanka
woman visiting famous palm tree road in Kandy Botanical Gardens

Visit the Temple of the Tooth, which is a Buddhist temple that is said to house a sacred tooth relic of Buddha. Or take a stroll around the Kandy Lake while observing the monks on their way to the temple and the immense stalls selling bright lotus flowers.

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Day 5 & 6 - Nuwara Eliya

Get your long sleeve ready, Nuwara Eliya temperature is a bit on the chilly side. This is about to be the driving highlight of your 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary. On your way to the picturesque hill town of Nuwara Eliya, stop along the way to admire the scenic tea plantations, waterfalls and mountains. We stopped so often we took double the time the journey originally was!😅 Make sure to make a quick stop in one of the many villages you pass by to buy some snacks for the road, travelers are not frequent in this area, and people will make sure to make you feel welcome and stop you for a little chat.

woman in must visit waterfall of Sri Lanka itinerary

Do the route via Hatton, the journey will take a little bit longer but will be so more rewarding nature wise!

The first place to visit in Nuwara Eliya is one of the many tea plantations and factories nearby. You will be fascinated with how much work goes into every sip of tea. Of the many Nuwara Eliya tea plantations available, Blue Field is a nice and free option for a tour, but there are others closer to the center which you can visit for a symbolic fee. End the morning with a hot cup of tea mesmerized by the endless rolling green plantations.

person collecting tea leaves in must visit tea plantation near Ella in Sri Lanka

Now, if you want to see something cute, head to the Nuwara Eliya post office, from where you can send a postcard home.Have a nice walk around Lake Gregory, a popular spot for picnics and boat rides, or if the adventure is calling you, go for a hike to the Horton Plains National Park, and look for the World's End. Now, our favorite part: the waterfalls in Nuwara Eliya! It is hard to avoid them! But who would want that, right? Chase waterfalls such as Lover’s Leap, Saint Clair, Ramboda, and many more.

woman looking inside the most beautiful post office in Sri Lanka

If you are looking for a unique waterfall that is not on any tourists radar go to the Nanu Oya Waterfall at the time the train arrives/departs from the station, and you will have a beautiful waterfall to yourself, and to the passengers of the train that will wave from the railway that crosses it.

woman in hidden gem waterfall part of Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary
man carrying wood in the famous Kandy to Ella railway

Now it’s time to head to the station! Let’s catch the iconic train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella!😃

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The Loris Manor best budget hotel in Nuwara Eliya
Villa de Roshe best hotel in Nuwara Eliya
The Bellwood Manor best luxury hotel in Nuwara Eliya

Day 7 to 9 - Ella

If you are lucky your Nuwara Eliya to Ella train was not (too😅) late, and you still arrive at day time. Try to find a hilltop accommodation, if you enjoy waking up surrounded by the sounds of nature and have breakfast with a view. Take the rest of the day to explore the town, it is a completely different vibe from what you saw in Sri Lanka to this point. A fun, laid-back, quirky, international town, but most importantly surrounded by some of the most iconic Sri Lanka landmarks and incredible hikes.

Sri Lanka woman smiling in red train window
couple kissing outside of the famous Kandy to Ella blue train

Start grand with the Little Adam’s Peak hike in the morning, a fun and fairly easy hike with beautiful views. From here there is a path straight to the Nine Arch Bridge, a landmark you won’t want to miss. Sit down at Asanka Cafe, order a cup of tea and wait for the train to pass and just enjoy the views!

man in must visit Nine Arch Bridge in Ella, Sri Lanka

Ella has so much to offer that it will be easy to fill the rest of your days with waterfall visits, eating at funky restaurants, and if your hiking needs are still not satisfied, make sure to hike Ella Rock. This is less of a touristic spot than Little Adam’s Peak, but the hike can also be more challenging due to the lack of proper signage (or wrong signage, so you get lost and have to ask for help for a cost). So go with that in mind and ready for an adventure, or consider hiring a Ella Rock tour*. The panoramic views and peace you will find on top are worth it.

two Sri Lankan men walking on a railway among tea plantations
V@ella Guesthouse best budget hotel in Ella
Ella Retreat Cottage best hotel in Ella town
Hide Ella Hotel & Resort best luxury hotel in Ella

Day 10 & 11 - Tissamaharama & safari at Yala National Park

Drive down the road B35 that crosses right in the middle of two National Parks to get the chance to see elephants or other wild animals crossing the road.

WARNING!

These are wild animals, do not try to feed them, touch them or approach them under any circumstance! If an elephant is blocking the road, wait far away until a bus comes and works as a shield for you to drive by safely.

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Find accommodation near Yala National park or in the village of Tissamaharama. The latter is a more affordable option, and if you are lucky you can find accommodation with a lake view and see the water buffalos refresh after a long day in the sun. Before the sun comes down, get off the beaten path, and head towards the “Fruits Bats View Point” (you can find it exactly like this in Google Maps), to see them all flying away at the same time as soon as the night comes. It is impressive!

hundreds of fruit bats in must visit location near Yala National Park in Sri Lanka
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We stayed at Elegant Lake House*, with Randy and his beautiful family. He took us exploring the village, shared knowledge on Sri Lankan culture, and his wife cooked some of the best meals we had in the entire trip. This stay was one of the most beautiful experiences of our time in Sri Lanka.

This is the perfect stop to mark the half point of this three week Sri Lanka itinerary, with a safari at Yala National Park, home to a wide variety of wildlife, including elephants and leopards. It is a great opportunity to spot animals in their natural habitat, and it is an experience we will remember forever. There are several National Parks in the country, but Yala and Udawalawe are the most popular ones.

yellow green and red bird in Yala National Park
water buffalos in must do safari in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka
big elephant with a baby elephant roaming free in Yala National Park safari

For the safari the best option is to join a tour, either private or group. Here are a few great suggestions:

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Elegant Lake House best budget hotel in Yala
Rice Rice Villas best hotel in Yala
Wild Coast Tented Lodge best luxury hotel in Yala

Day 12 to 16 - Mirissa

Get those sunglasses ready, let that pinky toe say hello to the sun! It is time to explore the coastal town of Mirissa, a popular spot for beach lovers and surfers alike. Here you can have your first surfing lesson, practice your already acquired skills, or have some fun swimming among the waves. There is a laid back atmosphere, with plenty of nice beach bars and it is the perfect place to do a whale watching tour. Mirissa is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see blue whales, humpback whales and dolphins (the best season for whale watching in Mirissa is between November and March, during other parts of the year they migrate to other parts of the country). There are plenty of tour options, but make sure to do one that has a knowledgeable team and respects the animals' space.

couple in must visit Coconut Tree Hill in Mirissa
Mirissa's secret beach at sunset
Coconut Tree Hill in Mirissa is a must stop in Sri Lanka's itinerary
Mimoza Mirissa best budget hotel in Mirissa
D Canal House best hotel in Mirissa
Saltasia Boutique Beach Villa best luxury hotel in Mirissa

Day 17 - Galle Fort

Galle Fort is a charming colonial town with Portuguese, British and Dutch influence. Get lost in its narrow streets and colorful buildings and be transported to Europe for a brief moment. This UNESCO World Heritage site is full of fantastic places to eat, galleries and museums. But outdoors you will find its true magic. Stroll along the ramparts for stunning views of the Indian Ocean, go to the fish market and hear the never ending bargaining, and finish your day by the lighthouse seeing the sun go down. Galle Fort is a must-visit during your Sri Lanka itinerary.

view of Galle's lighthouse and city in Sri Lanka
Ivy Lane Galle Fort best budget hotel in Galle
The Dutch Bungalow best hotel in Galle
The Charleston best luxury hotel in Galle

Day 18 & 19 - Hikkaduwa

Last couple of beach days, don’t be sad, you still have Hikkaduwa to explore! Swim in its golden sand pristine beaches, side by side with turtles, coral reefs and an immense variety of fish. Enjoy some slow days, or if you prefer, go out at night as a farewell to the flip flop life in one of the many bars of Hikkaduwa.

man in famous palm tree swing spot in Sri Lanka beach
couple in a beach part of the 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary at sunset

WARNING!

In Hikkaduwa there are several turtle hatcheries. Please do not visit or support these businesses. The handling of baby turtles by non-professionals does more harm than good. Please don’t perpetuate the egg traffic and the implications this has on the turtles’ health🙏

L&D Lodge best budget hotel in Hikkaduwa
The Residence Hikkaduwa best hotel in Hikkaduwa
Haritha Villas & Villas best luxury hotel in hikkaduwa

Day 20 & 21 - Return to Negombo, via Colombo

Your 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary is about to finish, but before you return to Negombo to catch your flight back home, make sure to stop in Colombo, the country’s capital. It is a chaotic and vibrant blend of old and new, with a rich cultural heritage, bustling markets, and modern commodities. Colombo has something for everyone. Nevertheless, after a relaxed holiday around the country, one day in Colombo is enough to get a feel for what the city has to offer, without being overwhelming. Don’t forget to visit Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, it is one of a kind!

woman in red and white mosque in Colombo
City Stay by Sunrise best budget hotel in Colombo
Nyne Hotels Lake Lodge best hotel in Colombo
Shangri-la Colombo best luxury hotel in Colombo

For Sri Lanka itineraries of 2 weeks or more, we suggest you download a VPN prior to your trip. Sri Lanka still operates with older versions of some social media platforms such as instagram, so it is not uncommon that people lose access to many features while in Sri Lanka. These sometimes are disabled for months. To make sure you can use all your apps just like at home, keep your location pinned to another country outside of Sri Lanka.

How to Get Around Sri Lanka

When planning a trip to Sri Lanka one of the biggest concerns is transportation. The best way to get around Sri Lanka depends on your preferences, budget, and travel style. But no matter if you are looking for a luxury getaway, or backpacking Sri Lanka, you will find it easy to explore the country. From the international airport (which, remember, is in Negombo) you can easily start your Sri Lanka travel itinerary either by using public transportation, driving your rented tuk tuk, or being picked up by your private driver.

Rent a Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

Our absolute FAVORITE option!

Sri Lanka tuk tuks are three-wheeled motorized vehicles which are absolutely everywhere! They work as inexpensive taxis, you negotiate the fare with the driver, jump in, and off you go. But, what if we told you that you can rent a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka and drive it around the country? How cool is that? That was what we did, and we cannot suggest it enough. To be able to explore the country at your own pace and venture off the beaten path was incredible. It is still not an extremely popular way to explore the country, so locals get super excited when they see a foreigner driving one, and are nothing other than kind. Driving a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka was one of the best experiences not only of this trip, but of our entire lives.

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lions rock reflected in a tuk tuk mirror
couple in a rented tuk tuk in Sri Lanka
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Private driver

In Sri Lanka hiring a private driver is a popular choice if you want to have flexibility, without having to worry about driving. The prices have fluctuated a bit during the past couple of years, due to the big economic crisis the country faced, the price increase of fuel and its scarcity for locals. But you can count on approximate a daily cost of €50 - €70.

If you want to drive a rented car in Sri Lanka you need not only an international driver license, but also a temporary driving permit from the Department of Motor Traffic, or get your international driving license endorsed by the Automobile Association of Sri Lanka.

Bus

These huge road mavericks are the primary mode of public transportation in Sri Lanka. They are inexpensive, frequent, and cover most parts of the country. So where is the “but”? They can be pretty crowded (get ready for some long standing rides), and overall not the most comfortable transportation for long rides, as apart from maybe not having a seat, there is also no AC. Nevertheless, you can enjoy the company of many locals and have quite an authentic experience.

red bus in Sri Lanka the most affordable way to visit

Train

Ok, this one is a non negotiable, you NEED to ride at least one train during your Sri Lanka visit, the Kandy to Ella train! This country is a natural wonder, and wherever you look there is something that will sweep you off your feet. So, as a result, you can imagine why this Sri Lanka train ride became renowned worldwide. Staring at tea plantations and hills as far as your eyes can see, from a fully open window or door, is the experience of a lifetime. First and second class sell out sometimes months in advance, but there are always last minute tickets without a reserved seat. We suggest you buy second or third class tickets. Kandy to Ella train tickets can go from about €2.5 up to €20.

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nine arches bridge in Ella surrounded by nature

Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka

Always is the correct answer!😄 Well…kind of!

You are probably trying to figure out the ideal timeframe for your 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary, and while this is a year-round destination, it will all depend on what part of the country you plan to visit and what activities you might want to do. Keep in mind there are two monsoon seasons that affect different parts of the island at different times, but there is also always sun shining somewhere.

woman in frog rock in Sri Lanka beach at the best time to visit

So, of all Sri Lanka seasons you might want to check in the region you are visiting, when is the dry season:

  • West and South coasts (including Colombo, Galle and Hikkaduwa) - December to March

  • North and East coast (including Trincomalee and Arugam Bay) - May to September

  • Center, where all the hills are (including Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella) - January to March & June to August (during this period there is some rain, but it is not high season and there are longer daylight hours)

With this said it doesn’t mean you can’t visit Sri Lanka during the rest of the year. You will still have a great time, with fewer tourists, and fantastic deals. But you will need to be flexible, and mindful that there are certain activities you won’t be able to do. The rain can be intense at times, the coastal area can have quite intense waves, and the strong tides will make the beaches quite dirty, which is not ideal.

Sri Lanka Travel Budget

Traveling costs is not a size fits all, it depends on a variety of factors, such as type of accommodation, level of comfort and luxury, mode of transportation, activities and duration/speed of your trip. Nevertheless, generally speaking, Sri Lanka is quite an affordable place to travel in.

Some things to have in mind:

  • The center and north of the country are overall cheaper, the coastal area in the south has overall the higher prices in Sri Lanka.

  • Currency used is Sri Lankan Rupee. ATMs and money exchange available at the airport.

More important than telling you how much 1 euro in Sri Lankan rupees is, is to tell you this is a closed currency, which means it is not available to buy or sell outside of Sri Lanka. So bring some dollars/euros with you as a precaution in case your card gives you any trouble. But we strongly suggest you use a card such as Wise*, with which you won’t pay bank fees. Extra tip: withdraw from BOC (Bank of Ceylon), they are the one bank that will not charge you withdrawal fees.

Average Sri Lanka Travel Budget

Hostel/Homestay: €10 - €25 / per night

Hotel: €20 - €70 / per night

These accommodation values are referring to double rooms with private toilets.

Food: €3.5 - €17 / per person, per main course (higher end being western food)

Entrance Fees: from €3 to €60 (the more expensive activities are usually the safaris)

Transportation: €2 - €70 / per day

Simcard: €3.25 / 20GB for 30days

Visa: €49 / for 30 days

 

Again, please keep it mind that these are rough estimates and prices can vary depending on the season, location and availability. Apart from of course your travel style and preferences.

*Based on 2023 values - remember Sri Lanka was currently facing an economic crisis and the prices increased quite a bit.

two traditional Sri Lankan Stilt Fisherman
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Sri Lanka Visa

You will need to apply for a Sri Lanka entry visa for your adventure, but no drama, it is quite straightforward, and no super special requirements apart from having a passport valid for more than 6 months past your date of arrival, have 2 empty passport pages, and have some money in the bank to pay for it.

 

There are two methods to obtain your Sri Lanka entry visa, and we will tell you about them both, even when clearly one of them is better😅.

Online visa   (AKA the recommended option)

You can apply from the comfort of your home and receive your ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) via email. It is valid for 30 days and can be extended up to 180 days. The processing time for the online visa is usually 24 to 72 hours (our confirmation arrived like 5 minutes after the payment), but it is wise to apply a few days before to be safe.

 

The online visa system is available for visitors from over 180 countries, and you must apply before you arrive in the country. The cost of this visa is $50.

Sri Lanka Postcard memory of a 3 week itinerary

Visa on arrival

Nationals of certain countries are eligible for a visa on arrival, which means that if you are part of that selected group, you can obtain your visa when you land in Sri Lanka.

 

This type of visa is also valid for 30 days, but can only be extended for up to 90 days. It will cost you more $5 dollars than the online version, and you will have to queue up upon arrival to get it sorted.

Make sure to double check all these details before boarding your flight blindly. The rules surrounding the visa on arrival in Sri Lanka change quite frequently.

man with ETA visa in Sri Lanka

Planning Time

If you are ready to start planning your next trip, here you have all the usefull links you need to make it happen! By using them you are supporting our work as we might get a small fee from it. But hey! You pay the same (or might even get a discount), so is a win-win situation!

This applies to all the links in this website marked with a *

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