If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka soon then you are definitely in the right place. In this blog post, I will give you a detailed version of my 7 days Sri Lanka itinerary, including my route and all the things we did there.
Getting a visa for Sri Lanka is very easy. Travelers from almost any country in the world can now apply online without having to visit an embassy or consulate and will receive an ETA.
The ETA is an official authorization for short-term visits to Sri Lanka and is issued electronically. Applicants will receive their visas via email after completing the application form with the necessary information, and once the online payment (20 USD for each tourist ETA) is completed. Simple, right?
If you still find the online process complicated, you can try the iVisa website who can assist you in every step of getting the ETA in time.
Traveling in Sri Lanka is easy irrespective of traveling in overcrowded public buses or jam-packed trains, you are guaranteed to get some amazing views. Another alternative to this is to hire your private cab or van (if traveling in large groups).
Since, I was traveling with my husband, mom, dad, and younger brother, we opted for a van from a tour agent. The rest of the trip was planned by us. Sri Lankan people widely speak English so you won’t face any problem in navigating the roads.
We started our journey from the Cultural Triangle in the middle of the country and made our way to the south. I loved our route and would strongly encourage others to take a similar journey if you want to cover a lot of places in Sri Lanka within a week. But if you have more time on your hands, then you can start your journey from Jaffna in the north and make your way to the south coast.
Day 1. Polonnaruwa
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa in the east was the starting point of our trip. As soon as we purchased our local sim card and withdrew Sri Lankan currency from an ATM in Bandaranaike International Airport, we embarked on our road journey to Polonnaruwa.
On the way, we saw a wild elephant bathing in a small lake unaware of us. He was so adorable that I couldn’t stop my self from taking a picture of him. But he paid no heed to us.
Next, on the way, we stopped at a tall standing Buddha statue in Giritale, a small city in the district of Polonnaruwa. This Buddha statue is a spectacular replica of Avukana Buddha.
On the road, we noticed many small Buddha statues and stupas in yards of the residents of Giritale. You might want to hold your urge to stop your vehicle and take photos at each of these stupas.
Note: While taking photos in front of any Buddha statue, you should not show your back to him as its a sign of disrespect.
It took us almost 5 hours to reach Polonnaruwa’s main ruin site with us stopping at every beautiful location to take pictures. Upon reaching the main ruin site, we took tickets for Museum, Gal Vihara and the Archaeological site.
The glory of Anuradhapura was destroyed by the South Indian invaders compelling the Sinhala monarchs to shift the capital to a different location Pulantthinagara – modern Polonnaruwa. Buddhism and Hinduism have a heavy influence on the architectural features, sculptures, paintings and writings on stone caves of Polonnaruwa.
The beautiful Dagaba Kiri Vihara meaning “Milk-White” was built by King Mahasena in honor of his wife. It is one of the well-preserved untouched Dagaba’s in Polonnaruwa.
Note: If you are from any of the eight SAARC countries, then you can purchase the activity tickets in Sri Lanka at a discounted rate. Make sure to check at the ticket counter before purchasing as it doesn’t apply everywhere. All you need to show is your passport.
The Buddha statue at Lankatilaka Vihara, is massive and impressive. Although the roof of the temple is gone, the 17 m high walls give a majestic feel and the aisle leads to a tall standing headless Buddha statue.
Gal Vihara is an ancient Sinhalese rock temple of Buddha situated in Polonnaruwa with 4 Buddha statues in perfect conditions cut out from a single granite slab: two seated, one standing and one reclining.
We enjoyed our day among the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa. There were cycling bikes available for people to roam inside the ruins site. We ended Day 1 of our journey with a lovely meal at the Sunset Tourist homestay.
Day 2. Sigiriya & Dambulla
On day 2, we started early from our homestay and visited the famous Sigiriya’s Lion rock. It is one of Sri Lanka’s ancient political capitals and most sensational archaeological heritage site that has also been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
There is sufficient archaeological evidence to prove that the history of Sigiriya or Sinhagiri dates back to pre-historic times. Here you will purchase tickets for entering the Lion rock, the rock fortress, the Mirror Wall and Museum. As this is a hot spot for a one-day trip for locals, the entire place was crowded with locals as well as tourists. Even with a separate path for tourists, reaching the top of the rock would take approximately 5 hours. unlike any other days.
If you want to climb Sigiriya’s Lion’s Rock in the peak holiday season, you should start really early. Because as the sun goes up, it becomes hot and humid while climbing. And then there is the never-ending queue of people which you can make out from the above picture.
As my elderly parents cannot make the climb, instead we enjoyed inside the museum, reading about the frescos at the top of the Sigiriya rock.
Another good spot to avoid the crowd and view the Sigiriya rock from afar is the Pindurangala. A trail leads to the Pindurangala vihara and greets you with an amazing panoramic view of the surroundings
Soon after that, we headed for Dambulla before retiring for the day at Kandy.
Dambulla is the largest and well-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, which is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Even though there are more than 80 caves documented in the surrounding areas, the major attractions containing paintings and statues of Gautam Buddha and his life, are spread in five caves. There are two ways to reach this cave complex.
Either you can purchase a ticket and climb approximately 200 steep stairs to reach or you can go around the complex to Golden temple and walk on a sloppy road up. We took the stairs to reach up and the non-exerciser in me almost fainted at top. But after visiting the caves, we came down the plain cemented sloppy road and reached Golden temple.
Note: There is a dressing norm for people entering the temples in Sri Lanka. You need to cover your bare shoulders and legs and remove hats while entering the temples.
The Golden Temple is at the bottom of the hill, close to the main road. The three-story Buddhist Museum sits below the Golden Buddha statue. The huge Buddha is in a “Dhamma Chakka” or “Wheel of Law” posture.
On the way to Kandy, we stopped at Sangraha Restaurant for lunch and spent some time in their Spice Garden.
Day 3. Kandy
That same evening, we reached Kandy after finishing the sightseeing on the streets of Dambulla. Upon reaching Kandy, we quickly purchased tickets for the Kandy cultural show at Kandy Lake Club, which starts from 5 PM to 6:10 PM. By night, we dinned with the locals at Kandy Garden Cafe.
The first half of day 3 was spent in the complex of the Temple of Tooth Relic, undoubtedly Kandy’s most visited attraction.
Since it was a holiday week for the locals, we saw a huge crowd of locals as well as tourists inside the temple complex. Entering the temple will instantly fill you with peace and tranquility. We just made in time to enter the inner chambers of worship where the tooth relic of Buddha is safely tucked away in caskets.
Note: It is not allowed to take pictures in the inner chambers of worship. Add its advised to cover your legs and shoulders before you enter the temple complex.
We spent a lot of time in temples in the adjacent complex of the Temple of Tooth Relic. There is Natha Devale (House of God), one of the four Hindu temples inside that complex, which is believed to have been built by the King for his Hindu wife.
Natha Devale is believed to have been in existence even before the Tooth Relic was brought to Kandy. In the days of the Kandyan kings, this shrine is said to have played an important role in the establishment of royalty. The king was given his royal name at this very shrine.
This concluded our eye-opening journey of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. After a hearty lunch at a local eatery, we started our journey towards Nuwara Eliya.
Day 4. Nuwara Eliya
On our way to Nuwara Eliya, we stopped at lush green tea gardens, Shri Bhakta Hanuman temple, beautiful Ramboda waterfalls and the Blue Field Tea factory.
The tea gardens were a refreshing change from the ruin sites and the temples. I spent some good amount of time in a roadside tea parlor, sipping some hot cup of Ceylon black tea and roamed in the Damro tea gardens.
The Shri Bhakta Hanuman temple is situated on a beautiful hilltop and offers a magnificent picturesque view of the valley in front and the Kotmale reservoir. This temple is dedicated to the Hindu monkey-god Hanuman who came to Lanka as a messenger of Sri Rama when his wife Sita was abducted by Ravana. It is popularly believed, that the reservoir was formed by the teardrops of goddess Sita when she was abducted.
Note: One rule the temple people want the women entering the temple to follow is to tie their hairs.
Rivers often split into tributaries or form waterfalls as they flow over uneven grounds. Sometimes two tributaries of the same river may form twin waterfalls very close to each other. However, it is quite uncommon for the tributaries to combine after forming the waterfalls making a Y shape.
This unique and beautiful sight can be seen at the Pussellawa area of Nuwara Eliya, at the Ramboda Pass. The Ramboda Falls makes a twin with Dunsinane Falls which is created by Pundalu Oya, also a tributary of Kothmale River, and combines at the base to form a Y shape.
After finishing our free private factory tour in Blue Field Tea factory, we tasted refreshing hot cups of Ceylon tea in their cafe. Our local guide said that this is a good place to purchase Ceylon tea as souvenirs for your family and friends back home as they provide a huge variety of quality Ceylon tea and the prices are quite reasonable.
We spent the rest of the evening in the quaint town of Nuwara Eliya. With the temperature gradually dropping to 15 degrees at night, we lit a fire at the fireplace of our beautiful vintage cottage called Ebenezer cottage. Inside the cottage, you will get an old British-era feeling with the fireplace surrounded by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s younger selves in photos, a gramophone, and many more such little vintage details.
Day 5. Ella & Tissamaharama
In the evening, we reached the peaceful town of Tissamaharama via Ella, so that we can do the Yala National Park safari the next day early morning.
Our first stop of day 5 was the Sita Amman temple. This temple is approximately 1 km away from the Hakgala Botanical gardens. This place is believed to be where Sita was held captive by Ravana and she prayed every day to Sri Ram to rescue her.
We didn’t take up the iconic train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, instead, we drove all the way to Ella looking at scenic tea plantations. After making some inquiries, we parked in front of the trail to Nine Arch Bridge.
It was a hike of approximately 1.7 km from the main road where we parked our vehicle. There are no particular signs pointing to the bridge but in daylight, finding the correct trail won’t be a problem. There is another route taken by tuk-tuks if you want to have a comfortable ride till the bridge but you have to bargain with the tuk-tuk drivers a lot.
After taking some pictures and drinking fresh king coconut water, we walked back to our vehicle. You need to keep your body hydrated in the humid sun of Sri Lanka.
Our next stop was Ravana waterfalls. Ravana waterfalls are Sri Lanka’s one of the popular sightseeing attractions.
Its popularly believed that Ravana hid Sita in any one of the caves behind these waterfalls after abducting her.
The highlight of my stay in Tissamaharama was the Tissawewa lake. Don’t confuse this artificial reservoir with the one with the same name in Anuradhapura. The artificial reservoir is believed to be constructed in the 3rd Century BC either by Mahanaga of Ruhuna or his successor Yatala Tissa of Ruhuna.
We went out on an evening boat trip and it was worthwhile. The lake was so tranquil, covered in lotus leaves and flowers and loads of migratory birds. We saw lots of huge pelicans and pink storks roosting in the rain trees and a huge colony of fruit bats in slumber as our boat made a turn around the corner. We saw some locals taking a bath in the lake even after the rumors of crocodiles seen in the lake. There is also a nice road built surrounding the lake for walkers and bikers.
A day trip from Tissamaharama to Kirinda is a must!
Day 6. Mirissa
Yala National Park was our first stop on the early morning of day 6. Its only approximately 22.6 km from our Airbnb in Tissamaharama. The Safari we booked via our tour agent, came to pick us up from the homestay and took us inside the National park.
Even though we started early, we didn’t get to see any Leopards that day. Instead, we saw elephants, wild boars, deer, wild buffaloes, storks, pelicans, peacocks and peahens in the National park. Even if you have not booked the Safari beforehand, you can contact your hotel owners/Airbnb hosts to give you the contact with the local Safari guys. You can save on the tickets if you yourself do the bookings.
After finishing our Yala National Park Safari, we started our journey towards Mirissa. Mirissa is approximately 139 km away from Yala National Park and this distance can be covered in 3 hours.
On our way to Mirissa, we stopped to soak our feet in the beautiful beach of Tangalle. This beach has less footfall compared to its sisters Hiriketiya and Welingama beach and you can see the tsunami memorial from the beach.
On the other hand, Hiriketiya was full of people, swimming, learning to surf, snorkeling and enjoying the sun.
We spent our evening at Hiriketiya beach and head to our homestay for the night. The next morning, we woke up early for our Dolphin and Whale watching ride. Unfortunately, we didn’t get seats in the upper deck as it was on the first-come-first-service basis and the sea was also rough that day.
Our boat took us quite inside the ocean to catch a glimpse of a whale. Apparently, a Killer whale was scaring the other bigger whales and that’s why they were not coming near the shore. But luckily we saw a few dolphins swimming with us.
The rest of day 6 was spent swimming in the clear waters of Mirissa beach. In the evening, we went to visit the old Galle Fort which is just an hour away from Mirissa. On the way, we stopped at the Welingama beach and marveled at the Taprobane island originally called Galduwa, which has one villa and is accessible on foot during low tide. People can enter this property to visit this old house on the small island.
Stilt fishing is gradually becoming a dying tradition. Occasionally you can see stilt fishermen in Ahangama beach which was once widely known for stilt fishing. The practice started during World War II when food was a shortage in villages and fishing spots at the shore were becoming overcrowded.
Day 7. Colombo
We spent day 7 of our trip in the capital city of Sri Lanka. We took the highway from Mirissa and reached Colombo in approximately 3 hours. We spent some time in Lakshala, a state-owned souvenir and gifts boutique for buying mementos for home.
The rest of the day, we roamed around the streets of Colombo. You can take the Colombo-bus tour which will take you for a 2 hours ride and show you the prominent buildings in Colombo.
In the evening, we got all ready to enjoy our last meal of 2018 at Black Pepper restaurant in Old Dutch Hospital road. The streets of Colombo were decorated for welcoming the new year, people were partying on the beaches and the night was glowing with fireworks.
Our time in Sri Lanka was relatively short, considering everything we managed to fit in, but I am glad that we took this trip. The days flew by in a whirlwind of daily adventures and incredible food.
This little pearl of the Indian Ocean has so much to offer with spectacular wildlife, tropical beaches, and ancient ruins and bucket loads of natural Vitamin D. I left the country feeling charmed by its diverse and rich history and warmhearted people that I wish to go back there soon!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning that I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase with no additional cost to you.
So, have you booked your flight to Sri Lanka yet? If you like to read this later, pin my post by clicking the image below!