Sri Lanka, Asia
Sri Lanka 12 days road trip to explore culture, history and nature
24 Sep '23
Visit Sri Lanka and enjoy a week and a half in the beautiful nature and explore the rich history, unique culture, and the most delicious food. The plan covers the west, south, and center of the island and contains all the important places you can catch in a 12-day journey. The package includes a day-to-day journey plan with essential tips and tricks, advice on avoiding scams, guidance on best SIM cards, and clarifying health concerns, but also the best hotels and restaurants during your trip. Enjoy!
Day 1 - Arrival
Welcome to Sri Lanka! Take a rest after the long flight.
Arrive at the Colombo Airport
In fact, the airport is closer to Negombo, so you can choose to stay there, but there is not really much to see.
Buy a SIM card and withdraw some cash directly at the lobby.
If you have some time after your arrival, feel free to explore the Gangaramaya (Vihara) Buddhist Temple (400 LKR) - it is one of the most important temples in Colombo and you can also see the smallest Buddha statue on the island, encased in a glass box, whereby visitors can view it with a magnifying glass. Or you can take a walk along the Galle Face Green with nice views of the city. Another recently popular place to visit is the Lotus Tower which is the tallest tower in South Asia however it is a bit overpriced for the views and the tourist ticket is 20$.
If you're looking for a hotel, 55TG Boutique Suites is a nice, quiet place with delicious breakfast, however a bit far from the city center, check the price before booking, it is worth a maximum of 100$ for the King Room.
Visit Galle - Dutch colonial city and fortress
Drive to Galle
Hire a driver via Uber, that is the best way as you know the price before the trip. However, it might be tricky as due to the length of the trip you might wait a bit till someone accepts your request. Make sure you have enough time before the check-out. A low-cost alternative to hiring Uber is to take the train, however, you will spend at least twice as much time traveling.
Check-in at the Hotel Thaprobane Resort
Visit Galle - old colonial fortress
Take a walk through the old city and the fortress, explore cute streets with colonial buildings and shops with local products. The Galle Old Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the best-preserved colonial forts in Asia. It was inscribed as a UNESCO site in 1988. Inside the fort, you'll find the iconic Galle Lighthouse. It was originally built by the British in 1848 and is still in operation today, guiding ships into the Galle harbor.
Amazing dinner at the Arch restaurant
Relax in Unawatuna
Morning Yoga or Spa treatment
1 hour · 2.500LKR per person
If you signed up for a yoga class, most probably it is the first thing you will do in the morning. The hotel will instruct you where the yoga class is happening. Spa treatments may be planned during the whole day, plan your other activites to fit the spa schedule.
Take a walk to Unawatuna Beach, or just find a nice spot and relax while watching the colorful surroundings.
Dinner in Galle - The Bungalow Galle Fort restaurant
Cozy place with local food and hipster vibe. Watch the sunset in the fort near the lighthouse after the dinner.
Udawalawe National Park
Transfer to Jungle Edge Bungalow near Udawalawe
Safari in Udawalawe National Park
Spend 3-4 hours in Safari Park to see the population of 500 elephants and other species like peacocks, white monkeys, birds, crocodiles, does.
Don’t eat too much, the road is unpaved and you could feel sick after.
You can try a cooking session with locals to see how they prepare their all life long food - rice and curry made by hand grown rice and fresh ingredients. Interesting how coconut milks is made? Do not miss the opportunity.
Home Staying Experience
Explore the surroundings and cuisine of Ella
Rawana waterfall - enjoy the views on your journey to Ella
Visit the widest waterfall with 25m height which is massive, especially in the rainy season. Some people take a bath, but it’s forbidden. Be careful because stones are slippery and wet. It’s close to the road, so you won’t spend more than 15 minutes.
Ravana Mega Zip Line from Little Adam’s Peak
Enjoy the thrilling adventure with a scenic view on the longest zipline in Sri Lanka. The station is right on the way to Little Adam’s Peak. Don’t worry, you don’t need anything. You’ll get straps, helmets, and short instructions and you can keep your belongings in the locker. If interested, you can get a GoPro on a selfie stick to record your grimace. Costs 9600LKR with an additional 2000LKR for GoPro.
Walk on Little Adam’s peak
Lunch at Cafe Chill
One of the best restaurants in Ella can serve you Curry Rice wrapped in banana leaves along with many tasty Sri Lankan, but also European foods. Fun fact: the restaurant fed and sheltered tourists that stranded on an island because of COVID-19 for free.
Order rice & curry on a banana leaf.
Tea plantations and scenic rail adventure on the way to Nuwara Eliya
Nine Arch Bridge
We recommend you to get there in the morning, around 9 AM as later it gets more crowded. Get to the starting point (parking place) and take a tuk-tuk or as we recommend, a short walk to the railway bridge to explore architectural beauty and admire lush greenery. Trains pass the bridge about 6 times a day. Make sure to check out the current train schedule with locals to capture people hanging out of the train, but most taxi guides cover that for you. The scheduled times for the famous Sri Lankan train journey are very rough, and a lot of the time it can be late.
Take a train from Ella to Nuwara Eliya
Enjoy stunning views of nature, tea plantations, and old villages. You’ll go through the highest train station - Pattipola railway station in Sri Lanka at an elevation of 1,897.5 m. The tourist version - Ella Odyssey - runs on Saturdays only and also stops by the main tourist attractions to take a picture. The observation train we recommend runs every day at 11:11 a.m. Get off at Nanu Oya station and travel to Nuwara Eliya by taxi or with your driver. If you wish to travel by another day, check the timetable. Tickets can be bought at the train station directly - for daily express trains, ask for the observation wagon.
Labookellie Tea Lounge - Tea Factory, plantation, and shop
After getting to Nuwara Eliya in the afternoon (around 2 p.m.) - drive to Damro Tea factory. All in one. You will get a short free tour of the factory to learn how to lucking fresh tea leaves, withering, rolling, fermenting, drying, and sorting, producing world-renowned Ceylon tea. Enjoy tasting a tea for free and then buy the tea as a souvenir from the shop. Costs from 1100LKR to 14000LKR for Gold special tea.
Lover’s Leap Waterfall
Enjoy the view from the road’s viewpoint. If you want to explore more, hire a tuk-tuk or a guide to get closer.
Lakeside and Lush Park Escape of Nuwara Eliya
After the check-out from the hotel, enjoy (usually) the misty morning and take a short walk on the beautiful lake’s shore, or enjoy a boat ride or jet ski in the heart of the tea country hill city, Nuwara Eliya. You can make a loop walk and see temples, tea plantations, horses, cows and a lot of flowers. The entry fee is 300LKR.
Visit the charming public park from the British Colonial era, est. in 1897. With a wide array of plants and trees, including roses, rhododendrons, and numerous species of birds, Victoria Park provides a delightful setting for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers.
Try to find Tony, the gardening manager who is the smartest guy in the garden. He’ll explain every single species and know each plant’s name in 7 languages.
Drive to the Dalhousie (Nallathanniya), and check-in at the hotel
Be ready for a long, painful ride - the road is in terrible condition. Also, the village doesn't have any fancy hotels. If you prefer higher standards of accommodation, stay at least in Hatton, however, it’s far from the Sri Pada start route and you have to count on more than an hour of driving.
From sunrise summit to temple tranquility in Kandy
Hike to Adam’s peak (Srí Pada)
Climb the 3rd highest peak in Sri Lanka early morning around 2:30 am to be at the summit before sunrise at 6 am. Don’t forget to bring water, some food, but also warm hiking clothes and a waterproof jacket. Be aware of leeches that can suck the blood(mostly around ankles) through the socks. They are mainly active during the rain. If you climb the peak out of the main season, the temple area on the top is closed, also no shops with snacks are open along the route. On the other hand, you’ll likely have a much less crowded climb with only a few tourists.
Travel to Kandy
Enjoy the local breakfast after the hike and check out from the hotel. The commute to Kandy takes 3 hours, so you can have a nap to cover your missed sleep.
Oak Ray Restaurant
Enjoy the west kitchen lunch with a scenic view of Kandy’s cityscape. They don’t serve rice and curry.
Temple of the Tooth
Visit one of the most important temples in Sri Lanka. This revered UNESCO World Heritage site cradles an ancient relic, believed to be a tooth of Lord Buddha himself. You can enter the place without your shoes only. If you would like to experience it with locals, there are 3 ceremonies per day (05:30 h, 09:30h, and 18:30h) and this is your chance to have a look at the golden relic holder for the sacred tooth of Buddha.
Dinner at Vito Wood Fire Place
If you don’t book a dinner at the hotel, you can try some pizza with a nice lake view.
On the way to Habarana: spice gardens and ayurvedic retreat
Royal Botanical Garden
Check out from the hotel and drive to Peradeniya. It should take around 30 minutes to get there, but the traffic in Kandy can be tricky with its traffic jams. Visit the largest 600-year-old botanical garden in Sri Lanka that attracts more than 2M visitors annually and see more than 4000 species of plants like orchids, spices, palm trees, mambos, ficus, etc. Large bats are hanging on the trees.
Regent Spice Garden
Get a helpful presentation about a unique spicy garden and its different smells of spices like curry leaves, santal wood, cinnamon, and nutmeg. You’ll get served by tasty hot cocoa drink and a short head and neck massage free of charge. Of course, you can buy oils, powders, and balsams in a shop for an affordable price. Especially we recommend local cinnamon, vanilla, and cocoa. Be careful with cosmetic products without the proper information if you are sensitive. Even if it’s natural, it can cause irritation as the concentrations are often quite high. Also, despite the staff being very friendly and helpful, they will try to make as much money as possible if you visit. Don’t be afraid to say no to some products or ask for a discount if you decide to buy something.
Continue to Habarana (it takes around 1,5 hours to get there). Grab some snacks with you or stop for lunch later for example in this local all-you-can-eat restaurant.
Get massage at Thrimal Ayurvedic Treatment Center
Try real ayurvedic treatments like full body oil massage, steam bed with leaves, or third eye treatment alias oil dripping on your forehead (shirodhara) as a relief from migraine. This place is a hidden gem, very nice, amazing people, not too touristy and also the price is good.
Reserve your massage in advance. wear clothes that can get dirty from oil.
Hotel: Oak Ray Elephant Lake
Journey Through Time: Exploring Ancient Ruins
Step into the ancient pages of history and wander through the mesmerizing ruins of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka's majestic archaeological site. This UNESCO World Heritage treasure invites you to explore the remnants of a glorious kingdom that once reigned supreme. Usually, it's an all-day trip, visitors rent bikes or walk around the area. However, if temperatures are above 35°C, consider taking a driver to help you move between the sites and temples and you still get your dose of walk wandering around the ruins. Bottled water is accessible around the place along with king coconuts.
Sunrise at the majestic Lion Rock and the last temple
Hike the Sigiriya Lion Rock
Wake up around 5 a.m. for one of the most spectacular sunrises (and also experience the place with less crowds and heat). Prepare to be awe-inspired by the breathtaking fortress of Sigiriya, a true wonder of ancient engineering and artistry. This unique 200m magma-made ancient rock fortress is one of the island’s highlights and is also a UNESCO heritage. At the summit, discover the ruins of an ancient palace that once housed a mighty king. The panoramic views from the top are nothing short of spectacular, offering a vista of lush forests and serene lakes that stretch as far as the eye can see. You’ll have a view of one of the oldest gardens in the world showcasing early urban planning.
Enjoy the scenic view of Sigiriya from its close sibling. It’s a little harder to climb, but you’ll get scenic views of the breathtaking Sigiriya rock.
Dambula Cave Temple and Golden Temple
Visit the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka with frescoes and 153 Buddha statues from the 1st century BC. You can enter the complex with bare feet only and you have to left the shoes in the boxes for a small charge. Ask about the price before you store the shoes there to avoid any surprise later.
Day 12 - Departure
Departure from the Colombo airport
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