Sri Lanka ranked top country for travel in 2019 by Lonely Planet.
Day 1 – Fly in at Colombo, proceed to Kandy
Day 2 – Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
Day 3 – Nuwara Eliya
Day 4 – Nuwara Eliya to Yala National Park, via Ella
Day 5 – Yala National Park
Day 6 – Yala National Park to Mirissa
Day 7 – Mirissa to Hikkaduwa, via Galle
Day 8 – Hikkaduwa
Day 9 – Hikkaduwa to Colombo and fly out
Day 1 – Fly in Colombo and proceed to Kandy
The Bandaranaike International Airport of Sri Lanka, the primary International Airport, is located in Negembo, which is around 32.5 kms away from Colombo. We reached Sri Lanka from Dubai via Muscat with Oman Airways. After meeting our Captain, Prasanna, we had a quick breakfast at a nearby restaurant and headed for our next stop, the elephant orphanage.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – We had initially planned for elephant bathing and feeding experience and were little dicey until last minute about it after reading a lot of mixed reviews about the orphanage and the feeding centres. So, we consulted our Captain and just like many reviews, he too suggested that the orphanage is ‘better off’ than the other captivities around.
The experience was pretty good. The best time would be to reach around the bathing time of the elephants i.e. around 10.45 A.M. to 12 P.M. and 2.00 P.M. to 4.00 P.M. and there after stroll around the orphanage premises and feed the elephants (paid service). Having heard of mahouts (riders of elephants) asking for tips to let the tourists touch the elephants, we strongly advise you not to encourage such events. Though we did not face any such thing but we recommend traveling sensibly.
LankaTilaka Temple – Also known as the ‘Temple on the rock’ is on the way to Kandy and is definitely worth a visit. The scenic views and the calm vibes of the shrine will definitely soothe your mind and body. The main attraction is the shrine room with beautiful murals. This temple also appears on the Sri Lankan Currency note of Rs. 500.
Reach Kandy and unwind at hotel.
Day 2 – Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Ambuluwawa Tower and proceed to Nuwara Eliya
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – It is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Sri Lanka. It houses a tooth of the Buddha. You don’t actually see the tooth as it’s kept in gold casket, which is shown to the deities for offerings or prayers. The complex is quite huge and if you explore around like us you would find this place captivating. Else, there’s a specific gate for tourists’ entry for a quick reach to the Main Temple. Also, wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders and you’ll be asked to remove your shoes too.
Ambuluwawa Tower – First things first, if you’re scared of heights, Do NOT go up. Also, Do NOT take elderly and kids to climb the top of it. Though it is not risky or dangerous, the stairs and height might be overwhelming for them (no elevator). Be extra cautious while climbing the outer stairs and don’t lean on the railings, especially in rains.
Coming to the best part 😉 , the Ambuluwawa Mountain stands at 3560 meters above sea level and main tower at 48 meters. On reaching the outer stairs, it gives you some of the most breathtaking 360-degree views of mountains (like Adam’s peak), rivers and towns, which sometimes may be covered with mist.
To reach the Tower, you’ll have to get down at a certain point just below the mountain and bargain for a to and fro Tuk-Tuk ride to the Tower. The mountain road is a journey of its kind, so hold tight.
Since it was raining, we did not climb up to the top but we did climb the outer stairs a little and had some of the most magnificent views like we were on clouds.
Reach Nuwara Eliya and unwind at hotel.
Day 3 – Visit Tea estates, Waterfall and Gregory Lake
Nuwara Eliya is the Tea Capital of Sri Lanka, and is also known as the ‘Little England’ because of its colonial influence and the pretty high gardens. The colonial era bungalows, red telephone booths, a horse racing course are few of the many things that transport you to the British era.
Except for the monsoon season (Jun-Aug), Nuwara Eliya is a great place to visit all year round. The temperature drops towards the evening, so pack some warm clothes.
Pedro Tea Estate – Starting with Tea (obviously!), do visit a tea factory when in this town. There are plenty around and mostly are free of charge for a guided tour. But since only Pedro Tea Estate (wasn’t free ☹, but reasonable) was functioning on a Sunday, we visited the same and saw how tea leaves are processed after plucking.
Lover’s Leap Waterfall – Benefiting from its terrain and climate, Sri Lanka has numerous waterfalls and they make your sight viewing so much more beautiful. After a good rain the waterfalls around hustle with water; but to trek up or around the waterfall area, there must be no rain otherwise it can be dangerous. This 30m waterfall is very close to the Pedro Tea Factory and you may have to bargain for a to and fro Tuk-Tuk ride to an appropriate stop uphill and there after hike up a little (also has some stunning views of the town) to reach the waterfall.
Gregory Lake – It’s a popular place with locals for picnics and strolls to enjoy the cool weather. A reservoir with a park offers many activities like boating, cycling and walkways, makes it a perfect place to enjoy your evenings.
Day 4 – Train journey to Ella, Nine Arch Bridge, Ravana Falls and Reach Yala
Nuwara Eliya to Ella – You have to travel by train in Central highlands at least once in your lifetime. It is the highlight of any Sri Lanka Trip and considered one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. The lush green tea fields to waterfalls and rustic old bridges, the panorama is just fantastic!
We had asked our Captain to meet us at the Ella Station after we reached the boarding station for the onward journey – Nanu Oya.
For more details about our train journey and tips click here
Nine Arch Bridge – This 30m high bridge is a colonial era built with only cement and stone. It is an active bridge and you can either pass over it in your train journey (between Ella and Demodara Station) or hike down or bargain for a Tuk-Tuk ride till a feasible stop.
Ravana Falls – On your way to Yala, you’ll definitely hear the sound of the widest waterfall’s water gushing through the cliff, few metres away from the waterfall. If not that, the views from the windows will be surely a treat to your eyes. There are barriers and guards to let people reach up till a certain level. On our visit, the waterfall was burbling at tremendous speed after rain and were thus we were being extra cautious around the falls. Do try the sweet and sour mangoes or the charred corn from the shops around the falls.
On your way to Yala, you may encounter many animals like elephants and deer, so please be sensible enough to drive safely and responsibly. Reach Yala and relax.
Day 5 – Yala National Park and evening to enjoy
Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park is very rich in wildlife and has the highest density of Leopards in the world. This said, an open jeep safari is a must at this National Park. You can spot elephants virtually anywhere (even in and around your stay) and also few species that are endemic to this island nation, like, Grey Hornbill, Jungle Fowl.
The Yala National Park also has a long coastal stretch that provides an amazing place for beach walks. Yes, the guests get down at a spot to freshen up and get the beautiful views of the Laccadive Sea.
You can either contact your hotel to book a safari jeep for you or your Captain/ Tour operators for booking a private jeep tours to the National Park. We had coordinated with our car rental agency, SLE Tours, before hand and had an amazing trip to the Park.
The best time to enter the Park is when it opens, i.e. around 6:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. Generally, the safaris are of 3-4 hours, which is quite enough for the size of the park but you may also opt for a full day tour.
After your return, enjoy the breakfast at the hotel and the other amenities.
Day 6 – Yala to Mirissa, Coconut Tree Hill, Mirissa
Checkout from Yala and proceed to Mirissa for Whale Watching and the beautiful beaches.
Ranaviru Smarakaya, Tangalle – Wanting to show more of scenic views, our Captain made a quick stop at a recently built war memorial tower. After a flight of few stairs, the terrace has some really calming views of the sea and the beach.
Coconut Tree Hill – We initially thought it to be an another Insta vs. reality fail. But since we reached a little early than the sunset, we decided to go to the Coconut hill. And oh! The place is so picturesque. The top of the hill gives you an unparallel view of the Sea and the coconut trees just adding to the tropical beach vibes.
The hill gets crowded around the sunset, so go few minutes before the sunset to embrace the nature. Stroll around the town to get the beach feel for the mind and food for the body.
Relax and unwind or if time allows you may also visit:
- The Secret Beach
- Parrot Rock
- Surfing Clubs
Day 7 – Whale Watching, Peace Pagoda, Beaches, Galle Fort and reach Hikkaduwa
Whale Watching Tour – We, being wildlife admirers, to get a chance to see the variety of whales, a visit to Mirissa definitely had to be on the list. The waters surrounding Mirissa also features other marine life such as Spinner Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Green Back Turtle and much more. No doubt it is world famous for whale watching, one reason being its one of the cheapest too ($$).
The Whale watching season starts in November to end of April, with the best months being the last two of the season, i.e. March and April. The tours begin around 5-6 A.M. in the morning (sea is calmer) and last around 4-5 hours or more depending on the sightings. You may book in advance or contact your hotel or tour operator to book for you even a day before. Check for free pick-up from your hotel.
There are many whale tours available in the town, but here are a few best rated on tripadvisor:
- Whale watching club (5/5) – https://www.whalewatchingclub.com/
- Raja & the whales (4.5/5) – http://rajaandthewhales.com/
- Whale watching with Geeth (4.5/5) – https://www.whale-watching-mirissa.com/
Also, if you have sea sickness, either take a medicine before you board or avoid going if the sea is reported rough. Make sure you don’t swim in the rainy season, as the ocean becomes really rough during the monsoon season.
P.S.: The spotting of whales and other marine life is done from a safe distance, so don’t expect a very close view of the same. Also, the whale’s tail and hump are generally what is spotted when it comes to surface of water to breathe.
Our tour was cancelled due to very rough sea ☹, so we spent some more time at the Coconut Tree Hill and then departed for Galle.
Japanese Peace Pagoda – Rising out of the forest and looking across the sea, this Peace Pagoda gives a sense of peace and tranquility. It is one of the three Buddhist stupas in Sri Lanka and a walk around the stupa gives you magnificent view of the Galle Fort across the sea. The shrine sits on the Rumassala hill and provides a 360 degree view of the jungle and the ocean.
Jungle Beach, Weligama Bay, Koggala Beach – You can trek further down from the shrine to visit the hidden Jungle Beach. It is a small secluded beach, which offers snorkeling opportunities. You can rent snorkeling gear from the shops located on the beach.
We also visited two other beaches on our way – first the Weligama Bay, which is known for surfing and second the Koggala beach, which is known for the famous stick fishing. Koggala beach was one of the cleanest we have seen.
Galle Fort – From shopping, dining to exploring the history of the UNESCO tagged World Heritage, Galle Fort, can take up as many hours of the day as you want. The 16th-17th Century fortified city is very famous among locals and tourists for its amazing views. Walking around the fort area, makes you feel like you are in a European city. There are a lot of eateries and coffee shop for you to relish and few accommodation options too.
The Fort’s wall is where you’ll find the most jibber-jabber happening. Walk around along the sea-side to reach the lighthouse, which is the most iconic spot in the Fort’s vicinity.
Reach Hikkaduwa to end your day and relax at the property.
Day 8 – Hikkaduwa Beach, Turtle Hatchery and Bentota Beach
Hikkaduwa Beach – Hikkaduwa town and its beaches are world famous for surfing and snorkeling. You may also spot a bale of turtles on the beach and also feed them sea weed (on purchase). While a lot of tourists tend to hover on the turtles like crazy, we strongly recommend you to be responsible around wildlife.
Kasagoda Turtle Hatchery –There more than 15 hatcheries along the south coast of this island country. Five out of the seven species of turtles are taken care of in this Hatchery, which the most out of the other centers and it houses a special albino turtle also. The Kasagoda Turtle Care centre is a great place to learn and love nature while also having fun. It is hands-on and family friendly experience with a guided tour by the staff ($$$).
Bentota Beach – This beach is another one of the most beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka, which extends across 7-8 kms is truly a symbol of peace, calmness and cleanness.
One of its strongest points is its quiet surroundings which runs the natural and relaxing environment of the beach. Great resorts by the beach and famous among the family travelers, it has ample space to accommodate everyone.
Relax at your hotel and enjoy the sunset.
Day 9 – Colombo and Depart
On our last day in this beautiful country, we finally managed to pull ourselves for our final destination, the capital city – Colombo. Frankly, we found the city can easily take up a full day for exploring, but if time is short, you must visit the first two places for sure.
Gangaramaya Temple – This is one of the oldest and most important temples in the city and the country. With huge murals and statutes of Buddha, it’s the extensive collection of artefacts and memoirs that makes this temple really unique. The chef-d’œuvre is the smallest Buddha statue on the island. It is carefully encased in a glass box and visitors can view it with a magnifying class or a camera zoom lens like we did 😉.
Seema Malaka – It is an extended part of Gangaramaya Temple and is mainly used as a place of rest and meditation. The waters of the Beira lake add more charm to calmness and sereneness of this place. From the Buddha’s footprint at the entrance to the golden Buddhas in yogic mudras around the temple, this temple is definitely a must visit for its natural aesthetics and beauty.
Colombo City Centre – This mall is a quick walk from these temples, so if you wish to see the upscale side of the city and also grab some quick meal. We went there for lunch and also to buy some famous Spa Ceylon products.
Red Mosque – also known as Jami Ul-Alfar, is another architectural star. The red and white spiraling and swirling minarets can be seen from far amongst the crowded market. The mosque is open for visitors from 10 A.M. to 12 Noon. We also bought some organic virgin coconut oil from the market around for cheap.
Our Captain also showed us some other sights while driving around such as the new Parliament building, Clock tower, Lotus tower, Colonial area, etc.