Sigiriya from Pidurangala Rock

The Perfect Sri Lanka Travel Itinerary: One Week, 10 days, and Two Weeks

Embarking on a journey to Sri Lanka is like stepping into a world where ancient history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking landscapes converge. From the lush tea plantations of the hill country to the golden shores of its pristine beaches, this island nation in the Indian Ocean promises a tapestry of experiences waiting to be explored. Whether you’re drawn to the UNESCO World Heritage sites that whisper tales of a bygone era or yearn for the spicy aromas of its bustling markets, Sri Lanka offers a captivating blend of adventure and serenity. So, pack your bags and prepare to be enchanted by the wonders that await in this gem of South Asia.

Nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

I spent just under two weeks traveling through Sri Lanka and while I could always use more days, I found this to be enough to see the highlights of the country.

Sri lanka nuwara eliya

Where to go in Sri Lanka for your itinerary

Sri Lanka might look small, but it packs quite a punch. There’s a world to explore and you won’t be able to see it all in two weeks and less. I was certainly not able to see as much as I would have liked but I felt like I could see the highlights.

Sigiriya rock view from Pidarangula rock

These are some of the places I went on my itinerary

  • Colombo
  • Kandy
  • Sigiriya Rock
  • Ella
  • Tea plantations around Ella
  • The passenger train between Kandy and Ella
  • Hiriketiya Beach
  • Ahangama Beach
  • Galle

I spent about half of the trip in the inland area of Sri Lanka and half along the south coast beaches. The inland areas offered beautiful jungles, mountains, tea farms, and historical sights whereas the beaches offered amazing surfing, cafes, and that tropical island vibe.

I skipped out on Yala National Park which was a popular recommendation among many. This park is home to an abundance of wildlife and many come to do a safari. However, as I had been on many safaris throughout Africa, I was advised that I probably wouldn’t get too excited about the game viewing here. As I was already limited on time, I decided to skip Yala National Park.

kandy to ella passenger train sri lanka

Avoid spending too much time in Kandy

For whatever reason, every blog I wrote promoted Kandy so much. Sure, Kandy is one of the historical capitals of Sri Lanka, but I honestly didn’t understand the hype. There isn’t that much to do in Kandy itself, and even less to do in the immediate vicinity.

Kandy Sri Lanka

Sure Kandy has a beautiful lake with nice views to be had but beyond that, there was not much to offer. I think Kandy is maybe worth a one night stop if you really want to see the Temple of the Tooth (which wasn’t anything spectacular) and the botanical gardens.

I would instead divert any days spent in Kandy to Ella or Nuwara Eliya. These areas of the country are much more picturesque in my opinion with more activities around. Even if you plan to do nothing, I think staying in Ella is still much nicer as you’re surrounded by stunning views.

Best time of year to visit Sri Lanka?

If you’re contemplating a journey to this island paradise, you might wonder when the best time to visit Sri Lanka is. This small island has two geographical areas that enjoy different seasons

Sri Lanka’s weather is predominantly shaped by two monsoon seasons: the southwest monsoon, known as Yala, and the northeast monsoon, referred to as Maha.

Yala Season

Yala season, spanning from May to September, brings heavy rainfall and high humidity to the southwestern regions, including Colombo and the west coast. The hill country also experiences significant rainfall during this time, resulting in lush greenery. Despite the rain, certain areas like the Cultural Triangle can still be visited, as showers are often brief.

Maha Season

Maha season occurs from October to January, primarily affecting the northeastern parts of the island, such as Trincomalee and the east coast. Conversely, the western and southern regions experience drier conditions, making it an ideal time to explore beach destinations like Galle and Mirissa. The hill country also enjoys dry and cool weather during this period, perfect for trekking.

Additionally, two inter-monsoon periods occur: March to April (First Inter-Monsoon) and October to November (Second Inter-Monsoon). These periods bring transitional weather with warm and humid conditions and sporadic rainfall across the island.

Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka?

The best times to visit Sri Lanka depends on your itinerary. If you’re following this itinerary focusing on the inland areas and the southern beaches, the best time to visit is during the November to April time frame.

During this time, you can also expect to see the most tourists especially around Easter. This season aligns perfectly with the European winters where everyone wants to escape to warmer destinations. I visited in February and the temperatures were hot, and the sun was out every day.

How to get around Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an easy country to travel around. It’s not too big and there’s enough connections between tourist hotspots that you can move around quickly. Depending on the amount of time and budget you have, you might consider different options of getting around the country.

By public buses and train

The most popular option will be the bus and train system. Buses make regular connections between places like Colombo, Kandy, Ella, Nuwara Elia, and various locations on the coasts.

Buses can be slow as they often stop in various towns to pick up and drop off people. The bus from Colombo to Kandy will take 4+ hours sometimes. Nevertheless, this is by far the cheapest way to travel around the country.

Similarly, you can also take the public trains. The trains connect Colombo to many of the most popular destinations in Sri Lanka. The most popular of these train rides is from Kandy to Ella which passes through the magnificent tea farms.

By private driver with a car

Similar to traveling in Madagascar, Sri Lanka is very popular for renting a car with a driver. The driver will drive you wherever you want, whenever you want for the duration of your trip with them. This is a great option for those that are time strapped and don’t want to deal with figuring bus time tables and other logistics.

I actually used a private driver with a car for the first few days of the trip when I was traveling in the inland area between Sigiriya and the southern coast. It was great to have a driver that was waiting for us in the mornings to take us where we wanted to go.

I paid $75 USD a day for the driver which included his accommodations, food, gas, parking, and tolls.

By Uber Intercity

Uber is readily available throughout the country, and is especially popular in Colombo. Uber also introduced Uber Intercity which is a great way to travel from city to city.

You can get very competitive prices to go from somewhere like Colombo to Ella with a private driver. See the example below from Uber’s website:

As you can see, you can travel between the two cities for 18k LKR which is around $60 USD at the time of writing this. This is a great price in my opinion for a 5 hour drive that is 300 kilometers. However, do be prepared for the driver to call you sometimes to ask for a higher price.

Uber is also great to use for shorter distances with tuk tuks. This was especially the case when I was traveling in the southern part of Sri Lanka along the coast.

Rent your own Tuk Tuk

A popular option among tourists is to rent a tuk tuk to explore the island. I saw many tourists renting their own tuk tuks and some even traveled the entire country with it. Expect to pay about $20 a day and there are pickups near the airport.

While renting your own tuk tuk sounds good, these things aren’t the most comfortable to drive and they’re designed in a way that if you’re above 180 cm, you’ll have to slouch to see through the window. Not a comfortable way to travel for hours on end in my opinion. Worst of all, they max out at about 50 km/hr!

Full Sri Lanka two week itinerary

Finally, onto my Sri Lanka itinerary! The trip starts in Colombo where almost every international flight lands. I decided to not stay in Colombo after reading through many blogs. While there are a few things to do in the Capital city, it just wasn’t a good use of my limited time.

Sri Lanka itinerary map of where I went

From Colombo, I went straight to Sigiriya where I spent the night so I could wake up early the following morning to climb Pidarangula rock for the beautiful and iconic sunrise. After spending the morning in Sigiriya, we drove to Kandy in the afternoon where we spent the next two days exploring the historical capital. I wasn’t a big fan of Kandy so I think two days is the maximum you need.

Sri Lanka Nine arch bridge

From Kandy, we drove south to the town of Nuwara Eliya and stopped at a tea farm along the way. From Nuwara Eliya, we took a train from the nearby town of Nanouya onward to Ella. This is one of the most famous train rides in the world and it’s more than likely you’ve seen all the pictures on Instagram. Many people start this journey from Kandy to Ella but the reserved train tickets were already fully sold out. I didn’t want to chance having to stand for the 7 hour train ride so we started the train ride half way through instead. Most of the best viewpoints are after Nanouya anyhow.

From Ella, we visited the Nine arch bridge and nearby waterfalls/hiking for the next 3 days. I found Ella to be one of the most beautiful parts of Sri Lanka. There’s a reason it’s become so popular! From Ella, we went to Hiriketiya, a sleepy surf town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. We spent a total of 5 days on the southern coast and split our time between Hiriketiya and Ahangama. I wish I had a few more days on the coast as it was so beautiful and relaxing.

From Ahangama, we took a taxi to the airport and flew home from there.

Day 1-2: Sigiriya

The itinerary starts off in Colombo with a drive directly to Sigiriya. I didn’t stay in Colombo as I didn’t have the time unfortunately. From the airport to Sigiriya 3h drive. The best time to see Sigiriya is in the early morning in my opinion.

Sunrise View from Pidurangala Rock

The overwhelming amount of tourists will go to Sigiriya rock for the sunrise. It is a special place after all and everyone is told to watch the sunrise from the rock, similar to my experience at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I think that is a mistake.

Sigiriya from Pidurangala Rock

I much rather preferred the view from neighboring Pidurangala Rock which has a dead on view of Sigiriya. I think the star of the show in the area is in fact Sigiriya so why not watch the sunrise with the rock in the actual frame. This is also why I much prefer the view from the top of the Rock in New York City over the Empire State Building because you can see the iconic Empire State building from the other! Similarly, this is what I did in Borobudur Temple as they closed it off for sunrise and we went to a neighboring hill.

We decided to hike up Pidurangala Rock for the sunrise. The hike up the rock is not so difficult but it is physically challenging for some. Unlike my beloved Lion’s Head in Cape Town, Pidurangala is pure stair master for the majority of the hike.

Near the top, you’ll have to maneuver your way through rocks like an obstacle course which could be challenging for some. Many other blogs claim that the hike takes 30-40 minutes. I finished the hike in 15 minutes and I don’t think I was even walking that fast. If you are a decently fit person, this hike shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes.

Sigiriya from Pidurangala Rock

The best part of Pidurangala is that it only costs 1,000 LKR to enter and hike up the mountain. This entrance fee is actually to pay for the temple at the very beginning of the hike. You will walk through this temple in 2 minutes before starting on the hike up to the top of Pidurangala. They provide you sarongs to cover up your legs and shoulders free of charge.

Sigiriya from Pidurangala Rock

Sunrise is at 6:15 or so with the colors of full display by 7am. If you want to watch the sunrise, I would start your hike around 5:30am. This mountain gets packed (albeit still less than Sigiriya) with tourists but there is plenty of space to spread out to enjoy the view. By 7:30am, most of the early risers are gone which means you have plenty of freedom to take photos. I think the best lighting for sunrise is actually between 7 and 8am.

Visiting Sigiriya Rock

After the sunrise from Pidurangala Rock, we had a solid breakfast at Lily’s of Coconut Roti with honey (my god so delicious) and proceeded to visit Sigiriya Rock.

Even though we did not do the sunrise from Sigiriya, it is still one of the most famous places in Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya rock sri lanka

Unlike Pidurangala, the entrance fee for Sigiriya is a whopping $36 USD / 11,000 LKR (As of 2024) which is about 10x more expensive. If you only want a sunrise view, I would definitely recommend only going up Pidurangala and skipping Sigiriya altogether. Unfortunately, if you want the famous photos of the rock like these photos, you’ll need to pay the entrance fee.

Is Sigiriya Rock worth visiting?

The question becomes, is Sigiriya rock worth visiting? I think if you’re not cash strapped, it is definitely worth a visit. This is one of the most historic sights in all of Sri Lanka and the views are absolutely incredible.

It would be a shame to come all this way and not visit Sigiriya.

History of Sigiriya Rock

Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka has a rich history dating back to the 5th century AD when it was chosen by King Kashyapa I as the site for his new capital. Seeking refuge from internal conflicts, Kashyapa transformed Sigiriya into a formidable fortress and a symbol of opulence. Skilled artisans adorned the rock with intricate frescoes, notably the Sigiriya Damsels, showcasing the artistic prowess of the time.

Sigiriya rock sri lanka

The ascent to the summit of Sigiriya was marked by impressive engineering feats, including gardens, pools, and terraces, creating a harmonious blend of nature and human ingenuity. The Lion Gate, guarded by colossal lion paws, served as the centerpiece of the ascent, although the rest of the lion structure has eroded over time.

Despite Kashyapa’s ambitious vision, his reign was cut short by a successful rebellion led by his half-brother, Moggallana, in 495 AD. With Kashyapa’s defeat and death, Sigiriya fell into obscurity, eventually reclaimed by nature.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Sigiriya was rediscovered by European explorers, who marveled at its architectural splendor and historical significance. Today, Sigiriya is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting visitors from around the world eager to explore its ancient wonders and learn about its cultural significance.

Hiking up Sigiriya

The hike up Sigiriya is not as challenging as Pidarangula. The climb is less steep and there are stairs everywhere to make it easier. All in all, it takes roughly 10 minutes to climb to the top of the rock.

Along the way, you’ll be greeted with numerous viewpoints and historical artifacts. While there are plenty of tour guides you can hire at the entrance, I opted to not get one so I can’t provide much historical context here unfortunately.

Sigiriya Rock

Day 2-4: Kandy

Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city after Colombo and it is seen as the cultural capital of the country. It’s position in the center of the island makes it an ideal stop along the itinerary for most Sri Lankan tourists. Whether you’re making a day trip to Sigiriya or embarking on the famous Kandy to Ella train, there’s something for everyone in Kandy.

Kandy sunrise morning

Kandy is famous for their Temple of the Tooth, an important religious site believed to house a secret relic, the tooth of Lord Buddha—the temple holds immense significance for Buddhists worldwide. Stepping through its ornate entrance gates, visitors are enveloped in a sense of reverence and tranquility. As one of the holiest shrines in Buddhism, the Temple of the Tooth is not just a place of worship but also a living museum, adorned with intricate carvings and vibrant murals that tell stories of centuries past. It is a must-visit for those seeking to delve into the spiritual heart of Sri Lanka and witness the enduring devotion that surrounds this sacred relic.

temple of the tooth sri lanka kandy

History of Kandy

Let’s kick things off with a bit of history, shall we? Once the capital of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka, Kandy holds a special place in the island’s cultural heritage. One of the city’s most iconic landmarks is the Temple of the Tooth Relic, or Sri Dalada Maligawa, which houses a sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring Sri Lanka’s religious and cultural traditions.

Kandy sunrise morning

But Kandy isn’t just about history – it’s also a vibrant city bustling with life and energy. One of the best ways to soak up the atmosphere is by taking a leisurely stroll around Kandy Lake, known locally as Kiri Muhuda. You can rent a paddleboat and glide across the serene waters while enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding hills and city skyline.

Kandy sunrise morning

You can also enjoy the views of Kandy from one of the bars or viewpoints on the hills overlooking the picturesque lakes.

kandy sri lanka

If you’re a nature lover, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Kandy. Just a short drive from the city center lies the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, where you can wander through beautifully landscaped gardens and marvel at exotic flora from around the world. Don’t forget to check out the towering giant bamboo and the stunning orchid collection!

Kandy temple of the tooth sri lanka

Botanical Gardens of Kandy

Visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy is a delightful escape into the lush, tropical beauty of Sri Lanka’s natural landscapes. Located just a short distance from the bustling city center, these gardens offer a serene oasis of tranquility and botanical wonder. As you enter, you’re greeted by a symphony of colors and fragrances, with sprawling lawns, towering trees, and a diverse array of plant species from all corners of the globe.

Botanical Gardens Kandy Sri Lanka

Wandering along the winding pathways, you’ll encounter a fascinating variety of flora, from towering palm trees to delicate orchids and vibrant tropical blooms. The gardens are meticulously curated, with themed sections that showcase different botanical wonders, including medicinal plants, exotic palms, and aromatic spices. One of the highlights is the orchid house, where you can marvel at the stunning diversity of orchid species, some of which are found nowhere else on earth.

Botanical Gardens Kandy Sri Lanka

In addition to its botanical treasures, the Royal Botanical Gardens also boast a rich cultural heritage, with historic structures and landmarks dotted throughout the grounds. The centerpiece is the imposing Queen’s Pavilion, a colonial-era building that offers panoramic views of the gardens and the surrounding hills. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photography buff, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life, a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy is sure to leave you enchanted and inspired.

Ambuluwawa temple

First things first, let’s talk history. Ambuluwawa Temple isn’t just your run-of-the-mill religious site – it’s a captivating blend of cultural influences and architectural wonders. Perched atop Ambuluwawa Mountain, this unique complex boasts a rich history dating back to ancient times.

Ambuluwawa Temple Kandy Sri Lanka

Legend has it that Ambuluwawa Mountain was once the site of a fortress built by King Buvanekabahu IV during the 14th century. Over the centuries, the site underwent various transformations, eventually becoming a symbol of religious harmony and cultural diversity in Sri Lanka.

Ambuluwawa Temple Kandy Sri Lanka

Fast forward to the present day, and Ambuluwawa Temple stands as a testament to the island’s multicultural heritage. The temple complex features a mix of architectural styles, including elements of Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian design. It’s a true melting pot of religious and cultural traditions, reflecting Sri Lanka’s long history of coexistence and tolerance.

The journey to Ambuluwawa Temple is an adventure in itself, as you wind your way through scenic countryside and dense forests. The views open up shortly after you leave Kandy with stunning mountains terrains. From Kandy, you can take a tuk tuk to Ambuluwawa which will take 1 to 1.5h and will cost around 5000 LKR.

One of the highlights of a visit to Ambuluwawa Temple is the iconic spiral tower that spirals skyward, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Climbing to the top is not for the faint of heart, but the sweeping vistas of rolling hills and distant mountains are well worth the effort. The stairs become ever more narrow as you ascend to the top.

Kandy to Ella Train

From Kandy to Ella, it’s time for the world famous train ride that traverses through Sri Lanka’s beautiful mountain terrain with incredible views of its tea fields.

kandy to ella train

I’ve written a very in depth article about how to take the Kandy to Ella train ride which goes into every little detail about this ride.

Day 4-7: Ella

Ella, nestled in Sri Lanka’s hill country, is a charming town renowned for its natural beauty and vibrant culture. Surrounded by lush greenery and misty mountains, it offers visitors a perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and cultural exploration. It’s the perfect spot to base yourself within the countryside of Sri Lanka. Not only are there so many activities to do in the area, but it offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of Sri Lanka.

Ella town sri lanka

Ella in recent years has gained a huge popularity boost among tourists (it was always a touristy place) and nowadays, you can see the main town is more or less entirely geared towards foreign tourists. From Ella Town, you can do wonderful hikes, visit the famous Nine Arch Bridge (more on that later), see stunning waterfalls, visit tea plantations, and just be immersed in beautiful jungle scenery.

Ella cafe sri lanka
One of the cafes in Ella.

Ella is also equipped with plenty of nice restaurants, cafes, bars, massage shops, and more.

Ella town sri lanka

Visit a Tea Plantation

Sri Lanka is one of the largest producers of tea in the world. It was one of the main commodities that was exported out from Sri Lanka during British colonial rule and the reason they created all the trains in the first place. The inland area between Kandy and Ella are countless tea farms. Tea farms are beautifully terraced and look like a cross between a rice field and a winery.

Tea plantation sri lanka

We passed through so many of them on our way from Kandy to Ella on the train ride. I visited the Damro tea plantation which is just outside of Nuwara Eliya. At a tea plantation, you can take a tour of the grounds where they’ll show you how tea is produced followed by a tea tasting. You can also choose to take a jeep tour of the fields where they’ll go into more detail about how tea is grown.

Tea plantation sri lanka

Ravana Waterfall

Rawana Falls is a breathtaking natural wonder nestled in the lush greenery of Sri Lanka’s hill country. Located near the town of Ella, in the Badulla District of the Uva Province, Rawana Falls is a prominent attraction renowned for its majestic beauty and tranquil ambiance.

The waterfall is named after the legendary figure of Ravana, a central character in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, which is deeply ingrained in Sri Lankan culture and folklore. According to local legend, Rawana Falls is believed to be the place where King Ravana, the mythical ruler of Lanka, abducted Princess Sita, the wife of Lord Rama. The cascading waters of the falls are said to be the tears of Sita as she awaited rescue by Lord Rama.

Standing at approximately 25 meters in height but it is split down multiple layers making the entire waterfall structure well over 100 meters. While not as impressive as something like Victoria Falls, the fact that it’s just on the side of the road for you to see makes it a must visit in my opinion.

Visiting Nine Arches Bridge

Without a doubt, one of the main highlights of any trip to Ella is to view the iconic Nine Arches Bridge. You’ve undoubtedly seen countless photos of this bridge in your Instagram feeds even if you’ve never had Sri Lanka in your crosshairs.

Nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

Nestled amidst the lush hills of Ella, Sri Lanka, the Nine Arch Bridge is an incredible testament to both engineering and natural beauty. Surrounded by tea plantations and dense vegetation, the bridge offers breathtaking panoramic views, especially during the train crossings. You will find a lot of tourists trying to get the perfect shot during the golden hours of sunrise when the soft sunlight bathes the landscape.

Interestingly while it was built during the British colonial era the bridge was actually constructed by locals. Originally the British planned to build a steel bridge however, as WWI broke out the British steel was reallocation to the weapon industry thus leaving the locals to use stone bricks and cement. Knowing this makes the bridge even more fascinating than it already is.

Nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

History of the Nine Arch Bridge

The history of this bridge is fascinating. As with much of the construction happening in Sri Lanka during colonial times, the main purpose of this bridge was to transport tea from the mainland of Sri Lanka to the coasts. The British Government wanted to construct the bridge with steel which was the material of choice in the early 20th century.

As World War I broke out in Europe, much of the steel capacity was diverted back to Europe for the war. The bridge was therefore unfinished for some time. Locals however, took it into their own hands, constructing the bridge with stones and cement which probably left the British baffled.

Nowadays, this train no longer is responsible for much tea transportation. Trains still run across the bridge regularly throughout the day but instead of transporting tea, it’s mostly transporting tourists and locals (but mostly tourists). As well, the bridge itself is a tourist hotspot with people flocking to the bridge to take photos.

Getting to the Nine Arch Bridge from Ella

There are numerous ways to get to the Nine Arch Bridge from Ella. The simplest is to just walk from town. This will take about 30 minutes from the main road. You’ll need to climb down and up a few hills but generally this is not a difficult hike in my opinion.

nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

Another method is to take a tuk tuk directly to the train tracks. As this is a super touristy endeavor, you can expect the prices to be jacked up. I heard of people paying 3,000 LKR for the 10-15 minute tuk tuk ride which would be crazy in any other instance besides this.

Tuk tuk at nine arch bridge sri lanka

Best time to visit the Nine Arch bridge

Without a doubt, the best time to visit the Nine Arch bridge is during the sunrise. The warm colors of the morning really pair well with the aged stone and the nearby tea fields. It’s much easier to take photos as well without the sun shining down unevenly on the bridge.

Nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

The morning is also the best time to avoid the crowds as swarms of tourists will come later on in the day.

Sunrise is generally around 6am in Sri Lanka. I arrived at the bridge just after 6am which means I left my guesthouse around 5:40am to make it in time. This was perfect as there were only a few other tourists around which allowed for getting amazing photos!

From 7am, the tourists start to show up and by 7:30am, it can be very busy. I found the best lighting to be around 6:45 to 7:15am!

Take photos on the bridge

The bridge is free to roam and wander as you please. You can walk on the tracks, walk alongside the tracks, or inside the tracks. If you’re feeling brave, you can even sit or walk along the edges of the bridge for that iconic bridge photo shot. We spent a lot of time trying to get the right shot from the bridge and you can see the fruits of that labor in these photos.

Nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

The train passes through this bridge multiple times a day with the first train passing through at around 6:30am. I had quite the scare when this happened as I was busy taking photos on the edge of the bridge. The train was full of tourists hanging out the front door like I had done the previous day. There are no barriers or warning either. Some guy who does not work for the transportation department will usually come onto the track and tell people a train is coming.

I suspect this will probably change in the future with more tourists flocking to this ever popular bridge. I can also see more accidents happening with people falling off the bridge or getting struck by the train.

Take photos in the tea plantation

The bridge is surrounded by tea fields which make for an amazing juxtaposition with the Nine Arch Bridge. Next to the bridge on the south side are a few tea fields and a local shop selling coconuts and snacks.

Nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

Simply walk a few steps down into the tea fields and you all of a sudden have brand new photo opportunities with the bridge directly in front of you. Don’t take my word for it, simply look at these amazing photos!

Nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

Take photos above the Nine Arch Bridge

Finally, you should take some photos overlooking the bridge. The best area for this is the viewpoint directly above the bridge on the north side. The exact location is the Nine Arch Bridge Viewpoint. It actually looks like someone lives here but they just let you use the viewpoint to take your photos. They do leave a box for tips however!

Nine arch bridge ella sri lanka

Day 7-10: Hiriketiya Beach

Next stop up after Ella is finally to visit the beaches of Southern Sri Lanka! I had done a lot of research beforehand on the beaches in southern Sri Lanka and got a recommendation from a friend to visit the surfside town of Hiriketiya. I decided to base myself in two different locations along the coast to better explore the area, with Hiriketiya being the first stop.

Sri lanka south coast beaches

As we had rented a car with a driver, it is a 3h drive from Ella to the coast through incredible mountainous terrain. The area around Ella is truly stunning and beckons for photos to be taken left and right.

Sri lanka south coast beaches

Best Beaches around Hiriketiya

The beaches in the eastern half of the southern coast are gorgeous. You are spoiled for choices as far as beaches go. Whether you want something with plenty of sunbeds and beach bars, or something that is completely remote and untouched, there’s something for everyone. Here is a list of my favorite beaches:

Sri lanka south coast beaches
  • Hiriketiya Beach: Close to home, this beach is great for surfers and those that don’t want to travel far
  • Dickwella Beach: This is nearby to Hiriketiya and offers a huge stretch of open beach equipped with plenty of restaurants and sunbeds
  • Hiru Beach: If you want to be alone and simply appreciate nature without being disturbed by the masses, this is the beach for you. Absolutely untouched, untamed, and wild.
  • Silent Beach: A popular beach next to Hiru beach with slightly more amenities. It’s also shared with the Aman resort so you know this beach will be well kept.

Keep in mind that the beaches in Sri Lanka are not the tropical beaches of the Maldives. They can’t compare to that type of crystal clear blue water and white sand like you’d find at the Ritz Carlton Maldives.

Sandbank Ritz Carlton Maldives
Do not expect to see beaches like this!

Sri Lanka beaches are more wild and untamed. While the water is not crystal blue, it is perfect for surfing as waves crash onto the shore. The sand is also much finer and is among the softest sand I’ve felt. The palm trees in Sri Lanka are among the tallest I’ve seen and they perfectly protrude out of the ground and above the water.

Sri Lanka beaches south coast

Visit Smoke and Bitters

The scene around Hiriketiya is growing fast with plenty of new cafes and restaurants popping up. One of them is world renowned cocktail bar and restaurant Smoke And Bitters. This trendy bar and cafe was voted #40 in the best cocktail bars in Asia. Considering almost all of the entries in this list are in major cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Bangkok, it’s a miracle that a bar in the middle of a sleepy surfside town made it on this list.

Smoke and Bitters hiriketiya cocktail bar

Make sure to make reservations in advance as this place gets really busy. They have great views over the beach as well as the sunset. The food is also elevated Sri Lankan and pairs fantastic with the cocktails.

Smoke and Bitters hiriketiya cocktail bar

Day 10-12: Ahangama

Ahangama was the final destination on my Sri Lanka itinerary. I figured, it would be a good midway point between Hiriketiya and Colombo, but also allow me to explore more of the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

Ahangama Beach Sri Lanka

Getting to Ahangama

Traveling along the southern Sri Lanka coast is simple. You can take the local buses which traverse the length of the island or simply take tuk-tuks. Ubers are easily obtainable in most parts of the southern coast and that’s what we did. I took an Uber from Hiriketiya to Mrissa for my whale watching tour (more on that later), and then from Mrissa to Ahangama.

A mini Canggu in Sri Lanka

I had heard that Ahangama was like a mini version of Canggu in Sri Lanka so I had to go check it out as I did live in Canggu, Bali after all.

Ahangama Beach Sri Lanka

Ahangama is roughly 1.5h away from Hiriketiya along the main coastal road. This town was once a sleepy surf town that has quickly become the bohemian and hipster capital of Sri Lanka. Think hordes of beautiful modern cafes, trendy restaurants, and beach bars all crammed into a small strip of road along the main coastal highway of Southern Sri Lanka.

Ahangama Beach Sri Lanka

Ahangama does have a charm to it though as the beach is very beautiful and doesn’t feel as packed as neighboring beaches like Unawatuma or other more mass produced tourism destinations closer to Galle. Ahangama maintains its surfer vibes alongside trendy cafes making a perfect place for surfers and digital nomads alike.

For now.

The construction speed Ahangama is experiencing is unprecedented. All the cafes and restaurants are already located along the main road which is shared by scooters, tuk tuks, cars, buses, and trucks which make the bottle neck in town unbearable. I think another year or two and Ahangama will succumb to the fate of all these trendy Bohemian villages that have sprung up in various developing world locations.

Silent Beach Sri Lanka

Ahangama reminds me a bit more of Lombok than Bali. Lombok has similar Canggu vibes without the crowds and traffic; as if it was 5 years earlier. Lombok is also a surf paradise similar to Ahangama, albeit the beaches in Lombok are nicer in my opinion.

The cafes and restaurants here have great vibes and views, but the food quality is lacking and doesn’t compare to those in Bali or Lombok. Prices in Ahangama (and Sri Lanka in general) are also noticeably higher as well. Ultimately, Bali has the best cafes in the world in my opinion so it’s hard to really compare.

Best beaches around Ahangama

The beaches around Ahangama are very beautiful. Think beautiful Indian Ocean blue waters, powdery sand, and stretches of beach that span for many kilometers. The beaches around Ahangama aren’t overly developed either so you can relax with peace in mind. The main beach around Ahangama is equipped with numerous restaurants and cafes to enjoy a drink or lunch.

If you want something more chilled, consider going to Koggala beach which is a very long sandy stretch of beach further west of Ahangama. Koggala does not have any restaurants, beach clubs, or cafes. It’s just untamed beach with beautiful waters in front.

Surfing in Ahangama

One of the main draws, and rightly so, of Ahangama is the surfing. The whole area in south Sri Lanka is perfect for surfing in my opinion. Ahangama in particular is great for beginner surfers in my opinion.

Ahangama Beach Sri Lanka

The waves break close to the shore meaning you’ll just need to swim a short distance out to find waves. Once you finish riding a wave, you’ll be in shallow enough water to stand up. The waves never get above 1.5 meters meaning you can catch good waves but not be overwhelmed by waves too powerful for beginners.

There are numerous surf shops all around the town as well as on the beach where you can book your lessons or surf boards. Ahangama is also home to numerous surf schools that run surf and stay as well as surf and yoga packages.

Visit the colonial fort town of Galle

Galle, a coastal city in Sri Lanka, is a place where history whispers through its charming cobblestone streets and ancient fortifications. Originally founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Galle became a significant trading port for spices, gems, and exotic goods. However, it was the Dutch who left the most enduring mark on the city. The imposing Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stands as a testament to Dutch colonial architecture and engineering. Built in the 17th century, the fort’s sturdy walls and bastions have withstood the test of time, protecting the city from invasions and natural disasters.

Today, Galle Fort is a captivating blend of old-world charm and modern vitality. Walking along its ramparts offers panoramic views of the Indian Ocean, while exploring its narrow alleys reveals a treasure trove of boutique shops, art galleries, and cafes. The Dutch Reformed Church, with its simple yet elegant design, stands as a reminder of the city’s colonial past, while the Galle Maritime Museum provides insight into the region’s maritime history.

galle sri lanka old town

For those looking to immerse themselves in Galle’s cultural tapestry, a visit to the Galle National Museum is a must. Housed within a Dutch colonial building, the museum showcases artifacts that tell the story of Galle’s diverse history, from ancient times to colonial rule. Nearby, the Historical Mansion Museum offers a glimpse into the lives of wealthy merchants during the Dutch period, with its opulent furnishings and period architecture.

Galle Sri lanka museum

Whale Watching in Mrissa

The waters surrounding Mirissa are rich in nutrients, particularly during certain times of the year, making them an ideal feeding ground for blue whales. These whales, known as the largest animals on Earth, migrate through these waters as part of their annual migration patterns.

During the peak season, which typically runs from November to April, visitors to Mirissa have a high chance of spotting blue whales on organized whale watching tours. Having seen a lot of underwater animals during my time, I’ve never encountered blue whales before. They are the biggest animals to have ever roamed the Earth so naturally it’s high on my bucket list.

I booked a tour with one of the many operators in Mirissa to go whale watching. I didn’t expect it to be nearly as full as it was. The boats are really big and completely packed to the brim with people. There was probably 200 people on my boat spread out like sardines on the upper and lower decks.

In addition to my boat, there was at least another 10 boats of varying sizes all looking for the whales which brings into question the ethics behind these mass whale watching setups. This is like the quandary I faced when going bull shark diving in Fiji but this seemed way more intrusive than in Fiji.

In the end, I did not see any blue whales and only settled for dolphins which was a let down. I probably would not do this trip again just because of the sheer amount of boat traffic that goes out looking for the whales.

Sri Lanka Day by Day Itinerary

I hope you enjoyed my itinerary for Sri Lanka and I hope it can help you plan your own trip. This section is a summary of my day by day itinerary so you can see what I did every day.

Sri Lanka Full Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, drive straight to Sigiriya
Day 2: Sigiriya for the sunrise and morning, drive to Kandy in the afternoon
Day 3: Full day in Kandy: Explore the city, visit the Botanical Gardens and Ambuluwawa temple
Day 4: Leave for Nuwara Eliya in the morning, stop at a tea farm along the way. Take the train from Nanouya to Ella in the afternoon
Day 5: Nine Arch Bridge in the morning, relax in Ella
Day 6: Hiking around Ella including Little Adam’s peak, visit the Rawana waterfalls
Day 7: Drive down to Hiriketiya on the southern coast
Day 8: Explore the beaches in the area
Day 9: Another beach day
Day 10: Hiriketiya to Ahangama
Day 11: Full day exploring the beaches around Ahangama. Visit Galle in the afternoon
Day 12: Leave for Colombo

Sri Lanka One Week Itinerary

With just one week in Sri Lanka, I would cut out parts of the beach as I think the inland areas of Sri Lanka are more unique.

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, drive straight to Sigiriya
Day 2: Sigiriya for the sunrise and morning, drive to Kandy in the afternoon
Day 3: Full day in Kandy: Explore the city, visit the Botanical Gardens and Ambuluwawa temple
Day 4: Leave for Nuwara Eliya in the morning, stop at a tea farm along the way. Take the train from Nanouya to Ella in the afternoon
Day 5: Nine Arch Bridge in the morning, go to the beach in the afternoon
Day 6: Full day around Ahangama
Day 7: Full day around Ahangama
Day 8: Leave for Colombo

Sri Lanka Two week itinerary

With two full weeks, you have more time to really enjoy the various locations in Sri Lanka.

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, drive straight to Sigiriya
Day 2: Sigiriya for the sunrise and morning, drive to Kandy in the afternoon
Day 3: Full day in Kandy: Explore the city, visit the Botanical Gardens and Ambuluwawa temple
Day 4: Leave for Nuwara Eliya in the morning, stop at a tea farm along the way. Stay in Nuwara Eliya for the night
Day 5: Another night in Nuwara Eliya
Day 6: Morning train from Nanouya to Ella
Day 7: Nine Arch Bridge in the morning, relax in Ella
Day 8: Hiking around Ella including Little Adam’s peak, visit the Rawana waterfalls
Day 9: Drive down to Hiriketiya on the southern coast
Day 10: Explore the beaches in the area
Day 11: Another beach day
Day 12: Hiriketiya to Ahangama
Day 13: Full day exploring the beaches around Ahangama. Visit Galle in the afternoon
Day 14: Leave for Colombo

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