What to do in Sri Lanka in 5 days (or more)

Let me begin this post by saying – 5 days is not enough to explore Sri Lanka! I know this statement holds true for any other country equally and I’ve always felt this end the end of every trip that I wish I had more time. But until that day when I quit my job to travel full time (fingers crossed, that day will come), I must make the most of the short trips that I can make. I’m going to focus my writing on what to do in Sri Lanka in 5 days and leave you with some recommendations of what else you might want to see if you’re lucky to spare a few more days in this lush green diverse country.

Although the cities are well connected by trains, and it’s easy to traverse within towns and cities on tuk-tuks, it is not very expensive to rent a car with a driver to take you around. It gives you a great amount of flexibility and a local to help you out wherever you might need, making it extremely convenient and stress-free to roam around.


Day 1: Colombo

I begin with Colombo because chances are, you will land in the capital city, which is well-connected and one of the few cities with an international airport in Sri Lanka. Most likely, you will be curious to explore the largest city in this country, though I wouldn’t recommend that you spend any more than 24 hours here.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that Colombo is one of those few cities in the world that did not impress me the least bit and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. In my opinion, it absolutely lacked any character at all and was a disappointment owing to many factors – lack of infrastructure, filth, not much to offer and quite boring, so to say. Yet, since I had a day, I decided to explore everything there was, and you might want to read my post on 10 things to do in Colombo, if you plan to spend some time there as well.

Suggested budget city-stay hotel: CityRest Fort


Day 2: Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary & Kandy (optional Dambulla Cave Temple)

If I had more time, I would’ve gone further ahead to explore Sigiriya. However, due to the lack of time, I decided to keep it to Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary and Kandy.

Drive time: 2.5 hours to Pinnawala + 1.5 hours to Kandy (optional: 2 hours to Dambulla Cave Temple + 2 hours to Kandy)

Alternatively: take a train from Colombo to Rambukkana, and take a tuk-tuk to the orphanage.

Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary
Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary

Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary: With the rising concerns on animal welfare, I wanted to make sure that I am also doing the ethical thing and visiting this place only if there is absolutely no hint of animal cruelty. I did my research before going here and came across several posts. After some study, I finally decided, that I was convinced and wanted to see the elephants here.

Firstly, don’t be taken aback by the crowds here. Also, the elephants are in chains which might make you wonder how it’s not considered cruel. For those of you who are also concerned and want to read in detail about why elephants are chained here, or babies are often separated from the adults, this post, written by a blogger who went extensively into researching about this place, might help you understand.

Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary
Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary

There are several areas at the orphanage where you will see these elephants roaming freely and tourists are advised only to look at them from a distance and not interact with them. If you wish to interact, you might want to go to the area with ‘fruit feeding’ or ‘milk feeding’ where under supervision, you can even feed baby elephants milk from a bottle. However, the most interesting part of the visit is watching the elephants bathing in the river, a ritual that takes place twice in the day.

The river is across from the orphanage and the elephants are guided here by the trainers, into the river. While you walk to this area, you will come across many shops selling paper made from elephant pool and they are happy to take you through the process of how that paper is made (which was quite interesting, in my opinion). I did think it was interesting to recycle ‘waste’ to create paper, instead of cutting down trees and thus ended up buying quite a few things, to do my bit in conserving nature. At the river itself, you can seat yourself at the café in Hotel Elephant Park, which overlooks the elephant bathing spot and has one of the best vantage points. It is surely a lot of fun to watch these elephants bathe, some extremely naughty, and you can see them having a lot of fun!

Sri Lanka

Bathing times are twice a day – 10 am and 2 pm. While some elephants love to roll themselves in the river, spraying each other with water for fun, others require the staff to spray water on them from a large hose at the corner of the river. The elephants are clearly enjoying this, as some of them actually rush to the river as soon as they approach it. I would advise you to maintain your distance from these wild creatures. Keep about 1 – 1.5 hours for the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and try to make it for the bathing ritual, which is the highlight of the experience.

Depending on your appetite for a road trip, and the time available to you, I would advise you to either proceed to Dambulla Cave Temple (2 hours drive) or straight to Kandy (1.5 hours drive). As Kandy itself doesn’t have a lot to do and see, if you’re able to start early in the day, you can make a trip to Dambulla Cave Temple.

Dambulla Cave Temple:  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this temple originally dates to the 1st century BC, with renovations that were carried out in 11th, 12th and 18th centuries. Known to be the refuge of King Walagamba during his 14-year exile, these caves were converted into a temple with his return to the throne. Although the temple isn’t that impressive from the outside, the site is massive and 5 main caves house the most visited attractions – with numerous Buddha statues and paintings. Located below a vast overhanging rock, the ceilings of the caves are painted beautifully with murals of various Hindu gods and goddesses. An intriguing artistic place of worship, these cave temples are unique and display superior craftsmanship and deserve a visit, should you be able to find the time.

Kandy: If you’re not in for slightly unpleasant road trips (the roads aren’t in the best condition in Sri Lanka), you must proceed directly to Kandy from Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.

Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka
Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka

In Kandy, although the lake is quite scenic, there are no cafes or restaurants to sit at to enjoy the lovely view with a meal. However, there is a walking path that takes you around the lake and several places where you can just sit and take the view in. On one side of the lake is the famous Temple of Tooth Relic. Kandy was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of this Buddhist temple which houses one of the only two surviving relics of the tooth of Buddha.

Remember the guidelines for entering temples in Sri Lanka: Your knees and shoulders must be covered. You need not cover your ankles. If you, however, don’t have anything to cover your knees, you can borrow a wrapping cloth from the temple’s premises for the purpose. Also, you need to remove your shoes before entering the temple.

Kandy, Sri Lanka
Temple of Tooth Relic, Kandy

The entrance to the main hall is through a bridge over a moat. There are two floors in the temple and the tooth relic is stored in gold caskets studded with precious stones, on the upper floor. Personally, I didn’t find the temple impressive from the inside as I did it from the outside, the architecture and the backdrop to the temple are stunning, with tall green woods of Udawattakele forest sanctuary and the lake. Unlike most temples, you will not find any ancient or medieval images of Buddha at this temple.

Kandy, Sri Lanka
Temple of Tooth Relic at night

As you step out of the temple, your entrance ticket also allows you to enter the International Buddhist Museum behind, an interesting one that showcases the spread of Buddhism across the world with its origins in India. Interesting artefacts and scripts take you on a journey through South-east Asia and the story of the religion’s roots and expansion.

Kandy is a cultural city, so your evening will be spent learning more about the Sri Lankan culture. After the temple, you can visit Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha, the large statue that you can see atop the hill, overlooking the entire city. It is not very tough to get here if you’re in a car, it’s hardly a 20-minute journey to the top, no doubt a steep climb. Here, they’ve made a small temple which requires (minimal) entrance fee. Once you’re at the entrance, you can enjoy 360-degree views of the city of Kandy (including the famous cricket ground), the lake and the hills. The views are breathtaking and get even better as you climb the statue’s stairs to (almost) the top of the statue. The statue is one of the tallest in the region.

Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue, Sri Lanka
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue

Kandy, Sti Lanka
View of Kandy city from Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue

If you have enough time, you might want to visit Udawattakele Forest Reserve, situated in the heart of the city, right behind the Temple of Tooth Relic. There are several Buddhist temples and hermitages inside the forest reserve. If you’re a forest enthusiast, a walk through the dense vegetation might be right up your alley!

In the evening, cultural enthusiasts might want to watch the vibrant and unique traditional and folk dance performances at the Kandyan Art Association & Cultural Centre, situated right next to Temple of Tooth Relic. Although there are other centres with such performances, this is one of the top-rated ones in Kandy.

Recommended budget city-stay hotel: Kandy City Hotel

Top 25 things to see in Asia.


Day 3: Drive to Nuwara Eliya and overnight at The Tree House

This was personally my favourite part of the trip because of how beautiful this drive is! The winding roads through the lush green hills, covered with endless tea plantations, are a sight for sore eyes! I was lucky to have a rainy weather, with the clouds descending low on the hills and we drove over the clouds, creating a very romantic setting amidst breathtaking scenery.

Drive time: 2.5 hours to Nuwara Eliya + 2 hours to The Tree House in Ginigathena (optional)

Alternatively: The train ride between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya is considered to be one of the most scenic ones in the region.

Although the train ride is popular and spoken about extensively, there's nothing like having the flexibility of your own vehicle which allows you to stop anywhere, anytime and take in the lovely views. Nuwara Eliya's tea plantations and waterfalls are so beautiful that you will want to spend some time on your journey rather than reach the destination directly.

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
Nuwara Eliya Tea Plantations

Read my detailed post on Things to do in Nuwara Eliya.


Day 4: On to Bentota

Since an evening is not enough in the beautiful Nuwara Eliya, I'd recommend you to spend this morning trying out some adventure sports in Kithulgala. If you choose to stay at The Tree House, you're not too far from this area. Waterfall abseiling, white-water rafting, kayaking are some of the popular activities offered here.

In the afternoon, proceed towards Bentota.

Drive time: 5 hours from Nuwara Eliya or 3 hours from The Tree House in Ginigathena

Although there are several options to enjoy the beachside resort and activities, such as Galle, Negombo (closer to Colombo) and Bentota, we chose Bentota due to the proximity (only 1.5 hours drive from Colombo) as well as the diversity of resorts and activities offered here. Since it is a long drive from Nuwara Eliya, you're likely to arrive late evening and thus, I would recommend you to spend this day relaxing and enjoying spa therapy or drinks by the beach. Here, I decided to treat myself to a luxury beach resort stay.

Bentota, Sri Lanka

Recommended (luxury) stay: Vivanta by Taj

Vivaanta by Taj is located only a few steps from the beach in Bentota. The best part about the hotel is that every room here has a view of the ocean and their outdoor restaurant (which was unfortunately shut when we went because of the storm), is one of the best places to enjoy good food and superb views. With ample lounging space and sun loungers spread out in the poolside area as well as the gardens, spending a day here just relaxing is something you'd absolutely enjoy! I'm sharing a few pictures here of the resort, which will convince you to shell out a few extra bucks and book this amazing place.

Read my detailed review of Vivanta by Taj, Bentota.


Day 5: Bentota/ Madu River Safari & back to Colombo

There are a lot of activities that you can enjoy in Bentota. Some of these are:

Watersports in Bentota River/ Ocean

From wake-boarding to windsurfing, scuba diving, renting a jet-ski, banana boat, donut ride and kayaking, there are several activities for the adventure enthusiasts and water lovers in Bentota and these are not even expensive! Click here to read in detail about the options available and prices.

Bentota/ Maduganga River Safari

This mangrove boat tour is available both in Bentota and Madu Ganga River (which is about 30 minutes drive from Bentota). The Madu Ganga River tour is more popular because of the diversity of experiences available such as fish spa, visiting an island temple and the cinnamon island. However, if you're looking for more wildlife such as crocodiles and repltiles, Bentota River is a better bet. The 2-hour safari takes you through mangroves and is a great way to understand the ecosystem in Sri Lanka. It costs as less as $25 for a boat that can accomodate 4-5 people.

Madu River Mangroves Safari

Whale Watching

Two popular places which are not too far from Bentota for whale watching are Galle & Mirissa. Most hotels in Bentota (including Vivanta by Taj) arrange for the whale watching tour for their guests. Galle is about 70-minutes from Bentota whereas Mirissa is further away (almost 2 hours drive). The best time to experience this cruise is from October - March as this is when the dolphins and whales populate the waters and are easy to spot.

Galle Fort

About 70 minutes by road from Bentota is this UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The best part about this fort is its setting, it is surrounded by the ocean on three sides. If you have time, do visit the Flag Rock at the southern most end of the Fort where you might be able to catch some adventurous people cliff diving. The place is gorgeous, with rocks jutting out into the deep blue sea and also perfect to catch the sunset. It might be worthwhile to take a day trip to Galle as there are many interesting places to explore, with old European architecture and lovely beaches.

Turtle Hatchery

Closer to Bentota is one of the popular Turtle Hatcheries called Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project. However, since I read several mixed reviews of this place, I decided to skip it altogether. If you're interested, to read up before you plan to visit a Turtle Hatchery in Sri Lanka.


What to do if you have more time:

If you have more than 5 days in Sri Lanka (I'd recommend to plan a trip of minimum 1 week), here's what you can add to your itinerary:

Sigiriya

The ancient city of Sigiriya is about 2.5 hours away from Kandy (and only 30 min ahead of Dambulla Cave Temple) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace and temple complex is located on a massive rock plateau formed by the magma of an extinct volcano. The site is as old as the 3rd century BC and served as a monastery as well as a royal residence over the years. It was then abandoned and has now become one of the most popular ancient sites to visit in Sri Lanka.

Ella

Many people take the train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Ella because it is known to be one of the most gorgeous train rides ever (similar to Kandy - Nuwara Eliya) as you pass through tea plantations and lush green forests. In Ella, climbing Adam's Peak is a popular activity. The hike is not tough, takes about 1 hour to get to the top and the views are breathtaking.

Yala National Park

This is one place I missed visiting on my trip but would've loved to include in the itinerary for Sri Lanka if I had a couple of more days to spare. Yala National Park is home to very rich wildlife and you can find elephants, crocodiles, buffaloes and monkeys, apart from Sri Lankan Sloth Bear and Leopards. Wildlife safaris are organised by several companies here and it might be worth spending 1-2 days here if you're an animal lover and safari enthusiast.

126 thoughts on “What to do in Sri Lanka in 5 days (or more)”

  1. I’m just planning my trip to Sri Lanka and wow, there’s so much to do I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t even know how long to stay for but this is perfect. Thanks for making my desire to go even stronger

  2. You did quite a bit in 5 days!! You spent some time in the mountains as well as the beach – that’s a great combination. I didn’t know you can go whale watching in Sri Lanka. I will need to put that on my list!

  3. Sri Lanka is blowing up on my newsfeed constantly! Thanks for a great itinerary! I travel with my 2 boys and love the flexibility of a self drive or having a driver rather than taking a guided tour! They would pick the elephants and turtles as a must do, but I am all about nature and the cool temples!

  4. My flatmate is from Sri Lanka and ive heard soooo many good things about this country! Thats Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary looks like a wonderful place! Ive seen it on so many instagram photos and I am dreaming to visit it one day! And wow that View of Kandy city looks so good! I have to add it do my list of “where to go when I finally book my flight to SL” 🙂

  5. Sri Lanka looks like a small country in the map, but is actually so huge. I liked the itinerary you sampled here. I feel I would keep at least 10 days in hand to explore the country. Would love to spend more time in Kanday and Nuwara Eliya.

  6. I’m glad your post features more about Sri Lanka than just the rice paddies. It really is a refreshing point of view of such a beautiful place. All those amazing Buddhas and the designs the tea fields create are awesome. And I love that you found out if the elephant place was ethical before visiting.

  7. Sri Lanka is so totally on my bucket list and reading this post has really sparked that drive to get myself there! The Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary looks absolutely incredible, and to be so up close and personal with these gentle giants would have been such a wonderful experience. But holy wow the Nuwara Eliya Tea Plantations looks stunning – that lush green and the spiral shape in the planting is so interesting.

  8. I was actually researching about a potential vacation in Sri Lanka the other day, so this post came as quite a pleasant surprise. I am sure that checking out the elephants, admiring picturesque natural landscapes of the tea plantations and exploring attractions with rich heritage such as the temple containing a relic of the Buddha and the cave are definitely going down in my itinerary. Thanks for sharing.

  9. You utilized your short time in Sri Lanka in a very good way. I loved the itinerary and how you managed to cover so many places. Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary is amazing and I am glad it is working for the animal welfare. Kandy city is beautiful . I loved the photographs. Thanks for sharing.

  10. You followed pretty much the same itinerary as what I did on my honeymoon. Loved it all. Kandy for its heritage and markets, Nuwara Eliya for its green valleys and estates, the white water rafting on the way, Colombo for its small city life and Bentota for its beaches and turtle hatcheries. I would have loved to do Dambulla as well as Galle. Guess next time it is!

  11. You’ve covered a comprehensive itinerary for five days in Sri Lanka, with more than enough to have a wonderful experience. I think the highlight of a visit would be observing the bathing time for the elephant orphans at the elephant sanctuary. What an amazing sight and so cool to be part of that.
    I was also fascinated with the Temple of Buddha’s tooth — I suppose that is a very sacred place to those who worship Buddha. Is the tooth actually on display?

    1. Not exactly- the room that stores the tooth is accessible to the devotees but the tooth is not openly on display – it is kept inside a gold casket.

  12. I’m so glad you included an ethical animal spot in your round up. I recently went to Elephant Hills in Thailand and found it so rewarding. I’m hoping to go to Sri Lanka in October so I’ll bookmark this page. Thanks.

  13. Sri Lanka is really a raw beauty and we love visiting it. We have been there twice and till day could only explore the South Coast. Hopefully next time we will visit the places mentioned by you. Nice itinerary and pictures Medha.

  14. Wow you fit in a lot in just five days! Good to know that there isn’t much to do in Colombo. I’ve been thinking about visiting Sri Lanka but was worried a two-week holiday wouldn’t be enough time — good to know how much ground you can cover on a short trip. It seems like travel distances are pretty short — is it reasonably quick to get around on the train too?

    1. 2 weeks are enough actually, and just the right amount of time, in my opinion, to cover a good amount of ground in Sri Lanka. Trains are definitely slower but very scenic. Just enjoy the journey!

  15. My friend is nonstop raving about the ecotourism in Sri Lanka, and now I agree to her. It is indeed breathtaking and a once in a lifetime adventure with nature.

  16. There’s so much to see and things to do in Sri Lanka that 5 or a couple more days will not suffice. Your post is a revelation about what the country has to offer its visitors such as the elephant sanctuary, impressive temples and statues, to name a few. The tea plantation looks exquisite with its geometrical patterns.

  17. Oh my gosh, you’re making my heart ache. I was supposed to go to Sri Lanka in February, but I had to have emergency surgery instead. Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary is now super high on my Sri Lanka list. I had no idea that there were so many different animal tourism opportunities – like the turtle hatchery and whale watching too!

  18. The end of a trip is the worst and I agree it never feels like enough time. Even when you quit your job and travel full time, it won’t be enough time. There is simply too much to see and do in each place. Luckily for me your guide will help me if I can ever manage to get to Sri Lanka. I especially want to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary. The Temple of Tooth Relic looks amazing too. $25 for our family of five is very reasonable and would definitely be something we would want to do. Yeah I could see 5 days not being enough with so many fun things to see and do.

    1. I would’ve loved to make it to one of the National Parks for a safari, I’ll probably do it next time 🙂

  19. Sri Lanka is truly a traveler’s paradise with greenery and beautiful beaches. I followed the same itinerary as per your post, but missed Bentota and all those mangrove safaris, due to lack of time. In my next visit, I would try to cover Bentota and Galle. Thanks for all useful suggestions!

  20. I am heading back to Sri Lanka soon and this post will come in as a great guide, thanks for sharing all the valuable info and I loved your photos. Looks like you had an incredible time there.

  21. This is a great itinerary when you only have limited time or vacation days. I have heard that the train journey from Kandy is one of the most scenic rides in the world! The tea plantations are so green and lush! Sri Lanka is high on my list – the landscape and scenery are spectacular!

    1. I did not do the train journey, we had rented a car so we went around in that. But the journey was scenic even on the road!

  22. My fiance was travelling around Sri Lanka for 2 months last year and he loved it (apart from Colombo – he had same feelings about it as you have!). Now I really wanted to go especially to see those tea plantations – it’s so green and lush, so beautiful. I will definitely do the train ride though!

  23. So much to do and see. I’m so glad the elephant orphanage is a safe place for the elephants. That isn’t always the case. I agree that having your own vehicle gives you a great freedom you wouldn’t have with public transportation. Great list of things to do.

  24. I love the itinerary and appreciate your point that you need more time there! We spent a month there and we felt it wasn’t enough! This is a great itinerary to see and do alot in a short time frame – appreciate your views on the Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary it definitely looks like an ethical business. You definitely have some things on the list I haven’t done – what a good excuse to go back! (Ella and Sigiriya) was one of my highlights of the trip – all the reason to spend more time there!

  25. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but it looks like there’s so much to do! I would love to see the elephants and whale watching. I’m sorry Colombo didn’t impress you more as a city though. I can see that 5 days is definitely not enough for Sri Lanka!

    1. I would’ve loved to make it to Yala National Park for a safari, such a pity that I didn’t have the time for it.

  26. It makes me so happy that you researched a place like the Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary. I hate seeing pictures of tourists with elephants when they have no idea how they treat them. That’s great Sri Lanka has a place where people can view them but let them live a more natural life.

    1. With the growing awareness of cruelty towards animals, I guess it has become important to research before you visit a place like that.

  27. Our family would love to visit Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary and see the humane way the elephants are treated. There are so many beautiful places to see in Sri Lanka. A visit to Kandy would have to be top on our itinerary. And I would absolutely want to see Nuwara Eliya Tea Plantations. Those lush fields and rolling hills look like a slice of paradise.

  28. Great itinerary, it looks so well organised. You’re able to see a lot of things but also have some down time. The elephant reserve looks amazing. I have never been to Sri Lanka but there’s so much to do there and your photos have captured the beauty of the place for me.

  29. This sounds like a solid, 5-day itinerary. You combine a little culture, a little wildlife, and a little beach. I think every trip to Sri Lanka should include these elements. We went to a turtle hatchery and left with mixed feelings. They do seem to be hatching a lot of turtles, which should stabilize the population but it just didn’t seem natural. Huge tubs of baby turtles are cute but I would love to see them leaving a natural nest and crawling to the ocean.

  30. I thought 3 days are good enough for Sri Lanka, after reading this , I realize how wrong I was. Kandy looks absolutely beautiful and there are great places to explore across the country ! Great article

  31. I never realized that there is so much to see in Sri Lanka. The scenery looks fantastic. A train journey through Sri Lanka is something i would enjoy. Then I would also take alook at the Elephant sanctuary. I hear Sri Lanka is a leader in Eco-tourism.

  32. Nice work! I’ve been to Sri Lanka a few years ago and I loved it! People are super friendly. You created a good itinerary, short but with everything you need to see.

  33. I was there I. January and really loved the whole country. Sigirya was my fav. The people are so friendly and genuinely welcoming to visitors. I hope to go back. Two weeks at least!! ?

  34. You really organized the itinerary for Sri Lanka so well Medha! I am also like you, with a job, but since I have no intention to leaving it for now (I love it way too much), it’s itineraries like these which are so useful!

    By the way, great pics too 🙂

  35. This is making Sri Lanka even more appealing! So many fantastic locations to visit. Love your photographs, it really brings it to life.

  36. This is so funny – I was only in Sri Lanka for 5 days, too! Definitely not enough time. But you can cover quite a bit of ground in 5 days. I stayed at a wellness retreat and went to Kaudulla National Park for elephants (highly recommend!). Also checked out Dambulla Temple, Sigiriya Rock, Pidurangala Rock… I’d love to go back to check out some of the spots you visited, plus more!

  37. Sri Lanka is so close. I hope to be there soon. This is a great doable itinerary. Good to know Taj has a set up there too. Your photography is excellent.

  38. I really want to visit Sri Lanka, it sounds like such a magical place! It can be very hard to know which animal refuges really are protecting the animals, so I’m very glad you did your research and mad an informed decision. I hope I can visit Sri Lanka soon!

  39. Ohhh myy! Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country to visit! And yes, for me 5 days staying here is not enough also for it has so much to offer and to enjoy here. I love the photos especially the tea plantation and the elephant santuary. I should add this to my list and visot Sri Lanka someday.

  40. The tea plantations look stunning and very much up my street. I’m not sure about the elephant orphanage but I do love the way you’ve laid out this itinerary. Reminds me that I need to go to Sri Lanka

  41. Definitely agree that 5 days is not enough – but you’ve done a fabulous itinerary for people short on time. Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary and Dambulla Cave Temple sound like great stops on the way to Kandy, Kandy is so beautiful, you got such a great shot of the city from Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue! And then beaches, tea plantations and marine mammals – what a great sample of what Sri Lanka has to offer – glad you had a fabulous time! (Colombo aside!!)

  42. I think you are right, if I go to Sri Lanka I will try and go for 10 days to two weeks, so I can have time to see as much as possible but also to relax as well. Your itinerary for 5 days does look amazing, particularly Kandy Lake, which is very appealing, and Kandy City also looks colourful and attractive. Tea plantations, mangrove tours and beaches are also all on my list as some of the beautiful scenic aspects of Sri Lanka. Turtle hatchery would be a must see for me.

  43. I’m heading out to Sri Lanka in October so I’ve bookmarked this page. It’s bizarre, but I was at Traverse in 2017 and asked every travel blogger there favourite destination in the world and they all said Sri Lanka, I didn’t have it on the list and now it’s my numero uno!

    1. Wow, that’s interesting! I wouldn’t personally put it in my top 3 destinations but good to know that people love it so much!

  44. I love Sri Lanka and was really surprised at how clean and orderly the country is. The scenery is just amazing and the historic sites are truly unique. I did almost the same itinerary as you and would love to do it again.

    1. I’m not sure about doing it again though 😉 But I’d love to go back and explore the places I missed in my last trip!

  45. I went to Sri Lanka for 10 days and only did two of the things on your itinerary. I did miss going to Kandy – and regretted that, but I wouldn’t want to have missed Siguriya and I loved Galle. I think perhaps, like most countries, 5 days just isn’t long enough to do the place justice.

  46. This is exactly what I did on my first trip to Sri Lanka way back in 2005. However, my top choices for Sri Lanka now are Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa – ancient ruined cities – both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I think I have always been partial to Colombo, next time I should spend some time there too.

  47. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, but I think I’d like to go just for the Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary. What a wonderful experience. The rest would just be icing on the cake.

  48. Hoping to do a trip to Sri Lanka this year, havent quite decided yet but reading this and seeing your photos has wetted my lips even more. 🙂

  49. How many days do you suggest one should book to explore Sri Lanka? We thought 5 or 6 would be enough but as you showed here there’s so much to see and do!

  50. I have wanted to visit Sri Lanka for ages. Dambulla, Kandy and of course Sigiriya are my priorities. The fact that the palace dates from 3BC and is still around blows me away.

    I didn’t know that you could go whale watching, but that’s something else that I have now added to my long list of things to do when I eventually get there.

  51. I remember visiting Sri Lanka a decade ago. We had visited Kandy, Colombo and Nuwara Eliya, and enjoyed the tea plantations. Will have to head to Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha the next time. Cheers!!

  52. I have been dying to go to Sri Lanka!! The whole country looks so beautiful. The Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary looks like a blast, and the scenic train ride from Kandy is on my a bucket list. Ella also is–hope you get a chance to go next time!

  53. We planning a month in Sri Lanka and I cannot wait! You mentioned a few things here I would love to do so I have book marked your post. That hotel elephant park is exactly what I was looking for, and the tea plantations never heard of that before it looks amazing! Great post, thanks

  54. I’ve heard great things about Sri Lanka and your article confirms it! I’m a big fan of trains and that train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya looks amazing!

  55. OMG – you took me back to my honeymoon days when I followed the same itinerary except Galle. I loved Nuwara Eliya and Bentota the most – especially the turtle hatcheries, which was like the highlight of Bentota for me. I even stopped enroute to Colombo from Nuwara Eliya for river rafting. Having done this itinerary myself, I totally second your plan for any one headed to Sri Lanka. Well done with writing it all out.

  56. Ooh, I love train rides! I’ve heard of the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella and am eager to ride it one day myself. Like you, I work full time and have to make do with shorter trips. While it’s not the most ideal practice, I’ve learned to make it work and am working for the day when I can travel more full time. Kandy Lake looks amazing!

    1. I know what you mean, I’ve made my peace with short-term travel too. At least we are getting to travel, that’s big!

  57. I love train rides! Taking the train through Sri Lanka looks like an amazing way to explore everything. I am glad that you researched the Elephant Sanctuary, too many people still think it is okay to ride them and have no idea of the abuse issues. What a delightful week of activities to see the most of the country.

  58. I would love, love, love, to visit Sri Lanka one day. It looks incredible from photos, and your itinerary breaks things down really well. Nuwara Eliya is beautiful, and I’d jump on board that train in a heartbeat! Great tips on checking out the elephant place beforehand. These creatures are magical, and I wouldn’t want to spend one cent, or minute, visiting a place I know isn’t ethical. Hope I get to visit this year!

  59. With a new job, I get less time these days than I used to get for travel. Sri Lanka has always been at the back of my mind in the “its right next door, I can visit it any time” sort of way. Now perhaps it is time to follow your itinerary to the country so that I make the most of whatever little time I’ll be able to spare.

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