This 9-day journey through Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) explores fascinating highlights in the Cultural Triangle—home of ancient cities, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Buddhist relics. With a private driver and guide, you'll take hikes in tea country, spot diverse wildlife in the rainforest, and relax (or surf) on picturesque beaches on the south coast for an adventure to remember.

Highlights

  • Climb 1,200 steps for Sri Lanka's most famous archaeological site
  • See Buddhist relics, statues, and paintings at Temple of the Tooth
  • Hike along beautiful trails in the rainforest and central highlands
  • Stay in authentic cities and towns like Kandy, Sigiriya, and Ella
  • Swim or surf in the historic, yet hip, enclave of Galle to finish the trip

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Colombo - Transfer to Sigiriya Sigiriya
Day 2 Climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress & Pindurangala Rock Sigiriya
Day 3 Visit Dambulla Caves - Transfer to Kandy Kandy
Day 4 Explore Kandy & the Temple of the Tooth - Train to Ella Ella
Day 5 Hike in Ella Ella
Day 6 Hike in Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve Sinharaja
Day 7 Transfer to Galle - Galle Fort Tour Galle
Day 8 Free Day in Galle Galle
Day 9 Transfer to Colombo Airport - Depart Colombo  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo - Transfer to Sigiriya

Typical scenery along the route to Sigiriya

Welcome to Sri Lanka! Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport, you'll be met by a private driver who will take you on a 5-hour scenic journey through the cultural heart of Sri Lanka. As you leave the bustling city behind, gaze outside your window and notice the changing landscapes where farmers tend to their rice crops, aided by irrigation tanks constructed during ancient times. Stay overnight at a resort near the Sigiriya Rock Fortress—designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

Day 2: Climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress & Pindurangala Rock

Get your morning exercise by climbing Sigiriya Rock Fortress

This morning, after breakfast at your resort, you'll take a short drive to reach Sigiriya Rock. Translated to 'Lion Rock' in English, the name of the monument is taken from the route that visitors use to begin their final ascent to the top: through the open giriya (throat) of a sinha (lion).

This is your chance to climb the impressive rock fortress and learn some history from your guide. In fact, the rock is probably Sri Lanka's most famous historical site, appearing in many of the country's promotional posters. The topography of the area is flat except for the massive rock outcrop of the fortress itself, which reaches an incredible 660 feet (200 m) from the jungle below. Visitors can climb the 1,200 steps to explore one of the best-preserved examples of ancient urban planning. Make sure to look for the colorful frescoes that adorn the walls, as well as the gigantic paws sculpted into the side of the rock. From the top enjoy the stunning panoramic views down over the plains and dry hills.

Next, visit a rock top temple called Pidurangala just a short distance from the fortress. You'll take the hike up to to the top for some lovely views of the surrounding valley and (of course) nearby Sigiriya Rock, which sits slightly lower in altitude. Also, look for the large reclining Buddha which lays inside the temple. 

The evening is free for you to enjoy the resort; a driver will also be on hand to take you to the restaurant of your choice for dinner. 

Day 3: Visit Dambulla Caves - Transfer to Kandy

Dambulla Caves

After breakfast in Sigiriya, it's time to hit the road again! You'll meet your driver and begin the journey to Dambulla Caves. These caves make up the best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka and are said to date back to the first century BCE. In pre-historic times, people likely lived in these caves evidenced by the discovery and dating of human bones. Within the site are a handful of separate caves that contain over 100 stunning Buddha statues and paintings—some of Sri Lanka's most important and evocative religious art—created over the span of 2,000 years ago. There are also fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. 

Following lunch, you'll make the two-hour drive to Kandy through the lovely countryside dotted with tea plantations.

Day 4: Explore Kandy & Temple of the Tooth - Train to Ella

Temple of the Tooth

Today, you'll spend some time visiting the charming city of Kandy and the most sacred site in Sri Lanka: The Temple of the Tooth. Located on the edge of a lake, the temple is said to house a tooth relic of the Buddha. Venerated as the most important object in the Buddhist world, the sacred relic was brought here from India 2,500 years ago and is protected in a gold casket inside the Inner Chamber. Each morning at dawn, a steady stream of white-clad devotees partake in an offering and prayer ceremony which is something really special to see. There is an evening session also, but the morning one is not attended by as many tourists, so you can get a more authentic experience. 

In addition to the relic, you'll also have time to visit the temple complex, which is made up of numerous buildings, most of which are highly decorated with paintings and carvings depicting Buddha.

From here, you'll board a late morning train to Ella along with a packed lunch. The views are spectacular along this relaxing route; gaze out the window or sit back and read a book. Upon arrival, check out the quaint little hilltop town that is growing in popularity. The views from various places around Ella are breathtaking and the town itself offers a nice village vibe. 

Day 5: Hike in Ella

Go hiking near the village of Ella

After breakfast in Ella, you'll embark on a hike to Little Adam’s Peak. The larger peak from which it gets its name is a major pilgrimage walk, but the minor version is a rather enjoyable 3-hour hike with some great views and interesting village scenery along the way. 

In the afternoon, you can choose to relax at the hotel or continue trekking through nearby tea plantations and small villages. You'll almost certainly end up joining various friendly conversations with locals who don’t get a chance to meet foreigners very often.

Day 6: Hike in Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve

Walk through the magnificent rainforest of Sinharaja

This morning, you'll transfer to Sinharaja. This national park is one of the few areas in Sri Lanka where you can actually walk and enjoy natural serenity without the noise and hassle of jeeps.

The rainforest is lovely and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aside from the variety of flora, the forest is home to a huge number of birds, reptiles, and amphibians. You may be lucky enough to see jungle fowls or blue magpies among smaller bird species. The walk in the forest takes around three hours, and you'll be given a packed lunch to enjoy along the way. 

Day 7: Transfer to Galle - Galle Fort Tour

Galle Fort Tour

After breakfast this morning, you'll transfer to the small city of Galle on Sri Lanka's southwest coast. Make sure to explore the fortress that was built by the Portuguese in 1587, surrounded by the ocean on three sides. Hear the stories of the families who have lived here for generations, learn about the eclectic mix of ethnicities and personalities who make up the Galle Fort community, and take a stroll along the ramparts. 

In the evening, have dinner overlooking the sea and look for sea turtles who sometimes make an appearance. 

Day 8: Free Day in Galle

Hit the beach on your free day

Today, you'll have the entire day to explore this delightful, yet exotic UNESCO-listed city along the southern coast. Galle is the bustling provincial capital and Sri Lanka's first international commerce and trade center. Even as the city modernizes, its remarkable collection of ancient structures transports visitors to another time. 

Enjoy some well-deserved relaxation on the beach today, or maybe head back to the Fort to explore the various shops and eateries.

You'll also have time to explore the city's Dutch-colonial buildings, historic mosques, grand mansions, and museums. Wander the streets and you'll discover stylish cafes, shops, and boutique hotels owned by local and expat artists and designers.

The city is also famous for Unawatuna Bay, a lovely cove protected by a reef. Finish your day with a dip in the ocean so you can say you went for a swim in Sri Lanka—a memorable way to wrap up the trip. You can also take a surf lesson as Galle's nearby beaches are great for beginners. 

Day 9: Transfer to Colombo Airport - Depart Colombo

Goodbye, Sri Lanka!

It's time to say goodbye to Sri Lanka! After breakfast at your hotel, you'll be picked up for the transfer back to Bandaranaike International Airport for your departing flight. Safe travels!