This 8-day itinerary takes you to the heart of Sri Lanka for ancient history, Buddhist culture, and exciting adventures in nature. From Negombo (near the capital), you'll experience a slew of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, tour a tea plantation, meet elephants, and explore towns loaded with Portuguese and Dutch colonial history. End each day with an opportunity to catch an alluring sunset that only South Asia can offer.

Highlights

  • Climb 1,200 steps for Sri Lanka's most famous archaeological site
  • Get up close to famous Buddhist relics, statues, and paintings 
  • Visit an active tea plantation in a lush area dubbed 'Little England'
  • Spend two days with rare birds and wildlife, including elephants
  • Take an afternoon swim in the historic, yet hip, enclave of Galle

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Negombo Negombo
Day 2 Negombo to Sigiriya Sigiriya
Day 3 Sigiriya to Kandy, via Dambulla Kandy
Day 4 Kandy to Nuwara Eliya Nuwara Eliya
Day 5 Nuwara Eliya to Udawalawe Udawalawe
Day 6 Udawalawe to Galle Galle
Day 7 Explore Galle Galle
Day 8 Depart Galle  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Negombo

A fishing boat lays ashore in Negombo

Welcome to Sri Lanka! Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport, you'll be picked up by a private driver and transferred to your hotel in Negombo.

Nicknamed 'Little Rome', this interesting place is strongly influenced by the Catholic church, as can be seen from the many churches while driving throughout town (Christianity is a minority religion as 70% of Sri Lankans practice Buddhism). Meanwhile, the lagoon at Negombo is famous for its regular harvest of lobsters, crabs, and prawns. Fish auctions regularly take place on the beach and are definitely worth a look, as are the many canals which meander through the area. Once you've settled in your hotel, take a long beach walk and check out the local scene.

As for history, the Dutch, Portuguese and British have all laid claim to Negombo at different periods in the past; evidence of their occupations can be seen in the colonial-style architecture around town. During the Dutch era, in particular, Negombo was one of the most important sources of the much-coveted and highly profitable cinnamon trade.

Day 2: Negombo to Sigiriya

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

This morning, after breakfast at your hotel, you'll be picked up for the 3-hour transfer to Sigiriya. This ancient city is now a premier eco-tourism destination in Sri Lanka, and you'll quickly see why when you arrive at Sigiriya Rock Fortress, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. 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).

The topography of the area is flat except for the massive rock outcrop of the fortress itself, which rises 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. 

After this excursion, you'll transfer to your hotel for dinner. 

Day 3: Sigiriya to Kandy, via Dambulla

The Temple of the Tooth

Today, you'll make the 2.5-hour drive to Kandy to visit The Temple of the Tooth, an important Buddhist site located within a royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, which houses the relic of the tooth 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.

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

En route to Kandy, you'll also stop in beautiful Dambulla to visit the Royal Rock Temple, the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka with fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. 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.

At the end of the day, you'll transfer to your hotel in Kandy for dinner. 

Day 4: Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

A tea plantation in Nuwara Eliya

Today, you'll depart Kandy and drive to the heart of Sri Lanka's tea country. Situated 6,200 feet (1890 m) above sea level, the area of Nuwara Eliya has a cooler and more invigorating climate unlike anywhere else in the country (hence, ideal for growing tea). Colonized by the British, and often referred to as ‘Little England’, Nuwara Eliya still retains an old world feel. Case in point: the town is famous for horse racing and also boasts an impressive golf club, which dates back to 1889, along with several grandiose, colonial-style hotels.

After visiting one of the area's tea plantations, you'll spend an afternoon relaxing at Gregory Park, a popular lake that features boating, picnicking, and horseback riding activities.

Day 5: Nuwara Eliya to Udawalawe

Look for wild macaques in Horton Plains

Today, you'll make the hourlong drive to Horton Plains, a famous nature reserve characterized by a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, forests, and grassland, for an early morning hike. As the highest plateau on the entire island, Horton Plaine is home to 24 species of mammal such as elk, deer, giant squirrel, wild boar, wild hare, porcupine, macaque, and leopard. 

During the hike, you'll also be able to spot unique vegetation, which offers the perfect environment to observe many rare and endemic highland birds (87 species in total, 14 that are endemic).

An impressive physical feature of Horton Plains is the escarpment that falls 2,887 feet (880 m) to the lowlands. Aptly known as the 'World’s End', this precipice boasts a fabulous view of the tea estates below, reaching all the way to the southern coastline.

In the afternoon, you'll continue the 4-hour drive to Udawalawe National Park where you'll sleep overnight at a safari camp. 

Day 6: Udawalawe to Galle

A family of elephants in Udawalawe National Park

Today, you'll wake up in Udawalawe National Park to spend the day with elephants! Located at the intersection of Sri Lanka's wet and dry zones, Udawalawe is one of the best places in the world to see wild elephants, and there are hundreds of them residing, bathing, and feeding throughout the park. In other words, keep your camera close.

In addition to this main attraction, Udawalawe is also home to water buffalo, water monitor lizards, sambar deer, and monkeys. As for bird enthusiasts, you'll be spoiled for choice with a variety of rare bird species. 

After this wonderful excursion, you'll make the 3-hour drive to Galle on Sri Lanka's southwest coast for the evening. 

Day 7: Explore Galle

The iconic lighthouse in Galle Fort

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. Make sure to explore the fortress that was built by the Portuguese in 1587, surrounded by the ocean on three sides. 

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. Wrap up the afternoon 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. 

Day 8: Depart Galle

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!

Map

Map of Highlights of Sri Lanka - 8 Days
Map of Highlights of Sri Lanka - 8 Days