This exciting five-day itinerary introduces you to some of Sri Lanka’s most beloved cultural monuments and natural wonders. Starting at the sacred cave temples of Dambulla, you’ll climb the great rock fortress of Sigiriya, observe elephant herds in Minneriya National Park, and relax on the golden beaches of Bentota. The journey ends up in the beautifully preserved fortified port city of Galle, home to a 17th-century Dutch port.

Highlights

  • Explore the ancient cave temples of Dambulla
  • Scale the famous rock fortress in Sigiriya 
  • Spot elephants, leopards, and monkeys in Minneriya National Park
  • Discover Bentota's golden beaches and clear waters
  • Wander the cobbled streets of Galle

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Discover the Temples of Dambulla & Sigiriya Sigiriya
Day 2 Visit Sigiriya Rock Fortress & Minneriya National Park Sigiriya
Day 3 Tour the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic Kandy
Day 4 Relax on the Beach in Bentota Bentota
Day 5 Sightsee in Galle & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Discover the Temples of Dambulla & Sigiriya

Pagoda & Buddha Statues Dambulla Cave Temple
Pagoda & Buddha statues in the Dambulla cave temple

Welcome to Sri Lanka! Your first day starts at the remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site of Dambulla. This sacred cave temple complex dates back to the 1st century BCE and is home to some of the country’s most important religious artifacts. Wander through a series of caves to marvel at gilded interiors, dramatic murals, and an incredible collection of holy statues, including a 47-foot (14-meter) reclining golden Buddha. The temple’s rocky clifftops offer sweeping views across the surrounding forests and countryside. In the afternoon, make the short drive north to Sigiriya, where you’ll settle into your hotel for the night.

Day 2: Visit Sigiriya Rock Fortress & Minneriya National Park

Wild Asian elephant herds in Minneriya National Park.
Wild Asian elephant herds in Minneriya National Park

Today you’ll spend the morning exploring the ancient city of Sigiriya. The rocky monolith rises high out of the lush jungle and is home to the remains of an ancient fortress built in the late 5th century CE. The name translates to "Lion Rock," a reference to the way visitors traditionally began their final ascent to the top of the monument, passing through the open jaws and throat of a lion. Unfortunately, the only remains of this lion figure today are the gigantic paws sculpted into the side of the rock.

After lunch, head to Minneriya National Park, a vast preserve of forest and grasslands. Located between Habarana and Polonnaruwa, the park is home to elephants, leopards, sambar deer, and langur monkeys. At its heart is the extraordinary Minneriya Tank reservoir. Created by the Anuradhapura civilization over 1800 years ago, its peaceful shores are the perfect place to observe herds of elephants and flocks of storks.

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Day 3: Tour the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

View across Kandy Lake to the Temple of the Tooth.
Views across Kandy Lake to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Day three takes you to Kandy, the capital of the Central Province and your home base for the night. Strategically positioned between three mountain ranges, the city serves as a welcoming gateway to Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. Spend the morning in one of many traditional villages on the city’s outskirts, where you can try your hand at the art of fan-making with local artisans. Sesath are hand-woven fans and sunshades that have become a symbol of prosperity and a vibrant relic of Sri Lanka's royal history.

Spend the afternoon visiting Kandy’s historic Royal Palace. Explore its shrines, temples, and gardens before venturing into its crown jewel: Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic). This ancient temple complex dates to the 16th century and is home to Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic: a tooth from the Buddha.

Day 4: Relax on the Beach in Bentota

Bentota Beach at sunset.
Quiet Bentota Beach at sunset

Today you’ll head southwest to the golden beaches of Bentota. Calm seas and miles of pristine beaches make this laid-back resort a favorite holiday playground. Bentota is a mecca for watersports: go scuba diving in the coral-rich waters, deep-sea fishing on a traditional outrigger canoe, or windsurfing on gentle waves. As evening approaches, sample the local cuisine with a dinner of freshly caught seafood before watching a memorable sunset over the Laccadive Sea.

Day 5: Sightsee in Galle & Depart

The historic fortified port of Galle Dutch Fort
The historic fortified port of Galle Dutch Fort

Your final day of the trip starts in Galle, the bustling provincial capital and administrative center of the south. Stroll its palm-lined promenades, explore the exquisite circular cove of Unawatuna Bay, and walk the ramparts and narrow alleys of the 17th-century Dutch fort that serves as its old town. Then it’s time to bid Sri Lanka a fond farewell as you transfer to the airport for your flight home. Safe journey!

More Great Sri Lanka Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Sri Lanka? Check out these other 5-day Sri Lanka itineraries with wildlife, beaches, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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Map

Map of Highlights of Sri Lanka - 5 Days
Map of Highlights of Sri Lanka - 5 Days