Ancient rock temples, wild elephants and whales, sloping hills planted with tea: this 10-day tour of Sri Lanka takes you to the country's incredibly diverse highlights. Go on a Jeep safari, taste tea where it's harvested, and scan the ocean's surface for whales. With a mix of cultural sites and outdoor adventures, plus time to relax on the idyllic beaches of Mirissa, this sweeping itinerary has something for everyone.

Highlights

  • Go on a Jeep safari in Yala National Park
  • Search for whales on a boating excursion off the coast of Mirissa
  • See the UNESCO-honored rock fortress of Sigiriya
  • Visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy
  • Learn about the production of Ceylon tea, from bush to teapot

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore "Little Rome" in Negombo Negombo
Day 2 Discover the Ancient Rock Fortress of Sigiriya Sigiriya
Day 3 Explore Temples in Dambulla & Kandy Kandy
Day 4 Learn About Ceylon Tea Production Nuwara Eliya
Day 5 Spot Wildlife in Yala National Park Yala
Day 6 Look for Wild Elephants in Udawalawe National Park Udawalawe
Day 7 Visit the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home Mirissa
Day 8 Go Whale-Watching off the Coast of Mirissa Mirissa
Day 9 Free Day in Mirissa Mirissa
Day 10 Sightsee in Colombo & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore "Little Rome" in Negombo

A canal in Negombo

Welcome to Sri Lanka! You'll start in Negombo, known as “Little Rome” for its strong Catholic influence. The town transitioned through Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonial rule, and remnants of those cultures remain today. The city's intriguing past will reveal itself as you meander past colonial architecture and quiet canals to reach a lagoon abundant with marine life. Local fishermen have been harvesting lobsters, crabs, and prawns here for centuries. Take a stroll on the beach, then stop by a lively fish market before you take a break for dinner. 

Day 2: Discover the Ancient Rock Fortress of Sigiriya

Lions Paw
Lions Paw

Have breakfast at the hotel, then transfer to the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Some say the site should be named the eighth wonder of the world. 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. The fortress, rising up high from the jungle, is an incredible sight to see. 

Day 3: Explore Temples in Dambulla & Kandy

Kandy Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Continue to Dambulla. It's known for its Cave Temple, the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. Featuring impressive mural paintings and 157 statues, including a massive Buddha monument, it's a sacred pilgrimage site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The history of the place dates back to the first century BCE, when King Valagambahu took refuge here. Today, it's worth visiting not only for the cave temple but also for the beautiful view over the countryside.

Next, it's onward to Kandy, strategically situated between three mountain ranges, and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The impressive temple complex, dating back to the 16th century, is made up of numerous buildings decorated with paintings and carvings depicting Buddha. As the name suggests, it's home to an important relic, the tooth of the Buddha, which is carefully guarded by security night and day. 

Day 4: Learn About Ceylon Tea Production

Tea Region
Sri Lanka's Ceylon tea region

In the morning, visit the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya. Once reserved exclusively for royalty, it's open to the public today. Among the greatest highlights are a fine collection of orchids, spice gardens, a stately avenue of royal palms, the extraordinary and aptly named cannonball fruit tree, and sky-high Burma bamboo. In the gardens, you can see also the giant Javan fig tree with its colossal central trunk and umbrella-like canopy of branches.  

After lunch, you'll learn about Ceylon tea, one of Sri Lanka's main exports. Driving through a tea plantation, you will see colorfully dressed tea leaf-pickers hard at work on the sloping hills. With incredible dexterity, they fill several sacks of tea leaves each day. You'll get to see the entire process, from tea bush to teapot, on this dedicated tour.

Day 5: Spot Wildlife in Yala National Park

Yala Leopard
A Yala leopard in Yala National Park

Stop at Ella for a quick visit to the Rawana Ella Waterfalls, then break for lunch before visiting Yala National Park. Located in the southeast region of the country, it's the second-largest national park in Sri Lanka. It was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and it's home to a wide variety of wildlife that you'll have the chance to see today on a Jeep safari. Leopards are the stars here, but the park is also home to the large herds of elephants, spotted deer, sambar, wild boar, wild buffaloes, sloth bear, jackal, and mongoose. The birds are also fantastic, and numerous species such as rosy starlings, paradise flycatchers, crested hawk eagles, blue-tailed bee-eaters, and common loras inhabit the area. Spend the night in a tented safari campsite before the trip continues.

Day 6: Look for Wild Elephants in Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park
Elephants crossing a path in Udawalawe National Park

Located on the boundary of Sri Lanka's wet and dry zones, Udawalawe National Park is one of the best places in the world to see wild elephants. It's not unusual to see big herds gathering to feed and bath by the waterholes — the resident population is around 400. In addition to this main attraction, Udawalawe is home to many water buffalo, lizards, sambar deer, monkeys, and a huge variety of birds. You'll have ample opportunities to enjoy native wildlife during an afternoon game drive in the park. Stay overnight in a luxury tented camp within easy reach.

Day 7: Visit the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home

Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe
The Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe

Today's highlight is the Udawalawe Transit Home, where dozens of baby elephants are taken care of with minimum human interaction. The babies' mothers were either killed or lost, and the transit home provides food, medical care, and everything else a baby elephant needs. When the elephants are big and strong enough, they are released into the wilderness and start living a “normal” elephant life. A few times a day, visitors can enjoy observing the feeding hour when the small elephants drink milk. 

Next, you'll move on to Mirissa, a fishing village surrounded by rubber and coconut plantations, ancient temples, spice gardens, natural sanctuaries, and exotic wildlife. The destination is famous for its long whale-watching season, and Mirissa's stunning crescent beach is a paradise for anyone who loves the sun and the sea.

Day 8: Go Whale-Watching off the Coast of Mirissa

Blue Whale
A blue whale off the coast of Mirissa

The south coast of Sri Lanka is one of the world's very best places to see blue whales. From November to April, when the whales are on their annual migratory route from the Horn of Africa up to the Arabian Sea, they can be easily seen in the waters around Mirissa. Sperm whales and various kinds of dolphins may be spotted, too, on your whale-watching boat ride off the coast.

After lunch, you'll head to Galle in the south, Sri Lanka's first international commerce and trade center, for a guided city tour. The ancient port city is famous for Unawatuna Bay, a lovely cove protected by a reef. The Galle Fort overlooking the ocean is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Portuguese in 1587 and reinforced again by the Dutch. The fortress is surrounded on three sides by the ocean, its ramparts protecting the harbor.

Day 9: Free Day in Mirissa

Coconut Hill
The idyllic beaches of Mirissa

You'll have a day at leisure at Mirissa as the trip nears its end. Go surfing — you can take lessons if it's your first try — or relax on the quiet sands of Secret Beach. Rent a motorbike to explore the coastline, or go for a ride in a colorful tuk-tuk. If you're especially interested in wildlife, you could go out on a boat for more whale-watching, see cobras at a local snake farm, or detour to nearby Polhena Beach (also known as Turtle Beach) to swim in a calm bay and look for the turtles who live here. Go for a seafood dinner in one of Mirissa's many restaurants before getting some rest. 

Day 10: Sightsee in Colombo & Depart

Galle Face Green
The colorful coastline of Colombo

Take some time today to explore Colombo, a lively city rich with cultural sights and Buddhist temples. Take a drive through the city's commercial center, where grand colonial-era buildings stand alongside modern hotels and office structures. Explore the vibrant markets and bazaars in Pettah to pick up some last-minute souvenirs. Then it's off to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

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