From mountainous national parks to rushing rivers to the clear waters of the Indian Ocean, the landscapes featured on this tour around Sri Lanka are paradise for travelers who love the outdoors. On this action-packed itinerary, you'll hike and cycle, try whitewater rafting, and spot elephants in the wild. You'll end up at the beach for a free day of water sports, swimming, and sunbathing before the trip comes to an end.

Highlights

  • Go trekking in the beautiful Knuckles Mountain Range
  • Try whitewater rafting in Kithugala
  • Cycle along the Belihuloya River
  • Discover the wild beauty of Horton Plains National Park
  • Relax by the beach in Bentota

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore "Little Rome" in Negombo Negombo
Day 2 Hike Through Spectacular Scenery in Knuckles Knuckles
Day 3 Go Trekking & Visit Temples in Kandy Kandy
Day 4 Raft on the Kelani River Nuwara Eliya
Day 5 Discover Horton Plains National Park Belihuloya
Day 6 Cycle & Hike Along the Belihuloya River Belihuloya
Day 7 Look for Wild Elephants in Udawalawe National Park Udawalawe
Day 8 Visit Baby Elephants & Hit the Beach in Bentota Bentota
Day 9 Free Day in Bentota Bentota
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: Hike Through Spectacular Scenery in the Knuckles Mountain Range

 A picturesque waterfall in the Knuckles Mountain Range

Explore the Knuckles Mountain Range, without a doubt one of the most scenic parts of the Sri Lankan highlands and a true paradise for those who love hiking and mountain biking. The scenic trails will lead you across the mountains, across crystal clear rivers, and through dense forests to flowing waterfalls, lush tea plantations, and traditional little villages. Surrounded by colorful home gardens and terraced paddy fields, you'll feel a world away from fast-paced city life. The Knuckles area also represents a great variety of different forest types and climate zones, which makes it a perfect destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts of all kinds.

Day 3: Go Trekking & Visit Temples in Kandy

Hiking in Sri Lanka's highlands

Go hiking this morning, heading along a trail towards the famed Manigala Rock in Riverstone. You'll break for lunch before continuing with cultural sightseeing in the afternoon. Then it's onward to Kandy, strategically situated between three mountain ranges, and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), a 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: Raft on the Kelani River

A dam on a tributary of the Kelani River

In the morning, visit a traditional village in the suburbs of Kandy. Then it's time for another outdoor adventure. The climate in Kitulgala is humid throughout the year, which makes it an ideal destination for whitewater rafting. Today you'll enjoy a thrilling adventure on the whitewater sections of the Kelani River, a fun excursion for both beginners and experts. Prior to the two-hour river run, you will be given instructions, learn paddling techniques, and receive education on river rescue procedures. You'll spend the night in Nuwara Eliya.

Day 5: Discover Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains National Park
Wildlife in Horton Plains National Park

Today you'll go trekking in the famous Horton Plains National Park, a reserve characterized by a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, forests, and grassland. It's home to various mammal species, including elk, deer, giant squirrel, wild boar, wild hare, porcupine, and leopard. The park also has unique vegetation and offers a perfect ground to observe many rare and endemic highland birds. One particularly impressive physical feature in Horton Plains is the escarpment that falls dramatically to the lowlands. Aptly known as the "World’s End," the precipice offers a fabulous view of the tea estates below. On a clear day, you can see all the way out to the distant southern coastline. In the evening, you'll have the chance to go canoeing in Samanalawewa Reservoir.

Day 6: Cycle & Hike Along the Belihuloya River

Buddhist monks on the banks of the Belihuloya River

Start today's hiking excursion in Kinchigune, an ancient village that is almost totally submerged in the waters of the Samanalawewa Reservoir. The nature trail begins at the River Garden Resort and runs alongside the Belihuloya River through paddy fields, across rivers, and past local village houses and vegetable gardens. You will have an ideal opportunity to learn a bit about the local agricultural systems and the simple way of life in the countryside. Along the way, you will also spot small waterfalls and several types of beautiful birds and butterflies. In the afternoon, continue exploring the region on a bicycle. The trail ends where the Belihuloya River meets the Samanalawewa Reservoir. 

Day 7: Look for Wild Elephants in 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 Jeep safari drive in the park. Then you'll stay overnight in a luxury tented camp within easy reach.

Day 8: Visit Baby Elephants & Hit the Beach in Bentota

The Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe

Today's highlight is the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, 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 rush to drink milk. 

Next, you'll move on to Bentota, a prime beach destination on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka. From November through April, the calm seas and golden sands set the perfect scene for snorkeling, diving, sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, and deep-sea fishing on a traditional outrigger canoe.

Day 9: Free Day in Bentota

Bentota Beach

Today is yours to enjoy in the resort town of Bentota. Opt for sunbathing and water sports on Bentota Beach, venture to beautiful Paradise Island, or go diving at Canoe Rock. Nearby, on Bentota River, visit the large Buddha statue at Galapota Temple. Or just relax at the resort on your last full day of the trip, sampling Sri Lankan cuisine and taking it easy before the next day's travels.

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!

More Great Sri Lanka Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Sri Lanka? Check out these other 10-day Sri Lanka itineraries, with active adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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