Discover the magic of central and southern Sri Lanka on this immersive 20-day itinerary. Setting out from Colombo, you'll wind your way through a land rich with culture, history, and natural beauty—visiting countless highlights and hidden gems along the way. Spot elephants and leopards on safari, hike to towering waterfalls, explore ancient ruins and sacred temples, and savor some downtime on idyllic Indian Ocean beaches.

Highlights

  • Search for elephants & leopards on safari in Yala National Park 
  • Hike your way to the breathtaking St. Clair Waterfall
  • Marvel at Kandy's lakeside Temple of the Sacred Tooth
  • Climb to the iconic rock fortress of Sigiriya 
  • Spot exotic birdlife in the biodiversity hotspot of Sinharaja
  • Unwind on the Indian Ocean beaches of historic Galle

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Colombo, Transfer to Bentota Bentota
Days 2-3 Relax on the Beaches of Bentota Bentota
Day 4 Transfer to Tissamaharama Tissamaharama
Day 5 Yala National Park Safari, Discover Kataragama  Tissamaharama
Day 6 Transfer to Ella, Lipton's Seat & Tea Plantation Tour  Ella
Day 7 Hike to Diyaluma Waterfall, Explore Ella Ella
Day 8 Transfer to Nuwara Eliya via Horton Plains National Park Nuwara Eliya
Day 9 Trek to Devon & St. Clair Waterfalls, Transfer to Kandy Kandy
Day 10 Explore Kandy, Visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Kandy
Day 11 Transfer to Giritale via Dambulla Royal Cave Temple Giritale
Day 12 Rural Cycling Adventure in Habarana, Visit Ancient Polonnaruwa Giritale
Day 13 Discover the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, Transfer to Mahiyanganaya Mahiyanganaya
Day 14 Hike to Kaluwa Wetuna & Rathna Ella Waterfalls Mahiyanganaya
Day 15 Transfer to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve Sinharaja
Day 16 Explore the Sinharaja Forest Reserve Sinharaja
Day 17 Transfer to Galle, Tour the Historic Dutch Fort Galle
Day 18 Beach Day in Galle Galle
Day 19 Transfer to Colombo & Explore the Capital Colombo
Day 20 Depart Colombo  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, Transfer to Bentota

A colorful sunset over Bentota's beach
Welcome to Sri Lanka! Upon arrival at the Colombo Airport, you'll be met by your driver and transferred south to the golden beaches of Bentota. Calm seas and miles of pristine beaches make this laid-back resort a favorite holiday playground. As evening approaches, sample the local cuisine with a dinner of freshly caught seafood before watching a memorable sunset over the Laccadive Sea.

Days 2-3: Relax on the Beaches of Bentota

Enjoy the warm waters and golden beaches around Bentota
The next two days are free for you to settle in, relax, and enjoy some time at the beach. 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.

Day 4: Transfer to Tissamaharama

Buddhist monks outside the Kirinda Temple near Tissamaharama
Head east along Sri Lanka's southern coast today to reach the idyllic lakeside town of Tissamaharama. Located on the edge of Yala National Park, it's the perfect base for exploring the country's second-largest natural reserve and its diverse wildlife. Get settled into your hotel and rest up for tomorrow's safari adventure.

Day 5: Yala National Park Safari, Discover Kataragama 

Yala National park safari Jeep ride
Spot elusive leopards on a safari through Yala National Park
Covering almost 621 square miles (1000 km), the spectacular Yala National Park was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and along with Wilpattu was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka. The park is best known for its diverse wildlife, and it has an important role in the conservation of Sri Lankan elephants, Sri Lankan leopards, and aquatic birds. The landscape of dry thorn scrub, interspersed with small dusty glades, is reminiscent of Africa and a perfect environment for safaris.
 
Spend the morning exploring this natural wonder on a guided Jeep safari, taking your time as you search for rare flora and fauna and keeping an eye out for the park's most famous inhabitants—a sizeable herd of Sri Lankan elephants.
 
After some downtime back at the hotel, your driver will pick you up in the afternoon for a visit to the remote town of Kataragama—an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. The shrine is believed to be built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BCE, dedicated to the Kataragama Deviyo (God). Every summer the sleepy town comes alive when pilgrims flock to its famous Kataragama festival. You'll also visit the nearby Kirivehara and Maha Devale shrines, two other places rich in Buddhist culture in Kataragama.

Day 6: Transfer to Ella, Lipton's Seat & Tea Plantation Tour 

Views above the clouds at Lipton's Seat

Another scenic transfer this morning whisks you deep into the heart of Sri Lanka's tea country, where you'll get settled in the charming mountain village of Ella. Blessed with a wonderfully cool climate, the village is surrounded by lush peaks and tea plantations, and on a clear day, you can see all the way to the south coast of Sri Lanka.

In the afternoon, your driver will take you on a trip to Lipton’s Seat, one of Sri Lanka's most impressive viewpoints. The Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his burgeoning empire from this lofty spot, and today you can enjoy similar views looking out across emerald hills and tea estates. Learn more about the country's most famous export at the surrounding tea estate, where you'll tour the fields and factory and finish off the visit with a cup of world-class Ceylon tea before heading back to Ella for the evening. 

Day 7:  Hike to Diyaluma Waterfall, Explore Ella

Hike to the Diyaluma Waterfall near Ella
Start this morning with a visit to Diyaluma Falls, the second-highest waterfall in the country. An enthralling and challenging hike takes you to the top of the 721-foot (220 m) drop, where several natural pools are surrounded by dense jungle and resplendent wilderness. Experience the thrill of swimming at the top of the towering natural wonder,

The rest of the day is free for you to explore Ella at your leisure, with your private driver available for any transfers. This idyllic mountain town is the perfect base for relaxing, with lots of fantastic walks that lead through tea fields to temples and waterfalls. If you're feeling adventurous, take a scenic trek to Ravana Ella Falls for a quick dip in the cool waters, or climb up to Ella's Rock for breathtaking views across the countryside.

Day 8: Transfer to Nuwara Eliya via Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains national park
Sambar deer in the mists of Horton Plains National Park
Your driver will take you on another beautiful drive this morning to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Horton Plains National Park. 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. 
 
Afterward, continue to Nuwara Eliya, where you'll get settled into your accommodations and have the rest of the day free to explore. This magical highland town is situated high above sea level, so it has a climate unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. Its misty altitudes and cooler temperatures make it a haven for growing colorful flowers and exquisitely flavored teas. Colonized by the British and often referred to as “Little England,” Nuwara Eliya still retains an old-world atmosphere. Famous for horse racing, the town also boasts an impressive golf club that dates back to 1889. Spend an afternoon discovering the town’s gardens, temples, museums, and tea plantations before settling in for a peaceful evening in the Hill Country.

Day 9: Trek to Devon & St. Clair Waterfalls, Transfer to Kandy

Trek to the "Little Niagara" of Sri Lanka
After breakfast this morning, an unforgettable day of trekking awaits as you lace up your hiking boots and set out toward two of Sri Lanka's most magnificent waterfalls. Your first stop is Devon Falls, known as the "Veil of the Valley," which plunges 318 feet (97 m). Then it's on to St. Clair Falls, one of the widest waterfalls in the country and commonly known as the "Little Niagara of Sri Lanka."

In the afternoon you'll get back on the road and continue north to Kandy, the capital of the Central Province. Strategically situated between three mountain ranges, the city serves as a welcoming gateway to Sri Lanka’s Hill Country.

Day 10: Explore Kandy, Discover the Temple of the Sacred Tooth

Views across Kandy Lake to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth

Spend today discovering Sri Lanka's cultural capital and "City of Wonders." Start with a visit to the historic Royal Palace on the edge of Lake Kandy. Stroll through the palace’s shrines, temples, and gardens before visiting its crown jewel: Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic). The intricate temple complex dates to the 16th century and is home to Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic: a tooth from the Buddha.

As evening falls, you can attend a fascinating cultural show to see some great examples of traditional Sri Lankan music and dance.  

Day 11: Transfer to Giritale via Dambulla Royal Cave Temple

Visit Dambulla Royal Cave temple
The stunning cave interiors of Dambulla
Transfer north towards Giritale this morning, stopping en route 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 m) reclining golden Buddha. Then climb to the temple’s rocky clifftops for sweeping views across the surrounding forests and countryside
 
In the afternoon, you'll continue to your accommodations in Giritale, a small city in Sri Lanka's Polonnaruwa District and a popular base for exploring the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa. 

Day 12: Rural Cycling Adventure in Habarana, Visit Ancient Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa ancient city discovery
Marvel at the ancient city of Polonnaruwa 
Set out into the countryside today on a guided cycling tour through rice paddies and back roads. You'll have the chance to interact with local farmers and learn about Sri Lankan rural life before pedaling to a quiet lake, where you can enjoy a scenic boat trip out onto the water. Afterward, cycle around the lake, keeping your eyes open for exotic birds. Break for a cup of tea or a fresh coconut along the journey, then sit down for lunch with a local family inside a mud hut.  
 
After lunch, your driver will take you to visit the ruins of Polonnaruwa, a UNESCO World Heritage site and capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to 13th centuries. Enclosed by stone walls, the city was dotted with palaces, shrines, monasteries, pavilions, parks, ponds, and irrigation lakes. Many of these still stand today, with the most spectacular being the Gal Vihara temple complex. The structure was cut from a single granite wall and contains dozens of statues of reclining, sitting, and standing Buddhas, making it one of the true masterpieces of Sri Lankan art.

As evening falls, your driver will be waiting to transfer you back to Giritale to relax after a long day.

Day 13: Discover the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, Transfer to Mahiyanganaya 

Climb to the towering rock fortress of Sigiriya
Spend the morning exploring the iconic Sri Lankan monument of Sigiriya. This 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. You'll find beautiful water fountains, boulder gardens, frescos, mirror walls, and relics of the castle within the UNESCO-listed site. 
 
Then it's time to meet your driver and transfer south to Mahiyanganaya, a small gem of a city near the banks of the Mahaweli River. With spectacular views across the Central Highlands and the Knuckles Mountain Range, it's a perfect base for outdoor adventure. Get settled into your hotel for the evening and rest up for a full day of hiking tomorrow.

Day 14: Hike to Kaluwa Wetuna & Rathna Ella Waterfalls

The view toward Rathna Ella Waterfall
Start today's adventure with a 1-mile (1.5 km) hike from the village of Rathna Ella village to see the majestic Kaluwa Wetuna Ella. The 98-foot (30 m) waterfall lies deep in the jungle and makes for a great trek that's beloved by nature enthusiasts and hikers alike. Then continue 2 miles (3.5 m) through the lush forests of Mahiyangana to Rathna Ella. This breathtaking destination is well worth the journey, as the 331-foot (101 m) waterfall is considered one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka. 

Day 15: Transfer to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve

 Sinharaja rain forest, The biodiversity hot spot in Sri Lanka
A peacock in the misty rain forests of Sinhajara
Hit the road again today for a long drive south to one of Sri Lanka's most important biodiversity hotspots. Home to a spectacular variety of endangered mammals, birds, reptiles, and butterflies, the rainforest of Sinhajara is a nature lover's paradise. Get checked into your nearby accommodation and rest up—tomorrow you'll venture into the lush jungles to experience the dizzying diversity firsthand. 

Day 16: Explore the Sinharaja Forest Reserve

A rare purple-faced langur monkey in Sinharaja
Enjoy an incredible trek through the World Biosphere Reserve of Sinharaja today. Walk along narrow paths and wooden footbridges to explore the rich biodiversity of the rainforest, keeping an eye out for monkeys, snakes, amphibians, and colorful birds

Day 17: Transfer to Galle, Tour the Historic Dutch Fort

Galle Dutch fort visit
Head to the coast and the historic city of Galle 
Transfer to the coast today to discover the fascinating UNESCO-listed city of Galle. Step back in time as you explore its 300-year-old Dutch fortifications, surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean. After a tour of the city's historic past, you'll have time to explore its 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 ex-pat artists and designers.
 
The city is also famous for Unawatuna Bay, a lovely cove protected by a reef. If you feel like cooling off, wrap up the afternoon with a dip in the ocean before getting settled into your accommodations for the evening. 

Day 18: Beach Day in Galle

Spend today relaxing on Galle's beaches
Today is free for you to enjoy the many amenities of Galle at your leisure—relaxing on the beach, swimming in the warm seas, or soaking up some sun. Take a whale or dolphin watching excursion, explore more of the historic fort, or sample some mouth-watering Sri Lankan cuisine at one of the many excellent local restaurants. 

Day 19: Transfer to Colombo & Explore the Capital

Colombo (CMB) city
Sunset over Colombo's scenic city center
Meet your driver after breakfast for a transfer to Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo. A lively city with a fascinating history, Arab sailors once frequented these ports to trade with the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists that occupied the city. Today, Colombo has something from everyone. Visit the National Museum and Zoological Gardens, or take a walk 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, then dine on Sri Lankan specialties at a local restaurant on your last night of the trip.

Day 20: Depart Colombo

Airport Departure transfer
Farewell, Sri Lanka!

After a leisurely breakfast (and maybe some last-minute souvenir shopping) it's time to meet your driver for the transfer to Colombo Airport and your departing flight. Safe travels!

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