Our wonderful 7-day Sri Lanka itinerary

A dream destination for us for years, finally the time came to visit it – magical Sri Lanka. Where did we go, what did we experience, how did it feel – all the inspirational and practical details you can read in our 7-day Sri Lanka itinerary. Let’s go!

Dodanduwa, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

Dodanduwa

Straight from the airport, we headed to Hikkaduwa. The plan was to spend 2 days and 2 nights and relax at this beautiful beach destination that we have seen in the photos. After we arranged a ride from the airport to Hikkaduwa directly, in order to skip the 2 hours longer train, we hit the road in a taxi. When we arrived at the hotel in Dodanduwa which was locally owned we quickly left our stuff and headed to the beach right in front of the hotel. The ocean was blue the sand was fine and there was so much greenery on the beach itself. With only three 3 umbrellas and 6 sunbeds, we could totally feel the peace and privacy on this otherwise huge beach.

Yes, the sea was rough that day but we still managed to enjoy super chill beach time combined with a lovely curry lunch with a nice view. After relaxing and even taking a nap on the beach we started walking to the nearby area of Dodanduwa which was actually a fishing village so barefoot we reached the place with many boats and even saw the process of extracting a boat from the sea near sunsets. It was actually hard work – at least 6-7 people were pushing together perfectly synchronized to get the boat out of the sea. We really appreciated this experience of seeing locals with their boats and their everyday job.

A bit later we saw an amazing sunset in the sea, and all the colors turned from orange to red to purple to violet. It was amazing. Got back to the room, and took quick showers to refresh as it was really hot. When we were out it was already dark, there was no light on the streets and we had to go find a restaurant and also buy new sandals for Nace or at least comfy flip-flops because his old ones got unexpectedly retired. So we started walking in the neighborhood and saw a temple with big statues. Even with the power outage, we could see because of the lights of the passing vehicles.

We started asking around the many tuk-tuk drivers and settled on a price, obviously not very good but not super expensive as well, and started driving with the driver to search for sandals/flip-flops. It wasn’t easy – we had to go to several stores, already closing with not much of a choice but eventually, we found them! Then we headed to the restaurant nearby for dinner where we could chill and enjoy local food and hospitality.

Hikkaduwa

After a long but very sweaty sleep, we headed to the so-called Turtle beach where some turtles were living. It was a real tourist trap in cation because there were these local people “environmentalists” wanting money to take photos of you going close to the turtles and touching them. We didn’t find this ethical, we didn’t do it. What we did was simply observe the turtles without touching them or interacting with them. We even educated a person that this scheme is actually not good for the turtles. So in Sri Lanka there are a couple of places called Turtles beaches, turtles may have been there naturally years ago, but now they turned into turtle zoos. We don’t recommend visiting these places because you will be actually hurting the turtles.

After that, we headed for lunch in the shade as it was getting so hot, and then we headed to Hikkaduwa beach where we could chill, there were some bars and sunbeds, and many local people and foreigners. People were playing cricket and ball on the beach, and we swam and snorkeled in the sea, It was rough again so Nace got a bit hurt because he wasn’t paying attention to the coming waves. The sunset was again mesmerizing, the second amazing sunset in Sri Lanka, and after dinner and sending away all the beautiful pink-purple-yellow colors of the sunset on the beach we were ready to head home by a tuk-tuk and relax.

Galle

The next day our big Sri Lanka adventure was about to start. After relaxing for two days in Hikkaduwa, it was time to explore more of the country. So in the very morning, our driver and guide for the rest of the week Upali arrived to take us on a tour of the country – more specifically for the southern part of Sri Lanka.

Our first stop was Galle – the city of Galle and the fortress of Galle. The fortress is a world heritage site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. You can see a lot of influences from the Portuguese and Dutch presence. We took a look over the natural harbor, and the local stadium. It was a very European vibe mixed with the Sri Lanka environment which was amazing. We even observed a cricket practice and many lovely birds and after exploring one of the lighthouses and passing some charming central streets, we headed down the road that followed the beach towns.

Unawatuna

We made a quick stop for a lovely mango smoothie, or was it watermelon? We were having so many smoothies on different days so it was hard to remember, anyway, we stopped at a beach town for a glass of morning freshness. We headed to Unawatuna which is one of the most popular for tourists beach areas and was proposed by Upali. The small village around the beach was perfectly catering to vacations, digital nomadism (we saw a coworking space), and yoga retreats. We passed many holiday houses and hotels. The beach itself was lovely and clean, with fine sand and some natural shade, and also with many sunbeds and umbrellas.

It was also prohibited for local people (Upali had to explain to a security guard why he was there) which is something we don’t really approve of, to forbid locals to have access to places in their own country, that’s why we would have probably avoided this destination. We drove on the road, passing shopping stalls, small villages, and gas stations. We discussed the lack of petrol issues, as well as the power outages, and the general situation in the country. In the first two nights there, there were more than a few hours of no power. It was quite dark on the streets and that made it harder and dangerous to drive or even walk on the streets. Anyway, from Unawatuna we were headed to the Yala National Park.

Tissa and the LakeSide Cabana

We were wowed when we arrived at the LakeSide Cabana near Tissa town which is near the Yala National Park – our next destination. So we booked our stay here in a very cool treehouse with no glass for the windows and great exposure to the lake and the forest, with amazing views. So we were bound to have the really cool experience of listening to the sounds of the jungle, and the forest and reconnecting with nature. After a very thorough video tour of our cabana and a quick check under the beds for uninvited guests, we were so hungry that Upali took us to another village, to a casual pizza place with plenty of local people indulging with pizzas. It was crazy hot but nevertheless, after the pizza, on the way back, we stopped to see endless fields, places where reservoirs, buffalos, and buffalo shepherds. It was amazing to notice local life in a very chill setting without interfering. And the sky was getting ready to pour some rain, and we hoped that this won’t ruin the safari.

We had a lot of chill time on the balcony of our tree house, maybe even too much but it got darker and it was time to walk to the restaurant for dinner. Our local host family prepared 3 tonnes of food for us – there was no way to finish it – it was so tasty though! Srilankan curry with all the different mini plates of everything, papadam to start, and then the chilly and not-so-chilly dishes. Finger-licking! We could see the cooking fire and the action in the kitchen. We had to go to bed early just because we had an early start for our safari day. The long-awaited day in Yala Nation Park.

Yala National Park

After a night with all the magical sounds of the jungle, a short night though because we had to wake up at 3 a.mwe headed with our guide Menaka and his huge safari truck to the entrance of Yala NP. We were there so early so we could be second of the line to enter while Menaka was buying tickets and arranging our visit. While having our packed breakfast in the truck, we observed the sky changing from pitch black to blue just before sunrise. After sunrise, we were already driving through the first trees and bushes of the park. The first animal we saw was a very sleepy crocodile just by a small lake. We continued on the dirt road to see more lakes with waterlilies, to see antelopes, and other game.

Soon enough we were standing in front of a tree looking at two Srilankan leopards, just hanging in the branches. We haven’t;t seen many leopards on other safaris in other countries, they are extremely hard to spot as they are usually active at night, they hang in trees to chill out and find their food. So we were lucky with these two kitties, peacefully lying on a tree.

Then we continued to another place as other safari guides were coordinating on the radio with Menaka. We knew there was something special. Nearby a small lake, an old leopard was slowly approaching the water, drinking from it, and resting. It was moving so slowly, they said it’s probably tired and very old. But that was a unique opportunity to observe it for 15 minutes.

Then we rode again, spotting many beautiful birds, some monkeys, and buffalos, and then we follow the radio chatter to see another typical animal for Yala NP – the sloth bear. Now, if you think the sloths are cool, and bears are cool, too, can you imagine a combination between sloth and bear? We spotted 2 or 3 hanging high in a tree, eating from its fruits. So basically sloth bears are just very relaxed and slow always hungry cuties. How cool is that!

We met a lot of other animals – we could also shortly see the wild boars, peacocks, and water buffaloes. We couldn’t see a deer or a jackal, but there were so many species we found on that day in the park. By the end of our half-day safari, we saw a couple of elephants. They were actively breaking and eating from small trees and bushes. We saw one of them was very pregnant. They decided to cross the road and came so close to us! They actually looked bored to meet us, not bothered or angry.

We highly recommend a safari in Yala National Park – no matter if you want to spend half a day or a few days there!

Ella

After the safari, we headed to Tissa’s downtown because we needed to exchange dollars for Srilankan rupees to pay Menaka for the safari. So he took us to a little shop which had nothing to do with a change buro but it did offer (unofficially) a great exchange rate. Later we met with Upali, said goodbye to the LakeSide cabana team, and headed to Ella. Coming from a very hot and humid area to come to the mountains of Ella was like going to paradise. The temperature felt at least 10 degrees colder.

Our first stop was Rawana waterfall – a majestic waterfall, that provides refreshing splashes to its spectators. Many people stop by, hike or walk there, or just do their laundry. Our next place of interest was the Nine Arch Bridge. You have probably seen amazing photos of a long train over a bridge with many arches surrounded by lush green forest. That’s the Nine Arch Bridge. To reach it, first, we stopped with the car at a point where we had two options – to hike down to the bridge or take a tuk-tuk for part of the distance and continue on foot for the last few hundred meters.

We arranged a tuk-tuk and the driver was supposed to wait for us at the last accessible for tuk-tuks place. We hiked down to the bridge, but before that, we checked when the next train would pass. That’s when the whole show happens. Hiking with mosquitoes and watching out for lychees (the same we did later in Munnar, Kerala), there were some places where it was slippery and steep but we somehow managed to get by wearing flip-flops and sandals. After walking around the bridge, we found the perfect positions for photos. The train slowly arrived and stopped so there was time to take selfies and photos with it, even get on it for photos. It stayed long enough so everyone could take photos and videos, and enjoy the view of the train on the bridge with nine arches. The driver and the train staff were absolutely OK and even helped take photos.

We headed back up after the train slowly left, our tuk-tuk driver was waiting for us but we were too heavy so the drive was slow. Nace had to get off and walk a steep street because the old tuk-tuk couldn’t handle our weight. We had a small misunderstanding about how much we should pay because we also had to walk but it didn’t matter. The driver said we’re fat and took the money. We moved on.

We had to secure our train tickets for the next day from Ella to Kandy. The only available tickets for the train we wanted in the morning were the 3-class tickets. We had time to explore Ella. It’s a small mountain town but very popular with visitors so we had a good time and tasty food and headed to our guesthouse Jasmine Garden Inn where the local host greeted us with Srilankan tea. Later in the evening, we had time to relax, chat and drink beers with Upali.

Train ride from Ella to Nuwara Eliya

The most picturesque train ride in Sri Lanka. So here we are, waiting in the morning at Ella train station, looking forward to what we believe will be an amazing train ride in Sri Lanka – just like in the books and movies. And it was. We boarded the train at the 3-class section – we wanted to ride with the local people where the real thing, everyday life was happening. It was really hard not to miss something on the train because the views from both sides were simply amazing. From lush forests to beautiful gardens to villages, valleys, hills, and mountains – it was really hard to get bored during this train ride.

And we were on the train just for a couple of hours from Ella to Nuwara Eliya. There were other tourists in 3 class also enjoying the views from the huge windows. We had to do a lot of gymnastics to take photos with the train from the moving train, hanging from the train, without falling off or decapitating ourselves while passing through tunnels. It was funny and amazing, the train staff would help us. There was a music band, playing and singing in the compartment to contribute to an even more joyful ride. We were passing through foggy villages where we thought the sun will never appear, through green fields and tea plantations with lots of sun and lots of clouds. The only thing we didn’t see was snow (not at this time of the year, anyway).

The magical journey quickly came to an end and we got off at Nanuoya station where Upali was waiting for us with the car and our luggage.

Horton Plains

Right from the train station, we headed to Horton Plains National Park. Upali said it’s a magical place where we could hike, see a waterfall and wild nature, and have a great time. We entered the national park from the Pattipola entrance and even saw a deer. Then we reached a crossroad – which route to take? We didn’t know how long would the hike be and Upali was getting ready to hike with his uniform and shoes so we assumed it would be a light short walk. So we just took two bottles of water and some sunscreen.

We headed to Baker’s Falls and it was the sign showed it was the same track to the World’s End which sounded quite intriguing. There were amazing views of the montane grassland with lovely vegetation, clouds were trying to make sure we don’t get sunburned, we passed some reservoirs and lakes and eventually got to a point where the cloud forest started. Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, and we got to Baker’s Falls. It was so refreshing with the splashes, some people were swimming although is dangerous and therefore forbidden.

Then we realized we have walked 3 km in sandals and flip-flops and we have to return the same way or walk 6 more kilometers down the trail and reach the World’s End and Mini World’s End. So yeah, let’s see something new. The hike was not easy – with slippery parts, stones, and rocks. My sandals and I started suffering, Nace’s flip-flops too. Upali was kind of ok but we realized this is his first time there so nobody was prepared for a 9-kilometer hike. Amazing things we would see, by the time we reached World’s End, it was so foggy, that we could see nothing over the cliff, so literally, everything ended there.

We walked more to the Mini World’s End and the weather had some time to fix itself. From Mini World’s End, we could see the whole valley below and it was magical. After a short break, we sped up for the last 2 kilometers to complete the hike because a storm was coming. We could hear thunderstorms, and see flashes of lightning, they were actually helpful for a very good pace. We managed to get to the parking lot safely and it was a magical though adventurous unexpected hike we finished close to sunset.

Nuwara Eliya

After the unexpectedly long beautiful hike in Horton Plains, we went back just in time for a late dinner in Nuwara Eliya. Upali took us to an amazing dosa place where we ordered dosas that came with a variety of refillable dips and sauces. It was so cheap and so tasty! After the great dinner we all deserved, we had to find a place to sleep. We had booked online a guesthouse. It turned out that we got the wrong address, to an accommodation with a similar name, so we had to drive across town to a higher and secluded part of Nuwara Eliya. After getting to know the town too well, we called the host and she helped us find the right place – La Rose Homestay.

So we arrived quite late but we had the whole house to ourselves. The rooms were huge and everything was new. The host Anu was amazing and we had time to chat and eat the sweets we bought downtown. We recapped the day – the picturesque train ride from Ella, the hike in Horton Plains, the adventure of finding the accommodation, what a day! Upali and Anu stayed a bit more to chat and share photos of their families. We had to go to bed to rest because tomorrow another important leg of our journey was ahead.

To Kandy – but before that, we passed one of the tea plantations and stopped by to enjoy and see up close the process of tea making and tea picking. We stopped at Damro Tea – one of the largest tea plantations in Sri Lanka, owned by a local. It was really funny because the workers were on strike so no tea was produced that day and many of the machines weren’t working. We had a tour of the facilities – where they dry the leaves, where they process the tea. We finished with tea tasting and cake eating. Our guide also guided us through the tea terraces where we could try tea picking with the huge baskets hanging by our foreheads. It was not easy! Many places in Sri Lanka still do pick tea by hand. It was nice to experience tea picking, explore the terraces up close, and experience all this in a different way. When we were just passing them from the road, it was a different perspective, the big picture, and now we had the chance to zoom in and get hands-on experience.

Kandy

On our way from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy, we had some rainy times, passing through many towns and villages. We could see people getting together, protesting together, against the government, the president, and the ridiculous things happening in the country. All the protests were peaceful, we had no problems passing with our marked-as-touristic car. Nevertheless, we could observe some more of the everyday local life. We reached Kandy where Upali took us to a guesthouse owned by an acquaintance of his. As soon as we settled in, we had to turn on the AC as it was super hot and humid. You can search for the best accommodation in Kandy here.

We headed downtown to Kandy for a late lunch with a view and to check what was up. After lunch, we headed to the Cultural Dance Show, one of the most popular things to do in Kandy. We observed many rituals, acrobatics, dance, singing, playing music, and theater, in traditional costumes and were shown different traditions and rituals. It was so much fun to see this loud colorful performance! At the end of the show, we watched fire walking.

In Kandy, there is a big lake in the middle of downtown where you can walk around, enjoy the views, and reach the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (which we decided to visit the next day). We continued our walk to a Buddhist temple where we joined the evening prayers it was colorful and magical with vivid colors and murals and priests. Then the light went out. Even with the power outage, we felt so peaceful. We found a monk who invited us to his room and performed some rituals and prayers, he blessed the three of us. Upali left him a donation, as he really wanted us to receive a blessing!

We walked more in the neighborhood. In an underpass, we admired local graffiti art telling the history of Sri Lanka, we stopped by the Clock Tower and check the Local Bus terminal. Observing life happening even without the commodity of electricity, we realized how people were so agile that have found a way to continue business as usual. It’s admirable how they never give up!

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Lord Buddha’s tooth is there) is an important big golden-roofed temple with ceremonies and prayers happening daily – it’s beautiful not just from architectural and spiritual points of view place, but also just to see how life happens, how local people go there with their pujas to pray.

We arrived just in time for the morning ceremony which was loud and not too long. Then we followed the line to a place where people were leaving their offerings, their pujas to the gods. It was very spiritual, very magical, with so many people though. And we had to wear masks even outside, which was not so cool in that humidity and heat. The upper floors of the temple featured museums and interesting architecture and were so much more peaceful.

You have to walk barefoot in the whole temple complex which is not an issue unless it becomes really hot. And it does – the sun is scorching and for the visit during the day – we suggest wearing socks. We finished the tour and went to go around the lake again. Upali wanted to feed the holy fish (fishing is not allowed and fish is well taken care of). It was a lovely scene of golden fish eating popcorn.

It was time to say goodbye to Kandy and start traveling pole-pole to our next destination.

Negombo

All the good things come to an end, and so was our trip to Sri Lanka. We had a super early flight from Colombo airport so we decided to spend the last day in a place nearby. So we chose Negombo which is a beach town – a popular destination for both locals and foreigners. We arrived in Negombo and there was the heat, and the humidity again, but it was OK – we had the beach in front of us, the ocean, and the breeze. We checked in at a local guesthouse (find where to stay in Negombo here) featuring a restaurant right on the beach so we could enjoy the shade of the palms and watch the sunset into the sea. After some shopping for snacks and beers, we had a long interesting conversation with Upali, one last time. We talked about travel, life, Sri Lanka, and the world. At a table nearby there was a birthday party with good music, dancing, and a good mood. In a relaxing and celebrating mode – this is how our last night in Sri Lanka went.

In the morning, it was raining – Sri Lanka was sad to see us go. Upali dropped us at the airport and we boarded the flight for our next adventure – Kerala. ස්තුතියි, Sri Lanka and see you again soon!

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2 Responses

  1. Sheron
    | Reply

    Aww I feel homesick now) I’m glad you enjoyed my little country

    • Your country is a dream come true for us! Thank you for the great advice when we were planning the trip!

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