Planning your trip around Sri Lanka? We’ve got you covered. Our Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary is the ultimate guide for your trip. There is so much to see and do here and you are able to squeeze in an incredible amount of exploring in just 3 weeks in Sri Lanka. Follow our route guide to ensure you get the absolute most out of your time.

The beautiful island of Sri Lanka has it all. Beaches, mountains and amazing wildlife. We fell in love with this awesome country and its unique culture so easily, and we’re sure you will too.

Unlike most route guides for Sri Lanka we recommend going south first from Colombo towards Unawatuna, as opposed to heading east towards Kandy. The main reason for this was to beat the crowds for the Ella to Kandy scenic train journey, and it worked out perfectly for us.

Follow our Sri Lanka 3-week itinerary and you will see the very best that this island has to offer.

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Map of Sri Lanka 3 Week Itinerary

Sri Lanka 3 Week Itinerary

  • Day 1: Negombo
  • Day 2 – 4: Unawatuna
  • Day 5 – 7: Mirissa
  • Day 8 – 10: Dikwella and Hiriketiya
  • Day 11 – 12: Yala National Park
  • Day 13 – 16: Ella
  • Day 17: Ella to Kandy Train
  • Day 18: Kandy
  • Day 19 – 20: Sigiriya
  • Day 21: Travel Back to Negombo

Day 1: Negombo

Fly into the airport at Negombo. The airport is located near the capital city of Colombo. From the research we did and what we saw for ourselves, there really isn’t much to do around here. Head to your accommodation and recover from the day’s travel and get ready for a crazy 3-week adventure.

Getting to Negombo:

From the airport, a cheap and safe option to your accommodation is Uber or the PickMe app.

Day 2 – 4: Unawatuna

Start your trip with a train journey to remember from Colombo Fort to Unawatuna. This quaint little coastal town is an awesome first stop on your trip. It is famous for its palm tree rope swings on the beach, has loads of turtles to swim with and lots of cool beaches to visit, including the amazing Dalawella Beach. Add in some great local food and fruit stalls and we are off to a winning start.

Read our full blog on Unawatuna: The Ultimate Guide to Unawatuna

Getting to Unawatuna

From Negombo, hop on the bus heading into Colombo city centre which costs 60LKR ($0.34USD) and takes 1 – 1.5 hours depending on traffic. From Colombo, the train goes every couple of hours from the main railway station, Colombo Fort, all the to Unawatuna and cost 240LKR ($1.40USD) per person. The train takes approximately 2.5 – 3 hours to reach Unawatuna.

Where to Stay in Unawatuna

We stayed in Mr Funk’s Hostel which cost 2600LKR ($15USD) per night for a private double room with a fan. It is on the outskirts of Unawatuna so it’s a little bit of a trek from town, but we reckon it is worth the effort. They do amazing family meals most nights which helps create a really social atmosphere. The staff were always super helpful and we loved the overall vibe of the place.

Find more great places to stay in Unawatuna.

Standing on top of Wajaya Rock at Sunset in Unawatuna

Day 5 – 7: Mirissa

Our personal favourite place on the south coast of Sri Lanka. It is a great place to surf, with a wide range of surf spots ranging from beginner to advanced. Be sure to include the unique Coconut Tree Hill, a peninsula of red soil filled with palm trees. More beaches, including Secret Beach Mirissa, some talented local artists and a ridiculous amount of sweet places to watch sunset all make Mirissa absolutely incredible.

Read our full blog on Mirissa: Top 6 Things to Do in Mirissa

Getting to Mirissa

From Unawatuna, take the public bus (a great way to travel on a budget), which costs 70 LKR ($0.40 USD) per person and takes 45 mins – 1 hour. It’s a pretty bus journey along the coast and buses leave every 5 minutes from the main road.

Where to Stay in Mirissa

If you want the most insane breakfast ever, we recommend staying at Kavindi Guest House which costs 2400LKR ($14 USD) per night for a double room with a fan. This price also includes the breakfast which was a three course affair. A traditional Sri Lankan breakfast, eggs on toast and a fruit platter to top it all off.

Find other great places to stay in Mirissa.

Coconut Tree Hill in Mirissa at sunrise

Day 8 – 10: Dikwella and Hiriketiya

Hiriketiya is one of the less talked about places on the south coast and is often overlooked by tourists. Make sure you don’t make the same mistake. The bay at Hiriketiya offers consistent surf for all levels and a really chilled out vibe. We loved surfing and hanging out at the beach here. It is also great having Dikwella only a 10 minute walk away, as it offers amazing local food – well worth the visit.

Read our full blog on Dikwella and Hiriketiya: Hiriketiya Beach | 8 Awesome Things to Do

Getting to Dikwella:

There is a direct public bus between Mirissa and Dikwella but it doesn’t seem to come very often. The easiest way is to first get a bus from Mirissa to Matara, which is 30 LKR ($0.17 USD), and takes 25 minutes. Then jump on a second bus from Matara to Dikwella for 50LKR ($0.29 USD), which will take around 45 minutes on a local bus.

Where to Stay in Dikwella

We recommend staying at Chandra Holiday Home which cost 1800 LKR ($10 USD) a night here for a double room with a fan. It was right in between Hiri Beach and Dikwella, making it easy for us to get to both. It is also one of the few places that had a kitchen so you could cook your own meals.

Find other great places to stay in Dikwella and Hiriketiya.

Hiriketiya Beach aerial photo

Day 11 – 12: Yala National Park

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without going on a safari. Yala National Park offers the chance to see leopards, elephants, crocodiles, water buffalo and so much more. Take a jeep from the nearby town of Tissamaharama and enjoy your day on safari.

Read our full blog on Yala National Park: Everything You Need to Know About Yala National Park

Getting to Yala National Park:

Public buses leave frequently from Dikwella heading towards Tissamaharama and travel via Tangalle. They take around 2.5 hours and will cost 160LKR ($0.90 USD).

Where to Stay in Tissamaharama

We stayed in Viveka Guesthouse which cost 1200LKR ($7.00 USD) for a double room with a fan. The main reason we recommend staying here is that we booked our jeep safari through the guesthouse and we were the first jeep through the gates on the morning of our safari.

Find many other great places to stay in Tissamaharama.

Spotting elephants from our jeep in Yala National Park

Day 13 – 16: Ella

Ella is an amazing town nestled in amongst the mountains in the Sri Lankan countryside. It is about as scenic and beautiful a town as you could ever hope to see and is home to one of the most famous places in Sri Lanka, Nine Arch Bridge. It has some great hikes, scenic lookouts and is surrounded by lush tea fields. Ella is also a great base to do a day trip to Diyaluma Falls.

Read our full blog on Ella: 9 Amazing Things to Do in Ella

Getting to Ella:

You will have to get out of bed early to catch a direct bus to Ella from Tissamaharama. The last direct bus leaves the main bus station in Tissa at 8:20 am. There are no direct busses after this and we have heard it can make the journey much more difficult to leave in the afternoon. The journey on a local bus should cost around 180 LKR ($1 USD) and takes just over two hours.

Where to Stay in Ella

In Ella we highly recommend Udayanga Restaurant and Bar which cost 2300 LKR ($13.20 USD) per night for a double room with a fan. One of the nicest rooms we stayed in on our Sri Lanka trip. It is in the middle of town which is super important in Ella as it is a very hilly place. Staying right in the centre may save you a lot of walking up and down hills.

Find other great places to stay in Ella.

Sitting on the wall of Nine Arch Bridge in Ella

Day 17: Ella to Kandy Train

This will probably be the highlight of your entire trip. This scenic mountain train winds through the heart of the Sri Lankan hill country and provides 7 hours of breathtaking views. Hang out the open doorways of this iconic blue train and watch this stunning country drift by.

We found many people were disappointed by how busy the train was and didn’t have the experience they were expecting. We managed to have the perfect train ride and you should too if you follow our guidelines.

Read the full blog on the Ella to Kandy train ride here: 10 Things You Should Know About the Ella to Kandy Train

10 Things You Should Know About the Ella to Kandy Train

Day 18: Kandy

We are not huge city people so we only recommend spending the one day in Kandy. It is a lively and vibrant city with loads of shops, restaurants and street markets to explore. While you could spend an extra day or two here, we feel that your time will be much better spent elsewhere as the rest of the country has so much more to offer.

Day 19 – 20: Sigiriya

Sigiriya Rock (Lion Rock), an ancient fortress, is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Sri Lanka. People come to see this crazy 660-foot rock that juts out of the ground and dominates the skyline. Our trip here taught us that it is actually the neighbouring Pidurangala Rock hike that is the real treasure of Sigiriya.

To find out more about Pidurangala Rock and Sigiriya, read our full blog post: Pidurangala Rock Hike, The Best Way to See Sigiriya Rock

Getting to Sigiriya:

It is really easy to take the public bus from Kandy to Sigiriya. Grab a bus to Dambulla from the main bus station which is located just behind the train station in Kandy’s city centre. The bus costs approximately 200LKR ($1.14 USD) and took around 2 hours 15 minutes. Busses leave for Dambulla every half an hour from Kandy. From Dambulla take the bus to Sigiriya for 40LKR ($0.23 USD) which took us 30 minutes.

Where to Stay in Sigiriya

In Sigiriya we recommend staying at Kalana Homestay which cost 1740LKR ($9.90 USD) per night for a large double fan room. It was just a few minutes walk from Sigiriya Rock and right next to the handful of restaurants in town.

Find other great places to stay in Sigiriya.

View of Sigiriya Rock at sunrise in Sri Lanka

Day 21: Travel Back to Negombo

After an action packed 3 weeks its time to head back to the airport at Negombo.

Getting to Negombo:

Similar to arriving in Sigiriya, the return route requires you to catch a bus from Sirigiya to Dambulla for 40LKR ($0.23 USD) which takes 30 minutes. From Dambulla, continue on to Kandy via public bus – costing approximately 200LKR ($1.14 USD) and taking around 2 hours 15 minutes. The last leg from Kandy to Negombo has a direct bus that drops you off outside the airport, costs 160LKR ($0.90 USD) and can take between 3 – 4 hours depending on traffic.

Other Destinations to Consider

Do you have more than just 3 weeks in Sri Lanka? If you do then there are a couple of other destinations you should add to your travel plans.

Arugam Bay

On Sri Lanka’s east coast is the surfing paradise of Arugam Bay. People travel from all over the world to come here and surf. The nearby Kumana National Park also provides another great safari option in Sri Lanka. Take a couple of days and discover all the awesome things to do in Arugam Bay.

Trincomalee

Another cool town on the East Coast of Sri Lanka is Trincomalee which has some of the most beautiful beaches in the whole country. Spend a few days hanging out at all the epic places in Trincomalee.

Pathirakali Amman Temple in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka

The best time to visit the south coast and hill country is between December and March as this is the dry season here. Monsoon season in this region runs from May until September.

For the east coast the best time to visit is from the end of April until September, while the monsoon season runs from October until January.

Shoulder season is also a great time to visit as there is a high chance of getting good weather and prices for accommodation tend to be much cheaper!

Sri Lanka Visa

In order to visit Sri Lanka, most travellers need to obtain a tourist visa. This allows you double entry to Sri Lanka for 30 days. While you can get this visa on arrival there are usually long waits at the airport. The easiest way is to apply before you travel. To apply for a Sri Lanka visa, visit the Sri Lanka Electronic Travel Authorization website.

Update July 31, 2019: Sri Lanka has made 30 day tourist visas free for many passport holders (including USA, Canada, Australia and Germany) to help revive tourism following the horrific terrorist attacks in April. At the moment, the visa waiver is applicable for the next six months as a trial phase.

Budget for Sri Lanka 3 Week Itinerary

Sri Lanka is one of the cheapest countries that we have ever visited. In 3 weeks here we spent 61,875LKR ($350 USD) each. That’s crazy cheap.  It is the perfect country to backpack around when you are on a tight budget.

Check out our full Sri Lanka Budget Guide.

Here are some general guidelines for what you can expect to pay:

  • Accommodation –  1200LKR – 2600LKR ($7 – $15 USD) per night for a double room. This will get you a budget double room with a fan and often a shared bathroom. Expect to pay around double this if you would like an air conditioned room.
  • Food – 110LKR – 500LKR ($0.62 – $2.83 USD) for rice and curry. The portion sizes are huge in Sri Lanka. Order a side of roti and this will easily feed two people which is a great way to reduce your costs.
  • Water – 70LKR ($0.40 USD) per litre. The tap water here is undrinkable and unfortunately there are very few places to refill your reusable water bottle.
  • Beer – 200LKR – 400LKR ($1.13 – $2.26 USD) per large bottle
  • Local Bus – 30LKR – 300LKR ($0.17 – $1.70 USD). The local busses are easily the cheapest way to travel around the country. If you are backpacking on a budget this is the best way to get around. They have no air conditioning and are often very busy, but it’s all part of the experience.
  • Safari – 6500LKR ($36.74 USD) for a full day jeep safari in Yala
  • Surf Rental – 250LKR – 500LKR ($1.41 – $2.82 USD) per hour
  • SIM Card – 650LKR ($3.67 USD) for 9GB of data
  • Laundry – 350LKR – 400LKR ($1.98 – $2.26 USD) per kilo

Palm Tree Rope Swing at Dalawella Beach

Things to know before you go

  • The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) is the local currency. At the time of writing this, $1 USD is equal to around 176LKR.
  • Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka, however English was widely spoken and we didn’t have an issue communicating.
  • Travel insurance is one of the most important things you can purchase for your trip. We use and highly recommend World Nomads.
  • Public transport such as trains and busses are a cheap, readily available and an easy way to travel around the country.
  • Despite how small the country looks it can be extremely time consuming to travel around – budget enough travel time.
  • The plug sockets are quite unique and not included in many universal adaptors. Most hostels will provide adaptors to fit North American style plugs and if not, they are cheap and easy to pick up in most towns. We bought ours for 300LKR ($1.70 USD).
  • It is polite to exchange money and hand over goods with your right hand.

Sri Lanka is an amazing country that should definitely be on your bucket list. We recommend at least 3 weeks here so you can explore the majority of the island and take in all the incredible sights on offer. This Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary is the perfect guide for your trip. It won’t take you long to fall in love with this awesome country and its friendly people!

*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Sri Lanka in March 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in LKR were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.

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