The Perfect 10 Day Sri Lanka Itinerary – For Wildlife, Scenery & Culture

If you only have 10 days in Sri Lanka, you’re going to have to plan your 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary meticulously if you want to get a good flavour of everything this beautiful island has on offer.

I’ve taken the hard work out of this for you by creating this Sri Lanka itinerary which will allow you to sample culture, wildlife and scenery.

Sri Lanka has so much on offer from colourful temples, to beautiful rainforest walks and picture-perfect beaches. You can spend your morning spotting leopards on your safari and be on the beach by the afternoon with all its fabulous attractions in close proximity.

There is a well-trodden Sri Lankan backpacking route which this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary is based upon. This itinerary will showcase some of the best things to do in Sri Lanka but be prepared that it is a fast paced trip. If you want a more relaxed trip then you will need to plan for at least 2 weeks in Sri Lanka.

But first, let’s talk about how to get the best out of 10 days in Sri Lanka

What you can expect from this article…

  • 1 Overview of this 10 day Sri Lanka Itinerary
  • 2 Map of this 10 days in Sri Lanka Itinerary
  • 3 So let’s dig into this 10 day Sri Lanka Itinerary a bit more…
    • 3.1 Day One in Sri Lanka – Negombo
    • 3.2 Day Two in Sri Lanka – Sigiriya Rock
    • 3.3 Day Three in Sri Lanka – Dambulla Cave and Minneriya National Park
    • 3.4 Day 4 in Sri Lanka – Spice plantation and a trip to Kandy
    • 3.5 Day 5 in Sri Lanka – Kandy to Ella
    • 3.6 Day 6 in Sri Lanka – Ella Town
    • 3.7 Day 7 in Sri Lanka – Ella to Yala National Park
    • 3.8 Day 8 in Sri Lanka – Yala National Park to Mirissa
    • 3.9 Where to stay near Mirissa
    • 3.10 Day 9 in Sri Lanka – Mirissa and Galle
    • 3.11 Day 10 in Sri Lanka – Dalawella Beach 
  • 4 Other Places to visit if you have more than 10 days in Sri Lanka
    • 4.1 Tamarind Gardens Homestay
    • 4.2 Nuwara Eliyah
    • 4.3 Arugam Bay
    • 4.4 Udawale National Park
    • 4.5 Take a sailing trip
  • 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Sri Lanka
    • 5.1 How do I get around Sri Lanka?
    • 5.2 When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?
    • 5.3 What vaccinations do you need for Sri Lanka?
    • 5.4 Is there malaria in Sri Lanka?
    • 5.5 Do you need a visa for Sri Lanka?
    • 5.6 Is Sri Lanka safe for solo female travellers?
    • 5.7 What should I wear in Sri Lanka?
  • 6 Further Reading

Overview of this 10 day Sri Lanka Itinerary

Day One – Negombo (Markets & canals)

Day Two – Sigiriya (hiking & history)

Day Three – Dambulla caves and Minneriya National park (temples and safari)

Day Four – Kandy – (spice plantations, temples and dance performances)

Day Five – Kandy to Ella by train (One of the worlds most scenic journeys)

Day Six Ella town (hiking, scenery and a great bar scene)

Day Seven – Yala National Park Safari (Leopard safari)

Day Eight – Mirissa (beach time, whale watching, surfing)

Day Nine – Mirissa to Galle (history and culture)

Day Ten – Dalawella Beach (pure relaxation.)

Map of this 10 days in Sri Lanka Itinerary

Here is a map to show you what to expect from these 10 days in Sri Lanka. If you are flying out on day 10 then factor in 3 hours to reach the airport. It will cost you $35-40 for a taxi transfer if you arrange it locally.

So let’s dig into this 10 day Sri Lanka Itinerary a bit more…

Day One in Sri Lanka – Negombo

Bandaranaike International Airport is situated between the cities of Colombo and Negombo but I would suggest you start your 10 days in Sri Lanka in the later, Negombo.

Colombo is a bustling city but with no particular stand-out features, unlike charming Colombo where you can take a boat trip through the Dutch Canals observing local life before exploring the pretty mangroves.

Book a canal tour here

The fish market is also worth a visit. Watch the women laboriously laying the fish out on the beach to dry in the sun, then experience the hustle & bustle of the chaotic market, where fishermen jostle to sell their catch to the highest bidder, the pungent smell of fish mixing with the salty air. It’s quite the experience!

When you arrive at the market, you will often be offered a tour with a local fisherman in return for a tip. Our tour guide, Bernard, was quite a character. If you meet him, say ‘hi’ from me!

How to get to Negombo from the airport

Bandaranaike International Airport is only 4 miles outside of the city and so the easiest way to get to Negombo is by taxi. Uber is also available and is extremely reasonable. It should cost less than 500RS ($3.)

Where to stay in Negombo

I stayed at Beacon Beach Hotel, a light and airy 4-star hotel directly on the beach with air con, wifi and a hotel pool. Cocktails can be ordered at the beach bar and enjoyed on the beach for your first spectacular Sri Lankan sunset.

Day Two in Sri Lanka – Sigiriya Rock

The highlight of this day will be climbing 1200 steps to the top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress otherwise known as Lion Rock. The views alone make the climb worth every step.

This humongous column of rock rises 200m above the forest and represents 1000 years of history. It has now been made a UNESCO world heritage site. Make sure you explore the pretty gardens and the caves filled with ancient paintings.

Many people will recommend climbing early in the morning when the crowds are smaller and it is slightly cooler. However, on really hot days, it may be worth considering doing the climb in the late afternoon as the breeze usually gets up at this point making the heat more bearable. Golden hour and sunrise are the best times for photography here.

Another alternative is to hike up Pidurangala Rock where you can have a great view straight onto Sigiriya Rock.

Click here to book a cultural triangle tour

How to get to Sigiriya.

If you don’t have a driver then you could either take a bus via Colombo (5 hrs+) for around $14 or arrange a combination of taxi and train which will set you back about $30 and takes about 2 hours. A taxi would cost around $50. Find your tickets on 12GoAsia.

Where to stay near Sigiriya Rock

I stayed in the village of Sigiriya at Fresco Water Villas. I loved these little over water apartments and enjoyed making full use of the swimming pool after my sweaty hike up Sigiriya rock. They do have a restaurant on site but if you fancy eating out in the village, make sure you get a taxi as elephants roam free in this area and can be dangerous if you stumble across them at night.

Day Three in Sri Lanka – Dambulla Cave and Minneriya National Park

I’d recommend getting up early today as Dambulla caves can get really busy. Dambulla Cave temple is the largest and best preserved Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. I’d factor in a couple of hours for exploring all these caves including the short walk up a very steep hill to get there. Inside you’ll find fascinating statues, wall paintings and shrines, preserved for many years.

Top Tip | Being inside the caves is actually welcome relief from the heat but you will be required to take your shoes off before going in which means walking on hot granite steps to get there – bring some thick fluffy socks and arrive early before the sun heats the ground too much!

In the late afternoon, you will be going on your first Sri Lankan safari to see herds of elephants. Whilst in this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary, we will also be visiting Yala National Park, there are far more elephants in Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks.

The two national parks are right next to each other and which you visit will depend on where the elephants are on that specific day so make sure you ask your guide which is best that day!

I went to Minneriya National Park and we saw SO MANY elephants. Minneriya National Park isn’t quite as good as Yala National Park for seeing a variety of wildlife but it does afford you one of the best opportunities to see wild elephants en masse. In yala, you may spot one or two elephants but we saw far far more in Minneriya national park.

Click here to book a safari

If you happen to be visiting in the dry season, you may get to see the ‘elephant gathering.’ This is when the water holes elsewhere in Sri Lanka dry up driving the elephants towards the central areas meaning that you could see hundreds of elephants all gathering at Minneriya’s watering holes!

How to get to Dambulla cave temple and Minneriya National Park

If you haven’t got your own driver in Sri Lanka then today would be a great day to hire one as both Dambulla caves and Minneriya National Park are about a 30-minute drive from your base in Sigiriya.

Where to stay.

Since Sigiriya is between Minneriya National park and Dambulla caves, I’d recommend staying in Sigiriya tonight in the same hotel.

Day 4 in Sri Lanka – Spice plantation and a trip to Kandy

You’ve got a busy day ahead so again, I’d suggest getting up fairly early.

Today you will be headed for Kandy but first, make a stop at Ranweli Spice Plantation and take a tour learning about the benefits of ayurvedic medicine, of using various spices and fruits in your food and medicines to help with different ailments. You can also sample an ayurvedic massage here. Allow around 1- 1.5 hrs.

Aim to reach Kandy before lunchtime so you can spend some time exploring the gift shop at Sthree gift shop and cafe. This is a social enterprise aimed at helping women in need and people with learning disabilities make an income through creative projects. Browse the beautiful crafts here and make sure you let them know you’re coming in advance as they will make you the most delicious meal!

After you’ve filled your belly with the delicious food at Sthree cafe, head for Kandy city centre. Here you will find The Temple of the Sacred Tooth, arguably the most famous temple in Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist temple, housed in the royal palace complex. The relic is of great importance as it is believed that whoever holds the relic, can govern the country.

Allow a couple of hours for exploring the temple and again, you will have to take your shoes ff so take thick socks to avoid burning your feet!

Before heading to your hotel, enjoy a late afternoon Sri Lankan dance and drumming performance at the LakeClub for an insight into the local culture.

Book a Kandy city tour here

Where to stay in Kandy

We stayed at The Oak ray heritage hotel, possibly the poshest accommodation throughout my whole trip but wow, it was amazing! The rooms were spacious and stylish and our balcony overlooked pretty Kandy lake.

Day 5 in Sri Lanka – Kandy to Ella

Enjoy a morning in Kandy. You could get an Ayurvedic massage as I did, walk around Kandy’s beautiful lake (allow 1 hour) or visit The Botanical Gardens. You could also go shopping in Kandy but be warned that the selling techniques in Kandy can be pretty full on, I lasted 20 minutes before I gave up on the idea of being able to browse in peace!

The next thing on your agenda is the Kandy to Ella train journey. This train trip takes 6 hours and departs from Kandy station at 11.10 AM. It is well known for being one f the most beautiful train journeus in the world passing through luscious forests, hills and tea plantations. The train moves slowly so its popular to hang out of the train doors to get an iconic photo.

You’ll be arriving in Ella in the early evening so drop your bags off at the hotel and head out to sample the popular bars and restaurants in relaxed Ella, a town which has a buzzing backpacker vibe. It’s a lovely town to hang out in and recharge your batteries though it can be perceived as a little touristy.

Where to stay in Ella

I stayed in the Ella Gap Hotel which was very conveniently, only a 1-minute walk from all the bars and restaurants. It was also just a 2-minute walk from Ella Rock Pot where you will get the most amazing Banana chocolate roti. The rooms were very large and comfy and there is a small swimming pool to cool off in.

Day 6 in Sri Lanka – Ella Town

Today you can explore beautiful Ella or just take some well deserved chill time. There are plenty of things to do in and near Ella including hiking Ella Rock – a challenging hike with stunning vistas. There are nearby waterfalls to visit, charming gift shops and art galleries to explore, cooking classes to try and you can’t miss visiting Nine Arch Bridge. This is an iconic view of the beautiful railway’s bridge with a hilly mountainous backdrop. Try and time it with when the bright blue train comes past for the perfect photo opportunity.

Click here to book a tour of Ella Rock, Nine Arch Bridge and Little Adam’s peak from Ella

Day 7 in Sri Lanka – Ella to Yala National Park

Start the day with an early morning hike up to Little Adams peak. It’s a short walk, that will only take you 1-1.5 hours in total but has some beautiful views over the surrounding mountains.

Nip back to the hotel for a shower before checkout then you are headed for safari in Yala National Park. Aim to get there by about 2 pm so you can check into your campsite before your late afternoon safari.

Yala National Park has the highest concentration of leopards in the world making it one of the best places to see these majestic big cats. I saw so much variety of wildlife in Yala from elephants to buffaloes to crocodiles and eagles and then, as we were heading out of the park, we finally caught sight of a leopard!

Book a safari here

Where to stay near Yala National Park

I stayed at the Big Game Camp Yala, where we were glamping. By that I mean that we stayed in tents shared with one other person but we had extremely comfy proper beds, a fan and even our own bathrooms (behind a little curtain!) There was even a wifi tent – we certainly weren’t roughing it here! The food was also amazing and we loved chilling out on huge bean bags in the evenings. Bring your own supply of alcohol as there is none to buy here and it’s a nice place to have a beer in the evening.

In this 10 day itinerary, you’ll only have time to try out the safaris on offer but if you did have an extra few days, they also offer nature walks, wildlife presentations and cooking classes.

Day 8 in Sri Lanka – Yala National Park to Mirissa

You’ll have to set a very early alram this day as you head out on a sunrise morning safari. The animals are often most active in the cool early mornings and at dawn so you will be setting off for the park whilst it’s still dark. The sun is just coming up as you arrive at the park, ready to spot sonme leopards. 

Once you arrive back at camp at about 10ish, you can set off for Mirissa, a 2 hours drive away. Tangalle beach makes a ncie place to stop off and enjoy the beautiful sceney and perhaps get some food at a restaurant along the beach. 

Arriving at Mirissa in the early afternoon gives you the chance to explore. There are many things to do in Mirissa but I’d recommend first going to see coconut tree hill – a beautiful viewpoint in Mirissa and then enjoying a drink at the bar nearby with beautiful sea views. Alternatively, you could explore nearby Weligama or even give surfing a go with a surf lesson.

In the evening, head to Mirissa main beach where you can have dinner on the beach, lit up by candles.  

Where to stay near Mirissa

I stayed at The Mandara Resort which is technically in Weligama (right next to Mirissa but a little quieter.) It had spacious, comfy rooms and really paid attention to details – we even arrived back to find our towels had evolved into fluffy white dogs propped up on our beds!  The heated swimming poool leading onto a quiet peaceful stretch of beach was amazing but be aware that it’s probably too rough to swim here! 

I often judge a hotel based on the breakfast and in that case this hotel would be rewarded with 5 stars  – the bereakfast was amazing! There was literally every type of breakfast (and non-breakfast) food you can imagine – from cereals to cakes and even a full English cooked breakfast (with quality sausages!) 

Day 9 in Sri Lanka – Mirissa and Galle

Another early start I’m afraid. This time it’s to spot blue whales rather than leopards. The boats leave the harbour at 8 am and return whenever they are satisfied they have seen enough whales. We saw about 15, breaching and impressing us with their vast size. Did you know blue whales can grow up to 30metres? That’s the size of a double-decker bus! Whale watching in Mirissa is one of the best places in the world to see Blue Whales!

Book a whale watching tour here

Once you’re back at the harbour, catch a tuk-tuk to Secret beach in Mirissa. It may no longer be a ‘secret’ but Secret beach is certainly worth the tuk-tuk and short hilly walk to get there. It is much quieter than the Mirissa beach and the scenery is fantastic.

What’s even better about this idyllic beach is that a wall of rock creating a lagoon makes it a safe area to swim. Many beaches in Sri Lanka arent safe to swim as Sri Lankan waves are pretty ferocious. 

Have a late lunch at Aloha, near your hotel in Welligama. The banana smoothies are to die for and I’m told the tuna burger was incredible. 

Your next stop is Galle about a 45-minute drive from your hotel. It’s best to visit late afternoon as the tiny laneways can become sweltering in the midday sun. This UNESCO heritage site, a walled dutch colonial fort, is now home to a multitude of gift shops, art galleries, restaurants and delicious ice cream parlours. But make sure you take time away from the shops to walk by the infamous Galle lighthouse and watch the sun set over the sea. 

Where to stay near Galle

Rather than drive back to Mirissa tonight, take a short drive to Dalawella and stay at Galawatta beach cabanas. You will stay in a rustic beach hut where you can hear the waves crashing on the shore as you fall asleep and wake up to breakfast on your verandah overlooking the beautiful Dalawella beach. 

Day 10 in Sri Lanka – Dalawella Beach 

This is your day to chill after 10 hectic days in Sri Lanka. Dalawella beach is the perfect place to have a chill day. Dalawella is one of the safest beaches for swimming thanks to a long wall of rock creating a shallow lagoon where the waves are less ferocious but it’s deep enough to actually swim.

Have lunch at Wijaya and in the evening, pop over to Dream Cabanas bar for sunset where you can capture some beautiful photos of the insta-famous palm tree rope swing.

The airport is about a 3 hour drive and I managed to arrange an air conditioned taxi for 6000RS which is about $35. Always arrange your taxi in Sri Lanka not before you get there as you’ll be charged a LOT more!

Other Places to visit if you have more than 10 days in Sri Lanka

Tamarind Gardens Homestay

Learn about local village life, see life on a working cattle farm and get to know this friendly community all whilst contributing towards this social enterprise benefiting the whole village at Tamarind Gardens.

Nuwara Eliyah

Get the opportunity to visit a beautiful tea plantation, take high tea at the grand hotel or take a hike in the Hortons Plains where the scenery (and the climate) resembles the U.K more than it does Sri Lanka. Take a jumper as it gets chilly at night in ‘Little England.’

Book a trip to Hortons Plain with a scenic train ride

Arugam Bay

A laid back beach town popular for its surf, yoga and chilled out atmosphere. I didn’t manage to make it there but from what I’ve been told, it’s the sort of place you might find hard to leave.

Udawale National Park

Apparently, the best place to see elephants in the wild in Sri Lanka (though I still think it would be hard to beat Minneriya National park!) There is also the Elephant Transit Home which you can visit. Here the elephants are being rehabilitated back into the wild.

Book a Udawale safari here

Take a sailing trip

After this fast-paced 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary, you are due some relaxation. If one day on Dalawella beach wasn’t enough then consider taking a Sri Lanka sailing trip. You could explore more of the south coast or head up north to visit the islands in the Northern parts of Sri Lanka. Or you could even hop over to The Maldives and take a surprisingly affordable Maldives sailing trip for a week there. Transfers are really cheap and my sailing trip cost about the same as 1 night in a resort but for a whole week sailing! What a bargain?!

Read 9 reasons why you need to book a Liveaboard Maldives trip

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Sri Lanka

How do I get around Sri Lanka?

I would highly recommend hiring a driver if you are doing this 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary independently. As you can see, these 10 days in Sri Lanka are super action packed so having your own driver who will deliver you from place to place and look after your belongings whilst you visit the tourist attractions, will be extremely useful. If you decide to take public transport, you may want to factor in an extra day or two to make it feasible or omit some activities. 12 Go Asia is a great website for finding train and bus time and booking your tickets.

Hiring a driver can be way more affordable than you think especially if you are travelling as a pair or a group. You should be able to find a driver for about $50 a day.

Another great way to get around is by taking a tour. I visited all of these places and a few more on a 14 day trip with G Adventures. We had our own air-conditioned minibus to safely take us around Sri Lanka and our tour was packed with lots of little extras that might be hard to arrange independently such as village tours. It actually probably works out a little cheaper if you are planning on staying in nice hotels like the places we stayed with G Adventures. It’s currently discounted (as on May 2019) and costs just $90 per day! They do offer shorter trips as well. This is the G Adventures Sri Lanka Tour I took.

Check out my G Adventures Sri Lanka Itinerary in detail

When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?

This will depend on where in Sri Lanka you are visiting. Since this Sri Lanka itinerary focusses on the central highlands, west and southern coastlines, the best time to visit would be between December and March when you are most likely to have sunny, dry weather.

What vaccinations do you need for Sri Lanka?

The good news is that the essential vaccinations you need for Sri Lanka are probably the ones you’ve had already as a child. Though its worth checking your routine immunisations such as Diptheria, Tetanus and MMR are all up to date.

You may want to consider Hepatitis B, Rabies, Typhoid, Hepatitis A and Japanese Encephalitis depending on what you will be doing and where. This Sri Lanka itinerary does not go anywhere particularly remote where you would be high risk. I personally think Hepatitis A would be worth having as it can be spread through contaminated food and water. Check out what you need using the Fit for Travel website.

If you are transiting through a country with Yellow fever, even if just via the airport, you will need to show proof of Yellow fever vaccination.

Is there malaria in Sri Lanka?

The risk of Malaria is very low in Sri Lanka and so you do not need to take anti-malarial medication.

Do you need a visa for Sri Lanka?

Unless you are from The Seychelles, Maldives or Singapore, you will require a visa. These can be obtained online in advance or at the airport. My E Visa took only a few hours to come through.

Is Sri Lanka safe for solo female travellers?

I always felt very safe in Sri Lanka, much safer than in most Asian countries I have visited as a solo female traveller. They have very low rates of tourist crime and I didn’t experience any harassment.

In April 2019 there was a big tourist attack with multiple fatalities. So yes, there may be a risk of terrorism but there are not many countries that haven’t been a victim to a terrorist attack in recent years. Make sure the risk is not considered ‘imminent’ by the foreign office and that travel insurance will cover you. If so, then the risk in Sri Lanka is probably no higher than anywhere else in the world at this turbulent time.

Read more | Is Sri Lanka safe to travel to?

What should I wear in Sri Lanka?

The culture in Sri Lanka is fairly conservative so it’s best to bear this in mind when you are packing. Pack a few t-shirts and skirts or trousers which will cover your shoulders and knees. In beach towns and on the main tourist trail, shorts will be fine. But make sure you always cover up for visiting temples. I personally wore lots of long floaty skirts with t-shirts tucked in which kept me cool, stylish and respectful!

Further Reading

  • Your guide to Dalawella Beach
  • The Secret Beach in Mirissa and how to find it!
  • Maldives Dhoni cruise with G Adventures review
  • Whale watching in Mirissa: a handy guide
  • 57 awesome things to do in Sri Lanka

Other itineraries

  • 10 days in Vietnam
  • 10 days in Thailand
  • 4 days in Bangkok
  • 2 weeks in Indonesia
  • 10 days in Sicily
  • 8 days in Iceland

Hopefully you have found this 10 day Sri Lanka Itinerary useful and are pleasantly surprised by how much you can pack in with just 10 days in Sri Lanka?!

If you have any other tips for how to get the best out of Sri Lanka in 10 days, please pop your suggestions (or questions) in the comments box below! I will do my best to reply quickly.

I travelled within Sri Lanka as a guest with G Adventures. All content remains my own opinions and I would never have it any other way. But I am glad to report that my G Adventures trip was absolutely blumin’ amazing and I’d recommend it to anyone! You can read the full Sri Lanka tour review here!

Click here to see the G Adventures tour I took in Sri Lanka

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