Sri Lanka: 1 Week Itinerary for a First Timer

[February 2019]

Sri Lanka has a rainy season that basically divides the island in half. Since I wanted to go to the south and west coast, that made my February break an ideal time to visit. I have quite a few colleagues who have visited Sri Lanka, so I asked them for ideas and did a little research of my own.

My original itinerary looked like this:

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo. Visit Dambulla Cave Temples on the way to Sigiriya. Hike Pidurangala for sunset.
Day 2: Climb Sigiriya Rock early AM. Polonnaruwa Ancient City PM. Transfer to Kandy.
Day 3: Train from Kandy to Ella.
Day 4: Little Adam’s Peak for sunrise. 9 Arches Bridge.
Day 5: Relax in Ella or hike Adam’s Peak.
Day 6: Transfer to Hike Horton Plains to World’s End. Transfer to Yala.
Day 7: Full-day safari at Yala National Park. Transfer to Mirissa.
Day 8: Whale watching or diving.
Day 9: Return to Istanbul.

I wanted to do a lot in a short amount of time, so I decided to hire a driver to be with me the entire trip. One of my friends had used Lanka Tours for some transfers, so I contacted them and attached my itinerary. They replied promptly with a quote and an updated itinerary.

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo. Visit Dambulla Cave Temples on the way to Sigiriya. Hike Pidurangala for sunset. Overnight in Sigiriya.
Day 2: Climb Sigiriya Rock early AM. Polonnaruwa Ancient City PM. Transfer to Kandy. Overnight in Kandy.
Day 3: Kandy City Tour, transfer to Nuwara Eliya. En route Tea Factory, Waterfalls, Gregory Lake. Overnight in Nuwara Eliya.
Day 4: Early AM Horton Plains, Train to Ella from Pattipola Station. Two nights in Ella.
Day 5: Early AM Little Adam’s Peak. Midday Demodara 9 Arch Bridge. Ella Rock.
Day 6: Transfer to Yala. En route Rawana Waterfall. Overnight in Yala.
Day 7: Full-day safari at Yala National Park. Transfer to Unawatuna. Two nights in Unawatuna.
Day 8: Whale watching in Mirissa or diving in Unawatuna.
Day 9: Return to Istanbul.

I agreed to their quote and updates, sent my flight information and later my accommodation plans. Prior to my trip, Kaan was my point man. He was quick to reply to my messages and questions. He picked me up in the airport and was with me the first two days, followed by Pushpe for the remaining seven days. Both were punctual, kind, and reliable.

In the end, my itinerary looked like this:

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, visit Dambulla Cave Temples on the way to Sigiriya. Hike Pidurangala for sunset. Overnight at Sigiri Sara Home Stay Nice Village.
Day 2: Drive around for pictures. Polonnaruwa Ancient City PM. Transfer to Kandy. Overnight at Villa Forest View.
Day 3: Temple of the Tooth, Batik workshop, Kandy view point. Transfer to Nuwara Eliya. En route Tea Factory, spice garden, and a waterfall. Overnight at Travellers Nest Inn.
Day 4: Early AM Horton Plains. Train to Ella from Pattipola Station. Two nights at Saddle Cottage.
Day 5: Early AM Little Adam’s Peak. Midday Demodara 9 Arch Bridge.
Day 6: Transfer to Yala. En route Rawana Waterfall. Overnight at Lakeside Cabana Tissamaharama.
Day 7: Half-day safari at Yala National Park. Transfer to Unawatuna. Two nights at Eka Beach B&B.
Day 8: Whale watching in Mirissa. Mask shopping and down time at accommodation.
Day 9: Return to Istanbul.

Hiring Lanka Tours

If you do decide to hire a driver, Lanka Tours can also arrange your accommodations for you. I arranged all my own accommodations, and I’m glad I did because I was really happy with my choices, but since I stayed in a lot of homestays, not everywhere offers parking or driver housing. This hadn’t even crossed my mind because our driver in India never stayed at the same place as us. I just assumed the drivers always stayed somewhere else together, but Pushpe told me that their idea of success is staying in the same place as their guests so that they are always immediately available. Makes sense to me.

Talking to people along the way it sounds like it is pretty easy to get around Sri Lanka on your own. I think hiring a driver was the right choice for me personally just because of how much I wanted to see in a short amount of time. I am sure I would not have done as much in a week managing it all on my own, but if I had more time, I may have only arranged transfers for the long distances. I really enjoyed Kaan and Pushpe, though. They were available for me at all times and even accompanied me during my activities. They made everything extremely easy and were flexible as I made small adjustments to the plan.

Now, finally, would I still change anything about my itinerary? 

My itinerary was very manageable in the time frame, but it doesn’t leave much room for lounging around. Ideally, I wouldn’t cut anything, but I would add time in Ella, Yala, and Unawatuna, all for some quality time with nature. If you’ve already seen a lot of temples and ancient cities, you could skip the first two days of my itinerary, but if you haven’t, they are worth a visit. 

What were your favorite stops in Sri Lanka? What did I miss that I need to go back to see?

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