A Detailed Sri Lanka 3 Weeks Itinerary

Published Categorized as Travel Blog, Asia Travel, Destinations, Sri Lanka Travel
Views from Ella - Sri Lanka
Views from Ella - Sri Lanka

Enjoy the best of what the island has to offer with our Sri Lanka: 3 Weeks Itinerary! Personally we think three weeks is an ideal amount of time to spend travelling around Sri Lanka and getting a feel for the country. You won’t necessarily be able to see everything on offer, but you’ll see enough to get a real feel for the country, and definitely won’t feel like you missed out.

From the people, to the food, to the beaches, to the cultural history, Sri Lanka is a country that has something to offer every type of tourist and traveller. 

READ MORE:


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


“Once a year go someplace where you have never been before.”

– Dalai Lama –

Where Is Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is an island located in southern Asia, just southeast of the tip of the Indian subcontinent. It has been called ‘the pearl of the Indian Ocean” because of its shape and location.


Map of Sri Lanka

image 1

Sri Lanka: 3 Weeks Itinerary

Our itinerary is based on our travel to Sri Lanka in February. At this time of year, Sri Lanka’s popular south, west and central areas enjoy favourable weather conditions during the winter months (October to February) when the monsoon season hits the east and north. As such, our itinerary has been planned accordingly.

For more info on the weather and when to go (based on your chosen destinations) read our post: PLANNING YOUR HOLIDAY TO SRI LANKA.


Map of Sri Lanka 3 Weeks Itinerary

Here’s a map of our Sri Lanka 3 weeks itinerary. Each aspect of our Sri Lanka 3 weeks itinerary is detailed below, and will help you plan the ultimate Sri Lanka trip.

Sri Lanka: 3 Weeks Itinerary
Sri Lanka: 3 Weeks Itinerary

Day 1 to Day 4 – Explore Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Capital City

We arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) at 9:15pm in the evening after a very long flight. We opted for the convenience of the airport taxi service to take us to our accommodation in Colombo. There is a counter in the arrivals hall and you can find an exact price (fixed) to your destination on their website. Travel time to our hotel in Colombo via the new high-speed road E03 was 35 mins at a cost of 3500 LKR / AUD$24.50 / USD$18.70.

Due to our late arrival on Day 1 and our early departure on Day 3, we really only had 1 full day to see all that Colombo had to offer. We had read many articles saying Colombo had little to offer in the way of must-see attractions and on a whole was quite under-whelming. Regardless, we decided we would spend a day exploring the city and make our own judgement.

It is a big, chaotic city, as many articles proclaimed, but we believe it is worth a day trip.


Things to See and Do in Colombo

1. National Museum – A good place to get an understanding of Sri Lanka’s rich and diverse history, from ancient kingdoms to colonial times.

2. Beautiful Colonial Buildings in the Fort Area – This is a rather compact and small area, perfect for a stroll.

  • Old Galle Buck Lighthouse 
  • Sambodhi Chaitiya Dagoba / Stupa 
  • The Clock Tower Central Point 
  • Lloyd´s Buildings 
  • St Peter´s Church 
  • Cargill’s Main Store 

3. Gangaramaya Temple – A bustling Buddhist Temple with a library, museum and display hall of gifts received from devotees and well-wishers over the years.

4. Beira Lake (close to the Gangaramaya Temple)

5. Independence Memorial Hall – A monument to Sri Lanka’s independence form the British in 1948.

6. Old Dutch Hospital – Considered to be one of the oldest buildings in the Colombo Fort area, the Old Dutch Hospital is a beautifully restored building and a great place for lunch or dinner.

7. Wandering the Streets of Pettah District (Colombo 11) – One of the oldest districts of Colombo and walking around in this area is a real adventure full of sound, smells, and people watching.

  • Pettah Markets 
  • Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque (Red Mosque)
  • Wolvendaal Church
  • Dutch Period Museum
  • Old City Hall 

8. Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil – Colombo’s oldest Hindu temple.

10. Galle Face Green – Perfect place for a stroll and to watch the sunset.


Where to Stay in Colombo

We stayed at Thilhara Days Inn, a comfortable but basic hotel in the heart of Colombo. We loved the location as it was walking distance to most of the main sights, restaurants and supermarkets. Alternatively, we recommend booking.com to find other options in Colombo.


How to Get Around Colombo

Colombo is a big city and can be somewhat challenging to navigate by foot. We found tuk-tuks to be the easiest way to get around, however, ensure your diver agrees to put the meter on prior to getting in. The PickMe app is also a fantastic way to hire a tuk-tuk.


How to Get from Colombo to Mirissa

  1. PickMe app – Air-conditioned car, 150kms, 2hrs, 7500 LKR / AUD$52 / USD$40
  2. Bus From Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal To Matara Station – 2hrs30mins, AUD$5 / USD$3.80 (Super Luxury A/C, every 2mins) + Taxi To Mirissa – 15mins, 11.6km, AUD$7 / USD$5.40
  3. Train Blue Line From Colombo Fort Station (Counter 4 (1st And 2nd), 13 and 14) to Beliatta Weligama – 3hrs, AUD$2 / USD$1.50, 10.30am + Taxi to Mirissa – 6mins, 5-6kms, AUD$4 / USD$3.00

Day 4 to Day 9 – Mirissa Beach: Our Piece of Paradise

Mirissa was a little piece of paradise, and if anyone was to ask us for a must see place in Sri Lanka, Mirissa would be our answer. This little beach community has everything we personally love about travel:

  • Crystal clear waters
  • Pristine white sand beaches
  • Beach chairs and shade (either from a palm tree or umbrella)
  • Wide choice of restaurants and cuisines
  • Cheap and affordable seafood dishes – Sri Lankan fish curry and rice on the beach AUD$3 / USD$2.30
  • Good happy hours – a large Lion Beer for under AUD$2 / USD$1.50
  • Live music on the beach every evening
  • Wildlife in the main street – monkeys, squirrels, peacocks
  • Lots to see and do (see below)

Things to See and Do in Mirissa

  1. Mirissa Beach – quiet and peaceful bay with crystal clear water, restaurants and bars right on the beach
  2. Coconut Tree Hill – sunset views
  3. Secret Beach – secluded beach with one small bar, great spot for sunset
  4. Parrot Rock – climb the rock at low-tide for views over Mirissa beach
  5. Polhena Beach – snorkelling, 7km from Mirissa
  6. Surfing – ideal surf conditions for beginners
  7. Snorkelling and Scuba Diving – dives from as little as AUD$65 / USD$50
  8. Whale Watching – best viewing is end of November until March
  9. Turtle Hatchery – near the lifeguard tower, turtles are released 5:00 – 6:00pm and there is no cost
  10. Weligama (Day Trip) – stilt fisherman, beautiful beaches, great surfing, only 15 minute drive
  11.  Unawatuna and Galle Fort (Day Trip) – fantastic beach and Galle Fort oozes charm (lighthouse, old town, Dutch fort, museums, antique shops, R-Skinny Tom, visit Mt Lavinia Hotel and Galle Face Hotel)
  12. Udawalawe (Day Trip) – visit the Elephant Transit Home, allow 2 hours of travel each way or do a safari in the national park
  13. The Doctor’s House – ideal for an afternoon party with live music, drinks and food, 15 minutes out of town

Where to Stay in Mirissa

We stayed at Sun Ocean Inn, a very clean, but basic hotel just 150m to the beach. From the balcony outside our room, we had a beautiful view of the ocean and each morning we enjoyed the included breakfast from the rooftop overlooking the ocean.  We loved the location due to its proximity to the beach but it was also walking distance to most of the main sights, restaurants and supermarkets. Alternatively, we recommend booking.com to find other options in Mirissa.


How to Get Around Mirissa

Mirissa is an easy place to walk around, however, tuk-tuks are also readily available to take you wherever you need to go.

READ MORE: 8 REASONS WHY WE LOVE MIRISSA, SRI LANKA


How to Get from Mirissa to Tangalle

  1. PickMe app – Air-conditioned car, 50kms, 1 hour, AUD$16 / USD$11.50
Mirissa Beach - Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Mirissa Beach – Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Day 9 to Day 14 – Tangalle Fishing Village

The Tangalle area is a lot quieter and more peaceful than Mirissa. Originally a fishing village, there are still signs today of the locals reliance on the sale of seafood. If you are lucky, you can join the locals in pulling the fishing nets back to the beach. It is a long, hard manual process but this is where you see the local community come together to assist.  Generally, this is followed by a fish market, held right there on the beach. Seafood at its freshest!


Things to See and Do in Tangalle

  1. Tangalle Beach – soft white sand beach with high tides and powerful currents, swimming is not advisable except in the bay which is sheltered by a reef  
  2. Rent a Canoe and Explore the Mangroves
  3. Sunset from Tangalle Beach – should not be missed
  4. Goyambokka Beach – touristy beach with soft, golden sand and clear bluish-green water, dense cocoa and palm trees line the shoreline along with sunbeds, lounge chairs and hammocks
  5. Silent Beach – semi-private beach in front to Amanwella Resort, 10 minute walk from Goyambokka Beach
  6. Mulkirigala Rock Temples – reached by bus or tuk-tuk, caves feature a reclining Buddha along with smaller sculptures and paintings on the temple walls
  7. Udawalawe (Day Trip) – visit the Elephant Transit Home, allow 2 hours of travel each way or do a safari in the national park
  8. Bundala National Park (Day Trip) – wetlands immensely popular with migratory aquatic birds
  9. Hiriketiya Beach (Day Trip) – a beautiful horseshoe bay with calm water, 20 minutes from Tangalle

Where to Stay in Tangalle

We stayed at Coco Palms Villas and Cabana which was an easy 200m walk to the beach, and we were surrounded by fantastic restaurants and supermarkets. The room was spacious and the included breakfasts were amazing!!! Alternatively, we recommend booking.com to find  options in Tangalle.


How to Get Around Tangalle

We predominantly walked everywhere we wanted to go in Tangalle or used a tuk-tuk. Scooter rental is also available for AUD$8 / USD$6 per day.


How to Get from Tangalle to Tissamaharama

  1. PickMe app – Air-conditioned car, 80kms, 1hr 30mins, AUD$25 / USD$19.20

Day 14 to Day 16 – Tissamaharama / Yala National Park

We predominantly went to Tissamaharama, otherwise known as Tissa, to do a safari at Yala National Park and glimpse a leopard in the wild. The safari tour we booked left us underwhelmed and at times, fearing for our safety. The park is overcrowded with tour vehicles and when a leopard is spotted, the race is on by the drivers to get there first. We were lucky enough to catch the tiniest of glimpses of a leopard, but overall, the experience was one we would not repeat or recommend.


Things to See and Do in Tissamaharama

  1. Yala National Park – Sri Lanka’s most famous national park, 1268 km² rich in wildlife i.e. elephants, crocodiles, buffaloes, monkeys, morning and afternoon safaris available
  2. Tissa Dagoba – Buddhist stupa originally built around 200BC
  3. Tissa Wewa – centrepiece of the town is this huge artificial lake
  4. Yatala Whera – Buddhist stupa built 2300 years ago, easy walk from town
  5. Tissamaharama Museum – small museum next to Yatala Wehera containing an extraordinary range of treasures

Where to Stay in Tissamaharama

We stayed at Hotel Niketha which was about 1km walk into the city centre to restaurants. The grounds were stunning, as was the pool. Alternatively, we recommend booking.com to find  options in Tissamaharama.


How to Get Around Tissamaharama

We predominantly walked everywhere we wanted to go in Tissa or used a tuk-tuk.


How to Get from Tissamaharama to Ella

  1. Taxi – Air-conditioned car, 90kms, 1hr 30mins, AUD$32 / USD$25 (organised through the hotel)
  2. Bus – early morning only, 100kms, 2-3 hours, 184 LKR / AUD$1.30 / USD$1.00 per person.

Day 16 to Day 18 – Ella in the High Country

Ella was also one of the highlights of our trip and when we return to Sri Lanka, we will spend more time here enjoying the surrounds. Set in the misty high country of Sri Lanka, it was wonderful to enjoy the cooler weather and spectacular views of green hills, waterfalls and tea plantations. Ella is a quaint little town with a super laid back feel. Amazing food is abundant as is afternoon happy hours!


Things to See and Do in Ella

  1. Sri Lankan Cooking Class – there are lots of cooking schools to pick from in Ella but we met a couple who recommended Lanka’s Cooking Class for a more authentic experience
  2. Train from Ella to Kandy – the most picturesque train tip in the world
  3. Ella Rock – climb to the top of Ella Rock for spectacular views of Ella, Ella Gap and Little Adam’s Peak, takes approx. 2 hours to hike from top to bottom
  4. Climb up Little Adam’s Peak – the ideal vantage point for views of Ella Rock and Ella Gap, takes approx. 2 hours round trip from the centre of Ella town
  5. Nine Arch Bridge – world-famous bridge built in 1921 surrounded by tea-plantations, viewpoints fill up very quickly so get there early
  6. Diyaluma Falls – impressive waterfall about 2 hours from Ella by tuk-tuk, and then a further 35 minute walk to the falls themselves
  7. Ravana Fall – great for a swim and much easier to get to than Diyaluma Falls, only 10 mins from town

Ravana Falls - Ella, Sri Lanka
Ravana Falls – Ella, Sri Lanka

Where to Stay in Ella

We stayed at Ella Happy View, our favourite accommodation stay during our time in Sri Lanka. Ella Happy View is just a small guesthouse a short walk from town. Our room was just 20m from the railway line so a highlight was when you could hear the train coming and feel the whole house rumble along with it. Warm and obliging owners, and wonderful breakfasts. Alternatively, we recommend booking.com to find  options in Ella.

Ella Happy View (Guesthouse) - Ella, Sri Lanka
Ella Happy View (Guesthouse) – Ella, Sri Lanka

How to Get Around Ella

Once again, we found the town itself very easy to navigate by foot. We hired a tuk-tuk for the day and agreed on a price to take us to the sights we wanted to see.


How to Get from Ella to Kandy + Kandy to Pinnawala

  1. Train Ella to Kandy – approx.7 hours, Third Class Ticket – LKR 175 / AUD$1.20 / USD $1.00, Second Class Ticket – LKR 310 / AUD$2.11 / USD $1.65, First Class Ticket – LKR 1500 / AUD$10.40 / USD $8.00
  2. PickMe app Kandy to Pinnawala – Air-conditioned car, 1 hour, AUD$18 / USD$14

Day 18 to Day 20 – Pinnawala (Elephant Orphanage)

Prior to organising our trip to Sri Lanka, we had heard about Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and read the controversy surrounding it. With all that information in mind, we decided we would visit the area and stay at the Hotel Elephant Bay, relax and watch the elephants swim and play in the river each day. Jonas is an avid photographer and we both love animals, so this was the perfect way to spend a few days and make up our own minds.

Whilst some people will not agree with our choice, what we found was a conservation project that was doing a lot of good. Yes, some of the younger, more playful elephants were secured with chains to the rocks in the water, but they were enjoying themselves immensely playing in the water and with each other. The majority of the herd however, roamed free in the shallows of the water and on the opposite bank.


Things to See and Do in Pinnawala

1. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – the park is open daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm, ticket prices are 3000 LKR / AUD$21 / USD$16

READ MORE: PINNAWALA ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN SRI LANKA


Where to Stay in Pinnawala

We stayed at Hotel Elephant Bay which had a large and comfortable room. The elephants swim and play in the river and twice a day directly beside the hotel. As such, you get unhindered views from the restaurant and swimming pool. Even though our room was a little tired looking, we would recommend staying here for the views of the river and the convenience of seeing the elephants from the resort. Alternatively, we recommend booking.com to find  options in Pinnawala.


How to Get Around Pinnawala

The town is quite small and we were able to walk everywhere we needed to go.


How to Get from Pinnawala to Negombo

  1. Private Driver – Air-conditioned car, 1 hr 45 mins, AUD$20 / USD$15

Day 20 to Day 21 – Negombo

Negombo is nearer Bandaranaike airport than Colombo city and being on the coast, we decided we would relax and spend our last couple of days here. We found the local community extremely friendly here and there were a wide range of restaurant options on the beach to choose from.


Things to See and Do in Negombo

  1. Negombo Beach – makes for a good sunset stroll but doesn’t compare to the beaches in the south
  2. Main Fish Market – daily market near the fort
  3. Hamilton Canal – hire a bicycle and ride the canal-side paths of the Hamilton Canal, enjoying picturesque views and small villages along the way

Where to Stay in Negombo

We stayed at The Panorama Negombo, a fantastic hotel in the centre of Negombo. We loved the location as it was walking distance to the beach, restaurants and supermarkets. Alternatively, we recommend booking.com to find other options in Negombo.


How to Get Around Negombo

We decided to enjoy our resort facilities for our last couple of days in Sri Lanka, and all restaurants and the beach were within walking distance of the hotel.


Reflections on Our Trip

Our trip to Sri Lanka was an unforgettable experience and one we will be repeating in the not too distant future.  We felt our Sri Lanka 3 weeks itinerary had enough beach time, culture and adventure for us, but if you have more time, the following places could also be added to your itinerary:

  • Arugam Bay – Experience golden-sand beaches with the freshest tropical waves at the best surf spot in Sri Lanka.
  • Bentota – Located on the Southern coast of the island, this resort town’s stretch of beach is more affectionately known as “Paradise Island” and rightfully so.
  • Hikkaduwa – The original beach hideaway, Hikkaduwa is the go-to destination for surfers, snorkelers, divers and beach bums everywhere.
  • Kandy, Dalada Maligawa – Considered one of Sri Lanka’s greatest attractions, the ancient Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a must see.
  • Kitulgala – Discover the region’s white-water rafting, jungle trekking, birdwatching and cave exploration.
  • Nilaveli – Famed for its pristine beaches and a sunrise that is unparalleled, this East Coast town is the ultimate destination for some R&R.
  • Nuwara Eliya – This 19th Century hill station retains its colonial charm with its golf courses, gentleman’s clubs and mock-tudor buildings.
  • Galle, Old Dutch Fort – UNESCO World Heritage  listed and considered the greatest example of a European-built fortified city in South Asia, Galle’s fort is a fascinating place to explore.
  • Polonnaruwa – Well preserved and full of archaeological treasures with hundreds of ancient structures like tombs and temples, statues and stupas.
  • Sigiriya – Rooted in culture and history, this rock fortress is of legendary opulence.
  • Sinharaja Forest Reserve – A UNESCO World Heritage Site and biodiversity hotspot, this forest reserve will immerse you in unspoiled greenery.
  • Udawalawe National Park – Soaring highlands and herds of wild elephants are expected when visiting one of Sri Lanka’s supreme national parks.
  • Unawatuna – With a reputation for palm-lined beaches and stunning coral reefs, this beach town is ripe with scenic beauty.

For more info on the weather and when to go (based on your chosen destinations) read our post: PLANNING YOUR HOLIDAY TO SRI LANKA.


Exit 45 Rating

The Exit45 Rating scale runs from a low of 1 to a high of 5 in each of the 9 categories.  As such, the higher the score out of 45, the better the Exit45 Rating.  N.B. These scores are our own personal opinions and are based on our experiences, budget constraints and what we love doing i.e. adventure seeking foodies who love snorkelling and water related activities.

Value for Money4
Cuisine4.5
Friendliness of Locals4.5
Ease of Language Barrier4
Climate4
Activities and Tours5
Ease of Travel5
Culture Barrier4
Safety4.5
TOTAL EXIT45 RATING39.5/ 45

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SRI LANKA: 3 WEEKS ITINERARY

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


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Want more info to help you plan your Sri Lanka trip? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel in Sri Lanka below and continue planning your trip.

By Peta Wenzel

We are Peta (Australian) and Jonas (Swedish/Australian), a couple in our mid 40’s / early 50’s who have been travelling the world fulltime since January 2018. We met and lived on the Gold Coast, Australia and spent many evenings researching and watching YouTube vlogs about travel and dreaming of the day we would retire and be able to enjoy a lot more travel ourselves. Over the years, a number of events happened to family and friends and an opportunity arose which made us decide to not wait but to instead take a “Gap Year”. We are now in our 3rd year of travel and still hunger for new adventures and embrace the uncertainty that comes with full-time travel. If you want to know more about who we are, why we choose this lifestyle and how we do it, please follow our adventures and see how you can do it too.

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