3 Week Sri Lanka Route
The tiny island that offers so much. Sri Lanka is one of those destinations which went under the radar in recent times, probably due to the civil war. However, tourism is growing at speed all across this Indian Ocean island. The hill country in the centre, the south and west coast of the island, all have a well established tourist scene. These locations are definitely the easiest to travel between. They are the areas I will concentrate on with this 3 week Sri Lanka route.
The 3 week Sri Lanka route below, offers a variety of experiences to suit all tastes. The hill country offers some unique hikes and unbelievable views. Udawalawe National Park gives you the opportunity to spot herds of enormous wild elephants. The beaches are as picturesque and as beautiful as you get.
3 Week Sri Lanka Route
First on the 3 week Sri Lanka route is Colombo. Sri Lanka’s capital city can be slightly hectic and if you’re not used to cities of this nature, you could well find it overwhelming at first. You should soon get used to it though. However, depending on where you’re coming from, heading to Colombo after a long flight and jet lag, is a sensible idea. Relax here for a couple of days. Also, there are things to do and see around the city that will keep you occupied and there’s plenty of transport options to reach your next destination.
2 nights in Colombo will be plenty, but may well be needed to overcome jet lag and enjoy the rest of your trip.
From Colombo, head to Kandy via the train from Colombo’s Fort Train Station. A 2nd class seat will cost Rs 280 ($1.90). Overall, the journey will take 2.5 hours.
In terms of things to do and see in the actual city of Kandy, there’s not a great deal. To me, the city itself has hints of tranquility from the lake and temple, but also had a miniature Colombo feel, in terms of the mass of cars which clog up the roads everyday.
One day in the city to do everything should be enough. You have got the option to stay in Sigiriya for the night when you head there to climb Sigiriya Rock. We actually got the bus from Kandy to Dambulla, then to Sigiriya and did Sigiriya Rock in a day trip from Kandy. The day trip saved us staying the night in Sigiriya, where the guesthouse options look sparse, so it was a good decision in the end.
If you’re going to make a day trip to Sigiriya from Kandy 2-3 nights overall in Kandy, will be sufficient.
Dalhousie (Adams Peak)
Take the train from Kandy to Hatton. 2nd class unreserved costs Rs 110 ($0.75). From Hatton, jump on the bus to Maskeliya costing Rs 45 ($0.30). Change buses at Maskeliya to reach Dalhousie For Rs 40 ($0.27).
If you are struggling for time, one night in Dalhousie can be enough. On the other hand, if time is on your side, I would recommend two nights in the nearby village to Adams Peak. We reached Dalhousie at around 3pm, after a long day of travelling. Checked into the guesthouse and relaxed for the night. We began our ascent up to Adams Peak at 2am and got back to our hotel at around 8am. As you can imagine, we were exhausted from the pre-dusk climb up the mountain.
2am may sound like a ridiculous time to be climbing over 5000 steps to the peak of a mountain, but I would 100% recommend doing it at that early hour. The sunrise views from Adams Peak were out of this world. The sights around the mountain are what I’d expect heaven to be depicted as. Clouds scattered across the mountain tops, with the bright yellow sun gleaming through as it rises.
We went for 2 nights in Dalhousie. After a perfect nights sleep, we were fully refreshed the next day of travelling.
Nuwara Eliya (Horton Plains National Park)
We made the reverse journey from Dalhousie, back to Hatton. From Hatton, we caught the train to Nuwara Eliya in 2nd class unreserved costing Rs 60 ($0.40)
The moss green, mist covered hills of Horton Plains National Park are located 35km away from Nuwara Eliya. A day trip from Nuwara Eliya to Horton Plains is recommended. A tuk tuk can be organised to take you to and back from Horton Plains National Park. After asking many tuk tuk drivers around the town, the cheapest we managed to get one for was Rs 2500 ($17). At 5am, we were picked by the driver from our guesthouse in Nuwara Eliya. We began the walk to Worlds End at 6:45am and were back at our guesthouse by 9:30am.
The walk began with us being greeted by a wall of white mist. The weather soon cleared up though and the expansive views from Worlds End of the surrounding valley, hills and even sea in the distance, made the early, chilly start worth it.
1 night is enough in Nuwara Eliya. In my opinion, the town itself is quite dull. We took the train to Ella after the morning trip to Horton Plains.
The journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella on the train is known for having unbeatable views of the surrounding hills and tea plantations. Pray for good weather and you’ll see exactly why this journey has earnt its well deserved reputation.
Ella is a perfect location if you love a good hike into the rolling green, tea hills of Sri Lanka, with wonderful views of the surrounding valleys. A couple of these walks are the ones up Little Adams Peak and Ella’s Rock. However, you may well be lagging from all the previous hiking around the different areas in the Hill Country (I know I certainly felt the burn in my legs). A much easier and more relaxed walk I would recommend while you’re in Ella is the one to Nine Arches Bridge. If you’re looking for an Instagram worthy picture, make sure you wait around for the train to cross the bridge.
Ella is a nice little town, the hikes are the main attraction here. 2 nights is enough to get your fill.
Firstly, catch the bus from Ella to Wellawaya, I would recommend the early morning bus as any others will be rammed and standing for an hour and a half on those buses isn’t the most enjoyable experience in the world. Then from Wellawaya, get on the bus which goes through to Udawalawe, the majority to Colombo do, but make sure you ask the driver.
Udawalawe National Park is the perfect area for spotting majestic heards of Elephants, old and young. Initially the plan for our 3 week Sri Lanka route was to go to Yala National Park. After multiple warnings that Yala is a frenzy of Jeeps in search of Elephants. Also, with those people advising us that a Safari in Udawalawe has a much better chance of spotting Elephants. Our choice was one of the easiest we made. Udawalawe it is. A great decision. In our 3 hour safari, we must have seen over 30 Elephants. A lot of credit has to go to our vigilant guide.
1 night in Udawalawe is enough. After a morning safari, be on your way to Tangalle. There’s nothing else to do in the area, apart from visit the national park.
The bus you need to take from Udawalawe, is to Empitiliya. This 30 minute bus will cost you Rs 40 ($0.20). Then once at Empitiliya, you can catch a direct bus to Tangalle. This bus takes 1.5 hours and costs Rs 67 ($0.45).
If you enjoy picture perfect, beyond beautiful, golden sanded beaches. Fresh seafood, with a multitude of delicious spices, served with a refreshing ice cold Lion Beer. Then Tangalle is truly the place for you. The combination of the charming beaches and peaceful beachside restaurants make this town one of the most relaxing I’ve had the pleasure to visit.
Easily my favourite beach location we visited on our 3 week Sri Lanka route. I’d definitely recommend 3 nights in Tangalle if you love relaxing on the beach, which went down perfectly after all those hikes in the hill country.
A direct bus from Tangalle can take you to Mirissa, where you can jump off on the main road (I use jump literally, as the buses barely stop).
While also being another relaxed Sri Lankan beach town, Mirissa has more of a bohemian vibe than its neighbours. The town has alleyways filled with creative artwork. Major development is yet to take over the town. Hopefully this doesn’t change too much. There’s a crescent shaped beach, with rasta style bars, which have similar offerings to Tangalle – delicious fresh seafood and chilled Lion Beers. The main attraction in Mirissa is the whale watching. The season runs from November-April/May.
2 nights in Mirissa should be enough to explore the small town and take in the bohemian vibes, while relaxing in one of the laid back beach bars and do some whale watching, if you’re there in season.
Unawatuna & Galle
Travel by bus to Unawatuna or Galle. There’s plenty of buses which pass through Mirissa, heading to Colombo, which then pass through Unawatuna and Galle.
Stay in either Unawatuna or Galle and take a day trip to the other destination you don’t stay in. There’s no point spending a couple of days in each location, as they’re both so close to each other. On our 3 week Sri Lanka route, we stayed in Unawatuna and took a day trip to Galle on one of the days, to explore the wall and guzzle coffee at one of the many quaint cafes. The buses which run between Unawatune and Galle run frequently, at a cost of Rs 20 ($0.14) and taking 15 minutes.
The main beach in Unawatuna wasn’t the greatest in the world. However, the town was a cool place, with lots of small bars and restaurants where you can enjoy your night. If you’re looking for a half decent beach, get yourself down to Dalawella Beach. A tuk tuk from Unawatuna to Dalawella beach, should cost around Rs 100 ($0.65).
2-3 nights in Unawatuna or Galle should be plenty of time. One of the days, heading to the place you’re not staying. One spent attempting to get that picture for Instagram on Dalawella Beach’s rope swing and another relaxing.
This is the change I’ve added to the 3 week Sri Lanka route we did. We actually went to the beach town of Hikkaduwa. Prior to spending a few nights in Hikkaduwa, I had really high expectations for the area. I was totally let down. In all honesty it was one of the worst beach towns I’ve ever been to. Granted we were there in low season. However, I would recommend to skip Hikkaduwa and head straight to Bentota. A much nicer beach town, with a beach head and shoulders above Hikkaduwa’s.
1-2 nights in Bentota will be enough to top off your time exploring and tanning on Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches.
To round off the 3 week Sri Lanka route, head back to the nations capital. I’d advise to spend the night in Colombo, before your flight back home or to your next destination. Enjoy some of the delicious food Colombo has to offer. Get your fill before you leave, because trust me, you will definitely miss the food once you fly off.
The best thing about travelling in shoulder or low season in Sri Lanka is that you never have to book your accommodation in advance. The main advantage of never having to book your accommodation in advance is that you can barter with the guesthouse owner. My top tip with accommodation in Sri Lanka is never pay full price. The owners will 9 times out of 10 mention an increased price when you ask them the cost of a room per night. Everytime I attempted to barter, I managed to get the price of the room down at least 25%, so it pays to ask for a lower price.
The accommodation throughout Sri Lanka varies significantly. The major tourist destinations have everything from huge resorts and boutique hotels to small family run guesthouses. The guesthouses are your best option when you’re on a tight budget. Hostels were hard to come by. Colombo was the only place I found hostels with dorms.
Recommended Budget Accommodation:
Your best bet for getting around Sri Lanka is by public transport. Trains are by far the comfiest mode of public transport (when you manage to get a seat). Unfortunately trains do not operate everywhere on the island. They mainly operate in the hill country and the west coast, from south to north. Trains can be extremely cheap when you buy a ticket in unreserved 3rd class, which is nowhere near as bad it sounds, trust me.
Buses will be your best friend while on your 3 week Sri Lanka route. They are everywhere and budget friendly. The buses do often look like they could fall apart at anytime and are often packed to the brim. However, they operate everywhere across the island and you won’t struggle to find bus routes to your next location.
Tuk tuks and private buses & cars can also be used as a mode of transport, but I would advise to stay away from these if possible. The bus or train is much more economical.
**Take a look at Seat 61 for train info**
The local currency is Sri Lankan Rupee. ATMs are widely found across the country. Some ATMs do not accept foreign cards. Commercial Bank ATMs accept all cards.
At the time of writing this post the exchange from US Dollar to Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs) is $1 – Rs 147.69.
For more information and destinations in Sri Lanka Click Here.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments section.
Are you planning on visiting Sri Lanka?
If you have been before, did you take this 3 week Sri Lanka route? If not, what route did you take?