In Sri Lanka, you will be greeted by lush green landscapes, towering mountains, clear blue skies, gorgeous beaches, exotic animals, and some of the friendliest people in the world.
Our family spent one week in Sri Lanka, and it was easily one of the best trips we’ve ever had! But one week was just not enough. Instead, I recommend spending at least 10 days in Sri Lanka. There’s so much to do and see, plus with the time change you will appreciate the extra days so you can go at a slower pace.
This itinerary offers a little bit of everything. You will enjoy educational experiences touring tea factories, temples, and spice gardens. There will be plenty of adventure as you visit elephants and a rock fortress.
Tip: Sri Lanka has some of the most chaotic driving we’ve ever seen, so I very highly recommend hiring a driver who can handle the roads. You’ll probably be safer and get where you’re going faster. Plus, they may also provide you with more insight on the areas.
Table of Contents
Day 1: Arrival, Rest, and Relax
It’s possible that you have just flown across the world to Sri Lanka. From Dallas, TX this is a 21-hour flight. Once you land, head to a beach hotel so you can get some sleep. Most flights land in the early morning, which means you are going to get to a hotel around 4 AM. Note that it takes an extremely long time to get checked bags. Don’t panic when it’s been and hour and your bags haven’t come out yet, they are coming.
I recommend staying at Mount Lavinia hotel. We had a lovely time staying here. Mount Lavinia is located right on a beautiful stretch of beach that felt extremely private. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they have a buffet. You may also ask for a menu in which they have more traditional western foods like hamburgers, however the local food is typically always the better option.
If a member of your family has a peanut or nut allergy, keep in mind that they mainly use cashews. Also, most of the meals you will eat in Sri Lanka will be buffet, whether you are at a restaurant or hotel. It is likely that you won’t know what a lot of the food is, but don’t be afraid to try new things and ask questions.
Mount Lavinia Hotel is not as close to the airport as some hotels, so if you are wanting to stay close to the airport, you may want to consider staying in Negombo. For this itinerary, I have you starting in Colombo and ending in Negombo. Colombo is 28 miles south of Sri Lanka’s only international airport.
The jetlag is bad, so today do not plan anything. Instead spend the day at the hotel and enjoy the beach. Mount Lavinia has a large stretch of beach with chairs, beach toys, and attendents.
Day 2: Colombo
Today, enjoy the sights of Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is a fascinating city, not only for its comfortable blend of East and West, but also for its vibrant mixture of the past and the present. The city boasts many attractions and extensive opportunities for shopping.
Do Colombo City Tour by Ebert Silva Bus
Take a tour of the city by sightseeing bus. The city tour includes visits to a Buddhist Temple, Old Dutch Hospital, a Hindu Temple, Town Hall, BMICH, Pettah bazaar, Red Mosque, and a local market.
You will definitely want to see the Red Mosque. It’s by far one of the most Instagrammable places around the world. Keep in mind that you need to have your legs covered whether you are a woman or a man. Across the street from the Red Mosque is a large market. If you need some pants you can stop here to get them.
Day 3: Visit a Temple and Orphanage
Sri Lanka does have orphanages, and some are near a Bhuddhist Temple. I suggest finding a temple to visit where you can also visit the orphange. Be sure to bring clothes, shoes, toys, and school supplies to donate. Clothes need to be a variety of sizes, don’t forget the older kids!
Day 4: Head to Habarana to see the Elephants
Breakfast: Kick off your day with breakfast at the hotel and then head out on your road trip to the Habarana Jungle where you will get up close with elephants.
Afternoon/Evening: Visit a National Park for Jeep Safari
Once you’ve arrived in the area, you can take an elephant safari at one of the national parks. Sri Lanka has a lot of national parks including Hurulu Eco Park, which is the one we visited. We’ve seen elephants before, but we’ve never seen them like this. This area is home to the second largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world, so we saw hundreds.
Another one nearby is Habarana. It is best known for the large herds of elephants gathering together. On a typical day there will be well over 100 elephants somewhere within the reservoir.
Apart from elephants, species of deer, wild boar, water buffalo and jackals are some of the wild animals found, along with a variety of avifauna that abounds the park.
Dinner and Overnight Stay at Habarana
After you are done visiting the elephants, you can head back to city part of Habarana. I recommend staying at the peaceful Jetwing Lake tonight and tomorrow night. They offer half board, so you can enjoy a dinner buffet as well as a breakfast buffet in the morning. The pool is quite enjoyable after a hot day out in the sun.
Day 5: Climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress & Visit a Village
Sigiriya was a Royal Citadel for 20 years in the 5th Century AD – stark and forbidding, haunted by an epic story of murder and betrayal. This is where King Kasyapa was found hiding after killing his father, King Dhatusena.
This unique Rock Fortress or “castle in the sky” is a massive monolith of red stone that rises 600ft above ground, derived the name “Lion Rock,” as the entrance of the climb to the summit is reached between the paws of a lion.
Now, I am not going to lie. It is not easy getting to the top. If you have vertigo, forget it, you won’t make it. Once you get to the top you will be thrilled you made the climb. It’s breathtaking in every direction from the top.
You need to wear shoes that you do not mind getting reddish from the dirt. I wore white shoes, which was not a good choice. They did come clean eventually. You also need to take some water with you. On the way back down, you may pass a few vendors selling goods or even a snake charmer. I was caught super off guard and didn’t react well upon seeing a cobra.
Visit a Traditional Village
After you are done hiking up and down Sigiriya, head over to a traditional village to get a better feel for the culture.
To get to the village they will load you into a small cart, and you will be pulled by a cow to the shore of a lake. I had never seen the type of cow that was used and found it fun to meet a new species of cow. At the lake you take a small boat over to the village. When you arrive at the village, you will see old school cooking, climb palm trees, see monkeys, and enjoy a lunch they prepare. Just a heads up, you will be eating with your hands, so if you have some wet wipes that would be ideal.
Day 6: Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic & Spice Garden
Today as you head to one of Sri Lanka’s major cities, Kandy, have your driver stop at a spice garden.
There are a handful of spice gardens you could go to. We went to Spice Garden La Grow. I think visiting a spice garden while you are in Sri Lanka is a must. It is fascinating to see first hand how the spices you use all the time are grown. Did you know that cinnamon comes from a tree? This is a great way to work in some educational fun. Plus, they give out massages. I know this sounds strange, but everyone has their tour guides give them a massage at the end of the educational portion. This is optional, and you will definitely need to tip them if you choose to do this.
In the middle of Kandy, you will find a large temple holding a tooth relic. The golden-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. During puja (offerings or prayers), the heavily guarded room housing the tooth is open to devotees and tourists. However, you don’t actually see the tooth. It’s kept in a gold casket shaped like a dagoba (stupa), which contains a series of six dagoba caskets of diminishing size. They did open this area up while we were there. I do not know if it is always open, check with your driver.
As well as the revered main temple, the complex includes a series of smaller temples, shrines, and museums. This is a fascinating place to walk around. Chances are high that your driver can give you a tour.
Mahaweli Reach Hotel
After the temple tour, check in to the Mahaweli Reach Hotel in Kandy is lovely tucked along the side of a river. It’s a major city in Sri Lanka making it a great place to stay when planning to spend time in the city. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place to stay alongside a river. Again there is half board offered, so plan to eat dinner and breakfast here. At dinner you receive one glass of wine to compliment the buffet. If you have more than one you will get charged.
Take time to visit the spa for a massage or other body treatment. A spa visit is super affordable in Sri Lanka. I think I went to the spa three times throughout the duration of our trip, alongside my daughter. If you have teenagers, most spas in Sri Lanka are typically available to those 16 and up.
Day 7: Kandy
Kandy is a large city in central Sri Lanka. It’s surrounded by mountains and has a beautiful lake in the middle, Bogambara Lake. Have your driver take you up to a scenic overlook where you can snap some photos.
Things to do in Kandy:
Gem and Mineral Museum – Sri Lanka is famous for colored gems like sapphires. They have a documentary at the museum that walks you through the entire history of gems in Sri Lanka.
Silk – Here you can put on traditional dresses and take photos. To be honest I thought this seemed silly, but another family went and did this and the photos were awesome. I wish Eden and I had done this.
Market – There’s a massive market in Kandy. It’s a good place to get fruits and clothes.
Once you are done in Kandy it’s time to head up into the mountains.
En route to the highlands, visit a Tea Factory & Tea Plantation to witness the manufacturing process of world famous Ceylon Tea, the country’s top export. You will also be able to taste a pure unblended cup of factory fresh tea before being sent to the tea auctions in Colombo. During the tours they let you walk all through the factory to see the entire process. This was highly educational, and you will be surprised how extensive the process is.
Ramboda Waterfalls Hotel: Have lunch at the Ramboda waterfall hotel where you can look at the waterfall while dining. It is a buffet lunch, as usual, and note that if you leave your table for too long they will clear all of it off. After you have lunch, walk down to the waterfall for up close pictures. It’s an easy walk down and back.
Day 8: Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is located at 6,183ft above sea-level, which means it has a cool, crisp climate unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. You will need to pack accordingly because it is colder here in comparison to the warmth of the coastal cities and Kandy. We got by fine with hoodies.
A serene retreat from the hustle and bustle of Colombo, the town seems like a piece of the English Lake District. Unusual plants, birds and animals thrive here besides natural features like waterfalls and caves.
Tea, the glistening green leaves of this lovely shrub, along with neat rows of green, cloak ridges and valleys providing a lasting impression of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. The golf course – one of the finest and most picturesque in Asia – the serene Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity, beautiful parks and well-kept lawns and hedges give the place an air of nostalgia.
They offer little horse rides near the lake. As you can see the horses are not that big, so keep that in mind for your comfort level. Jonah felt too big when he was riding, so this might be a better activity for younger kids.
If you walk down to the lake you can hire a little boat to take you around and tell you about the region. Taking a tour of the lake was highly enjoyable, despite the brisk winds we encountered on some parts of the lake. Although the lake looks small from the boat dock, it is quite large.
Jet Wing St. Andrews
Tonight stay in a boutique hotel at the end of town, Jet Wing St. Andrew. This is a cozy little property with quaint rooms and good food. They have half board so breakfast and dinner is included during your stay. Unlike many hotels, they do not have a buffet dinner. It was nice to order off a menu instead of trying to figure out what things were on the buffet.
Day 9: Whitewater Rafting
As you head back down the mountain, you have the perfect opportunity to go white water rafting. Just let your driver know that you want to stop somewhere to whitewater raft. I was a bit nervous doing this because I was unable to establish what class of rapids we were going to encounter. Based on previous experience I felt like these were class II and almost class III.
If white water rafting isn’t something you are interested in doing, there is an alternative activity that’s much more low key. You can take the tea train back down the mountain. Along the way you will get incredible views and amazing photos.
Tonight stay in Negombo at Jetwing Sea. It’s a nice hotel right on the beach with a beautiful spa. Like all the other hotels in this itinerary, it offers half board with breakfast and dinner buffet.
Day 10: Negombo
Negombo is located at the mouth of the Negombo lagoon. The major beach resort in the West Coast is Negombo. The wide sandy beaches and the safe sea are the main attractions of Negombo, and it is perfectly located within 7 km from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake. Negombo has a small port, and its economy is mainly based on tourism and its centuries-old fishing industry. Negombo is a traditional fishing town in Sri Lanka.
Have your driver take you down to the fish market. I promise you, you’ve never seen anything like this! While you are at the fish market, try a Sri Lanka coconut. It’s different than a regular coconut.
Chances are high that you are flying out sometime in the middle of the night today. That’s just the way the flights seem to go coming in and out of the country.
Sri Lanka Packing List
- Tennis Shoes that can be ruined
- Motion Sickness Bands
- Flip Flops
- Point and shoot camera
- Bug Spray
- Waterproof camera
- Waterproof cell phone case
- FM Transmitter
- 12V converter with two usb ports
- Quick-drying towel
- Blue tooth speaker
- FM Transmitter
- Baby Wipes
- Hand Sanitizer
- Clothes appropriate for temples (covered legs and shoulders)