Pristine nature, wildlife biodiversity and cultural heritage. This is Sri Lanka in a nutshell. Also known as Ceylon and well-recognized for lush tea plantations. What are the top things to do in Sri Lanka? What is worth doing? In this blog post, I’m going to share with you a detailed plan of my first travel week. It includes the top things to do in Sri Lanka, tips how to get around, cost breakdown and my personal insights what is worth seeing and why. Prices given in this post are up-to-date for January 2020.
Do you think that 3 weeks in Sri Lanka is too long? It’s definitely not! Be sure to check my 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary with real travel cost and travel map. If you are a keen hiker and pristine nature lover, you will fall in love with Sri Lanka immediately. This island country has so much to offer! Do you know how much does a decent room in Sri Lanka cost? Is there cold at night? What should you get vaccinated for? How much is a tuk tuk ride? Learn more about what you need to know before going to Sri Lanka.
DAY 1 | ARRIVAL IN NEGOMBO
The Sri Lankan airport is located in Negombo, 37 km from Colombo. I arrived in Negombo late in the evening, so I went straight to my hotel room to get some sleep after a long flight. I didn’t plan anything for that day to rest and set off the following day early in the morning. It was a wise decision.
DAY 2 | DAMBULLA | GOLDEN TEMPLE
Dambulla is a city situated 135 km from Negombo. Honestly speaking, it isn’t particularly interesting. Nevertheless, it has one significant advantage. It’s an excellent base for exploring central Sri Lanka. This is the reason I stayed in Dambulla for three days. I did a one-day trip to Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa from there.
HOW TO GET FROM NEGOMBO TO DAMBULLA?
By bus with a change in Kurunegala. The ticket fare is 345 LKR from Negombo to Kurunegala (bus with air-conditioning) and 100 LKR from Kurunegala to Dambulla (bus without air-conditioning).
The Golden Temple of Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka that has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage. It’s worth to get there by tuk tuk. Just make sure that the tuk tuk driver will drop you off by the entrance close to the ticket office. There is also a second entrance, close to the statue of Golden Buddha. Starting from this point, you will have to walk much longer to get yourself a ticket. Make sure to dress properly. Arms and legs need to be entirely covered to get in.
HOW MUCH IS THE TICKET TO THE GOLDEN TEMPLE?
The ticket to the Golden Temple costs 1500 LKR.
HOW TO GET TO THE GOLDEN TEMPLE FROM DAMBULLA?
By tuk tuk. A guide price for a tuk tuk ride (Dambulla centre – the Golden Temple – Dambulla centre) is 1200 LKR.
DAY 3 | SIGIRIYA | PIDURANGALA
Sigiriya, also called Lion Rock, is an ancient rock fortress that has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage. It’s definitely one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. Make sure you won’t skip this place during your trip! It should take you no more than 2 hours to climb up this rock. It includes climbing up a considerable amount of stairs. But it’s worth making this effort. The view from the top of Sigiriya is breathtaking. I’m pretty sure that once you arrive there, you will be offered a guided tour by local people. That’s not necessary. You will be completely fine visiting this place by yourself.
HOW MUCH IS THE TICKET TO SIGIRIYA?
The ticket to Sigiriya costs 5460 LKR.
HOW TO GET TO SIGIRIYA FROM DAMBULLA?
By tuk tuk. If you also plan to climb Pidurangala and watch the sunset from its top, it’s advisable to rent a tuk tuk for the entire day. A guide price for renting a tuk tuk for the entire day (Dambulla – Sigiriya – Pidurangala – Dambulla) is 3000 LKR.
Pidurangala rock offers the most stunning view of Sigiriya you could have ever imagined. It is also a perfect spot to watch the sunset. After a thoughtful consideration I have to admit that I witnessed here the most beautiful sunset in my life. This exceptional experience ranked very high on my list of top things to do in Sri Lanka. It takes around 30 minutes to climb Pidurangala. Make sure you have some comfortable shoes on because you will have to climb up some slippery rocks on your way up. It’s also recommended to start going back before it gets completely dark. Mainly due to the fact that not the entire path is illuminated.
HOW MUCH IS THE TICKET TO PIDURANGALA?
There is no entrance fee to Pidurangala itself. However, the track to Pidurangala is going through a small temple where an entry fee applies. So you will have to buy a ticket for 500 LKR to pass by the temple.
DAY 4 | POLONNARUWA
Polonnaruwa is the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms and a historical site that has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage. This place is quite big so it would be convenient to explore the ruins of Polonnaruwa by tuk tuk, especially during hot days. A guide price for renting a tuk tuk for the entire day is 1500 LKR. The other option is to get around by bike. A guide price for renting a bicycle for the entire day is 350 LKR – 450 LKR. I honestly think that renting either a tuk tuk or bicycle is a great idea.
Although jumping on a tuk tuk has a significant advantage. Local drivers know Polonnaruwa very well and they will show you around. You won’t be bothered by checking the map and navigating. Regardless of how do you plan to explore Polonnaruwa, just make sure you get to all the places that are worth seeing there. That includes the Royal Palace (Citadel), Quadrangle, Lankatilaka and Kiri Vihara. Don’t forget to cover your arms and legs. You will also have to take your shoes off in certain areas of Polonnaruwa.
HOW MUCH IS THE TICKET TO POLONNARUWA?
The ticket to Polonnaruwa costs 4550 LKR.
HOW TO GET TO POLONNARUWA FROM DAMBULLA?
By bus. The ticket fare is 107 LKR.
DAY 5 | ANURADHAPURA
Anuradhapura is the first capital city of Sri Lanka and a historical site that has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage. This place is much bigger than Polonnaruwa, so don’t even hesitate to rent a tuk tuk. It’s not possible to explore this ancient city on foot during one day. As this area is huge, the tuk tuk driver will help you to get to the most relevant places. Likewise in Polonnaruwa you don’t have to stress too much about navigating if you hire a tuk tuk driver. A guide price for renting a tuk tuk for the entire day is 2500 LKR.
Among all the temples here, the one with the Sacred Bo Tree (Isurumuni Rajamaha Viharaya) impressed me the most. It’s a place of historical and religious importance where Sri Lankan people pray and celebrate their religion. You can experience here the local culture, observe people during their religious practices and get the general feeling of Buddhism. This is a place of a unique atmosphere. Make sure to dress properly. You will be required to cover your arms and legs and take your shoes off too in certain areas.
HOW MUCH IS THE TICKET TO ANURADHAPURA?
The ticket to Anuradhapura costs 4550 LKR. There is also an entry fee to Isurumuni Rajamaha Viharaya of 200 LKR.
HOW TO GET TO ANURADHAPURA FROM DAMBULLA?
By bus. The ticket fare is 160 LKR.
POLONNARUWA OR ANURADHAPURA?
I do think that it is worth to visit both ancient cities, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. There is something special about both of them. The entrance fee to Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura is the same and similarly, you have to spend a day to explore each of those historical sites. Nevertheless, due to a limited budget and/or time, you may be wondering which one is a must-see! Let’s have a look at this closely.
The Polonnaruwa’s biggest asset is that the city is well-preserved, the ruins are more diverse and interesting. Polonnaruwa is also located closer to Dambulla which makes it easier to get there. Anuradhapura is unique due to another reason. Its atmosphere. The place is full of Sri Lankan people practicing and celebrating their religion. Thanks to this Anuradhapura is more authentic.
DAY 6 | KANDY | TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH RELIC | ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS
TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH RELIC
Temple of the Tooth Relic is located in the centre of Kandy and it’s one of the most important Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. It has been also inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage. Every day exactly at 6:30 pm the chamber with the tooth relic is open for visitors. It’s worth coming to the temple well in advance because it gets crowded around this time and you will also have to go through security control.
Make sure to dress properly as this is verified very strictly here. Shoulders should be covered entirely and long pants should be worn. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get in. If this happens, you can buy a sarong from local sellers. However, this will cost you more than usual because they sell them at a high price and no one really wants to bargain here. Simply follow the dress code to avoid any unexpected expenses.
HOW MUCH IS THE TICKET TO THE TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH RELIC?
The ticket to the Temple of the Tooth Relic costs 1500 LKR.
HOW TO GET TO KANDY FROM ANURADHAPURA?
By bus. The ticket fare is 400 LKR.
ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS
Royal Botanical Gardens in Paradeniya have a huge collection of plants, including Ceylon trees. This place was developed by the British at the time they were controlling Sri Lankan territory. This is why you will most probably forget for a second that you are in Asia. The place looks more like a European garden rather than nature native to Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, it’s a perfect spot to take a long walk in the afternoon.
HOW MUCH IS THE TICKET TO ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS?
The ticket to Royal Botanical Gardens costs 2000 LKR.
HOW TO GET TO PARADENIYA FROM KANDY?
By tuk tuk. A guide price for a tuk tuk ride (Kandy – Peradeniya – Kandy) is 1200 LKR.
Royal Botanical Gardens in Paradeniya
DAY 7 | KNUCKLES RANGE
If you are a keen hiker, you should definitely go hiking in Sri Lanka at least once. What I mean here is a real hiking experience. A day hike. Knuckles Range is a perfect place to make this happen. This mountain range lies in central Sri Lanka and its name comes from a series of peaks which resemble the clenched fist. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka, including Knuckles Range, has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage due to its biodiversity. It’s definitely one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka!
The most important thing you need to know before hiking in Sri Lanka is that the walking tracks are unmarked. This is the reason I booked a guided tour. It was arranged by the owner of the guest house I stayed overnight in Kandy. After a thoughtful consideration, I decided to climb Knuckles peak (1863 metres) and take a 21 kilometre long trail of medium difficulty. I set out around 9:00 am at 1100 metres, reached the peak around noon and got back safely before 4:00 pm.
The weather in this part of Sri Lanka changes a lot throughout the day. It was quite cold, rainy and windy in the morning. After a few hours, the sky cleared up and the sun was shining very strongly. What a surprise! It’s not hot all the time in Sri Lanka. I would recommend you to wear long pants (leggings) and long socks. The trail goes through the jungle and this means that you will have to fight with leeches. They can easily go under your pants if you don’t tuck them into socks. Trust me, you better avoid this!
I think that hiking in Sri Lanka without a guide is not easy. I met some people on the trail that were hiking on their own with an Internet map but I find it very hard. Mainly because the walking tracks are unmarked in Sri Lanka. A guided tour has also another advantage. My guide was carrying a spray bottle with a mix of water, salt, oil and detergent that is used to detach leeches. This mixture works very well as you shouldn’t pull the leeches off your body. I had to used it quite a few times during the hike.
HOW MUCH IS A GUIDED TOUR IN KNUCKLES RANGE?
A day hike in Knuckles Range with a guide costs 18 000 LKR for two people. The price includes a tuk tuk ride from Kandy to Knuckles Range, lunch, water and some snacks. The guide will accompany you during the entire day.
HOW TO GET TO KNUCKLES RANGE FROM KANDY?
By tuk tuk. This was included in the total cost of guided tour to Knuckles Range.
What are the top things to do in Sri Lanka in your opinion? Is there anything you would add to my list? Let me know by leaving a comment below!