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I spent two weeks traveling in Sri Lanka in spring 2016, and it was an absolutely amazing country.
I knew pretty much nothing about it when we planned our trip, but we bought the flights because they were so cheap and short from Abu Dhabi. Once I got into the nitty gritty of of planning our trip, though, I realized this wasn’t going to be the super easy beach vacation I was imagining (although we did hit up the beach and it was beautiful).
Sri Lanka is a small country, but the main tourist attractions are not that close together. There’s the hill country, which is super green and full of tea plantations, the wildlife safaris, the beautiful beaches along the coast, the iconic climb up Adam’s Peak, and finally Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. All are worth seeing, but they’re also all spread hours away from each other.
Making sure we could get to all of these throughout the two week trip was not an easy task, and I spent so much time reading itineraries, plotting the best routes and destinations, and figuring it all out.
Hopefully, my work can save you some time!
Below is the itinerary we took for the best way to travel through Sri Lanka and hit all of the top tourist destinations in the country along the way.
The Best Way to Travel Through Sri Lanka
My biggest tip is to hire a private driver. I know this may not be possible for some budgets, but if it is, it is definitely worth your time. There are trains that run from town to town, but they’re often extremely crowded and won’t get you to the farther or harder to reach places (like Polonnaruwa, my absolute favorite site in Sri Lanka.)
We hired a private driver and had a good experience.
Our driver spoke English and even helped us out and drove us to a clinic when we had a minor medical emergency. You can choose to do one of the many driving and tour companies’ set itineraries with hotels included in the price, or you can customize your own.
I suggest customizing your own itinerary and booking your own hotels, because I personally am an avid review reader and would never entrust those choices to a company who just wants to cut costs. So, don’t be afraid to decide exactly what you want, then negotiate a price to get it.
Our price for 10 days of transport with a private car and guide was $375, plus an extra $10 per day for the driver’s accommodation at the hotels. Make sure you ask the tour operator you choose if there are extra costs for your driver so you don’t get blindsided by them in the end.
In total, we paid $465 for private transport for 9 days. I think this was totally worth the cost because it allowed us to easily stop at Uda Walawe National Park on the way to the beach without spending a night there, and gave us the ability to leave Adam’s Peak right after our climb instead of spending a second day and night there.
Plus, no crowded buses, haggling with tuk tuk drivers, dealing with trains after an overnight flight, etc. Our itinerary is below and after our trip was all said and done, I think it was the best way to travel through Sri Lanka.
Our 9 Day Sri Lanka Itinerary
After spending nine days moving from place to place, ending your trip at beach is the best way to travel through Sri Lanka. We arrived in Hikkaduwa on April 2nd, we spent 5 days just relaxing on the beach.
There are a lot of beach options in Sri Lanka, but Hikkaduwa is the most built up and has the best restaurants and nightlife around it. I also chose it because it was close to Colombo for an easy drive back to the city for our flight home.
Beach-hopping is popular in this country (and the eastern coast is huge for surfers) but for me the whole point of a beach vacay is to do nothing, so just chilling on one worked best for me.
The only change I would make to this itinerary would be to maybe spend one day in Nuwara Eliya on the way to Ella, and cut one day in Ella to make up for it. We drove through Newara Eliya and it looked really beautiful and peaceful, there are colonial houses and bike rentals to ride around the lake, as well as the famous hike to World’s End.
At the end, though, I decided the dawn wake up call for World’s End didn’t quite fit into our plans and that we were moving around enough as is. Even though we missed out on Nuwara Eliya, I was really ready to rest and relax in Ella after the tough hike up Adam’s Peak.
If you’re planning a trip to the country, use these tips for the best way to travel through Sri Lanka!
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PS find more info for a perfect trip with the guide to climbing Adam’s Peak, learn what to see in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, and read everything you need to know about visiting Uda Walawe National Park!