The Best of Sri Lanka in 12 Days

  • By Gulzar Govewalla
  • April 25, 2023
  • Gulzar loved Sri Lanka. She says Yeah Dil Mange More. Here is a day wise account.

We travel often, this time wanted to visit a different place – Indic but not in India. A friend suggested Sri Lanka. After being feed with an overdose on bad things were in Lanka we were sceptical but glad we went. We visited in January/February 2023. Four of us travelled.


We applied for the Sri Lankan visa online and got it in a day or so. It was easy. We chose Jetwing, a local travel company who also run a hotel chain in Lanka. Once you tell them number of days you wish to travel, they suggest a program and take care of everything. It is not necessary that you live in their hotel. In one place I wished to live in a tea estate. They made the booking without a fuss.


You can pay in U.S. dollars, Euros or Pound Sterling. You convert at the airport. We found that local hotels also gave us very good conversion rates. We used roaming of Airtel (Indian Telecom company) during our trip. I am sure local options are available. 


Food is a mixture of Kerala and Goan styles. The good thing is there was always a vegetarian option. They use a lot of coconut milk.   


I am sharing day wise travel plan and experiences. 


Day 1 Airport / Negombo

Negombo is a fishing town. It is where the bombings in a Church happened.

We flew Air Lanka, very good service. From Colombo Airport we drove straight to the beach town of Negombo on the west coast (app 30 kms drive).


An early check-in was arranged. We relaxed the whole day. In the evening we drove to the main street of Negombo, walked by and were happy to find yummy freshly made food, seashell ornaments, creamy ice creams and more. If you love sea food, eat what is prepared at  by a local fisher family. The market has some nice hotels and restaurants too.


It has beautiful churches and beaches. The town is quite spread out. There are old and new parts, the old has some nice architecture.


Day 2 Negombo and drive to Sigiriya / Dambulla (app 4.5 hours)

We left Negombo for Lanka’s hinterland. Enroute we saw rice paddy fields. In Kurunegala, look out for Buddha’s statue upon a rock.

In the afternoon we visited the 5th century Fort of Sigiriya. Like in Jaipur we encountered many monkeys during the fort climb. Note local art and architecture. We were exhausted by the end of the day and returned to our hotel in Dambulla by evening.  


The pilgrimage town Anuradhapura is about 73 kms away. We did not visit though. The town is known for Jetawana Monastery and Bodhi Tree that was brought from Bodh Gaya, India.


To see album including Golden Temple of Dambulla


Day 3 Dambulla

Dambulla Cave Temple.

Sleeping Buddha, Dambulla Cave Temple.  

We visited the city of Polonnaruwa i.e. UNESCO World Heritage and took a walking tour of one of the ruins of ancient Ceylon. This includes a visit to Lankathilaka, Thuparamaya, Royal Palace, Rankoth Vehera and Gal Viharaya.


You can also hire a bicycle and explore the town’s stupas, ancient palace, Buddha statues etc. Visit to the town took us about two hours. 

Ruins of city of Polonnaruwa i.e. a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ruins of Polonnaruwa.

Around 3 pm we took a jeep safari to the Minneriya or neighboring Kavdullah National Park. It is about one hour drive from Dambulla. Having an expert guide with us made it interesting. The park is home to about 250 wild elephants, wild buffaloes, sambar deer, crocodiles, sloth bear and more.


We also visited the Cave Temple Complex in Dambulla. The caves around the temple have paintings and statues related to the life of Gautama Buddha. It also has sculptures of Lord Vishnu, Ganesha and Mara. Very good paintings and well maintained.

Typical Sri Lankan food. 

Day 4 Dambulla to Kandy app 2.5 hour drive

After a late breakfast we left for the Hill capital of Kandy.

Tooth Relic Temple at Kandy

Inside tooth relic temple. 

Kandy is also well known as the center of Buddhism and the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom. The gold-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth holds Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist artefact-a tooth of Lord Buddha. It is open to devotees. We bought a diya (oil lamp) and along with a flower offered it as the temple. Note that Shorts or sleeveless attire are not allowed in the temple. Ensure you wear proper attire below the knee. I wore track paints. The rituals reminded me of like what we see in India. The temple closes during the day. It was shut for one hour so we waited.  


If you do not wish to visit the temple walk down the market towards the station. You will see small shops with hand crafts, arts and wood ornaments. It gets quite hot so we were advised to end the walk with some curd and treacle to cool you down.

Captivating Kandyan cultural dance. 

With extravagant costumes, revolving dances and heart-stopping, fire-breathing manoeuvres enjoy a Kandyan cultural dance - surely one of the most essential experiences of a stay here.


Day 5 Kandy

Our hotel in Kandy. 

Next day we went for an early morning walk round the Kandy Lake i.e. in the heart of the city. A road round the lake makes it easy. It was windy so wear a long sleeves shirt.


The artificial lake was built in 1807 by Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, the last ruler of the kingdom of Kandy. He wanted to build a waterway to get to the other side of the valley.


Kandy is a sacred city i.e. best explored walking. The Lake, Queen’s Bathing Pavilion, Royal Audience Hall and Peradeniya Botanical Gardens are amongst the most interesting sites not to forget the market streets. You will find small shops with hand crafts, arts and wood ornaments. 

Painting inside the tooth relic temple. 

The botanical garden was a pleasure garden of a Kandyan King of the 16th century and later made into a Botanical Garden during the British regime.


Also visit The Historic Three-Temple Loop. Three of these temples, Gadaladeniya Viharaya, Embekke, and Lankathilaka form the aptly named 'three temple loop', and serve as a living history to Sri Lanka's extensive Buddhist heritage and craftsmanship. 


I suggest visiting the three temple loop and The Royal Botanic Gardens in one day.

Dried fish store in Kandy. 

Next we did a short trek (one hour) at the Udawatte Kele Sanctuary. It is a historic forest reserve located in the heart of Kandy and home to over 400 species of plants, 70 species of birds and 32 diverse species of butterflies and various mammals. This trek is spotted with intriguing sights, like the medieval rock dwellings of Buddhist monks and hermits and the Garrison Cemetery; a British military burial ground.


To see album on Kandy


Day 6 Kandy to Nuwara Eliya via train

After early breakfast at the hotel we caught the train at 8.45 am for Nuwara Eliya. The slow descend through the tea fields and hill country side with its winding tracks and misty panoramas, offers an unmatched perspective and wonderful experience. It is a proper train, not a toy one like to Simla or Ooty.


The train reached Nanu Oya station around 12.30 pm. Lunch is not provided on the train so carry some snacks with you. 


We departed for Nuwara Eliya and post lunch did a short sight-seeing tour of town. It is called the ‘Little England’ of Sri Lanka and set against beautiful backdrops of Mountains, Valleys, Waterfalls and Tea Plantations. It is said to be one of the coldest places on the island, but is really just like an England spring day although the temperature do drop at night. All around Nuwara Eliya you will see evidence of the British influence. Houses are like country cottages or Queen Ann style mansions.


We stayed at a boutique hotel in a tea estate. It has four to six rooms and made in British style. I loved it.


Day 7 Nuwara Eliya

We were told of two options of how to enjoy Nuwara Eliya. Option 1 was Hakgala Gardens; These attractive gardens, 10km southeast of Nuwara Eliya, are a peaceful retreat. Highlights include a fine rose garden, a Japanese garden, an orchid collection, cedars and giant cypresses.


Option two. Explore The Seetha Amman Temple; The only Sita temple in the world - Believed to be the exact place where Sita was held captive by the Ravana in the Ramayana.

Entrance to Sita temple. Photography not allowed inside 

Also enjoy Marvel the Lover’s Leap Waterfall (approx.; 20 min drive) and  Ambewela Farm (located 45 mins from Nuwara Eliya) i.e. the largest dairy farm in Nuwara Eliya. You may see the milking stations of the dairy cows and see the calves in the nursery. Drink a fresh glass of milk at the cafe station up the hill and buy some cheese to eat. 


I love strawberries so had lots at the Adma Agro Farm. Strawberries require colder weather and Nuwara Eliya is perfect for them. Eat them straight off the plants, with cream or condensed milk or drink in a juice.


For those who love tea estates, I do, visit Pedro Tea Estate. It is about 3.5km east of Nuwara Eliya on the way to Kandapola. You can take a 20-minute guided tour of the factory, originally built in 1885 and still packed with 19th-century engineering.

Waterfall at Horton Plains National Park. 

If you still have energy start the day with an early morning trek (we left at 5am) to Horton Plains National Park. It is just 32km from Nuwara Eliya (190km from Colombo). The Park has montane grassland and cloud forest located in the Central Highlands. It is a popular tourist destination consisting of several tourist hot spots such as World’s End, mini World’s End, Bakers Falls and the peaks of Kirigalpoththa and Thotupola Kanda. 


The hike takes five hours, is very good with lots of ups and downs. I found it moderately difficult. One can manage without a guide. No littering allowed in this park, they checked our bags with a toothcomb.


Day 8 Nuwara Eliya / Ella / Yala (Approx.: 4.5 hour drive)

Bridge at Eliya.  

What I liked about Sri Lanka is that it a small country so easy to drive around. Good roads make it easier.

Herd of Elephants at Yala. 

Thereafter continue for Yala-a topmost wildlife destination. En route we stopped at the town of Ella; a small village nestled in a valley peering straight through the Ella Gap and is surrounded by hilly countryside perfect for walks; through tea plantations, waterfalls, ancient temples. See the cascading Ravana Ella waterfalls and the Demodara Nine Arch Bridge; an insta-famous landmark in Ella. This is a historic brick bridge set against rolling green hills. Thereafter continue to the jungles of Yala.


Honestly, one can skip the town of Ella. It is over-rated.


Thanks to some good luck we saw elephants, crocodiles, buffaloes, deer, hares, peacocks and monkeys, birds and more in an evening jeep safari (3.00pm – 6.00pm). The safari has a naturalist guide. 


Yala is Sri Lanka's most famous national park. We missed seeing the leopards and relaxed sloth bears but saw lots of peacocks and elephants, both of whom I love. 


Day 9 Yala / Galle (Approx.: 3.5 hour drive)

Next we drove towards the southern cost of Lanka to Galle for another beach stay and arrived in the late evening. Galla is not exactly on the beach. The beach is about 30 kms away. It has a lot of Dutch and Portuguese influence.


I loved Galla and recommend you stay in a home stay. It also has lots of small shops where you get interesting stuff.


Day 10 Galle

At Dutch quarters in Galle. 

If you wish to discover the town suggest cover it on foot. It is an exotic old trading port blessed with imposing Dutch-colonial buildings, stylish cafes, quirky boutiques, ancient mosques and churches, grand mansions and museums, impeccably restored hotels and cafes serving yummy food!


You could also visit a few markets on the way-side where fresh fish, vegetables and fruits are sold. Enjoy a refreshing king coconut or some seasonal fruits as you stroll down the streets of Galle. See how masks are crafted and painted in the Galle fort, under an expert mask crafter.


Visit the Galle National Museum; one of the oldest remaining Dutch buildings, followed by a visit to the National Maritime Museum to witness the types of watercraft used in Southern Sri Lanka and lastly to the Historical Mansion Museum; a history hoarder’s paradise with rows and cupboards full of colonial artefacts etc.  


If you are an early morning person go for Whale and Dolphin Watching in the deeps seas of Mirissa and encounter the Gentles Giants of the Ocean. Kindly note that you have to leave the hotel by 5.30 am as the whale watching activity begins at 6.30am and ends by approximately 12pm or so. (app one hour drive one way).


After seeing the whales visit -


1. The Coconut tree hill. It is a 15-minute drive from Mirissa Beach and is a small coconut farm on a hilltop. The view or sunset view from here is simply amazing. You can access it via one of the restaurants nearby or by a small walk through the water.

2. Parrot Rock; Right on Mirissa Beach is a small rock where you can climb up and see a bit of the Mirissa area.

3. Dalawella beach. It is about 7 km south along the coast from Galle. If you’re going to go, try to be there around 11 am to 1pm because i.e. when the turtles are around. You’ll find a shallow lagoon which is very safe for kids without the waves that you can encounter on other Sri Lankan beaches. 

4. The Hikkaduwa Turtle Hatchery; From rehabilitation of injured sea turtles to providing a safe nesting ground, the sea turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka aims at protecting and saving the sea turtles that visit the golden shores of the island. (Types of sea turtles-Leatherback, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, Green Turtle & Hawksbill)


Day 11 Galle / Colombo (Approx.: 2.5 hour drive)

After leisurely breakfast we left for the capital city of Colombo. Once in Colombo, your chauffeur guide will introduce you to some of Colombo’s curious sites such as the old city of Fort, the Hindu Temple at Sea Street, Dutch Church at Wolfendal and a peek at the island’s premier cultural institution; the Colombo National Museum. 


Suggestions for restaurants in Colombo: Ministry of Crab at Dutch Hospital, Paradise Road Gallery Café, Rare at Residence, Nuga gama, Kaeme Sutra, Monsoon, lagoon at Cinnamon Grand and Rooftop bar & restaurant at Jetwing Colombo.

My favourite desert during trip was Yoghurt with Treacle. 

Day 12 Things to do in Colombo 

By a morning visit to Pettah you will learn about the many local vegetables & fruits. The colorful vegetables and fruits freshly picked from the garden will surely offer some amusing captures!


Visit the Seema Malaka Buddhist Temple which was initially built in the 19th century after it sunk into the water and thereafter was re-designed.


Visit the Kelaniya Buddhist temple; the oldest temple located in close proximity to Colombo which dates back to 6th century B.C. Many devotees in pure white clothes and saffron clad Buddhist monks who visit from around the island can be seen offering flowers, lighting and worshipping at the temple.


For souvenir shopping suggest you visit - Selyn, Barefoot, Odel Shopping Complex, Spa Ceylon, Lakpahana or Laksala and Paradise Road.

Sea food. 

It is a big city, all we did was shopping. We ate and drank a lot. It was quite hot so we stayed inside car.

Door stoppers in Laksala Store, Colombo.

Not sure about description. Same shop in Colombo.

Day 13 Colombo / Airport (Approx 55 min drive)

As all good things must come to an end so was our Sri Lanka trip. We reached the airport by 1.30 pm to catch the flight back home.


What we liked about Sri Lanka

1. It is a small country so short drives.

2. Very good roads.

3. Very nice people.

4. Food wise a vegetarian option was always available although sea-food eaters would enjoy.

5. People have a very good driving sense.


Suggestions and Tips

1. I hope the governments of India and Sri Lanka can work out, only for tourists, payment in Indian Rupees. It will boost tourism to Incredible Sri Lanka.

2. For this trip be prepared to walk and climb a lot.

3. When it got too hot it would rain so be prepared with windcheater and appropriate footwear.

All ready for sudden rains. 

The Lankans have retained the Portuguese and British heritage buildings.  


During the next trip to Lanka we will visit the northern (Jaffna) and eastern sides (Trincomalee-scuba diving) which am told are worth visiting.


We are very happy with our travel agent so sharing contacts. Email- +94(77) 3541770 and +94(77) 7647025.  She did a very good job of planning, was extremely responsive and made changes as and when I wanted. Also after reaching Sri Lanka she kept in touch with us in case of any issues etc. very nice lady


To see all albums on Sri Lanka

To see album on Bodh Gaya including Bodhi Tree

To see album of Buddhist Holy Places in India and Thailand  

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