How Many Days In Sri Lanka : Beaches Wildlife Or The Great Outdoors

Created by Colleen Sims * 7 January 2024

a quite beach at Mirissa.  Turquoise sea and blue sky and perfect water for swimming; how many days in Sri Lanka could you spend here?
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How Many Days In Sri Lanka?

When we first started planning our Sri Lanka adventure, I allowed 10 days but the more I researched the more I realised that we could spend considerably longer.  In the end we stayed a month and didn’t want to leave.

We’re retired and can travel slowly. We appreciate that not everyone can meander as we do, so if you’re looking to visit this glorious country then how many days in Sri Lanka do you need?

It depends.

You can have a flying visit and spend a long weekend in Galle Fort.  I have a friend who did a quick 5-day visit simply for a beach break. Equally, you can see a lot of Sri Lanka in two weeks and if you have longer then delve deeper and you’ll still only scratch the surface in a month.

Sri Lanka offers something for everyone, from perfect beaches, incredible wildlife, culture and history and wild open spaces to explore.  How long you need is down to :

  • Holiday Theme : do you want beaches, history, or the great outdoors?
  • Time : is this a short break or a deep dive into all that Sri Lanka offers?
  • Budget : are you happy to pay for an all-inclusive package to save time?

Sri Lanka was never on our bucket list but our kids told us that it was fabulous and convinced us to add it to our plans.  We’re very grateful for their recommendation as Sri Lanka is indeed amazing.

taking our time exploring the botanical gardens at Kandy. The trees with these stunning blooms were beautiful

Popular Destinations in Sri Lanka

For a small country Sri Lanka really is the perfect destination.  Here are some of her popular resorts and attractions and we’ve included an idea of how long you need for each visit :

Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the first capital of the Sri Lanka.  This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its well-preserved ruins of temples, palaces, and stupas, showcasing Sri Lanka’s rich cultural history.

A little like Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, the ruins are spread over a large area and whilst you could spend two days exploring, you may find one day is enough to see the highlights.

Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay is a laid-back beach town with a stunning coastline and a popular surfer destination.  Visit for a day or spend a week riding the waves and enjoying the beach and the chilled atmosphere.

Bentota

Bentota offers a picture postcard blend of pristine beaches, lagoons, and rivers. Tourists come to relax on golden sands, cruise the river or spot marine life.  

You can visit for the day but 2 or 3 days will allow you to explore more fully.  Stay longer if beaches are your thing.

Colombo

Colombo is Sri Lanka’s bustling capital.  Expect colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and modern skyscrapers.  Colombo is a busy, loud, modern city but there are a few gems worth exploring.   

Allow a day for sightseeing; longer if you opt to spend time at one of the 5* resorts.

Dalawella Beach

Dalawella Beach is a popular sandy beach with a safe swimming lagoon, snorkelling opportunities and its famous coconut tree rope swing.  In the early morning you can explore the rock pools looking for turtles

Go for a beach day or longer if you’re looking for a beach holiday.

Top Tip : Please don’t pick up the turtles and please don’t handle them and please do not crowd them.

Dambulla

Ascend to the iconic Dambulla cave temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site housing over 150 statues and murals depicting the Buddha’s life.  We’re not hugely into temples but these caves are astonishing.

You have to climb about 300 steps but the views are impressive on the way up.  Allow half a day to explore the caves.

Ella

For a lot of travellers, Ella is either the start or the end of the iconic rail journey through the highlands and tea plantations, but it’s also the perfect spot for lovers of the great outdoors. 

Hike to Little Adam’s Peak, or the iconic Nine Arch Bridge, walk sections of the Pekoe Trail, swim in the waterfall pools and if you’re an early bird witness sunrise over the mountains.

Spend at least a day in Ella but allow longer if you like to hike. 

Galle Fort

We loved Galle Fort and felt that it was the perfect base for exploring this part of Sri Lanka. 

Step back in time within the Fort, a UNESCO-listed Dutch colonial gem with cobbled streets, ramparts and historical museums.  Enjoy quaint cafes and plentiful boutique shops and the sunset is pretty good too.  Allow at least 2 days in Galle Fort.

Hikkaduwa

Renowned for its coral reefs and marine life, Hikkaduwa is a popular beach destination for snorkelling and diving enthusiasts.  You can soak up the sun on golden sands, try your hand at surfing or spot marine life amidst coral reefs.

Visit for a day or base yourself here depending on how much you love the beach.

Horton Plains National Park

A unique plateau featuring a diverse ecosystem, scenic landscapes and the famous World’s End viewpoint.

If you love hiking allow at least one day for trekking; you can also visit here from Nuwara Eliya.

Jaffna

Jaffna in the north of Sri Lanka is a cultural melting pot. Explore Hindu temples, savour Jaffna cuisine and learn about the region’s unique history.

Allow at least one day to explore if you are in this part of Sri Lanka but two or three days to fully immerse yourself.

Kandy

Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth, a UNESCO World Heritage site housing Buddha’s sacred tooth relic.  We loved the Botanical Gardens and for an evening you can witness traditional Kandyan dancers.

Allow one day in Kandy but do stay overnight and take the Ella train the following morning.

Minneriya National Park

We stayed near this national park and saw wild elephants wandering the roads.  In August you can witness the awe-inspiring “Gathering” where hundreds of wild elephants congregate around a vast lake.

Whilst not the best national park in Sri Lanka, if you are near Sigiriya and don’t want to visit other parks, it is an excellent place to see elephants in the wild.

Mirissa

Relax on Mirissa’s palm-fringed beach, known for its resident sea turtles and laid-back atmosphere. Like us, most people visit for the whale watching but it’s the perfect place to unwind.

You could visit for a day but allow at least 2 and make the most of the beaches and the whale watching.

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is affectionally known as “Little England,” for its colonial feel.  This is tea country and the climate is decidedly cooler than other areas in Sri Lanka; and it rains more too.

If taking the Kandy to Ella train then stay here for at least one night;  go tea tasting and have high tea at the Grand Hotel.

Polonnaruwa

The well-preserved ruins of Polonnaruwa is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  You can visit both the ruins and the on-site museum on the same day. 

The ancient city has impressive ruins and is worth adding to your itinerary; half a day is enough.  We visited the site (from Sigiriya) with a guide but do go alone around the museum as a guide is not needed.

Sigiriya

Climb the iconic Lion Rock and explore the ruins of the Sigiriya fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site perched on a 200-meter rock.

Go very early and allow a morning for the climb and to visit the ruins. 

Top Tip : We do not recommend a guide.  Our guide had his own agenda and we felt unable to rest and explore as we wanted.  You really do not need a guide and we felt it detracts from the experience. Arrive early and follow everyone else.

Tangalle

Tangalle offers a relaxed coastal vibe with beautiful beaches. You can swim in natural rock pools or simply unwind on the golden sands.

This is a beach resort so visit for the day or spend longer doing nothing.

Trincolanee

Discover the historic town of Trincolanee, known for its natural harbour, one of the country’s best beaches, hindu temples and colonial architecture.  This is also a great spot for whale watching.

Spend a day or two and wander the colourful streets and enjoy the beach and the water sports.   

Include Trincolanee in your itinerary if you’re visiting northern Sri Lanka, add Jaffna and Arugam Bay to the road trip too.

Udawalawe National Park

We loved our safari at Udawalawe and spotted many wild animals.  The park is known for its large elephant herds, scenic lakes, leopards, crocodiles, and numerous bird species.

We took a 6-hour safari and felt the extra few hours were well worth the time and the expense; we stayed overnight to allow for the early morning start.

Unawatuna

Relax on Unawatuna’s beautiful crescent-shaped beach, known for its calm waters, coral reefs and laid-back beach atmosphere.

There are opportunities for snorkelling and surfing or simply basking on the golden sands. We also took a water taxi to the hidden beaches on the other side of the headland.

This is a large beach resort so visit for the day or spend a month; it’s on the doorstep to Galle Fort too.

Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu is in the north and one of Sri Lanka’s largest parks.  It has a high density of wildlife but is less visited than the parks in the south.  Known for dense forests, diverse wildlife and leopard sightings.

Allow a full day for a safari if you’re in the area.

Yala National Park

Yala National Park is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka and known specifically for leopard spotting.  You can also find elephants, sloth bears and numerous bird species amidst the diverse landscapes.

Allow a day for a safari, longer for avid wildlife enthusiasts.

incredible painted cave temples of Dambulla. We visited 5 caves, all painted with intricate details

How Many Days Do You Need : What Is Your Travel Theme?

What do you like to do when travelling?  Is your vacation all about beaches or are you the kind of person that wants to see something unique; if so then you’ll love the Cave Temples in Dambulla.

The kind of theme your holiday takes will undoubtably have an impact on how many days you need.

Beach Holiday

Are you looking for a short break beside the sea?  Do you prefer to spend your time relaxing beside a palm fringed beach?  Sri Lanka has glorious beaches in spades, so for you the question should be how long can you spare?

With mile after mile of pristine coastlines, plenty of water sports, easy day trips, and picture perfect sunsets you could opt to stay for 7 days or 7 weeks.

Galle Fort, Unawatuna, Mirissa and Dalawella might all be on your itinerary and for a short beach holiday, Negombo is one of the closest beaches to Colombo and the airport.

colleen walking along the beach at Dalawella in Sri Lanka

Culture Trip

We love to delve into the history of a new destination; I believe you learn a great deal about a place by looking backwards.

Sri Lanka has a fascinating history and it’s possible to get around many of the major sites in 10 days.

Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Galle Fort, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya could fit in a 10-day visit but if you prefer to take your time then allow a few extra days to really enjoy these destinations.

Top Tip : If Culture is important then plan your itinerary in advance. Knowing where things are on the map can help save travelling time.  Avoid zig-zagging across the country and also be sure to check that your site is open on the day you plan to visit.

gerry visiting one of the Buddha temples at Polonnawuwa

Wildlife Seekers

Sri Lanka has a huge concentration of National Parks.  There are 26 parks covering almost 6000 km2.  Each park offers something different and many parks have a large concentrations of wildlife, birds, flora and fauna. 

For such a small island there is a great deal to see and your viewing isn’t restricted to land animals.  Sri Lanka is also a world hotspot for whales and whale watching is a must.

In a week you could see Leopards in Yala, Elephants in Udawalawe and Blue Whales in Mirissa.  Imagine what you could see if you had more days to spare.

wild elephant at udawalawe national park

Great Outdoors

Do you prefer hiking and exploring?  Sri Lanka has a great number of opportunities for fabulous hiking.  The Ella Rock Trail is popular as is the ever-growing Pekoe Trail (a cross country hike).  Little Adams Peak and World’s End Trail at Horton’s Plain are all perfect for thrill seekers.   

Cycling, Zip Lining, Swimming in waterfall pools and even off-road quad bikes are possible in the Highlands around Ella.

Head to the coast and you’ll find opportunities for surfing, diving, fishing and snorkelling; Arugam Bay and Hikkaduwa are the most popular surf spots.

As with all our suggestions you can do a lot in a week (Horton’s Plain, Ella, Yala and Mirissa) but could easily fill a 2 or more weeks if you have the time.

hiking around Ella in the highlands and watching 2 people on the zip-line; perfect for those looking for adventure

City Breaks

City breaks are great if you’re looking for a quick getaway.  If you fly with Sri Lankan Airlines you might be able to work in a short stop-over. 

Colombo might be the obvious choice but we also loved Galle Fort, so this would be a strong contender for a more laid back mini-break. 

Galle Fort Art Gallery - there are lots of boutiques and gallery shops in Galle Fort

How Many Days In Sri Lanka : What’s Your Travel Speed?

When deciding  how many days you need in Sri Lanka you will have to consider how you like to travel.  Do you like to travel slowly or are you all about moving on?

Slow and Leisurely

We know that we’re not as fit as we were; we’re in our 60s and we no longer feel the need to rush. 

When we choose a new destination, we build in time to relax even if that means dropping something from our wish-list.  These days we enjoy doing nothing almost as much as the exciting things.

This strategy works equally well if you’re on holiday to relax.  If your Sri Lankan get-away is for a peaceful break, then waking at dawn every day might not work for you; so opt to lose a few things from your to-do-list and have a beach day instead.

Two weeks is a long time in Sri Lanka so you’ll still go home with a case full of memories whilst still allowing down time. 

Fast Paced and Full of Action

When our kids travel they want cover a lot of ground.  They only have two weeks holiday from work and they have a smaller budget.  Their priority is to see as much as they can and get the maximum value for their time and money.

If you fall into this camp then Sri Lanka is the perfect destination.  There are options to suit all budgets and because the island is relatively small (about the size of Ireland) it’s quick to move around.  You can be in the mountains of Ella in the morning and sunbathing on the beach in Mirissa in the afternoon.

temple of the tooth in Kandy at night with reflections of the temple lights in the lake

How Many Days Will Your Budget Last in Sri Lanka?

I’m not going to lie, we did find Sri Lanka a little pricey compared to other Asian destinations.  It’s no secret that Sri Lanka is going through some financial difficulties and there are a lot of tourist taxes and tourist prices. 

Should this cost stop you from visiting? Absolutely not. Does it impact on how long you stay in Sri Lanka?  It might.

Budget Travellers

It is still very possible to travel in Sri Lanka on a budget. 

Buses and trains are cheap and plentiful.  The timetables can go a little awry at times but if you allow time in your schedule then public transport can be a very cost-effective way to travel.

In towns and cities tuk-tuks are plentiful and cheap but do make sure you agree the price in advance. We found UBER didn’t work in Sri Lanka.

There are budget accommodation choices across the country; popular destinations like Ella and Mirissa have lots of options for the budget conscious traveller. 

  • The basic non-reserved train ticket for the iconic Nuwara Eliya to Ella train cost a euro.
  • Budget hotels offer beds from 5€ in Ella.
  • We had a great buffet vegan curry lunch in Mirissa for around 3€ each.

Sri Lanka can still be a great destination for budget travellers so you can afford to take your time and stay longer.

Luxury Travel in Sri Lanka

I have a friend who works hard and saves hard so that once a year she can take a very nice holiday in the sun.  She wants to be greeted from the plane, she wants a resort hotel, and she would like her excursions taken care of.  In other words, she knows what she wants and she is happy to pay for that service.

If this is you then go to Sri Lanka. 

There are plenty of luxury resorts on the island.  And plenty of high-end travel and safari experiences just waiting for the right visitors. 

A luxury holiday would suit anyone travelling for 7 to 14 days.  Head to either Galle Fort or one of the resorts along the southern coast, or better still have a two-centre holiday to make the most of the highlands and the beaches.

Comfort Travellers

This is where we sit.  We like to travel for longer and high-end accommodation is a treat rather than the norm. However, we do want comfort and we’re happy to pay a little more for that. 

If you fall into this group then you might need to up your budget just a little in Sri Lanka compared to other countries like Cambodia.  Or look at ways to cut your spending.  For us we opted for public transport a few times which saved on long distance taxis.  We choose an apartment over a hotel and cooked at home a few times which also saved. 

Comfort travellers are often independent travellers and with a little creative thinking you can find ways to save enough to extend your stay in Sri Lanka.

wonderful buffet curry lunch in Mirissa. It cost us less than 3 euro

What Time Of Year Is Best To Visit Sri Lanka?

Even though Sri Lanka is a relatively small country, the climate does vary between areas.  Sri Lanka is tropical and has a lot of rain. 

It is said that the best time to visit Sri Lanka is between November and April in the south-west and March to September in the north-east.  However, we had rain most days when we visited Galle; albeit that the rain came in the afternoon.  Indeed, it rained most days but often just for 30 minutes and then the sun came back. As with many tropical destinations expect an afternoon downpour; we arrived from Kerala in India and experienced similar afternoon rains too.

The highlands however were a little wetter and the rain did stay all day and it was decidedly cooler than the coast.   But we still loved our time in the tea country.

If you only have a week in Sri Lanka then consider the weather and consider how it might impact on your plans.

On the flip-side, if you have lots of time and you’re looking to squeeze your budget use the off season to your advantage.  Visit in the shoulder seasons and avoid school holidays (like Christmas or Easter).  Your accommodation will be cheaper and activities may also be less expensive.  And resorts may be quieter.

The four images below will give you an indication of the wettest seasons across Sri Lanka.

4 images showing the rainfall during the different monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka

How Long Do You Need In Sri Lanka : Plan Logistics To Save Time

Travelling around countries is often the hardest part of your planning.  You need to factor travel days into your itinerary and decide whether you’ll up the budget to save time or save the pennies but add an extra day here and there for travelling.

If you know that you want to see wildlife and you only have a week, then choose parks that are closer together.  Yala (leopards) and Udawalawe (elephants) can both be reached within a few hours.  However, you may need to arrange for a private taxi to take you and expect to pay around 60€ for each journey.

If you have more time and budget is a consideration, then use public transport.  Trains and buses offer excellent value for money but they are slow and you’ll need to plan your journey and your stops 

Top Tip : We found hotels and our accommodation very helpful with helping with travel plans.   If you do plan to use a driver then do book in advance because you get to choose your driver.  Not all drivers are equal and if you book ahead you can check reviews. And the price definitely goes up at short notice.

a tuk tuk made to look like a gold elephant, beside and British red letterbox in Galle Fort

Create a Travel Map

When considering different destinations I find it useful to create a list, note the time it takes to get between the two and transport options; I’ll put my hand up and say I love a spreadsheet.

I also love using google MyMaps.  Add and delete locations at will, add hotel options and important transit hubs like airports and stations.  It’s a great tool to help visualise your plans.

When planning your trip there are some things you’ll need to know :

  • Is there transport between x and y (use rome2rio as a starting point)
  • Is x open on the days you want to visit?  We very nearly missed out on the Taj Mahal as I didn’t realise it was closed on a Friday.
  • Do your plans fall on a weekend?  We travelled from Nuwara Eliya on a Sunday during school holidays.  It was crazy.  Don’t be like us!  Plan around week days and certainly avoid popular tourist attractions in school holiday weekends.
  • Is there accommodation?  The number of times we have wanted to visit an attraction but not been able to find transport or accommodation has surprised us.  If you are counting on an overnight stay then do check in advance that you’ll be able to find a bed.  And if you know in advance the date of your travel then book ahead; good accommodation books fast.

So How Many Days In Sri Lanka?

There’s no correct answer.  How many days that you need in Sri Lanka will be down to you and your wish list. 

But if you’re flying through Sri Lanka and have the chance of a stop-over, then take a few days and head to Galle Fort for the beach and the sun or head to the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya for tea tasting and pampering.

Likewise, Sri Lanka is the ideal 2-week holiday destination. And I know that my American friends look for destinations that offers the perfect 12-day itinerary and Sri Lanka can be just that too.

After our month long stay we are seriously considering returning to avoid the European winters. Sri Lanka is a wonderful destination and is equally perfect for a few days, a week or two or longer.  And however long you come for, you can be sure that you’ll have an incredible time!

Colleen at Galle Fort watching the sunset; it's particularly wonderful from the Fort Walls

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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