Ultimate self drive Sri Lanka itinerary

by Kelly

We did it! We finally drove a tuk tuk around Sri Lanka. Mike had been dreaming about this for a while and it definitely took some organising! However it was definitely one of the BEST travel experiences we have ever had.

Here is all the information you need to plan your own Sri Lanka itinerary self drive trip. You can also use this info to help you plan your trip if you are using public transport, just catch a bus to the next town! They are really regular and cheap. You can also use the trains, they are awesome and a great way to view scenery that is off the main roads.

I will list out our trip by day and add in any extra places that we wanted to visit if we had more time. 3 weeks is awesome but if you are able then I would ideally go for 4-5 weeks. It sounds like a lot but I honestly could have stayed for 2 months. It really does have everything! I link to the places we stayed if we recommend them. If they’re not linked it’s where we will try next time we go back, and we plan to very soon!

Please Note: Our trip was cut short due to the corona virus pandemic. We had to change plans and return home to Australia. As soon as it is all over we plan on getting back to Sri Lanka to finish our trip, I will keep this blog page updated when we do!

The essentials-
What currency does Sri Lanka use?

Sri Lanka uses the Sri Lankan Rupee it is abbreviated LKR or R

Where can I change money in Sri Lanka and can I change Australian Dollars?

We had no trouble changing money. As you leave arrivals you will walk out in to an area with taxi, phone card and money change providers. The money changers there do a decent price, we got 114LKR per AUD when the exchange rate was 12oLKR/AUD. We just got enough to get to the Negombo accommodation and pay for some food. When we were in Negomobo a local told us about a jewellery shop which did a good exchange and they actually changed above the standard online rate. Generally the exchange places will either be a bank or a jewellery shop. Look for a place that changes money and has a sign to show it is accredited. Always make sure to ask for a receipt and double check that you have received the correct amount. When you leave you’ll need a receipt if you want to change money back from LKR.

What language is spoken in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankas national language is Singala. Tamil is also spoken by some. Most people will speak a few words of English and it is quite easy to get by speaking English.

Two words you should know are: ‘Ayubowan’ meaning greetings and can be used for hello or goodbye. Also ‘sthu-thi’ which is thank you.

When is the best time to go to Sri Lanka?

The weather in Sri Lanka is tricky. There are monsoon seasons which affect different parts of the country. Below are the best months for each area, however for this Sri Lanka itnerary we travelled during March and it was perfect weather almost everywhere! Having said that, check out my post on the essential packing guide for Sri Lanka. It will definitely help no matter what time of year you visit!

The monsoons-
Southwest -monsoon Season (May – September)  Affects: Colombo & West Coast -Bentota, Colombo, Negombo, Kalpitiya and The South – Galle, Weligama, Mirissa, Tangalle, Yala National Park.

Northeast -monsoon Season (December – February) Affects: East Coast-Passekudah, Trincomalee, Arugam Bay, Batticaloa, Nilaveli, Kuchchaveli.

The Arid Zone : The Cultural Triangle -Dambulla, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Minneriya National Park Generally hot and dry most of the year although there is a higher rainfall during Nov-Dec.

The Hill Country: Kandy & Tea Country – Kandy, Ella, Nuwara Eliya, Haputale, Hatton, Adam’s Peak These towns are located at a higher altitude than the rest of the country. The weather here is colder year round, with heavier rainfall Oct-Nov.

Festivals & Religious Ceremonies

Duruthu Perahera 10th – 11th January 2020

Independence Day 4th February 2020

Navam Perahera Colombo. 7th – 8th February 2020

Avurudu (Sri Lankan New Year) 13th – 14th April 2020

Vesak Poya

Date of birth, enlightenment & nirvana of Buddha. 7th May 2020

Poson Festival 5th June 2020

Kandy Esala Poya Perahera 25th – 30th July 2020

Nallur Festival Jaffna. 25-day long festival beginning 5th August 2020

Diwali 14th November 2020

Also, the full moon of each month is marked with a Poya Day, practising Buddhists visit the temple. Each Poya Day is a National Holiday.

The Itinerary

Driving a Tuk Tuk around Sri Lanka

Your day by day travel itinerary: Please note: you can do this in reverse if you prefer, we just chose to finish our trip in beach towns)

Day 1: Get your tuk tuk

Fly in to Bandaranaike International Airport. This is also known as Colombo International Airport, to the locals as Katunayake Airport and is actually located closer to Negombo. Buy a sim card at the airport, you will definitely want internet for google maps and research. You can buy a tourist sim for 500LKR calls and 1GB of data or you can get one for 11000LKR which has calls and 11GB of data. We got the first one but when we go back we’d get the 11GB card. It is honestly the easier option so you don’t have to worry about using data the whole time. When you top up data its not expensive but say you add one gigabyte, you get half for the day time and half for night. It is honestly simpler to just load up at the start.

Even if your flight lands early I would stay the first night in Negombo. It will give you a chance to freshen up and get your first good curry! Negombo is actually a nice little town, stay near the beach. A great street to be near is Lewis Place. This is where we hired our tuk tuk and it has a heap of restaurants and cafes, with the beach up the road.

Anuradhapura temple

Day 2: Negombo to Anuradhapura – 6 hours drive time

Head for the Cultural Triangle! We headed straight for Anuradhapura, we did try to stop off near the town of Maho to see the Yapahuwa Rock Fortress. Unfortunately we were running low on time and accommodation costs were higher in this town. We had to make the call to miss the fortress and keep heading to Anuradhapura. I really want to go back and see this next time though, it looks amazing!

It takes approximately 6 hours to drive from Negombo to Anuradhapura, so if you decide to stop off and stay somewhere if would be perfectly reasonable. 6 hours driving doesn’t seem like a lot here in Australia but when you are just learning how to drive a tuk tuk (more on that in my tuk tuk hire review!) it really is a lot. I know we were both exhausted when we arrived. The roads can be hectic and you quickly have to get used to how traffic works.

Where to stay Anuradhapura

Budget: Sunhill Lake Tourist Rest, Miyonra – Anuradhapura, Treasure House Tourist Rest, A and D Holiday Inn

Midrange: Water Front Home Stay, Fig and Gecko Hostel, Sacred City Tourist Resort

Luxe: Blooming Holiday Resort, Aryana Boutique Hotel

Day 3: Explore Anuradhapura.

Spend the day checking out the historical sites of the city. There are absolutely tons of places to see, I have detailed what to prioritise to see here. One thing you must do is eat at Mango Mango restaurant. The food is cheap and amazing. It doesn’t look cheap, which why it took us a day to try it and I completely regret that. Please try it!

Lying down Buddah at Pidurangala Rock

Day 4: Anuradhapura to Sigiriya – 4 hours drive time

(If you have time head to Polonnurwa first and spend a day here. There are are incredibly good sites to explore here that are in better condition than those at Anuradhapura. We unfortunately couldn’t fit in both but if we can get back to the north I will definitely be heading there!)

Head to Sigiriya, home of Lion Rock. Sigiriya Rock (Lion Rock) is one of the most important historical places in the country. It is a giant rock that stands alone in the landscape, a fortress built in the sky. Pidurangala Rock is also here and amazing to climb, check out everything you need to know about that here! There are many other little temples and places to see here which are worth a look around. Check out this town in more detail in our blog on what to do here. If you are climbing both rocks I would spend 2 nights here and do one each morning. If you are just doing the one then you could head off the next day, as per our itinerary.

Golden Buddah Dambulla

Where to stay in Sigiriya

These are our picks of where to stay in Sigiriya:

Budget: Home Stay, Bandula Home Stay, Pinthu Home Stay, Sigiri Anu Homestay, Another World Sigiriya

Midrange: The Traveller’s Hostel & Private Rooms, Sigiri Rock Side Home Stay, Sigiriya Paradise Inn, Sigiriya Sun Shine Villa

Luxe: The Nature Park Villa, Lankapura Heritage, Sigiriya King’s Resort, Back of Beyond – Pidurangala

Day 5: Sigiriya to Dambulla – 3 hours drive time

Dambulla is seemingly nothing more than a ‘middle of the road’ town but there is actually quite a few interesting places here and worth a visit. There is the cave temple with giant golden buddah, a quartz mountain and a lake with a small budda temple to hike. It is also a good place to stop and have a break from driving. Check it out in more detail in our Dambulla blog!

Where to stay Dambulla

These are our picks for accommodation in Damublla:

Budget: Sayare Inn, New Peacock Resort, The Green Village Dambulla,

Midrange: Sun and Green Eco Lodge – Dambulla, Golden Rainbow Guest House, Sevonrich Holiday Resort,

Luxe: Jetwing Lake, The Green Edge, The River House Dambulla by The Serendipity Collection

Day 6: Dambulla to Kandy – 4 hours drive time.

The drive from Dambulla to Kandy is pretty dramatic, I’m not going to lie! It starts of quite normal, a little busy as you leave Dambulla. Closer to Kandy the roads become windy and higher. Then once in Kandy the roads become really really busy. At one point we were in the middle of a roundabout surrounded by buses…it was hectic! I don’t know how Mike kept his cool and got us out of there. My point is, really look at the route that Google Maps plots for you and try to chose one that looks like it avoids the centre of town!

We stayed at Theva Residency hotel. It is nestled above Kandy in the hills with the most incredible views out over the hills. Theva Residency is incredibly beautiful and such a peaceful place to stay.

Theva Residency Kandy has an epic infinity pool overlooking the hills

Day 7: Explore Kandy

Kandy has a some great temples to check out the most famous being the Temple of the Tooth.

Where to stay in Kandy

Budget: Hanthana House

Midrange: The SkyDeck Kandy

Luxe: The Theva Residency

Day 8: Kandy to Nuwara Eliya – 3.5 Hours drive time.

From Kandy you will head further up in to the mountains to Nuwara Eliya. It is cooler in temperature here and along the way so keep a jumper handy. It is a windy road but much less crazy than Kandy. Honestly it was such a relief driving into town, we really suddenly felt calmer and happier! We aren’t huge city people and feel happier in more low key places. The town is really pretty, lots of green everywhere, as they call it Little England.

Tip: Leave in the morning from Kandy so you have time to stop in to the tea plantations as you arrive into Nuwara Eliya. They are about 15-20km outside of town and you wont really want to go back that way so doing it on the way in is best. It is a nice way to spend the drive. The largest one is Damro Tea Plantation, where you can do free tours. Heritance Tea Factory is also on the way into town and you can stay there as well. It is a beautiful place to stay with sweeping green views.

Tea plantations in Sri Lanka

Day 9-10: Explore Nuwara Eliya

Spend the day enjoying attractions such as Victoria Park and Lake Gregory. This town really impressed us, check out this blog where I detail all the best things to do in Nuwara Eliya!

Where to stay Nuwara Eliya

Budget: Medalin Lake Gregory, Green Gregory Villa Nuwara Eliya

Midrange:La Luna Cabins

Luxe: Seasons Villa – Nuwara Eliya, Kent Cottage,

Day 11: Nuawara Eliya to Ella – 4 hours drive time

*if you have time head to Haputale and visit Liptons Seat. It is an incredible spot to visit, you can walk up to the view point or drive your tuk tuk. It is beautiful and you can wander around and speak with ladies picking tea there, just make sure to tip them something as they need to work very hard to pick their quota for the day. You can visit Liptons Seat from Ella but it is easier from Haputale and means you don’t have to retrace steps.

Ella is a place that everyone says you can get lost in. They aren’t wrong, it was lovely but just not our cup of tea (pardon the pun). It was a little bit trendy and prices were a bit expensive. Our first accommodation was actually awful. Mouldy walls in this town seem to be pretty normal and you really need to view the room before booking to make sure you are happy. We spend a lot of time trying to find the best value for money/cleanliness/location. Check out this blog on Ella to get all the details you need for this town.

Day 12-13: Explore Ella

The Nine Arch Bridge, Liptons’ Seat (if you skipped Haputale), Ella Rock, Little Adams Peak, Worlds End. There’s a lot to do and you really need to decide what you want to do for how many days you spend. If you want to chill you could take a few days here.

Where to stay Ella

Budget: Ella Infinity View, Hilltop Guest House

Midrange: Ella HIDE VIEW, Royal Mount Ella, Guest Inn Avendra

Luxe: Arana Sri Lanka Eco Lodge and Yoga Center, Arawe Retreat, CHILL VILLE, VIEW POINT HOTEL

Day 14: Ella to Tissamaharma – 4 hours drive time

The drive to Tissamaharma is your way to Yala National Park! It is a really nice drive, make sure to plot your google map course to take the route along the B35 road. You will drive straight through a national park and there will be elephants wandering across the road! It is really important to be careful here but it is a really exciting experience. Make sure to read all about this and how to do it here.

Map for Ella to Tissamahara taking the B35 road

Day 15: Tissamaharma

Time to go on a safari! Yala National Park has a high number of elephants and leopards as well as a heap of other animals. It is a busy park that is well visited, if you can choose to go on a private safari you will have a better experience. Unfortunately our plans for this fell apart when the corona virus took over and the government had to close down all the national parks. We will definitely be back to finish this part of our trip as we had it all booked.

Where to stay at Tissamaharma:

Budget: Blue Birds Tissa & Yala safari,

Midrange: Blue Turtle Hotel, My Village, Hotel River Front

Luxe: La Safari Inn Tissamaharama, Richards Cabanas, Blue Wild – Yala – Plastic Free & Sustainable, Doubletree By Hilton Weerawila Rajawarna Resort

Day 16: Tissamaharma to Tangalle – 2 hours drive time

Time for the beaches! Tangalle is the first beach in the south that we will arrive at. It is about 2 hours away and we were so excited to hit this section of our trip. We love mountains but we really love beaches! Leave Tissamaharma in the morning and get here in time to enjoy the rest of the day at one of the nearby beaches.

Great beaches to check out are Goyambokka, Silent Beach and for turtle spotting head to Rekawa Beach.

Where to stay Tangalle

Budget: Luaya Beach

Midrange: Goyambokka Guesthouse, Sunray Beach House, Serenity Beach Cabanas,

Luxe: Villa Don Bastian, Golden Pearl Tangalle Beach, Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort,

Day 17: Tangalle to Mirissa/Weligama – 2 hours drive time (or spend a little extra and stop off at Hiriketiya and Dickwella Beach along the way)

Mirissa and Weligama are both awesome towns. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to spend enough days at each. I could have spent 2 days in both. Mirissa is busier, has more eating and accommodation options. Weligama is quieter and more chilled out. Both are awesome and only about 15 minutes apart so its easy to visit one from the other. We chose to stay in Mirissa and visit Weligama from there.

Coconut Tree Hill Mirissa Sri Lanka

Day 18-20: Enjoy Mirissa and Weligama

Spend the day checking out what Mirissa has to offer. Either spend 2 nights at each or travel back and forth between the two and enjoy the best of both!

Where to stay in Mirissa:

These are our picks of the best places to stay in Mirissa

Budget: Mimoza Mirissa, Brave resort Mirissa

Midrange: Hakuna Matata Mirissa, Babylon Mirissa, Allan Guest Mirissa, Pearl Resort Mirissa

Luxe: GG Lodge Mirissa, Kiara Sands, Mirissa White Plaza

Day 21: Mirissia to Midigama/Kabalana – 1 hour drive time

Midigama is another beach town. It is lovely and quiet and there are some excellent beaches and eating options. Check out my review on an awesome place to stay near by in Kabalana.

Beach at Kabablana

Day 22 – enjoy Kabalana

Spend the day at the beach and relax! Make sure to stay with Lime and Co Kaba – the best place to stay for a Sri Lanka beach holiday!

Where to stay Midigama/Kabalana

Budget: Senani Guesthouse,

Midrange: Midigama Holiday Inn, Crystal Oceanic, Lime & Co Midi

Luxe: Mosvold Villa, UYANA Boutique Hotel and Retreat ADULTS ONLY, Kabalana House by Ceilao Villas

Day 23: Kabalana to Unawatuna – 30 minutes drive time

Unawatuna is a great town and is where you will find the swings on the beaches you see all over Instagram.

Where to stay in Unawatuna

Budget: Villa Olga, Villa Unawatuna, The Dream House

Midrange: Abundia Unawatuna, Lara’s place, Dunes Unawatuna Hotel, The Waves – Unawatuna

Luxe: Agnus Unawatuna, Sergeant House Boutique Villa & Private Beach, The Horizon Hill Top Villa,

Day 24-26: Enjoy Unawatuna and Galle

You can choose to enjoy Unawatuna and also explore Galle from here. It is only a 20 minute drive between them allowing you to spread your time as you prefer.

Where to stay in Galle

Budget: Arches Fort

Midrange :Mango House – Galle Fort, Deltora Villa

Luxe: Niyagama House

Day 27: Unawatuna to Hikkaduwa –  1 hour drive time

Hikkaduwa is a town with really beautiful beaches. We had to race to through here to return to Colombo unexpectedly but I have listed our plans in this blog. We are already planning our return to finish our trip as planned and I will update the page as we do.

Day 28: Enjoy Hikkaduwa

Spend the day exploring and relaxing on the beaches of Hikkaduwa.

Where to stay in Hikkaduwa

Budget: Hotel Finlanka

Midrange: The Residence Hikkaduwa

Luxe: The Lucky Elephant

Day 29: Hikkaduwa to Colombo – 3 hours drive time

Colombo is another big city, however just like every big city there are amazing things to see there. It’s close to Negombo so you are close to the airport. I would choose to spend a night either in Colombo or just see the sights of Colombo and then head to Negombo that afternoon and stay the night there before flying out.

Where to stay in Colombo:

Budget: Greenscape Colombo

Midrange: Sayura House, Srilax

Luxe: Marino Beach Colombo

Day 30: Time to fly out!

Spend the day at Negombo beach, and head to the airport when it is time.

This is the Sri Lanka itinerary time frame that we had planned. It works but you do need to be on the move a fair bit to cover all of the ground we saw. You could easily spend just 3 weeks on the south coast and up to Nuwara Eliya, there is so much to see and do. You could also spend just 3 weeks touring the top of the country and include Trinacomalee and Arugum Bay. We absolutely fell in love with Sri Lanka and can’t wait to return.

Where to next:

Ultimate self drive Sri Lanka itinerary

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Best way to spend one day in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Pidurangala Rock, Sri Lanka – The ultimate guide!

What to do in Sigiriya when you don’t climb Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka

Why Theva Residency is the best hotel in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eliya – home of tea plantations Sri Lanka

Lime & Co Kaba – perfect beach hotel in Sri Lanka

Midigama & Kabalana – two perfect little beach towns you should visit

Gluten Free in Sri Lanka

Tuk tuk hire Sri Lanka – Renting and driving a tuk tuk around Sri Lanka!

Your go to Sri Lanka packing list

Dambulla and the Golden Buddah Temple

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Peggy February 16, 2024 - 10:59 pm

We are planning to rent a Tuktuk and trying to figure out on journey time (duration)
Can you confirm Anuradhapura to Sirigya is 4 hours for 70km ?
What I find weird is Sigirya to Dambulla takes 3 hours for 20 km
I really hope it’s a typo otherwise I need to change our plans 😱

Thank you for your help and this blog as it’s not easy to find info for Sri Lanka Tuktuk journey 😊

Kelly February 26, 2024 - 6:29 am

Hi Peggy,
I’m so glad you asked! It should have been 30 minutes depending on traffic! It’s an incredible drive around Sri Lanka, such a magic country. Let me know if you need any help!

Kelly February 26, 2024 - 6:29 am

The max speed limit of the tuk tuks is 40km per hour so it’s a slow drive


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