In 10 days you can see an incredible amount of the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, although it would probably take you a month to take it all in. If you're heading to Sri Lanka and looking for an itinerary for the south and central part of the island, the following itinerary worked out perfectly for us. We saw so many magical places without feeling like we were constantly on the road, which is important when it's your holiday and supposed to be relaxing!
We took an early morning flight with Etihad which landed the next day at 5:30am, so if you're on a 12 day trip you will lose the first day travelling. From London, on the cheap flights at least, the other option is to arrive around 10pm in Colombo airport. Colombo airport is actually in Negombo, so it would be a good idea to take a room there overnight if you arrive late before starting this route.
Day 1 - Hikkaduwe or Unawatuna
We opted to stay in Unawatuna partly because it's a funny word to stay but also because we had mixed reviews on what was better: Hikkaduwe or Unawatuna. We met a few people who loved Hikkaduwe, which I think is bigger and amazing for surfing if that's what you want to do. Unawatuna was perfect for us though, it's a small town on the beach which, although touristy, has some lovely bars and restaurants to try out. The beach is also clean and not too crowded with a nice sea you can swim in.
To reach Unawatuna from Colombo airport, we grabbed a taxi with a few people we met at the airport who were on our flight. Pretty lucky eh? Definitely worth having a look round at baggage claim for people with surf boards who will definitely be heading your way. We paid 9500 rupees (£47) between 5 of us in a van, including the express highway toll - make sure to specify that.
Day 2 - Galle (stay in the same place as above)
After a day chilling in Unawatuna and getting our bearings we decided we needed to get out and visit Galle, which was about 20 mins back up the coast towards the airport in a tuk-tuk. We arrived mid morning in the searing heat of the day which you really feel in Galle. It would be a good idea to get up early and see Galle before it gets too hot then go back to your hotel in Unawatuna/Hikkaduwe and jump in the pool/sea! The main highlights in Galle are the walls and, of course, the beautiful lighthouse. We also stopped for a curry at Mamas Kitchen and for souvenir shopping at Stick No Bills.
To get to Galle from Unawatuna, we took a tuk-tuk there and back for 400 rupees (£2) each way.
Day 3 - Mirissa
Further east along the coast from Unawatuna is the smaller beach town of Mirissa. Here, the beach is like something out of a film. If Unawatuna's beach didn't do it for you, Mirissa beach certainly will. It's much less built up than Unawatuna which means that though there are less fun places to eat and drink in the evening, you do benefit from the unspoilt paradise of the beach and tasteful beach bars that line the palm fringed beach.
To get to Mirissa from Unawatuna we took a tuk-tuk for 40 minutes for 1400 rupees (£7), including tip.
Day 4 - Mirissa
On our second day in Mirissa we chilled on the beach again and hired body boards from a beach bar nearby to take on the pretty epic waves. Although they're not surfing level waves, Mirissa beach is ideal for body boards - although I got wiped out more times than I care to admit.
Day 5 - Mirissa / Udawawele
Get up early if you want to go whale watching off the coast of Mirissa on your last morning. We did it, and while I don't regret doing it as it was an experience and we did see blue whales, the trip took an incredible 7 hours(!!!) so make sure you have time to do it before setting off! I would recommend Raja and the Whales, who went to a lot of effort to make the tour interesting and even picked us up from our Airbnb.
After the tour, we struggled to find a taxi to take us to Udawawele so we ended up grabbing a tuk-tuk! Yep, 4 hours in a tuk-tuk with 3 people and 3 peoples' luggage. It was actually pretty comfortable and only cost us 6000 rupees (£30) for a 4 hour trip so I wouldn't discourage you from doing it, but if you want a bit more luxury, try and book a taxi in advance as they're not easy to pick up on the street.
Udawawele National Park is one of a few parks in Sri Lanka where you can see elephants in the wild. The town itself is quite small and basically caters for tourists wanting to visit the national park, so one night is enough. We arrived at our hotel/camp site late afternoon and by dinner time our gracious hotel manager had arranged us a tour of the park for 5am the next day! For the 3 of us, the tour (including entrance and guide) cost 13,000 rupees (£65) although the price varies on the number of people in your group, as you have to buy an entrance for the park on top of your guide. We spent a magical 4 and a half hours in the park and it was definitely the highlight of my trip.
Day 6 - Udawawele / Ella
We spent the next day in the small mountain town of Ella, 2.5 hours north of Udawawele. Arriving mid-afternoon, you have time for a hike up Little Adam's Peak when the sun cools down for spectacular views like the above.
We went from Udawawele to Ella in an air-conditioned taxi which cost 8,000 rupees (£40). I wouldn't recommend a tuk-tuk for this leg of the journey as it's really hilly and a tuk-tuk would definitely struggle!
Day 7 - Ella
We didn't spend this second day in Ella as we were pushed for time after spending longer in Mirissa but I definitely wish we'd had more time to explore this beautiful town. We missed out on visiting a tea plantation on our trip, which we could have done on a second day in Ella. Plus there were loads of amazing looking restaurants we didn't get to try!
Day 8 - Ella / Kandy
Take the train from Ella to Kandy for one of the most spectacular train journeys of your life. It's 6 hours but the journey goes really quickly as the train snakes lazily through the hill country. There's plenty to spot on the way: miles of tea plantations, tea pickers, forests, bridges, gorges...everything. It will take up a lot of your day, but it's more than worth it for the experience.
Book your tickets in advance for the train if possible. We bought ours on our first day in Ella and managed to secure 2nd class reserved seats for 1,300 rupees (£6). If you're on a budget, 3rd class is still comfortable, just more crowded. If you're really late, buy whatever's available and try and secure a seat at one of the train doors for some of the most amazing views.
Day 9 - Kandy
Kandy might be a bit of a shock to the system after Ella, but there's plenty to do there. I would recommend the Ceylon tea museum followed by a souvenir shopping spree and lunch at the Old Empire Cafe. In the evening, catch a tradition Kandyan dance show followed by evening prayers at The Temple of the Tooth.
Day 10 - Kandy / Colombo
We spent our second morning in Kandy lazing by the pool until we had to check out, before heading in a taxi to our Airbnb in Negombo, which we had booked to be near the airport for our flight the following day.
We took a van-style taxi to Negombo which cost 11,000 rupees (£55) although I suspect we could have got it cheaper if we'd booked it in town (outside the Old Empire Cafe) in advance.
Our 10-day itinerary possibly went against the grain of most people travelling around Sri Lanka who tend to go to Kandy first and then wind up at the beaches. It was much quieter going round this way though, and Kandy is the perfect place to end up and pick up your souvenirs, holiday shopping.
More to come on Sri Lanka, I hope!