Sri Lanka is the gift that keeps on giving, around every corner is a new experience and a new landscape. There is such an abundance of natural beauty to explore, rich culture to immerse yourself in and delicious food to devour. This trip was actually my third to this incredible country and as a result, I travelled a little differently. Instead of visiting the top tourist hot spots and iconic cultural sights, I focused on immersing myself in the Sri Lankan outdoors. Hence this active travel guide and itinerary steps a little off the beaten path and is focused around hiking, adventure activities and connecting with nature.
- Day 1: Arrival & relaxation in Negombo.
- Day 2: White water rafting in Kitulgala & travel to/explore Nuwara Eliya.
- Day 3: Hike Horton Plains National Park, travel to Ella & do the Mini Adams Peak zipline/ATV.
- Day 4: Hike a section of the Pekoe Trail.
- Day 5: Catch the train and hike another section of the Pekoe Trail.
- Day 6: Travel to Udawalawe & do an evening safari.
- Day 7: Do a morning safari, explore the Udawalawe village & travel to Sinharaja.
- Day 8: Hike in Sinharaja rainforest.
- Day 9: Travel to Kalutara, have a relaxing day on the beach.
- Day 10: Departure.
Heads up: I would describe this itinerary as a road trip, since most days you will be spending a couple of hours travelling between destinations. We mainly travelled using a private car, but Sri lanka is well connected with buses, trains and tuk tuks too. If you do not have a private car, then you may need to factor in more time for travelling between locations.
What To Do In Sri Lanka: Off The Beaten Path & Away From The Crowds
If you don’t want to follow our exact itinerary, I wouldn’t blame you! If it is your first time to Sri lanka, then the route we took doesn’t tick off some of the most famous sights in the country – such as Sigiriya, Nine Arches Bridge and The Golden Temple. However, I would recommend you consider adding a few of these lesser-known activities and regions to your hit list.
Go On Safari in Udawalawe National Park
If you wanna see Asian elephants in the wild, Udawalawe National Park is the place to be! It is often named the best national park in Sri Lanka. That’s not only because it has such a large number of elephants that sightings are pretty much guaranteed, but also because it’s much less crowded than more famous parks like Yala. Morning safaris are better for seeing crocodiles and birds, evening safaris are better for seeing elephants. Try to do both so you can see it all!
Find Solitude on The Pekoe Trail
The newly established Pekoe Trail is a 300km long-distance walking trail through the central highlands of Sri Lanka, from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya via Haputale, Hatton and Ella. It is still very much unknown, so you are highly unlikely to encounter many other hikers on the trails – we didn’t see anyone on the two days we explored it! You can hike sections of this stunning and peaceful route through tea plantations and small rural villages – it’s a great way to connect with the local community and immerse yourself in the varied landscapes of Sri Lanka.
Go White Water Rafting in Kitulgala
Kitulgala is often skipped over by tourists but it’s one of the top adventure hubs in Sri Lanka. It is one of the best locations for beginner friendly white water rafting, but there’s also tons of other activities like canyoning, abseiling and exploring waterfalls.
Explore Sinharaja Rainforest
Sinharaja is well and truly off the tourist tracks of Sri Lanka, we hardly saw a soul during our two days in the region. The rainforest itself is a peaceful UNESCO world heritage site and protected biosphere. There are a series of hikes you can do, our highlight being the one to Mulawella viewpoint. You must be accompanied by a guide, who will point out lots of incredible wildlife, and I recommend protecting against the local leeches by wearing leech socks and leggings.
Hike in Horton Plains National Park
This national park is located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is best known for its expansive landscapes, abundance of deer and beautiful hiking trails. I recommend waking up early to do a loop hike which takes in Baker’s Falls, mini World’s End and World’s End. You will be rewarded with stunning views and potentially being above the clouds!
We stayed in a series of 3 and 4 star hotels and were really impressed by the quality of the rooms and the service.
Day 1 – Negombo: Earls Regent. A comfortable hotel right on the seafront with epic sunset views.
Day 2 – Nuwara Eliya: Galway Heights. A welcoming hotel nestled right in the heart of the hills.
Day 3 – Ella: Mountain Heavens. Waking up here was one of the highlights of the trip, the sunrise views are out of this world.
Day 4 & 5 – Haputale: Melheim Resort. Another absolute gem with incredible surroundings, we woke up above the clouds.
Day 6 – Udawalawe: Athgira River Camp. One of my personal favourites, a comfortable yet immersive camp experience on the riverbank.
Day 7 & 8 – Sinharaja: Blue Magpie Lodge. A remote getaway to disconnect from the world, no wifi but plenty of peace.
Day 9 – Kalutara: Tangerine Beach Hotel. A little bit of beachside comfort, and we ended the trip with an epic buffet!
Bear in mind: Tipping is a big part of the culture in Sri lanka so make sure you have cash to tip the baggage porters at the hotels.
Practical Travel Tips
- Check the VISA requirements for your country and apply for one in advance.
- Buy a local SIM card at the airport on arrival, they’re pretty cheap and the connection is fast.
- Even when visiting during the dry season of December to March, the rain can be heavy and frequent so take waterproofs.
- Take mosquito repellent and spray it liberally, as dengue fever is present in Sri Lanka.
- Always carry cash, card payments aren’t taken in many rural locations.
- Do not drink the tap water.
If you liked this travel guide, check out my other articles and travel itineraries:
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