How We Spent Six Days in Sri Lanka

How We Spent Six Days in Sri Lanka

Immerse yourself on an armchair journey in Sri Lanka through the eyes of the writer. Even better, put this 6D5N itinerary to good use and make it a reference for your first trip!

It’s a shame that many people associate Sri Lanka only with Ceylon tea. While Sri Lankan tea is no doubt among the best in the world, the country is also the humble home to scenic train rides, millennia-old caves, gargantuan rock formations and national parks teeming with wildlife such as elephants, leopards and sloth bears. Needless to say, Sri Lanka makes an eye-opening and beautiful travel destination, one that’s severely underrated and surely deserves the attention of more travellers.

It is thus with unbridled excitement that we embarked on a six-day tour of this hidden gem, beginning from the capital, Colombo. In case you’d like to replicate our trip, we’re sharing with you our 6D5N itinerary across the country.

Day 1: Singapore > Colombo > Sigiriya

sri lanka itinerary

Sri Lanka is less than four hours away from Singapore by flight, making it a feasible location for a quick holiday escape. We chose to hop aboard the country’s flag carrier, SriLankan Airlines, largely in part to its good reputation and also because they offer direct flights between Singapore and Colombo. The journey was thoroughly comfortable and we could not have asked for a better start to the trip! 

Upon landing at Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport, we had a quick breakfast and hit the road as we were keen to make the most of our time. Our first sightseeing stop was Sigiriya Lion Rock, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which comprises the ruins of an ancient palace that culminates in a 200-metre-high rock fortress.

Image credit: Claire Rowland

Why is it known as the ‘Lion Rock’? A local shared that there’s a rock carving resembling the shape of a gigantic pair of lion’s paws on the structure, hence its name was coined. Lots of rock paintings pepper the structure as well, and it was intriguing to see this form of ancient art splayed out on such a large canvas. The ruins date back to AD477 but were surprisingly well maintained. The rock was surrounded by a maze of gardens and reservoirs, giving the whole place a tranquil feel. We also checked out the restored Water Gardens that has been sitting on the land since the 5th century and we managed to get a glimpse of what Sri Lanka was like more than a millennia ago.

Time seemed to flow languidly at this site, and we unknowingly spent the entire afternoon soaking up the picturesque views and revelling in ancient history. Before we knew it, the sun was starting to set and we were treated to a stunning display of fiery colours that streaked across the sky. We highly recommend planning your visit to coincide with sunset. 

Fun fact: Sigiriya is also often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World!

Day 2: Sigiriya > Dambulla > Matale > Kandy

Image credit: Amila Tennakoon

We bid goodbye to Sigiriya the next morning and made our way towards Kandy. Kandy is a city in Sri Lanka that is surrounded by towering mountains, dense rainforests, and rolling tea plantations. We’d never seen anything like it! At the heart of the city is Kandy Lake, also known as Bogambara Lake, which lends to the serene atmosphere. 

Image credit: (left) The Advocacy Project; (right) Malcom Browne

Along the way, we visited the Dambulla Cave Temple which boasts a cluster of 2.000-year-old caves that overlook the city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dambulla Cave Temple contains many ancient Buddhist paintings that have drawn tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. A giant Buddha, with its gleaming gold facade, caught our eye when we first arrived at the site. 

Image credit: (left) Malcolm Browne; (right) Amila Tennakoon

We had to climb a series of steps to enter the caves, but the level of detail on the interior made it all worth it. Lots of monkeys were on the prowl surrounding the steps that lead up to the caves so we had to keep a tight hold on our belongings. The caves were filled with statues while the walls were adorned with vibrant murals. It’s also really cooling inside the caves, which was a great respite from the heat outside.

Image credit: (left) Ankur P; (right) Ankur P

Exploring the large cave compound got us pretty peckish, so we continued our way with a stop at the Spice Garden in Matale for lunch. We took a little tour of the spice gardens and were introduced to different spices like cocoa (pictured above on the left) and nutmeg (pictured above on the right). We never knew what these spices looked like before they were brought to the table, so it was an educational experience. The spice gardens are also home to other spices like nutmeg, pepper vines, clove trees, curry, cinnamon as well as cardamom, a spice that grows high in the shade of jungle trees and can only be harvested by hand. Our lunch was made with the fresh harvest of some of the aforementioned spices – it doesn’t get any more freshly spiced than that! 

Image credit: Hafiz Issadeen

With our stomachs full and content, we moved on to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This temple, also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa, is tucked within the city of Kandy and is the most prominent Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka and perhaps even the world. The name is derived from a precious tooth of Buddha which is kept safely in a gold casket of sorts that is further encased in other jewelled caskets that sit on a throne. The shrine in which the relic is kept is two storeys high and fronted by two large elephant tusks. Apart from the main shrine, the entire complex is made up of other smaller shrines as well as museums and temples. The compound is also home to the King’s palace!

Image credit: (left) Ronald Tagra; (right) Antony Stanley

When dusk fell in Kandy, we treated ourselves to a dazzling cultural dance show put up by fire dancers and Kandyan dancers. They twirled plates, danced onstage in a flurry of colours and even flirted with fire. We highly recommend this show for anyone planning to visit Kandy – it’s a real show-stopper!

Day 3: Kandy > Nuwara Eliya

Image credit: Bernard Gagnon

The next day, en route to Nuwara Eliya, we made a slight detour to the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawella. This orphanage was established in 1975 as a shelter for wounded elephants and abandoned baby elephants that were found in the jungle. On this site, we were able to feed milk to baby elephants, as well as give some of them a bath. 

Image credit: Cherubino

Prior to our trip, we’d watched videos concerning elephants held in captivity, hence we were slightly wary. However, we could tell that the elephants there were well cared for. While some of them were in chains, there are apparently good reasons (such as aggressive behaviour during the elephant’s musth period) why they had to be constrained in such a manner for a period of time. The compound is over 24 acres in size and some of the space are for the free-roaming elephants. Overall, the orphanage was committed to the welfare of their elephant residents. On that good note, we reluctantly parted with the cute baby elephants and their larger gentle counterparts. 

Image credit: Wolfgangbeyer

Nuwara Eliya is affectionately called the ‘hill country’ due to its rolling green fields of tea. Yes, this is the Sri Lanka that many people have in mind. We stopped at a tea plantation and took deep breaths to inhale the fresh air as we wandered among the never-ending rows of greenery. At this plantation, we could taste some of the tea produced on site and purchase tea leaves to bring home. 

Image credit: hessage

We took the chance to roam around Nuwara Eliya before nightfall. During our explorations, we chanced upon good bargains and lots of souvenirs. Nuwara Eliya is a rustic colonial-style city filled with charming bazaars, shops and eateries. British colonial influence is still evident; the city is dotted with well-kept lawns and hedges, an Anglican Church, Georgian-style houses and even a pristine golf course. The air also seemed fresher, and we later found out that it’s because Nuwara Eliya is 1,890 metres above the sea level!

Day 4: Nuwara Eliya > Kithulgala > Bentota

Image credit: Amila Tennakoon

Our next stop was Kitulgala, a small town in western Sri Lanka. It’s one of the wettest regions in the country as it’s located in the wet zone rainforest which gets two monsoons a year. Kitulgala is best known for the large variety of bird species that prosper in the area, luring many avid bird-watchers. 

Image credit: Amila Tennakoon

Kitulgala also draws many adventure-seekers in search of an adrenaline rush as it offers white-water rafting. We decided to give it a go, and boy was it exhilarating! Not only did we get to manoeuvre our way through small thundering rapids, we also got to feast our eyes on lush landscapes on either side of the river. Definitely a must-do whilst in Kitulgala!

Image credit: Amila Tennakoon

Afterwards, with much of our energy drained, we arrived in Bentota, which is a coastal town lined with white sandy beaches. It was great to just laze on the beach, especially after all that workout we had from white-water rafting!

Day 5: Bentota > Colombo

Image credit: (left) Kalairasy ; (right) Kalairasy

The trip continues. The next morning, we made a beeline for the Madu Ganga River Safari. The Madu Ganga is Sri Lanka’s second largest wetland consisting of a whopping 32 islands! The Madu Ganga, together with the smaller Randombe Lake, forms the Madu Ganga Wetland. The Madu Ganga Wetland is home to over 300 species of plants and over 200 species of wildlife, and possibly one of the last remaining mangroves in Sri Lanka! We took a leisurely boat ride among the mangroves and observed the many roots sticking out of the still waters.

Image credit: (left) James Mason-Hudson; (right) Chamal N

Image credit: Malinda Rathnayake

Our final stop was Colombo, the capital and the largest city of Sri Lanka. Finally, we had come to a full circle and it was time for some city sights. We visited the old Parliament, the BMICH (Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall) and even did a little shopping in the Majestic City Shopping Complex. 

Day 6: Colombo > Singapore

When we woke up the next day, it was already time to pack up and head home.  We left with a heavy heart, but with tons of precious memories. Sri Lanka took us completely by surprise – it’s filled with wonders and we felt like we’d only just scratched the surface of this gem! 

Sri Lanka, we’ll definitely be back for you. For those of you who have been contemplating to visit the country, just go for it. And for those who are in the midst of your trip planning, we hope that our itinerary has helped in one way or another.

Enjoy your trip! 

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