The Best Sri Lanka Itinerary 12 days

The island mass of Sri Lanka exceeds 65600 sq km. However, you will never be able to see this crazy, colourful island in one trip. You will be able to scratch only the surface of the island with a Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days. With a Sri Lanka 12 days tour, you can explore either the northern part of the country or southern Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lanka 12 days itinerary

The island mass of Sri Lanka exceeds 65600 sq km. However, you will never be able to see this crazy, colourful island in one trip. You will be able to scratch only the surface of the island with a Sri Lanka itinerary of 12 days. With a Sri Lanka itinerary of 12 days, you can explore either the northern part of the country or southern Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka as a holiday destination

Sri Lanka has been a tiny island compared to most other countries in the region. However, Sri Lanka is big from a holiday destination perspective. Sri Lanka offers a wide range of places and thrilling activities for travellers. Places such as beaches, green-capped mountains, rain forests, historical monuments, wildlife reserves, and modern cities provide many opportunities for travellers.

Sri Lanka is a popular holiday destination in Asia for many thousands of years. The island was particularly popular as a destination for holidays, and the island was the hub for many travellers around the world during the 19th and 20th centuries. The island was called Ceylon during that period. Most travellers arrived on the island for political and religious reasons, however, they were inspired by the natural beauty of the island, its culture, people, and heritage and included the essence of Sri Lanka in their writing.

“I think it must be the most beautiful place in the world” (Phillips Brooks, (1883)

Phillips Brooks is a noted American minister and the first American to be honored by an invitation to conduct the service at Windsor before Queen Victoria. He had been in Kandy during a Hindu festival when he wrote the above letter to his family, and he includes a poem of seven stanzas in it, describing the scene.

“Kandy, March 4, 1883. My Dear Mary, – Do you know I think this place is good enough and important enough from which to write you a letter? In the first place, it is the farthest point of my travels; from this time on, my face is turned homeward. In second place, I think it must be the most beautiful place in the world.”

How long should I spend on the Sri Lanka tour?

If you expect to explore the entire island in one trip, you should be on your way for at least a month. So, if you have time only for 12 days in Sri Lanka, you better go for a 12-day Sri Lanka trip itinerary, either on the northern route or the southern route, because both routes offer a large number of places to visit for 12 days. By choosing either the northern route or the southern route, you will have a better chance of exploring the many interesting places that Sri Lanka has to offer (quite literally). Choose either the northern route or the southern route, and you can make a second trip to Sri Lanka on another occasion to see what you missed on this occasion.

What is the best Sri Lanka itinerary for 12 days?

What is the best Sri Lanka itinerary for 12 days?” is a question asked by many travellers. However, it would be a daunting task to get a straightforward answer to it. If the tour itinerary is good or bad, largely depends on the individual’s taste; e.g.,  the nature tour that is needed for one person may not be suitable for another traveller. Therefore, it is best to discuss this with your tour operators and plan the best Sri Lanka trip to meet your requirements.

Sri Lanka itinerray 12 days in detail

For Sri Lanka, in 12 days I suggest visiting: Colombo – Anuradhapura – Sigiriya – Polonnaruwa – Dambulla – Kandy – Nuwara Eliya – Ella – Yala – Mirissa – Galle – Bentota

Is this the kind of tour you’re looking for? If you’d rather go to the west coast or southern coast and explore the pristine beaches, see my Sri Lanka beach tour itinerary.

Top 12 places to visit on 12 days Sri Lanka tour

  1. Colombo is one of the major cities on the island and is included in most Sri Lanka trip packages, such as the 14-day Sri Lanka trip and the 10-day Sri Lanka tour itinerary. The travellers encounter a large number of tourist attractions in Colombo, such as ancient temples, historical monuments, parks, gardens, modern shopping malls, star-class hotels, and eateries.
  2. Anuradhapura-the first capital of Sri Lanka was founded in the 3rd century BC and is included in most Sri Lanka cultural tours. Anuradhapura is included in most Sri Lanka multi-day trip packages, such as 6 days Sri Lanka trip, 7 days Sri Lanka tour and the 8 days Sri Lanka tour package. The ancient city is packed with thousands of years old temples, palaces, gardens and many other monuments.
  3. Sigiriya
  4. Polonnaruwa
  5. Dambulla
  6. Kandy
  7. Nuwara Eliya
  8. Kataragama
  9. Ella
  10. Yala
  11. Galle
  12. Hikkaduwa
  13. Bentota

Map of Sri Lanka 12 days tour


Day 1 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Arrival in Colombo

Arrival at Colombo International Airport. Transfer to hotel. Walk through the city. Night in Colombo. 

  • Distance to cover 35 km
  • Duration 1 hour

Most travellers, who arrive on the island land in Colombo. The airport is about 35km north of the city centre and the driver from the airport to the city takes around 1 hour. It is recommended to take a Colombo sightseeing tour if you have time today. Because Colombo is a beautiful city by the Ocean and has many interesting places to see.

However, do not pack your tour package with too many things, Colombo sightseeing tour for the first time is a big enough activity for your first day in Sri Lanka! Do not plan your Colombo city tour for midday, it can be very hot during midday in the city. The best time for the city tour is early morning or in the afternoon.

Best places to visit in Sri Lanka in December
Exploring the ancient monuments is a popular outdoor activity in Sri Lanka and most travellers especially foreign travellers like to see the ancient monuments in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.

Day 2 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Colombo to Anuradhapura

Breakfast. Transfer to Anuradhapura via Puttalam. Anuradhapura city tour. 

  • Distance to cover about 200 km
  • Duration of today’s program 8 hours

Places to visit

  • Sri Maha Bodhi
  • Ruwanaweli seya stupa
  • Jetawanrama Stupa
  • Twin pond
  • Samadhi Buddha
  • Thuparama
  • Abhayagiri Stupa

Prepare for a cultural shock on today’s program by visiting Anuradhapura. Anuradhapura is the most historical city on the island. Anuradhapura is the cradle of Sri Lanka’s modern civilizations, starting in the 6th century BC.

Anuradhapura hides thousands of historical monuments, and it is an archaeological zoo. Anuradhapura had been the capital of Sri Lanka for more than 1000 years, starting in the 3rd century BC, and was ruled by more than 100 Sri Lankan kings.

The city was abandoned in the 10th century due to the unceasing South Indian invasions, and later the old city was encroached on by the jungle. The city rose from the rubble during British rule. A part of the ancient city is excavated, and hundreds of historical monuments are unearthed. However. A large part of the historical marvel is still unearthed, and no one knows what will be discovered in the years to come in this gigantic city.

The day’s program starts after breakfast, and you will make a northerly journey from Colombo up to Puttalam. From Puttalam, drive in the direction of the east, and the journey from Colombo to Anuradhapura lasts around 5 hours. It is best to have a rest upon reaching Anuradhapura and have lunch and a drink.

Anuradhapura is divided into two parts: an ancient city and a modern city. The modern city is the capital of the north-central province of the island, which is busy and crowded with a large population. The ancient city hides hundreds of historical monuments and religious sites. Temples, Buddha statues, palaces, gardens, stone sculptures, gigantic stupas, inscriptions, granite pillars, and various other monuments are scattered throughout the ancient city, which occupies over 40 sq. km. You will spend about 4 hours on the city tour of the ancient city, which is mainly a hop-in, hop-out drive through the city.

Today’s program winds up with a drive to a nearby hotel, where you have dinner and an overnight stay.

Day 3 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: visiting Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya

After Breakfast leave for Polonnaruwa. Later safari at Minenriya national park

  • Distance to cover 160 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 6 hours

Places to visit in Polonnaruwa

  • Polonnaruwa archaeological museum
  • Polonnaruwa ancient city
  • Minneriya national park

On the third day of the 12-day Sri Lanka trip, you will be travelling to Sigiriya after breakfast. The journey lasts a little more than 40 minutes, and the distance covered is 75 km. However, the journey for the day does not end here; you will continue with the journey to a more remote, sleepy town, Polonnaruwa. The journey takes place through pristine rice paddies, Banana plantations, and patches of forest.

The roads on this route are largely empty. Even though it is a remote area, the roads are in very good shape. The drive is very comfortable and easy.

Exploring the Polonnaruwa Museum is the first thing to do in the city, and afterwards, drive to the historical city to see the ancient monuments. Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO world heritage site and many dozens of crumbling historical monuments are residing here.

The Polonnaruwa city tour lasts around 2 hours and includes visits to kings’ palaces, Buddhist temples, audience halls, Buddha statues, Stupas, and many more. The city of Polonnaruwa is not as big as Anuradhapura, and the monuments are younger than those of Anuradhapura; however, they are better preserved than the items found in Anuradhapura.

You will be staying in Polonnaruwa until noon and then start the return journey to Sigiriya. En-route lunch in a local restaurant and safari at Minneriya National Park Late afternoon check-in at the hotel and leisure

The hotel for today is located near the Sigiriya Rock fortress, where you will spend two nights. We have carefully chosen this beautiful hotel that resides amidst the lush green vegetation in order to make it easy to reach the rock fortress tomorrow.

Day 4 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Sigiriya

After the breakfast trek to the Sigiriya rock, later village tour and cooking class in Sigiriya

  • Distance to cover 30 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 6 hours

Places to visit

  • Sigiriya rock fortress
  • Pidurangala temple
  • Hiriwadunna village

Today’s program starts a bit early than the last few days. You will leave for Sigiriya rock fortress at 07.00 AM. The trek to the Sigiriya rock fortress in the early morning is highly recommended as it makes your upward journey less strenuous. The upward march under the strong sun makes it very sweating and tired. On the other

On the other hand, Sigiriya can be very crowded after 08.00 am as most travellers flock to the site between 08.00 Am to 09.00 AM. Trek to Sigiriya rock fortress takes around 2 hours if you are lucky to avoid the traffic. Otherwise, it might take between 3 to 5 hours, depending on how bad the traffic is.

After the Sigiriya rock fortress, drive to the nearby Sigiriya temple, better known as Pidurangala temple. Pidurangala temple is also an important historical site that dates back to the 2nd century AD. The temple has a beautiful Stupa, an ancient image house and Bo-tree. The temple is hidden in the lush green forest and has very beautiful, calm, and quiet surroundings.

After visiting the Pidurangala temple it is time to go to Sigiriya village, where you spend time exploring typical Sri Lankan village life. You will be visiting farmlands, canoeing in the lake, bullock cart riding and also take part in a cooking class and learn to cook Sri Lankan way.

Today you are returning to your hotel early evening. It is time to have some leisure and dip into the warm waters of the hotel swimming pool.  

Day 5 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Sigiriya-Kandy

After breakfast leave for Kandy via Dambulla, later in the day Kandy city tour

  • Distance to cover 90 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 6 hours

Places to visit

  • Dambulla golden cave temple
  • Spice garden
  • Tooth relic temple
  • Kandyan cultural show

After breakfast, leave for Kandy, which is the cultural hub of Sri Lanka. The drive to Kandy from Sigiriya is straightforward, and the distance to cover is little more than 90 km. You’ll be passing pristine rice paddies, picturesque countryside, and small hamlets on the journey. The journey lasted a little more than 4 hours with 2 stops, the first at Dambulla’s golden cave temple and the second at a Spice Garden.

The morning session of the tour ends towards noon, and guests will be making their lunch break at the hotel in Colombo. The afternoon session of the day starts at 5.00 PM, and guests will visit the Kandyan cultural show and the tooth relic temple.

Toot relic temple kandy
The tooth relic temple of Kandy is an important tourist place in Kandy and is included in most Sri Lanka trips such as 5 days Sri Lanka trips and 12 days Sri Lanka tours.

Day 6 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Kandy

After breakfast leave for the Kandy sightseeing tour and leisure in the afternoon

  • Distance to travel for the day 20 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 5 hours

Places to visit

  • Downtown Kandy
  • Gem Museum
  • Kandy Arts and craft
  • Peradeniya botanical garden
  • Upper lake

After a leisurely breakfast, the guests will set off on a Kandy sightseeing tour. You will be visiting Peradeniya’s botanical garden Kandy, Kandy downtown, Upper Lake, Kandy Lake and many other important places in the city.

Your tour winds up at around 3 PM today giving you the opportunity to have some leisure.

Day 7 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Kandy-Nuwara Eliya

After breakfast leave for Nuwara Eliya and enjoy the breathtaking scenery

  • Distance to travel for the day 100 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 7 hours

Places to visit

  • Tea factory and garden
  • Gregory Lake
  • Downtown Nuwara Eliya
  • Victoria Park

Day 7 starts with a train trip from Kandy, which is an important highlight for most travelers. The train journey cut through the green-capped mountains, valleys, and tea plantations. The scenic train trip is popular far and wide in the world, and a large number of travelers undertake the train journey. Due to the high demand for the train trip, it is highly recommended to make the seat reservation in advance, unless it might be difficult to get seats.

Departing from Kandy’s main railway station, the Sri Lanka upcountry train trip is a great opportunity to soak up some of the most scenic localities on the island. You will encounter some of Sri Lanka’s most dramatic scenery. As the diesel locomotive chugs into the higher elevated areas through the tea gardens along the 75-kilometer track, mountainous hillsides pierce the clouds, and streams, lakes, and cascading waterfalls glimmer in the distance.

This scenic rail track was constructed in the early 18th century under British administration with the intention of serving tea planters to transport their goods between the hill country and Colombo. Today, the upcountry railway tracks are primarily used for passenger transportation.

Perhaps the most popular part of the rail trip is between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, which features most travel blogs, travel documentaries, and YouTube videos.

The train trip lasts around 5 hours; however, the duration of the trip is highly unpredictable as it makes it through a very challenging track where there are mountains, tunnels, patches of forest, and rivers. There are many instances in which the train trip is totally abandoned due to landslides and falling trees, especially during the rainy season.

However, we are in contact with the railway authorities and have made the necessary arrangements for an alternative option if we have to abandon the train trip. At the same time, we make the necessary reservations for your seats; however, the seats cannot be guaranteed unless your trip is less than 3 months from the day of the booking.

You will take the morning train trip, which means you will arrive at the hotel in Nuwara Eliya before noon. In the afternoon, we have planned a Nuwara Eliya city tour to Gregory Lake, Victoria Park, and downtown Nuwara Eliya.

Nuwara Eliya is one of the most amazing cities on the island and has a unique healing climate, which is one of its key features. Nuwara Eliya is the most known hill country resort in Sri Lanka. The city was discovered and developed under British administration in the early 18th century. The best period to travel to Nuwara Eliya is from April to July. There are many places in Nuwara Eliya with optimized settings for trekking, hiking, golfing, boating, fishing, and many other activities.

Day 8 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Nuwara Eliya-Ella

After breakfast leave for Ella, en route stop at Seetha Amman temple and Ravana waterfall.

  • Distance to travel for the day 55 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 2 hours

Places to visit

  • Seetha Amman temple
  • Ravana waterfall
  • Mini Adams peak
  • 9 Arch bridge
  • Ella rock

After breakfast, leave the chilly mountain resort and drive southward from Nuwara Eliya. The first stop will be at Seetha Amman temple, a few kilometers from Nuwara Eliya. The journey to Ella lasted around 2 hours. Ella is a sleepy town but very rich in natural wealth. It is surrounded by pristine tea plantations, patches of forest, and mountain peaks.

The most popular activities in Ella are essentially related to light adventure sports such as trekking, hiking, and mountain climbing. You will take part in a few treks and visit the nine-arch bridge in the afternoon.

Day 9 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Ella-Yala

After breakfast leave for Yala, route stop at Seetha Amman temple and Ravana waterfall. In the afternoon visit Kataragama temple.

  • Distance to travel for the day 90 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 3 hours

Places to visit

  • Kataragama temple

After a leisurely breakfast, leave for Yala. You will pass through the very picturesque countryside and a few small towns. You will arrive at the hotel before noon and take lunch there. In the afternoon, visit the Kataragama temple.

Day 10 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Yala

Early morning leave for Full day Yala safari.

  • Distance to travel for the day 40 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 10 hour

Places to visit

  • Yala safari

Today you will have a full-day safari at Yala National Park. Therefore, you will spend the entire day in Yala National Park. We will make all the necessary arrangements for your safari, such as a picnic lunch, a 4-wheel-drive jeep, and trackers.

It is recommended to have a full-day safari in Yala National Park, which dramatically increases the opportunity to spot rare wild animals such as leopards, elephants, bears, jackals, etc.

The intention of every visitor who undertakes a Sri Lanka jungle tour based on Yala National Park is to spot a couple of leopards. Yala National Park is the best place in the world to see leopards. However, spotting leopards and bears is the most difficult in Yala National Park. Therefore, we will organize a full-day Yala safari for you. Which increases the chances of spotting leopards and other wild animals. Yala National Park is the best wildlife reserve in the world to see leopards due to the large concentration of animals in the park.

Yala Safari starts at 5:00 a.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m. Yala Safari is a perfect opportunity to see much of the wildlife of Sri Lanka, such as leopards, elephants, deer, jackals, crocodiles, monkeys, and many other animals, as well as avian fauna species.

Insider tips: Yala National Park is closed for several months every year due to the drought; therefore, guests have to opt for the Udawalawe safari tour or Kumana safari during this period.

Day 11 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Yala – Bentota

After breakfast leave for Bentota via the south coast

  • Distance to travel for the day 225 km
  • Duration of the program for the day 6 hour

Places to visit

  • Galle Fort
  • Hikkaduwa Beach
  • Mask Museum
  • Madu river estuary

Today you will leave for Bentota Beach after a leisurely breakfast. The journey takes place along the west and southern coasts of Sri Lanka. You will come across the most beautiful coastal belts of Sri Lanka, such as Galle, Hambantota, Unawatuna, and Hikkaduwa.

You will also be doing a walking tour of the Galle Fort to see the magnificent colonial structures hidden in this UNESCO world heritage site.

You will check in to the beach resort early in the afternoon and spend the time leisurely on the beach.

Day 12 of Sri Lanka itinerary 12 days: Bentota – Colombo

It is the last day of the Sri Lanka tour, and we have not planned anything important for today’s program. You are free to stay at the beach resort until noon and start the Colombo-bound trip in the afternoon. If you wish to have an early morning flight and intend to reach the airport early in the morning, we can organize your early morning transfer. If you have other arrangements, such as spending some more time at a nearby beach resort, we can also help you extend the beach holiday.