Sri Lanka in 3 weeks on a budget

Sri Lanka was the first stop when we left on our 1-year honeymoon in 2018. We’ve tried to see as much as possible in this amazing country in 3 weeks. Below you can find our journey with a detailed day by day itinerary of Sri Lanka.

You can follow our journey in both ways. You’ll start and end with lovely beach views. The way we did it, we had some more beaches at the end and a bit more culture in the beginning.

Would you rather just watch the after movie?

On a budget?

We spend € 596.50 for the 2 of us, €817.93 if we add the activities. That is €13,56 per person per day (€18.59 with activities). This is without flights, as these prices will depend on where you leave.

We only stayed one night in a hostel, all of the other stays were in a private room (either guesthouses or hotels).

map 3 weeks sri lanka 12 cities
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Length of stay: 2 days. Only stay for 2 days if you don’t like to travel with a jetlag and want to lay by the swimming pool/sea. Otherwise, 1 day is enough for Negombo.
Where we stayed: Winston beach hotel. A nice hotel, you can use the (very clean) pool of the hotel next door if you drink something whilst enjoying the sun & swimming pool.
How we got there: Tuktuk from the airport (700 LKR, should’ve been around 500). If you want to have good tuk-tuk prices all the time you should install the app PickMe Sri Lanka!

What to do in Negombo:

  • Negombo fish market (free entrance)
    Amazing to see. The smell is horrible though…
  • Stroll through the city centre or at the beach.
  • Get a local sim card (the ones at the airport are data & calling if you want data only buy one outside of the airport)

Where to eat in Negombo:

Nowhere special, it’s very touristic when it comes to restaurants. Lots of western food (and western prices). If you want something local, try one of the seafood restaurants in the southern part of the city (near the fish market) for amazing fresh fish.

The view from our hotel room in Negombo


Length of stay: 3 days (2 should be enough)
Where we stayed: Lak View Family Resort. Yes Lak.. the lake was not in sight, but the owner is very friendly and helpful.
How we got there: Bus from Negombo bus terminal (Google maps) to Kurunegala (100 LKR pp) and Kurunegala to Dambulla (95 LKR pp). Blog post for the bus journey.

What to do in Dambulla:

  • Dambulla caves (1500 LKR pp)
  • The big golden Buddha statue in front of the caves. (free)
  • Dambulla dedicated economic centre (Google maps) – The largest vegetables & fruits wholesale market in Sri Lanka. (free)
  • Pidurangala rock or lion rock.
    The owner of Lak View drove us all the way to the rocks in Sigiriya (for 2300 LKR). It will be cheaper if you go from Polonnaruwa. Pidurangala costs 500 LKR pp, lion rock is 30 dollar pp (4500 LKR) or 15 dollar/2250 LKR pp if you’re from a SAARC country.

Where to eat in Dambulla:

  • A cheap & local place with nice rice and curry etc. (Google maps)
golden buddha statue


Length of stay: 1 day
Where we stayed: Udesh Guest house. Probably the cleanest place we stayed at during the 3 weeks. Highly recommend! There are also 20-30 little parrots in his garden in the morning as he feeds them every day.
How we got there: The owner of Lak view drove us for free (from and) to the bus station, from there we took the bus to Polonnaruwa. Jumped off the bus somewhere along the road, as close to Udesh as possible and then walked another kilometre.

What to do in Polonnaruwa:

  • The Polonnaruwa ruins. (25 USD pp.)
    Make sure your legs and shoulders are covered or you won’t get in.

We rented a bike from Udesh for 400 LKR pp. The ruins are too big to walk around. You could also rent a tuk-tuk with a guide, but you should be fine without a guide too.

Watch out for monkeys, they try to steal stuff in exchange for food. We saw a monkey snitch an iPhone and walk away with it until all of his friends had gotten enough food.. and then he returned it with a broken screen.

  • Other than that there’s not much to see in Polonnaruwa.

Where to eat in Polonnaruwa:

  • We’ve eaten local Kotthu and rice at Udesh, it was delicious and cheap!


Length of stay: 2 days
Where we stayed: Kandy city house
How we got there: The owner of Udesh arranged us a tuk-tuk to the bus station of Polonnaruwa (500 LKR) and there we took a direct bus to Kandy (200 LKR).

What to do in Kandy:

  • Visit a tea factory and tea fields (free, but they expect you to buy some tea or make a donation)
  • The Golden Tooth Temple (1000 LKR pp)
  • Botanical Gardens (1500 LKR pp)
  • Elephant orphanage [Pinawalla] (1000-5000 LKR pp)
    Please don’t ride on elephants or support orphanages that allow it!
  • The Buddha statue on top of the hill (250 LKR pp)
  • A day trip to do all of the above (1 day in Kandy with a personal driver)
  • Kandy municipal central market (Google maps)

Where to eat in Kandy:

  • Lots of opportunities to eat in Kandy
  • You can get fresh ingredients at the central market if you’re allowed to use the kitchen of your hostel/guesthouse (Google maps)
Katrijn with the elephants in Pinawala

Nuwara Eliya

Length of stay: 1 day
Where we stayed: The Galways Edge Homestay. They are the nicest people, ever. Their English is not that good, but they were soooo nice to us! They even gave us flowers when we arrived as it’s our honeymoon.
How we got there: The train from Kandy to Ella (Nanu Oya is a stop of that train near Nuwara Eliya).

What to do in Nuwara Eliya:

  • Visit the tea fields (free)
  • The Royal Turf Club (a horse ranch – Google maps).
    The horses are just freely roaming around (even on the streets)!
  • World’s end. An 850m high cliff, the walk there is about 1 hour and 30 mins. Go before 9 am, otherwise, you’ll see mostly clouds. (Google maps)

Where to eat in Nuwara Eliya:

  • The vegetarian hotel. No, we kid you not. It’s a restaurant, not a hotel, and has amazing food. This is 1 of the 27 things we found that were odd in Sri Lanka.


Length of stay: 2 days
Where we stayed: ASK homestay
How we got there: The second part of the Kandy – Ella train ride. Even more amazing views!

katrijn instagram kandy ella train

What to do in Ella:

Ella is a beautiful mixture between touristic and local.

  • The centre is very touristic and has a vibrant nightlife. Competitive prizes with happy hours etc.
  • Tea plantations (free, sometimes they’ll ask you some money for a picture)
  • Ravana waterfall (free, take bus 998 for around 50 LKR pp back and forth – Google maps)
  • The nine arches bridge is stunning. Wait for a train to pass to get those nice pictures. Don’t fly your drone. Apparently, it’s not allowed as there are bees under the bridge who’ll attack your drone first and the people afterwards!

Where to eat in Ella:

The chill café looks incredible, it resembles a huge hut and has delicious food and drinks (Try a cocktail with Arrack, the local spirit).

Arugam Bay

Length of stay: 2 days + we booked 1 day extra for the safari
Where we stayed: 20 House Arugam. It’s not really located in Arugam Bay but in Pottuvil. The main beach in Arugam Bay is only 800 meters away though.
How we got there: We took a bus from Ella to Monaragala and from there another one to A’Bay.

What to do in Arugam Bay:

  • Surfing! It’s one of the best surfing spots in the world, so don’t miss out on this one (check the current prices at the surf shops).
  • Chill at the beach.
  • Walk through the streets in Pottuvil, the kids here are amazingly friendly and want to play soccer all the time. Oddly enough it seems like they never see white people as they always yell at their siblings and everyone comes out to see and say hello (or bye)
  • Take a full or half day safari. We did half a day safari to Kumana national park (external link) with Umam. Just send him on WhatsApp or contact him via email.
  • Visit Muhudu Maha Viharaya (Google maps) if you’re staying in Pottuvil. Very nice ruins and there’s an amazing abandoned beach in front. (free)

Where to eat in Arugam Bay:

If you want local food you should go to the neighbouring city of Pottuvil. It’s very good food and super cheap. The best place we ate was Sbarro next to the supermarket (right in front of the second gas station if you come from Arugam Bay).

surfing in arugam bay


Length of stay: 1 day
Where we stayed: Green Paradise Hotel
How we got there: We didn’t want to take the bus from Arugam Bay all the way to the south coast in one go, so we decided to stay 1 night in the middle of both cities. Wellawaya is where we should’ve switched busses, so that seemed the logical place to stay.

There’s not much to do here, but that’s when you really meet the locals (and their delicious food)!

What to do in Wellawaya:

  • There are some ancient rock carvings in the neighbouring city Buduruwagala. They’re called Buduruwagala Raja Maha Viharaya (Google maps)
  • You could take a tuk-tuk or bus to the Diyaluma waterfalls. (Google maps)

Where to eat in Wellawaya:

There’s a delicious bakery not far from the bus stop. You’ll notice it when you pass, as there will be locals eating in. If you don’t like spicy food, then don’t order the salmon pizza bread… (Google maps)


Length of stay: 4 days
Where we stayed:

How we got there:

There are lots of buses going to Galle from Wellawaya. Mirissa is one of the stops on this journey. Don’t listen to the tuk-tuk drivers as they’ll say there’s no place on the bus. This is true when people are leaving for work, but if you just wait until noon and you’ll be able to sit.

What to do in Mirissa:

  • Let’s go to the beach, each, let’s go get away.
  • Snorkelling (free at the beach, check prices for boat trips to nicer places)
  • Surfing (check the current prices at the surf shops)
  • Secret beach, not so secret anymore but not too many tourists. Swimming is a bit too dangerous there because of the rocks and sea urchins (Google maps)
  • Visit the Sea Turtle hatchery in Habaraduwa.

Where to eat in Mirissa:

There are some great local places to eat in the street parallel to the beach. Restaurants at the beach are nice if you want to have dinner near the ocean, but we didn’t like the quality of the food there. We’ll prefer local food over touristic places. With pizza being the only exception. Because pizza is heaven.

Yentl in the sea turtle hatchery in habaraduwa


Length of stay: 1 day
Where we stayed: Hansa Villa
How we got there: just take any bus going to Galle. Unawatuna is one of the stops between Mirissa and Galle.

What to do in Unawatuna:

  • The main beach is clean, the waves are not too strong and the water is clear. When we were there, there was a playful turtle swimming at the coast.
  • Jungle beach. It’s quite a walk, but it’s definitely worth the visit. There will be a few locals and probably no tourists around you if you go early in the morning.
  • There are a lot of cosy bars in Unawatuna. Chill atmosphere, not too expensive and lots of healthy food options.

Where to eat in Unawatuna:

The pink elephant! Delicious food at cheap prices.
Do try the wraps, they’re awesome! We met a Polish girl who was staying in Unawatuna for 2 weeks already and tried everything on their menu… 


Length of stay: 1 day
Where we stayed: Jungle Guesthouse
How we got there: Just take any bus from Unawatuna to Galle.

What to do:

  • Visit the Galle fort, you feel like you’re in another country. Pretty houses and a lot of cute shops and restaurants. (free)
  • Go to the marketplace.
  • In Sri Lanka, people celebrate the full moon every month by going to the temple. Most non-governmental places will be closed as people are praying! It is called ‘Poya day’.
    In Galle however, people are celebrating Poya day with a ‘colour festival’ named Holi.

Where to eat:

We cooked some pasta at our guesthouse in Galle, but there are lots of nice restaurants in the fort!

holi festival in Galle


Length of stay: 1 day
Where we stayed: Downtown Monkey Hostel. A clean hostel with 6 person rooms, close to the train & bus station.
How we got there: We took the train from Galle to Colombo for 180 LKR pp, which is about €1 for a 2-hour train ride. Unfortunately, we hopped on a train with a cricket team on it already, so there was no more place to sit for us. 2 hours of standing in the aisle..

What to do in Colombo:

  • Sri Lanka is doing great efforts in upgrading their capital, Colombo. Unfortunately, that means lots of skyscrapers are rising along the coast too. Streets are remarkably cleaner than in the rest of the country.
  • The red mosque is very beautiful, it made us think of the Saint Basil Cathedral in Moscow. Go to the food stall around the corner there, delicious handmade chips & potato wedges! (the mosque is free, but entrance for men only!)
  • The national museum is an enormous, white building. We didn’t visit it as we lacked the time. (500 LKR pp, 25 LKR for locals)
  • The cinnamon gardens is a public park. There are tons of locals and there are even a few horses grazing in the park! (free)
  • There is a famous temple in the middle of the Beira Lake, Seema Malakaya. (300 LKR pp – Google maps)
  • The market in Colombo 2 (Colombo is divided into different districts) is very nice to walk through. (free, if you’re able to not buy anything..)

Where to eat in Colombo:

There are some great food stalls around the city (like the one near the red mosque). We have to admit we’ve also eaten a burger at Burger King, as Katrijn couldn’t resist..

After movie 3 weeks Sri Lanka August 2018

map 3 weeks sri lanka 12 cities
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Better Travel TogetherCharlieEveBrett GalvinDe Graeve Willy Van Gasse Agnes Recent comment authors

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Brett Galvin
Brett Galvin

Awesome blog. My partner and I have just arrived in Sri Lanka and this was a perfect go to place to help us get some ideas for our own journey.


Hello Katrijn & Yentl!
Thank you so much for this amazing post. My boyfriend and I are going on a 4-week trip to Sri Lanka mid-Feb and we definitely recognize ourselves in your way of traveling. Can’t wait to use your great tips! You make our prep so much easier & funnier.

De Graeve Willy Van Gasse Agnes
De Graeve Willy Van Gasse Agnes

Zalige reis! Al zoveel gezien & al een hele trip gedaan, het ziet er echt een toffe huwelijksreis uit.


Hi there,

My boyfriend and I are heading to Sri Lanka in May for 3 weeks.

Love your route and think it will definitely be a good base for us to start with.

Was just wondering if you would know how to fit Adams peak into the list? And also one of the national parks. I’ve read that Yala national park is good around then but I’m unsure how to get there.

Did you find that 3 weeks was enough time or were you rushing?



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