Sri Lanka, a small island-country located in the Sea of Bengal, is a popular destination for travellers because of its historical World Heritage Sites and breathtaking natural landscapes.
Sri Lanka is the convergence of religion, history and nature, forming this beautiful country that has many secrets waiting for you to discover.
Day 1: Colombo. This is the primary international airport serving Sri Lanka and is just outside Colombo (around 45 minutes to an hour north of Colombo). This is where your 2 weeks in Sri Lanka will begin! If you’re landing in the evening, your best bet is to head into Colombo to get some rest. Barefoot Cafe serves up a mean coffee and you can explore their store afterwards for amazing vintage posters and local souvenirs, or head to Black Cat Cafe for a flat white. Take a stroll along Galle Face Green, a long park on the waterfront that often has food stalls and tons of kite fliers, and wander around Pettah Market.
There are plenty of accommodation options to choose from to spend a night in Colombo.
Day 2: Sigiriya. This rock fortress is unmissable if you’re visiting Sri Lanka. Sigiriya is an amazing ancient palace that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's recommended doing the climb in the afternoon as the temperature cools, and staying for the sunset once you’re at the top.
Close to the rock fortress is Dambulla’s cave temples which are worth a visit also, and the ruins of Polonnaruwa are about an hour away.
If you only have a day or a day and a half in Sigiriya then aim to go to Polonnaruwa in the morning (it should only take you half a day to see everything), and climb Sigiriya rock in the afternoon. The Dambulla cave temples can be done in an hour or so on your way out of Sigiriya town as you head south. Can’t get enough of ancient cities and temple ruins? Add on another day in Sigiriya and head to Anuradhapura, about 2 hours away from Sigiriya for a separate day trip.
Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks are also nearby and popular safari destinations for elephant lovers.
Day 3 – 4: Kandy. Kandy is another major city in Sri Lanka and was the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka. It is home to several sacred sites such as the Temple of the Tooth, the Royal Palace and Royal Botanical Gardens. Set aside 5-6 hours to explore the various landmarks in Kandy.
If you have time and are up for an excursion, the aptly-named Knuckles mountain range can also be found here and offers great hiking trails and waterfalls for people who love the outdoors.
Day 5 – 6: Nuwara Eliya. Frem Kandy, take the train to Nuwara Eliya. Wind and weave your way through acres and acres of tea plantations and even hang out (carefully!) of the train carriage to feel the wind in your face. The routes between Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella are extremely popular so it’s important to try to sort out your tickets early – it’s not uncommon for the trains to be packed to the absolute brim with standing room only.
From Nuwara Eliya, you can do the hike to Adam’s Peak and World’s End to catch the sunrise (most guides recommend that you start early at 2 or 3 a.m. for Adam’s Peak) and explore Lake Gregory. In the summer months the lake gets busy and offers a number of water sport activities or horse riding.
Day 7 – 8: Ella. Just east of Nuwara Eliya is Ella, a small town in the highlands of Central Sri Lanka. Ella is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka and is surrounded by tea plantations that you can visit and tour. If you skipped the hike to Adam’s Peak you can visit Little Adam’s Peak here, a much gentler climb that takes about an hour, or trek to Ella Rock which takes about two hours each way.
Ravana Falls, one of the widest falls in Sri Lanka, is about half an hour away and is seriously pretty, and you can also get to the famous Nine Arch Bridge easily from the heart of Ella.
If you have a few days to spare after Ella and you are keen to do some surfing, Arugum Bay is a popular spot for surf aficionados and is just 3 hours east of Ella. The beaches are popular during the summer months (from June to September) when the conditions are best. Spend no more than 2-3 days in Arugam Bay unless you’re an avid surfer.
Day 9: Yala National Park or Udawalawe National Park. Make your way down to Yala National Park or Udawalawe National Park in the south. Sri Lanka is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and one of the best places in Asia to go on a wildlife safari – Yala National Park has one of the highest leopard densities in the world and you are almost guaranteed to spot wild elephants in Udawalawe National Park.
There are also opportunities to see crocodiles, deer, water buffalo, boar, peacocks, mongoose and bears. If you are heading to Udawalawe then you should also make it a point to visit the orphaned baby elephants at the Elephant Transit Home.
Day 10 – 11: Beach. You’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka in the country’s deep south, and the southern coast of Sri Lanka also offers tons of options for places to stay for all types of travel budgets.
The surf in the south is outstanding (warm water surfing for the win!) and many places offer board rental if you don’t have your own. The peak season for the southern province is from around November to January. Just be mentally prepared for significant crowds if you are visiting Sri Lanka in December around Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
In this area you will also find the southernmost point of Sri Lanka at Dondra. There is a beautiful lighthouse there that you can visit – when I was there last, you couldn’t climb to the top of the lighthouse but you can always check to see if it’s open to the public again.
Day 11 – 12: The South Coast. The southern coast is also home to Matara, home to the second most important fort in Sri Lanka (next to Galle Fort), Mirissa, Weligama and Unawatuna. In this area you will find a plethora of hotel options and activities, including watching the famous stilt fisherman at sunset, whale watching, visiting spice gardens and even touring some tea plantations.
If you love being out on the open water, make the most of your time on the south coast and get in touch with Sail Lanka to see if you can hop on a half-day or afternoon cruise with them aboard a luxury catamaran. You might get lucky enough to spot a blue whale as well as some dolphins. The south coast cruises only operate from November to April.
If you’re in Matara, definitely stop by the Paravi Duwa Temple, a beautiful island temple connected to the mainland by bridge, or visit the Peace Pagoda in Unawatuna for coastal views.
Day 13: Galle. Galle Fort an amazing blend of old world European architecture (Portugese and Dutch in particular) and Sri Lankan flair, and can be easily reached by train from Mirissa or Matara. Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place to wander around: book a massage at Spa Ceylon, sip on a cup of tea at the Amangalla, visit the old Dutch Hospital, do some shopping at Barefoot Gallery and Stolen Paradise Clothing, spend some time strolling through the town, see the iconic Galle Fort Lighthouse and walk along the fort wall for panoramic coastal views.
Day 14: Colombo. It’s time to end your 2 weeks in Sri Lanka. Head straight to the airport for your flight and start looking into flights for your trip back to Sri Lanka next time!