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Sri Lanka is emerging as a must-visit destination. Visitors are flocking to the south Asian island nation to experience its picture-perfect beaches, decadent cuisine, unique wildlife, rich cultural heritage, beautiful scenery, and signature hospitality.
But the top things to do here are still not common knowledge. That’s where this two week Sri Lanka itinerary comes in!
It’s possible to see parts of Sri Lanka on a short trip, but if you want to enjoy the best the country has to offer, a slow journey is your best bet. The country may be small, but it’s packed with extraordinary sights and experiences for all travelers.
How to Spend 2 Weeks in Sri Lanka
Two weeks in Sri Lanka is the perfect amount of time to spend if you want see most of the major sights, and enjoy equal parts relaxation and adventure.
I designed this itinerary to provide a variety of experiences, from activities to transportation to lodging. The two week itinerary can be broken down into four distinct sections:
- History & Culture – touring Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle | 4 days
- Lavish Landscapes – soaking in the mountain scenery of Sri Lanka’s tea country | 2 days
- Wildlife Spotting – seeking out Sri Lanka’s diverse wildlife | 3 days
- Coastal Chill – surfing and exploring some of the world’s most beautiful coastline | 7 days
The itinerary is set for 16 days on the ground, but you’ll want to factor in travel time to get to and from Sri Lanka. It can easily be scaled back to 14 days if you have exactly two weeks to explore (just cut back on some of the beach time).
I did the whole itinerary as a solo female traveler and didn’t run into any issues (seriously!). Sri Lanka is a very safe place for solo travelers, though you should take the same precautions you would take anywhere else if you’re traveling alone. I ended up making a number of friends on the trip that I still stay in touch with to this day.
I’ve included ample transportation information, as that was the most logistically challenging aspect of my trip. If you can, take the buses and local transport – it is far less expensive than hiring a car, and very easy and reliable.
One last note note: this route can easily be done backwards, so don’t despair if you want to check out the coast first!
The Best of Sri Lanka 2 Week Itinerary
Click the links in the titles for detailed information about each of the stops on the itinerary!
History & Culture – Touring Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle
Day 1: Arrive and Travel to Anuradhapura
- Arrive at the Colombo Airport. Be sure to pick up a SIM card or any train tickets you may have booked in advance before you leave.
- A quick note: advance train tickets are not available through the transportation department, but can be booked via a third party for a small fee. Because I wanted to guarantee my train travel, I booked tickets through Visit Sri Lanka Tours and picked up my tickets at the Colombo airport when I arrived. You can also buy train tickets at the station on the day of travel – only the first class seats tend to sell out.
- Take a cab or tuk-tuk from the airport to the train station (have cash handy for this).
- Board the train to Anuradhapura. It is a scenic 5-hour ride, and you won’t encounter many other backpackers on it.
- Arrive in Anuradhapura and take a tuk-tuk to your hotel. I stayed at Milano Tourist Rest for $12 for the night (breakfast and dinner included).
- If you arrive in the morning or around midday, the guest house can book you an afternoon excursion to Mihintale, the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is a great side trip which only takes a couple of hours. It is beautiful at sunset.
- Return to the hotel and sit down to dinner. Be prepared for a sensory explosion! Sri Lankan curries (a traditional dinner) are rich, flavorful, and spicy.
- Be sure to arrange for a tuk-tuk tour of Anuradhapura before you go to bed. Or, if you prefer to bike around Anuradhapura, you can get a bike through your guest house in the morning.
- Wake up and meet your tuk-tuk driver in the morning. Tuk-tuk tours of Anuradhapura allow you to see most of the major sights in half a day, where a bike can take a full day. You can still linger at each stop if you hire a tuk-tuk – my driver never made me feel like I had to rush through anything.
- Be sure not to miss these incredible sights: the Sri Maha Bodhi, the Abhayagiri Dagoba, the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba, the Thuparama Dagoba, the Isurumuniya Vihara, and the Citadel (my favorite stop, mostly because the ruins are almost completely overtaken by the forest).
- You should get back to your lodging in the early afternoon. Gather your belongings and take a tuk-tuk to the bus station to begin the journey to Sigiriya (around midday or early afternoon).
- There aren’t direct buses to Sigiriya – you’ll need to connect through Dambulla. Tell the bus driver you want to get off at Dambulla and they’ll alert you when the stop comes up. Then, ask for a bus to Sigiriya once you get to Dambulla. The trip should take about 1.5 hours in total.
- Once in Sigirya, grab a tuk-tuk to take you to your hotel or guest house. I stayed at Sigiri Lion Lodge and would highly recommend it.
- Wake up early to go to Sigiriya at sunrise and before the tourist rush hits. The gates open at 7:00 a.m. I walked from Sigiri Lion Lodge, but you can also take a tuk-tuk.
- Take your time walking through the immense landscaped gardens at the entrance. Then begin the stair climb – it’s about 30 minutes to the top without stopping.
- Take in the incredible 360-degree views from the top, and explore the ruins. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours up there. Bring a snack and watch the mist burn off of the forest as the sun rises higher in the sky.
- Take the stairs back down and follow the signs to the exit. Head toward Pidurangala Rock (walking or tuk-tuk), 1km north of Sigiriya, for a brief hike that offers unparalleled views of the famous rock fortress.
- Climb Pidurangala Rock and take in the incredible views from the top.
- Note that there is a temple on the site. If you wish to go into the temple, you will need to cover your knees and shoulders. If you plan to just climb the rock, there is no need for a covering. The Pidurangala hike has a rock scramble at the end that may be challenging for inexperienced hikers.
- Head back to your lodging and gather your belongings. Take a tuk-tuk to the bus station and grab a bus toward Polonnaruwa (you will need to change buses again partway through). The ride is only about 1-1.5 hours.
- Check in at your lodging. I stayed at Sun Guest House in Polonnaruwa, and the owner was very nice and accommodating.
- If you have time, go to the tank (reservoir) for a sunset walk. It is stunning, but be sure to wear plenty of bug spray!
- Wake up early to enjoy the ruins in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. The best way to explore these ruins is by bike – the roads around the ruins are restricted to mostly bike and foot traffic, which makes for a nice, scenic ride. You should be able to rent a bike from your guest house.
- Polonnaruwa’s ruins are pretty compact and are all along the same road, so you won’t miss anything important. Still, the most impressive ruins to check out are the Royal Palace Group, the Quadrangle, and the Lankatilaka and Gal Vihara in the Northern Group.
- There will be many turn-offs along the route where you can dive into the ancient city’s ruins and be virtually alone. These moments of solitude were some of the most enjoyable of my time in Polonnaruwa – not that there were many tourists to contend with in the first place, but because the history is almost tangible in places like this.
- You should be done touring in the early afternoon. Head back to the guest house to grab your belongings. You should be able to walk to the bus stop where you can catch a direct bus to Kandy (4-5 hours).
- Spend the night in Kandy. I stayed at the Meili Lanka City Hotel which was not too far from scenic Kandy Lake. It was the only true hotel I stayed in the whole trip. If you arrive before sunset, take some time to walk around the lake.
Lavish Landscapes – Soaking in the Mountain Scenery of Sri Lanka’s Tea Country
- Grab a tuk-tuk and head to the train station to catch the train to Ella. It’s an early train, and if you want a first class seat (air conditioned cab), be sure to book your ticket in advance.
- Sit back and enjoy the 7-hour scenic journey. Lean out the open doors to breathe in the fresh air as you gaze across the endless tea fields. Wave to local kids as you pass by. Buy a snack from a vendor at one of the stops.
- When you arrive in Ella, walk or tuk-tuk to your accommodations (the distances are pretty close). I highly recommend staying at Hilltop Guest House. The views of Ella Gap from their terraces are unbelievable, especially at sunrise. And the meals that the family prepares are absolutely delicious.
- Ella sees more tourists than anywhere in the Cultural Triangle, so head out to the main street with shopping and restaurants and soak in the energy of the town.
- Wake up for sunrise if you stay at Hilltop Guest House or have a view of Ella Gap. It’s worth it.
- You have options for this day. If you’re an avid hiker, book a guide through your guest house the evening before and have them take you up to Ella Rock (it’s very difficult to navigate alone). If you would prefer a slightly easier hike, head to Little Adam’s Peak for some beautiful views. Walk along the ridge line to escape the crowds at the summit.
- The Newburgh Tea Factory is just down the road from Little Adam’s Peak. Walk there to try some fresh green tea and see the process of how it gets made.
- If you have reliable GPS, you can walk from there down to Demodara Bridge (Nine Arch Bridge). Otherwise, take a tuk-tuk. It’s a very scenic bridge rising 100 feet from the forest floor.
- After the long day of touring, head back into town and get an Ayurvedic spa treatment. They are inexpensive and will work out all of the knots from nearly a week of traveling.
- Grab dinner in town or at your guest house, and settle in for your second night in Ella.
Wildlife Spotting – Seeking Out Sri Lanka’s Diverse Wildlife
- Wake up for your last sunrise in Ella. Eat a leisurely breakfast, and then walk to the bus station south of town to grab a bus to Udawalawe (there will be a change again – your host at the guest house can direct you to which buses to take). The ride should take about 4 hours total.
- Check in at your accommodations. Where Hilltop Guest House blew me away with the views, Pearl White Villa was unmatched in their hospitality, room cleanliness, and the quality of the food they prepared. Stay here if you visit Udawalawe.
- If you arrive early enough in the day, the hosts can book you on an afternoon safari. Otherwise, you can take one the next morning before departing Udawalawe. Either option is fine, but there isn’t a whole lot to do in the town, so get on an afternoon safari if you can swing it.
- Enjoy elephant spotting on the safari, and soak in the incredible setting of the park with its abundant water and distant mountains. The family should have dinner ready for you shortly after you return. Talk about service!
Day 8: Explore Tissamaharama
- Sleep in this morning – there’s nowhere you really need to be today!
- Make your way to the bus station to head to Tissamaharama, a launching point for Yala National Park safaris. As usual, your hosts can tell you where you should change buses. At this point you should be an old pro with the bus system.
- Arrive in Tissamaharama and make your way to your accommodations. I stayed at Hotel Bird View which was situated on a beautiful lake full of lily pads and flowers (and a croc or two). I booked a morning safari through the hotel when I arrived.
- Spend the afternoon/early evening strolling around the lake, and the more impressive reservoir/local gathering place, Tissa Wewa. If time, check out the ancient Tissa Dagoba build around 200 B.C. Another lovely site is Yatala Wehera, a dagoba and small museum full of artifacts dating back over 2,000 years.
- Hit the hay early tonight – you’ll be waking up before sunrise for the safari!
- Head out on the safari early. It’ll be about an hour drive to the park, and then you’ll wait in a queue of other 4x4s for the gates to open. Perfect opportunity to catch up on those Z’s you cut short with the early alarm.
- Enjoy your second safari in 48 hours. Note the distinctions between Udawalawe and Yala. Look closely for the elusive Sri Lankan Leopard to emerge from the heavy underbrush!
- After the safari wraps up, grab your belongings and head to the bus station to catch your ride to the beaches. You’ll need to change buses in Matara to get to Weligama. It’s about a 3-hour ride in total.
- Arrive at your accommodations on the southern beaches. I stayed at The Green Rooms in Weligama for a surf camp and had a fantastic experience (click the Day 10 link for more on the surf camp).
- Walk out to the beach, sink your toes into the sand, and rejoice in the fact that your only plan for the next week is to soak up the sun and surf on Sri Lanka’s world famous coastline.
Coastal Chill – Surfing and Exploring Some of the World’s Most Beautiful Coastline
- It’s been a packed itinerary. Take a day off to walk along the beach, read a book, and sip on a delicious drink!
Day 11: Blue Whale Watching, More Chilling
- If you haven’t had enough wildlife spotting yet, book a blue whale tour with Raja and the Whales. Their tours are top-notch (they even serve you two meals!) and they adhere to international whale watching regulations to ensure the safety of the whales during the tours. The tours depart from Mirissa, only a ten-minute tuk-tuk ride from Weligama.
- After an action-packed morning of whale and dolphin spotting, return to your beachside oasis for more relaxation, or a surf lesson if you like.
Day 12: Surf and Chill
- More of the same. Surf, lounge, eat, drink, take a yoga class, walk around. Life is pretty good, eh?
Day 13: Explore Galle, the Colonial Dutch Fort
- Take a half-day to head up the coast to Galle, the historic Dutch fort. The city inside the walls of the fort has been converted into a large shopping and dining district. The architecture is a big departure from what you will have seen throughout the rest of Sri Lanka, given its Dutch heritage. It is a beautiful place to wander and window shop!
- Once you’ve shopped (and dined) ’til you dropped, head back to the beach to lounge some more.
Day 14: Surf and Chill
- Can you believe you only have two days left in this magnificent country? Soak up all the still moments. Even relish in any boredom that you might feel.
- If you get really restless, head into town for another Ayurvedic treatment. They’re cheap and leave you feeling amazing!
Day 15: Surf and Chill
- It’s your last day to surf and lounge on the beach. Make it count! If you want to get out, hop on a bus or tuk-tuk to a neighboring beach to see how their views of the Indian Ocean compare with yours.
Day 16: Train to Colombo & Depart
- Catch a train from Weligama to Colombo well in advance of your flight. The train is slow but has beautiful views of the coastline the whole way up.
- Once you arrive back at the Colombo train station, do the reverse of what you did on the way in: get a tuk-tuk or cab to the Colombo airport.
- Catch your flight, and dream of the next chance you get to come back!
Was this itinerary helpful? Is there any additional information that you wish were included? Let me know in the comments!
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