Ahh, Ceylon. The jewel of the Indian Ocean. You couldn’t dream up a more perfect island. The culture, the wildlife, the golden beaches and epic sunrise hikes, just wowie. Sri Lanka truly has it all. I could spend a lifetime in Sri Lanka and it would still be too short.
However, any time in Sri Lanka is better than no time in Sri Lanka. If you’ve managed to sneak off for two weeks, then this two-week itinerary for Sri Lanka gives you a great glimpse of what the country has to offer. Like I said, a lifetime here would be too short, but I understand that most people don’t exactly have a lifetime to spare. For a complete Sri Lankan experience, here’s how to spend two weeks in Sri Lanka.
Day 1: Colombo
With Colombo being Sri Lanka’s main travel hub, it is pretty unavoidable. It is a good way to dip your toes into this incredible country that can often feel entirely foreign. Colombo serves as a good gateway, giving you a taste of Sri Lankan culture while also having McDonald’s and shopping malls just so you aren’t entirely culture shocked.
It isn’t a city that should be overlooked, although with only two weeks in Sri Lanka, there is no denying that there are sexier destinations in the country. Use it as a rest day, a transit day, or just a laid-back day of exploring. There’s enough to do in Colombo to fill up a day, but if you’re strapped on time, one day should be enough.
Day 2: Anuradhapura
Even with a tight time constraint, I think Anuradhapura is a city worth visiting to get a complete experience of Sri Lanka. Its cultural and historical significance can not go ignored. It is one of the most important religious sites in all of Sri Lanka, dating back to as early as 300 BC.
The main attractions lie in the vast archaeological complex. The rural countryside boasts massive structures called stupas. These monuments rivaled only the Pyramids in size and grandeur when they were built. Other highlights include ancient temples, giant Buddhas, and the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world. Renting a bicycle and cruising through the Sri Lankan countryside, flanked by these remnants of a past world will make you feel like you are on an entirely different planet.
Days 3 and 4: Sigiriya
The highlights in Sigiriya include Pidurangala Rock, Lion Rock, and potential day trips to Polonnaruwa and Minneriya National Park. This is a lot to do in two days but it really exemplifies just how diverse the things to do in Sri Lanka are. Sunrise hikes, elephant safaris, and more cycling through ancient ruins, all within an hour of Sigiriya.
Pidurangala Rock is the most famous sunrise hike in Sri Lanka, as it gives you the iconic view of Lion Rock draped in purple hues and soft sunrise pastels as it towers over the lush Sri Lankan jungles. Lion Rock itself is well worth visiting due to its historical significance. UNESCO even named Lion Rock as the eighth wonder of the world.
For more on the archaeological complex of Polonnaruwa, check out my complete guide of what to do in Polonnaruwa.
And for the elephants of Minneriya, here’s my guide on how to get the best safari experience at Minneriya National Park.
Day 5: Kandy
You are probably desperate for a rest day at this point, right? Thankfully, Kandy is a welcome respite amongst all of the hikes, bike rides, safaris, and everything else you have been doing. The city tucked away in the Sri Lankan hills is a good place to cool down, both literally and figuratively. The weather here is a lot cooler, and there are no real must-do things here aside from the Temple of the Tooth. It is arguably Sri Lanka’s busiest and most important travel hub thanks to its central location and level of modernity relative to the rest of Sri Lanka.
If you are in the exploring mood, you can hike to the Buddha overlooking the city or check out Udawattakele Sanctuary, but other than that, you can just take a seat by Kandy Lake and watch life go by. Enjoy your rest day because the hardest hike is yet to come.
Day 6: Hatton (Adam’s Peak)
This is one of the absolute must-do things in Sri Lanka. A 2 AM wake-up call, a 5,500 stair ascent… Only crazy people would do something like this, right? Not when the reward is what you’ll get at the top. Adam’s Peak’s religious significance and stunning views make it a can’t-miss spot for pilgrims and tourists alike.
While it is most revered by the Buddhists for holding the footprint of Buddha, other religions also stake claims to the sacred footprint located at the top. For Hindus, it is believed to be the footprint of Shiva. For Muslims and Christians, it is the footprint of Adam himself, hence the name Adam’s Peak. And for tourists, it is believed to be the footprint of the guy who invented Instagram.
For those of you who aren’t daunted by such a task, here is my complete guide to hiking Adam’s Peak. It is one of the best things you can do in all of Sri Lanka, if not the best.
Days 7, 8, and 9: Ella
You’ll be done hiking Adam’s Peak by about 10 AM, and you can catch a train out of Hatton at around 2 PM to head for Ella. But it’s not just any train. It is the iconic blue train that many Instagrammers risk life and limb for to snap that perfect Instagram pic. As you can see below, I was only willing to risk about 10% of my face and maybe an inch or two off of my knees.
The train ride is beautiful, as it takes you through the lush mountains above the clouds, the dense forests, and the vast valleys of Sri Lanka’s central region. The train ride should be a bucket list item in itself. Hopefully the locals don’t catch onto its social media significance and the ticket prices remain under $2 for this train ride of a lifetime.
Once you get to Ella, you’ll probably be exhausted from Adam’s Peak so take the night and the morning off to chill. Ella is a great spot for chilling, then hiking, then more chilling, then more hiking. The must-dos while in Ella include Nine Arches Bridge, Ella Rock, Little Adam’s Peak, Ravana Falls, and day trips to Diyaluma Falls and maybe a tea plantation. Unlike other cities in Sri Lanka, Ella also provides a nice balance of tourism infrastructure. There are a lot of nice bars, restaurants, and cafes here, and even (very mediocre) massage parlors to hit up between all that hiking!
Day 10: Tissamaharama (Yala National Park)
Leave Ella in the evening to head about two hours south to Tissamaharama. This is the main hub for travelers looking to safari in Yala National Park. You’ll have an early wake up call again, around 4-4:30 AM to get to the national park by the time it opens at 6 AM. Do this to maximize your chances of spotting the elusive leopard. After failing to see one in my entire time in South Africa, I felt lucky to even catch a glimpse of one through the forest’s thick brush in Yala.
Unfortunately, the safari will feel overcrowded and environmentally irresponsible as the Jeeps all crowd at the entrance to try to get in at once. Unlike my experiences in African game drives, most of the drivers here are just that, drivers. They aren’t particularly well-versed in environmentalism. While Sri Lanka boasts a lot of national parks and conservation areas, they still have a long way to go before they can figure out how to manage the tourism boom and balance it with a respectful and non-disruptive way of seeing the animals. Right now, the best thing you can do is try to work with only reputable companies that know how to respect the rules of nature.
Days 11 and 12: Mirissa and Weligama
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the beach. Sri Lanka’s southern coast is incredibly beautiful and there are a number of beach towns to relax in. The two most popular among younger travelers are the neighboring towns of Mirissa and Weligama. Mirissa is trendy, modern, and boasts beautiful beaches. Weligama is a hub for surfers with a bustling restaurant and nightlife scene.
You can stay in either or, as they are literally right next to each other and never more than a 600 rupee ($4) tuk-tuk ride to anywhere within the twin cities. However, it makes sense to stay close to Weligama Beach if you like to surf, or close to Mirissa Beach if you like to lounge. The highlights of things to do include Coconut Hill, Parrot Rock, and Turtle Bay. Coconut Hill is an Instagrammer’s dream with palm trees galore right by the ocean. Parrot Rock is a killer spot to catch a sunset, although I don’t think I actually saw any parrots. Turtle Bay is where you can swim with sea turtles. Well, swim after sea turtles. Those guys are quite fast, but I did manage to see about two or three.
Weligama is all surf all day. The waves are constant and the beach is massive. It is the perfect spot for surfers of all levels to have a little space to either learn or catch that perfect wave. Post-surf, Weligama is one of Sri Lanka’s only bustling nightlife hubs, with clubs that stay open well into the morning if you know where to go.
Days 13 and 14: Galle
The colonial town of Galle is a pleasant change of pace from the rest of Sri Lanka. Within the confines of the fort, the city is modern, trendy, and luxurious compared to what you’ve probably encountered thus far in Sri Lanka. While pretty touristy, Galle has a really good vibe about it. It is right next to the ocean and the colonial architecture just adds to the immense of variety of what you can find in Sri Lanka.
You’re never too far from a beach. I recommend stopping by Dalawella Beach twenty minutes away for some stunning sunsets and beach vibes. It is home to the iconic swing off a palm tree Insta-pic location, and a few other epic spots.
Galle is a great hub to take day trips to neighboring towns like Hikkaduwa, where you can see sea turtles hanging out on the beach. If you don’t feel like going back up to Colombo, Galle is a good place to end your trip.
From Galle, you can get to Colombo Airport by private taxi or a shared van. Public transportation to Colombo is also easy to figure out. From there, you can then take a cheap Uber to the airport. It takes a maximum of three hours to get to the airport from Galle, giving you plenty of time to reflect and reminisce on your stellar voyage to Sri Lanka.
If you’ve got a little more time than two weeks, check out my three week itinerary for Sri Lanka.
Even more strapped on time? Here’s a few different itineraries for what you can do in seven days in Sri Lanka.