Spend the Perfect 2 Weeks in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has it all, pristine beaches, jaw-dropping mountain landscapes, delicious food, rich history, an array of exotic wildlife, and the friendliest locals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. After traveling to over 35 countries, I have to say, Sri Lanka definitely holds a special place in the winners’ circle. If you’ve got 2 weeks in Sri Lanka, you can explore quite a bit!
We spent three weeks in this inspiring country and felt we had plenty of time to really dig our heels into the place. With just 2 weeks in Sri Lanka you’ll feel like you certainly got a chance to experience everything, without feeling too rushed. We took the best of our itinerary and distilled it down to a two-week Sri Lanka itinerary for a trip you will remember for a lifetime.
Sri Lankan Travel Tips
Before you head to the island of Ceylon, there are several important things to note. In my practical guide to visiting Sri Lanka, I dive into budget, accommodation types, and a few key pieces of information that you need to know before you visit Sri Lanka.
The most magical part about visiting such a charming slice of South Asia paradise is that there are endless ways to get around, various accommodation options, and tons of different activities. Do your homework (ahem, I’ve got loads of info I’m excited to share with you) and pick what best suits your personality.
About this 2 Week Sri Lanka Itinerary
This itinerary offers a well-blended mix of budget to mid-range travel with a few luxury items peppered in there. We primarily stayed at home stays (which we highly recommend). This allowed us to have a cheap, cozy room (think AC and private bath with hot water) with plenty of local insight. The beauty of homestays is that you get to know a family and they are happy to arrange transport, activities, and guides all at a reasonable price. Some even threw in a free tuk-tuk ride every now and again or helped us score some great local food. These places range between $20 to $30 USD per night and come with breakfast. You can also enjoy a home-cooked meal for a modest fee.
Our daily budget came out to be around $60 per day. That certainly is a bit steeper than a backpacking budget. If you swap some of the private car journeys with busses, stay in hostels instead of homestays, and ditch the few luxury splurges, you can get the budget down to around $30 to $40 USD a day. However, there’s something exciting about a little splurge and we truly enjoyed the two luxury experiences we indulged in!
Lastly, we have a few inside tips on awesome restaurants and places to stay. You’ll notice that we didn’t do that everywhere. That’s because I truly believe in giving you the best options, so if we didn’t like it, we didn’t find a so-so substitute to recommend!
Day One: Arrival in Negombo
Flights into Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport tend to arrive either late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Spend your first day within a half-hour of the airport. Take your time to get situated in the satellite city of Negombo. This bustling beach “suburb” offers everything you’ll need to get going.
Negombo is right on the sea and the beach here is quite local. However, given how dirty the nearby rivers and streams were, I wouldn’t swim here. Spend the day relaxing and getting oriented, you’ll likely be jetlagged. Staying at a place with a pool is a plus. We found Negmombo to be a far better place to visit than the smoggy streets of Colombo proper.
Where to stay: We loved Serendib Village. The property was beautiful and quiet. The rooms were HUGE (we just wish there were mosquito nets on the first floor).
Where to eat: Dinner at Jude was one of our favorite meals. Go for the rice and curry. Totally home cooked and absolutely delish!
Day Two: Negombo to Kandy by Seaplane
Rise and shine for your chartered scenic flight today. Oh, and did I mention it’s a seaplane? Book a scenic flight on Cinnamon Air to experience the beauty of Sri Lanka by flight. We splurged here (flights cost around $150 per person). Instead of leaving from Bandaranaike International, catch a tuk-tuk to Water’s Edge. This resort also happens to have a water runway!
Check in at the hotel reception and enjoy a scenic flight into Kandy. Travel by seaplane was a first for us and it was quite a thrill! We were dropped off a bit outside of town but the fixer arranged a tuk-tuk for a small fee (around $7 USD for a 45-minute ride through the hills). We thought this experience was money well spent since we had the plane to ourselves!
Travel by seaplane cut around four hours of train travel off of our itinerary. That precious time was well-spent exploring Kandy for the day. The only downside to doing things this way is that we had to return to Kandy later in the trip (albeit just to catch a train). If you don’t want to re-visit a spot and don’t care about seaplanes, you can hop a regular chartered flight to Habarana (listed as Sigiriya on the Cinamon Air website) and skip down on the itinerary to Habarana. Slip in the day in Kandy before Hatton and Adam’s Peak.
Day Two: Things to see and do in Kandy
After your adventurous arrival into Kandy, check into your hotel and seek out a good lunch spot. We visited the Bake Shop in central Kandy. Order at the counter for some tasty samosas and other savory bites. Next, make your way to the Temple of the Tooth. It is said that the tooth of the Buddha has found a home here. Many Sri Lankans make the pilgrimage to this sacred temple.
I’m quite versed in Buddhist culture and I found this place to be quite moving. No, you cannot see the tooth, but spend a little time sitting upstairs with monks leading prayer (you are welcome to join and meditate). The temple grounds are beautiful and this area is well worth a looksie.
Afterward, make your way back to the water’s edge and spend some time meandering the lake. There are other activities, such as a beautiful botanical garden, shopping and more, but we were still feeling the jetlag and decided to simply roam the city streets instead.
Where to stay: We loved McCleod Inn. Their balcony offers a stunning view of Kandy. If you don’t stay here, definitely opt to stay on the hills outside of town. Watch the monkeys start trouble on the rooftops and enjoy the beautiful sites and sounds of the city.
Where to eat: There is this incredible dosa place right by the Temple of the Tooth. It’s across the street from Pizza Hut with a green sign. You can’t miss it – the line is usually out the door!
Day Three: Kandy to Habarana
Okay, enough bouncing around, it’s time to get somewhere and stay there! Habarana acts as the perfect home base for Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. You can explore the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Or watch the sunrise over Sigiriya. Take a tour of the cave temple of Dambulla or go on an elephant safari in Minneriya and much more!
We took a private car (cost around $35 US for a four-hour ride with stops). If that’s not in your budget, you can opt to take the bus, but beware, the roads are windy and the bus drivers are crazy. The road was rough enough in the car.
We had the driver stop in Dambulla (or you can hop off your bus and find a tuk-tuk) to visit the famed cave temple. Situated high on a rock outcropping, this stunning temple is litered with images of Buddha. The entire complex is built into a rock face and every inch is pained with imagery of Buddhism. The views from the top give a little tease for the landscape to come.
Afterward, continue on to the small town of Habarana. The town itself is pretty tiny, with just a small offering of restaurants, one wine shop, a grocery store, and a few ATMs, but it’s a great home base. The homestays here were one of our favorites. We stayed within a family complex and enjoyed the quiet evenings filled with sounds of the jungle.
Where to stay: Nice to Meet Homestay. Sameera and his family were some of the most welcoming people we encountered. He sat us down and offered up the perfect itinerary for our three nights here. His wife cooks a mean dinner (so nice we ate it three times) and the rooms were modern. Laundry here is also included. We felt right at home!
Day Four: Sunrise Over Sigiriya
The alarm comes early on day four, but if there’s one thing we learned about sunrises in Sri Lanka, it’s that they shouldn’t be missed. Climb to the top of Pidurangala Rock to watch the sunrise over one of the most iconic views of Sri Lanka. The top of the hike requires a few quick scrambling moves, but if you are able-bodied you should be fine.
We spent a few hours up here since the light continues to impress even after the sun awakens the landscape. Be sure to walk around the entire area to soak in all the views. Afterward, you can head over to Sigiriya Rock and climb to the top to see the ancient palace. However, keep in mind entrance to Sigiriya is a whopping $35 US (while Pidurangala costs maybe 200 Ruppes, just over $1US). We opted out of Sigiriya due to crowds and a steep price tag, instead, we spent the day in Polonnaruwa – which was well worth the $35 price tag.
After breakfast, we headed to Ritigala, a temple complex dating back to 100BC. Honestly, compared to other ruins, this complex had been over-run by the jungle. However, the precise cutting of the huge monolithic stones is truly impressive. It is easy to imagine this healing temple complex in its heyday. The best part? There’s almost no one there. We enjoyed the tranquil time in the jungle trying to guess how they built such precise geometries.
Before dinner, unwind a bit at the Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana. For a small fee ($5USD or 1,000 Rupees) you can relax by the pool.
Day Five: Bike Through Polonnaruwa
Give your eyes a rest and sleep in a bit, but not too late. You’ll want to be in Polonnaruwa early to take advantage of the cool morning weather. Rent bicycles and make your way through the various different sites (this post by Nerd Nomads gave us valuable insight into what we were looking at and the best places to stop).
You can buy juice, snacks, and water along the way. However, I encourage you to bring plenty of water and filter any additional water you may need (I love my LifeStraw filter) in order to avoid using plastic. The ancient grounds get HOT so plan for a few breaks. Keep your snacks close! The local monkey population is keen on getting their hands on some tasty treats!
You’ll likely spend the better part of the day at Polonnaruwa (even more if you opt to visit Anuradhapura instead). Afterwards, unwind under the ancient practice of Ayurveda. We booked massages complete with an herbal steam to wind out the day. This one and a half hour treatment only cost $25US per person. Relax after a day of sightseeing.
Day Six: Habarana to Hatton (Adam’s Peak)
Catch a ride (by bus or by private car) back to Kandy to catch the train to Hatton. We made the mistake of taking the first train of the morning – a first class only train – to Hatton. While we enjoyed the first class ride, that gave us far too much time in the sleepy village at the base of Adam’s Peak.
If you want to explore a little more of Habarana, consider taking your time to reach Hatton. You can opt to see a bit more of Kandy in the morning, or go on an elephant safari in Minneriya. Just be sure to do your research, we heard from a few people that it’s quite common for safari jeeps to chase the animals. This practice is not so good for the animal’s welfare.
The train to Hatton is the start of the famous Kandy to Ella train. In all honesty, we felt that the train from Kandy to Ella was the most over-rated experience in all of Sri Lanka. If you take nothing else from this itinerary take this: You will regret not stopping at the many wonderful villages and towns along the Kandy to Ella train. Your first stop should be Hatton.
Hop off the train and negotiate a tuk-tuk to take you to Nallathanniya. This small town is the base of the climb up the iconic Adam’s Peak. We opted to stay about ten minutes outside of Nallathanniya in Laxpana and it wasn’t one of our better decisions. The village had a small handful of shops, no restaurants, and just three home stays that weren’t too welcoming.
The drive to the base of Adam’s Peak is absolutely stunning, don’t be afraid to ask your tuk-tuk driver to stop for pictures. If you arrive in Nallathanniya early, walk the road (the only road) back towards the lake for killer views and a few beautiful waterfalls.
Here’s a look at a few mental tips to help you tackle your first mountain!
Day 7: Summit Adam’s Peak
That 2 am alarm will come earlier than you’d like. Wipe the sleep from your eyes and dress warmly because it’s time to climb. Even though you only have two weeks in Sri Lanka, the side trip to Adam’s Peak is worth the effort. Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada is Sri Lanka’s holiest mountain. All Sri Lankan’s, regardless of religion, consider it a birthright to climb this mountain for sunrise prayers. It is said that Buddha, Shiva, and Adam all walked here.
Travelers and locals alike make the 5,500-step journey to the top of the peak. The climb took us around 2 and half hours to complete. There are countless stops for tea and snacks along the way. You can opt to start later, but you’ll be jockeying for a good view of the sunrise so the early start ensures a good spot.
It is COLD, like below freezing cold, so bring a blanket, jacket or even a dry shirt to change into. We had enough time to make it to the temple at the top and then climb back down about 50 meters until we found a place in the bushes to watch the sunrise.
The way up definitely presents a challenge, especially for those who aren’t used to intense elevation gains and steep walking. At times the climb was boring, almost meditative. It felt as if I was engaged in a never-ending Stairmaster exercise in the dark. If you have the mental toughness and are in decent physical shape, you should be able to make the climb. Coming from someone who regularly mountaineers for a hobby, even I was sore for several days afterward.
Day 7: Nallathanniya to Haputale
Grub up after the climb with a big breakfast and get ready for the journey back to train station. You’ll likely be done climbing by around 8 to 8:30 am, with plenty of time to catch the 11 am train (we planned all of our train schedules here).
However, be prepared for the tourist-saturated ride to Haputale. We had the unfortunate luck of having to stand for the entire three and half hour journey. After climbing a mountain that morning we were in no mood for anything by the time we reached Haputale. Thankfully, Haputale is the perfect sleepy town to relax the rest of the day away. Enjoy the views as the clouds roll in and out of this town in the sky (it sits at an elevation of 4,695 feet).
Where to Stay: Sunflower Inn Homestay was another one of our favorite places. Ashiq and his wife were absolutely perfect hosts. We learned so much about local life an Ashiq happily took us around to see the sites. We picked up a few local souvenirs here (tea and spices) and had the BEST samosas in all of Sri Lanka. He even got us a private tea factory tour. We were treated like family and we will fondly remember our stay here.
Day 8: Hiking Haputale
If you’re feeling ambitious, start the day early and head to Lipton’s Seat, if not then relax and sleep in a little (which is what we did). You did climb a mountain yesterday after all!
Another awesome spot to scope out is Bambarkanda Falls. As the tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka (all 863 feet of it), this falls packs a splash. A quick hike will take you to the base of the falls. If you visit during the dry season you can crawl around the rocks – just be careful, as the rocks are quite slick! Bring your bathing suit, the swimming is refreshing as can be!
In the afternoon, head to Horton Plains National Park. You can hike to Land’s End for breathtaking views of the nearby hillside. Keep in mind the park entrance is yet another $35 for foreigners.
If you’re all hiked out, consider taking a stroll through Haputale and the surrounding areas. Just outside of town is one of the most beautiful tea plantations with epic views towards the lowlands below. We did a self-guided tour and Googled the history of tea as we sat and enjoyed the scenery.
Where to eat: You cannot come to Haputale without having lunch at Risara Bakers. Best lineup of samosas and rotis I’ve ever had in my life. If you’re looking for a change in menu check out Lettuce and Cabbage or Sunrise Cafe. Their menu may be pricey compared to local shops, but these restaurants whip up some tasty khotu roti and other dishes.
New to hiking? I’ve got you covered with this comprehensive guide to hiking.
Day 9: Haputale to Ella
There is really no rush to get to Ella, so spend the morning exploring more of Haputale and plan to arrive in Ella by mid-afternoon. Lipton’s Seat is a must-see for any Sri Lankan travel itinerary. Go early for the best view. This tea plantation is where most of the Lipton tea from around the world comes from.
The view from Lipton’s Seat is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but what makes this destination so special is the road in. This tea plantation will put your jaw on the floor. It’s simply that beautiful (and big). You can opt to hike or take a tuk-tuk through the estate. There is a factory on the property which is one of the oldest in existence (dating from the 1800s. Some of the machinery is still the same. It’s well worth a look to see how tea is made. Trust me, the train from Kandy to Ella doesn’t have shit on this place.
Enjoy lunch in Haputale and catch the afternoon train to Ella. Fortunately, the journey from Haputale to Ella should only last an hour or so. Once you arrive in Ella, get yourself situated then head down Ella Falls for a relaxing dip. In the evening, head to the Nine Arches Bridge for sunset. If the trains are running on time, you’ll see one pass by just after the sun goes down. It’s a little bit of a gimmick-y excursion, but it’s free and definitely a beautiful bridge.
Where to stay: Will Guest Homestay. Although we didn’t get Will’s famed hospitality (he was away), this place delivered on quality. The rooms are brand new with your own private balcony. The sunrises from your bed are to die for. Plus, the balcony gives you some private space to share quiet time in a gorgeous setting. It is located a bit outside of town, but if you negotiate well a tuk-tuk should run you 300 rupees or just under $2USD.
Day 10: Ella and Glamping in Udawalawe
In all honesty, Ella is a rather over-rated spot, however, it is worth one night on a 2-week itinerary in Sri Lanka. If you want to see what a tourist town looks like in hill country, Ella is it. There is almost nothing authentic about the bar lined streets and overpriced eateries. For us, it was a nice change of pace for a day, but I wouldn’t spend too much time here. You can hit the highlights in a day.
Get up early and hike to Ella Rock. The view from the top is beautiful, but we actually enjoyed hiking down a bit (to the right if you’re facing the rock) to the Buddha shrine.
There are better views in Sri Lanka, but Ella Rock definitely was worth the effort. Follow these instructions to do the hike on your own. Note that the hike starts at the Ella train station but you can also start at the Kital Ella Stop. Keep in mind it is quite steep and the eroding earth can be slick. There is an endless sea of trails crisscrossing the terrain. To our knowledge, all of them end up at the same place, just some are more direct than others.
Aim to be back to your accommodation around 11 am so you can make the two to three-hour journey to Udawalawe National Park.
Day 10: Udawalawe National Park Glamping
Glamping in Udawalawe National Park with MasterCampers is an experience to remember. You stay in a basic, yet comfortable tent complete with fan, toilet, and shower (what!) right on the edge of the water. The overnight adventure includes all meals, juices and we even scored free beer. There are also two game drives with extremely knowledgable guides.
The guides and safari drivers make Master Campers top notch. Rarely were we ever around other jeeps and we saw an incredible array of wildlife. We watched peacocks dance for a mate. Saw hawks chow down on their breakfast. We watched three wild cats play in the afternoon sun. The list goes on. Elephants approached us (instead of us chasing them).
At $345 dollars a head, this was not a cheap experience, but we soaked up every minute of it! The sunset from the property was simply magnificent. After the sun went down we indulged in a five-course candle-lit dinner followed by a campfire. We were a bit apprehensive about the tents (although we aren’t strangers to sleeping under the stars) as things were a bit basic, but the bed was cozy and we enjoyed a quiet night’s sleep.
Day 11: Sunrise Safari and Dickwella
Rise and shine for another early day (no 2 weeks in Sri Lanka is complete with at least four sunrises). This time you’ll be enjoying the sunrise as the elephant families graze on their breakfast. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a leopard or wild jackal on the road.
We hemmed and hawed over visiting Udawalawe National Park instead of Yala. However, we heard about the mistreatment of animals in Yala by the safari guides. Therefore, we did our research before we booked a safari and were happy to pay more in order to ensure the well-being of the animals. Our guide and driver were eager to take us to spots that most jeeps don’t travel to and both worked endlessly to spot wild animals and not disturb their natural behaviors.
After a delightful morning in the park, treat yourself to yet another heaping pile of food for breakfast, then make your way down to Dickwella for some much-needed beach time. Your option for transport is either by bus or private car.
Day 12: Dickwella and Hirekitiya Bay
Let the beach bumming begin! Hirikitiya and Dikwella are two very distinct beaches separated by a small point. Hiriketiya is supposedly the quieter beach, so we were told. However, the cat is out of the bag with this one.
This tiny slice of beach offers great swimming and clear waters, but it’s absolutely packed elbow to asshole with tourists. So much so, we really ended up disliking it. It lacked the charm and welcoming vibes that you found elsewhere in Sri Lanka. I can’t imagine what a place like Marissa or Unawatuna must be like. With that being said, you can find a few cheap eats (the bus and roti huts aren’t too pricey) and the surf is great for beginners.
Rent surfboards (500 LRK for an hour or 1,500 for the day) or relax in the sand. Be aware that the rocks are littered with sea urchins. John had the unfortunate experience of getting two barbs stuck in his foot. The locals tried to pull them out on the beach, but one broke and we had to go to the clinic. This meant no swimming for three days, which put a damper on our beach time, but we managed to salvage what we could.
If you want a quieter, local feel (where you don’t have to pay for an umbrella and beach chair) head over to Dickwella beach. This low-key beach is still swimmable and occasionally has a worthy surf break (not when we were there) but it’s much more relaxed than its trendy neighbor.
Where to stay: Click Hiriketiya saved us after a shitty situation at Dots Bay (see below). This place is brand new and the owner went out of his way to help us out on several occasions (finding a clinic for John’s foot is one of them). The sea view rooms do technically have a view, but the new room styles with a separate shower and mini fridge gave this quiet hideaway high marks in our book.
Do Not Stay at Dots Bay Guest House
We had originally planned to stay at Dots Bay. I’ve read a lot of bloggers who have suggested this place without actually staying here. My advice: DON’T. They stole over $200 from me and refused to uphold their cancelation policy. It was a royal nightmare and I’m still fighting them with my credit card company.
They lied about their rooms. Our room was located off of a storage closet and had no windows. For $60 a night that’s absolutely ridiculous. Not to mention they blast music until 2 am and start it up again at 7 am. We couldn’t sleep even though they claimed to have “soundproof rooms.” Everyone gets wasted at the bar and someone tried to get into our room (which didn’t lock well) at midnight.
When I complained and asked for a refund I was outright refused by rude staff members. They kept asking me to come back in order to see a manager and after dragging myself there three times with zero luck, I gave up and decided to take it up with my credit card company. I got an email from someone a week after I returned to the states saying they would refund me if I gave them my bank details. I’m sorry…but no.
Even if you don’t stay here, the food is overpriced and utterly terrible. I had two meals here, both were nearly inedible.
Day 13: Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast
If lounging around on the same beach isn’t your thing, and you want to explore a bit, rent a motorbike. For about 1,200 LRK ($7 USD) you can rent an automatic motorbike, or scooty as the locals say, for the day. Use your wheels to comb the southern coast in search of the best beaches. We enjoyed Blue Beach, Nilwella Beach and Tangalle. Keep in mind the currents can get a bit rough, so swimming isn’t always an option. It’s fun to have the wind in your hair and the freedom of your own set of wheels.
Day 14: Dikwella back to Negombo
Today marks the end of your two weeks in Sri Lanka. Make your way back towards Negombo or directly to the airport to catch your flight. You can take the train out of Mattara or hire a private car for a pretty penny. The train has the added bonus of following the coast and is quite beautiful. If you have the time, stop off at Galle for the afternoon and grab lunch in this historic port city.
With these 2 weeks in Sri Lanka, you will not only see all of the highlights but have the opportunity to explore a little off of the beaten tourist path. You can easily adjust this two-week itinerary in Sri Lanka to fit your travel tastes and desires. Who says you can’t fully explore a place in just a couple of weeks?