Voted as number one country for travel in 2019 by Lonely Planet, Srilanka has all it takes to be ranked as the top emerging Asian travel destination. From mountains to jungle forests, tea plantations, waterfalls, and beaches, it’s a haven for nature and adventure lovers. My Srilanka itinerary offers a two-week route guide across the country, taking you through the major attractions and the top things to do and see. It is of course flexible and can be adapted to the length of your stay. Let’s go!
Day 1-2: Unwinding in Negombo
What you should know is that Colombo, Srilanka’s capital city, is not the closest to Colombo’s airport. Ideally, you would want to head to Negombo after you land, which is a town by the sea, 30 minutes from the airport. Not only is it closer, but also more laid-back.
Where to stay in Negombo:
Since we only wanted a place to spend the night and relax after a long flight, Ayurveda Green Resort was more than enough for us. It’s clean with a view on Negombo beach, and the staff is very friendly. We had our breakfast on the cute terrace, which consisted of fresh fruits, fresh Soursop juice, eggs, sausages, and toast.
Day 2-3: Hiriwaduna/Kandalama
On your way to the Northern part of Srilanka, where your ultimate goal is to climb the Sigiriya Lion Rock, stop at Hiriwaduna village for a pleasant traditional lunch experience. We were hesitant to go for it as we had a feeling it was a touristic attraction but we actually didn’t regret it. During the tour, you will experience a tuktuk ride, a catamaran boat ride on the lake, a bullock cart ride, not to forget traditional live cooking and lunch in a humble and friendly setting. The food was really good, including a variety of vegan options (Dhal, curry, beans, aubergine, rice). We paid $25/person for the whole 2-hour experience.
In the afternoon, check in in one of the most beautiful hotels in Srilanka and enjoy its architectural masterpiece and unique setting.
Day 4: Sigiriya
The Lion Rock is one of the most famous landmarks in Srilanka. On top of being a UNESCO World Heritage, locals call it “The Eighth Wonder of the World”. Climbing it was one of the highlights of our trips. Read more about it here.
Optional afternoon activities:
Minneriya National Park: Less than an hour from the hotel, Minneriya is one of the most famous elephant sanctuaries in Srilanka spreading over 8800 hectares, where you can witness the largest elephant gathering in the world as well as a rich wildlife.
Dambulla Cave temple: We did not regret climbing the several stairs to see Srilanka’s largest rock cave temple, also a world heritage site!
Day 5: Kandy
You Srilanka travel itinerary is never complete without visiting a spice garden and learning all about the flavors and benefits of the amazing Srilankan ayurvedic spices. Rich in vegetables and spices, Matale is where you will stop to enjoy this experience over a cup of tea or even a local lunch!
Kandy is known to be the last Kingdom of Srilanka and a rich cultural hub. Enjoy the afternoon visiting temples, most famous of which is the Tooth Relic Temple, walking by Kandy lake, and relaxing in the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya – a real delight! (The gardens close at 6pm, make sure to dedicate two hours for your visit at least. They’re huge and so pleasant to explore, also great for an afternoon siesta!)
Where to hang out at night: Stay Chilled, Buono, Hipster’s Hideout Lounge.
Day 6: Train Ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
Hop on one of the most beautiful train rides in the world from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya for a 4-hour scenic journey across tea plantations. The express train leaves at 7:47am and rides through stunning landscape; you really don’t want to miss it! Make sure to book your ticket in advance as this ride is highly wanted, especially in peak seasons.
Day 6-7: Nuwara Eliya
Elevated at an altitude of 1,800m, Nuwara Eliya is known to be the “Little England” of Srilanka. With its British feel dominated by wood cottages, its tea plantations, its Horton Plains national park, its fresh climate, and its beautiful waterfalls, we voted for a two-night stay here.
Our highlights: Horton Plains & Ramboda waterfalls.
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya: Queenswood Cottage. (absolutely charming!)
Day 8: Ella
Backpacker or not, Ella is a town that should be included in your Srilanka itinerary. It’s mostly known for being a backpacker-friendly destination with its many hostels and its vibrant bars and cafes. We personally did not sleep there but enjoyed a stroll in the town and a coffee break before venturing to the Nine Arch bridge and taking a fresh dip in the Ravana falls!
Where we slept: Because we wanted to do the elephant safari in Uduwalawe National Park the next morning, we slept at Uduwalawe Safari Resort.
Day 9: Uduwalawe or Yala
After Ella, you can either head to Uduwalawe National Park or Yala National Park. Both are well rated for elephants and wildlife safari. Either or, make sure to schedule your safari before 12pm or after 3pm for optimal chances of seeing wildlife.
We did our safari at 3pm, after which we headed to the “Transit Room”, only few minutes by car, to watch the elephants feeding! The feeding sessions take place every 3 hours, starting from 9 in the morning till 6 in the evening. The entrance is 500 rupees per person (less than $3) and allows you to watch how orphan elephants are gathered and fed before being released out in the wilderness again. A cute experience!
Day 10-11: Weligama
After days of traveling in Srilanka, you’ll be more than ready for this coconut break on the beach or for hitting those waves. Surfing on this side of the coast is ideal between October and April. If you’re a beginner, check my article about surfing in Weligama.
Whether you plan on taking surfing lessons or not, Weligama is the most laid-back place on the south coast of Srilanka in my opinion.
Where to stay: Happy Go Island.
Where to Eat: Hummus Bar, Fisherman’s Father (hut serving fresh fish on Weligama beach).
Where to enjoy a drink: W15, Hangtime Hostel.
Day 12: Unuwatuna
While Weligama beach is a hotspot for surfers, we found our quiet paradise in Unuwatuna, where we particulary enjoyed the warm soft sand and the dreamy landscape of beach rocks and palm trees. We also took a swing in one of the most instafamous spots in Srilanka!
Unuwatuna is also only 15 minutes away from one of the most charming towns in the South of Srilanka: Galle. Enjoy a stroll in the European charm of its streets, explore its cute boutiques, and most importantly, discover the old historical fortress of Galle!
Day 13: Mirissa
A “hype” version of Weligama, Mirissa is lively day and night, offering beautiful beaches and a wide choice of restaurants and bars. It’s only 10 minutes by tuktuk from Weligama, which makes it easy for a day trip, unless you want to be based in Mirissa and explore the South coast from there.
(stay at the beach is extendable as long as desired)
Day 14: Back to Colombo
You can either decide to spend the day in Colombo before flying home or head straight to the airport. Keep in mind that the trip back in a private car takes around two hours, and by train around 3 hours.
Best time to visit Srilanka
Ideally, the best time to visit Srilanka is from December till April, if you plan on seeing the most of it with least probabilities of rain, including the West, South, and hill side. The rest of the year is usually a good time to visit the East coast.
Given the lengthy distances between the main destinations in Srilanka, and if you don’t have a month to spend there – most likely – the best way to optimize your time is to rent a private car. The cost should be around $50 per day.
If not, it’s always possible to use public transport such as the bus, the train, or the tuktuk.
During our stay in the South, we decided to rent a tuktuk and it cost us 2,000 rupees per day, equivalent to 11$ per day. Definitely a cool experience to try!
The currency is rupee in Srilanka and $1 is equivalent to 178 rupees more or less (at the time of writing this article).
You will need a visa to enter Srilanka, which you can get online for $30. The most reliable site for visa application to Srilanka is www.eta.gov.lk.
The best way to stay connected is to buy a local SIM at the airport. It’s quite cheap, allowing you to enjoy 4GB for $7 only.
Food & Drinks
The local cuisine is quite straight-forward in Srilanka, consisting mainly of rice and curry, Kotu, and of course, delicious fresh fish on the coast. Since the alcohol license is a bit of a hassle, not all bed&breakfasts offer alcohol; a good thing would be to grab your favorite bottle from the duty free and take it with you on rooftop parties (those are quite popular in the South).
If you’re not really the type who enjoys organizing their own trip and prefer to sit back and let someone do the homework for you, I recommend you get in touch with Escape Travel Expert, a boutique travel agency in Beirut which helped me with the logistics of my trip and will be pleased to tailor yours, the way you want it.
Anything I haven’t covered for you? Get in touch and I’ll be more than happy to answer your questions!