This two-week itinerary around Sri Lanka offers an ideal mix of activity and relaxation. You'll begin in Negombo and work your way around the island, stopping to visit ancient temple complexes, Buddhist shrines, and palaces carved into mountainsides. Along the journey, you'll spend two nights observing wildlife in Wilpattu National Park, enjoy the calm coastline in Pasikudah, explore charming colonial villages, and relax on breathtaking beaches with snorkeling and diving opportunities easily accessible offshore.

Highlights

  • Spot leopards and sloth bears in Wilpattu National Park 
  • Step inside the stone mouth of a lion at Sigiriya
  • Ride a train through hill country from Kandy to Ella
  • Relax on the pristine beaches of Pasikudah and Tangalle
  • Stroll along the ramparts of Galle's 16th-century Dutch Fort

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Wander Through "Little Rome" in Negombo Negombo
Day 2 Drive to Wilpattu National Park Big Game Safari Campsite (Wilpattu)
Day 3 Go on Safari in Wilpattu Big Game Safari Campsite (Wilpattu)
Day 4 Visit One of the World's Oldest Cities, Anuradhapura Sigiriya
Day 5 See the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya Sigiriya
Day 6 Tour the Ruins of Polonnaruwa Pasikudah
Days 7-8 Relax by the Seaside in Pasikudah Pasikudah
Day 9 Visit the Temples of Kandy & Dambulla Kandy
Day 10 Train to Ella Ella
Day 11 Drive to Tangalle & Spot Turtles After Dark Tangalle
Day 12 Free Day in Tangalle  Tangalle
Day 13 Visit Galle Dutch Fort Colombo
Day 14 Sightsee in Colombo & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Wander Through "Little Rome" in Negombo

Sri Lanka - Negombo - Fishing Catamaran
Fishermen hauling in their daily catch on Negombo's beach

Welcome to Sri Lanka! You'll start in Negombo, known as “Little Rome” for its strong Catholic influence. The town transitioned through Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonial rule, and remnants of those cultures remain today. The city's intriguing past will reveal itself as you meander past colonial architecture and quiet canals to reach a lagoon abundant with marine life. Local fishermen have been harvesting lobsters, crabs, and prawns here for centuries.

Day 2: Drive to Wilpattu National Park

Sri Lanka - A lake in Wilpattue National Park
The wetlands of Wilpattu National Park

Visit the local fish market in Negombo this morning before transferring to Wilpattu National Park, the largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park has an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna: it's home to over 30 mammal species, including sloth bears, Sri Lankan elephants, and spotted deer. Various wetland bird species also live here, such as the pintail, whistling teal spoonbill, and white ibis. You'll have great opportunities for wildlife viewing while on an evening Jeep safari through the park. Spend the night in a safari camp, enjoying an alfresco dinner by the lake before turning in.

Day 3: Go on Safari in Wilpattu National Park

Sri Lanka - Wilpattu National Park - Leopard
Leopards keeping their cool in the midday sun

Spend a full day in Wilpattu National Park today. Explore the habitat of countless native species during a safari adventure that includes breakfast, lunch, and all transportation. Keep your eyes open for the Sri Lankan Leopard, currently the largest species of leopard living in Asia — the park is one of the only places where they can be spotted. A large group of Sri Lankan sloth bears, Sri Lanka's only endemic bear species, also lives within the park. If you're lucky, you will get to track down these rare creatures and observe them in their natural surroundings. After a long day, return to the camp for dinner and another overnight.

Day 4: Visit One of the World's Oldest Cities, Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka - Anuradhapura - Ruwanweli Saya Dagoba
Sightseeing in Anuradhapura 

Continue on to Anuradhapura, a city with a large number of ancient monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Founded around 377 BCE, Anuradhapura is renowned as one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. This is a great place to learn about the great Sinhala civilization that flourished in this region when Anuradhapura was the seat of power over 1400 years ago. Architectural and engineering marvels range from historical palaces, temples, monasteries, and ceremonial baths to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. This sacred bo tree was grown from a branch of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Another highlight is Sri Lanka's tallest dagoba (Buddhist stupa), Ruwanweli Maha Saya. After an extensive tour of Anuradhapura, transfer to Sigiriya to eat dinner and stay overnight.

Day 5: See the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Sigiriya's ancient rock fortress

Head to the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya today, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Some say the site should be named the eighth wonder of the world. The name translates to "Lion Rock," a reference to the way visitors traditionally began their final ascent to the top of the monument, passing through the open jaws and throat of a lion. Unfortunately, the only remains of this lion figure today are the gigantic paws sculpted into the side of the rock. The fortress, rising up high from the jungle, is an incredible sight to see. 

Day 6: Tour the Ruins of Polonnaruwa

The Gal Vihara temple complex in Polonnaruwa

Leave Sigiriya bright and early and begin your journey to Sri Lanka's eastern shore. Along the way, visit the ruins of Polonnaruwa, another UNESCO-protected site that served as the capital from the 11th to 13th centuries. Enclosed by stone walls, the city was filled with palaces, shrines, monasteries, pavilions, parks, ponds, and irrigation lakes. Many of these still stand today, with the most spectacular being the Gal Vihara temple complex. The structure was cut from a single granite wall and contains dozens of statues of reclining, sitting, and standing Buddhas, making it one of the true masterpieces of Sri Lankan art. Take the afternoon to tour the entire complex, then continue driving until you reach the coastal town of Pasikudah, where you'll spend the night.

Days 7-8: Relax by the Seaside in Pasikudah

A beautiful beach in Pasikudah

Situated on the eastern coast of the country, Pasikudah is known to have one of the longest stretches of shallow reef coastline in the world. You'll have two days to spend in this natural paradise. Walk for miles in calm, crystal-clear water, then dive or snorkel at one of many ideal spots offshore. The surrounding reef contains all kinds of tropical fish, and if you're lucky, you might even spot whales, dolphins, manta rays, reef sharks, and other exotic sea creatures.

Day 9: Visit the Temples of Kandy & Dambulla

Dambulla, Sri Lanka
The Golden Temple in Dambulla

Continue to Dambulla, known for its Cave Temple, the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. Featuring impressive mural paintings and 157 statues, including a massive Buddha monument, it's a sacred pilgrimage site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The history of the place dates back to the first century BCE, when King Valagambahu took refuge here. Today, it's worth visiting not only for the cave temple but also for the beautiful view over the countryside. Next, it's onward to Kandy, strategically situated between three mountain ranges, where you'll stay overnight at a boutique hotel.

Day 10: Train to Ella

Nine arches Demodara Bridge, Ella, Sri Lanka
Scenic views on the train to Ella

After breakfast, proceed to the Kandy Railway Station. You'll spend the better part of the day traveling from Kandy to Ella on one of Sri Lanka's famous old trains. This particular train journey was first created by the British in the 19th century. Its main purpose was transporting goods, mainly tea from the area's plantations. After enjoying a day's worth of magnificent scenery, you'll arrive in the sleepy mountain village of Ella. The town, located in the central highlands, has a wonderfully cool climate. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the south coast of Sri Lanka. Ella is also a perfect place for relaxing, with lots of fantastic walks that lead through tea plantations to temples and waterfalls. 

Day 11: Drive to Tangalle & Spot Turtles After Dark

Baby loggerhead turtle, Sri Lanka
A baby sea turtle in Tangalle

Leave for Tangalle, a small fishing port with reminders of the Dutch colonial era of the 18th century. Its beautiful villas look out over the shimmering beach of Seenimodera. Protected from the ocean by a reef, the palm-fringed bay and pristine coves are a natural treasure. Five species of marine turtles come ashore to nest here, and they can be observed throughout the year in their natural habitat. Unlike the turtle hatcheries on the west coast, the eggs are left undisturbed in the sand here. Even though there is no guarantee that the marine turtles will come ashore every night, you'll have fun waiting for them on one of the world's most beautiful beaches.

Day 12: Free Day in Tangalle 

Sri Lanka - Tangalle
Palm trees fringe one of Tangalle's beaches

Today is yours to enjoy in the low-key beach destination of Tangalle. Swim, sunbathe, and walk along the coast, exploring charming coves and quiet beaches, or opt for a half-day excursion to one of many interesting attractions nearby. You could take a half-day excursion to Wewurukannala to see Sri Lanka's largest Buddha figure, or check out the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary to discover marine and bird life in its many habitats. Other interesting attractions include the plateau at Ussangoda and the rock temples of Mulkirigala

Day 13: Visit Galle Dutch Fort

Colombo
Colombo, the capital city

Enjoy one last beachside breakfast before heading west to Galle, the lively provincial capital and administrative center of the south, to check out the Galle Dutch Fort. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fortress was built by the Portuguese in 1587 and reconstructed by the Dutch. From the fort, enjoy stunning views over Unawatuna Bay and the Laccadive Sea.

Next, you'll head up the coast to Colombo. A melting pot of cultures and commerce, Colombo is a lively city with a fascinating history. Arab sailors frequented these ports to trade with the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists that occupied the city. Visit impressive cultural sights, including Buddhist temples and Hindu kovils (a type of Hindu temple), and explore the bustling markets and bazaars of Pettah

Day 14: Sightsee in Colombo & Depart

Sri Lanka - Colombo - Seema Malaka Temple
Colombo's Seema Malaka Temple

This morning, make time for any last-minute sightseeing and souvenir shopping before you head to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!  

More Great Sri Lanka Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Sri Lanka? Check out these other 14-day Sri Lanka itineraries, with active adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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Map

Map of Ancient History & Pristine Beaches in Sri Lanka - 14 Days
Map of Ancient History & Pristine Beaches in Sri Lanka - 14 Days