Experience Sri Lanka's top historic attractions with enough time to relax on a number of breathtaking beaches on this two-week adventure. You'll begin in Negombo and work your way around the island stopping to visit sprawling temple complexes, ancient Buddhist and Hindu shrines, as well as unique cave temples and palaces carved into mountainsides and standalone rocks. Along the way, you'll stay two nights amid wildlife in Wilpattu, enjoy the calm coastline in Pasikudah, and explore charming colonial villages.

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 Arrive in Negombo Negombo
Day 2 Drive to Wilpattu National Park Big Game Safari Campsite (Wilpattu)
Day 3 Explore Wilpattu Big Game Safari Campsite (Wilpattu)
Day 4 Drive to Sigiriya; Visit Anuradhapura Sigiriya
Day 5 Explore Sigiriya Sigiriya
Day 6 Drive to Pasikudah; Visit Polonnaruwa Pasikudah
Days 7-8 Experience Pasikudah Pasikudah
Day 9 Drive to Kandy; Visit Dambulla Kandy
Day 10 Ride the train to Ella Ella
Day 11 Drive to Tangalle; Nighttime turtle excursion Tangalle
Day 12 Free day in Tangalle  Tangalle
Day 13 Drive to Colombo; Visit Galle Dutch Fort Colombo
Day 14 Depart Colombo  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Negombo

Sri Lanka - Negombo - Fishing Catamaran
Watch the fishermen haul in their daily catch on the Negombo beach

Welcome to Negombo! A fishing town with a fascinating colonial past, you'll meet your driver at the Bandaranaike International Airport and transfer to the heart of Negombo 30 minutes away to check into your hotel and settle in after a long day of traveling. 

Day 2: Drive to Wilpattu National Park

Sri Lanka - A lake in Wilpattue National Park
Discover some of the wetlands of Wilpattu National Park

After breakfast at your hotel, find your way to the lively fish market to experience centuries-old fish mongering before heading a few hours north to your safari campsite in the Wilpattu National Park—the largest national park in Sri Lanka and home to many diverse species of forest, mammals, and birds. Keep an eye out for leopards, the sloth bear, elephants, and spotted deer as well as wetland birds like the whistling teal spoonbill and white ibis. Settle into your lodgings at the Big Game safari campsite amid bush forest and enjoy an alfresco dinner by the nearby lake.

Day 3: Explore Wilpattu

Sri Lanka - Wilpattu National Park - Leopard
Spot leopards keeping their cool in the midday sun in the shade of a tree

Spend a full day in Wilpattu National Park and explore the habitat of countless native species through a safari adventure that includes breakfast, lunch, and all transportation. Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive leopard—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 head to bed.

Day 4: Drive to Sigiriya - Visit Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka - Anuradhapura - Ruwanweli Saya Dagoba
Wander amid ancient ruins of Anuradhapura and visit the Ruwanweli Saya dagoba

After your campsite breakfast, you'll head to your next destination, Anuradhapura. With a large number of ancient monuments and several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Anuradhapura is one of the best places to discover the Sinhala civilization that once flourished in Sri Lanka. This ancient city was the seat of power for great Sinhala kings over 1,400 years ago and has preserved many architectural and engineering marvels.

See the tallest dagoba (Buddhist stupa) in Sri Lanka, Ruwanweli Maha Saya, as well as the remains of palaces, temples, monasteries, ceremonial baths, and the temple of the holy Bo-tree (Sri Maha Bodhi). The Sri Maha Bodhi Bo tree is especially famous, as locals say it grew from a branch of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. After an extensive tour of Anuradhapura, transfer to the area surrounding Sigiriya to eat dinner and stay overnight.

Day 5: Explore Sigiriya

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Discover Sigiriya's ancient fortress-palace and its colorful paintings inside

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll take the afternoon to explore Sigiriya; a fortress-palace considered a premier eco-tourism destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structure rises from the flatlands surrounding it, towering over 600 feet above the jungle.

Sigiriya, meaning 'Lion Rock' in English, is named after the lion-shaped gateway carved into the palace's massive rocky base. Discover the monument for yourself as you ascend to the top through the lion's throat and open jaws. Unfortunately, the only remaining part of the lion that has not faded over the centuries is the set of stone paws. Once you finish visiting the fortress, take the rest of the afternoon to relax with some time off before returning to your accommodation.

Day 6: Drive to Pasikudah - Visit Polonnaruwa

Explore 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, and former capital from the 11th to 13th centuries. Enclosed by stone walls, the city was dotted 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 (about 3 hours) where you'll check into your accommodation, eat dinner, and retreat to your room for the night.

Days 7-8: Experience Pasikudah

Enjoy an evening stroll along the shallow coastline 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 as most coasts in Sri Lanka are deep and experience stronger currents. Walk for miles in calm, crystal-clear water only a few inches deep and go scuba diving or snorkeling at any one of the coast's ideal spots. 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.

Enjoy two days seaside, taking advantage of the beach and your hotel's offerings, like spa treatements, a pool, and excellent dining options.

Day 9: Drive to Kandy - Visit Dambulla

Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Check out Dambulla's many Buddha statues inside its cave temples

Today you will return inland and continue your venture toward Kandy, stopping to visit Dambulla, an ancient city known for its beautiful cave temples and giant Buddha statue. The temple complex spans over five caves, contains over 150 Buddha images, and served as King Valagambahu's refuge in the 1st century BCE. The second cave is the largest and most elaborately decorated. It contains another impressive Buddha, this time a reclining one, as well as statues of Valagambahu and Nissankamalla, two of Sri Lanka's most famous kings. 

Get the chance to see each of the caves in detail, and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Then, continue on your five-hour drive to Kandy and stay overnight at a boutique hotel.

Day 10: Ride the train to Ella

Nine arches Demodara Bridge, Ella, Sri Lanka
Take in the scenic views from your seat on the train to Ella

After breakfast, enjoy a scenic train ride to the sleepy mountain village of Ella. Located in the cool central highlands, Ella's elevation allows you to see miles of Sri Lanka's south coast on a clear day. Walk through local tea plantations, temples, and waterfalls and relax in the soothing jungle climate before enjoying dinner where you will be staying overnight.

Day 11: Drive to Tangalle - Nighttime turtle excursion

Baby loggerhead turtle, Sri Lanka
Go on an evening excursion to see turtle hatchlings like this loggerhead

This morning you'll leave for Tangalle, a small fishing port on the southern coast. Traipse through Tangalle noting architectural influences from its Dutch-colony past and admire the beautiful villas looking over the Seenimodera beach, one of the finest and largest bays on the island. Protected from the ocean by an enclosing reef, the palm-fringed bay and pristine coves are a natural treasure waiting for you to explore.

Five out of seven species of marine turtles come ashore to nest in Sri Lanka, and all five of them can be observed in Rekawa throughout the year in their natural habitat. Unlike the turtle hatcheries on the west coast, here the eggs are left undisturbed in the sand and protected in situ. Though it's not guaranteed you'll see nesting turtles or hatchlings, you will still have the opportunity to experience an exciting nighttime adventure on one of the world's most beautiful beaches.

Day 12: Experience Tangalle

Sri Lanka - Tangalle
Eat fresh seafood and lie out on the inviting sand of one of Tangalle's beaches

Today is yours to explore Tangalle at your own pace. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your villa before setting out to the beach for a laid-back day of sun and surf. Break up the beach day with a half-day excursion to Wewurukannala to see Sri Lanka's largest Buddha figure or check out the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary and discover marine and bird life in its many habitats (lagoons, mangrove swamps, grasslands, and jungle).

Day 13: Drive to Colombo - Visit Galle Dutch Fort

Colombo
Go out on the town in lively Colombo

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 36-hectare fortress built by the Portuguese in 1587 and reconstructed by the Dutch majestically rests on a peninsula that stretches into the sea. Work your way to the fort for 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. Ancient Arab sailors frequented these ports to trade with the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists that occupied the city. Discover the cultural attractions scattered throughout this vibrant city and meet its welcoming, multi-cultural locals.

Visit impressive cultural sights like Buddhist temples and Hindu kovils (a type of Hindu temple) scattered throughout the city and experience the diversity of religion, ethnicity, and customs of the locals. Drive through the city's commercial center known as the “Fort” where grand colonial-era buildings stand alongside modern hotels and office structures. Explore the bustling markets and bazaars in Pettah before visiting the museums and art centers for their beautiful collections of antiques, artworks, and crafts. If there's time, indulge in some shopping stopping to snack on Sri Lankan delicacies.

Day 14: Depart Colombo 

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

Enjoy your last morning in Sri Lanka. Complete any last minute souvenir and gift shopping if there's time before catching your flight home from Colombo's Bandaranayake International Airport.