With a colorful cultural history and rugged landscapes that are ideal for outdoor adventures, Sri Lanka is a wonderful destination for a family vacation. This two-week tour around the island features a dolphin-watching tour, multiple safari adventures, a Sri Lankan cooking class, and visits to ancient fortresses. Thanks to the mix of hands-on activities and cultural education, it's an excellent option for travelers of all ages.

Highlights

  • Go on a dolphin-watching boat tour in Kalpitiya
  • Enjoy a safari adventure in Wilpattu National Park
  • Explore the fascinating cave temples of Dambulla
  • Learn to cook Sri Lankan dishes with a local chef
  • Relax and try watersports by the beach in Unawatuna

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore the Outdoors in Waikkala Waikkala
Day 2 Enjoy the Beaches of Kalpitiya Kalpitiya
Day 3 See Dolphins on a Boat Tour in Kalpitiya  Wilpattu
Day 4 Go on Safari in Wilpattu National Park Wilpattu
Day 5 Sightsee in Anuradhapura  Sigiriya
Day 6 Explore the Ruins of Polonnaruwa  Sigiriya
Day 7 Visit Temples in Dambulla & Kandy Kandy
Day 8 Learn About Tea in Nuwara Eliya Nuwara Eliya
Day 9 Discover Horton Plains & Udawalawe National Parks Udawalawe
Day 10 Visit the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe Unawatuna
Days 11-12 Relax on the Beach in Unawatuna Unawatuna
Day 13 Tour Historic Galle & the Capital City of Colombo Colombo
Day 14 Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore the Outdoors in Waikkala

Catamaran in Ginoya
A traditional Sri Lankan sailboat

Welcome to Sri Lanka! Located on the west coast, Waikkala (also spelled Waikkal) offers a charming mix of sandy beaches, delectable seafood, and lush mangroves along its river and lagoon. With a dazzling array of native butterflies, amphibians, and reptiles, the unique mangrove ecosystem provides an ideal location for boat rides and birdwatching. More than sixty species of birds can be observed here, too, such as the common sandpiper, little ringed plover, purple coot, painted stork, stork-billed kingfisher, and many others. Check in at Wattura Resort & Spa and relax before the next day's adventure begins.

Day 2: Enjoy the Beaches of Kalpitiya

Kitesurfing in Kalpitiya

Today, travel to the western coastal town of Kalpitiya. Known for its islands and marine life, Kalpitiya is an up-and-coming tourist destination, although it has a long history as an important stop-off for maritime trade and smuggling escapades. It was first colonized by the Portuguese in the early 17th century before being used as a strategic military outpost during the Dutch occupation. Now, there is a well-preserved Dutch Fort and Dutch Church, also referred to as the Dutch Reformed Church. There is also a marine sanctuary featuring a variety of coastal habitats, from salt marshes to sand dunes to mangrove swamps. Relax on the beach at sunset before getting some rest.

Day 3: See Dolphins on a Boat Tour in Kalpitiya 

Dolphins off the coast of Kalpitiya

An exciting activity awaits today: a dolphin-watching boat tour off the coast. In Kalpitiya, you don’t need to go far out in the ocean to catch a glimpse of dolphins. The continental shelf runs alongside the shoreline, which provides a great opportunity to observe various marine species just a short boat ride away from the beach. From November to April, you may see pods of hundreds of dolphins in the waters near Kalpitiya, especially around Bar Reef, a one-hour boat ride away. Spinner dolphins are the most common, but bottlenose and humpback dolphins are also seen regularly. Later in the day, drive to Wilpattu and relax before the next day's safari.

Day 4: Go on a Safari in Wilpattu National Park

Chef in the Wild
Learning to cook Sri Lankan food with a local chef

Wake up early for a Jeep safari around 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 Sri Lankan elephants and spotted deer. Various wetland bird species also live here, such as the pintail, whistling teal spoonbill, and white ibis.

Keep your eyes open for the Sri Lankan leopard, currently the largest species of leopard living in Asia. Wilpattu National Park is known for its numerous opportunities to film and photograph these wonderful animals. In addition, Wilpattu is home to Sri Lankan sloth bears, best seen during June and July. You'll take a break back at camp for lunch, learning how to make a traditional Sri Lankan meal with the resident chef. Then relax in the afternoon before going out on another game drive in the evening. You'll barbecue under the stars at night before getting some rest.

Day 5: Sightsee in Anuradhapura 

Stupa's in Anuradhapura
A shrine in Anuradhapura

After another early morning game drive in Wilpattu National Park, continue on to Anuradhapura, a city with a large number of ancient monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 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. Spend a relaxing evening in Anuradhapura.

Day 6: Explore the Ruins of Polonnaruwa 

Families in Sigiriya
Polonnaruwa

This morning, have breakfast at the hotel, then transfer to the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, 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. 

Next, continue to Polonnaruwa. The second-largest city in the province, UNESCO-listed Polonnaruwa is full of ancient monuments. It's also home to the huge Parakrama Samudra reservoir, which consists of five separate reservoirs connected by channels. You'll explore the area on bicycles, an activity that's fun for all ages.

Day 7: Visit Temples in Dambulla & Kandy

Pagoda in a Cave
Buddha statues in the cave temples of 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, and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The impressive temple complex, dating back to the 16th century, is made up of numerous buildings decorated with paintings and carvings depicting Buddha. As the name suggests, it's home to an important relic, the tooth of the Buddha, which is carefully guarded by security night and day. You'll stay overnight in Kandy.

Day 8: Learn About Tea in Nuwara Eliya

Workers on a tea plantation in Nuwara Eliya

Continue onward to Nuwara Eliya this morning, often referred to as "Little England." Colonized by the British, Sri Lanka’s highest town still retains an old-world grandeur. You'll see old colonial-style hotels, a golf club that dates back to 1889, and abundant rose gardens. The climate here is unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. Due to the high elevation, it offers a cooler, invigorating atmosphere that makes for a pleasant journey as you travel to a tea plantation in the afternoon. There, you'll learn about Ceylon tea, one of Sri Lanka's main exports. Observe colorfully dressed tea leaf-pickers hard at work on the sloping hills. With incredible dexterity, they fill several sacks of tea leaves each day. You'll get to see the entire process, from tea bush to teapot, on this dedicated tour. 

Day 9: Discover Horton Plains & Udawalawe National Parks

Horton Plains National Park
Horton Plains National Park

This morning you'll go trekking in the famous Horton Plains National Park, a reserve characterized by a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, forests, and grassland. It's home to various mammal species, including elk, deer, giant squirrel, wild boar, wild hare, porcupine, and leopard. The park also has unique vegetation and offers a perfect ground to observe many rare and endemic highland birds. One particularly impressive physical feature in Horton Plains is the escarpment that falls dramatically to the lowlands. Aptly known as the "World’s End," the precipice offers a fabulous view of the tea estates below. On a clear day, you can see all the way out to the distant southern coastline.

After lunch, move on to Udawalawe National Park. Located on the boundary of Sri Lanka's wet and dry zones, it's is one of the best places in the world to see wild elephants. It's not unusual to see big herds gathering to feed and bath by the waterholes — the resident population is around 400. In addition to this main attraction, Udawalawe is home to many water buffalo, lizards, sambar deer, monkeys, and a huge variety of birds. You'll have ample opportunities to enjoy native wildlife during an afternoon Jeep safari drive in the park. 

Day 10: Visit the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe

Elephant Transit  Home
Baby elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe

Today's highlight is the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, where dozens of baby elephants are taken care of with minimum human interaction. The babies' mothers were either killed or lost, and the transit home provides food, medical care, and everything else a baby elephant needs. When the elephants are big and strong enough, they are released into the wilderness and start living a “normal” elephant life. A few times a day, visitors can enjoy observing the feeding hour when the small elephants rush to drink milk. 

After lunch, move on to Unawatuna Beach. With palm-lined beaches and turquoise waters, it's a great place to take it easy and enjoy the sun. Sample freshly caught seafood and enjoy the sunset before staying overnight in a beachfront hotel.

Days 11-12: Relax on the Beach in Unawatuna

An idyllic stretch of coastline in Unawatuna

As the trip nears its end, you'll have a few days to relax on the beaches of Unawatuna. Hike to the Japanese Peace Pagoda for sweeping views over the ocean, visit a nearby sea turtle farm and hatchery, or just take it easy under a palm tree, listening to the ocean waves. Just offshore, a coral reef creates excellent opportunities for swimming and diving. Go on a boat tour or try your hand at watersports — you'll have some free time to choose your own adventures.

Day 13: Tour Historic Galle & the Capital City of Colombo

Galle Dutch Fort

Galle Dutch Fort in Galle, Sri Lanka

Today you'll enjoy a tour around Galle and experience the wonders of the historical town and its surroundings. The first stop is at the tea factory at Kahanda Kanda, which offers an overview of how tea is processed, from lush green leaves to teacup. Then you'll stop by Koggala Lake, dotted with hundreds of tiny islands. Take a break for a boat ride around the serene marshland scenery, spotting rare birds during the trip. Next, the tour will take you through paddy fields and plantations dedicated to coconut, rubber, and cinnamon plantations. Continue to Galle Fort, built in the 17th century. Then head to the capital city of Colombo, where you'll enjoy a night out on the town before the trip ends. 

Day 14: Depart 

Morning traffic in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The trip has come to an end — this morning, it's off 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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