This 14-day island-hopping trip offers equal parts exploration and relaxation. Uncover the history and culture of Sri Lanka, a jewel of the Indian Ocean, from ancient rock fortresses and historic capital cities to quiet tea plantations and national parks home to elephants and other endangered wildlife. You'll spend some time unwinding on the beaches of Unawatuna before heading to the capital city of Colombo to catch your flight to the Maldives. You'll spend the last few days of the trip snorkeling, swimming, and enjoying epic sunsets in this island paradise.

Highlights

  • Explore the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya
  • Check out amazing views of Hill Country from Ella Rock
  • Go on a sunset elephant safari through Udawalawe National Park
  • Watch the stilted fishermen working on the southern coast
  • Relax on picture-perfect beaches in the Maldives

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore "Little Rome" in Negombo Negombo
Day 2 Visit Yapahuwa Rock Fortress Giritale
Day 3 Tour the Temple of Sigiriya & Ruins of Polonnaruwa Giritale
Day 4 Discover the Cave Temple of Dambulla  Kandy
Day 5 Learn About Tea at a Tea Plantation Ella
Day 6 Hike to Little Adam's Peak & Ella Rock Ella
Day 7 Enjoy an Afternoon Safari in Udawalawe National Park Udawalawe
Day 8 Visit Historic Galle Fort Unawatuna
Day 9 Relax by the Beach in Unawatuna Unawatuna
Day 10 Get to Know the Capital City of Colombo  Colombo
Day 11 Fly to the Maldives Maldives
Day 12 Explore an Island Paradise in the Maldives Maldives
Day 13 Boat Around the Maldives Maldives
Day 14 Depart  Maldives

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore "Little Rome" in Negombo

Negombo is famous for its sandy beaches & fishing industry
A sailboat in Negombo

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. Take a stroll on the beach, then stop by a lively fish market before you take a break for dinner. 

Day 2: Visit Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Visit the 13th-century Yapahuwa Rock Fortress
The 13th-century Yapahuwa Rock Fortress

Depart from Negombo after breakfast and travel to Girithale, stopping along the way at the ancient citadel of Yapahuwa, located midway between Kurunegala and Anuradhapura. The citadel was built around a huge granite rock that rises high above the surrounding lowlands. In the early 1200s, Yapahuwa was the capital of Sri Lanka. Later abandoned, the fortress was transformed into a monastery by Buddhist monks. Tour the citadel to see the caves at the base of the rock — shelter for the monks — and the Bodhi tree on the top. Afterward, continue on to Girithale and check in to your hotel for the night.

Day 3: Tour the Temple of Sigiriya & Ruins of Polonnaruwa

Start your day with a visit to Sigirya
Climbing up to the top of Sigirya

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. The Thopa reservoir is the oldest, developed during the reign of the city's greatest ruler, King Parakramabahu. 

Day 4: Discover the Cave Temple of Dambulla 

See the cave paintings in Dambulla
Ancient statues and cave paintings 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, 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. 

Day 5: Learn About Tea at a Tea Plantation

This afternoon, take a walk up to the famous Nine Arches Bridge
The famous Nine Arch Bridge

Today, you'll continue on your journey through Sri Lanka with a visit to Ella, a charming town in the heart of the lush Hill Country. On the way, stop to visit Ramboda Falls, a tiered waterfall that cascades down a rocky cliff in the rainforest, then move on to a tea plantation where you'll learn about the tea production process from tea leaf to teacup. 

Arrive in Ella in the early afternoon. You'll have the rest of the day free to explore or relax in one of the quaint cafés in this laidback town. You might want to check out the iconic Nine Arch Bridge or head up to the Ravana Ella Falls and take a quick dip in the cool waters. In the evening, marvel at the views from Ella Gap — on a clear night, you can see all the way down to the lighthouses on the southern coast.

Day 6: Hike to Little Adam's Peak & Ella Rock

Hike through tea plantations up to Ella Rock
Hiking through tea plantations up to Ella Rock

After a few long days of travel, stretch your legs and enjoy the fresh air, cooler temperatures, and beautiful views. Today you'll head out to explore the Hill Country around Ella, first with a hike up to Ella Rock in the morning, then out to Little Adam's Peak this afternoon. 

The walk up to Ella Rock, a famous cliff located above the village, takes around two hours each way. The trail offers amazing views across the countryside and the plains below. You'll walk through active tea plantations along the way. Later, make the trek out to Little Adam's Peak, a relatively easy hike up to the top of a mountain. Named Little Adam's Peak after its similarity to the sacred Adam's Peak (also known as Sri Pada or "sacred footprint"), as there is a rock formation that resembles a footprint at the very top. Buddhists believe this to be the foot of Buddha, Hindus believe it to be the foot of Shiva, and Christians and Muslims believe it to belong to Adam, hence the name. Head back into town and treat yourself to a drink or dinner as you watch the sun go down over the countryside.

Day 7: Enjoy an Afternoon Safari in Udawalawe National Park

Go on a jeep safari through Udawalawa NP
A safari trip through Udawalawe National Park

After breakfast, it's time to say goodbye to Ella and the Hill Country and press on to Udawalawe National Park, a two-hour drive to the southwest. Located on the boundary of Sri Lanka's wet and dry zones, Udawalawe National Park 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 spot native wildlife during an afternoon game drive in the park.

Day 8: Visit Historic Galle Fort

Witness local fishermen fishing in the traditional style on stilts

Witness local fishermen fishing in the traditional style on stilts

Head south today for a taste of Sri Lanka's famous beaches. After breakfast, check out from the hotel and make your way down to the coast, where you'll stop to see the famous stilt fishermen, who manage to catch fish in the traditional way while perched on rickety wooden stilts out in the Indian Ocean. From here, head to coastal Unawatuna, where you will check into your hotel and go for a quick swim, if you like. In the evening, make your way to the nearby colonial city of Galle for a sunset city tour and a visit to the Galle Dutch Fort, built by the Dutch in the 17th century. Then head back to Unawatuna to spend the night.

Day 9: Relax by the Beach in Unawatuna

Spend the day relaxing on the sandy beaches of Unawatuna
Spend the day relaxing on the sandy beaches of Unawatuna

Today, you're free to relax and enjoy the beaches of Unawatuna to your heart's content. Go for a swim, soak up some sun, or spend the day sightseeing at your own pace. 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. Later, don't miss a magical sunset over the Indian Ocean.

Day 10: Get to Know the Capital City of Colombo 

Spend your last afternoon in Sri Lanka in the capital, Colombo
Buddha statues by the water in Colombo

Today you'll travel to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is a beautiful city with modern high-rise buildings beside older colonial architecture. Galle Face Green in Colombo, a favorite hangout spot for locals and tourists alike, overlooks the Indian Ocean. Colombo is also a shoppers’ paradise, with stylish shopping malls and the famous Pettah Market, a great place to shop for souvenirs. You'll take a city tour and sample Sri Lankan street food, then get some rest before the next day's flight out.

Day 11: Fly to the Maldives

Welcome to the Maldives!
Crystal-blue waters in the Maldives

After breakfast, head to the airport for your short flight to the Maldives. For the rest of the trip, you'll be based on the island of South Male Atoll. Check-in at a resort located beside a gorgeous lagoon and white-sand beaches. You will have the rest of the day to spend at leisure. Relax by the resort pool or go for a sunset cruise that offers the chance to see dolphins from the deck.

Day 12: Explore an Island Paradise in the Maldives

Come face to face with sea turtles on an optional snorkeling trip
Come face to face with sea turtles on a snorkeling trip

Spend your day relaxing in a little piece of paradise. Take a dip in the expansive turquoise lagoon, snorkel around a coral reef, visit nearby islands, and experience the warmth of Maldivian people and their culture. You can opt to take a calm canoe trip out onto the water, arrange to swim with dolphins, or even try some windsurfing. The vast lagoon can accommodate a range of activities and interests. In the evening, sample freshly caught seafood and tropical cocktails. 

Day 13: Boat Around the Maldives

Make the most of your last day in paradise
A bird's-eye view of the Maldives

Make the most of your last day in tropical paradise before you have to say goodbye to the island tomorrow. Enjoy a delicious breakfast at your resort before going exploring, take a boat trip out a nearby reef where you can go diving with whale sharks, sign up for a local cooking class, or just spend the day relaxing on the beaches and working on your tan. Make sure you're strategically positioned for optimal sunset views on the last evening of the trip.

Day 14: Depart 

It's time to say goodbye to the Maldives and begin your onward journey
Looking down at the Maldives from the plane

It's time to say goodbye to the Maldives. You will be transferred to the airport for your flight back home. Safe journey!

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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