Sri Lanka offers a wealth of diverse sights in a small geographic area, so travel times are not more than an hour to two between the main points of interest. This trip is best done by private car. Accommodation is mainly in hotels, along with some nights spent at ecolodges.
This itinerary begins on the coast with a visit to Negombo before moving onto the lush interior of the country, home to various monarchs over the centuries. Their legacies are highly visible in places like Sigiriya and Kandy, both visited on this tour.
Be ready for some light adventuring, as this itinerary includes a 3 mile walk through villages and a bike ride on the backstreets of Kandy. There is also hiking to be done in the Sinharaja rainforest, the Horton Plains and Ella. While this trip is all about small towns, nature and local adventures, a visit to Colombo at the final day will give you a taste of Sri Lankan urban life.
Day 1: Negombo
Negombo’s intriguing past reveals itself through colonial architecture, meandering canals, and a historic Catholic Church. Known as “Little Rome” for its strong Catholic influence, the town transitioned through Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial rule. Dutch and Portuguese buildings from this period remain to remind visitors of days when Negombo supplied the highly lucrative cinnamon trade.
Walk along the canals to reach a lagoon abundant with marine life. Fishermen have been harvesting lobsters, crabs, and prawns here for centuries. You can then take a stroll on the beach and stop by a lively and very photogenic fish market.
Day 2: Negombo
Climb in the back of expertly driven tuk tuk and enjoy a slow tour in the countryside, experience the rural lifestyle and share a village lunch with the locals.
Day 3: Sigiriya
The spectacular ancient city of Sigiriya is something out of a fairytale. Sheer rock walls soaring 600 feet into the sky are topped by an ancient fortress that would be the envy of any monarch. This World Heritage Site, which translates as "Lion Rock", has a pair of gigantic lions paws carved into its bedrock. The palace at the top was built in the 5th century by King Kashyapa and later converted into a Buddhist monastery. Numerous frescoes can be seen carved into the rock walls. Climb the steps to the top for stunning views of the forest below.
Day 4: Thalkote Wewa Trail
The day begins with a 3 mile (5 km) walk through villages, paddy fields and jungle to the Thalkote Wewa (reservoir). The terrain is flat and easy walking. Along the way, you will have an opportunity to observe the real way of life of the villagers in this part of the country. A typical Sri Lankan lunch will be served in one of the villages.
Day 5: Kandy
Kandy is the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings. Today it's more famous as the home of the curiously named Temple of the Tooth Relic, a sprawling complex of buildings constructed by the ancient kings of Sri Lanka in the 17th century. The temple, a World Heritage Site, was built to protect a sacred tooth of the Buddha, brought here by the monarch Konappu Bandara. The protector of the relic is considered to be the ruler of the land, so the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Tooth Relic were constructed in close proximity of one another. You can wander the complex and watch and ancient Buddhist ceremonies that occur during the day. Join the line of pilgrims and don't forget to remove your footwear before entering the temple.
Day 6: Full-day cycling tour in the suburbs of Kandy
Transfer to two wheels today for an exciting cycling tour of the backroads of Kandy. During the tour, you will have a chance to visit rural temples, museums and home-based workshops of local artisans. You will also pass by Dawson Tower (a local landmark commemorating road builder Captain Dawson) and the 80-hectare Gannoruwa Agro Farm displaying fruit, vegetable and herbal gardens, and an insect zoo. The lunch hour is spent at a local home where you can enjoy a traditional Sri Lankan meal.
Day 7: Ella
The town of Ella, located in the central highlands, is a beautiful sleepy mountain village with an ideal cool climate. On a clear day, the view from Ella extends to the south coast of Sri Lanka. Pleasant walks through tea plantations and to waterfalls are possible. Mildly strenuous hiking trails lead to the top of nearby mountains.
Day 8: Trekking in Horton Plains National Park
Today's adventure continues at the Horton Plains Nature Reserve, a wide expanse of rolling hills, forests, and grassland. The main inhabitants of the park include wild boar, leopard, porcupine and elk, plus some 87 species of bird. You may spot some of these creatures as you travel along remote trails. Treks can be made to waterfalls, natural pools and a sheer cliff that drops some 3700 feet, offering great views of the distant tea plantations and southern coast.
Day 9: Sinharaja Rain Forest
The tour continues today to Sinharaja rainforest, a Unesco World Heritage site since 1988. Walk along narrow paths and wood foot bridges to explore the rich biodiversity of the rainforest, keeping an eye out for monkeys, snakes, amphibians and colorful birds. Accommodation is in eco-lodges.
Day 10: Full-day trek in Sinharaja
The rainforest is a wonder to behold. During this 1-day tour of the forest you will hear bird songs, smell air purified by ancient trees and observe a range of forest creatures going about their business. The most significant feature of Sinharaja is the high concentration of endemic species, including 20 of Sri Lanka's 26 endemic bird species, such as the Sri Lankan Blue Magpie and the Green-billed coucal.
Day 11: Galle
The bustling provincial capital and administrative center of the south, Galle was Sri Lanka's first international commerce and trade center. The ancient port city is famous for Unawatuna Bay, a lovely cove protected by a reef. This Unesco World Heritage Site is a 36-hectare fortress built by the Portuguese in 1587 and reconstructed by the Dutch. The fort is majestically perched on a peninsula stretching into the sea. Even as the city of Galle modernizes, its remarkable collection of ancient structures transports visitors to another time.
Day 12: Unawatuna
Spend a day with your feet in the sand at Unawatuna, considered one of Sri Lanka's finest beaches. The semi-circular coast is fringed by lush groves of palm trees. Spend a swimming, eating local food or take a walk to a nearby Buddha shrine.
Day 13: 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. Many cultural sights are scattered throughout this vibrant city and its warm, multi-cultural locals are very welcoming.
Day 14: Departure
Travel to the airport in Negombo for your flight out of Sri Lanka.