National parks, ancient fortresses, gorgeous beaches, one of the oldest cities in the world: this wide-ranging itinerary takes you far and wide to Sri Lanka's most fascinating sights. You'll explore a quiet island and spot dolphins on boat tours, hike to viewpoints for sweeping views over tea plantations, look for leopards during a Jeep safari, and learn about Buddhist principles during guided tours. Whether you're interested in cultural history, colorful wildlife, or the process behind the production of Ceylon tea, this two-week highlights tour has plenty to offer.

Highlights

  • Observe wildlife in Wilpattu National Park
  • Tour the cave temples of Dambulla and the rock fortress of Sigiriya
  • Learn about tea production in Hill Country
  • Go on a dolphin-watching boat tour off the coast of Trincomalee

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore "Little Rome" in Negombo Negombo
Day 2 Go on a Jeep Safari Around Wilpattu National Park     Wilpattu
Day 3 Tour the City of Jaffna Jaffna
Day 4 Day Trip to Delft Island  Jaffna
Day 5 Visit One of the Oldest Cities in the World Anuradhapura
Day 6 Ascend the Sacred Mountain of Mihintale Trincomalee
Day 7 Enjoy a Dolphin-watching Tour in Trincomalee Trincomalee
Day 8 Discover the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya Sigiriya
Day 9 Visit the Temples of Dambulla & Kandy Kandy
Day 10 Learn About Tea Production in Nuwara Eliya Nuwara Eliya
Day 11 Hike in Horton Plains National Park Haputhale
Day 12 Trek to a Viewpoint & Head to the Beach at Unawatuna Unawatuna
Day 13 Explore the Dutch Fort in Galle Unawatuna
Day 14 Sightsee in Colombo & Depart   

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore "Little Rome" in Negombo

A Catamaran on Negombo Beach
A catamaran on the beach 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 rest at your hotel before the trip continues on day two.

Day 2: Go on a Jeep Safari Around Wilpattu National Park    

Leopard in Wilpattu
A leopard in 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. Keep your eyes open for the Sri Lankan leopard, currently the largest species of leopard living in Asia. You'll spend the night in a safari camp.

Day 3: Tour the City of Jaffna

A Hindu temple in Jaffna

The Jaffna Peninsula, located in the northernmost region of Sri Lanka, overlooks the Palk Strait and the Bay of Bengal. It's is connected with the rest of Sri Lanka by a shallow lagoon that elephants used to wade across. The peninsula is home to the city of Jaffna, one of the country's most densely populated areas. You'll arrive by train and go on a city tour with a local guide, stopping at historic monuments and temples along the way. Take a break for a sweet treat at the famous and hugely popular Rio Ice Cream before turning in for the night at your hotel.

Day 4: Day Trip to Delft Island 

Boats in the harbor of Jaffna

Today you'll travel by boat to the nearby island of Neduntheevu, also known as Delft Island. Surrounded by shallow waters and reefs, making it difficult for ships to approach or make an attack, the island was strategically important during the Chola Dynasty as well as during the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial periods. You'll see ruins of South Indian Chola architecture, a house constructed of coral, and the so-called Devil's Well, the source of drinking water for the entire island. People say that since you can’t see the bottom of the well, it must be the devil's mouth. Later, return to Jaffna by boat to relax in the evening.

Day 5: Visit One of the Oldest Cities in the World

Anuradhapura
A stupa (Buddhist shrine) 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. 

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Day 6: Ascend the Sacred Mountain of Mihintale

Climbing the sacred mountain of Mihintale

There's some time set aside this morning for more sightseeing in Anuradhapura. Then you'll travel to the mountain of Mihintale. Regarded as the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, this is a sacred place dotted with ancient stone architecture, shrines, and sacred caves used by monks for meditation. The mountain's summit is accessible by a grand stairway. Climb up 1840 granite steps for splendid views of the surrounding countryside. Later in the day, continue to coastal Trincomalee and check into your hotel for a relaxing night by the beach.

Day 7: Enjoy a Dolphin-watching Tour in Trincomalee

Dolphins off the coast of Trincomalee

Outdoor adventures await today. Trincomalee is one of the finest natural deep-water harbors in the world, home to beautiful white sandy beaches and clear waters. You'll go for a dolphin-watching boat tour in the morning — whale-watching tours are also an option from March to September — then enjoy a leisurely lunch. Later, go snorkeling in the waters of Pigeon Island National Park. Then enjoy a relaxing evening back in Trincomalee.

Day 8: Discover the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya

Frescos in Sigiriya
Frescoes on the face of Sigiriya Rock

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 9: Visit the Temples of Dambulla & Kandy

Buddha Statues in Dambulla Cave Temple
Buddha statues in Dambulla's Cave Temple

Continue to Dambulla. It's 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 10: Learn About Tea Production in Nuwara Eliya

Tea Plucking Women
Women picking tea in the hills near 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 11: Hike in Horton Plains National Park

World's End in Horton Plains
Elk in Horton Plains National Park

Today 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. In the evening, you'll transfer to Haputale, stopping to see a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple along the way. 

Day 12: Trek to a Viewpoint & Head to the Beach at Unawatuna

Lipton's Seat
The Lipton's Seat lookout point

Rise early this morning for the trip to Lipton’s Seat, one of Sri Lanka's most impressive viewpoints. The Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his burgeoning empire from this vantage point, and today you can enjoy similar views looking out across emerald hills and tea estates. Your hike to the lookout starts along a narrow paved road that leads away from Dambatenne Tea Factory. It's also possible to ride a tuk-tuk directly from Haputale.

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.

Day 13: Explore the Dutch Fort in Galle

Galle Dutch Fort
The 17th-century Galle Fort

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. Head back to Unawatuna for one last evening before the trip ends. 

Day 14: Sightsee in Colombo & Depart

Lotus Tour in Colombo
The capital city of Colombo

Take some time today to explore Colombo, a lively city rich with cultural sights and Buddhist temples. Take a drive through the city's commercial center, where grand colonial-era buildings stand alongside modern hotels and office structures. Explore the vibrant markets and bazaars in Pettah to pick up some last-minute souvenirs. Then 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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