Get ready for an unforgettable journey to Sri Lanka that combines visits to ancient landmarks with safari adventures throughout the country. Immediately on arrival, you'll search for leopards at Wilpattu National Park before touring the ancient city of Anuradhapura and the mythic Sigiriya rock fortress. The rest of the itinerary is packed with nature hikes, visits to tea plantations, and even more wildlife encounters.


  • See leopards in Wilpattu National Park
  • Visit ancient Anuradhapura and hike up Sigiriya
  • Tour tea plantations and go on safari in Yala National Park
  • Laze on the golden beaches of Hikkaduwa

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Colombo, Transfer to Wilpattu Wilpattu
Day 2 Wilpattu Wildlife Safari Wilpattu
Day 3 Transfer to Sigiriya via Ancient Anuradhapura Sigiriya
Day 4 Tour Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Visit Polonnaruwa Sigiriya
Day 5 Transfer to Kandy via Dambulla, Kandy City Tour & Spice Garden Kandy
Day 6 Train Journey to Nuwara Eliya Nuwara Eliya
Day 7 Horton Plains Hike, Visit a Tea Plantation Nuwara Eliya
Day 8 Transfer to Yala National Park, Afternoon Safari Yala National Park
Day 9 Morning Safari at Yala National Park Yala National Park
Day 10 Transfer to Hikkaduwa, Guided Tour of Galle Hikkaduwa
Day 11 Visit a Turtle Hatchery Hikkaduwa
Day 12 Free Day in Hikkaduwa Hikkaduwa
Day 13 Transfer to Colombo & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, Transfer to Wilpattu

Spot leopards at Wilpattu National Park

Welcome to Sri Lanka! This island nation off the southern tip of India is home to rich culture and history that spans the ages from ancient dynasties to Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial eras. It also features some of the most renowned Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage sites in the world. Besides all this, Sri Lanka boasts some fine national parks and reserves, and you'll see these highlights over the course of 13 days here.

It begins with your arrival at the airport in the capital city of Colombo, located on Sri Lanka's west coast. A driver will be there to meet you, and the two of you will make the 3.5-hour ride up the coast to Wilpattu National Park, where you'll check into a jungle lodge. This park is known for its high leopard population, and it will be your grand introduction to the natural beauty and exotic wildlife of Sri Lanka. Be sure to get to bed early because tomorrow, you'll head out for a morning safari.

Day 2: Wilpattu Wildlife Safari

See animals like elephants in Wilpattu National Park
Wake up early and embark on a two-hour safari in Wilpattu, the largest national park in Sri Lanka (it covers 508 sq mi /1,317 sq km). This protected reserve 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, such as the pintail, whistling teal spoonbill, and white ibis, also live here. During the safari, keep an eye out for the Sri Lankan leopard, currently the largest species of leopard living in Asia. After the safari, you'll return to your lodge and will have the rest of the day free.

Day 3: Transfer to Sigiriya via Ancient Anuradhapura

The ancient city of Anuradhapura

In the morning, embark on another two-hour morning safari in Wilpattu. This is a great opportunity to spot any animals you might have missed the day before, like sloth bears and elephants. Afterward, you'll transfer about 45 minutes east to the ancient city of Anuradhapura. From the fifth century BCE to the 11th century CE, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was governed by various dynasties, making it one of the longest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. Even today, it remains the heart of Sri Lanka's Buddhist culture, with many pilgrimage sites and wonders to discover.

On a tour of Anuradhapura, you'll visit the island's oldest Buddhist shrines (some dating back to the third century BCE), as well as monasteries, temples, white dagabas (relic chambers), and intricately carved monuments. There's also an impressive ancient irrigation system comprised of reservoirs and canals. Be sure to stop at Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest documented tree on earth, which was grown from a branch of the sacred tree where Buddha gained enlightenment. After the tour, continue southeast for another 1.5 hours to a hotel in a town near the famous rock fortress of Sigiriya.

Day 4: Tour Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Visit Polonnaruwa

Hike up to the Sigiriya rock fortress

Discover one of Sri Lanka's most treasured monuments today as you climb the 1,200 steps to Sigiriya, the remains of a spectacular rock fortress from the late fifth century. Admire the intact 1,600-year-old frescoes and other relics of the UNESCO-listed site as you ascend through giant carved lion's paws to reach the top, where you'll be rewarded with sweeping views across the surrounding countryside. The countless hidden wonders along the way make the long climb relatively easy, but you can also opt for a less strenuous hike to the halfway point.

Then it's on to ancient Polonnaruwa, an ancient city that was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to 13th centuries. The incredibly well-preserved ruins are centered around the ancient reservoir of Parakrama Samudra, which was built in the fourth century CE. On a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll visit impressive palaces, shrines, and statues. Don't miss the Gal Vihara rock temple complex, famous for its dozens of Buddha statues in various states of reclining, sitting, and standing. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Sigiriya.

Day 5: Transfer to Kandy via Dambulla, Kandy City Tour & Spice Garden

Dambulla Rock Temple.
Dambulla Rock Temple
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In the morning, head south toward the UNESCO-listed city of Kandy, Sri Lanka's cultural capital and a welcoming gateway to beautiful Hill Country. Along the way, stop to explore the cave temple complex of Dambulla, another UNESCO site that dates to the second century BCE. Wind your way deep into these cliffside caverns (some of which are still used by monks for meditation) and admire the gilded interiors, painted frescoes, and over 153 Buddha statues. Afterward, hike up to the dramatic clifftops for panoramic views.

Upon arrival in Kandy, you'll check into your hotel. Then head out for a tour of the city's Royal Palace, which sits on the edge of serene Lake Kandy and houses the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha within the Dalada Maligwa ("Temple of the Tooth"). An important pilgrimage site for Buddhists worldwide, the highlights of this complex include a series of shrines, temples, and gardens.

End the afternoon with a stroll through the National Spice Garden in nearby Matale, where you'll gain insight into Sri Lankan history, botany, and gastronomy. The fragrant gardens are home to an exotic collection of spices, staples of Sri Lanka's cuisine. These include cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, mace, chocolate, vanilla, and pepper. After the tour, you can purchase some of your favorite spices to bring a little bit of Sri Lanka home. 

Day 6: Train Journey to Nuwara Eliya

Train Journey to Nuwara Eliya

In the morning, board a train on a scenic 3.5-hour journey that ascends from tropical banana trees to more temperate eucalyptus forests as you pass waterfalls and hillside tea fields. Your destination is the town of Nuwara Eliya, known for its lovely gardens, historic temples, and many tea plantations. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and will have the rest of the day free.

Day 7: Horton Plains Hike, Visit a Tea Plantation

The tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya

Today starts bright and early with a transfer to Horton Plains National Park. Located in the heart of Sri Lanka, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is renowned for its sweeping green plains and tropical montane forests. Explore this biodiverse ecosystem on a 6-mile (9.5 km) hike to the aptly-named World's End. The edge of this towering mountain escarpment drops dramatically and features breathtaking views all the way to the southern coast. Keep an eye out for exotic birdlife as well as sambar deer and wild boar.

After the hike, you'll visit a historic tea plantation in the region. Work alongside the pickers to select leaves, then visit the on-site factory to learn the process of fermentation, rolling, drying, cutting, and grading. Of course, at the end of the process, you'll participate in the all-important tasting to determine the quality of the tea. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Nuwara Eliya.

Day 8: Transfer to Yala National Park, Afternoon Safari

See herds of elephants in Yala National Park

Leave the hills of Nuwara Eliya today and transfer about four hours to Sri Lanka's southern coast and Yala National Park. Covering an area of 378 square miles (979 sq km), this is the country's second-largest nature reserve. Designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, it's famous for its diversity of wildlife, playing an important role in the conservation of Sri Lankan elephants, leopards, and aquatic birds. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your lodge in the park.

Spend the rest of the day exploring this natural wonderland on a guided Jeep excursion. Yala's dry savanna landscapes are reminiscent of Africa and, thus, a perfect environment for safaris. During this two-hour excursion, you'll search for rare flora and fauna, including great herds of Sri Lankan elephants. Afterward, you'll return to your lodge.

Day 9: Morning Safari at Yala National Park

Try to spot leopards in the trees
Rise early this morning and continue to search for the elusive Sri Lankan leopard in the savannas and forest glades of Yala National Park. These animals have grown accustomed to safari vehicles, so you stand a good chance of seeing them. Beyond leopards, there will be many opportunities to spot other exotic wildlife, including elephants, peacocks, monkeys, sloth bears, golden jackals, buffalo, deer, crocodiles, and more. After the safari, you'll return to your lodge. 

Day 10: Transfer to Hikkaduwa, Guided Tour of Galle

Aerial view of Galle and its historic Dutch Fort
Your driver will pick you up after breakfast for the two-hour drive along the southern coast to the resort town of Hikkaduwa. On the way, you'll stop at the UNESCO-listed city of Galle, where you can explore the 300-year-old Dutch Fort surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean. After a tour of the city's storied past, you'll have time to browse its Dutch-colonial buildings, historic mosques, grand mansions, and museums. Wander the streets and discover stylish cafés, shops, and boutique hotels owned by local and ex-pat artists and designers. Afterward, continue driving to Hikkaduwa. 

Day 11: Visit a Turtle Hatchery

Visit to a Turtle Hatchery
Visit a sea turtle hatchery

Today, you'll enjoy an unforgettable wildlife experience. The southern coast of Sri Lanka is a haven for a diverse population of sea turtle species—including leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead—who congregate in the warm waters offshore. The Rekawa Turtle Watch conservation project helps protect and support this population, and you'll get to visit their hatchery on a one-hour tour. See the adorable hatchlings, learn about the epic journey from egg to sea, and help support the conservation work that protects these critically endangered animals.

Day 12: Free Day in Hikkaduwa

Narigama Beach in Hikkaduwa

Today is yours to enjoy Hikkaduwa however you like. After a leisurely breakfast, you can head to one of the famous beaches in the area, like Akurala and Narigama, and while away the hours relaxing on golden sands. There's good surf at these beaches too. Or head out for an activity like a boat tour to snorkel at an offshore coral sanctuary. You can also embark on a day trip to the Sinharaja Reserve to hike through virgin rainforest and up to waterfalls. 

To appreciate some Sri Lankan art, you can stop at the Saffron Robes gallery and purchase things like paintings and traditional masks. To learn about recent history, visit the Tsunami Museum to see photo representations of the devastation Hikkaduwa suffered during the tsunami of 2004. For dinner, head out to a restaurant on the beach to try famous local dishes like seafood and curries. 

Day 13: Transfer to Colombo & Depart

Goodbye, Sri Lanka
Your driver will pick you up in the morning for the two-hour ride up the coast to Colombo. Here, you'll transfer to the international airport and catch your flight home, thus concluding your grand Sri Lanka adventure. Safe travels!

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Map of Sri Lanka's Ancient Cities & Wildlife Encounters - 13 Days
Map of Sri Lanka's Ancient Cities & Wildlife Encounters - 13 Days