Eschew the frigid winter for the sun-kissed beaches and verdant mountains of Sri Lanka. Over 15 adventure-filled days, you'll experience the highlights and natural beauty of this mystical gem of the Indian Ocean, from its highland tea plantations to its gilded southern shores. In between, you'll tour ancient cities, enjoy jungle safaris, explore cave temples, swim at romantic waterfalls, go whale watching, and much more.


  • Go kitesurfing and whale watching on the coast of Sri Lanka
  • Tour the historic ruins of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka's ancient capital
  • Hike to cave monasteries and rock fortresses in the northern plains
  • Swim at waterfalls and go hiking in highland rainforests
  • Visit elephant rescue centers and Dutch colonial cities

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Colombo, City Tour by Tuk-Tuk Colombo
Day 2 Colombo to Kalpitiya, Kitesurfing Adventure Kalpitiya
Day 3 Dolphin Spotting at Kalpitiya, Jungle Safari in Wilpattu Kalpitiya
Day 4 Kalpitiya to Anuradhapura, Walking Tour & Meditation at Mihintale Rock Anuradhapura
Day 5 Anuradhapura to Habarana, Forest Monastery & Cave Temples Habarana
Day 6 Trek to Pidurangala, Village Cycling Tour, Explore Polonnaruwa Habarana
Day 7 Habarana to Kandy, Sigiriya Rock Fortress & City Tour Kandy
Day 8 Kandy to Adam's Peak, Visit Tea Plantation & Ambuluwawa Tower Adam's Peak
Day 9 Sunrise at Adam's Peak, Transfer to Ella Ella
Day 10 Visit Nine Arches Bridge & Ravana Falls Ella
Day 11 Ella to Sinharaja, Hike Diyaluma Falls, Visit Elephant Rescue Center Sinharaja
Day 12 Rainforest Trek, Transfer to Ahangama Ahangama
Day 13 Whale Watching in Mirissa Ahangama
Day 14 Ahangama to Galle, Visit the Dutch Fort Galle
Day 15 Galle to Colombo, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, City Tour by Tuk-Tuk

See Colombo by tuk-tuk

Welcome to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka! This island gem lies off the southern tip of India and is home to around 20 million people. It's a nation with deep roots, as the Sinhala Kingdom that existed in what is now modern-day Sri Lanka was founded in 543 BCE. Over the centuries, the country was ruled by hundreds of monarchs and the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. However, in 1972 it cast off the shackles of British colonial rule and became an independent republic. Since then, travelers have discovered Sri Lanka's rich Buddhist culture, incredible coast, and unspoiled natural wonders.

Upon arrival at the airport, your driver will transfer you to your hotel in the city. After checking in, you'll hop in a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) for a wild ride through the city. On this three-hour tour on three wheels, your driver will take you to Colombo's hidden gems, both past, and present. It begins at historic Independence Square, from which you'll zip along modern streets bursting with colonial heritage. Visit the landmark temples like colorful Gangaramaya and imposing Sri Ponnambala Vanneswarar, the latter of which is one of the last remaining solid granite temples in the country.

After sightseeing in the modern districts, head to the old merchant quarter of Pettah. Here you'll explore bustling streets dating back to the 17th century, eventually passing the iconic red-and-white brick mosque of Jami Ul-Alfar, which dates to 1909. A side road will lead you out of the hustle of Pettah, and you and your driver will stop for refreshments at a historic colonial hotel. Finally, set off on a short ride to a lookout point above the city that offers spectacular views across Colombo and its port.

Day 2: Colombo to Kalpitiya, Kitesurfing Adventure

Kitesurfing in Sri Lanka
Do some kitesurfing in Sri Lanka

In the morning, you'll take a 3.5-hour drive up the coast of Sri Lanka to Kalpitiya, where you'll stay for the next couple of nights. Located in the Puttalam district of northwest Sri Lanka, Kalpitiya is a quiet fishing village and collection of 14 unspoiled islands off a peninsula that, despite its beauty, remains off the beaten path. Those who discover this laid-back coastal town fall in love with its long beaches and golden sunsets. It also happens to be one of the best kitesurfing destinations in Asia—both winter and summer.

The conditions are ideal because of the long sandbars that separate the interior lagoons from the Indian Ocean. In the high season (May-October), you can expect winds of up to 28 knots, and from December to March, they peak at about 20. Even if you aren't a seasoned kitesurfer, there's no reason to worry—today is open to all skill levels, and there are classes available if it's your first time. The only goal for today is to have as much fun as possible. 

Day 3: Dolphin Spotting at Kalpitiya, Jungle Safari in Wilpattu

Spinner dolphin doing what it does best

The waters off the Kalpitiya peninsula are home to large pods of dolphins. Today, you'll head out on a boat tour in which you'll get to see these incredible marine mammals in their natural environment. The most common ones visible on these tours are spinner dolphins, whose name derives from their penchant for aquatic acrobatics. No doubt you'll see groups of these animals leaping out of the water and putting on a show—so keep your camera ready. The boat may even pass by a whale or two if you're lucky.

Once back on shore, you'll head out on a land-based adventure to Wilpattu National Park. Located on the west coast of Sri Lanka, just a few miles away from the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura, this 508-square-mile (1,317-sq-km) sanctuary was declared a national park in 1938. The park is known for its natural rainwater lagoons (called "villus"). which help support native animals like leopards and elephants. You'll see these exotic animals as you marvel at Wilpattu's natural beauty on a two-hour safari in a 4WD vehicle. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Kalpitiya.

Day 4: Kalpitiya to Anuradhapura, Walking Tour & Meditation at Mihintale Rock

An ancient shrine at Mihintale

After breakfast, travel two hours from Kalpitiya to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Anuradhapura. On its surface, it may look like many small towns in South Asia; however, the ruins that once comprised Sri Lanka's first and oldest capital city are nestled amid modernity. For 1,500 years, Anuradhapura was governed by various dynasties (from the 4th century BCE to the 11th century CE), 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 historic Anuradhapura, you'll see the island's oldest Buddhist shrines, some of which date to the 3rd century BCE. You'll also visit monasteries, temples, white dagobas (mound-shaped stupas), and intricately carved monuments. Then there's the ancient irrigation system of reservoirs and canals here, which the early residents innovated due to the city's location in the dry northern region of the country. Don't miss a visit to Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest human-planted tree on earth (288 BCE). This sacred fig tree was grown from a branch of the Bodhi Tree in India, where Buddha gained enlightenment.

Later in the afternoon, you'll transfer to nearby Mihintale, a mountain peak and Buddhist pilgrimage site home to several religious shrines and abandoned structures. These include the ruins of an ancient hospital bath. The area is fringed by jungle and many caves believed to have been used by monks for meditation. You'll see ancient stone architecture atop several dome-shaped monuments, monastic complexes, and other sacred sites. Part of the tour involves a meditation session on the peak, followed by a visit to a nearby ancient ashram. 

Day 5: Anuradhapura to Habarana, Forest Monastery & Cave Temples

Ritigala Forest Monastery
Pathway in the Ritigala Forest Monastery

In the morning, you'll leave Anuradhapura on a one-hour drive southeast to the small city of Habarana. This is a popular base for nearby wildlife excursions into the jungle and lakes. However, on the way, you'll make a couple of stops at incredible ancient landmarks in nature reserves. 

First up is a two-hour tour of the Ritigala Forest Monastery. It's situated on the east side of Ritigala Mountain, which, at 2,513 feet (766 m) above sea level, is the tallest in northern Sri Lanka. The mountain itself is shrouded in folklore; most notably, near the crest grows a unique herb that can grant long life and cure all pain. According to legend, this herb is protected by Yakkas—guardian spirits of the mountain. The monastery here dates to the 1st century BCE and includes ruins of stone pathways, bridges, ritual baths, an entrance complex, a hospital, and meditation rooms.

Then continue south to the famous Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple, a UNESCO-listed cave monastery that dates to the 3rd century BCE. Wind your way deep into the rock-hewn, cliffside sanctuaries, which feature some of the most important religious art in the country. Within these caves, you'll find gilded interiors, Buddhist mural paintings, and 157 statues lining the walls. Some of these sanctuaries are still used by monks today for meditation. After touring the interior, you can hike up the dramatic clifftops and enjoy the panoramic views.

Day 6: Trek to Pidurangala, Village Cycling Tour, Explore Polonnaruwa

A morning trek to Pidurangala
The view of Sigiriya from Pidurangala

South of Habarana lies the country's most iconic landmark: Sigiriya. This ancient fortress perched atop a granite mountain is a wildly popular tourist destination, and you'll visit it too. First, though, you'll visit Pidurangala, another rock monolith located a couple of miles from Sigiriya. When King Kashyapa I made Sigiriya his fortress capital in the 5th century CE, he moved the Buddhist monastery to Pidurangala. The monastery still exists, and in the morning, you'll pass through it when you embark on an optional 45-minute hike to the top of the rock, where you'll enjoy breakfast amid stunning views. 

Plan your trip to Sri Lanka
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

After Pidurangala, you'll visit nearby Hiriwadunna. This tiny village is situated in a rural paradise little touched by the modern world. Here there are thatched-roof homes, and oxen still pull wooden carts. On a three-hour tour, you'll hop on a bicycle and ride 2 miles (3 km) down backroads past fertile green rice paddies. See hidden lakes dotted with lily pads, stop to chat with locals and share a cup of tea, and make your way to a local temple for a good-luck blessing. End the tour with an authentic Sri Lankan curry lunch freshly prepared by a local family—and feel free to join in the cooking if you're up for it.

Finish this event-filled day with a 1.5-hour tour of Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka. Once a thriving city that ruled the island from the 11th-13th centuries, today, you'll find its well-preserved ruins dotted around the ancient reservoir of Parakrama Samudra. Discover impressive palaces, shrines, and statues within this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also, don't miss a visit to Gal Vihara, where you'll find dozens of giant statues of Buddha carved right into the walls of this rock temple. 

Day 7: Habarana to Kandy, Sigiriya Rock Fortress & City Tour

The marvel of Sigiriya Rock Fortress
The marvel of Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Today you'll visit Sigiriya, an ancient fortress sitting 1,144 feet (349 m) atop a granite monolith. Not only is this a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it's also the most incredible human-made landmark in the country. Also known as the "Lion Fortress"—the entrance is between two massive, rock-hewn lion paws—it was built in the late 5th century CE by King Kashyapa, Ieader of the Sinhalese Kingdom. One thousand two hundred granite steps lead up through rock walls adorned with colorful frescoes to the fortress. There are gardens, defensive structures, esplanades, and incredible 360° views of the surrounding plains. 

After Sigiriya, hit the road south to the highland city of Kandy. It's a 2.5-hour drive, but you'll stop on the way to the city of Matale. Here you'll take a guided tour of the National Spice Park, a botanical garden and spice bazaar. A stroll through the fragrant gardens reveals a fascinating insight into Sri Lankan history, botany, and gastronomy. It's a celebration of the smells and tastes that comprise the melting pot of Sri Lankan cuisine, like clove, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, chocolate, vanilla, and pepper.

Then continue to the lakeside city of Kandy, the gateway to Sri Lanka's gorgeous Hill Country. After checking in to your hotel, you'll head out for a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage City. You'll visit the Royal Palace, which sits on serene Lake Kandy. Nearby is the Dalada Maligwa (Temple of the Tooth), a popular pilgrimage site that contains the left canine tooth of Lord Buddha. You'll also visit the Gem Museum, which tracks the geological history of Sri Lanka and sells gold and platinum jewelry. The day ends at the Bahirawakanda Buddha statue, which offers spectacular views over the city.

Day 8: Kandy to Adam's Peak, Visit Tea Plantation & Ambuluwawa Tower

The view from Ambuluwawa Tower

The highlands of central Sri Lanka enjoy an ideal climate for growing tea. And all over these rolling green hills are various plantations cultivating these leaves. In the morning, you'll embark on a tour of the grounds at the 19-acre Loolcondera Estate. It was at this historical landmark in 1867 that Scotsman James Taylor started the country's first tea plantation. After the tour, you'll hike up nearby Kondagala Rock. Once at the top, kick back with a hot cup of tea and some biscuits as you enjoy the stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

The mountain theme continues when you visit one of the region's most iconic landmarks: Ambuluwawa Tower. You'll arrive in the ancient town of Gampola. Then it's a 15-25-minute ride by tuk-tuk up through beautiful evergreen forests and flowering creeper vines to reach this multi-religious monument, which sits 3,567 feet (1,087 m) above sea level. If you can brave the dizzying heights, a further 157-foot (48 m) ascent up a narrow spiral staircase takes you to the top of the tower, where you'll be rewarded with breathtaking countryside views.

Afterward, rather than return to Kandy, you'll continue south to Adam's Peak, which at 7,359 feet (2,243 m) is one of the tallest mountains in the region. It's also a popular pilgrimage site for many faiths. In Buddhism, the belief is that Lord Buddha, when visiting Sri Lanka, left his sacred footprint atop the mountain. The Hindu belief is that the footprint is from Hanuman or Shiva, and the Islamic/Christian belief is that Adam set foot here after being cast out of heaven. You'll overnight at a village near the trailhead, and you should get to sleep early because you have a pre-dawn hike tomorrow.

Day 9: Sunrise at Adam's Peak, Transfer to Ella

Sunrise views from Adam's Peak

Wake up early (about 2 am) and begin the ascent of 5,500 steps to reach the top of the mountain. Indeed, this is an arduous hike, but most get it done in about three hours. Regardless, you should reach the small temple at the top (home to the sacred footprint) in time to watch the sunrise over the surrounding mountains. On the way, you'll pass plenty of interesting sights like Buddhist stupas, temples, and statues—plus shops and stalls selling water and snacks. You'll also make the journey amid great crowds of pilgrims and tourists, and there will be a celebratory atmosphere in the air, with much singing. 

After enjoying a well-deserved rest and the unforgettable sunrise views, you'll eventually make your way back down the mountain. At the base, you'll transfer to a nearby train station in the town of Hatton, where you'll embark on a four-hour rail journey back to the tea plantations of central Sri Lanka and the highland town of Ella. There's great hiking in the area and other fun activities like zipline rides between tea estates. However, upon arrival, you'll head to your guesthouse and have the rest of the day free to recuperate after all that hiking. 

Day 10: Visit Nine Arches Bridge & Ravana Falls

The Nine Arches Bridge, near Ella

Cutting through the verdant hills of the central highlands is a line of the Sri Lanka Railway. And between the Ella and Demodara stations is another of Sri Lanka's incredible historical landmarks: the Nine Arches Bridge. This "bridge in the sky" was commissioned by the British in 1921 and was constructed entirely of brick and cement. It's a marvel of colonial engineering designed by a Sri Lankan engineer named DJ Wimalasurendra. Today, you'll leave on a one-hour tour to see this landmark, which runs 300 feet (91 m) and rises 80 feet (24 m) above the dense jungle and pastoral fields. 

After visiting the bridge, you'll head into the misty mountains around Ella to Ravana Falls. This three-tier waterfall cascades 82 feet (25 m) through a canyon into various rock pools. These natural lagoons are perfect for taking a dip to cool down. The best part is you don't have to hike far—the falls are located just off the road and are easily accessible. 

Day 11: Ella to Sinharaja, Hike Diyaluma Falls, Visit Elephant Rescue Center

A hike to the top of Diyaluma Waterfalls
Hike to the top of Diyaluma Falls

In the morning, you'll leave Ella on a four-hour drive southwest to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a biosphere reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. You'll break up the drive with a stop at the stunning Diyaluma Falls. If you choose, you can hike to the top of this 721-foot (220 m) waterfall, the second-highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. At the top, you'll find terraced pools where you can go for a swim. There are also great views here of the surrounding highlands. 

After Diyaluma, you'll hit the road again, but there's another stop on the way to Sinharaja. The Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home is run by the Born Free Foundation and is located about 3 miles (5 km) from Udawalawe National Park. This rescue center is a haven for elephants in need, acting as a halfway home with the staff caring for them until they're ready to be released back into the wild. 

Day 12: Rainforest Trek, Transfer to Ahangama

You might spot a purple-faced langur

Sinharaja is a biodiversity hotspot that protects 34 square miles (88 sq km) of virgin rainforest and its diverse wildlife. In the morning, you'll embark on a trek through this ancient jungle ecosystem, which is home to rare trees and 50% of the country's endemic animals like butterflies, amphibians, and mammals. Of Sri Lanka's 34 endemic bird species, 20 are in Sinharaja. The most common include the crested drongo and orange-billed babbler. There are a handful of elephants and leopards here, but if you're fortunate, you might spot monkeys like the purple-faced langur. 

After the hike, you'll get back in the car for the 2.5-hour drive south from the highlands of Sinharaja to the beach town of Ahangama. You've now arrived at the famous golden coast of southern Sri Lanka! Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and have the remainder of the day free. 

Day 13: Whale Watching Tour

The giant sea mammals
Whale watching in Sri Lanka

Wake up early and set sail on the Indian Ocean. The purpose of this day tour is to catch a glimpse of the magnificent mammals that dwell beneath the surface of these azure waters. It begins in the coastal town of Mirissa, which is the ideal place for whale and dolphin watching between November and April. During this time, the area offshore is a playground for various whale and dolphin species.

The most common whales you're sure to see on this outing include sperm whales, killer whales, Bryde's whales, and pilot whales. You'll also likely spot schools of bottlenose and striped dolphins as they frolic around the boat. That said, the primary whale type to keep an eye out for is the blue whale—the largest animal in the world. Do note that the best time to embark on your adventures is at dawn, and most boats leave the harbor by at least 6 am. So expect an early start.

Day 14: Ahangama to Galle, Visit the Dutch Fort

The Dutch Fort in Galle

In the morning, you'll leave Ahangama and drive about 30 minutes west up the coast to the Dutch colonial town of Galle. It sits on a large bay and has the distinction of once being the chief port of Sri Lanka. The Dutch first arrived in 1602 and colonized the island mainly to protect their trading interests in the Indian Ocean. In this charming town, you'll find many well-preserved buildings that, hundreds of years ago, were Dutch law courts and administrative centers but are now cafés, boutiques, and art galleries.

However, the most iconic structure in Galle is its Dutch Fort, which you'll get to visit on a tour. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was originally built by the Portuguese and later extended by the Dutch in 1663. The fort complex sits on a rocky peninsula on the bay's north end and spans about 130 acres. It also enjoys the distinction of being Asia's largest colonial-built fort.

Day 15: Galle to Colombo, Depart

Goodbye, Sri Lanka

Your grand adventure across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka has come to an end. In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the two-hour drive up the coast from Galle to the airport in Colombo, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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