Journey through the heart of Sri Lanka on this 14-day loop around the island. Start your trip in the capital Colombo, before making your way to Adam's Peak for an early morning summit of this sacred mountain. From there, head to 'Little England' - Nuwara Eliya, and take the train to Kandy, the hill capital. Then, travel back in time to the historical sites of Sigiriya, Dambulla, Mihintale, and Anuradhapura, and stop to see elephants in Minneriya, before ending up on the beautiful sandy beaches and lagoons of Kalpitiya.

Highlights

  • Watch the sun rise from the top of Sacred Adam's Peak
  • Hike through the Knuckles Range National Park
  • See elephants on a wildlife safari in Minneriya
  • Climb to the top of the magical Sigiriya Rock Fortress
  • Go dolphin-spotting in the coastal town of Kalpitiya

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Colombo Colombo
Day 2 Colombo City Tour, Adam’s Peak Adam's Peak
Day 3 Climb Adam’s Peak, Nuwara Eliya Nuwara Eliya
Day 4 Nuwara Eliya to Kandy Kandy
Day 5 Free Day in Kandy Kandy
Day 6 Knuckles Mountain Hike Kandy
Day 7 Free Day in Kandy, Cultural Show Kandy
Day 8 Kandy to Sigiriya via Dambulla Sigiriya
Day 9 Hiriwadunna Cycle Tour & Minneriya National Park Sigiriya
Day 10 Sigiriya Rock Fortress to Anuradhapura via Mihintale Anuradhapura
Day 11 Anuradhapura Anuradhapura
Day 12 Anuradhapura to Kalpitiya Kalpitiya
Day 13 Free Day in Kalpitiya Kalpitiya
Day 14 Departure from Sri Lanka  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Colombo

Welcome to Colombo—your first stop on your Sri Lankan adventure
Welcome to Colombo—your first stop on your Sri Lankan adventure

Welcome to Sri Lanka! When you arrive at the Bandaranayke International Airport, you will be met by your driver and taken to Colombo, the commercial capital of the island.

The drive out to the city from the airport should take around an hour. When you arrive, check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day relaxing, sightseeing and exploring Sri Lanka's metropolitan capital city. At sunset, head to the Galle Face Green Promenade. Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the promenade's great views attract locals and tourists alike, who gather here to watch the sun sink into the sea and sample a variety of local street food options.

Day 2: Colombo City Tour, Adam’s Peak

This afternoon, make your way to Adam's Peak
This afternoon, make your way to Adam's Peak

Wake up and enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before beginning your first full day in Sri Lanka with a tour of the capital city, Colombo. Visit museums full of archaeological treasures, shopping bazaars like the famous Pettah Market, and streets where historic colonial buildings rub shoulders with shiny new high-rises.

After that, say goodbye to the city life and make your way through the Hill Country toward Adam's Peak—or Sri Pada (the Sacred Footprint)—where you'll get settled in for an early night before beginning your climb in the morning.

Travel Time: 5 hr

Travel Distance: 93 miles (150 km)

Day 3: Climb Adam’s Peak, Nuwara Eliya

Begin your ascent of Sri Pada in the dark to reach the summit at sunrise
Begin your ascent of Sri Pada in the dark to reach the summit at sunrise

Start your climb up Adam's Peak under the cover of darkness to reach the top for sunrise. Join pilgrims from all walks of life as you summit this sacred mountain, the 5th tallest in Sri Lanka. When you start, you will notice a line of lights and candles leading your way up to the top of the mountain. Stop en route for cups of hot sugary tea and samosas at the little tea shops and stalls, before reaching the top, where you will see a rock shaped like a footprint. This gives the mountain it's Sri Lankan name, 'Sri Pada', or Sacred Footprint.

As the sun rises, watch the countryside below you come to life, with mountains, valleys, and distant lakes revealed in the sun's rays, before beginning your descent. When you reach the bottom, return to the hotel for breakfast and a quick break before continuing on your journey to Nuwara Eliya. Founded by the British in 1846, Nuwara Eliya was known as 'Little England' for its cooler climate and colonial population and retains a lot of its historic architecture and old-world charm. 

As you get closer to the city, stop to check out St. Clair Waterfalls and Devon Waterfalls. Upon arrival, check into your hotel and spend the evening relaxing.

Travel Time: 2.5 hr
Travel Distance: 44 miles (72 km)

Day 4: Nuwara Eliya to Kandy

Take the scenic train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
Take the scenic train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy

In the morning, go on a tour of Nuwara Eliya, stopping off at Victoria Park and the famous Hakgala Botanical Gardens, before visiting the Holy Trinity Church and checking out some of the colonial buildings in the city center, including the Nuwara Eliya Post Office

From there, head to the railway station in Nanu Oya and take a scenic train ride over to Kandy, passing through the tea plantations and misty mountains, and past waterfalls and rivers. The train journey should take around five to six hours, but it is said to be one of the most beautiful railway rides in the world.

When you arrive in Kandy, the capital of the Hill Country, check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day at leisure.  If you feel up to going exploring, take a walk around the Bogambara Lake, or just go for a wander around the nearby streets and markets.

Travel Time: 5-6 hr
Travel Distance: 50 miles (80 km)

Day 5: Free Day in Kandy

Enjoy a free day to wander around the Hill Capital, Kandy
Enjoy a free day to wander around the Hill Capital, Kandy

The second-biggest city in Sri Lanka, Kandy was established in the 14th century. The last capital of the era of the ancient kings, Kandy is full of historic buildings and surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and lush tea plantations, making it a great place to spend a few days.

Kandy is also the home of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha. Said to have been taken from the ashes of Gautama Buddha—the founder of Buddhism—after his death in 543 BCE, the tooth was brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century, where a succession of kings held onto it, keeping it safe in specially-built palaces in their capitals. Since 1595, the tooth has stayed put in its current palace, the Temple of the Tooth, on the edge of Bogambara Lake

Open from dawn until dusk, the casket in which the tooth is said to be is displayed twice a day. The best time to see it is in the evening when the temple is illuminated with thousands of lights and you can see the ornately carved casket and the pilgrims who travel from all over the world to see it.

During the day, take a wander through the city's streets, stopping to check out the markets and historic streets. Visit the Royal Palace, the Lankatilaka Temple, Bahirawankda Temple with its huge Buddha statue,  and the Clock Tower.

In the evening, visit the Temple of the Tooth and get an early night before the journey out to the Knuckles Mountain Range in the morning.

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Day 6: Knuckles Mountain Hike

Go hiking through the paddy fields and forests of the Knuckles Range
Go hiking through the paddy fields and forests of the Knuckles Range

After an early breakfast, make your way up to the Knuckles Mountain Range for a leisurely guided hike. Named for its resemblance to a clenched fist, the Knuckles is home to cloud forests, waterfalls, and misty mountains, and is a dedicated UNESCO Natural World Heritage site for its unique and important flora and fauna.

Start your trek in Gomaraya, about an hour's drive from the hotel, before going on a 4.6 mile (7.5 km) trek through the range. The trek should take around 4-6 hours, with stops at viewpoints, waterfalls, and other sights of interest along the way.

In the afternoon, return to your hotel in Kandy and spend the rest of the evening at leisure.

Day 7: Free Day in Kandy, Cultural Show

Take a walk around the Bogambara Lake in the morning
Take a walk around the Bogambara Lake in the morning

Today, spend another day exploring the historic streets of Kandy at your own pace. If you feel up to it, head out to see the Royal Botanical Garden in  Peradeniya, which dates back to the times of the ancient kings. You could also check out the Udawattakele Royal Forest Sanctuary, a forest reserve on a hill ridge in the middle of Kandy with an old royal bathing pool at the entrance, or walk all the way around the Bogambara Lake.

For the best views over the city, head to Arthur's Seat and Wales Park. If you want to have a more relaxed day, find a local coffee shop next to the hotel, visit the arts and crafts center, or go souvenir shopping.

In the evening, go to a cultural show, before heading back to your hotel.

Day 8: Kandy to Sigiriya via Dambulla

There are 153 statues of the Buddha in the Dambulla cave temple
There are 153 statues of the Buddha in the Dambulla cave temple

This morning, say goodbye to Kandy and begin your journey north to the historic rock fortress, Sigiriya. Along the way, stop off to see the ancient rock paintings at Dambulla Cave Temple. which date back to the 2nd century BCE. 

One of Sri Lanka's many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there are over 80 caves on the site, although the main attractions are centered around five caves which contain 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings, and four of gods and goddesses, including Vishnu and Ganesh. There are also murals of Buddha's temptation by the demon Mara and the Buddha giving his first sermon.

After touring the site, continue the drive onto Sigiriya, where you'll be spending the next few nights.

Travel Time: 3 hr
Travel Distance: 56 miles (91 km)

Day 9: Hiriwadunna Cycle Tour & Minneriya National Park

Go on an elephant safari in Minneriya National Park
Go on an elephant safari in Minneriya National Park

Head out into the countryside today on a cycle tour through the rice paddies and back roads of a local village not too far from your hotel in Sigiriya. Visit local farming families and learn about rural life here, before heading to a hidden lake where you will take a boat trip out onto the water.

From here, cycle around the lake to see exotic water birds and wild animals, before stopping off to visit a local store for a cup of tea or a fresh coconut. You will end your cycle tour by having a typical lunch of rice and curry with a family in a mud hut in the village.

After lunch, head to Minneriya National Park to go on a wildlife safari. A dry season feeding ground for Sri Lanka's elephant population, this park is a great place to see these magnificent creatures in the wild. If you're lucky, you might also get to catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered Sri Lankan sloth bears and Sri Lankan leopards who also call the park home.
 
From there, make your way back to Sigiriya where you can relax after a long day.

Day 10: Sigiriya Rock Fortress to Anuradhapura via Mihintale

Mihintale is thought to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Mihintale is thought to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Wake up feeling refreshed and ready for another big day today. Start off your morning with a visit to Sigiriya Rock Fortress. One of Sri Lanka's most treasured sites, Sigiriya is an ancient ruined water palace located on a huge rock in the plains surrounded by rice paddies and lush jungle. 

One of the main draws to Sigiriya is its beautifully preserved frescoes, which you'll see as you ascend to the ruined palace on the top. After checking out the views, descend back down the stairs to continue on your journey to the ancient capital of Anuradhapura.

On the way, stop to visit the mountain-top pilgrimage site of Mihintale, which is said to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.  It is home to several religious shrines and abandoned structures, including a hospital and medical bath at the foot of stairs leading to the rock. The stairway has 1840 granite stairs which lead to the summit and Kantaka Cetiya, a ruined stupa that is thought to date back to the 1st century BCE.  

When you arrive in Anuradhapura, check into your hotel and relax.

Travel Time: 2 hr
Travel Distance: 55 miles (88 km)

Day 11: Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura served as the Sinhalese capital for on/off 2000 years
Anuradhapura served as the Sinhalese capital for on/off 2000 years

After breakfast, head out to explore Anuradhapura Ancient City. First settled around 900 BCE, Anuradhapura served as the on/off Sinhalese capital for nearly 2000 years until it moved south around 1100 CE.

The city was exceptionally well planned, with separate precincts for huntsmen, scavengers, heretics, and foreigners, as well as hostels and hospitals, a Jain chapel, and separate cemeteries for high and low castes. They built water tanks and artificial reservoirs to save and preserve water, and elaborate palaces, temples, stupas, and citadels.

Start your guided tour with a visit to the Bodhi Tree Temple, the second-most sacred place in Sri Lanka after the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the Bodhi Tree is said to be a cutting from the original tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. It has been under continual guard for over 2000 years.

After that, visit the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, which has been fully restored and painted white. You can also visit the stupa of Jetavana, the third tallest structure in the ancient world, the Citadel with the Gedige Palace, and the 1600 stone pillars of Lovamahapaya, which are all that remain of a nine-story monastery that was once home to over a thousand monks.

In the afternoon, return to your hotel and relax or do more exploring, like checking out the rock carvings at Isurumuniya Vihara near the Tisawewa water tank, a water reservoir which is about 3 km in circumference.

Day 12: Anuradhapura to Kalpitiya

Spend your last few days relaxing on the sandy beaches of Kalpitiya
Spend your last few days relaxing on the sandy beaches of Kalpitiya

Today, make your way to way down to the western coastal town of Kalpitiya, about a three-hour drive from Anuradhapura.

Known for its islands and marine life, Kalpitiya is an up-and-coming tourist destination, although it has a long history as an important stop-off for maritime trade and smuggling escapades. It was first colonized by the Portuguese in the early 17th century before being used as a strategic military outpost during the Dutch occupation. Now, there is a well-preserved Dutch Fort and Dutch Church.

The main draw here is the beaches and islands, where you can go whale and dolphin watching. There is also a marine sanctuary with a variety of coastal habitats from salt marches to sand dunes and mangrove swamps. 

After you arrive, check into your hotel, and spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beaches or exploring at your own pace.
 
Travel Time: 2.5-3 hr
Travel Distance: 75 miles (121 km)

Day 13: Free Day in Kalpitiya

Enjoy a free day in Kalpitiya and one last amazing ocean sunset
Enjoy a free day in Kalpitiya and one last amazing ocean sunset

Spend your last day in Sri Lanka relaxing on the beaches around Kalpitiya. The best ones are Alankuda and Kudawa.

If you're interested, you can also opt to try a kite-surfing lesson on the lagoons in Sri Lanka's kite-surfing capital, or go on a whale and dolphin watching cruise between November and mid-April. If you're there out of season, you can also go snorkeling or diving on the reefs around the islands.

Day 14: Departure from Sri Lanka

It's time to say goodbye to Sri Lanka
It's time to say goodbye to Sri Lanka

After an amazing few weeks, it's time to say goodbye. In the morning, check out from your hotel and head down to the airport to begin your onward journey.

The drive along the coast should take around 3.5 hours. If you have time you can also spend one last morning relaxing on the beach before driving down to the airport.