Journey through the heart of Sri Lanka on this 14-day loop around the island. Start your trip in the capital city of Colombo, then move on to Adam's Peak for an unforgettable early morning hike with sunrise views from the summit of the sacred mountain. Continue on to Nuwara Eliya, where you'll learn about tea production, then take an epic train ride to Kandy. Travel back in time to the historical sites of Sigiriya, Dambulla, Mihintale, and Anuradhapura, stop to see elephants in Minneriya National Park, and end up on the beautiful sandy beaches of Kalpitiya, where the trip finishes.

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 Sightsee in Colombo Colombo
Day 2 Browse the Bazaars of Pettah Adam's Peak
Day 3 Hike to Adam’s Peak Nuwara Eliya
Day 4 Learn About Tea in Hill Country Kandy
Day 5 Free Day in Kandy Kandy
Day 6 Trek in the Knuckles Mountain Range Kandy
Day 7 Catch a Cultural Show in Kandy Kandy
Day 8 Visit Temples in Sigiriya & Dambulla Sigiriya
Day 9 Cycle Tour of Hiriwadunna & Minneriya National Park Sigiriya
Day 10 Stop at the Sacred Mountain of Mihintale  Anuradhapura
Day 11 Explore the Ancient City of Anuradhapura  Anuradhapura
Day 12 Go on a Dolphin-Watching Tour in Kalpitiya Kalpitiya
Day 13 Kitesurf & Enjoy the Beach in Kalpitiya Kalpitiya
Day 14 Depart   

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Sightsee 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! A melting pot of cultures and commerce, Colombo is a lively city with a fascinating history. Arab sailors frequented these ports to trade with the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists that occupied the city. Visit impressive cultural sights, including Buddhist temples and Hindu kovils (a type of Hindu temple). At sunset, head to the Galle Face Green Promenade. Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the promenade's sweeping views attract locals and tourists alike, who gather here to watch the sun sink into the sea and sample a variety of street food.

Day 2: Browse the Bazaars of Pettah

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

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. Visit museums full of archaeological treasures, shop at the bazaar in Pettah, and wander down streets where historic colonial buildings sit side by side 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.

Day 3: Hike to Adam’s Peak

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 in time for sunrise. Join pilgrims from all walks of life as you summit this sacred mountain, one of the 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 along the hike for hot sugary tea and samosas at little tea shops and stalls. When you reach the top, you will see a rock shaped like a footprint. This gives the mountain its Sri Lankan name (Sri Pada, or Sacred Footprint).

As the sun rises, watch the countryside below come to life, with mountains, valleys, and distant lakes revealed in the sun's rays. Begin 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 is sometimes called "Little England" for its cooler climate and British colonial history. Today, it still retains a lot of its antique architecture and old-world charm. 

Day 4: Learn About Tea in Hill Country

Take the scenic train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
A scenic train ride between Nuwara Eliya and Kandy

In the morning, go on a tour of Nuwara Eliya, stopping 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 to Kandy, passing through tea plantations and misty mountains, rolling past waterfalls and rivers. The train journey, which takes around five or six hours, 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 Bogambara Lake, or just go for a walk around the nearby streets and markets.

Day 5: Free Day in Kandy

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

Colorful houses in 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 Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. 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 on the edge of Bogambara Lake

The temple is open from dawn until dusk, and the casket in which the tooth lies is displayed twice a day. The best time to see it is in the evening, when the temple is illuminated with thousands of lights. During the rest of the day, take a stroll 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.

Day 6: Trek in the Knuckles Mountain Range

Go hiking through the paddy fields and forests of the Knuckles Range
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 are home to cloud forests, waterfalls, and misty mountains. The range is a dedicated UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, thanks to its unique and important flora and fauna.

Start your trek in Gomaraya, about an hour's drive from the hotel. The hike will take between four and six hours, featuring stops at various 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: Catch a Cultural Show in Kandy

Take a walk around the Bogambara Lake in the morning
Take a walk around 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 Bogambara Lake. For the best views over the city, head over to Arthur's Seat and Wales Park. In the evening, you'll attend a cultural show where you'll see some great examples of traditional Sri Lankan music and dance.  

Day 8: Visit Temples in Sigiriya & Dambulla

There are 153 statues of the Buddha in the Dambulla cave temple
Statues of the Buddha in Dambulla's cave temple

This morning, begin your journey north to Sigiriya. Along the way, you'll 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, the temple complex features more than 80 caves. The main attractions are centered around five caves that contain 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings, and four statues of gods and goddesses, including Vishnu and Ganesh. After touring the site, continue the drive to Sigiriya, where you'll be spending the next few nights.

Day 9: Cycle Tour of Hiriwadunna & Minneriya National Park

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

Head out into the countryside today on a guided cycling tour through rice paddies and back roads. You'll have the chance to interact with local farmers and learn about rural life here. Then pedal onward to a quiet lake, where you will enjoy a boat trip out onto the water. Afterward, cycle around the lake, keeping your eyes open for exotic birds. Take a break for a cup of tea or a fresh coconut along the journey. You'll end the tour by having lunch with a local family inside a mud hut.  

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 rare and endangered Sri Lankan sloth bears and Sri Lankan leopards. From there, make your way back to Sigiriya where you'll relax after a long day.

Day 10: Stop at the Sacred Mountain of Mihintale 

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

Start off your morning with a visit to Sigiriya Rock Fortress. One of Sri Lanka's most treasured sites, Sigiriya is an ancient palace located on a huge rock in the plains surrounded by rice paddies and lush jungle. 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. One main attraction here is a series of beautifully preserved frescoes, which you'll see as you ascend to the top. After checking out the views, descend back down the stairs to continue on your journey to the ancient capital of Anuradhapura.

Take a break along the trip to visit the mountaintop 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. The stairway has 1840 granite stairs that lead to the summit. When you arrive in Anuradhapura, check into your hotel and relax.

Day 11: Explore the Ancient City of Anuradhapura 

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

Head out to explore Anuradhapura today. First settled around 900 BCE, it's a city with a large number of ancient monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 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. After that, visit the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa and the stupa of Jetavana, the third tallest structure in the ancient world. Then stop into the Citadel and Gedige Palace, stopping to admire the 1600 stone pillars of Lovamahapaya — they're all that remain of a nine-story monastery that was once home to over a thousand monks.

Day 12: Dolphin-Watching Tour in 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 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, also referred to as the Dutch Reformed Church.

Go on a dolphin-watching tour off the coast in the afternoon. There is also a marine sanctuary featuring a variety of coastal habitats, from salt marshes to sand dunes to mangrove swamps. Relax on the beach at sunset as the trip nears its end.

Day 13: Kitesurf & Enjoy the Beach in Kalpitiya

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

Spend your last day in Sri Lanka relaxing on the beaches around Kalpitiya. The best ones are Alankuda and Kudawa. You can also opt to try a kitesurfing lesson on the lagoons — this is Sri Lanka's kitesurfing capital — or go on a whale-watching cruise between November and April. Outside of that season, you'll still have the option to go snorkeling or diving on the reefs around the islands.

Day 14: Depart 

It's time to say goodbye to Sri Lanka
Workers in the tea fields of Sri Lanka

The journey has reached its conclusion. You'll transfer to the airport to catch a 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. 

Or, describe your ideal trip and we will connect you with a local specialist to make it happen.