Despite being a fairly small country, Sri Lanka packs in a lot of amazing things to do. It really has it all: beautiful beaches, exotic jungle, lush tea plantations and plenty of wildlife watching opportunities. Deciding where to go in just two weeks can be tricky, but we've got you covered.
We spent five weeks here and have cherry picked our favourite places to put together a two week itinerary which has the wow factor.
The monsoon season can have an impact on your route, but when we visited in June and July we found the Yala monsoon on the south coast and in the west to be no problem at all. We barely had any rain and visitor numbers were down. One part of the country is always in monsoon season, so you can never fully avoid it. Overall we'd say Sri Lanka is a year round destination.
The perfect 2 week Sri Lanka Itinerary.
Day 1 - Negombo
Colombo airport is not actually in Colombo at all, it's actually in Negombo. If you're on one of the many flights that land in the middle of the night, or you're not a fan of big cities, opt to stay in Negombo instead. The journey into Colombo, despite the distance being small will take at least an hour and a half and the traffic around the city is awful.
The town of Negombo is just 15 minutes from the airport and is a much nicer place to spend the night, the accommodation is also a lot cheaper.
Most hotels can organise a transfer, but we'd recommend downloading the Pick Me App. This is the Sri Lankan version of Uber and will get you the cheapest rates.
There's not too much going on in Negombo, but you can go to the beach and chill if your flight lands in time. It's also a nice place to watch the sunset.
Where to stay in Negombo
Mid-Range: Villa Dominikku
If you're looking for a stylish intro to Sri Lanka, then Villa Dominikku is a great option. The owners are incredibly friendly and will go out of their way to help you. The rooms are really comfortable, clean and all have a really nice en-suite bathroom. It's tucked down a quiet alley, so you won't have to worry about tuk-tuks and lorries waking you up. It is in someone's house though, so it's a more immersive experience than a hotel.
They also serve up authentic Sri Lankan breakfasts, allowing you to sample hoppers, wood apple juice and sambal for the first time.
Budget Option - Villa A50
The best budget option in town is Villa A50. It's very new and the rooms are comfortable, clean and have a great shower. It is central and down a quiet alley, meaning you'll get a good night's sleep. We thought it was very good value.
Day 2 - Sigiriya
Having settled into the swing of things, head over to Sigiriya to see the cultural side of Sri Lanka. The heart of this area is Lion Rock in the ancient city of Sigiriya. It's a jungly area and it's not uncommon to see wild elephants wandering the streets.
The journey from Negombo will take about 3-4 hours, taking up the majority of the morning. In the afternoon, head for Lion Rock.
Entry - $30 USD
Whilst the entry fee will make your eyes water, visiting Lion Rock is a UNESCO world heritage site and a monument of pride for Sri Lankans.
On top of this monolith are the foundations of what people used to believe was the palace of the King. Today archaeologists think it was actually a meditation site for a local temple.
Whichever is the true story, Lion Rock has a certain grandeur.
Starting in the beautifully manicured gardens, you'll begin ascending many staircases, passing beautiful cave paintings (sadly no photos allowed) and the mirrored wall before arriving at the instantly recognisable lion's paws.
From there it is just a few more stair cases to the summit.
When we visited the winds were at gale force, blowing everyone off their feet at the top! But the views were amazing. :) It's a great spot for sunset.
Day 3 - Pidurangala / Kaudulla
AM - Pidurangala
Get up early and hop in a tuk-tuk to Pidurangala Rock for an epic sunrise view.
The walk starts from a monastery at the base where you'll pay the $3 USD entrance fee. Bring something to cover shoulders and knees, or you will have to borrow something from the temple.
From here the trail ascends for 20-30 minutes to the summit for the best view in the area.
Sunrise is the best time to go as there will be a lot fewer people there and the temperatures are at their coolest, making the walk a lot more tolerable.
The very last part of the walk can involve clambering over some rocks, so make sure you have the right footwear.
Check out our guide about the Pidurangala Sunrise Hike to learn more about what you can expect from the trail, including a tip to avoid the final boulder scramble to the summit if you are nervous of heights!
PM - Kaudulla National Park
If you're visiting in July or August (and sometimes as late as October, check with locals), then you're in for a treat.
The elephant gathering in Kaudulla or Minneriya is the biggest gathering of Asian Elephants in the world.
We visited Kaudulla and saw over 110 elephants (yes, we counted) all within a very small area.
Seeing these incredible and rare animals congregating in such huge numbers is magical, and whilst there were quite a few jeeps around, the elephants didn't seem to be upset or disturbed by them. Most drivers kept a decent distance.
The majority of tours offer 2-3 hours in the park and another hour each side to get to and from Sigiriya.
We've written a blog detailing the costs and all the information you'll need to know about visiting Kaudulla National Park.
If you're not visiting during the elephant gathering the parks are still popular for elephant sightings, there just won't be so many in one place.
Day 4 - Kandy
After Sigiriya, it's time to move to the entry point for the Hill Country: Kandy.
The temperatures begin to cool in Sri Lanka's second city, and there is plenty to do here.
It only takes about an hour and a half by car, so you should arrive mid-morning. To get your bearings, head up to the Big Buddha (Bahirawakanda Vihara).
From the top of the hill, you'll get great views of Kandy as well as the chance to explore the Buddha that towers over the city.
For a small bite to eat, head to Buono.
This small cafe helps to fund education for children in poverty. They also do a really good coffee and delicious curd.
In the late afternoon (our show began at 5pm), check out one of the cultural dances. We went to the Kandy Lake Club, but there are a few others to choose from.
You'll see many unique dances as well some other spectacles such as fire swallowers and people walking on hot coals.
Following the Buddhist theme, head to the Temple of the Tooth. This is one of the most sacred places in Sri Lanka as it holds one of the Buddha's teeth.
Every evening there is a large ceremony where people come to see the tooth (which is actually a golden casket) which draws large crowds of worshippers.
If you visit earlier in the day you will not actually be able to see the casket that holds the tooth.
You can find out more about the experience in our blog on the best things to do in Kandy.
Where to stay in Kandy
The biggest problem with accommodation in Kandy is the noise. The roads are busy most of the day, so getting a hotel or guesthouse in the centre of town will leave you sleep deprived.
Our Pick - Richmond House
This is why the Richmond House is a great choice. It's set on the hillside away from the main roads and is really quiet. It is decorated in an old colonial style and is clean, comfortable and great value. It also has great views. We really enjoyed our stay here and Pick Me works in Kandy so you can get cheap fares into town.
Luxury - Theva Residency
If you have a bigger budget we'd recommend taking a look at the Theva Residency. This hotel is further from the city centre but set in lush grounds, with an amazing infinity pool. We heard a lot of good things about this hotel.
Budget - Sevana City Hotel
We didn't book our hotel in advance and if Richmond House had been too expensive the Sevana City Hotel was our next choice. The hotel gets great reviews for clean, comfortable and affordable rooms.
Day 5 - Nuwara Eliya
AM - Kandy to Nuwara Eliya Train
Having checked out the highlights of Kandy, it's time for one of the highlights of the whole of Sri Lanka.
There are not many places in the world where a train ride is revered so highly, but the Kandy to Ella train is well worth the hype.
The schedules tell you that the train will take about four hours to get to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy, but it's likely to take five.... That's not accounting for the fact it will also turn up late.
The inside of the train is far from special, but after an hour you'll see the views that make it so popular.
As the train slowly rolls on, you'll pass endless tea fields and mountains. It's why there is so much competition to sit on the floor and swing you legs out the door! We were transfixed by the views.
However, it is getting a lot more popular with tourists, making it harder to get a good seat.
To get the most out of your trip on the train, read our blog about the 8 things no one tells you about the Kandy to Ella Train.
PM - The tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya
The reason everyone goes to "Little England" is for the tea. Nuwara Eliya is the highest town in Sri Lanka and it's likely you'll need to put a jumper and raincoat on to keep warm!
Head over to Damro Tea Plantation for some epic views best enjoyed with a pop of Ceylon tea and a slice of tea cake.
The plantation has lush green tea fields that line the steep hills and river that runs through the valley.
After Damro, head to Pedro Tea Estate. Here you can see how tea is processed, from the picking all the way through to the distribution (though they process at night so you see the machines, but not in action).
You then get another cup of tea after the tour!
There are also some tea fields that you can explore if you have time (we found them prettier than those at Damro).
It is a really beautiful place and one which we could have stayed at for hours if it hadn't rained! Luckily we compiled a list of things you can do when it rains in Nuwara Eliya.
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is expensive, by far the most expensive place we have been during five weeks in Sri Lanka. We checked out so many hotels hoping to find a bargain, but came to the conclusion that even in low season there just aren't any bargains in Nuwara Eliya.
Our Pick - Midky Hotel
We ended up staying in Midky Hotel, a good midrange option for those who don't want to break the bank, but also want a comfortable bed, warm shower and clean room. It's a little bit out of town, but the hotel was quiet at night (a lifesaver in Sri Lanka) and we found it to be a really restful place.
The downside is that you are at the mercy of tuk tuk drivers who have to be booked, we found that this was fine for short trips in to town but for longer trips they definitely tried to rip us off. Having said that after checking out five other hotels this was still the best choice.
Luxury - Heritance Tea Factory Hotel
If you have a bigger budget then most definitely take a look at the Heritance Tea Factory hotel. We really wanted to stay here but it was a bit out of our budget. The rooms looked incredible and the setting on a plantation is beautiful. It's quite far out of town but the perfect place to kick back with a book and a cup of tea for a few days.
Budget - King Fern Cottages
If you are on a tight budget you could look at the backpacker hang out King Fern Cottages. The setting was stunning, with gorgeous views and the place seemed clean with very friendly staff. There is live music every night so it's best if you're looking for a bit of a social scene. Rooms are basic but functional.
Day 6 - Haputale
Whilst Ella may steal all the limelight, the hill country town of Haputale is one of our favourites and even better for being overlooked by the vast majority of travellers.
This means a smaller town and quieter experiences than quite a few other places in Sri Lanka.
It isn't very far from Nuwara Eliya, taking just over two hours on the train (again, pending it turning up on time and it running to the right speed!). Along the journey you'll see more beautiful tea plantations and some huge views.
Once you've setteled into your hotel, head out to do the Idalgashinna Railway walk.
Idalgashinna - Haputale Railway Walk
This hike takes about 2.5 hours to complete and is a loop through a forest and back to Haputale along the railway tracks.
Our version is slightly different to the standard walk, and was recommended by our guesthouse, the link below has more detail on the route. Check ahead for train times and always look and listen for trains.
This hike is a beautiful way to see Haputale, starting by the Adisham Monastery. The path goes into an overgrown forest (you will need to prepare for fallen trees and many hurdles) before opening to a ridge with some stunning views.
The path then descends to the train tracks and heads back to Haputale. The track section is also picturesque, going through villages and opening out to some staggering views. Before embarking, check out our detailed guide to the Idalgashinna to Haputale Walk.
Places to stay in Haputale
Our Pick - Leisure Mount View Holiday Inn
This was one of our favourite places to stay in Sri Lanka. Whilst it isn't luxurious the rooms are clean and comfortable and come with million dollar views from the balcony. The staff were all really lovely and the food was the best we had in Sri Lanka. We also checked out the nearby Olympus hotel which was twice the price and half as good.
Day 7 - Haputale / Ella
AM - Lipton's Seat Sunrise
Sunrise at Lipton's Seat was our favourite thing to do in Haputale and one of our favourite things to do in the whole of Sri Lanka.
Although it requires an early start (getting up before 5am) you'll be rewarded with stunning views in a beautiful and peaceful place.
You can get a tuk tuk to take you pretty close to the top (within 1.5km) and then watch the sun rise over miles of tea plantations from Lipton's Seat itself.
Once it's light, go to the stand by the viewpoint for some delicious, home made rotis with tea (again, one of the best in Sri Lanka).
After breakfast, wander down through the tea fields to the bottom where you can pick up a tuk tuk or a bus.
This hike is just over 7km, downhill and a really picturesque way to finish the morning.
If you are thinking of doing this, check out our blog all about sunrise at Lipton's Seat for more detail.
PM - Little Adam's Peak Sunset
You'll probably finish at Lipton's Seat by about 10am, so once you're back hop on the next train to Ella.
It should take about two hours (usual warnings etc etc).
Having chilled out in the afternoon, head out to Little Adam's Peak for sunset (one of the best things to do in Ella).
This offers some of the best views in Ella and you'll see the gorgeous countryside just as the sky turns a beautiful orange.
Whilst you'll get far less people at sunrise, there weren't too many people around when we went at sunset.
There is plenty of space at the top of the peak for you to get a seat and enjoy the view. The walk takes around 20 minutes from the 98 Acres Resort.
Places to stay in Ella
Where we stayed - Zion Guesthouse
Ella gets busy, very busy. Book in advance if you can.
We ended up spending a lot more than we were planning to on Zion. Whilst we don't think it represents good value for money it was a nice place to stay. The views are tremendous and we loved the hammock on the balcony. The location is good, just a five minute walk from the town centre - though it's a killer hill on the way back up! The hot water and wifi were both very iffy but the rooms were large and comfortable.
Luxury - 98 Acres Resort
We hadn't heard of this place before we arrived in Ella but when we stopped by for a drink we couldn't believe how stunning it looked. The rooms are individual bungalows on stilts and the views are incredible. It's directly on the walking track to Little Adam's Peak so it's in a quiet area a couple of kilometres from town.
Day 8 - Ella
AM - Nine Arch Bridge
The iconic Nine Arch Bridge has became one of the most instagrammable spots in Sri Lanka in recent years.
This beautiful structure is tucked into the lush green hills just outside Ella, and we recommend going at sunrise.
As well as the beautiful light, you'll also miss the crowds and hopefully have the whole place to yourself.
We arrived just before 6am and only saw people after about 7.00am. There are two trains that are due to leave/enter Ella around 6am, so look and listen out for them.
There are several places to take in the view, so check out our blog on the best viewpoints of Nine Arch Bridge before you go.
PM - Diyaluma Falls
In the afternoon, head to Diyaluma Falls: Sri Lanka's second highest waterfall. Whilst the bottom of the waterfall isn't bad, the natural infinity pools at the top are spectacular. You will need to hire a tuk-tuk from Ella and it will take up to an hour to get there.
The hike up to the top is pretty steep and relentless in the heat, but it is well worth it.
You'll have a choice of three beautiful infinity pools to swim in, with the final one having incredible panoramic views.
Because of the walk, there are not likely to be many people at the top with you.
Make sure your driver drops you off at the right place as many will want you to hire a guide at the bottom, rather than let you do it yourself. If you want to see how to do this hike, check out our blog on how to hike Diyaluma Falls without a guide.
Day 9 - Yala National Park
After Ella, head two hours south to Tissamaharama (known as Tissa) to embark on your Yala Safari.
This National Park is known for being one of the best places in the world to see leopards as the population density is high.
You can also see elephants, sloth bears, mongooses, monkeys, crocodiles and hundreds of different types of birds.
As the majority of the park is forested, most encounters tend to be near the roads, meaning you can get quite close to these rare animals.
Whilst you'll want to weigh up the numerous safari options, visiting Yala is well worth it. It can be difficult to decide whether to do a full or half day safari (hence why we wrote this blog on whether a full day yala safari is worth it).
Where to stay in Yala
We chose to stay at the Blue Turtle which was a really great choice, especially for our budget.
In low season you can snag a bargain and we wanted to be in town so that we wouldn't be forced to take the hotel's tour and eat every meal there.
This was a good choice as in June there were only two other rooms occupied at the hotel! It was really quiet as it is a long way from the road, very comfortable and immaculately clean.
It was a very good price (remember to haggle if in low season) and we highly recommend it. Even though we didn't get the chance to use it they had a great pool too.
Day 10 - 11: Hiriketiya
Chill at our favourite beach
You've put in a lot of effort and we hardly blame you if you're feeling pretty exhausted by now! The good news is, by travelling just two hours from Yala, you're on the South Coast where the pace slows and the majority of activities revolve around the beach!
We recommend starting at Hiriketiya, a beautiful beach by Dikwella. This stunning place is far from the main road and is home to just a few hotels and restaurants, giving it a blissful laid back vibe. The beach is fringed by palm trees and a beautiful blue water that was warm and great for a dip.
There are also really good restaurants around too. We loved Salt House, and couldn't resist going twice in a row for the delicious Mahi Mahi (a local fish).
However, if you've still got some energy and you're looking for a great photo op.....
The Dikwella Swing
At the far eastern end of Dikwella Beach is an epic swing that is the best place to be at sunset.
The views are incredible and as the light turns golden you wouldn't want to be anywhere else; it truly is paradise.
It is also pleasant walking down the beach to the swing as you pass the locals playing cricket on the fields nearby.
Places to stay in Hiriketiya
Budget - Seacoast Sanctuary Beach Hotel
If you're sold on Hiriketiya as the place to stay, then Seacoast is a great budget choice. It has a wooden gate directly to the beach and we were able to take 10 steps across the lawn to the waves each day!
The rooms are big, clean and very comfortable, with most having a balcony overlooking the ocean. The shower was great, powerful and hot and the staff were lovely. It's another place where you'll hear the waves as you fall asleep rather than the roads!
Mid Range - Salt House
If you are looking for a slightly fancier option then definitely check out Salt. It was also a short walk to the beach and had the best western food we tried in Sri Lanka. It's modern and funky, with doubles starting from $75 USD when we stopped by.
Day 12 - Mirissa
After Hiriketiya, head down the coast to Mirissa where it will be a bit busier and livelier.
The town was originally a hidden gem, known only to travellers venturing beyond the beaten track. Now it's quite different and pretty popular.
If you are one for lazing around on the beach there are a few things to do in Mirissa to keep you busy, with our favourite being the Coconut Tree Hill.
The view up here is beautiful, especially at sunset.
If that's not enough action for you, then check out the other things you can do in Mirissa.
The Place to stay in Mirissa
Oceans views from your bed - Villa Oceane
As soon as we read the review that said "one of the biggest problems with this place is that the waves were too loud" we were sold. The idea of falling asleep by the sound of the ocean was what we'd longed for having been in Colombo and we weren't disappointed.
Tucked away in Madiha (a five minute tuk tuk ride from Marissa Beach), Villa Oceane is situated on it's own beach. The whole place only has five rooms and serves delicious local dinners (we didn't rate the breakfast though). You can see the palm trees and ocean from your bed and even in the shower! It was on the roads around Villa Oceane where we saw fireflies every night.
Quick note though if you are very particular about privacy ask for a room on the top floor, the ground floor rooms opened out onto the communal pool area.
Day 13 - Unawatuna
Unawatuna is only an hour down the road from Mirissa, making it a leisurely journey.
Once you've arrived, grab a tuk-tuk to Mihiripenna Beach, a beautiful spot just ten minutes away from Unawatuna.
Unlike most of the beaches in the area, this was completely deserted when we visited.
At the furthest end you can also see the stilt fishermen (if they're there.... It seems they only pose in peak tourist season!).
There is also a picturesque swing in the middle of the beach. As this is so quiet, you won't have to queue or pay, giving you plenty of time to get that perfect photo. This was one of our favourite things to do in Unawatuna.
PM - Try that epic palm tree rope swing
To a lot of people, this is the photo to take in Sri Lanka. The palm tree rope swing at Dalawella Beach is set in an idyllic location, on a beautiful tropical beach.
If you go at sunset, you'll be able to get the beautiful colours in the sky in your shot as well.
This location is pretty close to Mihiripenna Beach and just a 10 minute tuk tuk ride from Unawatuna.
If you want to find out more about the swing and how to get there, check out our blog all about the palm tree rope swings of Sri Lanka.
Places to stay in Unawatuna
Heaven By O
By far the best mid range choice we found in town was Heaven By O. This hotel was tucked away from the main street, making it incredibly quiet at night. The rooms are stylish and comfortable, with a great shower (a rarity in Sri Lanka).
Day 14 - A trip to Galle
A great way to finish your time in the South Coast is with a trip to Galle.
This colonial city's centre is the Fort: a walled area that has preserved the style of the Europeans who once occupied it.
We really enjoyed walking around the area and taking in a completely different style and pace to the rest of Sri Lanka's towns, including some great views from the walls of the fort (a great place to be at sunset).
You can also check out the crumbling shop near the market - one of our favourite Instagrammable spots in Sri Lanka.
Galle is a 2.5 hour journey to the airport (possibly longer with traffic). You'll avoid the horrendous Colombo traffic and the majority of the journey is along the expressway.
We'd recommend using Pick Me to arrange a transfer as it will be significantly cheaper than a taxi rate.
Know before you go
Best time to go
Sri Lanka’s monsoon seasons can make planning you trip really confusing. To put it simply, one part of the island is always in monsoon no matter what time of year you go. If you can choose any time to go, then we’d recommend May and June as the prices drop, the weather is great and there’s no one around! You can visit most of Sri Lanka without the fear of getting drenched.
You can now apply for a visa online before you go. It’s easy and pretty quick. Just visit their website by clicking here.
If you don’t fancy catching trains and buses (we don’t blame you), then driving in Sri Lanka gives you complete independence. Outside the cities, the roads are really quiet - especially on the South Coast. Why not get a quote below?
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Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Have we missed somewhere you've been and really loved? Let us know in the comments below!