A blend of history, multi-ethnic culture and extreme adventures, Sri Lanka offers endless possibilities for every type of travelers. 2 weeks won’t give you the opportunity to see the entire country as you’d like. Although Sri Lanka is not a big country, its geographic and transportation barriers make touring around a bit complicated. However, this 2-week itinerary will give you an idea on how to best experience Sri Lanka. Please note this itinerary begins and ends in Colombo, the administrative capital of Sri Lanka.
Things to know before traveling to Sri Lanka:
Language – The two official languages of Sri Lanka are Sinhala and Tamil, which are spoken by majority of the population. About 10% of the people can speak fluent English, mostly for business purposes. Most Sri Lankan people speak a decent level of English, so you can absolutely get by without speaking Sri Lankan language. However, not all people in Sri Lanka can speak English so learning a few basic Sri Lankan words and phrases is recommended. Just like in other countries, speaking at least some Sri Lankan phrases or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by the locals.
Currency exchange – The official currency used in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). ATMs can be found in airport, most tourist centers and local banks across the country. Exchanging money in Sri Lanka is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Asia. Currencies can be exchanged at local banks and licensed money changers (sometimes jewelry shops). International credit cards are accepted in most upscale hotels. Keep in mind that majority of small businesses, especially stores and restaurants may not accept them.
Where to stay – Sri Lanka has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. There are plenty of hotels, restored colonial mansion, backpacker hostels and guesthouses to choose from, but make sure to read reviews online. In Colombo, we recommend hotel options in the city center and Colombo Fort to get easy access to most attractions. In Galle, there are plenty of laid-back places to stay inside the fort.
Getting around – Getting around Sri Lanka is a time consuming process because of narrow streets and roads, often congested by pedestrians. Transportation options include buses, small minivans (tuk-tuks), trains, bikes, rental cars and motorbike. Renting a car and driving on your own is not advised because road travel in Sri Lanka can be hazardous, as some roads are poorly maintained. Locals have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Sri Lanka. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Every traveler, especially solo female travelers, should take safety precautions because there has been an increase in reported armed robberies, sexual assault and other opportunistic crimes targeting tourists. Driving on your own is not recommended because some roads are poorly maintained and locals have little regard for traffic regulations.
Day by day itinerary: How to spend 2 weeks in Sri Lanka
Day 1: Arrival in Colombo
Take an international flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. It is best to get an early morning arrival so you could fight off your jet lag before you go exploring. Get settled and spend the morning in your hotel to rest a little.
Where to stay in Colombo:
Start your Colombo adventure by hiring a tuk-tuk to get to some of the most beautiful attractions in the city. Head to your first destination, Gangaramaya Temple, one of the most important temples in Sri Lanka. This is a relevant and educational stop to create a basic understanding of Buddhism in Colombo. From the temple, make your way to Independence Memorial Hall, built in 1948 to commemorate independence from British rule. Spend the afternoon at Colombo National Museum, the best place to get acquainted with Sri Lanka’s culture and history. In the evening, you can make a quick visit to Laksala, the only state-owned gift and souvenir shop in Sri Lanka.
Day 2: Colombo
On day 2, hire a tuk-tuk and head to Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara. Situated in Kelaniya just 10 kilometers away from the center of Colombo, the temple is said to be one of the 3 temples in Sri Lanka that the Buddha visited. After spending some time in the temple, make your way back to Colombo. Visit some places you might have missed in day 1 like Viharamahadevi Park, Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil, Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque and Colombo Fort. End the day at Mount Lavinia Beach and enjoy a delicious seafood meal right on the beach.
Day 3, 4 and 5: Galle
On day 3, depart the the capital of Sri Lanka and head south to Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a train from Colombo’s Maradana Station to Galle. You may also pre-book your seat and take the Rajadhani Express to Galle. For train schedule and ticket prices, visit their official website. Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Galle or you can begin your tour of its beaches, restaurants and shops. Some of the attractions you can visit in 3 days are the Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk), the Old Dutch Hospital (now a shopping center), Galle Fort Lighthouse, Sea Turtle Hatchery Centre Mahamodara, Japanese Peace Pagoda, Unawatuna Beach and Rumasalla Mountain.
Where to stay in Galle:
Day 6 and 7: Tangalle
On your 6th day, make your way to Tangalle, one of the largest towns in Southern Sri Lanka and is a famous beach destination. You may take a local bus, taxi or tuk-tuk from Galle to Tangalle. Travel time is approximately 2 hours. Set on the beautiful southern coast of Sri Lanka with postcard perfect beaches, Tangalle provides great swimming, snorkeling and beach experience plus greater privacy. For adventure loving individuals, there are plenty of water activities you can try like surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing. You can also do a day trip to Mirissa, the best place for whales and dolphin watching.
Where to stay in Tangalle:
Day 8: Yala National Park Day Trip
Undoubtedly one of the best travel experiences in Sri Lanka is a visit to Yala National Park, the second largest national park in the country. Join a full day tour of Yala National Park from Tangalle and participate in a game drive in search for leopards, elephants, deer and wild boars. The opportunity for incredible photographs is endless during the tour, so frequent stops are provided for visitors to enjoy the landscape and up-close encounter with wild animals.
Day 9 and 10: Ella
On day 9, say good bye to the beaches and travel to the mountain village Ella, located in Central Sri Lanka. At an altitude of about 1000 meters, Ella is the best place to escape the heat. It is surrounded by marvelous mountains, tea plantations and rice fields. Ella is a tiny place with not so many attractions as compared to other towns of Sri Lanka, but if you would like an actual get-away-from-it-all, totally unplugged holiday, then you will enjoy it. From Tangalle, you can make your way up to Ella by taxi or by local bus. Travel time is approximately 6 hours.
Where to stay in Ella:
Day 11, 12 and 13: Kandy
If you want to experience the best of Kandy in just three days, then there’s no time to waste. Take the most scenic train ride from Ella to Kandy. It is said to be the most popular train route in Sri Lanka and is considered a tourist attraction in itself. Upon arrival, make your way to your chosen accommodation. You can make a reservation at Expo Rail carriage website to secure your seat and avoid delay. Travel time between Ella and Kandy is about 7 hours and one way train ticket is approximately 13 USD.
Where to stay in Kandy:
Some of the attractions you can visit in 3 days are Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa), Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue, Commonwealth War Cemetery, Kandy Garrison Cemetery, Udawattekele Sanctuary and Ceylon Tea Museum. You can also watch the Kandy Lake Club Cultural Dance Show, one of the best traditional Sri Lankan dance shows.
Day 14: Departure in Colombo
Today is your last day in Sri Lanka. After a filling breakfast, set out for the day to explore attractions you might have missed. Take a train back to Colombo and make sure to leave Kandy in time for your international flight in the evening. You may also choose to stay in Colombo and schedule your flight the next day.
This is the end of our 2-week suggested itinerary. Remember, this is just a guide for planning and is in no way, shape or form the only way to travel Sri Lanka There are several alternative routes of travel within the country and it will depend on your intended length of stay. Enjoy!
Have you been to Sri Lanko? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Silhouettes of the traditional fishermen at the sunset near Galle in Sri Lanka (Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock.com)