There’s not a single district without a tourist attraction worth a visit in the paradise island of Sri Lanka, and that’s a fact. But the questions would be where to begin the tour, and how many of those places can be covered within 2 weeks without just running past it. And that’s where this itinerary comes in handy.
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There are several routes tourists would love to take and each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. I will be discussing each of them so that you can decide which route to take during your tour of 2 weeks in Sri Lanka.
Let me be clear about a few things before proceeding to the itineraries. There is a lot more of authentic Sri Lankan experience if you go away from the beaten path and wander in to where no tourists go. Because everything in the famous touristy areas is prepared for tourists. Aimed at tourists. Almost any “authentic” experience you gain is actually artificially made for you. For example, the hospitality in a tourist area is not the hospitality in a rural village where no tourists go.
So if you want the genuine authentic experience of Sri Lanka then I would suggest you take a day or two to hop on a bus, travel to a rural village, and walk around a bit and talk to the people. Again, always have your google maps ready in order to find your way back to the hotel just in case you needed it.
About the main itinerary, take time to decide which route you may want to take depending on your priorities and plans.
Itinerary 1 starting from Colombo along the southern coast. Why am I recommending this route?
1. Colombo – Day 1. Full or half day.
Taking your first look at the country, this is the place you better stay your first night. The city has many places to visit if you decide to stay a day before starting on your itinerary. There are many cheap tourist guest houses and hostels which are comfortable enough for a good night’s sleep and rest. Some of them offer you a good breakfast too so that you can go back to sleep for a few hours more. I will recommend some good hostels for value if you ask me personally through messaging although I don’t advertise them here. Before coming to Colombo I recommend you read my post on common scams in Sri Lanka to save some money.
2. Hikkaduwa – Day 2
This was a main tourist attraction some years back until the surf scene in the down south sprang up from nowhere. Hikkaduwa has one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world and snorkelling there is still a main tourist activity in Sri Lanka. The whole area is a tourist town with many luxury and budget hotels, and it is within easy reach from Colombo along the southern expressway. The good thing is that there is no need to take a taxi to the beach as the old Galle road is right there where you want to go.
In Hikkaduwa you may go to your hostel or hotel where they would arrange a good glass bottom boat ride for an hour or so if you are not in to snorkelling. And if you hope to dive then almost any of those hotels rent out snorkelling gear for the guests. Sometimes those gear could even be free, depending on the nature of your stay. But be sure to book your hotel after reading about their facilities and also guest reviews on your favourite public forum.
3. Galle – Day 2
Firstly, let me say that Galle is best visited in a day, saving more time for further down south. If you think that half a day is enough for Hikkaduwa then you can also visit Galle the same day as the distance is less than 20 kms along the Colombo Galle main road which runs just by the coast. There is no need of taking a taxi as there are buses along this route every 5 minutes. Make sure that you take a bus coming from Colombo so that you could save at least 30 minutes of your time. Short distance buses are extremely slow.
The main attraction in Galle is the Old Dutch Fort by the sea. There is no entrance fee or anything, and you can walk there in less than 2 minutes. So do not fall for taxi drivers who offer you a “cheap hire.”
Take some time to sit on the wall of the Fort and appreciate the beauty of the sea that ends only at the horizon. Visit the Dutch Museum, take photos of the old buildings in the preserved citadel, walk, eat, enjoy until the evening falls. Make sure that you will remember the Galle Fort when you get older and wiser.
Now we will move on to the popular coastal areas. Some tourists spend a day or two at each of these places while many others, especially solo travellers stay at one place and enjoy the place a week or so during which time they get familiar with the place thus developing a sense of belonging there. It’s totally up to you to decide what you might want to do. Out of the places given below many solo tourists prefer Mirissa and Weligama beaches due to the touristy atmosphere there, and the availability of accommodation to match the budget. But remember the food will be costly due to the same reason: it’s touristy.
This is just 6.5 kms away from Galle thus making it easy for anyone to reach in a very short time. The Unavatuna that was there long ago has drastically changed due to construction all along the beach, and the sandy beach is no more that beautiful landscape you saw many years ago. Still the place is worth a visit if you can spare some time from your Hikkaduwa/Galle visit. A safe place for anyone including kids, the Unavatuna sea is a small shallow bay.
5. Midigama and Weligma – Day 3, 4, 5, 6
Surfing is the main attraction for tourists as there are many surf schools here at Midigama. You can just lie down on the golden sand and enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature, or watch as surfers criss-cross on the waves if you want a relaxing day. Or you can surf the blue waves to your heart’s content all day long here in Midigama and Weligama.
Mirissa is the most popular tourist destination for surfing although it’s on the same coastline adjoining Midigama and Weligama, may be because of the train station that makes it easy to travel from Colombo and just station yourself there. Mirissa is totally a tourist oriented beach with all facilities and a great selection of guest houses and hotels. You can find any kind of food from Sri Lankan traditional cuisine to Italian pizza, and it’s relatively easy to find a bed for your budget. But remember that since the southern coast is mostly equipped for tourism, the food prices are considerably higher than what you find in other parts of Sri Lanka.
This is the capital of the Matara district and therefore the largest city in the area. You will find transport facilities to almost every part of Sri Lanka starting from here, and also you will find many hotels to put up the night if you so choose. But the best idea is to stay close to the beach area so that you can enjoy your time without wasting money and time on taxis. But when it comes to going out of the South then Matara would be the main transport hub. Therefore many tourists stay at their favourite beaches and go to Matara on the last day to take the bus or the train.
8. Tangalle – Day 7
Tangalle is another beachside city popular among tourists. Although this is similar to the other areas of the southern coast this city has recently been developed to the same standards of Matara, especially being the hometown of the former President of Sri Lanka. You may go to Tangalle to enjoy the scenic beauty of the beach as in many other coastal towns. This place too has many places to stay and eat at, and direct transport is available to many other cities in Sri Lanka. As buses are the most common transport mode you would find, be advised to have your earplugs ready as many of those buses play their music at an unbearably loud volume. For Sri Lankan bus drivers and conductors music means loud bass sounds.
9. Yala – Day 8, 9
What use of your trip if you wouldn’t be able to boast of having seen the leopard in its natural habitat, and that too in the place on earth with the highest density of them? A trip to Yala is a must do in your list if you are in Sri Lanka to enjoy nature. But again, there are long periods of time the park would be closed for maintenance. Yala is so popular that your safari jeep will have to wait in line to get in. There are many safari jeeps with open roof for hire, and their charges are usually same. You can arrange a safari jeep through your host easily.
10. Ella via Hambanthota and Wellawaya Day 10, 11
This would be quite a trip after a long stay on the south coast as this journey will take you from warm climate to a moderately cold one. You must start this journey from Matara, and the transport mode would be buses. There are also vans for hire, especially if you are travelling from a hotel they might rent out vehicles. But be careful that some hotels hire outside vans and that would result in you paying a much higher price. We would discuss van rental charges elsewhere on this website and you can inquire about them in that section.
Anyway, another trick is that there will be many tourists going to Ella from the south coast, and it would be relatively easier to find another group of 2 or 3 in which case you can share the cost. Just act as you are in the same group because otherwise the vans would charge you a higher price when they know that there are 2 groups. They are concerned about how much you save, not how much they make. Yes I was trying to be sarcastic there. I’m happy you got it.
11. Kandy Day 12
Kandy is the last kingdom of Sri Lanka, but before I come to that, let me say that the train journey from Ella to Kandy is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Do not miss that. And to know all about this train ride please refer to that section where you will find a lot more useful details, and you can also ask me any question about it there.
Now, Kandy is the last kingdom of Sri Lanka as I said, and it still has some of the buildings that speak of that former glory and splendour. The Temple of Tooth Relic is the number one tourist attraction in Kandy, which was the royal palace of the last king of Kandy. As you get off at the Kandy train station there will be a host of waiting drivers offering you a ride but you can easily walk to the temple of tooth if your do not have much luggage. It’s only about 300 meters from the train station to the temple, and most of the tourists walk that distance. But depending on your hotel you might have to take a taxi but it all depends on the distance, route, and your luggage. You may read this article to find out some good places to eat at while you are staying in Kandy.
If you arrive in Kandy in the morning and leaving in the afternoon the next day, then I would recommend you have a visit to the Peradeniya royal botanical gardens too. It’s a bus ride of around 15 minutes maximum, and a half day would be ideal to visit the place. Temple of tooth charges around 10 dollars from a foreigner to enter the building but the gardens are free to visit. There’s also a museum in the premises which can be visited with the same ticket.
12. Sigiriya Day 13
The legendary Sigiriya, is one of the most wonderful creations of mankind, and the only one of its kind in the world. Here you will find the ruins of King Kashyapa’s palace built in 477 CE which tells us the grandeur that might have been there even today. This could be the most expensive ticket to buy in Sri Lanka, a cost of 30 US dollars, but that amount will show you something you will remember forever.
The legend says that after killing his father, King Kashyapa, sought protection from his brother who was planning to avenge his father’s death. He built his palace on the huge rock of Sigiriya and decorated it to the taste of a king. Even today you will find the Sigiriya frescos as you climb the rock half way. Painted thousands of years ago by the royal artists, the mesmerising artworks depict beautiful dames bearing flowers appearing among clouds. There’s a spiral staircase to the frescos, so wait until the place is less crowded so that you can take a good look at it and appreciate it.
The Mirror Wall is another thing that has surprised and entertained visitors to Sigiriya for thousands of years. This is a stone wall polished into a mirror finish on which visitors have written graffiti hundreds of years ago. It sure shows how long it has been battered by the rain, the wind, and the scorching sun. Today the Mirror Wall is protected by a fence allowing visitors only to look at it from a distance so that no vandalism takes place. However in 2016 a girl sneaked in to write on it expressing her love towards a boy, which resulted in her arrest and later pardon by the president.
Beware of the wasps: Every year there are hundreds of people attacked by wasps due to unruly behaviour of visitors who throw stones at their nests. Today there are netted cages for people to take cover in such cases, but keeping reasonably quiet will always be a better security measure than a cage to hide in.
You can also enjoy an elephant ride or a village tour in an open bullock cart and this tour also includes a boat ride on a nearby lake. Your guest house will arrange such tours on your request. Or you can take a stroll towards the lake if you can find the trail on Google maps, but a little help and instructions from your host is highly recommended.
13. Pidurangala Day 13
This is a mountain located very close to Sigiriya. A popular tourist attraction, this offers you a 360 view of the surroundings as far as your eyes can see on a clear day. For the locals the temple is the main attraction while the views and the hike would be what a nature lover goes for. There will be some security due to recent misbehaviour of some locals but that would disturb you in no way at all. A picture of yours from Pidurangala with Sigiriya in the background would be a fine memory to take back home from your 2 weeks in Sri Lanka.
14. Dambulla Day 14
Dambulla cave temples is another part of your tour if you decide to visit Sigiriya. A hermitage and a temple during the ancient kingdoms, today this temple attracts thousands of tourists both locals and foreigners throughout the year. You will find many small shops selling herbal drinks and many other local delicacies as well as toys.
15. Airport Day 14
From Dambulla you may take a bus to Kurunegala from where you can take a bus to the airport which is the shortest and the easiest way. There is no need to go back to Colombo if you have no other plans. There are air con buses from Krunegala to Negombo and the airport frequently.
You can also start in the reverse direction.
You can also take this tour from Colombo to Kandy, and then from there to Ella before going down south to the beaches. But as I said, it will be hard to take a seat to Ella from Kandy on the train especially during the popular tourist season. You will be standing all 8 hours from Kandy to Ella in the crowded train which would not be a pleasant experience.
However, if you can book your seats well before your journey, then Colombo, Kandy, Ella, and then to the Down South will be as a great experience. Or if you do not hope to stay a night in Kandy then you may go straight from Colombo to Ella. But visiting Kandy during your 2 weeks in Sri Lanka is highly recommended.
Now that I have given you a rough idea about the best way to travel across the country seeing your favourite places during your 2 weeks in Sri Lanka, let us look at other alternatives, which could sometimes be better than the beaten path. I will publish some fabulous alternatives to the popular places very soon.