After surprising our family with a secret trip home for Christmas, all the way from Australia, we decided rather than just fly all the way back down under in one we would visit a few places on the way. After calling in at Berlin and then Dubai for a few days we had a full two weeks to explore Sri Lanka. This actually wasn’t a long time for us as we usually like to have at least a month in each country we visit unless it is a short city break, so we had to plan out our time in a way we usually wouldn’t in order to get everything done and tick off the must see places in Sri Lanka! Luckily though Sri Lanka is a small country and is relatively easy to get around as well as being cheap! But it is also one of the most diverse we’ve been too, it has perfect beaches, surfing, hiking, amazing tea plantations, incredible religious buildings and wonderful culture, crazy cities and stunning rainforests so here’s our top things to do in Sri Lanka. The way we often described it is like a mini South East Asia! So, how to pack it all in to a two week Sri Lanka itinerary?
Two week Sri Lanka itinerary: one of the most amazingly diverse countries.
Of course, we would have loved to have more time to see all the must see places in Sri Lanka and if it wasn’t for the time ticking on our Australian Visas then we would have for sure. I also know that we missed some places that we would most definitely return to one day, these were missed mostly due to the time it would have taken us to get there on public transport and the fact we wanted to do everything independently but we saw most of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. I am sure that if you book drivers or tours then you could do even more in two weeks, but we think for us and our way of travel we managed to maximise our time here with our two week Sri Lanka itinerary.
One of the worst things for us about being on a timescale is planning and not being able to change those plans so much or have spare days to recharge or take your time which makes a two week in Sri Lanka itinerary quite tight. This frustrates us and only having two weeks here and having our flights back to Australia already booked isn’t our usual style and reminded us of why backpacking with no time limit is the most rewarding way to travel.
However, like us in this situation we understand that it isn’t always possible, but we took our backpacking style and fit it into what is a timescale many get for holidays, proving you can go backpacking for a couple of weeks and still have that type of experience even if you work full time! One thing I always say though is that the less time you have the more you have to plan, so if you want to travel this way, get ready to plan your time beforehand, be ambitious but also give yourself some leeway and know yourself how much hardcore travel (hours on buses etc, hostels etc etc.) you can take and how much comfort you need! But a two week Sri Lanka itinerary is definitely realistic!
Getting around Sri Lanka can be a little frustrating but also at the same time incredibly breathtaking! The country is pretty small so you would have thought you could zoom over to the other side in no time. Think again! The infrastructure here is pretty old and in many ways that is part of the charm, slow travel here means you can soaking in the country, but its also not the best when you are on a time scale such as a two week Sri Lanka itinerary.
Many people who have the budget for it go with tours or hired drivers. For us this isn’t our style of travel or fitting with our backpacker budget. However if we had to pick between two a driver would be a cool way to see some of the country not covered by the trains and a nice way to maybe get a local perspective if you research your driver well.
However.. Public transport is our usual method of getting around and Sri Lanka is covered by two main kinds, the trains and the buses.
The trains only cover certain areas of the country as it was built mostly for transporting tea by the occupying Brits rather than for the convenience of the people! However it does cover a good part of most of the places covered in this guide. The trains are old and chug along slowly through some amazing scenery, in fact the route from Galle to Kandy is one of the most amazing in the world, those 8 hour will try by in no time! We also thought the route from Mt. Lavinia to Galle was pretty underrated too with amazing coastal scenes the whole way and an unexpected highlight to ourtwo week Sri Lanka itinerary.
Travelling by train is easy and cheap. There are 3 classes and really you want to be in either second or third to get the best views from the windows and doors and also to mingle with locals. The trains are usually busy so try to buy reserved seat tickets for a long journey at least the day before if you can. Keep you ticket on you as they are checked at the station when you get off, though many locals do jump off and walk down the tracks and its not really a big deal. Many people also hang out of the doors, it’s ok to stand at the doors with caution but avoid standing on the footboards as that is where many accidents happen! Bring along some food but often there is food available to buy on board! Most Sri Lankan’s are view friendly and speak good English too, so this is a great chance to chat to locals as you travel!
The local buses in Sri Lanka are an experience! They thankfully run pretty much everywhere in the country but due to the road and many drop offs they can take hours for a short trip and sometimes require a few transfers! These buses get packed, literally so full people are hanging out of the door so try to get there in good time! This is where the two week Sri Lanka itinerary gets hard as they take quite some time to go pretty much nowhere!
Also make sure to keep your small bags with you and sit close to the front to keep an eye on your big bags if they get put next to the driver and clip them together and round the metal as we heard of one guy in our hostel who had his stolen. They drive at break neck speeds at times and play Sri Lankan music full blast as well as having no AC and not as much moving air as the trains! So be prepared for an uncomfortable ride but a local experience for sure as you see far less tourists on the buses.
The fares are ridiculously cheap too, you get on, sit down and the ticket guy will come around when he is ready to collect your fare! It is more useful to bring snacks with you on the buses as there is less opportunities to buy food along the way, though at some bigger stops people will get on selling Dhal balls and samosas or you might stop for a rest after a few hours for a toilet break and shop. The only problem with the buses is that it can be a little bit harder to negotiate your way around especially if you have to transit in a remote area, just ask at the station the day before and be wary of people offering help for cash or taking you to the more expensive buses. Generally though people in the shops at the stations are pretty helpful and you can always search online for specific buses. If you are on a strict two week Sri Lanka itinerary its best to research before hand so you don’t waste time missing buses.
Start in Colombo – Mt. Lavinia
The only major airport in Sri Lanka is in the capital city of Colombo so it is likely you will start here. If you have had a long trip over, which is likely if you are travelling from Europe or Australia, then you might want to have a day before taking off on your whistle stop two week Sri Lanka itinerary. Colombo is a large, busy, dirty and crazy city, it is well worth exploring the capital if you have a day to spare but after a chaotic day travelling we decided to head around 15 mins south on the train to the small coastal town of Mt. Lavinia instead.
Here live is pretty laid back compared to the pace in the city and with the gentle sea breeze it is a little cooler too than the sweat box of the capital. It was nice to just get our heads down and stroll along the beach for a few hours. These aren’t the nicest beaches in Sri Lanka but they are amazing considering how close they are to Colombo, the train ride from the city is also quite nice too and Mt. Lavinia is where most of the hostels are in this region and a mecca for backpackers escaping the city!
Time spent here: 2 days to recharge!
Make your way down to the Dutch fort of Galle
The next stop is just a few hours away by train from either Colombo or Mt. Lavinia is the dutch fortress town of Galle. The journey down here is a great introduction to train travel in Sri Lanka and winds its way along some stunning stretches of coast and only takes a few hours rather than all day!
Galle itself is a lovely place to visit, it’s colonial architecture reminds us of places like Penang and it has a real old world charm to it and is an essential stop on our two week Sri Lanka itinerary. There is quite a bit to see around here but it mostly consists of exploring the warren of ancient streets as well as circumnavigating the old fort that sits on some incredibly coastlines and dates back to1588. Galle is hot though and taking a break from the beating sun is a must as you explore the old town! Be sure to call in at the fish market and watch a game of cricket at the local oval too.
Time spent in Galle: 2 days
Spend a few days on the white sand beaches of Southern Sri Lanka
Nest stop on our two week Sri Lanka itinerary and not far on from Galle is a wealth of beaches, this area could easily sap away all of your time if you are not careful, it seems like very village you pass by on the bus has an incredible beach to stop off at you are tempted to get off at each and every one! But there are a few that stand out as being the best to visit, plus, we aren’t really the “beachy” type, so we are ok just visiting and seeing these stunning beaches and then moving on rather than spending weeks laying on them!! But seeing the beaches of this wonderful region is one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka.
This incredible beach is literally just around the bay from Galle and can be done as a day trip if you would rather base yourself there for more practicality on a two week Sri Lanka itinerary. It is known as a great place to see the local stick fishermen, though this has become somewhat of a local scam with the fishermen charging exorbitant fees to pose for tourists and never really fishing anymore and getting quite aggressive if anyone who hasn’t paid even gets a camera out whilst they are on their sticks, which really is a terrible side effect of tourism.
Just a little further on again from Unawatuna and reachably on a short bus ride is our favourite beach area in Sri Lanka that we visited (We didn’t visit them all so we’re not saying it’s the best in the country!). This area has some amazing stretches of beaches that seem to run for miles and being so spread out it means its easy to get a spot to yourself. There are also come wonderful bays closer to the town where you can see many traditional fishermen’s huts and pay for them to fish if you want (we didn’t!!). The rocky palm tree lined inlets are amazingly beautiful around here though and the water just a wonderful shade of light blue, it was a highlight of our two week Sri Lanka itinerary for sure.
A little further on again and a good place to head to as it is close to Matara, as good interchange to go up north to Ella. Mirrissa is a popular spot to visit and a busier than many of the smaller beaches that line the coast between here and Galle. However it is a great place to see whales in the wild!
Time spent in this area: 2 days
Head up to the tea plantations of Ella
This is where you will have to brave a long bus journey or take expensive private transport, but it is worth it to reach the beautiful highlands of Ella and the incredible tea plantations. It took us around 7 hours on 3 buses to finally make it up here but that is all part and parcel of backpacking! From Matara you can get a direct bus in the morning so check that out as we thought we were on it but apparently not! But if you make time for one place on your two week Sri Lanka itinerary then make sure it is Ella.
Ella is a good few degrees cooler than the coastal regions of the country and it will be a nice break from the heat. Many Sri Lankan’s come up here for the same reason as well as the irresistible beauty of the area too. This was by far our favourite area of the county as we love hiking and also seeing more rural communities. We could have easily spent much longer up here!
Some great things to do are hiking up Little Adam’s peak which is doable for anyone. There is also Ella Rock but I was still recovering from the Flu so didn’t really have the energy for it. There are many wonderful tea plantations to visit too where you can see locals picking tea in the picturesque landscape. Even within walking distance of Ella itself there are some incredible undulating field lined with trees to explore and just get lost within. Further afield if you rent a scooter or take a tuk tuk you can hike up Lipton’s seat which is reportedly a wonderful hike especially if you have longer than our two week Sri Lanka itinerary allows.
Walking over to 9 arches bridge and then back to Ella along the track is a great trek and a highlight for us was taking the train a few stops over to the small and off the beaten track town of Idalgashinna and then walking the 10km along the track back to the busy market town of Haputhale to take the train back to Galle. This way you can enjoy the mountainous scenery at your own pace and see some incredible little villages along the way, we got speaking to quite a few locals who also use the tracks as walk ways and even saw a snake!!!
Time spent here: 3 days
Take the magnificent train journey to Kandy
For many people this train journey is one of the absolutely highlights of their time in Sri Lanka. Rather than thinking of it as a journey, think if it as an unmissable experience on your two week Sri Lanka itinerary. If ever there was a time to use public transport, even if you’re not usually a fan of it, then this is it and we met people of all backgrounds, ages and travel types whilst on this trip!
The 7 hour journey meanders through some of the countries most spectacular scenery and some of its most remote communities and is one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. The slow pace of the train is the perfect way to take in the landscape with wide open windows and doors you can hang out of like a local and we guarantee you won’t stop taking photos for hours!! With the business of the trains and the constant movement of people you will get to know quite a few locals on your journey who are always friendly and interested in how you are enjoying their country. The trains are old and basic and chug along noisily across the colonial rails, but that is really the charm of train travel here in Sri Lanka! It is also easy to buy food with vendors walking up and down often and also a dedicated food cart.
Be sure to buy your tickets either at least the day before for second class or get there early for 3rd class and get reserved seats if possible. Don’t bother with 1st class as you are too penned in and won’t often be able to mingle with any of the locals or hang out of the train!! Getting the morning train is good too for maximum light along the journey. Second class tickets will set you back around 240 LKR (£1.15 / $1.52)
Time on the train: 1 day
Explore the religious and colonial town of Kandy
Kandy is another beautiful colonial city of Sri Lanka and is home to one of the most significant religious sights in the country, The Temple of the Tooth. The temple dates back to 1595 and is said to contain one of Buddhas teeth and is a great stop in a two week Sri Lanka itinerary. It surprised us at firs to learn that Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist as we had imagined they might be Hindu like nearby India and is probably one of the reasons it felt quite similar to South East Asia. The world heritage site is well worth the visit though it does feel expensive compared to everything else with a 10 USD entrance fee for foreigners!
Kandy itself is a great city to explore with the stunning Kandy Lake in the middle and beautiful colonial architecture spreading up into the hills surrounding it. There is also a huge Buddha statue atop of one of the cities hill which offers a great vantage point over the town and a fantastic indoor markets by the bus station that is a really wonderful local place to see and explore, though not for the squeamish!
Time here: 2 days
Continue north and visit the sacred Sigiriya or Lion’s Rock
From Kandy take the bus to the town of Dambulla, a great base for taking the short bus ride to Sigiriya and home to many cheaper accommodation options as well as good transport links onwards. This journey should take around 3-4 hours and the bus shouldn’t be as busy as some of the others. We took the bus from near to the market but check it out the day before and get an early start.
A visit to Sri Lanka wouldn’t be complete without visiting the countries most important monument, the incredible Sigiriya or Lion Rock. Many tourists and locals alike come from all over to see this incredibly beautiful and historic place. This ancient fortress was built on a huge column of rock that stands isolated on its own above everything around it. It was in use between 477 – 495 CE and built as a citadel for the new capital by King Kasyapa and fell into disuse after his death. Make sure to put time aside on your two week Sri Lanka itinerary for this magnificent place.
The world heritage site is best seen from within the ground where you have to pay an entrance fee, which is course, is quite expensive for tourists, but well worth it in our opinion even if it is a bit ridiculous when considering how cheap the country is! You can explore the gardens in which it is set and also climb the monkey infested rock itself and see not only the wonderful views but the remains of the citadel itself. Pidurangala Rock is also a nearby hike you can take if you would like to see the rock itself from further away but at a fraction of the price.
Entrance Price: USD 30 (Prices are quoted in USD but charged in Rupees and of course they use a less than favourable rate, so take some extra cash! The current rate has this as 4740 LKR ( £22.43), but expect them to round up! I really do think it is insane how much they charge, especially when locals pay pennies! But that is another issue but we still think given how cheap the country is in general it is worth the outlay for this incredible place!
Time here: 2 days
Head back to Colombo and explore the city for a day or two
After an incredible trip around Sri Lanka it is time to head back to Colombo to catch your flight onwards! You can either spend a day exploring the chaos of the city, or head back to Mt. Lavinia for some relaxation after all that travel or even head north to Negombo which is reportedly a lovely place near to the airport for beaches and chilling out!
Time here: 1 day
This is a tight schedule for sure, but it is doable with some planning, saying that we didn’t book anything in advance other than our accommodation in Mt. Lavinia and our flights!
The currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee and most places accept cash only, however cash machines are found though out the country in most cities and towns.
Tuk tuks are a great way to get around but negotiate before or if you are around Colombo get one with a meter. It should cost around 40-50 LKR per KM and check the starting price on the meter. It also help to have Maps.me so you can let the driver know you know the route and where you are going so they don’t try and take you an extra long way. If you are in a more remote place the starting price might be more and that is understandable, but most tuk tuk drivers will try and fleece tourists out of extra money!
This is a good website to show you how much you should pay www.faresfair.co . A good example on here is from below, we stayed at the same hostel twice and paid 110 LKR on the way to the train station the first time, which is about right. The second time from the train station back the guy wanted 300 LKR and flat our refused to take us when we told him we knew the price should be 110 LKR, he swung the tuk tuk around and wouldn’t actually take us for the right money!! Pretty outrageous really as it isn’t like we where trying to rip him off! If he said 150 LKR I would probably have just gone with it but i’m not paying double just on principal rather than how much it actually was. We got a ride from the top of the hill near the station for the right price!
An ETA is required for Sri Lanka for most countries but it is easy to get online before you travel and costs $35 for non SAARC countries, which is most countries! This then allows you to get a visa on arrival at the airport which is straight forward and last for 30 days, so well enough for a two week Sri Lanka itinerary. They didn’t ask us any questions or ask for onward travel (though this might be needed by the airline) and just put the sticker in our passports and waved us through once they had scanned them and brought up the ETA. Apply here: www.eta.gov.lk
Keep an eye out for more in depth posts on each location coming in the next few weeks from our two week Sri Lanka itinerary!
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