There’s a lot to say lately when it comes to Sri Lanka. Just as tourism to the country was starting to pick up, Sri Lanka suffered a devastating series of terrorist attacks on hotels and churches this past Easter. I think many folks have since been understandably deterred from going on holiday there. But if you’re still curious to see what all the pre-terrorist attack fuss is all about, I’ve put together a 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary to help you choose your route.
THOUGHTS ON SAFETY IN SRI LANKA: Everyone has a different tolerance for risk and it’s up to you to decide what yours is. There are lots of travel bloggers who “never had a problem” and will urge you to go to Sri Lanka. People say this about every single country. I recommend looking at your government’s Sri Lanka travel advisory and any statistics (links to stats from before the terrorist attacks this year FYI) you can find if you want some sort of picture of risk and then make that judgment call yourself.
What qualifies me to recommend a 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary? I spent 2 months working and traveling around the country in January and February of this year.
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t love my experience in Sri Lanka. For me, it’s just simply not a great place to live as a digital nomad. But I think it could be an excellent destination for a ten day or two week holiday. Especially if you like to feel like you’re on a bit of the unbeaten path.
Here’s the overview:
Tangalle or Mirissa
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When should you travel to Sri Lanka?
You’ll have to take into account the season during which you’ll be traveling. Sri Lanka experiences strong seasonal changes in rain and ocean conditions, but it’s different depending on if you’re on the west or east coasts. They apparently have two monsoon seasons that affect different parts of the country differently. I find it pretty confusing so here’s a little map from Lonely Planet:
Another seasonal consideration in planning your 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary is that many places become ghost towns during their respective low season. For example, we were in Arugam Bay in late February and very few restaurants were actually open. Our accommodation (and many others nearby) were doing renovations (loudly) because it was low season and they were empty.
Colombo – 1 night
You’ll arrive at the airport north of Colombo. Stay a couple days and check out the city. It’s actually quite nice and not as boring or intolerable as other blogs would have you believe.
Kandy – 2 nights
From Colombo, you can take the train, bus, or hire a driver to get to Kandy.
SRI LANKA TRANSPORT TIP: I bet you’ve heard you must take the train while in Sri Lanka! It’s just sooo beautiful! We opted for a private driver for most of our transportation needs between cities. From what we experienced, the trains can be super packed and there’s a chance you won’t get a seat and end up standing for hours on end. No thanks. If you insist on train travel, read up on how it all works and what to do on Seat61.
I recommend trying to stay in the town and not up on the mountain behind the lake (like we did) to make it easier to access food! Unless you’re all about views, in which case do your thing.
What should you do in Kandy? Walk around the lake (but please not alone at night, ladies! Heard too many stories) and check out Udawattekele Nature Sanctuary, which you can easily walk to from the city. The entrance is a bit hard to find – it’s the western side of the sanctuary next to a Buddhist monastery, roughly a 20-minute walk up from the Temple of the Tooth.
We skipped the Temple of the Tooth, as tourists in the area and bloggers online said there just wasn’t much to see.
Some favorite restaurants were Balaji Dosai for cheap and delicious dosas (the masala dosa is a well executed classic), Cafe Banana Chill for avocado toast and smoothies, The Pub for drinks, Licensed to Grill for western-style grilled meat and mash, and Cool Corner Fried Ice Cream Parlor which looks epic but we didn’t get a chance to try it.
2 week Sri Lanka itinerary: Ella – 3 nights
Ella ella ella, ay ay ay ay under my umbrella ella ella…
Sorry that gets stuck in my head every time someone talks about Ella.
Anyway, head to Ella from Kandy, and if you have a private driver like we did, you can break up the long drive by stopping in some tea plantations along the way. We stopped at Blue Fields and this was actually one of my favorite days of our entire time in Sri Lanka. The tours are free and include an English-speaking guide walking you through the working factory and explaining how tea is made. You get a complimentary cup of tea at the end of the tour.
We also stopped to take in the spectacle that is Ramboda Falls. You can swim here and I wish we did!
Once you get to Ella, you can explore the surrounding nature. Hike Little Adam’s Peak and the Nine Arch Bridge one day. Another day you can try checking out nearby waterfalls or Horton National Park or Ella Rock if you dare. (I found the Ella Rock hike to be as beautiful but 10x longer and more grueling than Little Adam’s Peak.)
Tangalle or Mirissa – 4 nights
Get your beach fix in the south at either Tangalle or Mirissa. The former if you like quiet, chill vibes and the latter if you like a little more lively beach spot.
Take a day trip and do a safari in Uddawalawe National Park. There a lot of outfitters who will book this for you from Tangalle and back. We also checked out Silent Beach for a short day trip from Tangalle and it was my favorite beach in Sri Lanka by far.
SRI LANKA TRAVEL TIP: Not everything is online yet in this country. It’s often best to just ask around for advice on what to do and see in a given place. I also recommend getting a Lonely Planet guidebook ahead of time so you can learn a bit about the history and culture, as well as plan your trip.
Where to stay in Tangalle:
Ocean Voyage – We stayed here for a while. It’s in a perfect location for walking to the beach, around Mediketiya, or into the town. They have multiple options of types of rooms (with aircon/without etc.) but we liked the ones on top of the restaurant with aircon and desks!
Anila Beach Inn – This place is just down the road a bit so also a great location. They also have multiple types of rooms to choose from but I found were a bit cheaper for the same value as Ocean Voyage.
Coppenrath Hostel – I didn’t end up staying here but did consider it and checked it out. They might be the only place with dorms around and are thus probably the cheapest option, though from what I remember the dorms don’t have aircon so take note of that.
Galle – 3 nights
LOVED Galle. Your 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary should definitely include Galle. The fort area is super charming and gave me Alghero or Accra vibes. Walk around the Old Fort area and see the Galle Lighthouse. Pop into all the cute shops for some higher quality souvenirs than what you’ll find elsewhere. Take a tuk-tuk to a nearby beach (I enjoyed a little day trip to Jungle Beach).
Where to stay:
I stayed at Knight Inn, which had hot water, aircon, and great breakfast, and was perfectly located in the center of the fort area, but back in a courtyard so it wasn’t noisy.
Now for a game of…”Here or There??” the Sri Lanka Edition
You don’t have time to see everything when planning a 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary and I know it can be hard to know which places are unmissable. So I thought I would compare rival spots to each other to help you decide which is best for your holiday. I also polled my travel mates (Team Sri Lanka) to see which they would pick.
Ella or Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya and Ella are both excellent spots to stay if you want to explore the beautiful surrounding nature and tea plantations. You can see lots of waterfalls from both, or go hiking in Horton Plains National Park as a day trip from either.
While both are in the mountainous region of the south and actually located quite near to each other, they are extremely different. Nuwara Eliya is a real Sri Lankan city with only some tourist infrastructure. Ella is the opposite: it appears to only exist because of tourism. It’s packed with hotels and restaurants and, of course, tourists. That might be all you need to know about them to make your decision but here’s some more:
- Nuwara Eliya is at slightly higher altitude (1860 m versus 1040 m) and seems to have more temperamental and colder weather. It was rainy and cold a lot of the time we were there whereas Ella was still overcast but not as cold.
- Though you can make day trips into nature from both, I felt there was more to do in and near Ella (Little Adam’s Peak, Nine Arches Bridge, Ravana Falls, Ella Rock)
If I only had a short trip, I would stay in Ella even though it’s “touristy”. You’re not staying there for Ella itself but for the surrounding region. For me, I like being able to meet other travelers and have access to a lot of hotel and restaurant choices so the “touristy” nature of the town didn’t bother me.
In the Team Sri Lanka poll, we were split: 2 voted for Ella and 2 for Nuwara Eliya.
Weligama or Mirissa
Both are southern beach towns within a ten-minute drive of each other but Weligama feels like the less crowded, smaller, and less ‘put-together’ version of Mirissa.
We actually stayed in Weligama and I just went to Mirissa for the day, but if I did it over again I would stay in Mirissa. The beach in Mirissa was prettier and cleaner and there wasn’t a massive highway you have to cross to get to it. I don’t even have any photos from Weligama if that says anything. It seemed like Weligama was a better spot to learn to surf though, so if that’s your priority maybe Weligama (or the nearby Midigama) is better.
Tangalle or Mirissa
I spent a total of about 3 weeks in Tangalle and only one day (a day trip from Weligama) in Mirissa, so keep that in mind here. That said, for a short trip, either is a great option. Tangalle (specifically Medaketiya, which is the part right by the beach) is a lot smaller and more relaxed. In a pure beach faceoff, Mirissa would win as the beach there is prettier, even if it’s more crowded. That said, you can easily take a tuk-tuk to beaches near Tangalle that are empty and even more gorgeous than Mirissa (e.g. Silent Beach).
I think either would be great but if you want a quieter vibe and way fewer people, choose Tangalle. If you don’t mind a busier spot or maybe want to meet people, Mirissa would be fun.
Negombo or Colombo
Many blogs will tell you to skip both, and I don’t think this is bad advice. But if you need to stay over for convenience to the airport, for example, I recommend staying in Colombo as opposed to Negombo.
Negombo is a beachside suburb of Colombo but the beach isn’t very nice and the area is sort of touristy but without anything to do. If it were me, I would rather have access to more restaurant options (and not just tourist fare) and city life in Colombo.
Hiriketiya or Dikwella
These two southern beaches are super close to each other but have a very different vibe. Hiriketiya has a lot more tourists and tourist infrastructure while Dikwella feels like a small Sri Lankan town by the sea. Actually, the beach in Dikwella was completely empty when we were there. Hiriketiya seemed to be better for learning to surf as there were a lot of shops selling lessons and board rentals, and a lot of surfers in the water when we went.
You really could see both as they are walking distance but if you needed to choose, Dikwella’s probably missable. Honestly, I would probably skip them both as there are better beaches elsewhere.
In the Team Sri Lanka poll, of the three of us who saw both places, 2 voted for Dikwella and 1 for neither.
Udawalawe National Park or Yala National Park
We had to make this decision and could only choose one so my opinion is based on the research we did, not on going to both. That said, here’s what we found:
- There’s way more of a chance of seeing wild leopards in Yala, but still, you might not see one on your safari.
- Yala is a lot busier and sometimes people said there would be traffic jams and jeep races to see wildlife spotted in the park.
- There is more certainty that you will see wild elephants in Udawalawe but you will probably see them in Yala too.
- Yala is more heavily forested while Udawalawe has lower shrubs, so it’s easier to spot wildlife in Udawalawe.
With the above in mind, we decided to go to Udawalawae and are pleased with our choice. We figured if all else failed, at least we would get to enjoy a more relaxed day in nature without the crowds.
Kandy or Galle
Ooh! Both? I think both places are charming and interesting to check out. Kandy is a city near a lake, surrounded by tea plantations and mountains. Galle is a colonial port city south of Colombo.
I think if I had to pick one, I would choose Galle. It’s more unique and there’s more to do there in my opinion.
In the Team Sri Lanka poll, 2 people voted for both, 1 voted for Galle, and 1 for Kandy.
And now for…”Superlatives” The Sri Lanka Edition
Here are some of my favorites from across the country:
Best Smoothie: the mango and berry one from Gecko Restaurant in Arugam Bay
Best Salad: vegetable salad at Shanty Town in Medaketiya, Tangalle
Best Soup: New City Hotel’s chicken soup in Tangalle
Best Accommodation: Goatfell Luxury Bungalow near Nuwara Eliya (we got to stay here because my journalist friend was writing an article about their hotels)
Best Beach: Silent Beach near Tangalle
Best Veg Rice and Curry: Ceylon Excel in Tangalle
Best Dosa: Balaji Dosa in Kandy
Best Hike: Little Adam’s Peak near Ella. The summit is just as gorgeous as Ella Rock without the rambling-through-roots-and-rocks-at-a-180-degree-angle part.
Best Sri Lankan Food: Coconut roti with chili salt
Grab a Sri Lanka guidebook…
Look for accommodation…
Here are some more resources on Sri Lanka, handpicked by me:
Migrationology’s 40 best Sri Lankan food dishes
My post, Is Sri Lanka a Good Place to Live as a Digital Nomad?
How to Travel Sri Lanka by Tuk Tuk, a video by YouTuber Steve Yalo – I think this is such a unique and flexible way to get around the country. I personally would not feel comfortable doing this as a female solo traveler but would do it as a couple.