Once a well-kept secret, Sri Lanka has gained popularity for its beautiful beaches, incredible hillsides with tea plantations, and elaborate Buddhist temples. Although the country is small, it packs a punch with lots to see and do - so much in fact that we recommend at least two weeks to experience the culture, cuisine, landscape, and history on offer. Whether you're looking for ancient ruins, wildlife-packed safaris, or oceanfront pools for lounging, we've got you covered with this amazing itinerary for Sri Lanka.
Days 1 and 2: Colombo
Travelers will arrive at the main international airport near Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. The bustling city is packed with tuk-tuks, street vendors selling traditional food such as fried crab and egg hoppers, and historic sights. Colombo can feel a bit chaotic, but it's worth spending a couple of days here to get a feel for the culture. Top attractions include Independence Memorial Hall, a monument that was built to commemorate Sri Lanka's independence from British rule on February 4, 1948. About a five-minute drive away is Viharamahadevi Park, a green space with a large gold Buddha statue, jogging trails, and a kids' play area. Across the street is the striking white National Museum, where numerous royal objects and artifacts relating to Sri Lanka's history are displayed.
Another lovely park is Galle Face Green, which overlooks the beach and sea, and often has a mix of people flying kites and food carts. While there are tons of temples throughout Sri Lanka, one of the most impressive - Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara - can be found about a 25-minute tuk-tuk ride from Colombo. This Buddhist temple is said to have been hallowed during Lord Buddha's final visit to Sri Lanka, eight years after he gained enlightenment (500 B.C.). The spiritual space offers intricate carvings, meditation spots, and a Bodhi tree.
Day 3: Galle
From Colombo, head two hours south to Galle, a city best known for its 16th-century fortified old city, which was founded by the Portuguese. Set by the sea, the fort contains a lighthouse, charming Dutch-style buildings, and tons of cafes and boutique hotels. There are no real beaches here, but several can be found a short drive away, including Unawatuna Beach and Dalawella Beach - both about 15 minutes by car.
Day 4: Mirissa
A one-hour drive along the coast from Galle will bring you to the laid-back beach town of Mirissa. Aside from its lovely stretch of sand lined with restaurants, hotels, and loungers, a top attraction here is the excellent whale watching. The best time to spot blue whales in Mirissa is from November through the end of April, and several tour companies can be found along the beach. Surfing and scuba diving are also popular pastimes here, while Coconut Tree Hill is an Instragram-worthy spot with palm trees overlooking the beautiful blue water.
Day 5: Tangalle
Another hourlong drive will take you to Tangalle, which has a lovely and generally quiet beach off the tourist path. Numerous restaurants, hotels, and spas make it a suitable spot for a day of rest and relaxation. If travelers are lucky, they may even spot turtles laying eggs or hatching on the beach. The Turtle Conservation Project Turtle Watch has guided tours for those wanting to learn more about the turtles' habits. A 25-minute drive north of here is Mulgirigala Raja Maha Vihara, an ancient Buddhist temple with murals, carvings, and huge reclining Buddhas built on high rock.