Sri Lanka is not a country where you would opt for a one destination stay. There is so much to explore and to see enough of the major sights means staying in different places. I have put together a family-friendly itinerary for two weeks in Sri Lanka. The hotels are located from the centre of Sri Lanka down to the south and encompass all the essential, bucket list, must do things.
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If you are travelling and visiting as a family the main thing to consider is keeping to major hotels as the food hygiene will be of a much higher standard. It is very easy to get the Delhi belly in Sri Lanka so to protect yourselves and your little ones I advise only eating at the hotel and avoiding anything that may have been washed in water or has ice-cubes in. Not easy when you are in a country with such high humidity.
We were driven to our various hotels and days out by a hired driver. These are very common in Sri Lanka and with the crazy roads over there I highly recommend that you do the same. However, you can get about by train and/or Tuc Tucs where necessary. Or you can, of course, hire a car for yourselves. The hotels below are varying prices and star ratings but all are good value for money, in one way or another. It was fun to try a wide variety of places to stay.
2 week Sri Lanka Itinerary – Great for families – 14 nights
Day 1 – Arrive in Colombo – First night Ayana Lake, Bolgoda
Colombo is the main International airport of Sri Lanka. It is located on the western coast. Colombo is very busy compared to the rest of Sri Lanka. I wouldn’t recommend staying there on arrival and instead head out to the peaceful Bolgoda lake area where you can spend the next day chilling out.
Journey time from the airport to the hotel – approx. 1 hour 30.
Bolgoda lake is beautiful and is rich in wildlife. We saw a very big water monitor during our stay and many birds. Ayana lake is just off the main Bolgoda Lake and a good base for two nights.
Day 2 – A Day at Ayana Lake, Bolgoda
A stay at Ayana Lake in Bolgoda is a great way to start your Sri Lankan adventures. They have an onsite outdoor swimming pool plus you could choose to go fishing for Barramundi or take a canoe out for an hour or two on the lake.
Day 3 – Kandalama Hotel, Sigiriya
Journey time from Bolgoda to Kandalama Hotel – approx. 4 hours
This will be one of your longest journeys of the holiday but well worth it. If anyone follows me on Facebook you will know how much I love the Kandalama Hotel. It was the highlight of our holiday to Sri Lanka. The hotel seemingly blends in with the jungle. So much so that there will be macaque monkeys visiting your balcony on a regular basis. The views from the hotel are stunning and there’s plenty of swimming pools on site. It is a 5 star hotel and comes with 5 star prices (although not as expensive as 5* in Europe!). There are cheaper options in the area but when we return to Sri Lanka we will make sure that we stay there again.
If you want to break up your journey why not plan a halfway stop to Kurunegala and see the World’s tallest granite Samadhi Buddha statue.
Day 4 – Kandalama Hotel, Sigiriya
Suggested itinerary for the day – Visit Sigiriya and Dambulla. The legendary sky citadel of Sigiriya the “Lion rock” is famous for its frescoes of ‘Celestial Maidens’ and is possibly the most impressive site in Sri Lanka. It is a relatively steep climb to the top but it’s not a difficult climb. The views and frescoes are well worth the effort. Visit first thing in the morning when it’s less crowded and less humid. Don’t forget plenty of water and avoid a ‘tour guide’ at the bottom as much as possible.
The Dambulla cave temples date back to the 1st Century BC. They are sited on a gigantic granite outcrop, which towers more than 160m above the surrounding land. The inside of the caves are completely covered by ancient frescoes including a 15m long dying Buddha.
Suggested itinerary for the day – Visit Polonnaruwa and Minneriya. Polonnaruwa was the island’s medieval capital between the 11th and 13th Century. Built alongside a large ancient artificial lake there are well-preserved ruins of palaces, bathing pools, stupas and rock sculptures of Buddha.
In the afternoon I can recommend visiting Minneriya and going on a jeep tour of the 300ha water tank which was built in the 4th Century by King Mahasena. It is home to wild elephants which we easily spotted plenty of drinking by the waters edge.
Suggested itinerary for the day – Visit Ritigala and Aukana. Spend the afternoon relaxing by one of the many pools. Ritigala is set deep in the jungle around a large hill formed of huge sculptural granite monoliths. It is an abandoned hermitage village. This place is very beautiful and unspoilt with shady forests and usually free of tourists. Aukana means ‘Sun Easter’. It is the site of the islands largest and best-preserved Buddha. Carved from rock in the 5th Century AD and standing 13 metres high.
The afternoon should then be spent enjoying the hotel and relaxing after what has now been a busy few days.
After breakfast head to Kandy which is the old capital of the Kingdom of Ceylon. Travel time by car – approx. 3 hours. En route, I recommend visiting Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. It looks after close to one hundred elephants that have either been orphaned or abandoned. We saw them when they were being taken down to the river to bathe. We had a great view from a cafe overlooking the river.
Once you have arrived in Kandy why not have a wander around the former Capital. Kandy is cradled by hills and surrounds a lake. You can visit the Temple of the Tooth which houses one of the most sacred relics of Buddhism. Which is a tooth of Buddha collected from his funeral pyre and is now protected within the gold-roofed temple. Close by in Peradeniya beside the Mahaweli Ganga are the splendid Royal Botanical gardens. Here exotic crops such as coffee, tea, nutmeg and rubber grow. The gardens are spread over 60 hectares and are home to a remarkable arboretum and orchid house.
The Hotel Suisse at Kandy is a lovely Colonial hotel which is one of the oldest in Kandy.
From Kandy it’s time to start travelling back down south and in the direction of Yala National park. It’s a long way down to the south of the island from Kandy. Around halfway down is Bandarawela. Which is an approx. 3 hour 30 drive away by car. We took the train down while our driver journeyed down by car. The views from the train were simply stunning, especially as you will pass many tea plantations.
The misty and windswept landscape of Horton plains are more reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands than of the tropics. Make sure you visit World’s End for some of the islands most breathtaking views. Bandarawela is located high in the hills by tea plantations which are also well worth a visit.
On Day 9 leave the high hills behind and head on down to Yala National Park. It was created in 1938 and is located in the south-eastern corner of the island. It has a diverse range of habitats and is home to approximately 400 elephants and 120 leopards. Plus wild buffalo, deer, black bears, macaques and different varieties of birds. The best period to visit the park is from December to March. We visited in July and spotted many birds, a couple of leopards and elephants. The park is usually closed from September- to mid October.
Yala village is a great place to stay to then be able to explore the park on a safari. The highlight for us was seeing the wild boar wander around the grounds and the macaque monkeys which were very keen on the roofs. Sea swimming is not recommended due to strong currents but they have a lovely pool on site.
The suggested itineraries for today are to take a morning or afternoon game drive and spend the rest of the time chilling out at the hotel.
Transfer to Galle along the coastal road and stop off at towns of interest along the way such as Hambantota, Tangalle and Matara. A car journey not including any stops will take approx. 4 hours from Yala to Galle.
The coastal town of Galle is best known for its impressive Fort which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The suggested itinerary for today is dependant on how much you want some chill out time. The town of Galle is a great place to do some sightseeing. The pool at the Lighthouse hotel is equally welcoming. It’s well located right next to the sea.
It’s time to set off again with just 2 hotels and 2 nights left to this busy Sri Lankan 2 week itinerary. Heading to Wadduwa beach why not stop off at a turtle hatchery on the way. Wadduwa is one if the island’s most popular beach resorts. It has large sweeping bays with palm-fringed golden beaches which stretch for miles, many of which are deserted.
The journey time by car from Galle to Wadduwa is only 1 hour 30 so there is plenty of time to look around Wadduwa or simply enjoy some time on the beach once you have arrived.
Colombo is just a short drive away from Wadduwa. It is the Capital of Sri Lanka and the most populated place in the country. It may be busy but it still has its charms with tree-lined boulevards, colonial buildings, temples, open-air markets and more. You can choose to go out exploring or stay in and enjoy the hotel and its facilities.
The Galle Face Hotel in Colombo is a colonial hotel and one of the oldest in Asia. It has an air of faded elegance and is perfectly located in the heart of Colombo, beside the sea and overlooking the Galle Face green. The hotel oozes charm and character with upgraded rooms and fabulous attentive service. Perfect for the last night in Sri Lanka before your flight home the next day. If you decide to only stay for 13 nights then it could be a tough choice between here or the beach.
Tips for Travelling to Sri Lanka
You will need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. You can get a short stay visa online at: Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). Tourist visas are normally issued for a maximum period of 30 days. It’s better to get one before you travel.
For most short-term travellers the usual recommended vaccinations for Sri Lanka include cover against the childhood diseases (Tetanus, Diphtheria and Poliomyelitis, Measles, Mumps and Rubella) as well as cover against the food and water-borne diseases of Typhoid and Hepatitis A.
Money – You can’t exchange Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes in Sri Lanka. Travellers’ cheques aren’t normally accepted. Most major banks will allow Visa and Mastercard cash withdrawals. There are ATMs in major towns and cities but not all of them accept international cards. We were fine withdrawing cash from machines. The Sri Lankan currency is the Rupee and you can’t purchase Rupee’s before you leave, nor can you take any back home with you.
Don’t forget to take some warmer clothes such as jumpers for when you are up in the mountains. The temperature does drop quite considerably. It’s still warm but can really cool down at night.
Most of all don’t drink the water. Don’t have ice-cubes in your drinks, eat salad leaves or anything else that may have been washed in water and have bottled water at the ready to brush your teeth.
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