Surrounded by the warm Indian Ocean waters, Sri Lanka is a true Eden of rainforests, green-clad mountains, cascading waterfalls, paddy fields and overwhelming gorges. It is an island of many treasures; the historic Sigiriya Fortress, medieval Buddhist temples, Yala National Park with its abundant wildlife including the graceful leopard, among the world’s highest concentrations. There are beautiful Nuwara Eliya and Kandy located in the hilly tea plantation regions, and stretches of sweeping sandy beaches on the southern coast. The variety is endless, and the ever-friendly locals and laid-back lifestyle make Sri Lanka a highly sought-after vacation destination.
During the tour we will visit World Heritage Sites, stroll through colorful bazaars where skilled artisans exhibit their work, go on boat cruises, admire sustainable community projects, enjoy fresh seafood and aromatic curries, and last but not least, relax on the island’s world-class palm fringed beaches.
Upon arrival at the Bandaranaike Airport in Colombo, you will be met by our representative and taken to the nearby hotel in Negombo to freshen up. Spend the afternoon relaxing on one of Sri Lanka’s beautiful tropical beaches and acclimatize with a dip in the gentle waves.
After fortifying ourselves with a delicious meal, we drive to the famous Negombo Lagoon. Fishing plays an important role in the island’s economy and forms a great part of its export. So there is hardly anything as authentic as watching the skilled fishermen at their labors. The extraction of palm wine, called toddy tapping and coconut picking are other interesting activities to watch, and the local market is a must. Your tour guide will tell you many anecdotes and interesting stories about everyday life and the local daily happenings; the best way to immerse yourself into the wonderful island world of Sri Lanka.
We overnight in the Negombo Beach Hotel.
Activities: Oriental walk, walking tour through the fishing village, boat trip on a Dutch canal
Tip: If you did not get enough of the beautiful beaches, you can extend your stay and spend one more night in the Beach Hotel in Negombo.
After a delicious breakfast we take to the road. Our trip will last around four hours and takes us through lush verdant countryside, fields of rice paddies, banana plantations and coconut palms. We pass Kurunegala and make our first stop at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a truly unique experience.
For those interested in India’s megafauna, a visit to the elephants of Pinnawala is a great way to learn more about these kind-hearted pachyderms. The orphanage was founded in 1975 and focuses on helping injured and orphan elephants to get back on their feet and adjust to their new circumstance in a species appropriate environment. The orphanage became famous after the German documentary film ‘Chandani and Her Elephant’ which tells the touching story of a girl who longs to become an elephant leader, traditionally a male dominated domain. In Pinnawala you are allowed to get close to the elephants, observe them during feeding time and gain lots of interesting information about the Indian elephant.
The afternoon will be spent touring a famous religious complex, the Dambulla Golden Rock Cave Temple. This route requires walking along a pathway and climbing stairs carved from the rock, since the cave temples are situated towards the top of the hill. The way is quite steep at times, so be aware that it can be a tough climb to reach the caves. However, you can be dropped off about halfway up if you are not up to doing it all on foot. You will still need some level of fitness if you start out from the halfway mark, but the reward is worth all the effort. On top are five dimly lit, magical caves, with murals and Buddha statues to take your breath away. The caves date back more than 2000 years and are quite important for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Take time to admire the beautiful scenery from up top before you start the descend back. If the weather permits, you will be able to see Sigiriya Rock.
Tip: Visitors must take off their shoes before entering the caves. Shorts and dresses exposing the knees are not allowed.
In Habarana we book into our hotel and you can spend the rest of the afternoon at your leisure. There is a lovely swimming pool to cool off or you may choose to wander the picturesque streets of Habarana.
Overnight stay in either Habarana or Dambulla, depending on the availability of hotels.
We depart early, camera in hand and wearing comfortable hiking shoes because we are heading for the so-called eighth wonder of the world – the 5th century Sigiriya Rock Fortress. The ruins of this ancient citadel sits on a massive rock which rises 180m/590ft from the forest floor up into the air, a truly impressive sight. On a small plateau halfway up the rock are the remains of a stone lion which guarded the entrance to the bastion. That explains why the locals refer to the rock column as Lion Rock. Although only the ruins of the erstwhile palace remain, the outstanding architecture and splendor of the former complex is still evident. Extensive remains cover the flat surface of the summit and the view from on top is expansive and breathtakingly beautiful.
About halfway up the stone steps an overhanging rock face is covered in frescoes of maidens with offerings and flowers in their hands. It is believed that these murals, called the Cloud Girls once covered the complete western face, as well as the walls of the king’s palace.
On the first floor of the complex there is an extensive modern museum which gives the visitor an excellent impression of the layout of the entire complex in all its glory. The model shows a symmetrically laid out royal park, hydraulic irrigation systems, many ponds, a man-made reservoir and palatial buildings with five entrance gates to the citadel, a true wonder of Asia for centuries.
We return to the hotel for breakfast, and then depart on an hour long trip to Polonnaruwa where we will spend the rest of the day.
After the decline of the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa started to prosper and eventually became the capital and crown jewel of King Parakramabahu. Its beauty and greatness can still be seen today.
Three miles of the city’s original enclosing walls are still standing. It is a well-planned town littered with ruins, most of them in a wonderful state of preservation. To explore this interesting town is pure delight.
We walk past Buddha statues, and here and there we see preserved remnants of walls. There are numerous stupas, irrigation canals and the fantastic Hindu sculptures. Eventually we arrive at the House of Relics or Vatadage, which seems almost pompous due to its imposing stone carvings. It is hard to get enough of the structure, whether looking at the four Buddha sculptures or feasting your eyes on the slightly Hindu influenced architecture and elaborate carvings. It is pure enjoyment to explore this interesting city.
The Nissankamala Town Hall located in the royal garden is even today a true expression of the former strength and splendor of the Nissankamala kingdom. The magnificent pillars and unique irrigation system of the complex are as impressive as the wonderful Parakrama Samudra Lake.
You will lunch at a family restaurant called Priyamali Gedara. It is an authentic culinary experience with home cooked meals the way it has always been prepared. All the ingredients are grown locally, and food is mainly prepared over open fires to create those earthy rich flavors. While you savor your delicious meal, cast your eyes on the beauty of the paddy fields in the distance.
The whole family is involved in the restaurant; the charming wife is the chef; their two friendly daughters act as helpers and waiters and the husband makes everyone feel welcome and does whatever needs to be done. The restaurant itself is little more than a shed with benches and tables made from wood, overlooking the green paddy fields. Starters are crispy papadams with fried fish washed down with an ice-cold beer. The main course consists of a variety of curry dishes with their accompaniments like tapioca, roti, red rice, chicken curry, mango, and lots more. Dessert is fruit and buffalo curd dripped with honey. Just looking at the pictures send to the family by tourists from across the globe, it is apparent that this restaurant has had many a happy customer. It is a relaxing experience in a rustic, rural environment and nothing can beat home cooking like this.
Note: Gedara is the Sinhalese word for house of home.
Following your early morning breakfast, you embark on a 1.5 hour-long drive north to visit Mihintale. These ancient remains are considered the cradle and birthplace of Buddhism on the island. The hill is marked with many rock dwellings and shrines. You can climb the impressive 1840 steps up the grand stairway to reach the summit from where there is a dazzling view of the neighboring countryside. The stairway itself is sixteen feet wide and crowded with locals who will be making the ascend with you to enjoy the majesty of Mihintale.
The journey continues to Anuradhapura which dates back to around the fourth century BC. In 1982 it was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site and has maybe the greatest number of ancient sites and monuments from the once-flourishing Sinhala civilization. Amongst these is the famous Ruwanweliseya, an extremely tall dagoba dating back to the second century BC. It is renowned for the hundreds of elephant statues which form part of the walls. Another magnificent example is Thuparama Dagoba dating from the 1200’s.
One of the oldest documented trees in history is the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi, which stands in the very center of the city. According to legend, this 2200-year-old poplar fig was grown from the very tree underneath which the Buddha attained enlightenment centuries ago.
We return to our hotel in Habarana where we will spend the night.
We enjoy a delicious breakfast in the hotel and then go on a three-hour wildlife safari in Minneriya National Pak.
Twenty minutes’ drive northeast of Sigiriya is the Minneriya National Park, which is home to the most Asian elephants roaming freely within the borders of the park. During the three-hour private jeep safari, you will see an amazing sight of hundreds of these gentle giants, and even several adorable baby elephants in their natural surroundings. Elephants are gregarious and live in close-knit groups. All these clans make their way to the lake on a daily basis to form a huge herd, an amazing sight to see. The park has a rich variety of wildlife, and you can also expect to see spotted deer, monitors, mongoose, water buffalo and many different bird species. Watching all these wild animals and birds in nature is a real joy not to be missed.
After the safari we will drive past the spice gardens of Matale with their huge variety of produce. Matale is an agricultural area off the main road and due to its fertile fields it plays an essential part in Sri Lanka’s food, spice and tea production. Just outside Matale we stop at one of the spice markets where you can see, sample and smell the wonderful aromas of the many herbs and spices sold here. This is the ideal opportunity to replenish your stock of Ayurvedic medicines, spices and fragrant massage oils.
After a day filled to the brim with fascinating adventures, we drive into Kandy. It is early evening and we will spend the night in Kandy.
Kandy lies next to a lake on a plateau, surrounded by mountains covered in tropical forest and tea plantations. Here you can still breathe the spirit of ancient civilizations while exploring the many sights, such as the Tooth Temple in which the upper left molar of the holy Buddha is kept. Every year this sacred relic is carried on the back of an elephant in a huge procession through the streets of Kandy.
The afternoon will be spent exploring the city of Kandy with a guided tour. To get an over-all view of the surroundings you will first be driven uphill to the southern part of Lake Kandy. From this special vantage point, you get a wonderful impression of the city in all its glory. Built in the early 1800’s this beautiful lake is the heart of the town. Back in town, you will be taken on a guided walking tour through the popular shopping streets as well as other places of interest for example the market and historical railway station.
The later afternoon will be spent strolling along the lake on your way to the Tooth Relic Temple. This temple houses Sri Lanka’s most holy religious relic, namely one of the Buddha’s teeth. This is considered one of the most sacred places in the country. You may be fortunate if the timing is right, to hear the Puja, or evening ceremony. For about one hour the sound of exuberant drumming and lots of excitement fill the air. The main part of this ceremony is held out of sight of the visitor, but afterwards the sacred tooth relic will be on display for viewing.
Today we visit the 60-hectare Peradeniya Botanical Garden about 6 km from Kandy. It was once a royal pleasure garden and is still a real paradise with numerous cultivated and wild plants from all over India. The garden is world famous for its impressive array of orchids, which grow here in unimagined splendor. The mighty palm avenues, and the bright bougainvillea and hibiscus beds are an absolute feast for the eyes. Another highlight is the gigantic birch fig, the crown of which spans an incredible 1600 square meters/17222 square feet. Numerous exotic animals and birds can also be spotted here by the attentive observer. The National Herbarium is right next to the gardens, and you will be able to explore and potter around at your own leisure before returning to Kandy.
The remainder of the day can be spent wandering around Kandy. Stroll through the streets of this picturesque lakeside town and explore both the city center and the quiet hills of the urban area.
We also pay a visit to the Natural Gems and Gemological Museum. Here you will be able to see how Sri Lanka’s formation billions of years ago lead to its rich deposits of minerals and gemstones. Then we proceed to a factory where silk is weaved and transformed into beautiful colorful fabrics to be tailored into the traditional garments worn by Sri Lankans for more than a thousand years. You may even dress up to see how you look in one of these splendid garments!
In the evening we visit a Kandy Dance Show. Accompanied by oriental music and traditional drums, one is immediately transported to a completely different world, but especially – a different time.
Overnight stay in Kandy.
Tip: Optionally, we can spend another night in Kandy, and the next day go on a six-hour hike through the green forests and tea plantations of the mountains of Hunas Giriya. Passing small villages and the homes of estate owners, we will be accompanied by an experienced guide through this beautiful landscape.
Our drive to Nuwara Eliya today leads through the beautiful tea plantation region. Picturesque green tea plantations wind around slopes and hills as far as the eye can see. During colonial times Nuwara Eliya was a favourite hill station with the British. In the cool air of the highlands at 1890m/6200ft they felt very much at home. No wonder the town was called ‘Little England’. The British architecture of the houses, the hotels, and the racecourse all add to the British feel. This region is world renowned for the high quality of its tea, and we will visit a plantation later on.
You will be taught everything concerning the tea manufacturing process, starting with the harvesting of the green young tea leaves out on the hillside plantations right through to the final packing of the finished product before it is exported all over the world.
What many people are not aware of is the fact that Sri Lanka is the third largest tea exporting country in the world, after China and India, with over 200,000 tons of annual tea production.
Sit down to enjoy a refreshing cup of tea before the journey to Nuwara Eliya continues.
Nuwara Eliya Afternoon Tour: After check-in at your place of accommodation your guide and chauffeur will show you the interesting sights of the town, including Haggala Botanical Gardens, golf course and Gregory Lake.
We will overnight in the highlands.
This morning you will rise early, collect a pre-packed breakfast at reception and then we drive the short 30km/18 mile-distance to the Horton Plains. This huge plateau lies 2000m/6561ft high and is watched from above by the 2nd and 3rd highest peaks of Sri Lanka. This beautiful scenery is best explored on foot and we embark on our guided trek, trying to spot wildlife like purple faced monkeys and sambar deers along the way. Its vegetation is unique, and the large number of rare and uncommon local highland birds makes it famous.
The most extraordinary geographical feature of Horton Plains is a huge escarpment which falls 1025m down to the plains and lowlands in the southern part of this Island. It is not called World’s End for nothing; the sweeping view from the brink takes your eye all the way to the coast, a breath-taking sight indeed. Depending on your fitness and how much time you want to spend trekking, there are various routes to choose from. An English-speaking local guide will accompany you on your trek and the driver will await your return at the entrance of the park. (Duration: 3-4 hours)
An adventure of a different kind awaits us, and we board a train at Sri Lanka’s highest train station at 1889m/6197ft. In ninety minutes we drop to just 1097m/3600ft, descending through misty mountain forests to lush tea plantations, while we marvel at the spectacular views down into the valley below. Often the green fields are sprinkled with the colorful clothes of tea pickers harvesting tea leaves.
After about two hours you arrive in Ella where you will meet your driver who has traveled by road, transporting your luggage. He will then drive you to your accommodation.
At your hotel in Ella, you can enjoy both the view and your wonderful hotel room. The location is perfect, and within a few minutes you can get to the main street of Ella, where you will find numerous interesting stores. The landscape around Ella is absolutely breathtaking; there are various lakes, waterfalls and forests to visit.
You can use the day to enjoy, for example, the excellent Ayurvedic massages available in the town as Ella is famous for these centuries-old practices. Whether you are in pain or looking for relief from tension or maybe just want to relax, the experienced masseurs here can provide relief from just about any tension or stress related affliction.
We overnight in a hotel in Ella.
Please note: We will do our utmost to book the best seats available, but the onboard facilities might not be on par with standards you are used to on the western railroad coaches.
Another scenic drive is in stall for us today. From Ella Gap nearly the entire southern region of Sri Lanka can be seen, with beautiful views 1000m/3281ft down to the coastal plains. On a clear, cloudless day, one can even catch a glimpse of the shimmering, silver Indian Ocean waters. We head south, exchanging the hilly terrain for the plains where Kataragama is situated. From here we travel to Yala, the island’s most famous national park. It is also the 2nd largest of its parks, covering an area of 97800 hectares and is home to elephants, bears, leopards, wild boars and crocodiles, amongst many other species. Due to the openness of the undulating terrain, it has always been popular for elephant watching, but recently more and more visitors are attracted by its large concentration of leopards. There are both fresh and salt water lagoons and the vegetation consists mainly of shrub jungle.
Note: The park is often closed from beginning September through October for four to six weeks during which the authorities inspect the welfare and condition of its wildlife population. When this is the case, we will visit Udawalawe National Park in the vicinity.
Early Morning Safari through Yala Park: You will set out early, before breakfast, so do not forget to get a packed breakfast at reception. You will drive through the park on your safari and return to the hotel at mid-morning.
You depart late morning in a western direction, driving all along the southern coast of Sri Lanka until you reach the well-known Dutch settlement, Galle. On the way you will drive through a sleepy little coastal town called Tangalle. You may also stop to admire the beauty of the famous Dondra lighthouse. Dondra Head lies at the most southern point of the entire Indian subcontinent.
You may also have the opportunity to watch the extraordinary so-called stilt fishermen at work, if we strike it lucky. They manage to balance themselves on thin sticks above the water, holding on with one hand while fishing with the other, a technique as old as the hills here on the island. At sunset this scene makes for fabulous photo opportunities.
We reach Ahangama or Galle during the afternoon and you are free to spend the remainder of the day as you please. There are plenty of activities to take part in, or you may just want to relax on the beautiful sandy beach or next to the hotel pool. We spend the night in Galle or Ahangama.
If you chose to go on the whale watching excursion, you will have to rise early for we leave at sunrise. At the harbor our private boat, with crew and guide aboard awaits us. The morning will be spent looking for blue whales and other mammals like porpoises and dolphins. Since the boat is equipped with GPS and radar, our chances are good. Blue whales are the largest creatures on earth and frequent the Sri Lanka southern seas from November to April every year. An adult can measure up to 30m/98ft in length and can weigh as much as 199 metric tons. Other cetaceans that may be spotted if we are lucky, are Bryde’s whales, sperm whales, and even pods of bottlenose or spinner dolphins. After a most enjoyable morning in the company of these gentle sea creatures, we return to our hotel.
In the later afternoon we will explore Galle on a guided tour.
Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and would undoubtedly be a jewel in Sri Lanka’s crown even without this status. The historic old town can be explored on foot and used to be an old Dutch trading port, characterized by imposing colonial architecture, evident in impressive churches, beautiful old villas and countless museums. However, you will also find numerous cafes, boutiques and restaurants. In addition, this is a meeting place for local designers, photographers and artists, which is immediately noticeable when you walk past the creatively restored old hotels. Galle is definitely one of the top attractions in southern Sri Lanka.
Tour Galle Fort on Foot: You will spend an exciting day touring Fort Galle. Your charismatic local guide will surprise you with unexpected experiences. Walk through a maze of little hidden back alleys, chat with interesting locals, marvel at extravagant eighteenth-century merchant residences and discover fascinating secrets spots. The two-hour tour varies with different themes, according to your personal interests. They are designed to show you the real character of this interesting fort city. You are free to enjoy the remainder of this day at your leisure; maybe you want to return to the fort to explore on your own, walk on a nearby beach or dine in one of the many highly regarded restaurants.
A small tip: With a rented bike you can explore the beautiful surroundings of Galle, its numerous rice fields, small villages and coconut plantations. While there, you can be shown how to make sturdy ropes out of coconut fibres or purchase a few souvenirs at one of the many small stores around the city. If you are looking for an inspiring place to write a postcard home, this is definitely the place.
This day is completely at your leisure.
Optional for Nature Lovers: Stay one more night and discover the fauna and flora of the Sinharaja Rainforest.
A two-hour drive takes us to Sri Lanka’s last unspoilt rainforest called Sinharaja. This undisturbed, large tropical stretch of forest is also a biodiversity area with a large number of indigenous fauna and flora species, but due to the dense vegetation and forest canopy height it is not easy to spot wildlife. No vehicles are allowed inside the park and visitors will take a walking tour accompanied by an experienced guide.
Sinharaja Park stretches over a thin splinter of land, only 3.7km/2.3 miles wide and 21km/13 miles long, and amazingly almost 45% of all recorded species on the entire island are found here. Apart from reptiles and amphibians, many interesting mammals roam the rainforest, including barking and sambar deer, wild boar and jackal. Tribes of ten or more purple-faced langur monkeys are readily spotted amongst the trees. However, the fifteen resident leopards are shy animals and well camouflaged, so they are hard to spot and disappear completely in the dense forest.
Sinharaja is a bird lover’s paradise with a large number of indigenous bird species like the most recently discovered bird in Sri Lanka, the Serendib scops owl. There are also hanging parrots, Sri Lanka rufous blabbers, crimson fronted barbets, pale-billed flowerpeckers, Indian pygmy woodpeckers, spot-winged ground thrushes, Malabar Trogons, Legge’s flowerpeckers, velvet-fronted nuthatches, red-faced Malkohas, black-naped blue monarchs and a lot more.
During the afternoon a nature guide will accompany us on a walk along some of the many trails to introduce us to the abundant diversity of this huge rainforest. Sinharaja is an evergreen, damp wonderland, teeming with wildlife and an ecological treasure not to be missed. It is certainly worth staying an extra day or two to enjoy this World Heritage Site.
You will spend the night in the Sinharaja Forest Edge, Rainforest Eco Lodge or similar accommodation.
After breakfast we have a pleasant two-hour drive all along the coast in store. We are heading for the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. We take a break at a turtle sanctuary. Here injured turtles are being cared for and hatching baby turtles assisted during their first attempts to get to the water. Close by we visit the small Tsunami Memorial erected in honor of the 35000 people who lost their lives during the 2004 tsunami. Photos and touching stories paint a realistic picture of the scale of devastation.
Tour Colombo on Foot during the Afternoon: After check-in you set out with your guide, a characterful local resident, on a tour of the capital. You drive to the old Dutch Hospital and here your walking tour starts. The focus is on history, architecture and photography and the tour is divided into two parts; the first part explores the Fort and the second Pettah market. Included in your tour is a tea break and regular stops to sample some of the local street food. Drinking water is provided during the tour. You return to the hospital where the tour comes to an end.
Overnight in Colombo.
Breakfast concludes this tour through Sri Lanka.
We have had many adventures on our trip, seen many exciting things and met many friendly new people. For some, it is time to return to their country, others may choose to stay on to visit more phenomenal places in the region, such as the beaches of the Maldives. Whether your trip ends here or continues, we hope you had a wonderful vacation and look forward to welcoming you back soon for the next tour – there is still much to discover!
Price based on two persons in a double room
• Prices are in USD Excluding international flights
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Chennai ➜Mahabalipuram ➜Kanchipuram ➜Puducherry ➜Thanjavur ➜ Chettinad ➜Madurai ➜Thekkady (Periyar Tiger Reserve) ➜ Alleppey Backwaters ➜ Kochi (Cochin) ➜Ooty➜Bandipur National Park ➜Mysore (Mysuru)➜ Shravanabelagola ➜ Belur and Halebidu ➜ Ancient City of Hampi ➜Badami via Aihole and Pattadakal➜ Goa
New Delhi ➜ Haridwar ➜Rishikesh ➜ Agra ➜ Fatehpur Sikri➜ Jaipur
Kolkata➜Darjeeling➜ Sikkim➜ Pelling➜ Kalimpong➜Kolkata
New Delhi ➜ Indore➜ Dhar➜ Mandu ➜ Omkareshwar ➜ Maheshwara➜ Ujjain ➜ Bhopal ➜ Sanchi and Udaygiri ➜ Bhimbetka Caves and Bhojpur ➜ Jabalpur ➜ Bandhavgarh Tiger National Park➜ Khajuraho – Orchha ➜ Jhansi ➜ Datia➜ Sonagiri ➜ Gwalior➜ Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary ➜ New Delhi + Optional tour of Taj Mahal
Negombo ➜ Wilpattu National Park ➜ Anuradhapura (optional Bicycle Tour) ➜ Mihintale Spice Gardens ➜ Jaffna (including Nainativu Island) ➜ Trincomalee Beach (Nilaveli) ➜ Optional Pigeon Island Marine-Nationalpark & Whale watching in Trincomalee ➜ Dambulla Caves ➜ Minneriya National Park ➜ Optional Hiriwadunna Village Tour with Lunch ➜ Kandy (Tooth Temple) ➜ Sigiriya Rock Fortress ➜ Nuwara Eliya (Train Ride) ➜ Colombo