Climb the narrow steps that wind around the cliff-carved rock fortress of Sigiriya, emerging triumphant at the world’s oldest landscaped gardens that sit 200 metres high.. Sip on fresh Ceylon tea in Nuwara Eliya, tasting lovely brews with even lovelier views of rolling, evergreen hillside.. Search for crocodiles, elephants, monkeys and buffaloes under cover of darkness during an evening safari tour of Yala National Park.. With a history touched by Portuguese, Dutch and British influences and a society with a devout adherence to the Buddhist faith, this island-nation has incredible diversity.
Sri Lanka has just about everything a traveller could want – superb ancient sites, magnificent scenery, amazing wildlife, delicious cuisine, incredibly welcoming people and palm-fringed, white sandy beaches. Add to this a history touched by Portuguese, Dutch and British influences and a society with a strong and devout adherence to the Buddhist faith and we find an island-nation of incredibly rich diversity with much to offer. We discover all of this and more on a comprehensive journey of what has been affectionately called, due to its shape, the ‘Teardrop Isle’.
Breakfast Included: 13 Lunches Included: 1 Dinner Included: 2
Welcome to Sri Lanka. Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport (the country's main international airport), you'll be met and transferred to your hotel close to Negombo, which is situated north of Colombo. Meet your leader and fellow travellers during a welcome meeting at around 6 pm.
Dambulla / Sigiriya
Rise early this morning for a visit to the Negombo fish market. Morning is the best time to visit the market, which is a picture of organised frenzy as vendors display delicacies like crab, lobsters, shark and squid. Bid farewell to Negombo and continue by private vehicle (approximately 4.5 hours) to the ancient city of Sigiriya. In the late afternoon, head out for one of the highlights of any visit to Sri Lanka, a visit to the magnificent palace of Sigiriya (Lion Rock). This dramatic rocky outcrop, rising from the surrounding plains is topped by a ruined palace. It's a good workout to climb to the top, but well worth the effort. Afterwards, it's a 30 minute drive to Dambulla, where you'll spend your next three nights.
Dambulla / Anuradhapura
Drive to Anuradhapura in a private vehicle after breakfast this morning (approximately 1.5 hours). The sacred city of Anuradhapura is one of the main shrines of Buddhism in the country. Take a walk through intricate monuments and amazing architecture. While here you witness the famous sacred fig tree, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Also see Isurumuniya, a beautiful Buddhist temple nearby. After your visit to this ancient city, head back to Sigiriya. Your evening is then free to do as you wish in Dambulla.
Dambulla / Polonnaruwa
After breakfast, journey by private vehicle out to another of the area's ancient landmarks in Polonnaruwa (approximately 1.5 hours each way). There are plenty of temples, tombs and stupas to discover, as well as the spectacular Quadrangle. Later in the afternoon, head back to Dambulla for a final evening, where you may like to enjoy a refreshing drink by the peaceful lake.
Make the short drive to Dambulla Caves Temple this morning and explore this magnificent cave complex. The World Heritage-listed monastery has been a pilgrimage site for 22 centuries and for good reason. In the afternoon, venture out in your private vehicle to Kandy (approximately 2.5 hours). You'll also visit a spice garden in Matale on the way. On arrival, check in to your hotel and head out to explore.
Though it’s the second-largest city in the country and capital of the central hill regions, Kandy is tranquil and beautiful. In the morning, take a guided tour of the Royal Botanical Garden with a botanist. As well as 300 species of orchids, there are a number of bird species in the park, including the Yellow Fronted Barbet, Layards Parakeet, Sri Lankan Hanging Parrot and Brown Capped Babbler. You will also pay a visit to the gem museum and lapidary, where you can learn about the history of gem mining in Sri Lanka. At some point today you will be welcomed into the home of a local dancer to watch a cultural performance in an intimate environment. Capping off a day full of treasures is an evening visit to the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa). Located in the heart of town, this is the most important shrine in the country, housing a relic of a tooth of Buddha taken from his funeral pyre.
Enjoy breakfast in Kandy and then board a 3.5-hour morning train bound for Nuwara Eliya. Nestled even deeper into tea plantation country, Nuwara Eliya sits at an elevation of 1800 metres, making it one of the coolest regions in Sri Lanka. The cool clime made it a favourite with the English and the Scots during the colonial-era, and remnants of this past can be seen in the sculpted gardens and manor homes that still decorate the city. This afternoon, indulge in the classic British past time of high tea, tasting a cup or two of the local teas and enjoying some finger food.
Make a visit to the Pedro Tea Estate. Built in 1885, the plantation still features some original pieces of machinery. Experience the work that goes into the humble cup and enjoy sampling some brews. After an included lunch, your day is free to spend at your leisure. Perhaps head to Victoria Park for a relaxing stroll around a mixture of wild and sculpted plant life.
Yala National Park
Transfer to Kataragama. On the way there, make a stop at a beautiful small town in the highlands, Ella. Here, visit Ella Gap which offers beautiful vistas out across the plains. In the evening, head to Yala National Park, Sri Lanka's premier wildlife reserve. Here you board a 4x4 and embark on a safari. There's a good chance of spotting crocodiles, elephants, monkeys and buffaloes. When it's all over, retire to your resort to relax and unwind.
Yala National Park
Today you will enjoy another safari in Yala National Park. Perhaps take the chance to do some birdwatching; Yala is home to some 215 bird species, including the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Painted Stork and Crimson-fronted Barbet. If Yala is closed today, the group will visit Bundala National Park instead.
Take an optional visit Kataragama Temple in the morning to see the shrine that's dedicated to Kataragama Deviyo (resident god). Later we will transfer to Galle, a beautiful seaside town near Sri Lanka's southermost tip. Settle into your hotel, and perhaps stretch your legs with a stroll around a town considered the best preserved colonial town in Sri Lanka. At its core is a Dutch-built fort surrounded on three sides by the ocean but there's a trove of ancient mosques and churches, museums, boutiques and more. Between the months of November to April, whale watching is also a possibility in this area. If you have time in the day, pay a visit to the Handunugoda white tea plantation for a lesson in history and process.
The morning and afternoon are yours to explore this charming town. There are a few options if you wish to add some structure to your day. Perhaps visit a cinnamon plantation 20 minutes outside of Galle to learn about the process of making the spice. Birders may wish to explore the Hiyare Rainforest Reservoir, also about 20 minutes from Galle. As always, speak to your knowledgeable leader for information on how to book or access these optional activities. In the evening, take a guided walk through this historic town.