Experience the country’s colonial past first-hand when you stay in a Georgian style mansion in the hills of Nuwara Eliya – your feature stay for this trip.. Discover the breadth of Sri Lanka’s diverse food scene during a cooking class in Galle, a tea plantation tour and a sophisticated high tea in Nuwara Eliya, and dinner at a local’s home in Negombo.. Search for crocodiles, elephants, monkeys and the ever-elusive leopards under the cover of darkness on an evening safari through the wild grasslands of Yala National Park.. Uncover ancient treasures in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle as you explore the temples, ruins and stupas of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy with the expert guidance of your local leader.
Encounter a country that radiates warmth – from its glorious sunshine to its scorching cuisine and incredibly kind people. This 14-day Premium adventure through Sri Lanka will take you straight to the heart of the country’s wealth of cultural riches. Explore the ancient ruins of past civilizations, search for rare and beautiful animals, relax on palm-fringed beaches and receive a welcoming embrace from the locals. A shining gem in the Indian ocean, the teardrop isle will bring nothing but smiles.
Welcome to Sri Lanka! Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, you will be met by an Intrepid representative and transferred to your hotel in nearby Negombo. Here you will meet your leader and fellow travellers during a 6pm welcome meeting. If you arrive early, perhaps take some time to relax on the golden-sand beach under a canopy of blue sky. After your welcome meeting, your leader will take you to the home of a Negombo local for a delicious home-cooked dinner. Sri Lankan food is famous for its rich scents, spices and flavours, and this evening you’ll find out why as you sample fresh seafood and local favourites like pol sambol (a tasty coconut dish) and roast paan (crispy roasted bread). Learn the secrets of Sri Lankan cuisine as your taste buds go on a journey.
Dambulla / Sigiriya
Rise early this morning for a visit to the Negombo fish market. Morning is the best time to visit the market – your leader will help you navigate the organised frenzy of vendors displaying delicacies like crab, lobsters, and squid. Say goodbye to Negombo and make the drive to Dambulla, where you'll spend the next three nights. Settle in to your hotel then 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 get to the top – your leader will share stories of the ancient civilisation who once lived atop the rock as you climb, and the sight at the top makes it well worth it. In the evening, return to Dambulla for a Sri Lankan style barbecue dinner. Tuck into a delicious array of fresh grilled fish, meat and vegetables, and watch a demonstration on how to make chilli and coconut sambol, so you can recreate the taste of Sri Lanka at home.
Dambulla / Anuradhapura
Today you will head to Anuradhapura, the northern point of Sri Lanka’s ‘cultural triangle’, which also contains Polonnaruwa to the east and Kandy to the south-west. This area is bursting with stunning temples and sites of cultural and religious importance. The city of Anuradhapura is one of the country’s most historically significant places and its first ancient capital. Take a step back in time as your leader guides you through the giant stupas of Ruwanweliseya and Jetawanaramaya, and ponder the rise and fall of ancient civilisations as you explore crumbling temples and ruins. Pay a visit to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree Temple – home to a sacred bodhi tree planted in 236, believed to be the oldest human-planted tree in the world. Stop by the ancient temple of Isurumuniya and see its beautiful carvings that tell stories that are thousands of years old. Return to Dambulla for an evening at leisure.
Dambulla / Polonnaruwa
After breakfast you will make your way to Polonnaruwa to continue your explorations of the cultural triangle. Following Anuradhapura as the Sinhalese and Chola capital in the 10th century, the area is strewn with ancient riches, in better condition than the ruins of its predecessor. Discover well-preserved temples, tombs and stupas in Polonnaruwa’s Quadrangle complex – it’s not hard to imagine what this place looked like in all its former glory. Visit the remains of the seven-story palace built by King Parakramabahu, the rock temple of Gal Vihara, the giant stupa of Rankot Vihara and the ancient Buddha image house of Lankatilaka, covered in intricate carvings and housing a towering statue of Buddha. Stop by the incredible statue of Parakrama I, at 100 metres tall this is a truly impressive sight. Later in the afternoon, head back for a final evening in Dambulla, where you may like to enjoy a refreshing drink by the lake.
This morning you will take a short drive to the incredible Dambulla Cave Temple. Here you’ll discover five caves filled with around 150 beautiful statues and paintings of Buddha – some as many as 2000 years old. Explore the magical cave complex as your leader explains why this World Heritage-listed site has been a place of worship for thousands of years. In the afternoon, start your journey to Kandy. Along the way, stop off in the city of Matale where you will visit a local spice garden and learn about the spices that have played such an important role in Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage. Continue on to Kandy where you’ll have a free evening to explore. Though it’s the second-largest city in the country, Kandy maintains a laidback atmosphere. Perhaps take a peaceful stroll around the city’s centrepiece lake, or ask your leader where you can get your hands on a tasty Sri Lankan curry.
This morning, meet with a local botanist and enjoy their expert insight as you take a guided tour of the Royal Botanical Garden. Your guide will help you spot Yellow Fronted Barbets, Layards Parakeets and Sri Lankan Hanging Parrots, and introduce you to an unbelievable array of orchids. 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 and see how gems are turned into beautiful pieces of jewellery. Today’s lunch is particularly special as you will dine at Hela Bojun, a social enterprise founded by the Sri Lankan government to empower, train and employ women from rural communities. In the afternoon you will be welcomed into the home of a local dancer where you’ll have the unique opportunity to watch an exclusive cultural performance in an intimate environment. This evening, visit the famous Temple of the Tooth Relic. 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. Arrive in time and you may have the chance to witness the pooja, a small ceremony of reverence involving drummers and dancers.
Depart Kandy and board a 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. Favoured by the Scots and English during the colonial-era, remnants of the past can be seen in sculpted gardens and manor homes decorating the city today. On arrival, visit the wonderful AMMA Textile Workshop. The workshop employs mothers from nearby communities, giving them a source of income and teaching transferable skills. Chat with the local women as you learn how their beautiful pieces are woven and dyed. After your visit, enjoy some time to explore the charming town before heading to your accommodation. Tucked away among tea plantations and scenic hills is the Jetwing St. Andrew’s Hotel, a restored Georgian-style mansion and your feature stay for the next two nights. A nod to the colonial history of the region, rooms are classically beautiful with all modern amenities included. At its core is the hotel’s sustainable practices which focus on conserving the land it sits on and giving back to nearby communities. This evening perhaps take the time to explore the hotel’s palatial gardens overlooking lush greenery, or settle in for a first-class dining experience at the excellent on-site restaurant.
Make a morning visit to the Pedro Tea Estate. Built in 1885, this fascinating factory still features some original pieces of machinery. You’ll have a new appreciation for your humble morning brew after learning about the production process and discovering how the finest tea leaves are transformed into Ceylon black tea. If touring the factory inspires a thirst, you’ll have the chance to sample some of the final product yourself. Then head to the sky-scraping Single Tree temple and embark on a short 40-minute hike, taking in spectacular views of the surrounding hills and tea fields. After your hike, sit down for a well-deserved lunch at the prestigious Nuwara Eliya Golf Club – one of the oldest golf clubs in Asia. This afternoon, continue your journey into Nuwara Eliya’s colonial past and head to the Grand Hotel for a marvellous high tea experience. Converted from the former home of a British governor, the hotel now offers up an impressive selection of tea, paired with delightful finger food and confectionary.
Yala National Park
This morning, make your way to the sacred town of 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’ll board a 4x4 and embark on a safari through open grasslands, lush forest and tranquil lagoons. Your guide will carefully listen out for the rustling of concealed animals that would go unnoticed by those not in the know. There's a good chance of spotting crocodiles, elephants, monkeys and buffaloes and if you are lucky, you may even spot a leopard – the park is considered one of the best places in the world to see these ever-elusive beauties. After an exciting day of wildlife spotting, retire to your resort for dinner.
Yala National Park
Today you will enjoy another safari in Yala National Park. As Sri Lanka’s second largest national park, there’s so much to uncover here. 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. Keep an eye out for prideful peacocks strutting their way through the park. If Yala is closed today, the group will visit the fantastic Bundala National Park instead. Enjoy an included dinner at your resort this evening.
Take an optional visit Kataragama Temple in the morning to see the shrine dedicated to Kataragama Deviyo (resident god). Later you will transfer to Galle, a beautiful seaside town near Sri Lanka's southernmost tip. Settle into your hotel, then follow your leader on a walking tour through what is considered to be the best-preserved colonial town in Sri Lanka. At its core is a Dutch-built fort surrounded on three sides by the ocean, and its streets hold a treasure trove of ancient mosques and churches, museums, boutiques and more. Uncover Galle’s glory as your leader shares tales from its past through to the present day.
This morning you will be joined by a local host who will take you to the farmers market to learn about all the fresh ingredients that make up Sri Lanka’s flavoursome and fragrant recipes. After perusing the colourful market stalls, head back to your host’s Dutch style home and take part in a Sri Lankan cooking class. Get a behind the scenes look at Sri Lankan cuisine as you conjure up some Ambulthiyal fish curry, lentil dhal, eggplant curry and something sweet for dessert. The afternoon is yours to spend. There are some wonderful ways to pass the time here. Perhaps visit a cinnamon plantation just outside of Galle to learn about the process of making the spice. Birders may wish to explore the Hiyare Rainforest Reservoir on the outskirts of the city. As always, speak to your knowledgeable leader for information on how to book or access these optional activities.