The coastal town of Negombo is set alongside a picturesque lagoon and home to an impressive network of canals built in Dutch colonial times. Negombo was an important strategic outpost for the trade of cinnamon in colonial times and has been ruled at varying times by the Dutch, Portuguese and British empires. We'll enjoy the day at leisure today to rest up and refresh from our flight before our sightseeing commences in the early evening.
Special Experience: Cruise along the calm waters of the jungle-fringed Negombo Lagoon at sunset before enjoying a delicious BBQ dinner. Keep an eye out for various colourful birds and water monitors as our boat navigates the mangrove islands as the sun begins to set. In a fitting welcome to our time in Sri Lanka, we'll then be treated to a delicious traditional meal while getting to know our fellow travelling companions further over dinner. (B/D)
Sri Lanka is home to no less than 8 UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites. Five of these ancient sites are situated in what is known as the cultural triangle, in the centre of the island. Neighbouring some of Sri Lanka's most important sites and landmarks, Sigiriya is the gateway to Sri Lanka's cultural triangle and national parks. Negombo's fish markets are full of life and colour each morning when the fresh catch is brought in and vendors voice their prices at the top of their lungs. Buyers bargain for the best deals in what is a daily practice for the locals of this coastal town. We'll visit the fish markets during a morning tour of Negombo; don't wear your best shoes and have a handkerchief on hand just in case (it tends to smell rather fishy)!
Next, we'll make our way to the Dambulla Caves, home to the best-preserved cave temple complex of Sri Lanka; a key site of the country's cultural triangle. The cave temples were built in the 1st century and the gigantic granite outcrop towers more than 160 metres above its surrounds. We explore the caves covered by ancient frescoes and their interior where over a hundred statues of Buddha (157 in fact) are housed, some carved from the rock itself. (B/D)
Set deep in the jungle around a large hill formed by huge sculptural granite monoliths, lies the ancient and now abandoned hermitage of Ritigala. Today the visible remains are those of a Buddhist monastic congregation that used to practice meditation in total austerity. Rarely visited by tourists, this mystical place is incredibly beautiful and unspoilt with shady forests filled with streams, pools and granite boulders leading to ruins with various meditation platforms. We'll spend our morning here before making our way to Minneriya National Park.
Home to evergreen forest and scrub areas that elephants and sambar deer roam free through, Minneriya National Park is an incredible place to get up close with some of the wildlife of Sri Lanka. The central feature of the park is the ancient Minneriya Tank (built in the 3rd century by King Mahasena). During the dry season (June to September), this tank is an incredible place to observe the elephants who come to bathe and graze, as well as the huge flocks of birds (cormorants and painted storks, to name a few) that come to fish in the shallow waters. (B/D)
Regarded as one of Sri Lanka's most impressive sites, a visit to the famous rock fortress of Sigiriya is a must. The remains of a fifth-century fortress lie perched high atop a rock plateau with views over a vast plain and dense jungles. Built by King Kasyapa, an impressive 5-acre fort sat astride the rock and a city nestled at its base, but now the city is gone and the fortress is in ruins. We depart our hotel early this morning to visit Sigiriya.
We brave the spiral staircase to see the 21 frescoes of female nature spirits (Apsaras) painted beneath an overhang about 90 meters up the rock. The frescoes are beautiful – their colours still vibrant after 1,500 years. A wall covered with 1,000-year-old graffiti and poetry (left by visitors who recorded their impressions of the painted women) lies just above the frescoes. We're met at the top of our 1,200 step climb with incredible views over the Sri Lankan jungle the lies below and some fascinating ruins of a kingdom that once flourished.
Special Experience: Visit a local village near Sigiriya and be welcomed into a local home for a traditional lunch. We get acquainted with the traditions of the local family as we watch how they prepare their meals, learn some traditional cooking techniques and enjoy a delicious meal together. After lunch, we'll enjoy the remainder of our afternoon at leisure. Our hotel features a large outdoor pool, ideal for relaxing after a day of sightseeing. (B/L/D)
Kandy is a truly charming town, set around an artificial lake and amidst rolling hills covered by forests and tea plantations. Known for housing the most important Buddhist temple in the country, the former capital of Ceylon and the last seat of the Sinhalese Kingdom is Sri Lanka's cultural capital. The city has a distinctive style due to the impressive colonial architecture that still survives today. En-route to Kandy, we'll stop at Matale and visit some of the best spice plantations on the island. A large variety of spices such as cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and precious cardamom (a relative of ginger) are grown here. We'll be shown how some of these spices are grown and processed and will be able to purchase favourites to take home.
We will also visit the Coconut House, which is a wonderful opportunity to see how a local family utilises every element of a coconut tree. Upon arrival in Kandy this afternoon, we'll visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Ever since it was founded in the 16th century, it has housed one of the most sacred relics of Buddhism—a tooth of Buddha collected from his funeral pyre, which is now protected within the gold-roofed Temple of the Tooth. (B/D)
The main hill resort of Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya is the heart of Sri Lanka's lush tea-growing region. Founded by the British explorer Samuel Baker in 1846, Nuwara Eliya was a sanctuary to the colonialists keen to escape the humidity and heat of Sri Lanka. The town was originally built with mock-Tudor houses featuring inglenook fireplaces and billiard tables, a golf course, racetrack, gentlemen's clubs, and botanical gardens. Now a bustling town and the vegetable garden of Sri Lanka, it still provides a glimpse of life during the colonial heyday. The region's temperate climate makes this the coolest area in the country.
We board the local train this morning for a scenic ride en-route to Nuwara Eliya. Meandering through some of the country's most beautiful scenery, there will be plenty of photo worthy moments during our journey. We'll arrive in the afternoon and have time to relax at the hotel before dinner this evening. (B/D)
Colonial past and current-day Sri Lanka fuse in Nuwara Eliya to create one of Sri Lanka's most unique destinations. We discover the town during a guided tour this morning before venturing out of town to see the spectacular St. Clair and Devon Falls that cascade down the lush green mountains of the region. Known as Little Niagara of Sri Lanka, St. Clair Falls is one of the widest falls in Sri Lanka. Nearby Devon Falls was named after an English coffee planter by the name of Devon, whose plantation is situated nearby.
Next, we visit a tea plantation and factory where we discover how Sri Lankan tea is produced, from the picking of the leaves to the selling of the tea, before enjoying a few samples. Back at our hotel, we'll enjoy a lovely high tea at the Grand Hotel before enjoying the evening at leisure. Deluxe Experience: Enjoy an exclusive visit to a tea plantation to learn the tea-making process and sample the local produce while overlooking lush tea gardens. (B)
This morning we'll enjoy time at leisure. You may like to relax and enjoy our hotel's facilities or take part in an optional cycling tour along the boundary of Yala National Park. Grab your cameras this afternoon for a safari through Yala National Park. Among the oldest and best known of Sri Lanka's national parks, our safari will take us through the park's stunning scenery and past a number of important cultural ruins. Keep your eyes peeled and cameras at the ready for the number of different species that call Yala National Park home.
Optional Excursion: Cycle along the gravel road of the Yala National Park buffer zone (Elephant Fence), where you might be able to spot deer, monkey, wild buffalo, wild boar and many bird species. The tour also includes a visit to the Situlpahuwa Temple. 4 hours/30km – from US $95pp (B/D)
The coastal walled city of Galle is the capital of the South Province and is best known for its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Galle Fort, a fantastically preserved colonial sea fortress. Built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, the old trading port was further fortified by the Dutch and British colonialists. The narrow streets of shuttered mansions and churches are protected by the stone walls, bastions and ramparts, and are a delight to stroll through.
Upon arriving in Galle, we enjoy a guided tour of the city on foot, learning about the town's history. Next, we'll visit a turtle hatchery on the beach in Habaraduwa, set up to conserve the turtle population. It's then onto the nearby resort town of Weligama where we'll see the local stilt fishermen go about their trade. Deluxe Experience: Spend two days staying in the historic walled city of Galle, wandering the narrow streets and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Galle Fort. (B/D)
Winding its way through islets forested with mangroves, we enjoy a scenic cruise along the Madu River this morning. Look out for the 46 different species of birds that reside in the area, including 14 aquatic varieties, as well as huge water lilies and colourful butterflies. We'll then visit the Moonstone Mine in Meetiyagoda. This mine is one of the few places where the semi-precious stone is found in high concentrations, hence the villagers believe this area is blessed by the moon. At Meetiyagoda you can see, or even go down into, the deep, narrow shafts where the stones are mined. The remainder of the afternoon is ours to enjoy at leisure. You may like to make the most of the luxurious hotel amenities, explore the Galle fort further on your own or take part in an optional cycling tour of Galle's countryside.
Optional Excursion: Enjoy a relaxed cycle through paddy fields and small villages stopping to meet some of the locals along the way. The tour will also include a visit to a local tea and cinnamon factory, where of course you'll enjoy a tasting! 3 hours/30km – from US $45pp (B/D)
Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, the ‘Garden City of the East', faces the Indian Ocean and stretches along more than 14 kilometres of the island's western shores. A bustling city crowded with buses and minivans has overtaken the once quiet roads laden with bullock carts. Tree-lined boulevards, colonial buildings, open air markets, temples, lakes, and churches add great character to this city. Upon arriving in Colombo, we'll enjoy a guided city tour visiting the Gangarama Temple and the famous Cricket Club Café, owned by two Australians.
Special Experience: Navigate the hustle and bustle of Colombo's streets during a tour of the city in open-top World War II Jeeps. We'll enjoy a farewell dinner this evening at Colombo's Gallery Café. Housed in the former offices of world-renowned Sri Lankan architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa, the internationally acclaimed restaurant is the perfect place to enjoy our last group meal together. (B/D)