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 yesterday's late night 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, Habarana 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)!
We'll begin making our way to Habarana stopping en-route in Dambulla, 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 hundreds of statues of Buddha (157 in fact) are housed, some carved from the rock itself. We continue to Habarana and enjoy the remainder of our afternoon at leisure. Our hotel features a large outdoor pool, ideal for relaxing after a day of sightseeing. (B/D)
Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka and the capital of the North Province, is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed city known for its many ruins of temples, ancient pools and dagobas. We'll spend the morning exploring Sri Lanka's largest and oldest ancient city, seeing its famous white dagobas – large bell-like structures that reach some 60 metres in height which house Buddhist relics.
We'll travel back to Habarana via the Ritigala Medicinal Forest. 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. (B/D)
Polonnaruwa lies at the cultural triangle's easternmost point and became Sri Lanka's second capital in the 11th century. We'll spend our morning in the ancient city that was built alongside a large artificial lake and is home to well-preserved ruins of palaces, bathing pools, stupas and exquisite rock sculptures of Buddha at the Gal Vihara. Home to evergreen forest and scrub areas that elephants and sambar deer roam free through, Minneriya National Park is our destination this afternoon.
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 upon 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 stair 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. (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. As we continue to Kandy, we'll stop at a batik factory and watch as this artistic fabric is produced. This evening, we will attend the Kandy Festival. Watch in awe as thousands of dancers, drummers, torchbearers and whip-crackers in traditional costumes weave their way through the crowds. This is Sri Lanka's biggest and most spectacular festival. We have seats within a special viewing gallery to watch the pageant and enjoy the festivities. (B/D)
Our day begins with a visit to 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. We'll then discover the city of Kandy on a guided tour, before being treated to a cultural show and traditional dance performance.
The stunning Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya is our destination this afternoon. Initially a Royal Park, in 1821 under British rule it became a Botanical Garden. Here exotic crops such as coffee, tea, nutmeg, rubber and cinchona (quinine), all of which are important to the country's economy, were first tested. The Botanical Gardens include a beautiful orchid house and a wide variety of plant species from all over the world. (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. We'll 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. (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. We'll enjoy a lovely high tea at the Grand Hotel before enjoying the afternoon at leisure.
Optional Excursion: Departing before sunrise you make your way to Horton Plains, home to many endemic loris and purple monkeys. Your trek will have you visiting the breathtaking Baker's Fall and the magnificent ‘World's End' which offers one of the best panoramic views in Sri Lanka. 3 hrs/9km – from US $50pp (B)
Situated on the south coast of Sri Lanka facing out to the Indian Ocean is the fishing and beach resort town of Weligama. Surfers flock to Weligama to surf the waves of the Indian Ocean, while travellers relax by the pool of one of the many resorts and local stilt fishermen spend their time trying to get the best catch of the day. We travel south to Weligama today en-route stopping at the coastal walled city of Galle, capital of the South Province, for a guided walking tour.
Galle 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. Next, we'll visit a turtle hatchery on the beach in Habaraduwa, set up to conserve the turtle population, before witnessing the unique stilt fishermen of Weligama go about their trade. (B/D)