Sri Lanka is an island nation that rests at the toe of India. This tear-drop shaped paradise remains off the high-profile radar, offering travelers an incredible offshore garden. Visit the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Galle Fort, tea plantations in the rolling hills of Nuwara Eliya, and cultural center of Kandy. Also, experience a jeep safari in two national parks!
Welcome to Sri Lanka! After exiting customs formalities, meet your guide and transfer to your hotel.
Sri Lanka, the island nation home to more than 20 million people, is a strategic naval link between West and Southeast Asia. The nation famously exports tea, coffee, and coconuts and boasts a rich cultural heritage. Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, is a vibrant mix of modernity and colonial ruins. Because of its natural harbor and positioning along East-West sea trade routes, Colombo was known to ancient traders from 2,000 years ago. Overnight.
After breakfast, drive to Sigiriya (3 hours) and climb the Rock Fortress. The name refers to a site of historical and archaeological significance that is dominated by a massive column of rock nearly 200 meters (660 ft) high. According to an ancient Sri Lankan chronicle, the site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colorful frescoes. On a small plateau, he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure —Sīhāgiri, the Lion Rock.
The capital and the royal palace were abandoned after the king's death and it was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. It is considered one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning.
Upon descending the rock, take a hidden route from the base of the rock into the green gardens of Sigiriya, where you will enjoy refreshments and some traditional Sri Lankan cuisine along with fresh cut fruits, cold towels, and mineral water.
On your return journey to the hotel, travel away from the main roads and proceed along the picturesque Kandalama Tank. Arrive at a remote village and walk through the narrow roads to the waiting catamaran boats, which take you along the Kandalama. The catamaran ride is a brief experience but gives you the essence of how typical villagers use them for fishing, transportation, and picking up water lilies.
Transfer to the hotel for an evening at leisure.
In the morning, visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa is an ancient Sri Lankan kingdom and remains one of the best planned archaeological relics in the country. The UNESCO site houses the ruins of a garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century and Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas.
Following the visit, enjoy a traditional Sri Lankan meal at a café by the rice fields, prepared using clay pots and a wood fire.
Later, enjoy a 4x4 jeep safari in Minneriya National Park. Minneriya is one of Sri Lanka's formative national parks where elephants and other wildlife can be observed. Return to your hotel and overnight.
After breakfast, drive to Kandy (3 hours). En-route, visit the Dambulla Cave Temple. Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains. There are more than 80 documented caves in the area but the major attractions are spread over five caves that contain statues and paintings. Ibbankatuwa prehistoric burial site near Dambulla is the latest archaeological site of significant historical importance found in Dambulla, providing evidence of the presence of indigenous civilizations long before the arrival of Indian influences in Sri Lanka.
The climb from the base is not strenuous and can be done at a leisurely pace. The best time to climb is in the early morning or the late afternoon to avoid the heat. You will need to cover your knees and shoulders and access the inner chambers barefoot or with socks.
You will then begin your journey towards Kandy, which was the last stronghold of Sri Lankan monarchs. En-route you will learn about the story of Sri Lankan spices and have a spice infused Sri Lankan meal for lunch at a private spice garden. Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. Since ancient times, traders from all over the world who came to Sri Lanka brought their native cuisines to the island, resulting in a rich diversity of cooking styles and techniques. Sri Lankan people use spices liberally in their dishes and typically do not follow an exact recipe. Additionally, some of the spices are also used for medicinal purposes in the indigenous medical method called Ayurveda.
Situated beside a lake in the hills, Kandy is considered Sri Lanka’s cultural center. The city houses the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), considered one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. Transfer to your hotel and overnight.
A luxury boutique hotel with sweeping views of the Kandy hills, Elephant Stables offers a modern, contemporary twist on colonial charm. Take a dip in the infinity pool, view the classic car collection, or sample the signature cocktail, the Elephant Unstable!
After a leisurely breakfast, visit Peradeniya and spend the morning with expert Botanist Bandara Palipana at the impressive Royal Botanical Gardens, formerly a pleasure place for Kandyan kings. The gardens cover around 150 acres at an elevation of 1550 feet. Here is a marvelous collection of specimens of the flora of the whole tropical world, as well as a great herbarium and museum of plants in Sri Lanka.
Then travel further interior to the mystic kingdom of Gampola near Kandy. Meet Jacques Soulié to talk about the Kandy and Gampola kingdoms over lunch at around 12 PM.
An ancient house of a Village Chief has been transformed into a functional art center with all the facilities needed, while keeping intact all the historical aspects of this Dutch-style architecture dating back to the 18th century. Its vast collection which reflects the interests of its founder Jacques Soulié – traditional furniture, art items, antique books, manuscripts, photographs, post cards witnessing a thorough understanding and coverage of two cultures, Sri Lankan and French.
In the evening, visit the temple complex and observe the puja at 18:30 which holds the sacred tooth relic of Buddha, brought to Sri Lanka during the reign of king Meghavarna (301-328). The relic is encased in seven caskets, one kept inside the other, the outer of which has a shape of a stupa adorned with a large number of gold ornaments. We will provide you with white temple clothing, incense sticks, and oil lamps. (White clothing to wear for the temple visit will be placed in the rooms).
Return to your hotel and overnight.
In the morning, transfer to the rail station for your train journey to Nuwara Eliya. Nuwara Eliya is located in the heart of Sri Lankan hill country. It is the home of the famous Ceylon Tea and the rolling mountains are a carpet of velvety green tea plantations interspersed with tumbling waterfalls. The city is overlooked by Pidurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. Enjoy an afternoon at leisure and overnight.
In the morning, drive to Horton Plains by jeep for a picnic breakfast. The Horton Plains are the headwaters of three major Sri Lankan rivers - Mahaweli, Kelani, and Walawe. In Sinhala, the plains are known as Maha Eliya and stone tools dating back to Balangoda culture have been found on site. The vegetation is grasslands interspersed with montane forest and includes many endemic woody plants. Large herds of Sri Lankan Sambar Deer feature as typical mammals, and the park is also an important birding region with many species not only endemic to Sri Lanka but restricted to Horton Plains.
Return to Nuwara Eliya and explore the tea plantations. Overnight.
This morning, drive to Yala National Park, the most visited and 2nd largest sanctuary in Sri Lanka. En-route, view the famous Rawana Falls and Ella Gap. In the afternoon, enjoy a safari by jeep in Yala. Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and, along with Wilpattu, was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka. It is recognized for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and aquatic birds.
Yala hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. The number of mammals that have been recorded from the park is 44, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. Also, the area surrounding Yala has hosted several ancient civilizations. Overnight in Yala.
In the morning, drive to Galle (2 hours). Stone sea walls, expanded by the Dutch, encircle car-free streets with architecture reflecting Portuguese, Dutch, and British rule. Visit the Galle Fort. Also known as the Ramparts of Galle, it was built by the Portuguese in 1558, fortified by the Dutch in 1649, and came under British control in 1796.The fort layout resembles a small town and residents still live inside the walls, including Sinhalese, Dutch, Germans, Portuguese, English, and Muslim Moors.
Evening at leisure to meet with the local artisans and enjoy the seaside community. Overnight.
Today you will visit the Lunuganga Estate in Bentota for a garden tour and lunch. Lunuganga is a Sri Lankan architectural masterpiece. It is the former country residence of the world-renowned Sri Lankan architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa. The garden was once a 25-acre rubber estate bought by Bawa in 1948, which he designed into a garden paradise after decades of careful, exquisite, creative thought and design.
Lunuganga reflects Bawa's legacy through his dedication to architecture, and personal life's work and is an inspiring place to visit and savor. There are astonishing views and beautiful interiors, with many original Bawa artwork and blueprints on the walls. Guests dine at the edge of the tranquil Dedduwa Lake. Today Lunuganga is managed by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust and offers guests a rare opportunity to step inside the private life of one of the world's most celebrated architects - a man dubbed as "the father of Asian architecture.”
Continue to Colombo (2 hours) and transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Bon Voyage!