Resting at the toe of India is the island nation of Sri Lanka. With rows of coconut palms, dense forests, and clear waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is an incredible offshore garden. On this active tour, explore the mountain ranges, hill country, beaches, and national parks. Also, experience a train journey from Kandy to Ella, often considered one of the most scenic railways in the world.
Welcome to Sri Lanka! Upon arrival, 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.
Transfer to your hotel in Negombo and overnight.
After breakfast, drive to Dambulla (4 hours). Upon arrival, 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.
Transfer to your hotel and overnight.
After breakfast, climb the Sigiriya 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.
Later, cycle through 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. Return to your hotel and overnight.
After breakfast, enjoy a hike to Hiriwadunna. The trek begins with an awesome walk along a bund of a Wewa or manmade reservoir. The reservoir itself, the surrounding scrub jungle, marshland and villages are a hive of early morning or evening activity. The amazing bird life, butterflies, and possible sightings of crocodile only add to the charm of seeing the villagers as they go about their morning tasks of fishing or washing clothes at the periphery of the lake.
Continue to Knuckles, so-named because the landscape resembles a set of knuckles with a closed fist. The mountain range is an ecotourism venue of Sri Lanka and has been declared a conservation area. The region stretches an impressive 155 sq km that contains five major forest formations, a wide variety of rare and endemic flora and fauna and breathtaking mountain scenery. Overnight.
Today enjoy hiking in the range. There are numerous mountainous trails that journey across clear rivers, through dense forests, past flowing waterfalls and lush tea plantations, and alongside terraced paddy fields and colorful Kandyan home gardens. Evening at leisure and overnight.
After breakfast, drive to Kandy (2 hours). 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.
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).
Evening at leisure 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!
All aboard! Transfer to the rail station for your train journey through the hill country to Ella. Many consider it one of the most scenic train rides in the world. Note: The train takes approximately seven hours.
The view from Ella Gap is a spectacular sight in Sri Lanka - the landscape falls away in a dizzy drop of 3000 ft to the eastern plains. The Ella rock is famous for the cave of Ravana, a legendary king of Sri Lanka ruled during the prehistoric times. The 1080-foot high waterfall a few miles from the Ella Rest House is one of the most beautiful falls in the country. Evening at leisure and overnight.
In the morning, drive to Little Adams Peak. It is named after the sacred Adams Peak (Sri Pada –where the foot print of Lord Buddha is preserved) regarding the similarity between the two mountains. Gradual with an easy hike up to the mountain of Little Adams Peak, walk through lush green tea plantations, waterfalls, and paddy fields while enjoying the scenery. It is recommended to visit when the morning clouds roll in. Return to Ella and overnight.
Morning at leisure. Later, drive to Udawalawe (3 hours). The national park was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River. Before the designation of the national park, the area was used for shifting cultivation (Chena farming). The farmers were gradually removed once the national park was declared.
Framed by soaring highlands, Udawalawe is an important habitat for water birds and one of the world's best places to observe wild elephants. Evening at leisure and overnight.
In the morning, enjoy a jeep safari to view the flora, fauna, and wildlife in Udawalawe.
In the afternoon, drive to Mirissa (2 hours). Mirissa is one of the many small towns that frame the southern shores of Sri Lanka. Crack open a coconut and enjoy stunning sunsets. At leisure and overnight.
Day at leisure or you can enjoy a whale watching expedition or private surf lesson. Overnight.
Today, transfer to the Colombo airport (2 hours) for your onward flight. Bon Voyage!