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Uncover the highlights of the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean' at a relaxed pace. This two week exploration of spiritual Sri Lanka features a mix of ancient cities, rock carvings, gilded Buddhist temples, wildlife-filled national parks and the Elephant Transit Home.
Explore Tour Leader
10 nights comfortable hotel
1 nights premium hotel
1 nights simple hotel
1 nights hotel
1 nights comfortable tented camp
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Negombo, the famous coastal town famous for its fishing industry and golden sands. This relaxing beach resort is a short distance from Sri Lanka's capital city, and is the perfect place to spot locals bringing in the day's catch and watch the sunset.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Negombo at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), which is 30 minutes' drive from our hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day there is the option to head to the beach or make use of the hotel facilities which features a swimming pool and gardens overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Hotel J (or similar)
A three-hour drive north takes us to Wilpattu National Park. En route, we will visit a nearby fishing village which uses traditional-style outrigger canoes, known as 'oruvas'. Along the way, depending on the season, we hope to spot the toddy tappers climbing tall coconut trees to collect sap from the flowers. This is used to make Arak - a local whisky-type spirit.
Despite the park's location in Sri Lanka's dry zone, it boasts nearly 60 lakes and is renowned for leopard, elephant and sambar deer spottings. We will go on a jeep safari in the hope of spotting the elusive leopard. We choose to visit this park, rather than the more touristy Yala National Park further south because we believe it offers our customers a better experience. The same animals can be seen here as in Yala, however it is less crowded, making our visit more enjoyable and responsible. Leaving the park, we drive to nearby Anuradapura, where we will spend the next two nights.
Lakeside at Nuwarawewa (or similar)
This morning we travel eight miles to the mountain peak of Mihintale. It is believed that this was the site of a momentous meeting between the monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa, introducing Buddhism to the country. Exploring Mihintale involves climbing a flight of 1,840 shallow stone steps, and a short final section with uneven steps and a hand rail leading to the summit of the Missaka Mountain. There are excellent views from the top looking back to Anuradhapura.
In the afternoon, we explore the ancient capital of Anuradhapura - a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its well-preserved ancient ruins. One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, it was founded around 500 BC. Its golden age began around 260BC, when the King and his people converted to Buddhism. The city became vast, spreading over many miles. There were hospitals for the sick, hostels for travellers and artificial reservoirs to ensure a good water supply. Of great interest are the 2,200 year-old Sacred Bodhi-Tree; the Brazen Palace, once a nine storey residence for monks; the 4th century Smadhi Buddha masterpiece and the Ruvanvalisaya Dagoba - a 90 metre-high dome-shaped shrine towering over the surrounding countryside.
Travelling towards Giritale, we pause to view the magnificent Standing Buddha of Aukana, which stands 12 metres high. Sculptured in the 5th century by a master craftsman, it is still relatively isolated in its jungle setting.
Our next stop is Dambulla, where a great series of caves have been turned into temples dating from the 1st century BC. This World Heritage Site still attracts scores of worshippers. We will visit five separate caves, which contain a large number of Buddha images and a few sculptures of Hindu Gods. After enjoying a traditional Sri Lankan lunch of 'rice and curry', we reach the small town of Giritale - our base from which to explore Polonnaruwa. Total journey time today of approximately 3.5 hours. Our hotel for the night looks out over a large and picturesque 7th century man-made lake.
Giritale Hotel (or similar)
This morning we explore the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, which reached its height of glory in the 12th century, when it was a thriving commercial and religious centre. The city still maintains many of its spectacular buildings and monuments, with arguably the most impressive being the Quadrangle. This sacred precinct originally housed the tooth relic. It contains a superbly decorated circular shrine which is one of the most ornate buildings in the country. The neighbouring audience hall and bathing pool are also worth a visit. Close by, the curious round structure of the Circular Relic House has a beautifully preserved moonstone carved at the foot of a flight of steps. Another famous feature of this deserted city is the group of carved images of the Buddha, known as Galvihara. These four colossal figures are all hewn out of solid granite and the Reclining Buddha alone is no less than 14 metres long. We then continue driving towards our accommodation.
In the early afternoon, we drive 1.5 hours to Dambulla where we have the option to take a jeep safari in either Minneriya or Kadaula National Park, in search of herds of wild elephant. Your leader will be able to advise you of the likelihood of good elephant sightings at the time you are in the area. The parks are also home to a large array of birdlife, including painted storks.
Sigiriya Jungles (or similar)
An early start this morning as we plan to climb Sigiriya Rock ahead of the crowds and whilst it is cool. The ruins of this 5th century 'Sky Fortress' are one of Sri Lanka's major attractions, a stupendous sight to behold and a feat of consummate engineering skill. Built in just seven years as a fortified palace to protect the reign of merciless King Kassapa, who had assassinated his father and deposed his brother, it is seen as one of the world's best preserved examples of ancient urban planning. Unfortunately for the king, despite its impregnable reputation, he was defeated here by his brother after a reign of just 18 years.
A switchback series of steps and steel stairways ascend to the top. Halfway up, tucked beneath a sheltering overhang of rock, are the famous frescoes - the Sigiriya Damsels, their colours still glowing. Before our final ascent to the summit, we pass between a set of enormous lion paws carved out of the rock - all that remain of an ancient gateway that gave Sigiriya, the 'Lion Rock', its name. Once at the 200 meter summit, magnificent views can be enjoyed of the surrounding jungle and countryside.
This afternoon, a two-hour drive takes us to Kandy. En route, we stop to visit the woodcarving centre at Naula and a spice garden.
Hotel Casamara Kandy (or similar)
Sitting on a plateau 500 metres above sea level and 112km northeast of Colombo, Kandy is, in climatic and cultural terms, a world apart from Colombo. Serving as the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom until falling to the British in 1815, it is a place of cultural and spiritual importance. Buddhists from all over the world come here specifically to visit the Temple of the Tooth, the Dalada Maligawa. The costly jewelled shrine of the Holy Tooth, said to be Buddha's left canine, is kept in the upper floor of the original building. This relic was brought from India 1,500 years ago and every year, at the time of the August full moon, it is paraded round the town with great pomp and circumstance. This morning's sight-seeing includes attending the Temple of the Tooth Ceremony and a visit to the serene Peradeniya Botanical garden. Your afternoon is free to continue your exploration of this highland town.
In the evening, we hope to have the opportunity to watch a performance by the famous Kandyan dancers, admiring their impressive costumes and graceful dances, accompanied by a thundering drum beat.
After a free morning, we drive three and a half hours to Dalhousie in the foothills of Adam's Peak. Here, we have the opportunity to ascend this sacred peak, known locally as Sri Pada. A depression at the top of the peak is said to be Buddha's footprint and, each year, thousands climb to the top for sunrise. Setting off at around 2 am, we join pilgrims for our ascent. There is a stone staircase which we follow right to the top. It can be tough on the legs, and some may find it physically challenging, but you can go at your own pace, take your time and savour the experience shared with pilgrims. We reach the top in time for sunrise, when spectacular views all around us. The ascent involves around 900 metres of ascent and descent, with many flights of steps some of which are steep, and is about 5km in each direction. On busy days we will set out a bit earlier shortly after midnight.
For anyone not wanting to climb the peak, there is free time to explore the small town of Dalhousie, or relax at our guesthouse. A basic property, our accommodation in Dalhousie, the Punsisi Resthouse has clean and spacious rooms with en-suite bathrooms.
Punsisi Rest Guest House (or similar)
Returning from the peak this morning, we enjoy a well-earned breakfast before making our way to Nuwara Eliya on a scenic drive of around three hours. This part of Sri Lanka is also an important tea growing area and plantations stretch over rolling hills for as far as the eye can see, interspersed with the occasional tea-making factory. Along the way we hope to make a stop at an estate to learn about the process of picking the leaves and creating the perfect cuppa.
Known as 'Little England', Nuwara Eliya has some red telephone boxes, Victorian colonial architecture and pretty rose gardens - legacies from its era as a hill country retreat for any homesick British. The cool climate provided a sanctuary in which to immerse themselves in familiar pastimes, such as polo, golf, cricket and fox hunting.
We have free time for the rest of the day to explore.
The Blackpool Hotel (or similar)
After a relaxed breakfast this morning we drive the short distance to Nanu Oyu to board our train for the scenic journey to Demodara. The train winds through tea plantations stopping for dramatic views of the valley below as we cross the Nine Arch Bridge, also known as the Bridge in the Sky. The approximately four hour journey is an ideal time to relax and take in the scenery before another short drive brings us to Ella, our stop for tonight.
Oak Ray Ella Gap Hotel (or similar)
This morning we visit the nearby Ravana Ella Falls, one of the widest waterfalls on the island, before continuing south through the hill country until we reach the plains. We will make a stop and walk a short distance to see a 51-foot image of the Buddha carved into the rockface, known as Colossi of Buduruvagala, rising majestically above us along with other Mahayana statues. Our journey continues with a two hour drive on to Udawalawe.
Designated a national park in 1972, Udawalawe covers some 31,800 hectares and is surrounded by mountains, a mix of rolling grasslands, teak plantations, rainforest and scrub. Renowned for its large herd of elephants, the park is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see them, and is also home to deer, wild boar, buffalo, jackal and leopard. The resident bird population is also second to none, including a magnificent collection of birds of prey, chief among them the impressive white-bellied sea eagle. The afternoon is spent exploring the park by jeep and visiting the Elephant Transit Home where orphaned elephants are cared for until they are old enough to be released back in to the wild.
Tonight we sleep in a fixed tented camp close to the banks of the Rakwana River. Twin beds, simple ensuite bathrooms and mosquito nexts make this a comfortable style of camping and waking up next to the river is ideal for a spot of early morning bird watching.
Athgira River Camp (or similar)
Comfortable Tented Camp
Continuing southwards this morning, we descend through a huge region of rice paddies before reaching the coast. We travel through the small fishing port of Tangalle, home to a project supported by the Travel Foundation, where women learn to make traditional Beeralu Lace. Selling the lace helps them to become more self-sufficient. We will visit and learn a little of their craft and support these ladies who lost their breadwinners in the 2004 tsunami.
In the afternoon we'll visit the pretty coastal town of Galle passing through Koggala, where we stay for the next couple of nights, and may be lucky enough to see the famous stilt fisherman balancing precariously above the ocean. An important trading centre since ancient times, the fortifications that can be seen in Galle today were built by the Portuguese and then the Dutch from the 16th to the 17th centuries. The fort ramparts of this World Heritage Site protect the harbour and a myriad of fascinating old houses, churches and warehouses. Today, the town has a strong arts vibe, with foreign and local artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets drawing inspiration from their surroundings. Boutique shops and cafes around the town showcase their work. There is a lot to explore in the town and simply wandering its streets, soaking up its unique atmosphere is a great way to spend an afternoon. If you feel that you haven't spent enough time here on this afternoon's sightseeing tour, you have the opportunity to come back tomorrow.
Koggala Beach Hotel (or similar)
Today is free to relax on the beaches of Koggala, or explore more of nearby Galle. For those seeking pure relaxation, local Ayurvedic massages with natural, aromatic herbal oils are highly recommended. Alternatively, between the months of December and April, you might prefer to go on a whale watching trip in the hope of spotting humpback and blue whales.
Take some time to soak up the last few hours on the beach before we journey back to Colombo for our last night- a total travel time of just a couple of hours. Once in the capital we spend the afternoon exploring Sri Lanka's capital city. We'll wander around the historical 'fort' area, now the business district, whose buildings are like a slice through Colombo's colonial history and visit the Pettah neighborhood, famous for its bustling open air bazaars and markets. We will also visit the most important Buddhist temple in the capital, Gangaramaya, which is an oasis of calm in an otherwise frenetic city and end the trip by the Galle Face Green, an urban park along the sea front where locals gather to often play cricket and gather for other daily rituals.
Fairway Colombo (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Colombo.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Colombo at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), which is one hours' drive from our hotel.
Year round high temperatures in coastal regions: Colombo averages 27°C. It is much cooler in the hills with Kandy averaging 20°C and Nuwara Eliya down to 16°C. Springlike temperatures in the hill country, but chilly evenings. Two monsoon periods: Apr-Sep when rain is confined to the southwest; and Oct-Mar when it falls in the northeast.
3 Pin Round
Kandy - Cultural Show £5. Minneriya - Jeep Safari £35 to £58 depending on number of participants. Unawatuna - Whale watching boat trip £50.
Select your clothes carefully, bearing in mind that the climate is tropical and that upland areas are cooler and more temperate. Lightweight rainwear is also essential, and warmer clothing for the highland walks and chilly night temperatures in the mountains. When visiting religious sites you will need to dress respectfully by covering you knees and shoulders plus taking off your shoes and hats. You may like to wear socks for temple visits as the ground can get very hot and burn the soles of your feet. You will need to bring long trousers, or buy a sarong locally.
Lightweight shoes and sandals. Whilst in the tea areas you may encounter leeches, you may wish to consider taking leech socks with you.
One main piece of baggage and a daysac. Remember, hotel porters are not always available, so don't
A water bottle is recommended for walks. Although mosquito nets or screens are provided at most nightstops and in spite of fewer mosquitoes due to higher elevation, you may choose to bring your own (attachable with nails and tape) for use here. Alternatively, please bring mosquito coils.
On day eleven we stay at Athgira River Camp. Tents are comfortable, with twin beds, simple bathrooms and mosquito nets. The tents face the Rakwana River and are a great spot for watching the birds if you wake up early.
Traditional Sri Lankan cuisine is excellent, and although it can be very spicy there are many dishes that feature cooling coconut milk or have a spicy sambar on the side to allow you to adjust the meal to your taste. There isn't a culture of eating out in Sri Lanka, most locals will eat at home, and as such there are very few restaurants around, and those that exist tend to be in hotels. As tourism develops a few independent restaurants are beginning to appear, mainly in Colombo but also in Kandy, Galle and in the coastal resorts. During the tour we will endeavour to eat out at local restaurants wherever possible but for many nights, at this point in time, the hotel restaurants are the only option available.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Sri Lanka: All foreign nationals who intend to visit Sri Lanka for a short stay of up to six months, including transit passengers, must apply for travel authorization online prior to travel to the country. All UK, EU, US, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian nationals can obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for a fee of 50USD. To do so you must visit \ul \ulnone and apply for it prior to travel. It is strongly recommended that you print and bring a copy of the ETA approval notice with you. The Sri Lankan authorities require that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after departure from Sri Lanka. In addition to this, Sri Lanka has discontinued the use of paper land cards, and passengers are now required to fill out the following online arrival form, prior to arriving in Sri Lanka: 3\ul https://eservices.immigration.gov.lk/emb/eEmbarkation/'#/home-page 4\ulnone All visa information is subject to change. You should confirm all visa related issues with the relevant Embassy prior to departure.4
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
An ability to swim is essential for your safe enjoyment of the water based activities on this trip. If you wish to participate in these activities then we insist that you are able to swim.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against malaria, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A plus Polio and diptheria. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on different prophylaxis available against malaria. We strongly recommend the wearing long sleeved shirts and the liberal application of insect repellents containing DEET as a precautionary measure to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. These precautions should be taken at all times as the mosquitoes are also active during daylight hours. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Why not extend your holiday with a week sailing around the Maldives on our Dhoni Cruise?