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Self-guided Sri Lanka Tour

The culture, history, wildlife and landscapes of this magical island

A 12-day self-guided tour of the island of Sri Lanka

No less than 6 of the island’s World Heritage sites are on offer on this exciting 2-week, self-guided tour of fabulous Sri Lanka.

From our starting point in a delightful low-key, beachside resort in Negombo, you’ll travel to the famous ‘Cultural Triangle’ and the iconic site of Sigiriya, the ancient capital Polonnaruwa and cave temples of Dambulla as well as an optional excursion to check out Minneriya National Park’s famous ‘Elephant Gathering’.

From here, travel south to discover the charming, former mountain capital Kandy and take a local train ride through the picturesque Central Highlands to the small town of Ella. A hike to dramatic World’s End in spectacular Horton Plains National Park is easily arranged while a stay at a comfortable eco-lodge and jeep safari are included in our Yala National Park programme.  The final UNESCO site on our tour is the ancient walled town of Galle, spectacularly situated on a rocky outcrop jutting into the Indian Ocean.

Selected resorts, boutique-style hotels or eco-lodges at each destination are pre-booked for you along with private, hotel to hotel, transfers and tickets for the picturesque train ride from Kandy to Ella. Transport to Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla is also provided while any additional options can either be booked in advance, arranged with our on the ground contacts or reserved by your hotel reception.

In addition to transport, accommodation and certain activities (listed below) you’ll also receive a professionally compiled PDF mini-guide with details and info on our suggestions for additional, optional activities as well as recommended local cafes and restaurants.

This self-guided Sri Lanka tour is ideal for couples, smaller groups and families and both departure dates and itinerary details are entirely flexible.

Finally, also note that this tour is offered as either ‘land only’, from Negombo to Colombo Airport or inclusive of return international flights from the UK.

Sri Lanka

Itinerary

Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.

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Day 1 - Arrival in Negombo, at leisure and tour briefing

Your tour begins with a lunchtime check-in to Negombo’s oddly-named, but well-appointed and low-key, Camelot Beach Resort  Afternoon at leisure to check out the beach, pool or perhaps some local cafes before a briefing and questions session with our local All Points East guide.

Transfer from the airport is included if you booked our 'with flights' option or can be arranged if required.

Overnight: Negombo

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Day 2 - Explore Negombo or a Colombo day tour

Explore Negombo with its bustling fishing port and picturesque old Dutch-period canals or take a day tour to visit some of the varied sites of the nearby capital Colombo.

Overnight: Negombo Meals: B, 

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Day 3 - On to Habarana and the 'Cultural Triangle'

Morning transfer by private vehicle into the island’s interior and the well-placed town of Habarana in the centre of the famous ‘Cultural Triangle’ region.  Our afternoon recommendation is a bicycle tour of the nearby ancient city and World Heritage site, Polonnaruwa. Overnight at The Other Corner.

Overnight: Habrana Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, 

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Day 4 - Sigiriya and Minneriya National Park

Our driver will be on hand for an early morning transfer – before the temperature and visitor numbers rise – to nearby Sigiriya. Explore the spectacular ancient fortress, perched atop a sheer rock outcrop, with its unusual boulder gardens and celebrated Maiden’s of the Clouds rock paintings. In the afternoon we’d suggest hiring a jeep in nearby Minneriya National Park to check out the world-famous ‘Elephant Gathering’.

Overnight: Habarana Meals: B, 

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Day 5 - Dambulla and on to Kandy

Departing Habarana your first stop will be the spectacular, and also World Heritage-listed, cave temples of Dambulla. Continuing south you’ll arrive in the former capital Kandy and check in to the Hotel Suisse – a centrally located, lakeside, colonial period hotel. Our suggestion is a stroll around the picturesque lake perhaps finishing in time to take in the excellent early evening Kandyan cultural show?

Overnight: Kandy Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, 

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Day 6 - Kandy - Temple of the Tooth and Botanical Gardens

For our day in Kandy, we’d recommend a morning visit to the highly prestigious Temple of the Tooth and an afternoon walk around the fantastic Royal Botanical Gardens. In between try and find time for a stroll around the local markets and check out some of the excellent local cafes.

Overnight: Kandy Meals: B, 

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Day 7 - Local train ride through the Hill Country

Transfer to the nearby railway station as this morning you’re off on a picturesque ride by local train through the magnificent scenery of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. Arrival in the quaint town of Ella before perhaps stretching your legs with an afternoon hike to scenic Ella Gap. Overnight at the small and comfortable 88th Ella.

Overnight: Ella Transport: Train,  Meals: B, 

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Day 8 - Horton Plains National park

Get off as early as possible (you can request a packed breakfast) for the World’s End hike in Horton Plains National Park. (Again, there are fewer people and afternoon views tend to cloud over.) That should see you back in Ella for a late lunch and perhaps an afternoon stroll around town or, if you’ve any energy left, a hike out to the Ravana Falls or famous 9-Arch Bridge.

Overnight: Ella Meals: B, 

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Day 9 - South to Yala National Park

Morning drive out of the hills and south to Yala, Sri Lanka’s most celebrated National Park. Check-in to the delightful Galapati Eco-lodge and plan your activities for the national park. While you’re there, we’d recommend both a late afternoon (inclusive) and an early morning (optional) jeep safari to optimise your wildlife sightings. Elephants, crocodiles, buffaloes, hornbills and raptors are commonly spotted and with luck, even the park’s famous leopards.

Overnight: Yala Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, 

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Day 10 - Yala jeep safari and on to Galle

We’d suggest an early morning jeep safari in the national park (it’s worth it) and back for a leisurely breakfast before a drive along the scenic south coast to Galle. Plenty of time for a late afternoon and sunset walk along the historic town’s Dutch ramparts and overnight accommodation at the comfortable Sayura Beach Hotel.

Overnight: Galle Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, 

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Day 11 - Explore World Heritage Galle

We’d say you could easily spend an entire day exploring the narrow lanes, ancient fortifications and coffee shops of the old Moorish Quarter but squeeze in time for the town’s excellent Maritime and/or National Museum and of course an Indian Ocean dip at Sayura Beach.

Overnight: Galle Meals: B, 

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Day 12 - Transfer to Colombo and end of tour

Morning at leisure and a return transfer to Colombo Airport at your convenience. Please note that additional accommodation in Galle or Negombo is available on request.

Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, 

Print Itinerary

Details

The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.

Self-guided Sri Lanka tour

Just a few of the many highlights

Discover Sri Lanka's rich culture and history, spectacular landscapes and wildlife (and of course its famous curries!) on our exciting and varied 12-day self-guided tour

  • Includes 6 of Sri Lanka's UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • All your Sri Lanka accommodation and travel selected and reserved in advance
  • Includes a jeep safari in spectacular Yala National Park
  • Beach resorts, eco-lodge, colonial chic and boutique hotels
  • Journey from Kandy to Ella by local train through the picturesque Central Highlands
  • Recommended optional activities that you can book in advance or on the ground

We choose our hotels based on a combination of location, comfort and convenience. Here is a *selection of the types of hotel/rooms you can expect to stay at on this tour...

Camelot Beach Hotel Negombo view

  • Odd name but top spot to relax in before or after your tour
  • Comfortable rooms, great service and Indian Ocean views
  • Walking distance of market, fishing port and plenty of cafes

The Other Corner Habarana view

  • Delightful, eco-style nature resort in a forest setting
  • Individual wooden, stilt chalets with private balconies
  • Well-appointed with pool, air-con, restaurant and bar

Hotel Suisse Kandy view

  • A restored, former British governor’s residence
  • Wonderful, central, lake-side location in Kandy
  • Pool, garden, spa, bar and restaurant

Sayura Beach Resort Galle view

  • Comfortable, friendly and low-key beach resort
  • A short drive from UNESCO-listed ancient Galle Town
  • Well-equipped with in-house restaurant, pool, beach bar

*This list should be considered a guide only, hotels/rooms may change (without notice) depending on availability.

Visa Info & Notes

Visas: available on arrival at Colombo International Airport for $40, but to cut down on queuing we recommend that you obtain an electronic travel authorisation (ETA) in advance for $35. 3 days is officially required but processing is usually the same (working) day.

Tipping: for smaller, day to day tips such as hotel/restaurant staff and local drivers we’d suggest approx.£20-25 or $30-$35 total per person for the 12-day tour. (Local currency or USD are fine.)

Meals: breakfasts are generally hotel buffets with lunch and dinners based on local food. Typical traditional meals involve fish or chicken curry with a selection of accompanying vegetable dishes and salads, Dishes are usually only mildly spicy and both vegetarians and vegans are very easily catered for. We include a list of recommended restaurants and cafes with the emphasis on the harder to find, authetnic local style spots.

Accommodation: all choices fall into the 3-4* range and are en-suite and air-conditioned. (We have posted a selection of sample accommodation on the lefthand hotel tab but please note that as we try and avoid the larger hotels, availability, in high season particularly, means we use several options in each destination.

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