Sri Lanka Discovery
Our May to October itinerary takes in Galle, the Hill Country, Cultural Triangle and the sheltered and unspoilt northeast coast, avoiding the southern monsoons
Ancient Cities and the Hill Country
Presenting our Sri Lanka Discovery tour; Ancient Cities and the Hill Country. This 2-week tour of central and northern Sri Lanka takes in the picturesque Hill Country with its famous tea plantations, the ancient cities of the famous Cultural Triangle, and the unspoilt north-east coast where the stunning beaches around Trincomalee are now opening up after being off limits during the tragic civil war.
Featuring no less than 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites, our tour takes in the historic walled city of Galle, the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the awe-inspiring mountain-top fortress of Sigiriya and its famous Cloud Maidens; the atmospheric cave temples of Dambulla, the celebrated Temple of the Tooth in the mountain capital Kandy, and the landscapes of the country’s Central Highlands including the stunning Horton Plains National Park.
As well as a hike across Horton Plains to the aptly named and truly awesome World’s End, we’ll take a jeep safari in Minneriya – one of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular national parks. With luck, we’ll be able to see the famous ‘Gathering’, where huge herds of wild elephants congregate around, what in the dry season, is one of the last remaining watering holes. Other varied activities include cycling (or tuk-tuk) visits to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa plus a Colombo street-food tour, while optional activities on offer during our Nilaveli beach stay include whale watching, and snorkelling or diving.
For our November to April the itinerary, please see our Isle of Serendipity tour.
For anyone with a bit more time to spare, we propose two extensions to the nearby Maldive Islands – just one hour’s flight from Colombo – comprising of either a 6-day off-the-beaten-track ‘Hidden Maldives’, or a stay at an island eco-resort.
Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.
Day 1 - Negombo and arrival in Sri Lanka
Our tour begins with a morning check-in to a well-appointed beach-side resort at Negombo, on the island’s west coast and close to Colombo International Airport, and some relaxation time or explore the area before your local-style welcome dinner.
Overnight: Negombo Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: D,
Day 2 - Columbo - city tour and Pettah Bazaar
Optional early morning tour of Negombo’s lively fish market before a guided tour of some of the sites of nearby Colombo including the National Museum, some of the city’s fine colonial period buildings plus a walking tour of the bustling Pettah Bazaar. Afternoon return to Negombo in time perhaps for relaxation time and sundowners by the beach?
Overnight: Negombo Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 3 - Galle - Negombo to World Heritage Galle
Morning drive down the coast to the famous walled city of Galle before an afternoon walking tour of the beautifully preserved, historic, and now UNESCO World Heritage town. Explore the narrow lanes of the old Moorish Quarter and stroll along the walls of the old Dutch fortress built on a rock jutting into the ocean.
Overnight: Galle Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 4 - Nuwara Eliya - into the hills
Some free time in the morning to revisit the old town’s fascinating labyrinth of narrow lanes at your leisure before a scenic, afternoon drive north into the hills to the old British colonial town of Nuwara Eliya.
Overnight: Nuwara Eliya Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 5 - Horton Plains - visit the National Park
An early start for a hike across the Horton Plains National Park to the famous, and aptly named, World’s End where the plains abruptly drop over 1,000 metres to lush forests below. We’ll also have plenty of opportunities to discover the region’s fantastic flora and fauna and take in the beautiful Baker’s Falls with an afternoon return to Nuwara Eliya and time at leisure to explore the town’s architecture or take a walk in Victoria Park.
Overnight: Nuwara Eliya Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 6 - Hill Country - slow train to Kandy
Morning visit to one of the area’s celebrated tea plantations before boarding the local train for a picturesque ride to Kandy, the country’s second city and capital of the hill country. Time at leisure to explore the town, with an optional evening, traditional dance show.
Overnight: Kandy Transport: Minibus, Train, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 7 - Kandy - old town tour and botanical gardens
In the morning, experience the Buddhist puja (blessing ceremony) at the famous and highly prestigious Temple of the Tooth, which houses Sri Lanka’s most revered religious relic – one of Buddha’s teeth. After a local-style lunch in town, we’ll head out to the beautiful Peradeniya Botanic Gardens.
Overnight: Kandy Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 8 - Cultural Triangle - Dambulla and Sigiriya
Time to head north to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Dambulla – whose cave temples date to the 1st century BC – with a late afternoon ascent of the dramatic rock fortress of Sigiriya. This ancient site is built atop a sheer-sided rock outcrop, and we’ll take in the amazing Maidens of the Clouds on our way up the summit for some equally amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
Overnight: Habarana Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 9 - Cultural Triangle - Polonnaruwa and Minneriya National Park
Another World Heritage Site on this morning’s menu with a cycling tour of the historic temples and exquisitely carved statues of the ancient capital of Polonnaruwa. Afternoon jeep safari in Minneriya National Park to spot elephants, langurs and a spectacular array of Sri Lankan bird life. During the August to October period, we may be lucky enough to see the ‘Gathering’, where herds of hundreds of elephants congregate. (Depending upon season our safari may be changed to an adjacent national park.)
Overnight: Habarana Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 10 - Trincomalee - tour of the old port and on to Nilaveli
Today we’ll travel north to the coastal town and ancient port of Trincomalee. Our tour will include China Bay, the old Dutch Fort Frederik, and the town’s lively bazaar, before continuing a short distance up the coast to the beach-side town of Nilaveli for accommodation in a small resort looking onto the Indian Ocean.
Overnight: Nilaveli Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 11 - Nilaveli - relax at the beach or whale watching
A day at leisure in this charming spot. Laze on the magnificent beach or explore the local area. More adventurous options include whale watching, (sperm and blue whales are regularly sighted off the coast), a snorkelling trip on the colourful reef around Pigeon Island, or scuba diving.
Overnight: Nilaveli Transport: Walk, Meals: B,
Day 12 - Anuradhapura - tour of the ancient World Heritage Site
Late morning departure travelling southwest back into the interior to another ancient city – Anuradhapura, the 3rd-century capital – for a late afternoon cycling tour along the tree (and monkey) lined lanes winding between ruins and temples.
A tuk-tuk option is available for those who prefer
Overnight: Anuradhapura Transport: Minibus, Bike, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 13 - Negombo
Return to Negombo with a stop on route at the scenic and highly prestigious site of Mihintale, a revered pilgrimage site considered to be the founding place of Buddhism on the island. As well as an array of historic temples and religious sites, the rocky hill affords spectacular views across the surrounding countryside. Afternoon arrival at Negombo.
Overnight: Negombo Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 14 - Negombo
Morning at leisure in Negombo, end of tour and departure at your convenience.
Extra accommodation in Negombo before or after your tour is available if required.
Airport transfers are included if you purchase the 'with flights' package. If you purchased your own flights, airport transfers can be arranged.
Transport: Minibus, Meals: B,
The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.
Just a few of the many highlights
No less than 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites include; Kandy, the Dambulla cave temples, ancient cities of Sigirya, Polonnaruwa and, Anuradhapura, historic Galle and Horton Plains National Park
- Includes visits to no less than seven of Sri Lanka's UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Visit the dramatic Sigiriya rock fortress and its famous Cloud Maidens, truly spectacular and another World Heritage Site
- Visit the charming lakeside town of Kandy, home to the famous Temple of the Tooth and the fantastic Peradeniya Botanical Gardens
- Stay in the former Governor's residence in the old colonial hill-country town of Nuwura Eliya
- Relax (or whale watch) at the stunning and unspoilt coast around the old port of Trincomalee in the northeast of the Island
- Jeep safari to see the 'Gathering' in Minneriya National Park
Air Departures (UK)
Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed
*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Colombo
*Land departure dates correspond to the FIRST day of the itinerary.
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, Sri Lanka 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
The Lakeside, Nuwarawewa view
- Friendly, low-key resort style accommodation
- Our hopping off pint for UNESCO Anuradhapura
- Lawn, pool and pleasant terrace area
Hotel Suisse, Kandy view
- A restored, former British governor’s residence
- Wonderful, central, lake-side location in Kandy
- Pool, garden, spa, bar and restaurant
Giritale Hotel, Polonnaruwa view
- Secluded resort on a forested hillside overlooking a lake
- Well located for Polonnaruwa plus Minneriya NP
- Great spot for sundowners and fine curries
Pigeon Island Resort, Nilaveli view
- A cosy and comfortable, low-key beachside resort in Nilaveli
- Situated just north of the old port of Trincomalee
- Options include snorkelling, fishing and whale watching
*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: we recommend a kitty system for smaller, daily tips such as hotel/restaurant staff and local drivers but which could also include minor expenses such as group tea/coffee breaks etc. Amounts inevitably vary with group size but would generally be in the region of £20-30 or $30-$40 total per person for the 2-week tour. For your driver and guide/tour-leader tips – both of whom will accompany you for the duration of your 2-week tour – we’d recommend approximately $20 per person total for the former and $15 for the latter though of course, this is always discretionary and performance related. (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. For any other likes and dislikes please remind your tour-leader at the start of the tour. A number of meals are not included, which allows you to ‘do your own thing’ or take a break if you’re feeling ‘riced out’.
Accommodation: all choices fall into the comfortable 3* range and are en-suite and air-conditioned. (Our 1-night camping is en-suite but fan only.) 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.
Activities: note that no activities are compulsory and that any offered can be tailored for various fitness levels or alternatives suggested.
Holidays should never end, stay a little longer. These extensions go well with this tour...
Here is what out guest have to say about their experience on this tour...