Sri Lanka Discovery
Our May to October itinerary takes in Galle, the Hill Country, Cultural Triangle, Wilpattu and Minneriya national parks plus the sheltered and unspoilt northeast coast
Ancient Cities and the Hill Country
Presenting our Sri Lanka Discovery tour, Ancient Cities and the Tea 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 celebrated Cultural Triangle, and the unspoilt north-east coast where the stunning beaches around Trincomalee are now opening up to visitors after being off-limits during the tragic civil war.
Featuring no less than 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites, our Sri Lanka Discovery tour includes 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 former mountain capital of 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 visit Minneriya – one of the country’s most spectacular protected areas. With luck, we’ll be able to see the famous ‘Elephant Gathering’, where huge herds of wild elephants congregate around one of the region’s last remaining dry season watering holes. Other varied activities include cycling (or tuk-tuk) visits to UNESCO-listed Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa ancient cities, an overnight camp and jeep safari in Wilpattu, Sri Lanka’s largest, yet one of its least visited national parks.and of course sampling the Island’s world-famous curries, while optional activities on offer during our Nilaveli beach stay include whale watching, snorkelling or diving.
For our November to April 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 chance to explore the area before your local-style welcome dinner.
Overnight: Negombo Transport: Minibus, Meals: D,
Day 2 - Columbo tour and on to Galle
Optional early morning tour of Negombo’s lively fish market before a short tour of some of the sites of nearby Colombo including the National Museum and some of the city’s fine colonial period buildings. After a local-style lunch in the capital, we’ll continue south to the famous walled city of Galle for a late afternoon walking tour of the ramparts of the old Dutch fortress built on a rock jutting into the Indian Ocean.
Overnight: Galle Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 3 - World Heritage Galle and into the hills
Some free time in the morning to explore the UNESCO World Heritage town; check-out the narrow lanes of the old Moorish Quarter or watch the world go by from the terrace of a local coffee shop? Late morning departure for Udawalawe for a visit to the famous Transit Home (elephant rehabilitation centre) before continuing into the hill country and the mountain town of Ella.
Overnight: Ella Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 4 - Horton Plains and World's End
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 while an afternoon drive to Nuwara Eliya allows a visit and tasting at one of the area’s famous tea plantations.
Overnight: Nuwara Eliya Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 5 - Mountain train to Kandy
Morning departure by local train for a picturesque ride through the hills to Kandy, the country’s second city and capital of the hill country. Afternoon at leisure to explore the historic town, with an optional, evening, traditional dance show.
Overnight: Kandy Transport: Train, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 6 - Kandy - tour of the historic town
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 7 - Dambulla and Minneriya National Park
Time to head north to discover the UNESCO World Heritage site of Dambulla – whose cave temples date to the 1st century BC. In the afternoon we’ll take a jeep safari in Minneriya National Park where we can see elephants, langurs and a spectacular array of Sri Lankan birdlife. During the July to October period, we may be lucky enough to see the ‘Gathering’, where herds of hundreds of elephants congregate around Minneriya Lake.
Overnight: Habarana Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 8 - Cultural Triangle - Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa
Early morning 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. Another World Heritage Site is on the afternoon’s menu with a cycling (or tuk-tuk) tour of the historic temples and exquisitely carved statues of the ancient capital of Polonnaruwa.
Overnight: Habarana Transport: Minibus, Bike, Walk, Meals: B,
Day 9 - 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 10 - Nilaveli - relax on 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: Boat, Walk, Meals: B,
Day 11 - Mihitale and on to Anuradhapura
Late morning departure travelling southwest into the interior to 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.
Overnight: Anuradhapura Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 12 - Ancient city tour and safari in Wilpattu National Park
Another day, another World Heritage site with a hike or cycle along the tree (and monkey) lined lanes winding between the ruins and temples of Anuradhapura ancient city – the country’s 3rd-century capital. In the afternoon we’ll continue to nearby Wilpattu National Park – Sri Lanka’s largest, yet one of its least visited national parks or a late afternoon jeep safari and overnight stay in a comfortable tented camp.
Overnight: Wilpattu Big Game Camp Transport: Minibus, Bike, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 14 - Negombo
Morning at leisure in Negombo. Relax by the pool; a last dip in the Indian Ocean, or pick up some last-minute souvenirs 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
- Overnight in a camp and a jeep safari in the vast Wilpattu National Park
- 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 famous 'Elephant gathering' in Minneriya National Park
Air Departures (UK) *From
Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed
*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Negombo
*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 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
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
Oak Ray Ella Gap view
- Convenient, central location in popular Ella Town
- Well-appointed with pool, bar, restaurant and WiFi
- Set amid the spectacular mountain scenery of the Ella Gap
Hotel Suisse Kandy view
- A restored, former British governor’s residence
- Wonderful, central, lake-side location in Kandy
- Pool, garden, spa, bar and restaurant
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
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.
Here is what out guest have to say about their experience on this tour...