This 11 day tour highlights Sri Lanka's must-see destinations as well as some off the beaten path parts, rarely seen by most tourists. Explore Makandura by bike, visit Piduragala, a historically important massive rock formation and climb the magnificent rock fortress of Sigiriya. Discover Kandy, the last stronghold of the Sinhalese Kings. Explore Yala National Park, where you may have opportunities to see elephants and even a leopard if you're lucky. Connect with the Sri Lankan people in Galle as you learn about the history and take in the landscapes. This tour will leave you wanting to come back for more.
Ride bikes in Mankandura, through rice paddy-fields, orchards and forests
Visit the ancient fortress of Sigiriya and discover the abode of King Kashyapa
Learn about the colonial history of Kandy, still visible today in neoclassical buildings
Take a safari ride through Yala National Park, where you may see leopards and elephants
Ayubowan - Welcome to Sri Lanka! On arrival to Colombo, clear immigration and customs. Proceed to the arrival area where you will be met by your private chauffeur guide and transferred to your hotel (approximately 1 hour).
After taking the time to settle into your hotel, it’s time for a walking tour of the village.
An early morning cycling tour is a great way to explore the area. Wake up early for some tea or coffee by the lake while watching the birdlife, then hop on the bikes for about an hour or so cycling through paddy-fields (in season), orchards, and even a small forest. As with the walking tour, the cycling tour can be tailored to be shorter or longer depending on your interests. When you return to the hotel, enjoy a full Sri Lankan breakfast of hoppers, string hoppers, pol sambol and Ceylon tea.
After breakfast, drive toward Pidurangala and Habarana, the cultural triangle, where you can get a taste of the Sri Lankan culture. In the afternoon, hike to Pidurangala, a massive rock formation that was named by the ancient Sri Lankans. This is said to be the site of the royal temple at the time when King Kashyapa was at the helm of the Sigiriya fortress. Be prepared to climb! The hike takes about one hour depending on fitness – the last part is a bit tricky over rocks, but it can be done with care. It is all worth it once you reach the top and are rewarded with views of a green carpet of forest punctuated with Sigiriya rock in the distance. Breathe in the fresh air: you are on top of a magical place! After returning from your hike, spend the rest of the evening at your leisure.
Wake early this morning to climb the magnificent rock fortress of Sigiriya. Also known as Lion Rock, Sigiriya is a rare jewel among the many treasures in Sri Lanka. The site was the domain of King Kashyapa whose aim was to build an impregnable fortress and within it, a heavenly abode. Rising over the dry plains of the Sigiriya district, the tough climb of 1200 footsteps up this flat-topped monolith ends with the most scenic bird’s-eye view of the emerald plains and leafy villages beneath. The skeletal layout of the ancient city within the fortress amazes its observers with the grandeur and complexity of the 5th-century urban planning of Sri Lanka. On the way to the top one can observe the famous Sigiriya frescoes of maidens bearing flowers, and the smoothly-glazed "Mirror Wall," located a few steps away. The Sigiriya experience takes approximately 1.5 to 3 hours depending on the pace. After this morning's excursion, transfer to the hotel for breakfast.
In the afternoon, it’s time to visit Ritigala Archeological Monastery. Ritigala has that feel of the undiscovered, a world away from the most famous sights in Sri Lanka. Make sure you take time to explore in-depth and walk all the way to the higher part of the complex. The archaeological site bears a certain mysterious nature owing to the long meditation pathways that open into the thick jungle and large stone-lined reservoirs. Take time to sit down and connect with nature on these ancient sacred grounds. Take the remainder of the afternoon to relax on your own.
After breakfast, begin the drive to Kandy - the last stronghold of the Sinhalese Kings, and a place of legends. While Sri Lanka was under Portuguese and Dutch rule, the Kings of Kandy remained defiant and independent. It was much later, during the British rule, that Kandy finally fell to the biggest Empire in the world. Today Kandy is a big city that still retains touches of its colonial history in buildings such as the neoclassical Queen's hotel, a beautiful 19th-century structure. Wander around the lake and the streets of Kandy to get a feel for this wonderful city and explore the local markets. Later in the day, visit the temple of the Sacred Tooth, which is no doubt the city’s biggest pride.
Today experience the most magical train journey through Sri Lanka’s hill country, with views of lush tea plantations and mountains covered in mist. It’s also a fabulous way to see Sri Lanka’s hill villages and gain an insight into the daily lives of the local people. Sit back and enjoy the ride 6-hour train ride. High up in the highlands of Sri Lanka is the little town of Ella. Here the air is cooler, the vegetation is lush, and fruits grow aplenty in the pleasant climate. This is one of Sri Lanka's prime hiking destinations, yet at the same time is the perfect spot to unwind for a few days, read a book, or enjoy a cup of tea.
In the 1920s the British extended the train line all the way to Badulla, an amazing feat considering the valley that had to be crossed. Perhaps the most remarkable feat is the Demodara Nine Arch bridge, one of the architectural marvels of its day in British Ceylon. This massive train crossing is built entirely of stone, bricks, and cement and there is not a single piece of steel in the structure. Some say that WWI halted a shipment of steel, so the engineers had to do without. When it opened back in 1921, it was also known as "Ahas Nawaya Palama,” or the "Nine Skies Bridge."
Wake early this morning for the hike to Ella Rock. The walk will take you along the railroad tracks and into a hanging metal bridge - those with vertigo, don't look down! The hike continues past eucalyptus forests, where the climb can be a bit steep and you need to be in good shape to attempt it. On the top, the views from Ella Rock are stunning, especially on a clear day. The hike will take about 3-4 hours depending on your pace.
Spend the afternoon at your own leisure enjoying the beauty of the surroundings.
After a relaxed breakfast transfer to Yala, where another unique experience awaits you. Yala National Park is Sri Lanka's most famous National Park - and with good reason, as it is home to an amazing range of wildlife. Avoid the crowds by entering Yala through the Kataragama entrance - there might be some jeeps around, but nothing like in the main gate area. There is a chance to explore the more remote areas of the National Park, such as Yala block 3 and 5 where there are hardly any visitors!
Set out for an afternoon safari at the national park, looking for wildlife such as elephants, water buffalo herds, wild boar, pythons, innumerable birds, sloth bears, jackals, and more.
After breakfast, it’s all about the wildlife experience in Yala. Set out for a morning safari with your guide. Don't forget to take your camera! Here you will get the chance to see a lot of wild animals and if you are lucky you may have the chance to see a leopard!
After a lunch break, set out for a second safari ride in the afternoon inside the national park.
After breakfast transfer to Galle – the heart of Down South Beach. Then in the afternoon, it’s time for the Galle fort walk with your guide. There are places in the world that speak of another era of times gone by, and the Galle Fort is one them. Imagine cobbled streets that have seen four hundred years of history, from Arab merchants to the adventurous Portuguese and the industrious Dutch, with colonial homes complete with their red tiled roofs. An impressive rampart surrounds a small peninsula jutting out to the Indian Ocean. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the Fort is that it is a living monument: families that have lived here for generations continue to inhabit the fortified streets. In the afternoon, you might stop for some thambili from a local vendor, or try some crispy vaddais.
After breakfast, it’s time for a hiking tour in Kanneliya Rainforest. Discover the Kanneliya forest reserve, a less-frequented but nonetheless impressive rainforest to explore with your wildlife guide. Kanneliya is just 35km from Galle, so in just 90 minutes you can be out of the fort and into the forest. Your morning hike takes you under thick tropical tree canopies housing monkeys, snakes, and chameleons. Multitudes of birds will flutter from branch to branch above, whilst plants and flowers blanket the jungle floor. Stop to savor the sounds of your surroundings and enjoy refreshments at a local waterfall! The forest itself envelops nearly 80 villages, one of which is your guide’s home and where his talented wife will prepare your lunch to be had near the shallows of a lake. A unique dining experience and an idyllic end to your journey.
After the hiking tour, transfer back to the hotel and spend the afternoon at your own leisure.
Day 11: Depart for Home
Sadly, it's time to leave the isle of Serendipity! Transfer to the airport to catch your flight home.
The trip might have been the absolute best of our lifetime (thus far). We particularly want to commend our guide Peter in the Guilin area-he was so incredibly attentive, energetic, enthusiastic-and absolutely dedicated to ensuring that our meals were 100% vegetarian.