I had never really considered Sri Lanka as a safari holiday destination before, but I was...
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Feature adventure holidays
We’ve developed a range of dedicated solo holidays & solo travel packages; exclusively for people booking on their own. Around 40% of all our passengers are solo travellers.
Transport - Minibus, bicycle, train, 4WD, boat, on foot.
Accommodation - Hotels (13nts).
Meals - 13 breakfasts, 3 lunches & 2 dinners.
We often have multiple itineraries so please check to see which itinerary is suitable for you, by selecting the relevant tab.
Arrive and check in to your accommodation in Kandalama. Hotel - 4 nights (D)
Amaya Lake - in the centre of Sri Lanka’s ‘Golden Triangle’ of historic sites, your hotel – the Amaya Lake (formerly the Culture Club) - is a wonderful retreat with beautiful gardens and overlooks the picturesque Kandalama Lake. Built in the style of a Sri Lankan village, it is well known for its Ayurvedhic treatments.
You will receive full details of exactly where to meet your Group Leader on the Joining Instructions which will be sent to you 2-3 weeks before your trip starts. For information on when the trip ends please refer to the itinerary as described below.
Today starts with a visit to the Dambulla Cave complex and an introduction to the island’s Buddhist heritage. Here a series of impressive cave-temples are cut into the high hillside. Passing a huge, gold Buddha you’ll make the 10-minute or so climb up a series of steps to the caves themselves. After taking refuge here when ousted from his capital, the Sinhalese King, Valagam Bahu, transformed the five caves of this granite outcrop into a rock temple, decorated by statues of Buddha and frescoes, some of which are over 2000 years old - the atmosphere inside the caves is reverential.
On winter departure dates the afternoon is left free for you to relax or explore at will. Bird lovers will appreciate the hotel’s location, which attracts many different species of colourful birds; alternatively your Group Leader arrange an elephant ride into the forest at Habarana as an optional excursion. Relax in the evening at your Kandalama accommodation. (B)
Anuradhapura & Mihintale
If anywhere, Buddhism’s spiritual home lies in Anuradhapura and Mihintale. Founded in the 4th century BC, Anuradhapura was a model of town planning, with areas set aside for many different parts of society. A clean water supply was assured by well-constructed tanks, or reservoirs.
The city became capital of Sri Lanka in 377 BC and remained so for a thousand years, eventually falling into ruin in the 9th century AD. Today the city is most famous as the home of the Bodhi Tree, said to be a cutting of the original tree under which Lord Buddha gained enlightenment. The site itself is extensive and dominated by the white, bell-shaped dagobas of monasteries. You’ll have time to wander the site, soaking up the atmosphere.
Whereas Anuradhapura impresses because of its size and the magnificence of its temples, Mihintale’s appeal lies in its lovely setting. But its small size belies its importance, for it was here that King Devanampiya Tissa was converted to Buddhism in 243 BC by the son of the mighty Indian king Ashoka, paving the way for Buddhism to spread throughout Sri Lanka. Overnight in Kandalama. (B)
Sigiriya bike ride
After a free morning it’s time to discover further afield. Transferring to nearby Sigiriya you’ll collect mountain bikes to cycle slowly through a series of small villages, giving you an altogether different perspective of the area. You’ll cycle along good tracks with a support vehicle never too far behind. In this area local families farm the fields and groves of coconut palms, leading lives that appear unchanged after the passing of hundreds of years. The Sri Lankan people are amazingly friendly; you may well get invited into people’s houses en route! Your bike route will end and you will return to Amaya Lake for a final night. (B)
Sigiriya & Kandy
Driving the short distance from Kandalama this morning, you’ll have the opportunity to climb to the seemingly inaccessible summit of the Lion Rock using a series of steps and walkways which zigzag their way up the rock. From the top there are great views over the countryside through which you cycled yesterday.
The site was occupied long before the citadel was built at the end of the 5th century and later became a monastery, before falling into disrepair. From the base, where a moat surrounds impressive water gardens, you’ll ascend 200m, passing an overhanging rock under which superb portraits of native maidens holding flowers and temple offerings still adorn the rock wall. Crowning the flat-topped summit of the rock are the extensive remains of the King’s Summer Palace from where there are breathtaking views.
From Sigiriya you continue south, to the island’s cultural capital – Kandy. En route you’ll stop for lunch and may pause at one of the many ‘spice gardens’, where you’ll learn about their uses, both culinary and medicinal. Arriving in Kandy you check into your comfortable accommodation in the hills above the town; the Amaya Hills Hotel (formerly Le Kandyan Hotel) has fantastic panoramic views over the countryside, whilst the architecture of the hotel reflects the heritage of the Kandyan Kings.
The royal city of Kandy was once the capital of a kingdom that resisted European dominance for a further three hundred years after the coastal areas capitulated. It is pleasantly set on the edge of a lake, surrounded by hills. This evening you’ll visit the Dalada Maligawa, the famous Temple of the Tooth. This is the major shrine where pilgrims have revered Buddha’s tooth since the 16th century; its gilded roof seems to act as a beacon to visitors throughout the day and into the evening. That beacon will guide you to accommodation in Kandy. Hotel - 2 nights (BL)
Amaya Hills - Overlooking the forest-covered hills of Heerasasagala, this peaceful retreat is an excellent based from which to explore the beautiful city of Kandy.
Today you visit Peradeniya, home of Sri Lanka’s premier Botanical Gardens. The gardens are home to a massive Weeping Fig tree, a packed orchid house and some of the few specimens of the rare Coco de Mer coconut tree. In all there are 4000 labelled species of plants and trees.
In Kandy there is free time to wander alone and discover its quiet corners, or simply relax. Close to the edge of town is Udawattakele Sanctuary, a mini tropical rainforest, or you may choose to take a walk around the lake to enjoy the lovely views. Others may prefer to explore some of the many other temples that dot the area. You will all return to your accommodation in Kandy. (B)
From Kandy you take a train that twists and turns through the lush hills, stopping at small village stations and, as you climb higher, passing through the green ranks of tea bushes which cover the higher hillsides. Disembarking after 1 ¾ hours at Nawalapitiya, you’ll continue by road to Nuwara Eliya high in the hills, stopping en route for lunch. You will have noticed how the topography changes as you climb, and soon you are passing through the very heart of the tea growing area – there should be time to visit a working tea factory where the complicated process of drying and sorting the tea is explained. The old British hill station of Nuwara Eliya (City of Light) feels curiously familiar due to its colonial houses, well-tended lawns and neat, colourful gardens. Overlooking the city is the island’s highest mountain, Pidurutalagala, which rises to 2524m. In the evening you’ll dine at the famous Hill Club where afterwards you might enjoy a drink by a roaring fire or a game of snooker. (Note: Dress code is formal – although the club can supply gentlemen’s jackets and ties). Hotel – 1 night (BLD)
The Grand Hotel - Your comfortable accommodation in Nuwara Eliya is the Grand Hotel. An excellent example of a mansion from the Elizabethan era, The Grand retains the stateliness and grandeur of the times, and is considered one of the best hill country hotels in Asia.
Horton Plains & Bandarawela
From Nuwara Eliya you’ll make an early morning drive to the isolated high plateau of Horton Plains National Park. The cool, damp forest, lush green land and rushing streams are reminiscent of English moorland. This highland area however, has more than a few things unfamiliar to English countryside – sightings of leopard here are rare but you are likely to see deer, Purple-faced leaf monkey, Toque macaques and many species of exotic birds and butterflies. This is good rambling country and a circular walk of about three hours takes you to Baker’s Falls and the dramatic World’s End – where the edge of a plateau drops abruptly 1000m over a sheer precipice.
From Horton Plains you’ll drive through the Central Highlands to the small town of Bandarawela. Although sharing Nuwara Eliya’s heritage as a former hill station, Bandarawela is today largely off the main tourist trail. It retains a relaxed market town feel and offers the chance to stay at the delightful Clouds in Haputale. Hotel – 1 night (B)
Clouds - A private bungalow set amongst beautifully landscaped gardens, this unique hideaway features unobstructed views across the south of Sri Lanka and is a peaceful hideaway for yours stay in Sri Lanka.
Yala National Park
Today’s drive is one of the loveliest yet as you descend quickly towards Ella, stopping at the famous Ella Resthouse, to see the spectacular view through the Ella Gap towards the plains. Further on you pass by the roadside Rawana Ella Falls.
Leaving the hill country you continue to journey south until you arrive at the Elephant Transit Home at Uda Walawe National Park. Run by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation and set-up in 1995, it provides shelter for 30 orphaned or abandoned baby elephants, releasing them to the wild when they are strong enough to survive in their natural habitat. You will visit the Elephant Transit Home at feeding time (the only time visits are allowed) and see the elephants from a viewing deck approximately 10 metres away – a great chance to learn more about Sri Lanka’s national animal.
After a stop for lunch you continue on to Yala National Park, where you’ll check in at the Yala Village Hotel. Hotel – 2 nights (BL)
Chaaya Wild (Formally Yala Village Hotel) - Here the forest dips down to the beach. Rooms are comfortable, with veranda and fans, whilst a dip in the swimming pool will no doubt prove refreshing later in the day.
Yala National Park
This morning keen bird watchers will enjoy the visit to Bundala National Park, just a short distance away. The coastline to the west is punctuated by a series of shallow lagoons, a Mecca for both resident and migrant birds. Separating the lagoons are scrubby patches of ground that are surprisingly thick and thus well able to conceal not only rabbits, peacocks and monkeys, but also elephant! A good pair of binoculars will reveal many species of birds which may well include spoonbills, ibis, pelicans, flamingos and egrets.
Most of the afternoon has been left free for you to relax. Not too far away from your accommodation and easily visited by transport arranged via your Group Leader, is the popular pilgrimage centre of Kataragama, as is the royal city of Tissamaharama.
During the late afternoon you’ll set off in 4WD vehicles to explore magnificent Yala National Park. The 1,260 sq. km of park has a wide variety of wildlife; herds of wild elephant are numerous. Yala is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to spot leopards so if you're lucky your jeep safari should give you close encounters with them, spotted deer, wild boar, buffaloes and crocodile. (B)
Your journey through the south of Sri Lanka continues as you follow the road west to Hambantota with its numerous salt pans. Soon after passing the town, you move from the dry-zone to the wet-zone, passing through the beach town of Tangalle to reach the coastal town of Dickwella. The journey normally takes around three hours. You'll have time to take a dip in the pool, sample an array of spa treatments, enjoy a cocktail on your private terrace or perhaps take a sunset stroll along the beach. Hotel - 2 nights (B)
Dickwella Village Resort - Located on a penninsula between two bays and amid tropical gardens, you'll have great views looking out on to the Indian Ocean from this. Chosen in part for it's proximity to the whale watching excursion the following morning, to ensure a more reasonable start time!
Between the months of November and April you'll have an early start to take a whale watching excursion off the coast of Mirissa to track the incredible Blue Whale - the largest animal that has ever lived and now known to be found seasonally in Sri Lanka's rich marine habitat. Commercial whale watching is only in its infancy here so this is an experience few have had before.
Arrive at the harbour in Mirissa by 0700 hrs and be met by your naturalist guide for the day and the crew. Set out across the azure sea with the clear and crisp early morning breeze to keep you cool. The naturalist onboard will be a fountain of incredible facts about local marine life making the expedition an intense ‘marine nature watch’, experience.
The captain will often stop and hail a passing fishing boat on its homeward journey after a long nights work, out at sea. The mood aboard the fishing boat is sombre or jubilant depending on the value of the days catch. It’s not unusual for the fisherman to offer a small portion of the catch to your vessel in a gesture of goodwill and to bring them more good luck in the future; this is especially so if they’ve had a particularly good catch! Meanwhile the fisherman will hopefully have first had information on where and which whales were spotted that morning!
You continue out to sea and hopefully we encounter the mighty giants of the sea. the Blue Whales, between 20 – 40 nautical miles from the coast. Sightings of other species of whales and dolphins are not uncommon and will be a special treat.
Return to the harbour to meet your vehicle and transfer to your hotel. (B - packed)
Please note: whilst November to April are the most suitable months for whale watching, the operation of the excursion is dependent on prevailing weather conditions on the day. Sightings of whales and dolphins can not be guaranteed!
This morning you travel back to Colombo, either by road. The journey north along the coast gives another perspective; you’ll catch glimpses of the Indian Ocean through swaying palm trees as you pass rural villages and busy resorts.
You'll take a journey which normally lasts about two and a half hours to the beautiful colonial city of Galle. Rightly declared a World Heritage Site in 1988, the old fort area contains houses, lovely churches and other imposing buildings, and was once a hub of activity on the island. You’ll stop here for lunch and have time to wander amongst the quiet streets – transporting you back to the time when the Dutch, Portuguese and British traded spices, and built magnificent buildings with the wealth they created.
Continue your journey for about three hours up to the capital of Colombo. On arrival you’ll transfer to the historic and famous Galle Face Hotel. Depending on your time of arrival you may have time to explore Colombo, a city of great colour and vibrancy. The centre, known as ‘Fort’, is easy to get around on foot or by three-wheeler auto-rickshaw. On your last evening your Group Leader will no doubt organise a traditional ‘last supper’. Hotel - 1 night (B)
The Galle Face Hotel - An oasis of tranquillity in the heart of the city, the Galle Face has provided excellent service since it opened to guests in 1864.
The trip ends here for land only customers. (B)