Join us on an action-packed adventure across this spiritual island. We cycle backroads to discover ancient Buddhist cities, trek through verdant mountains and raft the white waters of the Central Highlands. We search for leopard in Willpaththu National Park and relax on the white sandy beaches of this tropical paradise known as 'Buddha's Island'.
Arrive in Negombo, the famous coastal town famous for its fishing industry and golden sands. This relaxing beach resort is a short distance from Sri Lanka's capital city, and is the perfect place to spot locals bringing in the day's catch and watch the sunset. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Negombo at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), which is 40 minutes' drive from our hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day there is the option to head to the beach or make use of the hotel facilities which features a swimming pool and gardens overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Leaving after breakfast we drive to Giriulla, from where we begin our morning's cycle ride along lush forested back roads to Padeniya. After stopping for lunch we have time to freshen up before swapping the bikes for jeeps and heading in to Wilpattu National Park. Despite the park's location in Sri Lanka's dry zone, it boasts nearly 60 lakes and is renowned for leopard, elephant and sambar deer spottings. We will go on a jeep safari in the hope of spotting the elusive leopard. We choose to visit this park, rather than Yala National Park further south because we believe it offers our customers a better experience. The same animals can be seen here as in Yala and despite being busy in places it is overall less crowded, making our visit more enjoyable and responsible. It is also worth noting that wildlife is unpredictable and therefore sightings cannot be guaranteed. We camp on the outskirts of the park this evening. Total cycling distance 45kms.
Today we take to our bikes again and cycle to Anaradhapura. We will then drive out to the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Dambulla, where a great series of caves hide an incredible collection of temples that date back to the 1st century BC. Containing a large number of Buddha images, as well as sculptures of Hindu Gods, the caves have become a huge pilgrimage site for countless worshippers, and this afternoon we will visit five separate caves, before returning to Anaradhapura for the evening. Total cycling distance 50km.
An early rise this morning takes us to the imposing Lion Rock for the climb to the Sky Fortress before the heat and peak period of the day. The ruins of this 5th century fortress (declared a World Heritage Site in 1982) are one of Sri Lanka's major attractions, a stupendous sight to behold and a feat of consummate engineering skill. A switchback series of steps ascends to the top and half-way up, tucked beneath a sheltering overhang of rock, are the famous Sigiriya Damsels. These frescoes, their ancient colours still glowing, once covered an area of some 140 metres in length and are the only ancient non-religious paintings to have survived into modern times. On arriving at the summit (200m) we are presented with some magnificent views of the surrounding country, as well as the remains of what is left of the palace of King Kassapa. Returning to the base of the fortress, we then cycle to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, following a series of relatively straight and flat back roads that provide us with a moderately easy journey that passes through patches of forest, plantations and rural villages. For those that wish it, there is the option to break up part of the 30 km journey to Polunnaruwa by travelling along sections of it by bus.
Polonnaruwa reached the height of its glory in the 12th century and the city is still blessed with a number of its ancient buildings and monuments. This morning we visit the ancient city, taking in the spectacular ruins of its Royal Palace, with its Audience Hall, Bathing Pool and Quadrangle. Close by is the Circular Relic House, a curious round structure with a beautifully preserved 'moonstone' carved at the foot of a flight of steps. Another famous feature of the deserted city is the group of carved images of Buddha known as Galvihara, a collection of four colossal figures, all hewn out of solid granite. In the afternoon we visit the nearby Minneriya National Park by jeep, home to spotted deer and significant herds of elephant, as well as huge populations of migratory birds.
This morning we drive to Giritale, travelling via Elahera and Pellegama, to a point where the crossover point between east and west Sri Lanka lies. Known as Riverstone Point, this region is home to the Knuckles Mountain Range and offers us a chance to break the journey with a short hike along a trail that runs through the ranges. Resembling a clenched fist (hence their unusual moniker), the mountains present a remarkable microcosm of the country, the striking landscapes and isolated cloud forests providing a haven for a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Our walk will take us around 3 hours, a soft to moderate trek that takes us through a landscape of incredible historic and natural importance. To the south and east lies the Mahaveli Valley, whilst the Matale Valley to the west encircles a collection of peaks that has no equal anywhere else in the country. Returning to our bus, we then complete the journey to Kandy, descending into the Matale Valley also known as the spice valley of Sri Lanka, to arrive at our hotel late this afternoon. A packed lunch will be provided today, to enjoy en route.
Lying in the mountains, to the northeast of Colombo, Kandy was captured by the British in 1815 and is known more for its cultural and spiritual importance rather than its history. Buddhists from all over the world come to this delightful old highland town specifically to visit the Temple of the Tooth, the Dalada Maligawa, where the costly jewelled shrine of the holy tooth (said to be Buddha's left canine and measuring in at an impressive 3.5 cm long by 1 cm thick) is kept. This relic was believed to have been brought from India some 1,500 years ago and is the major attraction of the town. With a free day in the city, there will be an opportunity to visit the temple today. Kandy itself is also a living monument to its traditional past being the last capital of the Sinhala Kings. It in fact retains much of its old world charm and its streets are a wonderful eclectic mix of noise and bustle, making it an ideal venue for some personal exploration. You could also take a wander through the lush Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya, located just outside the city, or perhaps explore something of the city's handicraft workshops, which have plenty of brassware, batik, lacquer work and other craft items to choose from. Kandyan dancers can also be seen performing every night at one or two locales around town, so those interested in some cultural interaction tonight might like to venture out and enjoy some traditional Sri Lankan dancing.
Our drive this morning takes us to Ginigathhena, set amongst the fertile and lush western highlands. Set amidst a dramatic landscape of towering cliffs and wild water, the Kelani Ganga provides some of the best whitewater rafting in the country. The jungle around here was used as the back-drop for the 1957 film Bridge on the River Kwai and the grade 2-3 rapids provide us with the perfect combination of scenery and excitement. As we raft down to our accommodation in Kitulgala we cover a 7km section of the river through 8 rapids which will usually take approximately 1.5hr hours to cover (dependant on water levels). Taking lunch en route, we should arrive at our overnight lodge late this afternoon and after a chance to relax and if time permits this evening there will be a chance to join an optional trek across the river and through the jungle to a hidden waterfall.
This morning we follow a trail through forest to a nearby village before taking the short drive to Nuwara Eliya. Along the way we stop to visit one of the tea plantations which cover the landscape in this region. The afternoon is free to explore Nuwara Eliya known as 'Little England'. Here we will find red telephone boxes, Victorian colonial architecture and pretty rose gardens - legacies from its era as a hill country retreat for homesick Brits and Scots during colonial times. The cool climate provided a sanctuary in which to immerse themselves in familiar pastimes, such as polo, golf and cricket.
After a short transfer we trek across the plateau of Horton Plains and through tea plantations until we reach Bambarakanda Waterfalls, the highest in Sri Lanka. We take a picnic lunch while at the waterfalls before walking further down the trail to meet our bus. We then drive to our campsite in Belihuloya. Approximately 5 hours walking in total.
We start this morning with a short bus transfer to Kinchigune where we take to our bikes. We follow quiet back roads and pass through small villages. The route covers around 15-20km and takes us about three hours, depending on how many times we stop to chat to the villagers along the way. We meet up with our bus and then drive to the coastal resort of Hikkaduwa. Along the way we have the chance to stop at a Responsible Tourism Partnership project known as The Dickwella Lace Centre, a locally run project that provides income and training for villagers who were badly affected by the 2004 tsunami.
The next two days are free to enjoy the laid back ambience and turquoise waters of Sri Lanka's southern coast. Rich in colonial history and golden beaches, the region offers us a wealth of options to enjoy the most of our time here.There are snorkelling trips available, Ayurvedic massages and the possibility to enjoy a whalewatching trip during the migrating season (December to April). You could also pay a visit to the city of Galle and its historic colonial fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that remains one of the best preserved examples of colonial fortification in the world.
Day free to continue exploring this area.
Departing Hikkaduwa this morning we drive along the Express Way back to Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) where we will arrive at about 10am and this is where our trip ends. The earliest your flight can depart is 12:45pm.
You will have the option to book your own flights independently with the operator.
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