Day 1: Join tour Negombo
Our tour begins this afternoon in the small town of Negombo. Our hotel is set on the beach front offering the chance to watch small fishing boats come ashore and the sun setting over the ocean.
Day 2: Morning cycle; jeep safari in Wilpattu National Park
Leaving after breakfast we drive to Giriulla this morning, 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 the more touristy 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, however it is less crowded, making our visit more enjoyable and responsible. We camp on the outskirts of the park this evening. Total cycling distance 45kms.
Day 3: Explore Dambulla's painted caves en route to Sigiriya
Today we take to our bikes again and cycle towards 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 proceeding to Sigiriya for the evening. Total cycling distance 50km.
Day 4: Climb Lion Rock before cycling to Polonnaruwa
An early transfer this morning takes us to the imposing Lion Rock for the climb to the Sky Fortress. 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 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.
Day 5: Search for elephants in Minneriya National Park
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 by bicycle and on foot, 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. This 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.
Day 6: Trek on the Knuckles Range. Drive to Kandy
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.
Day 7: Free day to explore Kandy
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 every year, at the time of the August full moon, it is paraded round the town with great pomp and circumstance. During the ten night festival of Perahera, the tooth (or a replica) is borne along on a richly decorated elephant, surrounded by saffron-robed monks and Kandyan dancers. 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. The last capital of the Sinhala Kings, it 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.
Day 8: Drive to Dalhousie, set at the base of Adam's Peak
This morning we drive to Dalhousie where we have the afternoon to relax. Shortly after midnight we join pilgrims in an ascent of Adam's Peak, known locally as Sri Pada. A depression at the top of the peak is said to be Buddha's footprint and each year thousands climb to the top for sunrise. There is a stone staircase which we follow right to the top, it can be tough on the legs but we can take our time and savour the experience. We reach the top in time for sunrise and views across the country.
Day 9: Climb Adam's Peak for sunrise. Raft on the Kelani River
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 were 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 spend raft down to our accommodation in Kitulgala. We cover a 7km section of the river through 8 rapids. It will usually take approximately 1.5hr hours to cover the section but this depends on water levels, in high water it can take just under a hour to cover the distance. Taking lunch en route, we should arrive at our overnight lodge late this afternoon and, after a chance to freshen up, if time allows this evening there will be a chance to join an optional trek across the river and through the jungle to a hidden waterfall.
Day 10: Morning trek before driving to our camp at Belihuloya
After breakfast we take a short trek through the forest to a nearby village. The route takes about three hours in total. We then drive to Belihuloya, via the small towns of Bogowantalawa and Balangoda, where we camp for the night.
Day 11: Cycle through remote villages then drive to Hikkaduwa
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 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. The Dickwella Lace Centre is a locally run project that provides income and training for villagers who were badly affected by the 2004 tsunami.
Day 12: Free to relax on the beach or visit nearby Galle
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 13: Relax or take an optional whale watching excursion
Day free to continue exploring this area.
Day 14: Tour ends at Colombo airport
After an early breakfast we transfer to Colombo Airport where the tour ends.
Touring with Explore
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