Buddha's Island

Leopard at Wilpattu
Sigiriya- Lion's Rock
School trip to Polonnaruwa
Mihintale, the craddle of Buddhism
Lion's Rock, Sigiriya
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  • Overview
  • Itinerary
  • Dates
  • Explore!

Explore the spiritual Sri Lanka features a mix of ancient cities, rock carvings, gilded Buddhist temples and wildlife-filled national parks.

Uncover the highlights of the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean' at a relaxed pace. This two week exploration of spiritual Sri Lanka features a mix of ancient cities, rock carvings, gilded Buddhist temples and wildlife-filled national parks. National Parks - Enjoy a jeep safari in search of leopard, elephant, sambar deer and other wildlife Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sigiriya - Wander through ancient capitals, painted cave temples and climb the dramatic 'Sky Fortress' Kandy and the Hill Country - Explore the 'temple of the Tooth' and the lush tea plantations in cooler climates.

Highlights
National Parks - Enjoy a jeep safari with the hope of spotting a leopard, elephant and sambar deer in the wild
Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sigiriya - Explore ancient capitals, painted cave temples and the dramatic 'Sky Fortress'
Kandy and the Hill Country - Explore the rich cultural heritage of the 'Hill Capital' and the lush tea plantations and colonial charm of the surrounding area
Adam's Peak - Join pilgrims in a trek to the summit of this sacred mountain in time for sunrise
Unawatuna and Galle - relax on the white sand beaches of the south coast and soak up the laid-back, artistic vibe of Galle
Why Book this Tour
This trip is one of our best-sellers with the chance to see elephants in the wild, climb to Lion Rock's ancient fortress and relax on quiet beaches. The trip focusses on the main highlights of Sri Lanka and is ideal for travellers interested in history and culture. There is plenty of sightseeing as well as free time for you to experience this increasingly popular destination or to simply relax.
Meals – Breakfast Only
Breakfast: 14 Lunch: 1 Dinner: 2
Destinations
  • Sri Lanka
  • Asia
  • Anuradhapura
  • Unawatuna
  • Colombo
  • Kandy
  • Temple of the Tooth
  • Sigiriya
  • Negombo
Tour Types
  • Birdwatching
  • Active
  • Adventure
  • Safaris
  • Scenic
  • Small Group
  • 50 plus
  • Couples
  • Singles
  • Sightseeing
  • Walking
  • Whale Watching
  • Cultural
  • Festivals
  • Ruins-Archaeology
  • Wildlife
Day 1: Join tour in Negombo
Our tour begins this afternoon in the coastal town of Negombo, famous for its fishing industry and golden sands. Our hotel is just a 15 minute drive north of the airport. From its beach location, we are likely to see fishing boats bring in the day's catch. We may also be treated to a stunning sunset over the ocean.

Day 2: Game drive in Wilpattu National Park; drive to Anuradhapura
A three-hour drive north takes us to Wilpattu National Park. En route, we will visit a nearby fishing village which uses traditional-style outrigger canoes, known as 'oruvas'. Along the way we hope to spot the toddy tappers climbing tall coconut trees to collect sap from the flowers. This is used to make Arak - a local whisky-type spirit.

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. Leaving the park, we drive to nearby Anuradapura, where we will spend the next two nights.

Day 3: Full day to explore the ancient citadel
This morning, we explore the ancient capital of Anuradhapura - a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its well-preserved ancient ruins. One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, it was founded around 500 BC. Its golden age began around 260BC, when the King and his people converted to Buddhism. The city became vast, spreading over many miles. There were hospitals for the sick, hostels for travellers and artificial reservoirs to ensure a good water supply.

Of great interest are the 2,200 year-old Sacred Bo-Tree; the Brazen Palace, once a nine storey residence for monks; the 4th century Smadhi Buddha masterpiece and the Ruvanvalisaya Dagoba - a 90 metre-high dome-shaped shrine towering over the surrounding countryside.

In the afternoon, we travel eight miles to the mountain peak of Mihintale. It is believed that this was the site of a momentous meeting between the monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa, introducing Buddhism to the country. Exploring Mihintale involves climbing a flight of 1,840 shallow stone steps, and a short final section with uneven steps and a hand rail leading to the summit of the Missaka Mountain. There are excellent views from the top looking back to Anuradhapura.

Day 4: Visit Dambulla's cave temples en route to Giritale
Travelling towards Giritale, we pause to view the magnificent Standing Buddha of Aukana, which stands 12 metres high. Sculptured in the 5th century by a master craftsman, it is still relatively isolated in its jungle setting.

Our next stop is Dambulla, where a great series of caves have been turned into temples dating from the 1st century BC. This World Heritage Site still attracts scores of worshippers. We will visit five separate caves, which contain a large number of Buddha images and a few sculptures of Hindu Gods. After a lunch stop, we reach the small town of Giritale - our base from which to explore Polonnaruwa. Our hotel for the night looks out over a large and picturesque 7th century man-made lake.

Day 5: Search for elephants in Minneriya National Park
This morning we explore the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, which reached its height of glory in the 12th century, when it was a thriving commercial and religious centre. The city still maintains many of its spectacular buildings and monuments, with arguably the most impressive being the Quadrangle. This sacred precinct originally housed the tooth relic. It contains a superbly decorated circular shrine which is one of the most ornate buildings in the country. The neighbouring audience hall and bathing pool are also worth a visit. Close by, the curious round structure of the Circular Relic House has a beautifully preserved moonstone carved at the foot of a flight of steps. Another famous feature of this deserted city is the group of carved images of the Buddha, known as Galvihara. These four colossal figures are all hewn out of solid granite and the Reclining Buddha alone is no less than 14 metres long.

In the early afternoon, we drive to either Minneriya or Kadaula National Park (depending on the season), where we enjoy a jeep safari to look for herds of wild elephant. These parks are also home to a large array of birdlife, including painted storks.

Day 6: Climb Lion's Rock at sunrise; drive to Kandy
An early start this morning as we plan to climb Sigiriya Rock ahead of the crowds and whilst it is cool. The ruins of this 5th century 'Sky Fortress' are one of Sri Lanka's major attractions, a stupendous sight to behold and a feat of consummate engineering skill. Built in just seven years as a fortified palace to protect the reign of merciless King Kassapa, who had assassinated his father and deposed his brother, it is seen as one of the world's best preserved examples of ancient urban planning. Unfortunately for the king, despite its impregnable reputation, he was defeated here by his brother after a reign of just 18 years.

A switchback series of steps and steel stairways ascend to the top. Halfway up, tucked beneath a sheltering overhang of rock, are the famous frescoes - the Sigiriya Damsels, their colours still glowing. Before our final ascent to the summit, we pass between a set of enormous lion paws carved out of the rock - all that remain of an ancient gateway that gave Sigiriya, the 'Lion Rock', its name. Once at the 200 meter summit, magnificent views can be enjoyed of the surrounding jungle and countryside.

This afternoon, a two-hour drive takes us to Kandy. En route, we stop to visit the woodcarving centre at Naula and a spice garden.

Day 7: Discover the Temple of the Tooth
Sitting on a plateau 500 metres above sea level and 112km northeast of Colombo, Kandy is, in climatic and cultural terms, a world apart from Colombo. Serving as the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom until falling to the British in 1815, it is a place of cultural and spiritual importance. Buddhists from all over the world come here specifically to visit the Temple of the Tooth, the Dalada Maligawa. The costly jewelled shrine of the Holy Tooth, said to be Buddha's left canine, is kept in the upper floor of the original building. This relic was brought from India 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.

This morning's sight-seeing includes attending the Temple of the Tooth Ceremony and a visit to the serene Peradeniya Botanical garden. Your afternoon is free to continue your exploration of this delightful old highland town.

In the evening, we hope to have the opportunity to watch a performance by the famous Kandyan dancers, admiring their impressive costumes and graceful dances, accompanied by a thundering drum beat.

Day 8: Drive to Dalhousie for an ascent of Adam's Peak
After a free morning, we drive to Dalhousie in the foothills of Adam's Peak. Here, we have the opportunity to ascend this sacred 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. Shortly after midnight, we join pilgrims for our ascent. There is a stone staircase which we follow right to the top. It can be tough on the legs, and some may find it physically challenging, but you can go at your own pace, take your time and savour the experience. We reach the top in time for sunrise, when spectacular views all around us.

For anyone not wanting to climb the peak, there is free time to explore the small town of Dalhousie, or relax at our guesthouse.

Day 9: Stop at a tea planation on the way to Nuwara Eliya
Returning from the peak early this morning, we enjoy a well-earned breakfast before making our way to picturesque 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 any homesick British. The cool climate provided a sanctuary in which to immerse themselves in familiar pastimes, such as polo, golf, cricket and fox hunting. This part of Sri Lanka is also an important tea growing area and plantations stretch over rolling hills for as far as the eye can see, interspersed with the occasional tea-making factory.

We have free time for the rest of the day to explore this colonial treasure.

Day 10: Drive to the hill town of Bandarawela
This morning, we make our way to Bandarawela by train. Regarded as among the most picturesque train journeys in the world, we wind our way through the mountains on a rail network that was introduced during British Colonial rule and has changed little since. Passing by impressive waterfalls and travelling through lush tea plantation country, we are likely to see colourfully-dressed tea pickers working in groups. Arriving in Bandarawela late in the afternoon, we have the opportunity to explore the quaint shops of this small, untouristy town, before settling down in our colonial-style hotel for the night.

Day 11: Transfer to the coastal town of Unawatuna
This morning, we visit Rawana Ella Falls, one of the widest waterfalls in the country, before continuing south through the hill country until we reach the plains and the small town of Wellawaya. Travelling onwards, we are likely to spot a 51 foot image of the Buddha, known as Colossi of Buduruvagala, rising majestically above us, along with other Mahayana statues.

Continuing southwards, we descend through a huge rice growing area before reaching the coast. We will also travel through the small fishing port of Tangalle and may be lucky enough to see the famous stilt fisherman balancing seemingly precariously above the ocean. Tangalle is also home to a lace making project supported by the Travel Foundation, where women learn to make and sell lace, helping them to become more self sufficient. We hope to visit a learn a little of their craft.

Our base for the next three nights is the attractive beach resort of Unawatuna, close to the southern tip of Sri Lanka.

Once again, our itinerary today involves a long drive, but is broken up with lots of breaks. Varied and spectacular scenery from the hill country, through paddy fields and on to the coast, provides plenty of interest.

Day 12: Stroll through the Portuguese Fort at Galle
This morning is free for you to enjoy the many activities and attractions of Unawatuna and the surrounding area. You may choose to hire snorkelling equipment and explore the beautiful corals, or take a boat trip around the coast or upriver, past small largely uninhabited islands.

This afternoon, we plan to visit the neighbouring pretty coastal town of Galle. An important trading centre since ancient times, the fortifications that can be seen today were built by the Portuguese and then the Dutch from the 16th to the 17th centuries. The fort ramparts of this World Heritage Site protect the harbour and a myriad of fascinating old houses, churches and warehouses. Today, the town has a strong arts vibe, with foreign and local artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets drawing inspiration from their surroundings. Boutique shops and cafes around the town showcase their work.

There is a lot to explore in the town and enjoyment can be gained simply by wandering around its streets, soaking up its unique atmosphere. If you feel that you haven't spent enough time here on this afternoon's sightseeing tour, you have the opportunity to come back tomorrow.

Day 13: Free time to relax on Unawatuna's quiet beaches
Today is free to relax on the beaches of Unawatuna, or explore more of nearby Galle. For those seeking pure relaxation, local Ayurvedic massages with natural, aromatic herbal oils are highly recommended. Alternatively, between the months of December and April, you might prefer to go on a whale watching trip in the hope of spotting humpback and blue whales.

Day 14: Early morning wetlands visit en route to Negombo
An early start this morning to fit in a few stops on our journey back north to Negombo - a total travel time of just a couple of hours. We plan to visit a beautiful wetland reserve where a boat trip provides us with the opportunity to spot kingfishers. A short detour to Colombo in the afternoon provides us with time to explore the capital, before returning to our hotel in Negombo for our final evening.

Day 15: Tour ends in Negombo
Our tour ends this morning after breakfast.

You will have the option to book your own flights independently with the operator.

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Touring with Explore

Explore have been creating award-winning adventures for over 35 years and are experts when it comes to unique travel experiences.

Their small group adventure holidays have been running since 1981 and today, Explore are one of the most trusted travel companies in the UK with over 600 trips to more than 130 countries. At Explore, they are passionate about travel and have developed a wide range of unique activities and experiences which gives their customers an unforgettable adventure with a team of award-winning Explore leaders .

With Explore, you'll get to see your destination from a whole new perspective that takes you away from the typical well-trodden tourist track. You'll have the chance to meet, dine and stay with local people, rest in authentic accommodation with other like-minded explorers and travel to must-see destinations with a unique Explore twist.

From family trips to holidays for solo travellers; cycling tours to wildlife safaris; trekking on mountains or exploring miles of scenic coastline; self-guided holidays or small group trips; there is something for every kind of traveller with Explore. They will provide their expert knowledge, exciting itineraries and outstanding service as part of their sustainable travel experiences which take you under the skin of the country you're visiting for the adventure of a lifetime.

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tour details

This tour is operated by Explore!

14 nights from pp exc.flights; per Night
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Group Size:4 - 18
Suitable For: Adult
Accommodation:Standard
Difficulty:Moderate
Meals:Breakfast: 14
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