Places Visited: Colombo, Habarana, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Yala National Park, Waskaduwa, Colombo
Experience the very best Sri Lanka has to offer on this luxury group tour combining the principal sights of the Cultural Triangle with a handful of less well known locations amid the tea plantations of the interior. It includes stays in Kandy and the famous Yala National Park, with a relaxing two-night beach break on the southwest coast at the end. Whether this is your first trip or you’re an old hand, we’re confident you’ll find plenty of inspiration in our varied, carefully devised trip around South Asia’s Emerald Isle.
Cultural Holidays Wildlife Holidays Beach Holidays
- Group Size 4-16 people
- Internal Travel Arrival & departure transfers, internal travel by road
- Accompanying Guide English-speaking guides and naturalists (accompanying guide throughout for groups of 8 or above)
- Accommodation 12 night
- Meal Plan Breakfast daily, lunch on days 3, 4, 6, 8 & 11, dinner on day 1
Itinerary for Emerald Isle - Sri Lanka
On arrival at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, you will be met by the TransIndus team and escorted to the Galle Face Hotel or similar. In the afternoon enjoy an orientation tour of the capital, followed by a welcome dinner in the evening.
Despite a lack of formal sights, the city is a satisfying place to bookend an itinerary. The banking enclave known as ‘Fort’ ‒ the original Dutch and Portuguese hub ‒ is a curious blend of modern offices and 19th century streets occupied by hotels and stores. Alongside it, Pettah is a busy market area dotted with churches and mosques. There’s more refined shopping ‒ and this is a great way to conclude a holiday ‒ at the dainty boutiques and upmarket shops of Kollupitiya and Bambalapitiy.
After breakfast, board our tour coach for the four-hour drive inland to Habarana, in the Cultural Triangle region, where the group will be spending three nights at The Village by Cinnamon or similar. Enjoy a guided village walk in the afternoon.
Scattered at a nexus of major roads in the middle of Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone, Habarana is perfectly placed for exploration’s of the UNESCO-listed monuments of the Golden Triangle. This area formed the heartland of the powerful Sinhalese kingdoms who ruled the island for most of its history, and who left in their wake some of Asia’s most remarkable monuments, the most impressive of which you’ll be visiting over the coming days.
After breakfast, enjoy a guided tour of the ancient Sinhalese capital of Anuradhapura, a forty-minute drive away from the hotel. Today it remains an important site for all Buddhist pilgrims.
The greatest and most resilient of all Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals, Anuradhapura, was founded in 377 BC and thrived until its destruction by Indian invaders in 993AD. Today, its monuments attract tourists and Buddhist pilgrims from across the globe. The largest surviving structure is the giant Jethawanarama dagoba, which was at the time of its construction in the late 3rd century AD almost as tall as the two great pyramids at Giza!
The most revered monument on the site, however, is of more modest proportions: enclosed within tiers of gold railings, the Sri Maha Bodi, or Sacred Bodhi Tree, is believed to have been grown from a cutting taken from the one under which the historical Buddha achieved enlightenment.
In the morning, we visit the UNESCO-listed site of Sigiriya, a 45-minute drive from the hotel. Accessed by a steep 600 feet hike up to the ancient natural rock fortress that dominates the surrounding landscape. After lunch, head to Polonnaruwa the most compelling of the ancient capitals. From the 11th to 13th centuries, a succession of ancient kings developed an immense city here.
The ruins of Sigiriya rest on the top of a spectacular rock outcrop whose distinctive profile dominates the landscape of the Cultural Triangle. A series of steep staircases and catwalks climb to the summit of the great inselberg. Along the way you’ll pass wall paintings of curvaceous apsaras, or ‘heavenly nymphs’, believed to have been modelled on the real-life queens and princesses who once lived in the palace above. Marvellous views across the countryside of the Cultural Triangle are your reward for the haul to the top.
Ranged around a huge artificial lake, Polonnaruwa, an hour’s drive away from Habarana, is the most impressive and compact of the island’s ancient sites. Its vestiges – comprising finely sculpted statues, frescoes, colossal Buddha images and immense stupas – vividly convey the wealth and sophistication of medieval Sri Lanka at its zenith.
Promptly after breakfast, the group will depart for Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second city in the Central Highlands, stopping to see the beautiful Dambulla Caves en route. In Kandy stay at the Swiss Residence or similar for two nights.
Sri Lanka’s largest and best-preserved cave-temple complex, Dambulla is located on a huge granite outcrop in the Dry Zone, with views extending over the tropical canopy to distant Sigiriya and beyond. Adorning the interiors of the caves is an astonishing horde of 2,000-year-old murals and statues – unique in scale and degree of preservation. The mysterious, sculpted faces of the deities and swirling reds and golds of the murals create an enchanting atmosphere.
The Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya will be the first stop on today’s tour. Later, we’ll visit the Temple of the Tooth Relic before attending a music and dance performance at the neighbouring Kandyan Cultural Centre.
Originally established as a royal retreat in the 14th century, Kandy’s botanical gardens are famed for the world-class collection of orchids, palms and, the real showstopper, a giant Javan fig tree. After lunch we’ll continue to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, the island’s most revered Buddhist shrine. Pilgrims dressed in flowing white robes file through the complex throughout the day, carrying lotus blooms and frangipani flowers to present at the shrine. The resident monks will demonstrate the traditional Thevada ritual for the group, accompanied by temple musicians.
A long but scenic drive takes us in the morning from Kandy to the undulating tea country of Nuwara Eliya, where we’ll spend a couple of nights at the Blackpool Hotel or similar. The afternoon will be at leisure to enjoy the hotel grounds and pool.
Nuwara Eliya, the country’s principal hill station, presides over an area of verdant valleys contoured by the mosaic-like swirls of tea plantations. The legacy of British times endures here in numerous ways. Horse racing, flower shows and hotels with names like The Grand, Windsor and St Andrew’s are still going strong. Nuwara Eliya is the sort of place you almost feel obliged to take lashings of marmalade at breakfast, cake at tea time and hearty puddings smothered in custard.
Enjoy an early excursion to the Horton Plains, site of the famous World’s End viewpoint, followed by a tour of Nuwara Eliya’s sights in the afternoon.
The Horton Plains National Park encompasses the island’s highest and most isolated plateau – an area rich in biodiversity, particularly birds. The main reason to come here, however, is to walk to ‘World’s End’ – a spectacular, vertigo-inducing, 900-metre drop with far-reaching views across the southern hills. On clear days you can see as far as Adam’s Peak, sacred to Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims.
Yala National Park
The tour continues with another half-day journey, this time to Sri Lanka’s deep south, to visit the island’s premier wildlife reserve, Yala National Park. You’ll be staying at the EKHO Safari Hotel or similar, 20 minutes from the park gates.
When it comes to spotting Sri Lanka’s leopards, the dry woodlands and scrub of Yala National Park are unsurpassed. It’s the country’s oldest and most popular reserve, with varied landscapes ranging from forest, parkland, rocky outcrops, small lakes and lagoons to coastal dunes. Despite the prolific birdlife, herds of roaming elephants and chances of spotting the elusive sloth bear, most visitors come here to see the leopards. There are an estimated 35 of them – among the highest population densities anywhere in the world – and you’ll stand a much better chance of a sighting if you stick around all day. Crocodiles and elephant are also plentiful.
Enjoy morning and evening game drives in the park. Between safaris, relax in the pool and grounds of your hotel, located beside a lake that is home to the leopard and herds of wild elephants as well as a variety of birdlife.
Today drive along the coastal highway to the World Heritage city of Galle. Enjoy lunch before a tour of the town’s main sights, including the Dutch Museum, Groote Kerk (Great Church) and the National Maritime Museum. Later, drive onward 90-minute to Waskaduwa Beach, where you’ll be spending the last two days of your trip. Stay at the Citrus Waskaduwa or similar for two nights.
Jutting like a small peninsular into the Indian Ocean from Sri Lanka’s southwestern tip, Galle is a gorgeous, colonial-era town acclaimed as the finest of its kind in Asia. The 18th century Dutch walls, bastions, ramparts and gateways form a postcard-pretty backdrop for ambles around the narrow lanes of old quarter, lined with colonial-style houses and mansions. A charming jumble of cafés and shops offer plenty to explore.
Spend the day enjoying Waskaduwa’s magnificent golden sand beach.
Time to bid farewell to Sri Lanka as you transfer to the airport for your flight home.
Group Tour 13 days from £1675 per person
✓ 12 nights accommodation
✓ Arrival & departure transfers, internal travel by road
✓ English-speaking guides and naturalists (accompanying guide throughout for groups of 8 or above)
✓ Breakfast daily, lunch on days 3, 4, 6, 8 & 11, dinner on day 1
✓ Entrance fees and game drives listed in tour itinerary
Holiday Extensions for this tour
Emerald Isle - Waskaduwa Beach Break
4 days, 3 nights from £325 per person
Single supplement £ 295 per personview itinerary
Stay an additional three nights at Citrus Waskaduwa.
Day at leisure.
An early start to Bandaranaike international Airport for your onward flight.
Emerald Isle - Sinharaja Rainforest
3 days, 2 nights from £495 per person
Single supplement £ 115 per personview itinerary
Drive to Deniyaya, a large reserve of virgin rainforest inside Sinharaja national park. Check-in to the Rainforest Edge eco retreat for a two night stay.
Day at leisure.
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
Places and Experiences in this tour
Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital and international gateway, is a large, modern metropolis with roots as a medieval port. Its streets were laid out by the Dutch in the 1600s and expand...
Anuradhapura, the vast Sinhalese capital that endured for nearly a millennium from around 377 BC, remains a sacred city simply because it was Buddhism’s initial home on the island...
Standing alongside the shimmering expanse of a vast artificial lake, Polonnaruwa is the most compelling of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals. From the 11th to 13th centuries, a success...
In the very heart of Sri Lanka, a massive flat-topped, sheer-sided rock rises abruptly from the plains. It is a striking sight and a remarkable one due to the presence on its summ...
Vaguely similar in feel and, like Sigiriya, a World Heritage Site, the temple complex at Dambulla has drawn Buddhist pilgrims since the 3rd century BC. Such astonishing longevity ...
The prominence of Kandy, Sri Lanka’s highland capital and second largest city, rests on its role as repository of the famous ‘Tooth Relic’ of the Buddha, one of Asia’s most sacred...
Nuwara Eliya, the country’s principal hill station, lies at the heart of an extensive and commercially important tea-growing region – an area of verdant valleys and slopes contour...
Yala National Park
When it comes to spotting Sri Lanka’s leopards, the dry woodlands and scrub of 377-sq-mile (978-sq-km) Yala National Park are unsurpassed. It is the country’s oldest and most popu...
Jutting like a small peninsula into the Indian Ocean from Sri Lanka’s southwestern tip, Galle is a gorgeous, colonial-era fortified city acclaimed as the finest of its kind in Sou...
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