Experience some of Asia’s dreamiest and most romantic beaches on this luxury honeymoon to Sri Lanka - a country of evocative ancient monuments and gorgeous…
Uga Escapes have created some of our all-time favourite boutique hotels in Sri Lanka and this two-week grand tour is devised around four of them. Each has a distinct style and feel of its own, reflecting the special ambiance of its location, be it the mangroves of the coast, the boulder-studded plains of the ‘Cultural Triangle’ or leafy fringes of the island’s colonial quarters.
In order to derive maximum benefit from these gorgeous Uga properties (and the other equally lovely hotels we include on the tour), the itinerary includes plenty of scope for rest and relaxation. Every stop features an outdoor pool and spa set amid peaceful tropical gardens, where you can re-charge your batteries between journeys.
All of Sri Lanka’s top sights are showcased in this trip, from Kandy’s magical Temple of the Tooth Relic to the wild leopards of Yala and magnificent archaeological sights in the interior. You’ll also enjoy a spell on heavenly Passikudah Beach, which boasts the most translucent, turquoise water and soft white sand on the island.
This special TransIndus itinerary, designed in partnership with Uga Escapes, also offers exceptional value for money, enabling you to experience the unique landscapes, monuments and wildlife of Sri Lanka in great style and comfort and at an affordable price.
Cultural Tours Wildlife Holidays Beaches and Islands
Fly overnight from the UK to Colombo.
On arrival at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, you’ll be welcomed by your chauffeur-guide and transferred to a luxury resort near Anuradhapura, in the Cultural Triangle region.
From the 4th century BC until 993 AD (when the island was conquered by invaders from India), Sri Lanka was ruled from a succession of visually imposing royal capitals, in a region inland now dubbed the ‘Cultural Triangle’. Consisting of spectacular fortified palaces, huge dagobas, giant, serene-faced Buddhas and massive water tanks, the ruins of these great urban centres are mostly scattered across a semi-arid plain dotted by dramatic outcrops of brown granite.
You’ll be exploring the area’s historic highlights over the coming days but to begin with, spend the remainder of your first day recovering from the journey in the relaxing confines of your exclusive pool villa at Ulagalla.
Visit the ruins of ancient Anuradhapura in the morning, which you can explore by bicycle or auto-rickshaw in the company of your guide. Then return for lunch at the hotel and an afternoon relaxing by the pool.
Anuradhapura, the vast capital that endured for nearly a millennium from around 377BC, retains great appeal for both tourists and Buddhist pilgrims. It’s the sheer scale of the dagobas which impresses most. The island is dotted with these typically bell-shaped and whitewashed memorial stupas but the most impressive are found here, among them the world’s largest, Abhayagiri, which attracts particularly large throngs of white-robed worshippers on full-moon (or ‘poya’) days.
The site is very spread out and too large to cover on foot in the heat. We generally advise a combination of bicycles (for more active clients) and nippy auto-rickshaws (tuk tuks) for reaching the more far flung monuments. Rest assured your guide will know the most interesting to combine in your half-day tour, which we’ve found is long enough to cover the highlights.
After lunch, relax by the pool or in the seclusion of your villa, which is set in lovely gardens filled with exotic birdlife and butterflies.
Visit the great rock fortress at Sigiriya in the morning, followed by another afternoon of lazing at your hotel.
An hour’s drive southeast from your resort, a huge column of rock rises abruptly from the plains like a vision from ‘Lord of the Rings’. It’s a striking sight and a place of great historic importance due to the presence on its flat-topped summit of a 5th-century fortress, dating from the reign of Kashyapa (477–495 AD). Landscaped gardens, royal apartments, ramparts and cisterns were added to the complex over the centuries.
The site is approached via the iconic ‘Lion Gate’, from where a flight of rock-cut steps leads steeply up to the summit. On the way you’ll pass a series of famous murals depicting voluptuous ‘Cloud Maidens’, thought to have been modelled on ladies of Kashyapa’s royal household. The effort is rewarded with marvellous views. For many visitors, this is understandably the country’s top cultural attraction.
Today you’ll travel to Sri Lanka’s east coast, pausing en route at Polonnaruwa for a tour of the Cultural Triangle’s most atmospheric ruined city. You’ll arrive at your destination, Passikudah, in good time for a sunset swim.
Set beside a shimmering artificial lake, Polonnaruwa encompasses the remains of once fabulous gardens, palaces, temples and monasteries, enclosed by triple-layered, concentric walls – an astonishing urban creation to which the famous ‘Tooth Relic’ was brought 800 years ago. More recently, the site formed the backdrop for Disney’s 2015 docu-drama, ‘Monkey Kingdom’, which followed the fortunes of a troupe of local macaques; you’ll see the stars of the movie in action during your tour.
The onward journey to Passikudah should take less than two hours, leaving you time to check in and freshen up before a welcome dip in the bay’s famously transparent water.
Spend today relaxing on Passikudah’s sublime beach of powder-soft sand and turquoise water.
Passikudah’s water is shallow and safe for bathing; the local reefs are also great for snorkelling and there are quality kayaks and sailboards for hire at your resort. For a change of scene, consider the walk around the headland to neighbouring Kalkudah, a traditional Sri Lankan fishing village. Sunset cruises by catamaran are an optional extra lots of our clients have also enjoyed here.
The halfway point of your trip is marked by a winding but fabulously scenic drive west across the highlands of Sri Lanka to the sacred city of Kandy, at the island’s centre. Having checked in and enjoyed lunch at your hotel, spend the remainder of the day relaxing by the large infinity pool in the garden, enveloped in tropical greenery and birdsong.
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 objects. The holy canine is enshrined in the illustrious Sacred Temple of the Tooth, or ‘Dalada Mahagana’ – a fabulously atmospheric place to visit. Three times each day, a special offering, or ‘Thevada’, takes place in the shrine, accompanied by the temple orchestra in traditional Kandyan dress.
The town’s pretty lake, attractive streetscapes and pleasant climate combine to make it a charming halt. Nearby excursions include Peradeniya, the city’s superb botanical gardens, the serene hilltop temple of Gadaladeniya and the fascinating Ceylon Tea Museum established in a former 1920s tea factory.
Discover the unique culinary traditions of the Sri Lankan highlands on half-day food tour of Kandy city in the morning. Later, join the pilgrims for a late-afternoon visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth – an unforgettable glimpse of the island’s spiritual nerve centre.
Kandy has a unique set of snacks, street foods and specialities which you’ll experience today in the company of a local expert. Begin with a tour of the fresh produce market, then work your way through a succession of little stalls and hole-in-the-wall cafés selling delights such as soursop fruit, crunchy cassava chips, and sesame candy or ash pumpkin. Then try a definitive highland hopper, washed down with tender coconut water – the perfect pickmeup.
Having freshened up back at your hotel, you’ll return to the city centre for a tour of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Join the streams of white-robed pilgrims who file through the its gates as they purchase frangipani and lotus blooms from the flower vendors, then continue through the incense-filled, lavishly decorated interior to the place where the famous relic is displayed – the focus of elaborate rituals.
Today you’ll head into Sri Lanka’s Tea Country, travelling to Nuwara Eliya by road and from there on to Nanu Oya Station, where you’ll board the famous hill train for one of the world’s most scenic train journeys, alighting three hours later at Demodara Station.
In many respects, Tea Country feels a world apart from the rest of the island. Less densely populated, greener, and with fresher air and crisper light, it enjoys a noticeably cooler climate (nights can be quite chilly at any time of year), while the region’s three main market towns – Nuwara Eliya, Hattan and Ella – have stronger echoes of the colonial era than any others.
As well as establishing the tea estates that dominate the landscape of the highlands, the British also built the railway line that snakes through it, of course. Today, the route has become one of the area’s obligatory visitor experiences thanks to the fabulous valley views it yields. Rather than covering the whole trip between Kandy and Ella at one go, you’ll just travel along the most dramatic stretch between Nanu Oya and Demodara. We’ll try to ensure you’re allocated seats on the left side of the first-class observation carriage for the best panoramas.
Stretch your legs and lungs with a lovely walk in tea country to see the ‘Demodara Loop’, followed by an afternoon relaxing by the pool. Later, visit a tea factory to learn how the region’s most fragrant brews are produced.
Demodara, near Ella, is best known for an extraordinary stretch of mountain railway that corkscrews downhill beneath itself by means of a tunnel, before emerging at the town’s little station. Local legend has it that the engineer responsible for this unique spiral design (necessary to preserve the maximum permitted incline) had the idea after seeing his Supervisor tying his turban one morning. Whatever the inspiration, the ‘Demodara Loop’ offers a memorable spectacle and the perfect target for a leisurely hill walk after breakfast.
In the afternoon, we recommend a visit to a local tea factory to see how Britain’s favourite brew is produced. Tours generally begin with a gentle stroll through the tea terraces, where you can try your hand at harvesting alongside the team of local pluckers.
After breakfast, rejoin your car and driver for the three-hour journey south to Yala National Park, where you’ll conduct a Jeep safari in the afternoon.
When it comes to spotting leopards, the woodlands and scrub of Yala National Park are unsurpassed. It is the country’s most popular reserve with varied landscapes encompassing forest, parkland, rocky outcrops, small lakes and lagoons. Despite the prolific birdlife and large herds of roaming elephants, the big cats are why most people come here. The park currently has around a population of 35 – among the highest densities anywhere in the world. Sightings, however, remain a matter of luck. A typical jeep safari with an obligatory tracker covers just one section of the park and the best sightings tend to be along the rougher, less-used tracks.
Enjoy a full day of game drives inside the park today.
Sri Lanka has a population of around 1,000 wild leopards in its national parks. They have no natural predators which is why they have evolved to become larger and more stocky than their African cousins.
Sri Lankan leopards are also solitary, nocturnal hunters, tending to seek shade in the midday heat: for this reason early morning and late afternoon are the best times to see them. Guides in the parks know their most frequented lairs and patterns of movement. Sightings are frequent and at Yala you’d be unlucky not to see one over two or three safaris.
Today you’ll drive west along the coast to Galle, Sri Lanka’s walled colonial-era town, pausing en route to visit a cinnamon plantation.
Learn how the Southern Province of Sri Lanka became producer of the world's most highly prized and aromatic cinnamon on a guided tour of a working estate – your first stop of the day after leaving Yala. Start at the peeling and oil extraction shed where you’ll learn about the uses and benefits of the spice as the peelers remove the inner bark and curl it into rolls (known as ‘quills’) for drying. Then proceed to the top of the plantation for tea tasting in a traditional pilgrims’ shelter, or ‘ambalama’.
A forty-minute drive from the plantation, Galle is a pretty, colonial-era city with a long history of trade. Its heyday was during the 18th century when the Dutch added curtain walls and a pair of solid gateways to the old Portuguese fort. These can still be enjoyed today and form a charismatic backdrop for ambles around the old streets, with their lovely colonial-era houses and mansions, many of which haven converted to accommodate trendy cafes, shops, guesthouses and boutique hotels.
Enjoy an early amble around Galle’s old quarter in the morning while the light is soft, perhaps shopping for souvenirs or sampling some of the lovely cafés secreted in the backstreets. Later, join your guide for a tour of the fort’s highlights.
In the course of this fascinating walking tour of Galle, your guide will pick out the oldest Portuguese chapels and Dutch merchants’ houses as you stroll through the picturesque, car-free streets, bringing them vividly to life with tales of sieges, shipwrecks and skirmishes between the European powers. You’ll see the iconic lighthouse, peer at the famous cricket ground from the ramparts and visit the pick of the museums.
Enjoy one final walk around Galle before driving north in the afternoon to Colombo, where you’ll have time to conduct a short tour of the historic Fort district in the evening.
Given the splendours of the Sri Lankan coast, it’s hardly surprising that a lot of visitors bypass Colombo completely. But the capital holds a great deal of interest and is well worth a detour.
A large, modern city with roots as a medieval port, it was founded by the Dutch in the 1600s and later expanded by the British. Remnants of the old colonial core are dotted around the banking enclave known as ‘Fort’ – a curious blend of modern office blocks and 19th-century buildings occupied by hotels and old-fashioned stores.
Fort forms the focus of our popular walking tour led by a knowledgeable local resident, who will show you the district’s Dutch Mansions and iconic Cargills Building – an evocative vestige of British Ceylon.
Spend the final day of your trip hunting for souvenirs or exploring the city in greater depth, if desired. A good place to savour the sunset is Galle Face Green, where locals gather to stroll, gossip and snack in the evenings after work.
A great district for aimless wandering is Pettah – a predominantly Tamil market district where hawkers and traders ply their wares in a grid of jam-packed streets. Its fresh produce section displays the full gamut of the island’s tropical fruits, such as wood apple and jackfruit.
Later, consider a stroll along Galle Face Green, a promenade lashed by churning waves that’s a perfect spot for a blustery stroll in the late afternoon. The hot snacks served here are legendary: try the more-ish ‘isso vadai’ (spicy lentil cakes stuffed with prawns), or a plate of cuttlefish curry at Nana’s.
For a more substantial seafood supper, we recommend a table at the award-winning ‘Ministry of Crab’ restaurant, over in the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct, where an enclave of handsomely converted 17th-century buildings, complete with teak beams and colonnaded courtyards, house trendy boutiques, bars and cafés. Advance booking is essential; let us know if you’d like to eat there so we can make a reservation on your behalf.
Your driver will report to your hotel after breakfast to transfer you to Colombo airport in good time to check in for your flight back to the UK.
✓ International flights from London
✓ 14 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Full board in Ella and Yala
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Anuradhapura, the vast capital that endured for nearly a millennium from around 377BC and today it remains a sacred city as Buddhism’s initial home on the island. The famous ‘Tooth…
The quiet, flat, frangipani-lined lanes winding around Anuradhapura lend themselves well to exploration by bicycle. On this varied tour you’ll be guided by a local expert around th…
In the very heart of Sri Lanka, a massive flat-topped, sheer-sided rock rises abruptly from the plains. It is a striking sight made all teh more remarkable with an unusual Fortress…
Half-way up Sigiriya rock you arrive at a recess of polished walls on which a sequence of extraordinary frescoes were painted 1,500 years ago. Collectively regarded as one of the i…
Passikudah, on the east coast, forms a breathtaking arc of pristine golden sand and warm, turquoise water. It’s a half day’s drive from Colombo airport, but the transfer is well wo…
Sri Lanka’s holiest shrine holds the most famous surviving relic of the Buddha, whose location for centuries was believed to determine the seat of the country’s power. Join the str…
The British-built railway line snaking through Sri Lanka’s Tea Country ranks among the most scenic in the world, affording superb views of the interior valleys and mountains. Rathe…
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 popul…
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 Sout…
Discover how cinnamon, the ‘King of Spices’, is grown, harvested and turned into those aromatic little sticks we love to use to flavour mulled wine at Christmas. Villa Mayurana, a…
Colombo’s Fort district forms the focus of our popular walking tour led by local resident, Mark Forbes. Mark will guide you through the busy streets, alleyways, shops and churches…
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