10 days from £1425 per person
Places Visited: Colombo, Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Habarana (Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Minneriya N.P), Chilaw
Experience the wonders of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle on this varied ten-day tour, specially devised to coincide with the spectacular Esala Perahera festival. Offering superb value for money, with a dedicated air-con car, your own driver-guide and high-quality accommodation throughout, it takes in the cream of the island’s historic monuments, tea plantations and scenery.
As the full moon phase of Esala approaches, preparations gather pace in the Sri Lankan hill town of Kandy ahead of ‘Esala Perahera’ – the most exuberant festival in the South Asian religious calendar. A riotous homage to the island’s revered ‘Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha’, the event centres on a series of spectacular processions featuring lavishly decorated elephants, dancers, musicians, drummers, fire juggling monks, whip crackers and stilt walkers, all decked out in traditional Kandyan costume. Cascades of fairy lights adorn the trees and temples lining the route of the parades, which take place after dark to create fabulously exotic spectacle.
Our tour coincides with the peak of the festivities. You’ll get to experience at least two processions, staying at a splendid heritage boutique property, the Hotel Suisse, a 17th-century colonial mansion set in its own grounds within walking distance of Kandy’s main temple. And because no journey to Sri Lanka is complete without seeing the island’s famous historic sites, the trip also includes visits to the archaeological treasures of the so-called ‘Cultural Triangle’. Marvel at the expansive views over the palm canopy from the hilltop ruins of Sigiriya, experience the mystical atmosphere of the Dambulla cave monasteries, and wonder of the giant Buddhas and whitewashed stupas of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, where the ‘Tooth Relic’ was originally enshrined.
Other highlights of this attraction-packed itinerary include visits to spice and tea plantations, and to a wildlife reserve where you’ll see wild elephants. A day on a powder soft, golden-sand beach rounds off your holiday on a relaxing high.
The tour begins in Sri Lanka’s dynamic capital, Colombo . You’ll be met on arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport and transferred to a cool, first-floor room at Lake Lodge (40mins travel time), a stylish modern boutique property in the financial and diplomatic district of Colpetty. Having spent the hot part of the day relaxing by the pool, enjoy an early evening tour of the historic ‘Fort’ area (the original Dutch and Portuguese hub), and Pettah, an atmospheric market area dotted with churches and mosques.
After breakfast at Lake Lodge, you’ll begin a scenic 5-hour drive up to Nuwara Eliya , the country’s principal hill station. At the heart of an important tea-growing region, the town is surrounded by lush valleys contoured by swirling plantations. The legacy of British times endures here in numerous ways, most noticeably in the colonial architecture. A prime example is the venerable Blackpool Hotel, where you’ll be spending the night. The views from the hotel’s airy terraces extend across tea gardens to Mount Pedro, Sri Lanka’s highest mountain.
Your third day begins with a visit to a tea factory and plantation, followed by one of the undisputed highlights of any trip to the Sri Lankan Highlands – a ride on the famous hill railway, which winds through misty tea groves towards the island’s heart. The rattling four-hour ride takes you from Nanu Oya to Peradeniya, from where you’ll be transferred to Kandy and Hotel Suisse in time for supper and your first Esala Perahera procession!
Spend the morning exploring the town’s Botanical Gardens, whose world-class collection, spread around acres of lawns, includes 300 species of orchids and tropical trees planted in British times. Afterwards, you’ll have time to visit the Sacred Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka’s most venerated Buddhist shrine, and shop for silver, brassware and gem-studded jewellery at local crafts workshops. Your prime seats for the evening Perahera procession will be reserved in advance.
Check out of the Hotel Suisse in the morning and proceed by car to the spice gardens in Matale (1hr’s drive time), where you’ll see how cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, mace and pepper are grown, along with chocolate and vanilla. After lunch at Matale, you’ll then proceed to the UNESCO-listed site of Dambulla , Sri Lanka’s largest and best-preserved cave-temple complex. Located on a huge granite inselberg, it’s a beautifully atmospheric, tranquil spot. From Dambulla, you’ll travel on a short way to the Habarana Village resort, where you’ll be assigned your own spacious, high-ceilinged chalet – your base for three nights. This delightful resort boasts two semi-open-air restaurants that make extensive use of traditional Sri Lankan stone and terracotta, and generous pool with sun terrace.
An easy 40-minute drive away from the hotel, Sigiriya (Lion Rock) is the island’s pre-eminent cultural attraction. You’ll know why at first sight. Rising sheer from the surrounding plains, the dramatic pillar of rock is crowned by a 1,600-year-old fortress-palace. Exhilarating flights of steps wriggle up to the cliff to it, passing Sigirya’s celebrated frescoes of celestial nymphs, or ‘cloud maidens’, thought to represent queens and royal courtesans. An even larger complex of ancient palaces and temples takes up the afternoon as you tour the ruins of ancient Polonnaruwa , Sri Lanka’s second historic capital, where the Tooth Relic now enshrined in Kandy originally resided. The ethereal statues, finely sculpted architectural detail, vibrant murals, colossal Buddha images and immense stupas lend to the site a magical atmosphere.
Minneriya National Park
The seventh day of your trip takes wildlife as its principal focus, with a visit to the Minneriya National Park . Famous for hosting large gatherings of elephant, the park is also a birding hot spot and home to the island’s two endemic species of monkey.
Time to head west and hit the beach at Chilaw, an hour and a half’s drive north of the capital, where the Anantaya Resort and Spa will serve as your tranquil seaside haven for two nights. With a sprawling expanse of sandy beach to its fore and a lagoon to the rear, this five-star complex is beautifully situated and equipped with international-grade amenities, including a huge open-air pool, should you tire of the surf on your doorstep.
A full day to unwind and contemplate the wonders you’ve experienced over the previous week brings your tour to an end. No transport is provided today, leaving you free to enjoy the sea breezes and glorious situation of Anantaya at your own pace.
Time to bid farewell to the isle of Serendip. A 90-minute transfer south down the coastal highway will take you back to Colombo’s airport in good time to catch your flight back to the UK.
10 days from £1425 per person
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 Dutch colonialists in the 1600s a...
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...
The prominence of Kandy, Sri Lanka’s highland capital and second largest city, rests on its role as repository for the famous ‘Tooth Relic’ of the Buddha, one of Asia’s most sacre...
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 ...
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...
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...
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