Highlights

  1. Seeing Pinnawala’s elephants take their river bath
  2. Taking an especially spectacular train journey to Ella
  3. Spotting wild elephants at Yala National Park
  4. Watching baby elephants being fed at Udawalawe
  5. Spotting blue whales off the coast of Mirissa

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo

Welcome to the wild Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, where the bustling markets of Pettah are juxtaposed by the Fort’s grand colonial architecture. On arrival, the rest of the day is spent at leisure – perhaps exploring the Old Dutch Hospital or roaming along Galle Face Green. Overnight at Paradise Road Tintagel.

Day 2: Colombo to Dambulla

Travel north-east to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, walking with the pachyderms to the Maha Oya River to witness their daily wash. After tucking into a traditional Sri Lankan lunch, proceed further north to Dambulla. Overnight at Amaya Lake.

Day 3: Dambulla

Discover the ancient capital of Anuradhapura on a day trip. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982, this sacred Buddhist city – which was abandoned in 993 after 1,300 years – is littered with ancient monuments, monasteries and palaces. Overnight at Amaya Lake.

Day 4: Dambulla

The next day trip begins by climbing the iconic 180-metre-high Sigiriya rock fortress – almost certainly Sri Lanka’s most breath-taking sight. After proceeding to Polonnaruwa – the city that replaced Anuradhapura as capital – the day finishes with a visit to local Buddhist temple. Overnight at Amaya Lake.

Day 5: Dambulla to Kandy

Head south to Kandy, exploring Dambulla’s ancient cave complex along the way. After admiring the exquisite Sinhalese Buddhist frescoes, a final stop is made to see the brass work, carpentry and embroidery on show at Matale Heritage Centre. Overnight at The Kandy House.

Day 6: Kandy

Welcome to Kandy – not just Sri Lanka’s second city, but its cultural capital. After exploring Peradeniya Botanic Gardens – which, at 60 hectares, are the largest of their kind in the country – you’ll discover Kandy’s star attraction: the famous Temple of the Tooth Relic. Overnight at The Kandy House.

Day 7: Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

Be transferred south to the highlands – specifically to the hill station of Nuwara Eliya, also known as ‘Little England’. En route, visit one of Sri Lanka’s iconic tea plantations to learn about the tea production process – which, naturally, involves plenty of tasting. Overnight at Anilana Craigbank.

Day 8: Nuwara Eliya

A full day at leisure to explore the delights of Nuwara Eliya at your own pace – perhaps by visiting the golf course, the Victorian Post Office or its famous racecourse. In the evening, meanwhile, you can try your hand at a game of billiards at one of the colonial-style clubs. Overnight at Anilana Craigbank.

Day 9: Nuwara Eliya to Yala

Transfer to Nanu Oya railway station after a leisurely breakfast for the train ride to Ella – arguably one of the world’s most picturesque rail journeys. After a brief visit to the awe-inspiring Ella Gap, travel to your hotel on both the edge of Yala National Park and the ocean. Overnight at Jetwing Yala.

Day 10: Yala

Embark on an early-morning safari at Yala National Park, watching out for wild elephants, leopards and sloth bears – not to mention birds like painted storks, flamingos and brown-capped babblers. The rest of the day is spent at leisure, with the option of a second safari in the afternoon. Overnight at Jetwing Yala.

Day 11: Yala to Udawalawe

Make the relatively short journey to Udawalawe National Park – where, owing to a lesser number of trees, it’s easier to see elephants than anywhere else in Sri Lanka. A highlight of the day is the Born Free Elephant Transit Home, where it’s possible to see baby elephants being bottle fed. Overnight at Grand Udawalawe Safari.

Day 12: Udawalawe to Galle

Having embarked on an afternoon safari yesterday, it’s time to leave the wilds behind for Sri Lanka’s south coast. Today’s destination is the ancient fortified city of Galle, whose old Dutch quarter is arguably the country’s prettiest urban setting. This afternoon is spent at leisure. Overnight at Galle Fort Hotel.

Day 13: Galle

It’s an early start for the journey to Mirissa harbour – from where this morning’s thrilling whalewatching excursion begins. Heading south into the deep Indian Ocean waters, there’ll be the opportunity to see blue whales, dolphins and manta rays. Overnight at Galle Fort Hotel.

Day 14: Galle to Colombo

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before journeying up Sri Lanka’s beautiful south-west coast back to Colombo. Embark on a tour of the city in the afternoon, taking in the National Museum of Colombo and a clutch of Buddhist and Hindu temples. The rest of the day is spent at leisure. Overnight at Paradise Road Tintagel.

Day 15: Colombo

Proceed to the airport for your return flight home.

Activities to consider

  • A 3-night beach extension in Bentota, Koggala, Habaraduwa, Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Negombo,
  • Tangalla, Talpe or Unawatuna
  • Dinner with a Sri Lankan historian at Colombo’s Gallery Café
  • Game drive through Minneriya National Park
  • Village cycle tour near Dambulla
  • Private viewing of the tooth relic in Kandy
  • Taking tea with a prominent Sri Lankan artist
  • Meeting the children of The Paynter Home
  • Visiting the Foundation of Goodness, which has helped rebuild the tsunami-ravaged village of
  • Seenigama
  • Exploring the Handunugoda Tea Estate, home of the famous Virgin White Tea
  • Learning about turtle conservation at the Kosgoda Hatchery
  • Discovering Mulkirigala’s seven rock temples
  • Roaming the Portuguese-built Matara Fort
  • Visiting a lace workshop
  • Seeing the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Art Museum

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