Airport – Colombo
Upon arriving at the Katunayake International Airport (flights arrive early in the morning), you will be received by our Chauffeur Guide with a warm welcome and travel kit and be transferred to Colombo (40 minutes' drive) for the night.
The commercial capital of Sri Lanka and the true hub of all activity in the island, Colombo is a buzzing hotpot of cosmopolitan life. In this throbbing city, a heady mix of cultures thrives. Here, contrasting landmarks – ancient sites, colonial masterpieces and ultra-modern skyscrapers sit side by side. Quaint old shops and wayside stalls lie under the shadows of glittering stores and sprawling shopping malls. Similarly, lifestyles and traditions old and new continue, making Colombo a unique and exciting city.
Its history dates far back: the port of Colombo was influential as early as the 5th century when ships from Rome, Arabia, and China traded with Sinhalese kings for food supplies, spices and jewels. The subsequent colonial powers also left their individual legacies – and the Portuguese, Dutch and English influence remains very much to date. Many of the grand colonial buildings are lovingly restored – as beautiful arcades or grand hotels, and many old period style homes as cafes, shops and guest houses.
The colourful fabric of today’s society comprise Sinhalese, Moors, Tamils, Burghers (Portuguese, Dutch and British descendants), Chinese, and Malay populations. Several historical sites including ancient Buddhist temples, Hindu Kovils, churches, and mosques are found in the heart of the city as well. The attractions of Colombo are countless with many museums, art galleries, golf courses, gyms, spas and salons, bars, restaurants, night clubs, cafes and coffee shops to keep you busy.
After a relaxed breakfast, you can head out on a City Tour and discover this coastal city of Colombo with great restaurants, shopping, architecture and lots more. It is also the commercial capital and hippest city in the island.
Colombo – Sigiriya
After an early breakfast, head towards the north central province of the island to reach the town of Sigiriya (4 – 4 ½ Hrs drive) which is in the cultural triangle and famous for its 600-foot UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress from where kings once ruled. At the summit, there is a 360-degree view of its surrounding area as far as the eye can see.
The town is also in close proximity to several other wildlife national parks, home to several species of wild elephants and other animals. You might be fortunate enough to see the calves and the adults crossing the main roads from one jungle to another early in the morning or towards dusk as they are most active during these times as they move around in search of food.
In the months of August and September, you can witness a spectacular sight, which is better known as the Elephant Gathering, where over 300 wild elephants congregate in the Minneriya National Park in search of water during the drought. This is the biggest of its kind in Asia.
You also have the option of visiting ancient ruins in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa on a one-day excursion (each), which were ancient kingdoms where kings ruled the island.
If you are the adventurous type, you can take a ride on the back of an elephant and experience how kings travelled during the ancient times or do a village tour in a traditional catamaran along with a ride in a bullock cart through the village.
The ultimate icon of Sri Lanka’s historic past, the giant rock fortress of Sigiriya rises high above the flat landscape, surrounded by jungle on all sides. A testimony to the inventiveness of the ancient civilizations of the land, the once impenetrable stronghold of King Kassapa, Sihagiri or Lion’s Rock as it was called then, is considered to be the 8th Wonder of the World today.
The feats of artistry, architecture and engineering at Sigiriya continue to impress visitors with their utter magnificence, even thousands of years on. Intricately landscaped pleasure gardens sprawl out below the rock, giant lion paws hewn in stone mark the entrance to the fortress at its foot, a highly polished mirror wall still carries the scrawled writings of ancient poets.
A somewhat treacherous climb up the rock is well worth it to see the impressive ruins of a once glorious city at the summit – 370m high. And the 360-degree view from the top is equally astounding.
Even more amazing are the exquisite frescoes painted onto the sheer rock face – their beauty still unmarred despite the trials of time and attempts at destruction.
The village and its surrounding areas also offer plenty of historical and natural highlights for those willing to explore.
After breakfast, you can relax in your hotel or go on an excursion to Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or the Minneriya National Park.
ANURADHAPURA (1 ½ Hrs drive)
The ancient capital of Anuradhapura reigned supreme for over a millennium as one of the greatest monastic cities of the ancient world, famed for Buddhist culture and architectural achievements across Asia and Europe.
Ruled by 113 successive kings and four queens, Anuradhapura was a majestic sprawl of magnificent palaces, ornate pleasure gardens, exquisite sculptures and vast Buddhist temples. The three main ‘dagabas’ are amongst the biggest architectural creations of the ancient world smaller in size only to the pyramids at Giza. The ancient rulers also created impressive feats of engineering, building great reservoirs to preserve the monsoon rains and irrigation systems to produce great harvests of paddy.
Anuradhapura was founded in 377 BC by the third king of the Vijaya dynasty, Pandukabhaya, and was much fought over. Abandoned in 1073 when the capital was transferred to Polonnaruwa, it was reclaimed by the jungle and rediscovered by British explorers in the 19th Century.
Today, the surviving ruins are still spectacular even after thousands of years, and the sacred city of Anuradhapura remains on the must-visit list of locals and tourists alike.
POLONNARUWA (1 Hr 15 Minutes' drive)
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa, 216km northeast of Colombo, is a cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. One of the most significant kingdoms in Sri Lankan history, this medieval capital (c. 11th - 12th Century AD) remains a well-preserved city of ancient stupas, moonstones, beautiful parks, massive buildings and imposing statues. The ruins of this ancient city stay scattered over an extensive area of woodland and can be explored within a day. The city was enclosed by three concentric walls protecting the royal palace complex at its centre, the religious buildings - called Quadrangle, lie to the north and are very well preserved to this day.
The largest monuments are found here, including the buildings of the Menik Vihara, Rankot Vihara, Alahana Pirivena and Jetavana monasteries, the incredible Buddha statues of the Gal Vihara, the soaring Lankatilaka shrine, the majestic King's Council Chamber, the Lotus Bath are must see sights. And of course, the giant statue of Polonnaruwa's greatest king – Parakramabahu, and the vast Sea of Parakrama – a 12th-century, man-made reservoir that dominates the city – are not to be missed either.
MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK (1/2 Hr drive)
Minneriya National Park is located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, which is one of the richest areas for culture and archaeology. The ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sigiriya are all within half a day’s journey of the park, and the town of Habarana is also not too far off.
The Minneriya National Park encompasses the ancient Minneriya Tank which was built in the 3rd Century AD by King Mahasen. Today, the ancient reservoir fills during the North Eastern monsoon, but gradually shrinks as the dry season approaches. During this time, herds of majestic Asian Elephants, sometimes over 300, converge onto the receding shores of the Minneriya tank to forage on the surrounding greenery. This unique phenomenon is the highest concentration of wild Asian Elephants on Earth and has come to be known as The Gathering. This event peaks during the months of August and September, which is the height of the drought and is an opportunity not to be missed by wildlife enthusiasts and travellers alike. Visitors can also look forward to sightings of other mammals like Sambar and Sri Lanka’s two endemic species of monkey, the Purple-faced leaf monkey and Toque Macaque. Although rare, there have been sightings of the Sri Lankan Leopard and Sloth Bear as well as the Gray Slender Loris.
The Minneriya National Park is also an ideal location for bird watchers as it attracts many endemic and migrant species. Large flocks of birds are a common sight, especially water birds such as Cormorants, Pelicans, Painted Stork and Lesser Adjutant Stork. Jeeps can be hired from the surrounding area, or jeep safaris organized by nearby hotels.
Sigirya – Hatton
After a relaxed breakfast, you will take scenic drive through lush greenery, narrow roads, busy little towns, villages, waterfalls, creeks up the mountains to the cool climates in Hatton (4 ½ Hrs drive), which is better known as Tea Country in the island. Here, you can witness the manufacturing process of some of the finest tea in the world, from the fields to the cup.
Upon arriving at Ceylon Tea Trails, your luxurious accommodation amidst breathtaking scenery, peace and tranquility, you will be treated like royalty on an all-inclusive basis. Enjoy the ambiance and the full service offered, which is second-to-none on the island.
At the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country, Hatton was a busy hill station during the colonial era and continues to be so. Apart from the tea plantations, the town is best known as a getaway to Adam’s Peak and the Sinharaja rain forest reserve. At over 4,000 feet above sea level, the climate is cool and the landscape is quiet and peaceful with waves of tea-covered mountains sloping down into tranquil lakes.
The town itself is bustling with commercial life, and the train station especially is a hub of activity. Many of the old tea plantation bungalows serve as hotels and guest houses offering a total tea experience – taking you back in time to another era, as well as giving good insight to the process of tea, from leaf to cup. Many relics of Hatton’s colonial past remain and are well worth visiting, especially if you are a history buff.
After a leisurely breakfast, you can relax and visit a Tea Factory to learn all about tea and its production process in this beautiful setting, or head out on a 3/4 day excursion to the misty grassland plateau of Horton Plains National Park (2 Hrs drive), which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can trek through the grassland and shrub jungle and reach the World's End – a mountain cliff with a sheer drop of almost 3,000 feet to the bottom. From here, another popular attraction is a beautiful waterfall known as the Baker’s Falls – 2.5kms en route to the starting point. The day's 9.5kms (3hr) trek is a leisurely one.
HORTON PLAINS (2 Hrs drive)
A truly unique natural wonder, Horton Plains National Park is a protected reserve of montane grassland and cloud forest in the central highlands at an altitude of 2,100–2,300 metres (6,900–7,500 feet), located around 28km from Nuwara Eliya in the central hills.
The highest plateau in Sri Lanka, it ends dramatically with a sheer drop of 870m (2,854 feet) called World’s End, which offers most spectacular views on a clear day.
The reserve is a biodiversity hotspot with many endemics; myriad bird species, herds of Sambur deer, bear monkeys and the elusive leopard. While the plains can be explored by jeep, it should ideally be seen on foot – and best visited early morning as the mist tends to fall by lunchtime.
Sri Lanka’s second and third highest peaks, Kirigalpotha (2,395m) and Thotupola Kanda (2,357m) are found here and three major rivers of Sri Lanka – Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe also begin their journey here. Cascading waterfalls, especially Baker’s Falls, is a must-see.
After breakfast, relax in the hotel by the beach or go out and discover the town area. In the evening, a private romantic dinner will be arranged in a beautiful setting in the garden with the sea as your backdrop.
GALLE (40 minutes' drive)
The new hub of cool and creative activity in Sri Lanka, the Southern capital of Galle is enjoying a great comeback. Galle and its outskirts have now become a favoured hotspot for travellers looking for an all-round holiday. The main attraction of Galle is the 17 Century Dutch Fort, a UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site.
Historically, Galle was a location of paramount importance due to its strategic location on the south coast and its natural harbour. The centre of ancient trade in gems, pearls, spices and more, Galle was the port of call for many seekers of tropical treasure.
In 1505, the Portuguese fleet of Lorenzo de Almeida steered off course and landed there by accident – the rest is indeed history, as this marked the end of an era for the nation. The Portuguese were ousted by the Dutch in 1640 and the Dutch were in turn ejected by the British in 1796. Each, however, left their own legacies in the culture and landscape of the town, the remnants of which can still be seen.
Today, Galle is a heady blend of culture, race and lifestyle - a thriving epicentre of rich heritage, beautiful beaches and laidback pace of life.
Galle – Departure
Have a relaxed breakfast and check out of the hotel. Then visit the Galle Fort en route to Colombo for some last minute shopping if you wish.
As departure flight will be close to midnight, you will have the opportunity to freshen up, relax and have dinner on the beach in Negambo before heading to the airport (15 minutes).
NOTE: Distance from Weligama to Galle Fort (40 minutes' drive). Galle Fort to Colombo (2 hours drive). Colombo to Negambo (40 minutes' drive). Negambo to Airport (15 minutes' drive)