Support the Community and Connect with Culture: Philantourism in Sri Lanka
This 15-day philantourism in Sri Lanka trip takes in the country's many highlights, with stays in community-run lodges and activities with small local enterprises. Learn more about this magical country, including how to cook a mean curry and play traditional drums.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- See the ancient Tonigala rock inscriptions
- See Sri Lanka's glorious wildlife in Wilpattu National Park
- Explore UNESCO site Anuradhapura by bicycle
- Climb to the summit of Pidurangala for spectacular views across to Sigiriya
- Learn the basics of traditional Sri Lankan drumming
- Explore the Tea Country and hear about the key role tea growing has had in Sri Lanka's economy
- Wander around Galle, visiting local boutiques
- Learn to surf and cook a mean curry in Galle
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When To Travel
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Day 1: International Flight
Depart from the UK today to begin your Sri Lanka journey. You'll fly overnight, either directly from London to Colombo, or connecting via the Middle East.
Day 2: Countryside Retreat
On arrival in Sri Lanka, your private guide will be waiting for you at the airport to transfer you to your first hotel. Spend this evening at a small boutique hotel in the countryside for some well-earned rest.
Spend the rest of today relaxing by the pool, or perhaps head out to explore by bicycle, before your first taste of delicious Sri Lankan cuisine for dinner.
Day 3: It Takes a Village…
Your philantourism in Sri Lanka itinerary begins in earnest today as you travel north for a stay in a community-run lodge near to the ancient Tonigala rock inscriptions.
Here you'll stay in thatched dwellings, crafted from natural materials and with open sides to welcome a cooling breeze.
During your stay, your meals are included and are a veritable feast of seasonal Sri Lankan produce - much of it from the lodge's very own organic farm - cooked the traditional way in clay pots over an open fire. Perhaps spend this afternoon learning the basics with a traditional cookery class, before devouring your creations for dinner.
- Stop on route to explore the Anawilundawa Wetlands in search of migratory bird species
- Cycle to see the ancient inscriptions at Tonigala.
Day 4: Paddles and Picnics
Explore by paddle power today, kayaking on one of the many surrounding lakes, and keeping an eye out for colourful bird species nearby.
Take a break for lunch; a private picnic set up under the shade of a shoreside tree.
This afternoon is yours to explore as you wish. Perhaps visit a local fishing community and learn to cast the traditional way, learn about endemic plant and animal species on a nature walk, or hop back on two wheels to explore nearby villages or the temple of Paramakanda by bicycle.
And if your stay coincides with the weekly market at Anamduwa, be sure to call in to explore this colourful affair.
- Go in search of spinner dolphins off the Kalpitiya Peninsula (November - April)
- Wake up to the dawn chorus, and head out on foot for an early birding walk
- Visit the ancient capital of Yapahuwa
Days 5-6: The Wildlife of Wilpattu National Park
It's back on the road today for the short journey north to the fringes of Wilpattu National Park, the next stop on your philantourism in Sri Lanka itinerary.
Your base for the next two nights is a family-owned lodge, offering a warm welcome and a convenient base from which to explore Wilpattu National Park.
Head out on your first safari drive later this afternoon, keeping your eyes peeled for sightings of elephant, a plethora of birdlife, and even - if you're lucky - leopards or sloth bears.
The following day, enjoy morning and afternoon game drives. Down time at the lodge is best spent in a hammock with a good book, taking a dip in the natural pool, or cycling through local villages.
Day 7: Anuradhapura by Bicycle
This morning explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Anuradhapura by bicycle. Your guide will teach you about the importance of this ancient site, and its importance to Theravada Buddhism, as you explore the dagobas (stupas or shrines), temples, sculptures and palace ruins.
Continue your travels this afternoon, settling into your hotel near Dambulla and taking a dip in the pool to cool off after a busy morning. The rest of the day is yours to relax.
Day 8: Ancient Sites in your Sights
Rise early today to tackle the peak of Pidurangala, from where you'll enjoy sweeping views across the landscape, with the impressive Sigiriya rock fortress directly in your line of sight. Grab a perch on the summit of Pidurangala, and marvel over Sigiriya as your guide brings the history of Sigiriya to life.
Before returning to your hotel in the late morning, take time to explore the Temple of Dambulla. The five caves here are home to over 150 Buddha statues and paintings, these incredible artworks date back over 2000 years. The rest of today is at your leisure.
- Safari drive in Minneriya National Park in search of herds of elephant
- Ascend to the top of Sigiriya citadel itself
Day 9: Feasting in Kandy
Continue your travels to Kandy today, a short drive of around two-and-a-half-hours.
After settling into your boutique hotel, the late afternoon is all about feasting on Sri Lankan delicacies. You'll explore the city on foot with your guide, sample a range of traditional dishes en route, from dosa (pancakes) and vadei (savoury fritters) to soya ice cream, and learning about the city's history and the Sinhalese and Tamil influences as you go.
- Learn the art of traditional drumming
Day 10: Train Journey Through the Tea Hills
Leaving the city behind today, you'll swap road for rail as you travel into the heart of the Sri Lankan Tea Country by train. Settle into your window seat and watch the world go by as the city slips away and you emerge into rolling countryside, passing forests and plantations.
On arrival into Hatton, your guide will meet you at the station for the transfer out to the luxury tea bungalow, where you'll spend the next couple of nights.
Settle into your room, and kick things off with a tea tasting experience this afternoon.
Day 11: Empowerment through Education
Today you'll have the opportunity to visit a skills development school, located in the heart of the tea hills. Here, one of the staff members - all of whom are previous students - will meet you and guide you through your visit. The school has been set up to offer education and hospitality training to young people in the more remote tea hills communities.
Following your visit, you'll have time to explore a local tea factory with your guide to learn about the process of tea making from bush to bouche.
Day 12: To the Coast
Leaving the tea hills behind, you'll make the long journey south to the coastal town of Galle, itself a UNESCO heritage site.
The rest of the day is free to shop and eat local as you peruse the independent boutiques and restaurants that line the old town streets.
Day 13: Surfs Up
Take to the waves today, as you enjoy a surf lesson in Weligama Bay.
Your local surf instructor will start things off with a board 'walkthrough' on the sand, before you hit the ocean to try and catch some waves.
Day 14: Cook up a Curry
This morning is at leisure.
Later today it's time to hone your culinary skills with a private cookery class in a local home.
Your host and her daughters will welcome you into their home, before you get started learning the art of the biryani. Pick seasonal ingredients from the garden and learn about the Arabic influences on Sri Lankan cuisine as you craft your very own biryani, pickles and spiced vegetables before settling down to enjoy your creations for dinner.
- Tour Galle Fort by Classic Car
- Whale watching by boat, or light aircraft
Day 15: Return Home
Sadly, it's time to leave Sri Lanka today. Your guide will pick you up for the road transfer back to Colombo airport, from where you'll make the journey home, either direct or connecting in the Middle East.
Frances and Rosie are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.