- Tamil culture in Jaffna, bird-watching safari in Wirawila Reserve: a different side to Sri Lanka
- The Golden temple, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Polonnaruwa, Galle, tea gardens and golden beaches
- A cinnamon essential oil distillery, a silk factory, a boat trip in Mirala Duwa lagoon: we've got it all covered.
- Private driver, local Concierge
Contact one of our Sri Lanka specialists + 44 (0) 20 3958 6120
Sri Lanka all the way
Your tripA driver will be waiting for you at Colombo airport. The car and driver are at your disposal throughout the trip. The drivers know the roads like the back of their hand. That said, we love train travel too, so you will take the train between Anuradhapura and Jaffna, and then again between Kandy and Peradeniya and Ella, when your driver will meet you again. Local colour and variety. The railways are a fundamental part of life in Sri Lanka. A train journey is where you'll see everyday life in the country like nowhere else. The good news is that the country isn't so big that the journeys are endless. We have made sure that the train rides you make in Sri Lanka are easy-going, comfortable and with great views of the landscape. In the regions around Ahungalla and Galle you can go hiking and sailing. If you're relatively fit, you can attempt the challenging climb up Adam's Peak. You can even rest, if you want to. The hotels we work with are small, easy-going establishments that are well suited to the roaming traveller. Our hotels always have that little something extra that makes a big difference. That said, sometimes it's the big things that make a difference, as you'll find out in Anuradhapura. In Sri Lanka, the staff are one of the strengths of the tourist industry. From a visit to the Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura to the Madu Ganga Mangrove, the Nallur Kanaswamy Hindu temple in Jaffna and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy (and more), we've got all the must-see attractions covered in your itinerary. Privately guided tours in English. Would you like to take a yoga lesson with a yogi? Just ask. Due to the nature of the excursions slight schedule changes may occur along the way or you may wish to add to your itinerary. For any of these unexpected changes you will be provided with the contact details of our local Concierge. English-speaking, polite and practical, our Concierges are our rapid reaction team.
Flight to Colombo
Overnight flight, arriving the next day.
Colombo - Anuradhapura
Meet your private English-speaking driver at Colombo Airport. Head north to Anuradhapura. Two night stay in a hotel overlooking a large wooded park. The hotel, designed in the classic style of Anuradhapura, is built on pillars and connected by walkways: you can see monkeys and even elephants quietly go about their business underneath the building. At this level, you also have closer contact with the birdlife. The decoration is simple yet stylish, in keeping with the architecture. The swimming pool and meditation area are ideal to put you in an eco-conscious mood. At the restaurant, you will discover how vegetarian cuisine can be full of flavour and inspiration. Expertly administered Ayurvedic massages are also on offer. A delightful rejuvenating experience.
Included in the programme - a private visit to Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, in the Mahamewna Gardens. The pagoda fig tree is the oldest living tree ever known to have been planted: it dates back to 249 BC. It is allegedly a cutting from the very tree under which Buddha received enlightenment or 'Bodhi'. As a result, this is an extremely sacred place for Sri Lanka's Buddhists.
Already included - a private visit to Mihinthale and Isurumuniya. Mihinthale has a special spiritual significance for the Sinhalese: it was from here that Buddhism spread throughout the island. In 247 BC, during a deer hunt on Mihintale Hill, King Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura met Mahinda, son of the great Indian Buddhist emperor Ashoka, who converted him to Buddhism. It is now an important pilgrimage site. Isurumuniya Vihara is a troglodyte (cave) temple decorated with beautiful sculptures, some of which feature elephants splashing in the water. South of Isurumuniya Vihara, you can discover the impressive remains of the Vessagiriya cave monastery. The 1843-step climb to reach Mihinthale requires you to be in a good physical condition, and make sure to take some water with you to combat the heat.
Optional - private tuk-tuk tour of the archaeological site of Anuradhapura - a barbecue dinner in Ulagalla, an unprecedented culinary experience surrounded by tropical jungle.
Anuradhapura - Jaffna
Train ride to Jaffna, at the northern end of the country. The railway lines, the carriages, the steam engine, even the stationmaster's hat: nothing seems to have changed since colonial times. The railway network, created by the British in 1864 to transport tea from the mountains to the port of Colombo, is one of the oldest in Asia, and passes through some sublime landscapes. In the carriages you will see pilgrims, farmers, women and children and all sorts of unusual luggage. Upon arrival, you will stay for two nights in a comfortable hotel in the centre of Jaffna. The beautiful rooftop terrace offers lovely views of the city.
On the programme - a private Jaffna experience. The capital of Sri Lankan Hinduism and Tamil culture is a green city lined with coconut palms and flamboyant trees. Start your tour at the library, a truly symbolic spot. Built in 1933, the 1981 fire that began there spread into civil war: Sinhalese bonfires had burned an invaluable Tamil cultural centre to ashes. Now rebuilt and restored, it represents the return to peace. The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Temple dates back to the 18th century in its current form. It is dedicated to the war god Murugan/Kârttikeya, son of Shiva and Parvati. It is the largest Hindu shrine in the country; its gopura (elaborately decorated entrance tower) is typically Dravidian in style. You can also see the Fort of Jaffna, built by the Portuguese; the Keeramale pond with its special religious and historical significance, and beautiful examples of Dutch and English colonial architecture. Don't forget to grab some street food, try dosa (black bean flour pancake), vada (fried snack), shrimp, etc. Also on the itinerary: a visit to the Buddhist temple on the island of Nagadeepa, which is one of the most sacred Buddhist shrines in the country. Buddha reportedly travelled there to settle the conflict between the two Nagas (indigenous Sri Lankans) clans: Chulodara and Mahodara. Since the 1st century, many pilgrims have travelled to the site to celebrate this moment in Buddhist history. The site includes two shrine rooms: the main room, behind the stupa of Rajayathana, built in traditional Jaffna style; and a smaller second room, which houses the bronze Buddha statue.
Jaffna - Dambulla
Drive to Dambulla, in the centre of the island: the road signs warn about unexpected elephant crossings, so keep your eyes peeled! A two-night stay in a hotel with intricate brick architecture. There's a dense garden surrounding the hotel, and a slow flowing river nearby. The few rooms are pleasant, quiet, and well equipped. And as for the food? Such sophisticated cuisine is a delightful surprise this far into the countryside. The massage jet pool is the perfect cure for muscle fatigue.
In your itinerary - a private bike tour of Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa, which was the island's capital between the 11th and 12th centuries, boasts some impressive ruins: a fortress, dagobas and sitting, standing and reclining Buddhas. At Lankathliake Image House, built by a 12th century ruler, you will be welcomed by a Buddhist monk. Unusually, the house contains an image of Buddha in a three-curve position, one usually reserved for female statues.
Optional - a visit to a rice factory. In Sri Lanka, where rice is consumed daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, rice fields occupy 40% of cultivated land. You can visit a factory to learn how rice is treated after harvesting.
Included in your itinerary - a private tour of Sigiriya, the fortress of the mad king Kashyapa, perched on the 590ft of red gneiss that is Lion rock. The hydraulic engineering of the site is highly sophisticated and the royal concubines or apsaras painted on the stone wall are exceptional, not only for their beauty but also as they are the only feminine images in Sri Lanka that still exist from that period.
Optional - climb Pidurangala rock, a temple closely linked to the history of the more famous Sigiriya. Monks lived in the caves around the site over 2,500 years ago. The climb is challengin and requires a good level of fitness.
Dambulla - Kandy
Included in the itinerary - In the former Royal Palace, The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) contains one of Buddha's teeth. It is a precious relic which ensures the site a certain political and religious standing throughout Sri Lanka. Every day, hundreds of pilgrims come to worship here. Just west of Kandy, the Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya is renowned for its orchid and palm collections, but also for its garden of simple, aromatic plants. Built in the 1840's, it stands out both for its charming design and the richness of local botanical life. There is a enormous fig tree and a Couroupita guianensis (the so-called cannonball tree) planted by King George V in 1901. The shrine caves of the Golden Temple of Dambulla house an ancient Buddhist statue and wall paintings of the 18th century Kandy School.
Travel to Kandy, in the heart of the island. Overnight accommodation in a residential area in the hills of Kandy, in a very modern, intimate hotel with only nine rooms and real attention to detail. The garden is a real haven with its beautiful infinity pool. The restaurant is run by a talented chef. There is a small spa on site, and yoga sessions on request.
Optional - Kandy through the eyes of an English-speaking local - you will meet with the painter Rahju, the most famous artist in Sri Lanka; his modernist works are inspired by Cubism. You will meet him at his home, in his studio perched on a mountaintop not far from Kandy.
Kandy - Ella
Optional - visit three temples around Kandy.
Train ride to Ella. The ochre-coloured, streamlined Kandy Station, with its platforms of wrought iron and metal beams, resembles a 19th-century European provincial station. As passengers take their seats on board, the train, powered by an antique steam engine, chugs through banana trees and tall grasslands, heading towards the mountains. As the train gently climbs, at just 20 mph, dense green and azure vegetation give way to the endless landscape of tea plantations passing by the window, while travelling salesmen move from car to car to offer peanuts and the best samosas in the world.
A two night stay north-east of Ella, in a stone and wood thatched chalet, built on a slope between the garden and the wilderness beyond. A fully equipped chalet with rustic charm and a lovely layout. From the bedroom's terrace, you can admire the lush greenery or, depending on the time of day, as it emerges from the mist. The restaurant and bar also offer remarkable views - in addition to sophisticated cuisine and cocktails, an unexpected delight in such a remote place. The pools are a welcome feature. At the spa, treatments make use of the area's fantastic selection of medicinal herbs.
Things to see, things to do - walks through tea plantations, hikes to Eagle's Rock, 360° views of the surrounding mountains, or, for the more daring, Ella Rock, for truly spectacular views of the valley.
Ella - Wirawila
Transfer to Wirawila and a two night stay by the lake. The few rooms set up under large tents are locate in a vast setting, amid lush vegetation. Each tent is tastefully decorated with furniture made from natural materials, mostly wood. An unforgettable spot, where you'll want to stay a lot longer, to relax by the pool, watch the birds, walk in the forest.
On the itinerary - Bundala National Park, an important winter retreat for migratory birds. It is home to a very rich ecosystem with nearly 200 species of birds, including the great flamingo, the black-headed ibis, the pink starling, as well as 52 species of butterfly. Accompanied by an English-speaking ranger, you can watch them soar and swoop through the air.
Wirawila - Ahungalla
Ahungalla is on the southern tip of the island. A three-night stay in a lovely colonial home and former cinnamon essential oil distillery. The Swiss-Sri Lankan owners of the property have created a truly charming environment. The house consists of six white-walled rooms, furnished with antiques tastefully selected by the property owner who previously worked as an interior designer in Geneva. The excellent catering is provided by her Sri Lankan husband, a former student of the Vienna Hospitality School, and combines Sinhalese flavours with European influences. In the large flowered garden, you will find a refreshing swimming pool. On-site treatments are provided by an Ayurvedic therapist.
On your itinerary - moonstone, silks and white tea: from a tea plantation to a silk factory, during your private tour you will learn about the main industries of the island. Your day will continue with a visit to the old town of Galle, surrounded by ramparts. For many centuries Galle was one of the most important ports in Asia, and at the heart of a prosperous trade route - the Portuguese landed there as early as 1605 pursuing an Arab fleet that traded spices in the Maldives, with the Dutch storming their fortress in 1640. Nowadays it is a tropical port that, sheltered by its walls, retains the charm of a bygone era. Stroll through a maze of sleepy alleyways past ochre, turquoise and jade houses with faded shutters, cyclists dodging by; then stumble across hidden squares shaded by large banyans, where the older generations play backgammon. The bustling heart of the city is the marketplace, where you can take a stroll to see stalls jammed up against each other, sellers squatting on their mats, and a profusion of fruits including mangoes, guavas, lychees, coconut and passion fruit.
In your itinerary - a boat trip to the Madu Ganga lagoon, which is home to a mangrove forest housing one third of the country's fauna and flora. You will cross beautiful landscapes, passing mangrove forests, coconut groves, rice fields and cinnamon plantations home to cormorants and kingfishers. Here, shrimp fishing is still practised in the traditional way, using traps. After a stop at a small Buddhist temple set in the middle of the lagoon, and greeting the monks, you will reach Mirala Duwa Island, in the heart of the mangrove. There, after a walk through pineapple and cinnamon plantations, you will visit a cinnamon essential oil distillery where the owner will tell you about the process, as well as the properties and virtues of the aromatic bark.
Ahungalla - Colombo - Return flight
Travel to Colombo airport to catch your international flight home.
A la carte
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES OF ANURADHAPURA BY TUK TUK
The city was the country's capital for almost fifteen centuries. Not surprisingly, many impressive buildings were built here over the years. Needless to say, UNESCO noticed, and duly classified Anuradhapura a World Heritage Site. Start at the Kuttam Pokuna tanks (bathing pools), an admirable technical feat in terms of design, build and hydraulics, and dating from the 6th century. The great Ruwanwelisaya stupa, dating from the 2nd century BC, is also a wonder all of its own. In front of the Thuparama stupa, (which predates Ruwanwelisaya by a century) you'll see the stone columns that supported the wooden roof of the vatadage, the protective enclosure around a dagoba (domed Buddhist reliquary). The site is still a place of worship, giving Anuradhapura a lively atmosphere when the many ceremonies take place. A tuk-tuk - a motorised rickshaw - with a driver will take you from monument to monument.
AN ADDITIONAL DAY OF MEDITATION AND WELL-BEING IN ANURADHAPURA
You'll meet at Forest Rock Garden, inspired by the architecture of the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, which blends harmoniously with the surrounding vegetation. Your day begins with a morning of meditation guided by a Buddhist monk from the nearby temple. After a locally sourced vegetarian lunch at the hotel restaurant, the afternoon continues with a therapeutic Ayurvedic massage at the spa, performed in the traditional style. A gentle way to regenerate your body and mind.
KANDY LIKE A LOCAL
Mike will accompany you on your exploration of the city. This is the perfect opportunity to experience a small slice of the everyday life of the locals. An informal tour where nothing is planned in advance, the walk is improvised according to your particular interests.
THREE TEMPLES AROUND KANDY
Gadaladeniya is built on a rock - its dagoba is decorated with stone sculptures and panels featuring dancers and musicians. Lankathilake, a temple built on a rocky outcrop, is reached by a long series of steps carved directly into the rock. There are also paintings depicting the life of the 24 ancient Buddhas. A shrine dedicated to the God Kataragama, Embekke Devale in Welamboda is a beautiful example of wooden architecture.
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