Essential Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Culture

Temples, tea plantations & tranquil beaches

14 days £2,195 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Experience the unique charm of Sri Lanka as you embark on a journey through some of the islands most iconic sights. Wander through a myriad of sacred dagobas and temples in the UNESCO heritage site of Anuradhapura. Climb the iconic Sigiriya Rock Fortress for panoramic views across mist-shrouded forests and visit the ruins of the historic kingdom of Polonnaruwa. Venture into the wilderness of Sri Lanka's national parks in search of the majestic leopard. Look out across the rolling valleys of the Horton Plains tea plantations as you taste traditional Sri Lankan tea. Finally, unwind at the tranquil fishing village of Beruwela and immerse yourself in the laid-back Sri Lankan way of life.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka
  • The UNESCO World Heritage site of Anuradhapura
  • Visit Sri Lanka's iconic National Parks
  • UNESCO-listed Sigiriya Rock Fortress
  • Ancient Royal Kingdom of Polonnaruwa
  • Golden Temple Complex in Dambulla
  • Home of ancient Sri Lankan kings at Kandy
  • Tea plantations in the Horton Plains
  • Picturesque views at Ella Gap
  • Visit the tranquil fishing village of Beruwela

Places Visited

Negombo - Colombo - Anuradhapura - Habarana - Minneriya National Park - Polonnaruwa - Dambulla - Kandy - Nuwara Eliya - Horton Plains - Tissamaharama - Ella - Yala National Park - Galle - Beruwela

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Arrival in Colombo

Arrival into Colombo International airport, where you will be met by a Travel the Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day will be free to spend at your leisure. Overnight in Negombo, just outside of Colombo. 

Meal plan: Dinner

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Day 2 : Colombo - Anuradhapura

In the morning, travel on to Anuradhapura, where you will spend the day sightseeing. Overnight stay in Anuradhapura. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Anuradhapura was Sri Lanka’s first city and the capital for over 100 kings. The ancient kingdom has a remarkably sophisticated history – the prestigious civilization used advanced science, technology and health care systems (Ayurveda). The city has dozens of monasteries that follow ancient teachings, practice tranquility and keep ancient rituals and festivals alive. You can see the 2,200-year-old cutting from the ‘Bo Tree’ (the fig tree under which the Buddha was enlightened). The first Buddha statues of the country and many other ancient pagodas that make this city one the holiest cities for Buddhists. 

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Day 3 : Anuradhapura - Minneriya - Habarana

Drive on to Habarana. Stop en route to visit the Aukana Buddha statue. Enjoy a jeep safari in Minneriya National Park, before continuing on to Habarana. On arrival, check in to your hotel for overnight stay in Habarana. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Minneriya National Park is located in the central province of Sri Lanka. The park is made up of a mixture of scrub land, forests and wetlands. It is home to around 160 species of birds, 25 reptile species, 26 fish species and more than 78 butterfly species. The Minneriya National Park is one of the best places in the country to see wild elephants and is famed for its elephant gatherings, where elephants come together to feed and bathe in numbers of up to 200.

The Aukana Buddha Statue stands near to Kekirawa. The ancient statue has been carved from a great granite rock face and dates back to the 5th century. The elaborate carving was undertaken during the reign of Dhatusena and is one of the best examples of a standing Buddha statue from ancient Sri Lanka. 

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Day 4 : Habarana - Sigiriya - Polonnaruwa - Habarana

Begin the day with a trip to Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Spend the rest of the day enjoying a tour of Polonnaruwa. Return to Habarana for overnight stay. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The Sigirya Rock Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the wonders of the ancient world. It is located in the middle of a plain and consists of a 200m-tall central rock and two rectangular precincts that stand on the east and the west. The fortress is surrounded by wide moats that used to be full of crocodiles. Sigirya was built under the orders of King Kasyapa and was used as both a palace and a fortress. 

Between the 11th and 13th centuries, Polonnaruwa was a Royal Kingdom and was the second largest kingdom in Sri Lanka’s ancient history. It was once a military city, where King Vijayabahu defeated the Chola invaders from South India (in 1070 AD). The city is home to many sacred monasteries and Buddhist remains, including the remarkable Gal Vihara, or 'Rock Temple', which dates back to the 12th century. The sculptures and carvings at Gal Vihara remain perfectly preserved and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

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Day 5 : Habarana - Dambulla - Kandy

Travel on to Kandy. Stop en route at Dambulla, where you will visit Dambulla Rock Temple, before stopping off at Matale Spice Garden. On arrival in Kandy, check in to your hotel for overnight stay. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Dambulla is one of the oldest cities in Sri Lanka. It is especially famous for its  fascinating Iron Wood Forest (also knows as Namal Uyana) and the  Golden Temple Complex. This UNESCO-listed temple complex is the largest and best-preserved in the country. Dambulla also has the largest rose quartz mountain range in South Asia and is close to the prehistoric burial site of Ibbankatuwa that dates back to 750BC.

The UNESCO-site of Dambulla Rock Temple was built by King Walagambahu in the 1st century. Also known as the Golden Temple Complex, it is one of Sri Lanka’s most impressive cave temples, containing over 2000 sq metres of painted walls and ceilings - famed as the largest area of paintings in the world. The 5 caves contain over 150 images of the Buddha, the largest of which stands at 14 metres tall.

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Day 6 : Kandy

In the morning, take a tour of Kandy - highlights will include the Temple of the Tooth and Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. The afternoon will be at leisure. Overnight in Kandy. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Kandy was the last capital of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka and is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country. The city is surrounded by misty mountains and lush forests. The picturesque region of Kandy is home to the longest river in the country, the Mahaweli River. 

The Temple of the Tooth, also known as Sri Dalada, is a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy. The temple is home to Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic - a tooth of the Buddha. It has played a central role in local politics and it has long been believed that whoever holds the tooth will also hold governance of the country. Visitors can come to the temple to see the shrine where the tooth is held.

The Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya lie near to the Maheweli River, just outside of the city of Kandy. Historically, these gardens were kept closed and reserved for Kandyan royalty. They are known today as the largest and most impressive botanical gardens in Sri Lanka - with over 4000 species of plants, including a beautiful collection of orchids. 

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Day 7 : Kandy - Ramboda - Nuwara Eliya

In the morning, travel on to Nuwara Eliya and see the Ramboda Waterfall, before later taking a tour of the town of Nuwara Eliya. Overnight in Nuwara Eliya. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Nuwara Eliya, meaning 'City of Light', is a town in the highlands of the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is also called 'Little England' - as, historically, the region's temperate climates attracted British colonialists who came to run Nuwara Eliya's many tea plantations. The buildings and houses in the town still retain features from this colonial period, whilst private gardens and parks continue to be maintained and manicured in an old-English style. 

The Ramboda Waterfalls are situated in the Pussellawa region of Sri Lanka. Water from the Panna Oya tributary falls over 100 metres from an elevation of almost 1000 metres above sea level. Visitors can walk up to the top of the Ramdoda waterfall, where they can enjoy scenic views of the valley and surrounding forests.

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Day 8 : Nuwara Eliya - Horton Plains - Nuwara Eliya

Rise early and depart for the Horton Plains with a packed breakfast. On arrival, spend the day visiting a tea plantation and factory. Return to Nuwara Eliya for overnight. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The Horton Plains are a nationally protected park in the highlands of Sri Lanka. Designated as a national park in 1988, the plateau is home to a rich array of biodiversity - many species are endemic to this region. The plateau stands at an altitude of over 2,000 metres and provides panoramic views across the lush green valleys. The park is home to large herds of Sri Lankan sambar deer, along with many rare and migratory bird species. 

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Day 9 : Nuwara Eliya - Tissamaharama

Make the journey to Tissamaharama. Stop on the way to visit the Rawana Waterfalls and enjoy the picturesque views at Ella Gap. Overnight stay in Tissamaharama. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The Rawana Waterfalls can be found in the Rawana Ella Wildlife Sanctuary and are the widest falls in Sri Lanka. Standing at a height of over 25 metres tall, the water cascades over an oval-shaped concave rock outcrop into the Kirindi river below, though the quantity of water dramatically reduces over the dry season. During the wet season, the many waterways of the great falls are said to resemble an areca flower. 

The remote village of Ella is renowned for its beautiful natural scenery, including impressive panoramic views across the surrounding forested valleys, known as 'Ella's Gap'. On a clear night, it is said one can see as far as the Great Basses lighthouse on Sri Lanka's southern coastline. Ella is the perfect place to explore Sri Lanka's rich wildlife, whilst its rural setting provides visitors with an insight into a traditional rural way of life.

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Day 10 : Tissamaharama - Yala - Tissamaharama

Rise early and travel to Yala National Park, one of the most important parks in Sri Lanka, where you will enjoy a jeep safari. Spend the rest of the day at your leisure, returning to Tissamaharama for overnight stay. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Yala National Park is one of the most impressive national parks in Sri Lanka. The park spans 979 sq. km. and consists of five blocks, two of which are open to the public. It is famous for having the highest leopard density in the world, as well as for the conservation of elephants and aquatic birds. It is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas of the country, being home to over 200 different bird species. Yala's ecosystems range from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. Two important pilgrim sites are also located within the park, Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara.

The town of Tissamaharama is surrounded by scenic paddy fields, not far from the national parks of Yala and Bundala. The town is said to have been founded in the 3rd century BC and is still home to the ruins of many ancient temples and monasteries which date back to this era. One of the most famous examples is Tissamaharama Dagoba, which was built in the 2nd century BC and has since been fully restored. Its decorative dome, harmika and distinctly broad spire make it one of the most unique temples on the island. 

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Day 11 : Tissamaharama - Galle - Beruwela

Depart for Beruwela, stopping en route to take a tour of the city of Galle. On arrival in Beruwela, check in to your hotel for overnight stay. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

In 1505, the Portuguese anchored in Galle, ruling for 135 years before they were defeated by the Dutch, who then went on to build the UNESCO-listed Galle Fort. In 1796, the British took over from the Dutch and made the Galle Fort their headquarters. Evidence of this rich history can be found in the quaint colonial-style architecture and old-world charm of Galle Fort. A city of trade and art, Galle is full of little boutique shops selling antique jewellery, collectibles and hand woven garments. 

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Day 12 : Beruwela

Enjoy a free day exploring and relaxing in the idyllic fishing village of Beruwela. Overnight in Beruwela.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The small fishing village of Beruwela can be found on Sri Lanka's western coastline. It is home to one of the longest beaches in the country, where visitors can see the fresh catch brought in to the charming local fish markets each morning. The coastal village provides a tranquil spot for visitors to relax and immerse themselves in a laid back Sri Lankan way of life. 

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Day 13 : Beruwela

Enjoy another free day in Beruwela to spend at your leisure. Overnight in Beruwela. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

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Day 14 : Beruwela - Colombo - Departure

After breakfast, travel back to Colombo. Take a tour of the city before transferring to the airport for your departure flight. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, is a vibrant city that has a mixture of modern and colonial architecture that has been influenced by Portuguese, Dutch, British, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Indian styles. This is most visible in the Fort district. Other interesting sights in Colombo include the Galle Face Green, Viharamahadevi Park, Old Parliament Building and the Independence Hall.
 


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Accommodation

Accommodation Title

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Amagi Lagoon Resort

The Amagi Lagoon Resort lies beside the scenic Negombo Lagoon, just outside of Colombo. The decor of the resort is inspired by Sri Lankan heritage, whilst also providing modern comforts for guests. There is a choice of on-site restaurants, which offer a variety of local and international cuisine options along with scenic sea views. 

Visit hotel's site
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Rajarata Hotel

The Rajarata Hotel is located within the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka in Anuradhapura. The bedrooms are equipped with modern amenities that offer guests a comfortable stay. The on-site restaurant offers traditional Sri Lankan and international cuisine options. Guests can also choose to relax in the bar area or hotel swimming pool.

Visit hotel's site
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Cinnamon Lodge

Nestled amidst lush green forests, Cinnamon Lodge provides a comfortable and relaxing retreat for guests, complete with a large outdoor pool, spa and butterfly garden. There are multiple dining options available onsite: Restaurant Ehala and The Lotus offer international and local cuisine, whilst guests can enjoy a traditional tea at the Veranda and relax in the Tuskers Bar.

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Swiss Residence Hotel

The Swiss Residence is located at the heart of Kandy, surrounded by rainforests and rolling hills. The spacious bedrooms have a warm decor and are equipped with modern facilities, including wifi, and satellite television. Guests can relax on their balcony after a day of exploring the world heritage city, where they can enjoy scenic views across the town of Kandy and Knuckles mountain range.

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Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel is located in the central highlands of Nuwara Eliya. Nearby sights include the Haggala Botanial Gardens, tea plantations an scenic waterfalls. The decor is simple, whilst the hotel bedrooms are each furnished with modern facilities to allow for a comfortable stay. The hotel restaurant serves a buffet to guests, who can also choose between the hotel bar, cafe, or Grand Indian Restaurant for other cuisine options. Guests can also choose to relax in the hotel spa or enjoy a round of golf on the neighbouring course.

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The Safari Hotel

The Safari Hotel is situated in Tissamaharama, just on the outskirts of Wirawila Tissa Sanctuary. The hotel has a warm and modern decor, which has been inspired by its safari location. Each ensuite bedroom is spacious and fitted with contemporary fixtures and fittings. Guests can enjoy views from their rooms across the scenic lake and hotel swimming pool. The hotel is located near to many key sights, including the Sithulpawwa Rock Temple, Yala Wildlife Sanctuary and Yala and Bundala National Parks.

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Cinnamon Bey Hotel

The Cinnamon Bey Hotel lies on the southern coastline of Beruwala. The hotel has a contemporary design, offering spacious and comfortable bedrooms. Each bedroom provides guests with access to en suite bathrooms, wifi and satellite television. There are a variety of on site dining options, including a tapas lounge, a buffet and a Mediterranean restaurant. Guests can also enjoy the hotel spa, fitness suite and swimming pools. 

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Reviews

I'm delighted with all the trips that I have arranged through Travel the Unknown for myself and a couple of friends. We've stayed in some wonderful places and have had exceptional encounters with local people. Our guide was very good about checking in with us about what we wanted to do.

Joan Edmunds (USA) , Tailormade Sri Lanka
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