Essential Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Culture

Temples, tea plantations & tranquil beaches

14 days £2,795 pp This is the price per person for a private tour (based on 2 people travelling) excluding international flights. Contact us for pricing for other group sizes including individuals.
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. 

Overnight in Amagi Lagoon Resort, Negombo

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. 

Overnight in Rajarata Hotel, Anuradhapura

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Anuradhapura was Sri Lanka’s first city (380 BC) and served as its capital city for over 100 of the country’s kings. Centred around a cutting from the 2,200-year-old ‘Tree of Enlightenment’, the Buddha’s fig tree, Anuradhapura boasts dozens of ancient monasteries that practice ancient teachings and religious festivals; making it one of the world’s holiest Buddhist cities.

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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. 

Overnight in Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Minneriya National Park is located in the central province of Sri Lanka. A mixture of scrub land, forests and wetlands, it is home to 24 mammal species,160 bird types, 25 reptile species and 26 fish species. The park is also one of the best places in the country to see wild elephants and is famed for its large elephant gatherings.

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. 

Overnight in Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

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 served as Sri Lanka's second largest kingdom.. Once a military city, where King Vijayabahu defeated the Chola invaders from South India (in 1070 AD), Polonnaruwa is also home to many sacred monasteries and Buddhist remains, including the remarkable 12th Century 'Rock Temple', Gal Vihara. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it also boasts pristine and perfectly preserved sculptures and carvings.

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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. 

Overnight in Swiss Residence Hotel, Kandy

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Located in the Matale District, Dambulla is one of the oldest towns in Sri Lanka. It is home to both the prehistoric burial site Ibbankatuwa and the Golden Temple of Dambulla, an iconic Sri Lankan image. Dambulla is also a major centre of vegetable distribution, located next to the Iron Wood Forest (Namal Uyana) and the largest rose quartz mountain range.

 


The UNESCO-site Dambulla Rock Temple was built by King Walagambahu in the first 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. In fact it is thought to be the largest collection of paintings in the world, with over 150 images of the Buddha spread between the five caves, the largest being 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. 

Overnight in Swiss Residence Hotel, Kandy

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Kandy was the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka. Capital of the Central Province, Kandy is both a commercial and religious city; the latter being the predominant reason why the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Surrounded by mist clinging hills, Kandy is prone to soft drizzle and grey skies. However, its wet climate only illuminates the rich colours of its colonial houses and intricate silk saris worn by local women. The picturesque region of Kandy is also home to The Esala Perahera, one of the oldest and grandest Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka to commemorate the first teaching given by the Buddha, and 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. Home to Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha – it has played a central role in local politics. For centuries it has been believed that whoever held the tooth would also hold governance of the country, hence why Kandy is the country’s sacred city.

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. 

Overnight in Grand Hotel, 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. 

Overnight in Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

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. 

Overnight in The Safari Hotel, 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 landscape, including impressive panoramic views across the surrounding forested valleys, known as 'Ella's Gap'. On a clear night, it is said that you 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 tourists with an authentic experience of traditional and rural Sri Lankan living. 

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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. 

Overnight in The Safari Hotel, Tissamaharama

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. 

Overnight in Cinnamon Bey Hotel, Beruwela

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

From 1505 to 1640 the Portuguese governed Galle, ruling for 135 years before being defeated by the Dutch, who constructed the UNESCO-listed Galle Fort. When the British acquired the city in 1796 they turned the fort and city into their administrative centre. However, after the country became a formal British colony in 1815, Galle declined in importance as the British developed Colombo as their capital and main port. Despite being heavily damaged in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, the city operates a booming tourist trade and local economy; complete with schools and colleges, administrative offices and courts. 
 


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Day 12 : Beruwela

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

Overnight in Cinnamon Bey Hotel, 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. 

Overnight in Cinnamon Bey Hotel, 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 with a rich and diverse history. Its landmark colonial and modern architecture take influence from its Portuguese, Dutch, British, Islamic, Indian and Buddhist dwellers; and is most visible in the city's 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

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

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Amagi Lagoon Resort

Negombo (1 night)

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

Anuradhapura (1 night)

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.

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Cinnamon Lodge

Habarana (2 nights)

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

Kandy (2 nights)

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

Nuwara Eliya (2 nights)

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

Tissamaharama (2 nights)

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

Beruwela (3 nights)

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

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to India and Sri Lanka and had some unforgettable experiences from the magnificent Taj Mahal to the slums of Mumbai; watching a leopard chase a squirrel up a tree and women being taught to sew in a women’s cooperative in Udaipur. This was our first "educational guided tour" and our first experience of Travel The Unknown. I thought the whole planning and booking process was excellent, and the actual holiday itself was just as good - in terms of content of activities, pace of the trip and quality of the guides and accommodation. We are already planning our next one....

Judith & David James , Tailormade India & Sri Lanka
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