Long neglected by travellers on the path between India and Asia, Sri Lanka is an understated gem that is emerging as the go-to destination for travellers in the know. From the chaotic streets of Colombo to tea plantations that speak of its’ colonial past this is a country that will undoubtedly deliver far more than you expect. Add to the mix an astounding number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, a unique gastronomic heritage, a wealth of National Parks and an abundant wild elephant population and you can’t help but wonder how a tiny island could pack such a punch!
First stop this morning we’ll head to the National Museum for an excellent overview of the Sinhalese kingdoms. Not to be missed will be the beautifully restored Dutch hospital for some refreshments before we start our walking tour of Colombo and experience first hand the amazing architecture the Dutch/English left behind. We guarantee a sensory overload!
After a leisurely breakfast we’ll head to the 5th century Sigiriya Rock Fortress a UNESCO World Heritage site. The “Lion Rock” is a citadel of unusual beauty rising some 200 meters from the scrub jungle. Here you will see the world-renowned frescoes of the “Heavenly Maidens” which are in a sheltered pocket of the rock approached by a spiral stairway. The frescoes are painted in earth pigments on plaster.
After breakfast this morning we head to Habarana to enjoy a Hiriwaduna Trek. Our trek beings with a scenic walk along a man made reservoir as we check out the amazing birdlife, butterflies and perhaps the chance to spot a crocodile will only add to the charm of this trek. We’ll watch as villagers go about their early morning tasks of fishing or washing cloths at the periphery of the lake. We will wade through swallow streams and catch a catamaran of an obliging farmer to inspect Chena cultivation and enjoy the farmer’s humble hospitality. This will be a great opportunity to sample authentic local cuisine. After lunch we head to Polonnaruwa the medieval capital and crown jewel of King Parakramabahu and walk across the scattered walls of this World Heritage Site.
Today we head to Anduradhpura, rich in Sri Lanka culture and one of the greatest and oldest civilizations in the world. The sapphire of its’ crown is certainly the Sri Maha Bodhi - the sacred Bo sapling extracted from the tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment - standing more than 2200 years. Stroll through the sacred trails of the venerated city to adore the legacy that interweaves Ruwanweliseya - the gigantic dagoba resting alongside the Basawakkulama Tank, shading the Samadhi Buddha Statue & Isurumuniya Rock Temple that empower the culture, heritage and supremacy of arguably the strongest kingdom in Sri Lankan history.
After breakfast we will head to Kandy via the Matale Spice Markets where you will be introduced to the many different types of spices that Sri Lanka is famous for. Here we will stroll through the gardens taking in the fragrant greenery and learn about nutmeg, pepper vines, clove trees, cinnamon and precious cardamom. After some refreshments we head to the last capital of the ancient kings Kandy. The UNESCO protected Old Town area is a lovely place for an afternoon stroll along a maze of streets leading to the Temple Of The Buddha’s Tooth and the Kandy Lake. Late in the afternoon we will visit The Temple of The Buddha’s Tooth to watch the ‘’pooja ceremony’’ as crowds gather to offer flowers and prayers to the sacred relic in the inner sanctum.
Today we begin with a morning tour to the local markets in preparation for our cooking class. Only the freshest fish and vegetables will be selected before we head back to our class and focus on the preparation of a typical meal with popular Sri Lankan dishes such as fish, prawns, lentils, curries, sambol and rice.
After lunch a slower pace as we wander around the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens. First built as a pleasure garden by a Sinhala king and expanded by the British it covers approximately 147 acres and is a walkers paradise with extensive well kept lawns, pavilions, an octagon conservatory, fernery, a giant Javan fig tree and numerous flower beds. The best attraction is the orchid house.
After breakfast we’ll experience a quintessential Sri Lanka experience by taking the train to Nuwara Eliya. Our train meanders slowly through pine and eucalyptus forests into a landscape of immaculately manicured tea plantations which periodically open up to reveal heart-stopping views through the hills, nowhere more so than above the village of Dimbula.
After a relaxing breakfast we will take in the sights of the “City of Lights” Nuwara Eliya with its’ seemingly endless array of tea plantations and the highest town at an altitude of 1889m. Since colonial times it has offered a break from the oppressive heat and humidity that surrounds the rest of Sri Lanka. Some free time this afternoon before we head to Ella to trek Little Adam’s Peak. As we walk through lush green tea plantations, waterfalls and paddy fields we arrive at some pretty amazing panoramic views – don’t forget to bring your cameras!
Another photographers dream today as we head to the Udawalawe National Park which was established in 1972 as a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River. The park is the sixth largest animal sanctuary in Sri Lanka and is unique in terms of consistency in numbers of elephants roaming the park. Here you will see these gentle giants in their natural habitat as they feed, play and mingle with each other. By jeep we will also visit the Elephant Transit Home, an elephant orphanage established in 1995. These orphans are raised until such time that they can be released back into their natural habitat.
After a leisurely breakfast this morning we head to the seaside town of Galle. This walled city has stood since the early sixteenth century and has been identified as a living World Heritage site. This afternoon we we’ll walk around the old town of Galle and its’ fortifications.
After breakfast we’ll learn the secrets of Fort food and sample some of Galle’s best street food with our cooking teacher. We will learn how to make some traditional Sri Lankan favourites including pol (coconut), sambol and fish curry all of which we’ll get to sample throughout the cooking class. This afternoon we’ll find out about spice tea medicinal uses with the Storyteller of the Fort. We’ll meet the 'thambili guy' and drink freshly plucked thambili or king coconut and if we are lucky we will hear the fishermen cry “Maalu 'Maalu, Maalu'” as they sell off their latest catch. We’ll round off the evening with hot, freshly made 'pol roti' and experience the living history that makes this the most exciting fort in Asia.
Another leisurely breakfast then we head back to Colombo for our final day together. After lunch some leisure time before we head to one of Colombo’s finest restaurants for our final dinner together - so dress to impress!
This morning we will bid farewell to new friends as our cultural tour of Sri Lanka concludes after breakfast.