Sri Lanka - Highlands, Leopards and Temples

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Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, Transfer to Negombo

Welcome to Sri Lanka! Upon arrival at the airport in Colombo, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. There may be time to take a stroll around the surrounding area, which is nestled in lush tropical foliage. Tonight, you will meet the rest of the group and enjoy your first delicious dinner.

Overnight in Negombo.


Day 2: Boat Ride Through the Dutch Canal, City Tour of Negombo

This morning, we will savor the sights and sounds of life in Sri Lanka with a morning boat ride along the Dutch-made Hamilton Canal, which is an excellent opportunity for bird watching. Along the way, we have the opportunity to visit a tile-making factory to learn more about this traditional craft as well as visit the Ark Coconut Planation to learn how they make liquor from tapping a coconut tree. We then continue on to the local fish market by the sea to see the fishermen selling fresh fish to the locals.

In the afternoon we will explore the city of Negombo, which lies in the heart of Sri Lanka's fishing industry region. We will visit the Dutch Fort, Hindu Temple and St. Sebastian's Catholic Cathedral before dinner.

Overnight in Negombo.


Day 3: To Habarana

Today we depart for Habarana, our homebase for the next 2 nights. We will stop for lunch enroute. After checking in to our comfortable lodge, we can enjoy an optional village walk.

Overnight in Habarana.


Day 4: Anuradhapura, Sigiriya

After breakfast we depart for Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka. The sacred city of Anuradhapura, founded in the 3rd century BC is venerated as the capital city of Buddhism. The sacred Bo Tree grown from a sapling of the tree, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, is the oldest living tree in documented history. In its vicinity are the remains of the Brazen Palace, the towering Ruwanveliseya Dagaba, the Seated Samadhi Buddha, temples, palaces and parks, all of which bear testimony to a proud and imaginative people. A mere eight miles away is Mihintale, the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is a mountain monastery connected with Arahat Mahinda who brought Buddhism to the island in 247 BC.

After lunch we will continue on to Sigiriya where we will have the rest of the day to relax and admire the amazing Sigiriya rock fortress from our lodge.

Overnight in Sigiriya Village.


Day 5: Sigiryiya - Polonnaruwa

After breakfast and while it's still a bit cooler, we will proceed to climb the Sigiriya rock fortress.

Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage site, built by King Kashyapa in 477-495 AD. The ''Lion Rock'' is a citadel of unusual beauty rising 656 feet (200 meters) from the scrub jungle. The rock was the innermost stronghold of the 70-hectare fortified town. A moat, rampart, and extensive gardens including the renowned water gardens ring the base of the rock. One of the highlights during the climb is to see the world-renowned frescoes of the ''Heavenly Maidens'' of Sigiriya, which are in a sheltered pocket of the rock approached by a spiral stairway. These frescoes are painted in earth pigments on plaster.

After lunch we will travel to Polonnaruwa & visit the ancient city. Polonnaruwa, the 2nd capital city of Sri Lanka built in the 11th and 12th centuries AD is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here you can see the ruins of the Royal Palace, the Gal Viharaya where 4 splendid statues of the Buddha in 'Upright', 'Sedentary' and 'Recumbent' postures carved out of rock can be seen, the Audience Hall, the Lotus Bath, the statue of king Parakramabahu, and the Parakrama Samudraya - a lake built by King Parakramabahu the great. There are also monuments of famous places of worship such as the Shiva Temple, the Lankathilake, the Watadage, the Galpotha, the Kiri Vehera and the remains of a former Temple of the Tooth Relic. On the way back to our hotel we will have a chance to stop at a wood carving shop where you will see a variety of wood crafts available from local carvers.

In the late afternoon we have dinner at a nice local restaurant and then an early night after a long day.

Overnight in Sigiriya Village.


Day 6: Dambulla Cave Temple, to Elkaduwa

On our way to Elkaduwa we visit Dambulla Cave Temple, which is one of the most important sites of Buddhist pilgrimage. This temple was built by king Walagambahu in the 1st century B.C. and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is easily the most impressive of Sri Lanka's many cave temples. The complex of five caves with over 21,528 sq. feet (2000 sq. meters) of painted walls and ceilings is the largest area of paintings found in the world. It contains over 150 images of the Buddha of which the largest is the colossal figure of the Buddha carved out of rock and spanning 46 feet (14 meters).

We continue our journey to Elkaduwa stopping enroute to visit a spice garden in Matale. Our afternoon ends in the peaceful setting of Hunas Falls where you can relax by the pool or wander the beautiful grounds with its rich bird life. This is our base hotel for our two hikes the next day.

Overnight in Hunnas Falls, Elkaduwa.


Day 7: Simpson Trail Hike

This morning we head off on a hike along the Simpson Trail. The Simpson Forest is a small submontane forest patch in the Hunnasgiriya Mountain Range that was named after a former planter. Our hike takes us through a tea plantation and habitat for the giant squirrel, the blue mormon and tree nymph butterflies. We visit a local village along the way and if school is in session, we may also be able to meet some of the local children.

We finish up back at the hotel in time for a nice lunch and a bit of a rest before we head off to Hunas Falls, which is about a 2-hour hike to a beautiful waterfall. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to rest your muscles with a massage or a soak in the pool. For those who do not want to do these hikes, the entire day is leisure to enjoy the hotel grounds, with the ever present sound of the Hunas Falls in the background.

Overnight Hunas Falls, Elkaduwa.


Day 8: Kandy

We say goodbye to the beautiful mountain views as we travel down to Kandy, which was the last capital of the Sri Lankan Kings and is a World Heritage site today. We will start our exploration with a walk around the town visiting the local underground bazaars and crafts centers. There will be plenty of opportunity on our walking tour to sample some of the local treats. We will visit a gem museum before our lunch. In the afternoon we will visit a Batik Factory to see how this amazing art form is made, and then a lapidary factory to learn how gems are so important to this little town. In the evening we will enjoy a traditional dance/cultural show before dinner. Depending on the temple schedule we will also go and witness the local people praying to the Tooth God in the Temple of the Tooth, which houses Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic - a sacred tooth of the Buddha.

Overnight in Kandy.


Day 9: Optional White-Water Rafting, Drive to Nuwara Eliya Hill Station

This morning we get an early start for our drive to Nuwara Eliya, stopping for some fun on the Kelani River. There will be an opportunity for those who wish to try white water rafting. These grade 2-3 rapids are a wonderful way to experience the river and cool off at the same time as you float by the remains of the concrete foundations of the bridge that were made for the Academy Award winning film "The Bridge on the River Kwai" by David Lean. This is a 1-2 hour excursion that will have you laughing and enjoying this amazing sport in a safe and controlled manner. You even have the opportunity to jump out of the raft to float in your life jacket with the soft current. Those who do not wish to participate in rafting, can enjoy relaxing by the river in the rafting outfitters lodge or have a drink on the open-air porch of the famous Kituklgala Rest House where portions of the film were made. We will have a well-deserved lunch and a quick change at the outfitters lodge before we continue on to Nuwara Eliya - the most famous hill station in Sri Lanka. Enroute you will see manicured tea plantations and picturesque waterfalls tumbling down hillsides as we travel through the center of Sri Lanka's tea industry.

Overnight in Nuwara Eliya.


Day 10: Horton Plains National Park

This morning we visit the cloud forests of Horton Plains National Park. It is an area of beautiful grasslands interspersed with patches of forest and unique high altitude vegetation. We trek along the escarpment to the famous World's End, where the plateau comes to a sudden end and makes a dramatic 2887-ft (880-meter) drop. On a clear day you can see in the distance a shimmering streak of water, which is the Indian Ocean more than 50 miles away. This is a longer hike today with some difficult terrain. For those who choose not to hike this wonderful trail you have the day free to relax and wander the small town and its markets.

Overnight in Nuwara Eliya.


Day 11: Nuwara Eliya - Ella

After breakfast, we will see first hand how a tea plantation works with a tour of a working tea factory and finishing with a tasting of the local product. We will also visit a farm to see what else this rich soil produces. In the afternoon we will take the local train to Ella. This is a wonderful way to see the countryside of rolling hills and have a chance to interact with the local people who take this train daily. Our bus will be waiting for us at the Ella train station to take us to the hotel for a relaxing evening.

Overnight in Ella.


Day 12: Yala National Park

Today we drive down to the lowlands to Yala National Park. We will stop on the way for a lunch break and arrive at the hotel in the afternoon. You have some free time to enjoy the pool and the animals that roam free through the lodge.

This evening we will enjoy an evening game drive in search for the famous leopard. Yala has one of the highest densities of leopards in the world and provides an excellent opportunity to view these animals in the wild.

Overnight in Yala National Park.


Day 13: Yala National Park to Mirissa

We have an early rise this morning as we enjoy another game drive in search of the leopard and other wildlife including the elephant, sloth bear, mugger crocodile, spotted deer, barking deer, wild boar, wild buffalo and mongoose.

Later, we depart for Mirissa which is our starting point for our whale watching excursion early tomorrow morning.

Overnight in Mirissa.


Day 14: Whale Watching, Stilt Fishermen, Galle

We have an early start this morning, as we board our boat and go in search of the incredible Blue Whales – the largest creatures on Earth. Be on the lookout for fin whales, sei whales, sperm whales, orcas (killer whales), dolphins, flying fish, turtles, manta rays and whale sharks, which swim in the waters off the South Coast of Sri Lanka.

After whale watching we journey down the east coast of Sri Lanka to the town of Galle. Our journey today affords splendid views of lush forest on one side and the ocean on the other. We will stop to see the famous stilt fishermen. We will hear first-hand how the tsunami in 2004 effected this area and how it has now become a lush and beautiful place to live. Afterwards continue on to Galle. Originally built by the Portuguese and later extended by the Dutch in 1663, this UNESCO World Heritage site was once the chief port of Sri Lanka. Today it is a place well known for its hand-made lace. In the early evening we will walk around the old city of Galle where you can visit the Galle Fort (spanning 90 acres) and enjoy the little shops and markets.

Overnight in Galle.


Day 15: Madhu River Excursion - Colombo

Today we travel further up the coast to Colombo stopping to enjoy a leisurely boat excursion on the Madhu River. While there are 26 islands at Madhuganga, only six are inhabited. There are no animals on the islands which are surrounded by a mangrove forest. The lake covers 915 hectares and is free from pollution. Cinnamon trees are noticeable on the islands and on one particular island we will stop at a private home to see how they produce cinnamon for the local market. We will continue on to Kosgoda where we will visit a turtle hatchery, which is being operated by the Wild Life Protection Society of Sri Lanka. Several species of turtles, including the endangered hawksbill are protected here. The most vulnerable are the turtle eggs, which are left uncovered on beaches all around the coast. The goodwill of Kosgoda-area fishermen who bring these eggs to the hatchery has led to the hatching and releasing back to the ocean of over 100,000 young turtles in only two years since the hatchery opened. We will continue our drive to reach Colombo before dinner and have a relaxing evening in this metropolitan city.

Overnight in Colombo.


Day 16: Colombo

After breakfast we will set out to visit the Colombo Museum. This will show us the full story of how Sri Lanka became the tear-drop of India. Go back in time with the wonderful displays that show how the Kings lived centuries ago.

In the afternoon our Tuk Tuks (local taxis) will be waiting to take us on a tour of the city. Colombo, like many capital cities in developing countries is fast changing its face. Almost overnight, skyscrapers arise from where old buildings once stood. Yet in some parts, the old warm charm is retained and can be seen in the 100-year-old clock tower and several British built colonial buildings. We will also visit the old Cargils Food City which offers a unique shopping experience. Other places of interest are the stately homes of the affluent and the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) - a gift to Sri Lanka from the People's Republic of China.

Tonight we will enjoy an early farewell dinner.

Overnight in Colombo.


Day 17: Depart Colombo

The incredible sights and sounds of Sri Lanka are now ours to savor, as we bid a fond farewell to this exotic island nation. The day is free until transfer to the airport for your onward flight home.

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