The island of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon under British rule) has seduced travelers for centuries. It is one of the biggest little countries in the world, and its appeal and pleasures are myriad. Few places have as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites (eight) packed into such a small area.
Poised just above the equator in the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean it has a legendary reputation for natural beauty. A teardrop falling from the tip of India is how some geographers have described its shape or that of a pearl. A bit smaller than Ireland, a bit larger than West Virginia, this modestly sized island-country gem is nonetheless packed with impressive ancient architecture, culture, history, cuisine, nature, and wildlife!
Many cultures have left their mark on this beautiful island in the Indian Ocean: Indian, Arab, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch, British. Early Arab traders called it Serendib – giving rise to the English word "serendipity" – out of which came the British colonists' name for the country, Ceylon.
We begin in the Cultural Triangle where more than a thousand years of history is apparent. The remarkable achievements of the early Sinhalese civilization can still be seen in the ruined city of Polonnaruwa, boasting the island’s finest collection of ancient Sinhalese art and architecture; the cave temples of Dambulla, a treasure trove of Sri Lankan Buddhist art; and the towering rock outcrop of Sigiriya (rising 1,200 feet straight up), home to the fascinating remains of one of the island’s former capitals, complete with ancient graffiti and elaborate water gardens.
In the verdant highlands of the Hill Country we explore beautifully situated Kandy — the symbolic heart of the region, the cultural capital of the Sinhalese people, and home to the famous Temple of the Tooth. It also boasts a pleasing old quarter, a pretty central lake, and the beautiful Peradeniya Botantical Gardens, which we also visit. Also in the hills we stay a night in the British-established venerable town of Nuwara Eliya, the center of the country's tea industry and in a very pretty setting.
Dropping down to the southeastern coast we come to Yala National Park, Sri Lanka's most rewarding national park and home to the world's densest concentration of leopards alongside elephants, fabulous birdlife, monkeys, crocodiles and more.
Rounding the coast brings us to the marvelous old Dutch fort city of Galle, colonial Sri Lanka at its most perfectly preserved. Built by the Dutch, colored and styled by the Sri Lankans, and overlaid with tropical vegetation by nature, the result is enchanting. We finish off with a brief exploration of Colombo, the nation's energetic capital.
• 12-day trip encompassing the best of Sri Lanka
• Deluxe, beautiful hotels throughout
• Most meals included
• Venture Out escort accompanying the group as well as a licensed National Guide.
Day 1 - Tuesday, January 28, 2020
You'll make your own air arrangements to fly into Colombo's international airport (CMB), and we meet at our deluxe beachside hotel in Negombo, which is about 20 miles north of Colombo. A private transfer from the airport to the hotel is included. We'll enjoy our welcome dinner here this evening.
Note: If you would like to arrive a day early we can set up the additional night at the group hotel for you. This may be necessary depending on the timing of your chosen incoming flight. Or you may wish to add the extra night in any case to help shake off some jet lag or to allow for a cushion in the event of any travel hiccups along the way.
Meals: Welcome Dinner
Days 2, and 3 - Wednesday, January 29, Thursday, January 30, 2020
We will journey inland to the "Cultural Triangle" of Sri Lanka where more than a thousand years of history are on display.
Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) is famous for its colossal rock boulder of golden
-hued granite rising 600 feet straight up from a flat wilderness of scrubland and is one of Sri Lanka's most dramatic natural sights and another UNESCO World Heritage cultural site. In the 5th century a king built a palace atop its summit. Frescoes from the 5th century can be seen on the side of the rock (some of the earliest surviving pictorial art in Sri Lanka), and for those who are so inclined, a climb to the top of the rock can be undertaken with the help of staircases and ladders. The palace on the summit had gardens, ponds, islets, promenades, and pavilions – sophisticated architectural feats for the ancient Sinhalese.
The ruins of Polonnaruwa (also a UNESCO World Heritage site) boast the island's finest collection of ancient Sinhalese art, architecture, and engineering – a monument to the country's renaissance. The ancient city was the capital from the beginning of the 11th century and now it's the preserve of monkeys and birds – and archeologists and visitors. The huge man-made reservoir here, dating from the same period, today remains the lifeblood of the region, irrigating some 18,000 acres of paddy fields.
The Cultural Triangle also includes some worthwhile national parks, and we’ll visit either Minneriya or Kaudulla. These national parks are noted for their elephant corridor, a protected area within the Cultural Triangle that facilitates elephant migration. These parks boast a variety of habitats and are home to many types of mammals and birdlife.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner each day
Days 4, and 5 - Friday, January 31, Saturday, February 1, 2020
The Golden Temple of Dambulla is the renowned rock temple on a 1,000-foot hill containing many carvings and statues and was founded by a king in the 1st century B.C. in gratitude for the shelter he found in the cave while fleeing invaders. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In one cave is the image of a 50-foot reclining Buddha cut out of the rock with deities associated with Buddhism surrounding it. Wall and ceiling frescoes date from the 15th to 18th centuries. Other caves contain some 150 life-size images of the Buddha as well as statues of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Ganesh, and ceilings are covered with frescoes depicting great events in the life of the Buddha as well as notable landmark s in the history of the Sinhalese people. This is the finest collection of murals in the country.
We now move south to the Hill Country in central Sri Lanka. We will stop at Matale, a prosperous planting district and world-famous for its
spice gardens. Ancient traders were lured to the island in pursuit of cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper, etc. Here we learn about the intricate processes that result in Sri Lanka producing
some of the finest spices in the world. We'll also have a cooking demonstration enlightening us about the preparation of traditional curries. We then continue to Kandy - the cultural capital of Sri Lanka with its vibrant traditional arts scene, a superb array of Buddhist temples and palaces, and a beautiful location on a lake amidst the island's precipitous central hills. It was the seat of royal power for centuries and home to the last king of Ceylon until his overthrow by the British in 1815. The city as a whole is a
UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya – the country's largest and finest gardens - cover approximately 150 acres and attract over two million visitors annually. It's home to over 4,000 species of plants including some of the most beautiful orchids you might ever see. The origins of these magnificent gardens date back to the time of an 18th-century king when it was a royal residence and park.
The first tea seedlings to be grown in Ceylon were planted here, and the gardens consist of 150 acres of Sri Lankan flora, including a wonderful arboretum, a delightful orchid house, and the striking Avenue of Royal Palms.
The Temple of the Tooth is a site of veneration for Buddhists and perhaps the most important of such sites in the country. The tooth is not actually seen, but tradition states that
it was taken from the ashes after the cremation of Gauthama Buddha, eventually being smuggled to Sri Lanka in the 4th century. The present temple dates from the 16th century. It's a superb showcase of traditional Kandyan arts and architecture, lavishly decorated throughout.
There is free time to wander around Kandy with its historical buildings, museums, other
temples, picturesque lake front, and shopping for a variety of crafts. In the evening you may wish to attend a cultural show in town – a good introduction to local dances and folk culture, with elaborate costumes and ornamentation, drumming, juggling, and fire eating. (Extra cost applies).
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner on Day 4; Breakfast, Lunch on Day 5
Day 6 - Sunday, February 2, 2020
Continuing through the Hill Country we drive through very picturesque scenery on mountainous roads through forests and tea plantations, under steep cliffs and alongside plunging hillsides to valleys of paddies below. This drive
could be considered an attraction in itself. We stop at one of the many tea plantations in this district (which produces some of the finest tea in the world) to have a tour and learn how tea is graded and have a walk-through of the manufacturing process as well as to enjoy a tasting, of course.
Our overnight destination is the "tea station" of Nuwara Eliya high in the hills, Sri Lanka's most appealing hill resort. British colonialists developed these "stations" – towns that sprang up around the production of tea (although many of them existed well before the British arrived).
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Days 7, and 8 - Monday, February 3, Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Dropping down from the Hill Country back to the lowlands we begin the second half of our tour en route to Yala National Park in the southeast of the country. This first day is spent mostly on the road to reach Sri Lanka's most prominent national park and our two overnights are spent at a lodge at the entrance of the park. This is the closest Sri Lanka comes to having an African-style safari experience and is the jewel in the crown of Sri Lanka's wildlife.
Yala is a wonderful place and is the best park in the country for viewing animals. It
comprises a variety of habitats including scrub jungle; pockets of forest; sand dunes; lakes, ponds and lagoons; and riverine habitat. The section of the park open to visitors covers 35,000 acres. This is the best place in Sri Lanka to spot leopard, with the world's largest concentration of them (though sightings are never
guaranteed). Other big game include elephant, sloth bear, and buffalo, but there are also a great many additional species including varieties of monkey, deer, mongoose, hare, boar, jackal, crocodile, and monitor lizard. A day's visit in the park might also yield some one hundred species of birds – both indigenous and migratory.
On Day 8 we'll embark on two game drives – one beginning very early in the morning and the other in the late afternoon into sunset. These are the best times to spot wildlife.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner each day
Days 9, and 10 - Wednesday, February 5, Thursday, February 6, 2020
We journey around the southern coast of Sri Lanka today en route to Galle. Along this drive we may likely see the traditional methods of fishing in action. Fishermen position themselves on long stilts a little bit offshore at low tide and adjust their position as the tide rises, dangling rods in the water (and angling for photographers, for a fee usually).
When we arrive at Galle we'll settle into our lovely oceanfront hotel property and have
the remainder of the day to relax. Perhaps you might enjoy a massage or another type of spa treatment.
The next day we explore Galle. It's by far the best example of a colonial-era fortified city and showcases the meeting of European architecture and tropical South Asian traditions and culture from the 16th to the 19th centuries as the city passed from Portuguese to Dutch and
eventually to British domination.
Galle Fort, about a hundred acres inside with 14 bastions,
is today a UNESCO World Heritage site oozing old-world atmosphere and was built by the Dutch in the 17th century. It is the best-preserved colonial sea fortress in all of Asia with the crashing waves below.
The town is well-known for its atmospheric streets and stylish shops. Galle has also made a name for
itself for its intricate lacework and ebony carvings.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner on Day 9; Breakfast, Lunch on Day 10
Day 11 - Friday, February 7, 2020
To close out our circuit on the island we head up the west coast to the capital city of Colombo and Sri Lanka's largest city. Some colonial buildings from the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods remain, existing alongside Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and modern structures. The residents are a mix mostly of Sinhalese, Tamils, and Sri Lankan Moors. For sure Colombo is Sri Lanka's bustling "melting pot." We'll have an overview city tour that will take in Independence Square, Pettah Bazaar, and the Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) performance center among other sights.
This evening we'll enjoy our farewell dinner in Colombo and recap our adventures in Sri
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 12 - Saturday, February 8, 2020
A private transfer is included for you today from the hotel
to the Colombo airport (CMB) – about 20 miles to the north.
• KANDY – The cultural capital of Sri Lanka with its vibrant traditional arts scene, a superb array of Buddhist temples and palaces, and a beautiful location amidst the island's precipitous central hills
• GALLE FORT – A perfectly preserved colonial time capsule oozing old-world atmosphere with characterful Dutch-era mansions encircled by ramparts and bastions with the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean just beyond.
• YALA NATIONAL PARK – Sri Lanka's foremost wildlife destination and home to the world's highest concentration of leopards alongside elephants, fabulous birdlife, monkeys, crocodiles and more, all amidst unspoiled jungle and salty lagoons.
• COLONIAL CEYLON – The provenance of Ceylon tea, grown around old British tea towns such as Nuwara Eliya.
• POLONNARUWA – Home of Sri Lanka's finest collection of ancient Buddhist art and architecture, from magnificent rock-carved statues to exquisitely decorated temples.
• SIGIRIYA – An unforgettable rock-fortress towering high over the surrounding plains, one of Sri Lanka's most dramatic natural sights, and full of historic interest, too.
• GREAT SCENERY – Mountains, forest, tea estates, plains, jungle, lagoons, and beach!
• DISTINCTIVE CUISINE – Tropical fruits, spices aplenty, unusual vegetables, fat prawns, superb rice and curries somewhere between Indian and Thai-style cooking.
• UNIQUE ACCOMMODATIONS – Including: one with ocean views by Sri Lanka’s renowned 20th-century architect Geoffrey Bawa; lovely bungalows on stilts immersed amongst rice paddies and lagoons; and a very comfortable jungle lodge with individual chalets.
• Accommodations for 11 nights in carefully selected high-end properties
• Breakfast each morning in the hotels
• Lunch every day (except the arrival and departure days)
• All dinners but two
• Entrance fees for all sights mentioned in the itinerary
• Licensed Sri Lankan tour guide to accompany the group
• Venture Out tour escort accompanying the group throughout the trip
• Ground transportation in a private comfortable bus
• Private airport transfers at the beginning and end of the tour
• Airfare to/from Sri Lanka
• Two dinners
• Beverages with the included meals (occasionally some beverages are included at some restaurants)
• Optional gratuities to the tour guide, driver, porters
• Additional hotel nights pre- or post-tour that may be desired or required by flight schedules or other factors
• Travel Insurance
• Visa (see below), passport, and other expenses of a personal nature such as minibar charges, laundry, telephone calls, etc.
• Any medical preparations you may need to take beforehand (such as shots)
We stay in style at several of the island’s dazzling array of beautiful upscale hotels. For
• An oceanfront property designed by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s preeminent
• A luxury eco-lodge with Ayurvedic spa that sits amongst paddy fields, ponds, and
bamboo forest, in a purpose-built flourishing wetland teeming with wildlife and with a distant view of Sigiriya.
• A very comfortable lodge with individual jungle chalets at the edge of Yala National
Please note: We reserve the right to use alternate hotels than those mentioned in our detailed itineraries, which are usually published up to a year in advance. Sometimes there are new properties that have opened after our itinerary is published, or we may decide on an alternate property that fits the flow of the program better.
We will meet at approximately 6:00pm in the group hotel on January 28, 2020.
Private transfers are included from the Colombo airport to the group hotel in Negombo
beach at the beginning of the trip and from our Colombo hotel back to the airport at the close of the trip. We will need your flight arrival and departure details to set up these transfers. The airport is located some 20 miles north of Colombo so our first hotel is actually on a beach much closer to the airport than the city is. We don’t see Colombo until the end of the trip.
If you would like us to set up an extra hotel night for you at the group hotel before the tour begins, please let us know. This may be necessary depending on the arrival time of your chosen airline, or you may wish to add this extra night simply to help recover from jet lag before the tour begins or to allow for any travel hiccups on your way there.
On February 8 you can depart from the Colombo airport at any time. A private transfer is
included from the hotel in Colombo to the airport. The travel time is around 45 minutes to one hour.
This is not a particularly physically challenging trip, but it does involve a
good deal of walking at all of the various sights and quite a bit of step climbing. Temperatures will be warm to hot, with high humidity. If you have concerns about your walking abilities please discuss this with us before enrolling on this trip.
At some destinations in this itinerary the average high temperature is about 85 F in January/February. But in locations like Kandy and the Hill Country the average high temperature is only around 70 F. We've selected this time period to minimize the chances of rain in the areas where we travel. Generally, about 2.5 inches of rain falls in February at these locations.
We cover quite a bit of ground on this itinerary so there are days when we spend a few hours getting from point A to point B. On some of our transfer days travel time will be about 3-4 hours to reach our next destination (with a break or two along the way), and transportation will be in a comfortable bus.
You will need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (essentially a visa) before
reaching Sri Lanka. The cost is approximately $35 and you can apply online.
While as accurate as possible at the time of publishing, this itinerary should be considered an approximate indication of the schedule and scope of activities, trip routing, accommodations
and meals, rather than an inflexible schedule of events; it is subject to change due to circumstances beyond our control. We reserve the right to maintain flexibility in order to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. This trip is subject to the Limitation of Liability and all the Terms and Conditions as detailed in the Trip Enrollment Form.
To realize the maximum enjoyment from your Venture Out trip, we encourage participants to have flexibility, a sense of humor, curiosity and enthusiasm about new people and places, and an openness to the unexpected. With a spirit of adventure and positive attitude, we're sure you will have a very special travel experience. If you are uncertain about the level of comfort, difficulty, or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please email us to discuss your concerns.