7 Nights / 8 Days
7 Nights / 8 Days
Your holiday begins as soon as you land at the Colombo International Airport! It is modern but friendly, and the airport officials here are warm and helpful. After the airport formalities are complete, our designated chauffeur will greet you with a trademark Sri Lankan smile and guide you to an air-conditioned vehicle for your passage to Colombo. The ride usually takes between 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Your hotel is in this city’s heart. Unwind till late afternoon here. Once the sun recedes somewhat, we’ll be going for a cultural walk that touches on old Colombo’s pulse.
There are sacred spaces in Colombo at every corner. This is an island where many practice their diverse faiths, side-by-side. Your guide will lead you through famous Kochchikade, head-on, into the bustling streets of Pettah.
The Seema Malaka Temple floats atop the Beira Lake in central Colombo. The Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple sits across the road and it is thronged by Buddhist devotees from all parts. We get on a tuk tuk, the preferred mode of transport here, and we set foot into the Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil. It is an ancient Hindu Temple built of ornately chiselled and carved granite. A short distance away sits St. Anthony’s Shrine, a national Catholic monument of immense religious and historic importance. The story of Anthony of Padua (Italy) is recounted here. Thousands come here daily to pray and ask for boons. Flower garland kades (shops) are common sight here close to places of worship. The guide leads you through a string of these into Pettah — a must-have experience. Life here, rather chaotically, combines the old with the more modern. It is fast-paced here and there are make-shift eateries set up everywhere. The aroma of local fried snacks fills the air. The colonial Old Town Hall building and the Dutch-inspired Kayman’s Gate belltower are briefly visited. The walk comes to a halt near the Jami Ul-Afar Mosque. The unique synthesis of Islam and other cultures is seen here, even in its design, which draws inspiration from the colour and the segments of a pomegranate.
Make your way back to the hotel and put your feet up. The day’s experience will surely come to you in waves.
Breakfast is a must! Choose between local and continental options. After relaxing for a bit, you’ll be comfortably driven to Dambulla. This normally takes around 3½ to 4 hours.
Once at the hotel, you’ll have plenty of time to rest a bit before you head to the Dambulla Cave Temple towards late afternoon.
The Dambulla Cave Temple reserves huge historic and religious appeal islandwide. The network here comprises 5 caves and a total of 157 statues of the Lord Buddha. Paintings adorn the space overhead and the cave’s walls as well. A rich artistic tradition is seen, going back several millennia. The rock, its caves, and the temple are dated to the 1st century BC. The indigenous traditional paints used add intrigue to this, already, fascinating experience. The cave complex received official recognition in 1991, when it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Spiritual enlightenment and the flowering of Buddhist scriptures took place here. The calm and peace are still felt here, 22 centuries after it was first used.
Put your feet up a little after getting back to the hotel. The significance of the day’s experience will settle in slowly.
A good breakfast is important as there’ll be a bit of activity today! The Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve is what’s in store this morning. A drive of around 1 to 1½ hours will get you there.
The mountain range of Ritigala, the natural reserve on lower ground, and the remains of its Buddhist monastery are secluded. This makes the guided walk that much more special. Walk through ruins set amid an overgrowth of jungle while absorbing how the lives of the Buddhist monks who lived here must have been.
The stone-carved steps and the thick growth of jungle underfoot take you back in time almost immediately. They remained undiscovered for centuries. The spiritual stature of this place is felt. The total extent of the monastery is 700 acres. Creatures and plant life found seldom elsewhere, thrive here to this day. Lord Hanuman is said to be responsible for this. Your expert guide will narrate these tales as you take in the reserve and the monastery. Sunlight streams in through every possible opening in the green canopy overhead. A center of meditation and Buddhist learning once, it was also home to a community of monks who sought spiritual emancipation.
Head from the mystical jungle monastery of Ritigala to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa as afternoon approaches. The drive there will take around 1½ to 2 hours.
Polonnaruwa emerged as the second capital of the island, after the decline of Anuradhapura. A long line of illustrious Kings ruled the central plains of Sri Lanka from this city, close to 1000 years ago. As you walk through this ancient city, it dawns on you why Polonnaruwa remained a center for commerce and religion for centuries. Your guide is well-versed in the myths as well as the recorded accounts of what transpired here. Archaeological treasures, some still pristine, meet you, every step you take. The ruins of the Royal Palace will leave you in awe. A quick walk northwards will take you to the area called the Quadrangle. Here, ancient structures including tombs, temples, statues and stupas are found packed into a compact area. The city in all its glory is easy to picture.
The day done, you’ll get back to the hotel and have a chance to further absorb all you’ve seen.
A quick breakfast at the hotel in Dambulla and you’ll set off to Sigiriya Rock Fortress; a ride of about 30-45 minutes.
Perhaps the most visible of this island’s countless historic sites, there are little-known sides to Sigiriya as well. This ancient rock fortress is also called ‘The Lion Rock’, inspired by its original name of ‘Sinhagiri’. On first sight itself, from the base, you’ll see why this ancient rock edifice draws so much attention. This almost 200m rock, its cave complex, and the palace at its summit, served as the royal palace and hideaway of King Kasyapa between the years AD 477-495. Your guide will narrate to you the royal controversy that was set here. The architectural features visible throughout and the irrigation techniques used to keep the moat at the rock’s base and the pools uptop full, draw the curiosity of engineers even today. How did they do it? Some of these questions your guide will provide answers for. Others remain mysteries. The steep staircase that winds up to the palace’s top, allows you to peer into the rock’s cave-like recesses. These walls are adorned with, still visible, frescoes of bare-breasted damsels. The rock’s summit is covered in natural water pools. This setting is surreal and the view afforded is incomparable.
You’ll return to the hotel a short while later. Check out and begin your journey to the hill capital, Kandy. The drive there will also feature a visit to Matale’s famed Spice Gardens, en-route.
The island’s herbs and spices have received the world’s praise since time immemorial. This experience allows you to see, close up, why this is so. The island is abundant. Perhaps it is because of the favourable climatic conditions and soil here. Or maybe it is something more mystical. Regardless, the local cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, peppercorn, and the other gems lending flavour to cuisines worldwide, are top notch. You’ll see, first hand, the eco-friendly processes used to cultivate them. The experience finishes at a souvenir shop, housed within the garden itself. The spices and herbs available here are numerous. Take a few with you and add them to your cooking to experience food anew. The colonial legacy of the island is best understood through its herbs and spices.
*Transport is provided free of charge between the city and the garden, as part of this experience.
*The cinnamon tree is delicate, and they are protected by law to ensure they aren’t harmed.
The rolling hills and mountain ranges of Kandy come into view. Kandy is a fast-growing city with a regal past. Check into the hotel and unwind a little, before visiting the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic later on in the day.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) is closely connected to the island and Kandy’s historic, cultural and religious legacy. It was originally built by the Kandyan Kings in the late 16th Century, to house and honour the Buddha’s tooth relic. You can’t help but be overwhelmed as your guide recounts the spiritual influence the Buddha wields here, and how the sacred tooth relic made its way here. Thousands of pilgrims visit the temple on a daily basis. The wearing of white-coloured, loose-fitting clothing is advised here. The purple and blue-tinged lotus flowers most of them carry in their hands as simple offerings, against the backdrop of white, is soothing to the eye. The complex displays a series of intricate features combining the unique architectural heritage of Kandy and the island as a whole. The whole city is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a declaration influenced in part by the presence of The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic here.
At around 3pm in the afternoon, you’ll proceed to the day’s next part. A one-of-a-kind experience of Kandy by tuk tuk!
We look at Kandy afresh. It’s old and new sit close to each other. This makes the tuk tuk ride all the more interesting. We’ll look at how this hill capital came to be favoured by pilgrims and conquerors alike.
Kandy is not like most other parts of this island. Its culture and customs grew in isolation, perhaps due to its hilly landscape. Hills, mountain ranges, rivers and lakes cover its terrain completely. You’ll quickly see how these were used as natural ramparts to ward off attacks. The Kandy Lake is iconic and here you’ll meet your host for this unique experience. The walk around the lake allows you to take in the entire city, and he’ll touch on all there’s to know in its vicinity. You’ll make your way towards the Garrison Cemetery, a reminder of the city’s colonial past. Your host will point out the names of locals who helped shape Kandy, and the role of the British in its early days. The tuk tuk ride begins shortly! Sit comfortably inside as you are taken atop the hills that criss-cross the city. A giant Buddha statue sits high above the center of the township. While seated here, you’ll have a chance to take in a series of stunning vistas. Breathtaking is a term that comes to mind. Helga’s Folly, an eccentrically flavoured hotel, is kept for the end of the tuk tuk safari through Kandy! Rejuvenate yourself here, after the high-intensity ride you just experienced. Here, you’ll get to learn about Helga herself. The Hollywood stars she has hosted over the years make for fascinating stories.
Head back to the hotel and indulge in a bit of rest and relaxation, after the long yet interesting day you’ve had absorbing parts of the island’s Central Province.
The most important meal of the day, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Check out thereafter and you’ll make your way to a few of the region’s most important temples including Lankathilaka Vihara, Gadaladenyia Vihara, and E
Lankatilaka Vihara is a Buddhist temple built in the mid-14th Century. You’ll hear of how its South Indian architect combined unique Sinhalese and Dravidian architectural features in its construction. It is immediately understood how this temple came to be known as an architectural highlight of the Gampola era.
The Gadaladenyia Vihara sits only a couple of miles away. It is also called Saddharmatilaka Vihara and Dharma Kirthi Viharaya. It is an ancient Buddhist temple sitting on a rock outcrop, and it combines a series of Hindu and Buddhist architectural features.
Thereafter, you’ll head to Embekka Devalaya. Here, the worship of Kataragama Deviyo is practiced by local devotees. A lesser-know deity called Devatha Bandara is also worshipped at Embekka Devalaya. The ornate wood carvings here stand out. We think for a moment of how religious worship would have taken place here centuries ago.
These 3 temples present an alternate view of the island’s relatively unknown places of worship. We’re headed to the coastal city of Galle next! On the way, we’ll visit the must-see Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The drive there will take around 1 to 1½ Hours.
Pinnawala is home to around 100 orphaned elephants. Most of them were brought here as unweaned wild elephants found lost, away from their immediate habitats. The elephants display a range of behaviours and characteristics. You’ll see this as you observe them closely. They are quite accustomed to human visitors like us and continue their merrymaking, eating and lazing about, even as you look on. This experience is pretty special and it also allows you to engage with them a little during the allocated bathing and feeding hours. Your guide knows this place like the back of his hand and will take you through all there’s to know.
Make your way to your hotel in the southern coastal city of Galle. Put your feet up for the rest of the evening!
After a spot of breakfast at your hotel, you’ll get to relax for a while before heading to the coastal town of Hikkaduwa. You'll take the backroads there to get to the next leg of your holiday, a Cinnamon Trail. The drive is about 45 minutes to an hour long.(Half day evening experience)
Acres and acres of cinnamon trees in every direction. That’s what you’ll see at the start of this experience. A 65-year-old bungalow sits at its center and this is where you’ll start the trail. You’ll get to walk through an active cinnamon plantation. The fragrance that fills the air is heady. Watch, as a cinnamon tree is harvested right before you. It’s scent is powerful. You realise why the colonial powers wanted control over the island’s natural cinnamon plantations. Place the harvested tree on your shoulder and walk to the workshop, where you’ll receive a hands-on lesson on how cinnamon is peeled, extracted, curled and finished. You’ll get to craft a fresh cinnamon quill all by yourself. And what’s more, you can taste real Ceylon Cinnamon in its many stages before it is fully dried; from the wet bark shavings that impart an earthier tone to the semi-dried ones that are much sweeter. You step into the 1800s as you enter a cinnamon museum within the premises of this vast plantation. Centuries-old photographs and ancient tools used to harvest cinnamon bring the history of this crop to life. End the cinnamon trail on a relaxing note with a few refreshments, while you take in the sight of peacocks, deer and hare retreating into this massive plantation as the sun recedes in the distance.
You’ll have enough time to put your feet up after heading back to the hotel. Unwind and head to the Galle Fort towards evening, to explore its magic with a local.
Your host knows the Fort intimately. Walk through its closely-built alleyways and streets while taking in its colonial structures including its bastions, ramparts, and its many buildings.
The experience begins close to the main entrance to the Galle Fort, which was built more recently. The host expertly navigates you through the significance of each structure within this fortification. The Indian Ocean on one side, and Galle’s international cricket ground on the other, you begin to see there are but a few places on Earth as scenic as this. The host is well-versed in the island’s history, the Fort’s role in the colonial context, how it was built, and how it had to be defended at various points. He’ll take you through the Fort’s must-see sites as well as some of its more hidden ones. The extent here is 150 acres in total, and this experience neatly packs in a narrative of the Fort including religion, history, architecture and daily life. The host recalls personal accounts of the devastation wreaked by the Tsunami in 2004. It hasn’t always been easy, but the Fort is thriving once again.
You’ll have ample time to relax in the evening, once you get back to your hotel. This activity-packed day will ring fresh in your memory!
You’ve got an entire day to yourself to do as you please! Perhaps relax all-day long or immerse yourself in some of the exciting activities organized by your hotel.
It is your last day on the island. You can choose whether to engage in a bit of rest and relaxation at the hotel or to check out of the hotel soon after breakfast, depending on your flight’s departure time. It takes around 2 to 2½ hours to get to the airport from here.
Your island holiday is drawing to a close but the memories from over a week’s worth of experiences will last a lifetime. Recollect them with your chauffeur as you drive to the airport and maybe write and let us know how you felt throughout.
We’ll miss showing you around our island but we really hope you come back soon. There’s plenty more to see within our shores!
Knowledge and expertise can make your holiday more canker free and fun filled.