Sri Lanka Highlights
12 Nights / 13 Days
12 Nights / 13 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 Negombo. The ride usually takes between 30-40 minutes.
You’ll check in to your hotel and have the whole day to unwind after the long flight here. You’ve got an adventure-filled holiday ahead of you! Get a good night’s rest.
It’s your first full day on the island. Enjoy a delectable local breakfast or choose the continental breakfast option if you prefer. We’ll check out thereafter and start the journey to the ancient Kingdom of Anuradhapura. It will take us between 3½ to 4 hours to get there. En-route, we’ll visit the Yapahuwa Rock Fortress.
Yapahuwa is off the beaten path, even by the standards of the rest of Sri Lanka’s historical ruins. It was the capital of the entire island for a short period of time. The fortress is carved into a rock edifice. It resembles the Sigiriya Rock Fortress in several ways. But its architectural features are unique. Its wide ornamental staircase, its intricately carved stone sculptures, and its highly-detailed pillars are awe inspiring. Yapahuwa Rock Fortress urges you back in time. How was all this achieved back then? The island is full of such mysteries. The rock fortress was later converted to a Buddhist monastery. A thriving community of monks lived and meditated here. As you climb the fortress, the remains of a stupa and bodhi tree shrine can be seen. You’ll be able to soak in Yapahuwa for a couple of hours, unrushed.
We’ll continue the drive to Anuradhapura, thereafter.
You’ve been out on the road for many hours. Check in to your hotel and spend the rest of the evening as you please.
Make sure you have a solid breakfast! You’ll be embarking on a cycle-based experience at around 0830 hours, through the ancient city of Anuradhapura.
There are paddy fields in these parts as far as the eye can see. You’ll begin the cycle experience in their midst. Your host is an expert in Anuradhapura’s archaeological structures and its network of ancient, still-functioning irrigation systems. He’ll take you through each of these closely. On cycle, you’ll snake through local villages that sit close to ancient ruins partly obscured by dense forest. The Abhayagiri Dagoba, the largest Buddhist monument anywhere, comes into view as you pedal beside it. It is a surreal experience to cycle through a city as old as this. You’ll make a pit-stop at the Elephant Pond (Eth Pokuna), before continuing along the banks of the Basawakkulama Reservoir. The locals still depend on it to sustain daily life. The number of ancient stupas you’ll encounter while cycling through Anuradhapura is overwhelming. And they’re all as old as time itself! You’ll make your way to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, as the cycle experience winds down. It is visited by Buddhist pilgrims, far and wide, as it is said to be a branch of the very tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment over 2500 years ago. The peace can be felt here.
You’ve have ample time to get back to the hotel and relax well into the evening. You’ve cycled through the ancient Kingdom of Anuradhapura and there’ll be plenty to talk and mull over.
Make sure you have a hearty breakfast, as we’ll be heading up North after checking out of the hotel. The drive to Jaffna will take around 3½ to 4 hours.
The change in landscape is immediate once we reach Jaffna. The northern part of the island is dry yet fertile, and the palmyrah palm reigns supreme in these parts.
Unwind well into the afternoon, once you've checked in to your hotel. We’ll set off on a tour of relatively unknown Jaffna, towards late afternoon.
Jaffna has a pulse all its own. The people, the terrain, the cuisine, the pace of life, and just about everything here is different. It makes for a fascinating experience! We’ll start this one close to the entrance of Pannai causeway. Jaffna Fort is located here. Originally built by the Portuguese, it is the second largest islandwide. There’s a tiny archaeological museum you can visit. Here, your host will take you through a few important points of local history. We come to see why it has developed differently from the rest of the country. We move to the ruins of King Sangiliyan’s Minister’s residence. This was an important part of the once thriving Jaffna Kingdom. The island was home to several Kingdoms at the same time. This is a thought most surreal. The Jaffna Library is an iconic structure, well-known across all of South Asia. It was razed to the ground after a deliberate fire in 1981, during the initial stages of the decades-long civil war which erupted in Sri Lanka. Rebuilt thereafter, it is still in use today. The bullet-ridden structures are now few and far between, and Jaffna has bounced back strongly from the hellish atmosphere that clouded these parts for decades. Jaffna is now vibrant and in the process of rediscovering its roots. The local cuisine is top notch. It is unlike anything else found in the other parts of the island. Jaffna’s central market is a must-have experience. The variety of fresh fruits and vegetables on display here is pretty special. Then there’s a small alleyway dealing in exclusively palmyrah-based products. A few independent food stalls have also set up shops here. In the past, Jaffna was home to a multi-ethnic community. It’s many religious places provide clear evidence of this. The most famous of them is perhaps the Nallur Kovil. It has immense religious and cultural significance here in Jaffna, across the island, and in other parts of the world as well. It is over 500 years old. There is a large population of Roman Catholics here in Jaffna. Many of them profess their faith at the St Mary’s Cathedral, built by the Dutch in the 1790s. The Sri Naga Vihara is an important Buddhist temple, which devotees from all parts of the island visit regularly. The Jaffna city experience allows you to take in several highlights of this northern city, close up.
Make your way back to the hotel and rest your feet throughout the course of the evening. The day’s experience in the heart of Jaffna will remain with you for a lifetime.
After a flavourful local breakfast, or an intercontinental breakfast if you prefer, we’ll head to Delft Island. It is called Neduntheevu in Tamil, the local language in the northern part of the Sri Lanka.
Delft is tiny. It is 8km long and just over 5km wide. Its population is around 5,000. This is what makes Delft Island unique. The only way there is by boat or ferry. It takes about an hour to get there. As you approach the island, you’ll see hundreds of wild horses grazing in the empty land. This isn’t seen anywhere else on the island. The Portuguese brought with them the oddly-shaped Baobab tree, and they planted them in their thousands here. Naturally occurring corals are all along its shore. There are unique customs here. The local people worship a growing coral shaped like a large cobra. Delft Island is an experience you simply should not miss. Life here is slow. A natural boundary exists around most parts of the island, built using neatly arranged corals. You’ll rarely find a concrete wall anywhere here. Pigeons’ Cage is said to be one of the oldest attractions in Delft. Dutch colonial rulers kept pigeons for the purpose of passing urgent messages to and from. As the Delft experience draws to a close, you’ll head to the western part of the island where a 3-foot giant footprint, said to have belonged to a 40-foot man, can be seen. There are several myths surrounding its appearance. Hindus believe it is closely connected to the Indian epic Ramayana, and the passage of Lord Hanuman from India to Sri Lanka in an effort to find Lord Rama’s consort, Sita.
We’ll head back to Jaffna and to your hotel, thereafter. You can relax as evening approaches slowly. Delft will leave you forever moved with its eerie silence and otherworldly landscape.
After a hearty breakfast and a laidback morning, we’ll head to Nagadeepa Island or Nainativu as it is known in Tamil. It will take us between 1½ to 2 hours to get there.
Soak in the unique culture and natural landscape that Nainativu affords. Of the many islets off the coast of the Jaffna peninsula, its smallest and most sparsely populated is Nainativu. Many consider a visit here to be a pilgrimage. The sacredness of this piece of land has long been known. You can feel it when you set foot here. Even from the southern coast of India, merchants and pilgrims have come to Nainativu for close to two thousand years. Worship here is said to be more powerful than in other parts of the island. You’ll take in the many mysteries of this island as part of this experience.
Head back to the hotel towards afternoon. You’ll have the entire day ahead of you to rest and reflect on the unique experience that was Nainativu.
Breakfast is more important today, because we’ll be heading to Pasikuda after checking out from the hotel. The drive there will take between 6 to 6½ hours!
The drive there is scenic. We’ll pass through miles of coastline as we approach the island’s eastern coast. The white sandy beaches let us know we’re here.
You’ve got an entire evening to do as you please once you’ve check in to the hotel. Maybe you’d like to immerse yourself in some of the exciting activities organized by your hotel!
Breakfast varies slightly as you move from place to place in Sri Lanka. Enjoy a local breakfast, or select the continental breakfast option, this morning. Thereafter, we’ll head to a local guest house for a special cooking experience. The flavours of the east coast are different. You’ll closely absorb them as you help prepare this authentic local meal.
The best way to pick up the ins and outs of any cuisine is by trying to cook it yourself. And so, this experience is hands-on. A seasoned local chef will carefully show you how to prepare the distinct elements of this meal. The experience is built around locally-sourced seafood and produce. Fresh lagoon crabs caught at the local lagoon and curry leaves plucked straight from the garden outside are some of the main features of this meal. A meal is more flavourful when you’ve put in a bit of effort. So sit down and savour a local feast unlike any you’ve had or helped prepare before. The fiery coconut sambol and the flavourful crab curry, laid atop a steaming plate of white rice, will allow you to dive deep into the flavours of the eastern part of the island. Top it off with a local desert specially prepared by your chef for the afternoon.
* This experience can be shaped as you like, around your palette and food preferences. It includes a range of exotic spices, liberally used in local cooking, which you can pick up, smell, and taste as you please.
Head back to the hotel with a full stomach! You can unwind for a while at your hotel. Towards late afternoon, we’ll set off on the Kattankudy town experience. Just 2.5 km in total, Kattankudy is a busy town along the island’s eastern coast. The energy here is different.
It is said to be one of the most densely populated towns across the whole island. It is a majority Muslim town. The customs of the island’s Muslim community are unique. You’ll dive in, head first, into this experience. Your host will take you through the very center of Kattankudy. The architecture here draws strong inspiration from Islam. The detail in the work is reflective of this. There are several uniquely shaped mosques here and Arab-origin traders line its narrow streets, selling their wares. The host is well-versed in Islamic culture and the roots of the local Muslim population. He’ll take you to the Grand Mosque here as he narrates its history. There’s a properly-curated museum here, which is a treasure trove of valuable bits of local information. You’ll get to sample local fruits and other delicacies as you walk through its streets. The date palm-lined avenues of Kattankudy, bordered by the Batticaloa lagoon, is a sight found nowhere else. The specialness of this experience sinks in slowly.
We’ll head back to the hotel, thereafter. You’ll have ample time to put your feet up and recollect the uniqueness of the day’s experience.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so indulge a little! The coconut is essential to these parts, as it is to most other parts of the island as well. You’ll learn everything there is to know about the coconut.
We’re a tropical island. So it is only natural that we have an abundance of coconuts here. But we use it in a variety of ways; some common, some uncommon. From skincare to local cuisine, the coconut is ever-present in daily life here.
The coconut palm is more versatile and resilient than many of the other crops found in Sri Lanka. The coconut’s hydrating water is used to naturally replenish electrolytes. The coconut is used to produce oil, vinegar, desiccated coconut and coconut milk. Its use in local cuisine is liberal. This experience is set in a coconut plantation in Passikudah. Here, nothing goes to waste. Your host will take you on a leisurely stroll through the coconut estate, which is home to 8,000 trees. The island shares a long history with the coconut and over many centuries, novel ways have been developed to use each part of it, from the husk to the kernel. The landscape here is spectacular. It is warm though and the coconut water you’ll get to sample is perfect to cool you down. Oh, and there’s dairy-free ice cream here, made using coconut! Your host will take you through the significance of the coconut across the ages, from the time of the island’s ancient Kingdoms to its impact on the economy today. This experience takes a comprehensive look at all-things coconut.
We’ll make our way to the hotel, thereafter. You’ve got the rest of the evening to unwind and absorb how critical the coconut is to life here.
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 3 to 3½ hours. En-route, we’ll head to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
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 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 45 minutes to 1 hour 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.
We’ll make our way to the hotel towards afternoon. You’ve got plenty of time to sit back, relax, and reflect on the day’s unique experience.
After a hearty breakfast, we’ll check out of the hotel and head towards Colombo. The ride there will take between 3½ to 4 hours. But there’s one extremely special stop to make before we leave Dambulla. The Dambulla Cave Temple is a must-have experience when in Sri Lanka.
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.
We’ll continue to Colombo, thereafter. The cityscape becomes visibly slowly as we approach this bustling South Asian city. After checking in, you’ll have several hours to relax till late afternoon. The long drive can be a bit tiring. 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.
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 1 to 1½ 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.