Sri Lanka – Tropical Beaches & Ancient Cities
Sri Lanka is an ideal destination for anyone looking for a getaway that balances spectacular natural beauty with rich historical sightseeing. This tour provides a comprehensive experience that allows you to see the best eastern Sri Lanka has to offer, starting in the eastern coastal city of Negombo, traveling inland towards Anuradhapura, south to Kandy and Galle, and finally looping back to Negombo. Sri Lanka’s small size allows for convenient domestic travel, but since it is affected by two distinct monsoon patterns, weather can be inconsistent. Nonetheless, the country’s climate is warm year-round, and since the itinerary is concentrated on the east, visiting anytime between April and September is ideal.
Most meals on this tour are inclusive, as is all ground transportation to destinations. Accommodations vary from a comfortable campsite to luxurious hotels, all in splendid condition. In addition, you will be able to spend at least two days in every destination, allowing for a more immersive experience. Whether you seek jungle thrills and adventure or want a more peaceful experience, this tour will be able to suit any of your tastes.
Day 1: Airport – Negombo
Arrive in Sri Lanka at Negombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport and receive a warm welcome. A small port city with tropical beaches and a fascinating colonial legacy, Negombo has previously been the target of British, Dutch, and Portuguese traders who all competed to control the local source of highly-prized cinnamon. While the spice trade shaped the port’s economy as it grew into a city, the Catholic church also influenced the local way of life.
Today, Negombo continues to thrive with a blend of multiple cultures and religions, as colonial-style architecture exists alongside palm trees and traditional fishing boats. Get your first look at the city and its many sights along the 30-minute drive to your hotel. Check in at the modern and upscale Goldi Sands Hotel, eat dinner, and rest up for your adventures ahead!
Day 2: Negombo
Wake up and enjoy a scenic breakfast at the hotel before heading out of the city. In the outskirts of Negombo, ride a tuk-tuk (an auto rickshaw) through the countryside and see what rural life in Sri Lanka is like. Stop to meet the locals, eat lunch with them, and listen to their stories. Tour the village and enjoy a traditional dinner before heading back to your hotel.
Day 3: Negombo – Wilpattu
After breakfast, take the morning to explore the local fish market in Negombo, a bustling hub for locals who gather to pick up their share of the daily catch. Then, drive 3.5 hours north along the coast to Wilpattu National Park, the largest national park in Sri Lanka and home to several various forest ecosystems.
One of Sri Lanka’s original national parks, Wilpattu continues to host over 30 species of mammals, including leopards, sloth bears, Sri Lankan elephants, and spotted deer. Wetland bird species such as the pintail, whistling teal spoonbill, and the white ibis can also be found within park grounds, flying high among the trees. Check into the big game safari campsite and enjoy a BBQ dinner.
Day 4: Wilpattu
Spend a full day in Wilpattu National Park and explore the habitat of countless native species through a safari adventure that includes breakfast, lunch, and all transportation. Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive leopard, as although their current population is unknown, the park is one of the only places where they can be spotted. A large group of Sri Lankan Sloth Bears, Sri Lanka’s only endemic bear species, also lives within the park. If you’re lucky, you will get to track down these rare creatures and observe them in their natural surroundings. After a long day, return to the camp for dinner and head to bed.
Day 5: Wilpattu – Anuradhapura – Sigiriya
This morning, head to your next destination: Anuradhapura. With a large number of ancient monuments and several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Anuradhapura is one of the best places to discover the Sinhala civilization that once flourished in Sri Lanka. This ancient city was the seat of power for great Sinhala kings over 1,400 years ago and has preserved a plethora architectural and engineering marvels.
See the tallest dagoba (Buddhist stupa) in Sri Lanka, Ruwanweli Maha Saya, as well as the remains of palaces, temples, monasteries, ceremonial baths, and the temple of the holy Bo-tree (Sri Maha Bodhi). The Sri Maha Bodhi Bo tree is especially famous, as locals say it grew from a branch of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. After an extensive tour of Anuradhapura, transfer to the area surrounding Sigiriya to eat dinner and stay overnight at Hotel Sigiriya.
Day 6: Sigiriya
Explore Sigiriya, a fortress-palace which has been considered a premier eco-tourism destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. The structure rises up from the flatlands surrounding it, towering over 600 feet above the jungle.
Sigiriya, meaning ‘Lion Rock’ in English, is named after the lion-shaped gateway carved into the palace’s massive rocky base. Visitors follow the monument to ascend to the top through the lion’s throat and open jaws. Unfortunately, the only remaining part of the lion that has not faded over the centuris are the set of stone paws. Once you finish visiting the fortress, take the rest of the afternoon to relax with some time off before returning to Hotel Sigiriya.
Day 7: Sigiriya – Polonnaruwa – Pasikudah
Head out in to morning and begin your journey to the eastern shore of Sri Lanka. Along the way, visit the ruins of Polonnaruwa, a UNESCO World Heritage site and capital of Sri Lanka from 11th to 13th century. Enclosed by stone walls, the city was dotted with palaces, shrines, monasteries, pavilions, parks, ponds, and irrigation lakes. Many of these still stand today, with the most spectacular being the Gal Vihara temple complex. The structure was cut from a single granite wall and contains dozens of statues of reclining, sitting, and standing Buddhas, making it one of the true masterpieces of Sri Lankan Art.
Days 8 and 9: Pasikudah
Situated on the eastern coast of the country, Pasikudah is known for having one of the longest stretches of shallow reef coastline in the world, as most coasts in Sri Lanka are deep and experience stronger currents. Walk for miles in calm, crystal-clear water only a few inches deep and go scuba diving or snorkeling at any one of the coast’s ideal spots. The surrounding reef contains all kinds of tropical fish, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot whales, dolphins, mantra rays, reef sharks, and other exotic sea animals. The hotel also has all the resort offerings you could ever ask for, including a spa, pool, and fine dining.
Day 10: Pasikudah – Dambulla – Kandy
Depart from Pasikudah and visit Dambulla, an ancient city is known for its beautiful cave temples and large Buddha statue. The temple complex spans a total of 5 caves, contains over 150 Buddha images, and served as King Valagambahu’s refuge back in 1st century BC. The second cave is the largest and most elaborately decorated. It contains a large reclining Buddha statue as well as statues of Valagambahu and Nissankamalla, two of Sri Lanka’s most famous kings. A large basin sits at the center of the cave, collecting the water that drips from the rock ceiling.
Get the chance to see each of the caves in detail, and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Then, continue on your five hour, 78-mile drive to Kandy and stay overnight at the Viyana Boutique Hotel.