- Tour the sacred sites and temples in Kandy
- Take a scenic train ride over the Nine Arches Bridge
- Visit waterfalls and explore cave temples
- Laze on tropical beaches and go on safari
|Arrive in Colombo, Optional Activities
|Transfer to Kandy, Tour the Sacred City
|Tower of Ambuluwawa & the Three Temple Loop
|Train to Ella & Nine Arches Bridge
|Day Trip to Ravana Falls, Hike Little Adam's Peak & Zipline
|Transfer to Kalkudah, Stargazing Experience
|Free Days in Kalkudah
|Transfer to Dambulla, Polonnaruwa & Cave Temples
|Safari at Minneriya National Park
|Transfer to Negombo, Sigiriya Rock Fortress
|Transfer to Colombo & Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, Optional Activities
Welcome to Sri Lanka! Sitting in the Indian Ocean just off the southern tip of India, this island nation boasts a rich culture at once similar to its giant neighbor yet wholly unique. See for yourself upon arrival in the capital of Colombo. This city reflects Sri Lanka's many historical influences, from ancient dynasties to colonial occupiers.
At the airport, a driver will pick you up for the ride to your hotel in the city. After settling in, consider heading out for a self-guided tour. Maybe hop in a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) and zip around town as you visit Colombo's most historic landmarks. There's Independence Square (built to commemorate independence from Britain in 1948), the old merchant quarter of Pettah (which dates to the 17th century), the 19th-century Buddhist temple Gangaramaya, and Jami Ul-Alfar, an early 20th-century mosque with a kaleidoscopic red-and-white design.
Day 2: Transfer to Kandy, Tour the Sacred City
In the morning, your driver will pick you up at the hotel for the four-hour drive into the central highlands and the city of Kandy, the gateway to Sri Lanka's gorgeous Hill Country. The area is surrounded by mountains and rolling hills blanketed with Sri Lanka's famous green tea fields. There's much history in town, like the Sacred City of Kandy, an ancient Buddhist site that was the last capital of the Sinhala Kingdom (543 BCE-1815 CE).
After checking in to your hotel, you'll take a brisk walking tour of this Unesco World Heritage Site. First up is a visit to the Gem Museum, which tracks the geological history of Sri Lanka and sells gold and platinum jewelry. Then you'll see the Royal Palace, which sits on serene Lake Kandy. Nearby is the Dalada Maligwa ("Temple of the Tooth"), a popular pilgrimage site that purportedly contains the left canine tooth of Lord Buddha.
Day 3: Tower of Ambuluwawa & the Three Temple Loop
Today, you'll visit one of the region's most iconic landmarks: Ambuluwawa Tower. Your driver will pick you up in the morning for the one-hour ride south to the ancient town of Gampola. Then it's a 15-25-minute ride by tuk-tuk up through beautiful evergreen forests and flowering creeper vines to reach this multi-religious monument, which sits at 3,567 feet (1,087 m) above sea level. If you can brave the dizzying heights, a further 157-foot (48 m) ascent up a narrow spiral staircase takes you to the top of the tower, where you'll be rewarded with breathtaking countryside views.
From Ambuluwawa, the road trip continues on the famous Three Temple Loop, a circuit route showcasing the religious heritage of Sri Lanka. The first stop is Gadaladeniya, a 14th-century Buddhist temple incorporating Hindu elements, particularly in its architecture. Next, ride along rice paddies to the Buddhist temple Lankatilaka, which enjoys a scenic location on a hill in the mountain village of Hiyarapitiya. After stopping at a plantation to stroll through coffee, tea, and pepper fields, you'll reach Embekka Devalaya, a temple famous for its intricate wood carvings.
Day 4: Train to Ella & Nine Arches Bridge
Board a train for a memorable, five-hour ride to the highland village of Ella. Considered one of the most spectacular rail journeys on earth, this stretch of track winds through the cool and misty valleys of the Hill Country, passing lush tea plantations, dramatic waterfalls, and green fields dotted with tea pickers draped in brightly-colored saris. It also passes over an incredible historical landmark: the Nine Arches Bridge. This "bridge in the sky" was commissioned by the British in 1921 and was constructed entirely of brick and cement. Upon arrival in Ella, you'll check in to your hotel.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Day Trip to Ravana Falls, Hike Little Adam's Peak & Zipline
In the morning, you'll drive into the misty mountains around Ella and the three-tiered Ravana Falls, which is a must-visit for any outdoor adventurer. Here, water from a tributary of the Kirindi Oya River cascades 82 feet (25 m) over ledges, creating rock pools on the way down. Ravana is easily accessible from the road, and there are other attractions at the falls, including a limestone cave perfect for exploring.
Then you'll visit Little Adam's Peak. Also located just outside Ella, this mountain is so named due to its resemblance to the larger Adam's Peak, located farther west. But the little brother isn't so small—rising 3,743 feet (1,141 m) above sea level, this is one of the tallest peaks in Sri Lanka. It also offers a leisurely and scenic mountain hike, which you'll discover for yourself. The relatively easy trail ascends through tea plantations for a couple of hours up to lookout points, offering panoramic views of the valleys below.
Once the hike is over, enjoy one last adventure as you soar across the green tea estates of Ella on an adrenaline-pumping excursion in the Flying Ravana Adventure Park. This two-wire zipline stretches for more than 1,500 feet (457 m) and carries riders at maximum speeds of 50 mph (80 kph), offering a bird's eye view over the Hill Country's most breathtaking scenery.
Day 6: Transfer to Kalkudah, Stargazing Experience
Leave Ella behind today for the three-hour drive northeast to the village of Kalkudah. This coastal retreat has wide and inviting beaches but is less well-known than other nearby resort towns. Fewer tourists mean a more intimate experience, and you'll be able to enjoy the beaches in relative solitude. In the evening, take advantage of the uncrowded conditions and join a guide on a stargazing experience in which you'll peer through a telescope past the clear coastal skies into the cosmos.
Days 7-8: Free Days in Kalkudah
Wake up to a cotton-candy pink sunrise and enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the beach. This kicks off two days to enjoy this unspoiled coastal region however you like. Perhaps spend the day by the pool and bar lounge, sipping adult beverages as you recharge your batteries. You'll definitely want to head over to Kalkudah Beach. This famous stretch of sand runs over 2 miles (4 km) down the coast and is a more relaxed alternative to the adjacent Pasikuda Bay.
You can also go on excursions in the area. One must-visit attraction is Coconut Cultural Park. This natural theme park celebrates all things coconut and the myriad items you can make from it, like coconut ice cream and coconut honey. Besides strolling the coconut groves, you'll also get to sample plenty of coconut products. And when the sun goes down, you can head back to the hotel and enjoy a cinematic experience right on the beach.
Day 9: Transfer to Dambulla, Polonnaruwa & Cave Temples
After breakfast, hop in the car for a three-hour drive inland to the central plains. One incredible landmark in this region is the ruins of Polonnaruwa, an ancient city that was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th-13th centuries. The incredibly well-preserved ruins are centered around the ancient reservoir of Parakrama Samudra, which was built in the fourth century CE. On a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll visit impressive palaces, shrines, and statues. Don't miss the Gal Vihara rock temple complex, famous for its dozens of Buddha statues in various states of reclining, sitting, and standing.
After visiting Polonnaruwa, transfer to the popular cave temple complex of Dambulla, another UNESCO-listed site that dates to the second century BCE. On a tour, you'll wind your way deep into these cliffside sanctuaries, home to Buddhist mural paintings and 157 statues. Some of these sanctuaries are still used by monks today for meditation. You'll then transfer to a hotel in Dambulla.
Day 10: Safari at Minneriya National ParkHop in a 4WD vehicle this morning for a three-hour safari in Minneriya National Park. This 34-square-mile (89 sq km) protected area is the largest gathering place for Asian elephants on earth (estimates place their number at around 700). In the dry summer season, they migrate from all over the country to the ancient Minneriya Tank Reservoir, which was built in the third century CE. These animals congregate at this vast freshwater source to drink, bathe, and socialize. While the elephants may be the star attractions here, keep an eye out for rare Sri Lankan leopards, sloth bears, and langur monkeys. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel.
Day 11: Transfer to Negombo, Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Today, you'll leave Dambulla for a tour of the most impressive man-made landmark in the country: Sigiriya. This ancient fortress, also known as the "Lion Fortress," sits 1,144 feet (349 m) atop a granite monolith and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the late fifth century CE by King Kashyapa, Ieader of the Sinhalese Kingdom.
You'll find the entrance between two massive, rock-hewn lion paws. From there, 1,200 granite steps lead up through rock walls adorned with colorful frescoes to the fortress. At the top are gardens, defensive structures, esplanades, and sweeping vistas of the surrounding plains. Afterward, you'll transfer 2.5 hours southwest to the coastal town of Negombo. Here, you'll check in to the hotel where you'll overnight.
Day 12: Transfer to Colombo & Depart
After a leisurely breakfast, enjoy the scenic 45-minute ride down the coast from Negombo to Colombo. You'll transfer to the airport where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!
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