Project Description






Highlights: human history of Sri Lanka / Temple of the Tooth / Ancient Kandyan dance / historic tea plantations & factory / mountain train journey / high elevation birds / Yala National Park / Udawalawe National Park / rainforest flora & fauna / Galle Fort World Heritage Site / coral reef ecology & sea turtles / dolphin viewing / whale watching

Serendipitous Sri Lanka, A World on An Island – 13 Days

Tucked away in a corner of the Indian Ocean is an island known as Lanka – the “resplendent land.” For centuries this teardrop shaped isle has seduced travellers with its charming inhabitants, golden-sand beaches, world famous heritage sites and abundant nature. Poets called it “the pearl upon the brow of India” and the island’s ancient name ‘Serendib’ gave rise to the English word ‘serendipity’ – a happy accident, as indeed it is for anyone with the good fortune to go there.

With a rich cultural history that dates back over 2,000 years, Sri Lanka surpasses expectations. More than 70 protected areas covering 14% of the islands land mass support biological diversity greater per surface area than any other country in the Asian region. Sri Lanka is a global bio-diversity hotspot with half of all species being endemic. The island boasts the world’s highest concentration of leopards and elephants; it is one of the best places to have close encounters with blue whales, sperm whales and many species of porpoise and dolphins.

The gentle sway of Buddhism introduced in 247 B.C. transformed the Indo-Aryan Sinahese inspiring them to create stunning heritage sites like Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and other ancient cities that rivaled any in their time.

Guests on this trip will explore regions of Sri Lanka few others venture to. They will boat with dolphins and whales, snorkel over coral reefs, explore sea turtle nesting beaches and go on game drives in safari jeeps in search of leopards, elephants, sloth bear and crocodiles. Whether cycling through the beautiful ruins of Polonnaruwa, climbing to the 200 meter summit of Sigirya’s ‘Lion Rock” fortress, exploring the ancient and vibrant cities of Kandy and Galle Fort, picking tea leaves on historic plantations, watching the sun rise from atop a mountain in Ella, or riding the narrow gauge rails of one of the world’s most scenic train journeys, guests will encounter one adventure after another.

Sri Lanka is often called ‘a world on an island’ and those privileged to take part in this amazing adventure will surely understand why.

Sunday / Jan. 8

  • Guests landing at Colombo International Airport on overseas flights will obtain visas on arrival and be greeted by our staff.
  • A short drive to the historic Galle Face Hotel, will give everyone a chance to rest and clean up before our opening dinner at a 
beautiful restaurant in the old historic quarter of the city. Built in 1864, the sweeping staircase and checked tile floors of our hotel have seen celebrity guests from Noel Coward to Richard Nixon pass over them.
  • This evening we can take in the Sunday promenade along the Galle Face Green where locals gather to enjoy the festive atmosphere and cool breeze of the Indian Ocean.

Overnight: Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

Monday / Jan. 9

  • After a delicious breakfast this morning, we will take in some of the sights of Sri Lanka’s capitol city before transferring 2.5 hours by charter tourist bus north to the Kalpitiya Peninsula.
  • The region in and around Kalpitiya can be called the birth place of Sri Lanka civilization for not only does it contain prehistoric burial sites, chronicles say that an Indian prince landed on shore here, married a daughter of a tribal chieftain and became the first Sri Lankan king.
  • On arrival in Kalpitiya we will check in to a beautiful seaside resort and everyone can relax and enjoy a large beachside pool before dinner.
  • After a delicious fresh seafood meal, we will gather in an open- air pagoda where we will learn about the fascinating human and natural history of this enchanting isle.

Overnight: Palagama Beach Resort, Kalpitiya

Tuesday / Jan. 10

  • We all rise early this morning, enjoy a light breakfast and head out to sea in launches for a thrilling experience with marine mammals.
  • The Kalpitiya Peninsula of northwest Sri Lanka offers a treasure trove of marine life including 5 species of whales, 4 species of dolphins and the very rare and shy dugongs (sea cows) that are the world’s only vegetarian marine mammal.
  • From November through March Kalpitiya is the best place in Sri Lanka for dolphin viewing. Boating with over a thousand dancing spinner dolphins who gamble alongside the boats and spin acrobatically in the air all around you is an exhilarating experience; as is coming upon an island only to discover it is the back of a blue whale, the worlds largest creature.
  • Returning from our offshore adventure, we will enjoy a full breakfast and have time to swim on the beach or in the pool before heading north by charter bus1.5-hours to Wilpatu National Park, the largest park in all Sri Lanka, where we will enjoy a game drive, dinner and overnight in a safari camp.

Overnight: Leopard Safaris Camp, Wilpattu National Park

Wednesday / Jan. 11

  • Everyone will rise early this morning for breakfast before setting out on a morning game viewing drive at the time of day birds and mammals are most active.
  • Wilpattu National Park has surprisingly few visitors so we can feel quite alone here as we travel through the lovely forests, meadows and lakesides aboard open-air safari jeeps.
  • It is the lush nature of this park as well as its massive size and great diversity of habitats that make it such prime habitat for animals. Inland lakes attract thousands of water birds like the lesser adjunct, painted stork, spot-billed pelican, little cormorants, great white pelican, ruddy turnstone, grey heron as well as crocodiles, water monitors pythons, lizards and turtles.
  • On land, large herds of spotted deer graze in the clearings while barking deer peer from the forest cover. The park supports many endemic species like the Sri Lankan sloth bear, leopard, slow loris, sambar deer, axis deer, purple-faced langurs and toque macaques.
  • This is also one of the best places in the country to spot the Sri Lanka jungle fowl, Sri Lanka hanging parrot, brown-capped babbler, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, black-crested bulbul and crimson-fronted barbet.
  • Following the game drive we will return to our lodge pick up our bags and travel across the island 2.5-hours to Trincomalee. Along the way we will stop for lunch at Anuradhapura, one of the most important ancient sites in all of South Asia.
  • Here we will see the Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest living human planted tree in the world – an actual cutting of the tree Buddha found enlightenment under that was transplanted here in 288 BC.
  • Trincomalee is Sri Lanka’s eastern port city built around the fifth largest natural harbor in the world. It has attracted the curiosity of seafarers such as Marco Polo and Ptolemy since ancient times. Admiral Lord Nelson described Trincomalee, as the finest harbor in the world when he visited in 1770.
  • Today, the big tourist draw to this off-the-beaten path destination is miles of white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue waters, excellent snorkeling and whale watching opportunities.
  • Blue whales sometimes come right into the harbor using submarine canyons, but they can get disoriented and then need to be towed back out to sea by the Sri Lankan Navy.
  • The whale-watching season in Trincomalee normally runs from February to September, but we might just get lucky in January.
  • Arriving late in the afternoon, we will check into a beautiful seaside resort, enjoy a good dinner and prepare for another big day ahead.

Overnight: Hotel Jungle Beach Resort, Trincomalee

Thursday / Jan. 12

  • Today we focus our attention on island ecology and coastal ecosystems, transferring by boat right after breakfast to Pigeon Island National Marine Park.
  • Located just 2 km offshore, Pigeon Island offers excellent snorkeling opportunities as well as an opportunity to see many endemic and migrant bird species.
  • Later in the afternoon, after enjoying a picnic lunch on the beach, we will return to our resort for sundowners and one more magical evening to savor the ambience of this off-the-beaten-path resort.

Overnight: Hotel Jungle Beach Resort, Trincomalee

Friday / Jan. 13

  • We get an early start this morning so we can explore Wasgamuwa National Park at the best time of day for game viewing. Boarding safari jeeps, we head deep into a preserve rich in elephants and other life.
  • Wasgamuwa National Park has a history of being the best place to observe the Sri Lankan sloth bear. The name Wasgamuwa is derived from the Sinhalese ‘walaha’ for bear and ‘gamuwa’ for ‘the woods’. Due to the decline in population of the Sri Lankan sloth bear, the most commonly seen animal on safari today is the Sri Lankan Elephant, 360 of which are found within this park.
  • Sri Lanka’s parks are home to 5,000 Asian elephants, the greatest concentration on earth. Thanks to large water tanks built by a Sri Lankan king in the third century, elephants follow park corridors in the dry season to gather at these watering holes.
  • This “Gathering” (July to October) can draw in over 300 elephants at once and is ranked as one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles. Twinning of trunks and meeting of foreheads are some of the greetings elephants use when they see one another again after a year of separation.
  • After exploring Wasgamuwa we drive to Polonnaruwa, the second oldest Sri Lankan kingdom, which is considered to have had the most advanced and highly developed agriculture, irrigation and trade systems in ancient Sri Lanka.
  • The irrigation system developed here is based on a massive artificial lake 13.7 km long contained in an embankment 12 m. high. The reservoir is so expansive it is called the ‘Sea of Parakrama.’
  • Here on the edge of his massive reservoir that irrigates all of the surrounding countryside to this day, we will check in to our hotel for a delicious dinner and overnight stay.

Overnight: Sudu Araliya Lake Hotel, Polomaruwa

Saturday / Jan. 14

  • Today offers a rich cultural immersion as we visit three of Sri Lanka’s most iconic ancient sites. Right after breakfast we mount bicycles to tour through the ruins of ancient Polonnaruwa in the magical morning hours before most tourists arrive.
  • This ancient city remains one of the best-planned archaeological relic sites in the country with temples, libraries, royal baths and huge Buddha images carved in solid rock, all set in a lovely natural landscape that can be easily explored by bicycle.
  • From Polonnaruwa, we drive 1-hour to Sigiriya rock fortress, a site so spectacular it is regarded by many as the Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World.
  • Sigiriya was a prehistoric human habitation site and later a Buddhist monastery before it rose to prominence as a fortress built by an obsessed monarch in the 5th century.
  • Sigiriya or ‘Lion Rock’ is an astonishing feat of engineering and construction. The most striking portion of Sigiriya is a huge rock that towers 200 meters above a forested plain. A series of moats, ramparts and water gardens — remnants of an ancient city — spread out on two sides of the rock, with the remains of a pair of giant stone lion’s paws still guarding the staircase that leads to the summit, once occupied by a royal palace.
  • Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, Sigiriya is Asia’s best preserved city of the first millennium, showing complex urban planning combined with sophisticated engineering and irrigation skills in the palace perched on the summit. It is considered it to be one of the oldest tourist attractions in the world with visitors recording their impressions in some of the earliest- known graffiti.
  • The more adventurous in our group can have the thrill of climbing to the summit of the colossal Sigiriya complex before we proceed by tourist bus 2.5-hours to the ancient kingdom of Kandy, the last of the three Sri Lankan kingdoms that is still very much alive today.
  • After checking in to a beautiful hotel overlooking the city, guests can swim in a large outdoor pool before enjoying a sumptuous buffet dinner.
  • After dinner there will be a discussion on the historical treasures we have witnessed this day to help put it all in chronological order. Sri Lanka claims the world’s second-oldest continuous written history – one that chronicles the Indo-Aryan Sinhalese or ‘People of the Lion’ who arrived from northern India around 500 B.C. and the Tamils from southern India that arrived shortly thereafter. Kandy, the third and final kingdom, ended when the king was overthrown by the British.

Overnight: Thilanka Hotel, Kandy

Sunday / Jan. 15

  • This morning we can go for a morning stroll around beautiful Kandy Lake and watch throngs of snowy egrets fly off from their overnight perch trees like snow flurries.
  • Returning to our hotel for a delicious buffet breakfast there will be time to relax in the outdoor pool before visiting Kandy’s most iconic site.
  • The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy was built in the 18th century and declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1988. It is one of the most venerable places for the Buddhist community all around the world and is under tight security for in the past whoever possessed this venerated tooth of the Lord Buddha ruled the Sri Lanka kingdom. Even the Tamil Tiger terrorists tried to steal the tooth during Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war.
  • After enjoying lunch in a local restaurant and taking some time for souvenir shopping, we drive 30-minutes to Gampola where we will learn about Sri Lanka’s most celebrated industry – Ceylon tea production.
  • In the 1800s, coffee plantations were the islands main profit earning industry but during the 1870s, a fungal disease gripped the coffee plantations all over the island and wiped out the entire industry. Tea trees proved more resilient and better suited to the climate of the hill country. Sri Lanka is now the world’s fourth largest producer of tea and the tea industry is one of the main sources of foreign exchange.
  • Guests will learn about Ceylon tea production by first practicing leaf selection with Tamil professional pickers; picking off two leaves & a bud from trees over a century old. We will also visit a tea factory where we can learn of Sri Lanka’s secrets to producing some of the world’s finest teas.
  • After an exciting day of sightseeing, tea picking and shopping the streets of Kandy, we will take in an evening dance performance before dinner.
  • Kandyan dance can be performed only by one particular caste that is aligned to the Temple of the Tooth. Kandyan dance also plays a significant role in the Dalada Perahera Temple of the Tooth procession – Sri Lanka’s biggest and most beautiful cultural event.

Overnight: Thilanka Hotel, Kandy

Monday / Jan. 16

  • After enjoying a lavish buffet breakfast at our hotel overlooking Kandy, and possibly a refreshing swim in the pool, we check out of our hotel and drive through the scenic mountainsides, stopping along the way to view some wonderful waterfalls.
  • After enjoying a light lunch we hop aboard the 1:30 pm historic train to Ella for a 3.5-hour narrow gauge rail journey that is rated one of the most beautiful in the world.
  • Climbing up through lush tea estates, the train enters high mountain forests of tree ferns, pines and rhododendrons before crossing a summit pass and descending through terraced farmlands, enchanted forests and mountain valley hamlets.
  • Disembarking at Ella’s quaint railway station at 5:00 pm, we transfer a short distance to our elegant mountain retreat for the night. After enjoying a delicious dinner in the open-air restaurant of our lodge, we will gather together for a candle-sharing circle under a sky with stars so close you feel you can reach out and touch them.

Overnight: 98 Acre Teafield Hotel

Tuesday / Jan. 17

  • No one will want to miss the glory of sunrise this morning, so we rise early, eat a light breakfast and set off to climb Little Adams Peak along a trail that begins not far from our lodge.
  • Framed by towering Ella Rock and the spectacle of the wondrous Ella Gap, the view from Adams Peak (1,141meters) is said to surpass all other places in Sri Lanka for spectacular scenic splendor.
  • After a 2-hour trek, we return to our lodge for a full breakfast and then begin the descent to the Sri Lanka lowlands. The change in vegetation zones as we drop from over 1000 meters to sea level is dramatic.
  • Shortly after reaching the lowlands we will make a visit to Buduruwagala – a sacred site of the ninth or tenth century that is thought to have been a hermitage for monks. Here a massive rock face depicts 7 sculptures including the largest standing Buddha sculpture in Sri Lanka at 16 m. from head to toe.
  • In this peaceful, secluded setting that receives very few visitors, we will take time for some quiet reflection and learn about the history of Buddhism. Though the Lord Buddha was born in Nepal and spent his entire adult life in India, Buddhism never took hold in those countries. Were it not for a Buddhist monk coming to the island in 247 B.C. and influencing the king of a maritime trading people to declare it the new spiritual practice of all Sri Lanka, Buddhism might well have failed to spread to South East Asia.
  • Our final destination this day is Yala National Park, Sri Lanka’s most famous and second largest protected area.
  • We will enjoy lunch outside the park before boarding open-air safari jeeps for our first game drive starting at 2:00 pm.
  • Bordering the Indian Ocean, Yala is a spectacular 350 sq. km. national park that offers the best game viewing park outside of Africa. Asian elephants are found at Yala in large and small herds as well as sambar deer, spotted deer, wild water buffalo, wild boar, sloth bear, jackals, monkey, langurs, mongoose, monitors, crocodiles, pythons, cobras and many species of birds.
  • But Yalas biggest draw is leopards – an incredible 300-350 in total! This park is recognized as one of the best locations in the world to observe and photograph leopards in the wild. It has been confirmed that Yala National Park has the world’s highest density of these elusive cats — as much as one leopard per square kilometer.
  • Sri Lankan leopards are distinct sub-species from their Indian neighbors, and are the largest leopards in Asia. Though the prevalence of the Sri Lankan leopard population is high here, it still takes a well- trained eye to observe these powerful cats in action, as well as to know when and where to look for one.
  • Tonight will be one to long remember as we head to our safari bush camp for a delicious barbecue dinner and campfire.
  • If the night sky is clear we will see the constellations that guided Sri Lankan navigators for centuries on trade missions to most of the civilized world.

Overnight: Safari Camp – Yala National Park

Wednesday / Jan. 18

  • There’s something truly magical about waking in a safari tent at 5:00 am, watching the transition of sound and light from darkness to dawn.
  • After a light breakfast snack we head out by safari jeep once again in search of the elusive leopard. This is one of the best times of day to catch a glimpse of these big cats feeding on night kills.
  • After lunch back at our camp, we depart Yala and drive along the coast to the beautiful surfing beach of Mirissa.
  • On arrival at Paradise Beach Resort guests can enjoy the remainder of the day frolicking in the surf on a golden sand beach or enjoying the resorts large seaside swimming pool.
  • After a delicious seafood dinner, we will gather on the beach to share tales of our adventures.

Overnight: Paradise Beach Resort, Mirissa Beach

Thursday / Jan. 19

  • Today may be one of the most exciting days of the trip as we enjoy an early breakfast and head to Mirissa pier to board an ocean going boat in search of the largest animal on earth – the blue whale.
  • Marine biologists believe that the baleen whales that frequent Sri Lanka waters are exploiting plankton blooms created by the natural flow of nutrients to the ocean from the islands river systems.
  • Whatever the case, the deep drop offs just offshore make Sri Lanka one of the best places in the world to spot blue whales, sperm whales, fin whales humpback whales and orcas.
  • In the best whale-watching months of December, January and April there is a 95% chance of seeing sperm whales and great chances of sighting blue whales – the world’s largest animal, as their migration path is just off Dondra Point.
  • There is something very humbling about having a mammal surface beside your boat that can be 100 meters in length, weighing 180 metric tons and powered by a heart the size of a small car.
  • Even if whales elude us this morning, we’re almost certain to encounter spinner dolphins and four other species of porpoise and dolphins that frequent these waters.
  • Returning back to shore in time for lunch, guests can enjoy the mid-day hours swimming on the beach, at the pool or having a surfing lesson before we check out of our rooms and drive the short distance to Galle Fort further up the coast.
  • Galle is an ancient Sri Lankan settlement; it is believed to be “Tarshish” referred to in the Bible. Today, Galle Fort stands apart as one of the best-preserved examples of 17th century colonial fortifications in the world.
  • The Fort sits on a promontory that juts southwards into the Indian Ocean from the town of Galle, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Ramparts encircle a self-contained neighborhood within the fort.
  • The Portuguese started Galle Fort in 1588; but it was under the Dutch, whose army captured Galle in 1640, that the fort owes its present shape.
  • The Dutch continued to work on this fort right up to the beginning of the 18th century when the British took control of the island.
  • Galle Fort is the largest intact Dutch fort in Asia; it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The fort was built so strong that it withstood the 2004 tsunami that left Galle town utterly devastated.
  • European colonial history will come to life for us as we explore on foot the ramparts and interior lanes where Portuguese, Dutch and British architectural influences are evident.
  • We will spend the night in the historic quarter to take in the magic of sunset, the enchanting night illumination of the town and the serenity of sunrise. Many shops here will provide opportunities to purchase unique souvenirs and crafts from all parts of Sri Lanka.

Overnight: Deco on 44, Galle Fort

Friday / Jan. 20

  • Guests may chose to sip their coffee on the rooftop verandah this morning and watch the ancient fort come to life.
  • We will check out of our rooms this morning and stop to photograph Sri Lanka’s iconic stilt fishermen as we work our way along the coast. Lunch will be enjoyed in a local restaurant before driving further north to a family run sea turtle conservation center that has been working for generations to protect Sri Lanka’s sea turtle population.
  • On Dec. 26, 2004 nearly the entire family was killed when the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated the site. Two surviving brothers in Colombo on that tragic day have since taken up the cause. They rebuilt and operate the center that releases many thousands of baby turtles every year.
  • Five of the world’s eight species of sea turtles regularly visit the sandy beaches of Sri Lanka to nest: green, hawksbill, olive ridley, loggerhead and the massive, but most endangered, leatherback turtles. We will learn how these species are under global threats from getting entangled in fishing nets and drowning, losing limbs to outboard motor props, mistaking plastic bags and balloons for jellyfish prey and having their nesting beaches taken over by developments including beach resorts.
  • Before we depart the hatchery guests may be able to release hatched turtles on the beach. Scientists believe that only one out of 1,000 of the babies that make their way back to the sea will return again as adults to reproduce, but one of our releases might be a lucky one. After all, Sri Lanka was formerly known as “Serendib”, the origin of the word serendipity – “a happy accident!”
  • At mid day we check in to Apa Villa, a lovely and secluded oasis of calm, to relax on our final day before departure.
  • We will have a special dinner and a closing candlelight ceremony this evening where we can all share highlights of our remarkable journey together through Sri Lanka “The Resplendent Land.”

Overnight: Apa Villa, Illukatiya

Saturday / Jan. 21

  • Depending on return flight times, guests can sleep in or lounge at our villa until late check out time. It’s just a 1.5-hour drive north to Colombo International Airport on the islands new expressway.
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