Day 1 – Arrive Colombo.
Welcome to Sri Lanka.
On arrival, our Representative will meet you and you will be fast-track all the way through immigration and escorted to the Silk Route Lounge. You will be greeted with a cup of tea and be assisted with changing money at this time if you wish. Once your luggage is delivered to the lounge, porters will accompany you through a special VIP track to your private vehicle. Proceed to Colombo (50 minutes away) and to our hotel. Head to your room for a good night’s sleep, ready for the first day of exploration.
Overnight Galle Face Hotel, Colombo.
Day 2 – Colombo
Colombo is a bustling metropolis that once functioned the main port for the Portuguese, Dutch and British. It has colourful tapestry of various cultures; from ancient Buddhist temples and stunning colonial architecture to the modern shops and art galleries.
This morning we will all meet for breakfast for and have a quick briefing about the tour.
After breakfast, we join our local host on a ‘tuk tuk’ tour of Colombo’s culture. Start from the Seema Malakaya, a floating temple located just outside the heart of Colombo where you will learn much about the Buddhist philosophy which plays an intrinsic part in the daily life of most Sri Lankans. From there head to one of the most iconic kovils in the city, built purely out of granite as a tribute to God Shiva, and then to Kochchikade church, a place where devotees of all religions gather in search of solace. Wind our way through the bustling streets of Pettah, where everything and anything you can possibly imagine can be found in any of the hundred shops you will encounter. Stop and enjoy a cup of masala chai as our guide explains the history behind the area.
Lunch at the Gallery Café . (Paradise Road) The Gallery Café is housed in the former offices of world-renowned Sri Lankan architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa.
After lunch, for those that wish, we will visit Barefoot Gallery. Barefoot products are designed in Sri Lanka and every item is designed and made either by workers at home or by local artists and craftsmen. There are no factories and no production lines; each worker is responsible for the quality of his or her final product.
We return to the hotel for evening cocktails and canapes.
After this, you can dine at the hotel if you wish (to own account), wander over to The Ministry of Crab (a Sri Lankan institution) or retire after a busy.
Overnight Galle Face Hotel, Colombo. (B / L / Cocktails & Canapes)
Day 3 – Sigiriya
This morning after breakfast we travel to Sigiriya.
En-route we visit the Selyn Fairtrade Handloom Factory in Kurunegala for a guided experience including visits to its dying plant and handloom village. Founded in 1991, Selyn started its work with 15 women and now has nearly 1000 members within its organisation. It is a social business based on the principles of Fairtrade in order to uplift the living standards of rural women (and men), by providing them with sustainable employment while keeping alive the local tradition of the handloom.
We stop for a bit to eat (own account) at the likes of Saruketha.
Continue on for a visit to UNESCO Dambulla Golden Temple & Cave complex. The Dambulla Cave Temples are the largest and best-preserved rock cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, towering 160 m over the surrounding plains with more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Five of the caves contain ancient statues and paintings related to and depicting Lord Buddha and his life. The climb from the base is not strenuous – and can be done at a leisurely pace. It takes approximately 30 minutes – there are approximately 200 steps. You will need to cover your knees and shoulders – and access the inner chambers barefoot or with socks.
We then arrive at our gorgeous accommodation – Water Garden Sigiriya. Surrounded by ponds and streams modeled after the water garden in Sigiriya, a 5th-century rock fortress and city, this luxe hotel is a beautifully laid out, resort-style hotel in the Cultural Triangle, with spacious, free-standing chalets designed to indulge guests with stunning views of the area’s principle attraction: the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya. Paddy fields and mature trees surround the hotel’s substantial grounds, and the area buzzes with wildlife while remaining blissfully peaceful.
We dine together in The Main Restaurant together this evening.
Overnight Water Garden Sigiriya. (B / D)
Day 4 – Sigiriya
Dating back to the fourth century BC, Anuradhapura was the first civilization to be built in Sri Lanka and remained the spiritual and secular capital of the island for well over a millennium. Anuradhapura contains some of the island’s most sacred Buddhist shrines and was established around a cutting said to be from the fig tree under which the Buddha sat and gained enlightenment. This cutting – the Sri Maha Bodhi – is Anuradhapura’s spiritual heart and is thought to be one of the world’s oldest trees. The extensive ancient ruins of Anuradhapura cover 40sqkm: you will find three colossal tanks, enormous, towering dagobas, the remains of a palace, Isurumuniya Vihara rock temple and Royal Pleasure Gardens. At its height, the city was dotted with monasteries and home to over 10,000 monks.
This morning we will tuk-tuk through the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura; alongside scenic paddy fields, hidden villages and cleverly thought-out irrigation systems. Pedal around some of the most architecturally stunning structures including Abayagiri Dagoba, the largest Buddhist monument in the world. You will also visit the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, a branch of the historical Sri Maha Bodhi in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment.
We will have a light lunch en-route back to the hotel where you have an afternoon of leisure. Swim, relax, read, spa…..
Tonight we can meet in the Twin Level Bar for cocktails.
Overnight Water Garden Sigiriya. (B / L)
**There will be an option to climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Sigiriya, known as Lion Rock, was built on top of a huge boulder in the 5th century. A palace; a rock fortress; the hidden castle of King Kasyapa; a Buddhist monastery from the 14th century. Sigiriya consists of 1200 steps. The first part is a leisurely walk through the pleasure gardens. Then you start to climb. The entire duration of the experience takes approximately 1.5 to 2.5 hours.
Day 5 – Kandy
After a leisurely breakfast we leave for Kandy.
En-route, we visit a Sri Lankan garden for a hosted walking tour followed by a delicious home-cooked meal. The Sri Lankan garden is a working spice and fruit farm, nestled in a rural village in Matale. Set on the upper half of a mountain on fifteen and a half acres, the garden is filled with Pepper, Nutmeg, Cocoa, Coffee, Papaya, Jackfruit, Passion fruit, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mango, Banana, Coconut, Rubber, Teak and Mahogany. We will be greeted by the planter with fresh juice sourced from the farm, then go on an easy walk with the planter to learn about the crops and trees. Then we enjoy a delicious, traditional home cooked rice and curry lunch, prepared with fresh herbs and vegetables sourced mainly from the plantation. The planter will join us for lunch and share his knowledge on the exotic vegetables and herbs.
We continue onto Kandy, and check into our boutique lodgings for the night – The Kings Pavilion. This stunning hotel is nestled in the heart of the once mighty Kandyan Kingdom, and is is perfectly placed to offer you the best that the hill capital has to offer. A haven of tranquility overlooking the breathtaking Hunnasgiriya Mountain, the hotel is only 1.5 km from the bustling town centre.
After a rest and refresh, those who wish can visit the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic and the local markets. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple located in the royal palace complex which houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha. Since ancient times, the relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is a UNESCO world heritage site partly due to the temple. Monks of the two chapters of Malwatte and Asgiriya conduct daily worship in the inner chamber of the temple & rituals are performed three times daily: at dawn, at noon and in the evenings. And also have a walk around the Central Markets – where we will predominantly find consumable goods like fruits, spices, and local delights.
Alternatively, stay at the hotel and relish the peace and serenity.
Tonight we can meet in the restaurant for a glass of wine and a meal if you wish (to own account), or get an early night.
Overnight The Kings Pavilion (B / L)
Day 6 – Tea Country
After a leisurely breakfast we transfer to the Railway Station to catch the train to Hatton Train Station. Our van will transfer our luggage and pick us up at the Station before transferring us to our exquisite lodgings.
This is one of the most scenic train rides in Asia. The dramatic landscape of the highlands alight as we wind past lush tea plantations, majestic peaks and rushing waterfalls. Do not expect white gloves and silver service though! That said, the train ride is fabulous in that it is an everyday experience for Sri Lankans of all walks of life.
Our incredible accommodation for the next two nights is Ceylon Tea Trails. Tea Trails is a sprawling tea estate in Hill Country dotted with luxurious tea-planter bungalows, decorated in colonial style. Visiting Ceylon Tea Trails is like stepping back in time. The five bungalows are scattered among the emerald hillsides of the Golden Valley of tea, Bogawantalawa. It is set in the cool, verdant hills so loved by the British during the colonial era, with bungalows dotted around Castlereagh Lake, offering nothing but uninterrupted valley views, absolute quiet and a small local village to visit. The idea is to disconnect and lose yourself in time while enjoying the pristine scenery. The bungalows date back as far as 1888 and are individually designed to suit their heritage. Think beautiful gardens, lawn croquet and wrap-around terraces where you can easily while away hours enjoying the views from your traditional cane chair. Each bungalow has a butler and executive chef who will take care of your every need, discussing the day´s menu and activities available over breakfast.
This is the ideal setting for trekking and biking against the breathtaking backdrop of mountains, lakes, winding roads and waterfalls. If you prefer to unwind, observe life on a working tea estate while being pampered by your butler, enjoy a spa treatment, croquet on the lawn or sunbathe alongside the pool. Or explore the lush tea fields & visit a century old factory for a gentle education in the art of Ceylon Tea.
Overnight Ceylon Tea Trails (B / Lunch / Afternoon Tea / Dinner / Drinks)
Day 7 – Tea Country
This morning we will take a guided tour of the Dunkeld Tea Factory , a quintessential tea experience in Sri Lanka. The resident Tea Planter passionately delves into all aspects of tea in just the right amount of detail – from a look back to the early days of “planting” and the lifestyles of the early colonial settlers, to the manufacturing process, to how flavours are created to suit various palates. What went into creating the perfect cup of refreshing Ceylon tea in 1867 were equal parts science, art, sleight of hand, and a spot of luck. And not much has changed since. As some of the methodology and machinery are over a century old we strongly believe that Ceylon Tea itself is part of the world’s living heritage. And this is your invitation to partake in it. We will be taken on a tour of the Tea Factory and learn about the whole process; from the initial drying of the leaves, through rolling, fermenting and sifting, to produce the different types of tea.
Tea tasting is the process in which a trained taster determines the quality of a particular tea. Due to climatic conditions, topography, manufacturing process, and different clones of the Camellia sinensis plant (tea), the final product may have vastly differing flavours’ and appearance. These differences can be tasted by a trained taster in order to ascertain the quality prior to sale. A tea taster uses a large spoon and noisily slurps the liquid into his/her mouth – this ensures that both the tea and plenty of oxygen is passed over all the taste receptors on the tongue to give an even taste profile of the tea. The liquid is then usually spat back out into a spittoon before moving onto the next sample to taste. The flavour characteristics and indeed leaf colour, size and shape are graded using a specific language created by the tea industry to explain the overall quality.
Your afternoon is free to relax in the gorgeous surroundings of Tea Trails. Alternatively, you can organise any of the following activities:
– Kayaking on Castlereagh lake: enjoy magnificent views of tea-carpeted mountains as you paddle along the Castlereagh lake in hi-spec kayaks. *Kayaking is done in the company of a resident trail guide.
– Take a scenic walk: the five bungalows features walking trails between them, many of which present stunning views. The trails snake through beautifully manicured tea gardens, tranquil patches of forest and jungle, and pass streams and mini waterfalls. Walking is a delightful way of experiencing our stunning landscapes, lush and exotic flora, abundant birdlife and the sweet rhythm of life in a tea garden. A guest favourite is to walk the trails from one bungalow to another for lunch or tea. *Transport back to your bungalow can be arranged with prior notice.
– Mountain Biking: the unspoiled beauty of the surrounding valleys and hills are a great biking experience. For adrenaline seekers of different levels of ability, there are mountain bikes in the bungalows for your use. For short distance rides you can go on your own but for longer rides, it is recommended you take one of the guides along. *Transport back to your bungalow from other bungalows can be arranged with prior notice. You can also arrange to have lunch or high tea in another bungalow.
– Spa Treatments: enjoy a special aromatic bath to begin or complete your day…or just as an indulgence whenever you so please. Choose from Cinnamon Spice, Green Tea, Black Pepper & Orange, Jasmine or a Bergamot & Geranium Bath. Or luxuriate in a spa treatment in the privacy and the comfort of your room after a hike or bike ride and soothe any aches and pains away. Treatments include the Tea Trails Signature Massage, Deep Tissue Massage & Reflex Zone Therapy.
Overnight Ceylon Tea Trails. (B / Lunch / Afternoon Tea / Dinner)
Day 8 – Yala
Today is a big travel day, so after breakfast, we will begin our transfer to Yala.
Today’s drive will be approx 6 hours – but we will stop en-route for bathroom breaks and light snacks.
Continue to Jetwing Yala, and after check in, our afternoon is free. Jetwing Yala is on the southern coastline and comes with the benefit of direct beach access. The setting is superb – perched just behind natural sand dunes and coastal scrub, the hotel overlooks the dramatic southern coastline, just a few miles from the Palatupana entrance of Yala National Park.
Jetwing Hotels are known for their eco-credentials, and this is probably one of their most eco-conscious hotels. You wouldn’t think to look at it – design-wise, it’s a collection of large interlinked buildings yet it’s been designed to conserve and recycle every last drop of water, and on its spacious 50-acre grounds (though hidden from view) is a solar farm and a seawater desalination plant. The minimalist architectural style allows the spectacular coastal views to shine and it’s amply spacious. Even when the hotel is full, it doesn’t feel overcrowded.
As today is a huge day, we have left the evening free for you to retire to your rooms with room service if you wish.
Overnight Jetwing Yala (B)
Day 9 – Yala NP
This morning we enjoy a private wildlife safari from 0600am to 0900am at the Yala National Park (about 15 minutes away). You can either take with a package breakfast with you, or return after the safari and enjoy breakfast at the hotel.
Yala National Park is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka, covering 979 square kilometres. Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka. This is one of the best places to sight leopards in Sri Lanka, if not the world, as the leopard population in Block I of the park is extremely dense. Other highlights include sloth bears, elephants and bird species. Wildlife isn’t just confined to the park though – families of wild boar habitually visit the hotel, and a resident elephant roams nearby.
We will meet our tracker and driver who will take us on a 2.5 to 3 hour game drive into the National Park. Yala hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. The number of mammals that has been recorded from the park is 44, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. The experience is designed to make you experience the spirit of Yala, with knowledgeable trekkers and disciplined drivers. The park is teeming with elephants, leopards, wild boar, spotted deer, crocodiles and jackals.
Between safaris, enjoy the hotel’s 75-metre pool which is superb for relaxing after game drives. There is also the blissful sanctuary of the spa, seamlessly integrated with the atmosphere of coastal wilderness. The Balinese Ayu Spa has been designed so you can enjoy luxurious treatments designed to relax, refresh and revitalise.
This afternoon, we can enjoy another private wildlife safari from 1500pm to 1800pm in the National Park.
We dine together in the hotel’s Restaurant tonight.
Overnight Jetwing Yala (B / D)
Day 10 – Galle
After breakfast, we proceed to Galle.
En-route, we visit a Cinnamon Plantation (03 ½ hours away) for an exclusive hosted experience to learn the ‘story of Cinnamon’ followed by lunch. The gentle coastal hills of southern Sri Lanka are especially suited to the growth of cinnamon and remains a major export of Sri Lanka. Eulogized in poetry from the Song of Solomon to Michael Ondaatje, more than any spice it has become subject of romance. A local cinnamon planter will greet us with a cinnamon infused juice before we make the climb to the estate. We encounter local peelers from the estate and nearby small-holdings gathered at a shed to process and extract cinnamon oil. There are many women peelers at work and at times the entire family gets involved. Observe the peelers at work, hear about the uses and healing properties of cinnamon and it’s grading.
Continue to Galle, and check into the Le Grand Galle, our lovely accommodation for the next 3 nights.
Your afternoon and evening is at leisure.
For those that wish, we can wander down to the Old Fort and have afternoon drinks at the Galle Fort Hotel. (own account). And we can then enjoy dinner at Fortaleza. (own account).
Overnight Le Grand Galle (B / L)
Day 11 – Galle
This morning, meet our local host and enjoy a walking tour of UNESCO Galle Dutch Fort.
Recognized as one of the few remaining living forts in the world, the 17th century fort in Galle covers nearly 150 acres of land and houses over 400 buildings. Initially built by the Portuguese, the fort was later fortified by the Dutch and then taken over by the British in the 1800s. The entrance of the fort still has the coat of arms of the Dutch owned VOC and the British insignia. We start our walk from the new entrance of the Galle Fort and wander along three of the 14 bastions, all with mount canons to protect it from outside invasions. Each bastion has its unique set of characteristics – the moon bastion showcases 19 canons, the largest number in the fort and the Black Fort which was believed to have housed firearms and gun powder. We will stroll through cobblestoned pathways and navigate the cafes, hotels and charming old houses owned by generations of Galle families to get an insight in to their lives, culture and history.
We then have a private lunch at the home of renowned gem expert, gem merchant and 04th generation resident of the Dutch Fort, Ifthikar Mahuroof. Spend a few hours in conversation with one of the most remarkable authorities on coloured stones and mining of our times, in a warm and cozy residence just minutes from the Galle Fort. A philosopher and a philanthropist, Ifthikar has travelled to all corners of the world, his family having ties with the international community since the 17th century through the world of diplomacy and trade. Ifthikar’s own journey as ‘Sri Lanka’s Gem King’ and the world’s greatest traveller, has been remarkable. His wife, Shahira cooks up a storm of the most fresh and delicate seafood in a wonderful home cooked spread.
Return to our hotel for an afternoon / evening of leisure.
Overnight Le Grand Galle (B / L)
Day 12 – Galle
This morning we learn to cook Biryani in a hands-on class with a Galle based host Shahira whose expertise in cooking has brought her much fame in the area. Shahira shares recipes and kitchen techniques that have been passed down from generations before her.
Sri Lanka has had a lot of influence from India and from other different groups of people and cultures who have settled on the island. All of this has evolved in a cuisine unique to Sri Lanka; dishes have been adapted to local vegetation and draws heavily on the traditional agriculture. There is a definite influence from spice-heavy South Indian cuisine, flavours from North India, Muslim influences coming from North Africa, and Javanese cooking traditions from the Malay Archipelago. In addition, flavours from Portugal and the Netherlands have been used and adapted.
Shahira is an amazing cook, but more than that an engaging teacher and a great storyteller. Her family are fourth generation residents of Galle, and their ancestors are of Moorish and Persian descent having first arrived on the shores of Galle in the 16th century. They are one of the earliest traders of spice and colored stones to settle in the Fort. Shahira is constantly re-inventing herself in the kitchen and rarely creates the same dish again. Over the years she has become an expert in the kitchen and does not necessarily follow a recipe, but relies more on the senses – taste, smell and the look of food to know when it’s cooked.
This is a really authentic local experience where you will get to learn to create the dishes, and then and sit and savour the mouthwatering home cooked meal that you helped cook.
Your afternoon is free. Perhaps return to the old Fort or spend your afternoon whiling away the hours in the gorgeous pool, with poolside dining, tropical concoctions and the Indian Ocean just steps away. Or indulge in the Spa.
This evening we will meet for Farewell Cocktails and snacks by the pool, where we will reminisce about our amazing journey through the Tear Drop Island.
Overnight Le Grand Galle (B / L / Farewell Drinks + Snacks)
Day 13 – Departure
This morning we depart to the Colombo Airport (approx 02.5 hours away).
Thank you for sharing this extraordinary journey with us.