Combining an actioned packed ten day journey across Sri Lanka with a relaxing traditional Dhoni cruise in the Maldives is a winning combination! Explore jungles, discover Buddhist relics, take part in a cookery lesson and tour ancient temple sites on mountain bike, it's all part of the adventure in this tropical paradise known as Buddha's Island. Wildlife - search for groups of wild elephants, buffalo, wild boar and crocodile in Udawalawe National Park, returning to our comfortable tented camp in the evening Pidurangala - a magical experience staying in a jungle lodge on the footsteps of Sigiriya's Lion Rock. Experience sunset lake cruises, nature trails and cooking demonstrations and dinner under the stars. Maldives - cruise around the islands on a traditional Dhoni, snorkelling in crystal clear waters
Arrive in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital city situated on the Indian Ocean. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Colombo at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Colombo's Bandaranaike International airport (airport code CMB), which is 26km, between 30 and 45 minutes from the hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, relax after the flight at the hotel which features a swimming pool and gardens overlooking the Indian Ocean.
After breakfast depart for Pidurangala, driving along the old coastal road north, passing small fishing communities and the Old Dutch canal in Negombo and making a brief stop at the fish markets. We then head inland to the cultural capital around Sigiriya. Our destination is Back of Beyond resort, an eco-lodge set amongst four acres of forest at the base of Pidurangala rock, just five minutes from the famous Lion rock of Sigiriya. Our accommodation is a mixture of tree houses, bungalows and cottages. The lodge was founded with a philosophy of minimising energy use using solar power as much as possible. All 'rooms' have an open format designed specifically for families, with a separate lounge area and bathrooms. In the case of the secluded treehouses an open air shower area, with hot and cold water for you to enjoy a long shower under the open skies. Please refer to the accommodation section for more details. All meals are included for the next two days with fresh produce secured from the surrounding villages and a choice of local and western dishes with a 'Sri Lankan touch'. We aim to arrive early afternoon to allow plenty of time to check in and unpack. In the early evening we will set off for a guided walk to the summit of Pidurangala rock for breath taking views of the surrounding countryside at sunset. En route we learn of the fascinating rich history of Pidurangala and Sigiriya. Returning to our lodge for dinner, for those that wish to there is the chance to head out on a guided walking safari at night along a carefully created path under the tree canopy where you will have a chance to spot one of the world's most rare nocturnal primate, the Grey Slender Loris.
We spend the whole day at the Back of Beyond lodge with the opportunity to participate in a range of activities including bird watching before breakfast to view the large number of migratory and endemic birds that reside in the area. The timings for the rest of the day's activities are flexible. We will visit a local 'weva' also known as a tank, a body of water that varies in size from small ponds to large reservoirs; not only do these offer prolific wildlife viewing opportunities; it's also possible to take a refreshing dip. Later in the day we will take part in a cooking demonstration. These is also ample time to relax in a hammock or enjoy the numerous nature trails that have been designed to explore the various different habitats in and around the surrounding area. One trail identifies the different species of trees and plants along the pathway and looks in more depth at the overall concept and landscaping on the area. In the late afternoon, head out for a sunset boat cruise on a nearby lake lead by a naturalist. The lake offers fine views of the mighty Sigiriya & Pidurangala rocks. Dinner is served at a secret location under the jungle canopy under the stars, where we can reminisce about the day's events.
After breakfast we bid farewell to our jungle retreat and drive five minutes to Sigiriya for a morning climb up to the Sky Fortress. Perched on a slab of rock, the ruins of this 5th century fortress are one of Sri Lanka's major attractions, a stupendous sight to behold and a feat of consummate engineering skill. A switchback series of steps (sometimes very steep) ascends to the top. Halfway up, tucked beneath a sheltering overhang of rock, are the famous frescoes - the Sigiriya Damsels, their colours still glowing. Magnificent views can be enjoyed from the summit of the rock palace (200m high). On our descent we board the bus for a short drive to Habarana where we disembark and take three different types of transport (tuk-tuk, bullock cart and canoe across a small lake) to visit a local farm. Walking a short distance to a nearby village we have a cooking demonstration followed by lunch, all produced using local ingredients. Continue to Giritale by bus.
In the morning we use the most common and versatile mode of transport used by the villagers of nearby farming communities, a 'Land Master' (a two wheeled tractor with a trailer). We visit a nearby village to experience the day to day life of a typical rural Sri Lankan. This afternoon, we explore the ancient city of Polonnaruwa by bike (with the option to travel in our bus). The site has many interesting and spectacular buildings and monuments including the Royal Palace Group with its audience hall, bathing pool and quadrangle which is a very compact collection of ruins. Close by is the Circular Relic House, a curious round structure with a beautifully preserved 'moonstone' carved at the foot of a flight of steps. Another famous feature of the deserted city is the group of carved images of the Buddha known as Galvihara. Here there are four colossal figures, all of which are hewn out of solid granite. The Reclining Buddha is no less than 14m long!
After a busy start to the trip, the pace eases today with a free morning to relax on the deck overlooking Giritale Wewa (lake), take a dip in the pool, visit the spa and wellness centre or explore the nearby town. In the afternoon we visit nearby Minneriya or Kaudulla National park. Minneriya is a short distance from our hotel and is known for its large lake, the source of water for a host of animals including elephant, deer and monkey. The small national park is best known for its abundence of elephants, the months of July to September are the best to visit, we take a jeep safari on the look-out for wild elephants in their natural habitat.
Leaving Giritale in the morning we drive to Kandy via Peradeniya which is located just outside the city. We wander through the lush Royal Botanical Gardens which boasts more than 4000 species of plants, including orchids, medicinal plants and palm trees. Afterwards, we travel by tuk tuk to the University complex before joining our tour leader for a walking tour of Kandy which will include visiting the town's narrow streets lined with old buildings and colourful and interesting markets. You may wish to continue shopping at the Kandyan Art Association's workshops, which has plenty of brassware, batik, lacquer work and other craft items which make excellent souvenirs or presents. The town was captured by the British in 1815, and is known more for its cultural and spiritual importance rather than its history. Buddhists from all over the world come to this delightful old highland town specifically to visit the Temple of the Tooth, the Dalada Maligawa.
This morning we head off across the highlands visiting a working tea factory en-route to the hill station of Nuwara Eliya. We take a look around this little town, known as 'Little England', which is famous for its lake, golf and race course and well-manicured gardens. We then take a train through the mountains and around green rolling hills covered in tea plantations arriving in the late afternoon at the hill town of Ella.
We journey to the lowlands, offering fantastic views of the plains and the mountains above us, to Belihuloya which is a picturesque hamlet situated about 160km east of Colombo. The area experiences a specific climate linking the wet and dry zones with the hill country and the low country, all combining to make this an area of the country with a wide range of bio-diversity. We explore the surrounding villages on foot (a very easy walk), travelling through paddy fields and down to the nearby lake. On return to Belihuloya we may have time to bathe in the natural rock pool and have lunch. This is a unique place where the Belihuloya and Galagamaoya streams meet which creates a natural swimming area with clear unpolluted water. We leave in the early afternoon and drive to our camp on the Eastern border of the Udawalawe National Park stopping on the way to visit the orphaned elephants at the Elephant Transit Home. Designated a national park in 1972, Udawalawe covers some 31,800 hectares and is surrounded by mountains, a mix of rolling grasslands, teak plantations, rainforest and scrub. Renowned for its large herd of elephants (this is in fact one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see them), the park is also home to deer, wild boar, buffalo, jackal and even the odd leopard. The resident bird population is also second to none, including a magnificent collection of birds of prey, chief amongst them being the impressive white bellied sea eagle. This afternoon we will drive into the National Park to take a game drive by jeep. Whilst it cannot be guaranteed, we hope to see some of the animals which can be found here including, of course, elephants. We finish off the day with a relaxing BBQ and campfire under the stars.
Today we drive along the scenic southern coastal road until arriving at Galle. Here we explore an ancient Dutch Fort, which is a World Heritage site, complete with its well preserved ramparts that were built during the 1800s. We then proceed to Hikkaduwa where we stop for the night. In the evening we will visit a turtle hatchery in nearby Kosgoda to see the breeding process of the endangered sea turtles. It may be possible to even release some little baby turtles in to the sea. If you are lucky you might get a chance to see the mother turtles coming on to the beach to lay eggs later in the evening. Our hotel is located on the beach in Hikkaduwa, which is famous for it's marine sanctuary, and if we're lucky we may get to see turtles and other marine life just off the beach.
Today we leave Sri Lanka and drive back to Negombo for an early afternoon flight to the Maldives. Transferring to our traditional Dhoni boat, we will travel along the remote atolls of the Maldives for the next four days. After settling into the cabins, the crew goes through the safety brief before cruising for a few hours to Gulhi, an island in the South Male Atoll. Dinner is served on-board. There are normally two Dhoni cruise boats that travel together on this tour with a capacity of up to ten per boat. The cabins are small and simple but adequate for sleeping and changing. In most of the cabins there will be bunk beds and so the person on the top will need to be prepared to climb up to their bed, many customers choose to enjoy the tranquillity of sleeping under the stars on deck for at least some of the nights. Facilities are shared, and each boat has 3 or 4 toilets and 2 or 3 showers on board. There are plugs available in each cabin with electricity available when the boats generator is running (when the boat is moving or the crew are cooking meals) so it is possible to charge cameras and phones during the tour. There will be a minimum of 4 or 5 crew on board including the captain and cook - depending on the number of people on the boat. There is a bar and dining room with a sundeck to relax and sunbath throughout the day plus a TV and DVD player on board. Good quality snorkelling equipment including mask, snorkel, flippers and swim noodles are provided (we will ask for your shoe/flipper size before you travel). You are free to bring your own equipment should you wish. Other provided equipment includes fishing equipment, various board games, life jackets and a first aid kit. No scuba diving equipment will be carried on board. All Dhonis that we use are fitted with diesel engines, which are used most of the time that we are travelling. Some of the boats still have sails but these are used very infrequently. Every meal is included on the dhoni . Menus are likely to include freshly-caught fish each day, as well curries and pasta. Drinking water, tea and coffee are readily available, with alcoholic and soft drinks available for purchase on-board. US Dollars are accepted on the Dhoni and you can pay your bill for drinks at the end of your cruise in cash or by Credit Card.
The boat departs early in the morning to cruise for a few hours to Kudhi Boli with a traditional Maldivian breakfast being served on-board. Kudhi Boli literally means small shells and is famed for its very beautiful reef with a small strip of beach emerging with each low tide. We then take our first snorkelling lesson in the clear turquoise waters with the chance to view the marine life of the Maldives or you can sunbath and relax on the white sandy beaches of the island. The rest of the day is free to relax and enjoy with a light lunch being served on board. We visit the Island of Fulidhoo this afternoon where we have a tour of the idyllic island. Dinner is served on-board and we are entertained tonight by locals who perform on the famous Boduberu (traditional big drums).
After breakfast we cruise to Rihiveli with the chance to prepare a traditional Maldivian dish taught by the boat cook. Further snorkelling opportunities are available throughout the day over the beautiful coral reefs and we also have time on the beach. Lunch is on-board our boat with further time in the afternoon for more snorkelling, swimming, fishing or to become acquainted with some local board games. During the course of our Maldives cruise we have on occasions arranged a football match with local kids from the islands. The day will end with a wonderful beach barbecue if weather permits.
After breakfast will set sale for the South Male Atoll for a morning of snorkelling at Turtle Reef, near Rihiveli Boduveli. We have one final snorkelling opportunity at the Laguna sand bank (around 45 minutes away) with lunch served on board. Late afternoon we return to the capital, Male for city tour of this thriving city with its mix of lively markets, old harbour and ornate architecture. We start with a tour of the Hukuru Miskiiy also known as the Friday Mosque, with its beautiful architecture and magnificent golden dome. The mosque can hold up to 5,000 worshipers and dominates the skyline of Male. Our next stop is the fish market (via the Presidential Palace). The fish market is one the most exciting places to visits in Male, bursting into life in the afternoon when dhoni's or the local fishing boat start arriving with their catch. A little further to west of the fish market is the aptly names Local Market, consisting of a series of stalls that stocks the producer of islands from all over the Maldives, we have time to do some shopping for souvenirs before heading back to our boat. This evening we will have a special farewell Maldivian dinner prepared for you by our chef, anchored at Hulhu Male Lagoon.
Sailing as close to Hulhule Island in the North Male Atoll as possible, we transfer to a smaller boat for the short transfer to Male's International airport (airport code MLE) where our trip ends. The earliest your flight can depart is 9am.
14 Break Fast(s) 7 Lunch(es) 7 Dinner(s)
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