The group flight arrives at Colombo's Bandaranaike Airport and transfer to our hotel at Wattala on the coast. The rest of the day is free to relax at the hotel and recover from the flight. Those not flying with the group will meet us at the hotel. *Pegasus Reef Hotel or similar*
Today we travel to Giritale, where we will stop in one of three parks, either the Kaudulla or Minneriya National Park or the Hurulu Eco Park for a game drive. We will take to jeeps to explore the park and observe elephants in their natural habitat. We then continue onto Giritale where we stay overnight. Our hotel overlooks the Giritale Tanks – the island’s early inhabitants solved the dual problem of heat and lack of water in this dry area by constructing these large tanks to act as reservoirs and to help cool the air. Nowadays these provide an important habitat for birdlife, particularly between April and August. *Giritale Hotel or similar*
Today we cycle at a leisurely pace through a series of small villages to Dambalawewa Lake. We should see plenty of birdlife including Egrets, Brahmany Kites, Kingfishers, Bulbuls. We stop for lunch in a traditional village which will break up the journey. In the late afternoon we return to our hotel in Giritale. *Giritale Hotel or similar*
After breakfast we take a short drive to Polonnaruwa, the ancient capital of the Sinhalese. There are many Buddhist relics and ruins dating from a thousand years ago when Sinhalese culture reached its zenith. Polonnaruwa flourished in the 12th century after the decision was made to move the capital from Anuradhapura so it was further away from the incursions from southern India. We visit many of the temples, palaces, huges dagobas and remarkable Buddhist sculptures. After lunch we drive to Sigiriya about an hour away. This impressive 5th century rock fortress rises 180m from the plains overlooking the surrounding countryside giving far-reaching views. Used as a safe haven from invaders, the route to the top is up a series of steep steps and gangways. From the base, where a moat surrounds impressive water gardens, we ascend 200m, passing an overhanging rock under which superb portraits of native maidens holding flowers and temple offerings still adorn the rock wall. Crowning the flat-topped summit of the rock are remains of the King's Summer Palace from where there are breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. The descent is much easier and you can cool off in the hotel pool at dusk. *Hotel Sigiriya or similar*
Today we head into the hills to the picturesque town of Kandy. On the way we stop at Dambulla, famous for its cave temple, one of Sri Lanka’s most impressive sights. There are colourful, well preserved paintings and statues of the Buddha inside, some of which date back as far as the 1st century BC. Kandy is located on a small lake and we spend time in and around the town. Visiting the Temple of the Tooth, which houses Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic. The Tooth of Buddha which was taken from the funeral pyre in 543 BC and only found its way to Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD. There are literally hundreds of worshippers who visit the temple each day and in July/August the most spectacular ceremony takes place. Some of our trips in July/August should coincide with the Kandy festival, but the exact dates, decided by priests (depending on the auspicious time), are not known until 5 months prior to the event. We drive to a beautiful viewpoint to get a great view of Kandy and its environs that are overlooked by a huge Buddha and visit a gem museum where you can see the products of the traditional methods of gem extraction. In the evening we may have the chance to attend a performance of the athletic Kandian Dancing and fire walking. *Royal Kandyan Hotel or similar*
Today you are free to explore Kandy at your leisure or take an optional excursion to Knuckles Mountain Range (including Lunch). This mountain range is named due to its formation that resembles the knuckles of a clenched fist. They loom 1860m above the Dumbara Valley. The surrounding areas have been declared as a strict natural reserve. A large variety of indigenous plants are found in this area. We return to Kandy in the evening. *Royal Kandyan Hotel or similar* Please note: If there has been a lot of rain it is generally not advisable to do the optional excursion in the Knuckles mountain range as it can be very slippery underfoot. If this is the case a visit to Nuwara Eliya is generally offered as an alternative.
Today we proceed to Wattala via a tea plantation and Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, which houses species of orchid and other plants unique to Sri Lanka. We arrive at our hotel in the evening. *Pegasus Reef Hotel or similar*
The trip ends after breakfast. Those on the group flights will be taken to the airport in time for their flight home. **
* Travel by private bus or minibus * Group normally 4 to 16, plus leader. Min age 16 yrs * 7 nights comfortable hotels with en suite facilities * All breakfasts and 1 lunch is included
All breakfasts and 1 lunch is included. We suggest allowing about £15-£17 (approx. US$24 - US$27.50) per day for all other meals. Sri Lankan cuisine is a fascinating reflection of the island’s heritage; there is a unique fusion of fresh local produce with spices brought to the island over the centuries by Malays, Arabs, Indians as well as the Dutch, Portuguese and English. Despite (or perhaps because of) these influences, Sri Lankan cuisine is often referred to as simply ‘Rice and Curry’. This is the staple dish in most restaurants and is usually a serving of rice accompanied by assorted meat and vegetable curries as well as various pickles, ‘sambols,’ and a handful of tiny poppadum’s – all using the contrasting flavours of coconut, chilli, curry leaves, cinnamon and garlic. Vegetarians are well catered for but please inform us before departure of any special dietary requests. Please note that in Sri Lanka the availability of certain products is minimal or non-existent, for example wheat or dairy-free. Please be prepared for this and you may need to bring these from home. Spicier food can be avoided easily and lots of the hotels will serve Western options alongside traditional food. This is a busy itinerary and because of this and the location of some of the hotels most of the main meals are taken at hotels. These are often buffet style. Whilst in Kandy there are options to eat at restaurants and the leader will help with recommendations for this.
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