On this Sri Lankan walking holiday you'll discover both the country's past and its contemporary culture. Hike through the jungle to ancient sites, join throngs of pilgrims on an ascent of sacred Adam's Peak and search for elephant on safari. Exploring on foot allows you to experience these special places in a different way to the less active visitor. Sigiriya - Hike jungle trails and ascend iconic Lion Rock Diverse landscapes - Walk among tea plantations, rainforest and beaches Colombo - Discover the capital's colonial heritage on a walking tour
The trip begins today in the coastal town of Negombo, famous for its fishing industry and golden sands. Our hotel is just a 15 minute drive north of the airport and a great place to relax after the journey to Sri Lanka. We may see fishing boats bring in the day's catch or a stunning sunset over the ocean. Your trip Leader plans to meet everyone in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner as a group afterwards. There are no other activities planned for today. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), which is around 30 minutes' drive from our hotel.
We head inland today and stop to visit Dambulla, a complex of cave temples which date from the 1st century B.C. This atmospheric World Heritage Site still attracts scores of worshippers. We will visit five separate caves, which contain a large number of Buddha images and a few sculptures of Hindu Gods. In the early afternoon, we drive to either Minneriya or Kadaula National Park (depending on the season), where we enjoy a jeep safari to look for the herds of wild elephant that live here in large numbers. These parks are also home to an array of birdlife, including painted storks.
We make an early start this morning, heading off with a packed breakfast through the jungle and on village trails, to the ancient site of Sigiriya. On arrival we will climb the 200m high iconic Lion Rock ahead of the crowds and whilst it is still relatively cool. The ruins of this 5th century 'Sky Fortress' are one of Sri Lanka's major attractions, a stupendous sight to behold and a feat of consummate engineering skill. The fortress was built in just seven years to protect the palace of merciless King Kassapa, who had assassinated his father and deposed his brother. Unfortunately for the king, despite its impregnable reputation, he was defeated here by his brother after a reign of 18 years. A series of steps and steel stairways ascend to the top of the rock and halfway up, tucked beneath a sheltering overhang of rock, are the famous frescoes - the Sigiriya Damsels, their colours still glowing. Before the final ascent to the summit, we pass between a set of enormous lion paws carved out of the rock - all that remain of an ancient gateway that gave Sigiriya, the 'Lion Rock', its name. From the summit there are magnificent views of the surrounding jungle and countryside. In the afternoon we will explore another ancient site on foot, the remains of the city of Polonnaruwa, which reached the height of its glory in the 12th century, when it was a thriving commercial and religious centre. The city still maintains many of its spectacular buildings and monuments, with arguably the most impressive being the Quadrangle which contains a superbly decorated circular shrine. Another famous feature of this deserted city is the group of carved images of the Buddha, known as Galvihara. These four colossal figures are all hewn out of solid granite and the Reclining Buddha alone is no less than 14 metres long. We can expect this morning's six kilometre hike to take around three hours including the ascent/descent of 200m Lion Rock. The afternoon walk at Polonnaruwa is around four kilometres and will take approximately three-and-a-half hours including sightseeing. The terrain is flat.
This morning we head south to the Knuckles Mountain Range for a hike through the region's abundant forests and grasslands. Resembling a clenched fist, the mountains are a remarkable microcosm of the country, the isolated cloud forests providing a haven for a rich diversity of flora and fauna. To the south and east of the Knuckles lies the Mahaveli Valley, whilst the Matale Valley (also known as the spice valley of Sri Lanka) to the west encircles a collection of peaks unrivalled anywhere else in the country. Our hike today takes us along the mainly earth and gravel paths of the Manigala Trail and we plan to enjoy our picnic lunch among these beautiful surroundings. We spend the night at the characterful Sir John's Bungalow. Built by the British during the colonial era as a residence for the Superintendent of the 1,300 acre Laggala tea estate, the Bungalow was once the holiday home of Sir John Kotalawala, the third Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. On a clear day, the gardens and terrace enjoy sweeping vistas of the north eastern Knuckles. Sir John's Bungalow retains its old-world charms and comforts, including roaring fireplaces in the living and dining rooms The bedrooms at the bungalow are simply furnished in a traditional style and have attached bathrooms with hot water showers. As there are just 5 rooms, you may, depending on the size of the group, need to share with three or four others (of the same sex). Today's 16 kilometre hike is expected to take around five to six hours.
There's an option this morning to make an early start before breakfast and set off on a short trek to a spectacular viewpoint known locally as Mini World's End (after the more famous World's End sheer precipice in Sri Lanka's Horton Plains National Park), where the scarp slope drops almost vertically for 1192 metres affording magnificent panoramic views over the often mist shrouded landscapes. We return to the bunglow for breakfast and a chance to freshen up before driving to Kandy. Sitting on a plateau some 500 metres above sea level, Kandy served as the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom until falling to the British in 1815. It is a place of cultural and spiritual importance with Buddhists from all over the world coming here to visit its famous Temple of the Tooth, the Dalada Maligawa. The jewelled shrine of the Holy Tooth, said to be Buddha's left canine, is kept in the upper floor of the original building. The relic was brought from India 1,500 years ago and every year, at the time of the August full moon, it is paraded round the town with great pomp and circumstance during the festival of Perehera. We plan to go on an orientation walk in the city on arrival. This morning's optional six kilometre hike is expected to take around two hours.
This morning we head out by bus into the hills surrounding Kandy for a hike on part of the Hantane Trail. Passing through beautiful tropical forest frequented by monkeys and a variety of birds, our trek ends at the Ceylon Tea Museum. The museum occupies the refurbished 1925-vintage Hantane Tea Factory and is supported by the Sri Lanka Tea Board and Planters' Association. There are exhibits on tea pioneers such as James Taylor and Thomas Lipton and after visiting we can enjoy a cuppa in the top-floor tearoom. The afternoon is free to explore more of Kandy. You can visit the Temple of the Tooth or wander round the lake or through the lush Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya, located just outside the city. Kandy has many handicraft workshops, which have plenty of brassware, batik, lacquer work and other craft items to choose from. Kandyan dancers can also be seen performing every night at one or two venues around town. Today's nine kilometre hike is expected to take around four to five hours.
Departing Kandy this morning by train we will enjoy a scenic journey through Sri Lanka's Highlands to Hatton. As the train passes round hills and through valleys, strands of forest give way to the bright green tea bushes that cloak the landscape. Clusters of pickers, usually Tamil women, add splashes of colour in their colourful sarees. In an area known as 'Little England', where we will find red telephone boxes, Victorian colonial architecture and pretty rose gardens - Hatton served the coffee and tea estates of the colonial era. From Hatton its a short drive to Norwood from where we'll trek through the tea plantations and along the banks of the Castelreigh Reservoir. At the end of our walk, it's a short journey by bus to our guesthouse in Dalhousie, the town that is the base for anyone wanting to climb sacred Adam's Peak (2243m), known locally as Sri Pada. A depression at the top of the peak is said to be Buddha's footprint (or that of Shiva to Hindus and Adam to Christians and Muslims) and, each year during the period between the December and May full moon, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims climb to the top for sunrise. A basic property, our accommodation in Dalhousie, the Punsisi Resthouse has clean and spacious rooms with en-suite bathrooms. Today's 10 kilometre hike is expected to take around four hours.
During the pilgrimage season, the stone staircase to the top of the peak is floodlit and we will set out around midnight joining throngs of pilgrims on the 1000m ascent to the summit, in time for sunrise and amazing views. It can get very busy at times but our guides know some of the shorts cuts on the mountain to help us avoid any bottlenecks. Outside of the season, the path is not lit and we will depart later in the pre-dawn light to reach the summit later but still whilst the air is cool and to be back down at our guesthouse by early afternoon at the latest. The Adam's Peak ascent is approximately 1000m the eight kilometre hike is expected to take around eight hours in total.
This morning we take the train again, alighting at Ohiya station from where we'll hike all the way down along the switchbacks of the Devils Staircase, passing through forests and tea plantations before eventually reaching the beautiful Bambarakanda Waterfall. At 263 metres it's the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. Reaching the road at Kalupahana Junction we meet our bus and drive to our overnight tented camp near the river at Belihuloya. This 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. The tents we use at the Belihuloya camp are large walk-in pre-erected tents with camp beds and all bedding provided. A mess tent, table, chairs and all cutlery and utensils are also provided. A field toilet tent serves the camp and there are cold water camp showers. Today's 15 kilometre hike is expected to take around four to five hours with a total ascent of 400 metres and descent of 1100 metres.
After breakfast we take a walk through the rice paddies and villages in the Belihuloya area, eventually meeting up with our bus near Puwakgahawela. We then head for the Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve, a World Heritage Site of lowland evergreen virgin rainforest that is a bird watchers' paradise - 282 species have been sighted here. Other fauna include a large variety of insects, reptiles and amphibians. Although there are a small number of leopards, these are very rarely seen due to the dense foliage. The word 'Sinharaja' means lion king and legend has it that the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka originated from the union between a princess and the lion king who once lived in the forest! Blue Magpie Lodge is a family run lodge set in peaceful jungle surroundings just five minutes from Sinharaja Forest Reserve. The simply furnished rooms all have attached bathrooms, hot running water, mosquito nets and fans. The lodge restaurant serves typical Sri Lankan country style food and fresh fruits in season. Today's 10 kilometre walk is expected to take around three hours.
This morning we will enjoy a hike on some of the trails through the rainforest in the company of a specialist park guide who will point out some of the stunning plant, bird and animal-life of the reserve. Sinharaja is one of Sri Lanka's last areas of primary tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare. The forest is often shrouded by rainclouds and the trail may be slippery underfoot. In the afternoon we head for the seaside village of Unawatuna on the south coast, close to the historic port of Galle. Today's eight kilometre rainforest hike is expected to take around three hours.
Today is left free to enjoy Unawatuna and the surrounding area. You can choose to relax on the beach or hire snorkelling equipment, or take a boat trip around the coast or upriver, past small largely uninhabited islands. The pretty coastal town of Galle is just a few kilometres away and easily reached by local bus or taxi. An important trading centre since ancient times, the fortifications that can be seen today were built by the Portuguese and then the Dutch from the 16th to the 17th centuries. The fort ramparts of this World Heritage Site protect the harbour and a myriad of fascinating old houses, churches and warehouses. Today, the town has a strong arts vibe, with foreign and local artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets drawing inspiration from their surrounds. Boutique shops and cafes around the town showcase their work.
We catch an early morning train from Galle to the lively capital Colombo, and have a picnic breakfast on the train. On arrival at the station we will head straight out a walking tour of Colombo (our bags are taken to the hotel) which will take you through the city's commercial heritage in terms of Portuguese, Dutch, and English influences, dating back from 17th century to the 1990s. The afternoon is left free to explore the city further or perhaps do some shopping. In the evening there's the option to join a unique guided walk around some of Colombo's old drinking spots, not the trendy new ones but the old taverns and pubs.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Colombo. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Colombo at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), which is around an hours' drive from our hotel.
12 Break Fast(s) 5 Lunch(es) 4 Dinner(s)
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