What is Custom Travel? The itinerary below is only a small sample of options in Sri Lanka. Every traveler can envision their ideal way to see the world. International Expeditions’ experienced Custom Travel Planners create individually tailored tours that match your style of travel, budget and timeline. Tell us the dates you wish to travel, and we’ll take care of the details.
U.S. / EN ROUTE / COLOMBO / NEGOMBO
Arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport and meet your Sri Lanka travel guide. Spend tonight at The Beach Hotel in Negombo. This growing town has historically been strongly influenced by that Catholic Church, earning its nickname “Little Rome.” The lagoon at Negombo is famous for its harvest of lobsters, crabs and prawns. Fish auctions regularly take place on the beach and are definitely worth a look, as are the many canals which meander through the area. Negombo has a colorful past. The Dutch, Portuguese and British have all laid claim to it at different times. The town has several buildings dating back to the Dutch and Portuguese colonial Days. The Dutch captured the town from the Portuguese in 1640, lost it again in the same year, and then re-captured it again in 1644. The British then took it from them in 1796 without a struggle. Evidence of their occupation can be seen in the colonial-style architecture of many of the buildings in Negombo. During the Dutch era, Negombo was also one of the most important sources of the much-coveted and highly profitable cinnamon.
NEGOMBO / SIGIRIYA
Sigiriya is one of the most outstanding architectural wonders in Sri Lanka. Rising nearly 700 feet above one of Asia’s most well-preserved ancient landscaped gardens, the rock fortress of Sigiriya, a giant granite monolith, is an unforgettable site. The fortress was built in the shape of a lion, hence the name “Lion’s Rock.” Giant lion’s paws and intricate surrounding brickwork are all that remain of the forbidding entrance to the Upper Palace. Stretching across nearly 3.5 acres, the palace on the flat plateau summit was home to King Kasyapa for over 20 years. The floor plan of the palace is still clearly visible, as is the King’s throne and his own personal bathing pool. On the way to the summit, pass frescoes dating back to the 5th century. “Apsaras,” or celestial nymphs, adorn the indentations of one of the walls and historians speculate that they represent the concubines of King Kasyapa. As visitors over the centuries have admired these delicate maidens, they have written their love poems on what is known as the “Mirrored Wall.” The graffiti dates back to between the 6th and 14th centuries, and many have been translated revealing genuine feelings of emotion on seeing the Apsaras’ ethereal beauty.
SIGIRIYA / POLONNARUWA / SIGIRIYA
Continuing across Sri Lanka, tour the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa. At nearly 1000 years old, Polonnaruwa is one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capital cities and part of the famous "Cultural Triangle." Although King Vijayabahu 1 was the first to claim the city as his capital, it was King Parakramabahu who made it what it is today, with its massive buildings, ornate parks and a 2,500 hectare tank called Parakrama Samudra - Sea of Parakrama. The city itself is divided into five main areas, including The Quadrangle, Northern City group and the Rest House group, where you find the royal palace ruins of "Nissanka Malla." Explore the area on a walking tour or our travel planners can even arrange a bicycle for you to use around the city.
SIGIRIYA / MATALE / KANDY
Set out across Sri Lanka for Kandy, stopping en route at a Batik factory in Matale. While in Matale, also visit a spice garden, seeing raw spices in their natural habitat. Spices have long been important in the commercial history of Sri Lanka. With so many spices and herbs growing on the island’s shores, it is not surprising that they were used to barter and trade between the sea-faring merchants, and have long-been a main export of Sri Lanka. For centuries, the indigenous herbs and spices have been used for both medicinal purposes and in traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. As you tour Sri Lanka’s spice gardens, your senses will open up to new smells and tastes, including cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and cardamom. Continue to Kandy, nestled amidst three mountain ranges as a natural fortress against attack. Kandy was not an easy target for the foreign invaders who could gain the control of coastal areas of the island without too much loss. Kandy’s main architectural monuments date mainly from the 19th century, when King Vikrama Rajasinha, the last King of Kandy, constructed many new buildings. At the time of the eventual surrender of Kandy to British Rule in 1815, when King Rajasinha was captured, imprisoned and finally deported to India where he died in 1832. This evening, visit Kandy’s Arts & Crafts Museum and a gem museum. Later, local regale you with a cultural performance. The city is home to a Sinhalese cultural tradition of which Sri Lankans are justifiably proud. Rich in color and agile in their movements, the Kandyan dancers, drummers and firewalers evoke images of pageantry and traditions past.
KANDY / NUWARA ELIYA
Board a luxury train for a scenic ride from Kandy to Nanu Oya, passing tea plantations and the Meepilimana Mountain Range en route to Nuwara Eliya. Often referred to as “Little England.” Nuwara Eliya has a climate unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. Due to its high elevation it offers a cooler and more invigorating climate than lower regions. Colonized by the British, the outskirts of Sri Lanka’s highest town still retain their Old World feel, and many of the original hotels still retain their grand colonial style. Famous for its horse racing, Nuwara Eliya also boasts the impressive Golf Club which dates back to 1889. Stepping back in time when life was slightly more sedate, it is worthwhile visiting the Clubhouse to observe historic photographs of life in Nuwara Eliya. Rose gardens, abundant vegetable stalls crowd the sides of the road, whilst spectacular scenery will accompany you on the journey from Kandy.
Tour Nuwara Eliya, visiting a tea estate and tea processing center, where you interact with the rural community surrounding a tea estate. Tea is one of the main exports of Sri Lanka and to visit a working plantation gives every visitor a new perspective on this humble brew. Driving through the plantation, see colorfully dressed tea-pickers hard at work on the sloping hills. With incredible dexterity they fill several sacks of tea leaves each Day, and from there you will see the entire process, from tea bush to teapot. You will get the chance to sample several varieties of tea. A once-in-a-life time experience, tonight join locals for an evening Pooja — an offering session to their gods.
NUWARA ELIYA / YALA NATIONAL PARK
After breakfast travel to Yala National Park. You may choose to stay inside the National Park in Mahoora Luxury Tented Safari Camp during your Sri Lanka tour, or we can make arrangements at camps and lodges outside the park.
YALA NATIONAL PARK
Yala National Park spans a vast 97,878 hectares over the Southern and Uva Provinces. The vegetation in the park comprises predominantly of semi-arid thorny scrub, interspersed with pockets of dense secondary forest. Small patches of mangroves are also found along the coastal lagoons. The park is renowned for its variety of wildlife, most notably its large population of Asian elephants and pristine reefs. Yala National Park has the highest density of wild leopards in the world, with the Block 1 area of the park hosting one leopard per square kilometer. It also boasts a large number of important cultural ruins, bearing testimony to earlier civilizations and indicating that much of the area used to be populated and well-developed. For bird enthusiasts, the birdlife in Yala National Park is superb. Not only does Sri Lanka’s tallest bird, the critically endangered black-necked stork, reside in the park, but often observed is the country’s largest bird, the instantly recognizable and ungainly lesser adjutant. The best leopard- spotting opportunities are generally first thing in the morning and then again at dusk. The male leopards in Yala National Park are very confident animals, and are often seen walking the tracks during the Day. Young males in particular seem to have no fear of the 4WD Jeep, which will certainly guarantee some excellent photographic opportunities.
YALA / UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK
Udawalawe National Park in the southern dry-zone of Sri Lanka spans approximately 31,000 hectares. Famed for its numerous resident elephants, it is not unusual to see herds gather to feed and bathe at the waterholes. With approximately 400 elephants residing within the park boundaries, it is an unforgettable honor to witness these elephants, both adults and young in their natural habitat. The August 2011 census of Asian elephants in Sri Lanka stated that there are approximately 5,800 of these legendary animals living on the island’s shores. In addition to this main attraction, Udawalawe is home to water buffalo, water monitor lizards, sambar deer, monkeys and the occasional leopard, as well as being an exciting location for bird enthusiasts. An incredible variety of bird species inhabit the park and many others pass through on their migratory routes. Our 4WD open-top safari is the best way to see all the natural wonders that this protected reserve has to offer. With an experienced, knowledgeable naturalist travel guides on hand at every step of the way, you experience sights impossible to be repeated. Bird enthusiasts shall be in their own winged paradise with not only the variety but the quantity of bird species. There are many endemic bird species including various types of hornbills, eagles and the peculiar red-faced malkoha.
UDAWALAWE - SINHARAJA
After an early morning Jeep safari in Udawalawe National Park, travel to the Sinharaja Nature Reserve.
SINHARAJA NATURE RESERVE
Spend a full Day hiking the trails through the tropical lowland rainforests of the Sinharaja Nature Reserve, Natural World Heritage Site. Sinharaja rainforest is a treasure trove of nature with a great diversity of habitats and a vast repository of Sri Lanka’s endemic species. Bird-watching in this ecosystem is particularly interesting because it is home to 95% of the endemic birds of Sri Lanka. Exclusively found in Sinharaja are the ashy-headed laughing thrush, Legg’s flowerpecker and the endangered green-billed coucal. Sinharaja is Sri Lanka’s largest rainforest, and is one of the least disturbed and biologically unique lowland forests remaining in the country. The word “Sinharaja” means - Lion (Sinha) King (Raja), and it is popular belief that the legendary origin of the Sinhala people is from the union between a princess and the lion king who once lived in the forest.
SINHARAJA / GALLE
Drive to Galle once the chief port of Sri Lanka. The Galle Fort is a vast garrison, spanning 90 acres, which was originally built by the Portuguese and later extended by the Dutch in 1663. Their influences are evident in the eclectic architecture all around including the famous Dutch Reformist Church. When the British took over the Fort, they too added their own influences. Entering the gates to the Fort you will experience a much slower pace of life compared to the frenetic movements outside the Garrison’s walls. Galle Fort is one of Sri Lanka’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The evening is free to enjoy strolling through the city.
GALLE: WHALE WATCHING
Enjoy a full-Day at leisure in Galle, where you may choose to take advantage of spectacular whale watching excursions. Sri Lanka is situated within the International Whaling Commission's protected zone in the Indian Ocean. Of the 80 species of cetaceans observed and identified worldwide, 26 are found in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Whale and dolphin watching is a seasonal activity in Sri Lanka The south coast of Sri Lanka is one of the very best places to see blue whales in the entire world, and Sri Lanka boasts the longest blue whale season. Sperm whales are also present with pods. The whales are on their annual migratory route, travelling from the Horn of Africa up to the waters of the Arabian Sea, and can be seen from November to April in the waters around Sri Lanka. While most blue whales can be seen over the continental shelf, sperm whales tended to occur a bit further offshore, in the shipping lanes. And this gives a clue as to why there are so many whales here. A glance at any chart of the Indian Ocean shows that Dondra Head is the southern-most point not only of Sri Lanka, but also of the entire Indian subcontinent. Any ship wanting to pass between east and west has to pass by Dondra. Furthermore, off Dondra, the continental slope comes to within less than three nautical miles of the coast. With the seasonally changing monsoon currents producing seasonally changing blooms of plankton; with the land masses of India and Sri Lanka acting like an inverted funnel to channel cetacean movements; and with deep water so close to shore, it is perhaps not surprising that the southern tip of Sri Lanka is such a cetacean hotspot. Other cetacean species can be seen: Bryde’s whale, dwarf sperm whale, spinner dolphin, striped dolphin and Indo- Pacific bottlenose dolphin.
GALLE / COLOMBO
After breakfast, drive to Colombo.
COLOMBO / DEPARTURE
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your independent flights home.