If you like exploring ancient civilisations, watching wildlife in its natural environment and swimming in a balmy ocean, Sri Lanka is your kind of ultimate.
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Depart London on your overnight flight to Colombo.
You’ll be met on arrival and transferred to The Wallawwa, a luxurious Dutch warehouse-style hotel just a few miles from the airport. You’ll also be given a welcome pack that includes a mobile phone so you can contact your driver whenever you need.
Stay: One night in a garden suite at The Wallawwa – bed & breakfast
After paying a visit to Negombo fish market you’ll make a 3 ½ hour drive through picturesque countryside to Wilpattu National Park, where you’ll be staying in a traditional safari camp. Wilpattu is one of the largest and best established of Sri Lanka’s reserves, and features over 50 natural lakes and watering holes that attract a wide range of wildlife. You’ll venture out on not one but four shared game drives – all the better to see elephants, leopards, buffalo, sloth bears, sambar, spotted deer and mongoose. You’ll spot birds like painted storks, little cormorants, owls, terns, kites and buzzards, plus reptiles like monitor lizards, crocodiles, turtles and various snakes.
Stay: Two nights in a suite tent at Leopard Trails – full board
After breakfast you’ll set off for the Cultural Triangle, first taking in Anuradhapura – Sri Lanka’s first capital founded in the 4th century BC. 100 successive rulers spent 1,000 years building an exquisite collection of palaces, temples, stupas and gardens – giving you a feast of sightseeing that includes two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Particularly interesting to history fans is one of the world’s earliest examples of an advanced irrigation system. Nature lovers will be amazed by the Sacred Bo-Tree; a descendant of the tree under which Buddha sat when he achieved enlightenment. At over 2,200 years old it’s the oldest documented tree in the world.
Upright, sedentary and recumbent statues of Buddha dating back hundreds of years welcome you to the World Heritage Site of Polonnaruwa. It also presents you with historic ruins like the Audience Hall, Lotus Bath and Royal Palace, plus a Shiva Temple and the Galpotha (Stone Book).
Stay: Three nights in a deluxe pool villa at Ulagalla Resort – bed & breakfast
Rise early on day eight to visit the truly astonishing royal citadel of Sigiriya. It’s quite a climb – best not attempted in the heat of the day – up to an impregnable fortress that rises 200 metres above the jungle on the monumental Lion Rock. The view from the summit is sensational, as are the palace ruins and the sights you pass on the way; the mirror wall, for example, and frescoes of the heavenly maidens.
Your journey then continues to Dambulla and some of Sri Lanka’s most impressive cave temples. There are five of them, carved from the solid rock face, featuring 150 representations of Buddha – including a massive, impassive statue spanning 14 metres. After Dambulla you travel on to Kandy where you’ll be able to witness ceremonies in the Temple of the Tooth – named after the relic of Buddha’s tooth, now housed in the temple’s most sacred inner sanctum. The temple stands beside a magnificent lake where basking monitor lizards and a variety of birds are a common sight. Even more wonderful are the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, spread over 147 acres.
Stay: Two nights in a suite at the Kings Pavilion Kandy – bed & breakfast
From the lowland heat and bustle of Kandy you’ll board a scenic train that winds its way high into the hills where the climate is cooler – perfect for growing tea. Here you’ll have a real taste of the empire as you’ll be staying in a colonial-style bungalow on a working tea plantation. You’ll be able to play croquet, golf and learn about the process of tea-making – as well as trekking, kayaking, rafting and hot air ballooning. Your tea tour will be led by a Resident Tea Planter and include watching tea pickers at work, examining the traditional machinery and tasting the different grades produced.
Stay: Two nights in a garden suite at Ceylon Tea Trails – all inclusive
There are few journeys more enthralling than this. Today you’ll board a seaplane and fly from Castlereagh Reservoir to Koggala Lagoon, where you’ll be met and escorted to Cape Weligama. This luxurious resort nestles on Sri Lanka’s beautiful southern coast overlooking the sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean.
En route to your hotel you’ll stop by the fortress town of Galle. A UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site, this ancient Dutch fort – believed to be the largest lived-in citadel in the world – has retained much of its 300-year-old history and atmosphere, with quaint streets, a beautiful central square and charming mixture of churches, mosques and traditional cottages. If you like a bargain, buy the exquisite hand-made lace for which the town is famed, from the local vendors. You’ll have the rest of the time free to relax and enjoy the facilities of your resort.
Stay: Three nights in an premier ocean villa at Cape Weligama – bed & breakfast
You will be driven back to Colombo Airport for your flight home.