From the bustle of Colombo to the other-worldliness of the temples of Anuradhapura, the immense fortress perched high on a rock at Sigiriya and the Royal Palace of Polonnaruwa. The astounding white Temple of the Tooth at Kandy with its lake and Royal Bathing House.
The impassive statues of Buddha, and the enigmatic stupas standing on remote hilltops. The cool mountain slopes and the cascading tiers of tea plantations at Nuwara Eliya. The wildlife of Yala – home to one of the world’s largest populations of wild leopards – and the achingly picturesque Dutch fortress town of Galle.
The highlights of Sri Lanka are virtually innumerable.
Colombo – Cultural Triangle
Fly to Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka. You’ll be met at the airport and given a mobile phone so you can contact your driver at any time. From the airport you’ll be chauffeured to Negombo and your luxurious hotel, located on the town’s dazzling golden sands.
Stay: One night at Jetwing Blue.
Morning transfer to Sigiriya, in the Cultural Triangle. Visit Anuradhapura and be prepared to be overwhelmed by the complex of ancient monuments, stupas, palaces and temples. You’ll visit no less than two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – one of them the oldest historically documented tree in the world, the 2200 year old sacred Bo-Tree beneath which Buddha is said to have discovered enlightenment.
At Sigiriya you’ll be able to climb Lion Rock to the citadel of King Kashapa – an astounding 70-hectare fortified town complete with moat, rampart and gardens. And ancient paintings and walls of rock so highly polished they were used as mirrors. At Polonnaruwa the Royal Palace is home to three statues of Buddha carved from the solid rock face.
Stay: Three nights in a Paddy Dwelling in Vil Uyana.
Cultural Triangle – Kandy
You’ll be driven to Kandy, pausing along the way to visit the Dambulla cave temples with their gorgeous wall paintings and their impressive statues of Buddha – almost bursting out of their confined caverns.
Walk round the large, sacred lake and talk to the people you meet. Sri Lankans are interested in visitors, especially from the UK, and are unfailingly charming. The culmination of your walk will be the outrageous Temple of the Tooth. This gleaming white wedding cake of a building was created to house a sacred relic, the tooth of Buddha, and is the scene of many colourful festivals and rituals. Kandy also offers the beautiful Peradeniya Botanical Gardens – 147 acres of manicured lawns, exotic trees and flora, including fabulous orchids.
Stay: Two nights in a deluxe room in the Theva Residency.
Kandy – Tea Country
If you’re lucky enough to be in the observation car, your train journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya will present you with stunning countryside, lush valleys and towering mountains grazed by white clouds. You’ll be met at the station and driven to your hotel – a one-time colonial-style tea factory. You’ll have time to visit a working tea plantation and explore the quaint, English-flavoured town of Nuwara Eliya.
Stay: Two nights in a superior room in The Tea Factory Hotel.
Tea Country – Yala
After the cool of the uplands, and the quiet gentility of the tea plantations, it’s time for something completely different. Your driver will take you to Yala National Park, the natural habitat of one of the world’s largest populations of wild leopards – so you’ll have an excellent chance of seeing these magnificent cats in their proper environment. Early next morning, before sunrise, you’ll embark on a great adventure. You’ll ride into the heart of Yala in a game vehicle, on the track of leopards and a whole selection of indigenous wildlife. The animals are more active in the cool of the early morning, so it’s your best chance of taking some classic wildlife photos.
Stay: Two nights in a Jungle Chalet at Cinnamon Wild Yala.
Yala – Galle – Balapitiya
Your driver will now take you to the historic fort town of Galle. The Dutch originally built the fort – much of it from huge blocks of coral – to protect one of their prime trading ports. Its history is tangible as you walk around the tiny streets radiating out from an iconic white lighthouse, and today it is reckoned to be the largest inhabited fort in the world. Certainly one of the most charming; with local ladies selling their hand-made lace, snake and monkey charmers, a grand mosque and original Dutch churches.
After lunch, transfer further north-west along the coast to Balapitiya and to your next luxurious hotel situated on a secluded stretch of a wide sandy bay near the town.
Stay: Three nights at Shinagawa Beach.
Balapitiya – Colombo – Home
From Balapitiya you will be driven back to Colombo to connect with your flight home.