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This essential tour of Sri Lanka combines the main sites of the Cultural Triangle with some wonderful wildlife experiences and a some well-deserved beach time. Climb Sigiriya, explore ancient temples and European forts and even spot leopards and whales. The best bit? Travelling with your very own local driver/guide – they will make your experience in Sri Lanka truly special with expert knowledge, local insights and a personalised service.
Arrive in Colombo this morning, where you will be transferred to Negombo (approximately 40 minutes) to check-in at the Jetwing Beach or similar (4V option), Heritance Negombo or similar (5V option) or The Wallawwa or similar (boutique option). The rest of the day is at leisure. (D)
After an early breakfast depart for Habarana by road (approximately 4.5 hours), upon arrival enjoy the rest of the day at leisure. Commonly referred to as the ‘Cultural Triangle’, the central plains area boasts of temple ruins and ancient cities combined with national parks and glistening reservoirs. UNESCO World Heritage Sites include the striking rock fortress of Sigirya, Dambulla’s Royal Rock Temple and crumbling archaeological treasures of Polonnaruwa. Habarana is a popular tourist destination for safari lovers as it is the starting point for safaris in the nearby Minneriya sanctuary, heavily populated by elephants. This makes the area an enthralling visit for wildlife and cultural lovers alike. Enjoy 3 nights at the Habarana Village by Cinnamon or similar (4V option), Cinnamon Lodge or similar (5V option) or Jetwing Vil Uyana or similar (boutique option). (B/D)
This morning enjoy a tranquil walk, catamaran ride and tractor ride through the village of Hiriwadunna experiencing the calmness of a tropical village as you enjoy some local tea. Embark on a walk over village paths, an ancient reservoir and forest. Cross a little jungle rivulet by catamaran to reach a farmers simple "wattle and daub" house where you can enjoy an authentic Sri Lankan lunch with a local villager. Then walk half an hour by foot and bullock cart to a point where your vehicle meets you. In the afternoon, visit the magnificent site of Sigiriya Rock. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Sri Lanka's major attractions, highlights include the water gardens, the mirror wall with ancient graffiti, the lion platform and the summit of 1.6 hectares, which was completely covered by buildings during the period of Sigiriya's glory. (B,D)
Enjoy the morning at leisure or add an optional tour to Polonnaruwa (extra cost), the medieval and ancient capital of Ceylon. In the afternoon you will drive to the Minneriya National Park (depending on the elephant movement, we may visit the nearby Kaudulla National Park or Eco Park instead).The 8,890 hectares of Minneriya National Park consists of mixed evergreen forest and scrub areas and is home to favourites such as elephants and sambar deer. The central feature of the park is the ancient Minneriya Tank (built in 3rd century AD by King Mahasena). During the dry season (June to September), this tank is an incredible place to observe the elephants who come to bathe and graze, as well as the huge flocks of birds that come to fish in the waters. (B/D)
This morning travel from the Cultural Triangle to the hill country capital of Kandy, an important cultural and spiritual centre (approximately 3 hours) with sightseeing on the way. Visit the Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temples, one of the largest and best preserved cave temple complexes in Sri Lanka. Located in the north central province, this UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the 1st century BC, and is an amazing complex of 5 caves. These caves were first used as a refuge by an ancient king who on regaining his throne commissioned magnificent carved images within the living rock. Onwards to Kandy, the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, where many of the legends, traditions and folklore are still lovingly kept alive. In the evening you will visit the Temple of the Tooth in time for the ‘Pooja’ ceremony. This is the major shrine where pilgrims have revered Buddha's tooth since the 16th century; its gilded roof seems to act as a beacon to visitors throughout the day and into the evening. Enjoy 2 nights at Cinnamon Citadel or similar (4V option), Earl’s Regency or similar (5V option) or Kings Pavilion or similar (boutique option). (B/D)
Enjoy a relaxing day with a tour of Kandy including the British Garrison Cemetery and a drive around the beautiful Kandy Lake. In the evening, experience an exhilarating show of traditional cultural dances and impressive performances. (B/D)
Today you continue to the wildlife capital of the country, Yala (approximately 7 hours). Alternatively you have the option of flying with Cinnamon Air (extra cost) from Kandy to Weerawila, just outside of the park, which is a 45-minute flight and 45-minute transfer to your lodge. Check in to your hotel and enjoy the evening at leisure. Enjoy 3 nights at Jetwing Yala or similar (4V option), Cinnamon Wild or similar 5V option) or Chena Huts or similar (boutique option*). (B/D)
*Those staying at Chena Huts are on an All Inclusive basis
After breakfast you will embark on an exciting journey into the Yala National Park by jeep safari. This is Sri Lanka’s most known National Park and is popular for elephants, leopards, bears, crocodiles and wild boar. 97,800 hectares in extent, it is also the second largest of Sri Lanka’s National Parks. Its open undulating terrain made it famous for elephants for many years, but recently the park has also received much fame through publicity by National Geographic and the Discovery TV channels, which focused on a leopard research/conservation and identification project. Claims have subsequently been made that Yala National Park has one of the world’s highest concentration of leopard per square kilometre. Spend the afternoon at leisure or pre-book an afternoon safari (extra cost). (B/D)
Please note: should you not wish to partake in an early morning game-drives on both Days 8 and 9, you can choose to do an afternoon safari on Day 9 in lieu of one of your morning game-drives. If you choose to take both morning game-drives and wish to go out again in the afternoon of either days, this will be an additional cost (only 2 game-drives are included within your tour).
Today, check out after breakfast and head to the southern coast of the island (approximately 4 hours 30 minutes). Check-in and the rest of the day at leisure. Enjoy 2 nights at Cinnamon Bey or similar (4V option), Jetwing Lighthouse or similar 5V option) or Aditya or similar (boutique option). (B/D)
Today, enjoy a city tour of Galle. The famous Tarshish of the Bible where King Solomon obtained gems and spices, this “Living” UNESCO World Heritage Site is the port where the Portuguese first landed in Sri Lanka in 1505. Captured and fortified by the Dutch who ruled maritime Sri Lanka in the 17th and 18th centuries, the city still retains the air of old Holland. Within the well preserved 90 acre fort and ramparts built in 1663 are old Dutch churches and monuments with armorial bearings, an imposing crested and monogrammed gateway dated 1669, many well preserved old Dutch houses and narrow alleys still bearing Dutch names. The New Oriental Hotel, built for a Dutch governor in 1684, a colonial gem now converted to the internationally renowned Amangalle Hotel and several other excellent boutique hotels are testimony to the importance of this location. (B/D)
Today you can also add an early morning Whale Watching tour (November–April) and a visit to a local Turtle Hatchery (both at extra cost). Extra transfer times will apply.
Having reached the end of your tour you will be transferred to Colombo airport (approximately 5 hours by road) for your onward chosen travel arrangements. (B)
Meals: B=Breakfast, D=Dinner
Please Note: There is a supplement applicable to drop off at our south coast hotels at the end of the tour, please ask your agent for prices.
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The first day of the tour is at leisure so allows you enough time to arrive and relax, if you have time we recommend adding a couple of extra nights on the beach before your tour. After the tour you can extend your stay on the beaches of Sri Lanka or the Maldives.
GMT +5 hours 30 minutes (summer) +6 hours 30 minutes (winter)
Occasionally due to availability or other circumstances we may need to substitute one or more of the hotels with that of a similar standard.
Sri Lankan roads are windy and there are few highways so journey times between destinations can be very long and those listed in the itinerary are approximate. If optional excursions are added or ad hoc visits are required this may add extra time on the roads. This tour have been designed by our destination experts so we have tried to build in free time to relax and added internal flights where we think cutting journey times may improve your experience.
In some instances you may want to add an internal flight to cut transfer times, for the Essential Sri Lanka tour with Yala and Galle you can add the Colombo to Sigiriya flight or the Kandy to Yala flight for an additional cost, please ask your Virgin Holidays agent.
English is widely spoken in Sri Lanka.
Holders of UK Passports will require a visa to visit Sri Lanka. This must be obtained in advance for US$30.00 and can be completed at: http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa