As soon as you step off the plane into Colombo’s warmly spiced air, you’re filled with a sense of Sri Lanka’s open-armed welcome; a fond first impression that only gets stronger. This journey showcases some of our favourite Sri Lanka moments, giving you a satisfying taste of the island’s dizzying variety.
Immerse yourself in the history and culture of the ancient Sinhalese kings in the Cultural Triangle, watch elephants stomping through National Park wilderness, explore hidden cave temples, and find new wonders in ancient capitals. Meander through culturally-rich Kandy, and take the rumbling train through Tea Country. Enveloped by Galle’s stone walls, take time to contemplate all you have seen (and tempt your taste buds with some southern Sri Lankan delicacies) before spending a few leisurely days at the coast, stretching out on the sand as the Indian Ocean gently laps against the shore…
When it comes to inspirational travel, Sri Lanka is small but mighty. Venture out on challenging hikes or gentle country strolls over forested hillsides, visit locally-run tea factories, and sip a g&t or two as the sun sets over Little Adam’s Peak. Intensify your impressions of Sri Lanka’s magnificent wildlife with a safari in Yala, the island’s most famous National Park, keeping your senses alert for glimpses of leopards, elephants, peacocks and even crocodiles.
It’s no wonder so many travellers return to Sri Lanka again and again, adding more colour to their canvas with each trip; it’s a feast for eyes and mind.
The Cultural Triangle is a cornucopia of extraordinary sights, from the 2,000 year old Buddhist monastery at the top of Ritigala, Sri Lanka's highest mountain, to the serene elephant haven of Minneriya National Park. Jutting 200 metres out of the jungle, you can’t miss the iconic ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, the lion rock. Whilst it’s a fun climb, we prefer to view it from the adjacent Pidurangala Rock. This taller formation is a more adventurous scramble, but the peak rewards you with sweeping views and a fraction of the crowds. Pausing in one of the region’s ancient capitals, either Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa, is a must, as they offer such a tangible impression of the creative grandeur of Sri Lanka’s past.
Seeing everything that the Cultural Triangle has to offer in one trip would be a whirlwind to say the least! Pick a few sights and experiences that really fire your imagination and save some downtime to simply soak up your surroundings; experience tells us that when you are staying somewhere this beautiful, it’s worth making time to really appreciate it. Take it slow, follow unscheduled detours when something catches your eye, and make each journey part of the experience.
Kandy is Sri Lanka’s contemporary capital of culture, the gateway to Tea Country, and an exhilarating city to stay in. En route, we recommend taking a well-timed journey break at the UNESCO-listed Dambulla Caves. Climb the steep stone steps leading to the dazzling golden Buddha statue, and watch scampering monkeys weave in and out of caves filled with treasures. Once in Kandy, you’ll find a busy city of traffic chaos and packed streets. This is just a short stopover (though you can easily add in a couple more days for a fuller explore if you wish to) but you’ll have time to see its most revered site, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, immerse yourself in the city’s constant bustle, or simply retire to the sanctuary of your hotel for a well deserved rest or rejuvenating swim.
Trundling through central Sri Lanka’s greenest hills, with its blue engine pulling a streamlined row of wooden carriages, the tea train is one of the country’s most iconic images. It instantly evokes the enduring romance of rail travel and the sense of adventure that comes with it. These days, although it’s no longer pulled by steam but by modern engines, there’s still no better way to enter and travel through Tea Country. Perhaps slightly counter intuitively, we’d recommend not booking first class. The first class carriages, whilst undeniably comfortable and very pleasant, really don’t offer the full experience of what riding this train is all about: chatting with the locals, feeling the fresh breeze blow through the open windows, and enjoying the freedom to move about a little as the train slowly meanders and clacks through the verdant scenery.
There are many options for where you can board and disembark, and your preferred accommodation and journey time will dictate where’s most natural to hop on and off, but many travellers choose to go right through to Ella where the epic, cinematic scenery sets you up for some glorious hiking opportunities. Alternatively, you can just kick back at your hilltop hotel under a healing sun, the ray-dappled pool inviting you into its cool waters...
For a relatively small country, Sri Lanka has a staggering number of National Parks - 26 at last count - all of which are magnificent in their own way, different enough to hold wonder for all, and offer distinct wildlife spotting opportunities. Yala National Park is undoubtedly the most well known and most visited, and with good reason. It’s easy to access, the scenery is epic, and there’s a higher likelihood of sightings of Sri Lanka’s most enigmatic residents: the leopards.
Being so well known means that it gets crowded, so you need to know how to avoid the busiest times and places. Opt for a bespoke experience complete with your own personal guide who knows the lay of the land, and you’ll see Yala at its best. Arid sands, sparse scrub, and low forest make the animals easier to see, including those elusive leopards along with elephants, crocodiles and, for the fortunate few, sloth bears. As darkness falls, return to your accommodation for a well earned rest and fine dining under the stars, whether at a tented camp in the buffer zone - wild but very comfortable - or a calm beach camp with a little more luxury.
From the wild dusts of Yala, travel south west to the subtle elegance of Sri Lanka’s most pristine destination: Galle, a town of idiosyncratic beauty seasoned with endurance, combining the strength of aged stone with the freshness and vibrancy of the present day. A mix of styles, with overarching influence from the 17th-century Dutch settlement, the city’s long, rich history predates these ‘newer’ structures by hundreds of years. Inside the sheltered walls of the fort you’re met at every turn by a melange of finely preserved buildings and picturesque cobbled streets. Discover grandiose frontages, sun bleached glory, fat pillars, high arches, and an age-old, gnarled banyan tree.
Explore chic boutiques, artisan jewellers’ shops and cool cafes. Stay in some of the most stately hotels in all Sri Lanka, and feast on fine cuisine and local delights in the plethora of restaurants nestling within the walls. Walk along the ramparts at sunset, enjoying a cool tropical breeze and watching school children playing cricket on the green, as the Indian Ocean laps at the impenetrable stone below. Your guide will help you get your bearings, then you can simply follow your instincts and see where your wanderings take you.
Spending time on the beach at the end of a Sri Lanka trip is the perfect way to contemplate and digest all that you’ve seen, and allow yourself to properly unwind. Whatever your downtime preferences, the location needs to be just right. Whether that means undisturbed seclusion or somewhere with a bit more energy, it’s all possible along the south and west coasts. The low-key resort of Tangalle is ideal for dedicated R&R, rewarding you with pristine stretches of quiet beach and a selection of interesting boutiques and seaside retreats right on the sand.
If you’re looking for something more lively, head to Mirissa or Weligama where you can take boat trips to see the whales and dolphins that gather at the drop off out to sea. Add in a diverse selection of eateries, welcoming bars and easily accessible swimming beaches, and both towns tick a lot of boxes. If the beach is your final stop, it’s well worth considering some of the options up the west coast past Galle too, such as Bentota, which is just a stone’s throw from Colombo and your flight home, or secluded Marawila further north. However you envision it, we’ll shape your beach downtime to fit you perfectly.
The guide price of £2,290US$2,590 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 3 nights in the Cultural Triangle region, 1 night in Kandy, 2 nights in the Tea Country, 1 night at Yala National Park, 2 nights in Galle and 3 nights on the sands of Bentota; all in our favourite mid-range hotels. How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.
Combine the island’s top wildlife crowd pleasers with some magnificent hidden gems and cultural highlights before spending some time on the beach.