Sri Lanka Northern Explorer and the Cultural Triangle

14 day holiday from -  £2.345 per person based on 2 adults sharing a twin or double room. Excluding international flights.

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Tour Highlights

  • Marvel at acrobatic spinner dolphins on the Kalpitiya Coast

  • Meander through fascinating UNESCO world heritage sites in the cultural triangle

  • Delve into the wilderness wildlife destination of Wilpattu National Park

  • Stay in some unique properties such as the Mudhouse and the Elephant Watch Hut  

  • Explore the little visited Jaffna peninsula in the far north and see a different side to Sri Lanka

  • Climb stunning Sigiriya Rock (UNESCO) for incredible 360 degree views


Suggested Sri Lanka Northern Explorer and the Cultural Triangle Holiday

Day 1 – Arrive Negombo
On arrival, transfer to your hotel to relax after your journey. Overnight Villa Hundhira – Standard Room (B)

Negombo (literally ‘Group of Bees’) sits on the west coast of Sri Lanka, at the mouth of the Negombo River alongside the vibrant and wildlife-prolific lagoon.  The city is bisected by the Dutch canal which indicates a vital element of the city’s more modern development.  Until the 16th century, the Moors dominated the settlement and held a virtual monopoly over its extraordinarily fine and endless supply of cinnamon; at this point the Portuguese arrived and drove out the Arab powers, building settlements and seizing the cinnamon trade, earning the town the nickname ‘Little Rome’ – St Mary’s Church is the most significant religious relic of the Portuguese dominance.  By the 1630s the neighbouring kingdom of Kandy attacked and, asking for Dutch backing, saw the city captured and placed directly under Dutch control.  This led to the building of its finest installations, including Negombo fort (1672) and the extensive canal system which linked it to Colombo and beyond. The capture of the region by the British in 1815 coincided with a decline in the cinnamon trade and the colonial power encouraged the development of plantations of coconuts, tea and coffee which still abound today. Beyond the multi-faith array of sacred buildings, Negombo still has a busy fishing industry and draws visitors on account of its easy access beaches situated close to the airport.

Day 2 – Lagoon and Canals of Negombo (Driving time approximately – 2 hours)
Visit the atmospheric fish market (closed on Sundays); following this, take a boat trip around the Negombo lagoon and the old Dutch-built canals. The narrow waterways of the canals allow fascinating glimpses of local life. Upon entering the vast lagoon, your vessel gently cruises through the plentiful mangrove swamps, on the lookout for birdlife – you can expect to spot Stork-billed and White-throated kingfisher, Striated and Purple heron, Yellow bittern, Brahminy Kite, Shikra, Lesser whistling teals, Pheasant-tailed jaçanas and White-breasted water hens amongst others. Water monitor and crocodile sightings as well as the endemic Toque monkey are also common.  On the return voyage, the dazzling kaleidoscope of colourful fishing boats of Negombo’s fleet provide wonderful photo opportunities. In the afternoon your will transfer two hours north along the West coast to Kalpitiya. Overnight Palagama Beach Resort – Beach Cabana (BLD)  

Day 3 – Kalpitiya – Anamaduwa (The Mudhouse)
This morning take an early dolphin excursion on the spectacular Kalpitiya Coast (Available during the months of November to April). This stretch of coast is celebrated for its huge pods of acrobatic Spinner dolphins which delight in leaping in high, gyrating displays alongside vessels. There is a chance too that you may encounter sperm whales which seasonally patrol these shores. Later this morning continue to a little-frequented area close to Anamaduwa where you will spend the next 2 nights. Overnight at The Mudhouse, an amazing and unique off-the-beaten-track property. (BLD)

Day 4 – Anamaduwa (The Mudhouse)
Spend the day enjoying the surroundings of the Mudhouse and if you wish, take part in some of the various activities on offer such as birdwatching walks, nature trails, cycling, canoeing and kayaking, cookery and visiting the nearby temple. It is interesting to take some time to learn more about the design and architecture of the various buildings at The Mudhouse, as well as its sustainable systems for water management and recycling. You will have the opportunity too to look more closely at the lakes which flank the site and discover how they support complex networks of life and also to visit the farm which supplies most of the food for the Mudhouse. You can also practice your Sri Lankan cooking in the authentic kitchen. Overnight at The Mudhouse (BLD)

Day 5 - Wilpattu National Park (Approximate driving time 1.5 hours)
Spend the morning at leisure in at the Mudhouse before checking out. You may wish to take the excellent early morning nature walk organized by the lodge, where you may be lucky enough to see any of the 100+ species that have been listed here, including the endemic Ceylon junglefowl, Ceylon woodshrike and Brown-capped babbler, as well as colourful delights like the Little green bee-eater and Purple-rumped sunbird. After checking out, you transfer to Wilpattu National Park. Unlike parks in the south of the country Wilpattu receives relatively few visitors which means that wildlife is less disturbed and, accordingly, more rewardingly exciting to spot. In the afternoon you take a guided safari in this wilderness area where if we are lucky we may be able to spot the Sri-Lankan subspecies of Leopard, Elephant and the critically endangered Sloth Bear – only 1000 are estimated to be left in the wild –  and many other species of animal and bird as well.  Overnight Big Game Park Wilpattu (non-air conditioned tent). (BLD)

Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu (‘Land of the Lakes’) is approximately 1,908 in extent. It has a dense jungle cover, which makes it a very exciting park as animals have to be tracked. The park’s conservation status goes back to 1903 when it became a wildlife sanctuary and it is now the largest and indeed oldest national park in the country, offering as good a chance of leopard viewings as anywhere, with an excellent density of the species.  There are around 60 delightful little lakes - known as villus - and the leopard and sloth bear can sometimes be spotted drinking at these, offering great opportunity for photographic records. Visitors come for these star species, but Elephant, Buffalo, Mugger crocodile, Sambar, Spotted Deer, Fishing cat and Mongoose add greatly to the diversity of a safari experience. The Park is also home to a myriad of bird species, partly owing to the range of Littoral vegetation, salt grass and low scrub monsoon forest with tall emergent forest prolific in the area. Particular star species include the recently discovered Serendib scops owl and the ubiquitous Painted stork.

Day 6 – Wilpattu – Anuradhapura UNESCO – Jaffna (Drive time total 4.5 hours approximately)
For those that wish, an early morning safari will be possible, taking the opportunity to experience a raucous dawn chorus and spot animals feeding at first light. Later you will take the short journey to explore some of the main sites of the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Your guide will take you to visit the sacred Bo Tree, which is the world's oldest human-planted tree on record, and has been guarded by monks since 258 B.C. You will stop for a late picnic lunch in a beautiful setting where you will enjoy local food prepared by a local family. After lunch, the route moves further north towards Jaffna, heading through huge expanses of semi-wooded small farms where livestock trundle alongside traffic and later passing over the impressive Sangupiddi Bridge and causeway which link to the northern peninsula, arriving by sunset. Overnight Jetwing Jaffna (BL)

The city was one of the 3 ancient capitals of Sri Lanka for over 1,700 years and so offers a hugely significant cross-section of historical monuments. Specifically, Sinhalese Kings with occasional South Indian interlopers ruled from the great city of Anuradhapura. It is the most extensive and important of the Sri Lankan ancient cities. Anuradhapura was found in the 4th century BC and is famous for its Dagabas (Temples), Reservoirs, monastic sites, pokunas and beautifully landscaped gardens, the ruins of which still remain to this day.  The major religious influence here was Buddhism and the sites generally reflect this heritage.  By the nineteenth century when colonial powers exerted influence over the region, Anuradhapura had dwindled to a small farming community and this has largely contributed to the preservation of so many wonderful sites: excavation only began in the 1880s and the modern town has grown up alongside, sympathetic to its predecessor’s significance.

Jaffna Peninsular
Located 246 miles from Colombo, the Jaffna peninsula comprises of an area of around 380 square miles. Jaffna was a strategically vital city for both the Portuguese and their successors, the Dutch. The recently restored Jaffna Fort has thus been fought over for centuries. Completed in 1632, it covers 55 acres and houses a Dutch Church inside which dates to 1706. During the civil war, government forces used the fort as an encampment and it was the scene of a 107 day siege where the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) forced the retreat of government troops. There are ruins of Portuguese churches at Myliddi and Chankanai and a ruined Dutch church at Atchuveli. Fort Hammenheil is situated on an island at the entrance to the important Kayts Harbour. Jaffna is also characterised by its Hindu Kovils, the Nallur Kandasamy Kovil and Vallipuram Kovil at Point Pedro being considered two of the most important examples. All over Jaffna peninsula, evidence of the recent war is all too commonplace: ruined homes, bombed churches and other buildings are riddled with bullet and shrapnel damage. Since 2009 the area has returned to stability and slowly many of those that left the carnage have started to return, with rebuilding and restoration going on apace.

Day 7 – Island exploring (Boat – 1 hour crossing to Delft; 20 minutes to Nagadipa)
Off limits for years owing to the civil war, the islands off the Jaffna peninsula are rewarding places to cruise to and visit. Today you visit the island of Delft where wild ponies roam the landscape, probably descendants of the first colonial settlers’ steeds, and the coastline is blessed with crystal waters and white sandy beaches. Your tour of the island will also take you to an abandoned Dutch fort, developed from the original Portuguese military base of the mid-1600s, and a 1000 year old temple dating back to the powerful Chola dynasty. Although around 6000 people live on Delft Island this windswept island feels largely deserted and speaks of lost colonial influences. Before departure, you will have lunch today cooked and served by a local family in their home.   Afterwards, you will visit Nagadipa Island, specifically the Hindu and Buddhist temples. The latter is reputedly the site where Lord Buddha landed to mediate between local warring kingdoms, making it one of the 17 designated holiest Sri Lankan Buddhist places of pilgrimage. Later you return to Jaffna. Overnight Jetwing Jaffna (BL)

Delft and Nagadipa Islands
Delft Island was first named by the Dutchman Rijckloff van Goens, who was governor of Zeeland in the 1660s. Delft is a flat island surrounded by shallow waters and beaches of coral chunks and sand. Coral is the main material used to raise many of the older buildings, particularly the fort which was one important strategic site for controlling Palk Bay and the waterways at the north end of Sri Lanka.  The European military presence followed a well-rehearsed pattern: Portuguese foundation, taken by the Dutch as they expanded their influence in the 1600s and then captured by the British in the 1800s. As an aside, Christian locals claim that a large indentation in the rocks there was made by Adam. The Buddhist Vihara at Nagadipa (Nainativu) Island is a place sanctified by the visit of the Buddha and the dagoba (Buddhist stupa) is ancient: the site is reputedly  where Lord Buddha landed to mediate between local warring kingdoms, making it one of the 17 designated holiest Sri Lankan Buddhist places of pilgrimage. The large number of dagobas in the Kantharodai site dates from the 2nd to 10th Centuries AD. At Keeramalai is a freshwater bathing pond on the beach and it is said to possess therapeutic properties.

Day 8 – Jaffna and the peninsular
Spend the day exploring Jaffna and the peninsular. Visits include the Public Library which holds deep cultural symbolism for the local Tamil people: the library and its 97,000 books were dramatically burnt by a Sinhalese mob in 1981 during the civil war in an act of deliberate ethnic biblioclasm; since then it has been restored and has regained much of its former glory. Afterwards you will explore the iconic Portuguese-Dutch Jaffna Fort, Point Pedro which was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami, and the Kantarodai a religious and mercantile site which dates back to at least 300 B.C. Overnight Jetwing Jaffna Hotel (B)

Day 9 - Jaffna – Habarana (Driving time approximately – 4-5 hours)
After a leisurely breakfast, transfer south to Habarana. During the afternoon enjoy the tranquil surrounds of the Elephant Watch Hut, recharging and of course looking out for jumbos! Overnight Elephant Watch Hut (BD)   

Day 10 – Habarana
The Elephant Watch Hut is a community project social enterprise where guests become an extension of the village community where they can sample a truly natural experience of Sri Lankan village life. Profits from the organisation partly fund solar powered torches for local children to enable them to study at home in the evening. Meet Sachini the village folklore dancing teacher and her students in one her tutorials. This afternoon take a village tour – meet the local blacksmith at his workshop, visit a pottery village and get hands on with and have a go at some of the crafts. Overnight Elephant Watch Hut (BD)

Day 11 – Sigiriya Rock Fortress UNESCO
This morning you will visit some of the local homes and families of the Elephant Watch Hut staff to learn more about this vibrant rural culture. This afternoon continue to Sigiriya Rock Fortress, referred to by Sri Lankans as the 8th wonder of the world.  This breathtakingly beautiful and dramatic site is a rare jewel among the many treasures in Sri Lanka. The famous Sigiriya frescoes of the buxom, wasp-waisted maidens bearing flowers, sit amidst the wooded wilderness and ancient ruins. On your ascent of the rock fortress, take time to linger at the wonderfully preserved frescoes, depicting buxom, wasp-waisted maidens bearing flowers. Enjoy the amazing 360 degree views from the top of Sigiriya. Time ekes rapidly away in this incredible place and all too soon it will be time to descend and return to the hotel. Overnight Kassapa Lions Rock Hotel (B) 

Sigiriya Fortress
It is hard to overstate the stunning beauty and drama of Sigiriya. Named after the vast lion (‘Lion Rock’) whose base and paws still dominate the 5th century fortress’ gateway, the site has had several functions.  British archaeologists began excavations in the late nineteenth century, having found a landscape entirely overrun by nature, and considered that the earliest settlers came nearly 5 thousand years ago, though the first substantial building wasn’t until the late 400s AD when the rock summit fortress and surrounding complexes were built as a more secure capital.  By the violent end of his reign, the capital went elsewhere and a Buddhist monastery grew up which endured until the 14th century.  During its occupation, both the elaborate citadel and its surrounding moats, terraces and breath-taking gardens were examples of truly exquisitely planned urban development.  In particular, visitors come to view the mirror wall and extraordinary frescoes which once probably covered the majority of the rock sides, indicating the sheer opulence and the grand scale King Kashyapa’s project.

Please note that the ascent of Sigiriya and visiting the frescoes should not be undertaken by people with joint problems, breathing difficulties, heart problems or vertigo. The top of the rock is exposed, so wearing a hat is advisable. The lower sections of the site still hold a great deal of interest from a historical perspective and the museum is excellent.

Day 12 - Sigiriya – Dignana (Polwaththa Eco Lodge)   
After breakfast, continue to relaxing Polwatha. On arrival there are optional activities to enjoy such as walks to the waterfall, where swimming is an option, or walking to the village to observe and interact with local life. Overnight Polwaththa Eco Lodge (BLD)

Day 13 – Dignana (Polwatha Eco Lodge)
After the exhilarating tour of the North, today allows you to spend some well-earned leisure time, enjoying the many activities offered at the eco-lodge, from nature walks and birdwatching to learning to cook some Sri Lankan cuisine.  Overnight Polwatha Eco Lodge (BLD)

Day 14 – Airport transfer and depart Sri Lanka (Driving time approximately 4 hours)
Enjoy a final morning of free time at the homestay before checking out. If your flight is late evening you can do some last minute sightseeing in Kandy including the lake, Kiri Muhuda (‘Sea of Milk’) which was created in the early nineteenth century and is bordered by the fascinating Temple of the Tooth, and the idyllic Botanical Gardens, before transferring by private vehicle direct to the airport for your evening flight home. (B)