Wild Sri Lanka Holiday

17 day holiday from -  £3,355 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  
  • Climb stunning Sigiriya Rock (UNESCO) for incredible 360 degree views
  • Experience an off-the-beaten-track wildlife safari at Wilpattu National Park  
  • See elephants in vast herds at Minneriya
  • Enjoy excellent chances to spot leopard at Yala National Park
  • Clock up dozens of bird species including endemics at Bundala NP and Sinaharaja Reserve

Suggested Wild Sri Lanka Holiday

Day 1 – Arrive Negombo (Drive – 30 mins)
On arrival, transfer to your hotel to relax after your journey. Overnight Villa Hundhira – Standard Room (B)

Negombo
Negombo (literally ‘Group of Bees’) sits one 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 nice beaches situated close to the airport.

Day 2 – Lagoon and Canals of Negombo (Drive – 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 provides wonderful photo opportunities. This afternoon you will transfer two hours north along the West coast to Kalpitiya. Overnight Palagama Beach Resort – Beach Cabana (BLD)  

Day 3 – Kalpitiya Coast – Wilpattu National Park (Drive – 2½ hours)   
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 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 late 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 sq.km 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 a good a chance of leopard viewings, 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. Species of interest include the recently discovered Serendib scops owl, the Sri Lankan grey hornbill and, of course, the ubiquitous Painted stork.

Day 4 – Wilpattu National Park
You once again enter the Park early this morning, taking the opportunity to experience a raucous dawn chorus and spot animals feeding at first light. Since Wilpattu is a relatively unfrequented Park, there will be few other vehicles about and the rewards should be excellent in terms of viewing. Then enjoy some time at leisure from late morning until mid-afternoon before taking another safari in this wilderness area where if we are lucky we may be able to spot leopard or some of the 215 species of birds, including, hopefully, the endemics such as the Ceylon lorikeet, Pompadour green pigeon and Ceylon small barbet. Overnight Big Game Park Wilpattu (non-air conditioned tent). (BLD)

Day 5 – Anuradhapura – Sigiriya – Habarana (Drive – 1½ hours; Drive – 1 hour)   
An early start as you head south into the cultural triangle. Stop to explore some of the main sites of the ancient city of Anuradhapura (A UNESCO World Heritage Site). 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.  From here you will continue to the Elephant Watch Hut to check in. 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. 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 your accommodation. Overnight Elephant Watch Hut (BD)

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 6 – 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 7 – Minneriya National Park – Gal Oya National Park (Drive 15 minutes; Drive – 5 hours)
You head out early for an elephant safari in Minneriya National Park where sightings of huge herds of elephants are common. We then continue on a scenic journey south: either through the hills of Eastern Province, heading through Maduru Oya National Park where roadside elephant encounters amidst the amphitheatres of wooded hills and huge domed rock are not uncommon and Brahmani kite circle overhead; alternatively, the coastal route to Gal Oya National Park skirts the bountiful lagoons around Batticaloa, watching out for basking crocodiles and revelling in the resplendent avifauna on show – watch out for such as Indian pond heron, Yellow bittern, Great egret and Black-capped kingfisher. Check in at the Gal Oya Lodge and enjoy this truly secluded and under-visited park; in the evening new choruses break out and there is an option for a dusk departure on safari, either today to tomorrow. Overnight Gal Oya Lodge (non-air conditioned bungalow).  (BD)

Gal Oya National Park
This vast area of evergreen forest and savannah was designated a National Park in 1954 and is now at the forefront of Sri Lanka’s burgeoning eco-tourism industry. However, it is still relatively quiet as a National park and the huge swathes of unvisited areas lend themselves to some truly unique safari experiences. Visitors are drawn to Gal Oya for its wide variety of mammals and birds – the endemic Toque macaque is to be found here, as are Leopard, Sri Lanka axis deer, Sloth bear, Elephant, Water buffalo and Wild boar.  The reserve is based around the Senanayake Samudra reservoir and is unique in offering boat safaris, the best of which take place at dawn and late afternoon (3pm onwards). From these you are able to witness snorkelling elephants swimming across the waters to reach their feeding grounds. The bird life in the Park is also very rewarding, with Lesser adjutant (Sri Lanka’s largest bird species), Spot-billed pelican and Red-faced malkoha relatively straightforward spots.  Beyond these, the Indian cormorant, Oriental darter, white-bellied sea eagle, and grey-headed fish eagle are regular sightings.

Day 8 – Gal Oya National Park
Enjoy a full day in this beautiful and unspoilt wilderness. The Lodge can arrange different activities (payable locally) including jeep safaris or the opportunity to spot wildlife from Samudra Lake by boat. It is also possible to arrange a nature walk, bird watching walk, village visits or explore the local organic farm. In particular, the links between the Lodge and the indigenous Vedda forest-dwelling tribe can be both fascinating and highly rewarding. Overnight Gal Oya Lodge (non air-conditioned bungalow) (BD)

Day 9 – Yala National Park (Drive – 3 hours)
Spend the morning at leisure at Gal Oya or on one of the guided safaris, such as an early morning ascent of Monkey Mountain, and then, after lunch, transfer to Yala National Park. The park is internationally acclaimed as the jewel in Sri Lanka’s wildlife viewing crown. After check in, you will take a late afternoon safari which will offer fine opportunities of viewing the wonderful array of species here: from Leopard and Elephant to Crocodile and many species of birds.  Overnight Kulu Safaris (non-air conditioned tent).  (BLD)

Yala National Park
Yala proudly boasts that it possesses a higher leopard density than anywhere else in the world and this is sufficient to make it famous as a site where leopard viewing is an excellent possibility.  Founded as a National park in 1938, Yala has always been a wilderness area and the park now consists of 5 designated areas, two of which are open for public safaris.  In the rainy season the water sources and rivers are abundant, but by the drier months wildlife tends to congregate around pools, lagoon and tanks to feed, offering some superb chances for observing some of the 350 elephants, 25 leopards and countless water buffalo, toque macaque, civets, fishing cat and sloth bears.  Bird watchers will find Yala equally rewarding – pelicans, flamingos, eagles and flycatchers are some of the families amongst the 215 species recorded here, whilst special treats come with the seven endemics – Blue-tailed bee-eater Sri Lanka wood pigeon, Crimson-fronted barbet, Black-capped bulbul, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, Sri Lanka jungle fowl and Brown-capped babbler.  A useful tip is to be willing to travel some distance: the quieter areas tend to be the less disturbed and offer the most rewarding and breathtaking vision of what Yala truly has to offer.

Day 10 – Lunagamhavera National Park      
Today enjoy morning and afternoon safari trips into the depths of the little visited Block 5, also referred to as Lunagamhavera National Park.  Once again, this stunningly idyllic escape into the wilds of the wider Yala Park offers a real sense of seclusion and adventure – few tourists stray this far, adding greatly to its appeal. Accordingly, wildlife is abundant but much shyer here: viewing can be challenging, but offers some highly rewarding surprises and lends the whole experience an air of pioneering and discovery.  Overnight Kulu Safaris in a non-air conditioned tent (BLD)

Note: if you prefer to take your safari in a different block or area of the park then we of course can arrange it.

Lunagamhavera National Park
In 1995 it was recognised that the vital wildlife focal points at the water tanks and Lunugamvehera Reservoir needed to have their catchment area protected. Thus arose the National Park which, in its own right, is also a richly diverse habitat, linking elephants with the nearby Yala and Udawalawe National Parks.  The fact that it also draws elephants from wild areas to the north and south means that it is exceptionally rewarding in its prolific sightings of the species.  Owing to its wide range of woodland, grassland and scrub habitats, covering 89 square miles, the Park has recorded some 43 mammal species, from Wild boar to Sri Lankan axis deer and Grizzled giant squirrel to Sloth bear and Mouse deer, 12 amphibian species and 33 species of reptiles.  Leopard sightings, though not the Parks’ main draw, are not uncommon.  As its focal point, the reservoir is home to an incredible range of water birds (around 200 species). Amongst notable endemics are Sri Lanka jungle fowl and Brown-capped Babbler, as well as Spot-billed pelican, Malabar pied hornbill, Marshall's iora, Jungle owlet and Grey-headed fish eagle.
    
Day 11 – Yala – Udawalawe National Park (Drive – 2 hours)
This morning you head north and west to Udawalawe National Park. After checking into the hotel, there will be some leisure time before embarking on late afternoon safari in the National Park. Udawalawe is one of the best parks in Sri Lanka for elephant sightings and often you can see many individuals in one safari, offering breathtaking photo opportunities as the light turns gently, drawing out the dusky rose and terracotta shades of the landscape. Birdlife is also excellent here. Overnight Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort (BD)

Udawalawe National Park
Established only as recently as 1972, the Park is in area of former ‘chena’ farming – a form of shifting cultivation that has kept the landscape relatively youthful and hence a thriving habitat for a rich diversity of wildlife across its 199 square miles. Much of the vegetation is low scrub, marshes and water fringes, so viewing animals is relatively straightforward; however, there are rivers, wooded areas and hill ranges which add to the variety of species here. Central to it all, and the major draw for many species is the reservoir, offering a stable water source, marshy fringes covered in thousands of wading birds and enough prey to draw in a host of eagle species to hunt and fish. As with most safaris, the prize species such as the 250 elephants – which give fabulous views – and leopard are only the tip of the iceberg and the park is dripping with birds, reptiles, deer, wild boar, civets, etc.  Amongst the fascinating cross-section of fauna are the delightful Sri Lankan spotted chevrotain, the Golden jackal, the threatened Golden palm civets and Mugger crocodiles. Those keen on birding may well be rewarded with sightings of endemics such as Red-faced malkoha, Sri Lanka grey hornbill and Sri Lanka jungle fowl and few can fail to be impressed by views of the splendid Indian peafowl or the exotic Malabar pied hornbill. Although well-visited, the grandeur and breadth of the vistas gives a sense of solitude and separation from other safari vehicles and you can expect a busy, action-packed visit where you rarely are able to put down you cameras or binoculars.
    
Day 12 – Udawalawe – Sinaharaja Forest Reserve (UNESCO) (Drive – 2½ hours)
This morning your journey takes you to the pristine rainforest of Sinaharaja, a biodiversity hotspot of international significance and a treasure trove of endemic species. This afternoon enjoy some leisure time on the outskirts of the forests, soaking up the delicate cacophony of the forest as the humid heat oozes out of the day. Overnight Rainforest Eco Lodge – Non Air Conditioned Chalet (BD)

Sinharaja Forest Reserve
As Sri Lanka’s only rainforest reserve and last remaining significant example of the habitat, Sinharaja is a unique site for naturalists. The Reserve was created a World Heritage Site in 1989, covers around 23 miles square and is home to an impressive range of endemic species of flora and fauna, boasting 36 percent of all vertebrates found in Sri Lanka and 43 percent of all its endemic species (830 in all). As a relic of a much larger extent of rainforest, Sinharaja is reputedly the former stronghold of the extinct Sri Lanka Lion, hence its name – literally ‘Lion King’. The rolling landscape, rising to peak of over 3600 feet, is characterised by the criss-crossing maze of streams, torrents and splendid waterfalls which result from the high rainfall here and which add to the exquisite diversity amidst its heady humidity; indeed for much of the time the forests are clad in delicate blankets of mist that shroud the sundry pathways which form the basis of the foot-safari experience. The increasingly high profile of the Reserve in attracting visitors is proving vital in combatting illicit logging and poaching, adding security to the futures of threatened species such as Leopard, Indian elephant and the delightful Purple-faced langur. However, it is for the multitudinous array of birds that most nature lovers come. It’s hard to express the proliferation of avifauna in Sinharaja: 20 of the country’s 26 endemic birds are to be found here, with a spectacular success rate for visitors almost guaranteed.  Sri Lanka wood pigeon, Green-billed coucal, Sri Lanka white-faced starling, Sri Lanka blue magpie and Dollarbird are all regularly spotted.  Butterflies too abound, with a particularly spectacular example being Sri Lanka’s largest species – the 6 inch broad Sri Lanka birdwing.
 
Day 13 – Sinharaja Forest Reserve (UNESCO)
This morning with an expert naturalist guide, venture into the dark and mysterious forest, first and foremost in search of the rich birdlife, as the rainforest here is so dense, rendering it much more difficult to spot larger animals. This afternoon enjoy some leisure time imbibing the exquisite orchestral backdrop of the forest and enjoying the tranquil surrounds. Overnight Rainforest Eco Lodge – Non Air Conditioned Chalet (BD)

Kindly note that Sinaharaja is one of the wettest places in Sri Lanka at any time of the year! You should be prepared for humid and wet conditions and also the presence of leeches. Ensure your socks are tucked into your shoes and we recommend wearing walking boots.

Day 14 – Galle (Drive – 2½ hours)
This morning transfer to the fort city of Galle. On arrival, check in to the hotel and then start to explore the fort ramparts and stroll the atmospheric old streets narrow lanes lined with quaint cafes and arty boutiques. Overnight Fort Bazaar (B)

Day 15 – Mirissa Whale Watching (seasonal – November - April) (Drive – 1 hour in each direction)
Transfer very early this morning to the town of Mirissa for a whale watching shared tour (request your driver to take a coastal route either there or back to view the beautiful swathes of sandy beaches). During the rights season, when the waters are warm and the seas calm, a rich abundance of sea-life can be seen, from Bottlenose and Spinner dolphins to Sperm, Fin, Bryde’s and short finned whales. Turtles, Orca, Whale shark are also often present. However, the world’s largest mammal, the magnificent Blue whale is a very regular sighting. It’s worth noting that it can take some hours to locate whales and obviously, nature being nature, sightings are not guaranteed; the probability is high of some encounters, with most boats claiming a 90% success rate in locating Blue whales.  Beyond the aquatic delights, birdlife is everywhere: Pomarine skuas and Bridled terns are regularly picked up, the latter in flocks numbering from 5 to occasionally 400 individuals. Later in the season, keep an eye out for Flesh-footed and Sooty shearwater, Black noddies and even the elegant Tropic birds. After the excursion return to Galle. Overnight Fort Bazaar (B)

Kindly note that this excursion is subject to sea conditions and can be cancelled if the sea is too rough.     

Day 16 – Galle at leisure    
Spend your final day in Sri Lanka at leisure. You can remain in the old town of Galle searching the many boutiques for a souvenir, or perhaps you may wish to take the short journey by taxi or tuk-tuk to the nearby famous white sands of Unawatuna Beach for some relaxation and a morning swim.  Overnight Fort Bazaar. (B)

Galle
A fascinating blend of cultures lends Galle a sense of being a step back in time. The effervescent Sri Lankan spirit abounds, yet here it is set in a world of Dutch and British colonial influence. The old town is positioned on a peninsula on Sri Lanka’s south west coats and circuitous and seductive cobbled streets open out into grand military edifices: Galle’s history as a vital trading post for hundreds of years is never far from the consciousness here.  The sea air combines with the tropical warmth to lend a languor and dreaminess to a visit.  As evening approaches, the ramparts of the fort which lies at the heart of the old city swell with people coming to view the simply breath-taking silence of the iridescent sunset. Alongside, the city’s obsession with cricket is everywhere, with games seemingly springing up on every street corner. Galle’s significance as a port dates back to at least 1400 BC and cinnamon has long been exported throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, a prized trading partner of such as the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Chinese and Malays.  European domination is relatively modern, though the fort, Jesuit cathedral and Amangalla historic hotel are major draws to visitors, alongside the Shiva temple, the close-by beautiful beaches, and the buzzing cafés and gelaterias.

Day 17 – Transfer to the airport and depart Sri Lanka (Drive – 3½ hours)
After a leisurely morning, take the express way from Galle back to the airport for your evening flight home from Sri Lanka (B)