The group flight arrives at Colombo's Katunayake Airport in the afternoon and we transfer to our hotel at Wattala on the coast. The rest of the day is free to relax at the hotel and recover from the flight. Those not flying with the group will meet us at the hotel.
We depart after breakfast for the 5 hour drive through lush green countryside, a mix of coconut palms, paddy fields and banana plantations, through Kurunegala to Dambulla. Here we visit the magnificent Cave Temple, for some, the most impressive sight in Sri Lanka. There are colourful and very well preserved paintings and statues of the Buddha inside the caves, which date back to the 1st century BC. We then proceed to an elephant camp at Habarana where you can take an included elephant safari into the forest (occasionally this activity is not available during the Perahera festival season - usually part of August). The bird life is also generally excellent (although the number of birds is dependent on the season). Those who do not want to ride an elephant can either stay at the camp headquarters or go for a bird watching walk around a small lake. Then we continue on to Giritale for the night. Our hotel overlooks the Giritale Tank - the island's early inhabitants solved the dual problem of heat and lack of water in this dry area by constructing these large tanks to act as reservoirs and cool the warm breeze. Nowadays these provide an important habitat for birdlife, particularly between August and April).
Today we take to bikes and cycle at a leisurely pace through a series of small villages to Dambalawewa Lake. We should see plenty of bird life including Egrets, Brahmany Kites, Kingfishers, Bulbuls. We will have a traditional Sri Lankan lunch in a local village. In the late afternoon we return to our hotel in Giritale.
After breakfast we take a short drive to the 10th century capital of Sri Lanka at Polonnaruwa, the ancient capital of the Sinhalese, which is about 15km drive. Here there are many Buddhist relics and ruins dating from a thousand years ago when Sinhalese culture reached its zenith. Polonnaruwa flourished in the 12th century after the decision was made to move the capital from Anuradhapura so it was further away from the incursions from southern India. We visit many of the temples, palaces, huges dagobas (Buddhist stupas) and remarkable Buddhist sculptures. After lunch we drive on to Sigiriya about an hour away. The impressive 5th century rock fortress of Sigiriya rises 600 feet from the plains overlooking the surrounding countryside giving far-reaching views. Used as a safe haven from invaders, the route to the top is up a series of steep steps and gangways. From the base, where a moat surrounds impressive water gardens, we ascend 200m, passing an overhanging rock under which superb portraits of native maidens holding flowers and temple offerings still adorn the rock wall. Crowning the flat-topped summit of the rock are remains of the King's Summer Palace from where there are breath-taking views of the surrounding countryside. The descent is much easier and you can cool off in the hotel pool at dusk.
Today we head into the hills to the picturesque town of Kandy. On the way we stop at a spice garden near Matale where you can see various spices and herbs growing and there is a chance to stock up on massage oils, spices and Ayurvedic medicines. Kandy is located on a small lake and we spend time in and around the town. We will visit the Temple of the Tooth, which houses Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic. The Tooth of Buddha was taken from the funeral pyre in 543 BC and only found its way to Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD. There are literally hundreds of worshippers who visit the temple each day and in July/August the most spectacular ceremony takes place. Some of our trips in July/August should coincide with the Kandy festival, but the exact dates, decided by priests (depending on the auspicious time), are not known until 5 months prior to the event. We drive to a beautiful viewpoint to get a great view of Kandy and its environs that are overlooked by a huge Buddha and visit a gem museum where you can see the products of the traditional methods of gem extraction. In the evening we may have the chance to attend a performance of the athletic Kandian Dancing and fire walking.
Today you are free to explore Kandy at your leisure or take an optional excursion to Knuckles Rainforest (including Lunch). Knuckles Mountain Range is so named due to its formation that resembles the knuckles of a clenched fist. They loom 6,112 feet above the Dumbara Valley. The Knuckles Range and the surrounding areas have been declared as a strict natural reserve. A large variety of indigenous plants, not found elsewhere, are found in this area. Return to Kandy in the evening.
Today we proceed to Wattala via Pinnawala Elephant orphanage, which has more than 50 orphaned elephants, and Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, with has species of orchid and other plants unique to Sri Lanka. We will arrive at our hotel in the evening.
If you are travelling on the group flight we will have a morning transfer to the airport for the daytime flight to London. The arrangements for those not flying with the group ends after check out.