The group will meet at Colombo Airport in the early afternoon and transfer immediately to Habarana, located approximately 160km north east of the airport. The drive will take approximately 3.5 to 4 hours and the group will arrive at The Chaaya Village Hotel in the evening. Located in the north central part of the island, Habarana is a part of Sri Lanka's dry zone. Thanks to the genius of ancient kings dating as far back as the 5th Century AD, the Sri Lankan Dry Zone is any thing but dry, with hundreds of lakes and reservoirs which are connected by an elaborate network of canals making up an old but great irrigation system. Aside from the benefit for agriculture and industry, the waterworks of the dry zone provide some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery and fertile habitat for the islands incredible bio-diversity.
After breakfast we take a short drive to the 10th century capital of Sri Lanka at Polonnaruwa, the ancient capital of the Sinhalese. 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. The ruins are therefore younger and better preserved than those at Anuradhapura. We visit many of the temples, palaces, huge dagobas (Buddhist stupas) and remarkable Buddhist sculptures. After a short break for lunch we leave for Minneriya National Park for your first chance to experience the mighty 'Gathering'! Minneriya Tank was created by King Parakarambahu at the height of Polonnaruwa's glory as the capital of Sri Lanka. The national park based largely around the huge tank (reservoir) was created rather more recently but serves as an important gathering place for Sri Lanka's large population of elephants. During the dry season this tank is an incredible place to observe the elephants who come to bathe and graze on the grasses as well as the huge flocks of birds (cormorants and painted storks to name a few) that come to fish in the shallow waters.
In the morning we drive to the foot of the Lion Rock at Sigiriya. 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 extensive remains of the King's Summer Palace from where there are breath-taking views of the surrounding countryside. After lunch you will get a second opportunity to visit Minneriya National Park to see the abundance of wildlife on offer.
Leave after breakfast for Nuwara Eliya. This was the favourite hill station during the British era and situated in the cool highland air at 1890m has a very British feel to it. Known locally as 'Little England' it is dotted with British style houses, hotels and a racecourse. We drive through the hill Capital of Kandy and make an optional visit to the Temple of the much revered Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha. We arrive in Nuwara Eliya and have a free afternoon and evening. We may have time to make an optional visit to a Tea Factory and plantation to witness the process of turning the raw green leaf in to the familiar finished product.
We leave after breakfast for Yala National Park. En route we drive through Ella Gap where we have spectacular views of the coastal plain nearly 1,000m below. Almost the whole of the southern part of the island is in view and on a particularly clear day the shimmering silver of the ocean is visible. At the times of year our trips take place the weather is normally clear however, as in any mountainous area, bad weather does sometimes occur which will obviously limit the view. We arrive at Chaya Wild and take our first evening jeep safari into Yala National Park.
Day 6 - 7
Over the course of these two days we will take four game drives into this ever popular national park. Yala is Sri Lanka's best known National Park and is popular for Elephant, Leopard, Bear, Crocodile and Wild Boar. More than three times larger than Udawalawe at 97,800 hectares, this is 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 become well known for leopard. The park, which is is primarily shrub jungle with several salt and fresh water lagoons, has one of the highest concentrations of leopard per square kilometre in the world.
Today you will have your sixth and final game drive in Yala N.P. before returning to the hotel and then transfering to Tamarind Tree Hotel near the airport. We drive along the southern coast of the island making optional stops at the Dondra Light House, the southernmost point of the island, and the old Dutch Fort of Galle. This drive is 340km and will take approximately 7 to 8 hours (excluding the time spent sightseeing).
If you are travelling on the group flight we will transfer to the airport after breakfast for the daytime group flight to London. The arrangements for those not flying with the group ends after checkout or after the transfer to Colombo airport.