Those on the group flights will depart for your overrnight flight to Colombo today.
Those on the group flights will be met at the airport on arrival into Colombo. We ask that those not on the group flights also meet the group here to join the transfer to your hotel in Dambulla, where you will check in and your leader will brief you about what is in store over the next couple of weeks.
Leave after breakfast for the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Transfer to Polonnaruwa by coach and explore the ruined city by bike. Return to Habarana stopping en route for an optional Jeep Safari of Minneriya National Park - witness the mighty 'Elephant Gathering' in Minneriya between the months of May and September.
Leave after breakfast for an optional elephant back safari through the forests and villages of Habarana or perhaps spend the morning at leisure to relax, swim, or explore. In the afternoon leave for Sigiriya and climb the mighty Rock Fortress. The view from the summit with the golden hues of the sun setting over the cultural triangle will be a timeless experience.
Leave after breakfast for our campsite in the pristine Knuckles Mountain Range. The camp is located high on a mountain slope overlooking the Knuckles Valley. After settling in at the campsite, we take a 3-4 hour trek through the villages which surround Sphinx Eyrie. This trek though forest paths and village tracks is through the rich foliage of the Knuckles range with a breath-taking view of the valley as the backdrop.
The day's trek will take us to a small village which is only accessible by foot. A trek of approximately 3 hours through scrub jungle and forests will bring us to the little farming village of Meemure, deep in the Knuckles Valley. The trek is on rough trails and a few streams need to be forded en route. Break at the little village shop for a cup of hot tea, sweetened with 'jaggery', made of coconut sap. This is an unrefined cane sugar drawn directly from the coconut sap. After a short break explore the village - appreciate the simplicity of life enjoyed by its people. Swim in the cool mountain water of a stream which rushes by the village. Continue trekking (approx. 2 hours); climb out of the valley from Meemure Village back to our campsite.
Break camp and drive up to Corbet's Gap, a climb of 500 meters. Corbet's Gap - named after the Englishman who discovered it, is a vast split in the range of Kandyan hills, through which on a clear day an amazing view is possible. Proceed to Kandy, Sri Lanka's hill capital. In the afternoon explore the town of Kandy including a visit to the much revered Temple of the Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha in the evening in time for the 'pooja'.
Kandy is also historically the heart of Sri Lanka's arts. Leave after breakfast for an exciting morning with a traditional Kandyan dance teacher. First, watch as the dance master shows us a few video clips of Kandyan Dancers performing with the Esala Perahera of Kandy, which is the pinnacle of every dancer's career. The master will then patiently guide us through the basics of Kandyan Dance while explaining the cultural significance of every delicate movement and pose. Finally the master and his assistants will help us into an elaborate Kandyan dance costume for a short performance in which we will play a significant role. Imagine a family photo with each of your family members colourfully dressed as Kandyan dancers!
Proceed in the afternoon to Nuwara Eliya. Drive past cascading waterfalls and climb up to an altitude of approximately 6000 feet above sea level. Stop amidst the verdant tea mountains to visit a plantation and factory to witness the process of turning the raw green leaf in to the familiar black/brown finished product. Stop for dinner at The Hill Club, the old, exclusive Planters Club of colonial times, offering a quick glimpse of the lifestyle of the Plantation Raj. Dress Code: jacket & tie required (can be loaned from the Hill Club FOC). Ladies smart/casual.
Leave after breakfast for a 3 hour easy to medium grade trek to 'Worlds End' and 'Bakers Falls'. Horton Plains National Park, on Sri Lanka's highest plateau over 2100m above sea level in the central mountains is a strange and tranquil region. The park contains an astounding variety of scenery - from misty mountains to grasslands, from marshes to ice cold streams, lakes and waterfalls. Sri Lanka's best flavoured 'high grown' teas are from estates in the surrounding areas. Two highlights are the spectacular view from 'Worlds End' where the plateau plunges almost 1000m in a sheer drop, and the beautiful 'bridal veil' Bakers Falls. Distinctive flora with a high level of endemism include colourful butterflies and many rare endemic, resident or migrant birds. There are also several species of mammal including sambhur, Bear monkey, Barking deer, Giant squirrel, Fishing cat, Wild boar and hare. Even a few very rare sightings of leopard have been recorded here. The perfect location for hiking and cycling with excellent trails and cool climate. We continue on to Bandarawela.
Leave after breakfast for Udawalawe to visit the Elephant Transit Home, an admirable initiative which is sponsored by the Born Free Trust. Baby elephants who are injured or orphaned in the wild are brought to the Transit Home where they are cared for and rehabilitated in a natural setting. Once the elephants are old enough and strong enough they are radio collared and released in to the National Park in small groups to give them the best chance in their natural habitat. The first group to be released in to the park successfully reproduced in the wild in 2008! Our next stop is Tissamaharama. (Breakfast may be a packed breakfast today).
Dependant on the time of year, we will either take a trek to 'Debara Wewa' - a man made reservior and visit a local community, or we will drive to Palatupana (a quiet beach), to join local fishermen hauling in their catch.
Leave early morning with a packed breakfast for 'Debara Wewa', a man-made reservoir which is now the cornerstone of the village community as well as an ecosystem rich in biodiversity. The first part of the walk will take us past village homes, each of which is a hive of activity. Most of the family are at work; crafting pots and lamps from clay which is collected at the lake. Proceed along the bund of the lake and join the local community (and the wildlife) as they go about their early morning activities. This could be fishing, washing of clothes, or simply preening and drying one's feathers after an early morning swim. If we are lucky we may encounter a monstrous crocodile basking in the early morning sun. The lake is abuzz with birdlife, butterflies and dragonflies. Stop to have breakfast at a shady spot with a serene view of paddy fields to one side and the lake on the other. Continue trekking through the village to meet the vehicle and transfer to hotel.
Leave after an early breakfast for Palatupana, a quite beach located 35 minutes away from the hotel. Here we will join the local fishermen as they draw in their 'Maadal' or large net, which were laid early that morning. The arid air is punctuated with the calls of Hela, Hellai as the men tug on the net as the surf breaks on the sand. They then slacken their hold as the waves roll out again dragging the net with it. The chanting helps maintain rhythm and is a means of reminding them that they are sharing the labour of hauling in the fish. Once the net has been pulled in and the catch sorted, our support is sure be appreciated by the fishermen, who will insist that we take away our share of the catch. We can politely decline, or accept and have the hotel chef BBQ it for us when we get back! NB. This option is normally only available between November and April as it is dependent on the seas around Yala being calm enough for fishing.
This afternoon, we'll take an afternoon jeep safari to Yala National Park for our opportunity to try and spot an elusive leopard. Yala - Sri Lanka's most known National Park is popular for elephant, leopard, bear, crocodile and Wild boar. 97,800 hectares in extent, 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 also received much fame through publicity by National Geographic and the Discovery TV channels. This research focused primarily on a leopard research/conservation and identification project. Claims have subsequently been made that Yala National Park has the world's highest concentration of leopard per square kilometre.
Vegetation is primarily grassland and shrub jungle with patches of dense growth, while several salt and fresh water lagoons are a haven for a variety of resident and migrant birds. Areas popular with leopard are rock strewn hillocks with dense shrub in which the animals hide.
Day 12 - 14
We'll leave 'Tissa' for our beach resort, stopping at Dondra en route. Dondra is Sri Lanka's southernmost point and here we can see the old light house which is still in working condition, before we continue on our journey to reach our south coast beach hotel. We'll have the rest of the evening and the following 2 days to spend at our leisure.
Leave after breakfast for a hotel located close to the airport, stopping en route in Galle to explore the old Dutch Fort and walk along the impressive ramparts, and also in Colombo to take a brief look at the commercial capital.
The trip ends here after breakfast for those not on the group flights. Those on the group flights will be transferred to the airport to catch your flight home, usually arriving into London this evening.