The group flight arrives at Colombo's Katunake Airport and we transfer to our hotel at Dambulla (160km, 4hrs drive). Those not flying with the group can meet us at the hotel or the airport in time for the transfer to Dambulla.
After breakfast we visit the magnificent Cave Temple at Dambulla, for some, the most impressive sight in Sri Lanka. There are colourful and very well preserved paintings and statues of Buddha inside the caves, which date back to the 1st century BC. We then have a short warm up walk which takes us gently through villages and rice paddies, where we can see life unchanged for centuries. The walking is flat although it can be hot and humid. We head towards Sigiriya, where we have lunch. In the afternoon we visit the imposing 5th century rock fortress of Sigiriya which 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. The descent is much easier and we have a final 35 minute drive back to our hotel in Dambulla.
The next two days takes us across the famous Knuckles Mountain Range. Named after the shape of the peaks, there are more than 35 mountains in the range. We start early today as it's a long day and we have a three hour drive to the start of our walk. The road winds its way slowly into the foothills to the start of the Manigala Trail. The walk starts with an easy descent past rice paddies through the villages of Pitawala Patana and Etanwala. Descending all the way to the river we cross a small bridge and start to climb up through more farmland. We finally emerge at the top of an escarpment where we get great views of the surrounding countryside. It's a hot walk and can be very humid and we will be glad of the small breeze at the top. An easy trail takes us along the top of the escarpment to Manigala Top at 1115m, the high point of today. We then descend all the way to the Illikumbura Forest Office. Some of the descent is a little steep. From the Forest Office it's a 20 minute walk to our campsite by the river where we can bathe in the cool refreshing river water. Today is the longest walk and is approx 15km, 7 hours walking. (Please note - occasionally due to high water levels we use an alternative campsite. The alternative campsite is about 40 minutes drive from Illikumbura).
A short half hour drive to the Narangamuwa Temple at Ranamuregama. We pass rice paddies and coconut groves and enter a heavily forested area. The trail climbs gently for an hour and then levels out and undulates though this wonderful forest. The only sounds we can hear is the birdsong all around us. We emerge from the forest at Meemure village and looking back we get great views of the pointed peak of Lakegala. Passing farms growing pepper and other spices we come to a small tea shop where we have tea and a packed lunch. Approx 5 hours walking. After lunch we take a truck or trishaws for a bumpy 90 minute ride to Corbetts Gap, a famous viewpoint. Our bus will meet us here for the 90 minute drive to our hotel at Orutota overlooking the Victoria Reservoir.
A relaxing morning after the exertions of the last few days with time to enjoy the garden and pool at the hotel. Mid morning we have a short 18km drive to Kandy and we have the afternoon to explore the town. Kandy is located on a small lake and we can walk round the lake famous for several varieties of water birds and large Water Monitors. We 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. In the evening we may have the chance to attend a performance of the athletic Kandian Dancing and fire eating.
Day 6 - 7
This morning we drive to Dickoya (3 hours), where we stay for two nights in simple colonial tea planters bungalows. Surrounded by tea plantations the bungalows have a wonderful view of the Castlereagh Reservoir and on a clear day we can see the outline of Adams Peak in the distance. In the pilgrim season (December-May) we have the day to relax or have a short walk around the lake and we leave around midnight for the walk up Adams Peak. This will take around 4 hours and we should reach the top with the many pilgrims at sunrise. In the off season (May - November) we spend Day 6 (Day 7 Ex London) at Dickoya and can walk around the lake and on Day 7 (Day 8 Ex London) we will climb Adams Peak during daylight hours.
This morning we have a wonderful drive through tea plantation districts to Nuwariya 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. There will be an optional walk into the hills around the town and also time to explore the bazaar.
We drive to Horton Plains, a large plateau over 2,000m high, overlooked by the second and third highest peaks in Sri Lanka. The scenery is beautiful and the best way to explore is on foot. We trek through the rolling grasslands, seeing forest, unusual wildlife, such as the sambar deer and purple faced monkey to 'World's End', one of the most stunning sights in Sri Lanka where the ground drops 1050m to the plains. We then catch the train from the highest railway station in the country; within two hours we drop from 6200 feet to 3600 feet. The train travels through the cloud forest into the tea plantations, the views are breathtaking; we get off at Ella.
We drive to Karandegolla, stopping en route to visit the spectacular Ravana Waterfalls. We start walking at Pitawala and trek through paddy fields and vegetable farms to the beautiful village of Liyangahawela. We then walk on to Kithalhalla and climb up to a rocky area where we get stunning views of the waterfalls. We continue on to 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. We return in the late afternoon to our hotel in Ella.
We now head south out of the hills to Kataragama down on the plains; this is our base for visiting Yala National Park. Yala is Sri Lanka's best known National Park and is popular for elephant, leopard, bear, crocodile and wild boar. 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 primarily shrub jungle with several salt and fresh water lagoons, has one of the highest concentrations of leopard per square kilometre in the world. We will have a game drive in the afternoon. (Please note that the sanctuary may be closed for 4-6 weeks from September to October allowing the park authorities to check the animals. We therefore go to an alternative area close by, usually the Udawalawe National Park).
A early morning start for the short drive to Kataragama Temple. This temple is a pilgrimage place for both Hindu and Buddhists, who come to worship here in the early mornings and evenings. The colourful and noisy temple is always busy. From the temple we drive to the bottom of Wedihiti Kanda, from where we have our last walk to the summit, a walk of approx 3.5 hours. In the late afternoon we drive to the coast.
Free day to relax on the beach or by the pool. There are also numerous optional activities that you can take part in during the day including a boat ride through mangrove swamps to a cinnamon plantation or from November to April you can go whale watching off Dondra head near Mirrissa, which is one of the best places in the world for seeing Blue and Sperm whales. Huge pods of dolphins are also often seen playing alongside the boats.
We set off early today and drive along the coastal road to the historic port of Galle. Dating back to the 17th century, and now a UNESCO world heritage site, we visit the Galle Fort. We then follow the coast for the drive back to Colombo visiting a turtle hatchery on the way. We reach Colombo in the late afternoon and check into our hotel.
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 breakfast.