Arrive Colombo, Sri Lanka
Arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport in the early morning. After clearing customs and immigration, you are met and transferred to your hotel in nearby Kotugoda to enjoy a restful day at leisure. This evening, gather with fellow guests for cocktails and a welcome dinner.
Anuradhapura | Sacred City
After breakfast, drive four hours overland to Thirappane, a city in the heart of Sri Lanka’s monument-rich Cultural Triangle region. Enjoy lunch upon arrival at your eco-friendly boutique hotel. Continue on to explore the sacred city of Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This ancient city is believed to have sprouted from a cutting of the Buddha’s tree of enlightenment brought here in the third century BC by Sanghamitta, founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. This Ceylonese political and religious capital, which flourished for 1,300 years, was abandoned after it was invaded in 993. Hidden in dense jungle for many years, the site’s palaces, monasteries and monuments are revealed to you today. Return to your hotel and spend the rest of the day at leisure.
Sigiriya | “Lion’s Rock”
Enjoy an early breakfast at the hotel before heading out to discover the ancient clifftop fortress of Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the fifth century AD, this imposing citadel sits atop a 660-foot-high granite formation known as “Lion’s Rock.” Set out on an hour-long hike up winding cliffside staircases, summiting to reveal the ancient secrets of the shortlived kingdom of Kassapa. Explore the ruins of ancient palaces, moats, shrines, frescoes and water gardens as you take in commanding vistas of the misty forests beyond. Head back down for lunch at a local restaurant before returning to your hotel. Enjoy the remainder of the afternoon at leisure, gathering for a special dinner later in the evening.
Dambulla/Kandy | Cave-Temples & Spice Gardens
This morning, set out to explore The Golden Rock Cave Temple of Dambulla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Discover its Buddhist mural paintings and more than 150 Buddha statues. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this continuously operated cave monastery — which features five sanctuaries — is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. This afternoon, visit the regional city of Matale and a local spice garden, with its stimulating, potent aromas lingering in the air. Learn how cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and pepper lured ancient traders to this island and fertile valley. Continue on to your hotel in Kandy, a major city in the Central Province. Browse Kandy’s traditional local craft villages, gathering later in the evening for dinner and a cultural performance.
Kandy | Temple of the Tooth
Begin the day at the Royal Botanical Gardens, seeing its impressive orchid collection accompanied by a local botanist. Return to your hotel for lunch at your leisure before heading to the revered Sacred Temple of the Tooth. Built during the 17th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site overlooks picturesque Kandy Lake. Since ancient times, the revered tooth relic housed in the temple is believed to have granted ultimate authority to each ruler who possessed it. See how the temple’s two-story inner shrine is fronted by two large elephant tusks, and watch the sunset over its golden roof. You may also have an opportunity to see the thevava (offering), when flowers, sweet meats and curries are bestowed in honor of the tooth relic.
Yala National Park | Landscapes by Helicopter
Spend the morning at leisure, perhaps shopping for Sri Lankan sapphires near your hotel. Next, take off in a privately chartered helicopter, flying over lush green tea plantations, mist-covered mountains and waterfalls, arriving at your boutique accommodations just outside of Yala National Park. A vast ecosystem of dry woodlands and open grasslands that stretch on for miles, the park is home to a stunning array of wildlife, including abundant herds of Asiatic elephants. After check-in, gather for a private evening safari through the park with your own expert naturalist and guide, keeping your eyes peeled for the endangered Sri Lankan leopard. After your safari, return to your boutique accommodations to freshen up for the evening. Nestled among dunes and trees at the ocean’s edge, your chena hut is a modern take on the traditional thatched dwellings inhabited by the locals for centuries.
Yala National Park | Thrilling Game Drives
Get a jump on the wildlife with an early morning safari through Yala National Park. Your expert naturalist and guide leads the way as you track leopards, elephants, wild buffalo, musk deer, mongooses, pangolins, sloth bears, black bears, macaques, jackals and 215 species of birds. Return to your eco-friendly accommodations for a Champagne brunch. Later, set out on an afternoon safari, followed by dinner.
Yala National Park/Galle | Historic Fort
Enjoy a relaxing morning at leisure in the tranquil surrounds of your hotel. Explore the waterfront, or perhaps indulge in a restorative treatment in the hotel’s spa. In the late morning, drive to the ancient trading post of Galle. En route, pause to see the famous stilt fishermen, who use an age-old fishing method to bring in their daily catch. Perched several feet above the water’s surface on wooden masts embedded in the sea floor, these patient fishermen cast their lines for herring and mackerel just as they have for centuries. After taking in this spectacle, set out on an evening walking tour of the UNESCO World Heritage City of Galle, visiting its Dutch fortress. Then, toast your travels over a Scenic Sundowner at your hotel.
Galle | Cinnamon Experience
Relax with another early morning at leisure in Galle. Head out to nearby Villa Mayurana for lunch and a cinnamon experience on the lush grounds of the property’s fragrant spice plantation. On your tour, learn how this versatile spice is processed and packaged, and why Sri Lanka produces the best cinnamon in the world. Return to Galle, learning about traditional sailing vessels and fishing techniques at the National Maritime Museum. After taking time to unwind at the hotel, attend a private talk on Marco Polo, followed by dinner.
Colombo | Discovering Colombo
This morning, transfer to your new accommodations in the capital city of Colombo. After lunch and an early afternoon at leisure, gather for a walking tour with a native resident to explore the Dutch colonial roots of this historic seaside enclave. Stroll the eclectic market stalls of Pettah Bazaar, continuing on for a deeper dive into the city’s colonial occupation at the Old Dutch Museum. Tonight, gather for dinner at a world-renowned local restaurant.
Colombo | A Parting Glimpse
Relax with a morning at leisure before gathering for lunch at a local restaurant. With special insider access, tour the home of the late Geoffrey Bawa, one of Asia’s most prolific and influential architects. Next, enjoy a brief tour of the Galle Face Hotel Museum with a local historian displaying Prince Philip’s first personal car, a 1935 model Standard Nine, which he purchased for £12 when he was stationed in Ceylon. Gather for the hotel’s world-renowned High Tea, and later that evening, a farewell dinner.
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the airport and board your homebound flight.
Program Note: Travel in this remote region entails extended, scenic drives over unpaved roads and visits to sites with limited accessibility for those with mobility challenges.