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Distinguished cultural and wildlife safaris
Arrive Colombo and transfer to Negombo beach.
Overnight Negombo Beach. (Brown's Beach Hotel or similar)
After breakfast, drive to Anuradhapura. Arrive Anuradhapura and transfer to Hotel Palm Garden Village or similar.
After lunch, you will tour the ancient city of Anuradhapura, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya River. According to historical records, the city was founded in the 5th century BC and remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia for an astounding 1300 years. During this period, vast monastery complexes and some of the tallest buildings in the ancient world were built. The Jetavanaramaya dagoba of the city is still the tallest brick structure in the world. In its prime, Anuradhapura ranked beside Nineveh and Babylon in its colossal proportions - its four walls, each 16 miles (26 km) long, enclosed an area of 256 square miles - in the number of its inhabitants, and in the splendor of its shrines and public edifices. Anuradhapura is situated in Sri Lanka's dry zone. As a result, the administration built the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world. Most of these reservoirs are still functioning today, making them vital to the agricultural output of the country.
Later rulers of Anuradhapura lacked the political stature of their forebearers. The civilization began to decline as the irrigation infrastructure crumbled and the increasingly powerful kingdoms of South India began to assert their preeminence. The city was sacked in AD 993 by Indian armies and finally abandoned by 1017. The splendid site, with its palaces, monasteries and monuments, was hidden away in dense jungle for hundreds of years. It was not until the 19th century that the jungle was cleared away, the ruins laid bare, and some measure of prosperity was brought back to the surrounding country by the restoration of hundreds of ancient village reservoirs by the British.
Today, the picturesque ruins consist of three classes of buildings, dagobas, monastic buildings, and pokunas. The dagobas are bell-shaped masses of masonry, varying from a few feet to over 1100 ft in circumference. Some of them contain enough masonry to build a town for twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Remains of the monastic buildings are found in all directions in the shape of raised stone platforms, foundations and stone pillars. The most famous is the Brazen Palace, erected by King Dutugamunu in 164 BC. The pokunas are reservoirs used for bathing and supplying drinking water. They are scattered throughout the jungle that surrounds the ancient ruins. The site also contains a sacred Bo-Tree, a cutting from the "tree of enlightenment" (the fig tree under which Buddha reputedly achieved enlightenment), brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. Anuradhapura still holds tremendous religious importance to Buddhists, making it fascinating not only for its historical implications but also for its modern cultural significance. In addition to exploring the ancient history, you will have ample opportunity to experience the vibrant religious life of today.
Overnight in Anuradhapura. (Hotel Palm Garden Village or similar)
After departing the hotel early in the morning, visit the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, another World Heritage Site and one of the most extraordinary and dramatic of all the world's great fortresses.
Fearing an invasion by his half brother, King Kashapa began building this supposedly impregnable fortress in 477 AD. The massive rock on which the site is situated rises 600 feet from the jungle floor. Upon it was constructed a subtle blend of fortress and palace. Sigiriya has a number of wonderful features that can still be enjoyed, such as the "Heavenly Maiden" frescoes, water gardens, moats, ramparts and the Mirror Wall. After the death of Kashapa, the magnificent fortress was abandoned because Sri Lankans of the day believed that the king and his capital were cursed. After only two decades of use the site fell into disrepair and receded into the jungle for the next thousand years.
After visiting Sigiriya, drive to Habarana and transfer to the Cinnamon Lodge, located near a picturesque lake. The Cinnamon Lodge offers unique bird watching excursions, as well as delicious traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. After settling into your accommodations, take an evening game drive into Hurulu Eco Park, an excellent setting for viewing wild elephants and other species.
Overnight Habarana. (Cinnamon Lodge or similar).
After breakfast, drive to Kandy. On the way visit Dambulla and Matale Spice Garden. Check in to Amaya Hills Hotel for overnight stay.
After a lovely traditional Sri Lankan lunch, visit the remarkable cave temple of Dambulla, a World Heritage Site and an archaeological treasure. It dates back to King Valagam Bahu, who initially sought refuge in the caves during the 1st Century BC. Upon regaining his throne, he dedicated the caves to the monks and converted them into this extraordinary rock temple. Spread over a series of five caves are more than 150 murals of the Buddha, as well as a rock carving of the reclining Buddha that is 14 meters in length. There are over 2000 sq. meters of paintings on the walls and ceilings, making it a truly remarkable spectacle.
Before arriving in Kandy, make a stop at Matale Spice Garden to take an informative tour of a private botanical garden that houses many plants used in traditional Sri Lankan herbal remedies and Ayurvedic medicines.
Overnight Kandy. (Amaya Hills Hotel or similar)
Spend the day exploring Kandy (another World Heritage Site).
Your first stop of the day will be just outside of Kandy at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Once a royal pleasure garden, the botanical gardens are now open to the public and cover 147 acres. These well kept gardens are home to a huge variety of plants, including a fine collection of orchids, palms and other exotic flora.
The second largest city in Sri Lanka, Kandy is the capital of the hill country. Set amongst rolling hills and around the beautifully picturesque Kandy Lake, the city has numerous attractions, including a vibrant cultural scene, shopping, and the Temple of the Tooth Relic of Buddha. This temple tells the story of a fascinating aspect of Sri Lankan history. According to Sri Lankan legend, when the Buddha died, his body was cremated in a sandalwood pyre at Kusinara in India. His left canine tooth was retrieved and given to King Brahmadatte for veneration. For 800 years the tooth remained in India, and a belief grew that whoever possessed the Sacred Tooth Relic had a divine right to rule the land. Wars were fought to take possession of the relic, and as Hinduism grew in popularity, remaining Buddhists began to fear for the safety of the tooth. It is said that Sri Lanka was chosen as the new home for the tooth relic because the Lord Buddha had declared that his religion would be safe in Sri Lanka for 2,500 years. As time went on, Sri Lankan civilizations rose and fell. The seat of power shifted from Anuradapura to Polonnaruwa, then to Dambadeniya and other cities. With each change of capital, a new palace was built to enshrine the relic, a potent symbol of political legitimacy and spiritual power. Finally the tooth was brought to Kandy, the last capital of the Sri Lankan royalty, which fell to the British in 1815. The tooth remains in Kandy today in the Temple of the Tooth, a splendid golden-roofed temple.
Kandy has a large and active community of artists and artisans who give the city a vibrant and contagious energy. A visit to some of the markets and bazaars is well worthwhile. In the evening view a cultural dance show with fire-walking before returning to the hotel for dinner.
Overnight Kandy. (Amaya Hills Hotel or similar)
After breakfast, drive to Nuwara Eliya and on to Bandarawela through a picturesque landscape.
You will pass several villages, tea gardens and beautiful forests as you drive. Nuwara Eliya was the favorite hill station of the colonial British, and much of the architecture and atmosphere of the colonial period still exists today. The town is also in the heart of Sri Lanka's tea growing region, one of the country's most important export economies. Before enjoying lunch, visit a tea estate and tea factory near Nuwara Eliya. The winding pathways through the sloping tea estate make the visit quite scenic. The panoramic beauty of the whole area is spellbinding.
After visiting Nuwara Eliya, proceed to Bandarawela and transfer to the Bandarawela Hotel. The hotel is built in a traditional Sri Lankan style, yet it shows a marked British influence with its old world charm and graciousness. The town of Bandarawela was once said to have one of the healthiest climates in the world. Some of the best and "most flavored" tea is said to come from this area. The best pears and strawberries are also grown here because the climate is dry and mild.
Overnight in Bandarawela. (Bandarawela Hotel)
After an early breakfast, drive to Yala. If the weather is clear, you will have lovely views of the valley called Ella Gap. Check into Yala Village and take an evening game drive.
Encompassing an area of 500 square miles, Yala is one of Sri Lanka's oldest, best known and biggest wildlife reserves. The ecosystems of the park are incredibly diverse, ranging from dry monsoon forests to semi-deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, fresh water, marine wetlands and sandy beaches. It was declared a protected area in 1900 and later set aside as a national park. The availability of water throughout the year makes Yala an important area for the conservation of the island's flora and fauna. Home to a plethora of species, Yala National Park is a fascinating place to visit for those with an interest in wildlife and vegetation.
Given the diversity of jungle habitats, Yala is widely considered the best park in Sri Lanka for viewing animals and birds. According to leopard research that was sponsored by Yala Safari Game Lodge, the park has one of the highest densities of leopards in the world, making Yala one of the premiere places in Asia to view wild leopards. Other large animals you may see include Elephant, Sloth Bear, Mugger Crocodile, Spotted Deer, Sambhar, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Wild Buffalo, Jackal, Grey Langur and Mongoose. More than 135 species of birds have been recorded in this Park and include, amongst others, the Malabar Pied Hornbill, Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Brown-capped Babbler, Stone Curlew, Black-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant stork, Painted Stork, Sirkeer Malkoha, Blue-faced Malkoha and Orange-breasted Green Pigeon.
Overnight in Yala Village Resort
In the morning take another game drive or alternatively visit Katharagama Temple for the Pooja ceremony, a Buddhist spiritual dedication.
The spirituality of Kataragama is indigenous and long-celebrated in Sri Lankan lore and legend. Today the site is a popular place of pilgrimage for Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and indigenous Vedda communities of Sri Lanka and South India.
In the afternoon again visit Yala National Park for another game drive.
Overnight in Yala Village Resort
Early morning short game drive in the park. After breakfast, drive west along the southern coast of Sri Lanka for about two hours to Dickwella and transfer to Dickwella Village Resort - a lovely beach resort with one of the best beaches in this area.
In Dickwella, you can relax and enjoy the beaches, swim in the Indian Ocean, go scuba diving or deep sea fishing. Alternatively, you can take advantage of one of the several spa treatments they have to offer. In the mornings you can observe fishermen coming back in their catamarans with their catch - fish, lobster or crab.
Overnight in Dickwella Village Resort.
At leisure in Dickwella.
After breakfast, drive to Colombo. Visit the ancient city of Galle along the way.
The city of Galle is the best example of a European-built, fortified city in south Asia. Its aesthetic shows an interplay between European architectural styles and south Asian traditions. The Galle fort is a world heritage site and the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. After Galle, carry on to Hikkaduwa - this area has lovely coral and a variety of exotic fish. Here, provided the weather is clear and the sea is calm, you have the option of a glass-bottomed boat trip to see the coral. After a lunch along the coast, drive to Colombo. Arrive in Colombo and transfer to the Galle Face Hotel, a well-situated colonial era hotel that has spectacular views of the Indian Ocean.
Overnight in Colombo. (Galle Face Hotel).
Transfer to International Airport in time for international connections.