President’s Pick: Sri Lanka A Natural Adventure

Sri Lanka is re-emerging on the world stage as a destination. On this adventure, you explore Sri Lanka's natural and cultural history that rediscovers areas of the islands such as Jaffna that have been seldom visited for decades. Savor home-cooked meals in private homes, tour Jaffna by bicycle, look for leopards in Wilpattu National Park, and climb the fabled rock fortress of Sigiriya, Discover the culture, religious traditions, history, nature and the welcoming people of Sri Lanka.

Country Information

Sri Lanka

President's Pick: Sri Lanka A Natural Adventure President’s Picks

(Countries Visited)

Sri Lanka


(Interest Type(s))

Adventure Travel


(Tour Length)

12 Days


Tour Highlights

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  • Wilpattu National Park, the largest and one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. The park is among the top national parks known for leopards
  • Discover Anuradhapura has been continuously inhabited for more than 2,000 years and is known for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization
  • Travel to the north by train to encounter the city of Jaffna and northern Sri Lanka that until recently were cut off from the rest of the world for some three decades
  • Explore the small Delft Island, lined with walls of coral, no cars, the ruins of a fort and amazing feral horses left by the Portuguese over 400 years ago
  • Climb the 1,200 steps to the top of the remarkable 5th-century Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, the rising above the dry plains

Day 1: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Welcome to Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon! On arrival to Colombo, clear immigration and customs. Enter the arrival area where you will be met by your private chauffeur-guide and transferred to your hotel. Experience your first impressions of this amazing island. Emerson Tennet a traveler to Sri Lanka in the 1850's wrote: There is no country in the world that has attracted the attention of authors in so many distant ages and of so many different countries as Ceylon...” It has indeed been written about by the classic Greeks and Romans as well as writers from China to India to Europe.

Explore the city during a walk with your guide, who will take you through the Galle Face Green, an ocean-side urban park along the coast in the heart of the financial and business center of Colombo. The promenade was initially laid out in 1859 by Governor Sir Henry George Ward, and originally extended over a much larger area. The Galle Face Green was initially used for horse racing and as a golf course, but was also used for cricket, polo, football, tennis and rugby. Then on to the inner roads of Slave Island, where you meet locals and witness how their daily lifestyle is spent. You stop at a street vendor to see and possibly sample a Kottu Rotti, an everyday Sri Lankan meal. You might be able to drop in on time for a Pooja ceremony, a ceremonial offering, at a Hindu temple. Uga Residence – Park Suite (D)

Day 2: Colombo / Puttalam
Today after a relaxed breakfast, you head towards Puttalam. Along the way, you take a slight detour from the little town of Mahawewa to the little house of Rasanjali. Step into her kitchen to sample an array of local dishes she has prepared. Rasanjali, like the other women in this little village, takes pride in cooking for her family and warmly welcomes you into her home. She uses homemade spices with the fresh picked vegetables, fish and meat from the local market to provide you with the authentic flavors of the island, while tailoring the amount of spices – mild or hot – to your tastes. Vegetarians can also be accommodated.

Afterwards continue your drive to Puttalam, home to one of the largest lagoons in the country. Puttalam is also known for its salt mines, energy production, coconuts as well as amazing seafood. This part of the island is popularly known for the hospitality of the people in the area. One of the interesting aspects of the area is the contrast of the people from the rest of the country. Puttalam and Kalpitiya areas are primarily Muslims while other regions have more Hindus and Tamils. The bright colored houses and residents on their foot cycles along the way will definitely catch your attention, especially around the water front of the big lagoon. Bethany 101 – Superior Room (B,L,D)

Day 3: Puttalam – Wilpattu – Puttalam
This morning is an early wake up. With a packed breakfast, set out for Wilpattu National Park, the largest and one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. The park is among the top national parks known for leopards. On your half-day safari, you may also glimpse elephants, spotted deer, sloth bears and gigantic crocodiles as well as striking flocks of peacocks, painted storks, jungle fowls and mongoose. Thick foliage interwoven with shrubbery, streamlets and tanks expand during the monsoons and contract during the dry season - the landscapes of the Wilpattu National Park reflect an ideal place for varied wildlife species.  Moreover, one can also bear witness to striking flocks of peacocks, painted storks, jungle fowls as well as national park. Return to the hotel where the remainder of your day is at leisure. Grab a good book and settle into a tea planter’s chair with afternoon tea, and watch life pass by. It is still possible to feel that old Ceylon is very much alive here. Tip: The rice and curry here are a must try, and also some fried prawns if in season. Bethany 101 – Superior Room (B,D) 

Day 4: Puttalam / Anuradhapura / Kaludiya Pokuna / Thirappane
Discover Anuradhapura, the city of Kings, which has been continuously inhabited for more than 2,000 years. Anuradhapura was the seat of power in Sri Lanka until constant invasions forced relocation to Polannaruwa further south. Anuradhapura is famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization. It was the third capital of the Kingdom of Rajarata, following the kingdoms of Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara. It remains a pilgrimage site for many who still visit the sacred Bo tree. The dagobas stand as majestic as they did during the reign of King Tissa. Take time to wonder around, find a quiet spot to reflect on the passage of time and humanity. The Sri Maha Bodhi, sacred fig tree, is said to have been brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta, the daughter of the emperor Asoka, sometime around the third century BCE. According to legend, it was grown from a seed of the Bodh Gaya tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. When the city was abandoned, a group of monks stayed behind to protect it, especially from elephants looking to feast on its leaves. It is said to be 2,000 years old, the oldest living tree of which there is a record.

Then, you travel on to Kaludiya Pokuna, one of the unknown treasures of Sri Lanka that you do not see in guide books. As the travel writer Paul Theroux one said "buy a guidebook, identify where the tourists are going and head the other way."

This beautiful man-made lake is surrounded by big boulders and small archeological sites that date back 1500 years. Monks still live on the upper slopes of the hill. You can visit with your guide, but you need to be quiet and remove your shoes. The monks living there have taken a vow of silence and have minimum interaction with people so please be respectful. Explore this serene site at your leisure, soaking in the beauty of this place. You have this evening at leisure. Ulagalla Resort – Ulagalla Chalet (B)

Day 5: Thirappane / Anuradhapura / Jaffna
Begin today with an early breakfast, where you might want to try the Sri Lankan breakfast with an order of string hoppers – little spider-like dough circles that go great with pol sambol, the coconut chilly garnish. Then, proceed to the Anuradhapura Railway Station to catch the train to Jaffna. The wonderfully sounding Queen of Jaffna Express train only resumed services a year ago. Jaffna and northern Sri Lanka were cut off from the rest of the country and the world for some 30 years. Now the veil is finally opening, and Jaffna is eagerly waiting to welcome travelers again. You board the train for a three-hour ride across the barren landscape of the Vavuniya. Once controlled by the Tamil Tigers, this area suffered attacks from both the Sinhalese forces as well as the Tamils, leaving thousands of people displaced. Arrive in Jaffna with time to freshen up a bit at your hotel. One of the only buildings in the city it is conveniently located in the town center and at this stage one of the only hotels in Jaffna. The city is just opening up and the contrast with other parts of the island is striking.

Set out to take to the road like most people here – by bicycle. On your own black bicycle, you travel around most of the city of Jaffna. It is home to many historical sites such as the popular Jaffna library, which burned down and was rebuilt, and the Jaffna Fort, rebuilt during the Dutch colonial period. See the Supramaniyam Park, Old Park, coastal villages, the biggest church in Jaffna, Buddhist dagopa, statue of last king of Jaffna Kingdom, arc of last kingdom’s palace and minister house.

Savor dinner with a family in their private home where you will have an opportunity to exchange ideas and game a brief look into their way of life. The local Tamil guide will be there to assist, translate and provide context. For the main course you have “Pittu” made from rice flour and coconut scrap, and served with crab curry, fried prawns, cuttlefish, mashed omelets mixed with dry fish, dhal curry with fish and plain gravy. This is a true Jaffna feast. Mangoes and jackfruits may be available during the season and at other times papaya and Jaffna’s special banana will be served. Return to your hotel. Jetwing Jaffna – Deluxe Room (B,D)

Day 6: Jaffna
Begin the day with a visit to Nallur Temple. Traditional wear, shalve or Veddi, will be provided so you may enter the temple. The history and importance of the temple are explained, and the basic principles of worshipping at a Hindu temple are demonstrated. Delve into Jaffna’s culture, and the similarities and differences of South Indian culture, as well as the effects war, migration and exile have had on the region.

Then explore Karainagar Kasurina Beach, Kayts jetty, Hanuman temple, deep well, Kantharodai Buddhist miniature pagodas, Keerimalai pond, Naguleswaram temple. Enjoy another encounter at a private home to enjoy a lunch of Jaffna prawn curry, toasted crab, fish masala, mashed brinjal, drumstick curry, fish gravy, etc. Meals are served on banana leaf in traditional Jaffna style. If in season, try the unique fruit of the Palmyra palm tree with its jellylike seeds. This is a valuable product widely cultivated in tropical regions. Its leaves are used for thatching, mats, baskets, fans, hats, umbrellas, and as writing material. The rest of the afternoon is free to relax and spend some time on the quiet Casuarina beach. Jetwing Jaffna – Deluxe Room (B,L) 

Day 7: Jaffna – Delft Island – Jaffna
There are few places in the world that capture the imagination of travelers like Delft Island, a small island lined with walls of coral, no cars, the ruins of a fort and amazing feral horses left by the Portuguese over 400 years ago. Your driver will take you to Kurikaddvan Jetty in the morning to board a local ferry for the island. During the one-hour boat trip, your Tamil guide talks to you about the Jaffna Islands, the life style, war-time memories, Hindu lore and more. On arrival, you see the wild horses, a huge baobab tree, which is one of the thousands originally planted by Portuguese, and more. The limestone and coral fort was built by the Portuguese, and later taken over by Dutch.

A special fresh seafood lunch will be arranged at a local home, where you learn about the lifestyle of a remote isolated island family. Jaffna rice, fish curry, fish fry, fish gravy, two or three vegetable curries with pappadam, neem tree flower fry will be served. Fruits mangoes, papaya, banana will be offered, depending on the season. In the late afternoon, return to Jaffna and your hotel. Jetwing Jaffna – Standard Room (B,L)

Day 8: Jaffna / Ritigala / Sigiriya
After enjoying breakfast, bid adieu to the northern peninsula and head back towards the cultural triangle. En route visit and explore the Ritigala Archeological Monastery. Ritigala, an ancient monastery that feels like an undiscovered world away from the most famous sights in Sri Lanka. Explore in depth and walk to the higher part of the complex. The archeological site bears a certain mysterious nature owing to the long meditational pathways that open into the thick jungle and large stone-lined reservoirs. Take time to connect with nature inside this ancient sacred meditation grounds. Travel on to your hotel, where the evening is at leisure. Jetwing Vil Uyana – Paddy Dwelling (B)

Day 9: Sigiriya
The best time to visit the fortress is early morning to avoid crowds. Take in the magnificent Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, also known as Lion Rock. The site was the domain of King Kashyapa, whose aim was to build an impregnable fortress and within it, a heavenly abode. Rising over the dry plains of Sigiriya District, the fortress is reached by a tough climb up 1,200 steps to a flat-topped monodon. On the way to the top you can see the famous Sigiriya frescoes of the buxom, wasp-waisted maidens bearing flowers. The smoothly glazed ‘Mirror Wall’ located a few steps away has sealed the expressions of ancient visitors, inspired by the vibrant frescoes. You are rewarded with the stunning bird’s-eye views of the emerald plains and small villages. The skeletal layout of the ancient city within the fortress marvels its observers with the grandeur and complexity of fifth century urban planning of Sri Lanka. The Sigiriya experience takes between one and a half and three hours, depending on the pace of your ascent. Return to your hotel and spend the remainder of the day relaxing or pursuing your own interests. For those looking for night adventure, you can opt to trek a night trail from your hotel in search of the nocturnal species, especially loris, a small, slow-moving primate with a short or absent tail. Loris conservation is of special concern to the hotel staff. This evening, the walk takes you through a lush forest. You are provided a red-light headlamp to prevent damage to nocturnal loris eyes. When the light comes in contact with the eyes of a loris, you see a bright red reflection of a pair of enormous eyes. Depending on how quiet you are, the loris may even approach you. Other nocturnal species include Eurasian otter, mouse deer, palm civet, collared scops owl, Indian nightjar and fishing cat. Jetwing Vil Uyana, Sigiriya – Paddy Dwelling (B)

Day 10: Sigiriya / Kandy
After breakfast, set out for legendary Kandy, the last stronghold of the Sinhalese Kings. While Sri Lanka was under Portuguese and Dutch rule, the Kings of Kandy remained defiant and independent. It was much later during the British rule that Kandy finally fell to the biggest Empire in the world. Today Kandy is a big city that still retains touches of its colonial past in buildings such as the Queen's Hotel a beautiful 19th century neoclassical beauty. There is time to take a stroll around the lake and to explore the markets to get a feel for the city. Later visit the Temple of the Tooth, the city’s greatest treasure. This evening, you head to the Royal Bar, a traditional bar that is almost a Kandy institution. Locals come here for the spicy deviled chicken, and the chickpeas kadala in Sinhalese. It has an authentic feel, and is a great place to enjoy some Sri Lankan-style tapas, or, less spicy the classic British fish and chips. Elephant Stables – Colonial Suite (B,D)

Day 11: Kandy / Gampaha / Kotugoda
Today after breakfast, you board a train for Colombo. You experience train travel like a local and see how they travel in their daily lives. The train travels through the hill country and gradually descends, arriving at Gampaha Railway Station. Here you are greeted and taken to visit a local home to experience Mother's Curry and Gin Tonics, for authentic experience with the real flavors of Sri Lanka cuisine such as a fiery curry. (If you have special dietary requirements, the curries can be adjusted.) You can create curry with almost anything from pineapple and veggies, to seafood and meats. Then, proceed to your hotel, The Wallawa, a restored 200-year-old manor house built during the Dutch East Indies period. Its thick cooling walls, red tiled roofs and ample gardens make it an ideal retreat to unwind. Just relax or join a cricket game in the garden, take a swim in the pool, or visit the Z Spa for a coconut or sandalwood scrub or massage. Enjoy the great room with classic English games. The hotel includes a library, a shop, and free WiFi in public areas. Rooms have flatscreen satellite TV, DVD player (on request) and local-brand toiletries. Just 45 minutes outside Colombo, the Wallawwa Hotel sits amid lush tropical gardens that feel miles from anywhere. The Wallawwa, Kotugoda – Garden Suite (B)

Day 12: Kotugoda / Depart
After breakfast, head to the airport three hours prior to your onward flight. (B)

Land price, per person, double occupancy: Price starts from US$600 per person per day.

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