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Day 1: Arrive in Colombo, Transfer to Negombo
Welcome to Sri Lanka! Upon arrival at the airport in Colombo, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. There may be time to take a stroll around the surrounding area, which is nestled in lush tropical foliage. Tonight, you will meet the rest of the group and enjoy your first delicious dinner.
Day 2: Boat Ride Through the Dutch Canal, City Tour of Negombo
This morning, we will savor the sights and sounds of life in Sri Lanka with a morning boat ride along the Dutch-made Hamilton Canal, which is an excellent opportunity for bird watching. Along the way, we have the opportunity to visit a tile-making factory to learn more about this traditional craft as well as visit the local coconut plantation where we will learn how they make liquor from tapping a coconut tree. We then continue on to the local fish market by the sea to see the fishermen selling fresh fish to the locals.
Day 3: To Habarana
Today we depart for Habarana, our homebase for the next 2 nights. We will stop for lunch enroute. After checking in to our comfortable lodge, we can enjoy an optional village walk.
Day 4: Medieval Capital of Polonnaruwa; Minneriya National Park - Jeep Safari
After breakfast, we will travel to Polonnaruwa and visit the ancient city. Polonnaruwa, the 2nd capital city of Sri Lanka, was built in the 11th and 12th centuries AD and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can see the ruins of the Royal Palace and Gal Viharaya, where 4 splendid statues of the Buddha in 'Upright', 'Sedentary' and 'Recumbent' postures are carved out of rock. We will also see the Audience Hall, the Lotus Bath, the statue of King Parakramabahu, and the Parakrama Samudraya - a lake built by King Parakramabahu the Great. There are also monuments of famous places of worship such as the Shiva Temple, the Lankathilake, the Watadage, the Galpotha, the Kiri Vehera and the remains of a former Temple of the Tooth Relic. On the way back to our hotel we will have a chance to stop at a wood carving shop where you will see a variety of wood crafts available from local carvers.
Day 5: Sigiryiya Rock Fortress, to Anuradhapura
After breakfast and while the weather is cooler, we will climb the Sigiriya rock fortress.
Day 6: Ancient Capital of Anuradhapura, Wilpattu National Park - Jeep Safari
The sacred city of Anuradhapura, founded in the 3rd century BC is venerated as the capital city of Buddhism. The sacred Bo Tree, grown from a sapling of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, is the oldest living tree in documented history. In its vicinity are the remains of the Brazen Palace, the towering Ruwanveliseya Dagaba, the Seated Samadhi Buddha, temples, palaces and parks, all of which bear testimony to a proud and imaginative people. A mere eight miles away is Mihintale, the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is a mountain monastery connected with Arahat Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to the island in 247 BC.
Day 7: Dambulla Cave Temple (UNESCO), to Elkaduwa
On our way to Elkaduwa we visit Dambulla Cave Temple, which is one of the most important sites of Buddhist pilgrimage. This temple was built by King Walagambahu in the 1st century B.C. and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is easily the most impressive of Sri Lanka's many cave temples. The complex of five caves with over 21,528 sq. feet (2000 sq. meters) of painted walls and ceilings is the largest area of paintings found in the world. It contains over 150 images of the Buddha, of which the largest is the colossal figure of the Buddha carved out of rock and spanning 46 feet (14 meters).
Day 8: Simpson Trail Hike
This morning we head off on a hike along the Simpson Trail. The Simpson Forest is a small sub montane forest patch in the Hunnasgiriya Mountain Range that was named after a former planter. Our hike takes us through a tea plantation and habitat for the giant squirrel, the blue Mormon and tree nymph butterflies. We visit a local village along the way, and if school is in session we may also be able to meet some of the local children. We will have lunch at the ruins of the former Simpson house.
Day 9: Sacred and Cultural Center of Kandy (UNESCO)
We say goodbye to the beautiful mountain views as we travel down to Kandy, which was the last capital of the Sri Lankan Kings and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. We will start our exploration with a walk around the town, visiting the local underground bazaars and craft centers. There will be plenty of opportunity on our walking tour to sample some of the local treats. We will visit a gem museum before lunch. In the afternoon, we will visit a batik factory to see how this amazing art form is made, followed by a lapidary factory to learn how gems are so important to this little town (anyone who prefers not to shop in the afternoon has the option of returning to the hotel after lunch). In the evening, we will enjoy a traditional dance/cultural show before dinner.
Day 10: The Temple of the Tooth Relic, to Nuwara Eliya Hill Station
Before leaving Kandy, we visit The Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. Witness the local people praying and worshipping in this important temple, which houses Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic - a sacred tooth of the Buddha.
Day 11: Horton Plains National Park
This morning we visit the cloud forests of Horton Plains National Park. It is an area of beautiful grasslands interspersed with patches of forest and unique high altitude vegetation. We trek along the escarpment to the famous World's End, where the plateau comes to a sudden end and makes a dramatic 2887-ft (880-meter) drop.
Day 12: Mountain Train to Ella
After breakfast, we proceed to the train station to take the local train to Ella. This is a wonderful way to see the countryside of rolling hills and gives us a chance to interact with the local people who take this train daily. Our bus will be waiting for us at the Ella train station to take us to the hotel for a relaxing evening.
Day 13: Learn about Buddhism, Yala National Park - Leopard Safari
Today we drive down to the lowlands to Yala National Park. We will stop on the way at an ancient Buddhist site where we can enjoy the beauty of this serene pilgrimage and possibly meet with a monk to learn about Buddhism.
Day 14: Yala Morning Safari, Legend of Kirinda, Sri Lanka's Southern Coast
We have an early rise this morning as we enjoy another game drive in search of the leopard and other wildlife including the elephant, sloth bear, mugger crocodile, spotted deer, barking deer, wild boar, wild buffalo and mongoose.
Day 15: Whale Watching, Stilt Fishermen
We have an early start this morning, as we board our boat and go in search of the incredible blue whales – the largest creatures on Earth. The southern coast of Sri Lanka is certainly one of the best places on our planet to see these majestic, massive and beautiful creatures. In addition to our search for the elusive blue whale, you should also be on the lookout for fin whales, sei whales, sperm whales, orcas (killer whales), dolphins, flying fish, turtles, manta rays and whale sharks, which swim in the waters off the south coast of Sri Lanka.
Day 16: Train to Galle, Galle Fort (UNESCO)
This morning we board a train for Galle, formerly the Port of Sri Lanka, with its historic Galle Fort.
Day 17: To Colombo
Today we travel further up the coast to Colombo, stopping to enjoy a leisurely visit to Kosgoda where we will visit a turtle hatchery which is being operated by the Wild Life Protection Society of Sri Lanka. Several species of turtles, including the endangered hawksbill, are protected here. The most vulnerable are the turtle eggs, which are left uncovered on beaches all around the coast. The goodwill of Kosgoda-area fishermen, who bring these eggs to the hatchery, has led to the hatching and releasing back to the ocean of over 100,000 young turtles since the hatchery opened two years ago.
Day 18: Colombo Sites
After breakfast, we will set out to visit the Colombo Museum. This will show us the full story of how Sri Lanka became the teardrop of India. Go back in time with the wonderful displays that show how the kings lived centuries ago.
Day 19: Depart Colombo
The incredible sights and sounds of Sri Lanka are now ours to savor, as we bid a fond farewell to this exotic island nation. The day is free until transfer to the airport for your onward flight home.
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