Spend four magical days exploring Sri Lanka's central highlands, visit picturesque lakeside cities, historic temples and ancient citadels clawed back from the jungle. Breathe in the island's fragrances at herb and spice gardens and meet some of the friendliest and gentlest creatures in the animal kingdom at an elephant orphanage. Enjoy, too, cultural shows and spiritual experiences travelling across this picturesque island. You also have the option of visiting the ruins of a royal city or going on safari in a national park.
Kandy: Visit the Kandy bazaar and immerse yourself the sights, sounds and scents of the Orient in what is one of the ultimate Sri Lankan experiences
Matale: Breathe in the scents of Sri Lanka at a verdant and fragrant spice gardens complex and learn how they are used for cooking traditional dishes
Peradeniya: The giant Java willow tree whose massed jumble of roots and branches spreads so much that it has a circumference of almost 1,800 metres
A wide range of optional excursions and pre and post-programme extensions are available on request. Please ask tour designer Prabodini Bandara for rates and conditions
Sigiriya: The ‘Lion Rock’ that rises almost 200 metres above the jungle is a sight to behold and offers stunning panoramic views
Kandy: This beautiful city is home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth relic and its associated palaces and gardens
Dambulla: A Buddhist cave temple carved deep into a mountain and decorated with frescoes
Polonnaruwa: Ancient city of temple and palace ruins and a still-functioning irrigation system
Pinnawala: Visit an elephant orphanage and watch these gentle giants live a carefree life in a safe environment.
Arrival at Colombo Airport for meet and greet by Aitken Spence Travels guide and transfer to your hotel in either Giritale or Sigiriya. Overnight at Royal Lotus Hotel or Kassapa Lions Rock resort. Dinner included.
Begin the day on a high with a climb to the fifth century Sigiriya fortress, which sits atop a rock that dramatically rises almost 200 metres above the rainforest. King Kashyapa built this citadel at the top of this giant boulder known as the ‘Lion Rock’, which was the innermost stronghold of a vast fortified city. In time it came to be abandoned and forgotten, covered by dense overgrowth until the British encountered it and began a painstaking archaeological exploration. Today, the terraced gardens and cisterns, the moat, the ‘Mirror Wall’ and the fragile frescoes of the ‘heavenly maidens’ among the other remnants of this once thriving city offer only a tantalising indication of what once stood here. Pass through the lion’s ‘belly’ and climb to the top via a spiral staircase that snakes its way around the rock. From the summit, enjoy breathtaking views over the surrounding landscape and beyond into horizon. In the afternoon, you can choose from two optional excursions: a tour to the well-preserved ruins of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa or a safari in a national park. Polonnaruwa was built about 1,000 years ago and features a large artificial lake, which is still in use and feeds a network of irrigation canals, the remains of a royal palace and a number of temples and administrative buildings. Admire the Gal Viharaya with its four statues of the Buddha carved out of rock, the Audience Hall, the Lotus Bath and the statue of King Parakramabahu. Contemplate also the Shiva Temple, the Lankathilake, the Watadage, the Galpotha and much, much more. Alternatively, you can head to either Minneriya National park or Kandulla National Park for a jeep safari. Traverse these wild wetlands in search of elephants, amphibians and other species. Overnight at Royal Lotus Hotel or Kassapa Lions Rock resort. Breakfast and dinner included.
Head to the Golden Temple of Dambulla and explore this 2,000-year-old sacred pilgrimage site carved deep inside a mountain. This awe-inspiring complex of five caves is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features thousands of metres of painted walls and ceilings, and contains more than 150 images of the Lord Buddha as well as a few of deities and Sri Lankan kings. Each cave dates from a different era and tells its own story, with defining aspects such as a colossal 14-metre Buddha statue chiselled out of the rock or a frescoed ceiling with more than 1,500 images of Buddha. Proceed to Matale to visit a spice and herb gardens. Sri Lankan spices such as turmeric, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon and lemon grass are considered among the best in the world. Witness a cookery demonstration and learn about the culinary and therapeutic values of these products. Contemporary Kandy is renowned for its beautiful lakeside location, framed by lush hills, and an all-pervasive divinity. The final stop of the day is at Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second city. Visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, the holiest site of all for Sri Lankan Buddhists, which was built in the 16th century solely for the purpose of housing a relic of one of the Lord Buddha’s canine teeth. The tooth relic is ritually cleansed every week by monks and the scented waters they use are considered holy. Situated on the banks of Kandy Lake, the innermost section – where the temple itself is located – is surrounded by a moat and wall. Other notable structures include the Golden Canopy, the New Palace and the Royal Palace, the old courthouse, the Queen’s Bathing House, the National Museum and the sanctuary. Cap off the day with a night at a dramatic cultural show, which features 12 folk and traditional dances accompanied by ceremonial drums and a drum orchestra. And prepare for a sizzling fire walking performance that will have you on the edge of your seat. Overnight at Hotel Hill Top in Kandy. Breakfast and dinner included.
Continue to the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens, whose origins can be traced back to the 14th century. The British, always keen gardeners, gave them a structure and introduced a variety of plants and flowers, creating the blooming fields of orchids and fragrant spices you see today… there’s even a tree planted by King George and Queen Mary in 1901. While to stroll along the ‘Avenue of Palms’ as it opens onto the Great Lawn with its solitary giant Java willow tree is a spine-tingling sensation. Transfer to your beach hotel, stopping en route at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which was founded in 1975 with just five calves, growing to more than 100 today. As well as all the elephants rescued from the rainforests, there have been dozens of births at the shelter, with the first arriving in 1984. Here, they are fed, bathed and allowed to roam freely. Catch sight of them at feeding time – a bottle for the calves and coconut leaves for the adults – and then watch these gentle giants frolicking in the waters of the River Maha Oya at bath time. Transfer from Pinnawala to your beach hotel at either Beruwala or Marawila. Breakfast included.