The Northern Discovery Tour

Ancient Wonders

Duration: 17 Days

Departure: Wattala

Sri Lanka is a small county but it offers a range of sights and experiences that few destinations can match. This is the most comprehensive itinerary of the island that Exodus runs as it includes the undiscovered Northern provinces, an area where few tourists are yet to travel. From the ornate Hindu temples of Jaffna in the north and the secluded beaches of the east, to the wildlife of Udawalawe National Park in the south and the popular highlights of Sigirya and Kandy in-between; this is a trip that explores everything that Sri Lanka has to offer.

Day 1: Start Colombo; to Watalla.

The group flight arrives at Colombo's Bandaranaike Airport and we transfer to our hotel at Watalla on the coast just north of Colombo.

Day 2: Head north to Anuradhapura via Wilpattu National park.

We depart after breakfast for the drive to Anuradhapura (approx. 4-5 hours) including a game drive in Wilpattu National Park. Wilpattu, Sri Lanka's largest national park, is a fairly thick dry zone jungle interspersed with a number of flood plain lakes banked with delicate white sand. The biggest draws in Wilpattu are leopards and sloth bears. Alongside these, it is possible to see Asian elephants, Spotted deer, Barking deer, Wild boar, Asiatic buffalo and Mugger crocodiles. Leaving the park, we drive to nearby Anuradhapura where we spend the next two nights.

Day 3: Sightseeing in Anuradhapura and Mihintale.

Today we start in the sacred city of Anuradhapura. Now picturesque ruins, it was once a major centre of Sri Lankan civilisation. There is a lot to see including huge bell-shaped stupas, the sacred Bodhi tree, eight major palaces, monasteries and monuments. Later in the day we travel the short distance to the mountain peak of Mihintale, believed to be the site of a meeting between the Buddhist monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa which inaugurated the presence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Day 4: To Jaffna via Tantirimale.

We have a full day's journey north today to Jaffna (approx. 6 hours). After an hour we will stop at Tantirimale monastery, which is set in a vast panoramic area amongst sprawling

boulders, in the midst of thick forest. The climb and the walk around the caves and restored ruins is a pleasant experience. Reaching the top of the rock we arrive at the Bodhi tree, one of the first eight off shoots of the original Bo-sapling brought to Sri Lanka during the time of King Devanampiyatissa in the third Century BC. After our visit here we will continue our journey to Jaffna.

Day 5: Visit the islands of Nainativu and Delft.

Leaving Jaffna early in the morning we drive across causeways to Punkudutivu (approx. 1 hour) where we will take a ferry over to Delft (Neduntheevu). This is the largest island in the Palk Strait and is Sri Lanka's furthest inhabited point. The island has a small population but a rich history and is home to a variety of small archaeological and cultural sites, as well as wild ponies. Very few tourists venture here and with little infrastructure it is an adventurous journey. We also visit Nainativu and visit Nagapooshani Amman, an impressive Hindu temple, as well as the Buddhist shrine of Nagadeepa Vihare. Please note that today's inclusions are weather dependent, if it is not possible to travel to Delft then your leader will organise alternative sightseeing.

Day 6: Jaffna sightseeing including the Hindu temple at Keerimale and Dambakola Patuna.

A slightly more relaxing day, but we still keep busy visiting a number of sites in and around Jaffna. In the morning we will head out of the main city to visit the Hindu temple at Keerimale, one of the oldest shrines of the region and the northernmost shrine on the island. Its adjacent water tank, the Keerimalai Springs, is believed to have curative properties. We will also visit Dambakola Patuna where the sacred Buddhist Bo Sapling first arrived in Sri Lanka. Returning to Jaffna city there will be time for lunch before visiting Jaffna Fort, built by the Portuguese in 1618, as well as Jaffna Public Library, a buliding known for its elegant neo-Mughal design.

Day 7: To Nilaveli, near Trincomalee; visit Kanniyai Wells en route.

We leave the very north of the country today and head to the beaches of the east coast (approx. 6-7 hours). En route we will stop at the hot springs of Kanniyai, where there are seven hot wells of varying temperatures, commonly referred to as 'the Seven Wonders of Sri Lanka'.

Day 8: Free day to relax on the beach; optional trip to Pigeon Island.

Today is free for you to relax by the hotel pool or do some optional activities such as whale watching (March - August) or snorkelling. The tropical conditions of the Indian Ocean mean it is the habitat to hundreds of thousands of varied species.

Day 9: To Sigiriya via Trincomalee; afternoon climb the rock fortress.

We set off early this morning to see some of the sites of Trincomalee before transferring to Sigiriya (approx. 3 hours). The main site we visit is Koneswaram temple, one of the three principal places of worship dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva; we will also see the outside of Fort Frederick, built by Portuguese colonials. After transfering to Sigiriya and having lunch we drive to the foot of the Lions Rock. The imposing 5th century rock fortress of Sigiriya rises 600 feet from the plains overlooking the surrounding countryside giving far-reaching views. Used as a safe haven from invaders, the route to the top is up a series of steep steps and gangways. From the base, where a moat surrounds impressive water gardens, we ascend 200m, passing an overhanging rock under which superb portraits of native maidens holding flowers and temple offerings still adorn the rock wall. Crowning the flat-topped summit of the rock are extensive remains of the King's Summer Palace from where there are breath-taking views of the surrounding countryside. The descent is much easier and you can cool off in the hotel pool at dusk.

Day 10:  jeep safari.

This morning either relax by the hotel pool or take an optional game drive to see elephants in their natural habitat. We will visit either Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park, or the Hurulu Eco Park, which park we visit will depend on the time if year and where the majority of elephants are at the time.

Day 11: Drive to Kandy via Dambulla and spice gardens.

Today we visit the magnificent Cave Temple at Dambulla, for some, the most impressive sight in Sri Lanka. There are colourful, and very well preserved, paintings and statues of the Buddha inside the caves, which date back to the 1st Century BC. After lunch we stop

at a spice garden near Matale where you can see various spices and herbs growing. There is a chance to stock up on massage oils, spices and Ayurvedic medicines. We then drive to Kandy.

Day 12: Visit Temple of the Tooth, the Botanical Gardens and a gem factory; optional cultural show.

Kandy is located on a small lake and we spend the day in and around the town. We visit the Temple of the Tooth, which houses Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic. The Tooth of Buddha was taken from the funeral pyre in 543 BC and only found its way to Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD. There are literally hundreds of worshippers who visit the temple each day and in August the most spectacular ceremony takes place. Some of our trips in August should coincide with the Kandy festival, but the exact dates, decided by priests, are not known until 5 months prior to the event. After our visit we drive to a beautiful viewpoint over Kandy overlooked by a huge Buddha, and visit a gem museum where you can see the products of the traditional methods of gem extraction. Another highlight is the vast Peradeniya Botanical Garden with species of orchid, plants unique to Sri Lanka. In the evening we may have the chance to attend a performance of the athletic Kandian Dancing and fire eating.

Day 13: Visit a tea plantation, transfer to Ella.

This morning we leave Kandy and head towards Ella; on the way we visit a tea factory where we see how a cup of tea is produced! We should also have time to stop in Bandarawella, a trading centre where exotic fruits from the east coast are traded for hillcountry vegetables. We continue on to Ella Gap where we hopefully have spectacular views of the coastal plain nearly 1,000m below. Almost the whole of the southern part of the island is in view and on a particularly clear day the shimmering silver of the Indian Ocean is visible. As in any mountainous area, bad weather does sometimes occur which will obviously limit the view.

Day 14: Udawalawe jeep safari, to south coast.

A chance for a relaxed breakfast before we head furthersouth. With an area of 30,821 hectares, this park covers the catchment area of Udawalawe reservoir, and has a rich elephant population estimated at around 500. We view the wildlife of the park by jeep giving us the best chance to see elephants in their natural habitat. After our game drive we leave for the coast, with its beautiful palm fringed bays.

Day 15: Free day. - Mirissa

Free day to relax on the beach or by the pool. There are also numerous optional activities that you can take part in during the day including a boat ride through mangrove swamps to a cinnamon plantation or, from November to April you can go whale watching off Dondra head, one of the best places in the world for seeing Blue and Sperm whales. Huge pods of dolphins are also often seen playing alongside the boats.

Day 16: To Colombo via Galle.

We set off today and drive along the coastal road to the historic port of Galle,visiting a turtle hatchery on the way. Galle dates back to the 17th century, and now a UNESCO world heritage site. We take the express way to Colombo reaching our hotel in the late afternoon.

Day 17: Depart Colombo

If you are travelling on the group flight we will have a morning transfer to the airport for the daytime flight to London. The arrangements for those not flying with the group ends after check out.