The Circle Tour
Duration: 15 Days
A jewel in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is jam-packed with ancient sites, fascinating culture, beautiful wilderness and idyllic beaches. From ancient Anuradhapura city and the well-preserved Polonnaruwa ruins, to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and the impressive Sigiriya rock fortress, Sri Lankan culture spans more than 2,000 years and still remains vibrant and alive today. Trek through lush tea plantations, indulge in seafood feasts in quaint fishing villages and dip your toes in the calm, clear waters of Mirissa beach on this all-encompassing adventure for those seeking a unique travel experience.
Day 1: Negombo
Ayu-bowan! Welcome to Sri Lanka. Your adventure begins in the town of Negombo, located close to the international airport. You can arrive at any time on Day 1 as there are no activities planned until the important welcome meeting at 5:30 PM. Those arriving early can get into the spirit of seaside Sri Lanka by observing the local fishing craft and perhaps feasting on fresh seafood. The beautiful surrounding countryside is best explored on a bicycle, which you can rent with help from the hotel reception.
Day 2: Anuradhapura
Leave Negombo after breakfast today. Your private vehicle takes you to ancient Anuradhapura via the small town of Chilaw (approximately 5 hours total travel time). A guided bicycle tour of the city will take place either today or on the morning of Day 3, depending on our arrival time and the weather. Among the ruins you'll see the sacred old Bo Tree, a spiritual reminder of the beginnings of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the inspiration for Anuradhapura's great buildings. The ruins themselves are spread over quite an area, some in woodland settings and others appearing park-like with columns and ponds dotted about.
Day 3: Anuradhapura
If you've already had your bicycle tour of the ruins of ancient Anuradhapura, there is no shortage of further options today. Those keen on history and archaeology might like to visit one of the local museums. Mihintale, the sacred birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhism, is recommended. The price of this will depend on the number of people sharing the vehicle.
Day 4: Polonnaruwa
Take a local bus to Polonnaruwa (approximately 2.5 hours), the capital of the Indian Chola Dynasty after Anuradhapura was conquered in the late 10th century. These ruins are close together and generally in much better repair than those you have just seen. Cycling amid the remains of 1,000-year-old Polonnaruwa is once again the best way to get around. Once the heat of the day has eased you'll visit more palaces, temples and stupas. A likely highlight will be the massive stone Buddhas: 14-metre-high granite carvings of the iconic reclining Buddha which represent the zenith of Sinhalese rock carving. You'll also visit the well laid-out museum, which has scale models of many of the buildings to show how they would have existed in their time.
Day 5: Dambulla
Depart Polonnaruwa this morning and travel to Dambulla by local bus (approximately 2.5 hours). Explore the amazing Dambulla Cave Temples which are located high on a stone cliff face. Some 150 Buddha images adorn the five caves, with fascinating frescoes and paintings on the walls and roofs. In the afternoon, you may like to relax by the hotel pool or take an optional visit to a nearby wildlife reserve where you might spot some wild elephants with a bit of luck. Which park is available to visit depends on the season, but both Minneriya and Kaudulla are within easy reach of Dambulla. Notes: There are numerous steps to get to the caves. You will need to remove your shoes and be dressed appropriately, with shoulders and legs covered, to enter.
Day 6: Kandy
Early this morning, before the heat is too intense, head to Sigiriya (approximately 30 minutes). This ruined fortress is one of Sri Lanka's premier sights. Those who make it to the top are rewarded with astounding views. Make sure you are wearing sturdy footwear, as this is a very steep climb with some uneven slopes. Those unable to climb to the top can explore the gardens at the base of the rock and still get some fantastic shots of the fortress from below. Return to the hotel to freshen up before heading to Kandy (approximately 3 hours). On the way, there's the option of stopping at one of the regions
Wonderful spice gardens for lunch. In beautifully located Kandy, visit the Dalada Maligawa (aka Temple of the Tooth), Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist site, and mingle with the white-clad pilgrims who come here to worship. Time permitting; you'll have the option of visiting the National Museum or the world-class Botanical Gardens. Another great option is an early-evening performance of the famed Kandyan dancers, drummers and firewalkers.
Day 7: Kandy
Today you will visit a nearby tea factory and take a guided tour to learn about the production of Sri Lanka's best-known beverage. Of course, you will also sample some of the delicious varieties while you're here. Your hotel in Kandy, located far from the noise and bustle of the city, is a great place to unwind with lovely views over the town.
Day 8: Bandarawela
Take a scenic train journey into the highlands and disembark at Bandarawela (approximately 7 hours). Here you will visit a local home for a cooking demonstration to learn some secrets of traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. Enjoy the delicious meal afterwards. Your accommodation tonight is a simple but pleasant guesthouse located in a quiet part of town.
Day 9: Udeweriya
Take a local train to the starting point for our walk today (approximately 45mins). This hike (approximately 4 hours) takes you through picturesque tea plantations and small Tamil villages. Tonight's accommodation is a comfortable local guesthouse where the accommodation is in single sex multi share rooms. Notes: The walks require good walking shoes, as the 'track' is often just rocks under shrubs, and if there has been rain it can get very muddy and slippery. You do need to be fit, because although the walk is not too demanding, it can be difficult walking on rough and unsteady ground. Our usual route is about 20 kilometers in total. If you don't feel you are able to complete these walks, you can take an option to either stay in Bandarawela for an extra night, or if you don't wish to complete the second day's walk your group leader will be able to organise a transport alternative. These options would be at your own expense.
Day 10: Bandarawela
Set off for some more walking today (approximately 4.5 hours) to explore more of the beautiful surrounds of Sri Lanka's Hill Country. Enjoy this chance to meet the curious friendly children and tea pickers along the way. Stop for an included lunch in Bambarakanda. You'll stay in the same guesthouse in Bandarawela as the night before your trek.
Day 11: Mirissa
Set off south for the coast, stopping at the Elephant Transit Home en route. At this special organisation you'll experience feeding time for baby orphaned elephants and learn more about their rehabilitation. Then drive further along the Sri Lankan south coast by private bus (approximately 7 hours) to the beach of Mirissa. This is your paradise for two days of relaxation, with your comfortable accommodation just meters from the water.
Day 12: Mirissa
Enjoy a day of beach splendor in Mirissa. The beach itself is a long curve of sand with lovely clear waters for swimming – a great spot to watch the sunset. Consider taking a bicycle ride or tuk-tuk to nearby Weligama, where colourful fishing boats bring fresh fish to sell along the shore. The local cottage industry of lace products is also well worth a look.
Day 13: Galle
Head further down the coast, possibly stopping for a photo opportunity with the famous stilt fishermen casting lines from their traditional poles. Arrive in Galle (approximately 1 hour), home to an impressive World Heritage-listed Dutch fort with extensive walls and many interesting old buildings. In the evening, enjoy a stroll around the historic fort and watch the sunset from the ramparts.
Day 14: Colombo
Leaving Galle, we take a classic train ride, catching glimpses of the beautiful coastline before rolling into Colombo (approximately 3 hours). After checking in, you'll set off for a city walk via the bustling Petta Bazaar, Independence Square, Parliament, and past the National Museum, finishing with a shopping opportunity for a good cause at the Barefoot Fairtrade store. Here you can find a collection of handicrafts from around the country and support small cottage industries. Tonight there's an optional final group dinner to celebrate your journey.
Day 15: Colombo
Your trip comes to an end today, with no activities planned. Checkout time at the hotel is 12 noon.