Arrive at the airport, located north of Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo, where you’re met and transferred to a tranquil 50-acre estate in Kandanegedara. The afternoon is free to relax before our welcome dinner. Absorb the serenity of rural Sri Lanka along the property's trails that weave among rice fields and organic gardens where Sri Lanka's famous spices and tropical fruits grow—see and smell pepper, cashew, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemongrass alongside coconut, jackfruit, soursop, tamarind, mango and guava, and look for prolific birdlife.
Day 2: Sigiriya / Nocturnal Wildlife Walk
Depart this morning on a
Return to our hotel for an early dinner before a night walk with our Expedition Leader in search of the gray slender loris, a small nocturnal primate. Our lodge sits inside a private forest reserve that shelters this rare primate known for its protruding eyes and nimble limbs. With the property's conservation program boosting its numbers, we have the best possible chance to spot an elusive loris in its natural habitat. Among other animals active at night, we occasionally see fishing cat, common palm civet, golden palm civet and collared scops owl.
Day 3: Polonnaruwa Primate Watching / Hurulu Forest
The day starts early with a packed breakfast as we set out for the ancient capital of Polonnaruwa, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Learn about the rich history of Sri Lanka’s second capital, renowned for its well-preserved 12th-century ruins and impressive stone culture, as well as some of Sri Lanka’s best primate viewing. As we walk through the ancient site, we'll track and observe wildlife with a local researcher from the Smithsonian Primate Research Center. Three species of monkey—toque macaque and canopy-dwelling purple-faced leaf monkey (both endemics), plus gray langur—are found here. Polonnaruwa’s “temple troop of toque macaques” has been featured in numerous natural history documentaries and is a part of the world’s longest continuous study of primates, initiated in 1968. They were the focus of Disneynature’s 2015 film
This afternoon we visit Hurulu Forest Reserve in search of small herds of Asian elephants that live among the tall grasses and jungle scrub. The reserve is also a sanctuary for many birds, including Indian roller, Sri Lanka junglefowl, Indian peafowl, blue-tailed and green bee-eaters, and raptors such as changeable hawk eagle, crested serpent eagle
Day 4: Kandy—Temple of the Sacred Tooth / Nuwara Eliya
Depart for Nuwara Eliya, a
Continue to Nuwara Eliya at the heart of Sri Lanka's tea-producing region. The town was founded in the 19th century by the British, and its enduring nickname, "Little England," harks back to the colonial heritage of Ceylon, when these subtropical highlands were the sanctuary of British civil servants and plantation owners. The temperate climate of this hill country retreat was ideal for pastimes such as jackal and deer hunting, polo, golf and cricket, and it remains a popular travel destination for Sri Lankans today. The late afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the peaceful
Day 5: Horton Plains National Park / Hakgala Gardens / Nuwara Eliya
Rising early for a pre-dawn start, we head out with a packed breakfast for Horton Plains National Park, part of the broader Central Highlands of Sri Lanka World Heritage Site. On
Next, we visit Hakgala Botanical Gardens, originally established in 1884 to grow cinchona (quinine). The name comes from a legend that says Hanuman, the monkey god, was sent to the Himalayas to find a particular medicinal herb. He forgot which herb he was looking for and decided to bring a chunk of the Himalayas back in his jaw, hoping the herb was growing on it. The gardens grow atop a mountain called Hakgala, which means "jaw rock." Today, thousands of flora species are planted here, including a wide variety of orchids and roses. The gardens lie adjacent to Hakgala Nature Reserve where we look for wildlife such as the shaggy-coated bear monkey, plus plentiful highland avian endemics like Sri Lanka
Day 6: Yala National Park
This morning, we leave Sri Lanka's Central Highlands on a scenic drive to the south coast. Our destination is Yala National Park, which protects more than 320,000 acres of habitat sheltering a great diversity of native wildlife. While the park was originally a hunting ground for colonial elites under British rule, it was established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and designated a national park in 1938. From on high, Yala appears as a variegated mosaic of green, a gently rolling carpet of shrub jungle, riverine forest and open plains, dotted with the deep blue lakes and waterholes and punctuated by rocky outcrops, with the Indian Ocean coastline forming its eastern boundary.
We spend three nights in comfortable private safari tents, our base for exploring this reserve that's home to 44 mammal species and more than 250 different bird species. A late afternoon safari reveals our first animal sightings from custom Land Cruisers designed for exploring these wild environs. Our drivers are seasoned local naturalists who are experts at spotting a multitude of species. Leopards are the dominant predator here, and Yala National Park boasts one of the world's highest concentrations, though these elegant felines are highly elusive.
Days 7 & 8: On Safari in Yala National Park
Over the next two days, early morning and late afternoon game drives reveal many of the animals found throughout the park. Our visit occurs just after the monsoon
Day 9: Bundala National Park / Cinnamon Plantation / Ahangama
Depart early this morning for Bundala National Park, with a packed breakfast en route. Bundala is one of Sri Lanka’s older parks, with an internationally recognized wetland. An interesting mosaic of salt pans, lagoon, seashore, grass flats and mixed dry evergreen scrub, it is the
Day 10: Mirissa Private Whale Watching Cruise / Galle Fort
Early this morning, we set out from Mirissa Harbor in search of blue whales—the largest animal on Earth—aboard a privately chartered vessel. Located on the southern tip of Sri Lanka, this is the world's top location for blue whale watching, with sightings occurring most mornings from mid-November through early April. Blue whales reside year-round in these warm Indian Ocean waters, and on our half-day excursion we may encounter mothers and calves, and pairs of males and females. We may also see pods of playful spinner dolphins and occasionally sperm whales, sometimes in super pods of 20 or more individuals—a rare spectacle. Numerous other cetaceans make periodic appearances, too, including fin whale, Bryde’s whale, orca, Risso’s dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and striped dolphin.
This afternoon, visit Galle Fort, South Asia's
Day 11: Colombo / Depart
After a leisurely morning, depart for Colombo to arrive in time for our farewell lunch at The Gallery restaurant, one of the city's most renowned dining establishments. It is housed in a building that was once the office of Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s leading architect during the last half of the 20th century. After lunch, transfer to the Taj Samudra Hotel where day rooms await, with free time to relax prior to your departure. This grand 5-star hotel fronts Galle Face Green, Colombo's famous oceanfront park and promenade originally laid out by the Dutch as a means to give their cannons a strategic line of fire against the Portuguese. In the early 19th century it was used for horse racing, and later for cricket, golf, polo, football, tennis