Sri Lanka - Northern Explorer

Sri Lanka - Northern Explorer

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 15 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Day 1 – Arrive in Sri Lanka - Transfer to Thalahena Negombo (approximately 40 minutes)

On arrival transfer to your hotel where the rest of the day will be at leisure. Kindly note that for early arrivals early check is not guaranteed. Overnight Villa Hundira or similar.  

Day 2 – Thalahena Negombo - Dunagaha – Driving time approximately 45 minutes

Enjoy a morning boat trip on the Negombo lagoon where we can observe many coastal birds and enjoy the vibrant colours of the Negombo fishing fleet. During the cruise enjoy some fresh tropical fruits. Later after a relaxed breakfast proceed towards Dunagaha for a taste of village life. We will be staying in the middle of a functioning coconut estate. The afternoon is at leisure for you to stroll around the lush gardens and explore the different types of spices found around the estate. Your hosts will join you to explain the different varieties. Overnight Ambarella Lodge or similar (BD)

Day 3 – Dunagaha

Today after breakfast, it’s time to explore the local villages by Tuk Tuk with a local guide.  Although English is spoken by the village guide, sometimes communication can be a little hard but a smile goes a long way and your visit is helping local villages to make a living.  Visit a pineapple farm and a family making wonderful textiles using wooden looms and also a small brick factory. After exploring the villages, head to a local house for a cooking lesion followed by a delicious lunch. Later we return to the lodge and the rest of the day is at leisure for you to relax before we start our journey North tomorrow. Overnight Ambarella Lodge or similar (BLD)

Day 4 – Dunagaha – Wilpattu National Park (Approximate driving time 3.5 hours)

We depart after a relaxing breakfast and journey north to Wilpattu National Park. Compared to parks in the south of the country, Wilpattu receives relatively few visitors which ensures a more enjoyable and less hectic safari experience and hopefully less impact on the biodiversity of the park.  After lunch on the outskirts of the park we take an afternoon safari in this wilderness area where if we are lucky we may be able to spot Leopard, Elephant, Sloth Bear and many other species as well as many different bird species. Overnight Big Game Park Wilpattu (non-air-conditioned tent) or similar (BLD)

Kindly note that Wilpattu is more dense and more off the beaten track than most Sri Lankan parks. Wildlife is very much around but sightings cannot be guaranteed.

Day 5 – Wilpattu National Park – Anuradhapura (UNESCO) – Mannar Island – (Approximate driving time today is 4 hours)

Early this morning enjoy a further safari in the wilderness of Wilpattu National Park. After the safari we return to camp for breakfast before continuing to Anuradhapura, the first ancient kingdom of the Sri Lankan kings. We will by no means be exploring the whole site but we will visit the sacred Bo Tree, which is the world's oldest tree on record, and has been guarded by monks for over 2000 years. Lunch will be taken in a landmark colonial building which has played host to many dignitaries including the Queen. Later we travel back to the West coast and a forgotten gem, isolated Mannar Island. On arrival in the town of Mannar we will explore the town and the ruined fort and its ramparts which afford good views of the town and the causeway that connects Mannar Island to the mainland. Overnight Palmyrah House or similar (BLD) 

Day 6 – Mannar Island

This morning, after an early breakfast we visit the fish market in Mannar. Fishing is the main stream of income on the island and a visit to the fish market gives a great insight into island life. Mannar is renowned as being the source of the best dried fish in the country. Our exploration of fascinating Mannar Island continues with a visit to the ancient Hindu temple - Thiruketheeswaram Temple. Continue to Doric Bungalow, once a grand building and the house of the first British Governor of Ceylon in 1801. Overlooking the Indian Ocean, it is considered as one of the first buildings in the country built to a classical architectural plan. Also visit the ruins of the Dutch Fort in Arippu which in its heyday was at the core of the lucrative pearl fisheries. If time allows we can walk on the beach and observe enormous mounds of shells left over from the past. Later this afternoon we drive to the very tip of Mannar Island to the outpost of Talaimannar. Ferries once departed to India from here but now the village has a slightly eerie feel to it and it is a base for the Sri Lankan Navy. From the railway station you can walk the recently restored railway line right to the sea where the lighthouse marks the end of Mannar Island. Overnight Palmyrah House (BLD)

Day 7 – Mannar – Jaffna – (Driving time today approximately 3.5 hours)

This morning we travel to the far North to the city of Jaffna, just now starting to open up after the civil war and is a stark contrast to the much more touristic south of Sri Lanka. On arrival we check in the hotel after some rest, lunch will be arranged at a local Jaffna home and this is a great opportunity to exchange cultural values and a glimpse into the lives of an ordinary family. Our local Tamil guide will be with you to assist with translation. A special ‘kool’ or traditional soup will be served first followed by ‘Pittu’ made from coconut and rice flour usually served with crab curry, fried prawns, dhal curry and other local delights in a real Jaffna feast. After a nice break to allow us to relax after the meal, we explore Jaffna city by bicycle, visiting the fort, the library, Subramanium Park and other notable sites. Later we return to our hotel where you can relax and enjoy a swim. Overnight Jetwing Jaffna or similar (BLD)

Note – If you do not wish to cycle please let us know and Tuk Tuk’s will be arranged instead.

Day 8 – Jaffna and the peninsular

We start this morning with a visit to Nallur temple. A traditional shalv /Veddi will be provided to wear when you enter the temple. The history and importance of this place will be explained and the basic principles of worshipping at a Hindu temple will be demonstrated. We will delve into Jaffna’s culture, similarities and differences of South Indian culture, the scars of war, and the effects of migration and exile has had in the region. Later we explore other areas in and around Jaffna such as Karainagar, Casuarina Beach, Kayts Jetty, Hanuman temple, Kantharodai Buddhist miniature pagodas and more if time allows. Lunch will be provided at a village home with dishes such as fried cuttlefish, Jaffna prawn curry, toasted crab, fish masala, mashed brinjal, drumstick curry, fish gravy to enjoy. The meals tend to be served on banana leaf in the tradition of a true Jaffna style lunch.  The rest of the afternoon is free to relax at leisure and idle at quiet Casuarina beach or at the hotel pool. Of course if you wish you can wander some more in Jaffna itself.

Day 9 – Island exploring – Delft Island

Off limits for years due to the civil war the islands off the Jaffna peninsula are rewarding places to cruise to and visit. Today we will visit the island of Delft where wild ponies roam the landscape and the coastline is blessed with beautiful waters and white sand beaches. During the 1 hour crossing by local ferry, the Tamil guide will explain some of the difficulties and challenges of living on such remote islands. Although around 6000 people live on Delft Island this windswept island feels largely deserted. Our tour of the island will take us to the abandoned Dutch fort and a 1000 year old temple and a huge Baobab tree. We also visit the Pigeon Hole, the Dutch Tower, and the ruins of stables used in colonial times by the British and Portuguese to breed horses.  Enjoy a local lunch today with an island family where you can learn how to cook traditional Sri Lankan food.   The eerie rustic charm of Delft can hardly be put into words, and a trip to this isolated outpost that gazes out towards India is a real privilege. Later we return to Jaffna by ferry. Overnight Jetwing Jaffna or similar (BLD)

Note – On sunny days it can be fiercely hot on Delft Island. Please dress accordingly and ensure you are protected from the sun and wear a hat.

Day 10 – Jaffna – Trincomalee - Nilaveli – (Approximate overall journey time 4.5 hours today)  

Today we leave Jaffna and head south on the A9 via the Elephant Pass where we will stop to view the war memorial, a sobering reminder of the not so long ended devastating civil war.  This afternoon we explore ‘Trinco’, the main city on the East coast. The city is making a slow recovery after the civil war and also the terrible Tsunami. Enjoy a walk in the central areas of the city and head to Ruben’s place, a renowned spice merchant whose curry mix is famous in town. Continuing on, we take a stroll in the market and visit Koneswaram Temple which is also the site of the famous lovers leap with stunning views out to the ocean. If time allows we can also stop to visit the Commonwealth war cemetery. The day concludes by driving to idyllic Nilaveli Beach, our base for the next 2 nights. Overnight Pigeon Island Beach Resort or similar (BD) 

Day 11 – Nilaveli at leisure with option whale watching

Optional: Early this morning, set out in search of marine mammals. If you are lucky, you might be able to observe the thrilling acrobatics of spinner dolphins and possibly even witness the largest animal on the planet: the Blue Whale. The East Coast is renowned as an excellent location to observe whales although of course sightings can never be guaranteed and the trip is subject to cancellation if weather conditions are not suitable. Price is on request – please let us know at the time of booking if you wish to take this excursion.

For those that do not wish to take the optional excursion then you day is at leisure to stroll in time to the waves crashing in on the excellent palm fringed beach or perhaps sit by the pool with a good book and recharge before the final leg of our tour starts tomorrow. Overnight Pigeon Island Beach Resort or similar (BD)

Please note – Snorkelling trips can also be arranged on request to Pigeon Island – contact us if you are interested.

Day 12 – Nilaveli – Habarana – Ritigala – Sigiriya (approximate overall driving time is 5 hours today)

We leave the East Coast behind and continue towards Sigiriya. We take a break from our drive to stop for authentic rice and curry lunch.  Continue to Ritigala Archaeological Monastery, an ancient Buddhist Monastic complex dating back to the 1st century BC and located on the eastern side of the lush slopes of Ritigala Mountain. We explore this peaceful forest haven and get a feel for the history before continuing to our overnight stay. Overnight Kassapa Lions Rock or similar (BLD) 

Day 13 - Sigiriya Rock UNESCO and Hurulu Eco Park – Driving time today approximately 1 hours

This morning we arrive at Sigiriya Rock (UNESCO) early, in the still relative cool of the day and this also beats the main throng of tourist crowds. We explore some of the interesting features in the lower sections of the site such as the Royal Gardens and the water gardens. We then visit the remarkably preserved frescoes situated about half way up the rock before the final staircase climb to the top of the rock where the reward is breathtaking views for miles in every direction. After descending we take a well-earned rest and stop by a local restaurant in Habarana to enjoy yet another lunch that captures the true essence of village cuisine. Lakmal, the proprietor of the establishment takes great pride in satisfying guests with his coconut sambol to be enjoyed with rice and bread. After lunch we continue to Hurulu and set out on a jeep safari hoping to see wild elephants. After the safari we head back to the hotel. Overnight Kassapa Lion Rock (BLD)

Day 14 – Colombo - Driving time today approximately 4 hours

After breakfast we drive to Colombo. After checking in to the hotel and some brief rest we meet Rashan who will show us around his city. We visit a street food joint at the Galle Face green where you can have a taste of Kottu Rotti, an everyday Sri Lankan meal not to be missed and best enjoyed on the street. Later we visit the evening market at Pettah where you will get to see local vendors from all over Sri Lanka and this is a great place to try some seasonal fruit. We take a walk through the crazy streets of Slave Island, a great place to observe locals going about their daily lives. Return to your hotel for a farewell dinner at the Verandah Restaurant at the Galle Face Hotel. After dinner enjoy a final drink at the Travellers Bar just a stones throw from the rollers breaking on the beach. A fitting way to end the adventure! Overnight Galle Face Hotel (BD)

Note – Extra nights can be booked on request and subject to availability at the Galle Face Hotel

Day 15 – Depart Colombo

Transfer to the airport at an appropriate time for your onward flight (B)