Sri Lanka is jam-packed with ancient sites, fascinating cultures, beautiful wilderness and idyllic beaches and this eight-day Lonely Planet Experience will introduce you to the most memorable. Visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, climb Lion Rock at Sigiriya, and explore the monkey-filled mangrove forests of Unawatuna. We’ve sorted the nitty gritty so you can focus on soaking up Sri Lanka at your own pace, with plenty of optional activities and the guidance of your local leader to help you out when you’re not sure where to start. Are you an independent traveller who wants to explore Sri Lanka with like-minded people and a local? This is your trip.
With Lonely Planet Experiences you get local knowledge, decades of on-the-ground operational experience and the freedom and independence to explore at your own pace.
This tour has the option of a 4WD safari through a park known for its wild elephant population. Seeing these big beauties in the flesh is unforgettable.
Check out the awe-inspiring Sigiriya (Lion Rock), a 200-metre-high ancient rock fortress that lies smack-bang in the middle of evergreen jungle.
Wander through the golden-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy, which houses one of Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relics – a tooth of the Buddha.
Spend two whole days on the gorgeous beach of Unawatuna, where you can either get active in the surrounding jungle or chill with a cocktail while lying under a palm tree.
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.
Optional Activities: -Negombo - Spirit of Negombo Urban Adventure
Day 2: Dambulla
After breakfast, leave Negombo and drive approximately 4.5 hours to Dambulla, arriving just after midday. In the afternoon you may like to relax at the hotel after check-in, or take an optional visit to a nearby wildlife reserve – a jeep safari excursion that takes you into elephant country. Which park is available to visit depends on the season, but both Minneriya and Kaudulla are within easy reach of Dambulla. Another option is the nearby Dambulla Caves with their magnificently decorated interiors.
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 for breakfast before heading to Kandy (approximately 3 hours). On the way, there's the option of stopping at one of the region's 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.
Included Activities: -Kandy - Temple of the Tooth with pooja ceremony -Sigiriya - Lion Rock
Day 4: Kandy
Today is a free day to explore Kandy, a pleasant city surrounded by lush countryside. It’s home to a picturesque lake, old shops, a bustling market and some great restaurants. It was once the capital under the last Sri Lankan king, and the area managed to resist European control for hundreds of years, long after the coastal areas surrendered. Perhaps walk through the town to take in the sights of Kandy – explore the citadel, or take a nature walk at Udawattakele Sanctuary, close to Kandy, which offers the chance to see flowers, birds and monkeys in 160 acres of tropical rainforest. There's also the chance to take a day trip to Nuwara Eliya along winding roads lined by green slopes of tea leaves. This old British hill station is the heart of the tea-growing industry and full of colonial charm.
Optional Activities: -Kandy - Private cultural dance performance -Kandy - Botanical Gardens with local botanist -Kandy - Cooking Class in a Sinhalese Home
Day 5: Unawatuna
Journey south in a private vehicle to Unawatuna (approximately 6 hours). This fantastic stretch of beach has plenty of local restaurants and bars to relax in. There are no included activities today, so you'll have free time to explore Unawatuna and its surrounds. Perhaps take a walk through the monkey-filled mangrove forest off Galle–Matara road or unwind with an indulgent massage.
Day 6: Unawatuna
Sleep in, relax on the beach, work on your tan or grab a cocktail under the shade of a beachside restaurant. Feel like something a bit more active? Today is a good opportunity to pop into nearby Galle for some sightseeing. The city is a memorable collection of Dutch-colonial buildings with boutique shops and cafes to visit. Walk around the perimeter of the Galle fort and cool off with an icy ginger drink in a cafe, then mosey on back to the beach for some more chillaxing.
Day 7: Colombo
Leave Unawatuna behind and make the journey to Galle, where you'll jump on a train to Colombo (approximately 4 hours). On arrival in Sri Lanka's capital, why not head out on an optional city walk with your leader? If you are lucky enough to be in Colombo on a Saturday, visit Good Market, a local market full of stalls showcasing social enterprises and responsible businesses. Tonight is free but your leader will suggest an optional group dinner.
Included Activities: -Colombo - Market Visit
Day 8: Colombo
This Sri Lankan adventure comes to an end after breakfast.