Treasures of Sri Lanka

Explore the island paradise of Sri Lanka as you experience the rich cultural heritage up close, go on an exciting safari, and discover the enticing landscapes from golden beaches to mist-covered mountains

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 Stilt fishing, a Sri Lankan tradition  Sunset on the beach in Sri Lanka  View of the World Heritage Site of Sigiriya Rock Fortress  Close-up view of Sigiriya Rock Fortress  Sitting Buddha at Polonnaruwa  Buddhas at the World Heritage site of Polonnaruwa  Dome of the Dambulla Rock Temple  Buddha statues at the World Heritage Site of the Dambulla Rock Temple  Tea plantations in the Highlands of Nuwara Eliya  A leopard in Yala National Park Credit: Lalith Ekanayake  Leopard at Yala National Park Credit: Buddika Aluwihare  Elephants in Yala National Park  Yala National Park. Credit: Lalith Ekanayake  Buddha statues at Colombo Ganagarama Temple Credit: Lukas Rapp  Buddha statues at the Gangarama Buddhist Temple

Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a mystical, peaceful island featuring myriad cultural traditions and enticing landscapes, from golden beaches to mist-covered mountains and verdant valleys and jungles. Join us off the southern coast of India to explore this island nation, whose location and ports offered strategic importance to early traders. The rich heritage reflects a mosaic of cultures, religions, and influences, based on Sinhalese and Tamil traditions with Dutch and British influences.

Traveling around the island, discover its layers of history in depth, including four World Heritage sites. Sigiriya Rock Fortress rises dramatically from the snarled jungle, while the Dambulla Rock Temple features impressive cave temples with over 150 images of the Buddha. Explore the quiet former capital of Polonnaruwa, with its royal palace, splendid statues of the Buddha, famous temples, and verdant gardens. And discover the port of Galle, known for Asia’s best-preserved colonial sea fortress, built by the Dutch. Sri Lanka is also considered one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. At the renowned Yala National Park, enjoy exciting game drives to spot leopard, elephant, black bear, macaque, and a wealth of bird species—and ascend into the bracing mountain climate to see Sri Lanka’s world-famous tea plantations. Plus, you’ll experience traditional culture up close during a music and dance performance, culinary demonstrations, and meetings with local people.

June 24 - 25 — Depart U.S., In transit

Depart via overnight air service for Frankfurt, Germany. A morning arrival is scheduled in Frankfurt. Transfer to the flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Meal service will be provided.

June 26 — Colombo and Negombo
Arrive in Colombo gateway to Sri Lanka’s largest city. It is located on the west coast of the island and draws together the cultures, religions and influences of foreign lands into a potpourri of sounds, and a kaleidoscope of color. Drive to the beautiful Jetwing Blue Hotel in Negombo. After registering, there is free time to relax after the journey. Learn about contemporary Sri Lanka at a scheduled lecture in late afternoon. Join fellow Smithsonian travelers for a Welcome Reception and dinner. (D)

June 27 — Habarana
En route to Habarana, visit a family-owned terra cotta factory to see how this age-old tradition continues today. You will see how the local clay is formed into roofing tiles, and then fired in large wood burning kilns. Lunch is served at a restaurant featuring tasty organic foods. After lunch, meet the local owner of the restaurant and hear about the use of herbs and plants for medicine and health. Continue the drive to the Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana. (B,L,D)

June 28 — Habarana
Depart for a visit to the 5th century Sigiriya Rock Fortress a World Heritage Site, built by King Kashyapa. Discover the Lion Rock, a citadel of unusual beauty rising 200 meters from the snarled jungle. The rock was the innermost stronghold of the ancient fortified town. A moat, rampart, and extensive gardens including the renowned water gardens ring the base of the rock. See the renowned frescoes of the Heavenly Maidens of Sigiriya. These frescoes are painted in earth pigment on plaster. Later in the day, visit elephant grazing grounds at Minneriya National Park. (B,D)

June 29 — Habarana
Discover the secrets of Sri Lankan cuisine at a cooking demonstration followed by a delicious lunch. Visit Polonnaruwa, the second capital city of Sri Lanka built in the 11th and 12th centuries, and now a World Heritage Site. Here you can explore the ruins of the Royal Palace, the Gal Viharaya where splendid statues of the Buddha are carved from the rock, the Audience Hall, the Lotus Bath, and the Parakrama Samudraya, a lake built by King Parakramabahu the Great. There are also famous places of worship such as the Shiva Temple, the Lankathilake, the Vatadage, the Galpotha, the Kiri Vehera and the remains of a former Temple of the Tooth Relic. This ancient capital was deserted long ago, but it is still possible to imagine the city at its prime. Among the elegant ruins are towering statues and stupas, verdant gardens and sparkling pools. (B,L,D)

June 30 — Dambulla and Kandy
After a morning drive, arrive at the Dambulla Rock Temple built by King Walagambahu in the 1st. century B.C. and a World Heritage Site. Also, it is the most impressive of Sri Lanka's cave temples. The complex of five caves with over 6,000 sq. feet of painted walls and ceilings is the largest area of paintings found in the world. It contains over 150 images of the Buddha of which the largest is the colossal figure of the Buddha carved out of rock and spanning 65 feet. After the visit, continue the drive to Kandy and register at the Cinnamon Citadel Hotel. Kandy was the last royal capital and it is one of the most charming towns in Sri Lanka, famous for its stunning, cool lakeside setting. Cradled by hills and surrounded by the sinuous lines of tea plantations, it is home to the gold-roofed Temple of the Tooth. This Buddhist site holds a tooth of the Buddha collected from his funeral pyre. It draws thousands of pilgrims from across the world. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. (B,L,D)

July 1 — Kandy
This morning explore this former royal capital. Visit the Peradeniya Botanical Garden, followed by a cultural performance of traditional Sri Lankan music and dance. The balance of the day is free of planned activities. (B,L,D)

July 2 — Nuwara Eliya
The morning is free. Depart the hotel for Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka's premier hilltown resort with a fine bracing mountain climate; Nuwara Eliya is also the heart of Sri Lanka's tea country, producing some of the world’s finest tea. These mountain slopes and valleys are a carpet of velvety green tea plantations, interspersed with gushing streams and tumbling waterfalls. Red or green roofed plantation bungalows with lovely flower gardens, a fine 18-hole golf course and a racecourse give Nuwara Eliya a decidedly English character. Visit a tea plantation and factory where you will be taken through the process of processing tea and also take part in tea sampling session. Continue on to the warm and welcoming Grand Hotel. This evening is at leisure to enjoy one of the several restaurants in the hotel or the nearby town. (B)

July 3 — Yala
Depart the hotel this morning for the railway station to board a local train to Ella. The ride by local train through “Little England” is one of the most picturesque rail journeys in the world. Travel on winding tracks, past the beautiful Devon & St. Clair Waterfalls to the home of the famous Ceylon Tea. On the train, guests will be seated in the observation carriage, and it should be noted that this carriage is not air-conditioned with only basic facilities. However, the scenery en route is magnificent. Continue by deluxe motor coach to Yala. Discover Kataragama, the most important religious pilgrimage site in Sri Lanka. Yala National Park is mostly open parkland, making the wildlife easier to see. The landscape is varied, with rocky outcrops, tangled jungle, lagoons, lakes, rivers and even beaches. Yala is one of the few places in Sri Lanka where it is relatively easy to see a leopard, either strolling beside the track or, with luck, draped elegantly in a tree. They estimate the leopard population here to be 35. See wild elephants, and be on the lookout for wild buffalo, musk deer, mongoose, pangolins, black bears, macaques, jackals and numerous species of bird that make the park their home. Comfortable accommodations are reserved at the Cinnamon Wild Jungle Chalets. (B, D)

July 4 — Yala
Wake before daybreak and head-off on an exciting Jeep Safari. On this early morning game drive, search for Leopard, Bear, Crocodile and Wild Boar. Return to the hotel in time for a hearty breakfast. The remainder of the morning and early afternoon are at leisure. In late afternoon, depart again on an exhilarating wild game drive. (B, D)

July 5 — Galle
Depart the hotel and motor to Galle. Lunch, will be served at a local restaurant in Tangalle. Arrive and register at the Lighthouse Hotel. The rest of the day will be at leisure to enjoy the hotel facilities including the delightful spa. (B, L)

July 6 — Galle and Colombo
Depart the hotel and take a tuk tuk, or motorized rickshaw, on a tour of Galle Fort. Like Colombo, Galle was a thriving port long before colonial times. It attracted Arab, Persian, Roman and Greek traders on their way across the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese conceded it to the Dutch, who built the famous fort. In 1796 the British acceded and made the fort their headquarters. Today, Galle Fort is the old part of the city, a World Heritage Siteand the best-preserved colonial sea fortress in Asia. It is a cozy little town in its own right with narrow streets, churches, cloistered courtyards and shuttered mansions standing testament to its colonial past. There are several museums as well as the Dutch Reformed Church and the lively Arab Quarter to visit. Continue on to Colombo and check in at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel for overnight accommodations. This evening, join fellow Smithsonian travelers for a Farewell reception and dinner at the hotel. (B,L,D)

July 7 - 8 — Colombo and Departure to the U.S.
There is time this morning to explore the bustling Sri Lankan capital including visits to the local bazaar, Pettah, a Buddhist and Hindu temple, the historic Wolfendhal Church, and the National Museum of Colombo. A special blessing ceremony will be performed at the beautiful Ganagarama Temple, a delightful way to conclude a visit to Sri Lanka. The balance of the day will be at leisure to rest, pack or relax. Later this evening, transfer to the airport for the return flight to your gateway city. Early morning flight arrival in the U.S. (2B)

Note: The itinerary presented is based on air scheduling in effect at this time. Should air schedules change, the itinerary sequencing may be amended to compensate for those changes.