Wonders of Sri Lanka
January 15 – 27, 2023 • 13 Days • $5490
Sri Lanka is an island nation off the southern coast of India, blessed with an abundance of wildlife and home to an ancient civilization famous for its diversity. The name “Ceylon” is one from our childhood that brings up romantic images of tea plantations, herds of Asian elephants, verdant jungle vegetation, and pristine Indian Ocean beaches. It turns out there’s a lot more! Join us on a journey of discovery into this Indian Ocean paradise!
Sri Lanka offers a captivating blending of a Walking Adventure’s three pillars of travel—history, culture, and natural wonders. Often called the “teardrop of India”, the island sits off the south coast of India, just a few hundred miles from the equator. Its human history is a complicated mosaic of migration, trade, and development, producing one of Asia’s most advanced ancient civilizations. An equally rich tapestry of cultures was borne out of diverse ethnicities and religions, a colorful cornucopia of Sinhalese Buddhists, Tamil Hindus, Arab Muslims, Portuguese Catholics, and Dutch and English Protestants. These human elements have the most biodiverse natural setting in Asia!
Here are a few of the many highlights:
- Anuradhapura – an ancient sacred city dating back to the 3rd century BC, first abandoned, then reclaimed by the forest, and finally rediscovered during the age of Portuguese and British colonialism
- Sigiriya – an archeological fortress dating back to the 3rd century BC, this ancient city is isolated high on Lion’s Rock and considered by many to be the #1 “don’t miss” site in Sri Lanka
- Kandy – capital during much of the colonial era and gateway to the central highlands with their rubber and tea plantations.
- Nuwara Eliya – home of traditional tea plantations in the central highlands
- Yala National Park – where a game drive gives us a chance to see the elusive leopard (Sri Lanka has the highest concentration in the world), and some of the more than 200 bird species
- Galle – with its impressive 17th century fort designed by Dutch colonists, today it’s known for its artist colony and Sri Lanka’s oldest lighthouse.
- Airport to hotel group transfers on first day
- Superior tourist-class or better hotel accommodations
- All land travel as outlined
- 26 meals: All breakfasts, 6 lunches, 2 box lunches, and 6 dinners as listed (BLD)
- All listed walks
- Fees for walking credit (if IVV approved)
- Cultural & historical expertise of national guide throughout
- WAI guide service throughout
- All tipping for guides and coach drivers
- Pricing is based on double occupancy; single rooms are available for an additional supplement of $925. We also provide a roommate matching service.
- Anuradhapura Ancient Capital
- Sigiriya Rock Fortress
- Polonnaruwa Ancient Capital
- Coconut Demonstration
- Royal Botanical Gardens
- Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
- Horton Plains National Park
- Pedro Tea Factory tour
- Yala National Park with jeep safaris
- Cinnamon Island boat ride
- Colombo Museum
- Old Colombo guided city walk
- Negombo Intro to Sri Lanka Walk – Day 1
- 2nd jeep safari in Yala National Park – Day 10
- Blue Whale & Dolphin Watching Cruise – Day 11
Tour Pace: 1 2 3 4 5
Walk Challenge: 1 2 3 4 5
Scott Isom has had a passion for the outdoors ever since his childhood days spent exploring the waterfalls and outstanding hiking trails of the Columbia River Gorge with his family. As one of WAI’s busiest guides, Scott has traveled extensively and has guided tours on all 7 continents.
Dileep Fernando graduated Colombo University in 2015 and has worked in tourism for over 10 years. He offers guiding services mainly on cultural tours, in addition to nature and cycling tours. Dileep led both of our 2019 Sri Lanka groups and endeared himself to WAI guides and travelers alike! Dileep is scheduled to be our in-country guide, offering cultural insights and historical background, for March 2022 as well.
Click on each day to reveal more details. BLD refers to meals included, Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner.
DAY 1-January 15: Arrive Negombo, Sri Lanka (D)
Negombo Intro to Sri Lanka Walk – 5 km, rated 1B (optional)
Travelers arrive today in Sri Lanka, teardrop of India, at the start of a 13-day exploration of this blessed island nation. As much as anyplace we’ve been, Sri Lanka exemplifies a rich and multi-textured blend of powerful history with a cornucopia of cultures and an eye-popping kaleidoscope of natural wonders.
Travelers who arrive a day early are invited to join us on a guided stimulating and colorful stroll through the historic center of Negombo, a fishing village known to colonial Western powers for its abundant and high quality cinnamon and for the lagoon that provided shelter for the booming east-west sea trade. Estimated price $50
Our first group activity is a Welcome Orientation this evening followed by dinner together at our seaside hotel.
DAY 2-January 16: Negombo – Anuradhapura (BL)
Anuradhapura Ancient City Walk – 5 km, rated 1A
We drive north this morning, winding through busy coastal towns and villages displaying the odd juxtaposition of religious architecture that will become familiar on our travels through Sri Lanka: Hindu shrines, Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, and Catholic churches. We arrive in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in time for lunch, then strike out from our hotel to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to the development of irrigation and the resulting prolific rice culture, Anuradhapura was one of the most stable ancient political entities of South Asia. It was capital of the Sinhalese kingdom for over 1000 years, starting in the 4th century BC, and the heart of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. Our walk passes evocative temple ruins sitting side by side with stunningly renovated stupas like Thuparama, said to house the collar bone of the Buddha. Our favorite part of the walk is probably the Elephant Pond. Hidden away in an isolated part of the forest where few visitors venture, this massive water tank the size of six Olympic swimming pools provided water to a congregation of 5,000 Buddhist monks.
DAY 3-January 17: Anuradhapura – Giratale (BL)
Sigiriya Lion Rock Walk – 3.5 km, rated 3C
We continue south this morning towards Sigiriya. En route, we go way off the beaten track, arriving in wagons pulled by landmasters (local tractors) at a local farm on the edge of the jungle. Lunch on the farm is a delicious spread cooked by our hosts, mostly with products grown on their prolific little farm. Elephants and peacocks are major pests to Sri Lankan farmers, and the farmer will show us government-issued firecrackers developed to scare off these rather odd Sri Lankan bedfellows. The afternoon highlight is an unforgettable hike to the top of Sigiriya, the Lion Rock. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built as a fortress palace by King Kasyapa in the 5th century, and is justly famous for its wall frescoes, water gardens, terraced gardens, and stupendous location!
DAY 4-January 18: Activities from Giratale (BD)
Medieval Polonnaruwa Walk – 5 km, rated 1A
Coconut Canal Walk – 5 km, rated 1A
Today we visit Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura’s successor as the second great kingdom of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is blessed with several rivers, but no natural lakes. Sinhalese Buddhist kings of Polonnaruwa increased the focus on hydraulic engineering, and their irrigation system, with its massive tanks (reservoirs), was superior to that of Anuradhapura; many tanks are still in use today. The morning walk links together highlights of the medieval capital city of Polonnaruwa, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After a break at our hotel during the heat of the day, the afternoon walk begins with a cultural experience at a local home where Sri Lanka’s coconut culture is demonstrated for us. The walk continues through bucolic, rural countryside along a series of canals rich in birdlife.
DAY 5-January 19: Giratale – Kandy (BL)
Sri Lankan Shangri-la Walk – 5 km, rated 3D
We press deeper into the island today, using mini-buses to navigate primitive roads into The Knuckles mountain range. The valley chosen for today’s walk is home to 200 families who have retained much of their traditional way of life. Trade is conducted mainly on a barter system, but rice is produced in abundance and sold on the “outside” for cash. It truly feels like a forgotten place, a place where time stands still, a Sri Lankan version of “Shangri-la”. Near the end of our walk, we lunch with a local family, enjoying once again local fair prepared from local produce.
Leaving The Knuckles, we rendezvous with our full-size coach and continue to the mountain town of Kandy, where our gracious colonial-era hotel for the next two nights sits directly across from Kandy Lake.
DAY 6-January 20: Activities in Kandy (BD)
Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens Walk – 4 km, rated 1A
Kandy Lake Walk – 3 km, rated 1A
After several full days exploring Sri Lanka’s intriguing and mythical past, and enjoying the verdant landscapes of its tropical climate, today’s pace is slower, and gives travelers opportunity to control their schedule. The morning activity is a relaxing walk through lovely Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden on the edge of town. En route back to the hotel an optional stop at a gem factory offers the chance to see how one of Sri Lanka’s most famous exports is mined and crafted.
The afternoon is free to rest or explore the busy market area around our hotel. The Kandy Lake Walk, which begins and ends at our hotel, can easily be done at your leisure at any time today. This evening, following dinner, join us for a stroll to visit the nearby Temple of the Sacred Tooth, a busy place of worship venerated as the resting place of the sacred relic of the tooth of the Buddha.
DAY 7-January 21: Kandy – Nuwara Eliya area (BLD)
Tea Fields of Ceylon Walk – 5 km, rated 2B
Our coach takes us south this morning into Sri Lanka’s highest mountains where 19th century British entrepreneurs started Ceylon’s (Sri Lanka’s) world famous tea plantations. Mile upon mile of rolling rows of tea plants offer some of the journey’s most picturesque panoramas.
Our hotel for the next two nights is amongst these farms, and after lunch we strike out to explore the plantations on foot. Chances are good that we’ll encounter Tamil women tea pluckers, hardworking women who perform a function no machine can yet replicate. At the bidding of British planters, Tamil families emigrated from southern India, and the occupation of tea plucking has been the exclusive domain of these women and their descendants ever since.
DAY 8-January 22: Activities in Nuwara Eliya area (BL)
World’s End Walk – 9 km, rated 3C
The central highlands of Sri Lanka are considered a biodiversity hotspot. The Knuckles area we visited a couple days ago has been combined with Horton Plains National Park in a protected area recognized by UNESCO for its biodiversity. Today’s nature walk winds through Horton Plains, headwaters for three major Sri Lankan rivers, and features the World’s End viewpoint and lovely Baker’s Falls.
Following lunch back at the hotel, join us to visit a tea factory where we learn more about the many varied ways to process the tea plant, and the multitude of global tea markets adhering to a dizzying array of preferences. Later this afternoon, we have free time to explore the former British enclave of Nuwara Eliya. Stroll through Victoria Park, wander the colorful markets, or consider tea at one of the area’s elegant hotels.
DAY 9-January 23: Nuwara Eliya – Kataragama (BL)
Our route through wild and dramatic mountain scenery descends into coastal lowland areas in southern Sri Lanka by early afternoon. Lunch and a rest at our hotel in Kataragama is the prelude to a late afternoon game drive in Yala National Park.
Sri Lanka’s most famous national park is a good place to see elephants, crocodiles, spotted deer, a host of colorful bird life, and possibly leopards! Yala is home to Panthera pardus kotiya, a majestic leopard endemic to Sri Lanka, and claims to have the highest concentration of leopards in the world. Leopards are among the shiest of the big cats, however, and sightings of wild life can never be guaranteed.
DAY 10-January 24: Kataragama – Galle (BLD)
Sri Lanka Cinnamon Island Walk – 4 km, rated 1A
Wake up calls come early for travelers who wish to take advantage of a second opportunity to explore Yala on a morning game drive. Estimated price: $60
After a late breakfast back at the hotel, we follow the coastline towards the southernmost regions of the island. Another of Sri Lanka’s famous products is cinnamon, and southern Sri Lanka claims to produce the best cinnamon in the world. We board small boats at Lake Koggala, a freshwater lake now brackish due to damage from the monstrous 2004 tsunami, and stop to visit a family living on a small island in the lake. Here, the family demonstrates how cinnamon is transformed from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree to the fragrant powder that sits on supermarket shelves.
From the island, our boats carry us to the far side of the lake where we disembark for an easy walk through mangrove forests and small farms along the lake. Features of this trail include a wide variety of flora and fauna along with tea farms, cinnamon trees, rice paddies, and just about any other tropical produce imaginable. Our home for the next two evenings is a lovely new hotel sitting amongst a stand of palm trees directly on the shores of the Indian Ocean!
DAY 11-January 25: Activities in Galle (BD)
Historic Galle Walk – 5 km, rated 1B
Travelers have options this morning. Our walk in Galle winds through busy fruit and fish markets and into the Dutch-era fort that gives the town its colonial character. Founded by Portuguese colonists in the 16th century, expanded by the Dutch in the 18th century, and controlled by the British until the mid-20th century, Galle, as much as anyplace in Sri Lanka, is a visual, tangible reminder of European colonization. Though haunted by woes of colonialism’s past, charming cobblestone pedestrian lanes and picturesque seaward-facing fortress walls offer a pleasant present-day meander in which to contemplate the story of Sri Lanka.
Blue Whale & Dolphin Watching Cruise: Meanwhile, travelers with a yen to connect with Blue whales, the biggest mammal on the planet, will find no better place to do so. Deep ocean trenches off the coast of Sri Lanka are frequented by Blue whales and chances of seeing one are good. The optional whale and dolphin watching cruise departs early this morning. Whale watchers will have the option of stopping to see Galle on the return bus trip or coming directly back to the hotel by early afternoon. Estimated price $100
Later this evening, we rendezvous back at our hotel for a Farewell Dinner, sharing favorite moments and memories of our Adventure on this fabled tropical isle.
DAY 12-January 26: Galle – Colombo (BL)
Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital, and our last stop before departure. Upon arrival we visit the National Museum, a wonderfully arrayed collection that pulls together threads of Sri Lanka’s past, present, and future encountered on our journey.
Following lunch at our hotel overlooking the sea, one final walking tour with a renowned local guide introduces us to primary themes of Colombo’s past. We finish in style amongst the faded glory of the Grand Oriental Hotel. The evening is free to relax and dinner is on your own.
DAY 13-January 27: Return home from Colombo (B)
No activities are scheduled for today. Your guides will help arrange for shared taxis (not included) according to departures schedules. Thank you for joining us on this exotic adventure to explore Sri Lanka’s multi-textured history, intriguing cultural mosaic, and rich biodiversity in nature!
Click on each heading for more details.
How do I lock in my place on this Adventure?
To register, a non-refundable $200 deposit is required to hold your spot. A final payment is due 60 days before departure and is non-refundable at that time. You will receive a email prompt from us a week or two in advance. Please see the link below to our General Tour Conditions to see the full terms and conditions for participation in this Adventure.
An email with critical information on flight arrangements will be sent soon after registration, with important details about steps to take in the months before your trip. Please do not buy your airline tickets until you review this Adventure Advice email.
Please follow this link to read our full General Tour Conditions.
Unique Aspects of this Tour
Sri Lanka is a “high adventure” destination. Aspects that contribute to our labeling it high adventure include:
- a warm, humid climate. Sri Lanka is in a tropical zone just a few hundred miles from the equator.
- the need to consider inoculations and protect against mosquito-borne threats (but we travel in a season that minimizes this risk)
- water potability–never drink water from the tap
- exotic culture, which is fascinating and the primary draw of Sri Lanka, but sometimes a bit wearing on a North American. The “exotic” manifests in many ways, but driving and the movement of people and goods, in a huge variety of means, are part of the daily experience. Roads are generally good, but the practice of road-sharing, and more specifically, lane-sharing, means that we will witness some of the most phenomenal defensive driving on the planet, along with the sometimes jerky ride that results. Have your camera ready, and bring along your Dramamine if you suffer from motion sickness.
A high toleration for noise is an aspect many traditional cultures share. We are sensitive to this in our planning, but we will not be traveling in a bubble and you will feel the differences which, of course, is one of the primary purposes of travel. Pack your sense of adventure and you will have a good start to maximizing your Sri Lankan experience!
What's a Classic Curated Tour?
With help from local experts and walking guides, these itineraries are hand-crafted with extensive on-site planning by WAI tour planners.
When planning Classic Curated Tours, our objective is to capture the essence of a destination–the history, culture, and natural wonders unique to that part of the world. We then build activities and walks that take us inside these characteristics.
Yes, these tours are educational, but they are also interactive and immersive; walking gets us off the bus and penetrates local cultures to not only see but touch, smell, and feel these special spaces.
Along the way, local walking guides amplify the experience by sharing insights into the magic of that particular location.
We will experience a broad spectrum of Sri Lanka during our walks!
Walk distances and difficulty ratings are listed in the Adventure itinerary above. Walks vary between 3 km and 9 km. All walks will be guided walks led by your WAI guide in conjunction with our local guides in Sri Lanka. One WAI guide will be in the back and will generally be in contact, as necessary, with the lead guide by 2-way radio.
Trails are not groomed but most walks are not difficult; a few will be challenging, one in regards to footing, another in regards to stair-climbing. Walking sticks are always advised! Opting out is always acceptable!
Sri Lanka is an smorgasbord for the senses! Walking, as always, is the best way to experience it! Be prepared for a supremely memorable, and sometimes challenging, series of walks!
We generally walk at a pace of 2 to 3 miles per hour. In most cases, we are not “strolling.” We are walking at a relaxed but steady pace. Your experience will be significantly affected by your level of physical fitness. Because these are guided group walks, the success of the walks is predicated upon walkers having this minimum level of fitness in order to ensure that we are walking at a somewhat similar pace. If not walking regularly at home, we strongly recommend that you make a priority of “training” beforehand in order to both enjoy the trip and avoid medical issues due to overexertion. If you have questions about your ability to participate, please talk with our office at 1.800.779.0353.
We have adopted a walk difficulty rating system which contains a numeric indicator for trail incline and an alpha indicator for trail terrain. The explanation for this system is presented below:
1. Minimal hills or stair climbing. Cumulative elevation gain: <200 feet.
2. Some moderate hills and stair climbing. Cumulative elevation gain: 200-1000 feet.
3. Some significant hill or stair climbing. Cumulative elevation gain: 1000-2000 feet.
A. Almost entirely on pavement.
B. A significant part of the route is on well-groomed trails with very few obstacles.
C. A significant part of the route is on somewhat difficult terrain (rocky / rooted paths or soft sand).
Elevation on Tour
How is Airfare Arranged?
The official start point for this Adventure is the Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport (airport code CMB) in Sri Lanka. You’ll be met here by a representative of WAI and transferred to our hotel on the Indian Ocean seashore in nearby Negombo. We finish the Wonders of Sri Lanka tour back in Colombo. The official endpoint of the tour is our Colombo hotel. Guides will assist travelers in batching together in taxis for the transfer back to Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport.
More details about flight arrangements and travel agent contact information will be provided in the Adventure Advice memo, emailed to you after you register for the Adventure. Please do not book your airfare prior to receiving the Adventure Advice flyer!
WAI believes strongly in the importance of travel insurance for financial and medical protection from any number of unforeseen circumstances that can arise before departure or during your Adventure. This is now especially true in the era of COVID-19, which is typically treated like any other illness for travel insurance purposes. Many travel insurance providers are available for you to consider. Laura Pfahler and Sharon Mitchell of World Travel Inc. are travel agents who provides air travel and insurance services to many WAI travelers.
Check out Insurance Tips from World Travel for a short introduction to travel insurance. (NOTE: WAI receives no commission or financial remuneration from World Travel Inc.).
As always, do some shopping to ensure you are getting the best value. Using the squaremouth.com website can be a good way to compare pricing.
Other options include:
- Travel Guard
- Travel Insured International
NOTE: We suggest purchasing from a reputable, well-established insurance company (avoid buying insurance from an unknown company found only online). Travelers interested in purchasing “cancel for any reason” insurance coverage should be careful to check pricing and terms BEFORE they register for a tour. Recent changes in the international travel landscape has caused changes in the policies of some insurance companies, and made the purchase of this particular type of policy even more time-sensitive.
What if WAI Cancels the Tour?
Walking Adventures International reserves the right to cancel any tour departure with fewer than 15 participants, in which case registered participants will receive a 100% refund of payments received.This refund policy contains one exclusion related to COVID-19. Many suppliers require non-refundable deposits as a condition of booking services. Unforeseen circumstances linked to the virus can force us to cancel a tour after payment of these non-refundable deposits.
WAI would work to retrieve deposits, but cannot guarantee a 100% refund due to non-refundable policies of the suppliers. In cases where full refunds cannot be obtained for a cancelled tour, we will do our best to transfer unrefunded money as traveler credits to be applied to a future tour to that destination.
Immunization Requirements for Sri Lanka
Non-covid immunizations: We are not aware of any immunizations required for entry to Sri Lanka. However, we are not qualified to give medical advice and we suggest that you consult a medical professional for advice on immunizations recommended for travel in these countries. In general, travel health clinics are more reliable sources of information in this matter than general practitioners or the Center for Disease Control. You can locate travel health clinics located in your area online.
COVID-19 Policies for Sri Lanka
COVID-19: As of April 19, 2022, Sri Lanka has dropped the requirement for proof of vaccine or quarantine for foreign visitors. The only requirement currently, as of May 5, 2022, is to produce a negative PCF or antigen COVID-19 test result upon arrival in Sri Lanka. This trip is therefore open to all travelers. The situation is fluid and WAI will update travelers a to current requirements as the departure date draws near.
As of May 4 , 2022, the USA requires a negative antigen test taken within 1 day of departure for the USA. If this remains true in January 2022, our partners in Sri Lanka will assist us in meeting this requirement.
What Happens Next?
An Adventure Advice email with critical information on booking your flights will be sent once we have reached a viable group size, along with important steps to take to prepare for your trip. Please do not buy your airline tickets until you review the Adventure Advice email.
About 3 weeks before it is due, you will receive a final statement reminder about the final tour payment, which is due 60 days before departure. Please see our General Tour Conditions for the full terms and conditions for participation in this Adventure.
Around 2-3 weeks before departure, you will receive a final email packet with details of the program, including hotel names and contact information, a list of fellow travelers, and a more detailed daily schedule.
Take a few minutes to peruse the above itinerary. Sri Lanka provides a fascinating mix of history, culture and scenery waiting to be explored! In the end, we think you will agree that walking is still and always the best way to experience our world.