Sri Lanka highlights holiday

“A two week, tailor made holiday of Sri Lanka, with national parks, wildlife, railways, great archaoleogical sites and amazing food. And, of course, beaches. ”

Highlights

Negombo | Sigiriya | Polonnaruwa | Dambulla| Kandy | Nurwara Eliya | Ella | Yala National Park | Overnight stay in safari tents | Unawatuna beach | Galle | Colombo | Private chauffeur guide

Description of Sri Lanka highlights holiday

This two week, Sri Lanka holiday is a tailor made trip and so this is only our suggested itinerary, which of course we can adapt according to your interests. Although we believe it captures many of Sri Lanka’s highlights, both cultural and coastal, national parks and wildlife. Driven by your own driver and expert local guide, you will stay at a carefully selected mix of locally owned accommodations.

Starting in Colombo, we take you straight to the beach at Negombo on the west coast to be revived after your journey and to slowly but surely adapt to the laid back lifestyle of Sri Lanka. Moving on to the cultural segment of your tour, you will spend several days in Sri Lanka’s famous Cultural Triangle, based in a hotel in Polonnaruwa, an ancient kingdom with an incredible array of 10th century temples and palace ruins. From here, you will also visit Sigiriya’s incredible rock fortress and the cave rock complex at Dambulla.

The middle section of your trip is when we recommend you take in the centre of Sri Lanka, staying in the ancient city of Kandy, famous and revered for the Temple of the Tooth. And from this busy spot into the cooling hill stations and tea plantations. Similarly cooling is Horton Plains National Park, further south, where you can hike into mountainous, mist covered forest, with stunning waterfalls en route. Followed by more tropical wonders at Ella, which you can reach by train, and where you can hike up to Ella’s Rock or Little Adam’s Peak for the most stunning views.

Heading further south, one of the highlights of this trip for many is Yala National Park where a jeep safari will take you deep into the habitats of elephants, sloth bear, wild buffalo, sambhar elk and deer. And, most famously, leopard, with Yala boasting the highest, concentrated leopard population in the world. Although sightings are rare.

You will certainly have earned your few days at Unawatuna beach where you will stay just a quick walk from the shore. We also recommend one final stop at Galle, the magnificent 16th century fort town built by the Portuguese and now a buzzing hub of culture, markets and fine cuisine.

Travel Team

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Departure information

Everything is tweak-able, giving you the freedom to build a unique and personal trip for your chosen date. Upgrade your accommodation for all - or just part - of your trip, slow down the pace with few extra nights here and there or add a few more active adventures along the way.
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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Sri Lanka highlights holiday

Environment

When you embark on this itinerary you get several chances to spot wild animals, including elephants. We support the protection of the Sri Lankan environment by only visiting national parks which are responsible, and are in fact protecting the Sri Lankan wildlife. This includes the Minneriya National Park, Kaudulla National Park and Yala National Park. When in the Yala National Park you stay in tented accommodation which has little impact to the local environment. At the beginning of this itinerary when met by our local partner, our clients are also briefed on protection of flora, fauna, and cultural heritage.

Our local partner in Sri Lanka also shares the same values as us in terms of using as little energy in the office and also recycling. We both use minimal paper in our offices and have all paper used recycled. They also have strict times at which they use the air-conditioning in their office.

Community

During this itinerary you will be staying in a mix of authentic small-scale accommodation including a family-run hotel in Kandy. By using this type of accommodation we support local families and local people who are employed by these hotels.

Throughout the trip you will be travelling around with your private driver. Our drivers are trained by our local partner and then given a permanent contract offering reliable work which earns them a wage higher than the national average.

Our local partner also runs a lot of charity projects in Sri Lanka and supports many local communities. In 2008, they provided emergency lights and installed lights at a girls home in Nugegoda. In 2013 our local partner bought 40 new mattresses for an retirement home near Colombo. Other projects that they have funded include providing food and rations to local charities, helping restore the homes of some of Sri Lanka's most needy, and paying for cancer drugs for patients at some local hospitals.

13 Reviews of Sri Lanka highlights holiday

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Reviewed on 23 Mar 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


All of it! Elephants in Minneriya were a highlight though.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared for some early starts and build in a few days relaxation at the
end. Also be prepared to spend site a bit on entry fees ( we were warned!)
And keep lots of small value notes for tips.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Hmmm maybe indirectly. The hotels made an effort but our beautifully
packaged care kit in corrugated cardboard at one hotel still contained
plastic cotton buds! Ngombo needs a big beach clean effort... the trash on
the beach was worrying.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Best holiday ever!

Read the operator's response here:

Thank you for your wonderful review! I'm so pleased you had a wonderful trip and saw so many different highlights. I hope you'll think of us for your next adventure.

Reviewed on 07 Mar 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Standing on the opposite side of an electric fence and seeing an elephant ( he was in the national park!) and visiting the elephant transit camp knowing these animals would be returned to the wild. Just the beautiful lush green jungle and countryside and the friendly Sinhalese people. Breakfast at "Worlds End" at 7 30am. The whole holiday was memorable.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Really research the country you are going to visit and plan your itinerary well. Don't over book each day. As a couple over 60 we mainly had walks, visits to historic sites for half a day etc in the mornings and relaxed and enjoyed the scenery/swam and soaked up the atmosphere in the afternoon. Discuss with your driver the pace you want to go at and whether you want lunch -ours was so accommodating. Having a driver was brilliant but took a few days to adjust to not "just doing your own thing"/being independent. If you are going to relax at a beach sometime in your holiday research well if you don't want to be in a very touristy resort. Enjoy eating at local restaurants if its walkable/taxi ride from your hotel. Our driver recommended and took us to a couple.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Chatting to hotel employees they all appeared to be recruited from the local area and so benefitted their families. Tipping certainly enhanced their meagre incomes not sure that it had any impact on their poor basic wages. The use of plastic water bottles was appalling; it seemed a shame hotels could not support a water purifying system. In the short time we there it was impossible to find out how much was recycled. The hotels we visited changed towels and bedding too often unless we happened to be there and could stop it. Hopefully by visiting the elephant transit camp, national heritage and conservation sites some of the entrance fees were used for their maintenance and improvement.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


The holiday was well planned not only due to our research but informed discussion with the tour operators who adapted to suit our needs. It was a wonderful experience and we would highly recommend it to others.

Reviewed on 22 Jan 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


there were a number of events that were memorable.
the train trip from Kandy to Ella. climbing 'Lion rock', the elephant safari and also the whale watching.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


ensure that you have a good guide / driver . invaluable!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


magnificent, holiday of a lifetime. will never forget it

Reviewed on 23 Feb 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Uda Walawe. Not just elephants but buffalo, crocs, huge variety of birds. And far less crowded than Minneriya, where we spent most of the time in a jeep jam. Eco Village: finding out about making jaggery; swimming in the river; forest sounds at night, forest plants and spices. Train trip to Ella, and wandering around on the track at 9 Arches Bridge (Ella) watching trains go by - then finding the Demodara Railway Loop via tuc tuc through the back tracks.


2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Double check what's on your trip list and on the 'land receipt' ie what the local agents have agreed to. Discrepancies were a nuisance. Ring the local agent if you have to, they may speak better English than your driver. Check that tickets for trains actually exist - ours had not been reserved, we had to go and buy, luckily there was still space. First class was not obtained despite request. Go out to eat whenever you can - food in hotels is OK but samey, dumbed down for visitors. Go to markets and local supermarkets to see huge variety of fruit, veg, fish, hardware. Great fun. Be aware that the driver may feel restricted in his ability to adapt the schedule - ours felt unable to do 5 miles (on top of the 2 miles scheduled) on a day when he was supposed to be 'at our disposal' all day. (Mind you taking a tuc-tuc was far more fun in the end).

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


We felt the hotels were mostly locally owned, which was good. The Eco Lodge definitely employed and benefitted locals. Our holiday cannot have reduced environmental impacts, but perhaps it avoided the worst excesses. Better than many other package companies. Apart from Eco Lodge, the hotels were generally posher than we wanted, thereby wasting resources. (Who needs a 35 m2 room and a 7ft * 7ft6 bed???) I feel the trend for flashier luxury hotels is having adverse environmental and social impacts.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Great, especially the 'off piste' parts away from the crowds.

Read the operator's response here:

Hi Eunice, thanks so much for your positive feedback! I’m really glad to hear that you had such a great time away in Sri Lanka. Udawalawe was also one of my personal favourite parts of the country and it’s great to hear that you had such a good experience too. It certainly gives you a different experience to Minneriya National Park. The Eco Village is really unique place to stay and it sounds like you made the most of the remote location, enjoying the natural highlights and relaxing forest sounds. To travel by train is such a great option in Sri Lanka and Ella is one of the best spots to do a bit of trainspotting, so I’m happy you took the time to explore this. Our local partner in Sri Lanka is always on hand to help with any issues and they will have better English than most drivers. As explained, although we do our best at booking these when requested, however it isn’t always possible to secure them. This is because first class train tickets are very limited and only released shortly before the scheduled departure. You’re absolutely right, food outside of the hotels is so delicious and exactly why we only tend to book breakfast for travellers in Sri Lanka – to support the local businesses and give you the chance to try a wide variety of authentic dishes. All the hotels that we offer are locally owned and we do our very best at giving something back to the community. Sri Lanka generally has quite a high standard of accommodation and they like to offer as much comfort as possible for their guests, which can mean a larger room and bed. We do our very best at selecting hotels that have an authentic Sri Lankan décor and that do not waste any unnecessary resources. Again, thank you so much for taking the time to offer your honest feedback. It is greatly appreciated and I’m so happy you enjoyed our style of travel. Best regards, Miles.

Reviewed on 01 Oct 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Everything! Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with beautiful people who welcome you so easily. It was less chaotic and cleaner than India and the traffic wasn't bad either.
My driver Dilan made this trip so smooth with his years of experience and every time we stopped for a comfort break he always knew where the clean toilets
were; I am very particular about this.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Respect the local custom and the people and they will make your journey wonderful!
Also, if you cover your head for any reason be prepared to uncover your head if you wish to enter the temples.
I was refused entry at many of the temples as I could not remove my headscarf (but did not have this issue in Thailand whilst visiting the temples there).
So before you buy a ticket, check!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Definitely.
We stopped at many of the government-sponsored cafeterias providing employment for the local village women, and the local food and drinks were delicious and prepared hygienically. Good prices too.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent and I am already planning a return trip! Thank you Responsible Travel!

Reviewed on 08 Mar 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The best part of Sri Lanka for me was the abundance of wildlife. We saw elephants, 2 leopards, crocodiles, beautiful birds and lizards, amongst other things. The safari in Yala and Minneriya were amazing. The people are very friendly and helpful, food good too! There is so mush diversity and lovely scenery.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Do your research as there is a lot to see, and enough to suit most needs. There can be quite a lot of trekking too, so research into that is a good idea.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


The holiday did benefit local people and Sri Lanka is trying to keep cleaner by reducing plastic etc. I felt the safaris were good, but so many diesal trucks cannot be good for the environment so I feel that needs to be addressed very soon. Also, I felt the whale watching was bordering on unethical as when we went there were so many boats, and although our boat was ethical and did not chase the whales, some did, and although it was amazing to see 2 blue whales, it really needs re thinking. They need to cap the amount of boats allowed in one area at one time.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


The holiday was fantastic! Our driver, Adi, was especially brilliant. He was helpful, funny and kind, and made the travelling easier. Maybe one night in Sinharaja would have been enough, one night in Mirissa for us would have been enough and a night in Galle fort would have been good, but it was a fantastic experience and the organisation was perfect.

Reviewed on 03 Jan 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Very hard to single out one memorable moment, but we all loved the homestay, visiting the local market, the bakery, the cookery lesson and the temple. The train journey, despite being very crowded and having to stand for an hour was also a wonderful experience. We got to squeeze up with locals who offered to share their seats. Every day offered up something different and varied from the day before.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Don't be afraid to say no to your driver's suggestions. Some we accepted, some we didn't. He was a master at fenagling the best parking spots, time things really well and tell us where we were heading next but we didn't always want to go to the tourist lunch stop or go with his suggestion. He asked for a lump sum at the beginning to cover all the entrance fees and lunches but we decided to pay him on an item by item basis. This worked much better.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes. I was pleasantly surprised by seeing only two towels in the hotel rooms rather than the huge number that you sometimes get. At Tallala there was a 6am beach clean and filtered water available. I was conscious we bought a large box of bottled water (in small bottles) at the beginning of the trip, which wasn't very eco at all. It would be nice if more filtered water was available. Tourism is obviously a huge part of Sri Lankan economy. It's a delicate balance between employment and safeguarding the environment. Some parts of the safari trip in Yala felt like Sainsbury's car park on Christmas Eve.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


We loved it. We are a family with three teenage and older sons and no-one balked at the early starts or the scheduling. A thoroughly engaging holiday full of variety which left us feeling we really got to know the country from many angles with a perfectly timed two days on the beach at the end.

Reviewed on 07 Feb 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing elephants close up was incredible, although we were a bit concerned about how close the jeeps got to wild elephants. Seeing the 'Temple of the Tooth' in Kandy was also an amazing experience, as was the breathtaking views at the top of 'Worlds End' in Horton Plains. It was great getting to know our driver, who was able to give us lots of insights into the country. I was very impressed with the work the Elephant Transit Home was doing to rehabilitate elephants, and also really enjoyed Sigiriya Rock.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Allow rest time during your travels - we got very tired! And bring extra cash to get into all the national parks etc. - we thought most of this was included but it turned out there was quite a bit extra to pay. Also, check the map you are provided, we ended up doing a bit of a roundabout route towards the end of our trip, which meant many more hours in the car than was actually needed to see all the sights we visited.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


We supported the local economy through staying at hotels, spending money etc. I don't think we reduced environmental impacts - we were being driven all over the island and got through a lot of bottled water etc. I guess we supported conservation in that we paid entrance to lots of national parks, but sometimes I felt tourists were able to get to close to rare wildlife (elephants and whales in particular). At Yala, when there was a sighting of a Leopard, all the jeeps for miles around made a beeline for the area it was sighted in, causing a lot of noise and air pollution - no wonder the leopard made a swift retreat.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Very good, lovely friendly driver and got to see all sorts of amazing things. A great mix of cultural, historic and wildlife based experiences. Definitely needed a couple of days on the beach at the end to recover!

Reviewed on 01 Feb 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The Botanic Gardens in Kandy was the most memorable. Strangely this was excluded from the itinerary but added by request from myself. Whale watching and safari was good.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Carefully review the itinerary before travelling. One day was completely spoilt by being much too cluttered. Unnecessarily early start (0530) for Horton Plains, ridiculous 1 hour wait for entrance tickets in freezing conditions, not enough time to complete the round trip walk, Rushed to railway station then had to wait over 1 hour. 'Scenic' train utterly packed and we were unable to get on so missed 'highlight' of holiday. Information about upgrading train tickets was incorrect. In future all tickets for this train must be pre-booked to avoid our disappointment.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes. Interesting to see attempts to reduce plastics usage in National Parks: shame that Sri Lanka had not tackled this issue elsewhere.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Very Good. However I did not think that our tour operator had done a good job with the itinerary. The information that we wanted to go to the Botanic
gardens had not been relayed to our driver so we had to make changes on route. Other aspects of itinerary had to be changed / abandoned. We are both in our
60's but reasonably fit: we did struggle with one of the walks (a climb of Lions Rock) and we had no pre-warning that in hot humid conditions this could be a
challenge.

Reviewed on 09 Sep 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Safari in Willapatu and seeing elephants, leopard and a sloth bear.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


To take plenty of insect repellent and take extra money for tips.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes our travels defiantly helped support local people by seeing and doing activities along our trip and buying things along the way.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


We had an excellent honeymoon from start to finish. Great country full of lovely friendly people and awesome wildlife everywhere. We would definitly go back in the future.

Reviewed on 16 Aug 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Going to visit Trincomalee and all the places my parents lived many years ago. The Temple of Sacred Tooth, the Perahara Festival, The elephant Safari - all amazing.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Give yourself some relaxation time at Trincomalee beach or another beach depending on time of year. Remember the road journeys will take time / far more than you realise.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


I felt that by having a local guide we benefitted enormously as we learnt so much about the history, culture and local customs. We also stopped off at additional places, at our request. It was good to support the monuments and World Heritage sites and I have no issues with paying for that from a conservation perspective. As someone who has travelled extensively and lived abroad I am not keen on being taken to wood carving places and getting the sales patter. I felt uncomfortable; I appreciate some may like it but personally I liked going to local shops in smaller villages to spend my money. The visit to the spice farm was good and I did not feel the hard sale there. Loved going for the farmers lunches - great idea but could not do the food justice as was still full up from breakfast. There were so many safari trucks at the game reserve; is it controlled ? Not sure seeing all the younger tourists on hired motor bikes reduces environmental impact ? It is a real dilemma to be honest - going to Ella took me back to Thailand in the early 80's - you see all the development for tourists but there is a concern about what it does to prices for the local population. So many of the food places cater for Western /European food tastes. There is no doubt the hospitality industry provides employment - but there is a concern about the large hotel groups taking over and I am interested in how well they pay staff. It is clear wages are very low for many in Sri Lanka - the benefit of having a driver with extensive knowledge meant we had the chance to stop off at different places that were less touristy as well. To be honest it is a difficult dilemma - as one who contributed to the Tsunami fund I am concerned about how much money gets to local people that need it - it is clear that some monies is filtered off and there are corruption issues. The mixture of hotels is good.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Fabulous !!

Reviewed on 30 Jul 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


On our second day we climbed Lion Rock (Sigiriya) which we'd read about - but it's nothing compared to when you get there. The view from afar is amazing,
the climb is tough, but broken up enough that you never felt completely exhausted and the views at the top are breathe taking.

When you pair that with the history and stories behind the fortress, it is mind blowing and an incredible place.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make sure you head to the right places depending on the time of year you go. Our advisor was brilliant, and we booked our beach stay on the East coast, as it
was raining down South - but in other months this can be reversed. So always check if you're looking for the sunshine!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Our tour guide was local, and we definitely felt like using his company was of real benefit to him, and he also took us to restaurants and places he felt were
responsible and helped the local economy.


4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Amazing - beautiful country, brilliant tour guide. A bit of everything, from beach and cultural sites, to trekking and stunning mountain views.

Reviewed on 17 Feb 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Difficult to choose one - probably the visit to Sigiriya rock - unlike anything I have seen anywhere else. Probably followed by seeing the local fishermen
working on the beach at Negombo.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make the most of any opportunities to look around, take part in things, talk to the local guide to tell them what you are interested in. (For instance we talked
about food, and ended up spending an evening at a cookery demonstration, which was very interesting). Also be aware that entrance charges, (including
national parks) are not cheap, and tipping adds up.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


It seemed that most of our spending etc. was going to support the local economy, so benefiting local people, the time in the national parks helped with
conservation. Don't think flying out, then driving round helped reduce environmental impact.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


We had a great time, having a dedicated guide meant that we could relax and let him do the organisation.

Read the operator's response here:

Hello Christine,

I am so glad you had a great time in Sri Lanka and that you mostly enjoyed visiting the famous Sigiriya Rock and also watching the fishermen working in Negombo. The cooking demonstration that you did sounds amazing, I would love to do that myself.

Thank you so much for your good review, it was lovely helping you organise your trip and great news you had a wonderful time.

With Kind regards,

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