Wildlife & Nature Tour
The Garden of Eden – some say it’s here in Sri Lanka. A pocket sized paradise especially for lovers of unspoilt wilderness. From pristine rainforests, lush mountains and plains to arid scrub jungles where creatures great and small thrive. Over 12 full days we take a journey around the island to catch a glimpse of Mother Nature’s gifts to us.
DAY 01: AIR PORT/NEGOMBO
Flower garlands… What a nice way to start our holiday! We are met by our representative and chauffer guide, and set off to our hotel in Negombo to recoup from the flight and get ready for all the excitement waiting for us in the days to come.
DAY02: NEGOMBO / WILLPATTU
A hearty breakfast and we leave to Wilpattu – Sri Lanka’s oldest national park. We follow the coastal road taking in the spectacular scenery. We check in to our stay, and grab a quick lunch before heading off to explore the park by jeep in the late afternoon. This is also one of Sri Lanka’s largest parks, a massive 131,000 hectares with a range of habitats – open grassy plains, scrubland, thick forest and lots of lakes. There is a deep sense of stillness and expectancy in the air, and we too hold our breath as the jeep rolls slowly along the sandy tracks. Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Water Buffalo, marsh crocodiles, spotted deer all live here, so do a host of other mammals and birds. We don’t want to leave this magical place, but the night is setting in, so it’s back to our hotel through the darkening forest. We remain awestruck right through dinner, and sleep brings dreams as wonderful as the reality we witnessed.
DAY 03: WILLPATTU / SIGIRIYA / MINNERIYA / SIGIRIYA
Breakfast in the jungle and we drive through the central plains into the heart of the cultural triangle. The changing landscape is a reminder just how amazingly diverse Sri Lanka is for a tiny island. We enjoy a delightful lunch at our hotel and rest a little before setting off for our evening safari at Minneriya National Park. This massive 8,890 hectare reserve is where the unique phenomena known as the ‘gathering’ takes place with over 300 elephants arriving from the surrounding areas in search of food and water during the dry season. Seeing herds of wild elephants in their natural environment is simply unforgettable, especially when our jeep gets quite close and we feel surrounded by their giant beauty. As night draws in, we return to our hotel, exhilarated by all we’ve seen. Drinks and dinner are welcome distractions, before we too roost for the night.
DAY 04: SIGIRIYA/PIDURANGALA/ KNUCKLES
The towering twin rocks of Sigiriya and Pidurangala tempted us from the horizon on our way here yesterday and after breakfast we take up the challenge. We have the choice of climbing either one. The history of the locality dates to the 3rd century BC when it was a Buddhist sanctuary, and the famed Sigiriya rock fortress was built around 500 AD by King Kassapa – now a World Heritage Site. The rock rises 660 feet over the surrounding plains and it’s a powerful presence. The complex has sprawling gardens, hidden caves, mirror walls, carved pools, ingenious waterways, huge lion paws, and frescos painted on the near vertical rock face. That is a lot to take in, but when we make the somewhat tricky climb to the top – the 360 0 view leaves us speechless.
The neighbouring giant Pidurangala rock, is less famous and a more arduous climb, and without a well-defined path it’s not recommended if one is not exactly fit. But, this is the best place to see Sigiriya and the surrounds from a different angle – the ‘big picture’ is well worth the tough trek up. There are ancient ruins and a temple complex to explore too. We get back on the road to our next stop in the Knuckles Mountain range and look forward to resting our tired feet.
DAY 05: KNUCKLES
We prepare for another challenging day with a good healthy breakfast. The drive into the Knuckles Mountains is full of interesting contrasts in scenery. An untouched landscape, astoundingly rich in biodiversity and one of the most unique attractions in the island, Knuckles is a World heritage Conservation Area with an incredible wealth of endemic fauna and flora. We pass grasslands, rugged mountain peaks with little streams and cascading waterfalls – this is an 18512 hectares of pristine paradise. The range has 34 peaks between1900 meters to 900 meters in height, and the five high peaks look similar to a clenched fist from a distance, hence its name. We take one of the popular hiking trails to a drop called ‘mini world’s end’ and the high vantage point of ‘Corbett’s gap’ with amazing views. It has been a marvellous day of exploring and being truly at one with nature, and we return for dinner and rest, our hearts full of joy and wonder.
DAY 06: KNUCKLES / MATALE / KANDY
Another yummy breakfast and we leave for Kandy, the hill capital and the last kingdom of Lanka. The road winds further into the mountains and near the town of Matale we stop at a Spice Garden where a huge variety are grown for export. We pick up some to take home and also enjoy a wonderfully reviving massage. We arrive in Kandy in good time for lunch and some sightseeing around this historic town. We experience a cultural show in the evening – all swirling dancers and throbbing drum beats; the atmosphere heady and exciting. In stark contrast, the mood of the ‘pooja’ is calm as we visit the most revered Buddhist shrine in the country – The Temple of the Tooth Relic. Devotees flock from around the world to worship tooth, housed in a gold casket. We take a deep sense of peace with us as we return to our hotel to reflect over dinner. We shall sleep well tonight.
DAY 07: KANDY / NANU OYA / ELLA
We have something different lined up for today, so after an early breakfast we drive higher into the mountains. At Nanu Oya, we take the train to Ella. The ‘up country’ train rides are said to be the some of the most scenic in the world, and we can see why! Old pine forests, lush tea plantations and Patna grass cover the huge mountains, and villages dot the deep valleys below. Mist swirls all around and the air is bracingly chilly. The main attraction of Ella is the breath-taking view from the ‘Ella Gap’ – looking out between the towering bulk of Ella Rock on the right and through a gap in the hills to the plains far, far below. After lunch and a little rest at our hotel in Ella, we set off on our trek to Little Adam’s Peak. About 45mins walk away, it’s a fairly easy climb with a good path all the way up – and we don’t really feel how high up we are at 1141 metres. As the sun starts to lower and the sky turns red gold, the view is simply spectacular. The ‘flying foxes’ come out in their thousands as we make our way back to the hotel with darkness draping the peaks like a cloak. A long drink, dinner and rest awaits us.
DAY 08: ELLA / LIPTON SEAT / YALA
A day of magnificent views to look forward to, we enjoy an early breakfast and drive to the iconic Lipton Seat – one of the most stunning vantage points in Sri Lanka. The road twists and turns between the towering mountains, as we make our way higher and higher in the mist. Located right on top of the Poonagala hill near the Dambetenna tea factory, Lipton’s Seat is named after the famous tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton who surveyed his thriving acreage of tea from here. Having reached it, we are lost for words. It is said that one can see seven provinces from here, and all the way to the Hambantota port on the South coast on a very clear day. It’s like we’re on top of the island. The route to Yala our next stop, takes us through more spectacular scenery as we weave downhill quite sharply, to the southern plains and on to the dry scrubland of Yala. It’s an amazing contrast. We settle down at our hotel near the National Park for a good night’s rest – after dinner, of course.
DAY 09: YALA / SINHARAJA
Excitement begins very early as we leave for our morning safari at Yala. It’s a huge reserve of over 151,778 hectares with many habitat types - dunes, scrub forest, riverine forests, rocky out-crops, secondary forests and coastal lagoons with mangrove forests – all home to a host of wildlife. 44 species of mammals, over 200 species of birds are just some. This is the realm of Sri Lanka’s big cat – the endangered leopard sub-species Panthera pardus kotiya, which found only in Sri Lanka. Elephant, Sloth bear and other game are here too. We drive slowly along the sandy tracks, our eyes peeled; and we are rewarded, often. We feel at one with the surroundings, and awed by the magic that jungles always hold for us. Yala is also an ancient historical site that dates back to 500 B.C with scattered ruins deep inside the park. After an incredible few hours inside the park, we leave the arid beauty of Yala and set off for the long drive to the rainforest at Sinharaja. The intriguing noises of the forest accompany us over dinner; then we too settle down for the night.
DAY 10: SINHARAJA / GALLE
A very early breakfast, and we’re off to trek in the ‘garden of Eden’ – the Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve. It’s like stepping into a world before mankind existed and like a green cloak, the forest closes around us. The light is muted, the giant trees draped in thick lianas reach for the sky. This is Sri Lanka’s last primary tropical rainforest - a World Heritage Site, and a unique biosphere. More than 60% of the trees are indigenous species; and 21 endemic bird species, 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic mammals, butterflies, insects, reptiles, fish and amphibians all call this home. There are two main nature trails and we explore in absolute awe. We take leave from this heaven much too soon as we drive to the coast and on to the historic city of Galle. Another World Heritage Site, the main attraction of Galle is the 17C Dutch Fort – incredibly well preserved. A hub of ‘cool’ today, Galle is a heady blend of rich heritage, culture and lifestyles. This strategic port was ruled by all three colonial powers and each left their mark. We walk around the old cobbled streets admiring past glories, and being tempted by modern ones, before heading to our hotel for drinks, dinner and much desired rest.
DAY 11 & 12: GALLE
It’s time for some chilling out after all our journeys, so we will be enjoying our last two days in Sri Lanka at the beachside haven of Galle. We may just lounge by the pool, sunbathing on the beach, catch up on our reading or muse over all we’ve seen and done in the past days – or do all of that. We might go exploring the sights of Galle, as there is so much to see and do. It’s lovely to have a choice.
DAY 13: GALLE / AIRPORT
It has been an unforgettable holiday, and our last breakfast in this Garden of Eden called Sri Lanka is as amazing as it has been throughout our stay here. Our minds filled with the beauty we have seen, we vow to return as we head to the airport. It’s good bye for now.