The Sri Lanka Travel Specialists
The Sri Lanka Cultural Tour gives you a deep appreciation of the island’s history. You will gain a better understanding of Sri Lanka’s rich cultural and religious heritage on a tour designed also to uncover lesser-known, but still entrancing remains of Sri Lanka’s cultural past. As ever, we can adjust this itinerary in order to suit your needs: you may have the luxury to slow the tour down in places for more relaxation time, uncover the heritage of Jaffna in the far north or simply to enjoy some beach days at the end of your holiday.
Upon arriving in Sri Lanka, transfer to Colombo where, if you wish, we will arrange a discussion with a local historian about the tour ahead in one of the capital’s most historic settings.
Journey to the Cultural Triangle in the North Central region. Your first stop this morning is the architectural wonder of Yapahuwa. Climb an impressive staircase, decorated by murals and guarded by lions, to what remains of the palace. If time permits visit Sasseruwa, an ancient cave monastery possessing a striking Buddha statue. Then onward to Aukana, where the wonderfully-preserved Buddha stands 42 feet high. Your hotel near Anuradhapura is for two nights.
Explore Mihintale, where Buddhism took root in Sri Lanka. Consider an early-morning climb up 1,840 steps to the summit of Mihintale rock. The pagodas and monastic cave dwellings are more easily experienced. Visit the 'Mahakanadarawa' stone bridge, which dates back to the 7C, hidden in the forest. Then discover the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, once the greatest monastic city of the world. It served as Sri Lanka's capital for around 1,400 years until Polonnaruwa took precedence in 1073. Archaeologists in the 18C felt they were discovering a lost city, and you will understand why as you gaze upon the remains of the palaces, statues and pleasure gardens.
Polonnaruwa became Sri Lanka’s royal medieval capital in 1073 and remained Sri Lanka’s capital until the late 13C. Today, the ancient city’s ruins remain in remarkably good order. The most impressive are the ancient sculptures of Lord Buddha at the Gal Vihara cut into Granite stone. The Archaeological Museum short drive away gives an insight into the kingdom. Visit the Polonnaruwa tank and understand why many Sri Lankans revere Parakramabahu the Great above all other rulers or take a forest walk to Ritigala. Today you also switch hotels to help reduce travel times.
Rise early and climb the magnificent Sigiriya Rock, another of Sri Lanka's fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites. No matter how often you climb to the summit of this one-time fortress of the murderous, maverick, Sinhalese king, Kasyapa, the pleasure remains. Many scholars believe that Kasyapa sought to rule as a God-king. About two hours can happily be spent walking through water gardens, and then up the steep steps - either hewn out of the rock or on circular iron staircases - past the frescoes. In the afternoon, take in Dambulla Cave Temple and see the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka.
After breakfast, head to Sri Lanka's hill capital - the small lakeside city of Kandy. On the way, visit the ancient Aluvihara rock temple, located in Matale. Aluvihara is of great significance in the history of Buddhism. It was here that the oral teachings of the Buddha were committed to writing – the Tripitaka - for the first time in 3rd century AD. Visit the Temple of the Tooth where a sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha is enshrined since 4th Century A.D. The temple has decorative walls, a golden roof and fine woodwork. Religious services with traditional music and drumming are held daily at dawn, midday and in the evening where guests can participate.
Explore Kandy independently or arrange a guided tour of the city. In Kandy, Buddhist temples displaying ancient Kandyan art sit side-by-side with buildings bearing British architecture and other British influences such as the delightful Royal Botanical Gardens, with its orchid collection and formally laid-out trees, or the British cemetery, where the tombs include that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. Look in at the Archaeological Museum. Learn of Kandy's rich ancient arts and crafts including traditional Kandyan dance and drumming and even have a drumming lesson.
This morning you hop on aboard a train and head to the one-time British hill station of Nuwara Eliya - a land of lush tea plantations, majestic peaks and attractive tea bungalows. Visit Paranagama and learn how the British crushed the rebellion of 1817/18 with a scorched-earth policy. If there’s time call in at Hakgala Botanical Gardens or the nearby Bomburuella waterfall, one of Sri Lanka’s finest. Spend just one night in Nuwara Eliya to cut travel time over the next two days.
Sir Thomas Lipton launched his tea empire in the Haputale Mountains. To see where it all began, visit Lipton’s Seat, his favourite vantage point to gaze upon his enormous estate. Adisham - a Benedictine Monastery with a century old stone buildings is also another interesting site to visit in Haputale. The Nine Arches Bridge is one of the iconic bridges in Sri Lanka and can be found between Ella and Demodara railway stations.
Today you travel to the south-east of Sri Lanka, a rural corner of the island famous for its huge game reserves, vast sugar cane and paddy fields, and rich cultural heritage. En route, take a small detour to Buduruvagala to see Sri Lanka's tallest rock-cut Buddha statue, 51 ft. in height, and other Mahayana Buddhist statues dating back to the 8th-century AD. The afternoon is spent at the sacred jungle shrine of Kataragama located nearby. This holy shrine was built by the warrior King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century B.C. to pay homage to God Kataragama. This shrine is worshipped by people of many faiths. Each day, the shrines come alive when poojas are presented to the Gods. The baskets filled with fruit and flowers, the aromas from burning incense and oil lamps, the sounds of dashing coconuts, clanging bells and continuous chanting all combine to provide a mesmerizing experience.
You awake on the outskirts of Tissamaharama, the capital of the ancient Ruhunu Kingdom in the 2nd century B.C. Tissa, named after King Kavantissa, is dominated by gigantic semi-circle shaped Buddhist Dagobas (temples), lush green paddy fields and lotus-filled lakes. The sprawling Tissa Wewa was built by King Kavantissa 2,300 years ago. By late morning, you travel along the south coast to the historic city of Galle. Opt for the new motorway or amble along a beautiful coastline and grab lunch by the beach along the way. As always with Red Dot, the choice is yours.
Galle Fort is a magnet for tourists eager to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hours can be spent exploring a maze of narrow streets lined with a collection of small art and craft shops, cafes and beautiful boutique hotels. If you wish you can opt for a guided tour of Galle Fort. There are also some fine beaches just outside the Fort if you are inclined to take a few hours out and examine culture 21st century style.
Two days in the beach town of Bentota complete your cultural holiday. Take the chance to learn about the ancient art of Sri Lankan puppet making and the history that they represent. Sri Lankan culture is also represented in the past half-century by the acclaimed architect Geoffrey Bawa: the nearby Lunuganga Estate, his country home, gives you an insight into his character. We have opted to complete your holiday at a colonial-style beach hotel but you can opt for Lunuganga (or any other property) if you prefer.
Galle Face Hotel, originally constructed in the 19th century, incorporates traditional Victorian features with stylish contemporary design. It is an attractive alternative to Colombo’s modern business hotels: the stately wooden panelling and staunchly Victorian rooms are resonant of a bygone age.
Forest Rock Garden Resort is inspired by the designs of ancient Sri Lankan kings. Ornate stone pillars and statues, ancient trees and ponds and waterways traverse a 50-acre wilderness. Those who built the temples of the nearby ruined capital of Anuradhapura would have approved.
Heritance Kandalama is a minimalist contemporary hotel cleverly designed by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s famous architecture guru.
Mountbatten Bungalow provides a colonial experience with all the luxuries of modern life. Surrounded by tea gardens, this accommodation has a peaceful atmosphere and stunning views, yet remains within easy distance of Kandy for daily excursions into the city.
The Oliphant is a charming seven-bedroom British colonial house amidst tea estates and mountains a short distance from the Nuwara Eliya town. Located in Shanthipura, the highest village in Sri Lanka, this mansion was built by the son of Sir Anthony Oliphant, the eight Chief Justice of old Ceylon and is perfect for couples.
The Planter's House is a striking colonial-style boutique hotel in the hills within the confines of the iconic Lipton tea estate. An infinity pool, gym and spa treatments make it an appealing base for a hill country stay.
Kithala Resort, a three star hotel, lies in the deep south, in the town of Tissa. Wildlife enthusiasts will be particularly taken by its restful location close to the Tissmaharama reservoir. From your private balcony, relax on colonial-style cane chairs and watch an array of birds in the nearby rice fields, as well as the timeless rituals of paddy farming.
Fort Bazaar is an 18-room luxury boutique hotel located in the heart of Galle Fort. Inspired by Portuguese heritage and contemporary design, this is a must-visit place in the Fort.
Club Villa is an enchanting holiday retreat on a broad and peaceful stretch of beach on the southern outskirts of Bentota. This much-loved property, originally built by Geoffrey Bawa, is cherished by a loyal clientele for a peaceful atmosphere in a pretty coconut grove, immaculate service and good-quality food.
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