Gardens of Sri Lanka
From the coast to the highlands, the fabled ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ reveals exquisite treasures of garden design, stunning natural scenery and fragrant spice and tea plantations.
Join garden writer Helen Young to explore the landscape gardens of the brothers Bevis and Geoffrey Bawa, two of the founders of ‘Tropical Modernism’, and the spectacular Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Immerse yourself in the ancient history of Sinhalese kingdoms of Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, and appreciate the Portuguese and Dutch colonial legacy in the fort city of Galle.
Stimulate the palate with wonderful Sri Lankan cuisine, wander through spice and tea plantations redolent of the heritage of British Ceylon, and see stunning natural scenery as you gaze off the ‘World’s End’ cliff in Horton National Park.
In the morning, depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Sri Lankan Airlines flights to Colombo via Singapore. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Arrive in Colombo in the evening, and transfer to the hotel in the nearby resort town of Negombo (included in tour price).
Join Helen and fellow travellers for a special welcome breakfast, and then depart for Dambulla.
En route, stop for lunch at a local restaurant in Kurunegala, the royal capital in the 13th-14th centuries.
Continue to Dambulla and check in to the hotel in the afternoon. In the evening, enjoy a talk by Helen, followed by dinner.
Dambulla is located in the heart of Sri Lanka’s so-called ‘Cultural Triangle’, comprising numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites. Begin your exploration of Dambulla with a visit to Sigiriya (‘Lion Rock’), a striking sandstone monolith which rises a sheer 200 metres from the ground. It is surrounded by the remnants of an ancient city with a series of moats, ramparts and water gardens, and a pair of giant stone lion’s paws guards the staircase that leads to the summit, which was once occupied by a royal palace.
After lunch, visit Polonnaruwa, the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese kingdoms and one of the best planned archaeological sites in the country. In the 11th century it became a magnificent walled city with an extensive irrigation system of channels and lakes.
This morning, explore the Dambulla caves complex, including the Golden Temple of Dambulla. One of the very icons of Sri Lanka, this spectacular cave monastery is still home to Buddhist monks, and is covered with exquisite 2,000-year-old murals, while the shrines also house a collection of statues of Buddha, including a 15-metre-long reclining Buddha.
Then visit a spice and herb garden in Dambulla, where you can see how Sri Lankans turn the floral abundance of their natural environment to culinary use. Enjoy a light lunch of fresh fruit and spiced tea.
In the afternoon, travel to the lakeside village of Elkaduwa and check in to the hotel, followed by dinner.
In the morning, join Helen for a tour of the garden of the hotel, which, at 1,000 m elevation, provides a fine view over the surrounding landscape.
Enjoy lunch at the hotel, and then take a guided walk through a small village and a nearby tea plantation, savouring the verdant sights and delicious aromas of Elkaduwa, so reminiscent of old Ceylon.
Weather permitting, enjoy a spectacular equatorial sunset, when the sun swiftly drops below the horizon in a blaze of crimson and gold.
Check out of the hotel in the morning and travel to Udawattakele Forest Reserve, one of the pleasure gardens of the last kings of Sri Lanka. Located only a few minutes’ drive from the city of Kandy, Udawattakele nevertheless enjoys the serenity and luxuriance of a tropical rainforest.
After lunch, continue to Kandy itself, last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, which is nestled in the green hills of the island’s lush interior. Check in to the hotel in the afternoon, and then in the evening attend a Kandyan dance performance, including the cobra dance, the mask dance and the gini sisila, a dance demonstrating power over fire. The entire frenetic and colourful spectacle comes to a climax with an amazing fire-walking act. Dinner afterwards is at a local restaurant.
In the morning, visit the sacred Temple of the Tooth. The temple houses one of Buddhism’s most sacred relics – the left canine tooth of the Buddha himself – and over the millennia since his death, wars have been fought for the possession of this sacred symbol of the Buddha’s power and protection. Today, the Temple of the Tooth attracts Buddhist devotees from all over the world. The Royal Complex, situated around the Temple of the Tooth and Kandy Lake, represents the zenith of ancient Sri Lankan architecture.
In the afternoon, enjoy a talk by Helen and then visit the Royal Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Home to nearly 4,000 species of plants and encircled by a river, the gardens boast an impressive avenue of coconut palm trees, a fragrant spice garden, giant bamboo plants, an orchid collection and a gargantuan Javan fig tree (Ficus benjamina).
Check out of the hotel and travel to Nuwara Eliya, situated around 2,000 metres above sea level, high in the tea country of Sri Lanka’s central highlands. Founded as a hill retreat for the British during colonial times, several buildings and parks here retain features from a bygone era of fox hunting, polo and cricket.
In the afternoon, visit a tea plantation and tea factory to discover the intricacies of the tea-making process. Since the introduction of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) by the British in the 19th century, Nuwara Eliya has become the capital of Sri Lanka’s tea industry, and the rolling mountains of the district, carpeted in the fresh green of ripening tea, are the very quintessence of ‘Ceylon tea country’.
Rise early and fortify yourself with a hearty breakfast before setting out for the Horton Plains National Park. On arrival in the park, walk to the fabled World’s End, a sheer cliff with a drop of about 1,200 m to the jungle below. On a clear day, you can spot the Indian Ocean some 80 kilometres in the distance.
Return to Nuwara Eliya for lunch at a local restaurant, and then enjoy an afternoon at leisure, with the option to visit Victoria Park in the centre of town, which is home to delightful hill country flora and fauna, the latter including the Kashmir flycatcher (Ficedula subrubra), Indian pitta (Pitta brachyura) and cinereous tit (Parus cinereus mahrattarum).
Dinner is at the hotel.
Check out of the hotel and depart Nuwara Eliya, visiting first the Hakgala Botanical Gardens. Located under the mighty Hakgala Peak, these are the highest botanical gardens in the world and contain English oaks (Quercus robur), Himalayan pines (Pinus wallichiana), Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica) and Californian cypresses (Cupressus macrocarpa).
Descend from the hill country to the grassy plains of Udawalawe National Park. After checking in to the safari resort-style hotel, situated just a five-minute drive from the park’s entrance, embark on a late afternoon jeep safari drive in the park, with the chance of spotting elephants, sloth bears, birds and possibly even an elusive leopard. Return to the hotel for dinner.
Depart Udawalawe National Park and visit the Eth Athuru Sevana elephant sanctuary, established in 1995 as Asia’s first ‘rehabilitation centre’ for elephants to take in orphaned elephants from the National Park and raise them to be able to live independently.
Then continue onwards to the captivating Portuguese and Dutch coastal fortress town of Galle. Our hotel for the next two nights, the minimalistic, stately and elegant Lighthouse Hotel, was designed in the mid-1990s by the celebrated Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, and was one of his final projects. Dinner this evening is at the Lighthouse Hotel.
After breakfast, visit Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest surviving European-built fortress in Asia. First built by the Portuguese in 1588, when the Dutch gained control of the fort (and the fertile cinnamon-growing region around it) in 1640, they extended it with the construction of its three bastions – Sun, Moon and Star. Command of the fort passed to the British in the 18th century. Some of the most significant buildings still remaining include the Dutch Reformed Church, the Dutch Government House, the Old Dutch Hospital, Meera Mosque, All Saints’ Anglican Church, the Clock Tower and the cast-iron Galle Lighthouse.
Return to the hotel in the early afternoon, with lunch and the remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Dinner is at a local restaurant.
Check out of the hotel and depart Galle for ‘Brief’, the former home and garden of Bevis Bawa, elder brother of Geoffrey Bawa. Started in 1929, Brief is a hillside garden overlooking a former rubber plantation. The house, which is also open to view, contains many wonderful artworks including a magnificent mural of Sri Lankan life by Australian artist Donald Friend, painted in the Modernist style of Marc Chagall.
Continue to ‘Lunuganga’, the former country estate of Geoffrey Bawa, and enjoy a guided tour of the estate’s expansive gardens. During the construction of Lunuganga in the 1940s, Geoffrey Bawa realised that architecture was his true calling, and abandoned his career as a lawyer in colonial Ceylon.
After lunch at Lunuganga, continue to Colombo, the economic and cultural capital of Sri Lanka.
Enjoy a morning tour of Colombo, visiting the Colombo Fort, the Oriental Bazaar at Pettah, several Hindu and Buddhist temples, the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, as well as the Wolvendaal Dutch Church, Hulftsdorp Law Courts, Independence Square and the parliament building, another project designed by Geoffrey Bawa.
After lunch, conclude your exploration of Colombo with a visit to the National Museum, which houses a large and important collection of Sri Lanka’s cultural and artistic heritage.
Return to the hotel in the afternoon. This evening, join Helen and fellow travellers for a special farewell dinner.
In the morning, check out of the hotel and transfer to Colombo Bandaranaike Airport (included in tour price), where tour arrangements conclude.
Suggested flights to Australia or New Zealand departing from 12:00. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any extra nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
21 December 2018
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Sri Lankan Airlines
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australia and New Zealand passport holders require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) to visit Sri Lanka, obtained prior to departure. An ETA can be obtained online (current cost USD 35), and entitles holders to a 30-day Short Visit Visa at the port of entry into Sri Lanka. For further information visit https://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/visainfo/center.jsp?locale=en_US
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in 4 and 5 star hotels (or best available) with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including juices, soft drinks and local beer with meals
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure if travelling on suggested flights
- Transportation on comfortable air-conditioned coaches throughout
- Comprehensive sightseeing including entrance fees as per itinerary
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure if not travelling on suggested flights
- Video and camera permits (where required)
- Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry etc.
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) to visit Sri Lanka
Colombo – Jetwing Blue Negombo *****
Dambulla – Amaya Lake Resort ****+
Elkaduwa – Amaya Hunas Falls Hotel *****
Kandy – Hotel Thilanka ****+
Nuwara Eliya – Araliya Green Hills Hotel ****
Udawalawe – Kalu’s Hideway ***+
Galle – Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel *****
Colombo – Cinnamon Grand Hotel *****+
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted
A local of Colombo, Richard Mendis has been guiding tours of his native Sri Lanka for the past 15 years. Educated in Germany and Austria, he is a fluent speaker of English and German in addition to his mother tongue Sinhalese. Richard has a wealth of knowledge of the history, culture, politics, cuisine, flora and fauna of Sri Lanka, and as a keen ornithologist, he is fully conversant with almost all of the 436 bird species found in his home country. A consummate professional, his local knowledge, enthusiasm and humour is second to none.
“Nothing was too much trouble – his favourite saying – ‘There are no problems, only solutions’ sums up his attitude to his work. He is dedicated, enthusiastic and a fund of knowledge. All in all, a gem of great worth to Renaissance and its clients.”
Rosalie L. | Serendipitous Sri Lanka 2017