Buddha in Polonnaruwa temple
Buddha in Polonnaruwa temple

Sri Lanka: Shrines and Serendipity


16 days From $5,980

February 5 2019

Do not be deceived by Sri Lanka’s beguiling palm-fringed sands and mountain-backed natural beauty. For this exotic ‘Resplendent Isle’ can also boast another dimension to inspire those who travel in quest of enigma and antiquity. Both are here in abundance in this legend-filled land whose multi-layered history spans 25 chronicled centuries.

Small wonder that Sri Lanka is home to some of the finest World Heritage Sites, with landmark monuments and ancient ruined cities that still stand in homage to the island’s past civilizations and cultures, their unique artifacts and archaeological treasures.

In what was one of the earliest great Buddhist kingdoms, our specialist tour focuses on the fusion of the earliest forms of Buddhism with Hindu and Animist teachings, among ethereal temples, dagoba shrines and great carved Buddhas You’ll also enjoy fascinating glimpses of long-lost kingdoms whose rulers built improbably sophisticated irrigation systems – and even a resplendent palace with gardens and pools perched atop a 600-foot rock.

With all these, our journey interweaves encounters with Sri Lanka’s vibrant tapestry of landscapes, wildlife parks sheltering elephant and sloth bears, countless colorful religious festivals and rituals – and the echoes of a more recent colonial era of tea plantations and hill-stations.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Led by...

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi is a Research Associate in the Department of the History of Art at SOAS, and Assistant Editor for the International Journal of Islamic Architecture.

Book Now $5,980
Includes deposit: $500 Single supplement: $1,260

Tour highlights:

  • Discover no less than six awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Climb up to Kasyapa’s citadel at Habarana to enjoy the unforgettable views and water garden terraces
  • Share the road with the local elephants as we make our way along Sri Lanka’s highways
  • Witness a unique and magical evening ‘puja’ ceremony at Kandy’s world-famous Temple of the Tooth
  • Enjoy ample leisure time for your own exploring on a well-balanced and contrast-filled itinerary

Tour details

Dates February 05 2019 - February 20 2019
Duration 16 days
Cost $5,980
Single supplement: $1,260
Deposit: $500 , balance due by 13 November 2018
Activity Level Challenging
Tour code A19SRI

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

February 5 2019: Itinerary

We arrive into Colombo and transfer to our first hotel where we will meet for dinner.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

After an opening lecture, touring begins at the Gothami Temple, which houses beautiful wall paintings that intricately and vibrantly depict the life of Buddha. The day comes to an end with a visit to the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, where, according to legend, the Buddha converted the earliest inhabitants of Lanka to Buddhism. This temple is also renowned for its richly decorated walls, which include amazing murals painted by two well-known modern artists, Solias Mendis and George Keyt.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

Today we leave Colombo, arriving in Anduradhapura for lunch. This area boasts a wealth of evocative sites and, this afternoon, we pay a visit to Mihintale, which was the site of the island’s first Buddhist sermon and first conversion of a long line of kings. In 247 BC, King Devanampiya Tissa was hunting on Mihintale Hill, where he was approached by the son of an Indian Buddhist emperor, who deemed him a worthy disciple and converted him. Later, we transfer to our hotel.

All meals included

Hotel: Palm Garden Village, Anuradhapura

Our day begins at the ancient city of Anuradhapura, royal capital from the late 5th century BC, until it was sacked and burned by Chola Tamils in 993. The power of the Sinhalese kings was then transferred to Polonnaruwa. It will take us the full day to examine the remains of 15 centuries of continuous occupation. As we stroll among the ancient buildings we will be awed by the huge dimensions of the three dagobas of the oldest periods and charmed by the unique architecture and moonstone thresholds of its monasteries and temples. We will also visit the site museum, which displays the sculptures, bas-reliefs and other precious artifacts from the site.

All meals included

Hotel: Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

The story of King Kasyapa’s retreat to his palace, built 600 feet above the surrounding forest on the rock of Sigiriya, is filled with intrigue, murder, revenge and suicide. It took him seven years to build his citadel and its spectacular gardens, pools and pavilions, designed to blend with the natural landscape. This extraordinary complex is no less beautiful today than it was in the 5th century BC. We shall climb Kasyapa’s citadel slowly, stopping to enjoy the water garden terraces, the famous “Sigiriya maidens” painted in a rock gallery, and the magnificent views. Sigiriya Museum too. After a full morning of activity, we have the afternoon at leisure. Choose to take the time to continue exploring or unwind before dinner this evening.

All meals included

Hotel: Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

We will spend the full day at the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa. A series of great builders – including Vijayabahu I (1055-1110), builder of the first Temple of the Tooth, and Parakramabahu (1153-86), who built a vast numbers of dams, reservoirs and canals – have provided us with a magnificent, archaeologically rich site that boasts acres of unique architectural elements, delicately engraved columns and wonderful friezes. A tour of the new site museum will end this fabulous and interesting day.

All meals included

Hotel: Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

This morning we will visit the huge Avukana Buddha, which stands at over 40 feet tall, and the massive 4th century BC  reservoir at Kala Wewa, built by King Datusena in 307 BC. We then continue to the great rock temple of Dambulla. The easy ascent rewards us greatly as we will be able to stand before magnificent cave temples that are boldly decorated with paintings and effigies carved out of the living rock. The remainder of our afternoon will be spent at leisure. For those of us who have always wanted to try an elephant trek, our hotel will make the arrangements for this afternoon. An alternative option might be a guided walk in the nearby nature reserve to study medicinal plants and wildlife.

All meals included

Hotel: Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana

En route to Kandy we will stop to visit Aluvihare, the site where the Buddhist doctrine Tripitaka was finally written down on talipot palm leaves. After viewing the cave temple’s graphic depictions of what awaits sinners, we have arranged an informal discussion about Sri Lankan Buddhism with the chief monk of this important temple. We will also visit a spice garden and stop for lunch at a charming restaurant created by a popular folk artist. Touring continues in Kandy at the Anglican Cathedral. This evening we will visit the Temple of the Tooth at the time of the puja, or prayer offerings.

All meals included

Hotel: Mahaweli Reach Hotel, Kandy

Touring today begins at three temples of the Kandyan era: Gadaladeniya Viharaya, with its strong southern Indian influences reminiscent of the Hindu art of Vijayanagar, Lankatilaka Viharaya, and finally Kataragama Devale, which is famed for its carved wooden pillars. We then continue to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage for lunch in a restaurant that overlooks the elephants’ favorite bathing hole. We return to Kandy with ample time to visit a batik workshop and then we have some free time in town.

All meals included

Hotel: Mahaweli Reach Hotel, Kandy

Before leaving Kandy, we will visit the lovely Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, home to more than 4,000 species including orchids, palm trees and plants used for medicinal purposes. Our drive to Nuwara Eliya is along the edge of a lush highland landscape carpeted with verdant tea estates. We will stop to sample the famed Ceylon teas and learn the secrets of fermenting and processing the tea leaves. Tonight, will be spent in Nuwara Eliya, a former British hill station.

All meals included

Hotel: Araliya Green Hills Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

En route to Galle we will stop at Mulkirigala Temple, an ancient Buddhist temple built on a 673 ft high natural rock. Afterwards, we will arrive in Galle and check into our lovely hotel.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Heritance Ahungalla, Galle

Today, we will visit the Martin Wikramasinghe Folk Museum for an excellent overview of traditional life in Sri Lanka. We then tour the historical center of Galle, including its ramparts and fort, as well as the National Marine Museum and the Marine Archaeological Project. Touring will include the fishing village of Weligama to see a Megalith carved with a figure identified as Kushta Raja, the ‘leper king’, and the Purvarama Monastery, whose image house is considered to be one of the jewels of Buddhist painting.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Heritance Ahungalla, Galle

We spend this morning at leisure so we can enjoy the pristine beach of the resort, or perhaps visit the “Lunuganga” Bawa gardens, a landscaping marvel. We enjoy lunch together overlooking the sea, and later, experience a private performance of the Kolam Dance.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Heritance Ahungalla, Galle

On our way back to Colombo, we stop at Ambalangoda, known for its wooden mask craftsmen, arriving into Colombo for lunch at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. This evening we have the possibility to attend the annual (at the full moon in February) Navam Perahera Festival at Gangaramaya temple. The very colorful parade features fabulously decorated elephants, dancers, musicians and other performers. The temple structures also include the Simamalaka Shrine, which was designed by Bawa.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

We begin our day visiting the small collection of archaeological and ethnographic material in the National Museum. After lunch, the afternoon is at leisure. We then come together for a farewell dinner in the city.

All meals included

Hotel: Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

February 5 2019: Additional Info

February 5 2019: Accommodation

This property is 1 minute walk from the beach. This iconic and colonial-style hotel, built in 1864, boasts a spa and a saltwater pool with sun loungers that faces the vast Indian Ocean.

Fitted with wooden flooring, most rooms at Galle Face Hotel offer views of the Indian Ocean, Galle Face Green or Colombo City. They are equipped with a TV and a private bathroom with a hairdryer. A minibar and a personal safe are included.

Local and international dining options can be enjoyed at the hotel's 2 on-site restaurants, Verandah and 1864. For a drink, guests can head to the bar. 

Conveniently located in Anuradhapura, Palm Garden Village Hotel is a great base from which to explore this vibrant city. 

Palm Garden Village Hotel offers impeccable service and all the essential amenities. A selection of top-class facilities such as Wi-Fi in public areas, car park, room service, bar, shared lounge/TV area can be enjoyed here. 

Experience high quality room facilities during your stay here. Some rooms include clothes rack, linens, mirror, towels, closet to help guests recharge after a long day. The property's host of recreational offerings ensures you have plenty to do during your stay. 

Located amidst green forests, the Cinnamon Lodge Habarana offers air-conditioned rooms with a private balcony. The hotel boasts a large outdoor pool, a butterfly garden and 3 dining options.

Rooms at Habarana Cinnamon Lodge feature a comfortable seating area with a sofa. They are furnished with cable TV, a minibar and a personal safe. A tea/coffee maker is provided.

Restaurant Ehala offers buffets with international and themed dishes, while The Lotus caters Western culinary delights and local contemporary cuisine.

Situated along the banks of Mahaweli River, Mahaweli Reach Hotel offers 5-star accommodation with rolling mountains as a backdrop. It features a large outdoor pool, luxury Ayurveda spa and fitness facilities.

Featuring private balconies, air-conditioned rooms open out to stunning views of tropical greenery. They are fitted with classic wood furnishings and flooring as well as cable TV.

Hearty meals featuring Sri Lankan specialties are served at the restaurant, which also features live entertainment.

Araliya Green Hills Hotel is a beautiful property surrounded by lush greenery. The accommodation welcomes guests with a spa. Free internet access is available throughout the hotel.

Rooms are tastefully furnished and fitted with carpeted floors. Each room comes with a flat-screen TV, minibar, tea/coffee making facilities and a dressing table. Featuring a bathtub and free bath amenities, bathroom facilities are en suite.

Heritance Ahungalla is a five-star luxury hotel with 152 rooms located on 15 acres of beachfront on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast.

Heritance Ahungalla was designed by local architect Geoffrey Bawa, famous for blending interior and exterior spaces, connecting buildings with the natural environment. The first view is of a group of stately coconut trees reflected in a mirror-like green pool, before your gaze slides across the polished floor of the open lobby straight through to the ocean beyond. The infinity pool makes guests feel as if they are in the ocean itself when they get in and their eye level is just above the water. The stylish bedrooms and suites offer wonderful sea views.

February 5 2019: Enquiries

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