You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Colombo.
After your lunchtime arrival we stay for one night at the nearby four-star Jetwing Lagoon Hotel.
Today the adventure begins and the sights and the sounds of Sri Lanka gradually unfold. The countryside is stunning – scenic paddy fields studded by water buffalos accompanied by wiry, loin-clothed farmers, extensive coconut groves, pineapple fields, working elephants with attentive mahouts astride their necks and everywhere the dense jungle interspersed by huge lakes. We visit the amazing, 1st century cave temples of Dambulla, a UN World Heritage site and a wonderful introduction to the Buddhist religion. Set in an immense granite outcrop and reached by a number of steps, this serie of five caves are richly adorned with remarkably preserved frescoes and over 150 Buddhist statues. In the caves’ semi-darkness, surrounded by the serene faces of dozens of beautifully painted statues, it’s not difficult to imagine the incredible sense of awe this sacred site held for generations of worshippers. We stay two nights at the four-star Habarana Village Hotel by Cinnamon.
This morning you visit what for many will surely be the most memorable and fascinating monument in Sri Lanka: Sigiriya, or the ‘Lion Rock’, is a massive 600ft granite tower with sheer cliffs on all sides crowned by the remains of a 1,500 year old royal palace. The entire site is encircled by a moat and ramparts enclosing a variety of water gardens, the remains of numerous buildings and caves. As you approach Sigiriya rock, you see some of the finest ancient murals in the country – the ‘cloud maidens’ are found under a fold of rock and show in exquisite detail a procession of jewelled, beautifully dressed women bearing offerings of lilies and lotus flowers. Facing us is the imposing final entrance to the palace above: in ancient times the colossal head of a lion (hence ‘Lion Rock’) was built in brick and plaster, visitors entering through its mouth. Today, just the two front paws remain, their claws menacingly extended, still guarding the palace. It should be noted that there are numerous steps to the top of Sigiriya rock, but should pose no problem for those with normal mobility. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to enjoy our hotel’s pool and facilities.
This morning we leave Sigiriya for Kandy. Sri Lanka is noted for its magnificent spices so en route we visit a fascinating garden where we see many indigenous plants such as pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon before arriving at Kandy, the country’s royal capital. You stay two nights with dinner at the four-star Cinnamon Citadel Hotel, beautifully located overlooking the scenic Mahaweli River and surrounded by peaceful forested hillsides. The hotel as a pool overlooking the river, with a colonnaded lobby, a charming bar and restaurant. Kandy is famous for its traditional dancing and so this evening we experience a colourful and hugely skilful display of this ancient art.
Kandy’s crowded and bustling streets teem with daily comings and goings: the many white-uniformed children returning from school and the myriad of shops. The centre is dominated by a beautiful lake and the fascinating Temple of the Tooth, said to hold Buddha’s tooth. This is Buddhism’s most sacred shrine on the island and during our visit (today or tomorrow morning), you may be lucky enough to witness one of the many ceremonies. You also visit the stunning Royal Botanical Gardens. Planted over 150 years and covering a huge 150 acres, the gardens hold thousands of plant species and some superb examples of mature tropical trees. Strolling through lawns, shady avenues and immaculately kept flower beds, we see exotic birds and the commemorative trees planted by Edward VII, George VI, Princess Anne and the Queen. Other highlights are the Avenue of Royal Palms and ‘Bat’ Drive where you can spot the large fruit-eating ‘Flying Foxes’ hanging upside down! The gardens also house Lord Mountbatten’s imposing HQ from World War II.
Today we leave Kandy driving through increasingly mountainous scenery to Sri Lanka’s premier tea-growing areas. Winding ever upwards, the lush tropical jungle gives way to tall pine forests and then box-like tea bushes begin – few at first and then seemingly covering every fold of the landscape like a huge green carpet. You visit one of the best-known tea estates to see how our favourite drink is rolled, dried and graded, followed by a refreshing cup of Ceylon’s finest. Nuwara Eliya, the main hill station, is nearly 7,000 feet above sea level and called ‘Little England’ due to its spring-like climate, parks and golf course. You stay at the four-star St Andrews Hotel, similar to an English manor house, originally the summer home of Sir Edward Barnes, a Governor of Ceylon. It is famed for its classic 19th century public rooms and lovely, English inspired flower beds and lawns. Even High Tea is served.
You say goodbye to Sri Lanka’s hill country this morning on your way to Yala National Park in the south of Sri Lanka. At around midday we arrive at the Elephant Transit Home, supported by the UK’s Born Free Foundation, at Udawalawe National Park, where you’ll be able to watch young elephant orphans being given one of their daily feeds. You stay two nights at the excellent four-star Jetwing Yala Hotel with dinner. The hotel is located just 4 kilometres outside the national park and features a pool, bar and restaurant, set in a stunning beach location.
An early start this morning, accompanied by the unique sound of a tropical ‘dawn chorus’. As the morning mist disappears with the rising sun you explore the jungle and its incredible range of wildlife in 4x4 vehicles. The normally elusive leopard offers the Park’s most exciting game viewing and Yala has a high concentration of these big cats. They are the island’s top predator so are far less shy than elsewhere in the world. Yala is also known for its elephants, saltwater crocodiles, wild boar, sloth bears, monitor lizards and a huge variety of birdlife. After a late breakfast you can relax by the hotel’s pool before an optional second, early evening park drive.
After breakfast you return to the west coast via a guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle, with its imposing 16th century Dutch Fort. You soon arrive at the excellent four-star superior The Lighthouse Hotel, with breakfast and dinner for one night. Designed by the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, the hotel has an old world charm and elegance set among the sea and palms of the southern coast and is easily accessible from the Dutch colonial town of Galle. The rooms are comfortably furnished and have TV, safe, air-conditioning, mini bar, iron/board, tea/coffee maker, free wifi and private balacony.
Transfer from your hotel in Galle to Colombo airport for your flight (1 hour 25 minutes) to the Maldivian capital Male. On arrival you’ll be taken by dhoni (traditional Maldivian wooden boat) to the Yasawa Princess, your charming home for the week, where the friendly crew will help you check into your comfortable cabin. During this evening’s informal welcome meeting, you’ll be briefed on the week’s itinerary, meet crew members and the other guests on board. Enjoy your complimentary pre-dinner cocktail as you catch the first of many spectacular sunsets over the Indian Ocean.
Get your first taste of cruising as we cross the Vaadhoo channel into the South Malé Atoll. The ship’s tender makes trips to the beautiful Kalhuhuraa sandbank in the morning and afternoon, ideal for soaking up the sun and cooling off in the lagoon.
A short cruise within the atoll takes us to the stunning resort island of Rannalhi, which boasts powder-sand beaches, fringed by charming water bungalows and a superb house reef. The resort offers excellent facilities (available at extra cost) such as water sports and the excellent Balinese-style Chavana spa. Tonight, why not try your hand at traditional fishing in the open ocean under the stars? Maldivians are true fishermen at heart, so you’re in good hands with our local guides.
Early this morning we cross the channel into the Vaavu Felidu Atoll. The ship’s tender makes trips in the morning and afternoon to the splendid Alimatha sandbank, whose gleaming white sand contrasts beautifully with the surrounding turquoise lagoon. Wade in the warm waters of the sweeping turquoise lagoon, snorkel on the reef, or take a barefoot stroll to nowhere. This evening, you may wish to experience a thrilling night snorkelling trip, at a small charge, in the Alimatha house reef, home to nurse sharks, beautiful sting rays and many nocturnal marine creatures you would not get to see during the day.
After a leisurely cruise this morning, we arrive at the tiny island of Anbaraa. With soft white sands, lush coconut trees and astonishingly clear water, this remarkably picturesque island appears to have sprung to life from the cover of a travel magazine! There is easy access to the reef for snorkelling. Lunch today is a picnic on the island. For many, this evening will be a real highlight. Few experiences can compare with a meticulously prepared barbecue on the beach, served with warm Maldivian hospitality. Enjoy a wide selection of delicious food including traditional Maldivian Boduberu music and dancing under a starlit sky – a truly memorable experience.
Your cruise continues to Ariadhoo, an uninhabited agricultural island lush with vegetation. Relax on the soft warm sand, cool off with a dip in the ocean, or snorkel to discover more of the wonderful marine life. This region boasts exceptional sighting records of whale sharks, and the Maldives is one of the few places on earth where whale sharks may be encountered year-round. For a small additional charge payable locally, you may wish to take a boat out with professional guides and go in search of these gentle giants! This afternoon we visit the inhabited island of Maamigili, for a closer look at local life and the opportunity to indulge in some retail therapy.
After breakfast, we take a short domestic flight to Male for our return flight to the UK via Colombo.
With its friendly crew and informal atmosphere (t-shirts and shorts are the order of the day), convivial bar and partly open-air dining area, the 180-foot MV Yasawa Princess is just perfect for an intimate cruise around the remarkable atolls of the Maldives.