Start and End: Negombo
Distance: Approximately 1000km
Duration: 12- 14 days
Even the Arabs called Sri Lanka, the serendipitious island. This trip includes everything that makes it so attractive: Old temples, lush green plantations, wonderful beaches and friendly people from across the island.
The Grand Tour of Sri Lanka touches on almost all of the island’s significant sites. Anyone visiting Sri Lanka for the first time will gain a comprehensive insight from this tour. The route has been designed in such a way that places off the main route can also be visited.
Day 1 – Negombo
Early in the morning southbound. Reach the city of Raja Maha Viharaya in Kelaniya, one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka, after heading southeast on the highway from Negombo to Peliyagoda. The oldest section of the temple date from the 13th century; some of the stunning wall paintings are exceptionally well preserved. For the next 100km the landscape towards the island’s interior now becomes very changeable.
Kurunegala will be reached by about noon. It is notable for strangely shaped rocks above the town that are named after animals. They can be seen from the Lake Batalagoda. Allow for plenty of time for the famous cave temples of Dambulla approximately 60km away. The temple complex is the largest in the country and covers an area of 21,000sq ft. The approx. 80 temples were already inhabited in prehistoric times, and majority of their interiors date back to the 1st century BC (accommodation in Dambulla).
Day 2- Mihintale
An early start is a good idea for this day too so as to have enough time to view the monastery of Mihintale and go on to Anuradhapura in the afternoon. The first stop is Mihintale, 62km from Dambulla, The birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is said King Ashoka sent the monk Mahinda here in around 250BC to spread the teachings of the enlightened one. Every year on the day of the June full moon thousands of pilgrims celebrate this event. Anuradhapura is 17km from Mihintale; exploring the extensive ruinsprotected by UNESCOgives an insight into the architecture of the early Sinhalese Kings. If sufficient time remains, the Buddah statue of Aukana 48km away is worth a visit. It is a masterpiece by an unknown artist. If there is not enough time this worthwhile detour can be moved to the following morning (accommodation in Dambulla).
Day 3 –Polonnaruwa
Two further highlights in the area known as a Sri Lanka’s cultural trangle are on the agenda on day 3. The route first goes to Polonnaruwa 70km away, which replaced Anuradhapura as the capital in around 1073. Here too, a large number of (in some cases) quite well preserved ruins await. The highlight of this morning is viewing the famous Buddha statue in the Gal Vahara. Around 55km from Polonnaruwa is the unique rock fort of Sigiriya the destination of the afternoon. After seeing the world famous cloud maidens of Sigiriya, somewhat laborious climb up to the actual rock fort is an absolute must. It is not just the thought of how the workers under King Kashyapa brought the building materials up here that takes mammoth effort. A distant magnificent view makes up for the tiring climb (accommodation in Dambulla).
Day 4 –Dambulla
What was hinted during the drive from Sigiriya back to Dambulla is the focus of the days to come. The landscape becomes more lavish and the Central Highlands come into view during the app. 70km drive. Around 20km outside of Kandy a detour to the Alu Vihare near Matale is a good idea. It draws visitors in for its impressive location due to the rocky landscape. The temple played an important role for Buddhism; a council of 500 monks are said to have met there and during this council, Buddha’s teachings were written down for the first time. On the way to Kandy which should be reached by around noon. It is a good idea to stop at one of the many spice gardens along the A9 road. You will learn a lot about the traditional medicine known as Ayurveda. Spices can also be purchased here. On the way, such as between Dambulla and Matale make a quick stop at Nalanda Gedige. This 7th century Buddhist temple has architecture similar to Hindu temples near Mahabalipuram in India. Then you can enjoy a short visit to the Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya created in the 14th century as a royal pleasure garden is said to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Viewing Sri Lanka’s most important temple is the culmination of this eventful day. The Sacred Tooth, which is said to be one of Buddha’s own, attracts thousands of devout Buddhists every day to the Dalada Maligawa (accommodation in Kandy).
Day 5- Pinawela
Once again an early start is rewarded by a very special experience. The Elephant Orphanage of Pinawela is located around 42km west of Kandy. Start no later than 8.30am so as to not miss feeding of the young animals. The elephant bath in the river afterwards is also very enjoyable it is even possible participate in it (accommodation in Kandy).
Day 6- Nuwera Eliya
Now the round trip sees an increase in altitude namely to the city above the clouds, Nuwera Eliya around 75km away also popularly known as Little England. The difference in temperature is quite noticeable and the air becomes fresh and clear. The landscape which is densly vegetated with tea bushes is truly the most beautiful sights in Sri Lanka. Of course visiting a tea factory en route is an obvious choice and there are several here to choose from (accommodation in Nuwera Eliya).
Day 7- Bandarawela
A hike through the Horton-Plains is one of the best experiences nature lovers can have. Needless to labour the point, but once again an early start is advisable even though the mere distance is 32km. The place known as World’s End is covered by shreds of mist in the late morning, making the otherwise magnificent view from the steep rock almost invisible.The route then goes to Bandarawela 49km. En route after 12km is the Botanical Gardens of Hakgala which developed from coffee plantation. The landscape offers fabulous views during the onward drive to Bandarawela. In good weather they extend all the way down to the south coast of Sri Lanka (accommodation in Bandarawela).
Day 8- Yala
This is the longest leg of the round trip and heads back again to the lowlands, which is noticeable from the higher temperatures alone. The trip through Yala National Park can be done in two ways either with an early morning start or an afternoon start. There is not much of a difference because at both times there are many animals to be seen, including wild elephants, water buffalo, crocodiles and plenty of birds. Renting an off- road vehicle with a knowledgeable guide can be provided at the entrance (accommodation in Yala).
However the national park is closed during the dry season between August and October!
The route now runs along the coastal road to Dondra-head which is the southern tip of Sri Lanka. You can also visit Blow Hole on the way where a gap in the rock where seawater is compressed, making it to shoot up as if it from a fountain, this phenomenon is at its most impressive during the monsoon season where the waves are higher than the other times of the year. A day spent here in the sandy beaches is one of the most special moments (accommodation in Dondra-head).
Day 10- Galle
Now the line runs through to Galle 51km passing several fishing villages that were badly damaged during the 2004 Tsunami and however have now been completely rebuilt and equipped with new roads. Galle has already had a significant harbour many centuries ago, but however now the trading is done at Colombo harbour. One pleasant option is to stroll through the Fort. The Fort provides a good impression of the typical architecture of the Dutch colonial period (accommodation in Galle).
Day 11+12- Hikkaduwa
It is only around 20km drive from Galle to Hikkaduwa. This seaside resort, which became world famous in the 1970s, is appealing not so much because of its sights as because of its base for excursion. This is a further reason for the recommendation to plan several nights here and have dinner in one of the finest fish restaurants (accommodation in Hikkaduwa)
Day 13- Colombo
The final day of the of the round trip can have a late start and after 13km heading towards Colombo take the opportunity break in Ambalangoda, the centre of mask carving. Head towards Colombo on the highway, enjoy the night life in Colombo (accommodation in Colombo).
Day 14- Negombo
Visit the Colombo museum and the country’s largest shopping malls to buy quality branded merchandise. In the evening travel to Negombo on the highway where you will be receive a warm welcome by the friendly hotel staff and prepare for a send-off.
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Image Credits: Sri Lanka Tourism Facebook