Wildlife & Culture

A Tropical Escape

Forests, fortresses and an epic rail journey

The minute you step foot in Sri Lanka, you experience a sense of excitement. Abundant biodiversity meets ancient history and culture, as you travel through stunning natural landscapes.

Whether you’re following a herd of elephants through the forest, interacting with the Veddah tribe, or strolling down the streets of Galle, you are soon swept off your feet by Sri Lanka’s charm.

Immerse yourself in the island vibe as you travel across Sri Lanka for 15 days, exploring both nature and culture. This journey takes you through pristine forests and inspiring cultural monuments, including Wilpattu, Yala and Gal Oya National Parks.

Explore ancient culture and heritage in Kandy and Sigiriya, and board the train journey to Ella and Galle, as you make your way down from the mountains to the coast, and end your journey by the beach. After a full day out exploring each day, come home to luxurious lodges and boutique hotels, which are full of character and local charm. This incredible combination of wildlife and culture brings out the best of Sri Lanka.

Who It’s For:

This is an ideal blend of culture and wildlife. You will visit three of Sri Lanka’s best national parks in Wilpattu, Gal Oya and Yala, and experience cultural highlights in Sigiriya and Galle. Experience the legendary Sri Lankan railway en route to Ella, and discover incredible wildlife, tribes and heritage throughout your journey.

Difficulty:

This is an easy journey for most travellers, as long as you are comfortable with leisurely walks. Our experienced guides will take you on game drives into the national parks. You will do short hikes in Sigiriya and Ella, and most of Galle is pedestrian.

Our Travel Style

Experiential and inspiring! Our accommodations are luxurious and boutique, with a stylish aesthetic and warm service. Enjoy game drives with experienced naturalists in comfortable vehicles, while your cultural explorations are lead by knowledgeable guides.

Tropical Jungle. Ancient heritage. Stunning natural beauty.

This itinerary brings you the highlights of Sri Lanka at its best. We invite you to join us on an exclusive Encounters Asia journey, which can be custom-designed for your dates of travel. Let’s head off on an adventure, together.

Client Reviews

Romesh Gunesekara

Sri Lanka is an island that everyone loves at some level inside themselves. A very special island that travellers, from Sinbad to Marco Polo, dreamed about. A place where the contours of the land itself forms a kind of sinewy poetry

Michael Odaatje

In Sri Lanka, a well told lie is worth a thousand facts

Tour Program

Day 01

Colombo

Touch down in Colombo, where Sri Lanka’s international airport is located. As you disembark the plane, the Encounters Asia team will be waiting for you as soon as you exit Customs. Encounters Asia will organize a private transfer to your hotel, situated close to the airport, for a comfortable first night’s stay.

After lunch, your guide will take you on a tour of Thimphu. Drive out to Buddha Dordenma, an enormous statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha.

The statue is filled with over one hundred thousand smaller Buddha statues made of bronze and gilded with gold. Head over to Motithang, to visit the Royal Takin Reserve. The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan and is an extremely unusual bovine that looks like a cow crossbred with a goat, and is found only in some parts of the Himalayan region. According to Bhutanese legend, the Takin is a creation of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley, who is revered across the country.

Day 1 – Highlights

Buddha Dordenma, Royal Takin Reserve

Overnight – Jetwing Beach / The Wallawwa

Day 02

Wilpattu

This morning, you will drive from Colombo to Wilpattu National Park, which is situated on the west coast of Sri Lanka. Check in at your wilderness camp, and after you’ve freshened up, enjoy a delicious lunch before heading out on your first game drive.

Wilpattu is a short distance away from Anuradhapura. The park is filled with villus or waterbodies that attract a variety of animal and bird life.

These are primarily rain-fed lakes. As a result, the park is a winter roost for several migratory species, as well as a habitat for various native varieties as well. The park has over 30 species of animals such as the Asiatic Elephant, as well as the Sri Lankan Leopard and the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear. The wetlands are a habitat for species such as the Spoonbill and Pintail, and the forest is also home to the Sri Lankan Jungle Fowl, an endemic species.

Day 2 – Highlights

Game drives in Wilpattu National Park

Overnight – Mahoora / Leopard Trails

Mahoora

Where You Will Sleep:

A luxurious tented camp, each tented suite is beautifully decorated with local touches, enhanced by warm service. Comfortable beds, flushing toilets and plush amenities make this the perfect camp to base yourself, while exploring Wilpattu. Mahoora has a strong sustainability ethos and is a carbon neutral camp.

Leopard Trails

Where You Will Sleep:

Elegant and well-appointed, Leopard Trails’ tented suites are air-conditioned and have fans to keep you cool in the sultry Sri Lankan weather. Comfortable queen-sized beds, flushable toilets, an outdoor shower and several thoughtful touches such as charging points and water bottles, make this a great place to stay during your time in Wilpattu.

Day 03

Wilpattu

Wake up before sunrise for an early morning game drive into the national park. You will be escorted by Encounters Asia’s experienced naturalists as you explore this beautiful dry zone jungle. Enjoy a delicious packed breakfast, and lunch amid the stunning environs of the park, after which you can continue on your afternoon game drive to explore this jungle more deeply and search for rare species like the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear which is an endangered species that is endemic to Sri Lanka.

Head back to your campsite after your safaris, where you will be greeted by traditional flaming torches and a roaring campfire.

Enjoy a relaxed drink and chat with your fellow travellers, before dinner.

Day 3 – Highlights

Game drives in Wilpattu National Park.

Overnight – Mahoora / Leopard Trails

Day 04

Wilpattu – Sigiriya

Head out into the jungle for your early morning game drive. Return to your camp for breakfast, and then check out for the drive to Sigiriya. Situated in Sri Lanka’s Central Province, Sigiriya is famous for its ancient fortress that is perched high up on a rocky cliff.

Early morning game drive and breakfast at the campsite. Transfer to Sigiriya and check-in at the hotel.

Rest of the days is at leisure to enjoy hotel facilities.

Day 4 – Highlights

Sigiriya Rock Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Overnight – Cinnamon Lodge / Vil Uyana / Water Garden

Cinnamon Lodge

Where You Will Sleep:

Lush and forested grounds give way to a lodge that is full of rustic charm. Traditional tiled roofs, an organic garden, and an array of wild birds and small animals that run across the property give it a lovely ambience. Spacious rooms and suites are decorated with warm colours, and one and can opt to dine indoors or by the lake.

Vil Uyana

Where You Will Sleep:

Inspired by the London Wetland Centre, this eco-luxury property is set amid reeds, waterbodies, paddy fields and marshland. With 36 rooms and suites, the Paddy and Forest Dwellings have their own private plunge pool. Luxurious furnishings and amenities make each dwelling extremely comfortable. Four dining outlets, an infinity pool, wellness centre along with a gym and yoga make this an ideal place to relax and soak up the environs. Nature trails, bicycles, a Loris conservation centre and a library add to the ambience.

Water Garden

Where You Will Sleep:

The villas at Water Garden are situated amid an expansive property and a gorgeous landscape. Flanked by winding tributaries and surrounded by vegetation, these villas are chic, spacious and exclusive. Secret gardens and private plunge pools, along with a host of amenities and other features, make this property exceptional. Excellent cuisine in a casual, chic ambience surrounded by forest, and a gorgeous spa make this property a dream.

Day 05

Sigiriya & Polonnaruwa (optional safari in Minneriya National Park)

This morning, wake up to an early breakfast followed by a morning visit to Sigiriya to visit this striking rock fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dating back to the 5th Century AD, it was commissioned by King Kasyapa as his fortress and palace.

After visiting Sigiriya, head over to Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient citadel is full of beautiful architecture, ornate gardens and a massive 2500 hectare water tank called the Parikrama Samudra. Polonnaruwa is easily explored on foot, and if you prefer, you can also explore the area by bicycle.

If time permits, drive down to Minneriya National Park, a tranquil wilderness which is well known for its elephants as well as rare primates like the toque macaque and the Sri Lankan purple faced langur.

One can also spot leopards, sloth bears, the slender grey loris, and various types of deer.After finishing your safari in Minneriya, return to your hotel in time for dinner.

Overnight – Cinnamon Lodge / Vil Uyana / Water Garden

Day 06

Gal Oya

After a leisurely breakfast, and check in to your boutique wildlife lodge. This afternoon, your guide will take you to visit a Veddah tribal settlement.

The Veddahs are an indigenous tribe, who have had to retreat far into the forest to maintain their traditional lifestyle. They retain a distinct cultural identity, language and lifestyle and engage in hunting, honey gathering and chena cultivation.

Return to your lodge for dinner, and the rest of the evening at leisure.

Day 6 – Highlights

Visit with the Veddah Tribe

Overnight – Gal Oya Lodge

Where You Will Sleep:

Gal Oya Lodge is a boutique eco-lodge, with rustic wooden bungalows with floor to ceiling glass windows, and wide verandahs. Four poster beds, local fabrics and personal touches add to the ambience. Each bungalow is airy, spacious and filled with natural light. A tranquil swimming pool is ideal for a post-safari dip, while the chef whips up simple and delicious cuisine, mixing local curries, sambol, roti and international favourites.

Day 07

Gal Oya

Wake up as the sun rises over the forest and embark on an early morning boat safari. The wild elephants in Gal Oya love the lake and are often spotted swimming in the water. After a delicious lunch, continue exploring the jungle on your afternoon game drive. 

Gal Oya is a gorgeous national park, situated off the beaten path. You can spot herds of wild elephants, water buffalo, deer, crocodiles and several other species of birds.

Day 7 – Highlights

Game drive and boat safari in Gal Oya National Park

Overnight – Gal Oya Lodge

Day 08

Kandy

After breakfast, check out of your lodge in Gal Oya and drive to Kandy, through the highlands. Check in to your boutique hotel and freshen up. After lunch, explore the centre of Kandy and visit the Temple of the Tooth.

Situated in the heart of the central highlands, Kandy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is naturally protected by a barrier of mountains, rivers and jungles.

The kings of Kandy fended off attacks from the British, the Portuguese and the Dutch for two centuries. Untouched by colonialism, Kandy remains the centre of cultural heritage in Sri Lanka. The Sacred Tooth relic of the Buddha is housed at the Temple of the Tooth, which dates back to the 16th century.

Day 8 – Highlights

The Temple of the Tooth

Overnight – Elephant stables / Stone House / Kandy House

Elephant Stables

Where You Will Sleep:

This old colonial bungalow was the former residence of Sir Cudah Ratwatte, this hotel features a collection of 7 rooms and suites, which combine colonial charm with chic elegance. A beautiful swimming pool, and a relaxed bar, living room, and reading room make this property cozy and welcoming. What we love is the hotel’s private collection of classic cars, ideal for an excursion into the city.

Stone House

Where You Will Sleep:

The rooms and suites at Stone House are individually designed, with unique local artwork. Luxurious furnishings, modern amenities and a blend of cultural influences adds to the eclectic feel of the place. Delicious meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner are enhanced with local ingredients and Sri Lankan spices, but the highlight is Afternoon Tea, with a selection of Ceylon tea and a variety of treats.

Kandy House

Where You Will Sleep:

Situated on the outskirts of Kandy, this is a nine-bedroom former manor, and one of Sri Lanka’s best boutique hotels. An original 18th century residence, it is situated amid a jungle full of birds and lush vegetation. Graceful arches and a low pitched roof give it immense character. The service is warm yet discreet, and the hotel has a no-children under 12 years of age policy. Each room is unique, embellished with antiques, vintage prints, wood carvings and silks.

Day 09

Ella

After a leisurely breakfast, leave Kandy to go to Ella. You can opt to either take a train all the way, or drive part of the way and then take the train for the most scenic portion of this famous rail route. You will pass through Nuwara Eliya before you begin your ascent into the highlands. Climb up to 6000 ft and enjoy stunning views of the highland landscape.

Lush tea plantations, high mountain peaks and waterfalls cascading down the hill slopes make this region extremely scenic.

Encounters Asia’s team on the ground gets you first-class tickets and will arrange for transfers to and from the railway station, as well as porters for your luggage. Once you arrive in Ella, transfer to your hotel and the rest of the day is at your leisure.

Day 9 – Highlights

Epic rail road journey through the highlands

Overnight – 98 Acres Resort & Spa / Nine Skies

98 Acres Resort & Spa

Where You Will Sleep:

Situated on the outskirts of Kandy, this is a nine-bedroom former manor, and one of Sri Lanka’s best boutique hotels. An original 18th century residence, it is situated amid a jungle full of birds and lush vegetation. Graceful arches and a low pitched roof give it immense character. The service is warm yet discreet, and the hotel has a no-children under 12 years of age policy. Each room is unique, embellished with antiques, vintage prints, wood carvings and silks.

Nine Skies

Where You Will Sleep:

This stylishly refurbished five-bedroom tea bungalow is majestically perched on a tea-fringed hill near Ella. This heritage property dates back to the colonial era, and retains its legacy enhanced by contemporary facilities and personalized service. Gourmet dining and a beautiful pool, add to its charm, along with fantastic views over the Demodera Loop.

Day 10

Explore Ella

Today you are at leisure to explore Ella on your own. You can opt to go on a trek in the countryside, or alternatively take in a little sightseeing and just enjoy your hotel. If you feel like being outdoors, we recommend an excursion to Lipton Seat, or a walk across one of the tea estates.

Day 10 – Highlights

Explore the natural environs and soak up the charm of Ella

Overnight – 98 Acres Resort & Spa / Nine Skies

Day 11

Yala

Depart Ella after breakfast and head to Yala National Park. Once you arrive in Yala, check in to you hotel. After lunch, head out for a late afternoon game drive.

Yala is one of the largest national parks in Sri Lanka, and has several different zones and terrain.

The jungle stretches all the way down to a wild strip of coastline. It’s home to leopards, elephants, wild buffalo, sloth bears, and several species of birds, primates, ungulates and turtles. Early-morning or dusk safaris with an expert guide are ideal times to visit the park when the animals come out to the waterholes. With a total protected area of 1,267 sq kms, Yala has one of the highest densities of leopards in the region.

Day 11 – Highlights

Game drive in Yala National Park

Overnight – Cinnamon Wild / Wild Coast Tented Lodge / Chena Huts / Mahoora / Leopard Trails

Cinnamon Wild

Where You Will Sleep:

This beautiful lodge gives guests the option of staying in either the Beach Chalets or the Jungle Chalets. Each chalet is full of natural light and includes comfortable beds, a seating area and a verandah. Relax at the roof-top bar or enjoy a treatment at the spa. The main restaurant, Tuskers, has gorgeous views as well as delicious cuisine.

Wild Coast Tented Lodge

Where You Will Sleep:

Wild Coast’s “cocoon” and “urchin” tents are distinctively designed and leave no environmental footprint. Teak floors and canvas walls, are embellished by dark leather touches and repurposed metallic elements. The four beach-facing cocoons have private plunge pools, while the rest are clustered around waterholes, designed to attract wildlife. Each cocoon has a viewing deck with lovely views of the wilderness. Cool off with a cocktail at the Ten Tuskers Bar and then head to the restaurant or the al fresco beach garden for a fabulous dinner.

Chena Huts

Where You Will Sleep:

Set among sand dunes and lush greenery, Uga Chena Huts is the perfect blend of beach and wildlife. Tropical jungles and a saline lake create the setting. Each hut is a luxurious private cabin that offers awe-inspiring views of the surroundings. You can choose to dine at Basses, the nautical themed restaurant, or outdoors alongside a roaring bonfire, beneath the stars. Unwind at the spa with a massage or relax in your private pool.

Mahoora

Where You Will Sleep:

Spacious tented suites and a rustic chic ambience is what you’ll find at the Mahoora Elite camp in Yala. Each tent has comfortable beds, bathrooms with flushing toilets and luxurious amenities, as an electric fan. A cozy, wrap-around verandah and your own private hammock lend themselves to the relaxed atmosphere. Delicious cuisine is enhanced by bold spices and local herbs. You can choose to dine in a variety of bespoke locations, and even enjoy a fun, outdoor barbecue in the wilderness, beneath the stars.

Leopard Trails

Where You Will Sleep:

This camp is all about bonding with nature, and has a distinct colonial era feel. Flaming torches, lantern-lit dinners, and a serene environment create an ambience of barefoot chic. The comfortable tents are subtle, with khaki interiors, white linens and bright furnishings which enhance the earthy colours.

Day 12

Yala

Rise early for your morning game drive into the park. Yala has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. There are four entry ways into the national park and one can easily explore the different trails without too many other people in the vicinity. This large deciduous forest has open expanses of grassland and shrubs, waterbodies and sand-dunes that lend themselves to its beauty.

Day 12 – Highlights

Game drives in Yala National Park

Overnight – Cinnamon Wild / Wild Coast Tented Lodge / Chena Huts / Mahoora / Leopard Trails

Day 13

Galle

Early morning game drive and check-out after breakfast. Today, you will drive along the south coast of Sri Lanka, to go to Galle.

Galle Fort is a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of a kind.

The minute you step through its gates, it’s like stepping back in time. Original Dutch architecture, narrow cobblestone streets and the high ramparts give it a terrific ambience. Go for an evening roll or watch a cricket game at the stadium. Galle is full of amazing cafes, art galleries, boutiques and boutique hotels.

Day 13 – Highlights

Scenic drive through the Sri Lankan countryside from Yala to Galle

Overnight – Lighthouse Hotel / Fort Bazaar / Amangalla

Lighthouse Hotel

Where You Will Sleep:

This luxurious property is an architectural landmark in Galle, designed by Geoffrey Bawa. The hotel has two wings, the main wing and the spa wing, which feature king-sized beds, wooden floors, and a private balcony. This hotel offers its guests personal butler service, and the suites are decorated with bright colours and ethnic touches. The property also has a variety of sports facilities, as well as a gym, pool and yoga, while the spa offers traditional Balinese and Ayurvedic treatments. Multiple dining outlets offer guests an array of cuisine, ranging from ethnic local cuisine to pizza.

Fort Bazaar

Where You Will Sleep:

Fort Bazaar is an original merchant’s home, which has been turned into a boutique hotel in the heart of Galle Fort. 18 stylish guest rooms feature contemporary design and a beguiling Middle Eastern vibe. The property has a lovely spa and exquisite cuisine, in a vibrant outdoor courtyard.

Amangalla

Where You Will Sleep:

Situated within Galle Fort, Amangalla has gorgeous views of the fort and harbour. A historic residence, it has spacious suites with high ceilings, elegant dining outlets and a soothing spa. Polished wooden floors, high-sashed windows and four-poster beds evoke the feeling of a by-gone era. The spa offers Ayurvedic treatments and yoga, while the sophisticated dining room serves up delectable cuisine.

Day 14

Galle

Explore Galle Fort at your leisure. Take a stroll through the narrow by-lanes, and pause for a coffee at a local café. Discover local artists at one of the art galleries or enjoy a leisurely morning browsing through the shops. You can’t miss the incredible period architecture. Step into one of the old Dutch churches and learn more about Galle’s history at the museum. From ethnic Sri Lankan to international cuisine, Galle has some terrific places to dine.

Return to your hotel and simply relax.

If you are in Galle during whale watching season, we highly recommend an excursion to Mirissa, from where you can go out on a boat for a whale watching expedition in the Indian Ocean.

Overnight – Lighthouse Hotel / Fort Bazaar / Amangalla

Day 15

Galle

Departure transfer to the airport in Colombo in time to connect with your international flight.