Safaris & Spices,
Buddhas & Beaches
March 8-22, 2022
Sri Lanka—a charming tropical island where you canexplore from the jungles to the beaches, discover ancient Buddhist ruins and European forts, and try your hand at spotting elephants and leopards on safari! Take an iconic train ride through the hills of gorgeous Ceylon tea plantations and climb the impressive rock fortress in Sigiriya. Sri Lanka is the world’s oldest continuously Buddhist culture, and it is said that Sri Lanka served as a backdrop for the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana.
Join us in early 2022 for a comprehensive, climate-positive, small group tour of Sri Lanka!
- March 8-22, 2022
- Your entire journey is carbon offset by 300%
- Guided by a local Sri Lankan expert
- Escorted by RetreaTours owners BJ & Lauren
- Experience jeep safaris in 2 different National Parks and spot wild Asian elephants
- Learn to recreate your favorite Sri Lankan dishes with a local cooking class
- Visit the iconic “Lion’s Rock” fortress in Sigiriya
- Enjoy the windswept natural coast at Yala
- Take in the beauty of the Royal Botanical Gardens
- Relax on the sandy beaches of Mirissa & enjoy a whale-watching trip
- Take one of the world’s most scenic train rides through Ceylon tea plantations
- Discover relics of the oldest continuously Buddhist culture in the world
- All-inclusive trip price is $3799 (based on double occupancy)
Current Sri Lanka Entry Requirements
As of November 1st, fully-vaccinated tourists can enter Sri Lanka with their vaccine cards and a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of embarkation. Visas must be obtained online before arrival, as well. Travel insurance that covers emergency medical care and evacuation is mandatory.
Itinerary Highlights at a Glance
- March 8 Arrive in Sri Lanka & rest at a nearby beachfront hotel (overnight in Kammala)
- March 9 Explore the ancient Buddhist monuments of Anuradhapura and visit the sacred Bodhi tree, the oldest living human-planted tree in the world (overnight in Anuradhapura)
- March 10 Explore the fascinating painted caves of Dambulla from the 1st century BC (overnight in Sigiriya)
- March 11 Discover the magic of Sigiriya, the Lion Rock fortress; then, put on your elephant-spotting glasses for your afternoon jeep safari in Minneriya Park (overnight in Sigiriya)
- March 12 Visit a local market and learn how to make Sri Lankan cuisine in a local cooking class; discover the ancient city of Polonnaruwa (overnight in Sigiriya)
- March 13 Today we’ll visit a school in a rural village and a local spice garden on our way to Kandy, once the capital of Sri Lanka (overnight in Kandy)
- March 14 Feast on eye candy in Kandy at the Royal Botanical Gardens, with over 4,000 species of flora! Tonight we’ll visit the highly revered Buddhist Temple of the Tooth. (overnight in Kandy)
- March 15 Today you’ll experience one of the most scenic train rides in the world, through the tea plantations of Sri Lanka’s central highlands. (overnight in Bandarawela)
- March 16 Enjoy a beautiful trek through local tea plantations in the central highlands. (overnight in Bandarawela)
- March 17 Today we’ll take a scenic drive to our oceanfront hotel in Yala & enjoy an evening safari in Yala National Park. (overnight in Yala)
- March 18 We’ll have a morning safari in Yala National Park before driving to our beachfront hotel in Mirissa on the southern coast. (overnight in Mirissa)
- March 19 It’s time to unwind on the coast! We’ll take a tuk-tuk tour of the nearby fishing village of Weligama. (overnight in Mirissa)
- March 20 This morning you’ll experience a whale-watching cruise before we depart to the charming city of Galle. On the way, we’ll learn about local stilt fisherman & have a local seafood lunch (veg options available). (overnight in Galle)
- March 21 Explore the 16th-century Galle Fort this morning on your way to Colombo. (overnight in Colombo)
- March 22 After breakfast, depart for home or further adventure in Sri Lanka!
Detailed Daily Itinerary
Ayubowan–welcome to Sri Lanka! You’ll be greeted at Bandaranaike International Airport and driven to your first night’s rest at our beachfront hotel, Suriya Resort, just a 30-minute drive away.
Tonight you’ll meet your fellow travelers and we’ll enjoy dinner together. Rest comfortably tonight before we start our grand adventure tomorrow! During our journey you’ll experience all the best that this tiny island has to offer; did you know that Sri Lanka is just about the same size as West Virginia? From the jungle to tea plantations, beaches to safari, you’ll soak up everything Sri Lanka has to offer!
The pace of this trip is fairly quick, but all of the activities are optional, should you choose to slip an excursion and rest or enjoy the hotel spa (where available).
This morning we’ll drive to Anuradhapura (~3-hour drive). Anuradhapura is the most celebrated of Sri Lanka’s ancient cities and contains the largest number of ancient monuments of the great Sinhala civilization. Its greatest treasures are its dagobas, or stupas, constructed of small sun-dried bricks.
Perhaps the city’s most renowned relic is the sacred Bodhi Tree, a direct descendant of the original tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment. This tree was planted in 288 BC and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. The sapling was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC by Sangamitta Theri, the daughter of Emperor Asoka and founder of an order of Buddhist nuns in Sri Lanka. As a matter of fact, the holy Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, India is a direct descendant of this tree!
This evening we’ll rest in the Forest Rock Garden Resort, a gorgeous boutique hotel set in the jungle.
For the next three nights, we’ll make the town of Sigiriya our home base, staying in the luxury hotel Sigiriya Jungles. Today we’ll visit the stunning Dambulla cave temple, dating back to the 1st century BC. The statues and colorful paintings in this well-preserved Buddhist complex are just breathtaking. Did you know that Sri Lanka is the oldest continuously Buddhist culture in the world?
On February 19th/March 11th we’ll pay a visit to the iconic Sigiriya Rock Fortress. We’ll depart early in the morning for the opportunity to climb Sigiriya (“Lion Rock”). This ancient complex includes the impressive 660-foot (200-meter) remains of this former capital. Constructed in the 5th century, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the best-preserved examples of ancient urban planning, from the ornate gardens & fountains and colorful frescoes to the imposing “Lion Rock” itself.
We’ll go from exploring historic treasures to spotting living treasures with an afternoon jeep safari in Minneriya National Park. Although Minneriya is home to 24 species of mammals and 160 species of birds (and 75 species of butterflies!), the undisputed crowd favorite is the amazing Asian elephant population. Witnessing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat is truly a breathtaking, humbling experience. With any luck, you’ll be able to witness these beautiful giants roaming Minneriya.
On March 12th you’ll have your chance to learn how to bring the taste of Sri Lanka back with you! You’ll visit a local market and learn more about Sri Lankan ingredients before your very own cooking class, eating the fruits of your labor for lunch.
Later this afternoon we’ll visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Polonnaruwa was the royal capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to 13th centuries, and its monuments are preserved beautifully. From the rock temple at Gal Vihara to the Royal Palace and the circular relic house at Vatadage, Polonnaruwa’s sites are sure to fascinate and inspire. (Not to mention, this is one of the locations where Duran Duran filmed their “Save a Prayer” video in 1982—it’s pretty much a travel ad for Sri Lanka!)
Today we head to Kandy (~3-hour drive). Kandy is yet another former capital and the second-largest city in modern Sri Lanka. On the way, we’ll have the opportunity to visit a rural village and their Buddhist “Sunday School” for children. We’ll also explore a local spice garden in Matale, featuring both culinary and medicinal spices. Upon arrival in Kandy, we’ll settle into our hotel, Thilanka.
On March 14th, we’ll fawn over 4,000 species of flora at the Royal Botanical Gardens. These gardens are renowned for their magnificent orchid collection. The origins of the Botanic Gardens date as far back as 1371, and the framework for the modern-day Botanical Garden at Peradeniya was formally established in 1843. Once reserved exclusively for Kandyan royalty, today everyone can enjoy the most impressive and largest garden in Sri Lanka.
Kandy is home to countless temples, and tonight we’ll visit its holiest venue, the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa). This temple is a venerated place for Buddhists all over the world, as it is said to house the Buddha’s left canine tooth, retrieved from his funeral pyre. This important relic was smuggled into Sri Lanka in the 4th century and has been carefully enshrined in many former capitals of Sri Lanka, finally coming to rest in Kandy in the 17th century.
We’ll say goodbye to Kandy and start our adventure through the central highlands of Sri Lanka & her iconic tea plantations. We’ll depart to our next destination, Bandarawela, by train. By all accounts, this is one of the most picturesque train rides you can experience!
The British brought tea to Sri Lanka (the island they formally called “Ceylon”); in fact, in 1824, a tea plant was smuggled from China to Sri Lanka. Over one million Sri Lankans are employed, directly or indirectly, by the tea industry, and 4% of the entire country is covered in tea plantations. This train ride is about 7 hours in total, but the scenery before you will make it seem to go by in a flash.
Upon arrival in Bandarawela and our hotel, Orient Hotel, you can choose to visit a local tea factory to learn a bit more about this wonderful plant and the art & science of cultivation and processing tea in Sri Lanka.
On March 16th we’ll have an opportunity to hike around the tea plantations in the early morning light and experience their beauty up close. It’ll feel good to stretch your legs after the long train day yesterday! The afternoon will be yours for resting or exploring.
We’ll say goodbye to the highlands and make our way to the southern coast at Yala, staying overnight at Jetwing Yala hotel. You can take advantage of the spa, the pool, or the beautiful beach. This beach is better suited for walking and exploring than swimming (but the next beach on our itinerary is great for that—and if you’re in the mood to swim, you can use the swim-up bar at Yala Jetwing’s 75-meter swimming pool!) The natural area around the hotel and beach boasts elephants and other wildlife not infrequently—what will you see from the comfort of your ‘home away from home’?
Later today we’ll take an evening safari in Yala National Park. Maybe we’ll see a rare Sri Lankan sloth bear, or a herd of wild Asian elephants—or maybe even the endangered Sri Lankan leopard, if we’re lucky!
We’ll take an early morning safari inside Yala National Park on our way to our next coastal home base in Mirissa, at the Mandara Resort. We’ll enjoy two nights here directly on the beach where we can enjoy vivid sunsets and the freshest seafood Sri Lanka has to offer. We can even take a tuk-tuk tour of the fishing village of Weligama where colorful fishing boats bring back their loads of fresh fish to sell along the shore.
This morning we’ve included a whale-watching expedition for you. We may see blue whales (the largest animal on the planet), sperm whales, and possibly even a humpback whale! After our morning at sea, we’ll head to Galle (45-minute drive). On the way we’ll witness the art of stilt fishing, a method unique to Sri Lanka. We can meet with a local fisherman and learn about their mesmerizing craft, and we’ll enjoy a delicious seafood lunch (vegetarian options available, of course!)
We’ll then settle into our hotel, The Heritage Galle Fort. Galle Fort was first built in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century. The Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. We’ll tour the fort on the morning of March 21st before we head up the east coast to Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka and a lively city in its own right.
Tonight is our final dinner together on this journey around Sri Lanka. Let’s raise a glass to this beautiful island nation and all that we’ve experienced together!
The trip ends after breakfast, and your airport transfer is included in this journey. If you would like to extend your stay in Sri Lanka, we can help recommend places and activities based on your desires!
Please click the title of the desired tab to open it.
Price & Inclusions
This journey is $3799 USD per person, based on single occupancy.
If you prefer to have your own room, the single supplement is $699 USD and will be added to your last payment. (Click here to understand why this single supplement is necessary).
A $1000 non-refundable deposit holds your space. The balance is due by December 15, 2021.
We will email you an invoice (via PayPal) about a week before the due date.
- Expert Sri Lankan guide
- Internal transportation within Sri Lanka, including airport transfers
- All accommodation
- Daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner (from dinner on March 8th until breakfast on March 22nd)
- All site entrance fees
- All National Park entrance fees
- Three jeep safaris
- Whale watching boat trip
- Train trip from Kandy to Bandarawela
- All tips to hotel and restaurant staff
Price does not include:
- Sri Lanka Visa ($35 USD)
- International airfare (although we can and will be more than happy to help you decide on arrangements)
- Travel insurance (required)
- Souvenirs, laundry fees, alcoholic beverages, snacks and beverages outside meal times
- Tip to Sri Lanka expert guide
- There is a minimum of 4 guests that must sign up in order for this trip to take place. We will hold your deposit & payments until the minimum number of guests have signed up. Please do not purchase any airfare until you receive notice from RetreaTours that we’ve reached our minimum number of participants.
- If the minimum number of guests have not signed up 1 month prior to the departure date, we’ll give you the option to transfer your reservation to another tour or fully refund your money.
How to Pay
Please refer to the Price tab for specific information about price & what is included on your journey.
We accept payments via check and credit or debit card (via PayPal). For our guests outside the U.S., please write Lauren@RetreaTours.com for the best transfer details, to save you from PayPal’s 2.5 to 4.5% currency conversion fee.
- Paying by Check: Checks can be made out to RetreaTours and sent to 8821 NW 14 Street, Pembroke Pines, FL 33024.
- Paying by Credit Card, Debit Card, or PayPal balance: You can pay the balance with credit card, debit card, or PayPal balance through the button below. Note that you do not have to pay with your PayPal balance; please click here if you’d like further instruction.
We will email you an invoice (via PayPal) about a week before each due date.
About the Hotels
We’ll be staying in a wide variety of hotels on this journey, reflecting the different landscapes we’re experiencing. Here are the websites of the hotels and resorts we’ll be staying in.
- Kammala (one night upon arrival): Suriya Resort
- Anuradhapura (1 nights): Forest Rock Garden
- Sigiriya (3 nights): Sigiriya Jungles
- Kandy (2 night): Thilanka
- Bandarawela (2 nights): Orient
- Yala (1 nights): Jetwing Yala
- Mirissa (2 nights): Mandara Resort Mirissa
- Galle: The Heritage
- Colombo (1 night): Dwell Hotel
There is no air-conditioning at Orient, but it is at a higher elevation (4,000 feet) and should be a comfortable temperature.
There is wifi in all of our hotels, although it may not extend all the way to your room and will be stronger in the common areas (lobby, restaurant, etc).
We do everything in our power to do right by our guests. We are proud to say that in the wake of our COVID-related trip cancellations through 2020 and 2021, we were able to offer each of our guests the choice of a 100% credit, if not a full refund.
We’ve re-examined each trip and done our best to reduce the deposit amounts as much as possible. Upon your registration, your deposit immediately goes toward reserving your space for flights, hotels, and excursions that must be booked months in advance and are often non-refundable (particularly in Kenya and Rwanda).
Cancellation by our guests
The cancellation charges are as follows unless otherwise indicated on the detailed itinerary for each trip. All cancellations must be received via e-mail or US mail.
- Cancellations prior to 120 days to departure, money will be refunded minus the non-refundable deposit.
- Cancellations received 61 to 119 days prior to departure are subject to a penalty of 50% of the total cost of the trip.
- Cancellations received 60 days or less prior to trip departure will forfeit the entire cost of the trip.
If a trip is cancelled by RetreaTours
When a tour is cancelled in the case of force majeure, the Tour Participant will receive a refund minus any funds that we are unable to recover from any supplier.
You can see the full cancellation policy in our contract here.
FAQ: Vaccines, Visa & more
- Passport and Visa information
- Health & Vaccines, Altitude, Travel Insurance
- Money & How to Get Local Currency
What do I need to know about the visa?
First and foremost, your passport MUST be valid at least 6 months beyond the end date of the trip (that is, September 2022), and you’ll need two empty pages in the Visas section of your passport (make sure they are in the Visa section, not the Amendment or Endorsement section).
The Sri Lanka visa fee is $35 and we will walk you through the procedure.
I have special dietary needs—can I be accommodated?
Vegetarians and vegans will find plenty of delicious curries and dal available along with local rice and other starches. Celiacs and those avoiding gluten will also enjoy the abundance of rice, meat proteins, and vegetable options, as well. Part of your registration includes asking about dietary allergies and special needs, but please feel free to contact us beforehand if you have any specific questions or concerns about Sri Lanka food.
You can read more about the specialties of Sri Lanka cuisine here.
Can I drink the water?
In a word, No. Although many cities around the world are getting more advanced public water systems, we don’t recommend it. Not only from a pathogen standpoint, but it’s a different set of bacteria than your body is used to. Why risk an upset stomach if you don’t have to? We recommend drinking only bottled water, and you will want to rinse your toothbrush off in bottled water.
What vaccines do I need?
None are required to enter Sri Lanka, but we suggest you work with your physician or your area’s travel health expert to decide what options are best for you. You can read the American CDC’s Sri Lanka recommendations here and the Scottish NHS Sri Lanka recommendations here.
RetreaTours requires a COVID-19 vaccination series completed at least 30 days before entry into Sri Lanka.
What about malaria? What about Zika?
As always, we request that you work with your physician or travel doctor when making these choices. Please see our blog about this topic for more information about malaria.
The World Health Organization declared Sri Lanka free of malaria in September 2016.
Please click here to learn more about the CDC’s recommendation about Zika in Southeast Asia (please note that Sri Lanka is not currently listed as a country of concern).
*All of the information here is for reference purposes only and is not intended to substitute for advice from your licensed health care professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health condition or disease. If you are experiencing medical issues, you should contact your medical health care provider.
Do I need travel insurance?
We require that our guests carry travel insurance because it just makes sense. It’s a relatively small expense but affords huge peace of mind! When choosing a travel insurance policy we require that you are covered for emergency medical expenses, medical evacuation, and repatriation. We also highly recommend you take out trip cancellation insurance, as this may cover cancellation penalties in certain circumstances if you have to cancel your trip unexpectedly due to illness, injury, or other unforeseen circumstances.
Please see RetreaTours.com/Travel-Insurance for more information.
How much money should I bring?
Only what you need for extras (souvenirs, alcohol, spa treatments/massages, etc) and a tip to your local expert guide, since everything else on this trip is included! We have included all base tips, but we would never take away the opportunity to tip more if you feel moved to do so.
How do I get the local currency?
The local currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lanka Rupee (LKR). You can either exchange cash in Sri Lanka or use a local ATM (which we prefer) to get LKR. Just make sure you call your bank and credit card company to let them know you’ll be traveling in Sri Lanka, so they don’t put a hold on your card when they see it being used halfway across the world. You do NOT need to exchange money before you arrive in Sri Lanka, as exchanging money while still in your home country usually has a very poor exchange rate.
How can my family get ahold of me in an emergency?
Before the trip begins we will give you the contact information for our hotels to pass along to your loved ones. If you choose to bring your cell phone or tablet, you can use VoIP services such as Skype, WhatsApp, and FaceTime to connect with your loved ones at home, as well.
We highly recommend that all guests download and set up WhatsApp before leaving home, as that is an easy way to stay in touch with each other while at the hotels on tour.
Our Carbon Offset Commitment
RetreaTours is Climate Positive!
We purchase triple carbon offsets for your travels with us—that’s from your home, through the entire tour, and back to your home again, times three!
RetreaTours is officially a Carbonfree® Partner with Carbonfund.org, as well as a partner with Cool Effect.
You may have heard the term “carbon neutral,” which means that a company offsets as much carbon as it produces. With this 300% offset, RetreaTours is actually offsetting more carbon than we produce each year, making us “carbon negative” (or “climate positive,” which has a nicer ring to it!)
Since 2012 we’ve focused on making travel safe and easy for our guests; with our triple carbon offset tours, we’re pleased to make our trips as sustainable as they are memorable.
Please see more at RetreaTours.com/CarbonNegative
About your Arrival or Departure
This journey will officially begin at dinner on February 16th or March 8th, depending on your journey. If you wish to arrive early, we can help you make arrangements at our starting hotel or elsewhere.
Please remember that if you arrive in the wee hours of February 16th/March 8th (~2 to 5 AM), you’ll still need a place to rest your weary head, necessitating a room the night of Feb 15th/March 7th (the morning of Feb 16th/March 8th). Otherwise, you may have to wait until 2 PM to check-in since we cannot guarantee an early check-in.
No fear if you can’t arrive until after dinner on Feb 16th/March 8th; we’ll make sure you are caught up to speed and know when to meet the group for departure on Feb 17th/March 9th and you can meet everyone at breakfast!
You will arrive back in Colombo in the late afternoon of March 1st/March 21st. Dinner and your hotel room that night are included, as well as breakfast on March 2nd/March 22nd. If your preferred flight leaves late on the night of the 21st or early in the pre-dawn hours of the 2nd/22nd, you will still have a hotel room to repack and freshen up before your flight.
Suggested Packing List & Temperatures
The average temperature in your travels around Sri Lanka will be between 75 and 90°F, with a relative humidity between 65% and 90%. Although this is not the rainy season, rain can still occur, so you’ll want to bring some protection from the sprinkles (or the sun!)
We require that each guest carries travel insurance that covers emergency medical treatment, and emergency evacuation and repatriation.
We suggest trip cancellation insurance, as well, as you never know what obstacles life can toss at you leading up to a trip. However, we do not require this coverage, we only suggest it highly.
Below you will find some options to look into, if this is a new world to you. However, we ask that you carefully consider your choice in travel insurance. What works for some people may not work for others, particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions. Please do take the time to consider the best policy for your individual needs.
World Nomads provides medical coverage for guests under 70 that includes trip cancellation, as well. You can use the box on this page to get a quote and see coverage.
InsureMyTrip.com is a good place to see and compare many policies at once, and you can refine the options by what coverage you would like. This website includes options from companies like Allianz, Travel Guard, Trip Assure, April, GeoBlue and more.
It may also be a good idea to check with your credit card companies, especially American Express, to see if they offer any medical coverage for travel.
Husband and wife team BJ Graf & Lauren Rathvon created RetreaTours in 2010 with one goal in mind: to make world travel accessible, authentic, and astounding. In order to focus fully on this passion, they moved out of the U.S. in January 2013 to reside full-time overseas. Each day is spent exploring new destinations, strengthening local ties & relationships, and creating memorable and transformative retreats and tours (aka, RetreaTours!)
BJ & Lauren craft each element of the trip with intention, and they understand that it is this careful attention to detail that sets them apart. Fueled by their passion, armed with know-how, and supported by knowledgeable local professionals in all of their destinations, BJ & Lauren set the scene for the vacation of a lifetime. The dynamic duo are available to answer any and all questions before the trip begins. From giving advice on the best flights and travel insurance to providing a packing list, FAQ, and even a tiny “phrasebook,” BJ & Lauren pride themselves on these ‘nuts & bolts’ of personalized service.
(That is us above in Minneriya National Park in 2017, on safari with a herd of elephants in the distance.)
Please email Lauren@RetreaTours.com if you have any questions not addressed on this site. Thank you!
Please click a photo to see an enlarged version; you can use your arrow keys or mouse to navigate within the album. All Sri Lanka photos have been taken by BJ and Lauren during their time in this beautiful country.