schoolchildren Johnny Morris
Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka
Eastern Odyssey

An odyssey for the cultural adventurer.

Day 1: Fly from the UK to Colombo with a choice of airports including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Day 2 dinner included
You'll be met at Colombo airport by one of our drivers and driven 1-2 hours to a heritage house. Surrounded by rural landscapes, it is an ideal setting to unwind from your flight.

Day 3 breakfast
A leisurely start and you're off on your cultural odyssey! Your driver will head north coastal road, heading north. Through the heartland of Sri Lanka's coconut plantations, with seascapes including the salt plains of Puttalam. In days gone by, this coastal region on the Gulf of Mannar was home to Sri Lanka's famed pearl divers. They would free dive, one from Arabian lands would dive with a horn clip on his nose, a Tamil pinching his nostrils as he swam to the depths of what were thought to be the richest pearl banks in the world.

You'll drive through Marawila, Madampe, Chilaw and the major town of Puttalam, you'll notice here the language spoken is Tamil rather than Sinhala. If you're on the hunt for souvenirs, we recommend the best batik in Marawila and salt from Puttalam. This coast was also important in the days of Portuguese rule so you'll see lots of Catholic churches. You'll stop to explore the incredible kovil, Munneswaram (kovil is the word used for a Hindu temple). Keep your eyes on the road, Puttalam is famed for wild donkeys, part of their diet is the samphire which the locals don't touch! Late afternoon arrival in Anuradhapura and settle into a boutique hotel.

Day 4 breakfast
Dating back to at least the 4th century BC, the ancient city of Anuradhapura is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the cradle of Theravada Buddhism (as practised by Sinhalese people, Thai people, and some other countries but not Nepal, Tibet etc). It was hidden away for many years by dense jungle. Pride of place is the sacred bodhi tree, here since the 3rd century BC, it was grown from a sapling of the tree in India under which according to legend, the Buddha reached enlightenment. For ten centuries, the city of Anuradhapura stood proud in the face of assaults, the only time it succumbed was for a while in the 2nd century BC, in an invasion of Tamil princes.

Day 5 breakfast
Explore Wilpattu national park. This 'Land of Lakes' was off limits during Sri Lanka's civil war. The park acts as a backdrop to an interesting film based on a book, set during the war 'The Road from Elephant Pass' by Nihal De Silva, both of which we recommend. The 'villus' (lakes) attract an incredible array of beautiful birds. Wilpattu is also famed for its leopards, however, the jungle is rather dense so it's not as easy to spot animals as in other parks, but so far visitor numbers are still lower here so you shouldn't be crowded as you'd be if you spotted a leopard elsewhere!

Day 6 breakfast
Onwards and upwards! You'll be driven through the heartland of Sri Lanka, you're heading further north. In a way to another country. Across the Elephant Pass, and onto the Jaffna peninsula. You'll arrive in the city of Jaffna Tell Tale tip Make sure you have plenty of sunscreen. It is notably hotter and drier in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Stretch your legs with a walk around this coastal city. Sadly the star-shaped Dutch fort was damaged in the war, although it is now being rebuilt, however, there's really nothing like the amazing assault to your senses, Jaffna is closer to India more than just geographically. The food is extremely spicy in these parts, a Tell Tale favourite is Jaffna crab. You may want to cool down in one of Jaffna's bustling ice cream parlours. An amazing array of flavours, as well as a great insight into life here.

Day 7 breakfast
If you wake up early, you can see the fish market, where small scale fisher folk bring in their small boats teeming with colourful tropical fish. You'll have a day's sightseeing in the city, highlights include the archeological museum, the architecture of the well-tended houses and gardens, the bustling commercial centre selling bright coloured saris and glittering gold which are popular here, churches and Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, this amazing complex rising up to the sky is a symbol to the northern people's Hinduism, pre-dating the Methodism, Catholicism and Anglicanism of the last few hundred years.

Day 8 breakfast
A day exploring the countryside around Jaffna, beaches, sand dunes and mineral hot springs, certainly worth a dip if you have any aches and pains!

Day 9 breakfast
Head east. You'll drive south first, then it's onto Trincomalee on the eastern seaboard. Keep your eyes peeled, you never know what you may see from the road, not just colourful scenery, perhaps an elephant in a field. Trincomalee (a Tamil name) is home to what has been called the 'finest harbour in the world'. A natural harbour, it can be accessed by craft of all sizes and is one of Asia's oldest ports. Accommodation choices are still limited, so for now at least you'll be staying at a beach resort outside the town. Relax by the pool or sea.

Day 10 breakfast
Day at leisure to recover from the travelling. Depending on time of year and weather conditions, it may be possible arrange a boat trip for the chance to see migratory whales or dolphins. The harbour has such deep waters, they both enter to mate.

Day 11 breakfast
Explore Trincomalee. First you'll visit a British war cemetery, perhaps the largest in Sri Lanka. If you know Tell Tale Travel, you know we love the old forts of Sri Lanka. We love starting our sightseeing of the town of Trincomalee by walking or driving through the entrance of Fort Frederick. Look out for unusual inhabitants, wild deer who roam the fort. It's a bit of a steep walk to reach the Koneswaram kovil. It is an important site of pilgrimage for Sri Lanka's Hindus who come from all over the island to worship here. Depending on the day you visit, the kovil may be bustling with pilgrims and market stalls selling them local delicacies, including the sticky dark toffee we love (and much appreciated when we take it to our friends in Colombo). You'll also see Lover's Leap, a steep part of the rock with the sort of back story one would expect!

Day 12 breakfast
Time to pack up and head down the eastern coast. You'll arrive at Passikudah Bay, if not the most beautiful beach in Sri Lanka, it certainly has much calmer waters than most of the island. You'll be staying at Anilana resort which has a lovely pool and is right by the sea.

Day 13 breakfast
At leisure to enjoy the pool or beach. If you'd like to go snorkelling, it's possible to go on a boat.

Day 14 breakfast
Explore Batticaloa. The name is derived from the Portuguese and the town's fort was an important bastion on the eastern coast during the time of their rule. However, it wasn't strong enough: it was the first fort to be captured by the Dutch and was also used by the British. The fort is tiny, it's a short walk around the well-preserved ramparts. Batticaloa is a bustling eastern coast town.

Day 15 breakfast
Pack up then head off west. You'll stop to visit the ancient Sinhalese city and UNESCO site of Polannaruwa. Then an overnight stay in Dambulla in readiness for the flight back tomorrow.

Day 16 breakfast
You'll be driven to Colombo airport for your flight back.

This two-week private tour costs from £2,295 per person, based on two adults sharing a private tour*. This includes flights from the UK to Colombo, accommodation, activities/excursions, private transfers and meals as specified. Please allow approx £75pp for entrance fees (if you decide not to do any activities on the day, you don't need to pay the entrance fee).

*Price applies as advertised on most bookings, but travelling at certain times, particularly Christmas, may involve extra costs. Early booking with a deposit is advised.

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curry by Peter Kuruvita
schoolchildren by Johnny Morris
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