Birding, wildlife and a little bit of heritage
Described as "The Tear Drop of India", the island of Sri Lanka snuggles off the southern tip of the sub-continent in the Indian Ocean. It's an outstanding destination, not only for birdwatching (which is the main focus of our tour) but also for its glorious and varied scenery, its excellent food, its delightful and friendly people and its fascinating heritage.
There's something exotic about this verdant tropical island and yet there's also something familiar, a fact brought about through the strong colonial influence. Our winter visit has the double advantage of getting you away from one of the dreariest of British months at the same time as visiting Sri Lanka in its coolest season, avoiding the humid heat of the summer months. As luck would have it, this also coincides with bird migration and the presence of up to 26 species of whales and dolphins traversing the area at this time of year. In terms of birds there's an influx of species from India and northern Asia adding to the resident species (of which 26 are endemics) to give a prospective list of 426.
Sri Lanka is a stunningly beautiful island with a wide variety of habitats from salt pans to rain forest, from rolling grassland to dramatic mountains and, as well as the birds we'll hope to see Elephant, Leopard and Buffalo and other exciting mammals.
In addition to enjoying the island's natural history to the full, we also make time to dip into its cultural delights such as the Rock Fortress at Sigiriya and the largest cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka at Dambulla.
- Sri Lanka: Birding, wildlife and heritage
- Fully guided group tour
- Departure: 05 February 2018
- Nights: 14
- Fully inclusive cost: £2,995
- Single room supplement: £400
- Deposit: £600
- Meal Basis: Full Board
- Activity level: Easy
- Tour leader: Libby Weir-Breen and local guides
- Maximum Group Size: 12
- Travel: Sri Lankan Airways
- Departs: London Heathrow
- Included in cost: International airfares and taxes, Sri Lanka tourist visa, full board accommodation, transport, entrances, UK and local guides.
- Not included in cost: Travel insurance, video camera fee in National Parks, drinks and items of a personal nature.
- Sri Lanka 2018 detailed itinerary
Your tour leader
Libby Weir-Breen set up Island Holidays in 1987 with Shetland naturalist, the late Bobby Tulloch MBE. Her own experience in the travel industry goes back to 1977 when she left her job on The Scotsman newspaper to become a resort representative in St Anton in the Austrian Tyrol.
In 1987 she set up Island Holidays with the late Bobby Tulloch, Shetland's renowned naturalist. Since then she has travelled widely both researching and leading tours. A passionate conservationist and campaigner for trade justice, Libby has a love for the natural world and feels herself privileged to be able to express this through her work and to share it with so many like-minded people.
Our flight to Colombo leaves London in the evening, arriving the next morning.
After arriving at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo we will transfer by coach to our first hotel at Sigiriya, some three hours away to the northeast. There should be time for some leisurely birding around the environs of the hotel which is beautifully situated with views of the famous rock fortress. We should see birds such as Emerald Dove, White-rumped Shama, the endemics Brown-capped Babbler and Black-capped Bulbul with maybe a Crested Hawk-Eagle flying overhead. We'll be staying at Hotel Sigiriya for three nights.
It's worth a look around the hotel grounds before breakfast and then we will visit Sigiriya Rock Fortress itself, just over a mile away. Those who wish to can climb it whilst the rest can birdwatch in the area, looking especially for the local race of Peregrine, known as Shaheen – much darker than our birds. When the walkers have returned, the rest of the day will be spent birding wherever our guide takes us in the area, with lunch at the hotel. This will give us a good introduction to Sri Lanka's birdlife and we can expect to see species such as Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Layard's Flycatcher, Orange Minivet, Blue-faced Malkoha and many more. Overnight Hotel Sigiriya.
We'll spend the morning birding at various locations within easy reach of our hotel. There are several different habitats: lakes (called “tanks” in Sri Lanka), woodland and marshy areas. We can expect to see species such as Indian Pitta, Crested Treeswift, Golden-fronted Leafbird and the stunning Orange-headed Thrush. Lunch will be back at our hotel and then in the afternoon we'll take timeout from birding to visit the temple at Dambulla which is a UNESCO site. As well as being a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery with its five sanctuaries is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. We return to Sigiriya for dinner and overnight.
Today we move on to Welimada near Nuwara Eliya. It's about three hours due south although we'll take a bit longer to get there, passing through some beautiful countryside and stopping for lunch at a local restaurant on the way. We'll then continue to Nuwara Eliya in the hill country. Being considerably cooler up here made it the ideal summer retreat for the British in the summer. During our brief look around the city we'll note the colonial influence before visiting Victoria Park for some early evening birding. We'll be staying at the Uva Ben Head Tea Plantation Bungalows for the next two nights.
This morning we leave our hotel early with a packed breakfast for Horton Plains. This is a National Park of over three thousand hectares of montane grassland interspersed with patches of cloud forest. We'll walk through beautiful countryside to "World's End" where, assuming it's not misty, we'll have a magnificent view from a near-vertical drop of half a mile across miles of countryside. The birdwatching here is excellent with species such as Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Spotted-winged Thrush, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Brown Baza and Black Eagle. There are animals too, including Leopard, if we're very lucky. We'll return to our hotel for lunch with the afternoon devoted to something cultural and maybe some birding at Hakgala Botanic Gardens. Dinner and overnight at St. Andrews Hotel.
It's time to move on and after breakfast we set out on what is quite a long drive to our next destination, Tissa, close to the south-east coast. We'll be stopping along the way for a bit of birding and also for lunch. The countryside down here is very different from what we have experienced so far. There are two lakes just a short distance from our hotel and we can do some waterside birding if time permits. We'll be staying at the Oakray Lake Resort for the next three nights.
An early start for a full day's safari at Yala National Park, taking a packed breakfast with us. Of the 215 bird species of the park, six are endemic to Sri Lanka; Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Black-capped Bulbul, and Brown-capped Babbler. There are excellent numbers of waterbirds, including Asian Openbill and Painted Stork. Streams in the park sustain a large herd of Sri Lankan Elephants. There are 44 species of mammal resident here and the park has one of the highest Leopard densities in the world. It should be a really exciting day. We return to Tissa for dinner and overnight.
Just half an hour away is Bundala National Park, Sri Lanka's first RAMSAR site, right on the coast and another haven for waterbirds and animals. We'll spend a leisurely few hours her and leave time for a swim and a rest back at our hotel before dinner.
After breakfast we leave for Sinharaja. This is quite a long journey but we will arrive in time for lunch at our hotel. Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka. It is of international significance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The reserve's name translates as ‘Kingdom of the Lion’. The reserve is not large but contains many endemic species including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Out of Sri Lanka's 26 endemic birds, the 20 rainforest species all occur here, including the elusive Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie. We'll have an introductory birding session to the area in the afternoon with dinner and overnight stay at Blue Magpie Hotel.
After breakfast, we have a full day's birding in the rainforest at Sinharaja. This amazing area will give us so much to see – but it isn't all that easy to find the birds as the forest is so thick! One of the more difficult species to see here (rather surprisingly) is the ancestor of every domestic chicken in the world, the Sri Lanka Junglefowl. Lunch, dinner and overnight stay at Blue Magpie Hotel.
We have another day at Sinharaja taking a different track from yesterday to look for a variety of fascinating species such as Serendip Scops Owl, Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Layard's Parakeet, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Spot-winged Thrush and the strange-looking Sri Lanka Frogmouth. Again we'll be at the Blue Magpie Hotel for lunch, dinner and overnight.
After a more leisurely breakfast today, we leave for Kitulgala, some three hours' drive to the north. With so much to see, it may well take us longer than that but we'll get to the Kitulgala Rest House in time for lunch. Afternoon birdwatching in this area can be very rewarding with such species as Green-billed Coucal, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Red-faced Malkoha, Yellow-fronted Barbet and Mountain Hawk Eagle. This is wet zone rain forest which gets two monsoons each year and is one of the wettest places in the country – but February/March is the driest time. The film Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed on the Kelani River near Kitulgala.
Today we have a full day birding in the area around Kitulgala with lunch, dinner and overnight at the Rest House. There are a variety of places to visit but the walk through the forest (after crossing the river) is excellent with many species such as Dollarbird, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Dwarf Kingfisher and Lesser Flameback.
After breakfast we set off on the short journey to Colombo and the airport and our flight home, stopping along the way as time and opportunity permits. We arrive back in London at 1910 hours.
Please note that the itinerary can be changed without notice at the sole discretion of Island Holidays or your tour leader.