Naturetrek Tour Itinerary
+44 (0)1962 733051
Day 10/11 Sinharaja Forest.
Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains.
Blue Whales extension
Saturday 17th March
Thursday 29th March 2018
Sunday 1st April 2018
Saturday 16th March
Thursday 28th March 2019
£2,695 (London/London); £2,195 (Colombo/Colombo)
£795 for Blue Whales extension
Single room supplement
£695 (Add: £195 for Blue Whales extension)
Grade A. A leisurely botanical tour, including
gentle forest walks
Sri Lankan flora and other natural history
NB. Please note that the itinerary below offers our planned programme of excursions. However, adverse
From a casual inspection of a map it may appear that the tropical island of Sri Lanka is a mere adjunct of southern
India: in reality there are many differences between the two countries, not least the stunning flora and fauna which
demonstrate more affinities with south-east Asia than with the Indian sub-Continent. Sri Lanka is a lush, verdant
country in which plant growth flourishes, indeed it is said that almost anything planted in the ground will grow
within days! This attribute was fully exploited by the various colonists occupying the island over the centuries and
each in turn added to the diversity of species through their ornamental and commercial introductions. In this way an
extraordinary flora has developed, rich in unique endemic species but also augmented by a myriad of additions from
all over the world. This tour will celebrate the richness of the flora by visiting wonderful natural habitats where
native species occur as well as Botanical Gardens where large collections have been amassed by generations of
horticulturists. We shall also be visiting Spice Gardens and Tea Estates ensuring that we do not neglect these
important industries which have developed because of the ideal growing conditions.
We depart London in the evening at 2030 on a direct Sri Lankan Airlines scheduled flight to Colombo. We will be
in-flight overnight. If you would prefer to fly on any other airline from London to Colombo, we can arrange this for
you (availability permitting), though this is likely to involve extra cost. Call Rajan on 01962 733051 for details.
who will be with us throughout the tour. From the airport we will be transfer to a hotel close to the airport. The rest
of the morning is available for relaxation after the long flight or for those eager to begin botanising, a stroll in the
leafy hotel gardens. In the evening, we plan an excursion to the Muthurajawela Mangrove Reserve, a coastal lagoon
marshland of reed beds, shrubs and mangroves. The mangroves comprise of Acanthus volubilis, Acanthus ilicifolius,
Acrostichum aureum, Acrostichum speciosum (the only Mangrove Fern), Bruguiera cylindrica, Bruguiera gumnorhiza, Rhizophora
apiculata, Rhizophora mucronata, Sonneratia alba, Sonneratia caseolaris, Sonneratia griffithi, Sonneratia ovata, Nypa fruticans (the
only Mangrove Palm in Sri Lanka). In the open shallow water submerged and floating aquatic plants such as
After breakfast we leave the coast and drive to Sigiriya. Initially we travel through extensive coastal estates of
Coconut (Cocus nucifera), some of it underplanted with Pineapple, and Rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) plantations, some
admixed with Cocoa (Theobromo cacao). It is a very attractive landscape and in the villages many of the gardens
Breadfruit (Artocarpus incisus), Jack-Fruit (A. heterophyllus) and Lime (Citrus aurantifolium). The ‘home-garden’ system of
agriculture has a long history in Sri Lanka, where crops for food, drink, fuel and traditional medicines were all grown
on one plot. Mahogany and Teak are often planted for timber and all woody garden waste serves as fuel for the
kitchen fires. The King Coconut, a variety with golden-orange fruits, is much esteemed for the sweet sterile water
contained in the unripe fruit and is commonly sold at the roadside, a very cheap but totally refreshing natural
alternative to bottled drinks.
At Sigiriya we find ourselves in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka and the forest type here is described as dry mixed
widespread species. Therefore these forests are also referred to as semi-evergreen forests. The sanctuary around the
ancient Rock Citadel is comprised of many flowering plants such as Calatropis gigantea (Sodom’s Apple), Capparis
zeylanica, Cassia fistula, Crataeva adansonii, Ochnalanceolata, Martynia diandra (Tigers’ Claws) and tree species like Drypetes
spp., Manilkara hexandra, and Diospyros ebanum.
King Kasyapa was responsible for the building of a city
foot of the rock today it seems a staggering
achievement but a palace and complex of gardens were
constructed on the three-acre summit and for eighteen
years served as a royal citadel. Visitors can reach the
site by ascending flights of steps hewn in the rock but it
is a stiff climb and not recommended for anyone with a
fear of heights. A few frescoes are all that remain of
some 500 paintings that formerly graced the rock walls
and these can be viewed during the ascent. Shahin
Falcons nest on the rock and the surrounding primary
forest is superb for birds, containing many interesting
species which keen birders may find an attractive
alternative to scaling the rock. Birds to look for include
Woolly-necked Stork, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Emerald
Dove, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Alexandrine
Parakeet, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Racket-tailed Drongo,
Black-crested Bulbul, Paradise Flycatcher, White-
browed Fantail, White-rumped Shama, Forest Wagtail,
Oriental White-Eye, Brown-capped Babbler and Pale-
Elettaria cardamomum (Cardamom), Myristica fragrans (Nutmeg), Murraya koenigii (Curry leaves), Piper betle (Betel leaves)
and other useful fruit trees - Papaya, Avocado, Mango, Mangosteen, Bread-fruit, Jack-fruit, Durian etc. grown in
Coffee and Cocoa are both frequently grown in the Low Country and property boundaries marked by tall Kapok
national drink, Arak. Watch out also for the giant Talipot
Palm (Corypha umbraculifera) which produces an enormous
inflorescence at the end of its 40 year lifespan. The spectacular
Katuimbul (Bomlax malabaricum) is also striking when in
Interspersed among plantations are paddyfields for the small-
scale cultivation of rice which occurs in many local varieties.
As we ascend the hills these fields become more and more
steeply terraced, in places becoming mere irrigated strips just a
few metres wide.
After our visit to the Spice Garden in Matale, we will travel to
Kandy is steeped in history and was the capital for a
1815. The famous 'Temple of the Tooth' beside Kandy lake is
one of the best known Buddhist temples in the country and
attracts thousands of visitors every year. Kandy is traditionally
a centre of music and dance and most nights it is possible to
witness demonstrations of both art forms at special
performances, which will be advertised in our hotel.
prime example of a fast disappearing habitat.
Leaving the wide Dumbara Valley behind, we ascend through extensive tea estates on the lower slopes of the
170 metres on foot to the edge of the forest. Roadside plants include naturally growing Sandlewood (Santalum
bursting capsules of kapok and Fern-leaf Tree (Felicium decipiens). We may also see the endemics Vernonia wightiana,
such as the flat-topped Albizia falcataria and Grevillea robusta (Silky Oak).
Many of these native forests have been underplanted with Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) which in the long term
stretch of forest there is a rich floral diversity and the average height of the canopy is 8-15 metres. Dominant tree
species include Calophyllum spp, Garcinia ecinocarpa, Syzygium umbrosum and Lauracaea such as Litsea spp and Neolitsea
Temple of the Tooth or perhaps a visit to the Peradiniya Botanical Gardens with its wealth of species.
The Peradiniya Botanical Gardens in a suburb of the Kandy city. Extending over 147 acres, the gardens were
Peradiniya is crammed full of interesting trees and plants set out in a very attractive style and the orchid house is
particularly worth a visit. Birds flock to enjoy the many fruiting trees in the gardens and we may find two endemic
parrots, the diminutive Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot and Layard's Parakeet. Other regular visitors include Hill Myna,
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. A large colony of Indian Flying Foxes can be watched in the
heart of the gardens and as dusk approaches, the giant fruit bats become increasingly active as they prepare for their
nocturnal forays into the surrounding country. It is difficult to single out botanical highlights in a place so richly
endowed but the Gymnosperm collection, spice garden, medical garden, National Herbarium and arboretum are all
worthy of inspection and the long avenue of Coco-de-mer palms is a spectacular sight away from the Seychelles.
After breakfast we drive higher into the hill
country for a stay in the hill station of
Nuwara Eliya which lies at an elevation of
1,890 metres. Village plots along the side of
the road contain a variety of interesting
Ashgourd, Yam, Winged Bean and many
other unfamiliar species but nearer to Nuwara
Eliya there are extensive market gardens and
the roadside produce for sale is more
recognisably European featuring bunches of
bright orange Carrots, Onions and Potatoes.
Soon after leaving Kandy we begin to pass
through one tea estate after another and this
main export crop is a dominant feature of the central hill country. En route we will stop at one of the factories to
observe the tea production process which has hardly changed since the industry began although these days the
marketing and sales have become hi-tech! The clearance of natural vegetation for tea estates has denuded many of
the hills but expanses of forest still cling to the more precipitous slopes and occasional waterfalls spill down to
abundance of pine trees which frame the golf course and race track giving a distinctly British feel to the town.
Nearby the highest peak in Sri Lanka rises to over 2,700 metres.
After a late lunch the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. One possibility is to look at the small reserve adjacent
would permit a stroll in Victoria Park, delightful well-maintained gardens in the heart of the town where an
interesting range of hill country birds may be seen including a number of endemics. Although on a much smaller
scale than Peradiniya, the gardens are a tribute to the careful attention of generations of gardeners and contain many
island specialities as well as plants imported from Europe.
A full day will be spent in Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka's highest and most isolated plateau. Although only
28 kilometres from Nuwara Eliya, the road is in poor condition and the final ascent to the plateau involves some
steep inclines. We may stop to look at and photograph the handsome tree ferns – Cyatha crinita and C. walkeri. This is
a fascinating place, a mixture of open grassy expanses, dotted with the endemic Rhodedendron zeylanicum, and patches
of stunted forest, much of the latter festooned with epiphytes. The scenery is spectacular and on clear days it is
possible to see the distant summit of Adam's Peak. At World's End, the plateau drops steeply to the plains over
1,000 metres below and this becomes a swirling cauldron of cloud as the day progresses.
The Plains are often immersed in cloud and the damp atmosphere has determined the appearance and composition
Lichens, Mosses, Ferns and Orchids proliferate in this damp, misty environment. The tree species on the Plains
include; Actinodaphne spp., Neolitsea spp., Litsea spp., Syzygium spp., Calophyllum walkeri, Rhododendron arboreum and
Gordonia spp. Under the canopy there is a rich shrub layer containing mostly Lasianthus spp., Strobilanthes spp., and
climbers such as Piper montana, Kendrickia walkeri and Toddalia asiatica. The grasslands and marshy areas are dominated
by; Pennisetum sp., Cyambopogan sp and Chrysopogon sp. In wet places Lycopdella clavata and carnivorous plants such as
Drosera sp. and Utricularia may be found.
Many interesting birds and mammals may be found in this wild and airy National Park. Endemic hill birds such as
Lanka Woodpigeon, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler and the shy Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush or Arrenga. Sambar Deer are
often to be seen grazing at the forest edge, Giant Squirrels and the handsome highland race of Purple-faced Leaf
Monkey inhabit the tree canopy and Leopards are not infrequently observed at night. It is also worth keeping a look
out for small reptiles as several endemic species occur here.
At the end of a fascinating day we return to Nuwara Eliya for a second night at our hotel.
A long but interesting drive is in prospect as we descend via numerous snaking loops in the road to the southern
lowlands and make our way north to the rain forest of Sinharaja. The first of a number of stops punctuating the
journey will be to visit the Thangamalai Sanctuary, a small montane forest near the town of Haputale. The dominant
trees here belong to the Lauraceae, Theaceae and Euphorbeaceae. The herbaceous flora is rich in ground orchids,
the rare Legocia aurauitica. From Haputale we gradually descend along the southern slope of the central mountain
range through tea estates, natural grasslands and savannah. This sparsely populated area has only recently become
accessible as a result of the Samanalawewa hydroelectric project. The trees in the grassland are widely spaced at 10-
15 m and the vegetation is largely fire resistant, as it is regularly rejuvenated by burning. Many plants in this system
have medical value and are used in ayurweda. The trees are mainly Bridelia retusa, Phyllanthus embilica (Euphorbiaceae),
(Sterculiaceae), Careya arborea (Lecythidaceae) and Cycas circinalis, the only native gymnosperm in Sri Lanka. Chrisopogon
spp. and Chrisopogon nadus are the prominent grass components. During the rainy season the herbaceous diversity in
these grasslands is very high.
We will stop at Belihyuloya for Lunch and continue to our overnight destination and stay at Blue Magpie Lodge at
A full day spent in the Sinharaja Forest. This Biosphere reserve is the largest, and most important lowland forest
remaining on the island. So many things about Sinharaja are unique; 80% of the Sri Lankan endemic birds breed in
the reserve, 60% of the trees are found nowhere else as are a good proportion of the plants, reptiles and insects.
Threatened by logging and encroachment it has somehow survived and is an essential element of any natural history
tour of Sri Lanka.
Below the Dipterocarpus giants which comprise the major tree components of the forest is a sparse shrub and herb
Delicate Bamboo Orchids and various pitcher plants grow beside the forest trails and other epiphytic orchids are
numerous on the branches and trunks of the trees. Ferns include the local ‘bracken’ Lindsea repens, which is
collected for shoring up the sides of the open gem mines, a delicate rambling fern Dicranopteris linearis, a small tree
fern Cyathea sinuate, and a large palm-like fern, Blechnum orientalis.
Over 200 species of flowering plants occur at Sinharaja and we will enjoy a full day in the forest admiring the flora
To prolong our time in the reserve we will stay overnight at the Blue Magpie, a small lodge adjacent to the forest
which obviates the long drive back to Ratnapura.
The Gateway, Katunayake
We return to Katunayake today but before leaving the Blue
Magpie we will enjoy another morning of birding in the
vicinity of the hotel where Green-billed Coucals are often
easy to find at first light and other interesting residents
include Spot-winged Thrush, Chestnut-backed Owlet,
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and Black-throated Munia.
Eventually we can postpone the moment no longer and will
Upon arrival in Katunayake, we will check into our 4-star
The Gateway Airport Garden Hotel Colombo for some rest
and a good night’s sleep!
1250. We are due to arrive in London by early evening at around 1910.
Blue Whales extension
Single room supplement: £195
(The minimum number of people required to run this extension is five; however, we may decide to operate it with
The Great Whales are a source of wonder and fascination
to land-based humans as we struggle to comprehend their
alien, unfettered existence roaming the mysterious depths
of the world’s oceans. There is a seemingly insatiable
desire to savour the experience of being close to these
magnificent creatures and wherever feeding or breeding
imperatives bring numbers of whales to congregate in a
particular area there will invariably be local boatmen
taking visitors to enjoy a few precious moments sharing
the ocean with these leviathans. The largest of all the
cetaceans, indeed the largest of all mammals, the Blue Whale, has always been something of an enigma, a true ocean
scientists are beginning to gain some understanding of the enormous migrations undertaken by Blue Whales and
one discovery has been their regular appearances close to the south coast of Sri Lanka between November and early
April. It is this annual event that we will be taking advantage of during this extension in a country that has long been
a Naturetrek favourite.
Today we leave the group and travel by road to our delightful Resort Hotel Fisherman's Bay at Weligama. Areas of
the south-west coastline were devastated during the
Tsunami but the Sri Lankans are resilient people and
much reconstruction has taken place since the tragedy in
2004. Fortunately the delightful Resort Hotel at Paradise
Beach Mirissa was spared from damage and this resort
hotel will be our base for three nights of our extension
tour. The drive from Sinharaja will probably take 4-5
hours and after settling in to our rooms a period of
relaxation will no doubt be welcome and give us a chance
to sample the resort amenities or perhaps simply sit on the
sandy beach watching the waves breaking on the sand with
binoculars ready in case a huge White-bellied Sea Eagle
glides along overhead or terns begin fishing offshore. Sri Lanka is a remarkably lush, verdant tropical island and
trees surround the hotel offering further birdwatching opportunities which might perhaps be taken advantage of
from the comfort of a lounger beside the swimming pool! Typical species of such forest edge include Magpie Robin,
Yellow-billed Babbler, three species of sunbird, Koel, Coppersmith Barbet and Flameback Woodpecker. The local
bird list is sure to grow with each day spent at Mirissa.
Ten minutes drive from the hotel is the small fishing port of
Mirissa and it is here that we board a whale-watching vessel
for a four hour morning excursion in search of Blue Whales.
The distance sailed will very much depend on whale sightings
and sea conditions but we may go up to ten kilometers
offshore although it is more likely that most observations will
be much closer to land. The seas off Sri Lanka are rich in
marine life but it is only comparatively recently that scientists
have discovered the regular appearances of Blue Whales
between November and early April. Up to a dozen or more
of these enigmatic ocean wanderers may be lingering off the
coast and we will rely on our skipper’s expertise to locate as
The Beach at Mirissa
Fishing boats with Galle Fort behind
fin and are not always easy to find on the
surface but they do have an extremely tall
columnar blow and it is this 9 metre high
plume of condensed water vapour that usually
betrays the presence of a whale. Blue Whales
also tend to display their huge curved tail flukes
before each dive and this again is an indicator
of where to look. The captain will take the boat
as close as he can without causing disturbance
to the whales and we will hope that by drifting
with the current we can allow the creatures to
approach alongside the vessel, hopefully near
enough to be able to smell their distinctive
pungent breath! We may have to content ourselves with longer distance views on this first outing but there will be
more chances for close-ups on the following days. Whilst Blue Whales will be our principal quarry, many other
cetacea occur in these waters and species observed during the previous seasons included; Bryde’s, Sperm,
Humpback and Short-finned Pilot Whales, Indopacific Bottlenosed, Pantropical Spotted and Spinner Dolphins, the
latter sometimes in pods numbering several hundred animals. Birdlife is less plentiful at this time of year but
possibilities include Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Pomarine Skua, Crested, Bridled and White-winged
The sailing will last about 3-4 hours and on return to land we will retire for a leisurely lunch before enjoying the
rough, please note boat rides are weather dependent and can be cancelled without prior notice. At the end of our
boat trip as we return to the Paradise Beach Hotel we will hope to be celebrating some memorable encounters with
the largest creature on earth.
On one of the afternoon in Mirissa we will enjoy an
before colonial times; on the southwest of the
country, it attracted Arabs, Persians, Romans and
Greeks on their way across the Indian Ocean. In
1505 the Portuguese attacked and settled the town,
135 years later conceding it to the Dutch, who built
the famous fort. In 1796 the British took over and
used the fort as their headquarters. Today, Galle Fort
is the old part of the city, a UNESCO World
Heritage Site and the best preserved colonial sea
fortress in Asia. It is a cosy little town in its own right
with narrow streets, churches, cloistered courtyards
and shuttered mansions standing testament to their colonial past. Galle Fort has recently received a lot of
investment from expatriates living in South East Asia and is now bristling with boutique hotels, art galleries, tiny
shops, cafes and restaurants. There are several museums as well as the Dutch Reformed Church and the lively Arab
Blue Whale and remoras
Quarter. The entrances to Galle National Maritime Museum and Fort are not included and can be paid locally. At
Today in the morning we will repeat the whale-watching excursion from Mirissa and with the ever-changing ocean
will hope for further Blue Whale sightings as well as appearances by other whales, dolphins and birds. In
characteristic fashion, the dolphins often swim in the bow-wave of the vessel offering spectacular views as they do
so. The huge pods of Spinner Dolphins are not a predictable phenomenon but if we are fortunate enough to witness
one of these there will be plenty of employment for cameras as the seas become a turmoil of activity and scores, or
even hundreds, of dolphins progress across the ocean in a loose assembly, leaping out of the water at great speed as
they pursue their prey. Sea conditions in March and early April are usually calm allowing the best chances for
observations and making whale ‘spouts’ visible over a long distance. Seas may however be a little rougher in
November and December.
After lunch at the hotel we will spend the cooler end
of the afternoon birdwatching in the local areas
where a wide range of species is possible including
Red-wattled Lapwing and White-breasted Waterhen,
Purple Swamphen, terns and waterbirds as well as
more forest inhabitants. Alternatively tour members
may choose to relax or swim off the beach. Later in
the day we can look for Indian Flying Foxes as the
night settles and maybe witness enormous Indian
Flying Foxes flapping off from their roost site to
begin some nocturnal foraging. These huge, fruit-
eating bats are widespread on the island but declining in numbers and colonies are always a welcome sight on our
Indian Flying Foxes
Our plans today are somewhat flexible depending upon the success of the previous days. If necessary, a further
whale-watching trip could be taken at extra cost but hopefully we will have achieved our marine objectives and can
conclude our tour. Eventually we can postpone the moment no longer and will set off on the southern highway for
a four hour drive north. Upon arrival in Katunayake, we will check into our 4-star The Gateway Airport Garden
Hotel Colombo for some rest and a good night’s sleep!
We have a mid-morning transfer to Katunayake airport to catch our afternoon Sri Lankan direct flight to London at
Generally hot and sunny with temperatures in the low country ranging from 25ºC to 35ºC with high humidity,
particularly in the Wet Zone. Temperatures decrease in the hills to a range of 10ºC-16ºC around Nuwara Eliya. Rain
can occur at any time but is not usually prolonged outside the monsoon seasons, although showers are an almost
daily occurrence at Sinharaja.
Accommodation & food
We use standard tourist hotels throughout the itinerary and these are of three or four star standard, some with
swimming pools and other amenities. The exception, is the Blue Magpie Lodge near Sinharaja which is a simple but
comfortable Rest House. Accommodation for this tour is in twin rooms with private facilities (single rooms being
available on request). All food is included in the price of the tour.
All UK passport holders and most other nationalities require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) visa for Sri
Lanka, which is obtainable in advance by filling the ETA form on
vaccinations are mandatory for entry, but as recommended in our brochure we think it is wise to also be protected
airport which announces ‘Welcome to a Malaria Free Country’, there are cases of malaria each year in Sri Lanka, and
we strongly recommend that you seek medical advice regarding any requirement for prophylactics for your visit to
the island. MASTA Travel Clinics are located across the UK and provide a full range of travel immunisations. For
your nearest clinic, visit
. You can also register on the website and fill out the details of
your holiday to obtain a country specific ‘Health Brief’.
We use scheduled Sri Lankan Airlines direct flights for all our tours to Sri Lanka. All these flights depart from
London Heathrow. If you wish to travel from Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen there will
be an additional charge of around £195 and these flights will be with British Airways.
The sole disadvantage of Sri Lankan Airlines flights to Sri Lanka is that sometimes the service is slow and special
Airways please note that these flights are not direct. If you wish to fly with Emirates, Qatar Airways, or Jet Airways
we will gladly arrange it for you, but please give us plenty of warning and you can expect to pay between £100 and
£200 extra for these indirect flights. Due to a difference in arrival and departure times, you will also expected to pay
an extra £150 per person (minimum two people are required) for the additional transfer fees. If you would prefer to
travel in Business class (normally available at a supplement charge of around £2,595). These prices are only
approximate and could vary according to availability and season. We will be pleased to approach the airline and offer
you a quote on request.
Return flights with Sri Lankan Airlines are scheduled to arrive at London Heathrow at 1900. Please note that, your
in London. If you would like to travel from one of the above regional airports, please let us know at the time of
booking so that we can make the necessary arrangements and obtain a competitive fare.
This tour is graded A/B. Most of the botanical walks are gentle and suitable for any age and level of fitness. There
are also a couple of slightly more strenuous longer walks included in the itinerary.
Your safety & security
You have chosen to travel to Sri Lanka. Risks to your safety and security are an unavoidable aspect of all travel and
the best current advice on such risks is provided for you by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In order to
assess and protect against any risks in your chosen destination, it is essential that you refer to the Foreign Office
website – www.fco.gov.uk/travel or telephone 0870 6060290 regularly prior to travel.
Blue Whale with remoras
How to book your place
In order to book your place on this holiday, please give us a call on 01962 733051 with a credit or debit card, book
, or alternatively complete and post the booking form at the back of our main
Naturetrek brochure, together with a deposit of 20% of the holiday cost plus any room supplements if required. If
you do not have a copy of the brochure, please call us on 01962 733051 or request one via our website. Please
stipulate any special requirements, for example extension requests or connecting/regional flights, at the time of