The balmy waters around Sri Lanka are home to a wealth of cetacean life, including blue whales, sperm whales and spinner dolphins. On land, the national parks have elephants and leopard, and this itinerary will endeavour to show you them all!
This small group tour will first take you in search of spinner dolphins, seen in huge numbers off Kalpitiya in the north-west of the country, before continuing to the south coast, possibly the best place in the world to see blue whales and sperm whales in the deep waters.
With Sri Lanka offering so much more than marine life, this trip also includes time to see the famed elephants of Udawalawe National Park and the leopards of Yala National Park.
Day1: Depart UK
Day2: Arrive Colombo & transfer to Kalpitiya
Upon arrival in Sri Lanka, you will be met by your group leader and transferred to your hotel in Kalpitiya, two to three hours drive from the airport.
Accommodation: Wellé Wadiya Hotel, 3-nights
Days3-4: Early morning boat trips to watch spinner dolphins & whales
This morning you’ll head out early on a small local boat for your dolphin-watching excursion, staying out at sea for some three hours. Between December and April, Kalpitiya is home to hundreds of spinner dolphins, and with any luck they can be seen just a few minutes offshore. Sticking together in pods, they often swim alongside the boat or ride the bow wave as they frolic in the ocean - a thrilling sight! On this outing, there’s a chance of encountering blue, and sperm whales, as the deep offshore waters are ideal for these gentle giants.
Returning to land, you’ll have the afternoon free to explore this fascinating area further. In Kalpitiya the fort and church of St Peter's are interesting relics of Sri Lanka's Dutch colonial past. Alternatively you may prefer to take an optional leisurely boat ride on the lagoon, or a canoe trip down the river – both pleasant ways to explore the waterways of the coastline.
Day5: Transfer to Udawalawe
Today you have a long drive – some eight hours in all – to Udawalawe, with a stop en route to visit Rathnapura, the centre of Sri Lanka’s gem mining district.
Day6: Jeep safari in to Udawalawe National Park, then drive to Tissamaharama
This morning you’ll visit Udawalawe National Park for a wildlife jeep safari. The park is home to many elephants – it’s not uncommon to see herds of 50 to 60 at one time. It also has sizeable populations of sambar, chital and wild boar, and abundant birdlife including grey-headed fish, and crested serpent eagles, and black-shouldered kite. Following your jeep safari, you’ll continue on to Tissamaharama and your hotel.
Day7: Jeep safari in Yala National Park to see leopard
Today you’ll explore Yala National Park on two jeep safaris, each of some three hours. Yala NP is Sri Lanka’s oldest wildlife reserve, famous for having one of the highest densities of leopard in the world, and some of the world’s largest and most visible specimens. During your morning and evening safaris you may also see elephant, sloth bear, sambar, chital, wild boar, as well as striped-necked, brown and ruddy mongoose, black-naped hare, marsh mugger crocodile and several civet species. Birding highlights include the southern sirkeer, blue-faced malkoha, yellow-wattled lapwing, rufous-winged bush lark, thick-billed flower-pecker, purple sunbird, little minivet, white-rumped shama and rare black-necked stork.
Day8: Morning jeep safari in Yala, then transfer to Mirissa area
This morning you’ll enjoy another jeep safari in Yala National Park – with a final chance to spot leopard and the other resident animals. In the afternoon, you’ll continue for around three hours to Mirissa, stopping en route to visit Weherahena Temple with its 25 metre high colourful Buddha statue. The temple also boasts artificial caves decorated with 200 scenes illustrated in comic book style that relate episodes from the life of Buddha.
Accommodation: Fisherman's Bay Resort, 5-nights
Days9-12: Four morning whale watching boat trips
Over the next four days, you’ll enjoy a daily boat excursion (weather dependent) to sight blue whales. Each trip will last around three hours, giving you the best chance of seeing cetaceans, accompanied by a whale specialist. This is the premier spot for seeing blue, and sometimes sperm, whales, and our trips operate at times that are particularly good for spotting blue whales (November to April), which are present because the nutrient-rich waters create exceptionally good feeding grounds.
One afternoon you’ll visit a tea plantation and be shown around the tea estate to see the entire production process – from bush to cup.
Day13: Transfer to Katunayake near Colombo
Today it’s time to head back to Colombo, via Galle, a drive of around four hours. At one time Galle was Sri Lanka’s most important port, and was protected by a fort which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the way north there should be time to stop at the lovely Madu River, whose hundreds of islets, separated by a maze of mangrove-filled creeks, are home to several species of indigenous aquatic birds and fish – a real tropical paradise in miniature.
On arrival at Katunayake, to the north of Colombo, you’ll check in to your hotel and be able to enjoy a final farewell dinner with your guide and travelling companions.
Accommodation: Tamarind Tree Hotel, 1-night
Day14: Fly back to the UK
You will be transferred to Colombo airport in time for a daytime flight back to the UK.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 14 daysfrom £2,995 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 13 daysfrom £2,345 pp
Kalpitiya is well known for sightings of spinner dolphins and due to the deep water channel that runs close to the peninsula, whales are often seen too. Birdwatchers also take note, for it is one of the best places in South Asia to see Persian shearwater, wedge-tailed shearwater, brown noddy and pomarine skua.
Where: North Eastern Province
Ideal for viewing: blue whale, sperm whale, spinner dolphin, spotted dolphin, gull-billed tern
Excellent for: Whale watching, Dolphin watching
Walawe Reservoir and Udawalawe National Park comprise an area of open plains and hills at the foot of the Kaltota Escarpment. The park is good for elephants with herds of 50 to 60 individuals regularly seen and game drives are in open-top jeeps, accompanied by local wildlife guides.
Where: Sabaragamuwa & Uva Provinces
Ideal for viewing: chital, Asian elephant, sambar, wild boar, rusty-spotted cat
Excellent for: Birdwatching
Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s oldest wildlife reserve and famous for one of the world’s highest densities of leopard. It has a variety of ecosystems including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, freshwater and marine wetlands, and sandy beaches.
Where: Eastern Province
Ideal for viewing: Asian elephant, leopard, marsh mugger crocodile, sambar, sloth bear
Excellent for: Vehicle safaris
Although Mirissa has a beautiful stretch of sandy beach, it is not relaxing on its golden sands that we recommend, for Mirissa is one of the foremost places in the world to see blue and sperm whales. Between December and April, when the sea is relatively calm, they arrive off the coast to feed in the rich waters.
Where: Southern Province
Ideal for viewing: blue whale, sperm whale, humpback whale, spinner dolphin, bottlenose dolphin
Excellent for: Whale watching
Located in Tissamaharama, the Rain Tree Hotel lies between two ancient reservoirs to the west of Yala National Park. This pleasant hotel is also within easy reach of Bundala and Udawalawe National Parks, making it perfectly situated for access to some of Sri Lanka’s most iconic wildlife locations.