Wonders of Sri Lanka by Private Train
Sri Lanka is a beautiful tropical island the size of Ireland that has it all: endless beaches, World Heritage, wildlife, beautiful scenery. And above all, a wonderful broad gauge railway system still very much as originally built and we cover the majority of this system – mostly with our own private train.
Highlights of the trip include leaving the airport on a private train and rail journeys through amazing scenery as we travel through the tea-growing areas of the island. We also take in many of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and for nature lovers, there are amazing birds and nature reserves with “big” animals which we will visit. In short, this tour offers something for everyone. Our dates have been chosen to enjoy the best months weather wise (“best” meaning coolest temperatures and least rain).
Throughout this tour we will have a local guide and crew, and our own private coach to take our luggage from hotel to hotel.
Your Tour Manager for this trip is David.
Please take a look at the following BBC News article on Sri Lanka:
Tour Manager: David
Saturday 4 February We will fly with Emirates via Dubai which gives us lunchtime departures from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham. We all meet up in Dubai for our onward flight to Colombo. It is also possible to fly direct with Sri Lankan Airways leaving Heathrow at 21.15.
Sunday 5 February (D) We arrive at Colombo Airport where our bus will be waiting to take our luggage to the hotel, but we will travel into town by private train! At Colombo Fort, the capital’s main station, our bus will collect us and take us the short distance to our hotel, a classy colonial-style pile with a wonderful seafront terrace from where we can watch the sun sink into the sea.
Monday 6 February (B,D) Rail fan Option: We will ride on the beautifully restored T1 railcar out of Colombo’s main Fort station to Avissawella, a journey of just over 2 hours each way. On our return we travel directly to Demagoda Running Shed. As well as maintaining many of the diesel locos used on the network, it also stores a collection of long withdrawn steam locos, and what’s left of the narrow gauge stock. Cultural Option: 3-hour City Tour, taking in many of the area’s most important historic locations. Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and sea-port is a blend of old and new, with many reminders of its European colonial past. Bustling bazaars, Buddhist and Hindu Temples and Muslim Mosques contrast with smart modern Shopping Malls. Sightseeing highlights include the old parliament houses, Buddhist Temple, Town Hall, and the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall.
Tuesday 7 February (B,D) Ride a service train Colombo – Galle. This is a lovely ride through the palm-tree plantations south of Colombo, always with the sea on our right. City tour including Galle Fort. Galle was a Dutch trading station and is dominated by the picturesque fortress built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and extensively fortified by the Dutch to protect both themselves and their commercial interests. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988.
Wednesday 8 February (B,D) We join a morning service train from Galle to Matara. From here we will visit the Star Fort, dating from 1761, the famous Weherahena Temple and a snake conservation centre. Later we return to Galle for time to explore the town on our own, or enjoy the excellent facilities at our hotel.
Thursday 9 February (B,D) Rail fan Option: Ride the public service train Galle – Mount Lavinia and transfer by T1 railcar to Ratmalana. Visit the SLR’s main workshops, a Victorian time capsule. The apprentices’ school next door acquired two derelict British-built Robey steam lorries for the pupils to practise their newly-acquired skills. We return to Colombo Fort on the T1. Culture option: Travel back to Colombo by coach with a special stop at a “Turtle Sanctuary”. Join the rail group at Ratmalana.
Friday 10 February (B,L,D) Colombo – Rambukkana – Nanu-Oya by Viceroy II special train with the views of rice cultivation, coconut palms and charming villages. On leaving Rambukkana our train begins to climb the Kadugannawa Incline, where trains climb 1400 ft in 13 miles, often on a ledge of rock cut out of the hillside. We also visit the new railway museum in Kadugannawa. On arrival at Nanu-Oya we are met by our coach for the short journey to Nuwara Eliya. This summer resort was discovered by British explorer Sir Samuel Baker in 1847 and was a favourite sanctuary of the British civil servants and planters in former Ceylon. It still keeps the atmosphere of a British village with many of the buildings retaining features from the colonial period, such as the Grand Hotel, Town Post Office and Hill Club.
Saturday 11 February (B,L,D) Nuwara Eliya – Badulla – Nuwara Eliya. We transfer to Nanu-Oya to catch our Viceroy II special train to Badulla. This part of the scenic train journey climbs into the mountains to reach the summit at Pattipola at 6226 ft. which is the highest altitude achieved by a 5’6” broad gauge main line anywhere in the world. Connecting two mountains, the Demodara Nine Arch Bridge was constructed solely out of solid rock, bricks and cement without using iron or steel. The nearby railway spiral is another attraction. We continue to the end of the line at Badulla, where we will have lunch in the Riverside Hotel. Return by train to Nanu-Oya and then by coach to Nuwara Eliya.
Sunday 12 February (B,L,D) Returning to Nanu-Oya to catch our Viceroy II train, we make our way to Kandy. Kandy has an agreeable climate due to its altitude of 500 m. Founded in the 14th century, it became the capital of the kingdom in 1592 and is located in a valley surrounded by forested hills. The city was declared a World Heritage Site because of the outstanding Kandyan royal architecture found in the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic, adjoining royal palace and other historical buildings nearby, which we will visit this afternoon.
Monday 13 February (B,D) A train free day today! As well as cultural visits, including the immaculately kept Peradeniya botanic gardens, we will have free time to relax in the hotel or explore the bustling town. The hotel is next to Bogambara Lake, and you will find locals and visitors alike strolling round it and enjoying the scenery. For rail fans, you may wish to experience the local suburban line to Matale.
Tuesday 14 February (B,D) Today will begin with a visit to a beautiful spice garden and two important UNESCO World Heritage Sites by coach. Firstly Dambulla, which is the largest, best preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The next adventure is Sigiriya which is also known as the ‘palace in the sky’. Atop the 200-metre-high solid rock, an ancient Sri Lankan King (477-95) transformed the natural rock into a heavenly palace and part fortified town. For lovers of historical sites, today is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the tour.
Wednesday 15 February (B,L,D) Habarana – Maho – Anuradhapura. Anuradhapura is another ruined city, and was the first capital of the ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka and founded around the 5th century BC. The sacred city which is spread out over approximately 100 acres (40 hectares) of land area is home to the ruins of huge stupas, monasteries, Buddha images and colossal man-made lakes and ponds.
Thursday 16 February (B,D) Culture option: This morning we will visit Mihintale & Isurumuniya temples. The 1080+ foot-high Mihintale rock is situated about 13 kilometres east of Anuradhapura. It is on this rock that the historic meeting between King Devanampiyatissa and Arahath Mahinda, the son of Emperor Asoka of India, is said to have taken place in 247 BC. This meeting led to the King converting to Buddhism and the establishment and growth of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. In Isurumuniya temple there are four carvings of special interest in this Viharaya. They are the Isurumuniya Lovers, Elephant Pond and the Royal Family. Rail option: We will travel by service train on the recently reopened main line to Jaffna and Kankesanthurai in the north of the island. Before the civil war, Jaffna was one of the busiest stations in Sri Lanka, but suffered heavy damage in the 1980s and by 1990 the line had been closed. It reopened in 2015.
Friday 17 February (B,L,D) We travel by coach from Anuradhapura to Wilpattu National Park (one hour journey). Wilpattu is Sri Lanka’s largest national park. The unique feature of this park is the existence of “Willus” – Natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions that fill with rainwater. The park is home to leopard, elephant, sloth bear, jackal and other mammals whilst providing ample opportunities for bird watching. We continue to Puttalam Station where the T1 railcar is stationed to take us to Negombo. We have our Farewell Dinner at our hotel tonight.
Saturday 18 February (B) Today we transfer to the airport for our flights home.
This is a relatively easy tour, however on some of the optional visits it is necessary to be able to climb a flight of stairs and there may be rough ground. Some stations have low platforms but assistance is generally available. Some rail options where we visit workshops involve walking across railway track.
We will have exclusive use of either the Viceroy or Viceroy II train, depending on the number of people in the group. We will also have our own coach for the duration of the tour, and as well us taking us between hotels and railway stations and visits, it will also carry our luggage from hotel to hotel.