Grand Tour

Wonders of Sri Lanka by Private Train

3rd to 18th February 2018
Sri Lanka

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 much of this system partly on service trains and partly 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 which we will visit. In short, this tour offers something for everyone. Our dates have been chosen to enjoy the best month 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.

This year, for the first time, we are offering both 10 and 14-day options.

Your Tour Manager for this trip is David, who has led the Sri Lanka tour twice before. Should you have any queries about the itinerary or if you wish to have a chat with him about the trip, please feel free to e-mail him on david@ptg.co.uk.

Please take a look at the following BBC News article on Sri Lanka:

BBC News Queen’s Baton Relay: Sri Lanka by steam train By Mark Beaumont BBC Queen’s Baton Relay presenter (23 October 2013)

Tour Manager: David

Itinerary

Saturday 3rd February We will fly with Emirates via Dubai which gives us lunchtime departures from Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow 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 4th 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 5th 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.

Tuesday 6th February (B,D) We join a morning service train from Galle to Matara. From here we will visit 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. Alternatively spend a relaxing day exploring the old and new parts of Galle.

Wednesday 7th February (B,L,D) Rail fan Option: Ride the public service train Galle – Moratuwa where our coach will meet us and take us to Mount Lavinia for the 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. Picnic lunch served on board the T1.

Thursday 8th February (B,D) Rail fan Option: We will ride on the beautifully restored T1 railcar out of Colombo’s main Fort station to Avissawela, 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. We also visit the nearby Maradana running shed. A packed lunch will be served on board the T1. Culture 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.

Note: Clients who opt to start the tour here will leave the UK on Wednesday and will be met at the airport by the local guide and representatives of J F Tours and will transfer to the hotel in Colombo by coach. Depending on the arrival time, there may be an option for an afternoon sightseeing tour of Colombo.

Friday 9th February (B,L,D) Colombo – Rambukkana – Nanu-Oya by Viceroy 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 10th February (B,L,D) Nuwara Eliya – Badulla – Nuwara Eliya. We transfer to Nanu-Oya to catch our Viceroy 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 free time to explore the town. Return by train to Nanu-Oya and then by coach to Nuwara Eliya. Lunch will be served on board the Viceroy train.

Sunday 11th February (B,L,D) Returning to Nanu-Oya to catch our Viceroy train, we make our way to Kandy. Kandy has an agreeable climate due to its altitude of over 1600 feet. 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 12th February (B,D) 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, David will lead a trip along the branch line to Matale.

Tuesday 13th 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 14th February (B,L,D) Rail option: The east coast town of Batticaloa is our destination today, as we make an out and back trip by train. This is a full day trip and takes us through the vast plains in this part of the island, but with a good chance of seeing wild elephants. Culture option: Alight from the train at Polonnaruwa to visit the Polonnaruwa World Heritage Site. The people of Sri Lanka are very proud of Polonnaruwa. It was the capital of the country AD 200 – 1300 when it was sacked by Indian invaders and is the best preserved of the ruined cities. The city was supplied with water channelled from the still existing 2500-hectare reservoir known as the Sea of Parikrama. The Gal Vihara Rock Monastery is the most celebrated site in Polonnaruwa these days, with its gigantic rock sculptures.

Thursday 15th 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.

Friday 16th February (B,L,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: David will lead a trip by train on one of the two recently reopened lines to Jaffna and Kankesanthurai in the north of the island, or to Talaimannar Pier in the north-west. 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. There are controversial plans to build a bridge to connect Sri Lankan and Indian railways at Talaimannar.

Saturday 17th 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.

Sunday 18th 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 walk over rough ground. Some stations have low platforms but assistance is generally available. Some rail options where we visit workshops involve walking across railway track. The safari on the final days is by jeep with a high step up into the vehicles.

Place(s) available
Holiday prices per person
  • Full 15 day holiday including flight from London, Birmingham or Manchester: £3,899
  • Own travel to Colombo: £3,199

Options

  • Single room Supplement: £500

Deposit

  • £100 (balance of deposit due 01/01/2018)
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Highlights
  • Private charter trains
  • Stunning scenery
  • Wildlife
  • Amazing welcoming and friendly people
Your holiday price includes
  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • Good quality en-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted.
Flights
  • Direct Sri Lankan flight from London or regional flights with Emirates via Dubai
  • Flight upgrades available – prices on request