Much Better Adventures

Adventures / Adventure Tapas

Paddle, Hike and Bike Through Remote Sri Lanka

Canoe the Mahaweli River, hike rainforests and mountains, canyon and raft cascades and cycle around an ancient city. Eyes peeled for whales on the Indian Ocean.

Location

Sri Lanka

Fly To

Bandaranaike International Colombo Airport

Perfect for

Those of average fitness who want a wilderness experience in Sri Lanka. No previous experience necessary.

Difficulty

Moderate

Why it's much better

  • Paddle down the Mahawali River on a 3 day self-supported canoe expedition
  • Hike through the dense rainforest of The Knuckles Mountain Range
  • Glamp in safari tents and camp in sight of the Elephant Corridor
  • Canyon and white water raft your way down the Kelani River
  • Watch for herds of wild elephants and basking crocodiles from your canoe
  • Cycle around the ancient city and World Heritage Site of Polonnaruwa
  • Whale watch or kayak on the Indian Ocean, staying in Weligama surf town
  • Experience the really wild side of Sri Lanka at its best, off the beaten path

What's Included

  • Guides Expert, English-speaking local guides
  • Accommodation 2 nights in an eco-lodge, 3 nights wild camping, 1 night glamping, 1 night in a hotel, 2 nights in a guesthouse
  • Meals All your food (apart from 1 lunch & 2 x dinners)
  • Transfers All airport transfers
  • Permits All permits and entry fees
  • Equipment All canyoning, rafting, canoeing, cycling and camping equipment
  • Happiness Guaranteed We're so confident that your holiday will be your best yet, we actually guarantee it
  • Feel Good Vibes We mitigate 4x the carbon emitted by all our travellers and support important conservation projects

Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Sri Lanka!

You’ll meet your guide upon arrival before being whisked off to Kithugala, right in the middle of the rainforest, where your adventure begins. You’ll spend the next two nights in an eco-lodge perched on top of a hill that overlooks the Kelani River, surrounded by mountains. Dinner will be served under the stars. Hang out by the campfire and get to know your fellow adventurers, whilst listening to the rainforest come alive at night.

Day 2: All about the river

This morning will be spent learning a bit about the Mahaweli River Expedition, coming up in a few days. You’ll do a little bit of training with your guide so you know what to expect and how to handle your canoe.

Then it’s off to the mighty Kelani river for an afternoon of fun in this natural water park. Heading deep into the jungle, you’ll jump straight into the potholes and seek out the narrow side canyons that form huge plumes and waterslides. You’ll slip and slide your way to the Lower Kelani to pick up rafts for your next challenge. Hop into a raft for 6.5km of white water rafting to end the day. You’ll tackle the ‘Killer Fall’ and ‘Butter Crunch’ rapids as you head down river - sure to be a fun challenge if you can hang on for long enough!

Day 3: The Knuckles Mountain Range

Trekking boots to the ready! Today you will head deep into the rainforest to the rugged peaks of The Knuckles. The British named this mountain range for its resemblance to a clenched fist. You'll be surrounded by mystical mountains up to 2000m, cascading waterfalls and quaint villages hidden amongst the terraced rice fields. This verdant landscape is also home to a huge number of rare and elusive animals.

Your guide will lead you through the best hiking trails and help you to avoid encounters with leeches (a minor irritant, but inevitable really!) that are found in this lush, rich rainforest. Tonight will be spent wild camping, a real wilderness experience.

Approx 6 hours trekking / 15km

Day 4: More hiking and glamping

An early start if you're keen to catch the sunrise from camp this morning. After a camp breakfast, you’ll set off for some more hiking. Keep your eyes peeled for wild buffalo, wild boar and the endemic Toque Macaque and Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. Leopards and elephants also live in the jungle here, although you are less likely to bump into them!

You’ll reach your glamping spot in time for lunch and can choose to relax for the afternoon or head out for some more trail exploration. The converted safari tents you’ll be sleeping in provide the perfect balance of comfort and nature. Unzip the door for full views of the mountain ranges below.

Approx 4 hours trekking / 10km

Day 5: The Mahaweli River Expedition begins!

Leaving the tents early this morning, you’ll transfer to Mahiyanganaya, the start point of your 3-day river expedition. The 335m long Mahaweli is Sri Lanka’s longest river and you’ll be canoeing your way down 50km of it - right through the middle of Wasgamuwa National Park.

After 4 hours of paddling you'll reach the edge of the park, your first rapids and a campsite on a jungle sand beach. You'll set up camp on the edge of the river before heading off to gather wood for the campfire. The fire is kept going throughout the night as protection against possible elephant forays!

Day 6: Expedition continued - to the Elephant Corridor!

You're in for another early start today you set out for a full day of paddling through the park. Appreciate the total silence, apart from the calls of birds (including raptors, hornbills and peacocks) howling monkeys and the buzzing of insects. With any luck, you’ll catch a glimpse of sunning crocodiles and thirsty elephants as you paddle down river. It’s rare to see people here and the solitude is priceless.

You’ll have a number of rapids to manoeuvre before setting up tonight's camp. This time you'll be sleeping in full view of an elephant corridor: a jungle route for elephants crossing the river. On previous expeditions, your host has found elephant bones and witnessed bulls sparing as herds of up to 100 elephants have crossed the river within sight of this camp.

Dinner is served under the stars, by the fires that your guides will take turns to watch over throughout the night.

Day 7: Last Day of the Expedition

While the birds partaking in the dawn chorus might be enough to wake you up this morning, the sound of elephants making their way across the river certainly will! Although sightings can never be guaranteed, you are in an ideal spot. If the elephants are around, sitting in your canoe as they pass is out of this world.

Next, the river widens as you leave Wasgamuwa National Park behind. This section is an excellent area to view crocodiles on the beaches, before the topography levels out and the dense jungle gives way to farmland. Local sand mining activity picks up again until you see nothing but lines of boats along the river banks, mining the river sand. It is a fascinating insight into an industry that has been instrumental in Sri Lanka’s development.

Having paddled all the way into the heart of the Cultural Triangle, you’ll jump in a truck to transfer you to Polonnaruwa. On arrival, you’ll check into your hotel for a fairly overdue shower.

Day 8: Cycling and road-tripping

You’ll spend the morning cycling around the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Declared a World Heritage Site, the city is over 1000 years old and is renowned as one of the most beautiful ancient sites in Sri Lanka. You’ll be on the bikes for a couple of hours and the terrain is totally flat. Cycling is the perfect way to see the old city and to stretch your legs after all those days in a canoe.

This afternoon is time for a road trip. You'll head towards the lively fishing town of Weligama on the south coast, overlooking the Indian Ocean. Taking approximately 6 hours, you’ll notice the change in scenery as you journey through the countryside. There will be stops at roadside cafes for a quick fresh coconut and ‘rice and curry’ refuel.

Check into your hotel in the late afternoon before heading out for dinner. As Weligama is also a popular surfing spot, there’s plenty of choice for dinner tonight and you'll feel back in 'civilisation' somewhat.

Day 9: Whale Watching and kayaking

Depending on which season you travel in, you’ll be going whale watching or sea kayaking. For those travelling in whale-season (November-April), you’ll have the opportunity to see blue whales along with sperm whales and orcas in their natural environment - along with a whole host of other animals like playful spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, turtles and whale sharks. You’ll be on a small private boat and have the chance to spot these majestic animals away from the crowds.

If you are travelling out of whale-season (May-October) you'll spend the morning sea kayaking and exploring this beautiful coastline, with its many reefs, small islands and deserted beaches. There will be time for some snorkelling and marvelling at the huge clay cliffs at the southern end of the bay.

You’ll have this afternoon free so you can try surfing, paddleboarding or maybe just while away the time at the beach, you’ve earned a break!

Day 10: Goodbye from Colombo

After breakfast, get ready for your transfer back to Colombo (approximately 2 hours) for your flight home. Say goodbye to Sri Lanka with a bucketful of memories!

Please Note

All our adventures take place in wild places. Things can go wrong in wild places. Your perfectly planned itinerary may change a bit (or a lot) if the weather turns, someone gets hurt, or a volcano erupts. Usually though, changes make it all the better.

Accommodation

Kithugala

Your first two nights will be spent in the remote ecolodge 'Borderlands' with an onsite bar and restaurant where you'll eat. You'll be in twin-share rooms near the river. It's pretty remote but that's the beauty of it.

The Knuckles

Your first night will be spent wild camping. You will have a team to assist with tents and cook for you. You will be in twin-share tents. Your second night is spent in the off-grid site called 'Wild Glamping Knuckles' in converted safari tents.

Mahaweli River Expedition

While on the expedition, you will also stay in twin-share tents but now the camping will be completely wild. You will be with a local team, but will be expected to help with the tents and general camp set up.

Polonnaruwa

You will stay in the Girtale Hotel. This 4* hotel is perched on the river bank and will provide a bit of luxury after the expedition. Rooms will be twin share as standard.

Weligama

You will stay at the simple guesthouse 'Aloha'. Rooms are basic but clean and you will again be sharing twin rooms.

Private Room Upgrade

For solo travellers looking for their own space, an optional private room and tent can be booked for $350 USD per person / $400 USD for Christmas date (subject to availability). Please request this at the time of booking.

Location

This trip takes in the very best of central Sri Lanka and the coast. Starting in Kithugala, a dense rainforest, you'll journey along the river and into the Knuckles Mountain Range. The Mahaweli River pours off the mountains before finally hitting the Indian Ocean, where your journey ends.

Meeting Point

Start Point

There are two collection points to meet for your transfer to Kithugala at the beginning of the trip. You can choose to be collected in Colombo city centre at 12:00 noon or at Colombo Airport at 13:30 on Day 1.

Please let your host know which option you would like to choose as a collection point for your transfer to Kithulgala and the start of your adventure.

Finish Point

Your adventure ends with an airport dropoff at Colombo Airport at 12:00 noon on Day 10. If you would prefer to be dropped in the Colombo city centre, please let your host know and they will drop you at a fixed central point.

Private transfers These are available for those unable to meet the set pick up times and are approx $85 for the start of the trip and $110 for the end. This is for one person in one car, if there are more, the price can be shared.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are not included in the trip price:

  • Travel to/from Colombo
  • Travel insurance
  • Personal expenses
  • Dinner on Day 8 and lunch and dinner on Day 9
  • Alcoholic drinks

This trip is designed for those of average/good fitness. There are a range of activities included that requires a good base level of fitness, but none of them are hugely strenuous.

No previous canoeing experience is needed, but you may benefit from some upper body strength to enjoy it more. You will be on the water for up to 5 hours. You do not need to be an experienced hiker, although you should be able to hike for up to 6 hours on steep and uneven terrain. You should also feel comfortable riding a bike for a couple of hours on flat ground.

No previous experience is needed for the canyoning and rafting, just a sense of adventure and willingness to get wet!

Sure can! Over 50% of our travellers travel solo, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

This trip will run with a minimum of 6 people and a maximum of 14.

You will spend 3 days canoeing down the Mahaweli River. This is a self-supported expedition so you will carry all you need for the 3 days in your canoe. You will be with a team of guides who will assist with the camp. Everyone (you included!) will need to pitch in to collect wood, put up the tents and get everything ready each morning etc. This is wild and remote Sri Lanka at its best, you really are in the middle of nowhere and will get a full-on wilderness experience.

To learn more about the expedition, have a read of this article.

Sri Lankan cuisine is a fascinating reflection of the island’s heritage: a unique fusion of fresh local produce with spices brought to the island over the centuries by Malays, Arabs and Indians - as well as the Dutch, Portuguese and English. Sri Lankan cuisine is often referred to simply as ‘Rice and Curry’. This is the staple dish in most restaurants and usually consists of assorted meat and vegetable curries as well as various pickles, ‘sambols’ and a handful of tiny poppadoms – all using the contrasting flavours of coconut, chilli, curry leaves, cinnamon and garlic. There is an abundance of fresh seafood and fish.

Vegetarians are well catered for, please let you host know upon booking and enquire about any other dietary requirements.

It may sound cliched but Sri Lanka is genuinely a year-round holiday destination, although December to mid-April is considered to be the peak season and will be busier as a result. Temperatures are fairly constant year-round, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25-30°C and the highlands 15-18°C on average. As this trip covers much ground, it also straddles what were traditionally seen as the different monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka (4 depending on which region you travel in). What this means is that throughout the year you are likely to encounter plenty of sunshine, some short sharp downpours, fairly high humidity and plenty of blue skies regardless of whether it has traditionally been called 'monsoon' or not. These categorisations are proving harder to predict, so packing an open mind and expecting the fun that comes with every type of weather is a must!

We’ve teamed up with the guys at World Nomads to offer insurance designed for adventurous travellers across 140 countries that includes overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. To get yours sorted, click here.

We suggest that you book travel insurance as soon as you book the trip, just to cover you for any last minute life changes. We know you’re an active lot and injuries do happen!

Our group adventures are adult only. However, if you would like to bring children along this can be arranged by requesting a private trip with the host. This trip is suitable for children from age 14 only.

Clean drinking water will be provided throughout from 20ltr dispensers. Please pack your own reusable bottle, it will be well used.

Tips are not included in the trip cost. These are entirely at your discretion but there is an expectation to tip for good service. Your guide will provide guidelines for you.

Of course, you are free to tip more or less and the amount should be reflective of your perception of service and quality - a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.

Many destinations require a visa and for your passport to be valid for 6 months minimum. Up to date advice for UK citizens can be found here.

We recommend checking out the country specific information here and also talking to a travel nurse.

For current advice about travelling in Sri Lanka, have a read of the FCO pages here

Bags

  • Daypack (35+ litres) for overnights and hikes

Clothes

  • Fleece jacket or similar lightweight jacket for the evenings
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Lightweight trousers/shorts/skirts
  • T-shirts
  • Underwear & socks
  • Swimwear
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunhat
  • Something to sleep in
  • Hiking boots or hiking shoes (worn-in)
  • Sandals (strapped not flip flops) or old trainers for river expedition
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket

Sleeping

  • Cotton or silk sleeping bag liner (optional)

Other

  • Padlock for luggage
  • Universal travel plug adapter
  • Power bank or solar charger
  • Spare camera batteries
  • Passport (and visas)
  • Travel Insurance documents
  • Ear plugs
  • Insect repellant
  • Suncream (reef-friendly only!)
  • Personal first-aid kit (inc. blister treatment)
  • Personal items (biodegradable toiletries, sanitary wear etc)
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Alcohol hand-gel
  • Headtorch or torch
  • Reusable water bottle (1 litre capacity)
  • Quickdry towel

You will be in a small petrol-powered boat for your private expedition. These boats are far quieter than the busy diesel-run public boats, so don't impact the whales through noise. You will also head out later in the day than the crowded public boats, so there is no partaking in 'crowding' the whales. You will usually set off to sea as all the public boats are returning, meaning you often have the experience of whale spotting to yourselves. As the boats are small they can also mobilise quickly when a whale is sighted.

Please note that while it is very likely to see whales in the season (November-April), this, of course, can't be guaranteed. Almost all trips will see at least one whale so it is very common but it is important to remember you are watching for wild animals so an element of uncertainty must be expected.

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Dates & Prices

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There are currently no planned group departures. Please contact this host to request a quote for a custom trip.

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