Paddle and Hike Through Remote Sri Lanka
Canoe the Mahaweli River, hike through rainforests, canyon and raft cascades and cycle around an ancient city
7 days off work
Throughout the year
Up to 14 people
Bandaranaike International Airport
Guesthouse · Wild camping · Hotel
This trip is designed for adventurous people with average/good fitness, but none of the activities are hugely strenuous.
Paddle down the Mahawali River on a 3-day self-supported expedition and experience the wild side of Sri Lanka
Cycle around the ancient, UNESCO World Heritage site of Polonnaruwa and hike through the rainforest of The Knuckles Mountain Range
Watch out for herds of wild elephants and basking crocodiles and whale watch on the Indian ocean
Expert, English-speaking local guides
2 nights in an eco-lodge, 3 nights wild camping, 1 night glamping, 1 night in a hotel, 2 nights in a guesthouse
All your meals except for 1 lunch & 2 dinners
To and from the airport and everything in-between
All your expedition and camping equipment
All permits and entry fees
Flights to and from the meeting point
Some meals as described
Tips for your guides
Colombo city centre, or Colombo Airport
12:00 or 13:30 depending on your choice.
Colombo Airport or Colombo city centre
You can choose to be collected in Colombo city centre at 12:00 noon or at Colombo Airport at 13:30 on Day 1. At the end of your trip, you will be dropped at Colombo Airport at 12:00 noon on Day 10, or in Colombo city centre (on request).
There are regular flights to Sri Lanka from major airports across the UK and Europe. Private transfers are available for those unable to meet the pick up times and cost 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 of you, the price can be shared.
Guesthouse · Twin share
Guesthouse · Twin share
Day 3 – Day 6
Wild camping · Twin share
Hotel · Twin share
Guesthouse · Twin share
Guesthouse · Twin share
What is the food like?
Sri Lankan cuisine is a fascinating reflection of the island’s heritage: a 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 curry, as well as various pickles, sambols and tiny poppadum’s – all using the contrasting flavours of coconut, chilli, curry leaves, cinnamon and garlic. There is also an abundance of fresh seafood and fish.
Vegetarians are well catered for along with most dietary requirements, just speak to your host upon booking.
What is the accommodation like?
You’ll stay in the remote Borderlands eco-lodge in a twin room near the river. There's also an onsite bar and restaurant. It's pretty remote, but that's the beauty of it.
You’ll wild camp at an off-grid site called Wild Glamping Knuckles. Accommodation will be in converted twin-share safari tents in the forest. You'll also have a team to assist with putting up the tents and cooking.
You’ll stay in twin-share tents in completely wild and remote locations. There will be a local support team, but you'll be expected to help set up camp.
You’ll stay in the 4 sytar Girtale Hotel, perched on the river bank - a bit of luxury after the expedition.
You’ll stay at the Aloha' guesthouse, in a simple but clean twin-share room.
For solo travellers looking for their own space, an optional private room and tent can be booked for an extra charge, see Optional Extras for the price. Please request this at the time of booking (this is subject to availability).
Welcome to Sri Lanka
Travel to Kithugala in the middle of the rainforest, where your adventure begins. You’ll spend the next two nights staying at an eco-lodge perched on the top of a hill overlooking the Kelani River surrounded by mountains. Hang out by the campfire, get to know your fellow adventurers and listen to the rainforest come alive at night.
All about the river
2 hours · 6.5km
Learn a bit about the Mahaweli River Expedition and practice handling your canoe, then it’s off to the mighty Kelani River – a natural water park. Wind your way through the jungle on your canyoning adventure, seeking out narrow side canyons that form huge plumes and waterslides. Slip and slide your way to the Lower Kelani and pick up your raft ready for the next challenge - 6.5km of white water. Tackle the Killer Fall and Butter Crunch rapids as you head downriver - sure to be a fun challenge - if you can hang on long enough!
6hrs · 15km
Head further into the rainforest and enter the rugged peaks of The Knuckles Range – named by the British due to their resemblance to a clenched fist. You'll be surrounded by mystical mountains that rise up to 2000m, cascading waterfalls and quaint villages hidden amongst terraced rice fields, as well as a huge variety of rare and elusive animals. Your guide will lead you along the best hiking trails and help you avoid leeches (irritating, but inevitable!) as you explore this lush, rich environment. Spend the night wild camping - a real wilderness experience.
Hiking and Glamping
4hrs · 10km
Catch the sunrise from camp and then set off for some more hiking. Keep your eyes peeled for wild buffalo, boar and the endemic Toque Macaque and Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. Leopards and elephants also live in this jungle, although you're less likely to bump into them! Reach your glamping spot for the night in time for lunch and choose between relaxing or heading out for some more exploration. Spend the night in converted safari tents that provide the perfect balance between comfort and nature. Just unzip the door for a full view of the mountain range.
The Mahaweli River Expedition
Transfer to Mahiyanganaya, starting point for your 3-day river expedition. The 335m long Mahaweli is Sri Lanka’s longest river and you’ll be canoeing your way along a 50km stretch of it - right through the Wasgamuwa National Park and your first rapids. Set up camp on a sand beach at the rivers edge and head off to gather firewood. As well as cooking, this will be used throughout the night as protection against possible elephant forays!
The Elephant Corridor
Set out on a full days paddling and appreciate the 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. It’s rare to see people here and the solitude is priceless.
Tackle a number of challenging rapids and then set up camp for the night - this time you'll be sleeping in full view of the elephant corridor: a jungle route that elephants cross to reach the river. On previous expeditions, your host has witnessed bulls sparing and herds of up to 100 crossing within sight of camp. Enjoy dinner under the stars and relax around a fire that your guides will keep burning throughout the night.
Last day of the expedition
If the bird song of the dawn chorus isn't enough to wake you, then the sound of elephants certainly will! Although sightings can never be guaranteed, you're in the perfect spot. If the elephants are around, sitting in your canoe and watching them pass by is an out of this world experience. Leave Wasgamuwa National Park behind and enter a section of river that’s ideal for viewing crocodiles on the beaches, before the dense jungle gives way to cultivated farmland.
Watch the lines of boats along the river banks mining the sand - a fascinating experience and an insight into an important part of Sri Lanka’s development. Having paddled into the heart of the Cultural Triangle, it’s time to jump into a truck and transfer to Polonnaruwa where a long overdue shower is waiting for you.
Cycling and road tripping
2 hours · 15km
Spend the morning cycling around the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this city is over 1000 years old and renowned as one of the most beautiful cultural sites in Sri Lanka. The terrain is also totally flat, so cycling is the perfect way to see the city and stretch your legs out after all those days in a canoe.
Take a road trip to the lively fishing town of Weligama on the Indian Ocean, with a stop at a roadside cafe for a fresh coconut and a rice and curry refuel. Check into your hotel in the late afternoon and head out for dinner. Weligama is a popular surfing spot, so there’s plenty of choice.
Whale watching and kayaking
Depending on the season, you’ll either whale watch or sea kayak today. For those travelling in whale-season (November-April), you’ll have the opportunity to see blue whales, sperm whales and orcas, as well as dolphins, turtles and whale sharks in their natural environment and far away from the crowds.
If you are travelling out of whale-season (May-October) you'll spend the morning sea kayaking and exploring the areas beautiful coastline, including reefs, small islands and completely deserted beaches. The afternoon is yours to spend snorkelling, surfing, paddleboarding or maybe just whiling away some time on the beach - you’ve earned it!
After breakfast, head back to Colombo (approximately 2 hours) in time for your flight home.
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.
15% Off Outdoor Gear
In need of a few more items? All bookings receive a 15% discount on us to use at Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock, Runner's Need, and Cycle Surgery.
What do I need to bring?
- Daypack (35+ litres) for overnights and hikes
- Fleece jacket or similar
- lightweight jacket for the evenings
- Waterproof jacket
- Lightweight trousers/shorts etc
- Underwear & socks
- 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
- Cotton or silk sleeping bag liner (optional)
- Padlock for luggage
- Universal travel adapter
- Power bank or solar charger
- Spare camera batteries
- Passport (and visas)
- Travel Insurance documents
- Insect repellent
- Suncream (reef-friendly only!)
- Personal first-aid kit (including blister treatment)
- Personal items (biodegradable toiletries, sanitary wear etc)
- Quick-dry towel
- Alcohol hand-gel
- Headtorch or torch
- Reusable water bottle (1 litre capacity)
This trip is designed for those of average/good fitness, but none of the activities are hugely strenuous. No previous canoeing experience is needed, but you may benefit from some upper body strength in order to enjoy it to the max as you will be on the water for up to 5 hours a day.
You also don't need to be an experienced hiker, although you should be able to trek for up to 6 hours across uneven terrain. You should also feel comfortable riding a bike for a couple of hours along flat ground.
No previous experience is needed for the canyoning and rafting, just a sense of adventure and a willingness to get wet!
You'll spend 3 days canoeing down the Mahaweli River. This is a self-supported expedition, meaning you 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, but everyone (you included!) will need to pitch in to collect wood, put up the tents and get everything ready each morning. This is wild and remote Sri Lanka at its best, so 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.
You will be in a small petrol-powered boat on a private expedition. These boats are quieter than the busy diesel-run public boats, to ensure that they don't impact the whales through noise.
You will also head out later in the day than the crowded public boats to avoid crowding the whales, meaning you often have the experience to yourselves. As the boats are small they also mobilise quickly when a whale is sighted.
Please note, that while it's very likely that you will see whales during the season (November-April), this can't be guaranteed. Almost all trips will see at least one whale, but it's important to remember that you are watching wild animals, so an element of uncertainty must be expected.
Sure can! Over 50% of our travellers travel solo, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.
Clean drinking water will be provided throughout from 20ltr dispensers. Please pack your own reusable bottle, it will be well used.
It may sound clichéd but Sri Lanka is a year-round destination, although December to mid-April is considered to be the peak season and will be busier as a result.
Temperatures are fairly constant, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25-30°C and the highlands 15-18°C. As this trip covers a lot of ground, it also straddles what were traditionally seen as the different monsoon seasons (4 depending on which region you travel in). This means 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 every type of weather is a must!
Sure thing. If you don't want to move around with all your luggage/are carrying on with another trip after, our host will be happy to arrange a safe spot in Colombo to store your kit.
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.
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!
All of our group adventures are especially designed for adults to enjoy (18+) as we want these adventures to bring together outdoorsy people who are truly like-minded.
"I cannot recommend this highly enough! The people on the trip were amazing. Easily the best trip I've ever been on!" Charlotte, 2019, Trustpilot.
We automatically convert prices from the local currency that a host receives to your chosen currency. We update our exchange rates on a daily basis so this does mean that prices displayed on the site are subject to currency fluctuations, which is why you may see them change over time.
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Cancel up to 31 days before departure and we'll transfer your deposit into credit for a future booking.
Free Date Changes
Free date changes up to 31 days before departure.
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