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Paddle and Hike Through Remote Sri Lanka

Canoe the Mahaweli River, hike through rainforests, canyon and raft cascades and cycle around an ancient city

This trip is no longer on sale

Trip Ref #10055

Paddle and Hike Through Remote Sri Lanka

Canoe the Mahaweli River, hike through rainforests, canyon and raft cascades and cycle around an ancient city


9 nights


Sri Lanka


7 days off work


Throughout the year


Up to 14 people


Bandaranaike International Airport



Guesthouse · Wild camping · Hotel



This trip is brand new


This trip is designed for adventurous people with average/good fitness, but none of the activities are hugely strenuous.

Paddle a section of the longest river in Sri Lanka on a 3-day self-sufficient canoeing expedition in the wild

Hike through the rainforest of The Knuckles Mountain Range and cycle around the ancient, UNESCO World Heritage site of Polonnaruwa

Whale watch on the Indian ocean and eyes peeled for herds of wild elephants and basking crocodiles on the river

Day 1

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.

Day 2

All about the river


2 hours


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!

Day 3

The Knuckles


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.

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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!

Day 6

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.

Day 7

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.

Day 8

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.

Day 9

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!

Day 10

Goodbye Colombo

After breakfast, head back to Colombo (approximately 2 hours) in time for your flight home.



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

Not Included

Flights to and from the meeting point

Travel insurance

Personal expenses

Some meals as described

Tips for your guides

Visas where required

Day 1

Guesthouse · Twin share




Day 2

Guesthouse · Twin share




Day 3 – Day 6

Wild camping · Twin share




Day 7

Hotel · Twin share




Day 8

Guesthouse · Twin share




Day 9

Guesthouse · Twin share




Day 10

Departure day




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.

The Knuckles

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.

River Expedition

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).

The Area




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).

Travel options

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.

Enjoy 12.5% Off Outdoor Gear

In need of a few more items? All bookings receive a 12.5% discount to use at Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock and Runner's Need.

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
  • T-shirts
  • Underwear & socks
  • Swimwear
  • 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


  • Cotton or silk sleeping bag liner (optional)


  • Sunglasses
  • Padlock for luggage
  • Universal travel adapter
  • Power bank or solar charger
  • Spare camera batteries
  • Passport (and visas)
  • Travel Insurance documents
  • Earplugs
  • 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)

Optional Private Room & Tent Upgrade

Payable Before Departure

Optional Private Room & Tent Upgrade

Optional Private Room & Tent Upgrade - Christmas Only

Payable Before Departure

Optional Private Room & Tent Upgrade - Christmas Only

This trip is brand new

We’re still waiting to collect any reviews from other travellers on this trip. However, all our hosts go through an extensive vetting process to ensure that your adventure is awesome.

We've crunched the numbers to work out the total carbon footprint of this trip, and plant enough trees to suck 2x as much back out the atmosphere.

What's the number?
It works out on average at 408kg of CO2 emissions per person, including all local transport, accommodation, food, activities, guides, staff and office operations.

The only thing it doesn’t include right now is flights and travel to the destination. We do make an overall estimate across all our customers separately, but as we don’t book flights, have customers from all corners of the world, and no way of reliably knowing their travel plans, we simply can’t include an individual number in the figure on display here. We’ve got a goal for 2023 to fix that, so that when you book, there is a way to measure and mitigate the carbon emitted by your flight too.

But what does the number mean?
Yep, hard to picture eh? To give you an idea:

  • Driving 1000miles/1609km would be approx. 281kg of CO2 in an average car (or 140.5kg per person if there was 2 of you in it).
  • A return economy class flight London - New York would be approx. 1,619kg (1.66 tonnes) per person.
  • 10 trees in a temperate forest are estimated to remove approx. 250kg of CO2 from the air in a period of 5-10 years.

What are we doing about it?
Our trips are relatively low-carbon by design, and we're working with all our hosts to develop long term carbon reduction plans. For every person booked with us since 2016 we’re planting enough trees to suck at least 2x more carbon out the atmosphere than is emitted by their trips. All native trees, as part of amazing projects that are re-foresting degraded land, tackling the biodiversity crisis and supporting local communities at the same time. We go further than that too, also funding re-wilding projects worldwide to help protect important keystone species from extinction. See the reforestation and re-wilding schemes we support. See our carbon action plan.

Want to know more?
Amazingly, no international travel company has ever publicly published their carbon measurements before, as far as we know. We believe that must change, quickly. So we’re openly sharing the method we used in the hope that other companies will be able to more easily follow suit and build on what we've done so far. You'll find it all here.

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 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 UK Foreign Office pages here.

Our recommended travel insurance provider is Campbell Irvine.

Travel insurance is compulsory for all of our adventures and you are required to provide your policy information before departing.

Your insurance should include adequate protection for overseas medical treatment, evacuation/repatriation, your baggage and equipment and the specific activities involved on your adventure. We also strongly recommend it includes cancellation and curtailment insurance, should you be unable to join your trip for specific reasons such as illness.

We fully endorse Campbell Irvine as their insurance offers all of the above, so get in touch with them or call on 020 7938 1734 to get your insurance sorted. We suggest that you book travel insurance as soon as you book your adventure, just to cover you for any last-minute life changes. We know you’re an active lot and injuries do happen!

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.

If you wish to change the currency you pay in, head to the bottom of the page.

All of our group adventures are specially designed for adults to enjoy (18+) as we want these adventures to bring together outdoorsy people who are truly like-minded. Children can be accommodated on some private departures.

You're in good company. Our adventures are typically made up of a mix of solo travellers and small groups of two or three friends who simply love adventure, pushing themselves and meeting awesome like-minded people. See here for more info about our lovely bunch of Much Better Adventurers.

Want to book a private trip? Just tap ‘Private Group’ in the dates and prices tab.

Your trip is led by carefully curated local hosts and expert guides. See here for more info about the guides we work with.

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