- Ground Operators
oin renowned National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita and adventure guide and photographer Jock Montgomery on an exploration of Sri Lanka, a place where the breadth of human history, cultural complexity, and biodiversity is more concentrated than anywhere else in the world.
This pendant-shaped island, just south of India, contains eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Among them are the ruins of one of antiquity’s most complex civilizations, temples and paintings built approximately a century after the advent of Buddhism, the most well-preserved example of a colonial fortified city, and a concentration of biological diversity that includes elephants, leopards, bears, jackals, and over 200 species of birds—all in breathtaking locations.
If you want to visit a land where people and place blend together in a multifaceted, syncretic way of life that spans over two millennia, where each leaf of tea is handpicked by Tamil women, a place known to travelers since the time of ancient Rome and Egypt as exotic and extraordinary—grab your cameras and let’s go.
Click here to read a personal invitation from Mike Yamashita.
People & Places
• Receive personal guidance from National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita and adventure travel photographer Jock Montgomery
• Learn about one of Asia’s most influential contemporary architects, Geoffrey Bawa, from one of his most famous students
• Meet Dominic Sansoni, one of Sri Lanka’s most well-known photographers
• Take a safari with one of Sri Lanka’s best known, award-winning wildlife photographers, Chitral Jayatilake
• Yala National Park: world’s highest density of leopards
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
• ancient ruins of Sigiriya
• Dambulla cave temple
• Anuradhapura, world’s tallest stupa and remains of the first ruling empire
• Polonnaruwa’s monumental rock structures
• Kandy, religious capital of Buddhism
• fortified Dutch colonial city of Galle
• Central Highlands, Sri Lanka’s largest and least disturbed remaining area of submontane and montane rain forests
Easy to Moderate Touring
Easy to Moderate Touring generally indicates walks or time on one’s feet of 3-5 hours each day during sightseeing excursions; possible adverse weather conditions (heat, humidity); and some driving on dirt or poorly maintained roads. Please note that road conditions in Sri Lanka leave a lot to be desired: The traffic can appear to be wild and unregulated, and horns are used more often than brakes. Bathroom facilities during excursions and long drives are frequently nonexistent or limited to the facilities at a local restaurant or shop. Overnights will be in deluxe accommodations/lodges. Elevations throughout the trip remain below 5,000 feet.
This photography tour concentrates first and foremost on helping you see and shoot in new and exciting ways. Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery will personally help you define your composition, create compelling content, and help you see the light. As you work toward refining your shooting style, you will learn how to personalize breathtaking moments that range from sweeping natural scenery to colorful human activities.
Every other day, we will gather to review each other’s work. Michael and Jock will personally critique your photos and provide expert advice for improvement and growth. Upon the conclusion of the trip, each participant will receive a certificate of completion signed by Michael and Jock.
Day 1: Arrive in Colombo
Arrive at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport by 1:00 p.m. In the late afternoon, we begin our photographic adventure at the Pettah market by observing and capturing the lifestyles of sellers and buyers. Around dusk, we arrive at Gangaramaya Temple to explore the first of many unique architectural structures. Parts of this temple were created by the Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect. We will also meet the head priest and learn about Buddhist culture. In the early evening Michael and Jock will give a tour briefing, followed by a welcome dinner at the hotel.
Cinnamon Red Colombo Hotel
Day 2: Exploring Colombo
We head out early to view the sunrise at Independence Memorial Hall, where the country declared its independence from British rule in 1948. Many people now come here to jog, cycle, and exercise. We visit a nearby school to observe and photograph children and later visit the New Parliament building, another structure designed by Geoffrey Bawa. Dominic Sansoni, one of Sri Lanka’s most respected photographers, joins us for breakfast at the Barefoot Art Cafe; his interests include vernacular architecture and the sacred space of Sri Lanka. This afternoon, we meet one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent architects, Channa Das Watte (a student of Geoffrey Bawa) for an insightful tour of contemporary Bawa architecture. Before returning to the hotel, we will stop for a snack at Pilawoos street restaurant—a popular place with the locals.
Cinnamon Red Colombo Hotel
Day 3: To Anuradhapura
This morning we take the train to Puttlam, and a bus to the Kalpitiya Peninsula. From there we board boats to visit several fishing villages, which offer many photographic opportunities. We will stop for a simple village lunch at Gange Wadiya. From there we drive to Wilpattu National Park for a safari. Wilpattu is the oldest and largest national park in Sri Lanka, known for the biodiversity around its rain-fed lakes—as well as its large leopard population.
Palm Garden Village
Day 4: To Sigiriya
We pack a breakfast and leave early to photograph the majestic Ruwanweliseya Stupa in the morning light. This 335-foot-high structure was built by King Gamunu in honor of Lord Buddha. In the ancient world, this brick stupa was the third-tallest structure, behind the pyramids of Giza. A short distance away we visit Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s first kingdom, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visit the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi tree, a descendent of a sapling brought from the original Bodhi tree in India, under which Lord Buddha once sat and attained enlightenment. We have lunch at Nuwara Wewa Rest House. Late in the afternoon, we visit Kaudulla National Park for a game drive. Because of the dry season, elephants will be gathered in large herds around watering holes.
Day 5: Exploring Sigiriya
We drive to the Sigiriya rock fortress of King Kassappa, built in 377 B.C.E. and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sigiriya is known for its frescoes, ancient Sinhalese writing, carved cisterns, rock sculptures, and water gardens. In the afternoon we visit Polonnaruwa, another UNESCO site. This garden-city and second capital of Sri Lanka, which dates from the 12th century, is known for monumental rock structures carved into bedrock. In the evening we return to our hotel, which has a view of the Sigiriya rock fortress and offers the chance to photograph the landscape in the evening light.
Day 6: To Kandy
We drive to the cave temple of Dambulla, another UNESCO site, which consists of five caves containing 157 statues. The temple upon a mountain has been continually occupied since the 3rd century B.C.E. We then travel to the rural hamlet of Habarana for an easy trek to the village of Hiriwaduna. We will visit the village, meet fishermen and chena farmers, and eat a lunch freshly prepared by the farmers’ wives. Later, we drive to Kandy, a place sacred to millions of Buddhists and another UNESCO site. On the way, we stop to visit a variety of places offering interesting insights into the village life and culture of rural Sri Lanka. Our spacious hotel sits on the banks of the Mahaweli river. After dinner, there will be a private show with six Kandian dancers. We will have the unique opportunity to photograph the dancers prior to the show, as they put on their makeup and costumes.
Cinnamon Citadel Kandy
Day 7: Exploring Kandy
In the early morning, we photograph the street life of Kandy, the commerce at local markets, and the antics of children on their way to school. We then visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, renowned for its collection of orchids. After lunch in the city, we have a private photo shoot at a brass carving center, where senior craftsman will describe and show us the process of making sacred relics and household items. In the evening, we visit Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth of Lord Buddha, once the abode of Sri Lanka’s last king. Here we can photograph Brahmin priests lighting scared oil lamps. After dinner, our local guide will present a slide show on Sri Lanka’s natural world.
Cinnamon Citadel Kandy
Day 8: To Nuwara Eliya
We take an early-morning train to Sri Lanka’s highest railway station, Pattipola, on the country’s most scenic rail track, which climbs from 2,000 to 6,000 feet. This railway has an old management system and suitably dressed station masters—great for narrative photography. On the way, we stop at one of the oldest post offices in Sri Lanka. Our bus meets the group at Pattipola and drives us to Nuwara Eliya, a mountain town and former British colony now known as Little England. After lunch at our hotel, we explore Victoria Gardens in search of endemic birds and visit the Bambarakanda waterfall with an expert naturalist guide. We also have the chance to visit the town of Nuwara Eliya to photograph the market and lifestyles of the people.
Heaven Seven Hotel
Day 9: To Yala National Park
In the morning, we drive to Cinnamon Wild Yala Resort, located adjacent to Yala National Park. We are met there by Chitral Jayatilake, a senior wildlife photographer who has spent more than 30 years photographing Sri Lanka’s leopards. After lunch, we embark on a game drive accompanied by Chitral and our local naturalist guide. These experts will help us spot leopards, sloth bears, crocodiles, elephants, jackals, and hundreds of bird species. That evening, Chitral will give a presentation on wildlife conservation and the balance between the needs of the animals and the interests of the local population.
Cinnamon Wild Yala Resort
Day 10: Exploring Yala
We get up early for a morning drive through the game park, one of the optimal times for photographing wildlife. We return to the resort for lunch and some time to edit and review our photos, before heading out to view wildlife in the afternoon light.
Cinnamon Wild Yala Resort
Day 11: Exploring Yala
In the morning, we drive to the Kala wewa, Debara wewa, and Tissa wewa holding tanks. These are large, ancient reservoirs built hundreds of years ago that have now become habitats for a vast number of birds, wildlife, and insects. After lunch, we drive to the Situlpawwa archeological site and rock temple. This is a significant Buddhist site built in the 2nd century B.C.E.
Cinnamon Wild Yala Resort
Day 12: To Galle
In the morning, we drive west along a scenic road to Galle. Once in Galle, we photograph the streets of this 16th-century Portuguese and 18th-century Dutch colonial town, now a UNESCO site known as the best preserved fortified city of its type in Asia. In the evening, we visit the maritime museum and Galle Fort, which illustrate the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
Lady Hill Hotel
Day 13: Exploring Galle
We drive to Mirissa, a port city filled with colorful wooden fishing boats. We board a sightseeing boat to view blue whales; this is one of the few places in the world where viewing these spectacular animals is possible—as well as highly likely. This afternoon, we have the opportunity to view and photograph stilt fishermen at Koggala. Later, we visit the buzzing tourist city of Hikkaduwa (Hikka) to walk the shop-filled streets and have dinner at a well-known seafood restaurant by the beach. We might also visit a traditional roti-kade vendor for a snack.
Lady Hill Hotel
Day 14: To Colombo / Depart Sri Lanka
After breakfast, we drive back to Colombo, stopping for lunch en route. You will be transferred to the airport in time for your outbound flight.
2015 Trip Dates
October 31 – November 13, 2015
Trip Duration: 14 days / 13 nights
Starting City: Colombo (airport code – CMB)
Ending City: Colombo (airport code – CMB)
LAND COST: $8,950 per person, based on twin share
If single occupancy is required, please add $1,400
Minimum: 8 participants
Maximum: 12 participants
Internal Asia Airfare: none
Included in Land Cost
• All accommodations, based on double occupancy
• All taxes and service charges
• All transportation using private, air-conditioned vehicles
• All arrival/departure airport/hotel transfers
• All entrance and photography fees
• All meals (from Dinner Day 1 to Lunch Day 14)
• Bottled water as needed
• Services of Tour & Photography Leader Jock Montgomery
• Services of Photography Leader Mike Yamashita
• Services of certified, English speaking local guides during all sightseeing excursions
• TourDirect’s Medical ($25,000), Accident and Evacuation Insurance ($500,000) and Assistance Plan
Not Included in Land Cost
• International airfare to/from Sri Lanka
• Gratuities to local staff (guides, drivers, bell boys, porters, etc.)
• Items of a personal nature, such as alcoholic beverages, laundry, phone calls, etc.
• Trip cancellation, travel delay, or baggage insurance.
(Note: This optional coverage is highly recommended and can be purchased through TourDirect)
At TourDirect, we will assist you in obtaining any necessary visas or other travel permits required for your journey, all done through our Visa Service Partner. Detailed visa instructions, application forms, and information about applicable visa fees will be included in your Pre-Departure Packet.
You must have a valid passport with an expiration date more than 6 months from the date of your return to the U.S. The passport must also have at least 2 blank pages for each country that you will be visiting in Asia.
Sri Lanka: All visitors to Sri Lanka must apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) prior to their arrival. An actual visa is given upon your arrival in Colombo.
No immunizations are required for entry into Sri Lanka or to return to the U.S. However, proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from (or have recently visited) a country that has risk of yellow fever. Several immunizations are recommended by the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
A copy of the CDC’s recommended immunization list and additional health information will be included in our Pre-Departure Packet.
Please let us know if you wish to extend your stay to visit other sites in Sri Lanka; extensions are also possible to neighboring countries such as India and the Maldives.
TourDirect connects you to the world’s best Ground Operators, giving you direct control of your tour, with ground operations at the high quality that you desire. All Ground Operators are tested, vetted by our Management team and comply with our Operational Standards.
179 Drakewood Place, Novato, CA 94947 USA
Ground Operators are local companies that provide the actual travel services in a destination. Typically, they own vehicles, employ guides, and negotiate special rates with hotels, combining these and other elements to create a quality full-service experience.